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This I Believe

| November 1, 2017 | 0 Comments

I believe the Russians tipped the 2016 Presidential election to Donald Trump.  I didn’t, at first.  But the more we know about the massive intervention they conducted through social media and the Wikileaks dump, the more obvious it is that it was sufficient to turn 80,000 votes spread over three states to give Trump the electoral college win.  I also believe the Comey letter tipped the election to Donald Trump.  And I believe that the fact that the Democrats nominated the quintessential establishment candidate in an anti-establishment election tipped the election.  And, yes, I believe the Clinton campaign strategy, which neglected Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin in the closing days of the election, gave it to Trump.

It is possible to believe all these things at the same time.  Flip any one of those variables and the Democrats win.  In a close election, everything matters.  However, only one of those variables has consequences for the future, the Russians intervention.  Frankly, I suspect that the Russians did not set out to elect Donald Trump, but rather to simply disrupt American democracy and weaken President Hillary Clinton.  They may have been as surprised as the rest of us the day after the election.  There were reports of celebrations in Moscow, but events since then may have tempered their euphoria.  Some in the Kremlin may wonder whether they overshot.  It’s nice to have a puppet, but maybe an incompetent puppet is more trouble than he’s worth.

But here’s the thing.  Whether the Russian ultimately conclude they overshot in their election meddling is up to us.  Will we, as a nation, respond in a way that will deny the Russians what, at this point, seems like the greatest intelligence triumph in human history, actually electing the President of the United States?  The answer to that question is in the hands of Special Counsel Bob Mueller and the Republican leadership of the Congress.  Mueller needs to build a rock-solid case that denies the Republicans the ability to rationalize away the reality of the Trump collusion in the Russian meddling.  And the Republicans will need to stop protecting Trump and take affirmative steps to impose accountability into the system.

So far, Mueller is doing his part.  The Republicans? Not so much.

A Graceful Finish

| July 1, 2017 | 0 Comments
Connor tries to fix Anna's bike

Connor tries to fix Anna’s bike

The last day of the Fuller Center West Coast Bike Adventure offered an example of selflessness that helped define for me the overall experience of doing this ride.

First, it should be understood that, in addition to supporting the mission of housing for the poor that animates the Fuller Center, people on the ride bring different personal goals to this adventure. For instance, some people are dedicated to ride every mile on their bike. Others are willing to ride the support van for some segments, for physical or mechanical reasons. There is no pressure to ride every mile, not by the Center and not by the other riders. It’s a purely personal goal.

Here’s what happened.

Anna Lea Little rode every mile on this trip, over mountains, through craggy bike trails, into and out of

Ann Coleman getting Anna started

Ann Coleman getting Anna started

canyons, in 100 degree sun and 50 degree rain. On our last day, as she began the climb up the biggest hill of the day at Torry Pine, her derailleur broke in a way that couldn’t be fixed. She was 18 miles away from the finish after riding more than 1,600 miles over the course of a month. Our young leader, Connor Ciment, tried diligently to get the bike fixed, even trying to turn Anna’s bike from a 22 speed into a one speed. Nothing worked. Anna was devastated.

First Good Samaritan helps with the climb

First Good Samaritan helps with the climb

Not to be deterred, the group working on the problem came up with a solution that preserved Anna’s goal. Anna got on her chain-less bike, Ann Coleman held her up and ran along side her to get her up to speed and Connor put his hand on Anna’s back and began to push her up the hill. It was tough going.  Even Connor acknowledged, he was struggling.

Then, an added bit of grace occurred when two other bikers encountered the scene and offered to help. Essentially, they formed a flying wedge, with one pushing Connor and one pushing Anna to get them over the hill at Torry Pine. Connor continued to push Anna for seven miles to the next rest stop, where they did, in fact, turn Anna’s bike into a one-speed. And she rode the rest of the way, which still included some pretty big hills. She achieved her goal and we all got the most inspirational story of the trip.

Connor, Anna and the chainless bike

Connor, Anna and the chainless bike

The Best Shower….Ever!

| June 30, 2017 | 0 Comments
IMG_1638

Now, THAT’S a shower!

It is difficult to overstate the importance of showers at the end of a day of riding. Fuller riders rely primarily on donated shower facilities in the cities and towns where we stay. Sometimes this is a local Y, sometimes a nearby school and sometimes the churches have shower facilities onsite. Occasionally, the church community enlists its members to offer their homes. On this trip, particularly in Washington Oregon, we used campgrounds. A couple of times, we ended up with only cold showers. Those were memorable and not in a good way.

Today, I and my fellow rider Lauryn Kostopoulos scored big time. The United Methodist Church of Vista

Patricia, me, Lauryn and Victor

Patricia, me, Lauryn and Victor

enlisted its community to open their homes to the riders for showers. Lauryn and I were among the last out and traveled to the home of Victor and Patricia. He’s a retired conservationist and she’s an amateur genealogist, a very cool couple. They also appear to appreciate good showers because their shower had about 8 nozzles, up, down and sideways. It was the best shower of the trip, maybe the best shower facility I’ve used this year. Nice that it came at the end of the ride.

The Great Escape

| June 30, 2017 | 0 Comments
The view I first encountered from the bike path

The view I first encountered from the bike path

This is why they call it an “adventure.” Today, we confronted a challenge when the bike path we were on stopped abruptly at Camp Pendleton. Apparently, there were some maneuvers and they closed the path. I was toward the back of the pack, so can take no credit for the ingenuity of the faster riders in coming up with a solution.

We had to move our route to I-5, an eight lane highway that the bike path was designed to avoid. The riders at the front of the pack found a gate in the chain-linked fence that divided the bike path from the highway, which gave us access to the highway. However, in addition to the chain linked fence, they had to carry the bikes through heavy underbrush, across railroad tracks and then through a barbed wire fence. I came by later after the system was in place and it worked pretty smoothly, although I did get caught in the barbed wire.

Crossing the tracks, underbrush and barbed-wire fence

Crossing the tracks, underbrush and barbed-wire fence

In tradition of mutual support that is part of the ethic of the Fuller Center, all the riders waited on the highway until everyone got through. We then had to ride 10 miles along I-5, with cars and trucks constantly roaring by, before we were able to return to our more civilized riding off the highway.

Whitey’s Place

| June 28, 2017 | 0 Comments
Whitey hid in plain sight at this apartment building

Whitey hid in plain sight at this apartment building

I found time to stop by Whitey Buler’s “hideaway” in Santa Monica.  It took a little research to find it, since the owners changed the name of the apartment building from the Princess Eugenia to the Barbas Apartments.  And I did have to backtrack a bit, which annoyed my fellow rider, a young woman who had never heard of Whitey Bulgar.  But it was worth it.

If you want to hear a hilarious story told by the manager of the Princess Eugenia about when the FBI came calling, check out the episode of the Moth Radio Hour where he tells what it was like.

 

 

 

https://themoth.org/stories/call-me-charlie

 

Best Biking Songs

| June 28, 2017 | 0 Comments

Music was enormously influential in helping me complete the West Cost bike ride.  I had a bluetooth speaker mounted on my handlebars that played music from my IPhone.  I learned the power of a good song at the right time in one of the early days’ rides when I was riding – typically – at the back of the pack and we were beginning to climb a hill.  Just then Bruce Springsteen Thunder Road started to play and I cranked up the volume.  It was like the afterburners kicked in.  I began to pedal furiously.  I caught up and eventually passed a group of more seasoned riders up the hill.  It was exhilarating.

Of course, going forward, I had to use this device carefully.  I couldn’t keep going back to the same few songs as they would lose their power over time.  But this discovery helped me clear some pretty big hills.

These were my “go to” songs when I had a big climb in front of me:

  • Thunder Road – Bruce Springsteen
  • Jungleland – Bruce Springsteen
  • Sympathy for the Devil – Rolling Stones (Live version)
  • Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue – Duke Ellington (Live at Newport)
  • Casa Loma Stomp – Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra
  • Maniac’s Ball – Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra
  • White Jazz – Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra
  • Dawn – The Four Seasons
  • Walking Blues – Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
  • The Love I Lost – Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes


On one occasion, Bruce also helped with a downhill ride.  The good news about climbing hills is that there is often a long downhill ride on the other side.  Once in Oregon, I got to the top of about a 2 mile climb and, as I began to descend, the Springsteen song came on coincidentally that has the refrain, “I’m goin’ down, down, down.  I’m goin’ down, down, down…”  This added to the euphoria and racking up some distance without pedaling.

Finally, I couldn’t get Willie Nelson out of my head when I finally got my new bike and was “On the Road Again.”

FCBA – Day 1

| June 4, 2017 | 0 Comments

Today was a relaxed day in Seattle.  We were mostly just getting ourselves situated.  Still a few riders trickling in, which involved a trip to the airport for pickup.  It was technically a “build day,” but that meant moving boxes for a few families whose apartments had been renovated by the Fuller Center.  I skipped the “build” to assemble my bike with the help and guidance of my friend and partner, Peter Asmuth.

Peter Reconnects with 2016 FCBA rider, Joseph, also known as "Pui"

Peter Reconnects with 2016 FCBA rider, Joseph, also known as “Pui”

One surprise visitor was Joseph, aka “Pui,” who rode across country last year.  He was one of the “Three Stooges,” which included Peter, Pui and Fred Smoak.  They were inseparable during the ride.  Since I arrived in Peoria, I was not eligible to join their fraternity.  I guess I was Shemp.

After getting the bike outfitted and making an aborted run to the airport, I connected with my cousin, Paul Campbell.  Paul’s like the big brother I never had.  He’s the second oldest of my 40 or so first cousins on my mother’s side.  I was close to his brother Gerald, who was born 2 days before me, and did a lot of sleepovers at his house.  He was, and is, a huge outdoorsman, which is probably why he moved to Seattle decades ago.   Given the distance, we don’t get to see enough of each other.

We did a driving tour of Seattle, including a stop at the Troll Under the Bridge, a landmark little known

Paul and Me at the Troll Under the Bridget

Paul and Me at the Troll Under the Bridget

outside of Seattle.  It was constructed by a group of local students.   When we went, there was dozens of people taking their pictures with the statue.  It is also an important site in that it is the place where Paul and his wife, Helen, were married.  Yeah, Paul’s a bit funky, which is one of the many reasons I love him.

As to the ride, I have been interested with the role of “team leader” for a chore group.  My chore this week is “Snack Bins and Coolers,” both of which I need to ensure are full for the riders.

Tomorrow we ride to the Space Needle and back, 24 miles, not too many hills and extraordinary views of the harbor and Seattle skyline.

A Note to Supporters of the Fuller Center

| June 2, 2017 | 0 Comments
Heading to Seattle with Bike

Heading to Seattle with Bike

To get myself into the swing of things, I am posting the note I sent to those who have supported my bike rides on behalf of the Fuller Center for Housing. 

If you are getting this email, you have supported me in some way in my bike rides for the Fuller Center for Housing.

As I write, I’m flying over the “Trump Belt” on my way to Seattle for the ride to San Diego.  While I did a similar ride last year from Peoria to DC, this one is a bit more daunting.  On the other hand, I have a new bike with much lower gears (for the hills) and I actually did some training in advance.  So, I feel like I’m reasonably prepared.  I’m still not sure how we’re going to get across Big Sur, since much of it has slid into the ocean.  But mine is not the reason why….  I’m sure they’ve got it figured out.

I do hope to do a better job of “journaling” along the way this year than last.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to be sending any more emails.  It’s a purely “opt in” system.  My plan is to post regularly to Instagram and Facebook with short updates.  When I’m feeling more literary, I will post to my blog.  There’s a subscription option on the blog if you would like to be notified when I’ve posted.  The more who do that, the more incentive I’ll have to post.

Here are the links:

Blog www.preferentialoptionblog.com

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/bill.black1

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/guynoir53/

The Fuller Center also maintains a blog for a less subjective account of the ride:

http://www.fullercenterbikeadventure.org/category/blog/2017westcoast/

Having experienced last year the Spartan lifestyle that the Fuller Center bikers enjoy on the road, I can assure those of you who contributed that your money is well spent.  Imagine St. Francis on a bike, sleeping in church basements and eating donated food. None of the money goes to creature comforts.  Frankly, our only real indulgences are the bikes.  They are pretty high end, but we obviously pay for those ourselves.

So, I’m off and, again, thank you.

Bill

Feeling Old

| May 11, 2017 | 0 Comments

Another Dave Stapleton photostory from ThriveDC.  This morning I was working the shower station with another volunteer who came with a group from the Coast Guard.  He was a soft spoken young man wearing a Red Sox cap.  So, naturally, we talked baseball.  I asked if he was from Boston.  He said, “No, Alabama.”

I asked how a guy from Alabama becomes a Red Sox fan.  He said he was the son-in-law to a former Red Sox player, Dave Stapleton.  He reminded me that Stapleton was a first baseman who alternated games with the infamous Bill Buckner.  For non-baseball fans, Buckner is the guy who muffed a ground ball that cost the Red Sox the World Series in 1986.  Clearly, like many Red Sox fans, his in-laws believe that if Red Sox Manager John McNamara had played Stapleton, rather than Buckner in that game, the Red Sox would have won the Series in 1986.

I was duly impressed and said “Wow, that’s amazing.  You married his daughter?!”  He said “Yes.”  I blurted out, “Did you know her when he was playing for the Red Sox??”  He said, “I wasn’t born, when he was playing for the Red Sox.”

Ouch.

 

A Moment of Grace

| March 20, 2017 | 0 Comments
William

William S. Taft

Thrive DC is a very special program that provides for the needs of the homeless in Washington, DC. It operates in the basement of St. Stephens Church on 16th Street, NW and offers food, laundry services, showers and a number of training programs for its clients.

I volunteer weekly at the program and one of my jobs is to take the names of the guests as they arrive for breakfast in the morning. I love this job because it allows me to get to know the guests and to learn their names. Many are regulars and I derive great satisfaction when I can greet them by name and even have a brief conversation as they check in.

A couple of weeks ago, there was an incident that was so touching, I wanted to share it here. On this day, most of the guests had arrived and the dining room was pretty full. As usual, there was a lot of conversation and laughter. I was having a conversation with Brian, a staff member, and William Taft, another volunteer.  William is a handsome man who has a radio voice, dreadlocks and a winning smile. Years ago, William was a client of Thrive and, in appreciation, he returns to the breakfast program almost every day to provide emotional and spiritual support for the guests.  William thrives on intellectual discourse and, when he’s not encouraging clients and staff, he is engaged in deep philosophical discussions.

We were probably talking about the meaning of life when a woman came in who was clearly in pain, not physical pain, but emotional pain. Her face was wracked. She was so stressed she couldn’t speak. I asked her for her name, but she didn’t – or couldn’t – respond. She just stood there looking like she was carrying all the anxiety in the world on her shoulders.

William asked her if she was alright. No answer. Just pain in her face. He asked her again. Nothing. Then he said, “You need a hug,” and walked over and wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close to him. She leaned into him and put her face on his chest. They held that pose for a long time. Her face softened a bit. After a while, they separated and William kissed her on the cheek, saying, “You need to pray, dear, just pray, and you’ll be fine.” She proceeded to her table, seemingly somewhat relieved, and William departed.

The incident illustrated what, for me, the best thing about Thrive DC. There is a spirit of community that surrounds the organization. The direct services provided are necessary for the body, but the community serves the soul. Who’s to say which is the more valuable?  Both are necessary and both can be found at Thrive DC.