For those who don’t know: I live in London, and I cycle to and from work. About 25km a day. I’ve been on those two wheels for nigh on seven years now, and I love it. It’s a dangerous old game, city cycling—especially in a city like London, with its often archaic and redundantly designed roads—but I absolutely adore it.
I didn’t at first. Before starting in the city the only cycling experience I had was from the mountain biking I used to do in the countryside during the long childhood summers spent back home in the motherland. The deserted, backwoods Czech roads and winding mountain trails might have presented their own set of challenges, but dodging and gliding in between an endless fleet of aggressive traffic was not one of them. There cycling was a demanding marathon of endurance; in the city it resembles more the video games of old: sprint, dodge, jump, sprint, duck!, dodge, sprint! With—you guessed it:
No, not Predator. I mean, I don’t think so. I’ve not seen him yet. No: Total situational awareness. At all times.
So it’s quite the learning curve, transitioning from country cycling to city cycling. It’s terrifying at first. Then manageable. Then tolerable. Then thrilling. And then totally addictive. Once your brain re-aligns itself along the lines of city cycling, learning its rhythms and reprogramming its endorphin release mechanisms, that’s it. You’re hooked. Sliding through the barely-there interstitial spaces of traffic; feeling completely unbound from the matrix of pre-determined routes that the commuters must obey; knowing that you didn’t have to pay jack shit for the journey—yeah, that gets to be quite a moreish cocktail. Just tuck it straight into my veins.
But, obviously, it’s dangerous. A lot of cyclists have died, and continue to die, on London’s roads. There are multiple reasons for this, chief among them poor infrastructure and a lack of political will. I—you might be surprised to hear—haven’t died out there yet. Though to be sure I’ve had some close calls. Slipping on an icy roundabout and almost ending up underneath the wheels of an oblivious van. Not braking quickly enough and kamikaze-ing fists first into the side of a tinted window Bentley. Being blown into the side of a bus by gale force fuck-you winds. Fun, scary times. The oblivious van was probably the worst experience I’ve had on the roads.
Until this morning.
The scene went like so …
It’s just gone 8am and I’m breezing my way through the cyclist-free central London roads (it rained yesterday which always means that all the part-timers disappear for at least three days to recover from the trauma). The weather, now a mild shade of grey, is easy to deal with, and most people are driving in relatively acceptable ways. All in all, a pretty uneventful ride.
Then I hit a three lane wall of traffic. Or rather, I see one up ahead, as I’m approaching it at considerable speed. Brrrp-bleep-bleep-boop-brrp-boop goes the Cycling Cortex of the brain, working out the optimal path at speeds my brain is otherwise never able to match in normal life.
I quickly check behind me and, seeing a window of opportunity, I flit from the left lane (England, remember) across to the right of the middle one. Wall of traffic approaching from the front, a safari rush of vehicles running up from behind, me checking my speed to match those around me, I have to time it just right to slip behind the truck that’ll pass me on the right, and through the little space that’ll open thanks to his movement, and then zip diagonally across it, and then, at greatly reduced speed, through a slight path that’s open in the wall. But as traffic inches on and each constituent part moves, the path shifts. There’s risk that it’ll become nonexistent. Like a submerged seal going for his life-giving air hole in the ice I have to get through before the pieces conspire against me.
Every part goes well. I’m no amateur. Zip! Zip! Riding the breeze of momentum, I feel pretty damn good about myself. Superior, even. Look at these chumps, plodding along. I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar.
Apparently I took the wrong lesson from Serenity. Because just then, as I was flowing through that gap in the ice, hyper-confident in my abilities, karma struck. Hubris turned into cosmic retribution. In short, I got Whedon-ed.
The ice closed, and I had to brake fast to avoid an even faster, altogether messier stop. All momentum gone, I now sat there, a helpless constituent cog in the very same traffic I had been skipping through seconds earlier. The wind no longer rushing over my ears, the sounds of the city suddenly returned to me. Beeping horns, purring engines, and—right next to me, exactly level with my head and coming from the only open car window that I could see—music. And not just any music.
The fucking Backstreet Boys. Blaring out of a car window at ear-assaulting volume at 8am in central London traffic. With me, right next to it, trapped, itching to move but unable to move forward, and unable to escape backwards or sideways. For the next unending minute or two, purely just to spite me, the block of traffic decided to unify and move together as one. If one part moves, everyone moves. I desperately waited for the ice to shift but the configuration refused to change. I was trapped. Just me, Nick Carter, AJ McLean, Howie Dorough, Kevin Richardson, and Brian Littrell, jamming out on Gower Street as my brow furrowed like a Buffy vampire and rage sweat poured down my back. ‘Darkness took me. And I strayed out of thought and time. Stars wheeled overhead, and every day was as long as the life age of the earth.’
Eventually, mercifully, there was a tectonic shift, and I escaped.
But that damn song. That infernal tune is now in my head, probably forever. The charred remains of his soul that Max Martin sold off in order to compose this fucker are burned into my mind, dragging me down into madness.
AND I’M NOT GOING DOWN ALONE!
HERE, PAJIBA, BURN WITH ME! BURN IN THE HELLFIRE OF LATE NINETIES PURGATORY!