Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mongoose and the Blue Angel of Death

When it is blogging time I put down in words the very emotion that drives me at the moment.  I own the moment, but I want to share it with you.  To get you in my 'moment' requires a certain level of 'willing suspension of disbelief'.  First, know that I will take you where your senses are asked to remember.  Did you know that your nose has the best memory? Your nose (olfactory sense) is very primal and essential in mating mother and child at suckling time.  The reality is that if that first smell of your mother could be kept pristinely preserved for your reference today, you would likely have some pretty early visual, tactile, and auditory remembrances associated with it.  So now, sharpen your senses, let go of your daily woes, and ride with me on your imaginary mountain bike because we all need some exercise!

Yesterday was my maiden voyage on my Mongoose, hereafter to be christened Mongo.   My good friend Juan at PaBikes, just down the street from Palermo arranged to have Mongo set up for me at 3:00 just as he promised.  I had an important appointment at 4:30 downtown and wanted to make sure that I had enough time to break in Mongo en route.  After a brief safety briefing with Juan (it should have been a bit longer, but I’m the whacko who was antsy to get rolling) it was my turn for questions.  “Juan, is it ok to take Avendida Doce de Abril to my destination?”  Notice I didn’t ask “Is it safe?”  I wanted it to be ok.   I could tell by his fixed gaze that he was sizing me up for a coffin.  “Well, its ok, my friend, but you must be very careful.”  I keep forgetting that in the Latin culture when asked a question, the answer is never ‘NO’.  The polite thing to say when the answer is at best dubious is ‘of course’, or ‘mañana’.  Latinos are way more courteous and polite than we gringos.  It’s a culture thing.  Ok, I’ve been here long enough to know as a polite listener that you add up the speakers’ facial expression, their encouraging positive words, and take their intent entirely from their face.  Juan's intent was very clear.  “You silly gringo, you are out of your mind!”  But I AM a silly gringo, so I listened to his words and ignored his obvious intent.

So I’m down the calle (street) on Mongo checking out the gears for the first time.  I’m in my own little world of mechanics and the thrill of new equipment, oblivious that the grim reaper was muffling his laughter.  My endorphins making me drunk beyond the legal limit, I’m careening down a quiet street to get my bike legs and I leap a curb and go headlong down a busy street that immediately goes into a tunnel.  Whoops.  This is pure lunacy.  There’s no turning around and traffic is going 45 (that’s mph) down a single lane with high curbs on both sides and with a total width that gives just enough room for Rachel’s Miata.  I am so screwed.  Ok, the traffic is going 45, there’s no way to turn around or stop, so the only thing I can do is pedal my ass off and hope I can get through the tunnel before a fumy metro bus devours Mongo with me on him.  Of course I’m brand new on this bike and as I feverishly go through the gears to make this mountain bike a world class touring bike I throw a chain.  Sh-t.

God is forgiving.  Jesse Ventura said you can’t legislate for stupidity.  I’m glad God was watching me this day.  Rachel prays for me every day to clear the way because I don’t always look and think before I lunge forward.  (See horseback ride in Vilcabamba).  Between Rachel’s prayers, God’s forgiveness, and my stupid luck (that Jesse never made a law for), I survived my first test and solid learning.  Tunnels are not for bikes silly gringo.

My second test:  traffic circles.  Otherwise known as circles of death, the traffic circles in Cuenca are uniquely designed to reward the brave and severely punish the courteous or faint of heart.   For the bicycle rider, well, remember the grim reaper thing?  His laughter is no longer muffled.  So I’m going down the side of the street so close to the curb that my tires are rubbing and I hear the Blue Angel of Death (BAD) behind me (metro bus) belching (whatever they belch) chortling, and spitting out the last bike rider, hungry for fresh two wheeled meat and we’re nearing the Circle of Death (COD)..  For the life of me I’m in a tizzy because I know the toilet water swirls clockwise below the equator so I’m thinking the same must be true in the circles of death.  I therefore prepare myself for a right hand swirl.  Wrong! Irch.  Brake time.  I don’t mean break time, I mean BRAKE TIME.   Ok, I’ve got the gears down pretty good now, but the brakes……I think I you already know that a good mountain bike has disc brakes.  That means when you throw on the brakes you….stop.  If your right hand is stronger than your left and you lay it on good you can do forward summer salts with your bicycle.  Well, not to worry.  I’m a silly gringo, but not stupid.  I put equal squeeze on both wheels and I stopped and jumped on to the dubious safety of the sidewalk.  Now I’m socially screwed.  The metro bus driver that was hungry for fresh Mongoose got his laugh in, the other drivers already in the circle of death are paying attention to their own possible demise, and the pedestrians on the sidewalk that I so rudely claimed a sharing piece of are incredulous that I didn’t stay the course in the COD.    Now I know how the matador feels when he leaps over the fence.

Ok, lesson #2 in bicycle riding in Cuenca:  stay the hell out of the traffic circles.

Still alive and wiser to a magnitude of ten, I wait for my moment to join the fray once again and see my opening.  You thought I was going to jump back on the street didn’t you!  I am a silly gringo, yes, stupid, no.  Awash with relief and the satisfaction of a gained sense of normalcy I become once again the cool suave bike rider now that I am the predator, not the prey.  With my chubby knobby mountain bike tires I am king of the cobblestone.   I am the Lion King riding a Mongoose.  If the irony hits you, that’s good.  Of course even the Lion King must be kind and courteous to his subjects, so I’m dodging fruit vendors, school girls (where are the school boys anyway?) and find that power poles are put in the most unlikely places on the sidewalk.  Ok, the pedestrian route is not without challenges either. 

I am safe and unscathed.  My bicycle is like new.  I was taught the skill of street survival on two wheels and I’m here to tell you about it.  Life is good.  I love Cuenca.

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