“I wait 5 minutes, that’s it.”
Those were the words of my great-uncle, my grandfather’s brother, Tony. My grandpa was part of a litter of eleven brothers and sisters, all slight variations of each other, last name and blue eyes a constant throughout. I didn’t get to know all of them of course, but every so often, at family gatherings, they’d be boisterous, cracking each other up with stories that were fantastic, flat out funny with a touch of whimsy that kept me wondering, “how can they be so old yet drink this much?” My great uncle was known for being a jokester, excellent storyteller, and a good drinker. And boy he could drink. He’d certainly give an Irishman a run for his money in that department. I was young and naïve, but I learned that timeliness, as well as a penchant for nonsense, was paramount on that side of the family.
Five minutes. I thought it to be so intransigent, inflexible, especially because such a welcoming, accommodating and warm personality went diametrically the opposite way of the seeming strictness; it came across as pure rigidity, something old people do for the sake of it. I was wrong. Prolific folks on a mission have no time to waste. As the sand glass gets smaller on top, time is of the essence, so five minutes was a good concession when dealing with other parties.
Fast-forward one million years to the late 90’s: I had this one training partner who was never ever on time. He didn’t have a bike computer or own a watch, which only compounded the aggravation. I didn’t mind in the beginning; I was still learning the routes around the area so a few minutes here and there were like an apprenticeship fee for mastering the local routes, as in “this new awesome loop will cost you 15 minutes”. The tardiness didn’t irritate me much as he was a great rider, had his own library of local cycling folklore, and was a straight up good friend. But when the temperatures dropped or we had a larger group at a designated meeting spot elsewhere, I’d get paranoid. Maybe it was the coffee, or the below freezing temperatures, but standing around watching my water bottle slowly freeze while waiting for my pal was getting on my nerves. We have all been there in one way or another, either being the delayed or the delayee. Anyway, as soon as I was minimally competent in the navigating department, I said, “screw this” and left after waiting 5 minutes. Now, before you dear readers go around saying, “these Embro guys are a bunch of neurotic nannies”, I’d like to draw a distinction here. There is a difference between a merited delay and a deliberate delay. Flat tire, mechanicals, family reasons, inconsiderate folks at work, etc., are all excusable derelicts that we can work around. But there’s always that guy who cannot, as hard as he tries, manage to be on time. They are the chronically delayed folks, something in their genetic makeup, a bum chromosome perhaps, that causes them to regard time as just a word, or worse, they think their time is somehow more important. And time takes no crap from anybody. Which is what I’m getting at.
My housemates in those days were two interesting characters who, to put it mildly, didn’t quite get along. Needless to say the environment at home could be testy, and playing the buffer was gnawing at my good looks. One of them was a particularly volatile fellow—nice enough guy, but at stretches very difficult to work with. For whatever reason on that warm early Saturday morning he decided God crowned him King, and he took his grandiose time getting ready. It was unnerving, time ticked and I needed my kilometers. The three of us left late, booking it to the meeting place, 10kms away. The tardy fellow was in no mood to talk, so we kept a polite distance. As a moody gentleman myself, I reckoned that perhaps as his legs warmed up, so would his disposition. About 3kms from the gathering point, on a downhill, a local resident figured that checking the rear view mirror was a sign of weakness and moved out of a parking spot straight into a Massachusetts driver’s favorite technique, the u-turn.
And I saw it all happening in too much detail, in too-slow motion.
With nary a second to react, King Bad Temper t-boned the dark green Mercedes in a cacophony of shattered window, buckled bike, and bloody mess. It was a kaleidoscopic imagery of colliding parts, a collage of quick moving events that didn’t fit, all bundled together in a tight space where bad timing reigned supreme. Barely on his wheel I skidded to a stop, picked him off the ground, and witnessed him going rigid, a sign of impending short-circuiting seizure. I did my best playing EMT duties, holding his head as the second buddy called an ambulance. Shortly thereafter he came to, no broken bones, but slashed flesh, blood on him, the gutter, the pavement and on my hands. It was a very gruesome way for karma to enact its revenge: nobody deserved this sort of come-uppance. Those 5-10 delayed minutes could have cost him more than sliced limbs, and I was not cool with the outcome.
Five freaking minutes. Can you believe it? I couldn’t, and my amazement reminded me of my great uncle, who is no longer around. So in his honor I’ll go for a ride and recover with a pint. As for me, I’m gone, man. You were five minutes too late.