My bike was offloaded onto a concrete platform at the water’s edge, next to a drainage pipe just barely large enough to ride the bike through. Indeed, that turned out to be what they meant for me to do. “If this is how Dave treats his business partners”, I thought, “I’d better see to it that we don’t wind up enemies.”
Flecks of sewage splattered my face, thrown up by the wheels. My eyes were spared thanks to a pair of cheapo goggles I found in the flimsy little lockable storage compartment. That was the only mercy however, I couldn’t help but ride straight along the inch or so deep flow of dubious brown water which ran along the lowest point of the pipe.
As a consequence, by the time I emerged from the other end of the pipe into an open air concrete trough like the one I reached the bay through, I was speckled head to toe with…”dried residue”. At least the tide was low, such that the concrete trough wasn’t flooded. I doubt very much that this thing would float.
What I wouldn’t give for it to rain right now. Of course when you most need rain, it never comes. I couldn’t get into a capsule hotel or the net cafe to use the shower looking and smelling like this, so I instead resorted to spraying myself down at a charging station.
The pressure washer accepted D-coin so I didn’t wind up having to spange, and despite all the strange looks I got in the process, all I cared about was getting that smell off me. So this is what it’s like to start over at the absolute bottom. I know I did it once before, but must’ve repressed those memories. Now I see why.
The bike proved zippy enough to hold its own in traffic, and the wind at speed helped dry me off. Now that I was actually on it, I could see how shoddily manufactured it was. There were panel gaps large enough to fit a finger through, and through those gaps I could see some truly dodgy looking welds on the frame itself.
It felt like riding something held together by glue and rubber bands. I don’t doubt that I’d find some of each if I opened it up. All the plastic panels and fairings rattled slightly from road vibration as I hurtled along, pedestrians occasionally leaping out of my path and shouting slurs at me.
Is this really what my life has become? I’m too damn big for this little plastic piece of shit. Like one of those bears that rides the tiny tricycle in a Russian circus. How did I get to this point? Seems like just yesterday I was the slickest thing on two wheels.
Now I’m riding what amounts to half a mobility scooter that feels like it may come apart under me at any moment, on my way back to that sad little cubicle. All so I can eventually move into someplace even smaller, packed together like sardines with all the other bottom feeders.
But it didn’t get me down. It made me hungry. Hungry for the finer things in life, to rebuild everything I’ve lost. Anybody trying to live this kind of life needs to be wired like that. So that when life fucks them, it makes them angry instead of sad. One man sees a tragedy, the other sees a challenge. It’s only the second man who can wrestle life to the ground and fuck it back.
I passed a bunch of other, similar ebikes. A few of them had motorcycle style bitch seats, which got a smile out of me. What woman would be caught dead riding on the back of one of these? I’d no sooner finished the thought than an ebike pulled up to the stop light next to me with a gorgeous, fashionably dressed girl of perhaps twenty perched on the back.
Well okay then, shows what I know. Above us, a skyway stretched from the skyscraper to my left to the one on my right. More upside down people, living upside down lives. Not a party this time though, what looked to be luxury apartments instead.
It hurt to look at, the more I contrasted my situation with theirs. “I’ll be where you are by next year” I thought, pumping my legs to help the motor up a steep hill. It felt oddly pleasurable. Muscle struggling alongside motor, each one picking up the other’s slack as needed.
Blue Moon was a damned sight faster, but it also did all the work for me. This ebike’s more of a cooperative experience. I didn’t appreciate that it was too small for me, or that it maxed out at 20mph unassisted. But I did appreciate how much less power it used to get the job done, compared to my old bike.
When you begin to value efficiency over raw performance, you know you’re old. I didn’t feel old right then, however. I felt as frivolous and carefree as I was when I built my first electric bicycle out of parts I scavenged from the junkyard.
There’s a well understood pleasure that comes from powerful motorcycles. But there’s a less well understood pleasure known to comparatively few. The feeling of lightness and freedom, of compactness and efficiency.
Like how the thrill of a powered hang glider differs from that of a jet. The immediacy of it, exposure to the elements and the minimum possible amount of materials keeping you aloft. This bike is built on an aluminum frame that weighs maybe twenty pounds.
Even with the motor, batteries, plastic and carbon fiber, I can still lift it myself. Not an ounce of it is needless. There is only and exactly enough here to constitute a useful vehicle, not a single gram more.
What to call this? The strange giddiness of vehicular minimalism? A feeling I’d never have discovered had my life not taken this otherwise miserable turn. It seemed to me one of many ongoing adaptations to my new conditions taking place in my brain since arrival.
Before, it was “work smart, not hard”. Now it’s “do more with less”. Arguably one in the same, just seen from different angles. I don’t need that gimmicky overpriced apartment, I thought. I don’t need anything except strength and wits…muscle and machinery.
I scoped out the net cafe from the pedestrian space up on a platform above it. The police drones were gone, and the ebike parking spaces were mostly full again. I pulled in between a gaudy pink and white sit-down scooter that looked like it was designed for a Disney princess, and a modest red and gold cafe racer lookin’ thing. Would’ve looked halfway nice if not for all the dried mud on it.
Both were plugged into the same post, blinking indicators on their dashboards confirming that charging was underway. I tugged out the retractable charging cable from my bike and plugged in at the next post over, double checking the little display between the handlebars to ensure it was receiving juice before dismounting.
My cubicle was how I left it, as I’d paid upfront for the full six days. The small island of comfort and security I was able to afford on what little D-Coin I still had to my name. I settled into the reclining computer chair, then ordered some baozi and a snow pear tea.
I also ordered a distributed computing bridge. I knew I’d need it to get any use out of those trash phones. I’ve seen DIY masters use these things to build supercomputers out of everything from gaming consoles to “smart” coffee makers. Anything at all with a chip and a bridge port.
The upside is the bridge itself is fairly cheap, and you can add onto your total computing power one device at a time. Ideal for…shall we say, “urban scavengers”. Every new device I can put my hands on will help me mine coins that much faster.
About forty minutes after the overhead delivery arms brought my food and drink, I got a notification from the front desk that a delivery drone had dropped something off for me. I consented to the fee, then headed up to the front to fetch the package.
Smaller than expected, but the build quality looked good. I powered it on to make sure it worked before giving it four stars on the site I ordered it from. I next ordered a keyboard, mouse and fresnel magnifier so I didn’t have to squint at the shitty little screen on the main phone.
They arrived the same way within the hour, the manager giving me increasingly suspicious looks following each new package. “Hamburgers!” I explained in English. “From America.” A look of recognition and comfort replaced his suspicion.
“Ah yes, of course. You Americans and your precious hamburgers, ha-ha. Yee-haw, pardner!” He poked my admittedly conspicuous paunch. Despite not quite understanding what cowboy slang had to do with sandwiches, I rolled with it.
I guffawed, gave my tummy a big ‘ol slap and cracked another throw-away joke that pandered to his preconceptions of Westerners. I then headed back to my cubicle with the final package, peering over my shoulder a few times on the way to make sure he wasn’t watching me or talking on the phone with anybody.
Stay Tuned for Part 19!