Saturday, December 15, 2012

Eulogy to My Bicycle Commute

Where to begin...the news came yesterday.  Stella, not her real name.  I promised not to reveal my source and I will hold fast to that to the bitter end.  Betrayal is a sin.  Stella comes in about 10 am.  Her usual bright smile is missing.  It's the end of the year and things are busy in the financial world.  I understand that the House of Phones is now the House of Stress.  People calling in freaking out.  "Oh shit, the year is up."  But Stella is a proven leader and warrior.  And a cyclist.  Gotta love that.

"Going to be an interesting day," as she takes a long drag on her smoke. 

"Really, Obama and Boner dueling with pistols to stop the fiscal train wreck?"

"Worse.  The Announcement will be in a half hour.  Have you heard?"

No I have not.  I am so isolated from The Mothership that sometimes I think I am forgotten.  Deep cover.  No authoritons to interfere.  Peace and quiet.  "No, I have not."

"Everyone is being evacuated to The Mothership.  The Western Horde is taking this position.  April 1st they roll in."

Stella threw her fag on the floor and stamped it out.  "See you there.  Good luck."

I call Col. Leadbutt.  "Hear any rumors I should know about?"

"Oh yes.  You will lead the rearguard action as long as possible until the evacuation is nearly complete.  A new assignment will be ready for you.  I suspect you will be there until sometime in March.  Until such time keep casualties to a minimum.  Nothing crazy until the first of the year and then you will base yourself out of The Mothership and lead the transports to The House of Phones until we totally bug out."

Great.  Got a copy of Who Moved My Cheese?

Now in reality.  My peaceful job is changing soon.  More importantly, I am losing 8 miles per day on my commute.  12.6 miles or 14.6 if I take the long way home.  The new commute will be 2 miles each way.


I began my current commute in late October 2010.  I awake peacefully in the dark.  The only sound is that of the furnace or a/c kicking in.  Don't look at the clock.  Roll over and get comfortable and pray that it is only 11 pm.  Just as I get situated and comfy the fucking alarm goes off.  Damn!  No more sleep.

The light goes on.  The radio is turned on as well.  Wait for the weather report before heading to the shower.  Showers always wake me up.  Time to dress.  If it is winter then I dress like an astronaut.  If summer all I need is a pair of shorts and a shirt.  I have a large supply of work clothing waiting for me at 6200 park Ave, the call center.

Out the door between 5 and 530 am Monday through Friday.  Always dark.  Lights and flashers and reflective gear a must.  During the high point of Summer the sun would be out by the time I was about half way there.  But those daylight morning rides never lasted long.  The Earth is always rotating on its axis.  Always.

I grab a bike out of the laundry room or off my back deck.  Lights and bags.  Check for flat tires.  I have had to change horses before leaving.  Even this week.  Reset the computer and throw a leg over the steed.  Time to roll westward.

My street is usually empty.  There was a piece of shit Chevy Blazer that would be behind me until the first major intersection but I have not seen it for quite some time. 

Depending on how long it takes me to get my shit together there may or may not be two little white yippy dogs across the street.  They belong to the neighbor with the chopper and GoldWing.  These little bastards bark every time I ride by.  They bark at anyone walking on the sidewalk for that matter.  I wonder if I annoy their owners.  But motorcycle dude talks to me.

3 tenths of I mile I ride past Best Trip.  It is a Phillips station that sells beer and booze.  They open at 530 am.  Everyday I hope to roll by before they open.  This means that I am early.  I head straight to Mullets.  There may be up to three vehicles that pass me.  At this point I check to see if I remembered my PFG badge.  Without said badge I am hosed.  It is need to enter the building.  Without said badge I have to walk all the way around the building and make two phone calls.  One call to "Global Security" to get inside the building and the second to get into my area.  I never leave my badge at home.  Twice I left it at work.  Pain in the ass.

At Mullets I take a left and ride on the Meredith Trail.  I am done with roads for 4 miles now.  I take the trail all the way through Water Works to the Ikes.  I love this trail in the morning.  Safe, quiet and full of surprises.  If you could just see the beauty on this trail during winter after a fresh snow fall.  Virgin snow.  No tracks except for the ones my bicycle is making. 

No, wrong, there is another set of tracks left for me to follow.  Some small mammal leaves them.  i have never got within 200 yards of it.  These tracks are left by a fox.  He/she senses my presence and dashes into the tree line before I can get close.  Classic big red tail.  Elusive.  I pedal on hoping to see the fox again.

Now I turn onto what should be labeled Gray's Lake Bypass.  It is called the Bill Riley Trail Extension.  No more light poles.  Darkness.  Unfortunately, the lights from the buildings across the way destroy my night vision as I make the left and curve away from Gray's Lake.  Now there are other creatures in the darkness.  These are joggers.

Why black and dark colors are the choice for jogging and running before the dawn I do not know.  This is absurd.  But I have developed counter measures.  As I ride this section I stare at the Fleur Viaduct.  If any shadows emerge against this background they later reveal themselves as pedestrians.  I focus on the dark spot.  Wait until I am about 10 meters away and then light them up with my bright lights.  The best times are when there are two people running side by side and the one on the left moves to the right while the one on the right moves to the left and they collide.  Extra points if they correct themselves and do it again!  I say good morning and pass on the left.  One time I spotted a large group of them, all in black and only two with lights and called out "NINJAS" to announce my intention of passing.  It was like bowling complete with screams and the shitting of the pants.  If you dress like a stealthy ninja what should you expect?

Deer populate the remainder of the commute until I reach Park Ave.  I don't mind deer.  I can spot a deer before I can spot a ninja clad jogger.  Deer have reflective eyes.  One of the reasons I wear a headlamp, 50 lumen soon to be 100, is so that Bambi is found.  One time, riding to Anders Olson's home, Anders and I saw what is best described as a seen from Aliens if that film used deer instead of the acid drooling monsters.  Everywhere there were eyes reflecting back at us.  Creepy.  The entire herd.  Maybe 30 of them, maybe 50.

Finally I reach the 3 mile mark and prepare to cross SW 30th.  I sometimes see Diane and her 200 lb mastiff named Merlin.  Two things about dogs everyone needs to know.  1 never show fear in the presence of the canine.  they interpret this as guilt and will proceed accordingly.  2 show dogs that bicyclists are friendly.  During our 530 am encounters I dim my lights and stop the bike and talk to Diane.  I let the drooling beast sniff my hand.  That dog weighs twice as much as her.  Merlin has never growled or barked at me but the beast comes up to my handle bars.  During the summer it has the longest drool you'd ever see.  We chat for a minute or two before parting ways.  Those two are out even in the coldest of mornings.  I will miss them.

Pick up speed and prepare to cross George Flagg Rd.  Look left, look right and look left again.  rarely do I need to stop but sometimes I do.  I check out my high beam light.  If it illuminates the driver of the car I have it at the proper position.  Time to enter water Works Park.  More deer, oh dear.

As I approach the Raccoon River bridge I see a light.  Joe Ayers is riding to Cumming.  He uses only a headlamp.  Bright but no rear flasher.  Joe does not want to waste batteries.  Retired now, Joe rides 20 miles every day and maybe does a 40 miler twice a week.  Brad O thinks he rides 9000 miles a year.  Joe volunteers at the Des Moines Bicycle Collective and puts in many hours of work.  He is always friendly, always smiles even when recovering his bike from would be thieves.  Quiet and calm.  I wish I could be more like Joe.  But Joe is a faster rider than me and is headed my way on a road bike.  I start to stoke the 520 up to speed.  My goal is to reach the GWT trailhead before he catches me.  The chase is on.  My heavy bike and heavy body versus Joe.  We greet each other and part ways.  I need to take a right on Flagg and another on Park Ave, the busiest road of my commute.

I ride pretty slow.  Two things speed me up in the morning.  The first is Joe Ayers or any other biker that happens to be out.  The other is Park Ave.  My journey is a mere 6 tenths of a mile on this stretch but I do not enjoy it.  When I started this route I would stick on the right side of the road.  Park Ave is a 4 lane with a turning lane.  But I noticed that the right side of the road is filthy.  Sand and debris.  After a flat tire I changed my location.  Now I get into the turn lane after the day care.  No one bothers me there.  I do not bother others.  Perhaps there have been 3 incidents when an oncoming car needs me to get out of the way.  Rare.  Keep the speed up and go.

Always the same cars.  White Lincoln Town car.  Taurus with the license plate "0000000", maroon Chevy Impala.  The white pedophile van that once honked at me and a few Ruan semi-trucks.  Sometimes I can tell how late I am given the cars that I see.  If they are excessively speeding I know it is almost 6 am.  The later I am the less the traffic.  But I know that by 7 am it is extremely busy.

SW 56th is my savior.  I get to turn off the busy road.  Sometimes cars turn with me.  Never been an issue.  I shut off my super light on 56th and go with flashers only.  There is a large empty field to my right.  This is part of Mr Skunk's domain.  If we meet at a different location he freaks out.  If we meet at our usual locations he ignores me.  I have never been sprayed but I have smelled his discharge. 

On top of the hill I turn on Thornton Ave.  More deer and skunks.  Little traffic.  The last road to be plowed.  I have seen snow up to a foot here.  Find a clean line and do not stop.  Once when I reached 61st I saw 3 men pushing a Toyota.  I road through the snow.

Now the downhill to my final turn.  I really don't like pushing it over 20 for the turn into the parking lot.  Look out for cars coming up 61st.  It's rare but they sometimes get in the way.  Final left at speed watch out for ice if in season.  PFG does an outstanding job hiring services to keep the lot clear of snow and ice.  It's just the fools that left the sprinkler on last month screwed things up.  I had no issues but several people fell and people were surprised that cars did not collide..

I pull up to the warehouse door and hop off the bike.  I take a moment to shut off remaining lights and flasher.  I look at my time and distance on the computer.  Anything under 30 is good.  On the worst snow days 45 minutes.  Then I grab my fanny pack that holds my badge and wave it in front of the sensor.  BEEP and click notify me that I can open the door.  Need to push bike in quickly before the RFID equipment set off the bike's computer.  There is a long mat that I roll the bike on and then remount it.  This absorbs the snow of dirt I may have brought in before I ride to the opposite corner of the warehouse.

I rest the bike against the "cage" outside my door.  I placed several carpet samples on the floor for the bike to drip on.  Sand.  Sand is everywhere on Park Ave.  The bike is 10 feet from my business's door.  I could bring it inside but there is no need.  Only authorized people can enter the warehouse and there is a large camera viewing the door.  I have no need to lock it.  I will miss this parking spot.  When the change hits the bike will be outside under an overhang.  Locked up as well, chained to a rack.

I take the same route home.  Most of the time I opt to turn south on 56th to get to McKinley and catch the Great Western Trail in avoidance of Park Ave which is busier after work.  This adds a few hills and 2 miles.  I do not mind.  I have options to ride to Cumming.  If it is raining hard I stop at Orlandos.

Now the joggers are visible and the deer are hiding.  I see many bikers on the trail.  I recognize some of Des Moines finest.  I have seen Walter, Laura, Tom J, and Jason Boten.  Jason and I stop and talk.  He is on his way to Urbandale from downtown.  Damn, gonna miss him too.

New adventures await.  A 2 mile commute.  I can just wear my work clothes.  I can sleep in a bit and disrupt the family's morning routine.  "WTF are you doing here?  Or I can go for a nice ride in the morning before work.  I think sleep will win.

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