Monday, January 12, 2009

First Friday Alley Cat - November '07

The night of Friday November 2nd brought another Milwaukee First Friday Alley Cat race, my second one and third total alley cat race. Seeing as it was early November and the race was at night, it was both dark and brisk outside. I packed some extra layers in my bag incase I would need them during the race. I parked my car were I usually park for work and biked the mile or so down to the bar. As I went down Water Street I started thinking about 3 things, any car near me will try and kill me so I need to watch out, it's pretty chilly and what are these 'normals' thinking about as they see my crazy ass flying down the road early on a November night. At the intersection of Water and Wisconsin I hit a red light and went on due to a lack of cross traffic. Seeing as I was out ahead of the cars I pulled into the left-hand lane so I wouldn't have to fight the traffic when I turned at Michigan. The sense of power over the cars around me as I choose not to follow the rules they obey gave me a boost of energy as I swung around the corner at Michigan, cutting between traffic.

The race start time was 7:30 and it was already a little past 7 when I arrived at the bar. It was much different this time around, bikes were everywhere and there were half a dozen racers outside the bar. I noticed the guy running the race, Justin or Newsie as he goes by, this time around as I dismounted and said hey before locking my bike up. I recognized a lot of people from the past race and from the bike polo tournament the week previous, now if I could just remember names. After locking everything up I waited outside for a minute and went in the bar to get a beer. There were more bikers inside, along with the locals. I went up to the bar and asked the girl behind it for a pint of Spotted Cow, when she told me they were out I ordered a Guinness. The kid next to me asked if I was the one putting on the race, I told him it was one of the guys out side and wondered at that. I remember last month, at my first Friday night race, I had asked the same thing to someone, odd. I pounded my beer down and went back outside. Many more bikers had shown up now, it was a pretty big crowd, many more people than last month. Although, some of them were just there to hang out. As we all stood around waiting I talked to Newsie since I knew him from over a decade ago when we worked together. This time around I was beginning to bull shit with the other bikers, not that I want to be part of this clique, but I want to keep doing these races and I might as well be social and they are some decent people.

Newsie called everyone around him to explain the rules. This was going to be a race race…which was a pun. Everyone got an empty 6-pack beer container. On the manifest were 6 different locations, at each location there would be someone handing out a can of beer, full can, of a specific ethnic variety. The goal was to see who could get back with the most beer. So thus we have a race race, pretty funny right? As we went over the manifest to make sure everyone had an idea of what was going on Newsie started talking about the bonus points. The bonus point was for anyone who brought back either a bottle of Night Train or Thunderbird, which if you're not enlightened is best described as some of the ghettoest whino wine, which meant you could only get it at ghetto north side liquor stores. If you weren’t old enough to buy the liquor you could substitute it with a ghetto candy.

The start of the race was petty unorganized, all I have to say is I am glad I decided to get my bike out before hand and get everything set, no putting on my gloves as I'm riding tonight. Newsie mentioned something about starting the race or doing it officially. All of a sudden a bunch of people started to head out, slowly, creeping away, I decided to follow suit. As I clipped in and began up the street I head someone yell at the him to say START. By the time that happened around 10 of us, including me, had already crossed the intersection, heading in a mass exodus to Juneau Park.

It was pretty cool to be with a large number of bikers, taking over the road, but this wasn't a critical mass, this was a race and soon everyone was zigzagging through the streets trying to get to the park first. I, not being as careless as some, choose not to tempt fate too much with cross traffic. Whenever I met a sudden red I would turn down that street, in my attempt to get to the park quickly. Doing this onto Mason from Wisconsin caused me to almost squeeze between a parked car and a car wanting to turn west on Wisconsin. I think I surprised the guy as I turned the corner right in front of him. One of these damn days I'm going to clip a side mirror doing this. When I got to Kilbourn and Van Buren I was pacing 2 other racers. We all flew through the intersection with Prospect and were into the park. Our target was the statue in the middle of the park. As we went down the pathway a number of other racers passed by us, already having gotten their beer. I saw the target, two kids sitting on a bench with coats over the beer. Other bikers were swarming the bench, as I approached one guy did a nice grab while riding by. I didn't see any beer out and quickly thought I was too late, but then one of the kids pulled a can out of the jacket for me. I grabbed it and mounted the bike, flying back down the pathway, passing other people heading to the bench. I thought to myself, it's probably too late by now for anyone else. Time to head to the next stop and get there fast. The other racers were beginning to get more ravenous as everyone realized we are all taking the same course.

Thye next stop was the East Point Pick and Save, which is just off of Van Buren. On my way there I ended up alone, which both bothered me and helped me. I was worried that my pace was dying off and that I had chosen a bad route, but on the other hand I could concentrate on were I was going and not on what the others were doing. I had put the can in my jacket pocket, not wanting to waste anytime with my bag, when I received it. I decided I would attempt to put it in my bag on the fly, which was quite a bit awkward. As I headed north on Astor I am trying to get into my bag one handed, pedal my bike, look out for traffic, figure out my course and get the beer out of my pocket. The biggest problem was that I put the beer in the same side that my bag would sit for me to get to it, so that was a bit awkward to deal with. The next problem was that I wasn't going as fast as I would want to because I was putting more thought into the bag and getting the beer into it. As I rolled up to the intersection with State Street I noticed I was against a stop sign, the only thought that popped into my head was, I hope to god no one is coming down State because I was not going to stop, or be able to stop with out breaking my momentum and I really needed to get this can of beer out of my pocket and into my bag. After the intersection I did succeed in getting the can in and now had to swing my bag back around to a riding position. Unfortunatelly my jacket, which I foolish decided to wear at the last minute before the race began, hindered the bags ability to slide back into position properly. So as I'm trying to pound down Astor I am also trying to get the bag to sit properly.

At the stop sign at Astor and Juneau I decided to take a left down Juneau, as cross traffic showed up and I would have to slow down and let them cross to continue forward. So I took the initiative and turned left onto Juneau. A car headed the same way, went through the intersection but was puling over to park in front of the Astor hotel. I shot around the corner, pulling into the oncoming side as another car followed closely behind the parking one. I broke ahead of the vehicles and pounded down the street headed towards Van Buren. About a block away I saw two bikers cross my bath on Van Buren. As I came up to a red light on Van Buren I knew I would be able to make the turn safely, unless a biker was crossing, so just incase I took a last minute shortcut through the driveway of a flower store on the corner. Now I was on busy Van Buren, flying past bad nightclubs and expensive condos. The road was pretty empty for the moment and I took over the left hand lane to make for a better turn at my destinations intersection. There were bikers ahead of me riding the right hand side. I came up to what I thought was my intersection I wanted and turned left onto the left-hand sidewalk only to realize I was to the south of Pick and Save, not to the north like I was planning. At the south entrance to the parking lot I took a sharp turn and passed waiting cars. I could see a number of bikes and bikers as I was pulling up to the store. I leaned my bike next to a garbage can and ran into the store, passing other bikers as they came back out with beer, mentioning something about how it looked like the kid inside might get yelled at by some manager chick. As I fought past some shoppers to get into the produce section I first saw the manager chick, then a cart of boxes then the target kid. He saw both of us, yelled out to me that he was all out, my thought was, he's not out but I'm not going to press the point because it would not be cool for him to pull out a can of beer from his boxes as this manager was asking him what the hell was going on. I nodded my head in understanding of the later point and quickly turned around. This stop was awash and I wasn't going to press the point.

As I raced outside 3 things happened simultaneously. I thought my bike was not were I left it; it was gone, not leaning against the garbage can. A crazed hobo asked me for a can of beer and a female racer was wondering where the hell her manifest was and how she could have lost it already. Ok, bike found, I psyched myself out, this wasn't the garbage can I parked it, that was further down, upon looking past 5 feet in front of me I saw my bike in its proper spot. Ok, bum, man everyone must be acting pretty blatent with the beer if this crazed old whino is begging me for a can. Ok, chick, sorry, I'm already behind and I can't help you with just my manifest, good luck. I mounted the bike and past the whino, who again asked for a can of beer. I shot out of the parking lot and headed north, my next stop was the Chinese restaurant, China Garden. My thought is that it is the one on Brady that I don't like, next to Roman Coin which is a big bike messenger bar, makes sense to me. So I flew down the road, realizing as I past an intersection that that was my last chance to avoid the hill leading to the start of Brady, oh well, shit happens and you have to deal with it as it comes. I pounded up Brady, praying to make the green at the intersection with Van Buren. I crossed that and pounded up the street, aiming for the Roman Coin. At that block I hopped onto the sidewalk and began wondering where the hell the restaurant was. Upon finding it I realized it was wrong, this was Emperor of China…ok it has to be the other one on Brady, riding on the left side of the street, against traffic.

I came up to the next one and realized it was Oriental Coast, so my next thought, instead of looking at the damn manifest, which had instructions on it, was that it was the restaurant just north of the border of Shorewood on Oakland. Hell that was a ways away and I was already lagging trying to find the damn place. I decided to pound down Oakland all the way, hills and all to the restaurant. I cut through the parking lot of Walgreen's on Brady and shot out to Oakland Ave, ahead of oncoming traffic. As I raced down the dark street 2 things kept in my head the entire time, the street is really dark, I need a light for both seeing and being seen. The second thing was, I was starting to over heat. My jacket didn't breath. Yet, not wanting to stop, there was little I could do to alleviate that situation.

As I trudged down the first stretch of Oakland, heading to the intersection with North I kept remembering the accident I had last year when a lip in the road grabbed the sidewall of my tire and threw me into a cement street lamp before hitting the grass. I tried my best to peer through the darkness and spot any cracks or irregularities in the road that would dump me. On top of all of this I was already exhausted and beat. Right away in the beginning of the race I felt that I didn't have any energy and a few blocks into it my lungs burned from the cold air. By this point it was already a moot point and now it was just a matter of continuing the best I could. Under the pool of a street light I glanced at my bike computer and noticed I was only going about 18 miles an hour, which is below my normal 20 or so at this pace. I was definitely not with and I should have rode on the trainer more leading up to the race as that was my only bike time available. Too late for that.

I came up to Oakland and Locust, exhausted, and really over heating. I had worn a bandana on my head to keep it worm under my helmet; it was so bad that my head felt like it was on fire. Yet I had to keep going, I would strip down when I got to the next stop. I pounded up the hill and got caught at the intersection with Kenwood. On the down side of the hill on Oakland, where I would normally tuck to gain momentum and keep pedaling until I crested over 25 mph, I rested instead. I was pretty out of it from the exhaustion, the cold on my lungs and the over heating. It was a bad combo. From the throbbing in my head I realized that I had not had much in the past few hours that would hydrate me. At work in the afternoon I had had two cans of Squirt, I had a glass of water at home and a Guinness at the bar. I had two bottles of water in my bag. Given the fact that I have been having major technical difficulties with my bag tonight I knew I was not going to be able to dig the now buried bottles out of my bag while riding. I headed on, at the bottom of the hill and caught up with a marked police SUV. It was black, so I knew it wasn't MPD, but I still wasn't sure who it was. I thought that they paid attention to me. I didn't have a headlight on after all and was pretty much wearing all black and riding a black bike, so I’m not the most obvious rider in the middle of the night. I kept thinking that they would pull me over and search through my bag and find this can of beer in it. Even though it was unopened I figured that might be a bit of an awkward occurrence.

At the bottom of the hill I caught a red light and noticed that on the next hill there was major construction, great. On the green I stalled to let the cops get ahead of me and then pounded up the hill, ahead of the rest of the cars. As I came up to the restaurant near the top of the hill I realized that I had been horribly wrong. The name of this Chinese restaurant is East Garden. I pulled out the manifest, finally, and noticed that China Garden was on 14th and Wells, that was at Marquette, around 5 miles from where I currently was. I had lost any chance of winning the race and it was now pointless to go to the other locations. Defeated and exhausted I stopped the bike on the side of the road in front of the restaurant, took of my bag, stripped off the coat and bandana and shoved them in my bag along with repositioning the beer. I did not, however, even think of drinking some water, I was too preoccupied with my utter failier all because I didn't do what I was supposed to do, look at the damn manifest. I mounted the bike and headed back down the hill, back towards the bar, to a pathetic failure. I wasn't worried about winning the DFL prize; I had gotten one can of beer. I wondered if I should go back to Pick and Save and see if things have died down and if he really wasn't out of stock, no it was probably too late for that anyways and who knows what kind of trouble he was in at the moment. I kept going, keeping a steady pace, cooling down but still with a burning chest form the cold air. There was a south wind that had picked up a bit that didn't help maters at all.

As I approached a red light at the intersection with Locust I cut between both lanes of cars and decided on the spot to not give up and head into Riverwest, toward another stop on the manifest. I pounded down Locust heading toward a video store, for the moment the only thing I could think of was a video store on the corner of Locust and Weil back in the day, I thought it was still there. I was wrong, but about a block later I pulled out my manifest, yeah, slow learner, and realized it was on Center Street, which clicked and I remembered the store, which is just down the block from Fuel Café. As I turned down Bremen, into almost pitch street blackness, the fear of hitting some unknown problem in the road came back hard and I truly feared for my safety. It had been a while since I had been on this street and I could not remember what its condition was. I relished a car coming up behind me, lighting the way for me. The two blocks it took to get down Bremen were pretty harrowing as I continued to worry about cracks or potholes. I pulled onto Center Street via the sidewalk and jumped off my bike and leaned it up against the window of the video rental store, a little too hard, it crashed into the huge plate glass window. Hoping those inside wouldn't be too pissed, I ran in through the open door and was immediately hit with a wall of pot smoke. I don't think anyone would care if I almost broke the window. I looked into the back room to see a group of people, all presumably incredibly high and one saw me and shouted out "biker biker!". Everyone turned to me, and I asked if they had any more stuff for the race, they said they were out, I said I figured as much and ran back outside, hoping I didn't get a contact high.

The next stop was a few blocks away and I knew that ot would be empty if this one was. I really was at the end of the race for myself. For the hell of it I went up the street to a ghetto liquor store to pick up a bottle of Night Train, hell, why give up completely? Right. Show some effort at least.

I got there, hesitated for about 3 seconds, wondering if I really should go into this alien world and locked up my bike, rear light still flashing. I went into this place and tried to act calm as I was surrounded by some really aggressive people, looking to get a bottle of Hennessey for a night of partying. Not wanting to bother anyone or create any problems I quickly began scouring the shelves for my target. It had been so long since I had had Night Train that I couldn’t remember what the bottle looked like. After quite a while I found it and then went to check out at the counter, which was more like a bank teller security window. Yeah it's that kind of store/neighborhood. I waited in line forever and finally got checked out with my $1.75 worth of horrible ghetto liquor. As I went outside another white guy came in. I went to my bike and noticed 3 more white boys all nervous looking. Ah to be underage again. These kids were here, with the oldest looking out of the bunch, to buy some bad cheap booze with hopes of getting hammered tonight…cute. I packed my bag up and mounted my bike. I had cooled down considerably and the ride was a bit colder, but I wasn't going to put my jacket back on. This time I really was headed back to the bar.

I turned down Humboldt and realized just how pitch black the street was and how I wished I really had a headlight. I continued down the street, hoping to not kill myself, while also noticing the odd noises my bike was making. I have been riding it around in the grass trying to get familiarized with bike polo, well, that has taken a toll on my wheels and I need to get them checked out. Also on my way down Locust my chain skipped teeth for a second…it never ends with the bike repair. At one intersection I almost thought a driver was going to turn right in front of me but then they must have noticed me at the last second, yeah I really need a new headlight. I continued down the street and took the steep downhill towards the river. For a little bit I tucked into it, trying to have fun again and turned down the road along the east side of the river, heading for the start of Water Street. About halfway up this road I passed a female biker, racer or not, and she motioned to me and I nodded back. I wondered if she was a racer and if so, she was out of luck. I continued down and turned onto Water Street, building up momentum, it was time to fight traffic again.

Just before downtown I came upon the deconstruction of an old tannery complex. I pass this everyday taking my daughter to school, but the windows are up. Now, out in the open air I am hit with the over powering smell/stench of the demolition. Asbestos? Dust, dirt, old building materials. I quickly biked past the blocks the complex took and was grateful that the stench had gone away too. Now I was into the heart of the Water Street college booze district. At the first block, just north of Juneau a group of partiers were crossing the middle of the street, I went in-between them, as the lead person and the rest of the pack were pretty far spread. As I safely went through, the possibly already drunk college kids, one of them shouted after me "Honk your horn fucker!!". My first thought was, I don't have a horn, the next was, idiot, the last was, whatever, you're just being your silly self and are not actually a treat to me. I smiled at the stupidity and kept going. The trip back to the bar was pretty safe; the traffic was light and behaving so I didn't have to fear for any sudden death. Again at Wisconsin and Water I pulled ahead of the crowd and took the left hand lane and flew onto Michigan in-between oncoming traffic. This time however, I was just relieved to be done as I came upon the massive gathering of racers.

It seemed like most everyone had returned and all were standing around outside, drinking their beer from the race and bull shitting about the race and other things. I went up to some people and started to talk about what I did in the race. Everyone was pretty amazed that I went all the way out to Shorewood; one of them even said I should get some kind of prize for going the furthest. I spotted the guy running the race, err I mean organized ride, and told him my story; he was pretty amazed as well. I gave out my bottle of Night Train to some one and decided to join in the festivities and drink my solitary can of beer. I pulled it out and discovered it was Labatt. Well, I know it's a cheap beer, but I have never had it so, bottoms up. Mmmm, warm cheap Canadian beer. I started talking with a couple of guys and found out one of them was an EMT and was only 20…damn that made me feel old. He and another guy, who was 25, were discussing theology, which perked my ears. Then everyone started talking about next years MMI, Milwaukee Messenger Invitational, the granddaddy of all Milwaukee alley cat races. The MMI is held every April and has bikers from all over the country competing in a race that goes around 25 miles all through out the city. It's best done with a group of other racers working together, so I think I need to get some friends in shape for April so I can stand a chance. After a little more socializing I thanked Newsie for putting on a fun race, even if I completely bombed and headed back to my car. Now it was time to prepare for the December race and get full finger gloves, long johns and a headlight.

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