I came to this campus, with a couple hundred of my brothers and sisters. We stood, our bright yellow frames reflecting the bright March sunshine. It wasn’t this warm in the factory where we were just seven days ago. But here we are, sitting together in a bike rack. Bill put us out there, lining us up neatly in the bike rack, then taking a photo with his phone, letting all of the campus social media know that we were finally here and ready to go riding.
A potential rider approaches. He his holding his phone over my sister, 907933’s fender and we hear the snap as her rear tire is unlocked. The rider swings his leg over, puts his bag in the basket, and I wonder if I will ever see 907933 again. There are so many of us. I am parked next to a non OFO bike. The poor thing. Dirty, with a slight speckle of rust across the handle bars. My black enamel handle bars will never see that kind of rust. Even is there was a chip in the pain, Bill would look us over and fix us up as soon as we are less than perfect.
A group of six male students comes up to our bike rack. They laugh at the bright yellow paint, and say that we are girls’ bikes, what ever that means. I really don’t care who I carry, I just want to see as much of the world as I can. Still laughing, they hold their phones over some of our fenders. I feel the jolt of the metal bar locking my back wheel springing away, and I am now free. The rider adjusts my seat higher and gets on. He is the leader, I can tell. He pedals away from the others and then turns around.
“Last one to Northgate is buying!”
We started moving quickly down the sidewalk, then onto the road, in the marked bike lanes. This, this was what I was built to do, speed down the road, my fellow OFOs trying the keep up. Some riders took short cuts over medians and sidewalks. Some of us stayed in the bike lanes and were able to maintain high speeds. It seemed in no time, were are at the destination, Northgate, and I am proud to say, my rider was NOT buying. Whatever that meant. There were no bike racks that I could see, but that didn’t stop our team of crack riders. They lined us up along the wall next to the road and all hit the locks, so we wouldn’t leave without them.
The weren’t gone long when a few other boys came out of the shop.
“Look, it’s an OOFU!” one of them said pointing.
“Yeah they are free this week. Hey, we can take them home, it’s cheaper than the Uber.”
His friend seemed to think that was a good idea. From the way they were stumbling about, I wasn’t sure they could ride. But they unlocked the wheels of two of us, and off I went on a new adventure. We didn’t go toward campus and I could hear the soft beep of my GPS telling me I was out of bounds.
His name is Bill. That is what someone called him the day we were all dropped off on campus. Bill and his gleaming white pickup with graphics of OFO bikes on the side. He must have made fifty trips those first days dropping us all off. Sometimes I look forward to being left on the side of the road in town, my GPS letting Bill know where I am. Then he comes, driving around in his truck, retrieving us wayward OFOs.
He talks to us like we are alive:
“Whatcha doin’ all the way out here? Some people just think that the rules don’t apply to them, that they can just leave you all just anywhere. C’mon feller, lets get you loaded back up and home to yer brothers.”
Bill would pick me up and ever so gently place me in the back of the truck with the others. When he put us on the bike racks back on campus, he would pull out a soft cloth and wipe us all down so the yellow paint would shine in the sunlight. If there were any chips in the paint, he would pull out his paint jar and just the right size brush (he had a whole box of paint brushes.) he would make the necessary corrections. If our chains needed oil or any other mechanical need, Bill would be there. Part mechanic, part doctor, and part shepherd, truth be told.
There was one day where some college boys decided that they would decorate a tree with several of us OFOs. Since it was on campus, our GPS could not call Bill directly, but someone must have, or he just saw us when he was bringing other OFOs home.
“Whatcha all doing up there now?” he exclaimed. He was barely able to reach our tires, but he would lift us up out of the branches and gently set us on the ground, one by one. He looked every OFO over carefully to make sure there were no scratches. “Dem boys, I’m tellin ya!” he muttered as he lifted us all into the truck to take us to some bike racks.
Not every trip ended with Bill coming to my rescue. Most were rather basic, boring even after the first few weeks, when the novelty wore off.
But I learned a lot. About people mostly, which I have not known before. I learned the most though about Bill.
Bill getting us out of trees and traffic, and always making sure we were clean and in appropriate bike racks. Bill never leaving us “out of the box” all night.
I could imagine Bill watching TV at night, with his tablet on his lap. Trying to pay attention to the reality show about tiny homes, but really paying more attention to the app on his tablet, with little blinking yellow dots to let him know where his herd of OFOs are. When there are five or more OFOS out of the campus box that he can rescue, he dashes to his truck to go find them. Because this little herd of yellow bicycles is his life right now. His life used to be visiting his grandchildren, but when his drinking was daily and out of control, his children would not let him in their homes again. So he went to AA and they told him to get a house plant, and if he could keep a house plant alive for a year, to get a pet and then keep that alive for a year, and then he was ready for humans again. Even when he tried to apologize and make amends with his kids, they still did not want him to come see the grandkids. Bill wondered if they told the little ones that he was dead. Or maybe his ex-wife was there telling the little ones that he didn’t care anymore. Gifts, cards, all came back to him, unopened. It made him want to drink again, the loneliness, the rejections. But, as his sponsor reminded him during their daily phone calls, it was the drinking that caused the pain, so it cannot fix the pain.
But the Ofo’s. Maybe if he could keep the little herd of happy yellow bicycles all in excellent shape, maybe if the Ofos could be okay, it would help his family be okay again. That was Bill’s dream. And he reminded us of that every time he shined a fender or oiled a chain.