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A woman is talking from the darkness. Someone touches my arm. Where…? I turn my head. It’s hard to open my eyes. She wears a uniform. She’s a… a flight attendant! We’re going down.
I take great care, checking and double-checking; to make sure that I’ve got everything from where I’ve being sitting. I’m having a tough time concentrating. I want to sleep.
I walk down into the terminal building. There is no exit to this room. What is going on?
I stack my stuff, and sit down. The bright fluorescent light hurts my eyes.
I feel doubt, just a sliver. Was it the right thing to come, here, to the U.S.A.?
People are getting up. Something is going on; there’s a pattern to it. A voice from a loud speaker says the monorail will be arriving shortly.
I picked up all my stuff, including the bike, guitar, and all the bags.
I’m anxious about immigration. I hope I don’t have to get the jelly-finger.
I pass through the doors. No one gives me a second look. Am I really through? How could this be so easy? I look back and see the doors closing behind me. The glass is translucent.
There is noise all around me. In front of me, frenetic activity confuses me. There is a wall of tall black men in dark uniforms.
I nod at the first guy. He loads my stuff from the wagon. “Taxi.”
One arrives in the spot, almost immediately; he loads it. Now he’s holding out his hand.
It seems a strange thing to do. What is he doing? Oh!
I reach into my pocket. I look at the bills. There are only fifty’s. “Can you get me change?”
I ask the cabbie. He hums and haws. He’s saying something. He has a strong accent. I can’t understand it, but it’s definitely complaining. I look at him, holding his gaze.
He holds out a wad of mangled, bills. I count carefully.
I hand some to the porter, and get into the cab.
The driver wants to settle on the fare, right away. “What is it, five bucks?”
I push air out. “Yeah, alright.”
Two minutes later, we pull into the bus station. The driver gloats openly. He pops the trunk from the driver seat, but he doesn’t budge.
It’s 10:30. The bus goes at midnight.
I ask the bored woman, on the other side of the kiosk glass, if my bike was packed up good enough to go to Gainesville. They’re not ‘’posed to’ take bicycles. As she said it, smiling, she knocked on a door behind her.
A young coloured man comes out, “Josh, d’yuh think he can take that bike to Gainesville?”
The man looks over the counter. “That’s no problem. Just take it out onto the platform, there, and we’ll put on.”
I nod, “thanks, thanks.”
“Hey, no problem.” After a quick smile at the girl, he’s back through the door.
I pay, and thank her.
She smiles back at me.
That is nice!
I walk out, onto the platform.
I look at the ticket. That’s the price; I thought there’d be a charge for the cargo. The departure time is 00h01 April 19 2000, Wednesday.
I chat with a Bulgarian couple, in French; they’re trying to immigrate into the US. She is a nurse. I tell them they should consider Quebec, where they speak French, and there is a shortage of nurses.
The electronic sign across the top of the front of the bus says, “Los Angeles”. I get on, taking a seat towards the back.
A clock at the front reads 23h52; nine minutes to go. It looks good, about fifty-percent full. Just as I am thinking this, more people flow on. A huge man, he looks like a college football tackle, squeezes down the aisle. He takes the seat two rows in front of me, on the other side of the aisle. Whew. I don’t think there are any doubles left, only single seats.
There are six young women, behind me, loudly discussing what they are going to do in Daytona Beach. The bus pulls out. Nobody next to me, alright…
I start talking to the women-girls. Maybe I should stop in Daytona? One sits beside me, and we talk about her dog and what she’s going to do when she finishes college. But after an hour, driving into Daytona Beach, I don’t think there’s sufficient reason to stop here. They go.
I pale mulatto sits next to me.
Ian is returning home to take care of some family business. We talk motorbikes and cars, and trade stories about the caresses of beautiful women.
The way to Orlando passes easily.
We’re herded off the bus at the Orlando bus terminal; they have to clean and fuel the bus. The terminal is big. Ian goes to his connecting ride. I wander around the terminal, and out on the street. It’s bleak, late night. I can see the sky just starting to pale in the east.
I get back on the bus, and it pulls out. I dose. I see the sky lighten in jumps when my consciousness breeches. The volume and intensity of the conversations increase with the light.
Now it’s very bright. The sun is fully up. I can’t get back under.
The bus pulls into a small depot, Gainesville. The clock at the front of the bus displays ‘09h30’.
“Can you call me a cab?” I ask the old dark-skinned man driving the car, now with a fare already in the back seat.
“Yea, I call yee one.” They pull out from the depot.
At ten, I look through the phone book, for a cab company. Before I dial, a cab pulls into the depot; I stop looking. It’s the same guy who took the first fare.
He looks at my luggage with contempt, from the driver seat. But the trunk of the car is huge, and the bike pops right in, the whole thing!
“Can you drive around town a bit?”
“You want me to drive around town!?!”
“Yeah. I’m looking for a place to stay, but I want to take a look around a bit, first.”
“Where do yuh want to go?”
“Where is downtown?”
“Where is downtown? What you gettin’ at? Where is downtown?”
I steer him towards a small build-up of taller buildings. It looks like a touristic shopping area, very sheik, and very shallow-looking. “What’s that building?”
“Why that’s uh-the city hall. ‘What’s that building?’” He’s starting to irritate me.
“Is there a place where there are a few motels? “
“Is that where you want to go?!”
“Yeah. I’ll take a look.”
He drives faster, with more decisiveness. He speeds. We’re heading down a road, away from the main strip. “That’s the college, there.”
It’s on the right. I think we’re going south. We pass the last of it. It’s a big campus. He pulls into a short commercial stretch, on the left.
Amongst the lawnmower sales, swamp boat retail, and a couple of fast food places, he pulls into a black, gravel yard. There is garbage about. There is a refrigerator by one door, and an old air conditioner by several. I can hardly think. The office is effused with nicotine. I hope that cabbie doesn’t drive off with all my stuff. I hand her the thirty-five for the night. She hands me the key, ‘number 5’; it’s sticky. I wave the cab over to ‘5’. I unload everything, and pay him. He drives off. I rush, leaving my stuff outside to take a piss. The room is dark and dank. It stinks, a cross between rotten socks, nicotine, and some kind of machine oil, smell. I drag my stuff in recklessly. I turn on the a/c and a light bulb explodes.
So it’s like this.
Nothing works. The television hums loudly; it’s definitely making a current. I unplug it, and lie on the bed. What should I do?
I awake with a start. How long have I been out?
I get up and put the bike together. I can just barely run it with the warp in the back wheel. I ride out. I come to another motel, a hundred yards up the road. It has a paved lot, no garbage lying around. The grounds are well maintained. I ask how much the rooms are. It’s thirty-five a night. He takes me to see it. It’s beautiful, well-lit. He turns the air-conditioner on. It comes right on, very cold, pretty quiet.
I pay for two nights with my credit card, hoping it won’t blow.
I continue up to the strip. I go left. It’s commercial on the north side. The south side runs along the university grounds, mostly lawn. It thins. I turn back, past where I’d come up, and continue eastward. I can see the small cluster of taller buildings about a mile, away.
Most of the store-fronts are bars, tattoo parlours, cd shops, more used, and bicycle shops.
I make my first foray into one with a sign, ‘Re-Cycle’. They have used parts; I need a rack and some bags, at least. I don’t want to spend anymore than I have to, but if something breaks along the way, it could be a problem. I tell the guy the story of the bike, and what I want to do next. The main issue is the back wheel, to fix it, rebuild it, or buy a new one? He puts it up on a rack, and rotates the wheel. He looks at it from several different angles as it spins around, at various speeds.
“I can do it; twenty bucks.”
“And for a rebuild?”
“A low-end rim, forty-five; thirty bucks labour, at least. But I’d go up from the low end. But, I can make this one work, for twenty.”
I nod at him, “go for it. When for everything?” I’m hoping that it’s ready by tomorrow afternoon.
“Oh yeah? That’s great, man! So, it’s like, three, forty-five. So, ready at about six, forty-five?”
He writes a receipt and the statement of work and an estimate. I go. I remember my brother saying, “bite the bullet, and get the new wheel. You don’t want to be riding in back-ass, dumbfuck-county and have it go like a pretzel; yer fucked.”
I move my stuff, bag, by bag, as much as I can carry at a time, up to the new motel room. I take a good look around the shitty room, in the bathroom, and under the bed. I slide the key under the door, as the landlady had instructed. I’m sweaty and dirty all over.
In the new, bright, clean room, I look for the contact information for Javier’s friends. I can’t find it. I need food; I’ve forgotten all about it. I think the guy at the bike shop said they’ll be closing at seven; I’ve got to get the bike. I shower then hustle back up to the strip. I have time, so I grab a roast beef sandwich and a beer.
I still have some time, “where is the post office?”
She points me west. I pay and go. I find it, note the hours, and head back towards the bike shop.
There are so many bike shops along the way. I look in a tattoo parlour window. A Celtic band all the way around my thigh would be cool. I laugh aloud thinking about it, not a good time to do that.
I’d like a better saddle for the bike, but, I don’t know how to pick one.
I walk into the shop. He’s still working on the wheel. “I’m almost there. Fifteen.”
I nod, and return to the street.
I cross to a cd store; it is a big one, selling mostly used cds. I browse for a while. I pick out a Citizens’ Utilities cd; because Andy said they are so great.
I walked back across the street, and back into the shop. He has a gleam of victory in his eyes. It’s got the battered back rack, and used water bottle cages, two of them.
I lift it and spin the wheel around, looking closely. It’s perfectly straight!
“It was a bastard. It took me twice as long, but I quoted you the twenty.”
“Thanks man.” Who knows how long the wheel will hold, under load? I pay up, ride out the door.
Dusk is on. I feel gravity, weighing me down, acutely. A cool breeze blows; nice. I stop at a small grocery store, and get some munchies for the night, barbequed chicken, a bunch of bananas, trail mix, and dried apricots. Then I glide down the steady shallow grade back to the clean hotel bed.
* * *
I wake up; I never closed the curtains, it’s a beautiful morning, the sun shines in; hope.
At 9:00 a.m., I go to the post office with the guitar, all packaged up, strapped precariously to the rack on the back on the bike; I mail it home to the Wroc Hotel, surface mail.
I find two panniers on sale. I take them back to the motel and load the bike for the ride. I still have too much stuff. I can’t take that much. I unload it, and take another bunch up to the post office and mail it, also by surface mail. There is scant possibility that it will not arrive there, before I do.
The day is passing by quickly with all my effort and concentration on the job at hand; but I’m mostly ready, now! I wander along the strip and make a few more acquisitions for the trip. I visit a few pubs along the way, where I sit and write, until I’ve had enough of the scenery, then, I go for a ride and find scenic location of comfort, with drinkable beer.
Young people carouse, I assume in giddy release from their scholarly devotions. Half of them take up almost all of my attention.
As dusk dawns, I’m overcome with the fatigue again. I return to the motel and finish loading the bike. Ready, satisfied at my readiness, sleep consumes me easily.
 Citizens’ Utilities was a 1990s Seattle band, included quartet Joshua Medaris, Chad Shaver, Bill Herzog and Eric Akre