Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Return to Cleveland: Part II



(Didn't read Part I? Click here)

Many apologies for the long delay between posts: I have been slowly switching my digital self from that of a PC to that of a Mac. The faint but frequently heard chants of 'one of us…one of us' aside, it's a jarring experience. Switching to Mac after nearly two decades of PC use is like opening the silverware drawer in your kitchen and finding several rows of neatly folded socks there instead. Nothing is where it should be in this strange, new world (a delete key, every photo I have ever taken, and so on) but after much grumbling I have finally located everything I need for this post.

On my second and final full day of riding in Cleveland, it was again cold. Not Hoth-without-the-Tauntauns cold, but cold. Since my tattered but trusted neoprene booties were sitting in a dresser drawer 499 miles away, I was forced to improvise with some black electrical tape. My hope was it would create an effective barrier between my feet and the cold air.


It didn't.

Anyway, my plan was to travel west for the day just to see what was Out There. Since I was already partially familiar with it (due to Blazing Saddle Cycle being located there) I decided to travel down Detroit Avenue.

Before doing so, I decided to roam around the banks of the Cuyahoga River (where the picture of the metal bridge was taken). Several notches of the country's Rust Belt are down there, as well as an unusual bike shop underneath one of the above road bridges. Since I was planning to visit the shop in the early evening, when it would be open, I decided to ride the recumbent there first to make sure I wouldn't have to search for it later in the dark. I also found yet another way to cross the river - which would also be a tremendous help later. 


I left the banks of the river and headed over the Veterans Memorial Bridge, with the recumbent getting several appreciative and/or puzzling stares from motorists and pedestrians. I really did have no other objective other than to see how far I could ride. 

I ignored the cold air as much as I could, but about 12 miles in I decided to stop at the first available non-chain coffee shop I saw (I didn't drive 499 miles to go to Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks). A blue bike rack caught my eye next to the words "Seriously Amazing Coffee." I locked up the bike, stepped inside and quickly smiled: Erie Island Coffee Company, which serves a great cup on E. 4th Street, has just one other location in Rocky River, and by sheer coincidence, I had stopped at it.



This one has a fireplace right in the middle, and after getting coffee and a baked good, I sat in front and warmed up. In Ted Clampett style, I even removed my bike shoes so I could try to get the feeling back in my toes. Nobody was heading for the exits, which told me my feet didn't stink. 

Within a few minutes, an admirer of the recumbent stopped in to say hello and ask about DIYBIKING.COM. When I told him about my mostly aimless westward trajectory, he recommended I take a right turn at my next chance and follow Rt. 2 along Lake Erie. He also recommended that I stop at his wife's business around the corner, which makes, and sells, soap and related products made on the premises. I didn't ask if the proceeds from the sale of these products funded underground boxing matches, but I left Pure Enchantment with some body butter to give my wife all the same. 


I resumed pedaling down Detroit and took a right on Linda Avenue, which brought me to Rt. 2. As promised, it was a flat and even route with a view of the lake, mostly through people's backyards. As a lifelong East Coaster, I find the sight of water stretching off into the horizon to be quite soothing. 


I rode over ten miles on Rt. 2, even leaving Cuyahoga County. Now I recommend this route with an asterisk: if you want to ride as many miles as possible in a single day (century, anyone?) this is probably the road you want to take: few stop signs and stop lights, a decent shoulder/bike lane, little traffic and a mostly billiard-table flat terrain. However, since it is mostly residential there aren't a lot of small businesses to see along the way. Also, I wasn't prepared to ride a century and the cold weather began bullying my toes once more. Besides, this post is about Cleveland. 

I stopped for lunch and to warm up at a Mexican restaurant called Casita del Lago; 25 miles after I had left Cleveland, psyched myself up, and began pedaling back. I thought about smearing the body butter all over my toes to keep them warm, but I didn't. I took a detour hoping to find a tag sale that sold thick socks I could put over my bike shoes, but I failed. Still, the miles flowed out of the recumbent, and I would have stopped once again at Erie Island Coffee to warm up but the sun, which had been hidden behind gray clouds for the previous three days, chose that moment to peer out onto Detroit Avenue. I don't think it made it any warmer, but the psychological effect was enormous. I powered my way over the Veteran's Memorial Bridge, and with the odometer approaching 50 miles, I stopped at Colossal Cupcake to get a treat.


I returned to the room to rest, send and receive a few necessary emails, and prepare the next trip out: I topped off the tires of South Norwalk, charged my Serfas bike light and taped the repaired red blinky I found nearly two years ago on a New Canaan ride to the seat tube. I was going out at night, which isn't the most fun thing to do in a city you live in - much less one you've only visited twice. But the streets outside of my hotel were well lit when I set off to my first of two destinations about 6:00pm.


Armed with the wisdom of the area I had gleaned that morning, I pedaled in the dark down Columbus Road and turned right on Merwin Avenue (just before the bridge), walking South Norwalk on the cobblestones so I could enter the lot and find the entrance to Ohio City Bicycle Co-op. As the web site promised, there was a rack where I could easily lock the bike just behind the invitingly open door.


For this season at least, it is open on Wednesday nights between 5 and 9pm, and I was especially happy I'd be able to visit while it was open. When describing this place, the term 'right up my alley' comes to mind as the Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op has a very simple mission: 'helping people use bicycles' but the scale of that mission goes far beyond those four words: in addition to promoting bicycle use in Cleveland, they provide bicycle education and instruction on how to repair bikes. Kids can earn a bike from the program by learning how to fix them, and the organization runs on donations and the sale of refurbished bikes at its shop, which is what I was very excited to see. 


All of the bikes on the floor were once donated to the organization and had been refurbished - with all of them priced competitively and looking like they were ready to hit the road. Now some of the bikes in that room do not exist in the natural cycling world. Some of these bikes exist only in Cleveland.


I swear my cousin and I once built one of those when we were kids by sawing an old Kent in half. 

Another unusual bike in the room that day was this excellent tandem, which at that moment wasn't for sale as it hadn't been repaired yet. I felt like the kid at school who knows the answer to the teacher's question and raises his hand frantically: thanks to my time leafing through my copy of Cyclepedia, I recognized the yellow work of art as a Buddy Bike: the tandem for people of equal size and weight who do not ever need to negotiate traffic.


The Ohio City Co-op has also built several original creations of their own, such as a cargo trailer they made without welding that was specially designed to fit through a common doorway. They also sell a few smaller items built from scrapped bikes to help with fund raising


The whole place seemed to be a scaled-up version of Domus' excellent Trafigura Work & Learn Business Center in Stamford. The workshop area, where some of the classes are run, is a great looking place with the right amount of clutter and organization every effective bike workshop needs.


I was also shown the warehouse area where donated bikes are brought in before they are refurbished. The room, seems bigger than the land my house in Stamford is on, reminded me of the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I think I saw an old guy pushing a crate on a squeaky trolley off into the distance.


I thanked the staff for my tour and after buying something small, I soon left. It was great to see an organization with such a long history working so many angles to get people on bikes. I was sorry to learn I'd be gone by the time they did their As-Is Bike Sale and Holiday Open House this December 1st, so if you are in the Cleveland area please visit and support this great organization - and do consider sending me dusty bike frames from the 1970s and earlier in lieu of a Christmas card (you know: raw materials for welding). 

When I left, I crossed the Cuyahoga River through the rusty lift bridge and, pedaling South Norwalk safely but furiously, made it back to famous Ohio City sculpture and the blue container-turned-bike-rack so I could have dinner at Nano Brew.


This place did not open too long ago, and was recommended to me by a few residents I had contacted before my visit. Later on, when speaking to my parents on the phone, I should have spoken more clearly to avoid one of them incredulously asking me "you ate at a biker bar?!" so now that I can type the description, I hope to avoid confusion: It's a bicyclists' bar, right across the street from Joy Machines. In addition to the bike parking outside, there is a workstation inside where one can bring a bike that needs tuning and work on it yourself. From the web site I learned that this workstation has a place to rest a beer while you work on your bike. 

I went inside and found a comfortable spot at the bar. I rarely drink beer. In fact, I rarely drink anything at all that isn't either a) water, or b) water that has been heated and poured through caffeinated brown powder. Knowing I wouldn't fool the bartender by feigning any sort of sophistication, I asked her to recommend a beer for an infrequent drinker, and she steered me straight to The Fixie, which was quite good and light on the alcohol content.

The food menu isn't long, but it is well edited. And I will say this: the hamburgers at Nano Brew are the reason cows were invented. Not only did my burger taste excellent, it did not later feel as though I was digesting a small anvil. I could not believe that there could be a chain hamburger place within fifty miles of the place. Now for the vegetarians among DIYBIKING.COM readers: they have at least one meat-free burger which is probably fine, as well as other meat-free things on the sides menu. 

I ate and drank leisurely at the bar for a little while before I was convinced I was full enough and adequately sober to get back on South Norwalk for the ride back to the hotel. Just down the street from Nano Brew, I could see the West Side Market, which I didn't have a chance to visit this time. The beef from Nano Brew's burgers come from there, which by itself is more than enough reason to visit.  


I decided to put full faith in my bike lights and helmet rearview mirror to get myself safely across the bridge. It was a bit intimidating, but I easily made it and, after passing through the still-under-construction intersection near Progressive Field, I took the long way to the hotel, passing a guy sitting on a folding chair across from Horseshoe Casino playing 'Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head' on a trumpet. 

The next morning, it was time to go home. But with a late checkout before the long ride back to town, I made a last visit to the E. 4th Street location of Erie Coffee Company before returning with South Norwalk to the bridge, determined to get one decent shot of the sunrise. I snapped a few pictures before heading back to pack and secure both bikes in the car. In typical fashion, the weather that day was going to be the best yet even though I was going to be stuck in a car for more than eight hours. 

Once again, it was a great visit to Cleveland, and I really am sorry I didn't respond to all who sent me a note about what places to go and things to do. I'm convinced the city is to cyclists what Alfa Romeos are to car buffs (known as 'Petrolheads') in Britain: just like you can't consider yourself to be a true Petrolhead until you've owned an Alfa, I don't think you can be a true Bicycle-Equivalent-of-a-Petrolhead without visiting Cleveland. And like Alfas, there are cities that look nicer and have better infrastructure, but they lack a certain indescribable something that gives them soul, and for Cleveland a lot of it has to do with having so many people and organizations - Bike Cleveland and others - working to make the city an even nicer place to ride a bike than it is now.  

Do try to go this weekend so you bike about and support the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op, but whenever you do go, do not do everything all at once: you'll find that there will be more than enough reason to visit again. And again. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Return to Cleveland: Part I

In mid-autumn, I discovered that I'd have another chance to road trip from Stamford to Cleveland, which meant about 8+ hours of mind-numbing driving comforted only by the destination and whatever bikes I had crammed into the back of the Element.

It also meant I'd be returning to a distant city I actually had some experience with. But as I wanted to check out some new things I decided to email a few folks I had met on my first trip to get some ideas. So I put together this graphic and sent it out, hoping to build - I guess the word is 'buzz' - for DIYBIKING.COM's return.




If you're looking at that picture with a furrowed brow, you probably do not live in or around Cleveland, nor did you read Part I or Part II of the posts I wrote this past June.

The graphic was successful - possibly too successful. As the photo made its rounds, my inbox became jammed with friendly emails from some terrific people. Due to bad planning on my part (and my planning session being interrupted by the irritant known as Superstorm Sandy) I was only going to end up with two solid days of biking in Cleveland, bookended by a few short and tiny trips. I also wasn't able to do everything that was suggested, but I do want to personally thank those who sent me messages with ideas; some of which would have to wait for yet another trip.

The first order of business for me was to decide what to take. Since I never get to travel long distances with it and I thought it would do quite well in an area mostly devoid of hills, I brought my early 1980s Turner Hypercycle recumbent. It is quite possibly the coolest and the squarest bike I own.



With the (even) better bike box mounted on the back, I couldn't use my homemade interior bike rack without my rearview mirror being completely blocked, so I had to put it in the car at an angle, which greatly reduced my options when it came to bringing an additional bike. So I brought, as you may have guessed, South Norwalk.



Eagle-eyed visitors will note the addition of a rear rack of my own design - an improved-upon version of what I made for my Brooklyn trip last month. This is made from the front fork of a random department store bike and a few pieces of welded steel I was able to bend with pliers and a vise. I attached a fork mount, making the perfect 'tow package' for South Norwalk. You see, after missing my opportunity to buy the folding tandem I saw at Blazing Saddle Cycle on my last visit, I didn't want to rule out the option of being able to go somewhere to pick up a bike and bring it home. I was also going to keep my eyes open for throwaway bikes so I could build more furniture from top tubes. I didn't have room in the car for a full-sized trashed bike, so I packed my own hacksaw, just in case.

I was able to bring some wisdom from my first visit with me on my second. For starters, I could go to The Christmas Story house when the gift shop was open.



Someone in my family has a really cool, possibly disturbing stocking stuffer coming their way, believe you me.

We could also visit the new Museum of Contemporary Art on Euclid Avenue. If you look at the building at just the right angle, it kinda vanishes.



Also, after 499 miles driving the car, I could take a short ride on South Norwalk on one of the family-friendly Cleveland Metropark trails to stretch my legs.



I also didn't have to spend a lot of time looking up where things were. I still got lost (as I have a tendency to do) but I understood the scale of the city and when someone would give me landmarks I occasionally understood what they were talking about.

For this trip, I stayed at the Key Center Marriott, and was ever so grateful to be able to park the car and never turn the ignition key again until I had to drive back to Connecticut several days later. I learned from an employee that the hotel doesn't really want guests to wheel bikes through the lobby - but the Marriott thoughtfully included a bike rack, complete with pump, on Level B of the parking garage, very well-lit and right next to the doors. The employee who told me this was a biker himself, and was very nice about it when he saw me wheeling South Norwalk into the garage elevator (I thank the Marriott very much for the comfortable stay and hope they have a sense of humor when they realize that if a person has a bike that can be folded up to the size of a shoe they can easily carry it, incognito, into the room to take a photograph - not that I'm suggesting anything).


Later I saw a sign on a building that read something along the lines of: "Do not chain bikes to the rail...bike parking available on [Nearby]" which helped me understand more of why Cleveland feels differently from most cities I've ridden in. The message between business owners and cyclists doesn't feel as adversarial. Some cities have real or imagined pictures of bikes with a circle and a red slash going through them. Cleveland, with all of its construction and faults, just tends to have a better and friendlier message, and even when bike infrastructure is covered or surrounded by orange construction cones (as the Hope Memorial Bridge was for my entire visit) you just feel like the discussion between the cyclists and the city is ongoing.



On my first full day of riding, I started off with South Norwalk and ordinary clothes. Several layers of them, in fact. As it turned out, I was in Cleveland during a particularly cold spell with temperatures in the thirties for the first couple of days. The local meteorologist used the unfamiliar term 'lake effect' which I took to mean as: "you drove 499 miles to feel like you're still biking in New England."

But I was determined not to let it bother me as I went to the Erie Island Coffee Company on East 4th Street for an early breakfast.


The attractive barista recommended a dark roast (since I put milk in my coffee) and I settled down at the bar to plan my day. Not only was her recommendation good, but she knew the names and drink preferences of the next three customers that came in after me.

South Norwalk got some appreciative glances during this and my other visit to this coffee shop (on my second visit the day I was to leave I forgot my lock so I just carried the bike inside).



Once fueled, I walked the bike up E. 4th Street to a place I wanted to visit on my first trip but didn't: The Bike Rack, which is an indoor bike parking facility that also has showers. I especially like that it is right next to a car parking garage, so motorists can see it as they drive in (the garage belongs to The Horseshoe Casino, but it's still the thought that matters most).



The Bike Rack is operated by the Downtown Cleveland Alliance and the city itself, and the attendant gave me a great tour. However, I didn't hear most of what he was saying because I was too busy wondering why more cities didn't have this: you ride your bike to work downtown, you park it, you shower, you go about your day. You can lock your bike to a secure rack and use the shower/locker room.




The facility also allows bikeless visitors to Cleveland the chance to rent bikes, and, in addition to bike repairs, is also offering some spin classes.



I left with a card explaining the costs of a daily pass ($5) and a monthly pass ($25). Now I know that in cold weather there would be some empty spaces in The Bike Rack, but I'm sure it will be a matter of time before people living further from downtown or closer to Rocky River would see the beauty of this: if you live 5 miles from downtown and have a car that gets 23 miles a gallon, you spend about $0.16 per mile to drive to work in, what I soon learned, is pretty slow traffic. $0.16 times 10 means you're spending $1.60 per day in fuel to commute. There were 23 workdays in October alone, so 23 times $1.60 equals $36.80. Even if you end up using your car (in 'lake effect' weather days and the like) five or six times a month, a membership is still cheaper than using the car full time. And that's just what can be measured in dollars as I'm not counting the environmental benefits, putting less wear-and-tear on a car, and making one's body look better (wink wink, nudge nudge).

Are you listening, two-annoyed-Cleveland-drivers-who-honked-at-me-while-I-was-biking? (Yes, unlike my first visit, I was honked at on this trip - No city is perfect, but I'm not ruling out that the honking may have come from drivers who simply wanted to ask me what on earth I was riding since I was on the recumbent both times).

I thanked the Bike Rack attendant for showing me what the future of every city in America should look like before returning to my hotel to change my clothes and my equipment. Now with the recumbent and my clipless bike shoes, I set off into Ohio City, where I soon discovered that the famous sculpture changed colors, much like a maple tree in Vermont when the seasons change: here's what it looked like in May:



And here it is again in November. Looks like someone added some planters as well.



I parked my ride in the recycled shipping container next to Nano Brew (which was recommended to me by several Cleveland cyclists and by a nice person from Positively Cleveland but wasn't open that morning).


I then decided to visit my old haunts. Actually, I had only been to the following three excellent bike shops about once each six months ago. I don't know how often one has to visit a place before it officially becomes a 'haunt.' Three? Four or more? Nevermind.

I went to Joy Machines first to check the shop out once again and buy a couple of things to put in my bike box. Foolishly, I did not buy the reasonably priced toe warmers.


After my visit, I unlocked the bike and pedaled to Fridrich's to check their store out again as well and see how their inventory was changing. It appeared there were more sleds available, but the supply of recumbents had changed too.



Shortly after buying a bell to add to South Norwalk, I shivered my way to 65th street so I could pedal to Detroit Avenue and get to Blazing Saddle Cycle.



Still the great shop I remembered. No folding tandem to tempt me this time, but I bought a T-shirt I liked. I could have bought the whole inventory as the bike box still had a cavernous amount of space left in it.



Next, I headed someplace I hadn't been but had been recommended by many: Ray's Indoor Mountain Bike Park. It was sleeting at this time and tiny pellets were pinging off my bike glasses and collecting on my jacket. My toes were genuinely cold by the time I arrived at Ray's, which is in a featureless former industrial building.



The interior, however, is anything but. One of the first things I noticed (and appreciated; thank you Ray's staff) was a fireplace, which, coupled with the couches and picnic tables scattered about, created a nice atmosphere to thaw but also reminded me that the mission of the place was to help make a mountain bike destination work during the off-season. It made me think of the mountain bike I built and the amount of dust that collects on the frame and the amount of air that seeps out of tires during the winter months. But if I lived in or around Cleveland, that wouldn't happen. I looked around and liked what I saw - and the pictures do not do it justice. Incidentally, if you want to take your own, they offer GoPro Hero 2 camera rentals.



Just being there was interesting, and it was especially cool to stand in the doorway of the area just near the fireplace and hear the bikes thundering overhead, leaving me to guess the speed of the riders.


I would have gladly paid to use Ray's that afternoon, but I was tired and hungry (it was past lunchtime by this point) and decided to return another day with my own mountain bike. I thanked the staff and left, and before long I came to Bonbon on Lorain and enjoyed a great lunch which was punctuated by homemade donuts that were still warm by the time they arrived.



I should have filled my bike box to the top of those little donuts, or at least stuck one on each of my toes to keep them (the toes) warm for the cold ride back to my hotel. There, I finally warmed up, did several computer-related errands, then met my wife for an excellent dinner at Lola on E. 4th street.

It was a very good first day, but as it was about accuracy (hitting all of those places without getting lost) I decided that the next and final full day of riding needed to be about distance - no matter how cold it was going to be.

To be continued...

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thirteen Words to Make the Fuel Crisis Easier


I am not one of those crunchy granola people with a Smugmobile (Prius, as some call it) adorned with bumper stickers with pictures of the planet on them. My SUV is 3,300 pounds. I drive it when I don't have to just like everybody else.

Living in Stamford, Connecticut, I have dealt with fuel problems in the aftermath of the recent storms. Some of the shortages here are caused by people from New York and New Jersey crossing the border to gas up. I don't mind them coming here. They have a lot of problems, but I do wish that they'd come for the fuel and stay for dinner at Harlan Social, a yoga class at Exhale, the bike sale at Pacific Swim Bike Run, and so on. They could even shower at my place if they like.

So yes, the sight of half of the gas stations in Stamford surrounded by orange cones while the other half surrounded by vehicles with out of state plates has been on my mind lately. But there's a message that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could add to their remarks as they call for gas rationing or have discussed fuel shortages - which look like they will continue for some time, probably long enough to inspire a Road Warrior-like meme or viral video (only hipsters mobile enough to scavenge and brutal enough to pillage would survive).

I rode the bike above to the grocery store. I passed a gas station that was closed and several roaming cars looking for another. I got my groceries. I put them in the cooler. I brought them home. The whole time I was thinking there are thirteen words that any of those leaders could say that might make this fuel rationing and shortage period a little easier. After all, none of us are used to elected officials telling us to not do something, like gas up if your car's license plate ends in an even number.

But anyway, those thirteen words I'd like these folks to say as they call for rationing are as follows:

"If you have a bike and can ride it safely, please ride it."

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.




Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Please Vote Today


This is a special message from DIYBIKING.COM reminding everyone of proper voting age living in the U.S. to head to the polls today and vote.

I wasn't planning to write this post; this blog as well as cycling is non-partisan. But I do have to tell you to please consider what extent you candidates care about and value cyclists and cycling - but that's not the only issue you should care about. Do check out some voting guides, talk with you friends, family and others, and decide.

Also, I will give a free pair of Sock Guy socks to the first person of any political party who sticks their arm out of the closed voting booth curtain and shouts: "Honey! Can you give me the new shampoo?" But to provide proof, you will have to get your friend to tape it discreetly (they don't like cameras in the polling places).

Finally, if you have a bike that people tend to stare at anyway, feel free to adorn it with signs of the candidate of your choosing - even if it is for people who are not represented by the picture above. As always, before Election Day and after, I just want to see more people on bikes. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bike Perspective on Hurricane Sandy

So Hurricane Sandy hit Stamford. Actually, we now seem to be calling it 'Superstorm' Sandy though there's nothing 'super about it. Hanging out with my cousins is super. My 92-year-old grandmother's coffee cake is super. I don't need to imagine an anthropomorphic hurricane wearing a cape.

I didn't have to imagine anything, but I had plenty of warning and plenty of time to prepare. I charged each and every one of my 12v Ryobi batteries so I could finally use the cheesy flashlights that come in the starter kits. I topped off three scooter batteries on a charger so my wife and I would be able to charge our cell phones when the power went out. Aided by a friend holding the ladder, I cleaned my gutters. I bought shelf-stable food and gallons of water. I gassed up the car – and once I discovered my street wasn't on the city's mandatory evacuation list, I left it at my office garage four miles away where it would be safe from falling tree limbs.

Of course, I also got an Aftermath Bike ready. Having donated the last one to Domus, I slightly modified the DiamondSchwinn to it would be Sandy-ready.


In the back, I added the metal wire baskets that came from the Raleigh Sports (what else would I have done with them?). In the front I added an old Cannondale bag to put tire-changing and inflating tools in. A fender that came from an old green Columbia frame that contributed to my now-famous DIYBIKING.COM Signature Coffee Table also went on the front. The whole bike was pretty heavy, but it has a ready-for-anything feel to it, and looked rather post-apocalyptic.

The storm arrived slowly, and close to high tide on Monday I walked four blocks to West Beach and walked on the path over the breakwater so I could see the tide coming in. In my rubber welding boots, I trudged through a few inches of water that had already settled on the parking lot to the edge of the beach.


As the afternoon wore on, the wind got worse and the rain started. Lights began flickering around four. My wife and I pushed our luck by making dinner, and not twenty minutes after we were finished, the power winked out at 6:18pm. In minutes, the house had the warm glow of a few candles and some bright flashlights.

Being able to charge the phones meant we could tune in to Facebook more often to see pictures of waterskiing cats and the like, but also see that the governor of Connecticut, Dannel Malloy, was giving an address at 9:15. We tuned in to the little solar power and hand crank radio, and understood that we should stay in our homes but listen to local evacuation orders. The wind was pretty loud and slightly shaking the house at this point, but we pretty much shrugged. Our place was built 15 years before the Hurricane of '38 and, confident it would stay standing, we headed off to bed.

And hour later, the police showed up in the neighborhood, flashing lights and loudspeakers, indicating we were under a mandatory evacuation order as they feared the high tide at midnight would breach the breakwater. I thought a moment and decided it would be incredibly stupid to head outside in the middle of a hurricane to flag down a radio car and get a ride to a shelter we'd be unable to leave when we wanted (we found out minutes later, online, that the shelter the police intended to take us to had closed since it had reached capacity). Choosing the 'mildly idiotic' option, we ignored the evacuation order.

I was confident the breakwater wouldn't be breached – but peeked out the front door from time to time to see if Long Island Sound was creeping up the road. I also headed into the basement with a flashlight to make sure there was no water there, and there wasn't.

It was mostly a sleepless night, but around 4:00am, the wind finally began to stop. While waiting for the sun to come up, I made coffee. Now I know I've advised in the Essential Guide to Surviving Hurricane Irene that you need to keep Starbucks Via in the house in the event of a power outage, but if you have a gas stove and the gas line is still functional, you can boil water. And if you have a drip coffeemaker, you can open the top and slowly pour in the hot water. As you may have guessed, I had Fairway grind the beans for me this time.


When I had my fill of coffee and pan-warmed bread, I hopped on the DiamondSchwinn and headed to West Beach. The debris line was only about two feet up the breakwater. I let out a 'whew' even though I was still struck by the amount of damage.


What makes that picture interesting is that just a few weeks earlier I had taken a picture near the same spot of a bike I had just bought at a tag sale: it was a vintage Schwinn Worldsport. It was in great shape but I added $50 in tires since the ones it was on were rotted from disuse. It was such a nice bike I almost didn't want to get rid of it...but here it is leaning against a park bench that is either broken apart or trapped under the foot of sand covering the West Beach parking lot at this very moment.


That bike is hanging in my basement right now even though I wish it was in Brooklyn where it's needed. For my non-east coast readers, Brooklyn and all of New York City was hit badly, with public transportation severely crippled and pushing more cars on the road, making a bad situation even worse.
Mayor Bloomberg even forced a three-passenger minimum for some of the bridges because the gridlock was just too much.

Now I had tried to deal with the problem weeks before it occurred by bringing the Schwinn to Brooklyn so I could sell it. A bike shop that had expressed interest earlier in the fall had now given me a lowball offer (that wouldn't cover what I put in to the bike) so I decided to see if the people of Brooklyn would do better. However, I needed a way to advertise the bike the day I was in Brooklyn and also have a way to get back if I sold it – so I couldn't ride the Schwinn. However, a very slight modification to the Mystery of South Norwalk solved my problem.


A Thule fork clamp I bought for $1 at a tag sale over the summer bolted to the seat stays. That's all this is. No other modifications. When I attached the Schwinn, I got this.


As you can see, South Norwalk's low and unusually sized rear tire comes in useful since the Schwinn looks almost perfectly positioned. There's just enough room for me to sit on the little folder without the handlebars of the towed bike to interfere. I priced the bike competitively, attached my 'For Sale' sign, tied the front tire of the Schwinn to the frame, and pedaled around Brooklyn.

Seven miles, I went. I tried selling it to women hailing cabs. I pitched it to a group of men talking on a corner (one wanted to buy South Norwalk; and of course that was no deal). A guy outside a bike shop looked at it very closely but decided he didn't want it.

I have the feeling that if I were to return to Brooklyn with the Schwinn, I'd return to Stamford without it. I could even try my luck, here. A lot of gas stations lost electricity (some have taken to siphoning gas out of the tanks to fill red cans so people can run their generators) and when I took a bike ride this morning, I saw gas lines.

That ride this morning also showed me that four days after the storm, there were not only still a lot of people still without power, but a lot of things in places where things should not be.



Just like looking at pictures of cars seemingly welded together on bridges going into Manhattan changed my perspective on the Schwinn Worldsport, this morning's ride – which was to Caffeine in South Norwalk and back again on the Aftermath Bike – changed my perspective on perspective. I heard generators everywhere. Saw black hoses still snaking out of basement windows. Dumpster after Dumpster after Dumpster parked in front of houses that weren't protected by a breakwater. Some of my favorite markets and shops are still closed, while others (like Espresso Neat and Nicholas Roberts' wine shop) are open, but in darkness and 'cash only' transactions. I've also heard from Domus that a lot of families aretaking a financial hit from the storm (having to throw out a refridgerator full of food and buy flashlight batteries just as you've saved money to go holiday shopping isn't fun).

So I urge you to avoid the gas lines and ride a bike to help a neighbor or buy something from a local business this weekend. Also: sell a bike to someone in New York City and resist the urge to price-gouge. Thanks for riding and thanks for reading.