Best Read Aloud. Refrigerate After Opening.

I keep resolving not to read or listen to the news, but, sad to say, I’m addicted. Hearing or watching the news every day is like injecting yourself with poison . . . so polarized, immoderate, indecent, and chaotic is the current daily scene – the animosity, mistrust, dishonesty, misinformation, corruption, and irrationality – that I don’t really want to deal with it. So, this month, instead of poisoning myself – or you – with thoughts about Matt Gaetz or Trump or wormlike Lindsay Graham, whom someone described as “a blubbering elf,” I’ll write about something more personal, closer to home.

When I first moved to Tucson, back in 1970, you could still drive your car up Sabino Canyon, where the motorized tram carries people today. Of course, even then, as today, you could walk. Back then, before its major growth, the city was a quiet, slower place, where even leading citizens were seen in shirtsleeves on the street, and still took time between the office and the bank or post office, for sidewalk chats with passers-by, more like the tempo we have here in these sweet smaller towns, today. 

And it was true, in general, back then, that there were fewer rules. Sabino Canyon did not yet have rules for bicycles – as it has now – concerning times of day and stating which days of the week they were allowed. In general, of course, wherever population grows, there is more need for rules, lest we get hurt. When two hundred pounds of downhill bicyclist moving at twenty m.p.h. slams into a pedestrian, especially from behind, and even worse if it’s a kid, the outcome isn’t pretty and may well call for an ambulance or hearse. But, in those days, at night, when there was nobody around, it was a pleasure to get exercise riding uphill, just under four miles, I think, and then, cash in on the reward you’d earned by flying downhill just as fast as courage and/or sanity allowed. It was a dreamlike thrill in bright moonlight and, in some ways, even more fun on those dark nights with neither moon nor stars. 

One crazy thing about the ride, no matter whether there was light or not, was that as you came flying down and crossed each small stone bridge, which number nine, there was a sudden drop in temperature – 20 degrees – and for a second, maybe two, the sound of roaring water, really loud. Then, instantly, again the warmth and quiet hum of tires on the road.

On one such moonless night, I’d pedaled up, paused at the top to have a drink, and was descending at top speed; had crossed a bridge onto one of the steeper downhill grades, when, suddenly, I saw, or thought I saw, something ahead – a patch of something vaguely lighter in the road ahead, not far away and closing fast. I thought perhaps it was a skunk. There really wasn’t time to think. A second later, maybe two, I realized with astonishment that I’d been very wrong. The light-spot “skunk” turned out to be another human face – six feet above the road and less than three feet from my own. I missed him by mere inches as I barreled blindly by. There was a strange, unearthly sound – a sickly moan of primal fear. It took a second, maybe two, to realize that it had come out of me, and not from him.