Some nights I’m just too damn tired to make the 20 mile ride home and choose to hop on the Metra with my bike. Last night was one of those nights. The miles I’d ridden all week combined with the three beers in 30 minutes at Cal’s made the last train out a certainty. Not too crowded, but enough. I boarded and followed my normal routine.
I take one of two trains out, depending on time, and have come to know and be known by all the attendants. I’ve established a pattern of super cool . I say hello. I get on the train with my clean bike, secure it with my bungee, have my prepaid ticket ready, read my book. If I’ve had something to drink, I keep it to myself: I don’t preach, I don’t testify, don’t need no witness. Don’t impress anyone with my Roger Daltrey-***-Axl Rose vocal prowess. I am a Nun at Sunday Mass, dig, obedient, quiet, faithful, praying my rosary. When my stop approaches I get ready way ahead of time so as not to cause a delay. I detrain quickly, looking them in the eye and say good night. It’s usually their last run and they want to get home as fast as I do. That’s it. The same every time I ride, nice and predictable.
Just before we leave a guy rushes onto the train, obviously running late, hustling to make the last train out.
Randomness is perplexing to me sometimes. How in a city the size of Chicago do you run into the same stranger three times in three different places in one short summer? Many of the same people ride the last train out, you get to know their faces, start making up little stories about their lives, give them nicknames. First time I saw this guy that barely made the train was here on the train. He was talking to a young “friend” loudly that night, going on and on with his lame movie and book reviews and half baked philosophy. The kind of ranting that’s too loud to tune out. The kind of guy you get trapped next to and want to strangle after 15 minutes because he will not shut the [blank] up. If nothing else, the Jesuits taught me to spot false logic and it soon was clear that while this guy seemingly had read these books, the department in his brain that sorted the information and built the foundations for his arguments had been underfunded by the trickle down Reaganomics in the 80’s, shuddered in the 90’s and is now home to a bustling family of field mice playing Euchre. About two weeks later I saw him in a restaurant and had a 15 minute battle with myself wondering how do I know this guy. Not long after I saw him again at the help desk at Borders, going on and on to the poor grad student (Modern American Poetry, no doubt, good luck: “Waiter, more iced tea please”). I know you, I thought to myself, I know you. And now, tonight he’s back. I’ve been watching him closely all summer but he has no idea who I am. I pretend to read.
He’s wearing a Jimmy Buffett T-Shirt, peach pants, bleached hair, and a red face to match his pants. He’s disorientated from running and tries to focus. He’s looking for a seat. He spots the Masi that is taking up what I suspect is his usual seat and starts talking to everyone, words coming fast, “can we move this bike, can we put this bike over there, what about this bike, can we move this bike.” He may have been drunk but I don’t think so, rather, I think he’s a bit, you know, touched. He keeps going on until half the car turns to me “reading” my book. I acknowledge him directly. “Yes, can I help you?” I ask. “Can you move this bike, it’s taking up my seat?” I look him right in the eye, I see his red face, the Tilt sign blinking brightly through his eyeballs, and right in the center of his lips is a sticky bit of goo between the top and bottom lip that won’t break even when he’s talking. For a few seconds the goo is all I can think about. I point to four other seats and say “there’s a seat here, here, and here.” “I want to sit by myself,” he says, “and you’re taking up 1 2 3 4 5, 5 seats.” Mr. Peach was crazy but he wasn’t unreasonable so I figured I’d help him out. What do I care, my ride is short, I’ll be off in three stops. “Give me a minute,” I say, fussing with my bag and book. A conductor taking tickets tells him there’s open seats in the next car and Mr. Peach says he needs to go the bathroom first. I go back to my book.
He finally emerges from the restroom. Mustn’t have found his medication because he’s more ramped than before. “You gonna move this bike?” Mr. Peach says, looking at me, goo still on his lips “Last I heard you were going to another car to find a seat,” I say, beginning to lose patience. “Are you going to move this bike or am I going to do it for you,” he threatens. “Don’t touch my bike.” I say. “Move your bike or I’ll move it for you,” he commands. I don’t like to be told what to do, but I’m still willing to be a nice guy and move the bike, I don’t care. He’s a freak but whatever. I can see his mind racing so I slow things down, like Kwai Chang Caine, “I’ll be with you in a minute,” I say after a long pause. Again I pause, barely moving towards collecting my stuff. He can’t take my benign behavior. “You gonna move this bike or am I gonna move it for you [blank].” With that word negotiations ceased.
He was bullying, he was confrontational, I had cause. I’d had those beers at Cal’s, my hatred for him grew to a giant whitehead, I had my hand on my U Lock. All those things you wish you would have said afterwards were coming to me beforehand, all my moves were clear and focused, it was a chess game and I played 5 moves deep. I’ve had a 3000 mile summer, suffering and living with pain, chasing after some of the fastest wheels in the region, pushing beyond my pain threshold. I was fit and I wasn’t the least bit scared of him. A chance like this comes around once in a lifetime. “You’re a tough guy now?” I said (I can be butch if I need to). He went after my bike.
Right then, right there Brother Mayonnaise got real chilly. Cool breeze. Like someone turned on the air conditioner, like a hint of autumn suddenly in the air, I was cool, baby, very cool. Like Dylan in the 60’s, Bowie in the 70’s, Prince in the 80’s, Cobain in the 90’s, I was cool. Bono and Mick were driving Chevrolets. I didn’t return Madonna’s call. I was cool I tells you, cool. Like James Brown eternal, like Jack Nicholson used to be, like Barry Mannilow never was, I was low down bad ass cool. Muddy Waters shouted “Mayonnaise” from beyond the grave. Digging the scene with a gangster lean.
Mr. Peach tried to move the bike but didn’t see the bungee, got frustrated and flipped his wig. He treated the whole car to a scene from Rainman when the conductor came by and asked what was the problem. He kept counting out the seats , “1 2 3 4 5, 5 seats, 1 2 3 4 5, 5 seats, he’s taking up 5 seats, I need to sit, he’s not moving his bikes, look, 1 2 3 4 5, 5 seats.” His voice was loud, his behavior wild. When he wasn’t in the gym he was a conductor on Metra and he quietly, logically spelled out the policy. “It is Metra’s policy to allow bikes on the train. Bikes are allowed here and here. It is the policy of the train. Like I told you there are open seats all over the train. I suggest you find yourself a seat and comply with Metra policy.” Dumb as a bucket of shrimp, at least he had three self preservation impulses that managed to bridge the synapse and made it to the Fight or Flight Department: Self Preservation Division in his psyche, which triggered, rather quickly, the flight solution, and shut his pie hole and left to find another seat. Everyone in the car clapped.