An afternoon in Pilsen: The blast of gunning motors rumbles downstreet and catches me from behind. Riding my bicycle home from work, I don’t look back. The motorcycles have followed me, turning from Ashland west onto Blue Island, and now they seem to be gaining on me in bursts, lurching forward and backing down, the ripping treble of acceleration alternating with the bass expulsion of their exhausts.
I can’t be in their way, riding as I am with the traffic. Yet I sense them locking onto me, like the head wind that defeats my hard pedaling. Finally, after another crescendo of power brings them only car lengths to the rear, I turn to see twin figures with bushy ZZ Top beards. One’s hair is flat beneath a black aviator cap; his companion’s long locks blow free in the wind. Lines of chrome studs traverse their slick-black outfits like a zodiac map. The goggles each wears are sci-fi, floating otherworldly above the chrome and black two-wheelers on my tail.
The riders have been silent all this time, heads stuck into that head wind. Still, my eyes can’t leave these guys.
Suddenly my bicycle is flanked by the bikers. Now we are moving as a formation, me at center, our trio of vehicles trapped in a lane wide enough for one car. For the better part of a minute they match–parody is more like it–my creeping progress through the muscling air, although they don’t acknowledge my shock or even my presence.
My breath is gone from fighting the wind. Casing the otherwise empty street, I catch sight of a clubhouse with more motorcycles parked in a row on the sidewalk. Now I stop staring at my escorts, afraid of punishment. Remembering the blade-on-wheels chariots in Ben Hur, I think how lucky I am to have a helmet on.
The mute detail pulls suddenly forward. They accelerate one car length before stopping sharply. They must also have moved their cycles closer together, because now they are blocking my way. I have to brake too, hypnotized, without room for swerving.
My front wheel stops just inside the two-foot gap between the motionless figures, who still straddle their machines. Although I can dismount or ease backward, I take the bait instead–accept willingly this test.
I guide myself, heart pounding, into the pocket between idling motorcycles. Gargoyles in leather, inches from me, the bikers exchange neither words nor looks. Quiet also, I face straight ahead. At last I ease down from the seat to the stabilizing bar atop my bicycle frame, place both feet flat on the asphalt, then inch by–careful that our clothes don’t touch, let alone metal on metal. They let me through undisturbed.
The wind returns after I pedal free, and two sounds rise in my ear: hacking laughter from the clubhouse sidewalk, and a creaking Old Style sign.