This was the first WNBR (Wednesday Night Bike Ride) potluck of the season. It was cold after a string of 80 degree (27 C) days. Bundling up against the cold wind, it seemed that this first potluck is always cold. Or is that a myth because it’s the cold days we remember? Legend has it that we “always” get a blizzard the weekend of the boys state high school basketball tournament in March. A look at weather records debunks that quickly. We remember those years with big snowstorms.
It is chip-seal season. We rode past multiple freshly chip-sealed roads, glad that we weren’t on them. [Chip-sealing is the process of spreading oil or tar on a road, then spreading pea gravel over it. The weight of traffic is supposed to press the gravel into the sticky substrate to renew the surface. With tar and a steamroller it works pretty well but is not a pleasant place to ride for a few days. I once rode a freshly sealed road and had to throw away my tires after the ride; they were so thickly coated with tar. With just gravel and no tar or oil and no roller, it’s a lot cheaper and results in a horrible surface to ride on for weeks until the gravel washes into the grass at the edge of the road.] Today’s roads featured oil and gravel, with the sound of pebbles being tossed against the downtube. One advantage to a steel bike is that the “ping” of gravel on steel tubing is more pleasant than the sound of gravel hitting carbon fiber. Either way, it’s a test of the quality of the paint job.
We made the next-to-last turn and found ourselves on fresh chip-seal. It was mostly a climb. Standing on the pedals doesn’t work very well on chip-seal, as the unweighted rear wheel tends to slip. That meant sitting in, putting my head down, and making steady work of it. The last 50 feet or so get really steep, but that’s okay when you know it is coming. The only thing worse than climbing on fresh chip-seal is descending on it, so we had that in our favor. Those of you who ride on gravel for fun probably have no sympathy.
Dinner was at Brigham Park. The May potluck means I’m baking a rhubarb pie (strawberry-rhubarb this year) and is supposed to mean Hottie is bringing his famous asparagus braised in a cayenne-spiced garlic soy sauce. Alas, Hottie has retired from riding, so we we had to make do with Lou Grant’s jalapeño cornbread. That and a fire helped to keep us warm. Hottie grows a lot of asparagus so I don’t know who eats it all for him now.
I made my way to the public library’s archiving lab the morning after the ride. If you read the last couple of weeks’ posts reprinting my letters home from Nicaragua, you may recall that I found Keith’s demo tape. Keith Greeninger is a singer/songwriter from Santa Cruz, CA. We worked together in 1987. During the brigade, Keith had a run-in with a chainsaw. The chainsaw won. As a result, he could not go out to the woods for a few weeks and used the time to write songs. Some of those songs were subsequently released by the trio City Folk or by Keith on his solo albums. Most are still in print and available here.
The cut which follows was never released. The first building we built on each site was a dining hall, which became our HQ while we completed the rest of the work. It was timber-framed with a concrete floor and tin roof, but was open to the air. A generator provided power for a couple of hours each evening, during which we could receive news of the world via short-wave radio or read by electric light. When the lights went out, the silence was deafening and gradually we began to hear the night sounds. Keith and Jed would play songs from the US and try out the new material Keith was writing. Then the Nicas would take over and we would hear Nicaraguan folk music.
This song captures, for me, the feeling of those nights out under the stars, listening to the insects between songs. I guess it lacked commercial appeal.
If I remember correctly, Keith is accompanied by guitarist, brigadista, and carpenter John Bartolero (we knew him as Jed). In 1987, the Nicaraguan people lived by the slogan “Aquí No Se Rinde Nadie” (No one here surrenders). Keith used that slogan to write another song with, as was said about Frank Zappa, “no commercial potential”.