Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Road to He'll is Paved with Autocorrect

When a total stranger threatens to stab you, you have very few options:
  • Comply with his or her demand.
  • Try to run away.
  • Stand your ground and, if need be, fight off your would-be assailant.
"Nice bike," he said, casually, as we stood on the corner of Rideau and Dalhousie. Late afternoon traffic brought us to the same spot. Countless pedestrians moved about, focused on his or her destination.

"Thanks," I said, not really wanting to engage him in conversation, but seeing no reason to be rude. He obviously lived on the streets: late teens or early 20s, disheveled hair, skin on his face that had seen far too much sun and too little soap. Dirty clothes that seemed to have no colour: brown or perhaps grey.

"I think I'll take it."

"Excuse me?" I said, knowing I heard the words but not really believing they came from the young man.

"I'll take your bike," he repeated.

"I don't think so," I nearly laughed.

"I'll cut you."

I blame karma. It was that bloody chipmunk, coming full circle. I had taken a life today, and now my life was up for grabs.

Yesterday started out with so much promise: another beautiful morning with sunshine and mild temperatures; very little wind. I became accustomed to cycling to work a couple of times a week. Sure, we have no showers, but I make due with a facecloth, hand towel, and the handicap bathroom stall.

My route is longer than it needs to be, crossing into Québec at the Portage Bridge instead of the Champlain Bridge, skirting around the Casino de Lac Leamy instead of climbing through the Gatineau Park. My new morning route takes me an extra three or four kilometres, but the climbs are not as treacherous, and I don't like arriving at the office, at the beginning of the day, already exhausted.

My commute was enjoyable and refreshing, awakening. I was maintaining a good pace, making the ride a personal best. Except for a split second, on the east side of Lac Leamy. It happened so fast that for a second I thought my eyes had played tricks on me. I didn't see a creature so much as a shadow, and at first I believed it to be a tiny field mouse.

On instinct, I swerved my front tire to avoid whatever it was that had scooted in front of me. My front tire hit nothing, and because I felt nothing on the back wheel—no bump, no soft squeezing—I thought I had missed whatever may have startled me.

I looked back, and knew I had killed it.

A small chipmunk, trying to cross the pathway. It had died instantly, it's fragile neck crushed. It never knew what hit it. My heart sank, but I took comfort in knowing it hadn't suffered. Without slowing—what would be the point?—I kept going.

By the time I reached the office, the chipmunk was practically forgotten, and I concerned myself with stretching, drinking my recovery drink (chocolate milk), and starting my computer. It wasn't until I was removing my smartphone and water bottles from their respective cradles that I discovered my rear tire was flat.

Totally flat.

I hadn't felt a difference in the ride at any point in my commute, so I figured I must have rolled over something in the parking lot. Over my lunch break, I would replace the inner tube and be set for my evening commute.

I blew out my second tire only 12-and-a-half kilometres into my ride, as I was about to cross the Alexandra Bridge. I could see it coming but, as with the chipmunk, I couldn't avoid it. Where the interlocking brick ended and the concrete sidewalks met, a small depression revealed a pointed corner in the concrete. I tried to swerve, but only my front tire avoided the hazard.

As with the chipmunk, the back tire could not avoid its fate. I heard the bang and immediately felt the firmness of the rim.

I could hear Lori's voice, having spoken to me less than a week ago, as I was trying to fit two spare tubes in the carry case under my seat: "Why do you need to carry two tubes? What are the chances of getting two flats in one day?"

Pretty good, it would seem.

From this dilemma, I learned one thing: my cycling shoes aren't made for walking. While they do have clips that recede into the treads, the backs of the shoes rub my heels. I was going to have blisters before I reached the Byward Market.

I called Lori to tell her of my dilemma. She told me she thought there was a bicycle shop on Clarence Street, so I headed to where she thought it was located. There was no shop to be found.

Using my phone, I spoke to Google Now: "Where is the closest bicycle-repair shop?" The result showed me a place on Dalhousie, less than two minutes from where I was standing. I pushed my bike onward, relying more on the handlebars for support, my feet beginning to ache.

The store was not at the quoted address.

Discouraged, I decided to head to the bus stop on the Mackenzie Bridge, on the other side of the Rideau Centre. With luck, I would have enough loose change in my backpack to get me to my end of the city.

"Nice bike."

We were standing at Dalhousie and Rideau. He had sights on my bike. I was not willing to relinquish possession of it.

He wasn't holding a knife, but that meant nothing. He could have drawn it from any pocket, or from behind his back.

I could have handed over the bike, but I didn't want to. I could have run, but with a flat tire and sore feet, it would have been a slow getaway. I opted for the third option: stand my ground. I watched for him to reach for a knife, knowing I would only have a second or two to make a move. I knew exactly how heavy my bike was: I know how much effort is required to hoist it over my head—I hang it upside-down from the ceiling in my garage. If need be, I would swing my bike up, using it to keep my would-be attacker at bay. With any luck, one of the many passers by would come to my aid.

As an absolute last resort, I would use the bike as a club and crack him over the skull with it.

This bike had already killed today.

No weapon was pulled. The kid noticed the flat tire and said, "Your bike's no good." He then looked beyond me, seemingly recognizing someone, and yelled, "Hey! I thought I told you to not come back here... ." Already having forgotten me, he started walking towards his next target.

The light had changed and I walked a little faster to the bus stop.

I stopped briefly to rest my feet and took a moment to type a short message to the Twitterverse: Okay, this is turning into the day from Hell.

Only, the autocorrect on my "smart" phone changed Hell to He'll. Great. Just bloody great.

On the Mackenzie Bridge, I scrounged through my backpack, collecting and counting coins. The bus fare was $3.45, but I was 20-cents short. A woman, standing at the stop, watched me, saw me count my coin. "How much are you short?" she asked.

"Twenty cents."

She opened her purse and gave me a quarter. "Here you go," she said.

"You have been the brightest light in my day," I said, almost crying. She moved on, recognizing the bus that was approaching as her own.

On my bus, the driver didn't even look at the coins as I dropped them in the fare box. But to me, it didn't matter. I hadn't short-changed OC Transpo. My day felt a little better.

One kind deed made all the difference.

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