A Race Against Time
Tom raced down the driveway. The sidewalk in front of him was packed eight rows back from the street with people of all ages waiting for the start of the parade. He squeezed both hand brakes and skidded to a stop, inches from the heels of a father with his two-year-old son perched on his shoulders. Tom jumped to the ground and walked his bike uptown behind the human wall of paradegoers searching for a safe opening.
At the corner of Pearl Street and Main Street, the gathering of spectators created a roadblock that stretched from the street curb, across the sidewalk, and up the stairs to the front doors of the post office. The monumental town clock towered majestically above the crowd one block away. The long thin minute hand was pointed to the number six, and the stubby hour hand laid between the two and three.
Tom swiveled from the crowd and glanced down Pearl Street in search of an escape route. Three women straggled up the street, one pushing a young child in a stroller. They gaggled and dilly-dallied in the shade beneath the tall oaks.
“Look at this crowd. Every man, woman, and child living in the village must be at this parade.” One of the stragglers said as she moseyed pass Tom.
A second straggler groaned at the sight and said, “Yeah, I didn’t see one person on the side streets. Everyone in town must be here.” The three ambled to a halt behind the crowd.
“That’s it!” shouted Tom, and he sped off down Pearl Street away from the parade route. He released the right handgrip and shifted gears, boosting his speed. Fifty yards down the road, he leaned out from the banana seat, dipping the bike and banking tight into a left turn onto Mulberry Street. The pedal scraped the blacktop, shacking the bike frame. Tom instantly shifted his body over the seat, leveling the bike upright, and zoomed past the one-way sign on the corner.
An old rust bucket of a pickup truck turned onto Mulberry. Its engine knocked and popped a puff of grey smoke from under the front hood as the truck trudged up the street.
Tom stood upright on the pedals, dropped his head, pumped his thighs with all his might, and dashed up the middle of the road.
The old engine hissed, growled, and roared through its jagged metal radiator grille as the truck charged forward. Its monstrous chassis shuddered and trembled over the four tires as it gained speed, heading straight for Tom.
Tom lifted his head and found himself staring straight into the blinking round headlights of the massive truck.
“Aaht aahht beeeeeep!” honked the driver.
Tom dropped down onto the seat and cranked the handlebars to the left. The bike veered from the middle of the road as the harsh screech of the truck brakes pierced his ears. The bike’s front tire jumped the street curb as the corner of the truck’s front bumper missed the treads of the Sting Ray’s rear mag tire by a fraction of an inch. The curb jolted the bike upward, bucking Tom from the banana seat like a wild bronco. He plummeted to the grass, tumbled across the front lawn, and rolled to a stop, flat on his back.
His eyes opened to a gargantuan hand with portly sausage-shaped fingers extending from a callous palm. A massive body connected to the hand cast a dark shadow over Tom’s face. The truck driver’s enormous paw clamped around Tom’s bicep and lifted him to his feet.
“Are you okay?” asked the truck driver.
“Yes,” Tom moaned. “Where’s my bike? Is it okay?”
The driver’s bushy eyebrows squinted under a tattered baseball cap. The bristly grey hairs of his mustache sprouted every which way, completely covering his top lip.
“Do you know you were riding the wrong way down a one-way street?” asked the driver in a gruff, gravelly voice.
“I was rushing to make it to the bike contest in time.” Tom’s lower lip twitched, his brown eyes fluttered, and he stuttered, “I didn’t see a one-way sign.”
The monstrous man took one step to his left, reveling a steel pole rising ten feet above the ground. On top was a black street sign that read “One-Way.”
“See that white arrow pointing down the street?”
Tom bowed his head and said, “Sorry, sir.”
“Your bike is fine. Not a scratch,” said the driver. He turned and pointed to the bed of the pickup truck. The Sting Ray leaned up against the back bumper.
“Do you know what time it is, sir?” Tom ran to his bike and mounted the banana seat.
The man bent down and stuck his head into the cab through the passenger window. His voice bellowed out the rear slide window, “The clock on the dashboard reads 2:45.”
“I’ll never make it to Paris Park in time.” Tom jumped from the bike and slapped the rusted back fender of the truck in anger. The Sting Ray fell to the ground with a clunk.
The truck driver pulled his head through the window and stepped towards the back of his truck.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Tom whimpered. A shiver ran up his spine as his mouth dropped wide open. “I didn’t do any damage to your truck.” He bent over and rubbed both hands in circles over the fender. “Look, not a scratch in the rust anywhere.”
The enormous burly man reached out with his beefy arm. Tom stepped back and cowered against the side of the truck. The driver grasped the Sting Ray in one hand and lifted the bike above Tom’s head. Tom leaped from the truck in an attempt to avoid being crushed by his own bike.
However, to Tom’s relief, the man gently dropped the bike into the bed of the truck. His whole body wiggled and wobbled as he romped to the driver side door.
“Get in, and put a smile on your face,” said the truck driver. He shimmied across the seat, jiggling and joggling his big, round belly behind the steering wheel. His large, plump hand hid the key from sight as he reached behind the wheel and cranked the ignition on. A knock and then a pop of grey smoke rolled from under the hood as the engine roared.
Tom raced from the back of the truck to the passenger side and leaped up onto the raggedy worn bench seat. The truck jerked from the curb, slamming the door closed.
They dashed along Maple, zoomed up Center Street past the Bowling Alley, and zipped towards the gates of Paris Park. The engine rumbled to a stop on Locust Street, and the driver exited the cab. Tom leaped from the seat to the street. He ran down the side of the truck to the back bumper, finding the truck driver with the Sting Ray in his hand.
“Here you go, son,” the truck driver said, wearing an enormous round smile across his face. “When you wear a smile, you brighten everyone’s day. See you in the parade.”
Tom grabbed the bike from the man and raced to the gate. He stopped, turned back to the truck, and yelled, “Thank you for the ride! It means so much to me to be in this contest.”
The man shimmied into his truck and slam the door closed. His hefty arm flopped out the window and slapped the door panel. Flakes of rust and white paint splintered and fell to the road. The painted white words “Put a smile on someone’s face” had faded into a green and brown film of rust.
Wearing a clown-like smile, he yelled over the rumbling engine, “Good Luck! Today is about coming together, so put a smile on your face.”
The truck drove off, rattling and banging puffs of black smoke from under its hood.
The field in front of Tom was chaotic with crews of people setting up the food court and craft stands. Volunteer workers constructed carnival rides for the night’s bazaar. More than fifty bicycles parked in rows of ten crowded the far corner of the field. Tom rushed towards a tall, thin woman, who stood guard at the gate with a clipboard hugged close to her blouse.
A chain of silver-colored safety pins dangled from the spring clip as the lanky woman’s spindly arms waved him to a stop. She shuffled several papers and clasped them to the board without making eye contact and said, “Name and entry number, please.”
Out of breath, Tom wheezed, “My name is…” He took a deep, long gasp, expanding his chest and ribs, and continued, “Tom, but I don’t have an entry number.”
The woman held her hand open inches in front of Tom’s face, stopping him from providing any additional response. She slowly looked to her wristwatch, and pointed off to the side.
“The registration table is over there,” she said. “You better run like your life depends on it.”