Ode to the Hood

J.S. Bach’s 1st Lute Suite BWV 996

Making It

I learned it from Kim down the block herself.
Don’t be fooled by the rocks
that she’s got.

Today I biked from Downtown Berkeley to San Pablo Northwest Berkeley in about 15 minutes. Yamber and I planned to meet at Albatross Pub at 6, after work. We planned this through e-mail since I forgot my phone at home, so I trusted that she wouldn’t bail on me. I rolled down University and parked my bike with five minutes to spare. I locked my bike on the open steel bike rack right in front of Albatross pub’s front door. No lights, and the sidewalk was basically empty with the exception of an older, grey haired, white man with a tucked-in button-up shirt about 20 feet away and a trio of young-ish African American men about 15 feet away. Each minding his own business, but each did not hesitate to shoot a courteous smile greeting to me as I dismounted my bike and walked towards the bike rack– the only female on their side of the block at the time. Albatross’ hefty metal door was bolted shut, so I strolled to the window front of the Japanese clay pot store a couple doors down, waiting for Yamber and the doors to open for six o’clock happy hour. The Japanese clay pot store was just about to close, so I didn’t enter and meandered back towards Albatross, towards my bike. I lean against a bike rack a couple feet away from the one I parked my bike since there were two men having a loud, animated discussion with my bike in-between them. I watched them, daydreaming about 1. Where is Yamber? and 2. It’s so hot today, should I take off my layers to reveal my cute Charlie Brown cut-off tank? My petty thoughts are distracted by guy with dreads, tall tee and vibrantly flinging limbs to match his vibrant voice KICK MY BIKE PEDAL. I see the steel / aluminum pedal, arm, and crank spin around and I hear my chain rattle.

I look straight into the dude’s eyes, “Hey, that’s my bike. Don’t touch my bike.” I stop leaning against the bike rack and stand up straight. *I am surprised my voice even formed a sentence, let alone a stern one.

He looks at me startled and his ‘friend’ starts immediately walking away from the scene.

“Oh, this your bike?”

“Yeah, don’t touch or kick my bike. Don’t kick peoples’ bike.”

“I’m a bike kicker. I kick bikes. I got steel toe shoes, I’ll kick you with my shoes.”

(Did he just say he’ll kick me with his steel toe shoes? I”m thinking of two possibilities: 1. Are we in the medieval times and he’s a knight? No, he’s definitely not Heath Ledger from A Knight’s Tale. And 2. He could be a construction worker with steel toe shoes, but I’m not convinced since I don’t see him wearing Carhartt and he did not seem overworked). “I’m just saying, don’t kick my bike and don’t touch other peoples’ bike.” I keep straight eye contact with him — dead pan, dead on– taking gradual steps towards him as he back away threatening me with his “steel toe” Adidas sneakers peaking from under his ratchet jean hem. I look behind him and see a group of five or so men standing about 15 feet away watching us. I don’t know if they’re associated with him, but I realize that if those are his homies, I’m f****d. I’m about to get jumped, stabbed, or kidnapped by a group of full grown men while I only have my bike bag, metal frame glasses, and button up feather shirt. I was f****d. I knew Yamber would be running late since she had to BART, bus, and walk from Emeryville, so she wouldn’t find my disappearance until late. I also realized that I was stuck and just had to stand my ground because any shrug or cowardice would give him a better chance to actually kick me, or worse, mess with my bike again >:( There’s no turning back from this now.

I repeated at least three more times, “I’m saying, don’t kick bikes.”

His rebuttal, “Don’t mention that anymore. Don’t talk about it.”

I walk closer to where he had backed away from, I stood in the foyer in front of the Albatross  entrance and leaned against the wall, next to the bulletin board. I felt safe since he couldn’t see me as I disappeared into the foyer. He walked away, crossed the street, yelling something at the group of by stander men a couple doors down. Looking straight ahead, up the street next to the Japanese clay pot store, the white haired man acknowledges me and shakes his head. I give him the “What the hell?” shrug and arm gesture. He walks toward me and says “that there’s the neighborhood bike kicker.” I told him how I realized that it was me against him and his homies and I could have been thoroughly f****d, but he reassured me with “you look tough.” (Albeit, I just came from library work with my glasses and asymmetrical braid. Not my hardest outfit).

A couple hours after Yamber and I catch up over some dark beers and bowls of salty unlimited popcorn we walk to get dinner. As I unlock my bike and we discuss our food choices, a man from the group of bystanders a couple doors down, approaches me and apologizes: “I’m sorry about that guy earlier. He’s not associated with us and he should not have done that to you. I’m sorry that happened.”