Man on a bike

As I turn out of the driveway on that first pre-dawn morning, I don’t see the bike coming down the street and almost run into him. I think about the near-miss for the rest of the day and look carefully for the man on the bike every morning after that. He wears dark clothes, rides a fenderless, beat-up bike, lit by a faint headlamp that glows grayish-white in the darkness. We are on the same schedule—I am on my way back home for another cup of coffee, he must be on his way to work. He is mid-youngish, wears a baseball cap (bill to the front), no helmet, work clothes, no backpack, doesn’t have reflective pedals or side mirrors—he rides for transportation, not for exercise. He pedals steadily, never standing, moving slowly along the edge of the street, gliding to a stop when the light turns red. 

One morning, instead of turning left at the stop light, I follow him. It’s difficult to be subtle when following someone on a bike, so once in a while I pull into a residential driveway to let him catch up. In less than a mile, he turns into Lane Farms, a local organic fruit and vegetable grower, walks his bike down the path and leans it against the building with the other bikes. He joins a group of workers with their sweatshirt hoods up and hands shoved into their pockets. As darkness becomes dawn, faces of men, women, and sleepy children come into focus. They speak to each other in Spanish, share a cigarette, a sip of coffee out of a paper cup, a bite of a bagel. 

They all ride bikes to work—none have a green card—biking or walking is their transportation. Buses don’t run this early and the consequence for driving a car if pulled over by police is deportation, so they ride up to two hours each day. 

A whistle blows, they pick up stacks of cardboard boxes, and head to the strawberry fields to pick tomorrow morning’s cereal topping. They will receive 20¢ for each full, plastic, clamshell box.

Every weekend morning for the next several months I look for him—most days I wait and he crosses the driveway, other days I can see his faint headlight down the street. One morning, he isn’t there. I wait for five or so minutes but he doesn’t come. Is the season over? Is he sick? Did he get fired? Did he quit? Did he get deported, leaving his family behind in California or joining them in Mexico? He’s back the next morning—I’m relieved.

I pay $3.99 at Ralph’s for that clamshell box and in the morning when I slice strawberries onto my cereal, I think about the effort my daily pleasures require.

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6 Responses to Man on a bike

  1. Jenni says:

    Thanks, Marla. So poignant.

  2. Kathy says:

    That hits you right in the gut! These are the people “taking our jobs”???

  3. Becky Ehrlich says:

    Nice story, brought back many good memories of riding to the strawberry field with my brother and neighbors in the early morning hours. We got 5 cents a box, used an outhouse, and got a candy bar at the end of the day. We picked more than we ate, and saw bright red strawberries at night when we closed our eyes. Sometimes we would ride to Millersylvania State Park to swim before heading home.

  4. Ginny says:

    Remember when we got .35 a flat for picking at Mr. Chomey’s? The rate hasn’t gone up that much.

  5. Barbara says:

    Very nice story Marla. Love your stories

  6. Bridget says:

    What a sweet and thoughtful post. Lauren especially liked it since she has such a heart for Hispanics. Oh, what we take for granted!

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