By Audrey W.
“So you ready for the race tomorrow, Gage?”
The dark-haired paramedic glanced past his partner Roy DeSoto, to their shiftmate who was walking beside him. “That’s right, Chet. I’ve been riding my bike a few miles every day I've been off for the past two weeks,” he informed proudly.
The men of Station 51’s A-shift had just gotten off duty and were headed for their vehicles in the parking lot behind the station. John Gage had decided a few weeks prior to participate in a mini-marathon bike race arranged by the fire department for charity, local businesses donating money for every mile ridden, and the day was about upon them.
“How long is it again?” Mike Stoker asked. He was on the other side of John.
“Fifteen miles. We’ve gotta ride fifteen miles. We start at Heritage Park.”
“Don’t get lost,” Roy teased.
“Hey, I know the route like the back of my hand. They gave out maps at sign-up.”
“This from a guy who got lost on an exercise bike,” Chet mumbled.
Johnny shot him a glare. “That was different.”
“You really got lost on an exercise bike?” Marco asked. He’d just caught up with the others in time to hear.
“How does a person get lost on a stationary bike?”
Johnny looked at Roy, his annoyance increasing. “Look, it’s not a big deal. Chet was riding this exercise bike here awhile back and I happened to walk in the room. He told me to give it a try; to just picture myself riding somewhere. So I picked my home town. I got so far and I couldn’t remember where to go next. It could happen to anybody.”
“If you say so. . .”
Johnny mumbled something unintelligible, eliciting grins from his partner and the others.
The next morning, Johnny was all set for the race, his bicycle secured on its side on the roof rack of his Land Rover. He'd gotten to Heritage Park early, being the first competitor to show up.
Dressed in gym shorts and an old grey t-shirt, he limbered up with various stretching exercises in the parking lot beside the Rover. As he came up from touching his toes for the tenth time, he noticed a few more cars had arrived and parked on the other side of his. One was a familiar VW Bus.
“Shouldn't you be checking everything over on your bike? ” Chet wondered as he approached from around the front end of Johnny’s vehicle.
“I’ll get it down soon enough.”
Marco had come with the mustached fireman and was eyeing the couple of other competitors who were just starting stretching exercises themselves.
“I hope you win. But I don’t know. . .”
“What’s that s’posed ta mean?” Johnny asked, now bending to the side.
“Well, so far, your competition looks . . .solid.”
The paramedic immediately stopped what he was doing and peered through the back side windows. He then hurried to the front of his Rover where his friends stood, so he could see better. There were two firemen from Station 36 who were known to be body builders on their time off. They were dressed in shorts and t-shirts, too, but bulging with muscles both on the arms and legs. Johnny swallowed hard, then visibly shrugged off his worries in an effort to play down the threat.
“Looks to me like they might be too bulky; be a bit awkward on a bike. ‘Sides, I’ve always said, I’m skinny but I’m--”
“Tough,” both Marco and Chet said with a nod.
Johnny grinned. “You got it.”
“What about him?” Marco asked, motioning toward another newly arrived competitor.
Gage eyed a skinnier-than-him teen-aged boy who was riding his bike around in a circle as his off-duty fire-fighter dad looked on.
“No problem. As thin as that kid is, he’ll be slowed down by his own breeze.”
Chet and Marco eyed one another in amusement.
Ten minutes after Marco and Chet had gotten to the park, Roy showed up with his wife and two children. While his young ones played on the grass, their mom staying close by them, Roy joined the others near Johnny’s vehicle.
The parking lot was quickly filling up with cars from competitors. And the two CHiP officers that would be with the cyclists to enforce traffic control for safety purposes had arrived as well.
Roy looked off in the distance as he talked with his partner.
“So you go down to Sepulveda Boulevard, across into Torrance toward Redondo Beach, up to Artesia Boulevard and back here, right?”
“Yeah,” Johnny confirmed. “That makes just over fifteen miles. Hey, any idea who’s gonna be the squad that’s on standby for this?”
“Sixteen is. I know Bellingham--”
“And Brice?” Johnny winced. He could only imagine Craig Brice, the paramedic who was a stickler for details and way too organized to handle anything related to fun, on ‘stand by’ for a bike race.
“Apparently so. Relax. You only have to deal with him if you crash.”
“Or dehydrate,” Marco put in.
“Or maybe neither.”
The three looked at Chet, then to where he was pointing.
There was Craig Brice in blue gym shorts and a bright white t-shirt, taking a bike out the back of a pick-up truck.
“Well, at least he won’t be on standby now.”
Johnny ignored Roy’s comment, and with a grimace repeated, “Brice?” Why would Brice sign up for the actual bike race? Then he remembered. Craig was a runner in a few marathons, so it shouldn’t be a surprise he’d join here, too.
“Look at the creases in his sleeves,” the disappointed paramedic said. “He actually pressed his t-shirt!”
“Hey, you won’t have to worry about him beating you, Gage,” Chet assured. To Johnny’s questioning look, he offered, “C’mon. The guy’s not gonna wanna break a sweat. He’ll be out before you reach five miles.”
But the assurance didn’t bring a smile to Johnny’s face. Apparently no one had filled Chet in on Brice’s background.
Roy helped Johnny get his bike off the roof of the Land Rover. Just as Johnny placed it on the ground, Chet’s eyes opened wide and his lower jaw dropped.
“What is that?”
Gage looked around. “What?”
“Yeah, Johnny,” Marco joined in. “It looks kind of. . . used.”
The dark-haired off-duty paramedic stood up proudly. “It may not look the best, but it’s a Schwinn. It’s made for stuff like this.”
“How many decades ago?”
“Roy, whose side are you on? I happened to have gotten this bike when I was sixteen and it’s still in great condition. Just showing its age a little here and there.”
“And there,” Chet said as he pointed to a large scrape on the dark green frame, bare metal exposed.
Johnny pushed his hand back, then did a double take to the side when he saw Brice approaching with his bike.
“Man, what’s he want?”
“Maybe to wish you luck.”
“No, Marco, I think it’s more likely to rub in the fact he’s gonna leave John in the dust, so to speak.”
Johnny gave both Marco and Chet a displeased look, then falsely brightened when Brice reached them.
“Craig! Man, what a surprise.”
“Gage,” he acknowledged with a nod. He pushed his eyeglasses up a notch.
“Wow! Is this bike really yours?” Chet wondered as he stepped over to the shiny red Huffy bicycle the perfectionist paramedic had with him. From what he knew of Brice, he never expected him to be the bike type.
“Yes, it is.”
“You bought it just for the race?”
Johnny couldn’t believe it. . .well, maybe he could considering it was Craig Brice. But he could believe what came next even more.
“No, this is a bike I’ve had since I was seventeen.” After a quick glance at Johnny’s bike’s used appearance, he continued with, “If you properly maintain them and store them in an appropriate place when not in use, bicycles can retain a newly purchased appearance and performance ability after miles of use.”
Roy had to hold back a grin. He could only imagine what was going on inside his partner’s mind at the moment. Likely what was going through his own.
But he had to give the younger paramedic credit. He kept himself in check. . .to a degree.
“Well, it so happens, I’ve had this bike since I was sixteen. And despite what it may look like, it’s just as good as the day I first rode it.”
Chet and Marco were both still admiring Craig’s fancier bike.
“Had it since you were seventeen, huh?” Chet repeated to Brice.
“I handed my bike down to my younger brother as soon as I got a car,” Marco informed them. “By the time he got done with it, it looked like Johnny’s and our mom threw it out.”
Gage frowned. Was his bike really in that bad of shape? The comments were working to make him wonder if he should have bought a new bike.
Johnny rode across the finish line at Heritage Park ahead of most of the competitors. Just as he’d thought, the bulky guys were a little too big to ride with ease and had slowed. The skinny kid just didn’t have the stamina to keep up with everyone else, despite having a good bike.
Best of all, he may not have come in first, but he finished many spots ahead of Brice.
Gage accepted his third place trophy, then plopped himself down on a picnic table bench as his shiftmates joined him.
“You did good.” Roy gave him a pat on the shoulder and sat down beside him.
Chet and Marco each congratulated him as well. Both had to admit they were surprised, but proud of their colleague.
“Maybe next time I’ll sign up,” Chet said. “Give you some real competition.”
“Don’t get cocky just ‘cause you can ride farther than me on an exercise bike,” Johnny teased.
The men all quieted when he motioned toward another person approaching. It was Craig Brice. The not-so-happy paramedic reached out as soon as he got to the foursome. He and Johnny shook hands.
“I guess congratulations are in order, Gage.”
“Thanks.” He couldn’t help but grin. It felt good to finally be a notch above Brice.
Craig then eyed the other’s bike and shook his head. “I still don’t know how you did it with such a neglected piece of equipment.”
“Well, ya know what they say.”
He waited for Johnny to continue.
”Ya ‘Schwinn’ some, you lose some.”
Gage giggled while everyone else groaned. Roy assured him, when it came to making up jokes, he was in last place.
Straightening up bike accessories at 6:00 in the morning after being up all night produced a lame line in my head I couldn’t resist using, thus this story was born. :o)
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