September 7 2006
So on Sunday, August 20, I dipped into the Pacific Ocean.
The next morning I went out for breakfast in Florence with Troy and Mel, said goodbye, and rode the bus back to Eugene. Later that morning I talked to the kitchen manager at Outback, and he said I’d be starting work the next day – Tuesday.
Tuesday morning I had to ride to City Hall and get an Oregon Food Handler’s Card – something I’d never heard of in PA. It’s like a license to work in the food service industry, and I had to take a 20 or 30 question quiz about food safety. I’m familiar with all that stuff, so it was a breeze.
Then I rode to Wal-Mart and bought some working clothes – $10 jeans, $20 shoes, Hanes T-shirts, boxers, cheap socks… oh yeah, civilized again. By then it was time to go to work, and I was treated like the “new guy” on my first day, so it was fun and easy.
They put me right on the grill station, just like I was doing in Allentown – cooking the steaks, burgers, pork, lamb, and slicing prime rib. It’s funny how everything is exactly the same, but different. When I say that it’s the same I mean not only the work itself, which is to be expected, but the people… every restaurant has its own cast of characters that fill different niches.
I found myself working seven consecutive days to start. I was a little uneasy because I had to be out of my motel room on Friday morning, and had to manage to find a new place to stay within my first three days of work. When I was introduced to people and they asked me about myself, I made it clear that I was looking for a place to stay, or camp.
On Thursday night Travis, who I work with in the kitchen, said “Hey man, I heard you need a place a place to stay – me and Krista have an extra room.” Yes!
So I moved in with them the next day, and since then, my life has taken on that of a typical working routine. It’s still a far cry from the average workaday lifestyle though, because everything here is new and exciting.
Still, it’s odd because so many things make it feel as though my trip is over – sleeping indoors every night, showering daily, going to work, having good food and drink (And gaining weight), not bicycling long distances every day, categorizing my pictures, and the closure of having ridden “coast to coast,” for example.
So now I have the unique advantage of experiencing what it’s going to be like when I go home… before I do go home! I think by the end of a long tour, cyclists often become anxious to get home, but then when they do get there, they think “I wish I were still on tour!” The other night I had this dream that I immediately had to go home, without even informing my bosses at work or anything. It was such a relief to wake up on a fold-out bed, in Travis and Krista’s house!
Every day I basically sleep until around 11am, and make myself some oatmeal or pancakes for breakfast, with coffee. Then I’ll usually play on the internet or find household chores to do until I have to be at work – which can be anywhere between 2:30 and 5. It’s a 9 mile one-way commute, so I’m at least staying in somewhat decent riding shape. I typically try to leave an hour before I have to be at work, even though I can do the ride in 40 minutes.
I get done with my shift between 11 and 11:30pm. Sometimes the saute cook invites me over for a beer, but usually I’ll just ride home and get back around midnight. The ride home at night is often one of my favorite parts of the day, on the empty quiet roads. After concentrating on work all night, it’s then that I remember my circumstances and think, “Wow, here I am living and working in Oregon for a month – this is pretty darn cool.”
When I get back to the house I’m welcomed home by Travis and Krista’s dogs, and they’re usually still awake, so I’ll go upstairs and take a shower. Then I cook plain spaghetti noodles with spices, and eat in front of the tv just in time for Conan O’Brien, and the oddly fascinating O’Reilly Factor. I usually get to bed around 2 or 3am.
And there you have it. Most days are clear blue and beautiful, in the eighties or lower nineties. I have yet to see a drop of rain here. At night I’m comfortable riding home in a t-shirt and jeans, though once it was chilly and I threw on an extra shirt.
On my days off I’ll ride around town, checking out the bike shops and whatever else there is to see and get done. Last Saturday was the opening game for University of Oregon football, versus Stanford. The whole city was yellow and green – it was insane. People around here are really serious about their Ducks.
I had the day off, and rode over by the game to soak in the big-event atmosphere. They have an open structured stadium, so it was cool to periodically hear the roar of the crowd. Later in the day I found myself near Hayward Field again, so I took some pictures, but didn’t jog the mile in honor of Pre, because I was in my riding shoes. Tonight at work I ought to catch some of the Miami Dolphins vs. Pittsburgh Steelers NFL season opener. Life is good.
September 11, 2006
I had Friday and Saturday off of work.
Crazy hippies as far as the eye could see.
A shame it was tough to get pictures because it was mostly dark out.
There are bicycle paths everywhere in Eugene. Virtually every road has a lane like this.
I ride by this lumber yard on my commute every day, so I thought I’d take a picture for a little “Oregon flavor.”
Some supermarkets have these machines out front. Toss in an empty can or bottle – get a nickel.
All the buses have bicycle racks. Fine public transportation indeed.
September 29, 2006
I hear dogs barking. After waking and leisurely falling back asleep twice, I choose to begin the day. Rising from the unfolded couch in Travis and Krista’s house that’s served as my little home for the past month, I’m careful not to step on the little piles of my material possessions stacked on the floor, and open the bedroom door.
The barking in the living room ceases, and Mia and Cali rush to the sound of my footsteps to say “good morning.” Their paws and claws click and slide on the kitchen floor. I glance at the clock on the microwave – 11:38am.
The place is quiet – Travis has an early kitchen manager shift at Outback. Krista is at school. There’s some garbage on the kitchen floor. Looks like the dogs have gotten into the trash can. When they see me pick up the items, Mia and Cali run away with their tails between their legs. It’s mildly amusing – they’ve obviously been trained that plundering the garbage is wrong, but they do it anyway. Maybe they sense my indifference.
I see that it is a sunny, warm Friday. I hope to leave town and continue my bicycle tour on Wednesday or Thursday. Monday will be my last day at work.
My new bicycle frame should be arriving any day now. Yes, I said new bicycle frame. My Trek 520 has developed a crack at the junction of the bottom bracket and seat post. It’s like a hairline stress fracture on the surface – enough to get a brand new frame under warranty.
The other day I showed the symptom to an inquisitive coworker. Looking down at it, I thought “Damn, I cranked the s_t out of that m_ f_er!” Trek told me that all the stock immediately available right now is painted black. So my bike will be rebuilt with a black frame. I consider naming the new bike “Blackbelt.” Then I wonder if I’m comfortable being the sort of man who names his bicycle.
Today I intend to go to the bike shop and run over the details of the rebuild. I fix pancakes and instant coffee for breakfast. My diet has changed very little. Realizing I won’t have sufficient time to ride to the bike shop before my shift, I put it off until tomorrow, and go on the computer a little while to kill some time. I play my favorite songs from Travis’s playlist – Bob Dylan Hurricane, Gordon Lightfoot Edmund Fitzgerald, and Weezer Perfect Situation. Soon I leave for my ride to work.
It’s a bustling afternoon, with an unmistakable “Friday” character to the air. There’s a tree along my ride that has changed from green to yellow, and every day now I see the leaves float to the pavement. I think of my practice tour from Allentown PA to Ithaca NY over the Easter Holiday. I left Allentown on an early winter morning for that trip, and when I returned a week later, it was Spring.
I see plenty of other cyclists on my daily ride. Not working the usual opening shift today, I miss my nameless bicycle commuter colleague, who exchanges a polite wave with me across the same road at the same time every day.
Today I meet a different rider – a man on a bicycle says to me, “Hey, are you that ‘Bicycling America’ guy? Jamie?” He’s a stranger who stumbled on my journal. It feels so cool when this happens to me. He rides a brief way with me through the construction zone that I navigate daily. Weaving and threading through the sidewalk adds spice to the ride, and I comment how I’ve seen the construction project develop in small stages over the course of my stay in town.
I make a turn, and my companion continues straight on his way, awkwardly out of earshot for a goodbye in an instant. It was a brief, bicycle in motion conversation, as I had to keep moving in order to be at work on time.
It is my fourth-last day working at this Outback. As I stand in the kitchen at work, I sometimes remember how I bought my complete wardrobe at Wal-Mart a month ago. The only article of clothing on my body that I didn’t buy that day is an Outback baseball cap. The line cook beside me is about my identical clothing size.
“Do you want these t-shirts when I leave?” I ask. “I’ll just end up throwing them out or dumping ’em at Salvation Army.”
“Nah man, I’m good.” he says. The way he says it makes me laugh.
Lately I’ve taken to asking the pretty waitresses if they’d like to come away on my bike with me. It’s so amusing – you ought to see the looks on their faces sometimes. Keep in mind, I’m the hairy greasy vagrant guy in the kitchen.
It’s only now when I’m leaving that some of my co-workers have discovered that I rode my bike here from the east coast. I often get the question “Why did you want to do that?”
I also get “Where are you going now?” and it’s a mouthful to explain how I’m going north out of town – but ultimately toward San Francisco – until my money runs out – or Christmas – whichever comes first – no solid final destination, no concrete route, no finalized schedule – all vague, unsatisfactory answers to someone “inside the box,” even in a place like Eugene.
Krista calls me “Jamie – my new hippie friend!” Put me next to some of the hippies I see downtown, and I’d look like Rush Limbaugh. Really. Things seem different here from the east coast – a step closer to a happy surreal paradise where happy evolved humans ride their bicycles through a happy clean community and happily wave to each other as they pass the happy recycling plant. Families picnic on Saturday to the tune of the band Chicago …and Bob Ross paints pictures of it all. Yeah.
It’s a busy Friday dinner shift in the kitchen. Later after everything calms down, Chaz, the saute cook, suddenly says “This is it!” and springs to turn up the volume on the nearby television. Unmistakable theme music grabs my attention. On the screen Sylvester Stallone wrings his old, tired hands. What? Is he doing pushups? He says something like, “I was thinkin’… maybe… I’d fight again.” Paulie stares with a look of shock, “Hey Rock, are you outta your mind?” I’m fixed to the tv in complete silence, and with full attention – mesmerized. When the commercial is over, I wake as though from a trance. “Back… for one… last… fight.” Rocky Balboa.
“He’s doing another Rambo too,” Chaz says. Life is good.
my room at Travis and Krista’s house
the yellow tree on my commute
out after work
Cali and Mia looking cute
I lose to Krista at Monopoly, despite the fact that I own Boardwalk and Park Place
Travis in front of his castle
October 2, 2006
I wake today and take a shower, since I didn’t get one last night. Travis is in front of the tv watching Independence Day, so I get stuck for a spell too. Will Smith trash-talking aliens in a dogfight, and Lonestar from Spaceballs acting presidential never gets old.
The guy from the bike shop calls and says my new frame is in. Excellent. “I’ll bring the bike in tomorrow,” I say. I leave early for work and stop at the supermarket, buying Chewy Chips Ahoy, and some Ramen for my few remaining dinners in town. I sit out front, eat all the cookies, and phone some friends.
I ride to Outback, where I’m to work my final shift tonight. I’ve already developed a routine, and it’s funny to think that this is already the last time I’ll go through it. Every day I park my bike outside, and go in to grab the kitchen manager. He comes out with his keys to lock my bike in a small storage room with the water heater.
He squints in the sunlight and fresh air after doing prep work all day, and makes small talk. I notice that the topics never have anything to with work. I’d like to think that this has been one of the better parts of his day – stepping outside for a moment to let his crazy traveling grill cook lock up his bike. He could, after all, just as easily hand me the keys and say “Here, I’m busy.”
The regular kitchen manager is off this afternoon, so James comes out to lock the bike. He also commutes to work by bicycle, and locks his bike in the same room. I remember he had a flat tire one day, and I had the opportunity to offer my patch kit so he didn’t have to ride the bus home. Raphael and Maria arrive at work the same time as me today. “Rompe!” they say, “Como estas? Tu finito?”
“Si, 86 Rompe!” I reply, with a huge smile. Somehow my Spanish nickname here became “Rompe.” I don’t even know what it means, or if that’s how you spell it. On one of my first shifts, I was walking around the kitchen singing the Daddy Yankee song that goes “rom pe rom pe rom pe,” and it stuck.
It’s an easy Monday shift, and I’m in a great mood because it’s my last day. I get to roll out of town soon, and see more than the fog of steam and grease on my glasses. Then again, maybe I’ll soon be wishing that I do have have grease on glasses – just so I can lick it off! Everything has its downside I guess.
The Eagles are on Monday Night Football, so I get to intermittently see them pounce Green Bay. They’re already talking about how T.O. and the Dallas Cowboys come to Philly this week. Won’t that be something. I wonder if The Secret Service does contract work? Even the cops in Philly hate T.O. The Mafia too.
The mutual feeling is that the month here has gone by fast. I think it was five weeks of employment, actually. Tonight I get more questions, mostly, “Where are you going now?” The one waitress is driving to California in a few weeks. “Do you want a ride?” she asks, in all seriousness. Later she overhears me telling someone the general direction I’ll be biking from here. “Are you sure you don’t just want a ride?” Heh.
Afterward I stop by the saute guy’s apartment one last time, have a few beers, and watch him play XBox. He has this game where you build a mansion, throw parties, and publish a magazine. The parameters of how you accumulate points and advance in the game are pretty neat.
I use the restroom before leaving on one final late night commute home, and check out my hairy mug in the mirror. My face looks like a tumbleweed. I step out into the cool, dark night, turn on my headlight, my red blinking taillight, strap on my riding gloves, put on my bright white funny looking jacket, and roll.
This has been my favorite part of the day, and what I’ll remember most vividly from my time in the area, I think. I look up at the autumn moon, and wonder if I’ll see a good deal of rain before I reach California. My mind wanders. After a while, I realize my breathing has been good and steady. The initial shock of cold changes over to unbuttoning my jacket to keep from sweating. I pass a karaoke bar where a rendition of Carly Simon “You’re So Vain” blasts out the door and permeates the night. Maybe it’s a subtle message. Do I think this song is about me? Maybe I could be the underworld spy.
Once I made the nine miles in under 35 minutes. Mostly I don’t keep track. I reach the house, and walk my bike to the back yard, where I’m greeted by Travis and Krista’s dogs. I think how there will come a day soon when I’ll leave, and won’t return from work to greet them.
Inside my room there’s a big box from UPS. My mom sent a bunch of good stuff for my birthday, including a Hallmark card with sound. When you open it, it triggers a little speaker inside, which plays the sound bite from Forrest Gump where Bubba elaborates on all the different ways to cook shrimp. It’s great. I arrange the contents of the package for a photo, and dig into the food right then and there. Life is good.
I wake and essentially go straight to Paul’s Bicycle Way of Life – the bike shop in Eugene. It’s my final ride on the Trek 520 that went across the continent. I go in and see the new frame. It’s pretty. We go over the parts that I’d like replaced when the bike is rebuilt – new tires, new chain, new cassette. May as well do it right – extra bling bling factor.
I considered having the rear wheel rebuilt around my old Shimano Deore hub, but it didn’t arrive in the mail in time. I don’t trust the present wheel that I bought in West Yellowstone – spokes have broken around town with the bike unloaded.
Oh well. No more than one spoke at a time has broken. It wouldn’t feel right ditching the wheel before it’s completely disintegrated anyway. Maybe I’ll kick myself for this decision in a week or two. Fun fun. Hopefully this won’t become what the literary folks refer to as “foreshadowing.”
I leave the guys to do their work. If I were a bike mechanic, I think I’d do a better job without a snooping obsessive owner peering over my shoulder.
Walking the University of Oregon campus is a perfect way to spend this fall afternoon. It’s cloudy and even drizzles a little. For some reason I like it – there’s more character and intimacy to the air than on a crystal clear day. School is in session, and students are thick in the streets. I kill time at the Starbucks, finishing my recent two entries with my Pocketmail device in hand. I fit in with the others and their wi-fi laptops, but different.
I people-watch out along the sidewalk. This must be what Seattle is like – sitting at Starbucks on a rainy day, and feeling hip and intellectual. I spend the afternoon walking back and forth between the coffee shop and bike shop – playing the excellent local radio, and walking to the beat among the students, caffeine in my veins. A half-bum looking fellow strikes up a conversation with me.
“And what sort of technology do you have there?” he asks, pointing at my radio.
“No Ipod, just plain old radio,” I reply.
“And that?” he asks, nodding at the handlebar bag under my arm, “Your Swordfish Trombone?”
“Ah, Tom Waits,” I reply, catching the reference.
“Me? No, he lives in ‘so and so'” Apparently this guy thinks I mistake him for Tom Waits. Interesting. “And the cell phones, what do you think of those”
I find myself in a light-hearted, but involved, conversation regarding modern communication technology and the backpacking/traveling-bum gear fashion. It was maybe the most interesting part of my day.
Back at the shop, it looks like my bike will not be done until tomorrow. They give me a loaner bike to ride home. It’s a funny vehicle with wide handlebars like a chopper, and a 90 degree upper body riding position. “Zed’s dead, baby, Zed’s dead.” I’m delighted to discover that the off-road Eugene bike paths have their very own streetlamps.
This afternoon I start getting things together to ride out of town. A couple weeks ago I signed up on the Warm Showers list (A version of couch surfer), an online registry of bicycle tourists who are willing to offer camping/lodging to presently traveling cyclists. I send an email to some folks in Portland.
I was sure the wheel hub would arrive today, but after 3pm it has yet to get here, so I saddle up the loaner bike and ride off to pick up my “new” wheels. Yesterday I rediscovered the wonders of playing the radio, so I listen along the way. I hear the new Bob Dylan single “Someday Baby” for the first time. Actually I heard it once over the speakers in the kitchen, but it was noisy and all I picked up was the general sound, which I thought was a little reminiscent of Highway 61.
I pick up my bike with the new frame, and it feels great. It’s like I’ve graduated to Blackbelt, or like in video games, when after you advance far enough, you upgrade your weapon to a new bad-ass sword.
I spin around the parking lot, run through the gears, and play on the brakes. I was expecting to spend some time readjusting the saddle and fit, but somehow they got it perfect. The saddle height was probably easy to determine from the shade of the seatpost, but my handlebars were even reassembled at a tilt just like I had them. The guys were most accommodating and did an excellent job. Bicycle Way Then came the best thing I heard all day:
“Oh, Trek says they don’t want the old frame, the photos were good enough, so you can have it if you want it.” The only presumed negative aspect of cracking the frame – loss of an object with great sentimental value – was erased. He hands me the green, welded steel tubing.
I strap it to the rear rack and ride off, back to Travis and Krista’s house. There I check my email, and receive the following message from somebody listed on Warm Showers from Portland:
Jamie – if you are in Eugene right now I am coming down to do a performance and book signing at U of O at Willamette hall room 100 at 7pm – this is Wednesday night – I’ll be getting in the car to drive there ( unfortunately not on a bike ) right now – would love to have you there and we can talk about timing for Portland arrival.
Joe Kurmaskie www.metalcowboy.com
So I ride back to the university, and see Joe do a slide presentation about a cross country tour with his two sons in tow. He’s written a book about it, and I watch as he autographs copies. “To Carrie… and which way do you spell that?” This conjures up a unique mixture of emotions for me, but mostly I’m thinking about my “brand new” bike locked outside! 🙂
A fun point from his show, I remember, is that he’s slept a grand total of a couple years outdoors. That would be a neat thing to add up. Maybe I’ve spent 365 nights of my life outdoors. Maybe.
Anyway long story short – it looks like I’ll probably stay a night at his home in Portland. On the ride home I stop at Outback one last time to pick up my cash for weekly tip share, and hang out for the evening with Travis and Krista, Family Guy, and South Park. Life is good.