The authors, c. Nineteen Ninety Cute
Tales From the End of the Bus Line is a long-distance collaboration between daughter/father Megan and Bill Broughton to collect the many adventures of Bill’s young adulthood in Van Nuys, California. Installments (and photos that should or shouldn’t see the light of day, if we’re lucky) will be penned by the two of them.
The Ford F150 truck six inches from my back wheel flashed its light four times. I pinkie shifted the Nishiki into top gear, a ten tooth sprocket I had put in just that afternoon, and pushed still harder against the pedals, pulling up the straps on the upward strokes, desperately trying to stay ahead. The adrenaline rush was pushing my heart rate up, helping to get more oxygenated blood down into my legs, allowing me to spin faster. I’d replaced the front top gear with a 64 tooth one the man at the bike shop on Van Nuys Boulevard said had been taken off a racing bike. The bottom gear in back was a twelve tooth, so I knew the mechanics of the gears would let me move faster, but had wanted to see just how much difference it would make. The horn sounded five times, and the lights began to get a little less intense as Bob slowed the truck down. Forty-five miles an hour then, not bad on the level stretch of Oxnard Boulevard between Kester and Sepulveda. Bob and I had heard about the movie Breaking Away, part of which has a guy on a racing bike drafting delivery trucks up to fifty miles an hour, and we had thought that if Bob chased me instead of me following him, then the extra boost of adrenaline would probably be an advantage. It seemed to work, sort of.
I had pulled the Nishiki off my apartment wall about a month before, after my Kawasaki had been stolen, and went through it from front to back, oiling all the gears and truing the wheels, as it had been a few years since I had done a serious riding. I’d bought it at Van Nuys Cycle a few months after I’d started at Delta, and would take it to the Velodrome in Encino, both to ride the circuit and to watch the fixed gear bikes race.
The first few weeks of getting back into it were hard, and I remembered muscles I’d forgotten I’d had, but one weekend I decided to go on an overnight ride to the beach. I packed up the same panniers I’d carried from New Hampshire years ago with bananas, (replaces Calcium depleted by exercise), nut and fruit bars (instant energy) and Super Socco (an early energy drink rumored to contain actual human perspiration, really) extra socks and underwear, strapped on a sleeping bag and a small rolled up plastic tarp to the carrier on the back, and took off after work on Friday night. Traveling by night on a bicycle is arguably safer than the daylight, there are a lot less cars to worry about and the street lamps give you plenty of visibility. Something I’d learned by trial and error, mostly error, is to not use a light while riding in the Valley, either a headlamp or a tail light. The drunks are attracted to them like a moth goes to the flame, and I had been hit several times using them.
I rode north up Sepulveda to Devonshire, and turned left, riding it all the way to Topanga. Once I got onto Santa Susanna Pass Road, I turned on my Wonder Light. There was very little traffic because the 118 freeway had just opened, and all the cars took that into Simi Valley now. This is a heck of a climb, but it’s easier at two in the morning when it’s not 90 degrees. I took another hour to ride the length of Los Angeles Street (Simi’s main drag). Out at the far end of Simi Valley was a little campground, and when I got there I set up my “tent,” draping the plastic over the bike and basically using it as a tent pole. After a few hours of sleep, it was back on the saddle and out through Moorpark and Thousand Oaks, then over the hill to the Pacific.
Heading south on PCH, and staying out of the way of the idiots who drive while looking at the ocean, I made it to Zuma and stopped for the day. Back then you could sleep on the beach if you didn’t make a bunch of noise or create a nuisance, so I rode around until I found a quiet isolated spot. I let the sound of the waves lull me to sleep. The seagulls woke me up Sunday morning, trying to get into my pack and steal my food. I wouldn’t have thought they liked bananas, but what do I know about seagulls? I tossed a piece to one of them and he grabbed it before it touched ground.
I packed back up and pedaled to Kanan Dume Road, turning left and heading up the hill, keeping the gears low and the pedals spinning. The goal for the morning was to summit and then turn right down Mulholland Highway, because I knew from riding the Kawasaki that the Rock Store in Cornell starts to fill up about noon on Sundays, and I wanted to avoid motorcycle traffic. I was well acquainted with that road from all of the racing (um, riding) on the Kawasaki, but like most country roads there is a world of difference between pedaling a bike and twisting a throttle. The way to the valley from here was to take Mulholland all the way to Topanga Boulevard, where for some reason it stops being a Highway and becomes just a Drive. By this time I was running on reserve, all my snacks gone, my Super Socco drank, and all I was looking forward to was a long hot shower, followed by a long cold beer. (Bob was later to remark, “You could have had the beer in the shower you know.” A very practical man, that Bob). As it was, things turned out a little differently.
I was on Oxnard just east of Canoga, and Chalk Hill loomed up ahead of me. For an instant it crossed my mind to avoid it, but what the hell, I’d been riding downhill or level ground for an hour, so I cranked on up the grade, which is steepest on the side where I was. Halfway up I felt a surge that seemed to come up through the ground, transfer though the wheels, and into me. It gathered in my chest; then spread outwards. Weirdest thing, but it was like power was flowing in from outside. When I was eight I had once tried to rewire the small milking barn that was on my parents property, and learned everything I wanted to know about the transference of electrical power. This feeling was very similar, and suddenly the weariness I’d been feeling in my legs just went away. It became easier to pedal, almost effortless, my spin sped up by itself, and I was no longer breathing hard. I had heard of this before, from friends who ran (not jogged, they would be quick to say, but ran) and called it a “Runners High.” Somehow the body produces excess endorphins and bypasses all the mental roadblocks that we set for ourselves. I really felt like I could just keep riding forever. This feeling lasted most of the way home back to Van Nuys.
I remember telling Bob about it at work the next day, when I mentioned the new gearing on the bike and wondered if I could get that feeling going again. That’s when he suggested the experiment on the way home. I’m not sure, but I don’t think endorphins work in the presence of adrenaline.
About a week later, Bob commented he had taken to riding a bicycle on the paths through the Balboa Recreation center to get back into shape. I offered to see how fast he could ride, but he, no fool, politely declined.
I honestly don’t know how my Dad’s still alive. His young adulthood contrasted with my childhood must have felt a complex transition for him, as an ex risk-taker and newly protective parent.
There were the “stay where I can see you,” and “no throwing of toys inside” rules paired with afternoons of wallowing around in mud, flinging myself off jungle gyms, sliding down hills on flattened cardboard boxes, and playing some ruthless games of Chicken on bikes. On weekends, Dad showed us and the other kids in the apartment complex how to construct makeshift tents with rope, two trees, and a sheet, and would lead little tottering trails of us on lunchtime nature adventures through the buffalo grass.
I was required to rollerblade indoors on thick carpets, and prohibited from owning white sneakers because no sooner were they purchased but I would sink them deep into sandlots and stain the laces dark with dirt.
This seems to capture the contradictions of parenting young ones.
I once picked up the home phone and, thinking it was my uncle play-acting with a creepy voice, innocently answered the caller’s questions about my name and age. (If you need proof of a parent’s intuition, I refer you to my mother ripping the phone out of my hands before I finished sing-song reciting our address.) Couple this with Ding Dong Ditch and hiding under strangers’ outdoor stairs during Spy-themed games. What bizarre little suburban urchins we must have all seemed to these neighbors, with raw knees, dirt under our fingernails and peanut butter on our faces, barrettes clinging to tired ponytails, and the oversized eyes of kids who spent entire days tromping through ivy and picking Indian Hawthorn.
Georgia and I would run toward dad when he returned home late from his 2nd job, smearing dirt and pollen into his ink-stained jeans.
I don’t yet know how to devote my life to someone else like that. Through the light of my own ugly late teen/early twenties/when I’m hungry behaviors of impatience and dismissal, I’d imagine childrearing to be occasionally soul crushing. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have a tiny golden child suddenly morph into a heinous monster around the puberty mark, or exactly how deep the cut is when a child suggests they don’t want you to be spotted on the visible spectrum when picking them up from school. And if I can now be enraged with myself for not having the grace to match my parents’ goodness, I can only equate what the receiving end must feel like as hot tears.
Funny how this story about a young man deliberately bicycling in front of a truck led to an ode to parenthood.