During the spring and summer for the past couple of years, I have been riding my bike to work. It's 10 miles each way and I ride about 3 times a week and it takes about 40 minutes, depending on the wind. The reason I ride 3 times and not 4 or 5 is because apparently 60 miles is my testicular limit for bike riding. Any more than that and I am forced to walk around with an ice pack stapled to my gonadal area. As with most things in my life, this is something for which my wife has very little sympathy. She claims it has something to do with the staples. I think it's really because she just doesn't have balls.
My top speed is around 26 mph. Even that was most likely downhill or with a good tailwind. Recently though, I set out at a respectable pace of 18 mph . So you can imagine my irritation when another biker passed me like I was standing still. He rode a Bianchi and had to be going at least 20 mph, which is pretty fast. Such a pace, while not unreasonable, is difficult to keep up for an extended period of time. So I increased my pace slightly to 19 mph, forcing him to continue his 20 mph pace. I did this to punish him for having the temerity to pass me. I know from experience this can be a bit grueling and quickly, cramps will begin to set in.
Whatever. That's what he gets for passing me.
I continued close behind Bianchi guy. His head was down and his shoulders were hunched, concentrating on maintaining his pace as we approached the overpass at Kenton Ave. Up ahead I could see police and fire trucks had an area cordoned off with yellow tape just to the right of the bike lane. I knew what was coming so I slowed down. As I emerged on the other side of the underpass there, about 10 feet from the bike lane was a corpse. It laid on its back, bloated and lifeless. I couldn't quite make out the face, the police were just covering it up as I passed by.
At the next block, Bianchi guy was stopped at a red light, gasping for breath. "Did you see the dead body back there?" I asked, coasting to the line. "No!" he said, looking back in surprise. I understood. When one is concentrating very hard to keep a pace of 20 mph it can be difficult to notice when someone else's world has come to an end. Sometimes even 10 feet is too far and it all goes by very quickly. Just then, the light turned green and I continued through it with very little break in my stride.
Bianchi boy didn't pass me again. I'm not sure why. I never looked back.
A similar thing happened to me about three years ago on the train. As The Metra from Oak Park gets closer to downtown, it passes through a train yard, then behind a scrap metal facility and finally some factories. I was looking out the window, watching them go by, when I saw a body laying stiff and grey, amid a bed of rocks, just beyond The Blommer Chocolate Factory. I was startled, not sure if I was seeing exactly what I thought I was seeing. Pressing my hands against the window, I stared, wondering if the person laying there could possibly be sleeping. And If he was, wouldn't that be a terribly uncomfortable place to rest? The rocks had tufts of long weeds poking through them and the man laid on his side, staring unblinking as our train passed by him. No, it was clear that there was no life left in his body. I turned my attention inside, desperately searching the faces in the car to confirm that I was not looking at a mirage. No one else showed any sense of alarm. In fact everyone's heads were hunched over their books or morning papers, reading calmly. Then as now, the world that ended right outside the window was too far away for concern.
When we pulled into the station, I notified the police that were on duty. The next morning, the body was gone. It was as if it had never been there at all. People read their papers, the same way they had the day before. Sometimes I wish I could do the same. Whenever I ride my bike past Kenton Ave. or the train slows behind The Blommer Chocolate Factory, I can still recall those bodies, lifeless and rigid.
"It used to be different." My wife sighed. "At least I think it was down south." Recalling her grandmother's funeral she said, "I remember being in the limousine and seeing old white men pull their cars over to the side of the highway. They got out and took off their hats as we passed. Now people have no problem cutting into a funeral procession because they're in a hurry to get where they're going. At the very least, they get impatient when forced to wait for the line of cars. Back then I think we made more space for death."
"Yeah.", I said. "But now we have Blackberry's and email, so we don't have that kind of time anymore."