The Ride

Geoph lived in a comfortable home in San Francisco with his family of nine, some biological and some otherwise chosen. He left that home and family and hit the road in his tan Mazda pickup truck, with carpentry tools in the back, to visit intentional communities around the US.

He spent time at EastWind in Missouri (purveyors of fine nut butters), Twin Oaks in Virginia (makers of rope hammocks) and The Farm in Tennessee (foremost trainer of lay midwives), among others. He became known as “The Peripatetic Communitarian” and wrote extensively for Communities Magazine and produced films about the world of intentional communities. (Image from ic.org)

One of his communities was Co-op Camp Sierra, where our paths crossed every summer. In the summer of 2007 he stopped in San Francisco to visit his daughter on the way to camp. He wasn’t feeling great and she thought he looked worse. She convinced him to go to the doctor while he was in town. He never made it to camp that year, or ever again. He died that fall of pancreatic cancer.

Jerry was a carpenter. He built the steps in front of my house. He built his house. I was doing a bathroom remodel and called him to help hang some drywall. At nearly 80 pounds per sheet, lifting them overhead and holding them in place while screwing them into the studs required two people in my book. He came over, picked up the first sheet by its top edge, lifted it into place, held it with one hand, and screwed it into place with the other. I was just in the way. He had more strength in his fingers than I had in my whole body. When I tried to pay him, he said, “You just owe me an hour of labor next time I need an extra pair of hands.” He never got to collect. A misstep walking into the garage shattered a hip weakened by leukemia and he never recovered.

Lloyd was one of those people who made this town my home. I never knew him well but we had many friends in common. He walked into the hospital for a bone marrow transplant and was carried out when his weakened immune system could carry him no longer.

Karl was a weightlifter, a writer (at least one novel and one true crime book), a cook (which is how I met him) a runner, and a purveyor of fine running shoes. He autographed his novel for me during the first of many hospital stays, when he famously said to his surgeon, “I didn’t know you were going to make me look like Mr Potato Head.” [Ed. note: now known simply as “Potato Head“.] Head and neck cancer eventually claimed him but didn’t seem to slow him down before that. (photo by Rob Kelly)

On the other side of that coin, in my work I see women (and the occasional man) the morning after mastectomy pretty much every week. They have a cancer which is curable and often cured. I am no longer surprised by the ones who look great and are ready to move on after a few weeks to recuperate.

Cancer is one of those words we have learned to dread. Once it was seen as monolithic. Eventually we came to understand that there are many types of cancer. Some we can cure, some we can control, others are pretty universally killers. So why am I talking about cancer in what is, ostensibly, a bike blog?

During this pandemic, life has been confined to going to work five days a week and staying home the other two. I used to go on a weekly ride with friends and acquaintances. I used to ride on Sundays with a local club. I rode centuries, I rode across the country. Now I ride alone.

I have now registered for The Ride, a fundraiser for the Carbone Cancer Center. I hope to be able to ride 100 miles with others by late September. Even if the ride is canceled, cancer continues. Please consider visiting my fundraising page and making a donation in hopes that your friends don’t have to join mine in this list of stories. And if you have a story to tell, or a friend’s story to tell because they are not here to tell it themselves, please add it in the comments below.

Trash into treasure

My first season building in Nicaragua we made bricks from a mixture of sand and clay (from the nearby riverbank), water (from the same river) and cement (purchased from a local cement factory). We pressed the mixture into bricks using a CINVA ram – a press operated by muscle power (and leverage) to compress the bricks, which were then placed in the sun to dry and cure. The houses we built had a brick half-wall topped by a board and batten upper wall (framed and sided with local timber, selectively culled).

Our machine was a little different and made three bricks at a time, but this gives you the idea.

Sorry, I have no surviving photos of the construction process or of the ram in action (but I have a great image in my head of an old photo from then, if that helps).

This woman in Kenya is going at this from another angle. While we used local materials, she uses plastic waste. So far she is making only brick pavers, but construction materials look like the next stage. The CINVA ram was developed at the Inter-American Housing Center (CINVA is an acronym for the name in Spanish, and the device was developed by Raul Ramirez in Colombia) to provide a low-cost locally-produced product. For what it does, it’s great. Her product is higher tech, with more expensive machinery requiring a more centralized production facility, but looks like a great way to reduce the landfill load of plastic waste (as well as slowing the growth of the floating “islands” of plastic trash in the oceans).

I am not advocating for one over the other – one is a great low-tech building method using local materials, while the other reuses plastic waste. Neither is anything to sneeze at.

We, by the way, changed from brick construction to stone. The stone was more bulletproof (I mean that literally) as well as holding up better during torrential rains.

Heat wave!

We got five inches of new snow last night but today it got above freezing for the first time in a month. It was below zero (F) every night for two weeks (and at most, single digits above zero during the day). But now, time to take off the jacket and leave the hat and gloves on the shelf! Bailey (my canine pal) and I went for a walk. Pushing 40 and probably to surpass that tomorrow, it was almost warm enough for passive solar heating from the front porch.

turn it up.

Another day and warmer still. Pushing 50 (10 degrees C), a 70 degree (F) rise in a few days. Used passive solar heat today. I woke up today to a strange site. I believe aliens landed in the night. I found this snow tower in my front yard. It was too dark to photograph (and I had to get to work). By the time I got home it had melted somewhat, but is about 5.5 feet tall and 2 feet square. (A 2 foot carpenter’s square is next to it for scale.) Something about the proportions struck me so I measured carefully and found it to be 66.6 inches tall. I re-measured the sides and found them to be 66.6 cm. Oh, the horror!

Baby you can drive my car

Not all cab drivers are psychotic killers. Travis Bickel (Robert DeNiro) just gave us a bad name.

In this town, cab drivers were all something else – students, artists, writers, lawyers, or our next mayor. Driving cab was a vehicle to something greater. (link to a totally unrelated post by that title. It is great, and I didn’t write it.)

A fare would get in my cab and ask, “What do you do?” If I said, “I drive cab”, all conversation would stop. Clearly, I wasn’t one of Those People. Driving was not a noble profession by itself. If I said, “I’m driving cab to pay the bills while I organize a grocery co-op. When the store opens, I’ll quit this and that will become my full time job” – for some people, that would open up an interesting line of conversation. For others, the conversation would stop dead because it was clear that I was one of those people (not to be confused with Those People).

But one day, I hit on the right answer…Once a year, this college town was transformed. Between summer and fall semesters, when the town emptied out, we were host to The Graduate School of Banking. Bankers would come from far and wide to learn the latest ways to exploit us.

This was back in the dark ages – before streaming, before DVDs, before VHS. There were campus film societies showing 16 mm prints of all sorts of movies – 1930s and 40s screwball comedies, 40s and 50s film noir, foreign and art films, last year’s releases that were now released in 16 mm – but for two weeks all were transformed into porn promotors. Yes, those bankers had heard all about hippies and free love and hoped to come here to have sex with a nubile coed. Barring that, they’d watch porn films and then go patronize the massage parlors. And they took cabs everywhere. Many of them would ask me for tips – hoping I had a sideline as a pimp. If they got into my cab, I’m sorry to say their sex life was in their own hand(s).

So I was was driving a carload of bankers from the airport to their dorm and one asked, “So what do you do?” Without thinking, I said, “I’m a grad student in Poli Sci.” They quickly asked what I thought of President Nixon. I pontificated all the way to campus. Outside the dorm, I flipped the meter flag over to waiting time (where it charges by the minute and not by the mile) and continued to hold forth. They sat in rapt attention, asking more and more questions. I was a paid political pundit. They thanked me and tipped me as they got out. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

The conference ended and, early Saturday morning, I happened to drive by that dorm. I saw a couple guys standing out front. Now this is a town where you call a dispatcher who sends a cab; you don’t hail from the roadside. But they didn’t seem to know that and I pulled up and loaded my cab with bankers on their way to the airport. I dropped them and flew back to the dorm as fast as I thought I could get away with early on a Saturday morning. After three loads, another driver got wind of the situation and I had to share the wealth. For most of the summer, driving was a less-than-minimum-wage job, so I was gonna milk this for all I could.

Years later I took a course at City College called “Labor in Literature and the Arts”. There I was introduced to Sue Doro, who worked in an Allis Chalmers machine shop, building tractors and heavy equipment. She also wrote poetry – poetry for people who get their hands dirty. She published a collection of work poems called Blue Collar Goodbyes.

Poem too Tired for a Title

tired
as a
crumpled
lunch bag
home after work
the factory’s
sting
in my ears
i try
to smooth
myself
out
flatten
my wrinkles
and snap
myself
back into
life.

Sue Doro

I had to produce something for the course so I wrote one poem about each job I’d held. At least one has seen the light of day in these pages. I noticed there were a lot of cab driving poems out there, but I knew I had to write one. It was definitely the shortest of the bunch.

Obligatory Cab Driving Poem

People like me,
people who’ve worked a variety of
“interesting” jobs,
have all been cab drivers
at some time.

People like me,
people who write poems about their work,
all have to write about driving cab
at some time.

If you’ve heard
one cab driving story
you’ve heard ’em all.

Whew! One more poem
to cross off the list.