Wednesday, November 16, 2011

8/11/2011 - Riding in the Rain

I left work early, hoping that the heavy grey clouds would not bear any fruit. I’d made it to just outside The Clare, about a hundred metres before they did. I stood under the awning, listening to Christopher Hitchens and waited for the rain to subside. It had been a hot and muggy day and I hoped that this was just a short downpour which would normalise the heat and take the moisture out of the air. I stayed there for about twenty minutes, watching the gutters fill with water and the buses zoom past, splashing UTS students and workers. No one seemed prepared for the rain, only about one in ten had umbrellas. Before I had left work I looked up the weather on the internet - I had never looked for more than a binary state in weather reports - it was either sunny or raining but “showers” said to me a brief tantrum of rain and then everything would glisten then go mat again.

Twenty minutes later I was at Central station. A voice came over the loudspeaker, still hollow through the peak-hour rush
“Trains have been hit by lightning - there are major delays on all tracks”

Should I go home and get my bike? I got to the platform and the sky looked moody but like it was clearing up. I decided the best option, and the one I secretly wanted, was to get the train home - get my bike and ride it to my grandmothers place to have dinner. I called her - she had not forgotten our dinner date - so it was on.

I just got home when the heavens opened up for a second time. Not a good omen. I waited and again the sky looked clear and if it might resist the urge to let loose again. Technically we had had showers (the plural) so it was time to go. I marshaled my courage - got changed into my armour, mounted my bike and left. I felt nervous pulling out of the small alley behind my street - all the people in cars looked so protected. I glimpsed two people smiling and talking in there - blissfully unaware of my anxiety. I took it easy. It was not until I was just over the harbour bridge that the heavens opened up in earnest. Rain hit my helmet like small pebbles, it stung my eyes. My rear tire had gone flat a few weeks earlier and I had taken it into the mechanic to get plugged. I remember him telling me that the tire had about a thousand k’s left on it before I would have to get it replaced - surely a situation that would be exacerbated by the wet. Occasionally when I pulled off at lights too quickly I could feel my bike would rotate to the left, pivoting on the front wheel. It was only when the tire would gain traction, jolting forward that I realised it had been spinning. I put my visor down and went on - I could feel my top half get sodden but even though I could see my pants glisten with moisture they felt dry.

Eventually I made it to my grandmother’s place - I felt tense. We had a great dinner and I talked about my trip with them but then it was time to leave.

When I mounted my bike for the way back I felt looser, much more relaxed - my control was much more sure. Even though the rain was harder this time. The closer to the city I got the harder the rain fell. This time however there was an odd quiet, one that is achieved through solitude and adversity - when the chatter of your mind dissolves and all you have is the present. I went home a different way so that I would not have to pay the toll over the harbour bridge. Over the Gladesville bridge I could see every pothole, every imperfection in the road clearly - even though this time I had my visor down and it was covered in rain drops. Was this the birth of a new instinct?

By the time I got back to Erskineville I was soaked, my leather jacket felt and looked like lead. People were shielding themselves on the footpaths and water flowed from right across the entire road, from gutter to opposite gutter. I pulled into the alley behind my house. Let myself in the backyard, and into the house - the rain was hitting the corrugated iron like a drumroll. The quality of the rain was absolute this time - not some strange physical relative motion experiment whereby it feels heavy when you’re on your bike but to standing observer it is just a drizzle. I let myself into my house, had a scotch, smoked a cigarette and watched the rain come down.

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