Encounter with Here’s Maker
by Atom Wong
They are a dirty bunch of bicycle banditos, bandana-masked blue-jeaned warriors atop whirring spinning contraptions of grease, chain and steel, adrift across the flat and mountain lands like horsemen from stories of older epochs and with the same penchant for whiskey and oblivion.
Presently one rolls another smoke and lights up with the glowing remains of the last, sending curling plumes of grayblue tobacco breath from her rounded lips. Another fiddles with his handlebars, a little sticky but of no consequence when the whole point is to go fast and never stop. A few drunk and high kids that smell like puke and sweat emerge from the 24-hour donut shop where they’ve been camped out. Others remain inside, swilling cheap black coffee mixed with mescal from Styrofoam cups, playing cards and eating apple fritters til upon some cue or instinct they rise from their plastic seats, cross the dirty linoleum floor, push past the glass doors and burst out upon the road, enraged about nothing and demanding all, quitting the donut shop waystation to exalt in the rotation of wheelspokes and the hush of oily chains engaging revolving sprocketteeth, that is, the joyous movement of slender framed skinny tired vehicles whose taped aluminum handbrakes resemble the bent horns of enraged beasts let loose to trample the ground into dusty confusion. The one tosses away the smoldering butt of her cigarillo and slips a foot into a silver toeclip while she kicks off with the other, riding circles, jittery and aggressive, giving her compañeros time to mount up.
They say that the one was born with boots already on, concealing the fact that she’s got the paws of a tigre instead of feet. She’s filthy and hungry and thirsty and has an ever-present glint of gold dust in her glowing cateyes. When she was a girl and a runaway after her mom died she fell off the side of a freight train in the high desert of eastern Oregon and had to walk the sun down many times til she found a ranch where she stole a chicken and an old horse and swore she would never not ride anywhere ever again. (There are rumors from Sonora to Wyoming to Alaska and all the lands circumscribed therein that, despite being a genuine woman, every man she’s ever fucked she’s done so in their assholes with the barrel of a revolver.)
The rest are just hangers on. They come and go, some disappearing for a time just to show up again in another town at another gas station minimart or supermercado parking lot. Scavengers who follow in tow because they can smell blood coming like rain and know they might be afforded some scraps of whatever’s left over after the destruction. They cast shadows reflected through preceding times, clumps of human hair tied around their seatposts like morbid tails, wandering cyclists with nowhere to go but someplace else, wherever the one takes them. They’ve traveled across the frontier from taquería to burger joint to phở shop, sleeping where they can and stealing new bikes as needed to continue on, explorers out to map their own transience.
It’s night like always, and when they set out now they resemble a pack of ownerless dogs with matted fur and chipped yellow teeth that yap and howl and taunt each other on til the edges of dawn illuminate the curvature of the horizon on which rests the blueblack purpling of the sky. Horny and starving and almost wild.
Now they’re in the city, having followed the rivers down from the montaña through the irrigation-desiccated oak and tule bottomlands and migrant camps of the Great Central Valley to their narrow confluence with the Pacific Ocean in the fog yonder. In a couple days they’ll probably be bivouacked in an abandoned lumber yard in the redwood country up north or else feasting at the buffet of some Indian casino til security catches them and turns them back onto whatever desert highway they’re on. But now they’re here, passing over the old routes that took gravid salmon home to die, the redds where the fish danced and fed the people who lived beside the creek that came to be called el Arroyo de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores. Zooming through other calles, they come upon hungry emaciated ghost Chinamen, some with scalpless mutilated bodies from the days when white men earned honest livings collecting fistfuls of long black hair, others Gold Mountain sojourners beheaded during the hatchet wars or blown apart by nitroglycerine in granodiorite rail tunnels in the Sierra, rummaging through dumpsters behind pupuserías, looking for anything uneaten, their families having failed to send their scattered bones back to the Four Counties where they could honor them. Forty-niners that sure as hell and proudly ain’t Yankees disembark with slaves to destroy mountains and reroute rivers. Homeless people and mareros hang out beneath the pigeonshit covered awnings of closed stores. It’s one of those nights that’s like a folded map; places and times that usually don’t ever intersect lie on top of each other.
And they’re there, misfit inhabitants of the in between, looking for fun. It’s the city, after all. They blow whiskeysmoke through bared teeth. The moon drips argent light into puddles of water left standing in the street by recent rain. A kid with a horseshoe mustache talks about robbing a bank. They settle instead on a liquor store. The one walks out carting a refrigerator of forties with a hand truck. A few of them ride with bottles in both hands, steering from their saddles just because they can.
A coyote with abalone eyes and a lisping mischievous voice, deep and smooth as Johnny Cash’s, pisses in the middle of Mission Street in plain view of the riders. One of the dudes gives chase, galloping his ride around to cut the coyote off. The coyote slinks away, clamshell money and gold doblones jangling in the pockets of his overalls.
A kid wearing a John B. Stetson hat emerges from the alley the coyote disappears into. He carries a handle of vodka, with which he toasts the Russians and the Kodiak Island people they brought along for getting the fuck out of California, before he drinks it down midway and throws it to the one.
“Drink!” he says. She does.
“Now we ride, and when you lose, you leave.”
They take off. The one doesn’t have to look back. The two race to the top of the cerro in Corona Heights, him pedaling his fixie straight uphill to the craggy peak as if a condor had picked him up and placed him there, the one drunk and far behind. Needless to say it isn’t in the cards for her to even have a chance. Wily beings like this caballero should not messed with, not even by a tigre woman. It’s sure to bring trouble. He made this place, and, no matter whether people are aware of the truth of that or not, he cannot be banished. Not from this wintertime story, nor any other. At the apex she finds the emptied handle of vodka and urine moistened rocks.
By the time she makes it back down to the bayside flats, the others have departed with the new kid in the hat for a night of whoring and boozing in some of the North Beach saloons and strip clubs. The one’s sure they’ll meet up again somewhere else at some other time. They always do. Alone, the one hobbles her ride outside an all night cha4 chaan1 teng1 in Chinatown and has an order of baked pork chop rice and a cup of milk tea. She leaves without paying. It’s dawn. She needs cash so she mugs some dishwashers from Oxkutzcab who are drinking beers in the street after a long night for everything they have, and rides off into the sunrise.