My Word >
by Richard Bon
His ride began in Northern Liberties, at 3rd and Girard, where a few people waited for the 57 bus. A septuagenarian white man with a stubbly beard, bundled snugly in a ragged black winter coat, scarf, and skullcap, looked at him with disbelieving eyes as he mounted his bicycle. A young Latino man with earbuds tucked beneath his winter hat rocked back and forth, in his own world.
He rode down 4th Street, up Brown toward oncoming cars driving too fast for these narrow one way streets, and turned onto 6th and the comfort of its bike lane. Stopped at Callowhill, he spied two beggars on the other side of its five lanes, and wondered whether they were in competition or working together. A black Honda Civic with chrome rimmed wheels pulled up vibrating beside him, bass line blaring through its speakers, the music so loud he could hear it well through the car’s closed, tinted windows.
The light at the Expressway’s 6th Street exit turned red just before he reached it, so he waited for green beneath the highway overpass. Two more beggars kitty-corner from each other held up cardboard signs and paced. The one on the northeast corner of Franklin Square stood leaning on crutches wedged into his armpits, his left leg ending at its knee cap. Impressed that the man could hold up the sign and crutches without falling, he pulled his bike up onto the sidewalk and put a dollar into the man’s outstretched hand, something he knew he wouldn’t have done if the man hadn’t happened to be pacing on the same side of the street as the bike lane – an altruistic act only possible for him because it wasn’t overly inconvenient.
He took 6th all the way down to Washington Avenue, where he made a right into a new bike lane, heading west. Brightly lit Vietnamese restaurants caught his eye, as they always did, and he marveled at the sheer number of them, perhaps twenty different places to get pho on either side of the Italian Market. Six or seven cars sped past him approaching 10th, where he had to cut over to the middle lane for a left turn. People held hands and looked out through clouds of their own warm breath, walking briskly up and down Passyunk Avenue as he crossed it.
Parked cars lined both sides of Mifflin Street but the driving lane was clear, so he cruised the wrong way in the middle of the road toward 13th Street, where he stopped to lock up his bike and helmet. The pole of a NO PARKING sign would serve as a suitable parking spot, so he threaded his chain through the bike’s two main shafts and its front wheel and the pole, running the chain through the helmet straps as well before securing its ends with a padlock. After half a block by foot, he arrived at the Adobe Café. A bar down the street once turned away him and his friends because they “don’t serve your kind,” this rather surprising to him in 2013 in a large northeastern city. But he was glad they voiced their prejudice – he wouldn’t have wanted to drink in a place where he wasn’t wanted.
At the Adobe he didn’t have to worry about anything like that, and he found his friends in the back room watching a woman and two young men sing karaoke, belting out Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” The song made him think of Chooch, Phillies’ catcher Carlos Ruiz, because it’s his walk-up song for every at bat. “Yo,” he called out to his friends as he walked toward them, “I’ll go buy a round. What’s everyone need?”
published 7 June 2014