To grandmother, with love

I drink from a cup labeled, “To Grandmother with love”. What’s up with that?

In 1984 I was the new kid in town, relocated from Wisconsin to Northern California. I was the backwoods rube to some and the whiz kid from the promised land to others. To Bonnie, I became “Mom”. (Need I say she was older than I?)

I grew up in Wisconsin and never thought I’d leave. Circumstances in 1983 changed all that. I went to a national conference that fall, resumes in hand, looking for work. I was offered a job as the Maintenance Director of a low-income housing co-op in Santa Clara, California. Seventy nine families jointly owned a sprawling townhouse project, complete with swimming pool. In 1963 someone had convinced HUD (the Department of Housing and Urban Development) that even poor people needed swimming pools in the desert. Among new skills, I learned swimming pool maintenance.

I bought a beat-up 1975 GMC van to move my self and stuff to California. I hadn’t had a car for over 10 years (and even that one I’d only used for a year or so; it mostly sitting parked). Arriving in California, I quickly discovered how attached people were to their cars. Many felt sorry for me. I had planned to move out there and resell the van. It became apparent quickly that it had no resale value and that a car becomes a necessity in a place like that. When the van died, I almost bought a 1962 Jaguar (like that driven by Inspector Morse in the BBC series). Instead I bought a Toyota Corolla.

I was offered a scholarship to attend Co-op Camp Sierra, a training center in the mountains near Shaver Lake. I soon discovered that Wisconsin was seen as the center of the co-op world. We had had a vibrant co-op economy starting in the 1920s, when Finnish immigrants in the northwoods developed their own co-op label products.

Image from Finlandia University

Even the little co-op I had co-founded was known out there. We were seen as the vanguard. As my friend who worked as a management consultant said at the beginning of his seminars, “a consultant is an ordinary person far from home.” I discovered the truth of this in California. Ideas that nobody listened to here were seen as wisdom out there. Crackpot schemes here were paid for there. Folks seem to think that the more they pay for something, the more it is worth. If an employee you’re already paying has an idea, it is of no value. If the same sentiment is echoed by a high-priced consultant, it is now the word of god.

Another consultant friend was charging $250/day for his services. He was subcontracting Bay Area work to me so he could travel less. He decided he wanted to work less, so he raised his rate to $400/day. He had more work than he could handle. If he charged $400/day, he must be good! (Or so folks thought.)

So I got to camp and was soon put to work. From the shy backwoods kid who didn’t know anybody, I suddenly was thrust into the midst of running the camp, and was forced out of my shell. Bonnie, the Camp Manager, made me her Administrative Assistant. That’s fancy talk for what she really called me – “Mom”. My job was to make sure she got everywhere on time, that she had all of her stuff with her (a rolling suitcase on mountain trails isn’t the easiest thing to move around), and that no one stole her cigarette lighter to sell at the camp auction. I failed miserably at that last task one year, when it was I who stole it and ran up the bidding at the auction – as auctioneer and co-conspirator, I planted a few shills.

Bonnie had grown children and one year they gave me the pictured mug at camp to thank me for keeping their mom in line; and that’s how I became a grandmother before I turned 40.

Testifying before the Senate in support of the National Consumer Co-operative Bank Act, Bonnie said, “The co-op is my church.” [From National Consumer Cooperative Bank Act: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions…]

Bonnie died too young. One of the campers had once asked me to nominate her for a MacArthur Fellowship (“genius grant”) for her work at camp and in the co-op community. That’s how much my “daughter” was valued by those around her.

A Modest Proposal (with apologies to J. Swift)

US Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) has suggested that we keep COVID-19 in perspective: “We don’t shut down our economies because tens of thousands of people die on the highways”; COVID-19 “isn’t a death sentence except to maybe no more than 3.4% of our population”.

Since 3.4% of our population is not ten thousand but more than ten million people, perhaps he is responding to what he sees as overpopulation. COVID-19 may be his way of thinning the herd, bringing our population down to a more acceptable level. If that is the case, perhaps we could just eliminate, for example, the Dallas and Seattle metropolitan areas with a couple of well-placed large bombs. This would lower the population and eliminate crumbling infrastructure. He may prefer other cities. Let us not quibble over details. Eliminating the entire state of Wisconsin would only get rid of half as many people and, besides, where would folks from Illinois go for vacations?

An open letter

to my Cycle America community. To jog your memories, there will be one photo from each week, none of which have appeared here before:

Dear Friends,

trailer loaded, ready to head to ride start-WA

We have now been back in our respective real worlds for longer than we were away in our circus world. We used that metaphor during the trip because it seemed apt – we rolled into a new town every night, set up our tents, and were gone in the morning before most people were up and about. We didn’t put on much of a show, but…

Einstein in Jackson, WY

It’s also timely because I spent three days of the last week in Baraboo, home of the Ringling Brothers and the Circus World Museum. It was also where, for me, the two worlds intersected. My friends, my son and his wife, and my boss all came to Baraboo when the Cycle America Circus rolled through. It was my reminder that our circus world was fleeting, that the other world beckoned. It was the best of times…

Devil’s Tower, WY

And now we’re scattered across the globe doing whatever it is we normally
do; though even that is new for some – Ally went from being a student to being a nurse during those nine weeks. Mike stayed away longer than the rest of us to ride down the west coast of the US. How’d that go, Mike?

Did anybody do a Johnny Paycheck when going back to work?

Needles Highway, SD

I miss that world. I missed the daily routine of riding already by the first Monday I was home. I had my day of rest and was ready to ride again. I’m still looking for anyone who wants to pay me to ride my bike. From the headwaters of the Mississippi to the delta seems like a good route. Who’ll drive sag?

The jersey that got us in trouble in Belgium-Northfield, MN

But I also miss all of you. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna get all hold-hands-and-sing-Kumbaya on you. If we all lived in the same town it’s not like we’d all be hanging out every night after work (those of us who do still work) or be drinking coffee together every morning at the corner cafe (for the retired among us).

Wind farm – Pepin, WI

But we had a community for those nine weeks; a loose-knit one, perhaps, but we shared something I will never forget. We shared fun, we shared miseries, we shared deeply transforming moments.  We found out what we were made of. Some of you, who had done this before, may have had no doubts about it. But I bet most of us had moments when we weren’t really sure what we had gotten into, weren’t really sure we could do this. But we did. And we probably knew that all along but it seemed too arrogant to say out loud, just as voicing the fears seemed too insecure to say out loud.

100 miles is just a number – almost a century in Ontario

We ate some great food and some food that we may not have eaten had we not just ridden 80 miles. We saw the USA in a way that most people never will. We didn’t fly over flyover country. We didn’t cross the plains at 80 mph (~130 km/h for those of the metric persuasion), staring at the ribbon of pavement and ignoring all else. We did wake up sober in Nebraska (or close to it – Nebraska, I mean). Climbing mountain passes didn’t mean just stepping harder on the accelerator.

Cycle America International Bobsled Team – Lake Placid, NY

We did all that, and we did it together. I, for one, already think about a reunion. It’s entirely possible we will never see each other again. I know some of you are friends in real life and do hang out. The rest of us? Maybe we’d feel awkward, not knowing what to say. Maybe we’d need a long ride together with margaritas to follow. Maybe a short ride, but actually together as a group, like the brief stretches when we were together for ferry crossings or through construction zones.

End of the road, Gloucester, MA-only one way to go

And maybe doing it again in 2020 doesn’t sound crazy after all. (Don’t tell anyone here I said that!) If those of you with the wherewithal to do it again do it, I’ll meet you in Baraboo with a case of beer. Or we can find an Irish pub and Mike can show the bartenders the proper way to pull a pint of Guinness.

See you on the road!

Love,

Steve

Maybe a motor next time?

Maybe Hogwart’s next time?

maple
Home again