Friday, November 18, 2016

Cranksgiving San Jose 2016 - and Other Good Things We Can Do

This post is about Cranksgiving San Jose but it needs to begin with this message: two days prior to this amazing event, a man named Leonardo Jeronimo was killed when an out of control SUV crashed into the Alliance Credit Union office at Curtner Avenue.

I did not know Leonardo - who was doing his job (painting the office) at the time of his death. But one of main organizers of Cranksgiving San Jose knew him, and the weight of what had happened to Leonardo - who was married with five children - was visible when I saw this person the next day. 

A fund has been established to help Leonardo's family. Please donate something then share the link

You know those feel-good stories about a fundraising record that is completely smashed? Let's be that story.  Please help Leonardo's familyThank you.


    Cahalan Park, November 13th, 2016 - the first Cranksgiving in San Jose.

In case you’re joining DIYBIKING.COM from a long absence: I signed on as a sponsor and as a volunteer for Cranksgiving San Jose. Cranksgiving is an annual bike-based food drive that originated in New York City in 1999 and even though I had done a few deliveries to food banks on a bikes before, this was my first time involved in Cranksgiving. 

Thanks to an invite from Cain, the owner of San Jose’s Cowgirl Bike Courier, I got to be among a small handful of eclectic cyclists at the kickoff meeting run by Erin - who started the initiative here in San Jose in the first place (and, who I quickly learned, was an organizational and inspirational Jedi Knight). 

At the first meeting we all introduced ourselves and were charged to find sponsors. I became a sponsor myself (as DIYBIKING.COM) and reached out to Good Karma Bikes, which signed on as well. Hub’s Coffee was already on as the presenting sponsor and others were able to get gifts and other support from a wonderful and a wide-ranging list of organizations. The idea was there would be prizes for two divisions - speed and heavy haul - and raffle gifts too.  

Next came promotion. I was given full run of Cranksgiving San Jose’s Facebook page and over an episode and a half of ‘Breaking Bad’ I hand-lettered my bike trailer and made Cranksgiving ‘business cards’ to hand to people who’d ask me about it (and they did) and of course spoke loudly and often at the Bay Area Cargo Bike Festival

As I did last year when helping Good Karma Bikes promote their move to their location on Lincoln Avenue, I reached out to several Silicon Valley journalists I’ve met - including Garvin Thomas of NBC Bay Area News - to try and sell them on the concept of covering Cranksgiving San Jose. 

While the other volunteers were recruiting riders and gathering some impressive donations to be used as prizes, I missed the meeting where the central goal was to plan the manifest - which is the top secret list of grocery stores one could visit.  When Cain pointed that out to me when I saw him at the Cargo Bike Festival, I realized I could not only volunteer and sponsor - but also participate. 

In the days leading up to the event I engaged in some last-ditch efforts to get reporters to come. And it was last Friday afternoon when Garvin Thomas sent me a note asking me about our Saturday planning meeting as well as the event itself. About to sit and watch the incredibly important documentary 13th, I quickly jotted down my response, gave Erin a headsup, and put the phone on silent for the movie

The next day I attended the planning meeting at Hub’s Coffee and was delighted not only that the T-shirts that were made looked fantastic but we had a lot of prizes donated thanks to the sponsors.

Garvin was also there filming and we also had several great students from San Jose State University who were attending the meeting and would be volunteering the day of the event. My chief function that day was to help bag prizes and sort T-shirts so half could be sold at the registration table at Cahalan Park and the rest at a table at Hub’s Coffee, which was where we were meeting and where the event would end. I liked seeing DIYBIKING.COM on the back of a T-Shirt (which, for those of you who are considering becoming a sponsor for an event like this, is good enough reason to do so).

The day of the event I rode my homemade California cargo bike and trailer to Hub’s Coffee to drop the latter off so it could be used at the weigh-in area as a sign. With an improved drag coefficient - and two blue IKEA bags strapped to my cargo bike for my groceries - I set off to Cahalan Park to register.

Because everything was under control there wasn’t much for me to do as a Cranksgiving sponsor or a volunteer. But there was one thing I could do as a participant: study the manifest and plan my route. 

Even though I was entering the Heavy Hauler competition and theoretically didn’t have to race against the clock like the Speed people were, I wanted to return as quickly as possible to remove my participant hat and put my sponsor/volunteer one back on. 

I studied the manifest which included a list of sixteen grocery stores (we had to pick a minimum of four to go to) and a list of specific food items that we were charged to get. As a person who has lived in San Jose for seventeen months I had been to maybe two of the stores - and I barely knew where they were. Briefly I was reminded of the stressful summer of 2015 when I couldn’t travel further than five miles from my home without using a GPS. 

With little power on my phone and no regard for my data plan I punched in a few of the addresses in a halfhearted effort to find the shortest route. I ended up making guesstimates as to what route would get me to the four stores I chose the fastest, and reasoned that if I could buy just over the minimum - four items -  at the first three stops and just overload my bike at the last one to minimize carrying a lot of weight over a large distance. I also, of course, decided to go to the furthest grocery store first.

I had a lot of confidence in myself. When I was a kid growing up in Connecticut my dad and I did all of the grocery shopping. On Saturdays we’d go in our Ford Econoline van to a store, and he’d tear off a page of a tractor-fed dot matrix printout of the grocery list which had (and I swear this is true) a list of common food items organized by which aisle in the grocery store they were found in. 

This list, perpetually affixed to the refrigerator with a magnet, would enable one to use a nearby yellow highlighter to mark food item the family needed. With a printout in hand, I’d weave through the aisles gathering grated cheese, milk, or whatever it was I was charged to find and then locate my father so we could either finish shopping together or he could tear me off a new page of the list that I could try to tackle alone. 

So yeah: going in I thought I had this in the bag. 

My confidence did become rather dented at the sight of a couple of Yuba cargo bikes - and the arrival of this three-wheeled ringer.

Before I could even the odds by lashing an empty Dumpster to the back of my cargo bike, we closed in on the 1:00pm hour and were instructed to leave our bikes under a tree and gather on a nearby hill. Using a borrowed bullhorn that she quickly realized was unnecessary, Erin gave a stirring speech to the crowd while Garvin's camera rolled. 

Then, we were off and running down to the hill to mount up.
I hastily threw a few of the pictures I took onto the Cranskgiving Facebook page and jumped on my bike. The first place I wanted to go was a Lucky’s a few miles south. Under a beautiful sky and among a few other cyclists who had also chosen that location as the first stop, I raced ahead and locked up out front.

Upon entering, I immediately noticed I wasn’t the fastest. A couple of cyclists were already in line at the checkout and a few more were race-walking through the aisles to find the approved food items. I had to admit it was intoxicating to enter a grocery store with the lens of a game show contestant instead of trying to remember if I had milk or not (NBC's Janelle Wang later mentioned on the air that Cranksgiving San Jose looked fun and I can assure her: it is - and I hope you follow Cranksgiving San Jose on Facebook and do it with us next time).

I grabbed the first items I found that were on the approved list - four cans of pineapple and four boxes of spaghetti - and headed to the express lane. 

Even though I knew I wasn’t, technically, racing the clock, I was still feeling a spot of panic when my self-checkout counter malfunctioned. 

There was nothing I could do but wait for a very nice attendant to walk over and ask me a familiar question. For the last time, Lucky’s: No I am not collecting the stamps! I'm not even sure what they are. Postage? I'm not collecting them so please stop asking me! I'll keep shopping there because you have the good sense to make all the different blends of coffee the exact same price - but leave me out of the stamp thing!

Outside, I realized what my personal bottleneck was going to be. The bungee cargo netting I keep on my cargo bike at all times kept trying to pull the spaghetti into my spokes. As much as I use the bike for my own grocery trips I’ve never carried food in shapeless IKEA bags before. I felt I was struggling with a bean bag chair filled with rocks. 

Once I arranged the food so it wouldn’t create a spaghetti incident (hey - that sounds like a great name for an album, doesn’t it?) I headed off to the next store - Lunardis.

Here I ran into even more cyclists, and we all had that frenzied, hurried, and happy look on our faces. After grabbing more food (I ruled out graham crackers since I worried my bike's stiff ride would turn them into graham cracker atoms by the time I finished) I checked out without incident and, after remounting, got ready to make a U-turn as several other bicycles - including the pedal powered Doof Wagon I've seen at San Jose Bike Party Rides - turned in the other direction using the right lane (the picture below is the one I took at the start).

    I've seen it at San Jose Bike Party and it looks even better at night. And yes that is a fog machine. 

When I finally arrived at Sprouts I took a GoPro inside as to capture the spectacular drama and breath-holding action that can only be described as grocery shopping on a Sunday afternoon. Other shoppers gave me a noticeably wider berth - especially as I gave running commentary. As with Lunardis I ran into other friendly Cranksgivers as I hurried along.

Finally, it was time to go to Chavez Supermarket on Blossom Hill Road, which is in the same plaza as Hub’s Coffee. Unfortunately, I became lost on the way there and ended up pedaling over two miles to correct my mistake. When I finally arrived at Chavez, I found the front jammed with bicycles belong to other Cranksgivers - meaning I wasn’t alone in my load-up-at-the-last-stop strategy. 

I pulled out my now wrinkled, sweat-covered manifest and  zeroed in on food items I didn’t already collect. I could hear my sneakers scuffing on the floor more than I did at the first store. I was running low on power. 

I got a shopping trolley and picked up more food than I had gathered on my first three stops combined, scanning the aisles for empty cardboard boxes I thought would be easier to attach to my cargo bike. Finding none, I figured exactly how much food would tear through an IKEA bag - and subtracted one can of peanut butter.

In line, an ecstatic cyclist ahead of me was explaining Cranksgiving to the amused young grocery clerk, whose smile got bigger as their exchange went on. 

When I finally made it outside, I again played grocery Tetris to make sure all my food - I had no idea how much I had gathered at this point - would stay in place. I mounted up and pedaled to Hub’s Coffee

“Another heavy hauler!” Someone shouted excitedly.

They were talking about me. 

I braked and was nearly out of breath due to the cumulative efforts to gather this much food. The tireless and inspiring Erin helped balance my food on the borrowed scales while Garvin Thomas filmed the event. I briefly handed over my receipts to prove in fact I had traveled to the shops on the list to get my food.

A moment of panic hit when I realized I couldn’t find my manifest. Lucky for me a cyclist I had never met before (who arrived moments after I did) handed it to me with a smile, saying I had dropped it while in line at Chavez.

I thanked him. 

My weigh in for the very first Cranksgiving I had ever taken part in was 49.7 pounds. I had nothing to compare that figure to so I could only wonder if I could top that next year. Again I asked Erin, Cain and the owner of Hub’s if I could help with anything and they - and the fantastic San Jose State University students - assured me I didn’t need to put my volunteer hat back on just yet. 

I entered Hub’s so I could plug in my dying phone and recharge with food and a cold drink from one of the incredible staff members. While inside, I watched as more food came in and was placed inside the drums Second Harvest Food Bank had provided. The contents of what I saw gave me hope that this was going to be a successful first Cranksgiving San Jose. 

It was closing in to 4:00pm at this point - the cut-off time for the Heavy Haulers - so I went outside to see how that was going. “Okay,” I thought to myself. “It looks like my cargo bike and myself are in good shape for the Heavy Hauler competitiOH COME ON!”

I stood near the front of Hub’s taking photos for the Cranksgiving San Jose Facebook page and was in awe. Riders from all ages, many races and, judging by the equipment they were dismounting - many income tax brackets were coming in. It made me smile for the first time in nearly a week. On social media I’ve seen the #WeAreSanJose hashtag but never really felt like I knew what it mean until that afternoon at Hub’s Coffee. 

Even though the sun was beginning to set nearly all of the riders stayed for the awards ceremony. I came in a distant third in the Heavy Haul competition but it was much more fun watching it all and learning just how much food we had all gathered for Second Harvest Food Bank. All of us began looking at each other and realized the same thing: cyclists getting together to use their bikes for good is the prize

That and gathering enough food to dent the earth's crust. 

Thanks to the amazing generosity of the sponsors there were more than enough prizes to go around. With laughs and till-next-year promises, the celebration at Hub's came to a close and we all got together to pack everything up. A couple of days later, Garvin Thomas’ fantastic segment on Cranksgiving aired as a Bay Area Proud feature. 

Today, as I write this, I am feeling Cranksgiving withdrawal. And today, as you read this, you may be feeling sorry that you missed it. But if you are in a city that hasn’t had Cranksgiving yet look on the Cranksgiving web site to find one near you. I was a sponsor, volunteer and participant. It's easy to do just one of those if you prefer.

If you live in San Jose and want to make sure you don’t miss it in 2017, like Cranksgiving San Jose on Facebook and remember: nothing is stopping you from getting on your bike and bringing donations to a food bank like Second Harvest or participating in NBC Bay Area’s own food drive - Feed the Need - which is going on this weekend.

You can also find Second Harvest Food Bank drums to put food in at your local Safeway. Not only that but Hub's Coffee is having a special deal until November 20th: bring in a non-perishable food item and get 15% off a hot coffee. 

If you’re like me, you may feel as though a lot of humor and humanity was lost over the course of 2016. Cranksgiving and efforts like it (and any decision you make to #LeaveTheCarTakeTheBicycle to do some good) are a great way for all of us to get some of that humanity back. Mount up and do that right now - and make a donation for Leonardo's family before you go. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

                        The sponsors of Cranksgiving San Jose 2016

No comments:

Post a Comment