Sunday, April 08, 2007

Extempore: Powell Street Station

Powell Street Station’s walls look like the capped ends of a layer of beeswax. Off-white hexagons with a large central dome. Mutated eggcups. It does weird things to the acoustics, because the plastic is hard, and the shapes reflect sound waves unusually.

As I pushed my way through the fare gate I heard a pure bass voice singing something vaguely familiar.

Usually, there are two white men one young, one old, playing bluegrass; the young guy on a mandolin, the old guy on a six-string. It could also be the Mexican guy with the inflated-looking guitar singing spritely songs in Spanish that are yet full of longing. Rarely, there’s an Eastern-European looking 70-ish man playing a violin.

Today, I belatedly realize that the spires of the black Mohawk I can see waving above the crowd belong to the singer. Dressed in skin-tight black jeans, black t-shirt, and a jean jacket (to steal a construction from Terry Pratchett) that, let’s just say isn’t yellow, is a pudgyish pale guy with a guitar.

He’s singing, and singing well; playing and playing with feeling. I place the song, as Folsom Prison Blues. I stop, and just let the cognitive dissonance fill me, flow through me, turn me transparent with joy.

His name is Jesse and he tells me that Johnny Cash was the first punk ever. He dressed in black and sang songs that no one else would sing, or write. I don’t argue, why should I?

I’m just so happy to be here, bathed in the glorious wrongness of it all.

Like the other day, I’m riding BART home, and I notice a simply gorgeous rear bike wheel. It’s a Bontrager, with graphite spokes. My gaze travels to the bike frame, a Trek of course, carbon fiber lovingly slathered in bright red metallic paint. Clipped to it is a hand pump, same brand as my beloved floor pump.

Non-standard carbon fiber handlebar with a Stumpy on the centerpost, best for short-bodied riders, as am I. I can’t place the shifting system, I just know it isn’t a Shimano, standard on most higher-end mass-production bikes. This isn’t one of those.

The pedals are clipped, though, speaking of a biker old enough to not want to learn to step in.

Skiers and skateboarders think that about snowboarding, too. “What if I want to bail?”

Practice, my son. With a snowboard, any bailing happens with the board attached. Get used to it. If your board comes off, it may take your feet or legs with it. Same with clipless pedals.

A young guy hopped into the ER this morning, victim of a bike crash that he couldn’t unclip from in time. So, I can see why a veteran biker would prefer to stay with conventional toecups on their pedals.

What are you picturing in your head right now? This? The rider is wearing classic pro biker attire, spandex from neck to upper thigh. Water bottle in the right back shirt pocket, wallet in the left, windbreaker knotted waist-high. The lightest, strongest, most expensive bike helmet Giro makes, bobbed on the head...

of the 60-something woman who was holding that bike.

I love the Bay Area. Want your assumptions challenged? Want to believe five impossible things before breakfast? Commute, breathe, live here.

Tomorrow morning, I will push my way through the fare gate at Powell Street Station and what will I see? Who knows? I don’t, and that’s what makes it all worthwhile.


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