I was mostly impressed with myself that I was making my way home so well that night. It was late on a Friday. I figured I shouldn’t be biking, but there weren’t many people or cars around, and I was being careful.
It had been raining lightly off and on all day, and the streets were good and soaked, but there wasn’t much standing water. It was easy to avoid the puddles, and I had so far managed to avoid spraying a lot of water up at me with my fat mountain bike tires. I picked up speed by and by.
Just over half way home, and I was moving at a pretty fast clip down 12th Street, avoiding the old, unused trolley tracks. And then, without warning, I was on the ground, tangled up in my bike, skidding across the street on my hands and knees, the rim of my helmet scraping against the pavement, a stinging sensation in my knee.
It was so fast, there’s barely a flash of memory. One second I’m up. The next, I’m down. No sound, no tumble. Just an instant, involuntary change in position. And the sudden onset of pain.
Pure instinct managed to keep my head up. It was through no special effort of mine, believe me. So my head and face were unmarred. I had not bit my tongue or my cheek. “My hands,” I thought. And sure enough I felt the sting in my hands next. Then my right elbow.
My body was waking up again, bit by bit, assessing the damage. My knee was throbbing. Was there a tear in my jeans? I didn’t feel a rush of cold air on my bare leg. But so much was numb in that moment, a swollen knee would be a heat lamp against the cold.
I looked at my hands. Not much dirt to speak of. I don’t know why that was important to me in that moment. No dirt; easier to pretend it didn’t happen, I guess. I looked again. They were filthy. My right palm was smeared with the grime of the street, and a small wound was beginning to seep blood. The knuckles of my left hand were grated through, but nothing was bleeding yet.
I stood up, picked up the bike, spun the front wheel and handle bars back around the right way. No tear in my pant leg, but there was a scuff on the elbow of my jacket. Fake leather, but it was holding up well. Could I fix it? Later. Joints seemed good. I could walk. No dizziness. But as the realization of my spill came into focus, I could feel anger well up inside me.
I had tried to cross the trolley tracks to the left side of the street to then make a turn on Washington Avenue toward 11th Street. I was careful to be quick about it and to cross at 45 degrees or better, but as soon as I hit the slick metal, my wheels slipped out to the left, and I went down to the right, all the while maintaining a forward momentum until my bike and I ground to a halt on the street. The whole thing must have taken three seconds.
“Goddamn fucking 12th Street,” I said to myself out loud. I wasn’t aware of anyone within earshot, but if anyone was, I wanted to be sure they knew it wasn’t my fault. ”Fucking useless trolley tracks,” I said.
No major damage to the bike, it seemed. This thing is like a tank. Safer to walk it now, though, just in case, just to compose myself. I pulled off my helmet and retreated to the sidewalk as my body began to heat up and my face to flush. Oh, I was mad. A could feel warmth prickling along my shoulders and the back of my neck, then cold sweat. I huffed and puffed my way across Washington Avenue at a quick and determined pace, breathing through my nostrils like something powered by steam.
Passing in front of cars stopped at the red light, every headlight felt like someone watching me. I was determined not to look back at them. I wanted them to see me. Let them see how mad I am. Let them see the results of leaving those stupid tracks in the street. Usually I was indifferent to them. At worst, I appreciated them as just another quirk of the neighborhood — like the Virgin statuary and praying hands of the Catholic window displays. But now I hated them. I saw them for the menace they were.
I had gone without gloves because I didn’t want to get them wet, but I wished I’d thought differently and given my hands a bit of protection. I considered putting them on, but they were now bleeding in earnest. I licked my palm and knuckles before my hands could drip. The sweet, metallic taste of blood was complimented by a petrochemical stink, so I spit it out onto the sidewalk. I licked again. Spit again.
After another block, walking seemed dumb. I mounted my bike and gave it a tepid try, pushing the handle grips back into place and grasping them carefully with my throbbing hands. Everything seemed to be in order, so I pedaled faster. It was a lucky thing. I was too angry in that moment to be thankful, but I knew enough to know I should be and would be later.
I rode the rest of the way home in the center of the street. If there were cars behind me, I didn’t care. I wasn’t about to make room. I was not feeling very accommodating in that moment.