I clipped my cleats into my bike pedals as my friend and I prepared to embark on our bike ride along the gorgeous Gulf of Mexico. I went through a checklist in my mind. Helmet securely in place. Water bottles filled to the brim. Map My Ride app engaged and tracking.
As our journey began, the sun hovered above us shining brightly like a huge heat lamp in the sky. Even the breeze that blew past offered nothing but heat.
Less than a mile later, our bike ride would come to a complete stop. Not because we took a break or needed water, but because I was leading the way down a biking and walking path at a faster speed than I should have been going. In the distance, I had noticed there was a slow moving four-wheel drive maintenance vehicle in the middle of the sidewalk carrying people who were picking up yard debris. It was of no concern to me since I assumed I could pass it. As I got closer, I realized passing would be a more difficult task than I’d anticipated. Without warning, the driver applied brakes, bringing the vehicle to a complete and abrupt stop. I tried to stop but was traveling too fast. I plowed into the back of the cart. My entire life flashed before my eyes.
Trying to catch the breath knocked out of me, and still attached to my pedals, I hung somewhere between the metal of the tailgate and pieces of dead palm and grass fronds piled in the back. My friend immediately came to my rescue. All I remember seeing were the horrified expressions on the faces of the driver and his co-worker as they turned around to see what had happened.
“I’m fine!” I said, trying to decide exactly which parts of me were hurting. “Don’t worry about it! It was my fault.” About this time the two boys probably needed a change of pants as badly as I did. But, as is always the case when embarrassed about an accident, I pretended I was fine. I checked my bike for damage and, finding none, continued on our ride as if nothing had happened. The only difference was that this time I slowed down a tiny bit.
I have always had this issue with speed. “Get things done in the least amount of time” is my motto. Whether I’m going from one place to another, baking a cake, creating a wreath, drawing, painting or eating a meal, I attack each situation as if I were standing at the beginning of a race anxiously waiting for the starter pistol to sound.
Appearing on live television for many years didn’t help matters. When you are up against an unmerciful clock ticking away your on-air time, you learn to pack a lot of information into a short period of time. There is no space allotted for errors and the show will go on at any cost. I learned to be totally prepared and charge into my segments without hesitation. I’ve always spoken quickly but my words per minute increased significantly during my television days.
I was recently talking on the phone with someone in New York and, because of my talking speed and thick, Southern accent, I had to repeat several things. In fact, a friend told me just the other day after we had a lively and spirited conversation that she had only gotten every third word. We both laughed but that made me think: Why am I in such a constant hurry? I know I need to slow down. I know I need to pause and wait, but those traits go against the very grain of me. I’m the person who rarely thinks before blurting out what’s on his mind. My wife is always saying, “Mark, think before you speak.” I’ve tried, but if I ask someone a question and they don’t answer immediately, I think they didn’t hear or understand me and I repeat it. Many times they are just thinking about what they want to say.
The older I become, the faster I want to go. When you’re younger, you think you have your whole life ahead of you. As you age, you realize how short that time really is. I want to pack as many things as I possibly can into the time I have left. I guess that’s why when I was speeding into the back of that completely stopped vehicle, my life flashed in front of me. I took it as a sign from God to slow down a little. The large bruises that popped up here and there all over my body seconded the motion. Will I? Only time will tell, but right now I have to hurry and finish this column and move on to my next project and then I need to ride my bike and then ...
MORE WITH MARK
“The Mark of a Pencil,” Mark’s first one-man art show in 25 years featuring works original works of art created with colored pencils, will be on display through Friday at Macon Arts Alliance, 486 First St.
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Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email email@example.com; follow him at instagram.com/markcreates or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.