Archive for March, 2010

Friends of the Road

March 31, 2010

By Ed Chasteen

A tailwind to a bicycle rider, like most unmerited good fortune, goes largely unnoticed and leads to an exaggerated notion of one’s fitness. But the return trip into the wind brings back reality. Rich said to meet him this morning at 10 at Liberty Hills; we would ride to Excelsior Springs and Ray’s Lunch.

I’ve ridden seven miles from home when I get to Liberty Hills. As I pull to a stop, John Philpot walks up. John was a physics prof at William Jewell when I was teaching sociology there. He was the first—and only—person to volunteer to ride with me across Missouri that year I biked from Orlando to Seattle to Los Angeles. We have both been retired for years. I don’t see him much. “You playin’ some golf here today?” I ask. “No, I’m here to help the ladies.”

A woman is taking her clubs out of her car. She looks my way. “Windy day to ride,” she says. “Is it?” The wind had made no impression on me at all up to this point. Never entered my mind. “Ed Chasteen,” someone behind me says. I turn. Hello, Joyce, what’re you doing here?” “Our season starts today. I’m here to play.” Joyce owned a printing company in Liberty some years ago. She used to print our HateBusters T-shirts. She’s now retired and plays golf four or five times a week.

Rich comes, takes his bike off his car, and we’re off. Ron is standing on the sidewalk outside Ray’s Lunch as we pull up. Ron and Brenda Prewitt a few years back owned Country Crockery Inn on Highway 69 in the Mosby flat five miles east of Excelsior Springs. I was often there. When the building was torn down to make room for the Clay County Airport, my heart broke. A year or so ago they bought Ray’s Lunch, a presence on Broadway in Excelsior Springs since the 1920’s, going through several long-term owners, always a popular destination.

“Hey, Ron, our 8th Annual Greater Liberty Ride for MS comes on Saturday, May 22. If you could give us two lunches to raffle off, we could list Ray’s Lunch on our website as a supporter.” “I can do that. Or how about two Ray’s Lunch T-shirts?” Rich and I both order the tenderloin sandwich with onion rings. Then we step two doors down to Willow Spring Mercantile, where owner, Daphne Bowman, welcomes us. Daphne is heading up our Excelsior Springs rest stop for our May 22 MS ride, her third year to do so. “I hate to tell you, Daphne, but we just had a sandwich at Ray’s Lunch. Do you have dessert today?” “Brownies and ice cream,” she says.

           Daphne and Rich are long time friends. They worked together when Rich was Executive Director of Historic Downtown Liberty and Daphne worked to achieve a bright future for downtown Excelsior Springs. Daphne’s homemade brownies are wonderful, as was her cake I had last week. “We’re gonna pay for this on the hills,” we both say. No matter which way we choose to go there is no way out of Excelsior Springs except up a long grinding hill. .Daphne won’t let us pay for our dessert. “I don’t see you often. Let me do this,” she says.

From in front of Cresent Lake Bed and Breakfast, we turn left onto H Highway and begin our half-mile twisting climb. This road was cut through tree-covered hills that provide a natural windbreak. I drop to granny and reach the summit. The road now runs through open fields over more gentle hills visible in the distance. And the wind comes straight at us at a speed much greater than our own.

Forward movement even in the flat is now hard won and gentle hills pose as Mount Everest. My legs burn. And turn to rubber. I stop and gasp. Several times. Rich waits. He offers to go get the car and come for me. I’m tempted. “I’ll make it,” I say. Finally I do. Rich has left his lights on. The battery is dead. He carries jumper cables, further testimony to his careful planning of all things. He finds a Good Samaritan in the clubhouse to come with his car to give us a start.

I’m an inert lump in the passenger’s seat as Rich drives me home. “I can’t remember ever being more exhausted,” I say. “But being physically tired is a different species of tired from mental tiredness. I’ll sleep like a baby after this.”

I do. A two-hour nap. Then 10 hours that night. Now the next morning, friends from yesterday are gentle on my mind, compensation more than enough for the wind.

Two Greater Liberty Towns

March 29, 2010

By Ed Chasteen

            “Eighty percent chance of rain tomorrow.” That’s the verdict my computer issued last night. But I had told folks I was coming to Carthage. So here I am. In the rain. A cold, pelting rain. The town square at 7:30 this morning is practically deserted. A car parked here and there, nobody afoot, Carthage Deli neon the only color. Three slow trips around the square: I spot no other place to eat. I park in front of the Deli, pull my hood over my head and step into the rain.

            Five guys sit together, the only people in the place. They invite me to join them. I step to the counter, order biscuits and gravy and coffee and join the five. Bob Evans and I start to talk. I say I’m from William Jewell. “My daughter, Jennifer, went to Jewell,” Bob says. I remember her. Other former students come to mind. We talk for a while.

            Jim Honey sits across the table. One of the guys tells me that Jim is a county commissioner here in Jasper County; tells me I ought to visit their courthouse. “Come by my office,” Jim says. “I’ll give you a tour.”

            “Where do local folks like to eat?” I ask. “What kind of food you lookin’ for?” “Just plain food.” “Sirloin Stockade.” Harold says. “No chains, just local,” I say. “CD’s,” several say. “Carthage Family Restaurant,” someone says.

            That sounds like my kind of place. I had hoped to ride for two or three hours and arrive starving. This rain ruins that. So I take Jim up on his offer. The courthouse is a striking limestone building built in 1884. Carthage is on old Route 66. Jim ushers me down the hall from his office to a display of 66 memorabilia.

            While Jim shows me around, my bike-phone rings. It’s Dave Mink, reporter for the Carthage Press. Dave knew I was coming and wants to talk to me. “Can you meet me in Jim’s office in half an hour?” I ask.

            Dave wants to know why I’ve come to Carthage. Several weeks back I had sent Dave an email telling him about Greater Liberty, Carthage being its southern most town. Now he wants to know more.

“Greater Liberty is where I ride and why I ride, Dave. I drew a 125-mile circle around Liberty, my hometown. That’s how far I can ride my bike on my very best days. That circle goes north to Creston, Iowa and south to Carthage; west to Manhattan, Kansas and east to Columbia, Missouri: 104 county seat towns in Greater Liberty. I hope over the next few years to ride in each of these towns. That’s where I ride.

“But Greater Liberty is also why I ride. Greater Liberty from those limitations of mind and body! That’s why I ride. I have Multiple Sclerosis. Diagnosed 29 years ago. Doctor said I couldn’t be active. Said to rest and not get hot. Living that way was killing me. I found a bicycle. More than 150,000 miles I’ve since ridden, thousands every year. Bike riding is my only medicine to keep MS at bay.

“But if bike riding were only good for my physical health, I couldn’t motivate myself to get on that bike in every season and all kinds of weather. Years ago at William Jewell College my students and I started HateBusters when a klansman in Louisiana was elected to their state legislature. The governor invited us to come help the state redeem itself. We began to be invited by other governors, mayors, colleges, universities, schools and civic organizations.

“I wrote a book. I call it How To Like People Who Are not Like You. We would teach that book everywhere we went. I left the college in 1995 to spend all my time teaching people how to like people. If I don’t ride my bicycle, I can’t maintain the physical strength I need to continue to teach. And I must teach.

“I want people everywhere to know that we don’t have to live with limits other people tell us we must observe. We all have Greater Liberty than we know. To help us know this is the passion that fuels everything I do.”

Dave listens intently to what I say. I read in his face his willingness to give me a sympathetic hearing. “Dave, I must tell you that Don Quixote is my fictional hero. As we meet him, he’s an old man. His brains have dried up from reading too much about man’s inhumanity to man. But instead of surrender, he mounts a crusade. He gets his old friend, Sancho, an old horse, a broken lance and, wearing a shaving bowl as a helmet, sets off to right all wrongs. He is clearly crazy.

“His friends come to him. ‘Wickedness wears thick armor,’ they say. He responds, ‘And for that you would have me surrender? Nay, the enchanter may confuse the outcome ten thousand times. Still must a man arise and again do battle, for the effort is sublime.’

            “Early in the story, Dave, Don Quixote comes to an old house alongside a dusty road where mule drivers spend the night. He thinks it’s a castle and addresses the innkeeper as ‘My Lord.’ He sees a woman waiting tables and thinks she’s the most beautiful creature he has ever seen. He falls to his knees: ‘My lady, what is your name?’

‘Off your knees, you fool. My name’s Aldonza. And I’m no lady.’ ‘No, my lady, your name is not Aldonza. Your name is. . . Dulcinea.’ She curses him and throws a dirty dish rag at him. He takes it as a token of her affection. And leaves.

            Several times during the story Don Quixote comes again. Each time he calls her Dulcinea and treats her as a lady, the only one of these rough men who do. As the story ends, she hears that Don Quixote is dying. She goes to find him. She forces her way to his bedside. She takes his hand. ‘My lord,’ she says. ‘Who is it?’ he asks. “Why you know who I am,’ she says. ‘No, my lady, who is it?’ ‘You called me by name and changed my life,’ she says. ‘My name is . . . Dulcinea.’ She now sees herself as he has seen her all the time.

            “Dave, we HateBusters know we live in an Aldonza world. But we will continue to treat it as Dulcina until one of two things happens: either it does us in; or it becomes what we already know it to be.”

            The paper is due out today; Dave must leave. “Call me,” he says. “I’d like to get a picture of you on your bike if this rain stops.”

“Do you have sweet tea?” She says yes. And Carthage Family Restaurant becomes my place. I give her a bicycle pin when she comes to take my order. Dave isn’t in when I call; I leave a message: “I’ll be here till 12:30.” After an hour the rain hasn’t let up. And I give up. I need to ride. Somewhere it’s not raining.

My phone rings a few miles out of Carthage. It’s Dave. I’d left the restaurant about 12:15. “Sorry I missed you,” he says. “I’ll come again. I still plan to ride here.” I say. Half an hour later the rain quits. Suddenly the road is dry. The sun is shining. I see a sign: Butler exit. Butler is the county seat of Bates County and a Greater Liberty town. I park just off the square; take out my bike and ride off down the road. I’d left home at 5 AM. Thought I’d be riding in Carthage by 9. Now it’s almost 2 and I’m in Butler. Riding was never more welcome.

A few minutes around town and I’m ready for business. I find the Examiner on the town square. “If you’ve got five minutes, I’ve got a story for you,” I say to the kind lady who comes to meet me. I give her my card: The Pedalin’ Prof from William Jewell College. “Butler is a Greater Liberty town. I’ve come to ride my bike and get to know folks,” I say. I give everyone a bicycle pin.

Paula says, “Go out Main,” and points to the right when I ask for a “lonely country road to ride.” At the edge of town Main Street narrows and winds up a long gentle hill. Dogs run loose on lonely country roads and come in several sizes and temperaments. No cars, though.

The road, Paula told me, brings you to the highway. I must have missed a turn. This road turns abruptly to mud a few miles out and forks in front of a house where two dogs announce their claim. According to a solitary sign I saw, this road became NE 1003 about a mile back.

Paula also recommended the Southside Café. “Today’s Thursday. They have fried chicken after four,” she said. So here I sit. Southside Café is on the corner of the town square. The one-way streets around the square are made of red brick and wide enough for diagonal parking on both sides and diagonal parking in the middle, giving the town an open and easy feel, complimented by music playing at a couple of corners. The courthouse has recently been outwardly refurbished; historic statues returned to the pinnacle on two sides, the courthouse grounds ringed with multicolored light bulbs.

Southside Café was featured in USA Today on May 25, 2007. Except for Thursday and Friday, they close at 2 o’clock. Menu says: “Closed Sunday Visit the church of your choice.” The fried chicken is marvelous. And the coconut cream pie is so good I also have chocolate.

Today’s ride was not as planned. But it was great. Good people in good places!

Carthage Missouri

March 25, 2010

By Ed Chasteen

The southern most city in Greater Liberty! I’m driving there tomorrow morning. Plan to be there in time for breakfast. I’ll park on the court house square, take my bike out of my car and ride around downtown looking for a good place to eat. If I see a local place with a lot of cars, I’ll assume I’ve hit the jackpot. If not, I’ll ask someone I see on the street where folks like to eat.

“Half order of biscuits and gravy and sweet ice tea,” I’ll tell the waitress. I’ll show her the four colors of bicycle pins I carry. “Take your pick. It’s a gift.” I’ll say. And I’ll give her my business card (see attachment). I’ll give bicycle pins to everyone I can strike up a conversation with and give out my cards. Then I’ll go for a ride for two or three hours and come back here for lunch. Hopefully my earlier visit with have sparked some interest. I’ll spend as long as folks are interested. Go for another short ride. Then back to my car and head home. I hope to repeat this basic procedure in all the 104 county seat towns that make up Greater Liberty (visit www.greaterliberty.org for a map and descripton). My goal in life is to meet all the people possible and expect to like every person I meet.

Linn County Kansas

March 12, 2010

By Ed Chasteen

            Mound City, Kansas is the county seat of Linn County. I parallel-park my car in front of the courthouse, lift the rear door of my PT Cruiser, take my bicycle out, and, wearing my cold weather gear under my rain suit, make a quick tour of the town. Now of the first person I see on foot, I ask the question I’ve come to ask.

            “Where’s a good place to eat?” The woman I ask is about to cross the street. Misting rain is falling. The bank clock/thermometer up the street flashes 41. She hesitates. Looks puzzled. “There’s Everybody’s.” She motions up the street behind me. “Then out where the roads cross, there’s Jayhawk Inn.”

            I see no cars in the parking lot at Jayhawk Inn as I make a left turn a few minutes later and spot it just ahead on my left. Not a good sign, I think to myself. Their hours are posted on the door. Open at 10:30. It’s just 9:00 now. By another road, I make my way back to Everybody,s on the main street. Their sign says Open. I pull on the wooden door to make sure. It’s open. I prop my bike by the door, take off my helmet and gloves, get my billfold and glasses from the bag behind my seat, and step inside.

            “May I help you?” It’s the woman who drove up and entered as I was readying myself to come in. “I’m looking for a place to eat,” I say. “We open at 11:30,” she says. “Is there anyplace in town to get breakfast?” I ask. “No,” she says.

            My visit to Mound City is the second of 104 such visits I plan to make to county seat towns in this place I call Greater Liberty. I can ride a bike about 125 miles on my very best days. So I drew a 125-mile circle around my town and named this place Greater Liberty. It’s not really because I live in a town called Liberty that I call this place Greater Liberty. I call it Greater Liberty because it’s greater liberty I seek. For myself. For all of us. Greater Liberty from all those limitations that so easily beset us.

            I had emailed the Linn County News months ago to explain why I ride and what I hope to do. Reporter Barbara Proffitt had emailed back and asked me to let her know when I was coming. I called her yesterday to tell her I was coming today. That’s when I realized that the newspaper was not in Mound City, the county seat, but in Pleasanton, five miles away.

            Mapquest told me how to get to Pleasanton, 89 miles form my home. I’m here by 8:30. Lisa Fort is sitting at her desk as I step inside the Linn County News. Barbara hasn’t come yet. Lisa explains to me how to get to Mound City and draws a lovely map. Jackie Taylor, Publisher of the paper, comes. She’s a biker. We go to my car so she can see my bike. When I tell Jackie that I write stories about my rides in county seat towns, she asks me to send them to her paper.

            Every Saturday morning all year some of us who live in and around Liberty meet at Biscari Brothers Bicycles here in Liberty and ride to another town 15 to 35 miles away for breakfast. Ice tea and biscuits and gravy! Almost always my order. More than 300 of us have ridden together over the eight years now that we’ve been doing our Saturday rides. Depending on the weather, our numbers on any Saturday range from two or three to 20 or 30. One Saturday every May almost 200.

            During the week I ride alone to these small town cafes. Good food and the feeling of home I find here. To come by bicycle hones my appetite razor sharp. And my bicycle draws conversation. County seat towns draw folks to them. When folks come, they need a place to come together for food and fellowship. That was my thinking when I chose county seat towns to visit on my bike.

            Rather than ride my bike to the town, I would drive to the town, and ride my bike in and about the town, giving me more time to get to know the place and its people. And where best? At a local café pointed out to me by someone I met on the street.

            With no breakfast available in Mound City, I put my bike in my car and head back to Pleasanton. Joe Joe’s Café appears on my right as I round a curve and come to town. They’re open. “Half order of biscuits and gravy.” I tell the waitress. Their homemade pie is tempting. “I’m gonna ride around time for a while. I’ll be back for pie this afternoon.” I say.

            Back at the newspaper, Barbara has come. Lisa draws me another map for a ride out to the lake and back. Barbara steps outside to take my picture as I get ready to ride. “If you see a black SUV following you, that’ll be me, getting some pictures.” My front wheel wobbles as I pull away. I pull up. My heart sinks even before I feel the tire. It’s soft. Will soon be flat. I haven’t brought a spare. Back in the car with the bike. Step inside the paper to apologize. No more ride today. And no return to Joe Joe’s.

            Joe Osborne has been cooking for 15 years. He loves to cook. Joe’s niece, Mattie, has always loved Uncle Joe. When Mattie would see Joe at the counter with an order, she would yell across the room, “Joe, Joe.” Joe would get a big grin on his face.

            I make a quick stop at Biscari Brothers Bicycles back in Liberty. “Had a flat, Dave. Can you get me back on the road today?” He does. “You’ll never be off the road if I can help it,” he says.