Thursday, May 22, 2008

A short story: AJ, the cyclist, and a large brown dog

Driving his old Ford truck on Rural Route 61; AJ was rolling along at about sixty, his usual 5 mph over the speed limit. Some distance three cars were ahead of him. As they approached a bend in the road, he saw the brake lights come on.

As he caught up and took his place behind the other three, he noticed a lone cyclist up ahead. "Damn cyclist," he mumbled, "Why do they have to ride in the middle of the road?"

Actually, the cyclist wasn't in the middle of the road, he was about two feet out from the edge of the lane, but with traffic approaching from the opposite direction, the lead car driver was being cautious.

The opposing traffic passed and the first three cars went around the cyclist. AJ realized he would have to wait as another vehicle was coming towards them. "Damn it," he cussed again.

The car passed and AJ when around the cyclist. He thought about honking his horn just to show his displeasure at the delay, but instead he just hit the gas pedal hard and roared by in a demonstration of raw power.

A few miles further on he saw brake lights again, and as he caught up to the same three cars, he saw them stop, then one by one swing clear over to the opposing lane. As the last car completed this maneuver, he saw the reason.

A large brown dog was trotting along the edge of the road. Strangely, AJ showed no anger or frustration this time. Just fear that the animal would suddenly dart across the road in front of an approaching van.

He stayed back some distance so as not to startle it, and when the van had passed, he took a wide sweep around the dog as the other drivers had done. He even considered stopping to pick it up, he had thought about getting a dog, but it probably belonged to someone living close by.

Some nine months earlier AJ had taken early retirement when the company he worked for had been making cutbacks. He and his wife had bought an old farmhouse on about eight acres in a rural area. He had bought the old truck to haul lumber and other materials. This particular day he was on his way to pick up some fence posts from a farming supply depot, some fifteen miles along Route 61.

AJ picked up the fence posts and as he pulled out from the supply depot. The road was clear except for a cyclist, the same one he had seen earlier. He waited for him to pass; now there was traffic coming in the opposite direction. "Damn it, that's the second time you've held me up today," he complained to himself, wishing the cyclist could hear him.

AJ turned towards home. Some four or five miles into the return trip, the old truck spluttered, and then stalled. He was on a downgrade so he was able to coast then pull onto a patch of dirt at the side of the road. After several unsuccessful attempts to start the engine, he got out of the truck, lifted the hood, and stared at the engine.

He was not even sure why he was doing this, he had no tools with him, and even if he had, he would not know where to start. He had been an accountant all his life, and had absolutely no mechanical knowledge. He reached in his back pocket for his cell phone, it was not there.

Then he remembered he had left the phone charging overnight in the kitchen. It was not in its usual place on the dresser with his wallet and change. "Now what?" he mumbled as he looked up and down the road. Nothing but farmland and open fields in either direction.

There was no alternative but to walk, and he had to walk on the road, tall grass and weeds at the side made it impossible to walk there. There was a white fog line painted on the edge of the road and no more than a few inches of paved road beyond that; AJ started to walk along this white line. He could have crossed over and walked facing the oncoming traffic, but he was hoping someone would stop and offer him a ride.

He had not walked far when he heard a car coming; he turned and waved a thumb. The car roared on by without even slowing. He walked on and the same thing happened again. He quickly realized his chances of getting a ride were slim. He was not particularly well dressed, and he never stopped to pick up hitchhikers.

He stopped pausing and turning every time a car approached from behind, it was pointless. For a while, he walked with his left thumb out, but then discontinued that as he resigned himself to a long walk home.

He noticed when there were no cars coming towards him, cars would swing over to the other side to pass. However, when there was traffic in both directions, they passed by a 60 mph with no thought of slowing down, often missing him by inches.

At one time, a large eighteen-wheeler went by, and although it missed him by at least two feet, its shear size, and those huge wheels, gave AJ the scare of his life. And the back draft almost blew him off his feet.

He must have walked at least five or six miles and was by now in a trance like state when he heard a cheery “Good morning.” The same cyclist he had seen twice before that day sped silently by him.

Somewhat startled AJ didn’t respond immediately, then called out, “Do you have a cell phone?” The cyclist had gone on by and did not understand what AJ had said. Then sensing it was a call for help, the cyclist slowed.

He looked back over his shoulder for traffic. It was clear and he did a U-turn and rode back to AJ. “Do you need help?” he asked. “Yes, do you have a cell phone?”
“I do,” answered the cyclist as he came to a stop and reached into his rear pocket for the phone.

“Thank God,” AJ said as he took the phone. “I broke down miles back and I must have walked for over an hour.” Just then, a car approached, “Here, let’s get off the road,” AJ said, “These damn cars won’t give you an inch.”

“Tell me about it,” said the cyclist. “That’s why I always ride about two or three feet from the edge of the road. It forces drivers to slow and make a conscious effort to pass me. Otherwise they just blow by as if I wasn’t there, missing me by inches.”

“What motorists don’t realize is, if I ride on this white line,” the cyclist stomped on the line with his heel to emphasize. “There are large pot-holes or places where the road simply disappears; not to mention tree braches and other debris lying at the edge. If I come up on one of these obstacles, either I hit it, with the risk falling into the road, or I swerve out into the road. With cars passing within inches at a high rate of speed, both could be deadly.”

AJ was inclined to agree with the cyclist but didn’t answer as he felt rather hypocritical in view of his previous attitude. The cyclist continued, “That’s why I ride out there, the inside wheels of the cars having worn it smooth. It is safer, and people can see me.”

AJ called his wife and told her what had happened. “Help is on the way,” he said as he handed the phone back to the cyclist. “Thank you so much,” he added. He looked at the cyclist for the first time and was surprised that he was an older man, maybe about his own age. Earlier when he saw him, he imagined him to be much younger.

“Do you need a drink?” The cyclist offered AJ his water bottle. “Thanks, I will.” As AJ took a drink, the large brown dog appeared, wagging his tail and slinking down at AJ’s feet. ”Do you think he needs a drink too?” the cyclist asked.

“Probably,” AJ answered, “I saw him earlier on my way out here.” AJ cupped his hands together as the cyclist poured some water for the dog to drink.” The dog lapped up the water.” Looks like you found yourself a dog.”

"It would seem like it.” AJ answered as the cyclist mounted his bike again and pushed off. “Thank you again,” AJ called out as he pulled away. “Glad to be of help,” the cyclist called back.

AJ slipped his belt from his pants and looped it around the dog’s collarless neck. “Here boy, let’s sit under this tree and wait for Momma.”

Footnote: The above is a short work of fiction, one that could take place anywhere in the US. (Or the world.)

Just a different way to get the safety message across. Also, to explain to motorists that we ride a certain way in the interest of our own safety.


Anonymous said...

Very nicely written. Is there a "cycling blog post of the year" award? I nominate this one. Thanks, Dave.

Anonymous said...

Edit needed: Anywhere in the World (not US)

Dave Moulton said...

I meant the story was set in the US. I agree the message applies anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Excellent story! I wish there were a good way to get more non-cyclists to read this.

Grump said...

Nice story.

Champs said...

So now you tell me we're not out to antagonize everyone. I thought the goal was to show our hatred of cars (because no cyclist drives) and ruin the otherwise-joyous experience of driving.

Anonymous said...

In an alternate ending version for a modern, all-performance, all-business all the time 21st century civilization, the cyclist is annoyed at having to swerve closely around this old "farmer" and blows by him without giving him a second thought. It wouldn't make sense to blow through multiple red lights just to get out of the city and then stop to help some guy on some road. After all, it's always a race.

Tony said...

Well done Dave! I expect that this will make the rounds. I'll be forwarding it for sure!

WestfieldWanderer said...

Nice story.

imabug said...

great story dave.

Marla said...

Nice job, again!

Anonymous said...

I like it...thanks.

Terry Finley

veloben said...


Nice story, well told.

I don't know starling. A lot of the folks I ride with out here in the north suburbs keep an eye out for the person seemingly in distress. And no we're not a pack of slow, tottering codgers riding to brunch.

Anonymous said...

Dave.... Thanks, I needed that today. Rich

AMR said...

Thanks for the reading.
No change needed but three drivers slowing down and going around the cyclist? Not around here, I am afraid.

Highwaymunky said...

Great Story, really made me smile. Thanks, Dave.

Anonymous said...

Sweet, cute, charming, well written and the message is clear (a rare fantasy comes true).

REALITY: Urban setting with too many cars (that don't break down), too many distractions to name, and constantly maneuvering to avert anything and everything that would interfere with fast/efficient travel.

FANTASIZE This: A groups (not one rider) like a parent with children cycling on urban roads six lanes wide on their way to buy a gallon of milk and complete other errands (cell phones but no dogs).

Anonymous said...

I'm sure most are like you and your riding buddies, Veloben. I just don't subscribe much to the us versus them approach. I think that "us" and "them" are pretty much the same people. By and large, people are the same on their bicycle as they are in their car.

veloben said...