Friday, January 25, 2008

Adrenaline Rush--Make Me Feel Alive

I’m neither wicked nor cruel, but I hunger for the unexpected. Racing does not interest me, yet I attend it often, hoping to see a huge pile up of cars. Or see one crash, sending flames high into the air. I also go to bullfights to see if perhaps one of the bulls might go wild and mangle or gore those who are trying to kill it. But its calculated bloodshed was mundane, too controlled to really enjoy. Meaningless suffering revolts me; I crave the thrill of a sudden catastrophe.

Ten years after waiting, I finally got to see a huge pile up of cars that caused a huge explosion. Several drivers were injury, but nothing very serious. Soon afterwards, I saw a matador gored repeatedly, and then throw 50 feet through the air. Afterwards I fell in a deep depression and lost interest in watching cars race and matadors killing bulls.

One morning I saw a poster of a cyclist who was planning on riding down a slanted track, and then go through a circular loop that plummeted straight down. The newspapers ran the story explaining that the cyclist intended to ride down the dangerous route in front of a live audience.

“When I reach the loop," he told reporters, “you’ll actually see me round it upside down!” The press was invited to inspect the track and the bicycle.

“I use no mechanical trickery, or wires,” the daredevil bragged, “nothing but precise scientific calculation. That and my ability to keep up my nerve.”

When I read the article, my good spirits returned. I immediately went to buy a ticket. I did not want my attention distracted when the rider looped the loop, so I purchased an entire box of seats opposite the track and sat alone on opening night. After a suspenseful wait, the cyclist appeared high above the audience at the top of the track. A moment of tense anticipation, then down he went. As promised, he circled the loop with head underneath and feet in the air--and then it was all over.

The performance certainly thrilled me, but as I exited with the crowd, I knew I might experience the same intense sensation once or twice more and then, as always the feeling would die. Still...bicycles break, road surfaces wear out...and no man’s nerve hold out forever. Sooner or later, there must be an accident.

The cyclist was scheduled to perform for the next three months and then move onto another town. I decided to go to every single performance, even if I had to follow the show to the next town. I bought the same row of seats for the entire time he was to be in my town, and sat in the same seat night after night.

One evening two months later, the performance had just ended and I was on my way out when I noticed the cyclist in one of the corridors of the auditorium. I walked up to him, but before I could utter a word, the cyclist stuck out his hand to greet me.

“I know you. You come to my show every night.”

“That’s true. Your remarkable feat fascinated me, but who told you I’m always here?”

“No one,” the rider smiled. “I see you myself.”

“But how can you, being up so high? At such a moment, are you actually able to study the audience?”

The cyclist laughed. “No. It would be dangerous for me to look at a crowd shifting and moving around. But there is something I do which the public is unaware of.” The cyclist wink. “This will be our little secret, okay? When I mount my bicycle and grasp the handlebars, I never worry about my own strength and coordination, but the total concentration the ride demands concerns me. It’s almost impossible for me to empty my mind of all but one idea. My greatest danger is that my eyes may stray. So, here’s my trick -- I find one spot in the auditorium and focus all my attention on it. The first time I rode in the hall, I spied you in your box and chose you as my spot. The next evening, there you were again.”

The next night I sat in my customary seat. The usual excitement filled in around my row of seats. A hush fell when the rider made his entrance, a black speck far overhead. Two men held his bicycle. The cyclist gripped the handlebars, stared out over the heads of the crowd and shouted the signal. The men gave the bike a shove.

At that instant, I rose and walked over to a different seat. The audience screamed as the cycle and rider shot off the track and plunged into the middle of the crowd. Smiling, I put on my jacket, and walked away.

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