Bicycle touring in the Midwest and Plains states of America takes you through many small towns and cities that have struggled to survive the transition from an agriculture or manufacturing economy to a service-based economy with cheap petrol and people willing to travel to nearby towns for work and consumer goods. I call these dying towns ‘places people are from’. When you meet people on the road, they don’t say “I live in XXXX” or “I’m moving to XXXX”. Those dead little towns are places from which people escape. The only people who remain are those stuck there because of responsibilities to family or work, or because they do not have the drive or vision to see themselves somewhere else. My father thinks people stay in those places because of a sense of place. I fear that most people live more shallowly than that and just get stuck there because of complacency or a lack of courage.
My hometown is one of those cities. I am from Anderson, Indiana. It is a dying, perhaps already dead, manufacturing town with lots of social and economic problems. At one time, it had the highest concentration of factories owned by or supplying General Motors Corp. outside of Detroit. But it is all gone now.
I never liked my hometown and left as soon as I could at age 18. However, I had an ideal suburban childhood in a nuclear family with two working parents. We always had everything we needed and some of the things we wanted. It was an upbringing with unconditional love and moral support. I have many happy memories of home and family, even if I never liked the town or the regressive, conservative attitude of most of its inhabitants. My parents’ home on 43rd St was always a place of safety, security and respite, particularly in a life where I have not often found that elsewhere.
So it is with some sadness that I return home for the final time. It is the only home I knew as a child; my parents have lived there for 37 years. So for the whole time I’m home, it just doesn’t seem real that I’ll never sleep in the front bedroom or walk down the hall to the kitchen again. I’ll never warm my toes on the ceramic tiles in the sunroom again. I’ll never again sit on a lawn chair in the shade of the mature oak, tulip and maple trees while my dad cooks a meal on the backyard grill. My mind just cannot fully process that all the memories of the past abruptly end in a couple weeks time and there will be no future events to put in that memory file.
The two weeks fly by getting everything ready for the bike tour, catching up with old high school friends, enjoying the last family party at this house, and saying goodbye to all the places of my childhood, including: the sledding hill where my dad and I would spend hours and hours together zipping down the hill on his home-made sleds; the ice cream stand where I ate a million turtle sundaes; and, the state park where we knew every bend in every trail and every ancient tree.
We eat our final meal at El Burro Loco – the new Mexican place in town. It is a most fitting ending to a bunch of bike beginnings. The restaurant is located in a two-story, early 1900s building downtown that used to house Bickel’s bike and hobby store. It was here in 1988 that I picked out my 1987 Dyno Detour freestyle bike – the bike I rode every day for the next 10 years, the bike that started cycling as a lifestyle for me. Appropriately, for dinner we are seated beneath an old Schwinn cruiser bike hanging from the wall, in the area of the building where the bikes used to be sold. It is a perfect end to my association with this town where my love of bicycles began. Tomorrow is a new beginning – the beginning of the 2014 bike tour. We talk about our memories and toast over tasty margaritas. Cheers….
Soon enough, it is time to go.