Tuesday, December 15, 2009

First Friday Alley Cat - December 09

December’s race was the first cold race in a long time. The temperatures were forecasted to be in the upper teens and it was the perfect opportunity to start testing out my new winter gear, especially as I need to get prepared for Stupor Bowl. Matt had won November and was excited to be putting on his first race. I showed up at the bar, had some dinner and waited for the start.

As the race approached the beer consumption increased. Race time showed up with a dismal 4 contestants paid up…and that was all there was going to be too. It was I, the guy who had raced with me when I won Octobers and two brand new racers, who were new to the city. I was disappointed to say the least but was going to do the race if for nothing more than a test on my cold weather gear. We all headed outside and Matt handed out the manifests. There were a number of question with blanks we had to fill in which would then result in a sort of crypto-quip final answer we had to fill in. The race started, the guy that rode with me in October took off and I waited, patiently scanning the manifest. Matt yelled at me as he wanted to assist the two rookies with at least some general directions about the course route. I ignored him and plotted out my manifest. I waited for the rookies to take off then finally, left myself, with no sense of urgency. Before I took off I told Matt I didn’t know where one of the streets was located, he chided me for not knowing and gave me a hint as to its general location. The hint did the job and I instantly formed a mental image of the streets location.

I cut through the alley next to the bar and headed for Clybourn As I rolled I crunched some glass and thought for sure I would flat out, which would be my running luck as of late. I kept going, waiting for the flat that never came. I pulled out onto Clybourn and waited for a few seconds at the red light with Water, I wasn’t in a rush, no need to risk getting a ticket more than I needed too.

Leading up to the race I had been worrying myself over a series of events in the urban cyclist world that seem to sound off a growing anti-biking sentiment in some communities. The most recent at that time was from a veteran messenger in Philly getting taken out by a hit and run on Thanksgiving morning and spending the entire weekend in the hospital. What was outraging the community in Philadelphia was the luke warm response from the police in which they didn’t even file a report until 12 hours later and marked it down as an accident and not a crime. There was a rally called to protest this action and similar harsh treatment of cyclists in the city due to recent cyclist vs. pedestrian fatalities that had the city government and news up in a storm of anti-cyclist rage.

I pulled onto south bound Water and headed towards my first stop in bay View. My hands were cold from having my gloves off while routing the manifest on the wall of the bar and were not warming up…causing me to fear the choice in glove selection. I pressed on regardless into the strong south winds all the way down to the 2000-2100 block of south KK. As I neared the target block I pulled over and mounted the sidewalk. I pulled out the manifest, carefully read the listing, found the answer (which I luckily stopped right in front of) and filled in the answer on a nearby building. I turned north and headed back up the block on the sidewalk and pulled out onto the first cross road to cut over to 1st street.

As I rolled down the side street I smirked in my mind about knowing this street went to 1st as we had to hit it during MMI in ’08 for the Shotwell Studio spot. About a block later my smugness was shot down as the street dumped me out onto Lincoln anyways before hitting 1st and I could have just continued south on KK instead of double backing about a block…so much for being confident in my skillz.

The next stop was a few blocks north of the 1st stop on south First and as I pulled past Beecher I had a sinking suspicion the stop was at Horney Goat Brewery. I pulled into the parking lot in front of a yuppie-in-training couple out for a night out of cheap/shitty beer and bad sex. I found the address on the bar/brewery and read the question closely. I had to peer inside of the entrance to find the answer which was what charity had a donation box in the lobby, Toys for Tots. I wrote my answer down right there at the entrance and when I thumped heavily on the window to write a hostess looked at me with alarm. I mentally told her to get used to it as I was one of four and wrote down my answer before she could consider chasing me away.

My next stop was a church located on Mitchell Street. I pulled out of the bars parking lot in front of yet another hopeless yuppie couple, sharing that same deer lost in head lights look at the sudden appearance of a cyclist. Instead of heading up to Mitchell I cut back down to Beecher and headed west, into even stronger wind, making me dread my ride home in 2 hours time. I pushed myself up the street, wary of rough roads and debris, always fearful of a flat. At 6th I turned right and took that to Mitchell, cursing as I climbed the short incline and had to wait at a red light. I reached Mitchell on a red and pulled onto the street heading against traffic, as I knew my stop was on the south side of the street.

I spotted the church and cruised the last few blocks and mounted the sidewalk right in front of a pedestrian. I ignored his shock and pulled out the manifest, scanned the stop and began to look for a sign on the front of the building. Not seeing anything at the churches obvious front I casually rolled further down the sidewalk then came back, went around the corner and searched some more. I retraced my steps and went further down the block and noticed a creepy/pagan-like Nativity scene and thought to myself that would have been cool to have that as the question as there was a motto in English and Spanish above it. I turned back around and continued to look for the sign. As my second full pass proved fruitless I pulled out my manifest to recheck the question and realized I was looking at the wrong one. Matt had made this stop deal with the nativity scene. In a moment of shame I sprinted back to the monument and wrote down what was written in English on the sign. I double checked my next stop, the one I wasn’t sure of, and took off back toward 6th street.

I hit 6th on a red light and turned left due to no traffic. I hit another red at Lapham and had to use my pitiful track stand for a second before I could go. I cruised down the street, keeping my eye out for the cross road I was looking for, knowing it was in Walkers Point. I found it, Madison, just under the freeway and hung a wide right. The stop was two blocks away and as I pulled up to a brightly displayed house the guy who offered the most competition pulled up from the east. I assumed he had taken the north route which meant he had to hit the stops I just did and vice versa. I greeted him friendly and we figured out the answer together. I wrote mine down on the hood of a car and took of before he did, complaining that my saddle hat not warmed up during the entire race and still felt like I was riding a block of ice.

I took a left on 2nd and then a quick right down the next block to hit my next stop, which I should have really hit on my way down to Bay View as it was on 1st street. I hoped off, made sure I read the question carefully as there were a few possible answers and wrote it down on a light pole. I mounted my bike, cursed the frozen saddle and headed back to 2nd street. I pulled north and help a solid pace all the way into downtown, not running into a red light or traffic until St. Paul. I took 2nd to Plankinton to 3rd and pulled into Pere Marquette Park at its north-west corner. I had to find a sign in the park and started circling the bright Christmas displays in search of it. As I pulled along the east portion of the park next to the river I remember the previous December race when I was rolling through the same portion fearing that I would wipe out and slide off into the river due to the ice on the pathway.

I pulled around to the other side and couldn’t find the signs. I stopped, pulled out the manifest to re-read the question. I then continued to circle the rest of the way around the park and found the signs almost near the place I entered the park. I had to write my answer on the paper on the ground then checked the manifest for the next stop and took off to the deep East Side. The final stop was located on Astor Street. I wound my way east and north ending up on Juneau. I pulled north on Astor and realized I went the wrong way right away, turned around in the intersection and waited for the SUV that had been behind me to go before I headed back south. Half a block later I pulled onto the sidewalk and stopped in front of the church. I pulled out the manifest, read the question, the one I had mistaken at the church on the south side, and filled in the blanks. I double checked to make sure my answers were complete and stuffed the manifest away. I took off towards the bar to finish up, wondering if I was going to come in first.

I flew down Wisconsin and pulled onto Michigan a few blocks later. I pulled up to the bar to find Julian and Flynn with their horse and carriage parked out in front. I put my bike against the bar and headed inside to cheers from some of the people. I asked Matt if I was first and he said yes. I stripped some gear off, wrote my name on the manifest and sat at the bar to begin filling out the crypto-quip portion. Before I was able to finish it Matt’s wife came in and she chided him for leaving the answer key out in the open. I ignored it and continued to fill in the final portion. The question was from the classic movie A Christmas Story and it was the secret decoder message that told the main character to drink his Ovaltine. One of the letters I couldn’t find and scoured the manifest again for the correct one and filled it in. I turned in the manifest and ordered a beer. By the time the beer had arrived the other racer showed up and handed his stuff in. We both warmed up and waited, wondering if the two out-of-towners would show up.

It took them about another 20 minutes to show up and they didn’t hit two of the stops. They said they had fun, but I wonder about that. One of them seemed relieved just to be done. Hopefully they will show up for January’s race and hopefully more people in general will race. I need to step up my mission to bring back the races to what they were when I first started doing them, something people wanted to keep doing and good sized groups showed up for. It is a mystery why so many people are no longer racing and is somewhat saddening. All I can do is work on it and keep trying to bring in people that love to do it. Hopefully Januarys race will be the last one I throw, hopefully I won’t be able to win any more and if I do I’ll concede 1st to the next racer, I want to race more, but if need be I will plan them, anything to help save the first Friday races, which have been going for many years from what I have been able to find…just no concrete start time.

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