“But [Johnson] said he ‘had not had a roll for a long time,’ and taking out of his pockets his keys, a pencil, a purse, and other objects, lay down parallel at the edge of the hill, and rolled down its full length, ‘turning himself over and over till he came to the bottom.’” – W.J. Bate, Samuel Johnson
The joys of cycling extend. Like the leg pedaling the bike, they extend and return back to the rider. The biker does more, experiences more, lives more. The biker looks forward to the daily work-commute and often takes the long way home. One might say that the bike is the metaphysical poem of transportation. A man on a bike is not merely a part of a machine; he is the machine. Yet he is human, almost as alive as the man on foot. He is, in a sense, the perfect mediator between pedestrian and vehicle. He can roar down roads like a car; he can earn right-of-way privileges like a foot. He can, most importantly, force vehicles to stop. But the bike, of course, does have its limits. The man on the bike, unlike the man on the foot, yields to the same temptation as a man in a car: he finds that he loathes stopping and even sometimes grows irritable when forced to. And he should be irritated, when the perpetrator is a vehicle; but the biker should never take precedence over the walker. No. Only the walker who walks and talks, who walks and stairs, who walks and blasts his ear-drums with his phone, only that walker should be stopped and perhaps flogged. For that walker has given up his humanity. But the walker who merely walks should be given the right-of-way in all situations. The biker should stop and bow down to that godlike creature. For that walker is closer to God. Indeed, that walker walks with God. For while man made the wheel, God made the foot.
The day begins on Rochelle. A slight uphill climb leads to Tamarus, where I hang a left. I could continue through, but the hill’s slope rises all the more. Tamarus is a quiet street, generally, but it is, what a good friend of mine would call a “freeway.”** That is, while it’s lined on its sides with stop-signs, from Flamingo to Harmon it stops for no man. I should say, it stops for no car. But the walker, and the biker make the vehicle cruising down Tamarus stop. I take joy in this. Then, I quickly head right at the next road, University. A four-way stop at Escondido doesn’t slow me down. At this four-way junction, the night’s leftovers are observed, sloshed and stumbling about. They yell at each other, or at the heavens, and I mildly pass by.Soon, I duck behind the Flame Kabob Persian restaurant, the Cannabis Community Center, the Tatlantis tattoo parlor, and the Moondog Records shop on an ill-paved parking lot, dodging speed bumps, vehicles, and more leftovers. I continue through a 7-eleven, snicker as I smell the gas and remember another life. Catching the sidewalk, I’m at the corner of Maryland and Harmon. I catch my breath waiting for the crosswalk. And as I do, I observe how the cars drive and drive and drive and drive. I hear their noise, feel their heat, smell and sometimes taste their odor. I don’t believe I’ve never seen a demon-possessed human. But I have seen a human-possessed demon. Every day they create as much chaos as they can.
Once I’m on campus, the smell of grass, singing birds, and morning amblers makes me feel right at home.
I try to avoid walkers as much as possible. Free-speech walkway is the main hub of campus that also leads to the rec center, where I get swoll. Thus, I take the back way, passing by the student union, cutting through random parking lots near student dormitories, and quite suddenly – so I tell myself – enter Free-speech walkway and arrive at the rec.
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas is not the prettiest campus in the world. Yet it has its own, unique beauty. On my way home from the rec, I take a long, sweeping route around campus. I’ve discovered a little pathway right by the dorms that leads out to – again, it feels as if I come out quite suddenly – a long, wide-open parking lot. The lot of the Thomas and Mack Center. Suddenly, my Kansas head has left the peace of campus, swimming in decadence, and weaving through the lot, I have the great Factory of Decadence to my left and a large arena to my right. I alternate which I look at during my ride. The Thomas and Mack is home to a mediocre, yet beloved basketball team, yet I can’t help but gaze at the large sign advertising July’s NBA Summer League. I wonder what that lot will be like then. I picture myself rolling up to the doors and getting autographs. Then, my mind wanders further along in time. I see the lot full of vehicles, vehicles with political bumper stickers. The cars are surrounded by an angry mob, probably lighting fires. Half the mob protest America. A quarter protest men. Another quarter protests – and pushes – women. Nevertheless, it’s a cool, October evening, quite lovely considering. The politicians are here though for their little debate, destroying any hope of peace. I picture myself riding up to those doors again on my bike, questioning which side of the debate to join. I sit and think. I consider the options. I join the mob.
I climb a hill in that same parking lot, hopefully making more vehicles stop, and get a good view of the southern end of the Factory. Mandalay Bay rests at its end. There again is the Luxor, MGM Grand, Excalibur, New York, New York, the Cosmopolitan, and the Paris Hotel with its Eiffel Tower sticking out from behind. That great beast, the Las Vegas Strip, is really nothing more than a cell-phone. Everything a man can do on his cell-phone, he can do on the strip. He can be there and yet everywhere. Indeed, he goes there specifically to be everywhere at once: Las Vegas, Egypt, a boxing-match, medieval Europe, New York City, his seventeen year-old daughter’s birthday party, and Paris. This man can be here, there and everywhere; he can change time periods on a whim; he can ignore friends, play games, and work his way towards the modern goal of becoming less and less human with each breath he takes.
The cars stop and glare at me as I pass Harmon. I’m safely back on campus. Tennis Courts to my left are getting plenty of use in the cooler spring days. An empty football practice field worries me, as I contemplate their record from last fall. I was encouraged yesterday to see a few men throwing the pigskin. The path leads to the Earl E. Wilson baseball stadium, and I take a back way past right field where the 335 Club sits during the games. If one attends a UNLV baseball game, he will be honored to observe the 335 Club. This club sits on the home run side of right field, 335 yards from home plate. About fifteen bros, perhaps a bit liquored up, yell, hit drums, chant chants, and wave flags as their team takes the field and competes. During Saturday’s Fresno State contest, the drums and flags were in full force. The opposing pitcher was destined to listen to nothing but the dum—da-dum—da-dum—dum—dum of a single drum and some seven or so raucous college students chanting. The others were either observing silent meditation or suffering sunstroke. Sadly, their valiant efforts that day were in vain.
Two long walkways, usually not very populated, even at the busiest times, make a sort of L-shape on the northeast side of campus. They are dotted with trees and a large row of grass separates two large sidewalks. At night, with the lamps lit, their length seems to extend beyond sight, almost as if each lamp obscures the depth of the walk. One sees only the long row of concrete and the lamps, but not the end; one almost senses he’s walking in an enchanted forest and will be allowed to walk forever.
I take this long corridor after I leave the baseball stadium. I pass a few benches and an indistinct hill by the chemistry building, a hill that has been trodden on by bikers from earlier times.
“Let’s do the jump,” he said and took off like lightening, leaving me and his wife behind. We watched as he stopped, turned, and sped back our way; then, he cut through a small pathway amongst the trees, raced across the sidewalk, roared onto the grass, ascended the hill and flew in the air, almost a good inch off the ground.
My nature forced me to attempt the jump. I got less air. After the baseball game, I decided I would pick up speed earlier to really get air. I’m sure people talked about how fast I road as I soared down the walkway; I looked out for the hill, spotted it, picked up speed, veered my front tire to the right, and continued peddling. Then, I was at the point of no return. Then, I realized something. Sprinklers. In a rare moment of exhilaration, my status on campus became mute. As I climbed the hill, my age rolled down its own; as I felt the spray, I was back in Kansas, shirt off and seven, running through the lawn sprinkler; I was a graduate student and English instructor no longer. I may have been closer to E.T., flying through the air on my bike, an entire inch off the ground. But though I may have looked the extra terrestrial, in that moment I was more human than ever.
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Painting: “Boot Hall”
by Steven Scholes
Oil on board, n.d.
*This post is a response to R. Eric Tippin’s Trifler No. 1 in what I hope becomes a regular series of essay-duals about biking.
**The aforementioned, R. Eric Tippin.