|Photo credit: orbitartonline.wordpress.com/|
As far as bike races go, "The Philadelphia International Cycling Classic," is a pretty big deal. The race, a 124-mile endurance test that includes a hill so steep it was given its own plaque and designated "The Manayunk Wall," is described as "America's top international cycling classic, and one of the richest and most prestigious one day races outside of Europe."
Because a significant chunk of the race runs right through the heart of Philadelphia's Manayunk neighborhood, local residents celebrate accordingly. Scores of people gather around the course, some shoulder to shoulder in strategic spots, some sipping beers at outdoor tables of restaurants that line Main Street and some atop the decks and rooftops of houses that offer the best views. Bands are set-up in parking lots, acoustic guitarists belt out well-known cover songs outside of bars and businesses hawk their wares on sidewalks in front of their stores. And thanks to an unspoken, one-day reprieve on open container enforcement by the local police, 20-somethings tend to treat Main Street like Bourbon Street.
That's what brought me out on June 11, 2006, the lax open container enforcement. I was celebrating the fact that I’d just gotten out of a year-long relationship that should’ve ended around the four-month mark -- and I was thoroughly enjoying myself. At some point during the day, a TV reporter asked my friends and me to act like we were having a great time so he could get some footage for the news. When the camera was aimed in our direction, I leaned in, flashed some crude rendering of what I assumed to be a gang sign and yelled, “Bike Race, baby!” It was something I’d regret the moment I saw the footage.
By early afternoon, even the straggling cyclists had crossed the finish line hours ago, and I was getting ready to call it a day. That's when I stumbled across Liz, a girl I'd gone to high school with. Liz was wearing bright pink pants, a "Save The Boobies" T-shirt and swigging from a bottle of Yeager. I'd always been attracted to Liz, but the feeling wasn't mutual. When asked what she thought about me back then, words like "annoying," "weenie," "punk" and "loser" were used. But that's only when pressed. If Liz had to pick just one word to describe what she thought about high-school me, I'm guessing that word would be "indifferent."
But thanks to Liz's heroic alcohol consumption that day, she didn't seem indifferent toward me. While we were talking, she'd give my forearm these completely unnecessary touches -- and she didn't only do it when her balance was faltering and she needed my weight to steady herself. Even when we were sitting on the curb passing the Yeager back and forth, the arbitrary touches continued.
By the time I asked Liz if I could buy her a drink, a drink that she wound up paying for because my credit card was declined, I'd decided it was still a bit early to call it a day. And by the time I'd finished the Red Bull and vodka Liz had been forced to buy, a tiny little voice in the back of my head had been awakened.
Initially, the voice was timid and a bit British even: You know, we may want to think about taking the day off tomorrow, friend. But after a few hours and several more Red Bull vodkas, when Liz made it clear that she was willing to see where this little adventure would take us next, the voice became downright belligerent. F#ck that. You are NOT going in to that shithole tomorrow the voice ordered me.
I never did wind up going in to that shithole the next day. For the first time in my brief career at my first "professional" job, I called in sick ... or at least I meant to, but my boss beat me to it. When my cell phone rang a few hours after I passed out, I wasn't particularly happy to be ripped out of my much-needed slumber.
“Where the hell are you?” Rick, my loud and often mercurial boss, screamed. “It’s 10:00! You’re already an hour late.”
“I’m not coming to work today,” I said defiantly. “I’m taking a sick day. This job entitles us to sick time, and today I’m using one of my sick days. My stomach hurts, Rick, and I’m entitled to take a day every now and then.”
“So your stomach is the problem, huh? Well why didn’t you let anyone know you weren’t coming in?” Rick asked.
“That's what I'm trying to do. I just called to let you know …” I trailed off, realizing that it was Rick who had actually called me.
"It doesn't matter," Rick said. "Listen, just take the day and come in here tomorrow ready to work tomorrow. Can you just do that for me?” Rick asked and hung up before I had a chance to respond.
Glad that’s over with, I thought before going back to bed.
A career or ...
Rick asked to see me in his office when I arrived at work the morning.
When I walked into his office, he was sitting at his desk, rifling through documents and looking important. “Have a seat,” Rick said motioning toward the chair directly across from him.
“Thanks,” I said. “So you wanted to see me about something?”
“I did,” Rick said. “Let me ask you something, Jared. Do you want to have a career or do you want to be a drunk college kid?”
I decided it was best to answer the question honestly. “Most of the time I want to have a career, but there are times when I still want to act like a drunk college kid.”
It wasn’t the answer Rick wanted. He shook his head, massaged his temples and tried a different tact. “Is your stomach better today?” Rick asked.
“Much better, thanks,” I said. “Must’ve been like a 24 hour thing. I've been eating a lot of Chinese food lately, and you never know what's going on there, so ...”
Rick didn’t respond. Instead, he hit a key on his laptop, flipped the computer around so it was facing me and waited for my response. The laptop played a video from the Action News website. While Rick watched me, I watched myself on The News. There I was in broad daylight, drunk as a Kennedy, throwing out awkward gang signs and screaming, “Bike Race, Baby!”
I tried to look disappointed in myself, but I don't think I was able to conceal how cool I thought it was to see myself on The News. "Wait, can you play that again real quick?" I asked. Instead, Rick slammed shut his laptop and launched into a passionate lecture.
Had I never run into Liz at The Bike Race on June 11, 2006, I can guarantee with one hundred percent certainty that I would've dragged my ass to work on the twelfth and suffered through the agonizingly slow cycle of a hungover Monday.
But I did, and one drunken, chance encounter affected a lot more than just my job, it actually changed the entire course of my life.
Sharing a bottle of Yeager on the corner of Main and Jamestown with Liz set off a chain of events that eventually led me to where I'm at right now: A married guy with a child on way who no longer works for the mercurial boss but who's still on strange and wonderful adventure with the girl in the pink pants.