The persistence of memory on Morgantown Road

October 22, 2016


In 1931, the year I was born, Salvador Dali finished one of his “hand painted dream photographs,” which he entitled “The Persistence of Memory.” It features four clocks in an unfamiliar landscape, warped to the forms on which they are placed. Dali explained that his purpose, in part, was “to systematize confusion and thus to help discredit completely the world of reality.”

The title of this surrealist painting comes to mind as I think about a mid-October bicycle round-trip ride from downtown Indianapolis to Morgantown, a small community 30 miles to the south. While the immediacy of this year’s expedition was the continuing focus of my attention during the day, memories of a ride over this same route some 40 years ago kept pushing into my consciousness. Past, present, and future became intermingled, and this warping of time is what made me think of Dali’s misshapen clocks.

This year I was one of twenty-five or thirty cyclists who were riding to Ellettsville, near Bloomington, so that they could enjoy the 49th year of the Hilly Hundred bicycling event. Between 1973 and 1991, I often rode the Hilly as part of my annual cycling schedule, but my move back to to Indianapolis this summer came too late in the season for me to be ready for the event this year.

This Ride to the Hilly, however, seemed exactly right. I could go part way and turn around when I was still strong enough to get back home. There would be other cyclists on the road, mature, serious, experienced, and accustomed to aggressive, open road cycling. Perhaps most important was their current knowledge of the roads through Indianapolis’ south side and the rural hinterlands, roads that my son Mike and I used to ride together.

It was my good fortune to pair off with a white-haired man younger than I by a couple of decades or more and a strong cyclist. He had bicycled from a town well to the north of our starting place and noted that his day’s ride would add up to 91 miles (compared to my 60). And he would then ride the Hilly—two days of hard cycling in the limestone hills around Bloomington.

During brief snatches of conversation, we described our respective histories as cyclists. Although the details differed, the tone of our two-wheeled stores was much the same.

Persistence of Memory near Morgantown Road

Persistence of Memory near Morgantown Road

All day long, however, the immediacy of this year’s ride was pushed aside by memories of a time some forty years ago when Mike and I rode this route. Our plan had been to bike to Bloomington and back in the same day, a total of 120 miles. As we rode southward on Morgantown Road, he explained the technique that his trumpet teacher at the Indiana University School of Music was instilling. “Focus on the song, not on your playing. The music will be better and your ability to keep on playing will increase.”

We discussed how this idea could be applied to our cycling: Think about the glory of the ride rather than the gearing and cadence, or the weather and the road. With a growing sense of exhilaration, we sailed along. As we worked our way over the chip-and-seal roads of Morgan County, however, we realized that something was wrong. We both were so tired that we doubted that we finish the ride we had planned. At Morgantown, we stopped for refreshments and headed back home. As we rode back north on Morgantown Road, we paid attention to gearing and cadence. Maybe the song would sing itself some other day.

Mike still plays trumpet and bicycles in ways consistent with long ago. “I remember that ride and conversation,” he wrote in response to a draft of this blog, and continues with a comment that explains why we ran out of energy on that ride so many years ago.

“One difference between cycling and trumpet playing is pacing. With trumpet playing you are at or close to max sustainable effort at all times. You also rest as much as you play, as opposed to stopping for a few minutes every hour. With cycling it is usually better to pace oneself for the planned distance, which usually puts you at a lower power output.”

Pacing keyed to what you are doing. One key to success, on Morgantown Road and everywhere else.




Growing old in Cochise County

October 18, 2016


The full moon shining high over downtown Indianapolis this week inspired memories of a bicycle ride I did fifteen years ago at this same time of year—on the weekend close to the October full moon. With fear and trembling, I had signed up for the annual Cochise Classic, a challenging event sponsored by the Tucson-based Perimeter Bicycling Association of America. As its name indicates, the PBAA encourages people to ride around geographical features, around mountains, cities, counties, countries. Any circuit can qualify so long as it is at least 50 miles.

The Cochise Classic back then had five rides for people of varying ability. The tour all around the county was 252 miles, with a shorter option of 157 miles. The Tour around Potter Mountain that I was doing was 97 miles long. Two shorter rides completed the weekend’s list of events.

The headquarters was (and still is)) in Douglas, Arizona, a border town that had once been an important mining center. We spent Friday night before the ride and Saturday night after the ride (if we stayed over) at the Gadsden Hotel, which even fifteen years ago had faded significantly. The lobby with its forty-two feet long Tiffany window was once billed as Arizona’s grandest public space. My room on the mezzanine had an impressively carved, heavy oak door, but the house phone didn’t work because it had been pulled loose from the wall.

One hundred sixty three cyclists had signed up for the 2001 Classic: 44 for the 252-mile circuit; 18 for the 157-mile trip, 66 for the 97-mile circuit that I was making; and 33 for the short tour of 45 miles. One of the riders was introduced, an 80-year-old man named Reece Walton who was registered for his eleventh riding of the 252-mile classic. The previous year he had done the loop in 22.5 hours. The fastest riders did it in just over twelve hours, averaging more than 22 miles an hour.

And here I was, proud that as I turned 70—by reason of strength four score and ten, to use the biblical phrasing—I was planning to ride 97 miles.

Early in the ride, two of us found that we were traveling at the same rate and for the next 70 miles we helped each other by regularly changing the lead and sheltering the rider behind from the wind. My companion for the day was a nurse from the area, much younger than I, and a skilled cyclist who was well-versed in the routines of the road while cycling in the Arizona desert.

During the last 10 miles she was fading even more than I and insisted that I continue on and let her finish at her own speed. The posted finish times indicated that she came in only a couple of minutes after I did. I was the 45th finisher (out of 66 who started), averaging 15.3 miles per hour.

The next morning, as I headed for home in Sun City West near Phoenix, I attended the Sunday Eucharist at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Tombstone. Built in 1881, this little church described itself as the oldest protestant church in the Southwest. The congregation consisted of some two dozen people and the music of the liturgy was enlivened by the powerful voice of a young African-American woman sitting in the pew ahead of me.

The peace of the moment was shattered, however, as the pastor began his sermon. In an even voice, he announced that earlier that morning the U.S. Airforce had begun the aerial bombardment of Afghanistan. Then he read a prayer asking that God send peace into the world. As he made his announcement, the sun, it seemed to me, went behind a cloud. I wondered—and this was fifteen years ago—if it would ever again really shine upon the world.

Note: The 2016 Cochise Classic was ridden October 8. Fifteen people completed the longest version, 165 miles; the oldest was 63. Eighty-one cyclists finished the 95-mile circuit, the oldest being 72. Eighty people, one listed as 99 years of age, completed the 47-mile ride. Fifty-one riders, including a person 99 years old, are listed as finishers for the 27-mile ride.


Going to church in Indianapolis

October 15, 2016
Central Christian Church, Indianapolis

Central Christian Church, Indianapolis

For seventy-five years I’ve been a steady church-goer. In my new home in downtown Indianapolis I expect to continue that practice by wandering around from Sunday to Sunday, attending a rather wide range of churches. My purpose is to explore the churchly character of this traditionally religious Midwestern city.

Bicycling around the city, I pass a wide range of churches, many of them with denominational connections that are unfamiliar to me. Some of these congregations appear to be unrelated to other ecclesial networks, and instead are enlarged family gatherings or the ecclesial shadows of founding pastors. Other church buildings are large and well-tended, indicating that the membership is large, generous, well-organized, and that their pastoral leadership is skilled.

My primary interest is in congregations that historian David Hollinger identifies as ecumenical Protestant churches—Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ. Many of these churches were active participants in the Consultation on Church Union and spent nearly forty years in the attempt to create a new American church that would be fully catholic, fully evangelical, and fully reformed. My book published two years ago, The American Church that Might Have Been, gives a full account of this generation-long effort.

Some of the congregations on my list to visit were familiar to me during my earlier life in Indianapolis (1961–1995), such as Broadway United Methodist Church. Others are representative congregations of my own Disciples of Christ network, such as Central Christian Church right around the corner from my apartment. I’m interested in a string of long-established, prominent congregations stretched along North Meridian Street: Christ Church Cathedral, Trinity Episcopal, North United Methodist, Meridian Street United Methodist, St. Paul’s Episcopal, and Second Presbyterian.

These days, Lutheran churches are especially interesting because of their ecumenical activities, including theological rapprochements with the Roman Catholic Church, concordats concerning mutual recognition of ministries and eucharistic hospitality with the Episcopal Church and a group of Reformed churches. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America also is taking the lead in creating a new generation of worship books and hymnals.

Some congregations are interesting because they have gone through challenging changes in their neighborhoods. I hope to learn how they have moved from flourishing times, through periods of diminished strength, to new vitality.

I’m on the watch for pastors who can become conversation partners as I try to understand the various aspects of congregational life during the current reshaping of American church life. Maybe they can help me decode language that is widely used these days, terms like progressive, postmodern, spiritual but not religious, recovering fundamentalist, and post Christian.

The puzzling character of church life was manifested in a recent gathering at a once mighty church in a sociologically ambiguous neighborhood north of downtown Indianapolis. Thirty years ago, the pastor was a strong preacher who filled this large church week after week and at the same time inspired the congregation to engage in a significant range of social services to people in the distressed neighborhood that had emerged around the monumental church building.

The congregation went into a precipitous decline and at its low point was drawing about seventy-five people for worship. New pastoral leadership brought radically different ways of relating the congregation to its neighborhood and now some 200 people appear on Sunday mornings and a radically different kind of church is emerging.

At this recent gathering the congregation was hosting Nadia Bolz-Weber, a young, much-acclaimed Lutheran pastor who represents an increasingly prominent style of progressive, postmodern church leaders. My quick estimate is that over 400 people were filling the church nicely. A rather small percentage would have been older than fifty years of age.

I estimated that 75% of the congregation were women, and the person sitting next to me countered, as we walked to our cars after the event, that it was closer to 85%. A prevailing tone of the evening was that people were recovering from early church experiences that had been repressive or toxic or domineering, especially for women.

I want to understand this portion of the church-going population much better than I do now. At the same time, I want to understand more fully another part of the church-going population, people whose entire church life has been in liberal-minded congregations that encouraged ideas and ethical practices that were generally held in the secular world.

While paying attention to all of this, I want to sing hymns of praise and devotion, hear the Word of God proclaimed in strong sermons, and be nourished by the risen Christ who promises to meet us at the eucharistic table of remembrance.

My Indianapolis church going should be interesting! And I hope that future blogs will be too.


Cops cycling for survivors

October 8, 2016


Even with police escort, it was a hard ride!

Cycling south from downtown Indianapolis has always been challenging. Twenty years ago, the route my son and I decided was best was South Meridian Street to the junction with Bluff Road and then on Bluff Road as it angles a little to the west. That’s the way I went today and found the roads much as I remembered: one lane each direction, little or no shoulder, steady traffic and mostly moderate speeds. Not great, but OK.

Ten miles into the ride, I turned left on Stop 11 Road in order to get back to Meridian Street and the return to the center of town. When I reached the intersection, I remembered it from before, although in earlier years I would reach it coming from the south. It was the place where traffic became so heavy that I would move to a gentler route for the rest of the way into the city.

Not remembering that route, I asked a police officer standing by his patrol car outside a convenience grocery. “Your bike’s titanium, isn’t it?” was his response to my request for directions. We fell into a ten-minute conversation about bikes and cycling, during which he told me about an organization on whose board he serves: Cops Cycling for Survivors Foundation.

Their major event is an annual bike ride around Indiana: approximately 1,100 miles in thirteen days. Riders have to secure donations of $75 a day for each day that they ride. Gear is carried in a truck. Lodging is donated by hostelries and organizations along the way. Local police departments provide escorts to ease the way for cyclists. Thus, the donated money all goes to the survivors.

Beneficiaries are the survivors of officers lost in the line of duty. This sounds like a ride I would like to take.

At this point, the officer told me what he was going to do. “You ride in the curb lane and I’ll drive behind you as protection.” Although he intended to take me the eight miles to downtown, I was uneasy about that and we agreed that he would take me two miles to a quiet cross street where I could move over to a northbound street with bike lanes.

With the police car close behind, I started north, up a slight grade and into a sharp north wind. Even thirteen mph was hard work, and I felt embarrassed at that slow speed and pushed up to sixteen. Gasping for breath, I was grateful to top the rise and compromised at fifteen mph. At the cross street I turned right, and he followed me around. As we shook hands, he wished me well and headed out, apparently off duty and on his way home.

I fought my way through Indy’s warehouse and railroad district on the south side of downtown: Narrow, rough streets and pushy traffic with one guy yelling obscenities while the driver swerved around me.

In the twenty years since I’ve been away from Indianapolis, the city has made serious efforts to develop bicycle-friendly facilities, and for this I am grateful. There is, however, much yet to be done! The greatest, and perhaps insurmountable, task is to develop a new civic culture in which drivers learn to relax a little. I am struck by how many auto-related accidents are reported every morning on the traffic news, but watching behavior at intersections helps me understand. Drivers seem determined to assert their prior rights to the road so that even little old ladies, like one I saw last week, have to fight for a chance to cross the street.

What did I learn from today’s ride? First, Bluff Road is to OK as a way out of town going south, but I have to keep looking for a better way for coming back north. Second, the police officer I met is a nice guy, and I hope to raise some money and spend a few days next summer riding around Indiana with the Cycling Cops.


An easy-going way of bicycling in the city

September 23, 2016
North and Alabama Streets at Dusk

North and Alabama Streets at Dusk

From my fifth floor balcony and writing table, I watch a vibrant neighborhood in downtown Indianapolis: one block of North Street, from Alabama to New Jersey Streets, and two blocks of Alabama Street, from North, past Michigan Street, to the intersection with Massachusetts Avenue, a street that transverses a northeasterly diagonal through the old city.

The Indianapolis cultural trail runs along these streets. It is a broad, ornate sidewalk that winds for eight miles around and through neighborhoods close to downtown. All day long these streets are alive with human activity: walkers, joggers, runners, moms and dads pushing strollers, steady but not pushy car and truck traffic, and bicyclists.

Many of the evenings are especially active because of frequent shows at the Old National Centre, part of the Murat Shriners Temple across the ccorner. In contrast with Portland, Oregon, my home for many years, this part of Indianapolis abounds with paved parking lots: at the English Foundation Building directly across from my window, the Old National, another lot on the corner of North and New Jersey, and still another adjacent to a century-old church on the other side of New Jersey.

Early in the mornings these lots are empty but they fill up during the day, empty out around dinner time, and then fill up again most evenings.

I pay special attention to the cyclists. At the Starbucks two blocks away on Mass Ave, some people dressed in high style office attire arrive by bike, and others commute downtown in grubbies and change to business dress before coming in for coffee.

Portland commuters whom I have closely observed for more than a decade, mostly by riding along with them on the streets and across the bridges, and downtown, are usually dressed in casual, non-bike-specific attire. A single pannier fastened on a rear rack or a back pack carries fancier clothes to wear at work, and probably notebook and tablet computer.

The riders I see in my Mass Ave neighborhood appear to have cycled shorter distances, and they seem to prefer back packs. They use all kinds of bikes from old street bikes fixed up for city riding, to fancy comfort bikes that they ride without raising a sweat even on a humid Indianapolis day.

The most obvious difference is helmet culture. In Portland, most people on city streets wear them, whereas in this part of Indianapolis helmets seem optional. From 6:10 to 6:20 one evening, I watched twenty-five cyclists travel through my three-block field of vision: twelve with helmets, thirteen without. On my drives through the downtown and into adjacent neighborhoods I get the impression that this pattern is largely replicated elsewhere in the older neighborhoods of the city. It also appears that everywhere in Indianapolis, again in contrast with Portland, pedestrians are on their own, with little attention given them by motorists.

Whether they are wearing helmets or only a cap (often with an Indy Colts logo), Indianapolis cyclists feel free to travel wherever they like: on bike trails (with or against the flow), on sidewalks, on either side of streets (especially in the mornings before the motorists are out), on the sidewalk one minute and on the street the next. They dart quickly from one route to another, facing cars or going the same direction, with a studied indifference toward traffic signals.

During my earlier life in Indianapolis (which ended in 1995), I lived in a traditional neighborhood about six miles north of downtown, and there I encountered a different breed of cyclists. Many of them were members, as was I, of CIBA, the Central Indiana Bicycling Association. They wore helmets, dressed in bicycle-specific clothing, and for the most part rode the streets in a highly disciplined way.

Riding with them socialized me into a mature, adult way of cycling, and it’s the mode I continue to use even though it seems so old-school down here in the hip Mass Ave culture.

Despite my puzzlement over the cycling patterns I see in this vibrant downtown neighborhood, I am grateful that so many people in my readopted home have taken to two-wheel transportation.

It gives me a sense of comradeship even though there is little likelihood that I will get acquainted with them, unless it be when we fall into conversation at Starbucks. Although we use our bicycles in significantly different ways, together we add color and a humane dimension to a world that otherwise is filled with the noises and smells of the motorized world.

Bike lanes and roundabouts

September 15, 2016


For most of my forty years as cyclist, riding both in the city and on the open road, I have held mixed views concerning safety provisions that traffic engineers provide for cyclists. Initially, my views were largely negative because of my experience with bicycle lanes. This experience was confirmed in caustic writings by engineer and cyclist John Forester.

Having studied the data concerning bike-motor vehicle accidents, Forester contended that they were age-related in where they took place and why they occurred. The statistics showed that intersections were the places where danger was the greatest. He urged traffic engineers and rule writers to develop roadways and rules that would reduce danger everywhere and especially at these danger points.

Forester also believed that cyclists were safest and drivers best able to share the road with them when people on bikes followed the same rules of the road that drivers obeyed. When making a left turn, for example, cyclists should not try to do it from a bike lane on the right edge of the road but should do what cars do, which is to get into the left lane and turn from the same position that drivers used.

Since 1999, most of my city cycling has been done in and around Portland, Oregon. Early in that period, I came to a largely positive view of the bike lanes and other provisions that traffic engineers in that city had established for cyclists. They helped me negotiate difficult intersections, and also helped drivers figure out where they should be as they were maneuvering their way in these same places.

Recently, however, my confidence in what the engineers are doing has been wavering. Their fixation upon creating separations between cyclists and motorists, as I have experienced them in several parts of Portland and in downtown Seattle, provide the veneer of safety while increasing the likelihood of bicycle-motor vehicle interaction. As much as possible—in order to protect myself from increased danger—I avoid these newly devised bicycle-specific streets and intersections.

My antipathies toward bike lanes comes to mind when both as motorist and cyclist I have to contend with roundabouts, which are being touted as the preferred form of intersections in many urban and open country areas. I know how to navigate in a world of four-way intersections controlled by stop signs or traffic lights. I can keep track of the direction I am going, and there is time, as I wait for the lights to change, to be sure of what I should do. I can usually find my way even in places that are unfamiliar to me.

Having returned to Indianapolis after living in the West for twenty years, I find that my former certainties no longer are certain. Recently driving in the city of Carmel on the north side of Indianapolis, I found myself in a surreal world that requires a total reorientation of my motorist’s mind. Carmel’s public officials and citizens are so excited by roundabouts that approximately one hundred of them are filling up the maps in this spread out community.

Before the roundabout era, I could find my way in Carmel and vicinity because it was still a four-square world. At most intersections I could turn left or right, or go straight ahead, and usually end up where I wanted to be even if I didn’t know the names of all of the streets.

No more. Admittedly, I have reached an age when it takes longer to figure out signage than used to be the case. The roundabouts I encountered on my recent travels in Carmel compounded the problem. Every roundabout seemed different and the challenges of figuring out where I should be driving and which spoke on the wheel was the one I should use to exit were greater than I could grasp in the moments that were available as I rotated around the circle.

Maybe the sweet voice on Google Maps would have told me when to veer off the circle—that is if I had her turned on and had learned to trust her instructions.

I’m reading about Carmel’s history with roundabouts and am learning how much they appear to reduce accidents and delays. My commitment to a fact-based approach to these matters should persuade me to embrace roundabouts.

To do so, however, requires that I (and everyone else) study the facts and learn new rules of the road just as Carmel’s official documents say we should. And I need to get a paper map and study the realignment of this part of Indianapolis and then spend time in Carmel going round and round until I I know what I’m doing. Until then, I’m going to do must of my driving and cycling in Indy’s four-square world south of 86th Street.


The Columbia River: learning to live with what can be saved

September 12, 2016

whiteThe Organic Machine: The Remaking of the Columbia River, by Richard White (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995)

After living on the edge of the Columbia River for thirteen years, crossing it time and time again, cycling on roads and trails skirting its shore, and living the good life because of the low-cost electricity that it generates, I’m reestablishing my life in a far, distant part of the country. Part of my grief work is rereading Richard White’s elegant monograph about the great river of the West.

The publisher who commissioned this book stipulated that it have no footnotes in order to appeal to general readers. White, who then taught at the University of Washington in Seattle, succeeded in writing a lucid, interesting, non-technical little book, but the ten-page bibliographical essay at the end of the book indicates the depth of his research.

While The Organic Machine is organized chronologically, tracing the way that the peoples who have lived in its watershed have successively worked with the river to accomplish their life needs, its narrative drive is philosophical, examining “the river as an organic machine, as an energy system which, although modified by human interventions, maintains its ‘unmade’ qualities. . .My argument in this book is that we cannot understand human history without natural history and we cannot understand natural history without human history” (p. ix).

White addresses modern environmentalists who “stress the eye over the hand, the contemplative over the active, the supposedly undisturbed over the connected. They call for human connections with nature while disparaging all those who claim to have known and appreciated nature through work and labor” (p. x).

He suggests that readers “might want to spend more time thinking about Ralph Waldo Emerson and Lewis Mumford and less about Henry David Thoreau and John Muir” (p. xi), which reminds me of an idea presented by Steven Solomon in Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization. Discussing the hydrological society of ancient China, Solomon discerns contrasting approaches to engineering solutions to water-related issues.

“Taoist engineers designed waterworks to allow water to flow away as easily as possible, exploiting the dynamics of the natural ecosystem, just as they urged Chinese leaders to gradually win support for their goals through persuasive dialogue. . . Confucians, on the other hand, advocated a more forceful manipulation of both nature and human society to achieve the public good.” The underlying principles “framed a fundamental engineering debate which has reemerged on the global level today as the world seeks environmentally sustained solutions to the water scarcity crisis” (101).

Read more . . .organic-machine