Thursday, May 28, 2009

Being the New Guy

Staying with Krista and Howard remains a good time. Krista showed me how to sew, and I tried to patch my work pants, which had been hopelessly torn up by the gears. I ended up having to ask Krista to help me—i.e. do it for me.

I've been eating home-cooked meals, hanging out with people I really like, and generally having every amenity I could possibly want—including some very effective foot-warmers on cold days.

On Tuesday, I got up at 4:30, and, with that patch, I marched across the city and through the empty lots

to the small, standalone cinder building where I was hoping to find work.

I talked to a couple of guys standing outside it. Sounded like there wasn't much going around. Sounded also like being the first one present wasn't going to help me much. I went inside and signed in. This getting up at 4:30 thing was killing me. I took the hat out of my pocket (it was far too warm to wear it), folded it on the table, put my head on it, and went to sleep.

I woke up to a lot more people in the room, and one guy looking down at me sympathetically.


I raised my head off the makeshift pillow, trying to orient myself. "Yeah."

I heard a few laughs. "You watch out, dude, make sure she doesn't catch you."

What were they talking about? "Hmm?"

Another guy carefully and surreptitiously pointed to at the woman behind the counter, then walked over and whispered "If she catches you sleeping, she'll kill you."

"Oh," I said, looking around, still confused. Then I shrugged. "Bring it on." I put my head back down on the folded hat and closed my eyes. I heard laughter and applause.

"What's going on over there?" It came from the direction of the counter, and there was an instant hush.

"What is going on?"

"Nothing, ma'am."

There was a short lull, and then conversation resumed, and I went back to sleep.


The next time I woke up, the room was empty, save for one man sitting next to me. I checked the time on my phone. 9:30 AM. I looked over at him.

"Did anyone try to call me?"

"Nope, everyone got kicked out."

"No work, huh?"

He shook his head. "I used to come here four, five years ago. There weren't any problems getting work here, then. Here," he pulled out a piece of paper that looked like it was at least a few years old. "This is a list of the kind of work they had. Moving, construction, trench work, clerical—everything. But I haven't been here in hears. Hopefully they still do all that."

I'd pretty much tuned him out. I'd noticed that beyond that piece of paper in his folder, there was what looked like a black and white photograph of a house. And either the angle and lighting were masterfully set up, or it had been dodged and burned in VERY well. I asked him about it.

"Oh, that...." He took it out, and, upon closer inspection, I realized it was a pencil drawing. I also realized there was a thick ream of those in his folder.

"This is the house across the street from me. And this is another house I used to own. I used to be a landlord here in Utica, not anymore. And this is the church up toward Corn Hill. These are a few more houses I used to own. This here is Hotel Utica the way it looked back in 1912. That's pretty much what it's like now. Can you imagine? It was a home for drunks for so many years, and now it's back to its old splendor."

I had read in the paper the day before about the $5 million federal loan, on which the Hotel Utica wasn't able to make a single payment. But I noticed on the page below it something that looked like Bavaria.

"Is that Germany?"

The man smiled. "Austria."

"When were you there?" I asked.

"I've never been there. But I've been to Lake Placid."

He flipped through a few more relatively realistic-looking pictures.

"I heard this thing is so big, you can drive a car under it." His finger was pointing to the Eiffel Tower. It stood on the side of a small country road, right across from the Notre Dame. Around them were just grassy, rolling hills, and the country road continued, empty, all the way to the horizon.

I just nodded. "You could drive more than a car under it."

"Oh, is that so?"

I nodded.

"You been?"

"A few times."

We both went silent.

I got up. "Well, I'd better go before they forcibly kick me out."

The man looked up at me. "See you tomorrow?"


And off I wandered. No work. S__t.


The next day, I got up at 4:30 again. To my amazement, I was still only the second guy there.

"What's up, man," I said. "What are you doing here so early?"

"Didn't know how long it would take me to walk here."

"Oh, wow. Never walked here before?"

He shook his head. "It's my first time."

After a couple of hours of sitting around and waiting and watching other people get called to work, I took out my phone and posted an ad on craigslist:
Willing to work below minimum wage! (Utica)

I'm just passing through and need money to continue onward. I'm here today and tomorrow and willing to do pretty much any simple job. Contact me via phone or E-mail. (I have E-mail on my phone, and I can text, so any method will do.)

I realized it was unlikely that anybody would check a listing like that. I checked the job listings myself, but I really didn't feel like modeling, and everything else required a time commitment of more than a day or two. Within hours, I'd gotten some spam, but nothing else.

By the end of the morning, everyone had been sent out to work except the two of us.

"What a f___ing c__t," he whispered, quietly pointing to the counter. "I guess they like their own here."

"Well," I said, "I don't know if I can really blame her. I wouldn't be too happy if I'd been coming here every day for months and some new guy got work instead of me just because he showed up earlier."


I wasn't spending any money, so nothing horrible was happening, but the question remained of what to do in Utica if not work. The only answer came from one of the local stores, and it wasn't a promising one.

I decided I was going to leave Utica. I took out my phone to make sure the weather was good for departing.

And—ta-da!—rain. For five days straight.

Screw it, I thought. I'll try working for one more day, and then I'll plow right through the rain. I don't care if it's uncomfortable. I don't care if it's less safe. I don't care if my bike rusts a little more with every mile. Then I thought about fixing a flat in a downpour, and it gave me pause.


"Don't give up," said the woman behind the counter to me this morning as she kicked me out. Her name was Anne. "You've been coming every day! Be back tomorrow!"

I groaned and stretched as I put on my raincoat, a gift from Bridget back in Worcester. "I don't know..."

Anne looked at me sternly. "I know. You be here, young man!"

I checked my E-mail on my phone. I swear, spammers never tire of trolling craigslist. I wondered how I should have written the post so that normal people would have checked it out. I headed for the door.

"Young man!"

I turned around.

"You promise me you'll be here tomorrow."

"Will you have something for me?"

Anne smiled. "I can't promise you that. But you be here."

I had to smile. "All right. If I'm still in Utica, I'll be here."

"Oh, you're not from here?"

And here we went again.


Krista mentioned taking me out to dinner tonight. This was almost as powerful a factor as the rain in discouraging me from leaving. The rain is supposed to taper off over the next few days, terminating completely on Tuesday. So I'm thinking of leaving on Sunday, when it's just showers instead of sustained rain.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Budget: ~$350

I'm still in Utica, living with Krista and Howard. Between exploring the city and taking bike rides together and going to the beach (on Oneida Lake) and playing board games at night and watching Japanese shows and seeing local bands, I've been trying to work, but Memorial Day weekend is not an easy time to find anything.

Much as I hate to think this way, there are definitely large differences in people, and how they act and how they think, based on geography. Farther east, particularly in larger cities, there seemed to be a general consensus of opinions on nearly any philosophical topic. Out here, particularly in smaller towns, there also appears to be a consensus, but of a very different sort, everybody both there and here falling squarely into their stereotypes. I see nothing wrong with this inherently, but the geographic dependence shows how susceptible all of us are to the opinions of those around us. Although I've also wondered how much of it has to do with people's unwillingness to confess to a minority opinion.

In this sense, Utica is interesting, being a city in a generally rural area. I've found more diversity of opinion here than anywhere else so far, and talking about any issue has been incredibly fun because you can never guess what anybody will think, and nobody is afraid to open up. This is one of the big reasons why I'm so glad I'm getting to stay here for a while.

The brakes on my back wheel have been annoying me, and I've been playing around with them, but while I can make them work well enough, some tiny amount of friction remains when I ride, so I handed my bike over to a bike shop. They'll take a few more days with it, which is obnoxious for what I'd expect to be a half-minute job with the proper tools, but I'll be trying to work, so it's all good.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Yesterday, I took the bike to the local bike shop in Johnstown. We went through it there, piece by piece, and talked about what could and should be adjusted, and why. Then we made the adjustments we thought beneficial. I wanted to pay them, expecting about $100. They agreed to take $7.55.

In the morning, my bike had a flat in the front, and the back wheel was out of alignment. I took it back to them, we figured out what the issues were, and adjusted for them. They didn't take any money from me. The ride to Utica after that was the smoothest so far—the rear wheel went out of alignment again a couple times, taking me approximately a cumulative five minutes to fix.

I did about half the ride through the foothills of the Adirondacks, and the remaining half through the valley, right along the river. Google Maps led me down several closed roads, which was fine with me because the bike had no problems getting around the barriers. I ate lunch on a blocked-off and deserted section of road right on the river, with grass growing through the pavement.

Eventually, I came out to towns again, and, after a while, the crumbling mills of eastern Utica appeared. (Abandoned mills seem to be a general feature of the northeast, not just New England.)

I remembered books like Dreiser's American Tragedy that took place in the Mohawk Valley in the early part of the 20-th century. References to great, universal things involved the phrase "Albany and Utica." I had crossed their world. Two easy days on a bike.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Finally, Traveling Country Style

The landscape changed significantly once I headed up the Mohawk River, and even more so once I turned to come up from the Mohawk Valley. I passed large fields and trailers. I passed confederate flags. When I saw a traffic jam on the tiny country road, I assumed an accident; as I came closer, I realized it was a farmer chasing his runaway goat.

The goat would dart out into the street, then back onto the shoulder. It reminded me of the O.J. Simpson chase. The farmer didn't want to move fast and scare the goat into really running, so he slowly and quietly walked behind it.

Eventually, I made it to Johnstown. I met Sarah here, who, in the evening twilight, went after me with an axe.

She lives in a church, where her father is the pastor, and that's where I'm living now.

Pulling up to Sarah's mother's house in Mayfield, the first thing I noticed was the trailer of horse manure. The horse was in the back. Walking around, I ran first into a cat. As I reached down to pet it, a kitten came out. Then another. Then another. I realized it had been years since I'd seen an actual kitten.

"Mom, what are you going to do with the kittens?" asked Sarah.

"I don't know."

"Mike could sell them for you."

"Why not just put them in the middle of a freeway and see who makes it across?" asked Sarah's brother Tom.

"Tom, shut up!"

Continuing onward, I was greeted by a large group of young chickens. I could see the older chickens in the bushes, but they included roosters, so I decided to stay away for now. Then crate after crate, each with one or two rabbits.

We drove around with Tom. At an intersection, an unfamiliar car passed by.

"Ooh!" said Sarah. "Who'a that girl?"

Tom stood at the stop sign and peered, confused, as the car drove away. "Beats me."

We stood for a few more seconds in silence. Then he shrugged and drove onward.

"I kill anything that's in the road."

"Tom, that's awful, don't even talk about that."

Tom grinned. "Did you know I've killed over 52 cats since I got my license?"

"Tom, that's so mean, don't even talk about it."

52 seemed almost higher than the human population of the town. I decided the figure must have been inflated. I could not imagine where he would have found 52 cats in the two years since he had gotten his license.

"The neighbors' cat almost made it across once, I had to swerve to get it."

"Tom, shut up!"


Last night, I went out with Sarah and her friends to a spot on a lake where we made a fire. Guys brought crates of beer, and we made "fire kites," placing pages of newpapers on the fire; they would catch on fire and fly off into the lake. Then we just stood around the fire and talked.

"Peta, go swim in the lake."

"No, dude, it's f___ing COLD!"

"Come on, Peta, you know you want to!"

"Nah, dude, not now." Peta raised an axe over his head and threw it into a large log. The head of the axe got stuck in the wood, but the handle broke off and remained in Peta's hands. Peta stood there for about 20 seconds, staring, uttely confused, at the broken handle in his hands. Then he shrugged and tossed it into the fire.

"When I finished school, I got certified with computers, so now I work at Lexington fixing computers," said Skank. "It's a decent job."

"That's ridiculous that you're going all the way across the country. Peta should come with you."

"Nah, dude, I suck at biking!"

"Peta, sut up keep drinking until you're ready to go swimming."

"Yo, wood b__ch! Go get some more wood, the fire's dying."

"More wood?"

"Actually, nah, just get some brush."

"Brush? OK."

"I guess he's now brush b__ch."

"You come here straight from Russia, man?" asked Tom.

"Well, I came here straight from Italy."

"Oh, Italy's one place I really want to visit. I've always really liked architecture."

"Dude," I said, "go. If you like architecture, hit up Venice and Florence especially."

"So what do you think of Obama?"

I gave him a plain and simple, no-BS version of my view.

"You know, dude," said Tom, "I got nothin' 'gainst black people who live like normal decent citizens. I just can't stand n____rs who get into your business. The ones who put a gun to your head and take your wallet. And morons like Obama."


As we drove out, we switched into 4-wheel drive, but nevertheless, within a minute, the car skidded, turned sideways, and stopped.

Rich sighed. "S__t." He revved the engine and tried to go forward. We didn't move. He put the car in reverse. We still didn't move.

"You're only digging yourself deeper," said Axel.

"I know. Get out and push."

Axel got out. "Oh, s__t, it's muddy!"

Rich laughed. "No! Really? I thought cars get stuck only when it's not muddy!"

"I've already got mud in my shoes, s__t!"

Axel pushed the car forward. Nothing. Backward. Nothing.

"S__t," said Rich. "Greg, you mind driving? I'm sorry, man."

Three guys pushed the car backward, and I sat at the wheel, trying, in the darkness, to maneuver the car onto drier ground and turn the wheels only when they touched it. Finally, I was able to pull away from the guys pushing, and pull it back to dry ground. Then, when they got out of the way, for the first time in a long time, I remembered driving in Mexico. I backed up, and, with a running start, plunged into the mud. Mud flew everywhere. The car skidded. Without braking, I steered into the turn until a wheel hit a dry spot, then hit the gas again. The car sped up. More mud flew into the air, caking the windows and the roof. The front and back of the car jumped up and down, competely separately from each other. I think everyone who remained in the car had seatbelts on; if they hadn't, the results wouldn't have been pretty.

When it looked like we had passed the mud, I stopped the car, and waited for Rich, Axel and Peta to walk up.

"You want me to drive the rest of the way, Rich?"

"No, man, I'm good driving."


The pastor has told me I'm welcome as long as I want. I'm torn between going kayaking tomorrow and continuing quickly to Utica—much fun as I'm having, it wouldn't hurt to put some more miles behind me.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Always Interact

Over and over on this trip, the lesson is getting hammered into me: always interact with people. Connections are far more valuable than money, and pretty much anything else.

A few days ago, I was hungry, and was trying to spend the smallest possible amount of money per calorie; without thinking, I bought a box of oreos. This was stupid; by the end of it, I never wanted to eat oreos again, and there are actually far cheaper calories you can buy, not to mention there's something to be said for nutrition. But that's beside the point.

I went to Washington Park with my oreos. I sat down on a bench and took out my phone. My phone is by far the most important thing I carry. It contains all my notes, all my contacts, all my maps, all my lists (shopping, tasks, etc.), and it also is my only access to the internet a lot of the time—which means my only access to weather reports, yellow pages, E-mail, and other things I need. I have it out quite a bit. And I had it out then.

I sat on the bench, typing on my phone and eating my oreos. It was a beautiful day. A few people walked by; I didn't even look up. Some guy sat down on the bench across from me. I only noticed him out of the corner of my eye. I was getting sick of the oreos.

Some other guy walked right up to me.

"Hey, man! You sharing them oreos?"

"Sure! Grab one!"

He looked into the box thoughtfully. "I'm gonna take three."

WELL, then, I though. But what came out of my mouth was "Go for it!"

...and back to my phone.

Eventually, the guy sitting across from me got up, turned on a boom box (probably to max volume), and slowly walked away with it.

I met up with Juliana and she helped me eat the rest of my oreos.


This morning, I stopped by Melanie's apartment while she wasn't home to drop off my laundry and charge my phone a little. While it sat and charged, Melanie's cat Oscar, with no warning whatsoever, bolted onto the little nightstand and snapped the phone off the charger. A piece of the charger broke off and remained inside the phone.

I fished it out and tried to put the charger back together. No go. The wires inside had gotten torn, and there wasn't going to be any way for me to fix it without waiting a few days to get the right tools. And I needed the phone.

I started looking up stores. On the phone. The act stressed me out now because I felt like I was using up battery power that could not be replenished. I was also preparing myself to pay about $50 for a new charger; Albany had given me no work, and was sapping me of hundreds of dollars. I hadn't had time to do the full tally, but I was pretty sure I was already in the red.

I tried calling the stores. Some had fast busy signals. Others had the fax pick up. Others had "Sorry, this mailbox is full" messages. What NONE had was (a) a person answering the phone, or (b) a normal answering machine or voice mail. What was with this city?

I walked to the nearest store. It was closed. Everything else seemed closed too. Sunday.

Feeling utterly defeated, I turned off my phone so as not to waste any more precious juice. I walked to the library.

Doing a quick search, I found that it was likely possible to buy this charger at Wal-Marts and Radio Shacks. I wrote down all their numbers and addresses with a pencil. Then I went out into the hallway, turned on my phone, and started calling Wal-Marts, one after the other.

They all theoretically carried these. None had them in stock.

I started calling Radio Shacks. They also theoretically had them. I went down the list, finding them out of stock at each, until I called one way out in Glenmont. They had one charger left. It would only cost $30. Nice, cheaper than I'd expected.

I managed to get a computer again and look up buses to Glenmont. It was far away. The next bus left in an hour. I went out to buy some groceries and drop them off at Melanie's before going to the bus station.


As I walked to the store, I walked by a man.


I ignored him.

"Hey, man!"

I was in a bad mood. I didn't turn around.


I slowed down and turned.

He smiled. "What's your name?" He was a ways behind me now.

"Greg," I said, without walking back towards him.

His smile got bigger and he walked toward me instead. "Craig?"

"Greg." My mood started getting better just from seeing that smile. "What's your name?"


"Nice to meet you, Ozzie."

"I saw you a few days ago at Washington Park and I wanted to say hi, but you were busy on your phone, I didn't want to interrupt. What's your story?"

I grinned and gave a brief account of the trip and the accident. "And now a cat destroyed my phone charger, so you have my undivided attention."

Ozzie threw his head back and laughed. "You're not serious! A cat?"

"I wouldn't have believed it either if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes."

"Dude, Rich has GOT to have one."


"A friend of mine. He works at a store right up the street. They carry chargers for cheap, but they don't advertise it. Come on, let's take a look, my bus isn't coming for a while anyway."


In we walked.

"Hey, Rich!"

"Hey, Ozzie!"

"You got, show him your phone."

I took out my phone. "Nice to meet you, Rich. You wouldn't happen to have a charger for this thing, would you?"

"Lemme look."

Rich dove into a back room and came out with a phone charger in a box. He'd pulled the end out and plugged it into my phone so I could see it fits.

"Nice! How much?"


"That's it?"


I've bought chargers cheaply before in places where I had connections—generally connections in the Asian community—but Albany was the last place where I had imagined I'd be connected.

Now I was free for the rest of the day, instead of riding a bus to Glenmont and back to pay fourfold what I could be paying for a phone charger. I can't even tell you how glad I am that I didn't ignore Ozzie.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


I tried posting from my phone, but after accidentally deleting the post when I was almost finished, starting over, and AGAIN accidentally deleting it, I temporarily gave up. It's hard to get online here.

I'm actually having a decently good time in Albany. I've met some really cool people, got scratched up by a cat for the first time (it was running from a dog and climbed me like a tree—i.e. with claws), and had the most enormous margarita I have ever seen. (I would post a photo, but this computer prohibits it.)

However, there's no work, which is annoying. Some days people are around, like the day I went to the New York State Museum with Juliana; another day, when no one was around and it was raining, I just sat at the library studying ancient Greek. If I had work, I'd have probably been sad to leave.

I expect to leave on Monday.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Never Smooth or Predictable

I took the bike downtown this morning.

"It looks to me," I said, "like it needs a front derailleur alignment, the rack slipped on the back gears, that needs to be repaired, and there's some friction in the turning of the rear wheel, I'm not sure what's up with that."

"Well," said the professional, "let's take a look."

He raised the bike in the air and felt the spokes. The tension was different on one side than on the other.

"Your wheel is bent."

"Yeah," I said. "I'm not sure I even feel comfortable with fixing that."

"As you shouldn't. This needs to be replaced."

"Cool. Let's do it."

"Not so fast. This is a 700x23, I don't have any of those. I'll need to order one."

"How long will that take."

"About a week."

"That's too long, I can't stay in Albany for a week."

After a lot of agonizing and back-and-forth, he sent me to his competition.

"It's far, but it's the only one that might have it, I'd say."

It was five miles away. I called them up. They didn't have the right wheel either, but said it would only take them a couple of days to get one. And so, I hoisted Old Not-So-Rusty onto my shoulder, and off I went.

NY-5 here is the road from Albany to Schenectady. It is not a pleasant road to walk on by any means. It is also not pleasant to walk on it when there is a bike on your shoulder.

"What's up?" I asked a girl sitting on the sidewalk.

She looked up. "How's your day going?"

"All right. Just exercisin' my shoulder." I watched a truck pass by, kicking up dust from the road construction. "I see you picked a scenic view, how's that working out for you?"

"Could be better. I just got into a car accident. I'm just waiting for a ride."

"If it makes you feel any better, I got into a bike accident. And somehow that entitles the bike to ride me instead of vice versa."

"So you're having a similar day."

"Pretty much."

At the bike shop, I begged and begged for them to fix everything immediately upon receiving the wheel.

"I wasn't supposed to be stopping like this in Albany. I wanted to pass right through. I have nowhere to stay here. ....hey, do you know a cheap place to stay here? I'll pay you extra to finish it faster, it's better than paying for lodging." I had zero intent to pay for lodging, and zero intent to let them know that.

The man wrote "ASAP" on the ticket and said my bike will go to the front of the line. I thanked him.

Then I finally went to the buffet to which I'd never made it yesterday. But today I hadn't been riding, and by this time I'd been fed by all three of the people at the apartment at which I was staying, so when I stuffed myself, it wasn't the same. Walking back downtown, I felt like I was going to throw up. I needed to sit down. I got to the library and sat down (with "Betraying Spinoza," which had been recommended to me). I still felt like I would vomit if I didn't find a softer place to sit. I walked around with the book, but there was nothing soft at all. I managed to take a nap on a hard chair; by the time I woke up, I was feeling much better, and kept reading.

I really need to calibrate my food intake based on whether I'm biking or not.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It was sad leaving Tree (short for Teresa). She and her roommates had tolerated me for a full week while it rained and rained in Springfield and the mountains to the west. At a time when camping would have been miserable, I had a cozy house to stay in. And Ferdinand the cockatiel, whom I could teach Bach.

Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny morning. I took Tree out to breakfast, loaded my bike, and off I went. I knew I was climbing out of Pioneer Valley, and I knew it would all be up. And it was. 43 miles of up, into the Berkshires.

For mountains that still have trees at their summits, it was an impressive amount of up. It was my first day of biking virtually without incident, and 43 miles is a short distance, but it was still tiring and still took a large chunk of the day.

I got to Beartown, where I was planning to camp, sweaty and panting. Pulling all your belongings with you up a mountain is HARD. I went straight off to find a lake, and did.

Thankfully, I sat down and ate some trail mix before I planned to change into my bathing suit. By the time I was done eating, the cold wind had gotten through to me and I realized I probably shouldn't go swimming.

Instead I pitched my tent while it was still light out. I was glad I'd gone to Salisbury, because I'd now refreshed my memory enough to be able to do this more or less smoothly. Things like putting an initial stake into the ground when it's windy.....stake? Where were the stakes, anyway?

I looked through my stuff and couldn't find them. What the ____ had I done with them? Whatever, another item on my shopping list. But in the meantime....

I thought I remembered seeing a truck in the woods nearby. I'd wanted to investigate and meet the person, but hadn't been able to find a good pretext.

I walked back there, and sure enough, there was a guy camping. I walked over.

"How are you doing?"

"How are YOU doing?"

"Oh, I'm all right. You wouldn't happen to have any extra stakes, would you?"

"Like.....camping stakes?"

No, like cow steaks. "Yeah."

"I think I only have one."

"For tonight, that would be better than none."

He smiled.

"I have no idea what I did with mine."

"Tell you what, you can have three. It's not that windy tonight." He pulled out two of the stakes that were holding his tent.

"You'll be OK like that?"


He had a fire going, so we talked for a bit. He was maintaining the Appalachian Trail, which passed nearby. (I had actually noticed when I crossed it, and was surprised by how tiny and unceremonious the signs for it were; I almost missed it.) I, as always, was biking to Oregon.

After sunset, I thanked him, took the three stakes, and erected my own dark but cozy home.


I had to question some things about myself when I realized that one of my first thoughts, alone in the tent, was "Man, taking off my pants has never felt so good." I've only encountered a few cyclists, but of them, a lot have asked how—and why—in the world I bike in long, thick work pants. I bike in them because I'd have to bring them anyway, and I want to have minimal stuff to pack. But wow, my legs needed some air.

With no phone signal—and thus no access to the internet— I went to sleep as soon as it got dark. I slept over 9 hours and woke up at an alarmingly late 5:28 AM. I loosened the cocoon of my sleeping bag and climbed out, and that was when the brutal cold hit me.

The combination of the numbing cold and the smell of day-old sweat reminded me of why I wasn't a big fan of camping as a kid. I have to say I still see it as a last resort—but a wonderfully versatile last resort, that gives one much more freedom to travel.

I got up and slowly packed it away. I went over to where the other guy was camping (I somehow assumed he'd already be up) and used returning the stakes as a pretext to talk some more.

And so, I departed. I zipped a few miles at a clip of 40 to 50 mph, and suddenly....what the ____, uphill AGAIN?

It was an unexpected uphill trek to Stockbridge, and from there to West Stockbridge, but I did finally make it.

Interestingly enough, as soon as I crossed the border, the feel of the landscape changed. It was the same landscape I had known in college, when I would bike all over New York, even though this was a totally different part of New York.

I was getting hungry, so I started looking for places to eat. I rode a bit down Flint's Crossing Road. Farms. Miles down Peaceful Valley Road. Farms. I started to think about just asking a farmer. Miles and miles down Frisbee Street. Farms.

SKIPPABLE PARAGRAPH: I, by the way, liked the name of that street as much as anyone who partakes of the sport probably does, but I'm willing to bet it's a coincidence. The original game was played with empty tins from the Frisbie Pie Company, started by Russel Frisbie. Frisbie/Frisbee/Frisby is a pretty normal surname with a normal suffix, shared by other surnames such as Applebie/Applebee/Appleby. I'm tempted to say the one in question has something to do with Frisia, but I have no sources to cite. The street was probably named after a totally different Frisbee.

I passed East Chatham. One general store, closed Mondays. I passed Malden Bridge. Nothing but a post office. Suddenly, I looked at my shadow and realized I was going south, which was NOT the direction I wanted to go. I checked my map and realized I couldn't figure out where I was. Around me were just farms.

I walked over and looked at an old farmer mowing his grass by the road. He looked up at me and looked back down. I continued looking at him. He looked up again, then looked back down and turned his back. I really wanted to know where I was.

"Excuse me, sir!"

He ignored me.

"Excuse me, sir!"

He looked at me and looked back down.

"Excuse me, sir!"

He shut off the lawnmower and threw his hands up in the air. "What do you want?"

"Is this NY-66?"

"Can't hear you."

"Is this NY-66?"

"Can't hear you."

"Is this NY-66?"

"Can't hear you, get over here. I sure as hell ain't walking over to you."

Now that I had permission, I walked onto his territory. "Is this NY-66?"

"Yes, and Malden Bridge is that way."

"Does it go to Nassau the other way?"

He made a face. "You'll have to take a right.....later."

"Thank you."

He turned away and started the lawn mower again. My stomach was churning, but even I didn't have it in me to interrupt him again and ask where I could eat.

I rode onward. I hit an intersection. I took a right. Five miles up, I realized I wasn't approaching Nassau, and it probably wasn't the right he meant.

I checked the direction of my shadow and took a left. The road curved in the wrong direction. I passed a pond that wasn't supposed to be there.

I pinpointed the pond on the map, turned around and headed in the opposite direction. By what gears I was using, I could tell hunger was getting the best of me.

On a bridge, I waved to a biker going in the opposite direction. As he passed me, he yelled to me, and we both stopped.

"Where are you going?" He was looking at my gear.

"Oregon, eventually."

"I mean today."


"Where are you coming from?"

"I was camping in the Berkshires."

"I mean originally."

"On the coast, just north of Boston."

"Oh, really? My friend did a trip last year from Oregon to Maine. But it was a supported trip, he didn't have to carry any gear."

I laughed. "That would definitely help."

"Yeah, I imagine so."

"Do they get served food, too? I wish someone would serve me food right now. I haven't eaten since I ate some nuts, raspberries and chocolate at 6 AM, and it's going on late afternoon."

"Oh, if you keep going up this street the way you're going and then take a left, there are some diners and stuff."

"You mean Route 20?"

"That's the one."

"Perfect, that's what I was hoping. Thank you."

I had three miles to go up the street to get to 20. It was getting really tough to pedal. Stupid idiot, eating all the food yesterday so the bears don't come for it. I will need to do better with food.

I managed to knock down two miles. The last mile was interminable. I had to stop and rest several times, even though the hill up which I was going was quite small.

Finally, I got to 20. It wasn't even marked. Finally, it sloped sharply downhill into the Hudson Valley. I'd been waiting for this.

The road looked much like an interstate, and cars sped down it accordingly. But with the downhill, I was able to keep right up with the cars in the right lane.

There were no diners. I still don't know what he was talking about. For miles, there were only woods and auto parts stores. I felt like I was going to die. When I saw a Hess gas station, I pulled right in. I bought a big Rice Krispies Treat, an creme egg, and two hot dogs. I wolfed them down in that order. It didn't fill me up—not even close— but it permitted me to keep going.

Now I would even get into the left lane to pass cars. I zipped along. It didn't take much more than 10 minutes. I just shot by the signs, first "ALBANY 8," then "ALBANY 4," and then into Rensselaer, where the downhill slope finally ended and I swerved into town to get on the walkway that went along the Dunn Memorial Bridge, allowing me to cross the Hudson.

I was really hungry. I needed a buffet. I looked one up in the yellow pages via my phone. It was 3.4 miles away, on the other side of town. I started heading that way.

Downtown Albany disappeared behind me. Potholes and boarded-up windows appeared. I stopped and got directions to the buffet again, just to see how much distance was left. 3.8 miles. What? I'd gone the wrong way. I turned around.

I turned at an intersection and saw a big man coming at me on his own bike. I signaled which side I was going to pass him on. He misinterpreted it and swung over that way. Next thing I knew, he smashed into me and we, as well as our bikes, were on the pavement.

I'm really, really glad I wear those work clothes that other bikers have no idea why and how I wear. I got up practically without a scratch.

"Are you OK?" I asked him.

He staggered onto his feet. "My fault."

I started gathering my gear, which was strewn all over the intersection. He got on his bike and rode away. I had to tinker with my gears a little to get my bike to ride, but it worked well enough that I headed back downtown. I'll have to take it to a shop tomorrow to have a look. (It certainly now needs a front derailer adjustment and an adjustment of a small part of the rack that got bent into the gears, as well as an investigation into what causes the new squeaking inside the gears.)

I checked out the beautiful park just up from downtown. Then I met Juliana, at whose place I'll stay a couple of nights here while I sort out stuff with the bike and go shopping for stuff I need. Her roommate made me some pretty awesome dinner, of which I had all the helpings I wanted. Who needs the buffet?

Hopefully soon I'll stop in a city again and do some work for a while. I hate the feeling of a deficit.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Budget: ~$100

I'm going to go ahead and update my map position to what I expect to be my location tomorrow night, since I'm unlikely to be able to update the map from there. It looks like the long-range forecast was correct: the final storms are rolling down from the mountains and pummeling Springfield this afternoon and tonight; by tomorrow, both Springfield and the mountains will be clear for my passage.


Yesterday, I actually did get work here in Springfield, loading refrigerators onto a truck. Most of the time was actually spent sitting with five other guys in the back of the truck, with our legs hanging down, while it drove from one place to another.

"Man, look at that b__ch!"

"She FINE!"

"Did you see that? She just turned away!"

"She saw you's checkin' her out."

"You wouldn't guess it, but a little white girl like that is probably going home to a big mother____ing n____r."

"Man, I'd tap that. And then she'd follow me around all the time, like this other b__ch."

"Shut up, Duncan, ain't no b__ch followin' you 'round."

"There is, man, she just don't follow me to work. But she go everywhere else. Tries to walk in on me at home when I'm with another b__ch."

"Seriously? I'd'a strangled her."

"I might too. Sometimes, you just gotta strangle a b__ch."

"Yo, Russian, why ain't you talkin'?"

"Don't have much to add."

"You don't have any crazy b__ches followin' you?.....oh, right, you's bikin' from place to place, they can't keep up."

"Where you headed next, Russian?"


"Any reason?"

"It's on the way."

"You sure you'll always find people to stay with?"

"I've got a tent just in case."

"And you're going to Oregon?"


"You plan stay there?"

"Probably not."

"You got family there?"


"I don't know what the f__k is wrong with you Russians."

"Yo, Russian, I once saw a movie about some guy named Ivan."

"You guys, stop talking to the Russian! Russian! Get over here and help me lift this thing! Do it for the Ukraine!"

"Holy f__k, look at that b__ch! RUSSIAN! Check out that b__ch!"


It was a beautiful day out, but nevertheless, as soon as I became the first person in months in Springfield to request a check instead of cash, I went home and took a nap before going to the bar. I always take naps during the day now because of the freaking cockatiel that wakes me up at 4 every morning.

On the bright side, though, all the Bach I've been whistling him is starting to pay off. This morning, I woke up to parts of the first movement of Trio Sonata No 1.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Waiting Out the Rain

Budget: ~$50

Yesterday was a beautiful day. The thunderstorms still hung over the mountains, however, so I couldn't leave yet. (Sunday and Monday appear to be two consecutive days of sun over the mountains, so that is probably when I will cross into the Hudson Valley and Albany.) But it was just as well. I didn't know what kind of damage the cat had done, so instead of fixing the bike myself, I dropped it off at a bike shop and went for a long walk through the eastern suburbs. Although I'm technically still in New England until probably next week, it's clear I've moved away from the coast. The yards now often include rusty 1970s cars. No cows as of yet, but I know those will quickly appear once I cross the Appalachians.

When I picked up the bike (the repairman had not only replaced my tube, but added a wider rim strip for good measure, making the back wheel even more resistant to flats) and rode it home, I realized how long it has now been since I've ridden a bike that isn't loaded down with stuff. And I realized that I've already gotten much stronger. I don't think I've ever before experienced the kind of riding I was able to do yesterday.

I left the bike at the neighbors', so that the cat wouldn't be able to get to it.


Today, it's raining again. I was finally permitted into the labor office and filled out the necessary forms. They were approved, so if there is work available tomorrow, I might be able to make a bit of cash. But at this point, it hardly matters, because that's the only day I'd expect to be available to work here. By Sunday morning, I hope to be working my way up into the mountains, and away from this city, whose only skyscraper is a massive downtown project.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Deflating News

Budget: ~$100

As I prepared to walk out of the house today, I did a double-take. The back tire on my bike was flat again. I hadn't been riding it and it had safely been sitting in the house.

It was Pumpkin, the cat, for whom the new name "Satan" was already being considered. I was actually genuinely impressed. With the kevlar, that tire, loaded with hundreds of pounds and hitting potholes at nearly highway speeds, had held up just fine. But it was no match for that cat.

I won't repair it until I leave—otherwise the cat would just pop it again—by which point it will likely have so many punctures that it will be useless to patch and I'll have to just put in a new tube.


In other news, I already hate Springfield. It's a dangerous place, and as of yet, I have not found any redeeming factors, though that may just be because the people I'm living with are busy with finals so I'm just showing myself around. But usually, I can find the fun places, and they seem to be absent here.

There's a company here that collects all the felons off the street and gives them jobs and takes a cut of their checks. (This happens a lot in other cities too and I generally like it, since they take care of the whole job search for everyone.) So far as I could tell, that's the only easy way to get a short-term job here. I called them up yesterday and they said they only take "applications" on Tuesdays, 8-12. I showed up at 10:30 today and was told they only take applications 9-10. I wonder if they would have told me something different if I'd shown up at 8 or 9.

I've been told by others to get out of Springfield ASAP. Believe me, that's exactly what I'd like to do. However, it won't stop raining, and my next step after leaving here is to cross a mountain range. The rest of this week is rain east of the mountains, and thunderstorms west of them. So I'm stuck until something like Sunday.

Hopefully there will be better cities ahead.

Monday, May 4, 2009

My Bike Gets Swine Flu

Budget: ~$100

I left Worcester pretty early in the morning yesterday, intending to beat as much of the rain as possible. The morning was cool and sunny and breezy. I was liking it.

I headed west through hilly Leicester, up and down, up and down. I've been noticing that while all the big cities seem to be nestled in valleys, usually on rivers or lakes, the small towns are always at the tops of hills. My guess is that back when water bodies were the primary arteries for travel, whether or not a settlement was on the water played a large role in determining whether it will grow or not. But perhaps there are other things at play here that I didn't think of.

Soon enough, all the signs were posted for Spencer.

Spencer has three associations in my mind:

  1. There was once so much sodium hydroxide in their tap water that showering would give people burns
  2. During the bird flu epidemic, most of the discussion on the news centered around Spencer
  3. There were a couple of unconfirmed swine flu infections in Spencer just recently

My bike clearly felt this. As I came up the last hill before the one Spencer is on, the riding suddenly got much rougher. I pulled over. Flat rear tire. I walked the bike to a parking lot with a pair of picnic tables, ate some breakfast, and patched the tube.

I shot through Spencer and a few miles past it, when the riding got rough again. The rear tire was flat again.

I walked over to a grassy area and started taking the bike apart. Another biker pulled up.

"Walk back to Spencer. It's only a few miles. There's a bike shop there. Good service, very reasonable. There's nothing farther west. I wouldn't risk it."

I'd expected that I hadn't properly patched the puncture, but when I inspected the tube, I found that the culprit now was a totally different puncture in a different spot. I patched that.

As I pumped air back in, the tire started slipping out. I deflated, readjusted it, inflated again. And suddenly it stopped inflating. It went completely flat and wouldn't inflate even a bit. I was going to have to take out the tube again. I'd probably tried to inflate it to too high a pressure for the hand pump, and broken the valve. Two hours. Three flats. I wanted to cry.

Screw it. I put the wheel back on the bike and walked back to Spencer. I found the bike shop and shelled out the money for some armor—a kevlar tire for the back wheel. I also made lots of swine flu jokes that weren't appreciated. We also talked about Oregon and flat tires.

I zipped out of Spencer. The kevlar tire had a slight bit more rolling friction than the rubber one I'd used before, but I figured if it helped me avoid flats, it was worth it. And I got no more flats.

I passed Brookfield. It started to rain. I passed Warren. These tiny towns were so much less nice in the rain. I got into the foothills of the Berkshires, the section of the Applachian range that's in western Massachusetts.

I took small, extremely steep roads. I would ride up inclines as far as I could, then get off and walk. Cars would pass me. I'd shoot down the incline on the other side. If the road turned, I'd slow down, but if I could see for a large fraction of a mile—which was often the case—I would pass the cars that passed me.

Eventually I got to Springfield, though hardly beating the rain. The roads in this city are more pothole than pavement, and when those potholes are filled with water, they are indistinguishable from puddles.

---- recently published an article on the most dangerous cities in the US. The statistic they use is the number of violent crimes per 100,000 people. Their dangerous cities start in the low 700s, moving up to Miami with 988, and then, way above and beyond all the others, Memphis and Detroit, with 1,218 and 1,220, respectively. Had Springfield been big enough to get on the list, it would have outstripped everyone easily, at 1,920.

I'm debating whether to risk being out at night trying to get work. But it's going to be raining for quite a long time, and I don't want to travel in the rain, so work certainly wouldn't hurt. I'll spend at least a couple of days checking it out in the daytime first.