A voice was filtering through Bryan’s unconsciousness and on what was certainly not the speaker’s first attempt he heard the concerned voice ask, “Hey, man, you alright?”
Bryan’s eyesight was a little fuzzy, his head hurt and he was surprised to find himself face first on the asphalt with a young African American man straddling a bicycle a few feet away from him and looking down with concern in his eyes. “You alright?” the teenager repeated, “You must have crashed.”
Bryan sat up and saw that the heavy-set teen was straddling a black Next, Hyper Havoc mountain bike and the front brake cable was so loose the brake would be completely ineffective. Bryan blinked hard and then shook his head, wincing when the pain increased from his abrupt cranial movement. He managed to ask, “Where’d the other guys go?”
“No other guys here, just you on the ground. You okay?”
“Uhm, I think so. How long have I been out?”
“Don’t know for sure. I was riding south and thought I saw something from the other side of the creek up here but I was watching the trail, never know when some kid’s gonna do something stupid or a animal jump out in front of you. You crash?”
“Yeah. Somebody did something stupid with an animal and he jumped out in front of me. What time is it?” he asked, checking his watch. “Three fifteen, I must have been out for just a minute.”
The teen stopped crouching and asked, “You want to borrow my phone? Call somebody?”
“No. Thanks. I got a phone. Hey, thanks for stopping.”
“No problem, man. You sure you’re okay?”
A couple with a stroller and a dog on a long leash walked by heading north, the two adults staring at Bryan and the young man as they went. They crossed from the right side of the trail to the left, apparently to give the questionable young men room, and did not think to do a shoulder check to insure that no cyclist or roller-bladder was approaching from behind before they crossed the center line. Even in his dazed state Bryan thought it would be ironic to have two collisions at the same spot minutes apart as a result of inattentive dog walkers. The couple whispered to themselves as they eyed the two young men with bicycles and just as they were abreast of Bryan the man asked, “You guys okay? Need some help?”
Bryan shook his head and said, “No, were okay,” to their disappearing forms. “Well, even though they didn’t slow down at least they asked,” he muttered to himself.
“What was that?” the teenager asked.
“Nothing, just talking to myself.” Bryan got slowly to his feet and gently turned his head left and right. “Nothing. Hey, thanks for stopping. I think I’m cool.”
“You sure?” he asked looking up and down the trail as he prepared to go.
“Yeah, thanks. Really, I appreciate it.”
“Alright. Be careful. Lot of fools on this trail,” he said over his left shoulder as he stood on his right pedal and propelled himself forward, disappearing under the 29th Street tunnel and continuing on his southbound journey. Bryan now understood why the Next’s front brake had been deactivated as its wheel was so out of true that it wobbled easily an inch left to right. He said to himself, “You be careful too, with that wheel all banged up.”
He had said he was fine but he really didn’t know the answer to that question. He did a quick self-assessment to try and determine if he had any broken bones. His head hurt and his vision was a bit blurry which meant it was likely he had a concussion and should visit the emergency room which was unlikely because of the cost involved.
The Affordable Care Act, Obama Care as it had come to be known, had been a great boon to him when his folks were still alive. In the old days he would have had to be a full-time student to stay on his dad’s cushy health plan after he turned 18 and graduated high school but with Obama Care he could stay on their insurance until the day before he turned 26 whether he was a student or not. That “or not” was important as he’d gone to school for a semester in hopes of becoming a fire fighter but had decided to put his studies on hold. It was great that Dad’s insurance plan covered him even when he wasn’t in school but when Dad died so did Bryan’s ability to keep the expensive but highly inclusive coverage. Bryan had to buy his own insurance and had opted for the lowest cost plan which was really just for catastrophic care, which this wasn’t.
Bryan’s Bronze Plan cost him very little in monthly premiums but most of his medical expenses were out of pocket until he hit his $10,000 deductible. The low monthly premiums had been a real inducement and since he was generally healthy he’d figured the minimum plan was a good gamble; now with that huge deductible keeping him away from the emergency room he wasn’t so sure. “It sure was easier when I had parents to help me,” he muttered as he moved on from inspecting himself to inspecting his bike and helmet.
Bryan’s parts seemed to be intact but the bike’s were a different story. His mirror was broken and when he spun his wheels he discovered that his Schwinn and the other guy’s Next had something in common, namely a badly bent wheel. “Shit,” he said as he removed his helmet only to discover that it was cracked and that he’d need to get a new one. “Well, at least I took off my bike lights so I won’t have to replace those too!”
The bike wheel was a mess, he was out the cost of a helmet and his body was starting to inform him that he was in for a rough few days as he felt varying degrees of pain every time he moved. To make matters worse he was due at his job in less than six hours and he hadn’t even been to bed yet.
His needs were simple, as was his apartment and job. His third floor apartment was just off the interstate, which mattered very little as he owned no car. However, his close proximity to the bike trail and the nearby shopping center with a Hy-Vee grocery store and restaurants was a huge deal to him as he rode, walked, or took a bus virtually everywhere. Even his job as an overnight kennel sitter was simple.
Four nights a week from 9:00 p.m. till 5:00 a.m. he showed up, made sure the animals were fed and watered and that their cages were clean. The job kept him physically active but since it was just him and the animals he was free to listen to his head phones as he worked. Music, John Butcher audio books, podcasts and the occasional movie entertained him as he made his rounds. The work was simple and he never argued with his workmates, though some of the pets were friendlier than others. Eight months of the year he was able to ride the couple miles to and from work on the bike trail and during the long Midwestern winters he frequently trudged to and from the kennel in the dark, negotiating both his slippery footing and arctic blasts.
He usually would have hit his bed around noon and awakened at 8:00 p.m. in preparation for work but when Sandy had called and asked to postpone their 7:00 a.m. ride until the weather warmed up he had immediately consented to her request. Having just met the day before they really didn’t know one another very well but he liked what he’d seen so far.
The bike handled poorly with the bent wheel but luckily he didn’t have far to go. He had a second set of wheels whose tires were equipped with metal ice studs at home that he used in winter, he’d have to swap tires on the front wheel and eventually either fix the bent one or buy a replacement from the bike store up the street. More expenses, but at least these were the kind that would add up to three figures, not four or five. He was approaching the Highway 100 underpass on the bike trail and the ride up the hill from McGgrafts motorcycle shop seemed steeper than usual. By the time he got home five minutes later he was ready to collapse in bed.
The bed was calling but Bryan knew better than to go to bed hungry and dirty so he grabbed a quick raisin bread and almond butter sandwich, dropped his dirty clothes in a wet heap on the living room floor, closed the heavy, room darkening curtains that hung from his bedroom window, took a quick shower and made sure his alarm was on and set for eight o’clock before passing out in his bed.