Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.


Prologue to 15 Minutes: A Bike’s Tale

The bus passes by us, and like so many other times during the past five plus years, I miss it. We continue walking towards her place, but she has a busy night ahead of her, so I return to wait at the bus stop. In those fifteen minutes, an old thought reenters my consciousness. I could really use a bike.

15 Minutes: A Bike’s Tale

While it was a bit of a challenge fitting it into the elevator, I now have a bike. A friend recommends the stairs for next time. How does one inaugurate a bike? Perhaps with some exploring. I rattle off an e-mail to MT:

Would you be up for biking on the streets of Berkeley this weekend? I just got a bike!

Hope all is well!


She responds:

Hey K!

Congrats on getting a bike!  I would love to explore Berkeley on two-wheels with you this weekend.  I’ll be working on finishing up a lot of reading today and tomorrow, but I’ll have time tomorrow to go for a ride and a coffee or something for up to a couple of hours or so during the day, if you’re free.  Give me a call when you get a chance, or I’ll try giving you a call later today.

Tomorrow’s a whole day away. I look over at the bike. It stands motionless. I approach the bike. It continues to stand motionless. It’s not doing what a bike SHOULD be doing. I scratch my head, and the eureka moment flashes: time to go for a haircut… on a bike! With the economic downturn, a razor cut feels too indulgent, so Heads Up Hair Care, my former hair-stomping grounds, becomes the bike-able alternative.

The bike isn’t heavy, and it makes its way down the outside stairs without a hitch. It hits the pavement, and we start. Wheee! Solano is on an incline, so the pedals are unnecessary. What would normally be a fifteen minute walk is reduced to just five.

The Perfectionist is standing outside Heads Up. I wave at her and smile. “Just give me a minute to park my bike, and I’ll be right in.” That estimate turns out to be overly optimistic.

What’s the best way to lock this thing? Yes, the frame is a must. Now what about the front wheel and seat? Hmmm… the rope doesn’t reach. How about this? Nope. It’s fallen off the frame again. Should I give up on the seat? Wait… has it been another five minutes already?

After a couple more minutes of struggling, I enter Heads Up unsure of my bike-locking abilities. The Perfectionist motions for me to place the helmet on her dresser. She starts, and as usual, looks over the hair periodically, checking to make sure each strand meets the exact proportions. That one’s a little longer. Bzzz! The clipper puts it on par with its neighbors.

The haircut is over, and after paying The Perfectionist, I put on the helmet, pick up a courtesy lollipop, and head back to the bike. It’s still there. After placing the lollipop in my mouth, I ride the bike up Solano.

Pedaling is now a necessity, and the bike moves slowly. A biker passes me. She’s pedaling at the same rate, though. Am I doing something wrong? How do these gears work again? Now it’s going slower. How about this? Okay, it’s easier to pedal now, but the bike isn’t moving much faster. A car stops ahead of me to let pedestrians cross. Somehow, they seem to be moving faster than my bike.

It’s windy. Small hair projectiles start flying into my face. Apparently the helmet does not function as a hair net. Another round of projectiles hit my eyes. Will there be any hair left once I remove this helmet? Oh, the suspense. 

About ten minutes later, the bike makes it back to the apartment. For a change of scenery, we head up the inside staircase. Walking up these winding stairs is significantly more challenging than walking down the other ones. My muscles are going to get a workout.

I reposition the bike to turn, which shifts the bike’s center-of-gravity, and causes me to respond in kind. It seems that I’m slow dancing with a bike I just met. How scandalous! The stairs are narrower than expected, too. Bang bang! My dance partner hits unhappily against every conceivable wall and obstruction. I clearly have two left feet.

The five minute waltz up the stairs ends, and I lay the bike against the couch. It rests motionless once again.

My decisions are now swift and decisive. I remove the lollipop from my mouth, which has disintegrated into a wad of chewing gum. I pick up the phone and browse to a number. The phone does the rest. MT picks up.

“How does 10 AM tomorrow sound?” I ask. It’s on!

Epilogue to 15 Minutes: A Bike’s Tale

Later that night, I notice that Brad Pitt’s character in Burn After Reading has a solution to the bike-locking problem. He walks into an apartment with a bike helmet in his right hand and a wheel in his left. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have a solution to any of his other problems.


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