Monday, January 12, 2009

First Friday Alley Cat - October '07

Not too long after the Center Street Daze alley cat I discovered another MySpace page listing devoted solely to alley cats in Milwaukee. The group was called Milwaukee First Friday Alley Cats. They get together in a small old-timer bar hidden away down town every first Friday of the month to race. The winner of the previous race usually comes up with the next race. I arrived at the bar at pretty much 7 pm sharp. There was only one other bike locked up near by. I went in, and noticed the guy who obviously owned the fixie locked to the lamppost. I asked him is he was here for the race, he said yes, I then asked him if he was running the race and he said no. Ok… I looked around the bar and saw nothing but retirees and the like. It was an interesting location to choose as the monthly start point. Apparently the place is a popular hangout for the messengers and they had great deals on PBR. I don't drink the stuff personally so I ordered up a pint of Spotted Cow. I sat down at the table next to the other racer after exchanging introductions with him and his girl friend and waited. When he saw me with the pint he told me that five bucks would get me 3 cans of PBR out from the cooler sitting next to the bar. I told him thanks for the tip; I'll stick with the Cow. He was talking with her on and off about how he was sick of racing because of the inconsistency of the event…great. So far, that seemed to be the way these races went, never on time. It was about quarter after 7 and it was still just the two of us, I was wondering if there would even be a race. I was sweating like pig in the bar, so I finished off the beer and headed outside to make sure everything was secured to my bike that I needed. It was already fully night time. I had attempted to secure a headlight for my bike, in lieu of mine being MIA, yet to no avail, I was headlight less. I had my taillight, so at least people could see me from behind. I also chose to wear a light colored shirt to help reflect some light. I had no idea were the race was going to take me and was a bit apprehensive about having to navigate messed up roads in the dark.

Some riders started to show up and closer to 7:30 the place was half biker and half old timers. It was in interesting mix, old school white bred professional drinkers and 20-something bike messengers and hangers-on. For a while I was the only one out of the racers that was not drinking a can of PBR. Out of everyone I met I only remember one guys name; I am horrible with names and feel shitty about it but that’s the way it is. I was apprehensive before about being an outsider or being perceived as a poser or something like that. Instead I found everyone to be really laid back and easy going. I didn't do much but trade introductions with a few people but hey, it went better than expected. One of the guys running the race came in around quarter to 8 with a clipboard looking for everyone who was racing to chip in their 5 dollars. He introduced himself to me when he got to me, Drew. He took my name and my money and it was on. A few minutes later we all met outside. I was getting mildly anxious. I wasn't sure what was going to happen. I unlocked my bike, hooked up my taillight and bike computer. As opposed to the Center Street Daze race I was one of 2 people wearing a helmet. There were a total of about 15 racers and we were all grouped on the sidewalk in front of the bar. The guy with the clipboard shouted at everyone to pay attention and he started going over the race.

He said they had to come up with something fast since the winner of last month had bailed out on this one. So they did not have any manifests for us…I was a bit worried about this. He said that with in the boundaries of State Street and Wisconsin and Water and Jackson, there are 20 bike posts that had a PBR bingo card attached to it or on the ground next to it. On the card is a number. There are black numbers and red numbers. We had 40 minutes to get as many cards as we could. The race started when the stoplights on Michigan and Broadway turned green. He said that and my heart skipped a beat…how long did I have to get ready? Luckily I was pretty much set, I was in the street, my helmet was on and my computer and tail light were rocking. I looked at the crosswalk sign to see it blinking, I clipped in my right foot, and the next second it turned red and we all flooded the street in a mad dash north and east. I pushed hard to get through the intersection and head north up Broadway, trying to stay at the head of the crowd for safety reasons and to get going fastest. I weaved through the streets trying not to have to slow down, making my way to the intersection of Jackson and State. I figured it would be best to go the furthest out and make my way back in. At about Mason and Milwaukee two guys crashed as one of them decided to make a quick u-turn in front of the other guy. Luckily I was outside of them and didn't get involved. As I blew by them I heard the victim curse at the situation. I thought, shit man, tough luck and kept going. I realized early on that something was amiss. My grip on the handlebars was off somehow; I forgot to put on my gloves. I fished one out of my pocket and put it on while riding then fished the other out, but had a harder time getting it on and had to resort to using my teeth to help. Now I was officially set, a few blocks into the race.

As I made the mad dash towards my initial goal, I found myself alone. I was franticly scanning the passing sidewalks for what I might be looking for. What constituted a bike rack? What the hell did the card(s) look like? Initially I thought there were a number of cards at each location and whoever got there first got to pick the number they wanted. I made my way down the east side of Cathedral Square Park, dodging and weaving through the streets that were only partially populated. It was pretty easy going back in this section of downtown at the moment. As I rode along the park I was franticly scanning the parks exterior for anything that might be what I was looking for. I cut west down State at the Northeastern border of our race area and rode the sidewalk to get a better view of anything. Near the west end of the block was a couple taking up the sidewalk. Sure I am supposed to be on the street and generally don't ride on the sidewalk, but this was a special circumstance, I was in a race damnit. I called out "excuse me, on the right" to the couple and as the girl friend jumped over with a start I passed them and her boyfriend mentioned something about how I should be riding on the street. He said it in a mater of fact way, not like he was yelling at me, my thought in response was, I will be, just had to take a detour. At the street I hooked a sharp right and darted across State to the north side before any cars could interrupt me. I plowed into the walk area at the north end of the intersection, which is part of MSOE's campus. Right in front of me was a bike rack with 2 bikes on it and as plain as day, a PBR bingo card taped to it. I quickly rode up to it, snatched it and took off. It took me about 5 seconds to figure out what to do with the large card. Luckily I wore my cargo shorts and the card fit perfectly in one of he side pockets. I wondered if I risked loosing it but shrugged that thought off and kept going.

Now I knew what I was aiming for and had a renewed conviction. I shot southward down Jefferson, scanning between, threw and around the parked cars to catch a glimpse of any cards attached to anything that might be considered a bike rack. This was not a race about speed; it was a race about attention to details and the ability to notice things quickly. As I went down the street, now on the west side of the park, I thought about all the people who were sitting out on the patio at nice posh restaurants this, amazingly beautiful Friday evening, enjoying expensive wine and overly priced dishes. With me and all the other racers running up and down this confined area of downtown franticly looking for battered bingo cards tapped to metal posts with numbers written on them. How odd of a contrast was that?

I chose not to take the sidewalks near the restaurants because I knew it would be easier to avoid the packed 'patios'. Fucking ridiculous trend of putting a bunch of tables on the sidewalk and calling it fashionable…yeah, it is nice to be outside, but it also is annoying to have to deal with drinking exhaust with that glass of Chardonnay. Then there are these weird looking guys on bikes riding, aimlessly to the outside viewer, around you. I realized that I probably had a really odd and intense expression on my face as well. I could feel it, my mouth was open, and not so much to breath easier but in a concentration related way. My eyebrows were furrowed constantly and I was staring at everything really intently, like I wanted to eat it. If someone looked into my face I must have looked like I was trying to find someone to stab to death.

I had noticed one or two other racers in the area but I still only had one card. I shot down Jefferson and passed some bikers waiting at a light on Mason, I knew they weren't racers because they were sitting there. I thought about if they had seen any more racers and if they had any idea what was going on around them. I remember reading something a bike messenger said. He was talking about the unbelievable contrast their job is. They make their bread and butter shuttling around legal documents and all sorts of other paperwork between the major movers and shakers of any cities downtown district(s). They help the flow of commercialism maintain its breakneck pace. Yet the messengers tend to be more of the anti-establishment punk rock variety. The messenger was talking about how their world was one that existed in the shadows, people in the city know they exist but are never really aware of that existence. I realized after seeing the casual bikers at the intersection exactly what that meant. Everyone that we cross paths with tonight will not be aware of what we are doing. All they will see are a bunch of people riding around on bikes, apparently with no intentions other than to ride. Yet a major force in me wanted to share what was going on with people around me. I remember on the way to the race from picking up my lock from work a guy who was getting off of work was riding his bike back home. As I passed him on my way to the bar I almost told him there was a race going on and that he should come, but elected not to.

I hit Wisconsin and Jefferson and headed east along the north side towards Jackson. I was riding the sidewalk and stumbled upon my second card. I was doing surprisingly well. I turned around and a few block later I found my third. After less than 8 minutes I had found four cards. I was now on the south end of the game area and had to decide how to proceed. I figured that most of the obvious cards had already been found, especially since most everyone had come this way. Yet, I had a lot of time left before I had to return to the bar and didn't want to give up hope yet. I criss-crossed the race area, searching franticly for any other cards. I would pass other riders here and there, but never any groups of them. I searched everywhere I thought there might be a bike rack. I was going into parking structures, deep into mezzanines of buildings and down alleys. The alleys were pretty sketchy, they were pitch black and uneven. I had no headlight so I couldn’t see the quality of the pavement in front of me. All I knew was that Milwaukee alleyways are usually in pretty bad shape. I just hoped that I didn't hit anything that would pop or wreck my tire or spill me.

At one point I went through Red Arrow Park, in between State and Kilbourn, on the faint chance that a card might still be there. I thought, as I crossed through the skating rink, that there might be a possibility of some sort of chain set up across the entrance that I could not see that would mess me up. I made it through but the idea still nagged as I passed through the exit. I headed east up State Street now, wanted to hit the backside of the MSOE campus area. At the intersection with Broadway I didn't notice that the light had changed as I started to cross, what I did notice was a northbound car coming at me rapidly. I quickly unclipped my left foot and turned and stopped myself on the yellow line. The driver, a young hipster girl, stopped her car as well; I took off south on the Broadway and made my way up a sidewalk. About half way down it, scanning for any card, a trio of older woman stopped me. They wanted to know where the Hyatt was. I know exactly were the damn building is, but since my brain was 95% focused on finding these bingo cards, I couldn't even remember what the Hyatt building was. I stammered and one of them said that they knew it was on Kilbourn but were unsure as to where it was. It came back to me, the freaking building is across the street form the building I have worked at damn near every day since 1999. I told them to go to 3rd and Kilbourn and it would be on the right side. Another racer passed us at this moment and I realized I needed to get going myself. They thanked me as I rode my bike into a buildings walk area. I scanned an exit and asked some Hispanic guy sitting on a bench if that was a set of stairs or a ramp, he asked me what and I asked him if they were stairs. He said they were just before I got to them, time to turn around and find a different route.

I made my way back towards Jackson, scanning the interior of some of the campus grounds. I ran into another racer on Jackson and we shared a couple of sentences about what we thought might be left out there. We both agreed that it was pretty much over and separated. He headed a bit more eastward, just outside of the boundary and I looped around to Wisconsin Avenue again. I looked at my computer, it had only been 20 minutes…I decided I would search for the next 10 then call it quits. I ended up in a parking lot near the Masonic building on Mason Street and spotted an attendant. I shouted out to him if they had any bike racks in the lot, the guy looked a bit confused and said no. I thanked him and shot out a different exit onto the street again. I headed back towards Water and tried to see if I could find any hidden bike racks. I searched through building walkways and in parking structures, hidden parking lots and even climbed off my bike once and hiked up some stairs. I did find a bike rack that time, that was hidden, but if there had been a card on it there wasn't one now. I even found a weird and curious, mini drive through only bank as I came out of some alley east of Broadway and north of Mason. It made me think about what I am gaining from doing these races. I am getting a more intimate view of the city I live in; I am finding places that people might not know about, places I never knew about. My first race thought me a good deal about the cities history, as I had to read a number of historical plaques. This one was making me take weird, unpopulated routes through this small section of downtown.

I didn't find any more cards and it had almost been 30 minutes, it was unlikely that there where anymore. I remember thinking a few times as I passed busy sidewalks, that maybe a few of the cards were taken by people not in the race. On my way back to the bar I did navigate down a crowded patio/sidewalk and wondered what would happen if someone pulled his or her chair out in front of me or stepped out in front of me. A guy was standing on the sidewalk just past a grouping of tables, well out of harms way, but none the less he was completely off guard to have a bike barreling down the sidewalk at him. After that there was another grouping of tables and two women standing next to one talking with their backs to me. I had a dilemma, do I say something and risk bringing them into my field or do I hope they don't decided to move over suddenly. I chose to remain quite and flew by them while ducking down to my handlebars to avoid being clipped in the head from a sidewalk borne tree branch.

I headed back to the bar, at first I didn't see any bikes but as I got closer I saw many of them lined up against the wall. The guy who collected the money was standing out side. As I locked up my bike he called out to me. I told him I had four cards and he congratulated me on my good work. He asked me what I had and began tallying it on the clipboard. This is when I learned that the black lettered cards were worth double the points and the other cards had red lettering not white like I thought he had said in the beginning of the race. All in all I had 76 points. I was in the lead, but there were still some riders out still and no one had brought back the double 20. The next rider to show up had that and the double 18, right there he matched my total and he still had two more cards. He took the lead and the win with a total of 90 points. The guy was someone I knew from my first telemarketing job in high school, nice guy names Justin. We all went in to join everyone else in the bar, as the race was pretty much over with. The guy with the clipboard called everyone to the back of the bar but got interrupted to see the end of the baseball game that was on the TV. After it finished we all moved to the back bar, drinks in hand. By this point I had already pounded down 1 and a half glasses of water and half of my beer. We all sat around as the winners were announced. The guy with 90 points won the 45-dollar pot, I got honorable mention. The only girl in the race ended up winning the DFL (Dead Fucking Last) prize and got her 5 dollars back. Everyone headed back to the bar and as I passed the leader I was handed a bingo card. I asked him what this was for and when he said bingo I gave it back to him and told him I had to get going. He ribbed at me about that and I thanked him for a fun race and took off to return home.

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