Rewire Your Brain, It Is As Easy As Riding A Bike.

As easy as riding a bike, you never forget. Most of us learn to ride a bike very young. In my case I was about seven or eight when I borrowed a friends bike and tried it. I had to pull it up next to the curb to get on, and my legs were too short to sit and reach the pedals, but I launched and got the hang of it pretty quick. I have never had a problem until I switched to riding a recumbent. All of a sudden the mechanics were different. I practiced on my driveway making figure eights to develop confidence. I can still ride a diamond frame, but now I fell like planet earth is six  feet below my feet, and the illusion is that I will  fly over the handle bars very easily.

When I saw this video, I freaked. What a crazy thing to do to a bike, and to the rider. Yet, the young many makes a couple of good points with his experiment.  I will take  his word for it, that I couldn’t ride a bike with handle steering reversed.

A Cherry Pie From the Middle Of Nowhere

Our latest adventure was a train ride through the Verde River Valley near Cottonwood, Arizona. We drove the hill climbing 3000 feet in altitude from the valley to Chambers, Arizona. During our scoot from the I-17 toward Cottonwood on AZ-269 I related to Peg the last time I was in this part of the country. It was 1987, and I attended The League of American Wheelmen’s national rally in Flagstaff. It was my second week-long bicycle tour.

My goal at the time was to maximize the adventure by using the train to get to the rally. I arrived at the train depot in Joliet, IL at 4:00 p.m. for a 5:00 p.m. departure. The station was empty and dead. The train I awaited began it’s run in Chicago a mere forty miles away, but didn’t arrive until 8:00 p.m. Gee this will be interesting, the train is already three hours behind schedule before I start, and that is the way it ended too.

Once at the rally city I bussed to the Grand Canyon and joined the tour group which rode back to Flagstaff on bicycles. It took us three days to make that trip. At the rally there were daily bike trips offered in each direction. These trips averaged from 30 to 100 miles each. All were scenic and went to destinations of interest. I chose the one which followed scenic Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona (all down hill) and then across the valley to Cottonwood and finally to the Tuzigoot National Monument. A bus awaited there to haul us back up the hill to Flagstaff.

As Peggy and I approached Cottonwood, the amount of traffic picked up considerably, and the number of shopping malls exploded. I couldn’t get over the amount of development that had occurred since my last visit. My first visit to Cottonwood was a joy as we pedaled through 105 degrees through a sleepy little village. The town which chartered in 1960 consisted of a typical Main street with quaint shops along either side of a three block stretch. On this day, Peg and I  passed through several stop lights passing a Home Depot, Walmart, Papa Joe’s and more before we even came close to Historic Cottonwood. I put all my trust in the slave lady who resides in the box on my dash and gives me instructions about where and when to turn. Eventually, we reached a street that looked like the Cottonwood I remembered. A short distance from the old town we passed the entrance to Tuzigoot.

For the umpteenth time the amount of development that occurred in the USA in the past 30-40 years has amazed me. Where did all the people come from to make every town in America grow so large? The time we visited Santa Fé, New Mexico is the first instance when I suffered population growth shock similar to that which I experienced this week in Cottonwood. Each time, I have gone back to these cities expecting to see the same quaint cute little burgs they were when I first saw them. As Thomas Wolfe wrote “you can never go back home again,” and then re-quoted by John Steinbeck in “Travels with Charlie,” I begin to understand what it means.

Peg and I boarded the Verde Valley Railroad car named Tucson at 12:45 and sat watching the amazing topography of the Verde River Canyon pass us by at a snoozy twelve miles per hour. I dreamed about doing this same tour on my bicycle at the same speed. The problem is that the railroad is the only road that travels this section of paradise. Very few people inhabit the scenic volcanic landscape.

The run down the hill was more fun than climbing in the morning. We chased a sunset all the way at 80 miles per hour. I achieved another goal along the way, I the exited the I-17 correctly to find the Rock Springs Pie Company. There, in the sparsely populated Arizona mountains, is a business consisting of a gas station, bed and breakfast, flea market, café, saloon, and the best home-made pies in the world. We bought a cherry pie to bring home.

The Christmas Lights Ride in Frankfort, Illinois

The little town of Frankfort Illinois dolls up for Christmas every year by donning lights on its centerpiece park “The Breidert Green.” The mayor presides over the tree lighting ceremony and the season is officially open.

The lights brighten up long dark weary nights and add a festivity to the air. Combine that with the Mid-night Madness sale on a Friday night and the sleepy town stays up late to celebrate.

About ten years ago, I led a Folks on Spokes bike ride on a Friday night called the Christmas Lights Ride. Twenty of us met in the empty town parking lot at 5:30 p.m. The route I charted took us around the town on the most brightly decorated streets. I charted the ride to visit every neighborhood in town starting with the historic district and winding through each subdivision. The darkest stretch was along the Old Plank Trail which allowed us to cross route 45 a major thoroughfare safely. After an hour of slow riding a chill beset us and there was a mist in the air. One rider, dressed as he would for a twenty-mile an hour training ride was on the verge of hypothermia, so I directed him to the town center via a short cut to a warming place. The rest of the troupe valiantly proceeded for another half hour. The grand finale took us down Ginger Lane where the folks decorate the parkway trees as well as their homes. Residents wrap each tree trunk with green lights, and the canopy is strung in white. Riding down this curvy street arched in lights has a magic about it to put a person in the right Christmas spirit. Most of us had decorated our bicycles with battery powered mini lights to make the entourage just as intriguing. The neighbors who were out walking the displays, and those still hanging lights were surprised to see a chain of lighted bicycles powered by riders with Santa hats, reindeer antlers and Elf adornments streaming down the street all lit up. We ended the ride ready for a meal. A rider asked me if I made reservations at a restaurant. I replied, “in this sleepy town at this hour there will be no need for reservations.”

Upon our return at 7:30 cold, and damp there was a marked difference in town. There were cars parked everywhere. We scurried to load our bikes onto our cars and to head to the Kansas Street Grill across the street. I hurried across the street to get a table arranged while the rest of the group locked their bikes.

“I’m sorry sir, but the wait is forty-five minutes.”

“What?”

“Forty-five minutes.” That folks, is how I learned about Frankfort’s Midnight Madness.

At this point, I had twenty surly and hungry bike riders who had one thing on their mind, well several things: get warm, get a drink, get some food.

Don’t panic, I said to myself. Think!

“Let’s all go to visit Brent at the bike shop across the street,” I said.

Thankfully Brent a fellow bike club member welcomed us with open arms. Next door to Brent’s bike shop was a new pizza place with an empty room. I walked in and asked how long it would take them to seat a party of twenty.

“Ten minutes,” was the reply.

“Thank you Lord,” I whispered under my breath. I went next door to tell the group the new plan and to drink some warm cider.

The Christmas Lights Ride launched Tony’s Villa Rosa that night. The place became a village focal point from that point on until Tony decided he didn’t love his wife anymore and divorced her for another woman. Tony’s Villa Rosa is no longer in business.

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Life Can Change in a Moment

The summer after freshman year in high school was one of my best. My level of activity was high. I had achieved a new level of ability and confidence. I filled the days with activity that involved my grammar school friends. During the school year we were not able to spend time with each other as before because of all our school activities. Some of my friends got jobs that kept them from hanging around as much. My own job was becoming more a part of my life. Mr. Tumey increased my hours, so I worked several days during the week, and on Saturday too. In between all the grocery work, I caddied at Ravisloe Country Club as often as I could. In spite of all the activities, the old gang met in the evenings after supper. We hung out at each other’s homes, at the corner store, or at the soda fountain. On most nights, I got home by 10 p.m. After ten we collected on someone’s front porch for a while. I played golf often with Joe Barath, Rich Makowski and Jack Adams. Most of the time, we rode to Jackson Park golf course on the street car; clubs and all.

The newspapers headlined stories about the polio epidemic almost daily. Mom kept me away from the beaches and crowded places where I might come in contact with the virus. Our gang wasn’t big for beaches anyway, although we did occasionally take the streetcar to Rainbow Beach near 75th Street.

The summer of 1953 was hot and dry. I rode my bike to and from Tumey’s, and pedaled anywhere I needed to go in the neighborhood. If a friend was with me I let him sit on the top tube while I pedaled. The big basket hanging off the front made it impossible to ride someone on the handlebars.

In August, I celebrated my fifteenth birthday. School was only a few weeks away and I dreamed about trying out for football. A lot of my friends were going to do the same at their schools. On the Monday after my birthday, I remember playing eighteen holes of golf with my buddies in the morning. We got home by noon. After lunch, I rode to Tumey’s on an intensely hot sunny afternoon, and delivered groceries until closing. The temperature was in the ninety’s during the ride home. After supper I went to hang with my friends. That night we had a great time socializing, and stayed out on the porch until eleven. Finally, I went to bed. The next day was another work day.

I slept late, and woke up with a giant headache. My throat hurt so bad it hurt to swallow. When I rolled out of bed, my neck was stiff, and so sore I couldn’t move my head. Mom came to check on me. She felt my forehead and declared that I had a fever. I went back to sleep. When I didn’t get out of bed at noon she checked my temp with the glass thermometer. She called Dr. Horner to ask for advice. He said he would come over after his office hours.

Dr. Horner’s office was on 79th and Cottage Grove Avenue so it wasn’t far for him to come by car. My neck kept getting stiffer and stiffer, my throat was on fire, and I ached from head to toe with the fever. Bright light from the window made my head hurt more. I slept most of the day. The doctor arrived around supper and examined me. He took Mom outside to talk. He told her that I had polio and needed to be hospitalized immediately. It took a couple of hours, but that night an ambulance took me to Contagious Disease Hospital at 26th and California.

By the time I got my ride in the ambulance, I didn’t care what was happening. The fever made me delirious. Visions of football tryout looped continuously through my mind . . .

Pea Pod Prototype

Black and White image of Delibike in Buenos Aires

Image via Wikipedia

The Pea Pod Prototype

During the second semester of freshman year I befriended a boy named Frank, who lived in Roseland. He also rode his bike to school every day. He told me about a really great after school job he had delivering groceries for Tumey’s grocery store at 115th and Wentworth. Frank said the store owner could always use help on a part time basis. He probably wanted to quit his job and needed to recruit his replacement.

At home, I approached Mom with the idea of allowing me to work at Tumey’s after school. I already rode my bike to school, and the store was just another half mile further. She agreed and I went to Tumey’s with Frank to apply for the job.

My bike had a big basket mounted on the front from my paper route, and it was ready for the job. Mr. Tumey hired me for two days a week. At first I didn’t get to deliver anything. Mr. Tumey handed me a broom, and told me to sweep the floor. I did a great job of it. Next, he asked me to stack cereal boxes on the top shelf. I used the tongs on the end of a long pole to put them up there. The next time, he gave me a bucket of ammonia water, a brush on a pole, and a large squeegee. He took me outside and showed me how to wash the windows. Each day I went, he had another job for me.

Eventually, a telephone order came for groceries. Mrs. Tumey made a list on a paper-bag. When the list was done she wrote the address on the same bag. The Tumey’s knew all of the phone customers very well because the same people also shopped in the store when they could.

Mrs. Tumey ran around the little store collecting all of the items on the list and put them into a box. Mr. Tumey cut the meat items and wrapped them. Once she completed the list, she added the bill and recorded the amount on a receipt in her book. One copy went to the customer, the other stayed in the book.

It was time for delivery, and they called me from my sweeping job to take the order. Finally, after a couple of weeks at work I would be delivering groceries on my trusty bike.

The box looked very large, but I put both arms around it and lifted. Wow! That box was heavy. I could barely make it out the front door. Outside, I stood in front of the bike holding a box which made the veins pop out of my head. How do I get the box into the basket when the bike is leaning over on the kickstand? I took the box back in, then came out and propped the bike against the building. I wrestled the box up into the basket. It hung up on the wires half way in. That’s stupid, I told myself, the next time I’ll fit the empty box into the basket before she loads it up.

During the next challenge I rode three blocks with this huge load up front. My Sunday newspaper loads were heavy too, and I was accustomed to a loaded front wheel, but this box was at least double the heaviest paper load.

With every bump I heard bottles clinking against each other. Now, I know why Schwinn sells a delivery bike with the small front wheel and the huge basket. I wished I had one right then and there! My basket stood high above the wheel and made the bike unstable with a high center of gravity. On a delivery bike the load is low to the ground. A delivery bike also has a kick stand that holds the front wheel straight and off the ground. It keeps the bike rock solid. The basket is lower and wider making it much easier to load and unload.

My first delivery went to a customer who lived on a block of two and three flats. This lady lived on the third floor. I had to use the open back stairway for delivery. Somehow, I wrestled the box out of the basket. The road vibration had settled it in place. Miraculously, the bike didn’t tip over while I pried the box from the basket, and nothing fell out.

The box weighed at least thirty pounds, and I weighed ninety. The climb up the stairs was like climbing Mount Everest. By the time I got to the last landing my arms were tired, my legs were shaking, and I could feel the box slipping out of my fingers. What did I get myself into, I kept thinking?

God was with me all the way because I made it. I pressed the bell with a knuckle and then rested by pushing the box against the building. The lady took her sweet time to answer the door but finally came. She told me to place the box on the kitchen table. I politely handed her the bill and she paid. Ceremoniously, she awarded me with a quarter.

As I rode back, I felt a cold breeze drying the hot sweat from my back.

That first trip taught me a lot about packing boxes, and making them lighter. It made sense to split a large heavy load into a couple of trips.

The Tumey’s had a son named Gil. He didn’t work in the store. Gill came home from school in his baseball uniform. He played on the Fenger High School team and practiced after school. He came in, kissed his mom, said hi to his dad, grabbed a snack, and disappeared to the apartment upstairs.

When the store closed at 5:30 I rode home taking every short cut I knew and rolled in at 6:00 p.m. just as Mom put supper on the table.

Bicycle Commuting in 1952

BIKE COMMUTING

After the first couple of weeks of riding the streetcar to high school, it was time to ride my bike back and forth.  She was hard to convince, but Mom finally relented and allowed me to do it.

Why it was so important for me to do it, I don’t know.  Maybe it was the adventure of riding a little over three miles from home on streets that were all strange. My paper-route basket was able to carry my books without any trouble.  This was the first school year that I didn’t deliver papers in a long time.

I plotted a route to take Woodlawn Avenue south all the way to the dead-end at 99th Street.  A right turn swung me toward Cottage Grove.  A left turn put me on Cottage Grove Avenue where I followed the streetcar tracks up to 103rd Street.  At 103rd Street I ducked right under and through the  viaduct to Dauphin Avenue. Dauphin runs parallel to the Illinois Central tracks in a southwesterly direction. It is a narrow street with little to no traffic.  I stayed on Dauphin up 109th where it stopped. I zigged west to Eberhart which turns into 110th place, and finally dead ends at South Park Avenue (Martin Luther King Jr. Drive). I rode the sidewalk along the Mendel property fence to the school gate. On a busy day, I might see two cars during the trip. The twenty-five minutes  it took to ride was less than using the streetcar, especially if the cars were running slow.

Bike route from home to Mendel High School

I parked in a very long bicycle shed with room for fifty bikes behind the Rec Center.  It had three walls and a roof.  There, I locked my bike to the rack and walked the path to the building.  The total distance was short, but I felt like I had ridden to the end of the world.

It wasn’t long before the days got shorter and the weather turned nasty and I was back on the streetcar again.

Let’s Have Some Competition

One of the arguments, I have heard about why we need big government run health care reform is that the evil insurance companies need some competition. Why is it that the insurance companies are restricted to practice in a specific state? Wouldn’t it make sense that the private sector would compete vigorously if they were allowed to?

My guess is that there have been problems with insurance claims in each state. Our law makers, in their infinite wisdom, and their drive to get re-elected, proposed new rules to protect us from those evil insurers. The result, fifty states with fifty different sets of rules about  how to run an insurance company. There went the competition between states.

If  uncle is really serious about health care reform, he would set up some simple standards for heath care insurance, similar to those used by Medicare supplements.  Why is it necessary to set up a totally unfair government run insurance company to compete against the private sector, when a simple set of standards would be enough?

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