Fresno Follies

Last night on my bike ride through Fresno, a red light forced me to stop at an intersection where a highway exit ramp dropped cars onto the road I was riding. It was roughly 6:30 pm and commuters where coming off the freeway onto the main thoroughfare in hopes of arriving home quickly. It was still hot and my throat begged me for some cool water from my water bottle. In 93degree heat, water won’t stay cold for long when exposed to the suns rays and my water bottle was no exception. Still, I chugged for an eternity as I waited for the light to change in my favor.

I heard a loud ruckus coming from my right and while I usually don’t want to be distracted while riding, I took a quick look to find an individual not only staring at me, but yelling at me as well. He was probably mid 30’s, Japanese descent and wearing a floppy fisherman’s hat, a flannel shirt and huge oval glasses. He reminded me of a Japanese version of Bill Murray in Caddyshack. His arms were flailing as if he were trying to catch flies barehanded, still all the time screaming something at me that I just could not understand. What I did notice was that he had a bottle of water in one hand and while for some reason I found that odd, I decided that once the light turned green, I was good and gone. The light changed and off I went, giving one rearward glance to make sure he wasn’t going to chase me. It was then that I knew what he was trying to say to me, because next to him, hidden in the bushes that decorated the freeway exit ramp, was a blue cooler. He was selling cold water!! I turned around and headed back to him, pulled out a few dollar bills and asked for a bottle. He gave me a smile, said something I still didn’t understand (my Japanese is limited to sushi, tempura and an occasional ebi…and oh yeah..saki) and handed me a bottle out of his semi filled cooler. I was standing face to face with Bill Murray, only I’m not sure he knew that. Once I loaded that cold water into my hot water bottle, I didn’t want to leave. Why? Well, I wanted to wait until that damn gopher popped his head up next to the cooler. It somewhat screwed up my night as I couldn’t get Kenny Loggins singing “I’m Alright” out of my head the entire evening. Ever try going to sleep with dancing gophers floating over you?

Since I live in San Francisco, I never have to worry about getting a sunburn. Why? Because the sun never comes out from behind the fog in San Francisco during the summer time. Tony Bennett is well known for his wonderful rendition of “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.” As a matter of fact, that song is played after every San Francisco Giants home win. But you know, the truth is this: he didn’t leave his heart in San Francisco, he lost his heart in San Francisco. I really believe he took his heart out one day to get it cleaned, left it on a park bench and never found it again because the fog was too thick to locate it. I mention this because even though I live in a fog-shrouded city, I love the heat. And yet, I’m simply not used to what intense heat can do to city streets.

Riding in Fresno, I have come to realize that the surface of the street actually softens during the high heat of the day. To those of you who live in areas where sunshine is sparse and a high of 63 degrees is hot, then you may not be able to fathom what I’m going to type. The road actually gets soft and if you stand in it long enough, you will sink…and probably get a hot foot for your efforts. If you don’t think this phenomenon actually occurs, go to Youtube and type in this name: Joseba Boleki. To you non-followers of the Tour de France, this name will only bring visions of strange, smelly cheeses. Boleki, however, was a wonderful cyclist who landed on the podium of the Tour for two years before his horrific accident, which was caused by high temperatures and a melting tar roadway. The accident has been memorialized not because of the accident that rendered Boleki a rider that could never return to his previous level of performance, but rather because a trailing Lance Armstrong had to use all of his cyclocross skills to avert running into Boleki. It’s a classic bit of Tour video. In Fresno, what I have found during my rides is that high temperatures = soft roadways; soft roadways + heavy vehicles = ruts in the road. And if you aren’t paying attention while riding your bike on those streets, the term rut-roh brings new meaning. Quickly. Now let me further that by saying that Fresno has to be the California capital for large trucks. Not double rigs or moving van types of trucks, but big trucks used by the common folk to get to work each day. Huge trucks. I’m pretty sure that all of the retired monster trucks (and drivers) live in Fresno. If I ever got sucked under one while riding my bike, I wouldn’t be found for weeks. Probably not a bad place to hide if you were attempting to escape from the local gendarmes.

I’ve also noticed that usually I’m the only bike rider out in the streets of Fresno. Once in a while, you might see a 6’3” guy with baggy pants and skull and cross bones tattoos riding a very small BMX, but roadie types are on the endangered list here. Maybe the locals know something I don’t: that cars and heat can kill you when exerting yourself in their presence with some type of foolish exercise. I’ll keep you posted on that, but if you don’t hear from me again…well, you can figure it out. The other reason might be the dearth of bike shops in the area. There certainly aren’t many. I rode past one today that was shuttered up. Using my trusty camera phone, I managed to take a few pictures of the front of it ( My God….is the world coming to an end, because if you can’t sell Nishikis and Raleighs in Fresno, where can you sell them? Hopefully this won’t bring about the demise of both bike companies and they will be able to find other sprawling metropolises such as Fresno to create new dealerships. But then again, maybe not.

Finally, if anyone wants to road trip with me to Fresno to help me remove the Big Wheel bike sign and permanently mount it on the top of my Honda Element, let me know. I believe a sequel to The Hangover is in the works!