Archive for November, 2009

Bicycle Stories #15

November 26, 2009

By Ed Chasteen

“The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart.” -Iris Murdoch, writer (1919-1999)

An Unplanned Day

I’m about a mile from home when my bike phone rings. Rich Willet wants to go for a ride. Rich was an army major, then a Ford Exec. Troops to Teachers it’s called: the program that will take him to Savanah, MO this fall and begin his new career as an English teacher. Rich had sent me an email a few days back. Said he wanted to pick my brain.

“Meet me where 291 and Ruth Ewing intersect. We’ll ride to Orrick.” I say. Old 210 is quiet. We get to know each other. Rich is one of 13 children. Grew up on a Kentucky farm between New Haven and New Hope. His father was a WW II veteran. He died when Rich was young. “My mother could do more with a dollar than anybody I ever knew,” Rich says when I ask how they made it.”

“There was a monastery near our farm. Called Gethsemane.”

“Hey, that’s where Thomas Merton was.” I yell. A Trappist monk. Wrote The Seven Story Mountain. An amazing book. I’ve been to that monastery.”

“I used to ride my horse on their farm,” Rich says, “and swim in their pond. The monks built us a house. Nothing fancy, but bigger than we had.”

We have just passed the Orrick sign when we exit 210 on Z, and spot a billboard announcing the Annual Potato Festival. “Anybody around here grow potatoes anymore I ask Donald,” one of the regulars, when we get to Fubbler’s Cove. “Maybe in their gardens.” The festival is a reminder of days long past.

“You have to be home any certain time, Rich?” He says no. “Let’s ride on to Richmond. Take the scenic route on old 210, now called T, thru Fleming and Camden. Maybe Henrietta.” Rich is agreeable.

John is behind the counter at Casey’s when we get to Henrietta. He and Rich discover a St. Joe connection. John moved here to raise his kids in a small town. I’m 15 cents short when I pay for three granola bars. “I’ve got some change on my bike. I’ll run get it,” I say to John. “Don’t bother, I’ve gotcha covered,” he says.

The new Highway 13 has been finished since I was here last: two south bound and two north bound lanes, wide smooth shoulders. We find Jerry and Ellen both in their office at the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. They both have hosted our Greater Liberty Ride for MS. Jerry is a former high school history teacher. He has some bits of wisdom to share with Rich. Ellen recently replaced Jerry as Executive Director of the Chamber when he retired.

Passing back thru Orrick about 4 o’clock, we stop at a service station to fill our water bottles and use their restroom. We leave 210 at the eastern edge of Missouri City and ride to their school. Smallest AAA School in Missouri. That’s what the sign says. At the school we turn right and back to 210.

It’s almost 6:30 when we get home. A 70-mile day. Rich comes home with me to meet Bobbie. “You look a lot younger than Ed,” Rich says to Bobbie. She likes him.

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Bicycle Stories #61

November 26, 2009

By Ed Chasteen

“The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart.” -Iris Murdoch, writer (1919-1999)

The Girl on the Bicycle

(1989)

                Thomas Jefferson  has me back at the university at 3:30 so Nancy Reagan can take me to the hospital to see what Chinese doctors can do for my leg. Enroute we stop to admire the granite statue, Mother of the Yellow River, and to get an ice cream bar. A little four-year old boy eyes my biker’s helmet. I put it on his head; Thomas takes our picture with my bike. I give the boy an ice cream. “Sigh gean,” I call as we pedal away. He beams.

                “You show me what you teach me,” Thomas says as we leave the little boy. “You gave all of us American names. We have given you a Chinese name. We call you Ai-hua. It means ‘loves China’.”

                Two days later, I am deep into the city, alone on my bike except for the several million Chinese also on wheels. I am stopped at a red light–one of the few in the city. Suddenly a bicycle whizzes by, a rare occurrence in a country where everyone seems to ride the same speed. The rider is a young woman in a billowing white skirt and long glossy black hair. As she passes without slowing, running the red light and being narrowly missed by a turning truck, a letter flutters into my basket.

                I snatch it up, intending to ride after the young woman with her letter. But the name on the letter stops me short. The letter is addressed to Ai-Hua. Waiting to read that letter until I got back to my room is one of the hardest things I ever did.

 

                My Dear Friend Ai-Hua,

 

                I hate this society. My father is leader. I know how those with power get money and government jobs. They protect each other. They live in a relative net. We students wanted to change this. I got a one month leave from my job so I could go to Beijing. A doctor gave me a note for money. The soldiers came. They shot us. They laughed. Blood was everywhere. One of my friends was killed. Another is in prison. Another disappeared. Two years and we don’t know.

                My boyfriend took a picture of me at Tiananmen Square. He gave it to the authorities. The official who got it destroyed it to protect my father. After my father retires I think they may come for me to kill me or put me in prison. I am not afraid of this.

                I am a baby Christian. I read the Bible. I will not forget the blood of my friends. Three years, five years, ten years. I remember. We all remember. Tell America. That is all.

                Three days pass. Am I dreaming? I punch the light on my watch: 4:35. In the morning! Then again, a gentle rapping at my door.

                “Who’s there?” No answer. A short time later, an even softer knock. I pull on my clothes and stumble in the dark to the door.

                I had never seen her face, and she is not wearing white. But the long raven hair shines against the single bulb that dimly lights the hall. How has she gotten here? Front and back gates have been shut and locked since well before midnight. The doors to our hotel are locked.

                “Ai-Hua, I must take the letter.” And she brushes past me into the sitting room.

                “The girl on the bicycle?” She smiles. “How did you get here?” “No problem,” she says. “I must go soon, before it is light.

                “You are being watched. When you fly away, they will find the letter. They will not hurt you. They will come for me. Read the letter one last time.

                “Our government is corrupt. Many people believe as the students. Even party officials and many members. But we can do nothing. Students cannot talk to each other about what happened. No one knows who to trust. When we were in Beijing my friend burst into the room. Laughing and crying hysterically. She was covered with blood. ‘A young boy died on my back. The soldiers shot him,’ she said.

                “My father has given his permission for me to come to America to study. I will study economics and political science. I will come back to China. This is my mother country. She is poor and backward. I want to help. I must know how.

                “I am 23 years old. After the Beijing uprising, the authorities knew I was there. They arrested me. They tried to make me say the students were criminals. Because I said nothing, I could not teach in my school for three months. Then my father said some more to some people.

                “Now my father is afraid for me. My brother is a member of the Central Committee of our province. He thinks like the students, but he says nothing.

                “We had a friend who was a member of the Central Committee in Beijing. After the uprising he was arrested because he spoke for us. We don’t know if he is alive. Perhaps in prison. Now we can only dream in secret. Our time will come. We must be ready.

                “You love Chinese people. I have heard this. We will not give up if you cannot help us. But we need you to tell people in America that the uprising had wide support from the people. Many students were killed. No soldiers. We were not violent. We wanted to talk to our government. They answered with bullets.

                “Tell people in America it did not happen the way the government said. The government is lying.”

                I do not ask her name. I don’t take her picture. If I can not identify her I can never inadvertently betray her. She has found me twice, she can do it again. Early in her monologue to me, she mentions a person I know.  Several other times the name comes up. I am confident that if I need to contact her, this person can arrange it.

                By 5:30 she is gone. Without a sound she pulls the door shut. The gates and the outer doors are still locked.

                “No problem,” I’m sure she would say. She has lived in a cage all her life. Now she has asked me to help her look for the keys.

Bicycle Stories #14

November 26, 2009

By Ed Chasteen

“The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart.” -Iris Murdoch, writer (1919-1999)

M-48: The Figment

            A rainy early June morning in Traverse City, Michigan. I’m sitting in the car. Bobbie has gone into Tom’s Market to get what we need down the road for a picnic lunch. Two weeks now since we left Liberty. First night in Danville, Illinois. Then Dearborn, Frankenmuth, Mackinaw City, Macinac Island, Munising, Traverse City, Grand Haven and Holland—all in Michigan.

                To pass the time while Bobbie gets our food, I do something I hardly ever do. I look at a map. And to give my looking a purpose, I try to find a town called Liberty. Greater Liberty is what I call all the places where I ride my bicycle from where I live in Liberty, Missouri. Seems to me that with liberty so dear to the heart of all Americans, every state would have a place called Liberty. Maybe we could organize a bike ride in every one. An even Greater Liberty! And there it is. At the M-48 section of the map: Liberty, Michigan.

                Bobbie comes. We’re on the road again. “You have relatives here?” Most everyone asks when we say we have come from Missouri. “No, we came to visit places we’ve heard about. The Henry Ford, the Grand Hotel, the Soo Locks, the Upper Pennisula, Lake Superior, Lake Huron.”

                We’ve seen it all by the time we come to Grand Haven. I pedal away from our motel about 9 o’clock the morning of our last day in the state. I ride the bike trail the 20 miles to Holland. Bobbie picks me up. Bobbie’s mother’s folks came from Holland. We spend the afternoon at the Dutch village we find in Holland. Then late in the day, homeward bound. Hundreds of pictures in our heads and on that little chip in our camera.

                Years ago at Disney World in a section I remember as Imagineering, we heard a little song by a Disney character called Figment, a figment of imagination. That’s all it takes. That’s what M-48 did for me. Greater Liberty just expanded beyond anything that ever would have occurred to me had we not stopped at Tom’s Market and had not that map been lying in the seat.

Bicycle Stories #13

November 24, 2009

By Ed Chasteen

“The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart.” -Iris Murdoch, writer (1919-1999)

Makin’ Rounds

                Clumps of children stand on random street corners in our town this Monday, June morning. School buses will soon come to take them where minds are made and dreams are born. “Have a great day,” I yell as I pedal past.

Rounding a corner onto the street where Princess lives, I’m resigned to not seeing her. She finished sixth grade just a few days ago. She’s taking swimming and is just now across town in the pool. She calls me Papa and signs the art she creates, “Papa’s Princess.”

I pull to a stop across from her house where a young mother stands in her yard, awaiting the school bus with her two daughters. “

“How’s your father-in-law?” I ask. We’ve been gone and just heard.”

“He’s in Smithville now. His left side hasn’t come all the way back. Makes his balance hard.”

“Can he have visitors?”

“Yes, he can.”

“Do we need to call? Or can we just go?”

“I think you could just go. I don’t know when he has therapy.”

By a route I would never take in my car, I come about an hour later to Kearney and Sarah’s Table. “You comin’ in, Ed?” Betty calls out as I stand in the door. “You bet,” I say.

“Have a seat,” Mel says as he motions to a chair at his table. He has just finished his usual bowl of oatmeal.

“What’s J.D. doing this summer, Betty?” I ask.

Still keepin’ bees. Has seven new hives. Gonna take EMT training in August. Can’t get his license till he graduates. But having his EMT will give him a leg up on being a fireman.”

“He’s a senior next year?” I ask. “Doesn’t seem possible.”

Betty smiles. Raises her hand near a foot over her head. “He’s a big boy now,” she says.

“Have you met my daughter, Tracy? She works at Liberty Terrace and is going to National University out at Zona Rosa.”

“You introduced us a couple of years ago,” I say. “Tell J.D. we need to go for another ride,” I say as I’m leaving.

“Where you headed?” Mel asks.

Think I’ll head for Holt. Don’t go there much since Rosie’s closed. Anything downtown open anymore?”

”Don’t know,” says Mel. “Ask Betty. She lives there.”

Mel has been talking to the couple at the adjoining table about places they like to eat. All three of them praise Granny’s, just off I-35 at the Holt exit.

“Granny’s has the best biscuits in the world. Melt in your mouth. Fried biscuits. Ever had ‘em, Ed?” Mel asks

“Sorry to say I haven’t. But now I will.” I say.

Betty names several new businesses in downtown Holt. Dolly’s Diner is the only one that sticks. “It’s where Rosie’s used to be,” she says.

By another round about route no car would ever take, I come a good while later to Dolly’s

“You open?” I call to the woman who stands in the doorway.

“Till 2 o’clock,” she says. “My watch says 11:30. I think I can make it in by then,” I say.

The menu offers all the standards of small town cafes. But I have only one test for a first-time café. “Half order of biscuits and gravy,” I tell the waitress when she brings my ice tea. She’s back in a moment. It looks right. It’s hot. Creamy. Chunks of sausage. Tender biscuit. A+. I’ll be back.

As I sit to write these words, the rain that’s been threatening all morning finally comes, giving me time to try the pie. Can Dolly’s pass both my tests the same day?

Meringue! High and stiff, lightly brown, topping rich chocolate. That’s my dream pie. I find it now and then. Cream pies Dolly’s has. But we make our own,” my waitress says. I prefer my chocolate pie recently from the oven and with a flakey crust. Dolly’s is cold, crust firm. Not tough. And not bad:B. Next time I’ll try the pecan.

Inside the door of Dolly’s one unisex restroom this bit of poetic advice:

Don’t sit in here just contemplatin’

Us folks outside git tired of watin’

                I hardly ever return by the same way I came, thinking I need to see what’s down other roads. Today, though, I do retrace my route. Sarah herself is at her table, with Carl, her husband. He’s the meat cutter at the grocery store across the street. “I heard you were off today,” I say to Carl.

“How’d you know?” He asks.

“I was here for breakfast. Betty told me.”

As I near home a shiny black pickup comes from a side street and stops to let me pass. As I ride by, the driver yells, “Hi, Ed.”

I’m a doctor. Not a M.D. A PhD. I don’t doctor the body. What happens between us! That’s my field. Inter-group Relations they called it in grad school. Race Relations my specialty. Relations between religions a recent addition.

Three rounds I make. A daily one around our town. Seeing and being seen. Over years becoming part of our town’s ambiance.

Then several times a week, I ride to towns an hour or so away to visit my satellite clinics that appear to most folks only as eating places.

Then occasionally to the outer limits of Greater Liberty I need to ride. When in the paper or on TV I learn that hate has come among us, I find a way to be invited to come and help.

The town called Liberty has long been my home. But even longer I have done what I can to set folks at liberty from those limitations that restrict where we can go, to whom we can talk and what subjects we can discuss.

The purpose of my practice as a doctor of relationships is to lead us all to become World Class Persons, able to go anyplace at anytime and talk to anyone about anything and feel safe. A less ambitious objective could more likely be achieved. But I’d rather fail at something grand and noble than succeed at a lesser goal.

                Riding a bicycle is my way of getting there. Join me sometime.

Fubbler’s Cove

November 22, 2009

11-21-09

by Ed Chasteen

All the way from Nashville, Tennessee by car he came. Ten days on business he was to be in the area. He brought his bike. Five or six bike shops he called to find a ride. They had all closed down for the winter. Except ours. Dave told him about us. And here he is. So Greg Palevo joins the other 14 of us. Orrick bound we are. For Fubblers.

Just 18 days after surgery, I’m not yet road-worthy. But I was released to drive a few days back. To Fubbler’s I go. I park my HateBusters mobile (H8BSTR) in front and step inside. Heather greets me. “Coffee, Ed?” “Ice tea,” I say, and take my place at the long table prepared for us in the back room .

I doze while I wait. But not for long. They are here long before I would have been on my very best day. “Everybody, this is Heather. She’s been taking care of us for the seven years we’ve been coming here.”

            As we await our food, we go around the table and say our name and something about ourselves. As we finish, Curtis and Sue appear. They have seen our bikes outside and come to say hello. They live a few miles east of Orrick. Curtis is a bike rider. Sue works at William Jewell.

            Getting here by bike is pure pleasure. Though I didn’t ride here this morning, I have ridden here several hundred times. In all kinds of weather. On a crisp morning like this, we order a lot. B&G with hashbrowns for me. Gathered at the table this morning we have Greg Palevo, Jim Peacock, Ty Trammell, Kevin Tempel, Dan Cunningham, David Eaton, Steve Boos, Lyle Mussman, Graham Houston, Steve Hanson, Frank Conrick and me.

            “I’m having another baby in the spring,” Heather tells me as I go to pay my bill. “Will you quit when the baby comes?” I ask. “No,” she says. “See you next time,” I say.