Four and a half years ago, on my first transcontinental tour, we stopped in the town of Stockholm, WI for great pie. I wandered into an Amish furniture store and sat in a rocking chair that felt like it was made for me.

I couldn’t figure out how to carry the chair on my bike and briefly considered asking my wife to drive to Stockholm to get it.

Four years later, riding through Stockholm again, I went into the same store. As I was about to sit in the chair, another shopper warned me not to. I asked why and he said, “because you’ll never want to get out of it.” I said that was the point and had a seat. This time I told the shop owner that I would be back but I still had 1700 miles to ride so it would be a while. Being a newly-retired person, a rocker on the front porch was exactly what I needed.

After the trip, I cleaned out my front porch and made the trip back to Stockholm. The shop was closed. I emailed the owner and he said he was only open on weekends. (It had been Monday both times we’d stopped there on the tour.)

A series of emails ensued. By the time a weekend arrived that I could make the trip, he had no chair and wouldn’t have another until late April. I checked in and he had three of them and would be open Friday from noon to three, so I made the 440 mile round trip for more pie and the chair now sits on my front porch. As I approached the Mississippi River, the sky turned dark. Headlights came on. Occasional spitting rain was just enough to water-spot the windshield. Fifteen miles short of Stockholm, lightning split the sky and the rain came down hard enough that the wipers had trouble keeping up even on high. I was glad I was not on my bike. It was also 20 degrees cooler here than at home. The rain let up so I could load the chair into the van.

After 440 miles of driving, I needed a beer (Capital Brewery Maibock, in case you wondered), so the chair got its first trial before I made dinner. The next morning it hosted me for my morning coffee and newspaper. While this chair isn’t the absolutely perfect chair that I sat in last summer, it is pretty darn good. The seating area and back are steam-bent white oak (they had one in walnut this time as well) so there is good lumbar support. The darker wood is hickory. The quarter-sawn oak table that I got with it is perfect to hold a beer or a cup of coffee. The shop called it a plant stand, but what do they know?

Now I’m ready to retire.

Harry Belafonte and Ed Sullivan vs Joe McCarthy

I learned something new since last week’s post honoring Harry Belafonte. According to John Nichols, writing in the Cap Times, Belafonte was aligned with Paul Robeson (singer, actor, anti-racist, and activist). Both supported Henry Wallace in the 1948 presidential race on the Progressive Party ticket. [It was Wallace who said, while Vice President under FDR, “The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity .…They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.”   – April 9, 1944. This may have something to do with why he was replaced on the ticket for the 1944 election.]

Robeson was infamously blacklisted and his passport seized. Belafonte was blacklisted as well. When he was due to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, Sullivan was informed that he was blacklisted. Sullivan met with Belafonte and read the charges against him. Belafonte confirmed that he had done those things, “and there’s a lot of things that aren’t on that list that should be on that list that I have done and will continue to do.” He continued, as he told PBS in 1998, “If, as an American and as a human being, I lend my energy and my time to end hate, to end racism, to look for a better day for all of us, to look to that America, which was defended by Lincoln, and that had been created by the founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson and others, I think that I stand guilty of moving in that cadence. That’s what I’m charged with, and I stand guilty. And the choice between giving up that commitment for the privilege of being on your program doesn’t equate. I’d love to have had a chance to sing to the American people to have your platform. But, hey, I guess you can’t have it all. Thank you. And I walked.”

Sullivan did not cancel the appearance, and Belafonte appeared on his show ten times in the next ten years.

Officially Old

I once had the job of maintaining refrigeration equipment. Part of my job entailed noticing when something quit working in order to save the food before it got warm. Then I’d call Walt to fix it. I wanted to know when I was throwing good money after bad; when it was time to buy a new compressor rather than keep fixing the old ones. I would ask Walt for an opinion and his response was invariably, “How high is up?” And he would patch it together again.

This leads to the question of “How old is old?” Those compressors were old. I’d gotten them free from other stores that had gone out of business. (Some of them had been sitting out in a field at a dairy for years.)

My mom delivered Meals on Wheels. She referred to this as “delivering meals to the seniors”. She was in her late 70s at the time. She did not think of herself as old.

My daughter once asked if I were old. (I was 43 at the time of their birth.) I said, “You can call me old when you can beat me one-on-one in soccer.” By that standard I’m not yet old.

In the United States, one can begin to draw Social Security at age 62 (for most people). The amount you collect on a monthly basis continues to increase the longer you wait to begin collecting. At age 70, it’s about 40% more than if you start at 65. When you start to collect involves gambling against the house. How long are you going to live? When do you stop working? When do you need the money? Those are all questions to answer and I’m not here to answer them for you. Nothing in this post should be construed as financial advice.

In my case I decided I hoped to live for a long time and work past the “standard” retirement age. By waiting until monthly payments were at their maximum I hoped to win the bet. I calculated how long I’d have to live for the bet to pay off in terms of total dollars collected. (On a monthly income basis, it is paying off immediately, of course.)

I reached the age at which waiting served no purpose. I was at the maximum. That, I decided, made me “officially old” by one standard (though not the soccer standard). Social Security told me to apply in advance to get approved. It took them four months from the time I applied until they told me that I was eligible. Then they let me know that I would actually get my first payment two weeks after the month ended. One is not eligible to collect benefits for the month in which one dies so, to avoid taking chances, they don’t actually pay until the next month. That’s like telling your landlord you won’t pay your January rent until February 15 because you want to be sure your apartment isn’t destroyed by fire sometime during January, and you want two extra weeks just to be sure.

So the first Social Security payment has arrived. According to the US Government, I am old. I thought I would work right up until that date (at one point I thought I would work several years past that date) but a little bike trip changed that plan.

Social Security is known as an entitlement program. We’ve been trained to think that feeling entitled is a bad thing. The relevant definition of entitlement is “the right to guaranteed benefits”. Why am I entitled to this benefit? Because it is my money. I have been saving it for over 50 years – actually, the government has been saving it for me (since 1969) so I wouldn’t blow it on things like rent and food. So the next time you read the word “entitlement” in regard to Social Security, remember it is not referring to a “sense of entitlement”, meaning “the world owes me something because I’m special”, it means “I have a right to this money because it is mine”. If you put money in a bank savings account, would it be okay for the bank to decide not to give it back? Neither is it okay for the government to decide not to give back your own money that they’ve held onto for 50 years with the promise that it would be yours in retirement.

Had I kept working, I would now get my first raise in years. I was once represented by a union. (Wisconsin Act 10 changed that.) Each time we came into contract negotiations, management would tell us that their “market research” revealed that we were overpaid. They considered that research proprietary so they wouldn’t share it, or any evidence that it actually existed. One year they offered a 0% raise to occupational therapists (since we were overpaid but they decided it would be impolitic to cut our pay) and a fractional raise to physical therapists. Though our schooling and training were almost identical, they always made more than we did; and they were never overpaid. Through bargaining we all got a modest raise that year.

Our pay was based on a grid. PTs were a couple of steps higher on the grid than we were. Each grade had a range. Once you reached the top of the range for your pay grade, you never got a raise unless they changed the ranges. I worked my last several years at a flat (falling in real dollars) wage.

I had lunch with a former co-worker after retirement and learned that management had done some new market research and found that we were underpaid by two pay grades. (And apparently PTs were not underpaid as badly as OTs…surprise, surprise.) How much that means in dollars I don’t know and I think I don’t want to find out. If I were still working I would be getting my first raise in years about now. If I wanted to be working, I’d be bitter. Instead I’ll just go ride my bike. Retirement wins.

Phil Ochs – “When I’m Gone”

Not to be overly morbid but, when you write about aging, death is looking over your shoulder to make sure you get it right. On a recent indoor bike ride, I watched the movie “Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune” (available via the Kanopy streaming service at your local library). Have I mentioned that the public library may be the pinnacle of civilization? No offense to the folks who put up Little Free Libraries, but these big libraries are also free.

Ochs was one of the greatest singer/songwriters who ever lived. Imagine if Bob Dylan had continued to write topical songs and had the voice of an angel. Dylan famously denigrated Ochs by telling him he wasn’t a folksinger, but a journalist; but his satire was too powerful to call it journalism. (Ochs also didn’t consider “journalist” an insult.) “Love Me, I’m a Liberal” and “War is Over” are way beyond journalism. In introducing “Love Me”, he said a liberal is someone who is 10 degrees left of center, but when it’s personal, he’s 10 degrees right of center. “War is Over” imagines simply declaring war to be over. He held a march in NYC declaring the end of the war in Viet Nam as a piece of political/street theatre, to see how people would react. In “Small Circle of Friends” he looked at the phenomenon of people “not wanting to get involved”. The impetus was the murder of Kitty Genovese in New York, with the news reporting that people heard her screams but didn’t call the police because they “didn’t want to get involved”. Ochs puts that story and others to music with banjo, honky tonk piano, and snare drum – a vicious satire juxtaposing good-time music with a chilling message.

I saw him near the end of his life. (Concerts Wiki tells me it was February 1, 1974 in a benefit for The Wounded Knee Defense Fund. He died in April of 1976.) He had broken his hand – he said he had punched a wall the night before – so playing the guitar was a challenge (at least it was his right hand). Nonetheless, he played through his pain and it was an evening to remember.

Ochs was already contemplating his own mortality with this song. It is not about dying as much as it is an exhortation to not waste our lives but to live them fully while we’re here.

In that spirit I will ride the Horribly Hilly Hundreds this spring. I have to admit, 70 sounds old – much older than 65 sounded.

I just collected another 2 liters of sap. That may be it for a while. The temperature is dropping as the day progresses (colder at noon than it was at 6 AM) and a snowstorm (possible blizzard with 35 mph winds and up to 10 inches of snow) is on the way.

That was the year that was (with apologies to Tom Lehrer)

January saw a tour of duty on the COVID unit and 20% of all patients in “my” hospital being COVID+. I spent a lot of time on the lake skiing or skating.

February saw COVID burn its way through our therapy department.

March was when I tapped the maple tree in my front yard and rode in shorts one day (73ºF, 23ºC), then in snow and 34º weather (1ºC) three days later.

April saw me giving up my bikes, kayak, and canoe for sports cars and a power boat in an April Fool post that fooled no one. It also marked my last tour of duty in the COVID-19 units, just after I announced my retirement.

May was for getting me and the bike ready for a major journey and tying up loose ends at work.

June was retirement, embarking on a coast-to-coast bike trip, contracting COVID-19, and almost giving up on the trip. On the morning of June 24, after 312 miles in three days, I wasn’t feeling great, though it was a beautiful morning. I rode in a paceline, pulled by two of the stronger riders in the group. I knew something was up but wasn’t ready to face the facts. Climbing Thompson Pass on my own, I knew I had COVID. I stopped at the County Health Department in Thompson Falls for a COVID test so I would show up in official statistics. They were closed. I tested postive in camp and took the next day (and half of the next week) off.

July marked my comeback. I made it over Teton Pass and decided I was in it for the duration. I celebrated my return with two flat tires on the 4th. July was marked by extremes of temperature and vicious wind storms, as well as COVID raging through the ranks of riders. It also included the most beautiful scenery of the trip and the pictures which made it onto jerseys and posters.

Endless gravel climb in South Dakota
Badlands photo by Adrian Amelse

The rain came harder and I stopped to put on a rain jacket. I also scarfed a bar, figuring I needed all the calories I could stuff into me for the final push. I figure that when 80% of the ride is behind me, I’ve got it made. Just past that point, the crosswind became too strong to ride safely. I feared I would be pushed into traffic. I got off and walked. A few more seconds and it was no longer safe to walk. Another few seconds and I could no longer stand. I crouched at the roadside and the wind picked up my bike. I was holding it by the top tube and it was standing out horizontally away from me at shoulder height, wheels toward the highway. If I let go, it would fly away. I would likely not see it again. I held on and got as low as possible to try to keep myself from becoming airborne along with the bike.

half-fast cycling club 24 July, 2022
The second or third windiest day of the month

August saw the hell of Michigan, even though we didn’t go through the town of Hell, Michigan. A few days to cross Ontario, a glorious week of the Adirondacks and Finger Lakes in New York (as well as a night in a milita stronghold of a campground), and arrival at the east coast.

September was to adjust to the idea of being retired without the structure of a coast-to-coast ride. A century ride in Door County and a new appreciation for bikes after flat tires on cars. The first of two (because we can, being retired, and because we couldn’t find a date we could all make) fall color rides.

October made me appreciate bikes even more with an expensive car repair in the works. The second of two fall color rides came the day after our first snowfall.

November started absurdly warm, with temperatures in the 70s (>21 C) to extend the long-distance riding season. The 15th saw the first accumulation of snow, with ski resorts set to open that weekend. I joined the ranks of indoor riders, buying a trainer (discontinued, on sale). I bought my previous trainer used 30 years ago.

December stayed warm longer than usual. Snow and cold arrived with a vengeance mid-month. I rode indoors (testing the new trainer) more than outdoors. One benefit of being retired was watching the last public meeting of the House committee investigating the failed coup of January 6, 2020. They recommended criminal charges against the former president, including conspiring to defraud the US, obstructing an official proceeding, and inciting, assisting, or giving aid and comfort to insurrection. And I finished the year with a performance of “Guys on Ice”, that ode to ice fishing and the guys who spend their winters in a shanty, sitting on an upside-down five gallon bucket looking into a hole in the ice. They taught us, in song, that “Leinenkugel’s beer ain’t just for breakfast anymore.” We celebrated the new year with a glass of Prosecco at midnight GMT.

“Who’s Next?” – Tom Lehrer on nuclear proliferation, 1965. From the album “That Was the Year That Was”.

Decisions, decisions

Life is hard when you’re retired. Today’s forecast was for a high of 67 (19.5 C) with ample sunshine and little to no wind. The next few days are to be even warmer. This is not normal for the end of October/beginning of November around here. What to do?

Those of us of a certain age remember cigarette commercials that seem to apply everywhere 😉

I planned on a bike ride for the afternoon. Two friends/neighbors were busy. I raked leaves this morning as it warmed up. Getting the rake out of the garage, the kayak called my name. I can ride my bike tomorrow and/or Wednesday when friends are available. The water won for Monday.

At a paddling workshop I learned you should dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. That advice is so you are always prepared for a dunking. On a calm day on known waters, the chances of that were pretty slim. I was overdressed. The local paddling shop is having a moving sale. I bought a waterproof phone case with a lanyard, which gave me the confidence to take pictures as I paddled. If I were to drop the phone it wouldn’t sink and it would stay dry. You can take pictures through the case (more of a heavy-duty plastic bag), as you can see above.

I turned downstream to the lake. Hugging the shore I came into a nasty algae bloom, rendering the water opaque and pea soup green. I moved farther out into the lake and made my way across to Olbrich Park. As I neared the beach there, the water got thick again so I turned back to the middle. My paddling route was pretty close to my skiing route from last January’s post.