by T.R. Healy

      “Remember, this is our street too,” Wyatt reminded the two bicyclists riding beside him  as they approached the first signs of congestion during their loop of downtown. It was a quarter to five, almost rush hour.

     “We have as much right to be here as any bus or car.”

     “I feel like I’m in the middle of a stampede,” Ross, one of the other cyclists, groaned as he chugged past a stalled bread truck.

      “You are, my friend.  That’s why you have to stay alert at all times so you don’t get trampled.”

     His companion, Peter, smiled grimly.

     “Think of yourselves as matadors and all the traffic around you as wild bulls.”

     “Whatever you say, Wyatt.  You’re the coach.”

     Wyatt, a bike mechanic, worked at a cluttered little east side shop only a few blocks from his apartment.  It was owned by a crusty Belgian, Bernard Lemoyne, who was nearly blind in one eye from a bicycle accident he suffered as a young man.  Always interested in bringing in more business to the shop, he suggested to Wyatt one afternoon that he offer his services as a coach.`

     “You starting some kind of team, Bernie?” he asked, surprised by the suggestion.

      He grinned.  “No, no, my boy.  But so many people are starting to ride their bikes to work these days I bet some of them could use some advice from an experienced rider how to negotiate through heavy traffic, especially during rush hour.”

     “And you think I’m that person?”

     “Sure, why not?” he replied, dusting some ashes from the sleeve of his oatmeal-colored jersey.  “Besides, maybe they’ll be so appreciative of what you’ve told them, they’ll buy something at the shop.”

     “So that’s what this is all about, money?”

     “Isn’t everything?”

     Not everything, he thought, reaching for a tire lever.  Not as far as he was concerned.  Otherwise he’d be working somewhere else where he could make a decent wage but he was here because of his fondness for Bernie who was old enough to be his father and often acted as if he were.

     “Don’t cower beside the curb,” Wyatt snapped at Peter.  “Get out there in the lane.”

     Tentatively, after lowering his head, Peter edged next to the white stripe.

     “Get out there!  Don’t be afraid.”

     “Easy for you to say,” Ross muttered as he moved along the striping behind his friend.

     This was only the third time he had conducted any riders through rush hour traffic downtown and he didn’t want anything to go wrong.  Not like the first time when a client was knocked off her bike by someone opening a car door. He insisted the two middle-aged accountants he was coaching today stay on the outside of the bike lane.  It was safer there, but he doubted if they believed him so he had to keep reminding them.

      A crowded crosstown bus lumbered up beside Peter, close enough to graze his elbow if he extended it just a hair, and he flinched but didn’t stop, knowing if he did Wyatt would be chastising him again.

     “Are we having fun yet?” Ross asked, trailing behind his friend.

     “If we are, I’m not aware of it.”

     Scarcely breathing, Wyatt moved alongside the two riders, urging them to be calm.  He knew they were apprehensive about being so close to all the moving cars, buses, SUVs and motorcycles, he was confident if they kept their composure and did as he said they would not have any problems.

     “Remember, today you’re matadors.”

     A fine mist began to fall as they wound through the financial district, rinsing some of the dust and grime from their faces.  They passed one bank after another, one hotel after another, nearly keeping up with all the vehicles because the signals were set at 12 m.p.h. during rush hour.  A couple of doormen even waved at them, as did a few pedestrians striding along the sidewalk.  In another moment, pedaling around a corner, they saw a dented blue Impala halfway in the bike lane, and deftly squeezed by it only to find two more cars encroaching into the lane.

           He knew, if he were riding alone, he’d probably slap the hoods of both cars to let the drivers know they were in his lane.  But he didn’t want to frighten his clients, instead, he pulled over to the curb and waited under a lamppost.

     “We’ll wait until these idiots get out of the way before we go on.”

     “Can’t we go around them?” Ross asked.

     “We can but then we’d be in the car lane.  And we’d be as much in the wrong as they are.”

     “My nerves could use a break,” Peter admitted, slumping over his handlebars.

     “Great!” Peter barked, crunching over a broken wine bottle.

     “What’s wrong?” Ross asked.

     “My back tire went over some glass.”

     “One of the hazards of bike lanes is they collect a lot of debris from the street,” Wyatt said as he slowed down to check Peter’s tire.  “So you have to be wary of that.”

     “I thought I was but I flat didn’t see it.”

     Ross swerved around another shattered bottle.  “You can’t see everything.”

     “You should try, though,” Wyatt replied, mindful of some of the stories Bernie told him of road races he competed in overseas where unscrupulous riders tossed nails and bits of glass behind them to puncture the tires of their competition.

     “Always ride as if drivers don’t see you,” Wyatt reminded Ross after an armored truck abruptly pulled out in front of him.

     “Half the time they don’t.”

     “I know.  That’s why you have to think of them as bulls in an arena.”

     “Si, senor.”

     Nearly halfway through the loop, Wyatt motioned for his clients to pull over at a drinking fountain along the riverfront.

     “Something the matter?” Peter asked, concerned.

     “Nah,” he said, dismounting his Colnago racing bike.  “I thought we should take a break for a couple of minutes because it’s going to be a tough climb back to the shop.”

     Peter frowned.  “It’s not that steep.”

     “My legs are pretty strong,” Peter said, nibbling a Nestle’s bar.

     Wyatt nodded and walked his bike under a willow tree as the mist turned into a steady rain that bounced off his cranberry red helmet.  On the river a tugboat passed under the railroad bridge, hauling a sand barge.  He watched it disappear behind an oil tanker from Panama while his clients drank from the rusted fountain.

     “You remember that passenger plane that landed on the river a few years back?”

     Ross nodded.  “Yeah, I remember.”

     “It was right here.”

     “You saw it go down?”

     “No,” he said, fidgeting with his chin strap.  “But my father was the pilot.”

     “Is that so?”

     “Both engines quit on him so he had no choice but to land it on the water.  Otherwise he’d have crashed into some neighborhood and killed I don’t know how many people.  As it was, not a single person was seriously injured.”

     “That’s remarkable.”

     “My girlfriend then was driving along the riverfront at the time,” Peter recalled, “and she saw it happen.  Said it was the scariest thing she’d ever seen and she talked about it for weeks.”

     “Your father must be some kind of pilot all right.”

     He nodded proudly.  “He got a lot of decorations for what he did, including a call from the governor.”

     Ross grinned.  “I bet he didn’t have to pay for a drink around here for quite a long time.”

     Wyatt, smiling, continued to stare out at the river, wishing he could have seen his father bring the plane down on the choppy water.

     He never knew the identity of his father until his mother revealed it to him a few days after the emergency landing.  She thought he should know, she told him, because it was such a marvelous achievement.  Even she seemed proud of this ghost she had never spoken of in his presence.  Many, many times he had asked her about him but always she refused to say anything, still very bitter that he did not marry here and, instead, enlisted in the Air Force.

     “It’s not fair to your stepfather,” she always told him.

     “It’s not fair to me, either.”

     “Get on the sidewalk where you belong!” an agitated driver screamed at Ross in Chinatown .  “This isn’t a playground!”

     At once, Wyatt pulled up beside his rattled client.  “Just ignore the jerk.  He’s the one in the wrong, not you.”

     “I don’t know what his problem is.”

     Wyatt shrugged, shaking a bead of rainwater from his nose.  “He was probably talking on his phone and didn’t notice you until just before he was going to turn.”


     “You’re surrounded by cars during rush hour so you have to concentrate on what they’re up to all the time.  You’re a matador, remember?”

     “I feel more like a rodeo clown.”

     He smiled and dropped behind Ross, tightening the grip on his handlebars.  Out of the corner of his eye he noticed a man carrying a boy on his shoulders.  His son, he suspected, and smiled at them though he doubted if they noticed.

     Soon after his mother told him about his father, Wyatt wrote him a letter in care of the airline where he worked, in which he told him how proud he was of what he did, and how he looked forward to meeting him.  He didn’t receive an answer and assumed his letter got lost in the hundreds of letters his father received after his miraculous landing.  A month later, he wrote again, sending pretty much the same letter he sent previously.  It was not answered, either, but every other month he sent another one to him.  None of them were ever returned so he was sure his father must have got at least one of them.

     He never received a reply from his father until he was in the middle of his tour of duty in the middle of Kansas , and all his father said was “I wish you success in all your endeavors.”  It could have been written by a complete stranger, and he was bitterly disappointed, realizing finally his father had no interest in getting to know him after he got out of the service.  The return address on his envelope was the headquarters of the airline company, not his residential address, as if to discourage him from paying him a visit.

     “I feel like I’m pedaling through mud,” Peter complained, rising out of his saddle.

     His friend agreed, breathing heavily, his soaked bike as wobbly under him as a toy scooter.

     “Come on, guys, bear down,” Wyatt urged his clients as they started up the series of steep grades that collectively he thought of as Boot Hill because they were so much more demanding than they appeared.  “We’re only about half a mile from the shop.”

     “I don’t know if I can make it,” Peter groaned, slumped over his handlebars.  “I might have to get off my bike and walk it in.”

     “You can make it if you set your mind to it,” he insisted, riding alongside the struggling accountant.  “You can do almost anything if you want to badly enough.”

     “I don’t know, Wyatt.”

     “Only you know, but I believe you can.”

     Peter pressed on, his shoulders rocking violently as if shivering with cold, and Ross trailed right behind him.

     “Keep it up, guys.  You’re almost there.”

     His father did get married but not to his mother, and in the many news accounts of his extraordinary landing, Wyatt also learned that he and his wife had two children, a boy and a girl.  And, amazingly, the boy was also named Wyatt.  His mother was mortified, thought naming both his sons after himself was callous and cruel.  So did he but, even so, he wrote that first letter to him, hoping to establish some kind of connection, and though his father ignored it and all his subsequent letters, he was sure he would continue to write to him.  He really didn’t expect his father to offer to meet with him but he didn’t want to allow him to erase him from his memory.  He suspected that was what his father wanted to do, but he was determined not to let that happen if he had to write to him the rest of his life.

Rodale Rodale