Irony, fearlessness, and cred

Saturday afternoon I stood on the sidewalk, perusing the dollar books outside the secondhand store with my sweetest friend, waiting for two others to return from their errand to fetch running shoes. Rested, calm, breezy, brilliant. My post-yoga peace had extended into diner brunch, intimate conversations and reading in the coffeeshop, and then this - my favorite thing to do - browsing through books I've never read.

This bookstore is right next to the self-proclaimed biker bar of the neighborhood. A neighborhood, mind you, so past gentrification I doubt there's an honest-to-God, raised-by-rednecks motorcycle owner in a fifteen block radius. Vespas and city bikes are the natural two-wheeled vehicles of the habitat. Like many other bars in my city, this one clamors for a niche by way of gimmick. It's as though people are afraid to have a neutral space because they think their own identities can't fill it, so they take somebody else's but mock it, mock themselves absorbing it.

I digress. There were, in fact, two dudes about to mount motorcycles parked in front of the bar, and they were wearing black jeans, steel-toed boots, leather vests and garishly decorated t-shirts. Maybe I'm not a good judge of authenticity, but it seemed a bit much to me. One was concentrating on his bike (where by concentrating I mean revving the engine), and the other came over to help, but first he turned on the radio of his. "Hells Bells" came on at a raging volume. I raised my eyebrows and looked up again. My friend was looking at me but the bikers weren't, so I started headbanging and dancing. And then they noticed. Both had broad smiles on their faces as one made a shrugging gesture that was half "c'mon" and half "why not?" Maybe they thought I liked the good-girl-with-a-bad-guy role.
Sunday afternoon, when I felt I'd been circling my room for hours, I took a break to read in the park down the road. A girl, maybe eight years old, was riding her bicycle around the loop made by the sidewalk. She wore a spring green long-sleeved tee and had metallic purple streamers on her handlebars. I smiled at the image. I'd seen her pass by a couple of times when she was slowed by a group of large men walking four abreast. Slowed, but not deterred. She called, "Excuse me," in a child's voice that was nonetheless loud and unwavering enough to part the sea of bodies for her. I was so proud of her. I wondered at what point after my arrival in the city I stopped engaging with similar groups. Individually, if someone speaks to me politely, I still respond, but I would never have excused myself and hoped to get by that crowd without harassment. But she's just being who she is, and expecting them to make way for her, a little girl on a bike.

No more than five minutes later, I heard a yelp smaller than the previous call, and saw the streamers among limbs splayed on the concrete. Fearless enough to take a tumble. Her mother walked the bike, and her father carried her, past me. The last thing I heard her say was, "I promise to be more careful next time."


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