Munich

Munich

A Story by Chopstix
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A nearly true story of cycle commuting in Los Angeles: Picture prompt: A well dressed woman riding a bicycle.

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Although I read the requirement in the rules, this story ain’t exactly fiction, but I contend all words in newspapers, biographies and history books ain’t exactly true.  Humans are liars by nature, and writers are the worst, worse than politicians.  Sitting here, in Starbucks, in front of my computer attempting to write, I wonder if the rigors of cycling Los Angeles’s unfriendly streets sparked my fictional pursuits.  I started pedaling to work after a 2006 Munich vacation.  I wrote the first chapter of my novel a month later. 

Almost every thoroughfare in Munich features automobiles lanes, yet on each side, a curb protects two bicycle lanes and two lanes for pedestrians.  Los Angeles’s streets, by contrast, are bicycle hostile: Few bicycle lanes, ill paved roads, wind blown debris overflowing gutters on the right, broken glass from smashed automobile windows, sharp landscaping rocks, narrow lanes (less than fourteen feet) and aggressive drivers.  

Unlike driving, cycling to work allows no mental drift, no distraction.  Riders' bodies pay for every mistake.  Like sleep, human minds need fantasy, imagination or just plain fiction.  Deprived of hours of gasoline fueled, rock and roll enhanced delusions of power, entitlement and importance, writing a novel an hour a night seemed natural, perhaps necessary.

I commute from my house in Alhambra to a downtown, twenty-eight story skyscraper four days a week.  

“Why didn’t you ride to work today?” Some colleague or another invariably asks on the elevator.

“Thursdays are street sweeping days.”

“And the roads are too slick?”

“Nope, I park my car on the street, and parking tickets are too expensive.”

National Bike to Work Day, celebrated throughout most the nation on the third Friday of May, comes on the third Thursday in Los Angeles.  Every year, I endure insipid TV interviews of annual commuter cyclists and inane, mis-informative first person journalistic accounts of their forays into bicycle commuting.  It’s not that I’m bitter, though obviously I am, but I’d like the media to interview a real, two-wheeled, pedal-powered road warrior.  I imagine …

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“And what brought you out here today?” NBC4’s on-the-beat reporter thrust her microphone into a handsome, clean cut, man’s face.

“I heard about this on your news broadcast last night and thought I’d check it out.”

“How much further to work do you need to ride?”

“Oh, I took the day off,” he replied, “I just came to see what it would be like.  They’re giving away a lot of neat stuff like donuts, power bars and water bottles.”

“Thank you.”  Turning to look into the camera, she continued, “This is Casey Peters reporting from Los Angeles’s Olvera Street where city volunteers set up a Bike to Work Day celebration station.”

“That was awful,” cameraman Xavi Hinajosa said, “why don’t we interview actual bikers?”

“Cyclists,” Case corrected, "bikers ride their Harleys to roadhouse dives."

“Whatever!”

“Because the celebration is on the wrong side of the street.  Those riding into downtown are over there.”  She pointed to the opposite side of Caesar Chavez Ave.  Her blond hair framed a nearly perfect oval face.  Her high cheek bones almost most made her eyes sink, but expert makeup and brilliant blue contact lenses contributed to her Nordic beauty.

“Then, let’s go there,” Xavi agreed. “You can locate your self as ‘Downtown,’ not ‘Olvera Street.’”

Across the street, a brunette woman wearing a black belted, white skirt and purple blouse rode by on a green Dutch, townie style bicycle with a brief case resting on a front rack.

“Damn!” Casey exclaimed.

“I got the shot,” Xavi consoled.

Aileen Kreski, LA Daily News reporter, watched them cross Caesar Chavez Avenue and followed.  A minute later another cyclist approached.  Xavi immediately adjusted color contrasts.  This rider wore a high visibility orange FC Barcelona soccer jersey with a blue UNICEF sponsor logo.  At the stop light, he waited atop a fluorescent green road bike 

“Are you riding to work?” Casey yelled.

“Yeah, I ride most days.”

“Can I interview you for Channel 4 News?”

“OK.”  He snapped his cleated shoe out of the pedal, dismounted and pulled his bicycle over the curb.  His heavy pannier hanging off the bike’s rear rack proved difficult making this maneuver less than graceful.  

“What’s your name, and what city do you live in?”

“I’m Karl Fandkin from Alhambra.”

“That’s not far.”

“My ride is eight miles each way.”

“How long have you been riding?”

“I left home around 6:45.”

“I mean when did you start riding your bicycle to work?”

“I started in 2006.”

“What motivated you?”

“I don’t have a short answer for that.”

“Try.”

Karl twisted his face for a moment.  His eyes searched overhead clouds for a clue.  Suddenly, a smile dominated his countenance and motivated his lips.

“Munich,” he stated.

Xavi enacted the “no go” wave.  Casey shook off his direction.

“Is that your bike’s original color?” Casey inquired.

“No,” Karl answered, “I had it powder coated last year.”

“Why did you choose such a bright color?”

Karl’s eyes darted skyward again.  Xavi let his camera tilt down as he gestured, “Wrap it up.”  Karl’s eyes and Xavi’s camera leveled about the same time.

“A la Brava,” Karl offered.

“A la Brava!” Xavi echoed.

“This is Casey Peters reporting from downtown Los Angeles on National Bike to Work Day.”

Xavi gestured Casey east towards another corner.  Karl scanned Caesar Chavez while drinking from his water bottle.

“Got a minute? I’m Aileen Kreski, L.A. Daily news.”

“No thanks,” Karl snarked, “I gave on TV.”

“That was a complete waste of time.”

“All the more reason to just get my butt to work before I’m late.”

“I bet you allow an extra five or ten minutes just in case you get a flat.”

“So the pretty ones go into TV, and the smart ones go into print.”

“Thanks, you really know how to charm a girl.”

At twenty-eight, Aileen Kreski maintained a tomboy figure.  Men who gave her a second look were rewarded by curly brown hair framing a cute face, a genuine smile freely given and perky disposition.  Karl looked again and smiled.

“Where do the pretty-smart ones go?”

“Comma or space?”

“Your good!”

“I know,” Aileen boasted, “but I don’t know what you meant by ‘Munich.’”

“Have you ever been there?”

“Not yet.”

“It’s well laid out.  Just about every street sports asphalt lanes for cars, but they add wide sidewalks with two marked lanes for bicycles and two lanes for pedestrians.  On each side.”

“I saw the same thing in Amsterdam …” she started

“… but not in Paris,” they chorused.

“So is that why you ride a bicycle to work?”

“Well, no.  Not really.  I don’t have a short answer.  Do you remember riding a bicycle as a kid? The moment when you felt you could conquer any distance.”

“Freedom and independence?”

“Yeah!”

“Don’t you get that from your car?”

“Yeah, but it’s not the same.  It’s not a youthful feeling.  I’m getting older now, and youthful feelings help.”

“So you ride to feel youthful?”

“Feeling youthful is just part of staying healthy.  Before I started riding to work, I went to the gym six days a week.  In 2005, my doctor told me I had diabetes with an A1C blood sugar level of 7.5.  With medication, it went down to 7.3.  Coincidently, I started riding the summer I switched medical insurance plans and couldn’t fill my prescriptions.  With four days on the bike and weekends at the gym, my A1C went down to 6.8.”

“Is that it?”

“Well, it saves me time as well.”

“No way!”

“Way!  When I drove to my gym in Pasadena, worked out half an hour, showered and dressed, I got home at 6:30.  When I ride, I’m showered, dressed and ready to go by 5:00.  Riding my bicycle to work saves me ninety minutes a day.”

“My readers won’t believe that!”

“But wait, there’s more.  Every day I drove to work, I burned a gallon of gas.  That’s what? Four bucks a gallon?”

“So add it all together, and that’s why you ride a bike to work?”

“No, no, you’re not getting it all.  In America where our population is aging, real wages are going down, gas prices rocket up, obesity causes diabetes and personal satisfaction with life sinks with every opinion poll, the question shouldn’t be ‘Why do you bike ride to work?’ But rather, ‘Why don’t you ride to work?’”  

“So you think I’m working on the wrong story.  The real story is lurking up in Bunker Hill offices, and I’ve been asking all the wrong people the wrong question.”

“No, I’m not a journalist,” Karl backpedaled, “though it may make a better story.  If you did ask, what answer to you think you’d hear?”

“I live too far away?” Aileen ventured.

“With a road bike, like this, commuters can range fifteen miles in less than an hour.  Several of my colleagues complain their fifteen mile freeway grinds take that long.  So what about people who live fifteen miles or closer?”

“They’re afraid cars will hit them.”

“Exactly!” Karl congratulated her.

“So we need more bike paths and bike lanes.”

“Perhaps,” Karl corrected, “but I don’t think short answers will work.  Unlike Kevin Costner movies, if they build it, I doubt anyone will come.”

“So?”

“So, I hope motorists, who see me riding every day, will think, ‘I should do that,’ then, ‘I can do that,’ then, ‘I will do that’ and, finally, ‘That was easy.’  One cyclist on the road, then two, then four and then more.  When we encroach on car traffic, bicycle lanes will appear to segregate us from cars.”

“Munich?”

“Better than Munich.”  Karl stretched out his arms, palms skyward.  “We have much better weather.  All year round.  It rains, what, twenty days a year here.  L.A. should be a cyclist’s paradise.”

“Perhaps that should be my story,” Aileen mused.

“If you like.”

“So what about ‘A la brava?’”

“That’s another a story, and I really need to go to work.”

“Some other time.”  Aileen fished her press pass out of her rear pocket and dug a business card out of its plastic holder.

“Some other time,” Karl echoed.

“Call me.”  Aileen handed Karl the business card.

Karl looked at the card, unzipped a compartment on his pannier and placed the card inside.  He smiled at Aileen, waved, straddled his bicycle’s top bar, snapped his left cleated shoe into its peddle and rode away.

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Well, that’s my story though it’s more a scene or vignette.  I could extend it with Karl calling Aileen and accepting a dinner invitation.  It wouldn’t work.  Eventually Karl removes his cycling gloves revealing the wedding ring Marcy placed on his finger a dozen years ago.  This is where good, perhaps noble, characters show human frailty and reveal their baser nature.  Were this fiction, some meaning or moral might linger in the text awaiting reader’s revelations, but this ain’t exactly fiction.  I’ll leave it to them to draw the line where fact fades to fiction or where greater truths devolve into mundane ones.

Word Count: 1840. 

© 2017 Chopstix



Author's Note

Chopstix
For forgotten reasons, I bracketed the story with commentary about writing. Probably a mistake. Whatd'ya think?

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Added on February 10, 2017
Last Updated on February 10, 2017
Tags: Bicycle, Media, Reporters, Los Angeles, National Bike to Work Day.

Author

Chopstix
Chopstix

Los Angeles, CA



About
In high school, I wrote lyrics. I started college writing poems and switched to short stories. After college, I discovered I could write computer programs, but I could not finish a novel (kept editi.. more..

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