Zen and the Art of Cycling: A Wally Crankset Tale
Mary and I were dissecting the Sunday newspaper when the squeal of ancient Mafac brakes announced his arrival. Wally walked in the front door, wrapped in a bedsheet.
I knew I'd regret asking, but couldn't stop myself. “What now? Aren't you kinda old to be pledging a fraternity?”
“Nope,” he replied far too brightly. “I have a great new idea for a career!”
'Career' was Wally-code for a scheme. Mary rolled her eyes and stomped off to the kitchen.
I waited, though it was all I could do to keep from saying are-you-outta-your-mind for the umpteenth time.
“Some British guy said that we should think of bicycling more as a religion than as transportation or recreation. I've just taken that to it's logical conclusion, and this is the result.” He waved his hand to indicate his bedsheet. “It's not a scam. It's not about the money, though the money is pretty good. It's about raising cycling consciousness!”
When Wally says 'it's not about the money', believe me, it's about the money. I was not about to get suckered into one of his flim-flams again.
“Wally, this isn't the sixties!”
“Yeah, I know that, but most of these kids don't, and the ones old enough to have lived through the sixties....well....they don't remember it either but for different reasons.”
The radio played softly in the kitchen. Mary was listening to an oldies station as Archie Bell and the Drells crooned “The Tighten Up.” Wally listened intently, seemingly transfixed by the music.
A few days later, I was getting my usual morning coffee at Larry's Cafe. Wally, still clad in the same bedsheet, was holding forth in a corner booth as a couple of rapt co-eds leaned forward to catch his every word.
“The journey begins and ends at the same place. The destination is unimportant, but the journey is, so it doesn't matter where we're going. What matters is what we learn along the way.”
I couldn't believe they'd listen to his crap, but there's no accounting for taste. The next day the scene was repeated, but the gathering was larger.
“Cycle – it means that your feet move in a circle. Your wheels move in a circle. Your journey is a circle. It tells us that all life is a circle without beginning and without end.”
My kids and I had watched the same Disney movie.
“We travel on air. We inhale and exhale air. Air can be our friend when it pushes us from behind or our enemy when it opposes us. Though it's invisible and insubstantial, it can be a powerful force.”
I didn't wait around to hear about earth, fire, and water too.
Wally developed an entourage composed almost entirely of young and not-so-young women similarly attired in sheets. Somehow they made it look good, unlike Wally who resembled an upright, rumpled bed. Still, there's no denying they found him attractive. How does he do that? It's another of life's mysteries.
One other mystery was solved when I saw him leaving Larry's on his battered Motobecane. I wondered how he managed to ride the bike without the floppy sheet catching in the spokes. He wore cycling shorts underneath and tucked the sheet in around his waist. The ladies did the same, though it was a hot day, and honestly, they didn't wear much. The rolling pack of exhibitionists probably gave our local constabulary – Fred and Ethel – matching coronaries.
Wally's acolytes congregated on street corners near the university and accepted donations from passerby. They just stood there playing old sixties music, never dancing or hopping up and down like Hare Krishnas. Nope. They were solid, middle class, Midwestern cult members who moved with all the grace of fishsticks in togas. But whatever they did, the money rolled in.
I was having my coffee at Larry's one morning when Wally and company arrived. Larry looked at him and said, “Some guy from the IRS was here looking for you. Said he'd be back later today.” Wally blanched and mumbled something about checking his bike. He turned quickly and went back outside, his entourage forgotten.
Larry's eyes twinkle when he lies and they were twinkling especially brightly that morning. “Was that true?” I asked. “Did an IRS agent show up here?”
“Naw!” he chuckled. “I just like messin' with him.”
I went outside to explain to Wally but he and his bike were gone. His improvised toga lay discarded on the sidewalk. It probably added too much drag. I can only hope he hasn't gone south into Mexico again.
My most humble thanks to the following for the inspiration behind this tale: