Monday, January 12, 2009

First Friday Alley Cat - July '08

The 4th of July alley cat was a bizarre event right from the beginning. I chose to ride downtown in order to warm up for the race. I had been training all week and wanted to make sure my training weary muscles were lose for the race. I knew one of 2 things was going to happen, I was going to be slow or I was going to be fast. As I got down town Jordan called me for advice on where to park. I told him to meet me at the Bradley Center and when he arrived we rode together to the bar. I was excited for the race; it was a beautiful day and with it being the 4th and Summerfest happening, downtown was going to be crazy. I joked with people earlier in the week that I was going to get hit by a car. The racing event would have to be quick so my plan to bike out to State Fair park to meet up with my family and watch fireworks could pan out. I would have to be in West Allis by 9:30 or so.

We approached the bar and began to wonder if there had been a mistake…no one else was there and it was almost 7. The previous day a message had been posted online about the race starting at 7:15 and it would not be ending at the bar, due to everyone being crazy downtown that night. As we sat and waited we began to wonder if the race was even starting here, or if the message was a clue that we failed on. It grew closer to quarter after and I began to fear that I would not race tonight, that we had missed something. I looked outside in time to see one of the Breakaway guys ride by. I wondered if he was seeing what idiots were waiting at the bar to start the race as he was on his way to the real location. I went outside and a girl was there locking up her bike, she was here to race as well. So now it was 3 of us and the bartender…pretty dead. A few minutes later the messenger that passed by showed up and after that another one. I started to relax a little, but was still unsure of the situation, the guy putting on the race was still not there and it was close to 7:30, the normal start time. Finally, after 2 beers, he rolled in. Not many other people had showed up, so it looked like a pretty small field. I overheard that we were waiting for some other people who were on there way. Eventually we paid up and waited for the start.

At one point I went to the bathroom and came back to find Jordan missing, I stepped outside of the bar to see a smashed motorcycle lying in the middle of the Water/Michigan intersection and a few cops. Great, not only was there some kind of accident half a block away there were also a bunch of law enforcement officers wandering around. Apparently a motorcycle collided with a taxi. I wasn't sure how hurt the people on the bike were but the wreck looked bad enough.

A few minutes later the race started but as we were going over the manifest we got news that a biker on his way to the race was hit by a car 2 blocks away…not good. We continued, as we heard that he was on his way, so it must not have been anything too bad. After a few minutes and some antics to cut the heavy mood, a Gallagher showed up wearing hot pants, which made the mood even lighter, nice timing. The biker who was hit showed up and things turned for the worst. The guy was actually in pretty rough shape and ended up collapsing on the ground. Everyone was arguing with each other as the best way to help him. No one was really sure what was wrong with him, but he definitely was not in good shape. He was acting like he had a concussion and thankfully he was wearing a helmet. Apparently a car had hit his rear wheel and that took him down, now the trauma from the crash was catching up to him. There was some discussion as to if he had a spinal injury but that was quickly squashed out as he walked a number of blocks to get here after the accident. The scene was pretty surreal and I stood around silently, wondering if it would be considered in bad form to pull out my manifest and study it. I thought it would be rude given the situation but honestly I have little to no first responder knowledge. What did get me, although considering the atmosphere, was that out of the half dozen cops in the vicinity no one seemed to notice the biker lying down on the ground and the other bikers standing around him with concerned/puzzled expressions on their faces. At one point three pedestrians passed by and one of them stopped and stared at the entire scene, kind of like he was watching a movie, yet at the same time you could feel the internal conflict the guy was having. He continued to make motions like he was going to jump in and take control of the situation, yet they were all aborted rather quickly.

As I watched him I began to remember a paper I read about a phenomenon in human psychology that allows a group of people to stand by and watch an injured person lay there and not help. (The case was actually based initially on an incident in New York in which a couple dozen people stood around while a woman was murdered) There are a number of reasons and speculations to this phenomenon and it was clearly affecting this man. Someone asked him is he was a doctor and as he dragged himself away from the scene he said he was a training first responder…yet he left. Eventually the guy's girlfriend was contacted; he had refused an ambulance due to lack of money and insurance. It was getting late and I called my wife to let her know that I would be delayed as the race had not started yet. I contemplated pulling out due to time constraints, but stuck with it. The guy running the race pulled everyone together and decided to start the race and asked for everyone to be especially careful and have positive thoughts for the guy laying on the ground in agony. We took off.

The manifest had 5 stops on it, one of them I had no clue as to where it was and figured we could wing it or it might come to me later. We had could get bonuses for bringing back ice cream too. Our first stop was way out in Whitefish Bay, given a number of things I felt the best course of action was to hit the bike trail and take that all the way out. Jordan and I headed eastbound on Michigan, towards the heart of the beast, Summerfest. This stretch was a blur of bikers behind me and a number of red lights with no traffic and me yelling out that the coast was clear. A number of blocks away Jordan took the lead and I directed him. Traffic became very thick at Lincoln Memorial drive and we took the left turn lane as soon as possible. Dodging some pedestrians, we made it clear and flowed down the road. I told him to get into the turn lane at the next light and to mount the sidewalk on the west side of the road; this would lead us directly onto the bike path and home free. We made it unscathed and alone. We both pounded out a steady rhythm as we headed out into the suburbs.

This unobstructed 5 or so mile stretch put my training to the test as Jordan's pace forced me to push myself beyond the current limits. Over the course we each took the lead, creating a draft for the other to rest in. The rest for me was little respite as my legs burned and weakened rapidly. The only thing keeping me going was fear of embarrassment. I took the lead as we rolled into Whitefish Bay and warned him that the end was soon and sudden, as Jordan was riding brakeless. I slowed up and took the 90 degree turn that dumped us out onto Wilson Drive in Whitefish Bay. We paused for a second to let a northbound car pass and we entered the street. The brief stop was good for my legs and the pain subsided. On the path I had pulled out the manifest to study the first stop. We had to go to the guy who put on the races' moms house and count the number of flags in her front yard and the number of grills in the back yard. I knew about where to go, having spent a significant amount of my adolescence in Whitefish Bay.

After the red light at Hampton we rolled northbound on Santa Monica Blvd, to Henry Clay, hung a left, went up two blocks and found our stop. I rolled onto the sidewalk and Jordan kept to the street, we both slowed down in order to find the correct house on the first pass. I found it and spied two grills in the back yard and no flags in the front yard. I think the flag thing was a trick as the house across the street has a huge Independence Day hoopla filled with lots of people and lots of flags. I wondered what everyone in the neighborhood though of the guys on bikes, with huge shoulder slung backpacks all congregating around a quite, unassuming house over a period of about 10 or 20 minutes.

We rode into the alley behind the house to make sure nothing was missed. I got confused as to what house was what and thought I saw a 3rd grill but after going around the front again I realized I looked at the wrong yard. I pulled onto the street and stopped at the next block to write down the answers on my manifest. I had to use Jordan's pen because I lacked one for this race. After we jotted down our answers we took off for the second stop, time to head into Riverwest.

As we rode back towards the path we passed the messenger from earlier. I debated where and how to exit the bike path until we got on it then set my mind to the course. As we road down it Joe, messenger, polo player, winner from 2 months ago, passed us on the path. As he approached I kept thinking of the scene from Hot Shots Part Duex when father and son Sheen pass each other and yell out "I loved you in Wall Street" at each other. We kept going, my eyes out for the exit I wanted to take, because it was hard to spot from afar. I warned Jordan we would be taking another sharp turn. We took it and spilled out onto the parkway through Estabrook Park.

The last time, a few months prior, that I had been on this street, it was a pothole filled nightmare, this time it was nice smooth blacktop. I told Jordan that this road had needed this for over 15 years. We rode out to Capitol and quickly turned to cross the Milwaukee River as traffic was sparse. We pulled into the turn lane, waited for a bus to round the corner and got onto Humboldt. A couple of blocks up the road I noticed a car that had a passenger in it, my initial thought was that the car would shoot out of the parking spot without looking for me, I was ready. Instead the driver swung the door all the way open, pretty much taking up the entire bike lane. Having prepared for the driver to do something stupid I easily avoided it and swerved into the street to clear his door. As I passed by him I yelled door really loud, mostly to scare the shit out of the idiot since Jordan obviously saw the event take place. Jordan caught up to me and expressed his amazement at people's alertness; I shrugged and said I was expecting him to actually blindly pull out of the parking spot.

A few blocks later we came to the next stop, Pumping Station Park. We crossed the road and mounted the sidewalk. We rode the path up to the tennis courts and the bathroom. As we rounded the bend 2 other racers passed us on their way from the stop. On the bathroom door was a picture of fireworks with said firework written above it, just incase there was any confusion as to what it was. We quickly jotted that down on our manifests and headed to the next stop. Jordan commented on the fact that he didn't bring his normal glasses because he didn't think it would be dark while he was still racing, neither did I and both of us lacked a headlight.

The next stop was a bar about 5 or so blocks away. We took the sidewalk to the intersection of Locust and Humboldt but had to slow down and swing onto the grass to maneuver around pedestrians. That's what happens when you ride a bike on the sidewalk, so it doesn't make sense to get upset. At the intersection we shot west on Locust and then headed south on Bremen. We pulled onto Center and then up the street to the bar called Riverhorse. As we passed one bar Jordan questioned if we passed the stop, noting all the parked single speeds. I told him it was up there and mentally thought, this is Riverwest, everyone rides a single speed here. At one point we passed a group of people rushing to put out a garbage can they inadvertently started on fire while setting off fireworks. For the first time the though occurred to me that we could possibly be targeted, intentionally or not, with ballistic weapons of the gunpowder kind as everyone and their mom was lighting off fireworks today.

We stopped at the bar and I asked Jordan if he wanted to run in and get the answer. I needed to check my phone that had rung a few blocks earlier to see who called. He ran in and I checked my phone. He came back, verified the question on the manifest and we wrote down the answer of hot dog. I mused about that one since the picture was across from the women's bathroom door. We headed to the next stop, going to the next street, southbound to North Avenue. The next question was for a bathroom in the park on the south side of the North Avenue bend.

As we rolled down the street I apologized or leading him down hills that ended in uncontrolled intersections while he was riding a brakeless fixie. We approached the north end of the bend and took a left to get to North Avenue. I hesitated at first due to bizarre looking construction a block down but decided to take that way anyways. We slowed down as we approached a large length of tube with wood planking running across the road, the wood planking was there to make passing the tube easier. We both crossed slowly but it was still petty jarring. We took off again and rounded the next intersection and came out on North Avenue. At the bend I told him we needed to get across the street and onto the sidewalk, which we were able to do after a few cars passed. We crossed and found ourselves in the parking lot. I saw the bathrooms in the distance and decided to hop the bike onto the grass and shoot straight across.

The park was strewn with garbage from last nights fireworks spectators and there were two sets of people lying bundled up in blankets. We rode over the bumpy grass and up to the bathroom. There was a picture of a baseball, we jotted down the answer and went to try and find the final stop, the unknown stop. After a second of debating the course I led us through the park towards North and Holton. I apologized to Jordan and my bike the entire time, as we rolled over incredibly bumpy ground and down a bag grassy hill.

We made our way onto a pathway and out onto a side street, now I had to try and feel out where the street was. I figured we could go down to 3rd and see if we could cross the street at some point and then go from there. As we rolled to Holton I called out to a guy on the street and asked if he knew where it was, he said he didn't and I thanked him anyways. We kept going. It was getting dark and we were pulling into a mildly rough neighborhood. There were many people out, enjoying the holiday and I'm sure some of them had been drinking heavily all day long; I was mildly concerned for our safety.

As we hit 3rd I decided to shoot northbound to see if it was between North and Center. After a number of blocks I became disheartened and asked Jordan what he wanted to do, he wondered if we should head southbound, I hesitated then offered the idea of calling it and heading to the end. It was getting pretty late and we both had to get out of Milwaukee quickly to meet up with other people. He agreed and we shot down Center, heading back into Riverwest and to the final stop. I apologized for taking him up the steep Center Street hill as we fought with a bus. We rolled into Riverwest and I began looking for the address we needed. The building I originally thought was the stop was the wrong one and we continued down the block until we found it. All the bikes parked in front were a dead give away.

The guy putting on the race lived above a business and I had to make sure we were going through the correct door. As I waited for Jordan to lock up, Peter, who races sometimes and helps run Cog magazine, came strolling by and asked how we did. I asked him where Reservoir was and after explaining it to me I mentally kicked myself in the ass. Jordan was right with his hunch, we should have headed south. Oh well, no going back now, we were racing against the clock. We headed up the stairs to the apartment. Hesitantly we made our way through the flat, following the signs directing us to the roof. Bikes were everywhere in the house and it was odd being in a Riverwest apartment after so many years of not living in the neighborhood, but things never change there apparently. Jordan spotted the last leg of the journey, the access point to the roof. Hanging from an opening in the ceiling was a rickety metal stepped rope ladder. My fear of heights took over and I said fuck that, I'll take my incomplete. Jordan shrugged and climbed up, I waited for him, smiling and shaking my head at the hole in the ceiling. After a minute another of the racers came down, complaining about the ladder. Soon after, Jordan came back, saying there were a lot of people up there with a lot of ice cream, we left the house.

As we stepped outside the people on the roof threw a barrage of fire crackers into the street. We quickly mounted our bikes and headed back to Jordan's car, on the way I begged for a ride to West Allis, so I could make it in time to watch the fireworks with my family.

On the way back downtown two Taxis tried to kill us in separate incidents. The first was one almost pulling out in front of us at a gas station on Humboldt and North, the other was one pulling into the bike lane at Juneau and Water to drop people off for a night of drinking. Aside from that we had to deal with one semi steep hill that came to an abrupt end, sorry Jordan, and pedestrians on a multi use bridge being angry over having to share the path way with cyclists. All in all the race was filled with bizarre events, grueling legs and an almost perfect routing that ultimately lead to me being DQ'd and Jordan not placing as high as he could have. I wonder if we had all the answers if I would have climbed the rickety ladder. The day after Jordan told me that we would have been 4th and 5th if we would have gotten all the answers. Not too bad.

No comments:

Post a Comment