My Bike Trip Across America (transcript)

Published October 6th, 2018

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Would you look at that, here we are again, meeting clandestinely away from prying eyes, just you and me, Michael Phillips, conspiring together with THIS IS NOT A TEST. Hoo boy, there’s a lot going on in the news, isn’t there? Well, let’s ignore all that. Here, let me tell you a story. If you’ve heard parts of it before, don’t worry, it’s guaranteed 85 to 90% fresh content. That’s way more than you’ll get from those mumbling fuckers at This American Life, so let’s go.

When I was in my late 20s I lived in what was essentially a crawlspace above a band’s rehearsal studio. Now that may sound glamorous and exciting, and really, at times it was exciting. But glamorous – not really so much. When you can’t even stand up next to the bed you sleep in, that’s not glamorous, baby. I was surviving, more or less, on the money I was making working for, and later playing with, the band, and my expenses were low, what with living in a crawlspace where the rent was zero dollars, and, probably most importantly, I was surviving because I was in my 20s, a period when most of us have few needs, or modest needs, and one that was very much my own personal, “I don’t give a fuck about your society’s rules and standards” era.

But it’s easy not giving a fuck about society’s rules and standards when you can’t possibly meet those standards anyway. When I had to work a regular job there were not a lot of things I could do. I was a printer, but that job never paid very well, and those jobs were becoming harder to come by. The other thing I could do was paint houses, but the reality is you can train a beaver to paint houses, so that’s not one of your higher paying professions either. Not to mention, it’s really boring. Running a printing press can be boring, repetitive work, but painting houses is about 500 times more boring and repetitive than that, which is why every house painter you meet is a hopeless alcoholic or drug addict. Remember that next time you’re talking to a contractor.

Anyway, I was uneducated – I am uneducated – so that’s what I had, printing and labor, and I knew I was lucky to have the printing skill in my pocket. A question I never heard at any point in my life was, “Where are you going to go to college?” I don’t remember ever talking to any adult or anyone else about college being an option for me. I’m not sure how that happened, it seems kind of unbelievable to me now, that no one, ever, grabbed me and said, “What the hell are you going to do with your life?” like in that Twisted Sister video. I mean, I know why it didn’t happen in high school, and that’s because I was doing as little as I possibly could there, and in the late 70s it was possible to do very little indeed and they’d still give you a diploma. I didn’t have any interest in walking into that high school every day, and I had infinitely less interest in going to four more years of school when I finally made my escape.

So yeah, the reality is that I probably wasn’t rejecting society as much as society was rejecting me, so I’m not sure my stance back there in my 20s was very bold or particularly interesting. But there I was, outside of polite society, and I found myself with a bit of time on my hands when the band took a break after a couple of years of non-stop work. When I’d first moved to Topanga Canyon I bought a mountain bike, because, well, Topanga Canyon is in the mountains, right? I wasn’t particularly sporty, or in marvelous physical condition. I was scrawny and lazy, and faithfully avoided anything that resembled exercise. So I don’t know why I bought a bike. I guess I thought it would be cool to ride around in the state park on the other side of the canyon.

Before I whacked that bush though, I had to get my pedaling legs into pedaling mode, and I didn’t want to lash the bike to my car and drive it over to the state park for my first few rides. Using a car to drive your bike to some destination feels like cheating to me. So I took the bike out to Grandview Drive and started pedaling. That part of the street, right there by the house, was flat. Flat for a couple hundred feet anyway. Otherwise every street in Topanga is a hill. Most of them steep hills. Being situated on the side of a mountain and all, that’s not too surprising.

So I set off on my first bike ride going uphill. I figured it was better to go up first and then coast down, right? Yes, yes it is. I can confirm that the obvious strategy is the best. As far as bike riding is concerned, anyway. It’s just that the going up part, when you haven’t ever really ridden a bike up steep hills before, the going up hill part is fucking brutal. Even on a mountain bike, which has really low gears made especially for propelling idiots up hills.

I had the bike in the lowest gear and I was pounding, pounding, pounding up the hill, and when I got to where I couldn’t go any further, I turned around and coasted back to the house. I didn’t have a speedometer or anything to tell me how far I’d gone, but it couldn’t have been more than half a mile. Or, you know, a quarter of a mile. Or less. In my defense though, a quarter mile up a steep grade is like 20 miles on a flat path, like the one that winds along the Los Angeles beaches from Topanga to Palos Verdes. I’d get down to that path eventually, but first I was there on the side of the hill like a lunatic, grunting up in low gear, and whizzing back down exhausted.

And I should say, I should admit right here and now, in front of you and Jesus and everybody, that after the first couple of attempts to climb the hill – which I made wearing cut off Levi’s – I made a trip to the bike shop for some bike pants. Say what you will about how one looks when walking around in those things, but if you’re riding up bike up the side of a mountain, or anywhere really for more than few minutes – bike shorts. You need ’em. And, of course, you know, the way they make your ass look. Can’t beat that. When you’re in your 20s, anyway. Maybe not so much later on in life.

But when I got off the bike in my Levi’s after that first ride, that quarter or half mile, my legs felt like they were going to explode. Like they might just literally explode and leave me legless. I was panting and sweating and I dragged the bike into the house – it lived in my kitchen, because I thought if I left it outside my landlord would steal it, and he probably would have – so I wheeled on into the house and flopped onto my bed. I wobbled around for a few hours and then went to sleep. When I woke up in the morning I could barely walk, my legs were stiff and my thighs were refusing to do thigh things.

But I was afraid if I took a day off from riding the bike I’d take the rest of the days off forever, because really, who needs that shit? So I got back on and did it again. I made it about a hundred yards further than the day before. Then further the next day. After about a month I made it to the top of the hill, which was my goal. Well, it wasn’t really my goal because I didn’t have a goal, but once I got to the top I decided that would be my goal.

By “the top,” I mean where Tuna Canyon Road meets Saddle Peak Road. From there you can see the ocean to the south, and Tuna Canyon Road starts going down the other side of the mountain, toward the golden shores and golden people of Malibu. Saddle Peak Road, on the other hand, well that keeps going up, and after a week or so of pedaling up to that intersection, I figured if I was going to say I was riding to the top I may as well go all the way to the top, so I started cranking up Saddle Peak Road every day rather than turning around and enjoying a breezy coast back home. As it turned out, when I was at that intersection I was only about a third of the way to the actual top.

It wasn’t that I was terribly determined to make my way to the highest point in Topanga, but I’d put so much time into it already, and riding every day had become a habit. It felt good – when it was over – and it hadn’t killed me yet, so I kept doing it. The more I rode the more progress I made every day, so it didn’t take too long to make it to the top. Once I did, I rode up there every day. It never became easy, because pedaling three and a half miles uphill is never easy. And when I say uphill, I really mean up hill. There was only one small flat stretch on the way up, a hundred feet, maybe 150 feet, where you could sit up, drink some water and not just grind. But the rest of the way – all grind, baby. It was a 1200 foot rise in altitude, from my place to the top, so it was work. Every time. But man, coasting back down…that was just like flying. Or how flying might be, if birds flew in a seated position, wearing ridiculous pants. Especially when it was a cool and foggy morning. Like flying through the clouds.

As you might have gleaned, there wasn’t much traffic on those roads. I don’t know if there’s more traffic now. There are certainly more people living up there, building giant concrete mansions where the hippies and Manson family types used to flop in sprawling, rickety properties that appeared to have been built by people who were probably way too high to have been holding hammers. So I assume there’s more traffic now. But that coast down, the ride down, the flight down, was always exciting. Exciting mainly because it was a lot of blind curves, I’d be cruising along at about 40 miles an hour, and I didn’t wear a helmet. Or anything to protect any part of me, as far as that went. Bike shorts and a t-shirt or a ratty old football jersey type thing I’d picked up somewhere if it was cold, that was it.

If that sounds insane it’s because it was insane. Later I took to riding down Topanga Canyon Boulevard to the ocean, picking up the bike path and going sometimes all the way to the end, at Torrance Beach, right there where Palos Verdes starts. Like I said, I had a lot of time on my hands. But going down Topanga Canyon Boulevard, the main road into and out of the canyon, I could get up around 50 miles an hour, and now, thinking about doing that, I can’t even imagine. Like what hitting a rock or having a blowout would have done. I would have just been a sticky red pile of road sausage.

But I was careful – I mean, as careful as you can be doing that shit – and I always kept my eyes peeled. Never crashed in 15 years riding that bike, never even took a minor spill. Even when I finally did make my way over to the park to ride the trails and fire roads along the spine of the Santa Monica mountains, just me and the coyotes. And that was some rocky riding. Some of the people in the park though – well, that was the 1980s, and no one rode through the park on a bike. And the people who walked or hiked or rode horses in there, they didn’t appreciate my presence very much. They’d yell at me and throw rocks at me as I passed. And it wasn’t like I was blasting through there tearing shit up, I was meandering, just like they were. They just hated the intrusion of technology, I guess. But there was no rule against riding a bike on those trails – probably because it never occurred to anyone that they would ever need such a rule – so I just ignored the sticks and literal stones coming my way from the peaceful nature lovers.

That ride from Topanga along the coast down to Palos Verdes, when I started making it, was about 60 miles round trip, and after I’d made it a few times, I felt like I could still go further, so I started to think about a longer trip. Like a serious, oh, let’s just make it a cross country trip. Okay, maybe not all the way across, but from Topanga to St. Paul, where I used to live, how about that. Seems like a good thing to do, yeah? A good 2000 miles. Nice even number. I figured if I could do 100 miles a day, I could make the trip in a few weeks. And riding as much as I had been, 100 miles a day didn’t seem unrealistic. So I started kind of sort of semi-planning for it, but I didn’t tell anyone what I was intending to do.

I got some saddlebags for the bike and started doing my 60 mile ride with stuff loaded into them, to give them some weight. I felt that weight too boy, I’ll tell you. There’s a big difference between flying around on a relatively light bike and then doing the same pedaling with 30 pounds of cargo along for the ride. A big difference. Some days I’d be pushing along the coast, trying not to mow down roller skaters, thinking, why, mjp, why? Go eat a taco. Sit in the sand with some of these groovy people and get a luxurious dark tan while tossing your head back and laughing about how funny and wonderful life is. But I kept going and kept adding weight to the bags, and eventually I thought, what the hell am I waiting for, so I started to really seriously get ready to ride across most of the country.

I gathered up what I figured I’d need, a few essential bike tools, a speedometer/mileage computer thing to track my progress, a lightweight compact sleeping bag, a one-man tent…what else? I guess that was about it. I told a few people that I was leaving, a couple of the guys from the band. Noel had been on the Great Peace March, so a cross country bike trip didn’t seem crazy to him at all. Trevy, well, he thought it was crazy, but he thought I was crazy in general, so nothing to report there. I told my girlfriend, who had lived through a civil war in Lebanon, so a long bike trip didn’t exactly fill her with fear for my safety. And I told my dad, who was at the end of my trip, so I figured it would be polite to let him know I would be showing up at some point, dirty and half dead. He was of the same mind as Trevy, thinking I was crazy, but he said, “Well, okay, I’ll be here,” and that was that.

I didn’t have much money, maybe a couple hundred dollars, so I was relying on the tent and the sleeping bag to get me through. I borrowed Trevy’s AAA card and went to their office to get some maps. The guy who helped me had made up maps for long bike trips before, so he was pretty casual about it, but at one point he did say, “Now Trevy, you know there are mountains and desert between here and Minnesota, right?” I assured him I was aware of the existence of both of those things, but he pulled out one of the maps anyway, and made a show of stamping “CARRY WATER” in big red letters onto certain stretches.

A couple of days later I woke up earlier than usual and thought, hmm, this seems like as good a day as any, so I lashed everything to the bike, got on, and left. I didn’t give the departure date any more thought than that, which is funny to me now, seeing that these days I check Google maps to make sure I know where the parking is before I go anywhere, but that’s how I rolled back in the day. No point in over-preparing, or a lot of hand-wringing or hoopla. Or, you know, intelligent, serious planning.

I made my way down the driveway like I would for a regular daily ride, but when I turned out of the driveway, I headed down instead of up. It was a downhill coast to Topanga Canyon Boulevard, then pretty flat until I got to the other side of the mountain and started coasting down into the San Fernando valley. That’s when the feeling of freedom hit me. I had everything I needed right there on the bike with me, and I was headed off into the wind without any obligations or responsibilities or schedules.

I remember thinking that this is exactly what life should be like, and why the hell are we always scrapping and working and planning and running around. We didn’t need all that, all we needed was what we could carry. Hey, I was in my 20s, what do you want? But it was an overwhelming feeling, just heading out alone, with wheels under me and someplace to stay all bundled up right behind me. I knew there would be more than enough really difficult parts interspersed with plenty of discomfort and probably outright suffering along the way. But the freedom – man, the freedom beat out all those things. It’s a powerful feeling, and it’s not one that most of us get to feel often enough. Just heading off in the opposite direction from everything that we have to do, or should be doing.

Yes siree, it was all adrenaline and good vibes there on the first day, as I zig zagged my way through Reseda and Van Nuys, making my way to the roads that ran along the foothills. The first part of the route was an easy track right along the foothills until I got out to the wide open desert. It was city riding though, and that’s not quite as peaceful and free as riding around sleepy Topanga or on the wide breezy bike path on the western edge of Los Angeles. Riding through the valley was slow and stressful, waiting for lights and dodging traffic and generally dealing with a lot of people and cars and buildings. Though at one corner a kid looked at me through a passenger side car window and gave me a solemn thumbs up. He was being driven somewhere he had to go, and he recognized that I had nowhere to go.

So there on that first day when I was still cruising on a lot of adrenaline, I made my first mistake. Well, maybe my only mistake, but it was a good one. I started standing on the pedals to take off from red lights or other stops. I should have been downshifting and taking off slow, in lower gears, but I was all amped up and when you’re all amped up, standing on the pedals in a higher gear is just a faster way to get moving. And it’s all about getting moving. The first day I made it out to someplace near Redlands, about 100 miles, so I was right on schedule.

It was late afternoon, and I locked the bike and walked into a grocery store. It felt very strange walking away from the bike. It was like walking away from everything, which is basically what I was doing. If someone had made off with the bike, or even just made off with my sleeping bag or anything else lashed to the bike, I’d be screwed. But that’s how it was going to be. I sat in some grass near the store and inhaled a lot of bread and cheese and water, and then laid back and looked up at a tree and thought about how easy the first day had been.

It had seemed easy, anyway. But it was still disorienting, being out there, just floating through the world attached only to a bike. It wasn’t dark yet, but I’d have to find somewhere to set up my tent and hide out for the night. Which sounds easy, but I was still in civilization, so it took another hour of riding around before I found a spot with enough tall grass cover to camouflage me. It was a good spot though and pretty quiet, so as the sun was setting I popped open my narrow little tent, unrolled my sleeping bag and laid down.

As soon as I closed my eyes I was immediately overcome with paranoia that if I fell asleep someone would make off with my bike, even though I was pretty sure it couldn’t be seen from the road. So I got up and out and dug a short piece of cord out of my saddlebags and tied one end to the frame of the bike and the other around my wrist. Go ahead and picture that. It’s as goofy as it sounds, but that’s what I did. Then I crawled back into the tent and fell asleep.

A couple hours later I woke up to the sound of – well it sounded like a train was about to run me over, but it was the horn on a huge truck. I crawled out and there was a truck all right, rolling down the street about a mile an hour, moving a house. An entire house, and not a small one, was moving slowly past me, which I took as a sign of some kind. A positive sign, is how I chose to interpret it.

I woke up early, before dawn, and rolled up my bed and my tent and jammed everything back up onto the bike. It was freezing cold, and I didn’t have a good jacket, because, who needs a jacket for a cross country trip that takes place out in the elements, right? But really, when you only have a small amount of space and weight is a problem, you have to be pretty brutal about deciding what you’re going to pack. That’s why I’d recommend – you know, for your cross country trip – drive a car. Seriously. It might not be more fun, but it will be a hell of a lot easier, and you can bring 800 pounds of shit along with you. So yeah, just drive. See America through a windshield. There’s no shame in that.

Okay, well, back to that cold field, I got onto the bike in my trusty jean jacket and started off vaguely toward the east. I felt a twinge in one of my knees right away, but I figured it was just from the cold. It wasn’t painful, just a little catch, so I kept going. I mean, I couldn’t really stop and rest every time I felt a twinge or saw a butterfly or swallowed a bug. I wasn’t on a schedule, but I also didn’t want to be on the road for three months, so I was pretty focused on keeping going. Keeping the wheels turning, man.

The sun came up and I warmed up and after a few hours I left the protective embrace of the foothills for a stretch, and ran into something I hadn’t really given much thought to – I know, you’re not surprised that there was something, or a lot of things, that I didn’t give much thought to, that’s the theme of this story so far, anyway, I get that – but what I ran into was wind. The wide open spaces, they’re open and wide and beautiful and awe-inspiring, and really fucking windy sometimes. Had the wind been at my back, I would have marveled at its beauty and power, but it wasn’t at my back, it was blowing directly in my face.

A strong headwind is not something you welcome when you’re pedaling a loaded up bike. It slowed me down a lot, you might say if you were putting something very mildly, and my fancy speedometer was telling me I wasn’t going to make 100 miles a day in those conditions. More like 20. It was that slow. I just cranked slowly forward for hours, calling out for Jesus and Jah and Jehovah and promising all of them whatever they wanted to make the wind ease up a bit. It never did, and by afternoon I was exhausted and looking for a place to collapse and abandon all faith in any deities, real or imagined.

It was a desolate spot though, as far as having any kind of inviting, tall green space to hide in. As far as I could see it was just brown and dusty scrub brush and people driving really old cars, looking for bikes to steal and bike riders to murder for sport or pure entertainment. I mean, it wasn’t really like that, but that’s how it felt after the day I’d had. I searched for a spot to set up camp, such as it was, for a long time. Until I rounded a corner and saw a little motel and thought, oh yeah, that’ll do. It wasn’t my intention to spend any money on rooms, but even though I was well outside of Los Angeles county by then, it still wasn’t far out enough to flop anywhere inconspicuously, and the wind had beaten me to a nub, so I wheeled up to the window at the motel office and said, “One room please.”

“That all you got, a bike? You a transient?”
“A transient?” I said. The word caught me off guard, but I suppose I was a transient, strictly speaking, in the dictionary sense of the word. I said, “I mean, I’m passing through. I’m on a bike trip.”
The guy said, “Uh huh, a bike trip. If you say so. Cash only.”
“I have cash.”
And that was it, cash won the day and I got a room. I immediately became aware of all the benefits of having a room. Like, you know, a bed. A shower. A roof. I realized at that point that this would have been a better and easier trip if I’d saved up enough money before I left to stay at a motel every night. But where’s the sport in that? Where’s the adventure, I ask you?

I should probably mention right about now that I had no plan for getting home from St. Paul once I arrived there, triumphantly, on my bike. I wasn’t going to ride back, that was for sure. All I’d thought about was getting there. I figured the rest would take care of itself. Sometimes things do take care of themselves. Sometimes the universe rewards shortsightedness, stupidity and lack of planning. Sometimes. Not often. Probably really hardly ever. But I was betting on fate and blind faith, as I did quite often in those days.

I took a shower and laid on the bed. Might as well turn on the TV, see what’s on the news. Or the movie channel or whatever, you know. No need to let it go to waste. I was hungry, but I didn’t feel like getting back onto the bike to find food, so I went to the Ps in the yellow pages and called for a pizza delivery. This is a luxury, I told myself, you’re not going to get this every night. I know, I said back to myself, but right now all I want is this warm bed and a really big pizza.

I ate the pizza and watched TV from the bed, as you do in a motel room, and after a couple of hours I got up to go to the bathroom and couldn’t help but notice that my knee was swollen and tight. It didn’t hurt, but it wasn’t right. I woke up early the next morning, and most of the swelling was gone, but I couldn’t move the knee without an annoying dull pain making its way up and down the outside of my kneecap and kind of radiating out into my thigh and shin. I walked around on it to work out the kinks, but the kinks didn’t work out, they just kept kinking. But I still had 1700 or 1800 miles to go, so I got back on the bike, figuring it would work itself out. As most things do, if they don’t kill you.

As I reluctantly pedaled away from the room, I was thinking that it could have been battling the headwind for hours that stressed out the knee, but more likely it was the standing starts that I did in the first hours of the trip. On a fully loaded bike, it’s just not a very smart way to ride. Whatever it was, I figured it was temporary and I just had to work through it. But by the time I was a mile or two out from the motel, it became pretty clear that the problem wasn’t temporary or minor, and that the knee wasn’t going to be able to keep going. Every time I came around to the top of the pedal and had to push down, my knee was saying ‘No.’ Actually it was laughing at me and saying, “Oh, hell no!”

It was pretty clear that my cross country bike trip was coming to an end before I even made it out of California. Before I even made it to the desert. I stopped and sat by the side of the road for a while, then got up and found a pay phone and called my girlfriend. I told her what was going on and she said, “What are you doing? Just come home.” But I didn’t want to do that. I’d just left. I called Trevy but he wasn’t home, I talked to his girlfriend Vicky instead. She listened as I told her what was happening and I asked her what she thought I should do. She said, “If it was me, I’d come home,” and she asked where I was, wrote it down and said she’d sent Trevy out to fetch me when he got home.

While I was waiting for Trevy, I called my girlfriend again, since I had nothing else to do there by the side of the road. I told her I didn’t want to stop, and she said, “It’s out of your hands…and into your knee!” and she laughed because she thought that was pretty funny. I didn’t think it was so funny, but she kept saying it and laughing and eventually I started laughing too, because you can’t just stand by the side of the road crying. People will gawk.

It was about 10 PM by the time Trevy finally showed up. He had our keyboard player, Binghi with him, and Binghi said, “We were driving for a long time man, you made it far,” and I thought, not far enough though, is it, but I said, “Yeah, pretty far, huh?” Then I just laid down across the bench seat in the van and watched the lights go by outside until we got back to Topanga. So ended my epic cross country bicycle journey, testing my will and fortitude – for a full two and a quarter days. I realize it isn’t a terribly funny story. But what happened soon after it was pretty funny. To me, anyway.

After I’d been home for a couple of days the knee was still bad. It started aching all the time, even when I was laying down, so I figured I’d better go get it looked at by a doctor. I had no insurance, of course, so my only option was to go to the county hospital and wait with the rest of the uninsured masses for a medical student to look at me and give me some Tylenol and an ACE bandage. Which is pretty much what happened when I’d been brought there a year or so earlier, after falling 15 feet down the side of a hill onto my back. But that’s another story.

Thing is, I was oddly brazen when I was younger, and I was always walking into places where I wasn’t supposed to be – concerts, offices, celebrations of all different kinds, it was one of the main sources of amusement for some of my friends and I. Doing that so many times, just strolling into places uninvited, gave me a kind of confidence that one could get away with anything if you just acted like you had every right to be somewhere or acted like you were entitled to something. And I’ll tell you something, that’s absolutely true. If you don’t look sheepish or unsure or make the amateur mistake of asking for permission, you can do pretty much whatever you want to do, anywhere. Well, I guess I should qualify that by saying it works best if you’re a white man in America. Which I was at the time. I recognize the part my own various privileges played in the whole thing. No hate Tweets, please. Not for that, anyway.

So with that don’t-ask-permission philosophy in mind, I looked up what appeared to be the most expensive Santa Monica sports medicine doctor I could find, and made an appointment. I figured if I played it right, they would just think I was an eccentric rich guy, with my dreadlocks and all, and rich people just said, “Send me the bill,” and no one thought anything of it, right? I banked on them behaving a certain way because of who their patients probably were, and it turned out I called it right, because when I showed up they asked me for my insurance information, and I said, “Ah, you know what, I think I’ll just pay this one out of pocket, thanks,” and after that they never asked me for anything. I’m pretty certain that wouldn’t have worked in a regular doctor’s office, or in another neighborhood – to be honest, I never expected it to work at all, especially at a high end doctor, I was mostly trying it for my own entertainment – but I’d lucked out and hit the jackpot.

So I sat in the comfortable waiting room for about 3 minutes, then they called me in. The doctor poked and prodded and pulled and stretched and I kept saying, you know, JESUS CHRIST, OUCH! He said, “Hmm, I don’t think it’s too bad, I mean, you walked in here, right? Ha ha ha. You probably don’t need surgery, but just to be on the safe side, we should scope it.” I thought he meant some kind of scan or x-ray or something, but no, he meant an arthroscope. Where they stick a little camera into you and look around at what’s going on in there. As I was wondering how many thousands of dollars something like that might cost, he said, “I can schedule you for tomorrow,” so I said, “Okey dokey,” and went home and limped up the stairs to my cot in the crawlspace. Okay, it was a futon, but cot sounds so much more dramatic, doesn’t it?

The arthroscopy was pretty cool, I have to say. They cut a little slit into the skin on the side of my knee and stuck the camera in there to look around. It was really quite amazing, for the time, anyway. You can probably do it yourself at home these days. But back then I felt like I was living in the future or something. The doctor nodded toward the little monitor screen and said, “Look, see that?” And I said yeah, even though I didn’t know what the hell I was supposed to be seeing. “You tore the LCL a little bit here…annnd…” he dug the camera around in my knee, which was completely numbed, but there was still an odd feeling like someone was dragging gravel around under my skin with a rusty fork, and he said, “The ACL too, look right here. See those things that look like hairs?”

I didn’t see what he saw, but I said, uh huh, and he said, “Like I anticipated, it’s not too bad. You don’t need surgery, but I bet it hurts, doesn’t it? Ha ha ha.” He knew I’d messed it up riding a bike, and he said, “Just stay off the bike for a few days…ha ha ha…no, really though, you should stay off your feet and rest the knee as much as you can for a couple of weeks. The longer you rest, the faster it will heal. I’m going to give you a brace to stabilize it. If the pain doesn’t decrease in a couple weeks, come back and we’ll take another look. But you should be fine.”

I stiff-legged it out of his office in the brace and the receptionist said, “Have a nice weekend Mr. Phillips,” and I said, Okay thanks! See you later! Toodle-oo now, you have a great weekend too! About a week later they sent me the three thousand page bill and I just forgot to pay it. Well, it was slightly more involved than that, they didn’t exactly give up easily when it came to getting paid, but essentially, you know, skipping all the boring legal details, that was the end result.

You could get away with a lot of things like that in the pre-computer, hopeful, trusting twentieth century. I’ll bet a lot of people did. Maybe you did too. If you were bold and unapologetic enough you could get away with just about anything. I once wrote a check to a court bailiff that I knew would bounce, but I walked out of the courtroom that day instead of into jail, so I won that round. Winning a round is the best you can hope for in a lot of cases, because you never win the entire fight when you do those dodgy things. You only get away with them temporarily, but I didn’t like to think too far ahead anyway, so a temporary triumph was still a triumph to me.

I guess that’s the theme today, temporary triumph. You know, if I was to suddenly start giving these things themes. Anyway, thanks for hanging in with me and listening to a rambling story that starts nowhere and ends up in the same place. I promise you now, I will never let you down by coming at you with some glitzy, professionally structured story, don’t worry. Keep your dill pickles wet and your Parmesan dry, and I’ll see you on the other side of the hill.