Biking is, for me, an unambiguous joy. When I’m whipping past cars snarled in traffic, it feels like I am riding in the sweet embrace of Hermes himself. Even on the hottest summer days, I can still catch a breeze on my powder-blue Schwinn. All the world’s a stage and the production is: Me, Riding a Bike.
But the trance is quickly broken as soon as I reach my destination and dismount. The triumphant head rush turns into uncertainty and disorientation: Where can I lock up? Then shame: Why am I so sweaty? In these lowest moments, I have one simple request: Don’t look at me.
I have many kind friends with wonderful attributes, but one horrible thing they all have in common is a compulsion to come up and talk to me when they see me arrive on my bike. There, they find me at my worst, both physically and emotionally. I am damp from the ride and must now take off my helmet and redo my oddly compressed hair. It is possible that the breeze, once a source of my power, blew something gross — an insect, the torn corner of a Snapple label — onto my face. Using only the two hands that the Lord gave me, I must rearrange myself, smooth my rough edges, and prepare to rejoin society. All while also securing my bike to one of the city’s O-racks, or, more likely, a street-sign post with another bike already chained to it. This takes time and focus; I am essentially completing a physical equivalent of a Kumon worksheet. Inevitably, something drops to the ground. This is both embarrassing and part of my process.
Tell me, would you walk up to a surgeon who is performing a heart transplant (immediately after running a marathon) and ask, “What’s up?”
I’ve had anxiety dreams where I have to lock up my bike after running into a crush. I will unpack this further on my own time, but the real terror is the fact that it could easily happen. Your teeth probably won’t fall out all at once; you are very unlikely to show up to a test totally nude — but someone you want to sleep with will at some point very likely look on and potentially ask themselves, Does that person know how to use a key? Do they have a medical condition that makes them perspire more than most other people? Like flossing, or licking Bolognese sauce from the bottom of a bowl, locking up your bike is a task meant to be experienced alone, unobserved.
These days, I’ve taken to parking my bike a block from wherever I’m actually going so I can safely gather myself before interacting. But still, the danger of being perceived persists. Unless, of course, we all agree to look away. The bike will eventually be locked, my hair once again parted how I like it. I’ll walk up and say, “How’s it going? ” But until that moment, please pretend I don’t exist. Eventually, I’ll repay the favor.