To Tina’s surprise, the bike shop was open and occupied. “Coffee shop’s in the supermarket, lady,” the red-haired guy behind the desk said as she pushed her cart in.
“What? Oh, no, I’m here to buy a bicycle and one of those trailers like the one in the window. My car isn’t… safe to drive, I guess, and I need to get home. You have anything that will carry this load eight miles?”
“Oh, sorry. Sure. What happened to your car?” He came around the desk to meet her. Without the desk in the way, she could see the guy more clearly. Obviously young, thin as a whippet, and dressed in one of those riding getups. His short beard matched his unruly red hair in both color and disarray.
“It… you see all those white pickups out there? It turned into one of them. Welcome to the apocalypse.”
“Ooo. There’s some really bad voodoo goin’ on out there with those things,” he said. I don’t blame ya for ditching the four wheels. You got a price range or anything you’re looking at?”
“No… I don’t think money’s going to be an issue. But I want something comfortable to ride. Those skinny bike seats are hard on my backside.”
“Yeah, they take some getting used to. But we got padded seats, I can slap one on for you. You do much riding, or you just starting out?”
“Only the ones at the gym, for a long time,” she said. “I have a bike at home, but there’s nowhere to ride with all the idiots on the road these days. I guess my daughter will take it.”
“Tell me about it — our group goes out to the country to ride. But I think you’ll probably want a mountain bike for the comfort. They have suspension and an easier riding position. I can put road tires on it to keep it quiet, you think you’d want that?”
“Sure. But it has to be able to pull a trailer like that one you have in the window. I need to get these groceries home.”
“No problem,” the redhead said, looking at the ceiling for a moment. “Yeah. We got a trailer that will carry up to 100 pounds of stuff, that should get you home with your groceries. Anything else you can think about? You probably want a spare tube, maybe even a spare tire if you’re gonna take a long tour.”
“Tube, sure. An air pump?”
“No problem, they mount to the frame. You want a carrier for water bottles? Yeah. I’ll bolt on a couple. Let’s get you fitted and we’ll see what we got.”
An hour later, with her credit card $1100 lighter (not that she expected to worry about it), and flat pedals (she didn’t trust the clip-on pedals with the special shoes), she and the redhead piled the last of the bags on the flatbed trailer in front of the store. He threw a cargo net over the groceries and secured the corners. “You’re good to go,” he said. “Come back if you need any adjustments. If you ride a lot, stuff will loosen up in a few weeks. Watch those idiots.”
She strapped on her new helmet and called Kelly before moving. “Hey hon, I got a bicycle and a trailer to pull all these groceries. I should be home in an hour. Are you okay?”
“So far. I locked the doors, I keep thinking I hear people talking.”
“I don’t think it’s people talking. If you don’t see anyone outside, maybe you should go to the clubhouse.”
“I’ll be okay, Mom. You be careful, though.”
“I’m fine, Mom.”
In low gear, the bike was ridiculously easy to pedal, even with the heavy trailer behind her. Tina stopped a moment, looked at her directions, then shifted to the middle gears and got moving. The handlebar-mounted “computer,” as the guy insisted on calling it, told her she was going 8 miles an hour, pedaling at 56 RPM, and the time was 11:13. She slipped into the road, now populated only by white pickups. None of them gave her any trouble, even slowing down and waiting patiently for a chance to get around her — no horns, no thrown objects, no close passes, no curses from an open window. She stuck to side streets as much as possible though, according to her directions, and avoided most of the traffic. Still: riding a real bike, especially one pulling a heavy load, was a lot different from the exercise bikes at the fitness center.
The gate at Laurel was closed, but swung open when she used her card as usual. By habit, she checked the mailbox before thinking about it, but then was not surprised to find it empty. Inside the gate, it was pretty quiet. All the vehicles were white pickups now, only a few of them parked. The computer’s clock showed 12:09, so she must have made some good time on the downhills.
She called again. “Kelly?”
“Mom! Are you home yet?”
“Just came through the gate, hon. What’s wrong?”
“Hurry! It — I think it’s got me!”
“Kelly! Get out of the house — now! Come toward the clubhouse, as far as you have to!”
“Hurry, Mom!” Kelly hung up.
Cursing, Tina stood on the pedals and got her load going.