Karl’s Earbuds

A group of friends planned a trip together to a Mediterranean city, a center of deep cultural and architectural history. This city had been built on a sprawling hill that rose out of the sea. Narrow streets ringed the slopes and were connected by side streets running at acute angles like switchbacks so as to reduce their steepness.

On their first full day in the city, the group rented bicycles so they could ride from one historic site to another, making their way to a palace-turned-museum at the summit. Seeing the palace up close and walking its halls would be the highlight of the day.

The bike rental shop was located on the main avenue that ran along the shore. The group paid for their bicycles and gear and then gathered at the curb to put on their helmets and gloves.

Karl slipped his earbuds into his ears, started his favorite playlist on his phone, and tucked the device into a pocket. As he and his friends began their ride, Karl bobbed his head to the beat. He coasted a moment while he hit the volume rocker on his phone a couple of times, boosting both the sound and his excitement.

As the group hit the first ascent, Karl kept right with everyone else. He chanted the words of the current song under his breath as he pumped at the pedals of his bike. At the final, soaring note, he thrust his fist upward and looked briefly into the sky. Right at that moment, he reached the crest of the ascent, which met another street that rose from the other direction in an inverse V—and he shot right over the crest and then downward.

It took him a few seconds to realize he was going down, not up, and that he could hear the diminishing calls of his friends. Karl circled around and labored his way back up to where his friends waited. He shared their laughter, and they were off again.

Within a minute, Karl was lost in his music again. From time to time, it registered that one of his companions pointed out an interesting sight or that someone nearby had said something to him. But he was enjoying the ride in his own way, so he left his music playing and kept on.

On the next level, he missed when his group turned a corner—everyone else had caught the gestures of the leaders and followed. Karl wasn’t sure how long he’d been alone before realizing he’d lost them. A little bewildered, he looked around and slowly cycled the other direction. Then he caught sight of one of his friends waving at him at the corner, and Karl rejoined them.

But by the time they were crossing a busy intersection, Karl had fallen behind. He didn’t notice the flashing signal at the other end of the crosswalk. His friends crossed ahead of him, and with his music still crying in his ears, Karl sailed after them.

A delivery truck started forward from behind the crosswalk. The driver saw Karl and stomped on the brake. Immediately the horn blared. The sudden movement and noise caught Karl’s attention. Mere inches from the truck’s grill, by reflex he swerved away but overcorrected and tumbled onto the street.

Two of Karl’s friends ran out into traffic and helped get Karl and his bike out of harm’s way. Traffic resumed with a roar of engines.

“That was scary,” said one of his friends. “I thought for a second you were a goner.”

The other tapped Karl’s left earbud. “These are getting dangerous. At first you were just getting lost. But now …” She just spread her hands toward the passing vehicles.

“It’s my music, guys,” replied Karl. “There’s nothing wrong with it.”

“The music itself isn’t the problem,” one of his friends said. “I think you should take those things out of your ears for the rest of the ride. We want to all make it to the top and see the palace. In one piece.”

Karl had to pause and think about it. His playlist was just that awesome. But it had been a heart-stopping moment in the street just now. So maybe he could put his earbuds away. At least until he was back in the motel room.

“All right,” Karl told them, pulling the earbuds out. “I’ll do it.”

That brought some smiles and claps on the back. On their bicycles again, the group of friends continued their ride toward the summit.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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