The word “hero” gets kicked around a lot. We say it so often that we’ve rendered the word meaningless.
Rose’s Final-Second Heroics Give Bulls the Win, says the headline in the sports section. I’m gonna destroy this hero, says the hungry man using another term for a submarine sandwich. Where are my heroes!?! Wait, duh—they’re right here in my hand, says the guy having a mild stroke who meant to say “keys.”
None of these people is a hero, and I am not either. I rode my bike seven miles in a snowstorm. That’s all.
I did not wrestle a tiger away from a group of toddlers. I did not take the controls of a 747 after the pilot didn’t feel like landing. I did not kill Osama bin Laden. I repeat: I did not kill bin Laden. Stop asking.
Yesterday Chicago only got only—what? 7 inches of snow? 8 inches? Our boys got that much and more every day of the Battle of the Bulge, yet still managed to drive Jerry back into das Vaterland. True: they weren’t on single-speed road bikes like I was, but that should not take anything away from their achievement.
“You rode your bike today?” at least three co-workers asked as I strode into the office yesterday morning with my bike in tow. Of course I did. Did they think I was rolling a hologram into the supply room? Then they said, “You know it’s gonna snow tonight, right?”
I nodded and stared back at each questioner, letting them see in my eyes that admixture of courage and will power that we call “resolve.” They trembled, looked away, changed the subject. “N-N-Newt Gingrich is a fornicater, yes? Hahaha!”
I wanted to scream, I’m just a man! Look me in the eye!
I spoke with my parents at noon. We chatted about the normal stuff. My mom’s Zumba class. My dad’s opinions about the opinion pages. Things each of us cooked during the week. Like ducks circling a pond that they (the ducks) are afraid to land and float around on, they (my parents) circled the inevitable question. Finally, my mom asked it.
“Yeah, I have my bike,” I said. “But I won’t ride home if it’s too snowy.”
I lied. I would definitely ride if it was too snowy. I could not let my mother worry about the wildcat son she birthed. I could not let my aged father know that the same fire that once raged so fiercely in him rages yet in me.
The new guy at the office, “Matt,” stopped me after the snow had begun to pile up in the early afternoon. “You’re not riding in this, are you?”
“Nah,” I said in false modesty. “I’m cut from the same cloth as you, ‘Matt.’”
By early evening calls came in warning me off the roads. My sister, stuck in traffic for two hours on the expressway, left me a stern voice mail telling me to take the el! Even M*rt*--a friend of 23 years and fellow madman who once ran naked through the Marquette Student Union for the sheer brazen thrill of it—left a message saying it was “crazy” out there, and that I should not ride home. (Since he is now a business and family man, I have replaced the vowels in his name with asterisks, though if you must know they are, in random order, Y and A.)
I did ride home. And yet I am not a hero.
Because it actually was not that bad. I could not go very fast, like 12 miles per hour, tops, and rarely even that. The cars passing me did not go much faster than 15. And I had plenty of control. I’ve felt more nervous on mountain bike trails here in Illinois, which are completely mountain-free and low on danger. At one point it occurred to me that I have never ridden home from work this slowly. It was, maybe, a safer ride than normal. It was like cross-country skiing done only for the view: a mild workout, more relaxing than strenuous. I rather highly recommend riding in the snow. The main trick is to wear painters goggles so the flurries don’t sting your eyes. Other than that, bundle up and you are set.
According to my “Iron Man” wristwatch, (settle down, it’s just a brand name), it took 55 minutes to get home. It usually takes between 35 and 40. I stopped about a mile short of home for a victory pizza at Frasca, a restaurant in Roscoe Village. I ate at the bar (delicious) and read a bit of John Jeremiah Sullivan’s “Pulphead” (awesome). It was a relaxing meal after a relaxing ride. Plus, the bartender was kind enough to comp my meal after I thwarted an armed robbery.
That doesn’t make me a hero either because there were only seven masked gunmen. Hardly much of a threat… if you know gymkata.