Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Long Rider

My Mother's statue of the blessed Virgin Mary in my backyard.

Walking on hard-packed snow at twenty below zero feels like crunching bubble-wrap with your feet. Crawling out of a warm bed at 4:30 in the morning can be just as unnerving and traumatic. Even the Blessed Virgin Mary was buried under three feet of snow.

The cold air nips at your cheeks and stings your skin until the clothes pile on and almost by rote behavior you begin the arduous task of delivering newspapers once again. It was my first fleeting taste of entrepreneurship starting in seventh grade.

The one saving grace to that morning ritual was my salmon-colored transistor radio and the wonderful story-songs it painted in my brain. A world of flashy cars with long fins and beautiful young maidens. The intoxicating sound of rock and roll and all those rebellious images it conjured up in my malleable mind which in turn only lent more fuel to an already rampant imagination.

I thought about those deep winter sojourns when I took my first of many long distance bike rides early Saturday morning. It has long been a summer ritual for me before writing, yard work and the grandchildren’s athletic schedule steal time away from such casual pursuits.

There is something very special about those springtime rides that bring back a plethora of memories. Growing up on Randolph Avenue, Cretin High School and the College of Saint Thomas. Warm summer romances. Late night excursions along the river. Walking hand in hand with that someone special who will probably be replaced by another someone special the following summer.

I guess in our youth such shameful girlfriend swapping is all part of the teenage roller coaster of life; a portrait of angst and pathos switching places with love and lust at seventeen. Living and loving and learning all within a couple of square miles of one another.

Riding down Summit Avenue this morning before dawn is a challenge. I haven’t had my coffee yet and there’s no iPad and quiet time before the rest of the world wakes up. Later on in the summer it’s a more relaxed ride because the morning air doesn’t creep under my layers to bite at my skin. I don’t have to wear long pants and gloves to ward off the chill and the sweat comes more slowly.

There are few runners out this early in the season unlike later on when everyone is training for Grandma’s or Twin Cities marathons. The Tour de France wannabes haven’t yet begun to cluster around my coffee shop before their race down Summit Avenue. Today it’s only the hardcore die-hards or marginally insane who are out exercising this frosty morning. Crossing the bridge, I see the U of M rowing club is out before barges crowd the waterways.

Much like another blog At the corner of Fairview and Summit, this ride will take me past a lot of my old haunts and a retracing of my other lives. Most of those old places are now generations apart from where I am today. But they still bring back a boatload of memories, most of them good and a few very poignant.

 It’s so early on Summit Avenue the governor is still asleep. My first romantic breakup after Sunday mass took place just down the block. At this point in my three marathons I was pretty much a walking, jogging zombie; each step as painful as the last. I worked briefly for the Catholic Archdiocese in the James J. Hill Mansion. Sharden Productions, Inc. and related real estate ventures were conceived in those oak-paneled halls.

The Little French Church. Eight years of Catholic education. Daily mass because we had to and public transportation before it became hip.

Moved with public television down to Lowertown when it was still empty warehouses and parking lots. Now it’s a hip thriving ‘happening’ place for millennials. Nearby the Mississippi River has long been a magnet for the land-locked before Laguna Beach and the PCH fueled my own latent surfer’s imagination.

1158 Randolph Avenue. Built for Eight Thousand Dollars by my Mother and Uncle Joe in 1948. A comfortable nest for a wondering wandering mind, blind ambition and soaring expectations. Eight years traveling by bus to grade school in downtown Saint Paul. By high school, I couldn’t wait to escape a dying downtown.

Cretin High School. A pivotal point in my life and solid respect for education. The first taste of love or whatever it was back then. A thirst for knowledge that hasn’t gone dry after all these years.

Courtesy of Jerry Hoffman

Senior dance Cretin High School - Courtesy of Jerry Hoffman

Myself and Joyce at the Senior dance - courtesy of Jerry Hoffman

Melanie’s home is just two blocks off of my old paper route. Here the latest rage is teardowns and larger homes because the neighborhood has gotten so hot. Who knew? Fifty years ago we couldn’t wait to ‘get out of Dodge.’ Now they’re flocking back to raise their families in my old backyard.

There’s something about this place that still draws me back even in the chill of early spring. And it has nothing to do with the images that corporate and government Minnesota want to paint for outsiders.

Forget about what the PR hacks are saying or the Chamber of Commerce’s latest spiel about the glories of living in Minnesota. Forget our professional (subsidized) sports teams or even dare I say, Garrison Keller’s Prairie Home Companion as a folksy homespun version of Grandma’s tales of yesteryear.

Instead I’m talking about a culture of intrinsic family values, a creed of hard work and an unapologetic pride in being from here. They say our cold weather leaves just the strong of heart behind. I touched on this in my blog: Going Home Again. Whether it’s true or not, it is a moniker I subscribe to.
Some might argue that I’ve abandoned my state because I spend winters elsewhere. While it’s true I’d much rather hike a mountain in January than shovel snow, I’d like to believe I’ve earned the right to escape when I can.

Delivering newspapers at twenty below zero was a tough way for a kid to get started in business. But there were valuable lessons learned back then.

And besides I always had Buddy and Ritchie and the Big Bopper to show me the way.