The urban cyclist as destiny's darling

WHEN I ride my bicycle, I mean business. Yesterday I passed three buses on my way to work. Today, six. Since I don't have a watch, counting buses allows me to measure my speed and performance. It also lets me explore the depths of my imagination. Riding up hill and down dale, dodging potholes, makes me feel like Paul Revere. I want to shout to people waiting by the side of the road, ``The buses are coming, the buses are coming.''

Those poor people. Day after day they wait, even in cold and rain. They're always expectant, but they never really know if the slow, smelly, often overcrowded bus will appear and sweep them into work on time.

Not long ago, I was in their shoes. I used to take the bus. Every day I would drag myself out of bed at 6 and rush out the door to catch the 6:15. It passed a block from my house.

Some days it would be a half hour late - and so would I. My boss would be very unhappy. Sometimes coming home after dark, I waited two hours for the bus to come. Anything, I thought, would be better than all of this waiting - even riding nine miles on a bicycle.

But spending $300 on a bicycle was the last thing I wanted to do. And I worried that all that pedaling would tire me out. The ride would be too far. The bike would eventually end up in the basement.

I worried so much that hopping on the bicycle the first day I was miserable. Pedaling was slow.

Then I saw my first bus off in the distance. The blood rushed to my head - and I was off like a bullet. My rallying cry was ``Catch that bus.''

I caught it easily. That conquest alone justified my purchase.

I have been passing buses ever since.

Seven years have passed and I am still passing buses. In case you might wonder if I'm a daredevil or a little off my rocker, let me explain.

Passing buses - stopped buses - is about the same as passing a parked car. Only the buses are much bigger. Few cyclists are fast enough to pass a moving bus. And it would be absurd to try. When I pass a bus, it has stopped to pick up passengers.

Passing with care, I pedal as fast as I can. That way I ensure that I've left the bus behind me. The bus driver must continue to pick up passengers. I hope - pray - that there will be passengers at every stop so that the driver will have to stop often. Then I can forget him.

Contrary to popular belief, city drivers are polite to cyclists. Even in Massachusetts, where aggressive driving gets you a trophy, not a ticket, drivers in general are careful to avoid bikers. Drivers have often made a wide sweep around me when passing. Frankly, I've felt pampered.

But even if it were proved to me that biking was the most dangerous activity in the world, I would find it hard to stop. There is a spirit in my heart that cries out for freedom, that rebels against bondage. It's worth facing a little danger to taste that freedom.

Man takes risks to achieve his goals. Man naturally wants to be the master of his destiny. And I want to be master of mine. Regardless of any danger, riding my bike allows me to control my destiny. When I fly past a bus or slice through a traffic jam, I feel in control.

I have a feeling that each bus driver knows that I am racing. Still they are always courteous. No one has ever tried to cut me off.

That doesn't mean that bus drivers aren't competitors. They know they are losing. One driver rose to the challenge. He stopped picking up passengers and whizzed right by me. I could imagine his saying, ``Ha, ha, ha, I've got you now, road runner.''

Seeing the bus disappear made me want to cry. After all, getting beaten by a bus is not something to be taken lightly. A guy could lose control of his destiny.

At such times, you have to reach deep inside of yourself. You have to ask: ``What am I made of? Am I going to let that bus get the best of me?'' The prospect of defeat is a great character builder.

But we all know that ``the race ain't over 'til it's over.'' Even though disappointment had slowed my efforts, I kept plodding my course.

Then off in the distance, I saw my bus. I couldn't understand why it seemed to be waiting there. Then I saw the bottleneck at Huntington Avenue. Two other buses were waiting there also. I knifed past them all. Those two extra buses upped my total to five for the day. Ah, destiny! Hooray!

Nothing beats that feeling of elation when a man can count the fruits of his labor (even if they be buses), and congratulate himself on a job well done.

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