Friday, July 22, 2016

Midnight in Barcelona

Buffalo is becoming unrecognizable!  Bicycle rentals like in Barcelona!  Here's a story I wrote on the theme.  It was published in "Ride", a collection of bicycle shorts.


It was getting close to midnight as I got to the bicycle station located just down the hill from my house, and, as usual there wasn’t a single space left to leave my rental bike. The Catalan bicing, the city bicycle share system, had become so successful that the bike stations were always filled.  In theory, bicing was a great plan. You paid for a yearly membership, took a bike out of a station and then returned it to any station in the city. But the reality was different.

            As usual, my options were the same.  Wait until someone came to pick up a bike was the first but that was not going to happen since the riders were probably safely tucked in their flats on a Monday night.  The next option was to try the next closest bike station which was about a fifteen minute ride away.  Parking the bike so far away and walking home negated the convenience that the bicing plan was supposed to provide.

I was cursing under my breath as I started out.  In the Gracia neighborhood, the streets were narrow and dark with names like Revolution and Legalitat which always gave me a moment of pleasure thinking of the ideals of the 19th century working class community that this area once was.  I was shocked out of my reverie by a deafening horn as a car swerved around the corner, just nicking my bike. I fell over with the bike on top of me.  The driver of the Seat stuck his head out the window and screamed a string of curse words ending with, “Watch where you’re going.”

“You watch it.”  I was furious.  “You could have killed me.”  It had happened so quickly the danger was starting to sink in.  I tested my arms, one at a time, and then my legs.  The guy, middle aged with a portly belly, got out of the car and helped me stand up.

“Sorry.”  He acknowledged.  “Good thing it’s one of these rental bikes.  They look like they could stop a truck.”  He laughed a nervous laugh and I joined in, a tad hysterical, from the sheer relief of being alive.  “Can I take you anywhere?”He asked.

I shook my head, and examined my knee where the jeans had torn and I had a scrape, just like when I was a kid.

“They’ll be fashionable now.”  He pointed at my jeans.

He was annoying me so despite the pain, I got on the bike and kept going though I was shaken.  Expat life was starting to wear on me, what with the long nights out, and pointless conversations that led nowhere.  I should have been in bed, not looking for a place to park my bike.

            I pedaled up another steep hill and arrived breathless at Travasera de Dalt.  Just as I slid off my bike to examine the possibilities of empty bike slots, another rider came up and spotted the one empty slot left in the long row of bikes just as I did.  As if we were in a slow motion movie we both tried to shove our bikes into it at the same time with the result of the wheels of both bikes getting tangled.  “It’s mine.  Don’t you dare.”  I tried on my fiercest expression.

            “No way.”  That immediately pegged him as an American.  With a Catalan or a Spaniard, I might have had a chance, chivalry wasn’t totally dead in Europe; after all, they still loved their mothers. 

            In the moment that he was distracted, I untangled the bike wheel and pushed my bike into the slot.  It gave a satisfying click as the computer registered the bike.  “See. Got it.”

            He laughed, “Yes, you did. You’re tougher than I thought.”

            “Hey, I almost got killed on my way here. This is my last ride on this damn bicing.  I just want to go home and crawl into bed.”

            “I’ll keep looking. There’s one more station I can try.  Hard to believe you can’t find a place to park your bike on a Monday night.  It’s worse than driving a car.  You, know I’m sorry. I’m not usually like that.”  He looked attractive in the light of the street lamp.  “Barcelona is making me aggressive.”

            “Where are you from?”


            “That has to be worse.  Big people fighting over everything.”

            “They may not be big here but have you ever tried to get in line in the market with those senoras here?  They’ll run their carts over your feet.”

            “You have to ask, “Qui es el ultim?  Who’s the last person in line? There’s a logic to it.  If you don’t ask, you don’t exist.”

            “Maybe for you.  It’s still early.  Can I buy you a beer?”

            I was still a bit shaken, and I’d have company for the walk home so I said okay.  My knee ached and I peered down at it to see if it was bruised.  “My name is Stephanie.”

            “The steamroller.  I’m Jed.”

            “Are you studying or teaching?”

            “Neither.  I’m working in an architectural firm.”

            “No kidding.”

            “It’s an internship.  Means you work like a dog and earn no money.”

            “Good deal.  I’m studying Spanish but I chose the wrong place.  Spanish is almost taboo in Catalonia.”

            “I’m still fighting any language.  But I can order a beer.”  I walked first into what was a neighborhood bar transformed into a modern space with long lists of international beers where the owners were Belgian.  I grabbed a seat at the bar while Jed dragged his bike indoors. 

            Ca va Steph?  The bartender asked.  He pointed to Jed, “Tu novio?”

            “No, we were fighting for a bike space.”

            “Don’t bother with that.  Just buy your own.”

            “I don’t want to buy a bike.  You know how many are stolen.  After tonight, I’m not even sure I want to ride one on this city.”

            “These are some really heavy bikes.”  Jed pushed it into the corner.

            “Tell me, one fell on me. They’re supposed to survive tons of people using them.  I can’t imagine any American city with city bikes available everywhere.”

            “This city has some heavy duty hills.”

            “The worse part is having to ride home uphill.  You get the hard part at the end of your day.”

            By the second beer I was starting to feel my body relax and the pain in my knee subside.  Jed  was starting to be scintillating company which was too good to be true.  It was nice to hear the nasally sound of his voice though in the charm department he had nothing on the Catalans.  He did walk me home and pulled out his cell phone.  I gave him my number.  “Call me.”  I said as I started up the four flights of stairs.  The elevator had a tendency to stall and I couldn’t handle one more machine tonight. 


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