I am nervous, going against my instinct, I watch the bus doors close, feeling better as the option disappears. I walk out onto the street. The new asphalt is sticky in the heat, thick tar expansion joints grab at my feet as I walk over them. I slap my longboard down on the ground, the soft front wheels bouncing once. It is solid oak, with three one inch thick strips of griptape evenly spaced down its length. I am rolling slowly now, the bus is behind me, and I hear the rushing air as its air brake depressurizes, and it lurches into movement, the people inside all sway backward, with a death grip on the metal rails for those not lucky enough to get a seat. I wish for a moment I had gotten on, then I remember my backpack, empty except for an old camouflage jacket. I had packed light, I was planning on this. It was the afternoon of the beginning of spring break. I pushed, and I was gliding across the new pavement. Fullerton street, Chicago.
The 74 Fullerton bus was bearing down on me, and I sped up, pushing repeatedly until I couldn’t go any faster. I bent down, and folded my arms behind my back. Very aerodynamic, but if I hit a pebble, it would be face first into the ground. I pushed ahead, feeling an adrenaline rush. I would race the bus home today. I swerved in through a gas station driveway and rode on the side walk, listening to the rhythmic clack-clack as the wheels went over the cracks in the sidewalk. I pushed harder, the sound sped up with me. Clack-clack clack-clack clack-clack. The sound synchronized and surpassed the pulse that I could feel in my reddened face. It seemed that the sweat on my face was squeezing in every time my heart flooded out another half pint of oxygen-filled blood to ease the acid burning in my legs.
I was pushing harder now, on the uphill portion of the Fullerton bridge over the Chicago River. The river smelled foul, I could see shopping carts that had been ditched in its green depths. The grade of the incline lessened and I felt myself going faster, the crest of the bridge was my horizon, and I saw the tops of buildings appear above it, reflected on the hot asphalt like rippling mercury. I came over the top of the bridge, and looked over my shoulder. The bus was out of sight, far behind. I gave one last hard push and folded my arms behind me once more for the downhill descent. The wind began to roar around my head, and I crouched lower over the board, my flying carpet. My eyes watered and I closed them for a few seconds, imagining myself hitting the cast iron fence next to me.
When I opened my eyes I was at the bottom, going a little over thirty miles an hour. The light in front of me turned red, and a wall of shiny cars moved forward, blocking my path. I was going too fast to put my foot down to stop, so I tried air braking, standing up, facing the wind and raising my arms to catch as much wind as possible. I slowed to about 15 mph, and leaned back as I put my foot down, pushing in reverse to stop. I sat down on my board, smiling wildly at a random person waiting to cross the street, half expecting them to say GOOD JOB! YOU'RE BEATING THE BUS! They didn’t say anything and looked uncomfortable. The light changed, and I was off again, kicking the cement until it slid past under me, and I was flying again, on the home stretch.
I pushed more than necessary, seeing how fast I could go. A door opened up, I read it automatically, a hardware store, with two people walking out of it, into my path. I swerved to the left, squeezing past between the unsuspecting shoppers and a newspaper box chained to a rusty light pole. I looked behind me, faking a laugh and heard one of them say something in Spanish and start laughing.
I was almost home, and could see my favorite bus bench at Kedzie and Fullerton. I turned around and rode my board backwards, so that as I passed the bench, I could sit down and slide to a stop. I looked at my watch; it was three o’clock, I was 15 minutes ahead of the bus, and home was 2 blocks away. I stood up and pushed down the service drive on Kedzie towards home. I had found my new way to get there.