Sunday, October 17, 2004

What A Ride

The "late night ride" lived up to its billing. We started at 10 p.m. and I finally put my head on my pillow the next morning at 4 a.m. Encompassed in those hours were a few miles on my trusty bike to downtown, weaving in and out of party-ers on Main, great conversation over coffee, circling downtown parks and parking lots in our own version of an obstacle course, garlic tofu at an all-night Asian restaurant overlowing with those same party-ers, and a couple of stop-and-live-in-the-moment moments.

An adventure? Definitely. Worth it? Definitely. To be repeated? Not exactly.

Wind in the face in the early morning hours is an exquisite experience. I'd take that again any day/night. Stories of great views we've seen, strange foods we've eaten, stimulating people we've met, all the while watching the passing parade of diverse downtown fashion -- that's a conversation over coffee that's worthy of repetition without a doubt.

But I learned something. What you see on a bike in downtown Houston at 1:00 in the morning is pretty much what you are going to see in downtown Houston at 2:00 in the morning and almost exactly what you'll see at 3:00 in the morning -- only the degree changes. If someone is loud at 1:00, they're louder at 2 and 3. If someone is dazed and confused at 1:00 they're probably out of it at 3. If someone is defying gravity with the blouse she's got on at 1:00, the fabric is stretched to its limit by 3. Basically, if you're loaded at 1:00, then you're driving at 3 and asking for directions to the freeway that I'm not all that sure I should be giving you.

In other words, there are a lot of people drinking a lot of alcohol in downtown Houston at 1, 2 and 3 in the morning.

And even if I wear white so you can see me on my very cool red bike . . . and even if my new friend and conversationalist has a light on his even cooler two wheeler. . . and even if my guide to this rather radical experience knows exactly where we are going . . . I can't keep the two voices in my head from arguing with one another.

One says, "That truck is driving way too fast and if you're not paying attention, you're going to get hit." And, "We're going to ride in front of the bus station??? Are you crazy? Look at that guy. He could grab your bike in a second and you'd be down for the count."

While the other admonishes, "You'd never get to see the streets of the city in this light if you weren't here at this moment." And, "Adventures involve risk and are almost always worth it. See? That guy didn't even notice you. He was probably concerned about your sanity."

So I decided to listen to both.

That night I took every moment as it came -- the waterfall in the theater district, the guy who couldn't find the bar or his car and needed more help than we could give (though we tried), the songs playing in and outside the clubs that would get stuck in my head and I'd sing lines from throughout the morning, the cast of characters at the restaurant, the tales of travels past and desired future, the cold -- yes cold -- ride home.

But, if asked to join this merry band once again, I'd agree on one condition -- I'm heading home at midnight.


mrjoshua said...

you ought to try the same thing on roller blades! awesome and really scary too!

Jean said...

Funny how the world changes after dark in certain places. Living in the burbs as I do these days, I still find it odd when my friends and I are in the mood to let loose and nothing is open after 10pm. Then again, I suppose that is one of those things you give up for the quiet and peace at home. I haven't spent the wee hours in an active city in a while and I can't say I would want to be traveling there myself on a bike or rollerblades. It is one thing to see it from inside the safety of a hotel that seems a mile above San Francisco, but altogether different to be out walking through it.

My last trip out there I had the pleasure to see a great drag show not far from my hotel. But a drag show alone isn't nearly as fun as one with company. So, I didn't stay late and though it was close and well lit from there to my hotel, I realized upon my arrival back at the hotel that I would not be doing that again. No, I wasn't accosted or anything, but passing by the people who were sleeping on the street made me realize how fragile our lives are. I was alone for the night. The next day I would be surrounded by co-workers or greeting serenly by a concierge. But the man and woman on the street had probably not heard a nice word from someone in uniform in a long time. Stepping around them and smelling that stench, you know the one, I felt that age-old middle-class guilt. What do you do? Do you say Hi, keep walking, smile, or avoid eye contact.

The spell of consideration was of course broken as soon as I turned the corner and kids came staggering out of the bar. Looking back now, they were probably the ones I should have been a bit more leery of and I was very glad I didn't have to drive home.