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.

Diamonds

The ride to work started like an ordinary day. Temperature 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius) with a light wind. As I turned onto the lakeshore path it turned magical.

There was a thick, low-hanging fog over the lake. I was in it, so I couldn’t see the fog, just the effect of the fog. Visibility out toward the lake was maybe 5o feet. Walk out 100 yards and you would be lost. Those who have read this blog before know what happens when it is cold and foggy.

Light was beginning to creep into the sky from behind me to the east. My headlight striking the hoarfrost on the eye level shrubs reflected back as diamonds. I rode through a moving wall of diamonds. I wanted to shoot video so you could see what I saw. But work beckoned.

I can’t show you the diamonds. You’ll have to trust me as I didn’t have time to get the lighting that I saw. Or you can get up at 5 and wander along this path or some other low-lying land on a cold and foggy day.

As I entered a grove of trees, the entire world lit up around me. I knew what Bing meant when he sang:

I wanted to lie in the meadow, look up at the trees, and make snow angels. Maybe I could shine my light straight up and have those diamonds shining back at me. Alas, work called to me again.

I floated into the hospital. Since the fog only appeared along the lake, I didn’t know if anyone else had seen it. I wondered if I’ll get up at 5 and ride this path after retirement, when I can stop for as long as I want, bring the “real” camera, take pictures and video until the sun comes up, try to light it the way I see it.

I started seeing patients and got to a fifth floor window that looks out over the woods. The fog hung low in the valley and the trees in that valley were coated in rime. The trees on the hillside answered back in evergreen. The fog was visible and there was a sharp demarkation between bejeweled trees and regular trees. I asked my patient if she wanted the shades open. She looked out and could see those trees from her bed. She agreed to get out of bed and sit up in a chair for a better view. My work was done.

More snow is coming tomorrow, heavy and wet, then an arctic cold front. A high of zero F is forecast for Sunday and Monday, with morning lows of -15 (-26 Celsius). Don’t you people down south wish you lived here?

Equinox

I’m gonna pretend I can ride a century without training. I trained hard for the Horribly Hilly Hundreds in June; surely some of that will bleed over into September, eh?

The Ride is a century sponsored by my employer. It is on (approximately) the autumnal equinox; seems like a good excuse for a century ride. It’s in a not-too-hilly area where I don’t ride a lot. I oughta be able to do this. They want me to raise $350. I mostly want to ride that day. It’s a century and it’s the equinox and it’s a Sunday so I don’t work. Seems like enough reasons to me. (Reasons? I ain’t got no reasons. I don’t need no reasons! I don’t have to show you any stinking reasons!) Since it raises funds for the Carbone Cancer Center, I welcome your donations in my name (Half-fast Cycling Club).

This is going to spawn multiple tangents, so strap in for the ride. The Ride reminds me of a plan I once had for The One Ride. I designed the logo, t-shirt, jersey, and the tagline: “One continent, One rider, One cause.” It was to be a solo cross-country fundraising tour to raise funds for the JNCL Research Fund. It never happened.

JNCL is short for Juvenile Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscionosis, which is long for Batten’s Disease. Battens’ Disease is an autosomal recessive genetically-transmitted disease. In lay terms, you inherit it from your parents. If both are carriers of the gene, you have a 1 in 4 chance of getting the disease. What does it mean? “Juvenile” means onset in childhood. “Neuronal” means it involves the neurons – cells which transmits signals in your nervous system. “Ceroid” refers to a yellow to brown pigment. “Lipo” refers to fats. “Fuscin” refers to a specific brown pigment in the retina. “Osis” means an abnormal condition. In short, this whole thing refers to an abnormal deposition of pigment in the retina and fatty deposits along the cells which transmit information in the nervous system. (Lipofuscin is a specific fat-based pigment that builds up as a waste product.) In short, our body fails to break down certain cellular wastes, which build up and cause symptoms.

In practical terms, it means a disease which leads to blindness, night terrors, seizures, eventual deterioration of the nervous system, and death before the age of thirty. Why am I telling you this? Because I had two nieces who died of this disease. While rare, it is most common in people of Finnish extraction (that’s me). So I planned a coast-to-coast tour to raise funds for research. At the time, the genetic component was just being discovered. One lab in the US was capable of running the tests to see if you were a carrier. There is still no cure and treatment is only symptomatic. Trouble was, I had a job and two young kids, so the trip didn’t happen, and my nieces died. That was another impetus to finally make the coast-to-coast trip last year.

Anyway, The Ride raises funds for cancer research. I see cancer patients in my day job, so I thought I’d raise the issue here. Donate if you will – no pressure. Time for the next tangent.

This weekend is the 54th annual Orton Park Festival. It takes place in an urban park (which was once our first cemetery). The park is a tiny oak savanna. The festivities begin with a performance by Cycropia, an aerial dance troupe. They string trapezes and various other accoutrements from an old burr oak in the park. It is only August, but it has suddenly changed from Pilsner weather to Oktoberfest weather. In February it doesn’t change from Stout weather to Maibock weather.

Tonight was a performance by the band formerly known as Get Back Wisconsin. Due to a cease and desist order from someone who claims ownership of Get Back, they are now Madison Mystery Tour (As of this writing, the website is a work in progress, due to the name change.) They perform a concert of each Beatles album on the 5oth anniversary of the album release. Abbey Road will be performed Saturday, October 5, 2019, at the Barrymore Theatre. I’m only telling you this because I already have my ticket. Tonight was mostly pre-Abbey Road material. The encore was “Here Comes The Sun”, which brings me to the next tangent.

Get Back WI/Madison Mystery Tour

It was 1987 – “En 1987 aquí no se rinde nadie” was the national slogan of Nicaragua. It was done as a call and response. The leader shouted “En mil novecientos ochenta y siete aquí” and the audience responded “no se rinde nadie!” In English, that’s “In 1987, no one here surrenders!” For those too young to remember, the US was trying to overthrow the Nicaraguan government in 1987 via an illegitimate war funded, contrary to an explicit law, by the illegal sale of weapons to an enemy (Iran), with the profits diverted to a CIA-organized and funded mercenary army (the Contra). Clearly, this was an impeachable offense, yet President Reagan remains a hero to many – a mystery to me.

In 1987, I was in Nicaragua, working for an organization called APSNICA (Architects and Planners in Support of Nicaragua), building housing on cooperatively-owned cattle ranches. We selectively logged the forests, milled the lumber, and made concrete from sand and gravel dug from the riverbank (mixed with water from that river) combined with cement from a local plant. We leveled building sites with picks and shovels (but we did have a theodolite [a precision optical instrument for measuring angles between designated visible points in the horizontal and vertical planes.]). We poured concrete slab floors and built masonry half-walls from river rock and concrete. Framing and siding were from the trees we cut and milled on-site. Zinc roofing and nails were imported from Canada. We constructed a potable water system, dug outhouses, and built a school for each group of twenty families.

It rained all night. The next morning clouds were thick. I was on the trucking crew and we were driving the loggers out to the woods. Keith Greeninger was on the logging crew. The clouds parted and the sun appeared. Keith and I were standing on the rear bumper of the truck, holding onto the superstructure onto which we would, before lunch, load freshly-milled lumber. We looked each other in the eye and began to sing “Here Comes the Sun” to each other. It was one of the more magical moments of my life. We had not spoken on the ride. We just burst into song together, there being no other apt response to the abrupt change in the weather. An hour later, he was being rushed to the hospital in Matagalpa to suture a large gash on his forehead. Upon returning, he was not able to go out and do the dirty work in the woods, so he stayed in camp and wrote songs. He is now a professional singer-songwriter. “Here Comes the Sun” still brings tears to my eyes.

Not the song I’d like to post, but that one was never released.

The song I’d like to post, “Another Nicaraguan Night” captured those nights sitting in darkness after the generator was turned off, trading songs with the Nicaraguans. Keith tried out his new songs then. This one was also written in camp. The original title was “Eyes of Your Young” but people misunderstood the chorus, so he changed the title so that phrase was written out. (It was an unfortunate Mondegreen.)

I returned to the US, moved to San Francisco and became a plumber. But that’s another story for another time.

By the way, the third Grand Tour, La Vuelta a España, is now in progress.

Breaking News!

Details have been released for Cycle America 2020! Now you too can ride coast-to-coast! The ride departs Seattle on Sunday, June 20 and arrives in Boston Saturday, August 22. You can ride all 9 weeks or any part thereof. Total cost is less than $7500 with early discount. That includes route planning, sag support, most of your meals, and a place to lay your head every night! (Not to mention good friends, beautiful scenery, and seeing the country at a pace amenable to that.) For those of the Facebook persuasion, you can also find info and lots of pictures from past rides here. (And even the non-Facebook users can still see the pictures – they’ll keep asking you to log in or open an account, but you can skip that.) Such a deal! Tell ’em the half-fast cycling club sent you.

A special shout-out is due to my friend at Plant-Powered Pedaling, who just completed Paris-Brest-Paris – 1220 km in under 90 hours! PBP is the ultimate in endurance rides. I’ve been following this guy for a while – I use the term “friend” in the internet sense of the word. We’ve never met. I read his blog, maybe he reads mine. He completes epic rides and (as the title implies) does it on vegan foods – not only does that mean you can perform tremendous feats on a vegan diet, but you can somehow find food while riding for hundreds of miles without external support.

Copyright and Courtesy of Plant-Powered-Pedaling (and he drinks beer after riding!)

The Wish Book

When I was a kid we looked forward to the arrival of the big mail-order catalogs from Sears and Spiegel. We referred to them as “wish books” and pored over them to figure out what Christmas gifts to ask for.

Nowadays (I never thought I’d be using that word) catalogs seem to arrive on a daily basis. Some companies (you know who you are) send catalogs every week.

Image from The Gahan Girls

I was looking for a suitable image (hoping to find a Norman Rockwell-esque image of kids lying prone on the floor, feet in the air, looking at a catalog) to go with this thought but, instead, came across the gift I wanted for years and never got (and it’s not a Daisy Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle). It was a fake car dashboard so I could pretend to drive – one with working horn, turn signals, and windshield wipers. My parents thought it inappropriate. Kids shouldn’t drive ’til they’re 16, and driving is not a game, but to be taken seriously. Funny that I hardly ever drive now.

Anyway, last week I found myself looking, not through Christmas catalogs, but through listings for cross-state bike tours. While I know it will be years (if ever) before I can ride across the country again, maybe a state or two would suffice.  A couple of riders from the Twin Cities last summer wore a variety of jerseys from South Dakota rides. South Dakota had some great riding, so I’m looking there. (Greg and Dawn, if you’re reading this, tell me what you think of some of those rides. Or were all your jerseys from Nebraska? You’ll have to do some fast talking to convince me to join you for that one.) The Finger Lakes and Adirondacks were great fun, so I’m looking at New York rides. One of these days I’ll do the GRABAAWR (Great Annual Bicycling Adventure Along the Wisconsin River) and I’m thinking about RAW (Ride Across Wisconsin), a one- or two-day ride across the state. And maybe it’s time to return to Cycle Oregon, which I rode in 1992.

My summer 2019 travel budget will be taken up by nieces’ weddings out west, so I’m already thinking about 2020, with 2019 spent on day rides around here. Of course, 2020 is also the next Cycle America ride, which I won’t be on, though I may either join them across Wisconsin or buy them all a beer in Baraboo. If you’ve had a great (or terrible) experience with an organized cross-state or regional ride, tell us about it in the comments.

I know I linked to this before, but it’s time again. In 2011, my friend Keith Greeninger wrote the song “Hop in the truck”. It is sung from the viewpoint of a contractor looking to pick up casual labor to build a wall. Since our president has announced that he would be proud to shut down the federal government if congress doesn’t allocate several billion dollars to build a border wall, the half-fast cycling club dedicates this to the man of orange (not to be confused with the man in black):

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=7rmx_YL9Vec&t=5s

So this post was written a couple of days ago and waiting to go up tonight…I’m listening to Astral Weeks by Van Morrison and realizing what this time was like musically 50 years ago – fall 1968 saw the release of “The Beatles” (AKA the White Album), “Beggar’s Banquet” by the Rolling Stones, “Memories” by Richard and Mimi Fariña, and the aforementioned “Astral Weeks”.  Oh, and “Electric Ladyland” by Jimi Hendrix. An embarrassment of musical riches. And that’s just off the top of my head from stuff I’ve listened to recently.

I have one standard for Christmas music – it has to be something I’d listen to even if it wasn’t Christmas. So I’ll leave you with this from David Grisman’s Acoustic Christmas (not from 1968, but 1986):