I was on my bike early on Monday morning. 7.30. The sun in the sky. Hot. Already 83 degrees out. The downtown Chicago skyline obscured by haze. Only the barest outlines of shapes visible. Sweat on my forehead. My t-shirt. My arms. My neck. Riding on Elston. My favorite street in Chicago. Wide. Two lanes for cars and bike lanes as well. It’s a diagonal street heading SE/NW to or from downtown. Only a few traffic lights to stop for. Ten minutes out, I noticed my left foot wobbling a little on the pedal. It seemed weird. I thought maybe my shoe was catching on part of the pedal or crank or something. After a few more pedals and a hundred yards or so the crank with pedal still attached to it shot out into the street.
I said fuck and coasted a few more yards before pulling over and hopping off. I leaned my now crippled bike against an old sedan and walked back to retrieve my pedal from the street.
Cars driving by. A few bikes passed.
I grabbed the pedal and stuck it back into place. Then realized that there was probably a bolt or something. I walked back again and saw a bolt mercifully close to the bike lane. I was lucky it didn’t fly out farther into traffic. I screwed the bolt into place with my thumb. I started to pedal and realized that I had placed the pedal in the wrong position. Instead of positioning it so that one pedal was down when the opposite pedal was up, I had it so that both pedals would rise at the same time or fall at the same time.
I said fuck and a bike passed me. I pulled my bike onto the sidewalk. Unscrewed the bolt with my thumb, pulled the pedal and crank off and repositioned it correctly and screwed the bolt back in as tight as I could with only my thumb.
I knew the pedal would come loose again, but I was hoping that every so often I could just retighten the bolt with my thumb and then when I got downtown I could get it fixed at the bike garage. Within a minute, just south of Western, I knew this wouldn’t work. The pedal and crank would unscrew themselves within a few turns.
Trying. To think.
Then I heard the sound of an air powered screw gun, like they use in auto garages. A few doors behind me I saw an autobody shop. Hooray! Maybe they can tighten this shit.
I walked the bike in, passed a guy on a bike walking out and felt encouraged. It was cool in the garage. Smell of oil and grease, must and machines. I waved to two guys working under a car that was raised on a hydraulic lift. A thin guy in his 40’s wearing shorts and a t-shirt came over with a smile. I explained the situation. That I had just gotten my bike back from a tune-up at the shop and that my fucking pedal flew off. I asked if he could tighten it up. He said sure.
He looked at the bolt and said it looked stripped. Then he tightened it with a wrench and topped it off with a burst from the air powered screw gun. He also did the same to the bolt on the opposite side saying, “This side’s loose too. You should have some words with the bike shop. This is like bike mechanics 101.”
Fluorescent lights overhead. Cool air on my skin. I had probably lost ten minutes and would get to work a little later than I’d like.
I asked if I owed him anything and he said no. Adding, “You definitely came to the right place. We all ride bikes here.”
I thanked him and headed back out onto Elston. How lucky was that? I felt fortunate and grateful. My faith in people and the kindness of strangers was high. I smiled as I rode. Breathing in the air of the trees next to the river. Birds in the sky. Sun in my eyes.