A Slow News Day in Arlington, MA (June, 2002)
It's a warm and rainy spring day here in Arlington, MA, and apparently, there are other people with time on their hands.
After taking care of a few odd chores, I biked over to the supermarket to buy groceries. The rain was light and steady, with the occasional few minutes of downpour, making for rather messy biking, but I wore shorts and sandals so it didn't much matter to me. With no place to be, no one to meet, and warm weather, I could get soaked and not mind.
I brought my cart of groceries out to my bike and starting transferring them into the "saddlebags" (panniers? I can never remember the exact word for them). Nearby was a bench where an employee was sitting and we talked as I packed. That was when the woman walked by on her way to her car. She looked like your average housewife and something about the scene she saw made her stop.
"You're not going to fit all that on your bike, are you?" were her first words.
"Of course I am."
"Do you mind if I watch?"
"Be my guest." I replied, a little startled that she would be so interested.
So she stood there watching while I kept packing and chatting with the guy on the bench.
I trace my packing skills back to the blizzard of '78. When the National Guard moved in and shut down all the roads, my father got out backpacks and a Flexible Flyer sled, and a couple of us walked to the supermarket to buy the food that would last us until roads were reopened and stores were restocked. I watched him pack it all very carefully and with obvious thought and consideration, getting the most out of each little backpack and the sled while keeping the entire affair manageable for the walk home. The birth of my 3 dimensional thinking, as far as I'm concerned.
I kept loading up my bike and the amount of groceries left in the cart kept diminishing. Then I pulled out my backpack and the woman instantly said, "that's cheating" without even a hint of a smile. I couldn't help smiling as I told her that it was not an Olympic event she was watching. Besides, the pack would go on me, and I on the bike.
There wasn't much for her to say to this, and the next time she spoke it was to say, "you'll get wet". She had already noted this twice and both times I had responded that I was already wet; I was standing and packing in the rain, after all. Did I mention how the employee and I were discussing the possibility of a bike rack at the supermarket? Both he and the woman were standing in the covered walkway next to the building. I had locked my bike to the handicapped parking sign just outside of the covering - the only possible place to lock up a bike on that side of the place. A rack somewhere along that covered area would not only encourage bikers, it would allow this woman to warn us against getting wet before we already were.
Anyway, something about my not minding the wet was as wrong to her as the idea of trying to pack all those groceries onto a bicycle and she couldn't let the thought go. She asked why the rain wasn't bothering me. The logical explanation - not having anything going on that required being dry - wasn't working so I asked her if she had ever jumped in a puddle, just for the heck of it. She said she had, so I said, "Well, this is the same thing, only with a bicycle and groceries."
I was so sure that I had just delivered the coup de grace of the argument that I turned back to my packing. The next thing I heard was, "You'll get wet."
Suddenly she remembered that she had come in a car, and offered to drive me back, so that I could avoid getting wet. I thanked her and declined saying that I doubted my bike would fit in the back. Well she had a minivan of some sort, and said the bike would, so I just declined.
"What if there's a downpour?"
I took off my hat, spread my arms, and looked up into the sky as I called out, "may the floodgates open, and the waters come down to drench me on the ride home!"
I know. It's dangerous to make such pronouncements, but really, I couldn't resist. Besides, I really didn't mind being so wet. I was just about finished at that point, so she only had time for one more "you'll get wet" (answered with the now obligatory "I'm already wet." If I ever write a spy novel I know what the password and countersign will be.)
The entire business took about 15 minutes and they both stayed the entire time watching me. When I had finished (had assured her that it was possible to bicycle with such a load, and had promised to be careful) I bowed and held out my hat as if I were a street performer. Neither of them understood the motion, so I put my hat back on, said goodbye and biked off as they watched.
Who knows, she might be at home right now, writing a letter about the crazy guy in the rain. Me, I can't help thinking that it must have been a mighty slow news day in Arlington.
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