When The Wheels Fall Off, What Do We Do?

It took me 10 minutes to log in to my blog which I hadn’t posted anything to in almost 2 years. Prior to our pandemic “new normal’, one that is straight out of a movie script, it felt like most of my day was spent trying to log into a website and not knowing the password. Or my favorite, I log into a website and they need to confirm my email. Which email? WHO KNOWS BUDDY whatever you inputted isn’t the one! I used to be frustrated and exasperated with that nonsense. Lucky me, I then got into the habit of using my password software so it aligned better with my multiple website-using day. Most times still- it’s a password and username fight that uses vital brain resources even before I start work. Thankfully, I figured this password out for my blog using my password super powers, I reset it with a god-awful password I could never remember like my password generator told me to do and here we are in word land.

We live in the Matrix, I am becoming more an more aware of that. Beep beep, boop device in hand, get your TPS reports in. Neo was aware that something was off. I am too sometimes.

This blog is more akin to dusting off the bike that had been in my garage for the last year and bringing it outside for the first time since “1 year ago me”. Remember “1 year ago you?” The problems you had like, “oh I have to drive to work today!” Or my favorite “Why is this Kardashian doing (whatever)” My bike, these times… all have similarities.

First to the bike. My kids have been inside and on our property for weeks and I wanted to do something that didn’t involve a screen, me acting like “tech support” with a device problem, scrolling through 2 thousand movie pictures on Netflix then getting frustrated and not picking anything or pleading with my dog Harley not to follow my wife around for fear of his life. If you want to see something funny, imagine a grown man on his hands and knees talking to a dog as if the canine understood and spoke english fluently. That’s either the definition of insanity or the stay-at-home-order blues.

It’s a gorgeous day- maybe a Sunday, at this point who knows? I bring the bike out of the garage and 1 year of sawdust from various beginner home carpentry projects immediately flies off with a slight push from the trees. The invisible hands that push the air around gently scoop off 1 layer of flakes into my 12 year old daughters mouth and she makes a face, sticking her tongue out and pretend-coughing. My 9 year old son begins with questions.

“What day is it again?”, I ask myself.

I finally wipe off my bike a little and hop on it. Tires are flat. I had spent the afternoon cleaning the garage for this moment. One of the key bike ride deflators is that moment when you realize “the tires are flat”. Then think, “oh, I’ll just get the tire pump.” Usually in days past- in years past- when I was riding regularly, this caused me to sift through garage inventory like a person desperate for food in an apocalypse-type movie: pushing aside cans with disregard for their safety on the shelf I am destroying, throwing around recycling left on my tools in haste or, for no reason, opening bins that we are giving away just to see if I put it in there like an insane person. Lucky for me, I had the wherewithal to clean the whole garage first just so I can make sure that this movie moment doesn’t happen.

I grab the tire pump carefully placed in a spot that I would remember and bring it outside. Here my amazingly question-laden son asks me how the pump works and in the process of placing the piece that brings air into the tire, I completely smash my hand whilst trying to close the clamp. Fire enrages my knuckles as a bead of sweat falls down my face. I smell dust under the layer of sawdust. Dust has a very dusty kind of smell, it turns out. My hand has a cut but isn’t bleeding. It just pulses red, dry from a thousand hand washes today and reminds me to be careful. My hand grows a face and talks to me, “Be careful!”. The face goes away and I blink out of my daze back to reality.

“Are you ok, Dad?”

“Are we leaving soon, Dad?”

Happy with my bike, I tend to my kids bikes and turn my hands into shredded skin because I wasn’t taking my time. The valve is always in the wrong spot, the tire isn’t positioned correctly. By the end of pumping air into three bikes, I had a system- it was mostly: take your time, be methodical, stay calm. Anyone who has pumped air into three bike’s tires should know that you are completely exhausted by the time you are done, you aren’t sure which bike has a hole in the tire and your hands are completely raw at this point.

I decide to take a break from our bike ride. I am tired from this bike ride and we haven’t even started. Is this why no one rides a bike anymore and it’s better to be in our living rooms on a stationary bike while a mostly naked woman screams at us on a 12″ LED screen to pedal harder?

Sitting down, drinking water on this (Monday? What day IS it?), I was looking ahead at the ride we had. Lots of hills- probably some complaining. My 9 year old son had done pretty well on the 2 mile ride we had the other day while I ran. The thing about Ringwood, the town where I live, nothing is flat and everything is on a hill. There are houses in my neighborhood that are on such steep inclines that the houses look sideways and off kilter even though you know it’s probably totally fine on the inside. I always imagine people in those houses on grappling hooks as they climb into bed and babies taped to the walls so they don’t slide out of the house.

With my sneakers tied, I then ask kindly that the kids get a drink of water before they leave, which they oblige. They are so good sometimes- especially when they are hanging with their parents. All I want to do is dig a hole and crawl into it after a long day of work- that’s what it was like pre-pandemic. Now, we are together all the time and I am so thankful we are here together. In this together. They think they are just “off from school” doing “school at home” between Spongebob and stupid YouTubers. I don’t know what that means just yet. Don’t get me started about the TikToc breakout dances that occur spontaneously for no reason.

We all sit on the big wood porch in the front of my house. I had it installed a few years ago because my wife wanted it- and I did too. It runs the whole face of the house to the edge and makes us look really fancy.

“Tuesday?” I think “No it’s definitely Sunday.”

The kids take big gulps of their water. My generation has completely driven into our kids minds that if they don’t take a sip of water before they go anywhere, they will die immediately. In 2020, our kids generation is the “most hydrated generation” in the history of mankind. I am constantly trying to make them stop drinking water.

I take a sip of water and put my cup behind a post on the porch. We get up and walk proudly to our newly inflated bikes. “Do I hear hissing from one of those tires?”, I think. No somewhere in the distance someone is using an electric leaf blower to futilely blow 5 leaves into a pile.

I smile and think back to all the “go get ’em” coaching days when they were tykes and how every 5 minutes it felt like we were asking them to get water. I only yelled that at the kids when I ran out of things to do in whatever sports practice I was coaching or when they seemed bored. We never had that as kids (God I sound like my Dad when I say that). I remember going out as a latchkey kid in the 1980’s in the AM and coming back mid afternoon to eat. I remember being so thirsty that a gallon of milk on a 90 degree day went down smooth (“milk was a bad choice ~ Ron Burgundy”). Point is, they will survive a 40 minute bike ride but I am so used to asking them to get water before we even pick underwear off the floor in the bathroom, it’s ingrained into my soul.

“Get a glass of water and PICK UP THAT UNDERWEAR!”

“Bu-

“DRINK WATER FIRST OR EVERYONE DIES!!”

We head off in this fine (Sunday, I think- or Monday… DAMMIT!) and the wind is in my hair, whistling through the gigantic helmet I have on. It looks like I am wearing an orange bomb on my head. Like I happily attached an orange bomb on my head to ride around the neighborhood with. It’s not even my heImet. In the garage cleaning, I also wanted to find my helmet which was to no avail. So I tried my 9 year old son’s helmet on and it fit. This either means he has an gigantic head or I have a head the size of child. This makes me uneasy but I strap the orange bomb on my head and coax my son to wear his sisters old helmet with flowers on it. He’s, for whatever reason, totally fine with that. Meanwhile 20 minutes before I told him he needs to wear sneakers on a bike ride, not socks and he complained like I asked him to make the shoes in a sweatshop downstairs and then and only then once he had made shoes for him and the rest of America so Nike can sell it for a profit could we go on a bike ride. He happily straps his flower helmet on and jumps on his bike. His sister then makes fun of his manhood.

This is going great.

We all jump on our bikes and then do that weird circling thing all bikers do when they start out. We circle each other to get ready. I see neighbors down the block riding next to neighbors on this fine social distancing day and accept that. It’s ok? Sure.

I realize about 100 feet away from the house that my chain is broken. I look down as I go down a hill at a 40 degree angle to my certain death as the bike starts to pick up speed. Almost in a dream I look down as the bike wobbles a little. The chain waves to me like “Haha, forgot to look at me, you ASS! Now you die.”

I have a moment of wonder as my kids speed away about 70 miles an hour down the hill. They say most accidents happen a block from your house and as I pass my house and try to hit my breaks, they squeal. My kids breaks squeal too because we haven’t used our bikes in 7 months. Chains whirling on their end, breaks squealing, all three of us head to certain doom at the bottom of the hill. My bike starts to speed up as I am certain the chain is stable- I had kicked it to the side and it stayed up against the wall of the protective aluminum that’s built into it. I look up again and my son is using his feet to slow him down.

“BREAKS” I yell and I see him pick his feet up and apply breaks.

Break-squealing.

We survive this somehow. I feel like a bad parent as we all pull to the side of the road huffing and puffing. Mind you, this is supposed to be fun and it’s only been 2 minutes since we left the house. I flip my bike upside down and begin to try to attach my chain to the bike teeth. My son, asks, “Got it, Dad??” (meaning, did you fix it yet?) immediately.

Like most things in life, I don’t know what the hell I am doing. I “expertly” pull the chain around and see that there is some sort of mechanism that guides the chain around the teeth in each gear. I troubleshoot how to get the damn thing on, spin the pedal a few times and after a few minutes, we are set to go. In the back of my mind, I have already imagined the chain getting stuck in the rear wheel which then catapults me into a bears mouth hiding to the side on one of the trails.

The rest of the ride was fun. When most of the parents in America would be screaming:

“Be careful!”

“Careful!!!!!!!!!!”

…the only thing I screamed is we stay together on the same side of the road and I was content. And in a moment of almost pure rage, I was incredulous when the kids stopped as a car went by. I was a football field ahead of them when I realized I didn’t hear their bikes’ breaks honking. I pulled to the side as a 1989 Blue Buick with a passenger that had a mask on rode past me at a respectful speed. We didn’t look at each other.

Why isn’t anyone looking at each other recently?

The kids pull up out of breath but having a blast. With their Dad, on a (WHAT DAY IS THIS?)

I ask, “Why did you stop?”

My daughter picks a wedgie and say, “Car”

I grimace and say, “baby, you can ride when there is a car, you just have to be way on the side of the road.”

“oh”

Oh, I laugh to myself. Did I tell them this rule? Or is this a suburban society rule that we must protect our children from anything that will hurt them? Car comes kids, STOP. It’s too dangerous to ride next to danger. Because, danger.

We finish the rest of the bike ride laughing and genuinely having a great time.

I hadn’t had a day off in 3 weeks and I needed that time with them. During these past three weeks, the unthinkable has been brought to reality and the new normal is there is no normal; only an abnormal normalcy. A simple bike ride is akin to the daily struggles that I now face everyday. My chain is broken, we are on tires that may go flat any minute and I am riding downhill with my kids in front of me on their own bikes that have issues. They are hooting and hollering, hands up, face to the wind loving that moment; I am fearing for their life. They are living it without fear. This fear that I feel brings us all to a place of growth and on the other side of that is where we are supposed to be. The freedom they feel is a youth that is an unknowing and headed towards “life”.

I want to live that way, but I can’t shake the “reality”.

On a unsuspecting day in what seems like 40 years ago, on March 5th, I was having lunch by myself at a local pizzeria next to one of my music studios. I own a business, have had tremendous success and was just in a meeting talking about our growth. It was the first time in my life I didn’t need to worry about next week. I was still living month to month because as an entrepreneur, I guarantee hundreds of thousands of dollars a month in payroll and other expenses. I was, at that lunch moment, mildly concerned about Covid and followed it closely like most news. I am an avid political junkie and just understand ethics in general. I also watch what I eat pretty well and on that day I was having Salmon for lunch which at any pizzeria means “we charge you triple for ‘dis, boss”.

Then, taking my first bite- I’ll never forget this moment:

First headline I read is something like “Milan Calling for Lockdown”.

My heart dropped immediately because I knew

A. That’s not good. B. This is coming our way.

You don’t lockdown a free nation. Sure, you lockdown China because it’s CHINA and who knows what is really happening over there because it’s China. I know nothing about China, but our president knows so much!

I don’t need to go on a tangent about the virus, be political about it, assert false hoods or factoids or go on a rant about vaccines and their importance or why we weren’t prepared. We are here because we are here and now what do we do? The chain fell off before we started riding our bike- we just didn’t see it. Or maybe we did but were too busy changing our passwords? Now we are headed downhill fast and we needed leadership with foresight to get us through. At the highest levels and in our households. Each of us has a role to play, now.

But what happens when we fix the unattached chain or in this case slow the curve? If the curve stays high enough, and for all my positive-loving, oversharing, “chin up partner”, tik tocking, insta- influencer, YouTube creator, Netflix-binging, #FakeNews loving, TrumperTrumpy, FeelTheBern, #FightFor15, #metoo, new-Iphone people out there:

What do we obsess on now? Because to me, nothing is important anymore except the new normal and defining it. If Dr Fauci, America’s non Dr Phil doctor or whatever the leader of the free world is doing to make him who he is, says, “we may never get back to normal”… then back track to redefine that statement… but still say we may have a sub normal. Where do we go from here?

If it’s a dressing down of the regular HAVETODOTHISNOW and IHAVETOPICKUPTHEKIDS-panic of our lives, then this is a good reset. But usually with a reset, there is a bounce back. You can’t tell me that we are going to hit a reset button and not have the computer reboot to the same old screen and settings I am used to . He is in effect suggesting that I may reset the Matrix we live in and wake up in a new reality. He is suggesting that I may have to reset the password but when I log back in, it’s to a different website that I was used to. One where my business, the one I’ve worked on for 15 years doesn’t exist. One where normality is different. One where people are happy wearing masks in public.

I tried to wear a mask in public once. I created a Batman costume way back in a Halloween party in the year 2000 because I just wanted to take pictures with the stupid mask on and say to my friends, “I am Batman.” I just thought me saying that is hilarious. The mask was the exact type of mask that you would expect the modern day Batman would wear. Very rubber looking, tiny eye slits that reveled the whites of your eyes so you looked bizarre and a slit for your mouth.

“I am Batman”, I said as we tried to get in a bar. The bouncer, all 400 pounds of him, wasn’t happy with me.

“You can’t go in the bar with a mask on.” He went on to explain to my beer-filled mind that women in the bar would be at risk. Someone could, potentially, do something to a lady in the bar and the cameras wouldn’t be able to identify the attacker. “I am not accusing you, man. Just can’t go in there with a mask on. If you want to get in, you have to take it off.” It was a pre #metoo moment and he did well.

I’ve never been in a situation where a bouncer, stereotypically a Steve Austin type character that will crush you with his eyelids, pontificated on the harrowing situation women are in when it comes to men in tights and their safety. He was right though, I took off the mask and walked inside. My hair does this wildly funny thing where it turns in to a hair helmet or stands stright up whenever I have a hat on. With a mask on you ask? Utter chaos.

Now we head into a society where we are being asked to wear a mask everyday. People post on Facebook their new trendy mask. My google ad feed has this weird new trend for N95 masks that won’t go away. For all you that care, I keep ads on because I am not only an entrepreneur but a marketer too. I am always looking at ad trends and such.

Masks on, gigantic helmets on that hold in our fear, we are all on our bikes. It feels like we are past the hill and on an upswing. Now we have to pedal harder. Our legs burn, we switch gears as a society. We see our kids in front of us, again, hands spread out taking in the beautiful air that some patients in nearby hospitals are struggling to take in. Chin up, you say to yourself.

There is a beauty to life that we are all missing every single day. Every minute that passes in this new normal, I am looking ahead to the future as I ride forward. I couldn’t have imagined that a tiny virus, microscopic and unseeable would tear at the fabric of our lives. My life’s fabric is torn. What was certain is now uncertain. Certainty was that in a rough economic time, we would survive. People would cut back, other people would take their place, customers would replace customers, cuts would replace damage, working capital (money in my bank account) would suffer a little but ultimately I would survive.

The unthinkable is that everything just stops. STOPS!

When you have a business, you plan for uncertainty. Me, being a kid from Queens that grew my business from scratch using credit, I would take out a loan. I would get the loan and pay it back. I have some cash too, a line of credit.

But what do you do when you are stopped from doing business?

In normal times when the bike that you are riding is fine but needs repairs, you have something called “business interruption insurance”. Let me tell you something, this is a pyramid scheme that I am happy to pay into. A few months ago, my Queens location had a neighbor that went up in a fire 2 doors down. I watched helplessly as firefighter saved my place and others from doom. I knew that business interruption insurance would be there to pay for everything and my salary. Everything would be ok.

In our new normal, some insurance liability calculator person figured out years ago that a pandemic wasn’t something the industry could cover so they excluded it from every policy. They saw perhaps that we were woefully unprepared for a pandemic besides a pleading community of advocates; most notably Bill Gates standing on a stage at a TedTalks type thing while we all ate popcorn and noted “he’s so smart, give me more your knowledge Mr Gates”. Then youTube goes to the next video and we open the potato chip bag mindlessly filling our brains with people talking at us and not to the very thing that we need it to- our collective understanding.

I may lose everything. A lot of people may lose everything in this. What keeps me going is that picture in my mind of my kids going downhill on bikes that are probably unsafe using helmets that don’t fit, probably a little under watered and not a care in the world.

What I want is a way forward and a way through this. To do that, I will go with the flow and ride this thing to the end with the rest of you. I will also make sure that I am doing the things to prepare myself for the next phase. After cleaning out my garage and finding the tools to prepare for that, I will stand like a fighter does in the ring and like Neo does in the Matrix, glasses on, badass look on and extend my arm.

Then and only then, I will extend my hand and with a flick of the wrist, dare this virus and whatever the world has to throw everything it has at me.

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