Thoughts from the Tour of Connecticut
By Agnetti Sheldrake, Team TIAA-CREF-5280
A ghostly antiquity shatters the air between houses, hotels and dim, squatting light poles. The vintage town of Torrington swallows another day and crests into the shady mass of energy that is the night.
Short dark streets end abruptly at churches and arcades. The school of Saint Francis is holding an amateur boxing match tonight. As on most first nights of a stage race, I need a period of adjustment.
Our room is three floors up from Main Street in the Village Peddler, a rickety old hotel rasping through its wind swept windows: old cloth, old mattresses, basements filled with empty bottles and broken sewing machines.
What binds me to each place are the thoughts that I’m here to ride my bike; but they are slipping this time, and a deep nostalgia runs through my bones instead.
I poke my head out of the window, brooding from my pier. I hear “Saturday night is the loneliest night of the week” from imaginary sirens in my skin. This feeling comes from unknown sources of disoriented anguish, untaught by hours, prompted solely by my desire to be connected to my own life, even when I’m physically distant from my home, a place I can scarcely find.
I walk down the stairs into the deserted lobby and engrain notions of cycling into my head as I pass “Tour of Connecticut: May 16-22.”
The town is sad and deflated. I ask a local if there’s a gas station nearby. “Yah, just down the street, ‘bout four blocks.”
There’s a sudden contrast of light and energy as I walk away from the town into the dark alleys of suburbs and city gardens.
Two girls in baggy sweatpants catch my sight about 300 meters away. Every step towards them enacts a quiver of my lip or a terse movement of nervous energy, as in any approach toward sudden, spontaneous, intimate human contact. I stop at them, feeling their curious gaze search the conical structure of my eyeball.
There is no one around. A stranger and strangers in a strange town. “Are you from Torrington?” I ask.
“Yeah. Grew up here,” said one. “Sometimes I go to Texas, but mostly I stay here cuz I get to visit my baby boy once a week. Gover’ment took him away an’ I’m only 19. Sometimes I strip to make some money. Don’t even matter if you’re good lookin’. You just have to know how to move your hips.”
Her hair is broken black and her teeth are chipped and bruised with yellow tints.
She has a sly smile brought by an a priori of slashed images and half-torn hopes. Her body droops onto the cement, as if the only place she can go is down, but her voice holds a tinge of accentuation, maybe the faint blessings of her child.
Her friend has a lazy eye and recently drawn tattoos on her body. They are both barefoot and tiptoeing along the glass strewn sidewalk. I am not saying much. I don’t feel here, but rather like I’m mediating her internal clash of youthful vigor and weary anticipation of more fruitful exploits.
From the daft distance a man on a BMX bike emerges. He cuts quickly towards the girl’s shin, stops, and then rips his lips apart with a wide smile.
They begin a banal conversation. They too just met, but seem strangely connected. “My brother’s in jail for a murder he didn’t do.” The man closes his mouth and pauses in a trance. “I was witness to a murder.”
“My brother’s skeedo,” she confesses.
“Holy shit. Skeedo’s my boy. My name’s Revin.” He smacks his lips.
“Oh my god, Revin! My brother always talked about you. You were the only witness!”
By this point I am invisible and inactive.
“Nice to meet you,” I say, and leave. They ignore me and even peripherally I am nonexistent. Again I am treading through the daze of inconsequential lights, streets woven with tar, pictures embedded in the night.
When I get back to the hotel the team is hungry. We parade to the Italian restaurant with typical cyclists’ antics. Cyclists take over wherever they are. Whether it’s a parking lot, a breakfast room or a sedated rodeo, they are in full force piss-all-over-the-place-get-naked-shaved-legs-covertly-gay mode.
The restaurant is petite and romantic, a symbiotic love growing with us, for us, eating not for the sake of racing, but for the sake of living.
Our waitress is a soft middle-aged Italian woman, a motherly figure striking a peaceful, sinking chord in my heart. It is this rapturous purity that sets me immobile in my chair, content and embellished in the sanctity of a lack of guilt, maybe the neutral scissors of humanity cutting apart the ties of religion, impressing me with an innocent sense of self, a science of love uncalculated but to an exact, momentous beat.
“Sei Italiana?” I propose.
“Yes, I come here in ’86.”
“Da vero? What town are you from?” I enquire.
“From Frosinone, near Rome. You are cyclists? My brother was second in the Tour de France. Franco Vona. He was domestique for Gianni Bugno. Whatever Gianni say he does. If he was having a good day it does not matter. Always for Gianni.”
We spoke for a while about the world of cycling, and she opened us to the glorious realm of possibility as her brother experienced, after a childhood of small-town dreams.
Catia was the essential inspiration for my trip.
The serendipity of life creeps up on you and bangs its sentient gong on the strangest occasions. Some things are meant to inspire you with the shear impulse of dramatic spontaneity. Though I perceive something and attempt to match it with the object of my desire, sometimes the outcome is fateful.
It may be the same old Saturday night, but I feel a glowing revival, the fruit of something more keeping me going. If you can sink to the depths of inconsistency and loneliness, pulling yourself like an inept carriage through the source of yourself, there may be a chalice of suffering waiting, bare, glowing. I want to drink from its kind breast.
The mother country is calling me.