Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Sad and Sorrowful Mistake

It is easy, in the course of human events, to make mistakes. I'm not sure who said that, but I would not be surprised to find out that it was me, since making mistakes seems to be my purpose here on Mars. Please understand: making a mistake implies reasoned thought. Blundering about like a blindfolded man in a house of mirrors is all well and good but not applicable to the making of mistakes. That little chore is reserved for those of us who think before we act and then get it wrong anyway.

Enter The Evil Empire
Yeah, I'm talking about Walmart. No, not Walmart, I'm talking about myself. Well okay, I am talking about Me and Walmart and reasoned decisions and the making of mistakes.

I once read somewhere, probably Mad magazine or Playboy, that there is no such thing as a failed experiment. Experiments are conducted to test hypotheses, to find out what happens when THIS is done to THAT. The results are drawn up and reported and the cumulative gathering of Universal Knowledge is increased and we know what will happen if THIS then THAT.

And yet we elected dedicated war-mongers named Bush to the presidency more than once and probably will do it again (there's one left) (but maybe not,  'cause Jeb must be the adopted Bush. He is smart and competent and not at all war-mongering and if it is him or Hillary in 2016 I'll vote for both.) So the advancement of scientific knowledge ain't that much compared to the powers of marketing.

[editors note: I must have been out sick or on drugs the week we studied sentence structure at the reformatory. Add it to my guilt and I'll pay ya next Tuesday.]

Yeah, Baby, MARKETING! But I can't even blame that. I looked at the product, fondled it, rode it down the aisles of the store, lovingly stroked the over-fed bulge in my pocket, (my wallet, you pervs) and pulled the trigger, like Hemingway after his last shock treatment.

Return To Fornever
The OX29 is back in the unloving arms of the corporate creche called Walmart Returns and I am here to tell you why and to seek expiation and refunds as I, my heart full of sorrow, shed myself of yet another bad choice. I have done it with friends and women, automobiles and all manner of four legged creatures, and it never makes me happy when I do it and when it is over, my already monumental guilt is yet further increased.

But at least with Walmart I got my money back.

The overwhelming picture of the Walmart Bicycle Tragedy is that they market bicycles as toys. The bicycle display is on the farthest edge of the Known Universe. (No, wait...the bicycle display is on the edge of the toy shelves between the fondle-me-elmos and the camp-if-you-dare equipment. The Known Universe ain't no where around here.)

So...I rode the OX 29 last yesterday to the bank to make a $20 withdrawal to sustain my drug habit. (Budweiser). On the way, I kept noticing the overall cheapness of the poor old darlin' OX and I was confronted with the realization that ultimately, were I to correct the inexhaustible savagery of the corporate avarice that resulted in this sad monster beneath my feet I would have to replace everything: spokes, handlebars, stem, cranks, hubs, everything. And I would still have a bicycle that was nothing more than a toy.

Sad Reality
Always in our lives we are sooner or later faced with the painful necessity of parting with loved objects, whether they are named Raggedy Ann or Hello Kitty, PeeWee Herman or yes, even  Rosebud.  Be that as it may, one of my greatest strengths has always been my infallible integrity in taking responsibility for my own actions and so, full of self-righteousness and beer, I blame Walmart. 

Why? I don't really know.  The only option to shopping at Walmart for the "dry goods" that life requires involves going to a place called Dollar General, or Family Dollar, neither of which are locally owned either and as near as I can tell are just Baby Walmarts with even crappier products on the shelf, if that is even possible.  So Walmart screwed me in more ways than one, by offering up ultimately useless items at their store and  making sure that I have to shop with them or go to a different place that is just the same.  What is the answer?  Well, I usually think of Armed Revolution at moments like this.  So I guess I will have to go to Walmart to buy a gun and some bullets.  Oh man, this is making my head hurt. 

And so I Took It Back, I got my cash returned and I bought some underwear and a spare tube for Little Miss Dangerous and a pack of those excellent Skabs no-glue patches and then I got the hell outta there.

And Thus And So On...
Am I bitter? Well, what does it sound like? I took a much misaligned American Institution, gave it an honest chance and a fair break, wrote a positive (yet honest) early report, but then, like the penny-pinching prickly pricks that they are, they failed to reinforce my purchase with yet MORE cheap-ass marketing and sub-corterial brainwashing. How dare they?! With all the money Walmart makes the least they could do is plant chips in each of their crappy products that transmit pleasure signals into my cerebral context, (at least what's left of it), signals that would make me continue drinking the kool-aid and enjoying the screwing they are handing out to me and my fellow Walmart Shoppers.

But no.

In The Name Of The Father
In the clear light of a beautiful Florida Sunday, drenched in chilled sunshine and pedaling far too slowly towards the ATM, I heard the voice of Eldon Joe Comstock, my father and source of all things guilt-ridden, call out in that clear, mellifluous voice: “You're stupid! That piece of shit won't last a month! You wasted all that money on that piece of crap and you look like a dumbass pedaling around on that big kid's toy!”

His nickname was Corky Joe and he was a fireman, until his drunk ass fell off the back of the fire truck one time too many.

“Fire Chief One behind you, Unit Seven, someone's coat just blew off the truck.”

“Roger that, Chief, continuing on to the scene.”

“Unit Seven, hold on...Christ, that ain't a coat, it's Corky Joe, slow down, he's up and running for the truck!”

“Say again, Chief?”

“ It''s Corky, he fell off at the corner and came up running. Hold back and let him get back on board.”

“Roger that Chief...”

And Then, And Then Again
How do you measure yourself to that kind of standard? He was always the one who charged into the burning building and the only reason the department put up with his crap for so long had to do with stuff I won't talk about here because it would sound like bragging and because he wouldn't want to hear me tell it. They finally had to retire him early at the age of thirty five and he came down to Ft. Lauderdale and got back into the Comstock Family trade of carpenter; he was immediately absorbed into the Union and a few years later, so was I. He never once minced words and having faced pure fire and chased down fire trucks that he was supposed to be riding on, having pulled friends out of the fire and finally, succumbing to diabetes and hard living and more than a little intimacy with drink, he said “see ya later” at the age of 42.

Walmart Is Stoopid
What does all this have to do with bicycles and Walmart? Well, I'll tell ya. I am not angry that the OX29 was ultimately a failed project. I am a one who imbues anthropomorphic qualities into all my favorite things. But the OX was not a thing, it was a construct. Composed of all things false, even the design was doomed. Those 48 spoke wheels and coaster hub were heavy, bad and irreplaceable. The spoke nipples started rusting right away and there was some kind of corrosive action taking place between the spokes and wheels that was obviously unsustainable. Replacement tubes were special order and Walmart was a month out on getting those tubes.  I had the impression that they were imaginary tubes talked about to prevent frustrated violence in the toy department.

And all of this inside of a couple weeks.  This bike did not promise future trouble;  it promised not to BE here in the future.

I will not remember the OX29 as a favorite thing; there are far too many objects and creatures and people in my life that deserve that sobriquet far more than does any object spawned by the Evil Empire that Sam built.

Wrap It Up,  I'll Take It
I don't know, man.  Those big twenty-nine inch tires were a real blast.  I will one day have another bike that can carry big rubber like that bike did, but it will have a free wheel hub and a slightly more aggresive  position.  I gotta work on finding that bike... It is sad, really, that this is the way it all works out;  bicycles are machines, not toys;  we use our bicycles as toys sometimes but they are machines while we do it, they are equipment, tools...there is an inherent danger in selling a toy to a person who really needs a machine or a tool, it is symbolic of our current state of the union that the richest company in America is so confused or intrinsically dishonest that they will sell toys, (and highly flawed toys at that) to trusting and fool hardy Walmart Shoppers like me.

They also sell guns and bullets and THAT is a bit unsettling...

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Anti-Walmart Action Commitee

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sailing Away

There is a sail far off on the distant horizon. By the color change in the water I can tell how far offshore that sail is and by the size and shape of the sails I can tell that it is a big boat, probably more than a little over sixty feet and swift and sure and headed south off the East Coast of Florida on a gloriously chilled November day. The fact that it is that far offshore for this time of year is indication enough of the size of the vessel and the proclivities of the captain.

 But what of that?

Am I not the captain myself of this here little old Schwinn Super Le Tour?  A Black Pearl of a bicycle and together this day we have slain city buses, scorched miles of bike trail and conquered big bridges! Together this day we have covered many miles, swift and sure our ownselves, surviving catastrophic bus rides, surly drivers, rehab bound vagrants and a wind from the North that has grown incrementally stronger as the morning passes.

We Put In For Supplies
I am sitting at that Little Market by the Sea that is almost fifty miles from the Whispering Pines Trailer Park and I am glad to be here. I am doing my best to sip this big can of Heineken slowly and take a proper break that does not involve hurtling down the highway at the speed of dangerous. But my old nemesis Aeolus is here today, apparently hung over (and angry about it) and he cannot seem to leave me alone.

I have many times trekked to this little market and in many different situations over the last thirty years. It is an absolutely unsexy spot but it is sexy enough, in its own Florida fashion. I love this place and would be buried here if not for foolish ordinances about putting graves in front of convenience stores. No mausoleums here: just bait and beer and concrete tables and the Atlantic Ocean. Not bad companions, really, all things considered.

My Vessel
Little Miss Dangerous looks pretty sexy herself, leaning against the turquoise wall of the shuttered ice cream shop next to the market. Something is not quite right with the shifting. On the ten mile sprint into the wind after the last bus ride she started ghost shifting, or chain skipping, or some technical term I don't know. She wants to shift under stress but somehow she always shifts to the gear I would have chosen anyway so it is a pleasant problem. I was careful placing her in the rack on the front of the bus, but another passenger, a big guy who looked like Grizzly Adams, had put his Mountain Man bicycle on the rack at the stop after I got on so...well, I ain't sayin' he bent my derailleur and it doesn't look bent but those Mountain Men can be pretty rough.

The Wind Works For ME
I drain my beer and set the empty can, snug in its little brown bag, on the concrete table top. Aeolus promptly knocks it off with an impolite gust. I am not impressed.

“Not today, Pal. That bus kicked your ass and I didn't do bad myself. So you just save your breath for the ride home. I'm counting on a nice little sleigh ride out of you, and no back talk, unless you are talking behind my back and pushing at the same time. Got it?”

He snaps the flag flying on the pole in front of the store with a challenging CRACK! But I remain aloof to his bullying; today I used the bus and was writing and looking at schedules and bouncing around like a jack in the box while trying to think up ways to sneak beer onto the bus while the Wind and the Behemoth fought it out without my help. I bend down and pick up the empty can, toss it into the trash and go back into the store.

A Port I Never Visited
There's a lot of traffic on this old seaside highway and I wonder why. The sun is out and doing a good job and it is a beautiful day for a drive; but these people seem to be going somewhere. But where? Then I am reminded that quite a while back some giant corporation built an entire city just a few miles north of here. Probably Walmart.  A planned community for thousands of people that unsurprisingly did not work out the way  they planned. Many of my carpenter buddies worked on this project, commuting an hour each way. The pay was good enough and they were glad to have the work. For them it was better than traveling the Gulf Coast States with me, living in cheap motels and working fifteen hour days far from home. I lost a lot of crew to that pseudo-city and never have I liked it since.

Log Entry
This second beer is pretty tasty and I am wondering, should I pedal on up there and have a look around? I have never actually been there...these honey roasted peanuts sure taste good with this Heineken-In-A-Bag...

The wind is staying strong out of the North. I have to keep a hand on the half-empty, no, half-full... wait...I have to hang onto what is left of my beer as Aeolus, ever rude, attempts to snatch it away. It is about 75 degrees Fahrenheit and the Sun is a sultry friend as I sit here across from the good ol' Atlantic Ocean in November in Florida. Right now there is no place I would rather be and man, ya gotta grab these moments while ya can. What a day! And not quite half over! 

Inventory of Ship's Stores
 I bought a quart of “Smart Water” on the way here and it is in my Goodwill messenger bag along with a little Topeak pump (thanks KAZ!) and two bananas, one last bag of peanuts and some kind of Power Bars for which I paid way too much money.  There was a boiled egg in there earlier that I tossed in at the last minute, thinking “Hey, it comes in its own protective wrapper!” That didn't work out so good but I ate the remains anyway. 

Prepare To Cast Off
 I am at peace with my place in time and space and I have a fifty mile ride home, with a strong tailwind all the way. The sailboat is gone, heading on south and it would be a good idea for me to do the same. I throw away my scraps like a good little beer drinkin' Boy Scout. I sling my Goodwill messenger bag (that I feel naked without) over my right shoulder and I pull on my gloves. I am beer fueled and strong, peanut fed and linty-egg reinforced. Through craft and the luck of the season, the wind is in my favor and as I climb onto the saddle of Little Miss Dangerous, I take a last look around.  This place is far enough from home that I don't get here very often.  It is a place of rarity and that makes it special, also.

And Then...
I point her south on the freshly paved shoulder, hit the first three pedal strokes standing up and just like that, The Trailer Park Cyclist is in flight. The Atlantic Ocean is on my left hand and always will be and Good Ol' Florida is here on my right. I am at home, in every sense of the word, and I am soaring into the ever unknowable future, happy for a day like this one, once in a while; the future will be what it will be but today, right now, the Ol' TPC is in flight and happy and that is how it should be.

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Travel Guide

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Reality of Intermodality

No One Here Gets Out Alive
The Trailer Park Cyclist is a nervous wreck. I am sitting in the front seat of a Volusia Transit Authority Bus, hurtling down the highway at what must be (at least) 100 miles per hour. Perched daintily and all too precariously on the rack just on the other side of the giant windshield is Me Little Darlin'. She looks like a storefront display of a fine old bicycle. But she is rattling and rocking around out there, buffeted about by the light headwind we are pushing into and rocked by the lurching and rolling of this rampaging behemoth. Every time the maniac driver at the wheel of this lunatic machine slams on the brakes to pick up another passenger my beloved bicycle jerks forward and I am certain that she will break free and go spinning down the highway in a shower of sparks and broken dreams.

I realize that I am going to die, but the other passengers seem nonchalant, oblivious to our imminent doom. They chat lightheartedly of sporting results and the sad job market and the recent arrests and incarcerations of people I don't know. They talk about good deals at thrift shops and things their dogs did and other mundane matters as if everything is just fine while I sit and try to remember a prayer and I find myself wishing that I had said more solemn and deep goodbyes to the Blonde and Miss Daisy the Yellow Dog.

Farewell, Old Friends! Remember me! Remember me and bury me with what is left of my bicycle!

Then, just like that, we are at the place where I leap forth to safety and quickly grab my steed from the maw of this rampaging monster. I take her down, relieved to see that she is none the worse for the horrific experience. I glance around and pull on my gloves. I am fifteen miles from the Whispering Pines at a spot that normally takes me most of an hour to reach, especially when riding into a headwind like today. In fifteen minutes I have covered a brisk morning's ride worth of ground and as the bus pulls away, spewing heat and black exhaust and bad memories, I saddle up and pedal off North. I have to hurry. I have to be at the next bus stop in twenty minutes. I have to pedal down the road and over the second-biggest bridge in the county and then to the spot by the Ocean where I will once again place my bicycle into the flimsy rack on the front of yet another Galloping Gargantua and foolishly enter into the Belly of the Beast, thus dooming myself to certain death.

Voyage of Discovery
I am on the first stage of a new experiment in Intermodal Transportation. Having criss-crossed my riding grounds on every conceivable pattern of road I can find, I have grown weary of the same old scenery and the predictability of which dog will chase me, where I will see peacocks, the certain knowledge of the relative temperature of various beers at various stores on various has all become a summer re-run and I want to go Way On Out There without spending the night. Well, I am interested in sleep-overs also, but not yet. Not yet. I have always noticed the racks for bicycles on the front of the Votran buses, but I have never used them. I never use the bus, for that matter. Why would I? I am, after all, a Cyclist! One of the Chosen! Buses? Hah! Who needs them?

But then, like a vision from the Great Crustacean In the Sky, it occurred to me: “You could ride the bus, get off when it changes away from the straight course to wherever, then switch to another bus and so on until you are Far, Far Away...”

Why Not?
And so here we are, pedaling pretty fast up the second-biggest bridge in the county, up and over the Halifax River; here we are blasting down the far side; it is still early and there is a mist on the River and I can see a pod of dolphins way below, but there is no time for sight-seeing, we have a bus to catch and it is still a mile to the bus stop. I am a New Age Intermodal Pony Express Rider, Yee Hah! I carry urgent documents and bananas and trail mix and to be late is to fail!

Made It! But...
But never do we fail and it was just plain fun to pull up and brake hard at the bus stop, startling a pony-tailed old hippie nodding quietly over a morning cigarette and waiting for the morning bus to the methadone clinic, a dollar bill fluttering in his hand like a forlorn reminder of what might have been. I am panting a little and flush with the knowledge that I beat the clock as I hear the now-familiar huffing and squealing and roaring behind me that tells me the bus is on time. I turn and position Little Miss Dangerous to get her into the rack as swiftly as possible. Just after sunrise this very morning I had learned the Way of the Rack, and I was uncertain and clumsy in my moves. But not now. Now I had it down. Now I was a pro!

But as the bus pulled up, I realized something was wrong: there were already two bicycles in the rack! Those stupid government-bus racks only hold two bicycles!

Argh! Ding Dang Dammit! Now what?!

The driver opens the door with a loud swoosh. These monstrous machines are a veritable symphony of sounds and smells. My stop-mate shuffles forward onto the bus. I look at the driver.

“How long until the next bus?” I ask, hoping for a miracle.

"Twenty minutes,” he says. I am jacked up, ready for action. Twenty minutes? In twenty minutes I could be pretty far down the road, bus or no bus.

But you are trying to figure out Intermodal Transportation Alternatives, said the Voice.

“I'll intermodal YOU, Voice! And shut up, I got riding to do!” 

Pursuit Race
 Frustrated by this unforeseen development, I jump on and pedal off in pursuit of the bus. I am Old Tim Joe of the Intermodal Pony Express and the mail, these bananas and this trail mix must get through on time! It is half-past eight in the morning, the air is clear and fine as seagulls and pelicans circle over the tops of the palm trees that line the beachfront road. They whistle and screech and dive and further encourage my efforts as I sprint forward on the abandoned roadway. The rows of high-rise condominiums effectively block the wind and this is a wide-open chance for an aging cyclist to throw down for a sprint and see what he can do.

 Far ahead, I see that stupid overloaded bus that has left me on my own pull over to pick up some more passengers. I bend down into the drops and regulate my breathing into deep, long pulls and I reach for the right-hand down tube shifter and I jam it forward like I mean it. The thirty-one-year-old rear derailleur moves the one-year-old SRAM chain over onto the one-year-old SRAM  cassette and the bike goes 'clunk' in that satisfying and reliable way that it has and I am kickin' it now, baby. 

I am Old Tim Joe and I put this bicycle together with my own two hands and I am propelling it with my own two legs and I might be fifty-seven years old, (and dog years at that) but I ain't dead yet. I am close enough now to read the number on the back of the bus, it is bus number 5309 and it is pulling away; it has loaded its passengers and it is pulling away from the stop and accelerating off into the distance.

I back off a little but I keep going. I look over my shoulder to the outside lane and there is no one there. We have the road to ourselves, me and this bus. Looking up, I see 5309 pull over for still more curbside customers

“Who are all these people?,” I wonder to myself.

If we had waited for the next bus we would have found out, said the Voice. Plus you are planning to go pretty far today and it is only early morning and you seem to be using a lot of juice.

“Yeah, Voice, but check it out: I caught him.” It was true. I was fairly flying now and I had caught the bus. As I sailed by, I smiled a fake smile at the driver and waved sarcastically. I kept going and I could hear the roar of his motors behind me. It sounded like a damn jet airplane was coming after me and I smiled grimly and got back into the drops. As the bus passed me, I glanced over at the driver. He did a perfect imitation of my fake smile and sarcastic wave and revved his motor a little as he pulled away.

I can see groups of two or three at the line of stops ahead. He ain't goin' nowhere. I crank it down. It is half-past eight in the morning and Daytona is still asleep here in the tourist area. The traffic has not yet started and me and Ol' Ralph Kramden have plenty of space for our little race. He passes me again and then stops. I blow by and wave.

This goes on for more than a few miles and then, aided by a long row of empty stops, he leaves me once and for all.

But not really. In his effort to outpace my furious pedaling he has apparently got a little ahead of his schedule. Here he is, moments later, paused at a stop to let the clock catch up. The two bicycles are gone from the front rack.

Votran 5309 is mine. I casually slip up around to the front of the bus, resisting the impulse to shout “Boo!” into the open door. I rack up Little Miss Dangerous and climb on board. The driver smiles. He knows. I did it. Move over Motorized Monster! How dare such a clumsy contrivance as a City Bus attempt to better a Man on a Bicycle, the greatest form of transport ever imagined?

I swipe my day-pass with a dramatic flourish and smirk my way to a seat at the front.

'That's a nice bicycle,” the Driver said. 'Is it a Schwinn?”

“It sure is,” I reply, settling in for the ride.

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Intermodal Exchange

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Guest Post: Bill Hopp, the Anonymous Hoosier

Hello, everyone!  While I am out lurking in the Toy Aisle at Walmart, gathering more material for yet another Big Box Bicycle Rant, our friend Bill Hopp has sent in a little tale of how he got into cycling.  It is a rather familiar story, as I am sure you all will agree.  Enjoy!

A Grossly Subjective Portrait of the Cyclist as a Young Man

When There Was Ike...
At least in the White House, although I gave him little thought. Here along the Banks of the Wabash, there was a small pressed steel colorfully enameled tricycle on loan and a short stretch of sidewalk on South Center Street. I caught the bug.

Soon came the upgrade to a larger, but still very small, steel tube framed red & white tricycle, also on loan. My allowed range was increased to an entire circuit of our home block. This was living.

Up On Two Wheels
Or, four at first, counting the training wheels. My first bicycle, also on loan, wore the obligatory red and white. I doubt the wheels were so large as sixteen inches, but like the wheels of its three wheeled predecessors, they were shod in solid rubber. All three of these machines were, of course, fixies. Soon, I was not only allowed to round the home block, but occasionally an adjacent one.

It was on this bicycle that I learned the joys of speed and balance. I also learned the limits imposed by basic classical physics: as manifest in encounters with those pesky immovable objects such as large street trees; what happens when centrifugal versus centripetal force are not kept in mind; and good old gravity, frequently backstopped by concrete. For a few months I must always have worn a scab on at least one knee or forearm.

Before There were Cuban Missiles
When the last loaner was outgrown and returned to its rightful owner, during a shopping trip along Wabash Avenue with my mother, there came into my life what some then called a “big boy bike” It was of course red, had twenty-four inch wheels with pneumatic tires and coaster brakes. I was by this time more adept at negotiating turns and preserving balance. Could life be any better?

A Few Years Later
1967 actually, as reported in my comment regarding: New Bike. Multiple gear ratios came into my life. This Schwinn Collegiate with five speed dérailleur gearing was “it” for me. When not asleep, eating, mowing lawns, or at school, I did my best to live in motion on this machine.

An Atechnical Interlude
I grew up in a somewhat unhandy household. My parents were both bright and educated people. My late father, as an infant, lost his trainman father to a rail yard accident. He, in consequence, was raised by his mother and aunt, both of whom were schoolteachers but to my knowledge unskilled in the mechanical arts. My early (she is still very much with us) mother, the daughter of a mining/civil engineer was raised as a girl of her generation and not given much instruction of the sort lavished on boys. Thus the bane of my early cycling life on pneumatic tires was the puncture. At each occurrence, I was told to wait until my father could load the wounded bike into the trunk of his car for a trip to the bike shop, where my machine sometimes languished for days on end.

Along Comes Jeffrey
One day while off in the District of Columbia, LBJ was dreaming up his visions of a great and poverty-free society, I was riding bikes with my friend Jeff Bradford. Suddenly, my front tire lost pressure. Jeff said, “C'mon, I'll show you how to fix it!” He gave instructions and let me do much of the work. Lo' the repair process was simple and quick. The results imparted a great glow of satisfaction. I had been freed from the yoke of utter dependence. This experience planted in me the seeds of desire – the desire to fix things. For years I searched out the worn and the defective in order to lay hands on such things and to learn. Even today, sometimes it is difficult to appreciate things that simply function as intended.

Expanding Horizons
With a multi-speed bicycle and some repair and maintenance skills, more and more of one's home area becomes irresistible to exploration. A thing that is hard not to notice while riding a bicycle, even in a smallish city, is that other people, who were not previously your friends, ride and enjoy bicycles too. They often smile and offer greetings. Without really trying, you find that you have new friends. Then you discover that there is such a thing as a cycling club, with monthly meetings and Saturday morning group rides and Wednesday evening group rides. Soon there is a card in your wallet identifying you as a member of the Wabash Wheelmen (now sadly defunct). Then you also become a card-carrying member of the League of American Wheelmen (still around, but with a new name). Naturally enough, you eventually travel to Bloomington, Indiana with a group of club members and you all participate in the Hilly Hundred, a two day two-wheeled extravaganza.

After an equipment upgrade, you find yourself going on an actual century ride one fine summer Saturday.

The Birth of Said Upgrade
Acquiring and riding the Collegiate was was the thing that first got me in touch with brand loyalty. As the frame got too small, and the gears began to seem too few, there was born in me the burning consumerist desire for: another Schwinn. It was to be a Varsity, with ten speeds, no fenders, and drop handle bars. By late summer of 1970, a plan came into focus: save money. The raking and mowing of neighbor's lawns took on a new significance, one that extended into the spring of 1971. Meanwhile, the list price of a Varsity had risen from $81.95 to $89.95. Yet, there was no wavering. I continued to save. I may even have scrimped a time or two, but that is much in doubt. My target was $120.00, as I had to allow for possible impulse accessory purchases, last minute price changes, and my youthful fear that Indiana might raise her sales tax rate above the already confiscatory 2%.

Der Tag
One fine late spring day in 1971, my pocket full of dollars, I headed to Frank's Cycle Center to make my dreams come true.

Reality Intrudes
Bicycle boom? What bicycle boom? Not a single Varsity in stock? Backorder! How long will that take? You don't know? No problem. A Continental is expensive at $104.95 plus tax, but I have enough money for that. Oh, same story as the Varsity...

Bob Upsells
Bob, nephew of Keith, and grandson of the late Frank, pointed me to the two remaining Schwinn ten speeds in the store. One was a Sports Tourer, priced at $196.00, or about the same level as the then national debt. I could barely look at it, it was so far out of my financial reach. The other was a Super Sport, tantalizingly almost within reach at $136.95. I quickly realized that after tax the price would approach $140.00, or given the fact that I had not quite achieved my savings goal of $120.00,  more than $20.00 beyond my means.

Quietly and Patiently on the Sidelines
There was Mom, who quietly and generously offered to make up the difference and to pop for a generator light set. The light set appeared primarily at maternal insistence, although this did not evolve into the sort of pitched battle that raged years before, when she insisted that a basket be mounted on my Collegiate, spoiling its clean lines and slowing (I was certain) my swift progress. (Yes Mom, I love bicycle baskets now, but you gotta give a guy a few decades to work through these things...)

I liked the idea of lights, because I liked (and like) to ride at night and in the early morning and, even so early as the first Nixon administration, the word “safety” was in current, if not common use.

Heretofore (remember we are still in 1971), I had met with frustration when attempting to light my youthful way. These were the days before alkaline batteries and LED lamps. Earlier, I had installed my own battery operated headlamps, only to find that they generally emitted a feeble glow as I pedaled out and that this glow usually faded faster than that of the sinking sun. For its day, the “Schwinn Approved” generator light set was a good enough technology and not one that broke the bank. Mom and I were in agreement. Thanks Mom.

Dealer Prep
Does such a thing still apply to the world of the LBS? It took a few days, but the return trip to pick up and ride away on my brand new Sierra Brown machine finally came. As I saddled up I told Bob that I was going to ride home and remove the toe clips. He suggested that I might want to see if I liked them first. Two miles later, I loved the clips.

What Happened 
I rode and I rode and I loved riding. Many miles were covered, on both Schwinns, one at a time, of necessity.

Then came the first “Indiana Operator Driver License” – that is what the new one calls itself. I believe the old card stock and photoless one was simply labeled “Indiana Operator's License”, which seems more grammatically in sync with what once was called correct.

There was also an early, and fleeting (may have had something to do with “early”), marriage.

Although they received less attention, the Violet Collegiate and Sierra brown Super Sport survived both above upheavals, and for several years thereafter. They even survived the arrival of a Cannondale in the mid 1980s. The Schwinns did not survive the dissolution of a second marriage a couple of years later. Said Cannondale did survive.

Purchased with more enthusiasm than reflection, my Cannondale was built on a frame too small for my frame. Fortunately, in the early 1990s a friend became enamored of the aluminum frame.

Thus with a with a mix and match of componentry and barter, the Cannondale morphed happily into a Centurion, with a larger steel frame. I decided I like steel. Aluminum is good for foil wrap, beer cans, and such, but when it comes to bicycle frames, I (like Grant Peterson), prefer steel.

Also during the early Clinton years, I noticed that many used bicycles come available here and they're for sale for not very many dollars. I had also talked to Ron, who collected British bicycles. Why not buy and ride a This, or maybe a That? Thereby was born the growing fleet - Hint to aspiring velomaniacs: it helps to have a really, really, understanding spouse, as I now do. And a garage. And a basement. And an Attic.

As noted, the old Collegiate is forever gone. The closest I have come to replacing it is a five speed Suburban (oh, and a ten speed Suburban and a three speed Suburban, and another five speed Suburban, but who would admit to such excess?) from a few years later. The hole left by the Super Sport is also being filled. Another 1971 Super Sport appeared via craigslist. It was even sold originally from the same shop as my dear departed. The frame is different in that it is the smaller 22”, not the 24”, and Campus green, not Sierra brown. Although advertised as “all original” it was missing its toe clips, the Brooks saddle had given way to a vinyl mattress a la Suburban and the original Randonneur style bars had been replace by a set of “cruiser” handlebars wide enough to steer the Exxon Valdez aground along any coastline of your choosing. I will happily live with the frame. As for the components? Well, some progress has been made.

The Anonymous Hoosier
Athens on the Wabash (a.k.a. Terre Haute)

Trailer Park Cyclist Guest Post #2

Monday, November 5, 2012

Walmart Bicycles and Ethical Salvation

What Would Jim Ride?
If you had over 21 Billion dollars in the bank, what kind of bicycle would you ride? Who knows? I barely have 21 Single dollars in the bank. But if you ask Jim Walton, youngest son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, he might be able to tell you. Because that is how much money Jim-Boy Walton has stashed under the mattress, which would make it hard to sleep at night if you ask me.

                                                                  Direct Deposit
Jim Walton doesn't work for Walmart. Instead he owns and operates several banks, thereby shrewdly cutting out the need to sell cheap crap to misfits like me in order to get his hands on their money. They just give it to him directly. But this ain't about Jim Walton. It is not even about Walmart, exactly. As always, it is All About the Bike. And Christmas. And China. This may take awhile.

Ride Report
Having now pedaled my new Walmart bicycle a little pedaling, maybe a couple hundred miles, I am prepared to report in. I love it. I love it, and everyone who sees it loves it. Everybody asks for a ride and they are always reluctant to get off. It is an intimidating monster at first, a veritable Clydesdale of a bike. But after they take a few laps around the parking lot of whatever saloon I am terrorizing I have created a new customer for the Walmart money machine.

The new bike, if you missed my previous post on the subject, is a Genesis Onyx 29 Beach Cruiser and it looks like this:

That's not mine, I stole the photo off the webinet but it looks like mine.

Hugh Again
And as I mentioned in the New Bike post, I would never have bought a bike from That Place except for the more or less positive experience my friend Hugh had in his bold Fixie Project. And now he is flirting with disaster yet again, looking at all manner of strange creations with two wheels, as well as searching for an affordable 29 inch mountain bike for a friend. In the course of his search and subsequent correspondence with his mildly shocked constituency someone said “But Hugh, your motto is “Rescue, Restore, Recycle! Oh, how could you, Hugh? Oh woe!  Oh woe is me!"  (I might be embellishing a little here.)

But that commenter missed something: Hugh DID in fact rescue, restore and recycle that Walmart bicycle. As did I with mine and will continue to do so as long as I have this bike, I suspect.

An Image Half Formed
When I brought it home the pedals would turn only reluctantly, and after braking (coaster brakes) it took a firm stomp on the pedal to get the cranks moving again. On my first ride to the beer store the handlebars came loose and flopped about like a wounded albatross. But I had my trusty multi-tool with me and I tightened things back down. Then on the way home I was rocking around on the seat like I had already killed those beers and a couple shots of tequila too.  When I got back to the trailer and dismounted the saddle dismounted also. But this was all stuff I had been warned about while studying up for my purchase and I was perversely happy that the predictions had come true. I didn't want to Not Like this bicycle but I would have been confused and disappointed if it had performed flawlessly. But there was no danger in that. This poor steed was a mess from the start.   And now: Christmas!

"...and a train, and a Walmart Bicycle, and ethical salvation."

Ethical EggNog
Today, although we no longer co-habitate, me and the blonde known on these pages as the Blonde remain close friends. Real close. The twins are seventeen now, but not always. Six years ago they were, uh, let's see..Twelve. And due to some of the putrid stinginess of the wealthy contractor I was working for at the time we didn't get a draw check until the last minute and thus found ourselves out there at Walmart at sundown on Christmas Eve. Moments later we were wrestling two shiny new kid's bikes into the mini-van and headed for home. Well, we were actually headed for the Eggnog Store for the ingredients of my Soul Survivor Christmas Blues Breaker Egg and Rum Punch.  Oh, yeah, baby!  Yow!

Everyone Should Get A Bike For Christmas
In those days I was no bike mechanic, I'll tell ya. That was back when I would still drop off at the Local Bike Shop whatever pawn-shop bicycle I owned  to have flats repaired. My knowledge of bicycles consisted of turning the pedals and watching out for buses. (Much the same as now, come to think of it.) But it was Christmas and I just got paid and two new bicycles were on their way home. Parts started falling off the next day and then the bikes simply disappeared and when I would ask later about their whereabouts I more or less got told “Don't Ask.”

What Is The Answer?
So I went back to my habit of buying hopefully higher grade-bicycles at pawnshops and paying bike mechanics at the LBS to tune, tweak, insult and charge me what always seemed like exorbitant rates. This was the Way of the Bike, I supposed, but then I started learning a little more learning and bought some tools and a work stand and now my trailer is more Bike Shop than dwelling place. I learned how to lube and tune and true and patch and I am a different guy now and poor and downtrodden but oddly happy about it all and of course that is primarily due to bicycles.

Ho Ho Ho
But now comes Christmas and somewhere in dark, damp cellars below Big Boxes All the World Over under-trained and underpaid and under-appreciated elves are rapidly slapping together bicycle-shaped objects in a feverish effort to meet demand. These bicycles, products of China, would be sub-par if carefully assembled by artisans like my friend Hugh (or even myself, on a good day.) But they are instead being wrenched together in some haphazard manner that makes me wonder why they even try. Oh yeah. Billions of dollars. Billions of fucking dollars for ripping off the very deserving populace. Everyone knows that place is full of crap but they don't care. Why? Because 'You can take it back.”

(I once read somewhere that Walmart has the deal rigged so they make a little money when something is returned. I don't know if this is true but it makes a kind of twisted sense. Charge the vendor you bought the crap from in the first place a “handling fee” and Hey Presto! The worse your merchandise sucks the more filthy lucre you make.)

My head hurts.

Do I have a point? Not really. Well, yes I do but it would take a series of articles to get to the point. So instead: China.
East Meets West
                                                                       China Style
Yeah. Now we're talking. Anytime ya find yourself in the mood to get started on a rant, Walmart is a handy jumping off point. But China? Whoo-boy! Human rights violations, constantly pushing their boundaries, polluting like it's 1999...and supplying Walmart. Once again, we have a vision of pure, unadulterated greed on a national level and...They're Communists! Dirty Commie Heathens taking over America one cheap bicycle at a time and polluting the hell out of half the planet while doing it! Who do they think they are? Victorian England? The U.S. Under any given Bush Administration?

Everybody's Doing It
Maybe it is just their turn. But since some people seem to be concerned with “ethics' (uncontrollable giggling) I will straighten all this out. There ain't no such thing. Ethics is just a name for guilt or an excuse for one varmint to arrest, shoot, chastise or feel sorry for another varmint. Is Walmart ethical? They wouldn't be if such a thing as ethics existed. We, (some of us, anyway), have a code of behavior that we live by. Some of us take small pleasure from certain instances of proper action or a job well done. Do we do it because of some ethical imperative? I don't think so. But hey, I live in a trailer. And yeah, I realize that entire libraries could be filled with all the studies, research, and hand-wringing done in the name of the Ethos of Ethics over the centuries but trust me when I say that we human beans have no more sense of ethical behavior than a bucket of amoebas when the chips are down and it is time to eat amoeba soup or die. Maybe THAT is the Original Sin that got us kicked out of Iraq, I mean the Garden of Eden in the first place: as soon as we knew the difference between right and wrong we started doing wrong. And by the way, if I'm not mistaken, China was already up and running and kickin' ass about the same time Eve pulled that stunt with the snake.

Everybody's Doin' It, Doin It...
Sure, China might kill us all with their wacky politics and governmental policies and absolute disregard for human rights or Mother Earth. They probably will. But there is delicious irony in some jackass like Mitt Romney or Jim Walton talking to us about “getting tough on China” when they and their ilk are the very same rotten bastards that created the China Syndrome by exercising, for generations now, such unlimited human avarice that the word “ethics” has become a punchline.

I'm glad we got this all cleared up.

But Seriously, Folks
What I am going to boil this all down to is that a question came up over at Hugh's Blog (sorry, man, I told you to get a restraining order) concerning Walmart Bicycles. I own one now, I love it, and so I am eminently  qualified to expound on the subject. This is it: I don't really own a Walmart Bicycle. I own a Trailer Park Ox29. It started as a Walmart Bicycle, but that was just the parts of the bicycle kinda assembled rather than handed to me in a bag. I rode it, or tried to, to determine if it was crap. It was. I took the rear coaster brake hub apart. It had grease in there, but I swear one of the bearings was in backwards. The brake shoes were misaligned, causing the lock-up problem. I slapped on a whole lot of lithium grease and carefully reassembled the hub. I carefully adjusted the tightness with my cone wrench. This all took less than an hour. Later, after about forty miles, the cranks were about to fall off. I disassembled the REALLY cheap-ass bottom bracket, greased it up and put it back. The lock ring for the BB is sorta integrated with the chain guard and I can tell it won't stay tight. I don't care. I'll just fix it again until I figure out how to make it stay on. But if I replace the bottom bracket with a new one, say a Shimano UN54, I might not be able to remount the Chain guard without some serious rigging. The head set is eternally loose and the bolts seem to be made of some kind of pseudo-metal.

But She's Mine And I love Her Anyway
But: I now have, as I said, about two hundred miles on this bike. I have loved every minute of it. The work I did, as I described above, is pretty much what I would have to do if I were fixing up an old Raleigh or Schwinn. The week I bought this bike there were several enticing bicycles on Craigslist for a lot less money than I paid for the Ox. But none of them were 29 inch-wheeled Beach Cruisers with 48 spoke wheels, fenders and a chain guard. As near as I can tell, it is the only such beast in existence.

I Am Not Alone
There are a couple websites on the Internet devoted to shlubs like myself who actually purchase these monstrosities and brag about it. It is more about bicycle tinkering than bicycle riding, but the tinkering, for some of us, is half the fun. Ethics never comes up.

A Vision of Heaven
But Christmas is coming and I would truly love to see Walmart set up a big corner of their Garden Department , maybe in the back, with a real Bike Shop. One good mechanic with a couple helpers. The helpers could do the assembly and then let the Wrench tune and tweak. I don't know about the lube work in the sub-assemblies but it would have to be done. It could be done and some of those bikes might last a season or a year. I'll be riding my Comstock Ox29 for a long time, because I can fix it myself. But I think that were Walmart to get just a LITTLE more real about bicycles they could Change the World in a different way than the way they are changing it now. They sell these bikes pretty dang cheap. A lot of kids (and overweight parents) would otherwise not get bicycles for Christmas this year if those cheap-ass bikes were not available. If it comes down to a Walmart bicycle or no bicycle at all, then Walmart it is. Perhaps the ethical thing for we in the bicycle community to do is not boycott the Monster, but educate the masses. That would probably work here in America, over there in China and anywhere else on the Planet, as long as it doesn't cost Mitt or Jim any money.

And I will guarantee you this: if such a thing would MAKE money for Mitt or Jim; it would happen overnight.

Avarice trumps ethics every time. Trust me on that one.

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Dreamland