Fine Final Four fun on two wheels
A couple of years ago, Kansas University’s men’s basketball team won the national title.
I was working that night on the sports desk, as I have for all of the past upteen-or-so-plus KU men’s basketball games over the last couple of decades, and as I hurried back to the J-W newsplex downtown after grabbing a bite for dinner at home, I found myself stranded in a traffic jam on Sixth Street as teeming masses teemed toward downtown in hopes of a massive postgame lovefest on Mass.
Thunderstorms were in the forecast, so though I had planned to ride my bike back to work, I opted to drive instead.
As I inched along Sixth Street, I considered ditching my car on a side street and hoofin’ in the last few blocks so I could make deadline. I didn’t, however, and made it back to work in plenty of time. There was a bit of rain, I recall, but no storms.
I vowed the next time KU played for the title, regardless of the forecast, I was going to ride.
Four years and, this season, many surprising victories later, I found myself making good on my vow. Anticipating more teeming, I rode to work just about every night KU played, but I have to admit my resolve was tested a bit by my 11-year-old son. He surprised me the afternoon of the Kansas-North Carolina game — which KU won to go to the Final Four — when he implored me not to ride.
“I don’t want you to get beat up,” he said.
Perhaps I exaggerated the drunken disorderliness of the last celebration. Though most folks downtown were pretty responsible back in 2008, there was a bit of mayhem, especially in the wee hours.
I explained to my son, however, that no matter how much pillaging and plundering and general debauchery I witnessed, the only actual encounter I had with any of the pillagers, plunderers or debauchers came during my ride home two nights prior to the 2008 championship game. After putting the paper to bed just before bar-closing time, I pedaled toward a close-to-downtown bar, my head on a swivel as I watched hundreds of well lubricated folks still reveling in the victory. As I approached the bar, I saw a man who had been standing outside, beer in one hand, cigarette in another, fling the butt down and sprint right at me. I looked left, then right, plotting my escape. I slowed, hoping to hop on the pedals at the last second and lurch past him and away to safety.
As he drew close, he let out a bellow, extended his left arm … and screamed, “*&%# YEAH, MAN! HIGH FIVE!”
Still leery he might try to knock me off my steed, I gingerly give him a wimpy high-two and pedaled away.
This year, I had even less physical contact.
Despite the thousands (as opposed to maybe dozens I see on a typical night) of folks still milling about, the only person who actually acknowledged my presence was the driver of a car I crossed in front of on Sixth Street the night KU beat Ohio State to advance to the title game.
She honked, and as I braced for what I was sure to be a rant of some sort, she leaned out the window and cooed, “I like your bike,” before disappearing back in the car, behind a wall of giggles from her and her passengers.
Though I escaped injury entirely and detection for the most part, there is a certain sense of vulnerability to riding a bike through such a beer-fueled horde. Cars can provide some sort of protection and a quicker get-away. But as I explained to my son, on a bike I feel more maneuverable. And nobody was going to jump up and down on the hood of my bike.
I guess if I ever feel too threatened by riding through such occasional Final Four celebrations, I could always move somewhere they don’t have to worry about such things.
Like Columbia, Mo.