Main | Monday, August 08, 2005

The Guy With The Bike

The 6 Train, Monday morning, 8AM

I board at 68th Street, as I always do. I board at the head of the train, as I always do. Even when the other cars are too jam packed to squeeze one more person on-board, the other passengers at my stop are usually too lazy to walk forward on the platform to get on at the front, meaning I can usually slip on without having to wait while several full trains pass me by.

The downside of boarding at the head of the train is that that's the car reserved for people with bicycles, and there are often grimy bike messengers carelessly yanking around their filthy, muddy bikes, which occasionally brush against the crisply ironed droidwear of the other passengers. I've never been bothered by this personally, my office attire is "extreme casual", but sometimes there are ugly moments between the bike messengers and other riders.

Today the first car has only one guy with a bike. He's sitting on the little handicapped bench by the driver's door, the bench that always snaps upward with startling *bang*, whenever the passengers forget about pushing it down when they sat down, and then spring up when they get to their stop. The noise that seat makes when it snaps closed never fails to elicit small startled cries from those nearby.

The first thing I notice about the guy with the bike is the odd manner is which he is holding it. Most bike messengers, if seated, will turn the front wheel to its maximum, thereby shortening the bike's length and hopefully reducing the dirt anxiety of the other riders. This guy today has got his bike upended, the handlebars pointed towards the roof, and he is clutching it to his chest. I think to myself that I wish all the other bikers were as courteous.

The second thing I notice is how much the guy with the bike looks like Ziggy Marley. He looks like he might be of mixed race, his skin is a mocha-cappucino (a term I purloined years ago from my San Francisco roommate). The guy with the bike has elaborately braided dreadlocks, which are a bit short compared to others I've seen. He's wearing headphones and while his head nods I catch a glimpse of the palest blue eyes I may have ever seen.

Seeing his eyes immediately sets me off to creating an elaborate back-story for this stranger, as I sometimes do while riding the train. I decide that he's obviously a model, waiting for his break, doing grunt work as a bike messenger, probably for one of the midtown delivery companies that service all the fashion mags over at Conde Nast.

The third thing I notice about the guy with the bike is that he has a spiral notebook jammed into the netting of his backpack. I can see that the front of the notebook is full of scribbled messages, all in French. OK, I think, this plays right into my backstory. This guy with the bike is the biracial son of a French citizen and one of their many North African immigrants. His parents begged him not to come to New York, Americans are beneath contempt after all, but he willfully has disobeyed them and come to the city to pursue his dream of global fame, and after achieving which, he will return to Paris and resume sneering at American tourists.

In the time that it takes us to move from 68th Street to 59th, I talk myself into loathing the guy with the bike. He, with his snotty Eurotrash condescending friends and their stupid way of holding their smelly cigarettes. As the train slows into the 59th Street station, I hear a tiny bit of his music leaking out from his headphones. Coldplay. My victory is complete.

When the doors open at 59th, a very pregnant woman is the first to disembark. As she passes the guy with the bike, he does an odd thing. He doesn't stop nodding his head to his stupid music, but he sort of barks out a word at the woman. It sounded like "Baby!" The woman gives him an odd look. The next passenger off the train passes the guy with the bike, and this time he says, a bit louder, "Tall!". And indeed the guy is quite tall. The next lady to pass him gets a shouted "Suitcase!", clearly because she is pulling one.

I'm really pleased right now. Apparently this pretentious Yank-hating model wannabe has some sort of bizarre version of Tourettes. Maybe wearing the headphones helps distract him from shouting all the time, I hypothesize. I share smiles of amusement with the passengers near me, horrible of us to take pleasure in the mentally ill, yes yes yes. I notice that the guy with the bike doesn't announce arrivals, only departures, which probably means something to those familiar with this sort of thing.

I eagerly anticipate 51st Street. The station announcement is made, we roll to a stop. When the doors open, the guy with the bike is momentarily overwhelmed by the number of passengers leaving the train. His eyes widen and his head snaps back and forth as he tries not to miss naming anybody. "Old! Hat! Green! Glasses!" I try to follow each person as they are named, to understand why he was choosing a particular characteristic. For the "Glasses!" guy, I would have gone with "Hairpiece!", so it's a good thing I don't have Tourettes.

We are now approaching my stop, 42nd Street. I'm tempted, terribly tempted, to depart from the far doors of our car, out of range of the guy with the bike, but my need to hear my own identifier overwhelms my fear of what it may be. I do a quick self-assessment. My crewcut is fairly recent, my hair is pretty thin anyway....will it be "Bald!"? Or maybe he will comment on my oversized short-sleeve orange bowling shirt? "Orange!" Or maybe, "Tacky!"? I have been favoring these style shirts for the last year as I battle my middle-age spread. Oh, please...don't let it be "Fat!" I'm wearing cargo shorts today, which sometimes causes my co-workers to comment on my over-developed calves, the last vestige of my body-building days. I would definitely be happy with "Shorts!"

The announcement is made "Grand Central Terminal, 42nd Street". We roll to a stop, the doors open, and people are actually holding back leaving the train, because they want to hear what the guy with the bike says about the others. Finally, fearful of the doors closing, I push past the guy with the bike.


Guy with the bike, I take it all back.


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