ORCAS is gone, I bike across town

Peggy drove across town today, and I later went to meet her on my bike. It was a two-hour trip—the way I did it. I biked streets that I hadn’t been on in a decade and others that I had never been on. I passed the Oregon Center for Applied Science (ORCAS) where I worked as an on-call handyman for years. Several blocks later, I realized that I hadn’t actually seen the two large buildings, so I biked back to discover that they were gone, torn down, all the way beneath the ground. Only the trees and parking lot remained. I could see where I parked, where I set up my sawhorses, and where I entered the buildings. I never imagined that all my work would be so quickly destroyed, and I felt bad about it, although the knowledge quickly came to me that I was but a minor player at ORCAS and therefore a minor loser. The irredeemable devastation before me became a metaphor for the end of all things as I stood in the gray overcast.

Shortly afterwards, I passed the Shari’s where Don and Dorrie took Peggy and me to eat. They were millionaires, so I expected something better, but Shari’s was their favorite place. Don died twelve years ago, and Dorrie soon followed; leaving their money to a son who is characterized by the arrogance and sense of entitlement that follow most rich men’s children.

On one part of my journey, I passed through a residential area of curving streets, most of which were named for trees that don’t grow naturally within a thousand miles of here. The day being cloudy, I might have lost my bearings if not for occasional sightings of the Coburg Hills. I forget how big Eugene has grown, how many hundreds of thousands of people carry on lives that I am in utter ignorance of, all within a short distance of my home.

I wasn’t exactly lost in these suburbs, but I didn’t know my route out either, and the thought came to me that a flat tire would present quite a problem. It would prevent me from either meeting Peggy or letting her know what had become of me. I saw no place except people’s yards to leave my bike; and I doubted my ability to walk out. I knew that I would have to knock on doors; and I knew that if I were the people behind those doors, I probably would not open them for fear of a home invasion robbery. I resolved to carry tools in the future.

Later, I passed two teenagers on a bike path. I studied them as they approached because they were on bikes that were so tiny—and with seats so low—that their knees practically touched their chins on the upstroke. One smiled at me and said, “Hi, how are you doing?” The other also smiled and said, “Do you want to fight?” I said nothing, and they screamed profanities. I took comfort in the thought that I could easily outrun them, not that I bothered to look back to see if they were in pursuit. I later wished (or half-wished) that I had talked to them in an effort to understand why they would abuse an old man (for I must have looked old to them) on a bike path; but this would have put me at risk of underestimating both the extent of their meanness and the extent of my ability to elicit their goodness. Riding a bike exposes a person to things he would never experience behind two tons of steel.