Near-Death Experiences, One Collision, Two Helmets, a Loose Tire, and a Helpful Pep Boy (Otherwise Known As My Wednesday Commute)

When SEPTA went on strike earlier this week, I thought I had my bases covered. The first day would not entail any trips I couldn't easily do on foot, and the second day I would ride my bike to work, dropping Jada off on the way in, and using my two wheels to get to all of my Center City meetings.

Of course, why have things go according to plan when you can have them not? Jada and I left the house right on schedule for me to get her to school and leave myself plenty of time to slowly make my way to my first meeting at 8:45 without breaking too much of a sweat. Only halfway from home to school, Jada started laughing and saying, "The bicycle is making a funny noise, Daddy!"

In fact, the rear tire axle had come loose from the frame, causing the tire to rub up against the side of the frame and essentially rendering the bicycle un-pedalable. In front of Jada, I kicked the tire a few times and let out a few expletives. I lugged the whole contraption, with Jada still in it, to the gas station across the street, hoping they'd be kind enough to let me borrow a wrench set to do a quick fix. They informed me they didn't have a wrench set. How can a gas station not have a wrench set?

I tried calling Amy, not quite knowing what my Plan B was at the time, and of course my phone mysteriously pooped out mid-call. So I was back to figuring out a way out of this mess on my own. I headed another block to the Pep Boys, and lucked out in that a nice worker commandeered me a ratchet set and helped me have at the bike. Jada watched from the corner of the garage as we wrestled the wheel into place, me losing a suit button in the process.

Finally, we were able to pop the tire off, jam it back into its rightful place on the frame, tighten the bolts back up, and confirm that it would hold and not rub up against the frame and make that "funny" noise that had caused Jada to laugh. Wonder of wonders, the bike seemed fixed. I hurriedly and gratefully shoved a crumpled-up ten-dollar bill into his hand, popped Jada back into the seat, and burned rubber out of there to her school.

After a hasty drop-off, I knew I'd have to violate several traffic laws and push the bounds of my physical strength to make my meeting. I crossed the Spring Garden Bridge and jetted down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway towards my meeting at 13th and Walnut. Let me tell you what a rush it was to zip by cars creeping forward, although my exhilaration was tempered by a need to make sure none opened their car door in front of me.

When I got to City Hall area, I started to get into trouble, as previously distinctly painted bike lanes and consistent signal patterns soon gave way to utter chaos. In one instance, I narrowly avoided being clipped by an over-eager driver who pulled out several seconds before the cop who was directing traffic gave his side the OK to go. In another instance, I had to slam on the brakes because the driver in front of me couldn't decide which lane he wanted to be in, so he just decided to stop suddenly right in between the two.

I finally reached my destination, right on time, but ended up being five minutes late because I could not for the life of me find a bike rack or street sign to lock my ride to within a block of the place. This lack of bike parking would be a running theme to my day, as three more meetings downtown necessitated having to find parking three different times, and for only one of them was I lucky enough to find something immediately.

My ride home in the dark was even more harrowing. I took extra care at each intersection, which meant a lot of starting and stopping: hard to get back going with a full day's worth of papers in my work bag, and lactic acid build-up in my out-of-shape legs. At one point, I was racing past a line of cars queueing up to cross the Spring Garden Bridge when another biker suddenly came at me perpendicularly - he was trying to dart his way through the stopped traffic - and he crashed into my back wheel. We both mumbled apologies for not seeing each other and were quickly on our respective ways.

Once I got Jada, the real fun began. (If you consider near-death experiences fun.) Her weight in the back made things very wobbly, and pitch black darkness combined with massive traffic and no bike lanes made for a lot of dicey moments. But finally we did get home, my heart stopped racing, and all was calm again. And, for all of the adventure of the day, I considered myself lucky that I didn't have to find myself stuck inside my car in the midst of massive stop-and-go traffic. All the same, I'm hoping the SEPTA strike will be over soon; I'm not sure how many times in a row I can cheat death like this.

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