Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Story - The Tatoo'ed Arm

Back in the late 80's I had the opportunity to hang out a lot in a town close to my college. I occasionally rode my bike around town and except for a race that took place in the town last year, I didn't ride there for almost 20 years. Here is the story why.

I was on a somewhat standard training ride. With virtually no hills around but lots of multilane and median type roads, I was out doing - what else - sprints with cars. After exhausting myself I started heading back to my home base.

My route took me near an airport (private industry so really a huge field with runways on it) and a road that had an abnormally high number of stop signs on it. I figure they'd eventually put in some lights but at that point it was still a stop sign, a hundred yards, another stop, a hundred yards, and so on for about five or six stop signs. A welcome break was the traffic light at the intersection to a road that paralleled the aforementioned airport.

I was being a good boy and stopped at the first stop sign. I started accelerating, focusing on doing what is really a slow-motion, lower effort sprint, rocking the bike side to side. Always working on form. It felt good to make those moves without the sprint-effort - it's like stretching a bit.

A car went by - an early 70's Dodge Charger if you must know - and I felt something fly between my rocking arms. I looked down in time to see it hit the ground - tobacco juice.

Now I don't know about you but I think the stuff is absolutely disgusting. This was when chewing tobacco became a "cool" thing so it was somewhat common. But this was the first time someone spit it at me.

I heard some laughter as the car roared away. And I got pissed. I guess it didn't help that my heart rate was already pretty elevated and that my adrenal glands had been working overtime for the last hour. So I did what I always do when a car does something impolite like that.

I chased it.

The car stopped at the next stop sign, waited for me to get close, then floored it. When I blew through the stop at 31 mph (my Avocet accusingly displaying the numbers in big grey numerals), they realized I was pissed. They skipped the waiting part and tried to get away. I thought they were gone but when I rounded the bend, there it was. The intersection with the light. The light was red.

And to their credit, the car was stopped, its exhaust burbling.

For the second time in my life, I realized I was going to catch the car I was chasing. Now I was a bit concerned. I'm no fighter and it's usually a losing proposition to take on a car without massive reinforcements.

So I did what a cat does when it needs to think. Okay, I didn't lick myself. But I pulled out my water bottle and took a swig and tried to think of something to do that was appropriate and satisfying. I looked at the bottle cap. Looked at the car. Opened the cap. Rode up next to the car.

And dumped the water in the lap of the passenger in the car.

I had a faint sense of alarm when I did it, but it only registered after the water was gone. What set off my alarm was the passenger's arm (attached to the passenger). It was propped up on the window sill, the hand holding the roof. That's fine, lots of people sit like they're holding on the roof of their car. The alarm part came from the size of the arm.

The arm was enormous.

I mean it was as big as my thigh. It had lots of muscles. And it had a lot of tatoos on it.

Although not an expert in these matters, I understand that such an arm would be capable of dishing out severe pain. And in this case, I'd be the dishee. Not good.

I turned right (part of my new plan when I uncapped the bottle) and started riding away. I started wondering how pissed off the owner of such an arm could get when doused with some lukewarm water. Or maybe it was Gatorade. Whatever.

I looked back. The guy was looking down at his wet pants, his arms up in shock, and he yelled something at his buddy. The burbling engine shrieked and the rear tires starting spinning, smoke pouring out of the wheelwells. The car slowly turned to the right, the front tires barely moving, the rear tires spinning enough to make a drifter proud. And when it pointed at me, it leaped forward.

I started sprinting.

You better believe I sprinted. But I realized something that I hadn't realized when I thought of "turn right after dumping bottle." The problem was there was absolutely nothing on this road. A few houses and then a mile of chain link fence next to the airfield. In an absurd use of memory I remembered the mile as I'd recently read an article where they said this private airport was big enough to land a 747. I was trapped on a deserted road with one really pissed off Dodge roaring down my neck.

I couldn't remember any specs on the car but I knew two things. It accelerated like a scalded cat and stopped just a bit worse than a loaded Mac truck on an ice rink.

And in the middle of all this chaos, I saw the most amazing thing.

(cue soothing summery music)

About 20 or 30 yards away, some woman was laying on a lawn chair, catching some rays. She'd set up her chair in the driveway and I realized I would be able to ride onto the sidewalk behind her.

I figured that at the very least I should get off the road - a multi thousand pound car will punt a cyclist pretty far and I didn't want to find out exactly how far that would be. A curb would help deflect said car. So the sidewalk won.

I sprinted till I thought the car was about to hit me, I slammed on the brakes, and did a little powerslide up to the now-surprised woman. Oh you can stop that summery music and put the thrash metal back on. I almost became intimate with her but instead managed to put my foot down and stopped.

The Dodge shrieked by me. And I heard a "tink, tink, tink.." as they went blasting by me. They'd tossed their tobacco can at me but missed.

Ha, ha, I thought.

Then the driver locked up his brakes and practically dug the front bumper into the pavement, smoke pouring from all four tires.

Uh oh, this wasn't over.

I looked left (where I came from - nothing), right (a long stream of traffic coming towards me), the Dodge (to the right also, pointed the wrong way, blocked by a curb and chainlink fence on the right, lots of traffic on the left) and made a life saving choice.

I turned the bike around and sprinted in front of the traffic going back towards the light. They let me in. The Dodge was helpless - unable to turn around with all the traffic, hemmed in by the chain link fence, the guys just sat there fuming.

And I proceeded to clear the datum.

Datum is a singular data point. Submariners refer to a datum as a point at which someone spotted the submarine. Since submarines rely on stealth, they really don't like being spotted. So if you think you're spotted (which means that someone has a datum point on you), you clear the datum. You make that one point meaningless.

In other words, you scram.

You zig, you zag, you speed up, you slow down, you do whatever you can to lose the bad guys.

And I did just that on the bike. I knew where I had to go and knew some of the roads around that area. So I took turns as soon as I could and kept going left, right, right, left, paralleling the main road but using the tight, visually obscured side streets. When I got to the house I put the bike in the garage (normally it stayed in my car), locked the door, ran up stairs, and sat to one side of the window. I cracked it open so I could hear cars approaching.

After the first five or ten minutes passed, I figured the chances of them finding me were pretty slim. I showered quickly, changed, and returned to sit by the window (behind the curtain). My girlfriend got back from where ever and asked me about my curious fascination with the deserted street. I told her what happened, prayed that no one could recognize me without bike gear on, and swore I wouldn't ride the streets of that town for a long, long time.

And that's why I didn't ride in that town for such a long time.


Anonymous said...

Another great story, Aki. Love the transition to soothing music and then back to the speed metal. Nice imagery.

I think the tattoos that you saw on the guy's arm were just a foreshadow of you being able to outsmart them in the end. They're not usually a sign of intelligence...

Anonymous said...

I had a similar experience a number of years ago in Ft. Lauderdale. I was visiting my parents and they lived near old downtown. I took a ride over by the beach and was crossing one of the bridges over the Intercoastal Waterway on my way back to their house. There was a lot of traffic over the bridge and it was moving slowly. I was tight to the side of the bridge, riding on the white line. A truck came by and the passenger slammed his hand against the outside of the door (making a very loud noise) and yelled just as they got next to my rear tire. Hearing those loud noises right next to me gave me a good scare and I almost hit the side of the bridge. After the initial shock wore off, I got pissed. Their truck got stopped at a light up the road and I saw my chance at revenge. I rolled up the line of cars (they were about the 5th car in line of 15 cars) pulled out my waterbottle. As I got close, I yelled “HEY!”. The passenger turned his head towards me an opened his mouth to say something. I was reminded of the shooting at the clown’s open mouth with a water pistol at the circus. I gave the bottle a hard squirt and I scored a direct hit. Bingo! Time to scram. I ran the red light and then as fast as I could I made several turns in my parent’s neighborhood until I was safe in their house. Once safe, it felt good to get a bit of revenge. Score two for the little skinny guys on bicycles. So about now the score is:

Cars ~ 1,000,000
Gene & Aki 2


Anonymous said...

With Miami recently named tops in road rage, Ft. Lauderdale can't be far behind.

Now you have to tell the regional road race-Dukes of Hazzard car jump story.

Also, this reminded me of a thought I had after a road rage near miss about road-rage-proof clothing. I figured that if I wore a jersey and shorts that had "Marines" prominently displayed along with a big US Marine Corps emblem, people would give second thought to yelling, startling, or brushing me with their side mirrors. I'm guessing that the types that tend to do this stuff would more than likely have respect for the armed forces and would rightly avoid messing with a member of the military or a vet. That would be about as opposite an outfit from my typical Euro-colorful outfits that seem to rile up the knuckle-draggers out on the roads.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely fantastic story - I was worried it would turn out different. Lots of suspense - and LOVE the "soundtrack." Two hands off the 'bars for that one.

Adam said...

I think the tattoos that you saw on the guy's arm were just a foreshadow of you being able to outsmart them in the end. They're not usually a sign of intelligence...

I would say 50%+ of the people I know have tattoos. Including me. It's a shame that some people consider personal expression with some kind of antiquated prejudice.

BTW, great story.