So there I was...
So there I was in the middle of nowhere, standing at a crossroad at midnight waiting for Old Nick to arrive. Fortunately, the middle of nowhere is conveniently close to town here in Oklahoma, and it's a pleasant bicycle ride. A local blues front man said that if I sold my soul to the devil, he'd grant my heart's desire. Now, unlike some of those guitar wailers, I didn't want to be a a talented, faultless musician capable of making a guitar cry or sing. No, I wanted to be an outstanding all-round cyclist, one who could sprint, climb, and endure suffering that would have lesser men whimpering for their mothers.
The breeze carried a whiff of sulfur. The air felt electric, almost like a thunderstorm was lurking just over the horizon. I blinked once, and he suddenly appeared in front of me. Or more correctly, his car was parked almost on my toes. It was a black, mid-size American sedan. The engine ticked quietly as it cooled. The driver's door opened.
Nothing happened for a few seconds. No one got out. The door was open, but I couldn't see anything inside that utterly dark interior. Moonlight didn't penetrate. It looked like a completely blank wall. I heard muttering and the movement of someone sliding off the seat. In the next instant, he stood before me.
I looked down at the bald spot on the top of his head. This was impossible not to notice because he was deep in conversation on his cellphone. His eyes were locked somewhere around my feet.
“I don't care if he wants to make a comeback! That wasn't part of the bargain.” He noticed me standing there and held up one finger to indicate he'd only be moment longer. “Tell him he can't be Speaker again. He had his shot and Nancy's got the job now. And there's nothing he can do to sweeten the deal. I gotta go.”
Most of us think that the devil should look imposing or malevolent. This guy looked like a short, pudgy, real estate agent I'd once met, a Pillsbury dough-boy in a nice suit with a greedy, grasping heart. He had the same shiny car, the same shiny suit, and the same sign-on-the-dotted-line-and-gimme-my-money attitude. The phone rang immediately. He glanced at the caller ID and said, “Sorry. Gotta take this.”
The conversation on his end consisted of little more than “yes, sir”, “uh-huh”, and “sure” while his head bobbed up and down vigorously.
I know a yes-man when I see one. This guy was middle-management at best. I was not meeting Mr. Big.
As soon as he was off the phone, I asked, “So who are you? Why am I dealing with a minion? Isn't my soul worth more than that?”
He sighed heavily, obviously exasperated that I wasn't impressed. “You remember that congress switched sides in the fall election? There's a whole new class of congress critters and their staff to process. Then toss in all the former congressmen turned lobbyists. The presidential campaigns are ramping up too, and that's doubled our workload. We're very, very busy right now. There are so many politicians standing at crossroads in Iowa that they have to take numbers and wait in line. So what can I do for ya?”
I started to explain about being able to sprint like Cippolini, climb like Pantani, and...
He stopped me right there. “You wanna be a great cyclist?” His tone indicated complete disbelief. “You wanna ride a bicycle on the road, in traffic, and you want me to help you do that? Are you outta your mind? You could be wealthy or famous. I can get you a shot at American Idol. But no, you wanna be a great cyclist!”
He paused for an instant and gave me a hard look.
“Wait a minute. I know you. You're that guy who writes CycleDog! You're one of them commuter bicyclists that gets in my way all the time.”
I tried to explain, but he cut me off.
“You guys are just a bunch of troublemakers! I was on my way to a political fund raiser in San Francisco last month and a couple of you cyclists delayed me. I fell behind quota because of you!”
I didn't want to know which party was holding the fund raiser, though I had my suspicions.
He was getting more worked up by the second. “I don't know where you get off being so damned arrogant, keeping good, honest working guys like me from doing their jobs. We don't like your kind, and there's no way I'll let a troublemaker like you into Hell. We have a better class of people!”
With that, he turned toward the car and climbed in. The door closed by itself. The engine revved and in the blink of an eye, the car was gone.
He'd left me on small 'gift', however. Both my tires were flat. It was a long walk home.