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  • Writer's pictureJayna Newbold

Critical MESS

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

Dear Hearts,

All writers need a break from time to time. It’s necessary to get out from behind the computer screen, typewriter, pen and paper - whatever tools we use in order to transfer thoughts to print. One of my favorite ways to clear my head is to go for a bike ride on “Lucy”, my no-frills pink beach cruiser. Every year on "Black Friday" in San Francisco, an evening event occurs just after lighting the Christmas tree in Union Square. It involves hundreds - possibly even thousands - of cyclists who have been let loose in the city, and is called "Critical Mass". Believe me, Dear Hearts, when I say it is a mass, but not of the religious variety (although you may find yourself praying for safety) as many of these cyclists, in their attempt to prove a point toward how important (at least, they think it's important) it is to be aware of their mode of transportation race through the most populated areas, whizzing in and out of traffic and throngs of shoppers.

Which is fine. Except for the fact that they break every rule of transportation imaginable, are rude, bombastic, and even dangerous.

I refer to the event as "Critical Mess".

Fast forward to my little town - located in the North Bay, several miles from the Golden Gate Bridge - consisting of approximately seven thousand residents to whom I affectionately refer as "hippie dippie". We are a community who maintains a small town feel in the midst of the multitude of benefits which accompany a swirling metropolitan mecca; it boasts an oasis of friendly people, holds an emphasis on family and - in general - good old fashioned consideration.

Here, cycling is quite the common mode of everyday casual transportation with the difference being that cyclists, pedestrians and motorists alike, are courteous, aware, and careful.

So, imagine my chagrin when, out for my Sunday afternoon cruise on my trusty pink steed, I see packs of cyclists on high end racers barreling down our main drag. In their spandex shorts, billboard shirts, designer shoes with fancy water bottles attached to their bike frames, I'm relieved when they speedily turn onto a local street marked with multi-colored arrows indicating their racing route.

Helmetless, I carry on; happy to pedal at singular speed, enjoying the beauty of the day, waving at passersby - whether it be motorists, pedestrians or other cyclists (mostly beach cruisers as well). All is right with the world once more. I love Lucy so much - and think she is the most beautiful bike - that it is my practice to ride around town until someone tells me how much they like her. Sometimes it's a passing motorist at a stop sign. More often than not, it's a little girl or female college student. Either way, I prefer not to go home until I hear a compliment toward Lucy.

It’s a quirk, Dear Hearts. I am aware.

A few miles from where I live exists a huge office park. It's not just any office park but a green village which not only several companies call home, but is surrounded by beautifully manicured lawns, trails and bbq pits. One could easily mistake the grounds for a local park. This was my destination for the opportunity to turn around and pedal the opposite direction toward home. As I approached the monstrous tree-lined complex, I heard what sounded like a DJ, loud energetic music and, off in the distance, spied some pup tents set up on a lawn. Hmmm. . . what is this? My naturally curious author self decided to check it out.

Deftly, Lucy and I made a hard right, straight into the first parking lot, bypassing the event gestapo who hovered in a tent at the entrance of the complex. I didn't want to pay for or enter anything or be asked unnecessary questions. I just wanted to check out the music.

As I drew closer, and the DJ and music became louder and louder, I could see various groups of people; some were sitting on the grass enjoying a cold drink, while others just hung out. Lucy and I did what we normally do: behave as though we belong. After all, this crowd was perfect for an author’s regular people-watching habit.

Still coasting at a medium speed, suddenly, I heard cheering followed by the DJ's voice which sounded as though he was congratulating people. Lucy and I cautiously moved through the groups of people to get a closer look.

Before I knew what was happening, we were swept up in a group of fast moving cyclists. It was a pack. A gang. For my sake - and Lucy's - it was move it or lose it, so I poured on the speed. And I liked it! Wind in my hair, the thrill of cyclists within inches to my left, right, in front and behind me - it was exhilarating! We rounded a tight corner and approached . . . what was this? A finish line!

"Congratulations bikers! You did it!" shouted the DJ as the music pumped up the volume. Cheers went up from the groups of people gathered at the winner circle. As the dozen or so cyclists and I cleared the finish line, we were handed bottled water and more congratulations.

"That's some bike!" exclaimed the gentleman next to me, astride his eighteen gear Campagnolo, eyeing my naked head. Not knowing whether or not he was simply making fun of me or caught me being a poser in what I now realized was a serious race for MS awareness, while patting Lucy on her handlebars, I exclaimed, "Yes! She is!"

As I surveyed my surroundings, I began to notice the vastness of this event. Large commercial trucks and buses lined the parking lot -- vehicles which brought all of these cyclists from far and away just to participate in this race. People even camped out the night before the race on the property. Further away on the main lawn, a display of at least ten large white tents with a variety of food, entertainment, information, massages and other services stood ready to meet the racers' every need. This was serious stuff.

And here Lucy and I were - in the midst of it all. I felt like "Mater" from the animated movie, Cars, at the Indy 500.

I hadn't intended to crash this party but since I was here, why not enjoy? I found out that my bike admirer's name was Jack; and as we conversed, I discovered that he, too, was a writer. Deciding that he had to be impressed about my work toward another novel, I accepted his invitation to meet a few people. And they were the nicest folks! Nothing like the "Critical Mess" I'd imagined or experienced in the city the day after Thanksgiving. It didn't matter that I was a fraud. They all seemed to welcome me with open arms.

About half an hour later, as Lucy and I headed home, the air was a little fresher, the sun shone brighter, and the world was a better place. If Lucy had a tail, she would have been wagging it with gusto.

Dear Hearts: As an author who sometimes lives with a plethora of characters, plots, twists, and research in my head, the experience was just the break I needed in order to avoid my own literary “Critical Mess”.

The next time I need a break, I will be certain to include Lucy.

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