Tuesday, October 11, 2016

On the Road Again

It’s my first long distance bike ride of the season and the season is almost over.

My normal routine of long bike rides was upended this summer by play practice, acting, and finally the production of my own play ‘Riot at Sage Corner.’ I sprinted to freedom the morning after our cast party.

Long distance bike riding, or in reality, meandering - is soul-searching at its finest. It’s yoga on wheels and meditation in the saddle. It’s a rediscovery of past haunts, mis-spent youth, lost love and between the sign posts… myself.  I’m alone with my recollections, dreams, passions and ever-present tape recorder to capture those fleeting thoughts that sometimes go in one ear and get stuck there.

The coffee shop is a welcome sight of iron riders and rail thin runners. These mostly white middle-age athletes are gearing up for several races this fall.  They’re early morning vagabonds who need their cup of Joe to kick-start each day. It’s an eclectic group of support crew, racers, runners and neighborhood hangers-on gathered together to taste the first bite of dawn and forthcoming self-induced punishment. I’m here to look and marvel and suppress my envy.

There are also a lot of runners out training for the Twin Cities Marathon. 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 diehards or marginally insane who are out exercising this frosty morning.

After they leave I’ll begin my Saturday morning meanderings through the Twin Cities. There won’t be an agenda or route to follow. My imagination and ever elusive recollections of times past will point me in some direction. Crossing the bridge, I see the U of M rowing club is out before barges crowd the waterways.

It used to be that during the summer months I’d take long bike rides to peruse my old haunts for changes or as a way to recap old memories still lingering there. But something happened late last summer that altered that perception.

Surprisingly it wasn’t the old haunts that had changed. Instead it was something that clicked differently inside my head that time around. I came to the sobering realization that not only were the old places gone but now they were relegated to the dust bins of history.

The Twin Cities had become a wasteland of relics from my past. A time long forgotten except in black and white photos and old vinyl recordings. Time has that tendency to erase most vestiges of a period and in its place leave only vapid memory vapors that drift in and out of our consciousness from time to time.

The changes were all around me but I didn’t see it until last fall.

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 third and last marathon 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 is now surrounded by high-rise apartments and light rail tracks. For me it was eight years of Catholic education. Daily mass because we had to and public transportation before it became hip. Does anyone remember the street cars which came before buses?

I 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.


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 fall. 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.

I don’t think I’ll be retracing my old bike routes anymore. It won’t be because of bad memories. Rather the absence of visible landmarks makes it harder to reconcile memories with recollection, nostalgia with history and reality with a reflective glance at my past. It’s a gravel road that has been paved over.

Yet time is on my side. I still get to look back through old photographs in awe and amazement at what once was while still listening to those old familiar musical refrains. I’m still reliving so much that others can’t or won’t see or feel themselves.

Come next spring, new adventures wait. Charlotte, my youngest granddaughter, is now a two-wheeler like her brother. Perhaps I can enlist them as my posse and together we can discover new routes and adventures around the Twin Cities. I’ll be a younger man then and hopefully still eager to blaze new memory trails for that younger generation.

Perhaps I’ll cross trails with some old memory haunts yet undiscovered.

That wouldn’t be a bad thing either.

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