Sue and the South Austin Bully
The last thing I crave in this heat is food. I haven’t felt anything close to hunger since I’ve been here. The chips and salsa here at the loft and the street-vendor empanadas on the way home at night are serving me fine.
I’m meeting Sue tonight at Auditorium Shores for walking and talking. Sue and I spent our latch-key years together in Austin playing wiffleball, skateboarding and riding bikes to our parents’ offices to try and get money for magazines and books at B. Dalton. She read all those Judy Bloom books and turned me on to S.E. Hinton’s stuff. Although she majored in English at LSU, she ended up with a successful career in IT. She is sent on projects around the world for weeks at a time and it’s rare she’s in town when I’m visiting. I’m walking to the pedi-cab line and I’m flashing back to our early days.
Growing up, Monty Mack was the intimidator of South Austin. He was older, dirty and we’re not even sure if he went to school. His apartment building was on the corner and his terror cell stretched the entire block. Out of boredom on a June afternoon, Sue wanted to bike down his street. I told her Monty hits girls, but she was unwavering in her desire to test our bike speed and my bravery. I figured if we kept quiet and pedaled quickly, we would be okay.
One block away from the gauntlet of dread and we could see Monty sitting on the steps of his building with his junkyard dog leashed next to him. ZZ Top blaring from his ghetto blaster. I told Sue that we’ll start building up our speed now, so that we’ll be nothing but a blur by the time we turn the corner down his street. She agreed. We put our 10 speeds in gear four and my stomach gets tight. Monty perked up as he saw us approach.
I’m ready to coast speedily around the corner and then pedal down the straight-away. But as we approached, Sue began to slow down until we were both at a dead stop with one foot on the pedal and one foot on the street. Monty was 30 feet away and standing up. It was a silent stand-off and I swear I heard a squeaky saloon door somewhere in the distance. And then Sue remarked, “Is that your dog or your wife?” I turned to Sue and wanted to ask why she just chose to end our lives at the tender age of nine. But there was no time for that.
We didn’t wait for Monty’s reaction. We began pedaling like the lead peloton racing down the Champs de Lysse in the Tour de France. I looked over my left shoulder and Monty was in a full-on sprint behind us. I knew we would be safe once we reached the end of the block, which was about six houses away. Monty was fast, but there’s no way he would catch us. That confidence lasted about two seconds until I felt a sudden lack of resistance in my pedals. I looked down at my rear tire and froze realizing that the chain had come loose and my Huffy was now useless.
Monty was closing the gap. I could hear his Adidas shell-toes on the hot asphalt, and there’s no telling what he would do if he caught us. Sue stopped pedaling her bike and said, “Here, take mine.” Lacking any concept of chivalry, I gladly took her bike as she grabbed mine by the handlebars. I began pedaling as she ran alongside mine with the chain dragging on the ground. In about 15 paces the chain corrected itself and was back on the gear wheels. I don’t know if she knew that would happen or if she was willing to push my bike all the way to safer ground. But I always think of that moment when I’m about to see Sue.