Monday, December 24, 2007

Hints of Christmas

Date: Dec. 23 and 24
Mileage: 30.2 and 25.1
Hours: 2:30 and 1:40
December mileage: 553.0
Temperature upon departure: 39 and 34
Rainfall: .11"

This is the third year in a row that I haven't been home for the holidays. Instead, I work right through them ... Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve, New Years Day, all that time lingering among the ghost crew at the office while the people with priorities, the people with families, disappear into warm-looking homes. Geoff and I don't make a big deal out of Christmas (we don't even exchange gifts), and the rest of my Alaska family is comprised of two cats who only understand that this is a dark and foreboding time of year. Our good friends, who are Jewish, took pity on us and organized a potluck tonight. We will be joining a few other holiday orphans for a Christmas Eve dinner of mac 'n cheese, salad, and if I am lucky, some kind of fudge.

My lifestyle has evolved such that Christmas sneaks up very quietly, hiccups quickly, and flutters away. So it wasn't surprising when nothing felt very "Christmassy" when I headed out into the gray predawn or my morning ride. Even the decorative icicle lights, which my landlords last year left glowing until June, hung dark against the house. The weather has warmed up again, and has otherwise been very windy and fairly dry. It makes for less than exciting biking, definitely not the kind that feels like Christmas biking, and I had to push hard to log a few decent miles before I had to be at work.

As my studded tires clacked on the wet pavement and my quads began to burn, I thought about Dec. 24. Right about now, I thought, my entire immediate family is probably gathering at an overcrowded movie theater for a holiday matinee, probably a feel-good PG film, or maybe that Fred Claus debacle. If I were there with them, I would be able to wrap up the Marmot rain jacket I bought for my dad rather than hoping the U.S. Postal Service actually delivers it in time. "Next time we go hiking in the Grand Canyon," I'd say, "you won't get soaked." Then there would be dinner - probably a half dozen of those baby chickens my mom likes to call Cornish Game Hens, and ribbon jello, and sweet spinach salad. We would watch "A Christmas Story" and eat peanut butter balls until our eyes started rolling toward the back of our heads, and then we would move on to hot-fudge sundaes. There would be a suburban tour of Christmas lights in there somewhere, and new pajamas, and the quiet hustle of parents with three grown children and no grandchildren, perpetuating the ritual of Santa Claus.

As I tilt my head back and imagine Christmas Eve, I can hear the roar of a truck barrelling through the slush behind me. I'm way over in the shoulder but I pull over even further, and I can tell this guy's still right on top of me. I turn to him just the truck passes me. It's all but straddling the white line, and in the face-soaking spray of sludge coming off the wheels I hear the driver yell out his open passenger-side window, "Merry Christmas!"

Merry Christmas to you too, buddy.