Cell photo by CC
Son, I was wrong.
It’s not easy for a father to say that to a teen-ager, ennervatingly wise beyond his years.
I was wrong back at the beginning of the summer, when you told me that the front tire on your mountain bike was leaking, and I took your concern with a grain of salt.
It was a slow leak, I reasoned, and it’ll just need an occasional pumping to keep it road-worthy.
So you suffered through, getting out of theater rehearsal or volunteering for the science center to find it flat and having to walk it home or get a ride when your mother happened to be nearby.
Yes, I was wrong.
I know that, now, because last night, I recklessly plowed my skinny, delicate road bike tires into railroad ballast rocks, instantly blowing out my front inner tube.
So, Thursday morning, I grabbed your bike, quickly pumped up that flat front tire and pedaled off to the train station.
At the end of work, I left myself the usual 6.5 minutes to pedal 14 blocks to Jack London Station in Oakland, and there it was, flat as a New York subway fare.
Luckily, I carry a bike pump, which I furiously worked on that fat, air-starved tube until there was just enough to support the bike, my 200-and-some-odd pounds and my laptop, which weighs as much as a bowling ball.
I pedaled furiously, blind to traffic laws and the fact that I’d left my bike helmet at home. I banked steeply as I turned onto the pedestrian path that parallels the tracks and leads onto the Jack London platform.
There it was, my train, headlights aglow. I few off the path, bounced across the inside tracks and scooted up alongside the train.
The doors were shut. I looked at the sky in despair. Then came the “DING, DING, DING” that told me the train was leaving, and then it began to move. I pedaled halfway down the train, peering into the windows to see if I could catch a glimpse of a friendly conductor, but I saw nothing but my own, undeserving reflection.
The train stopped. One-half of a double-door opened in front of me. Amazed, I lept off the seat and hauled the troublesome bike aboard.
Anyone who’s regularly commuted by train, bus or ferry knows what I was feeling at that point: Relief, exhilaration, gratitude and a sudden calmness that borders on serenity. The train was moving again, and I was on it.
I’ve made many snarky comments about the Capitol Corridor and its tardiness. I’ve even joked to people on the train that the only time it’s on time is when I’m not. I’ve also written about the bad behavior of one of the Amtrak conductors on the line. Worse yet, I’ve even resented people who’ve been slow to get on the train because it would make MY trip home a few minutes later.
For those reasons and my clinical procrastination problem, when I stood outside of those closed doors, I couldn’t help but think that waiting another 85 minutes for the next fell under the heading of just deserts.
So son, another lesson we may learn from this is that what goes around doesn’t necessarily come around.
A much better lesson, however, is that people can display kindness for its own sake, even when that behavior might inconvenience themselves or perhaps a few hundred other commuters.
But perhaps it was something else. Perhaps there was a sudden red signal or some other reason to bring the string of double-decker rail coaches to a stop.
So I asked a conductor, just as I was preparing to get off the train, and she told me with a slight grin:
“The engineer saw you coming.”
Thanks, guys. You shouldn’t have.