Originally published in the MockingOwl Roost Volume 1, Issue 3: Wonder.
To the average observer driving past, the metal bike frame, stripped of its tires, seat, and gears, with the rusted-out, peeling white paint, tells merely the story of an abandoned bicycle along a busy highway in an unusual place. There’s no bus stop there, no restaurant, no shops – nothing. It leaves the slightly less casual observer to wonder: what’s the story here? Who belonged to this bike, why was it abandoned in such an usual spot, and precisely how long ago did its owner decide it wasn’t worth returning for – if that’s even the case?
The following story is one of my happy theories.
Collin found himself on Milwaukee Avenue by mistake. He’d intended to turn the block before but noticed the airport was just there. He’d always been fascinated with small airplanes, so he just couldn’t resist. Then, unfortunately, he discovered the airport was, as he should have anticipated, on a busy thoroughfare. Dang it! Bikes are allowed on this road! This is insane.
Not to be deterred by such nonsense as a busy highway, Collin pushed through. He turned in, marched into the airport office, inquired about piloting lessons and knew he’d be back, someday, to learn how to pilot one of these beauties. In the meantime, he’d save up so he could afford those lessons.
That meant he was going to need a better job than his current busboy gig at the local greasy spoon.
What is my skillset that would get me a better job so that I can become a pilot? I’m good at math, but that doesn’t pay a lot unless you’re able to go to school and get a CPA license. I’m a musician, but we all know how well that pays if you’re a nobody. I’m good with my hands. Hmm. What kind of anything could I do with my hands? Mechanic? Probably need school for that. Woodworking? Need someplace to get started. But there is that place… I could check it out.
Collin headed out on the highway. He made it about a mile before the traffic became too overwhelming. He’d picked the wrong time of day to explore the new neighborhood he’d just moved into. The speed demons during rush hour here held no regard for the safety of a lone cyclist.
He pulled off the highway into a field by an abandoned parking lot. The husk of a burnt-out building twinkled in the distance, the old “Eat here, get gas” sign catching stray sunbeams.
Crap. What do I do now? I guess I could walk my bike back? He glanced down the highway. It was at least another mile to a side road. He’d overestimated a lot of things that day when he headed out, including his energy levels and the distance back home. And my sense of direction.
Collin gawked around at the lack of anything useful. I can’t make it home like this. He pulled his mobile phone from his pocket and dialed.
“You’re where?” his girlfriend’s voice crackled over the line.
“On Milwaukee Avenue near, uh, the municipal airport,” Collin said.
“All right. I’ll come for you. But I don’t have room for the bike. Have a lock? Anywhere to lock it up?”
“No lock, but there’s a pole nearby. I can come back for it tomorrow,” Collin said.
“Okay,” Sheila hung up.
Thirty minutes later, she pulled into the abandoned parking lot near him and handed over a bike lock. “Not the best, but it’ll work til tomorrow.”
“Right,” Collin nodded, locked up his main mode of transportation, and hopped in the car.
The next day, as planned, Collin headed out to retrieve his bicycle. He found the bus route that would get him closest, double-checked that they’d have a bike rack on the bus that he could use, and headed out.
Upon his arrival, the discovery came: he didn’t have the key for the lock.
No businesses nearby could help – he had no proof the bike was his.
Two hours later, fuming as he muttered to himself, he picked up the key from the table by the door, waiting for him to grab it. I won’t forget it here, he had thought the night before.
“I didn’t see your bike on the rack,” Sheila noted, coming in from work that evening. “Somebody didn’t steal it, did they?”
“No,” Collin grunted. “I went out but I forgot the bloody key!”
Sheila plopped onto the couch beside him. “Sorry, Boo. Try again tomorrow? I could drop you, if you can get the bus home.”
“All I can do,” Collin nodded. “There was no way I could make it back out again today – I had work.”
“I know,” Sheila nestled herself into Collin’s shoulder. “Turn your brain off. It was frustrating, but it’ll be okay. We’ll get your bike back, safe and sound. You won’t need the bus again after tomorrow.”
The PowerBall came on.
Sheila pulled out their tickets to watch. They didn’t usually do much of this money-wasting stuff, but once a month, they bought a ticket for the PowerBall. You never knew when you might get lucky – and it was kind of fun, that hoping-you’d-win bit.
“I think I’m going to – ”
“Shh, Collin. PowerBall’s on.”
“Right, right.” Collin sighed, leaned into the couch and pulled out their monthly ticket.
Jaws dropped, stunned to silence, the pair looked at each other. “Did we just frickin’ win the lottery?”
Collin nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Did we just win the lottery?” Sheila screamed this time.
Stunned, they sat there, staring at the screen, staring at their lotto ticket. The numbers matched. Every single one of the numbers matched. Even if ten other people picked the same numbers, they were now multi-millionaires.
Two years later, Collin whizzed down Milwaukee Avenue in his two-year-old sports car. He’d always promised himself he’d fly a plane out of the Chicago Executive Airport there on Milwaukee, even after getting his license the year prior. But since winning the lottery, he hadn’t been back to the area. But for some reason, on this trip into Chicagoland again after he and Sheila moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands, he had a hankering to fulfill his promise to himself.
Is that my bike?
Collin pulled off the road into the empty lot. There, on the pole, stripped of its tires, paint peeling, seat deformed from exposure, his bike remained locked to the pole. He shook his head. Dang it. I still don’t have the key.