Take a deep breath and do this double-dutch:
Michael brought a junker he had decorated with colored electrician’s tape and refurbished to full functionality except for installing the chain. I brought the coaster brake bike I had scored the same day I ditched that mercedes at the dismantler’s, perfectly, get this: with the same notes the dismantler gave me:
Girl gives Dismantler Bad Car.
Dismantler gives Girl Two Bills.
Girl gives Two Bills to Bike Guy.
Girl rides home with No Hands.
So we put the bikes in the truck with the palm fronds, the pa system, the pvc pipe and the barbecue, and book. On the playa, Michael figures out immediately that his chain is the wrong size and his junker is now spelled with a capital Useless. It would be a good bike on one side of a hill, but since we’re in a 400 square mile flat area, there is no goodness available for the bike. It is a bad bike. It is banished, casting no shadow no matter where we store it. It stands in shame.
The coaster brake bike, the anti-mercedes, is shared, even though Michael is apprehensive about riding the saddle while I pump us along. There’s something psychological going on there, I shout over my shoulder, how about a few cleansing breaths? He holds my hips not lightly and not clingy either, so I find myself trying to intensify his grasp with close shaves of all varieties.
On the last Friday of the month, we espy our brothers and sisters climbing on their bikes and rounding up in center camp for the critical mass ride. Using these dog leashes, I explain, Professor to Mary Anne, I can tow you and your bike to the critical mass ride. And we were off, after some quick rehearsals on towing a person on their bike using these dog leashes.
At center camp, everyone was circling the espresso machine, grinning and kicking up a cloud. We came without costume: no nakedness, no props, no noisemakers, except for the floating eyeball bell and our running argument about who was responsible for occassional lurches in our tow arrangement. Wait. Does my Kmart housecoat count? Likely. What a good idea *that* turned out to be! And, truthfully, Michael looked kinda mysterious in that desert nomad thing he was wearing, I believe the coutour word for it is: Deeply Wrapped.
OK, so at a magic moment, I have to assume it was at the moment of critical mass, about 200 bicyclists tore out the east gate directly to the Man. Much yodeling here, and I happily broke vessels in my head keeping up with the gang. Do you blame me? The sun was shining. The air was hot. And the whole place was filled up with the whirr of derailleurs, that hummingbird vibration of a bike on a smooth surface, topped off with a light crunch of alkali crust giving way.
These are the amplifications of the present necessary to tow another person on their bike through the critical mass ride. If you thought about what you were doing, you would simply get off the bike and walk away. Which is exactly what I did after the masses veered northeast and made their humcrunch sound directly to rave camp, 2 and a half miles away. But it took me a mile or so to get to this point, after exchanging too many greetings with the nimble single riders zipping back and forth, and after comprehending that that wind was currently at my back and would be in my face on the way home, and having a little bit of playa anxiety as the pictorial representation of center camp completely disappeared from view. Michael offered assistance first by consistently underestimating the distance remaining, then by arranging to tow me the rest of the way and back, then by promising not to leave me as I trudged little tiny steps against a flattening wind in the opposite direction of rave camp: home, james.
Under what conditions would I tow Michael to rave camp? Under what conditions would I tow him *anywhere*? One condition: he would be experiencing uncontrolled bleeding. The little nips of the shin brought on by walking too close to the angry teeth of bike pedals didn’t count. Leaks brought on by punches in the nose did not count. Simply wanting to be in rave camp did not count, I reiterated, taking a mouthful of whipped alkali brought about by the critical masses returning from rave camp under their own outrageous power. We stopped to watch them disappear in the west, with it’s lengthening shadows. It was at this moment I realized we were resembling four out of five scenes from the movie Ishtar, and my heart sank.
An hour later we parked the bikes back in our camp, careful to leave them in a cranky pile of spokes to show how pointless they had been for us. Resting on hams and sucking a cold beer in a silence that soon took on the tone of forgiveness, our friends, who had every reason never to show up, showed up with big smiles. The first thing I did was offer them a bike so they could take a tour of the place. They doubled-up on the anti-mercedes and glided away.
Just like that.