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


  1. That was pure joy, almost as much for me in reading it as it must have been for you in riding it.

  2. TJ,

    This is probably my favorite post of yours yet. Made me smile from start to finish.

    Also a damn good idea, using them buses.

    Steve Z

    1. I'm working on it, Steve. How far can I go using City Buses? I plan to find out. tj

  3. Bravo! Bravo! Very well done indeed! I thoroughy enjoyed this!

    Thank you!


  4. Instant Classic Tim Joe, great post. Ain't nothing like making up a reason to "race" when you're feeling your oats and the bike is primed and miles of mostly empty tarmac lay ahead. I bet you made that bus drivers morning too ;-). In the Emerald city they gave our buses 3 slots per rack but they still fill up. And don't worry about the early-morning-first-time-performance-anxiety with the bike rack...all us inter-modal mortals have been there man. Ride on Velo-modal brother.

    1. Roadie, the true beauty of the Intermodal is I can ride as hard as I want because sooner or later I'll be sitting on the bus. I went almost a hundred miles that day, about half riding the bike and half being scared on the bus. It was an eight hour adventure and I can't wait to do it again! Thanks, Brother! tj

  5. Agree w/ everybody...I was smiling ear to ear from the moment you took to the pedals. It was ON. Extremely nice post TJ! Reminds me of the time I tried to bus-cycle commute.

    You see, we have a bus that takes people to the base in the morning, and it also has the dreaded two-rack up front. The ONE TIME I showed up at the park-n-ride all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to bus-in/ride home, the blasted thing had 2 bikes on it already. Hadn't EVEN thought that part through. I was already a couple miles from home, and no rack-full-O-bikes was going to stop my evil 'stick-it-to-the-oil-companies' bike commute plan, no sir.

    Needless to say, I was late to work that day (it's an 18 mile commute from Santa Maria w/ some good climbs). I didn't yet have a road bike, so was riding my beloved Trek 26" hardtail mtb fitted w/ Performance 1" road-slicks. I flatted the rear in the darkness just a few miles from town that morning, running over all the crap on the shoulder that I couldn't see w/ my lame Cateye 2 lumen headlight.

    Seemed like a good idea tho (to commute on my old hardtail), however I learned that putting slicks on an MTB makes it about as much a road bike (ie: efficient and fast) as putting knobbys on a car makes it a tractor. Also turns out that changing a tube in the darkness when you are freezing and in a hurry isn't nearly as fun as doing it in the light of day.

    And thus ended my extremely short career of bike-commuting.

    1. Before Little Miss Dangerous came along I did a LOT of miles on a '91 Mongoose Alta converted to single speed and shod with 1 3/8 Kenda Street Runner Slicks. But that little scooter was no match for a Super Le Tour for covering miles.

      I got a rant in me about this Intermodal thing. Why only two racks? Why not a semi-open rear deck where you can sit with your bike and fellow cyclists? I will be getting warmed up on the subject soon enough. Stay tuned. Thanks for coming by, Matt! I hope the pup is healing rapidly! tj

    2. Matt your analogy of slicks on a MTB making it a road bike as much as putting knobbies on a car to make it a tractor is the best one I have ever heard.... so I am gonna steal it ;-). I lived that analogy training for my first ever century ride many moons ago and surprise, surprise I just "had" to get a new Cannondale road bike. That started me down the roadie road and eventually lead me to the "path of steel" old bikes and this wonderful blog. And to think it all started with trying to make a Mt Bike work on the road.

  6. Tim Joe,

    Long moments ago, I was downstairs listening to, I must confess, some very, very old Neil Young music of the Live Rust variety, and fading a bit. Then, the Brains of the Outfit came bustling down the stairs and told me that it was time to trade places, and also that Neil should go upstairs with me.

    As it were, Neil and I, safely on the second floor, clicked our way to the Trailer Park Cyclist. Wow, what an intermodal wakeup! About the time I started reading The Reality of Intermodality, Neil got back in voice with Lotta Love. Holy Smoking Cows! Here we have significant parallels. Or, at the very least, I have stumbled into the music and prose combinations that most fit my preferences and prejudices.

    The above (beyond my rambling) is, I must agree, one of your best posts to date. The struggle of man (and/or woman) versus human transport, is largely ignored in the larger media.

    Go for a ride, I say.

    Bill Hopp, the Anonymous Hoosier

    1. I remember when Live Rust came out. It seems like just last week, and yet several lifetimes ago. Neil and Crazy Horse make a very good soundtrack for a Trailer Park, Sir Bill.

      I'm glad you liked the post. It was written on the fly, bouncing around in that very bus 5309. I think there is a part two, maybe...remember, this entry ends as my journey was only beginning...


  7. Tim Joe,

    Stumbled onto your blog via Nick's Gypsy by trade site. Good stuff, just out of High School my parents retired to Palm Coast, your post take me back to that time. Most enjoyable read. Thank you, looking forward to more.

    1. Hey, fatbob! I'm glad you found your way to the Park. Gypsy Nick is an amazing rider, isn't he? And possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge of the bicycle industry. Without a doubt, Nicholas Carmen has had a GIANT influence on the way I look at bicycles and riding them.

      I glanced at your blog and I think you might find that my friend Steve Z is posting stuff that would be right up your alley...I mean singletrack...check him out at Hey Look At Me. If you like, you can just click on his site on my blog list.

      Palm Coast? I have a special affinity for Flagler Beach, Marineland, St. Augustine, and so on. No doubt familiar places to you. Flag was my destination in this post.

      I hope you'll come by again! tj

  8. Excellent read, as usual, Tim Joe. Thanks for sharing, as usual.

  9. a) I love the idea of intermodal transportation and always encourage it over owning/using a car.

    b) Your writing is fantastic! I'll be reading much more.

  10. Tom, the pleasure is mine. I checked out your blog and it is a thing of beauty. I'll be coming by and I hope you will do the same.
    I ain't done with this Intermodal thing. I still have planes, trains and automobiles to cover, and boats and yaks and hot air ballons to look into...

  11. TJ
    I assume it was okay that I was pedaling, in my mind's legs, furiously alongside you as you whipped that bus! I was going to offer you a pull but it was all I could do to hold your wheel, my friend! Nicely ridden and written. Can't wait for part deux.

    BTW, just got back from Portland OR where everyone rides a bike, even in 40 degrees pissing rain. I felt like a wuss! Good news was I got to meet my grandson. Bad news I haven't posted anything new in weeks....but it's coming soon.

    Stay well, my brother!
    Brian in VA

    1. Brian, I did indeed notice that it has been a while since your last post. I didn't figure you to be old enough for grandkids! I wonder if there is an event called the Grandpa Century?

      Whipping that bus was more a commentary on the sad state of public transportation than anything to do with my cycling prowess. But we Granddads take our victories where we find them, eh Pops?


  12. Good Stuff, TJ. It's right up there with the drafting-the-semi scene in Breaking Away. Which is a great movie. Which reminds me that you could have been a Cutter. Which reminds me that a story about you riding with "The Italians" would be marvelous. Do you think any of the Tonys down at the local pizza joint have a bike?

    Yer Pal

    1. Did you know that David Lee Roth was a Cutter? Hoagy Carmichael too. But not me. I was a mere student and janitor while at Indiana University. But in all my time there I never once heard the term "Cutter." For that matter, while I lived there year round and spent a LOT of time at those very same quarries, I am not sure that I ever even met someone you could call a cutter. In those days I was riding a three-speed Raleigh and two miles was a big ride for me. What a shame.

      Nothin' but Greeks around here, Karl. The Tonys are all down in Miami, or so I hear.

      yr bddy, tj

  13. Hallo TJ!
    I have been on the sidelines due to that daily grind to keep the bill collectors at bay. Then to return to the trailer park and find Bill's guest post and this fine post from you....a lot of entertainment for a very reasonable cost of a few clicks from me. I am with the others, felt like I was right there with you pedaling, leapfrogging that bus.
    I had to laugh, imminent death by riding the bus! Ralph Kramden must have been a cyclist at some point in his life to recognize that your little Darlin' was a Schwinn before you you re-purposed/re-newed it all.
    Thanks for the post and making my afternoon!

  14. Thanks, Jim! I really think that Schwinn is the standard of excellence for the kleenex, ajax, budweiser or frigidaire, some brands are indelibly branded in our brains so that whenever it comes time to connect with the enlightened and when it is a bicycle, "schwinn" is the first word that comes up. I know that it is for me. I effin' love my bike! Schwinn!


  15. How did you guys miss the (867) 5309 reference? Hahahahahahaha