Wednesday, May 27, 2015

there's no place like home, there's no place like home

Next week, I will click my heels three times, show the TSA officials my ID, and board a plane bound for the Midwest. I am about to head off for my third summer as a teacher-in-residence at a large synagogue in Overland Park, KS -- a place that has become, in some respects, my second home. The community is warm and friendly, the clergy and educational staff are inspiring and wonderful to work with, and I've made some lovely friends there as a result of repeated visits.
And from my very first visit there in summer 2013, I have used a bicycle a trailer to tow my guitar back and forth between my homestay and the synagogue. Being night-blind, I can't rent a car; and I wanted my ground transpo bo be as sustainable (and affordable) as possible, so I negotiated the use of a bicycle and trailer as part of my contract.
This choice has been an object of bemusement, conversation and curiosity among my friends in OP. The kids there began calling me the Bicycle Lady. And people came to know who I was by the sight of me puttering along the super-wide sidewalks, riding a loaner bike and towing a loaner trailer. When the bike is parked at the synagogue, folks see it and know, "Beth's back!" Because I'm the only grownup they know who rides a bike to temple regularly. Such is the status of the commuter bicycle in Overland Park, Kansas.

I built up the Kansas Bike in the fall of 2013. It had been abandoned at the large synagogue in Portland where I used to work. After holding onto it for three months, my principal asked me to make it go away. So I took it home and gave it a nominal tune-up (it had a bent derailleur hanger and some other issues), and rode it occasionally around Portland. Then, in fall of last year, I was hired for a five-week residency at the synagogue in Kansas; and I asked if I could ship a bike one-way to live there, as the loaner bikes they'd procured for my shorter visits had all been too small. If I was going to be there for over a month I wanted a bike that would fit me. They said, sure, send it to us. So I boxed it up, shipped it to the synagogue, and reassembled it when I arrived. The original deal was that, if it looked like they weren't ever going to ask me back, we could donate the bike to the local non-profit; or, if it looked like I'd return for future visits, we could store the bike somewhere out of the way. It has lived in the rabbi's garage ever since.

The bicycle-trailer arrangement, Summer 2013.  The trailer was loaned to me by one of the camp families. I've used it on every subsequent visit. The Magna bike, loaned by a congregant, was way too small for me; so I took it to the local bike shp and bought a taller seatpost and some new brake pads for it. I tuned it up before returning it to her at the end of my residency. She never rode it again and last summer she ended up donating it to Revolve KC, the non-profit bike shop in Kansas City.

The Kansas bike. Originally a cheap mountain bike; I retro-fitted it with upright handlebars, friction thumb shifters and flat pedals.

Fall 2014. The official Kansas Bike, shipped for my five-week residency, has worked beautifully. While I was there last fall I took it on a 35-mile charity ride the rabbi's wife signed me up for and other than some hand numbness towards the end I was totally fine. The trailer is now on some kind of permanent loan, as the family's youngest child has outgrown it. It lives at the temple full-time, stored flat in a closet between my visits.

Next week, I'm off to reunite with my Kansas Bike (which is, appropriately Jayhawk Blue. I did not plan this, it just happened.) Not sure I'll have time to do any ambitious riding like I did last fall, but I know I'll enjoy getting around under my own power and raising a few eyebrows along the way.
Happy riding, wherever your bicycle takes you!

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