Friday, July 07, 2006

Biking Memories, Attempt #2

Hopefully this message will actually get posted. Yesterday I put down about 1,500 brilliant words worth of biking memories, only to log on later and discover that the draft I thought I had saved had decided not to save after all.

So now I'll try again...

Take Two:

Life continues to come full circle for me. After returning to Del Taco and the X-Files, then buying my first mountain bike since my days in Chicago, I am now getting ready to go one step further and actually return to the Windy City at the end of this month. Save for a 3-hour layover in the fall of 2000, it has been a full seven years since I last visited my old mission stomping grounds.

In a week's time, I hope to visit as many of my old friends and contacts as I can--and that still remember me--but I'm sure that the vast majority of the characters I encountered over that two-year period are now lost to history.

One guy I'm always going to wonder about was actually my third greenie companion, Elder Clark. In three months together, he was hit by three different cars. His knack for physical battery was so intense that even I got hit while I was serving with him--the only time I've been hit by a car in my entire life. The saga of Elder Clark and his hybridized bike was one of the most memorable--if difficult--passages of my mission.

Like I said before, Elder Clark was the third of my four greenies, and probably the one I worried most about. The man-child was a lightning rod for bizarro events of space and time (and fenders). Fortunately he had the kind of thug-like body that could absorb most of the blows, not to mention the relentless positive attitude that got him back on his feet every time. Whenever I think of most old friends, I wonder if they're married, if they have kids, and what they wound up going into career-wize. When I think about Elder Clark, I wonder if he's dead.

The three months we spent together were a comi-tragedy of zany mishaps. Here's the bike-car collision record:

1. One late afternoon while heading home to our apartment on Talman, we were flying the wrong way down a one-way street (as 19-year old bikers, we were invincible, or at least thought so) when I noticed a 70's-era van approaching. So, I veered to the right in order to give the van a wide berth. Up ahead, though, Elder Clark--determined to get home and take care of some bathroom business--plowed ahead in a head-on game of chicken with his much larger opponent. All I can figure is the sun must have been in his eyes, because as I waited for Clark to scoot over, he just kept riding, right up until the van hit it's brakes, blared it's horn, and knocked Elder Clark and his bike off the road. Fortunately, about five feet from the collision, Elder Clark did see the van, and so by turning his handlebars was able to bounce to the side of the road rather than just go straight under the van.

I was so alarmed and incredulous that the first thing out of my mouth as I pulled up was, "what are you THINKING?" (Obviously the Sensitivity merit badge was never a requirement for Eagle Scout). The petrified black man sitting behind the wheel of the van was probably thinking the same thing. Elder Clark staggered to his feet and picked up his bike, waving at the man.

"It's OK," he called, "I'm all right."

The driver pointed an accusing finger back at him. "YOU hit ME!"

2. A month later Elder Clark and I made an epic journey home one night that saw us dodging beer bottles, fighting blown-out tires, ducking nearby bolts of lightning, and hiding under overpasses in thunderstorms while tornados were spotted several miles away. In the midst of that, Elder Clark had wreck #2. Somewhere around Aberdeen and 79th Street, past Louis Farrakhan's headquarters but before the 79th and Western bus station, some wiseguy chucked a beer bottle at me. Hearing the shattered glass, Elder Clark turned back to see what happened right before a black Hyndai coming in the opposite direction decided to make a quick left turn in front of him. The turn wasn't quick enough, and Elder Clark turned forward again just in time to see his front tire hit the rear quarter of the car and send him flying over the trunk onto the pavement. Noting that Elder Clark seemed to be unharmed, I decided to give the stunned driver a Book of Mormon.

3. The funny thing about Elder Clark's wrecks was that they seemed to happen when he was riding in front of me, which was only the case about 5% of the time. Usually I would lead, since I knew the area better, was the senior companion, and just generally tended to call the shots. It was almost as if he was being punished for asserting himself.

But the last wreck happened about a block behind me, as the two of us were cruising down Western street on the way to who-knows-where down in our area. Just before I tried to cross the road at 69th street, I looked back and realized I had no companion behind me. Turns out that about two blocks back, Elder Clark had ridden past an open parallel parking spot when a local resident decided to claim the space, uninterested in the fact that he had to drive through Elder Clark to get it. My fearless greenie was once again propelled through the air, landing in a heap on the cement sidewalk and awaiting a sheepish apology.

He received none.

Instead, the driver of the offending automobile looked down at him with distain, muttered "watch where you're going", and stormed off into a store, no doubt to purchase additional weapons of mass destruction with which to continue his highway reign of terror.

Maybe it was because Elder Clark never seemed to get hurt. Maybe it was just because I thought that as a missionary, we should rejoice in persecution for the Lord's sake. Maybe I was just an insensitive jerk. But I had an increasingly low level of patience for the havoc Elder Clark's mishaps caused. By the time the third wreck came, I had almost had it. If he wasn't getting hit by cars, it was something else. He once got a flat tire in the same inner tube in different spots at the exact same location in our area in one day. Of course, that spot was a good two and a half mile's walk back to our apartment for repairs. And that was only one vulnerability of his bike. The contraption he rode started out as a bike his parents mailed him from home, but wound up a bizarre hybrid of that bike and the random components of a cannibalized bike we had sitting around the apartment from some mystery Elder that had lived there in the past. For a while he only had a working front brake, and when he did have a back brake, somehow he managed to shred the cable. HE SHRED A BRAKE CABLE.

If Elder Clark was a jerk, it would have been easy to hate him. But I loved the kid. He was a genuinely good guy, a soul without guile. His constant stream of misfortunes were a collossal inconvenience, but to complain was to bring down a mountain of guilt on my own shoulders. I could always picture him in future areas with future companions, diligently serving the Lord and getting his butt kicked daily for it.

Now, nine years later, I wonder whatever happened to the guy. When the mission split in July of '97, I stayed in the south while he went upstate to help start the Illinois Chicago North Mission. That was about the last I heard of him. All I know is I started his mission off with a one-wreck-per-month average.

Man, I hope he isn't dead.