Written by Jonathan Aryeh Wayne, October 10, 2018
It wasn’t that long ago where I found myself hunched over my bicycle desperately attempting to unlock it. After about a half hour, I was ready to do whatever it took to free my bicycle and get the hell out of there. The people sitting inside Starbucks directly across from me were completely oblivious to my momentary crisis as I ceaselessly turned the key without success. The bike lock was completely jammed and I had no tools or bicycle lubricant with me. Not even an hour ago I was attending a private event down by Uber’s fake city test track in Hazelwood hoping to witness a paraplegic handcyclist named Attila make history by becoming the world record holder for most miles biked within 24 hours. When I arrived an hour before his intended goal, I discovered he had hand cycled approximately 366 miles and finally had bonked out for good 38 miles short of the world record.
“I’m done. I’ve got nothing left”, were his first words after throwing in the towel.
Attila, who was a colleague of mine in a failed startup company had just turned the ripe age of 50 years a few months prior. Originally from Romania, this courageous warrior lived part of his life as a former rock star before he fell down a flight of stairs and broke his neck back in his 20s. One time a few years ago, I walked to his house one frigid Winter’s night braving a wind chill of minus 7 degrees out. I had brought with me a cookie as well as a movie on blu-ray to watch at his house. The film was shot by a director from Finland named Aki Kaurismaki, and it was called “The Man Without a Past”. We sat there for a few hours but I couldn’t get the guy to stop talking while the movie was playing. Suffice to say, he didn’t turn out to be a suitable movie buddy for me.
“Well, I guess I got the 50-and-up record; at least I’ve got the old guy record”, Attila quipped soon after he gave his respects to German handcyclist Thomas Lange’s 24 hour world record of 403.8 miles.
After talking to Attila for about 20 minutes while a team of documentary filmmakers put away their camera gear, I hitched a ride back to my bicycle on Murray Avenue with a bittersweet flavor in my mind. In some ways I was happy that Attila gave it his best shot to break the world record, but I was also slightly disappointed that the outcome wasn’t successful.
The bicycle key slipped out of my hand and dropped to the pavement. Enough was enough. I stormed away down to the GetGo gas station to find oil or any sort of lubricant to unjam my bicycle lock. No success. I walked back up and entered Starbucks and asked for something metal with a pointed edge. They handed me a metal fork. After another 10 minutes tinkering with the lock, I was on the verge of torment.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a loud black muscle car, possibly a Dodge Charger, vroomed up behind me and parked. Two burly men got out of the vehicle and walked into the Starbucks. Moments later, one came out with a drink in his hand and directly glanced over at me. He looked like a faded out rock star, sort of a miniature version of Sammy Hagar, with a bulky round head and greying long hair, wearing 4 or 5 rings on his fingers, half a dozen bracelets, and a bunch of necklaces.
“What’s the problem?” he said in a Russian accent.
I replied: “Hey man, this damn key won’t open the lock, I’ve tried everything!”
The Russian rock star and his tan Russian friend wearing black clothing strolled over and tried to open the lock for me. No luck.
“I’ve got to say, this is a good lock, well made… do you want me to free your bike?”
“Please, by any means possible!”, I responded.
His friend walked over to the metal tables and sat down while the Russian rock star (or dare I say Russian mafia KGB guy) jumped into his muscle car and sped away leaving a loud rumble in his wake.
Eleven minutes later, the guy returned as promised. He stepped out of the car with a pair of pliers, walked over to my bike, squeezed the key, and tried to pull the jammed lock up out of the mechanism.
“Okay, plan A did not work, are you ready for plan B?”
I nodded my head vigorously.
He went back to his car, opened the trunk, and brought out an electric saw.
I thought to myself: “This guy had to have been a character out of a Mad Max film.”
He asked me where I wanted to cut the lock in half. I pointed to a section. He turned on the electric saw and sparks flew around in a circular fashion in a 6 foot radius. No good samaritan would have dared walked past us in those few seconds of daredevil fearlessness, as a man from a foreign country was in the process of saving another man’s evening from a world of misery. The unobservant customers sitting in Starbucks, glued to their laptops and smartphones, didn’t even notice the scene that had unfolded outside just steps away, as they were too busy liking Facebook posts and writing hashtags.
After those 10 seconds of epic heroism that ended in fiery sparks, I stood in a daze, too amazed to utter a single phrase. He was in the right place at the right time. I reached into my wallet but the man refused any money. I gave him a firm handshake and he said:
“Now you just have to do two good things for two people today.”
I gave him another handshake and asked for his name to which he replied “Eddie”. I told him my name was “Jonathan” but he decided to call me “Johnson”. Would Johnson be my new superhero name if I found myself reincarnated someday into a Russian rock star driving a big black muscle car? Only time would tell.
As memories of Attila the Romanian handcyclist and ex rock-star permeated one hemisphere of my brain, and now Eddie the Russian mafia rock star percolated into the other hemisphere of my brain, I couldn’t help thinking there must have been a huge concurrence here. Both men were from Eastern Europe, both men were rock musicians, and both men were good at handling bicycles (or at least bicycle locks). Had the universe aligned on this strange afternoon? Was Eastern Europe my destiny for success? Would I find the right female partner somewhere in Romania or Slovakia or the Ukraine some day? If there could have been one theme for today, it would have been called “Resilience”.
Later that evening I went for a 3 mile run along Beechwood Blvd. into Bakery Square and back up into Squirrel Hill. As my limbs fatigued and my breath labored, I persevered and pushed myself up the street until I hit the summit of Shady Avenue and Wilkins. After turning the corner, I felt myself levitating off the ground. As I looked up above me, a handcycle-shaped UFO had caught me in its tractor beam and I was being pulled away from the earth’s surface. An otherworldly, angelic bright light inundated me upon entering the spacecraft. Several minutes of silence ticked away before I was finally able to open my eyes. Lo and behold I saw in front of me an impossible sight. It was Attila as a 25 year old young man with completely functioning limbs!
“Attila! I had no idea you were capable of time travel, much less building your own UFO!”
“He he he. Well you know what they say about bonking out too early… you gotta have a backup plan!”