The Late Robert Chan

by Robert N. Chan

Lao Tzu notwithstanding, not every journey begins with a single step. Mine begins in my building’s basement storage room. Sensing I’m running late, my high-tech bike lock jams. Whose idea was it to make everything smart? Maybe I’m a few atoms short of a critical mass, but I can still outsmart most inanimate objects. I make a dejected face, hang my head, and turn to leave. Having lulled it into a false sense of victory, I spin around and unlock the damn thing before it has a chance to think.

The building’s heavy security door and electric lock require two hands, but I need one to hold my bike. With the dexterity of a sixty-year-old, I slip through before the door slams closed with the finality of a falling guillotine blade.

I have fifteen minutes to make the twenty-two-minute mostly uphill ride from 78th and Riverside to the 138th Street Riverbank State Park tennis courts. Would it be so bad if I were to arrive seven minutes late? I’m sure as shit not going to risk finding out.

Sensing I’m late, the 79th Street traffic light turns red as I reach the corner. One has to respect the effort that went into programming the lights to maximize my inconvenience.

Not bothering to downshift, I double-time it up the hill to 89th Street. A heart attack would throw off my schedule, but fortune favors the bold.

The only through street between here and my destination is 96th, so I make up time by running the lights—they’re only advisory.

I’m zooming downhill.

A Cab door opens in front of me!

I swerve.

A horn honks, tires squeal.

Good. I needed that shot of adrenaline.

The 96th Street light turns red, but I’m going fast enough to make it through before cars enter the intersection. A calculated risk; I need the momentum for the long uphill to 106th Street.

An oncoming black car crosses the yellow line to pass a bus. Eighteen inches in the wrong direction and my bicycle would have been painted a ghostly white and chained to a street sign—a somber memorial to the late Robert Chan.

A high school girl on an electric bike comes up alongside me.

“Do you have any old tennis balls? I need them for an art project.” She must’ve noticed the racket handle sticking out of my backpack.

She wasn’t on an electric bike. How the hell did she catch up to me? She must be an Olympic-level athlete… or a reasonably fit person one-quarter my age.

“Sorry. No.”

Her concerned facial expression communicates that my death rattle is all she hears.

Finally, downhill.

“Hey, that’s a red light!” A goody two-shoes vigilante grabs at my handlebars.

Lacking empathy, he’s probably never been late for a tennis game.

Humiliatingly no devastating clever retort comes to me.
Dripping with sweat, my thighs cramping, I make it to the courts on time.
My opponent shows up three minutes late. Incredibly he doesn’t apologize.

Robert Chan: After an appallingly successful career as a founding partner of a boutique law firm, Robert Chan is now a semi-retired litigator. He’s written ten published novels and is working on a memoir, which promises to be a thing of beauty and a joy forever.