By Ed Chasteen
Disney named me “The Pedalin’ Prof from William Jewell College” that summer I rode alone and without money from Disney World to Disneyland. One week this October I want to be that Pedalin’ Prof again in this place I call Greater Liberty. I drew a circle around Liberty, my hometown, going out 125 miles in all directions. That’s about how far I can ride on my best days. I hope to visit all 105 counties in parts of four states over the next few years. I want to meet local folks at the McDonald’s in their town. Together we’ll ride a 50-mile loop through nearby towns and come back to McDonald’s, where we’ll all buy ourselves something to eat and sit down together to talk.
We begin and end our ride at McDonald’s for three reasons. First, McDonald’s in Liberty is a longtime supporter of our Greater Liberty Riders, and the owner wrote to McDonald’s in Greater Liberty county seat towns asking them to welcome us. The second reason is that most every town has a McDonald’s, and many folks who live there drop in often. The third reason is that more than any other fast food restaurant, McDonald’s has expanded its menu to offer foods attractive to folks of varied lifestyles and interests.
So to McDonald’s in these Missouri towns we go on these days.
Lexington Sunday, October 5
Marshall Monday, October 6
Fayette Tuesday, October 7
Columbia Wednesday, October 8
Boonville Thursday, October 9
Sedalia Friday, October 10
Warrensburg Saturday, October 11
Harrisonville Sunday, October 12
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Lexington McDonald’s Deluxe Breakfast $3.99
Brian and I turn left out of McDonald’s Parking lot onto 3rd St. Through town, down a long winding road and out a road running alongside the Missouri River. Flat and smooth for several miles, river visible just to our right. Then into the hills, trees now between us and the river. Seven miles out we come to Wellington, population 784; then through Waterloo, only a few houses; then Napoleon, 204 folks and a few public buildings. Few cars, other bikers, motorcyclists, a mother and daughter on horseback.
“That’s a great school. I dream of going there.” The girl who takes my order is speaking and pointing to my shirt. The Pedalin’ Prof from William Jewell College, it says. “I’m a sophomore at Lexington High. I dream of going there.” I hadn’t thought to get her name at breakfast. I plan to do so when we have finished our ride and return. But she’s not here. I did give her a letter addressed to Lexington McDonald’s when I first came in. I saw her pass it along to another young woman pouring orange juice. Maybe I can get her name and pass it to our admissions folks at Jewell. Today was the first of the eight county seat McDonald’s I will visit in the next eight days, and the 104 I hope to visit over the next year or two. I’ll get better at getting information that might help me help students get to Jewell.
Monday, October 6
Marshall McDonald’s 816 W. College Big Breakfast $2.99
I give the cashier my letter and sit from 7:30-9. No one comes. I ride through town, by the Saline County Courthouse and First Baptist Church, figuring the road leads somewhere. I come to the end of the road at a T and turn right. This road becomes WW as it leaves town, but no sign tells where it leads. A few miles later, I think I know why. A big cloud of dust billows behind a pickup coming toward me. I come a short time later to a STATE MAINTENANCE ENDS sign where the road Y’s and turns to gravel.
I backtrack to the edge of town where WW makes a sharp left. Marshall has 12,711 people, is the home of Missouri Valley College and an airport. But no bike shop, as I learn when my mirror breaks and I go looking for another. WW AKA Butterfield Ranch Road passes on the edge of town between the college’s football stadium—home of the Vikings—and their gymnasium.
I ride a few miles from town in various directions, coming back to McDonald’s for lunch, Southwest Salad with grilled chicken and sweet tea, and back again in the afternoon for a bag of three oatmeal cookies and a senior coke. The bag pictures two children and an adult male on bicycles.
I mailed a letter weeks ago to the Marshall paper telling them I was coming and why and asking them to spread the word. I didn’t hear from the paper or from anyone who might have read what they wrote. My letter aroused no interest, so I don’t have the heart to go to the paper and tell them I’m here.
The promised rain begins to fall as I load my bike into my car about 2 o’clock and head for Columbia. I’m staying the next three nights with Greg Allen. He grew up next door and has lived and worked in Columbia for years. Tomorrow I ride in Fayette. Next day in Columbia. Third day in Boonville. Columbia is central to all.
By a little after 3, I’m sitting in the Columbia McDonald’s on Stadium Blvd, one of half-a-dozen in town and the first seen when coming on I-70 from Kansas City. Wednesday morning we ride from here.
Bus loads of old folks come and go as I sit here next to the indoor playground where three to 12 years olds play. A symphony of young staff moves seamlessly behind the counter, carrying out orders precisely and quickly, maintaining good humor and a pleasing countenance all the while. I sit undisturbed among the ebb and flow of diners, marveling at the human ingenuity that causes it all to work and the differing payoffs that accrue to the various participants.
Since first coming 45 years ago to Columbia and finding my fortune, I look for reason to return. The University here made my dream come true. I wanted to be a college professor, to spend my life among people and in a place where ideas and ideals work their magic. By awarding my PhD after a short time here, the University of Missouri opened the door to my becoming what the T-shirt I’m wearing proclaims: The Pedalin’ Prof from William Jewell College. I came to this job straight from grad school and never left. But I never thought of it as a job. I told everyone for years: “I don’t have a job. I just do what I love. And they pay me!”
Tuesday, October 7
This morning’s cashier is an older woman. She takes my letter and passes it to her supervisor. She sees the golden arches on the sleeves of my T-shirt. “He’s wearing a McDonald’s T-shirt,” she says to all who may be in earshot. “I’m meeting folks here at 9 for a ride. We’ll be back later today to eat and talk. Right now I’ll have a Big Breakfast and a large orange juice.”
This McDonald’s is smoke free. So says the sign on the door. The Marshall McDonald’s had complimentary USA Today. This McDonald’s has been here 13 years, across the street from Fayette High School. “The school burned to the ground some years back when someone left a heater one near some papers,” the cashier tells me. Maybe that accounts for the new and up-to-date look of the school I see. This place is packed with older folks, the men and women sitting separately.
She has called me Mr. Chasteen several times in the few minutes since we met. We’re standing in the McDonald’s parking lot. It’s just after 9 AM. I’ve been here since 7:30, waiting for the 9 o’clock time someone may come. She is the only one who does. She’s a reporter for the local paper. She wrote a story a couple of weeks ago about my coming, inviting local folks to join me here at McDonald’s at 9.
“Call me Ed,” I say. “Your students call you Mr. Chasteen, don’t they?” “No, they call me Ed.” “You have a doctorate, don’t you?” “I do. From MU. My name’s still Ed.”
“What’s the purpose of your ride?” She asks. “To show everyone we can live beyond our limitations. I come to town not knowing who will show up or what will happen. The more uncomfortable I find something, the more I need to do it. Comfort is a poor teacher.”
She is rapidly scrawling everything I say in big letters in a tiny notebook while juggling a camera. “Can I get your picture? With your bike? With the McDonald’s sign and our high school in the background? She snaps several, rearranging me between each. “We go to press this afternoon. The paper says Wednesday, but it’ll be out today. “ I was feeling a little down before she showed up, but her high energy presence and obvious enthusiasm for what I do, makes the absence of everybody else seem not so important.
She hurriedly tells me how to get to some nearby towns. I ride by the Howard County Courthouse, the town-square and Central Methodist College, whose main entrance is one long block off the square. Reading the bronze tablet at the entrance, I learn that early on, a predecessor of this place was known as Howard Payne. And I remember that my favorite college professor from my undergrad days graduated from Howard Payne College in West Texas. And here I am in Howard County. Here’s a historical connection that piques my interest.
As I bike around Fayette, I’m trying to muster up energy and enthusiasm for a solo ride to another town. That angry sky is not lightening my mood. Rain is imminent. So back to McDonald’s I go, load my bike and head for Columbia. Hard rain begins to fall.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Columbia McDonald’s Biscuits and gravy and orange juice for breakfast
Early in his quest to right all wrongs, Don Quixote comes upon a place he thinks is a castle. In truth it’s a place where working men come to be fed. As I make my way from Greg’s in the early morning dark, the golden arches light up the sky and bring Don Quixote to mind. For my rides in all Greater Liberty county seat towns, the golden arches will be my beacon, drawing me to a place where food and friends await and turning my mind to Don Quixote, my fictional hero. “Too much sanity may be madness, and the greatest madness of all may be to see the world as it is and not as it should be.” So said Don Quixote. And so he is quoted on the back of the T-shirt I wear as I ride. On both sleeves: Golden Arches.
The place is filed this morning with men dressed for work. One asks another where he’s from. “Grand Junction,” he says. Will anyone come to ride with me? I’m here before 7. By 9 I’ll know. Greg told me how to ride to Hallsville. That’s where I’ll go if no one shows up with a route.
My bike phone rings. Al Plummer is calling. Al lives here in Columbia. He’s a HateBusters board member. He asks me to call him after our ride. Maybe we can get together before his out of town company arrives. Nine o’clock comes. No one comes.
I go the wrong way on the road Greg advised and wind up back at McDonald’s after an hour. I call Al. He comes. Over sweet tea and coffee we catch up on one another’s family, race relations, the coming election and the recent Missouri City hate crime.
Today is the fourth of my eight McDonald’s rides I’ve planned. Bobbie has gone on a cruise and will be gone for these days. So I can ride without leaving her at home by herself. I’ve planned these rides for months. I wrote letters to newspapers in every town asking them to announce my coming. The Fayette paper sent me a copy of the story they carried. A reporter for the Sedalia paper called for an interview. I then got phone calls, emails and letters from townsfolk who had read the story. They offered assistance.
But no one has yet come to ride with me. Brian went with me to Lexington, and the two of us rode. He has to work all week, but he will join me again on Saturday and Sunday in Warrensburg and Harrisonville. I’m feeling discouraged this morning when no one comes. Then I remember! I have violated the cardinal rule I made for myself when I began to ride bikes and bust hate. Never go where I’m not invited!! I was so anxious to fit these rides into the time I had available that I forced the issue. I omitted that crucial step. I came before I was asked. That’s not polite. Neither is it effective. I just announced I was coming. And I came. Big mistake. Won’t happen again.
Thursday, October 9
This was my plan. Instead I am home. Drove home yesterday after Al and I talked for better than an hour. I stopped by Greg’s to leave the key to his front door he had given me. I was to stay tonight. I leave him a copy of my How To Like People Who Are Not Like You and a bunch of HateBusters membership cards he can give to his friends.
I will rest today and drive this afternoon to Sedalia. I’m to have dinner with Rev. Morris and spend the night with the family of a former Jewell student. Melvin Kerr is planning a bike route and recruiting riders. Robert Bond read about my coming in the paper. He called, wrote and emailed and plans to meet me at McDonald’s.
Debbie Gillespie graduated from William Jewell in 1975. Met Max Mitchell in law school. They got married and moved to Sedalia. Their daughter, Emily, is a sophomore at Hendrix College in Arkansas. Debbie is a judge, teaches at State Fair Community College and practices law, mostly bankruptcy, trying to help folks recover from economic ruin. Max is in general practice, with a heart for the down and out. Debbie and Max read about my coming to Sedalia and offered to put me up for the night.
I drive into Sedalia on Highway 50 and spot the golden arches. Inside I meet Rusty Rice, the owner. “Howe many riders do you expect?” He asks after I tell him why I’m here. I don’t have the heart to tell him this is our 6th ride and so far no riders have come. “I don’t know,” I say, “some local folks are planning the ride.” “Well, I’ll alert my staff to expect you in the morning.”
Melvin Kerr lives in Sedalia. We met years ago when he hosted a group of cross-country bikers I was with. I called to enlist Melvin’s help with this ride. He put me in touch with Reverend Morris, said I should meet him and learn about the program he runs to help kids. I had talked to Rev. Morris on the phone, and we planned to have dinner tonight. But he’s not feeling well. I had told Debbie I would call her after our dinner and get directions to her house. “Debbie, how about I take you and Max to dinner,” I say when I get her on the phone. “My dinner date had to cancel. “I love to cook,” she says, “I will make dinner for the three of us.” And a marvelous dinner it is. Even more marvelous is the conversation about times past and the coming election.
Friday, October 10
Robert Bond comes a little after 8. He grew up on a farm near Windsor, about 30 miles away, served in Vietnam, sells cars for the local Chevy dealer, belongs to four civic clubs, sings the praises of the Sunrise Optimists. We talk to near nine. Robert introduces me to three guys sitting nearby. When no bikers come, Robert tells me to ride up 50 just under the underpass and turn right on Ingram. As it leaves town this road becomes U and goes to Cole Camp, about 25 miles, he says.
Miles out I come to Mora, a few houses, a big bright red beautiful barn and Mora Lumber Company, where I stop to fill my water bottles and ask how far to Cole Camp. I haven’t seen any sign saying this is the road to Cole Camp or how far it might be. “Eight miles,” says the young man airing up his tractor tire. “Five miles,” says the man in the office. But both agree this is the road to Cole Camp.
A while later I’m stopped atop a hill gulping water when a silver pickup comes up the hill in front of me and stops. “You okay?” The driver asks. “I’m tired. But I’ll make it. How far to Cole Camp?” “Bout a mile and a half.” “Thanks for stopping. I’ll be okay.”
Robert Bond brought me a cap when he came to McDonald’s this morning: WK Cole Camp Sedalia, it says, identifying the dealership he works for and their two locations. First thing I spot in Cole Camp is the WK sign. I wheel in, tell them Robert sent me and ask for places to eat, with only 1,028 people, there is no McDonald’s. They recommend three. I pick the Platz, the German Restaurant. I head for a table in the back. “You made it,” he says as I pass his table. “Was that you in the pickup?” “That was me.” “Did you pass me and come back?” “I thought you might have had a flat.” “I’ve had lots of them. Thanks for stopping.” I give him one of the Pedalin’ Prof brochures I carry. Before he leaves, he comes to my table. He says, “May I keep this? He tells me his name is Dave Bartell. He lives in Warsaw, has a business in Cole Camp.
One of my reasons for choosing this German restaurant was to have an apple strudel for desert. But the waitress tells me their desserts won’t arrive until 2:30. “An Amish woman makes them and bring them.” I have the German Burger, a combination lamb-beef patty with grilled onions and cheese on a specialty bun. The tearoom across the street promises dessert in big black letters and almost drew me in to begin with. Now I head there. The Strawberry Cobbler with ice cream puts me in a blissful state.
Cole Camp draws travelers headed for any of the nearby lakes. Norman Rockwell inspiration lives here. A Brigadoon out-of-the-mist ambiance envelopes the place and lends a magical nostalgia that me makes want to linger. But I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep. The wind is at my back and the road seems more downhill as U takes me back to Sedalia 45 minutes faster than it brought me to Cole Camp.
Brian is planning to ride with me tomorrow in Warrensburg. I call him from Sedalia. We make plans to have dinner when I get to his house in Lee’s Summit. My two sons, Dave and Brian, live together. The three of us go to dinner. Then to see the just released The Express, the Ernie Davis Story. Inspiration on steroids! I wish I hadn’t seen it so I could see it again for the first time.
Saturday, October 11
Brian and I drive to Warrensburg on Highway 50 and take Business 50 into town. We spot the golden arches from several hills away. We pull off 50 to the left just past a major intersection. The place is packed. We each order an Egg Mcmuffin and find a table. We will wait till nine. If riders come, we go with them. If not, we drive back to Brian’s and ride from there. No one comes.
By back roads from Lee’s Summit to Rich Hill is just over 15 miles. We’ve done it several times. To Neighbor’s Café a couple of times. To Café 113 the last time. It’s here we head today. Their French Dip Sandwich provides just the right energy without sitting heavy on the hills. Fall foliage is not yet at its prime, but the promise is evident on this bright October day.
Yesterday was my son-in-law’s birthday. His name is also Ed. “Two Ed’s are better than one,” we tell everybody. So last night after the movie, we called him and made plans for him, my daughter, Debbie, and granddaughter, Laura, to come over tonight at 6. “We’ll have your birthday party and watch the Missouri-Oklahoma State football game. Maura and Sarah will be here.”
So after Brian and I get back to his house, I drive home. “I’ll get a cake. You guys bring the pizza,” I say as I leave. Except for the game, the party goes well.
Sunday, October 12
We were to have met here to begin today’s ride, our eighth county seat McDonald’s. But not a single rider has appeared for the first seven, and I don’t have the heart to try again. So Brian stays the night at my house after the party. We will do a local ride.
Loyalty is the number one virtue in my book. For years now I’ve been riding to breakfast in five towns some 15 to 30 miles from Liberty: Excelsior Springs, Kearney, Orrick, Lawson and Plattsburg. I’ve become a regular at Mill Inn, Sarah’s Table, Fubbler’s Cove, Catrick’s and JJ’s. Collectively I’ve eaten hundreds of meals in these five places over some 20 years. I will keep coming here as long as I can pedal.
“Where to?” Brian asks, as we leave the house about eight. “Sarah’s Table.” I say. By a roundabout route we make our way to Kearney and the old house on Jefferson Street where Betty, Tiffany and Janis greet us. “Is that your son?” Janis asks. “He sounds just like you.” Betty tells me that JD, her son, and once my biking buddy, has signed up to go to Iraq as a civilian fire fighter and bought a motorcycle, both of which worry her. Tiffany, Betty’s daughter, takes our money as we leave and wishes us a good day.
The Golden Arches
To explain my attraction to the golden arches, I must tell you that I love the theater. Brigadoon, Camelot, Fiddler on the Roof, Les Miserables, Man of LaMancha, Sound of Music—my favorites.
As Man of LaMancha opens, Don Quixote is an old man. His brains have dried up from reading too much about man’s inhumanity to man. I’m now an old man. I’ve spent my life trying to understand why racism and religious bigotry plague us and doing what I can to heal us of these twin afflictions. Instead of surrender after years of futile effort, Don Quixote mounts a crusade to right all wrongs. Saying “Too much sanity may be madness, and the greatest madness of all may be to see the world as it is and not as it should be,” Don Quixote dreams an impossible dream and sets out to make it come true.
Early in his quest, he comes to a place he thinks is a castle. Inside he meets the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. He falls to his knees. “My lady, what is your name?” “Off your knees, you fool, I’m no lady. My name is Aldonza. “No, my lady, your name is not Aldonza. Your name is Dulcinea.” She curses him and chases him away. This is not a castle, Don Quixote has found, but a roadside inn where mule drivers come for a meal and rest.
Several times in the story Don Quixote comes again to this place, each time calling her Dulinea and treating her as a lady, the only one who does. Near the end of the story, this woman hears that Don Quixote is dying. She finds him and forces her way in. “My Lord,” she says. “Who is it?” He asks. “You know my name,” she says. “No, my lady, who is it?” She begins to cry. “You called me by name and changed my life. My name is Dulcinea.”
That’s what I seek. I see goodness in everyone I meet. As a small boy on Saturday mornings I would listen to Let’s Pretend on the radio. Fairy tales came alive in my mind. More than anything I see in my adult world, golden arches remind me of that time and cause me to want to meet every person I can and like every person I meet. So I come to McDonald’s to meet Dulcineas.