April 2nd, 2011 Ride: The Nostalgia Edition

This post really needs a more comprehensive title than just the usual “date + ride” formula. So much takes place in it — it’s a veritable cornucopia of rideblog news.

As many of my 12 avid readers know, The Raleigh has been out of commission for the last eight weeks, due to a broken saddle. My Industry Connection, the delightful D., has been trying to order me a new Brooks ever since. Where she works doesn’t carry Brooks saddles, and the US supplier has been out of stock the entire time. They kept telling her “next week,” then the next week… still out. Finally, I caved and went to buy a saddle locally for the normal price. When I called to tell her this news, she was out. I received a cryptic text a few moments after I hung up that read only: “Drunk in Napa.” Perhaps this explains much, perhaps not.

The nearest shop with a Brooks B67 in stock turned out to be The Dutch Bike Company, which is in Ballard. For those of you not familiar with the many boroughs of Seattle, Ballard is the Scandinavian one. No, really. It’s a busy port, hosting fishing and crabbing boats, including the ones from that show (yes, that one). Once a grungy, working-class neighborhood, it’s seen a great deal of gentrification in the last twenty years, and is now one of the hippest places to live in the city. It’s also the place where I spent many of my formative years, from four to ten years-old. I figured that since I was hauling The Raleigh all the way to Ballard, I might as well visit some of my old haunts when I was there.

Ballard is a long, long way from my house. Geographically, it’s probably not more than fifteen miles, but in Seattle, that means nothing. As one of our major north-south routes, I-405, was completely closed today for road work, the freeway which runs through Seattle, I-5, was packed. And Ballard is a good half hour drive through winding city streets once one gets off the freeway. When I left the house, it was raining so hard it seemed like someone was spraying a hose at my window. This didn’t bode well for neighborhood cruising, but at least I didn’t have to bag The Raleigh’s saddle, given its condition.

An hour after I left, I finally arrived on Ballard Ave, and located the Dutch Bike Co, which has a very, very small sign out front.

Inside, Alex and Fritz were repairing bikes, and up front the cafe was serving coffee and pastries. Both guys were shocked by the old saddle, which had lost the nose piece altogether and was, as Fritz noted, just 2/3rds of a Brooks. He had a friend collecting Brooks rails to recover in new leather (why??), so I donated my old saddle to the cause. Alex showed me the only brown B67 they had in stock. I had been thinking I wanted a “honey” Brooks, especially as my bike is root beer brown anyway. But holding up a honey B17 and the dark brown B67 next to The Raleigh, it was obvious which one looked classier: dark brown. So with a bit of fiddling and a new clamp, The Raleigh was refitted with a gorgeous new saddle. I was ready to test it out.

The rain had really settled in when I left, pelting me as I peddled. Ballard Avenue still features some patches of brick cobblestones, and an ancient fire bell tower. It’s quite a picturesque little street, with the flavor of Boston or somewhere far more cosmopolitan than Ballard, anyway. It’s lined with clothing boutiques, microbrew bars, and antique shops.

From there, I headed out onto Market Street, which is Ballard’s main drive. Five minutes of riding told me two things: the Brooks was too far forward and needed its nose tilted up a bit, as I was sliding off of it constantly, and… my rims were greasy and wet. My braking power had vanished. Riding in traffic in a torrential downpour is no fun under the best of circumstances, but this was distinctly frightening. As I neared the street where I had once lived, however, the rain cleared enough for me to finish my trip without mishap.

So without further ado, a tour of my childhood haunts and a few sharp memories, courtesy of The Raleigh, Brooks, and The Dutch Bike Company:

Here I am, at about seven years old, with my mother and grandmother on the steps of our apartment. That’s a baby doll I’m pushing in the stroller, not some bizarre petrified little sister.

Here are those same steps, today, with The Raleigh providing scale. The upstairs, corner apartment was ours. The current residents appear to be surrounded by garden gnomes. My mother grew tomatoes out on the stoop, and I locked my first bike up behind the stairs. Except for the time I didn’t. I had been out playing, and when I returned, my mother asked where my bike was. I replied that I had locked it up under the stairs, but in truth, I had asked a friend to do it. My mother told me the bike wasn’t there.

This is the Sears catalog containing a picture of my first bike: the rainbow-painted Free Spirit with the amazing rainbow banana seat. Remember that rainbow windbreaker and those rainbow tennis shoes from previous posts? Now you understand that I was born this way (not gay, but really into rainbows. Like Oprah, I’d just say if I were gay). I saved half the money for the bike doing chores, and the other half was provided by my parents. The bike was my eighth birthday present, in 1979.

Anyway, we were pretty impoverished, as my mom was a secretary, raising me without much financial assistance from my dad. I knew that if my bike was stolen, I wouldn’t be getting another one. Weeping, I followed my mother around my neighborhood, searching for hours. It was only when we returned home that she sent me into her bedroom to find… the bike. She had discovered it unlocked, and wanted me to learn my lesson the “easy” way.

When we lived in Ballard, it wasn’t the home of fixie-riding hipsters that it is today. There were no cappuccino stands or cupcake shops. Instead, there were drunken sailors and sheet metal workers, tough welders and lutefisk-selling shop-keepers. Everyone was working class, and a few were… distinctly not. Once, on her walk home from the bus stop, my mother was followed by a man who kept yelling: “Hey, lady, turn around and look at my fish!” She refused. Upon arriving at the apartment, she called the cops. “How do you know he doesn’t just have a fish?” the operator asked. My mother walked over to our large picture window and looked out to the corner of the street, where the man was standing with his back to her, opening his trench coat at passing cars. “It’s NOT a fish,” she assured them.

Just three blocks from my old apartment, the street dead-ends at 65th, where there were about eight grimy bars and an auto repair shop. The shop is still there, as is one of the bars, The Tin Hat. Over the years, their logo has changed: it used to be the sort of helmet that soldiers wore in World War I.

I don’t know… the tin man is more fitting for a place that now bills itself as a bar and grill, don’t you think? Though my mother’s favorite tavern (at least for the name, as she was a former alcoholic and never drank) was The Rinky Dink Tavern. It’s long gone, as is Hagar’s Tavern, and all the others.

Just a few blocks further away, The Raleigh and I stopped in front of this little blue duplex. Just beyond it is the blue and white profile of the Goodwill. When I was a kid, the Goodwill was a Safeway grocery store, and I must have purchased 100lbs of watermelon penny candy and strawberry ice cream bars at that place. On hot summer Saturdays, my mother would give me my allowance (25 cents), and I would head over to get us both Eskimo Pies. Along the way, I would pass the duplex. An old man lived in the half pictured here, and he was usually out working in his garden when I trotted by. Though intent on ice cream, I was a social child and he was a lonely widower, so I’d stop and shoot the breeze for a time. One day, he presented me with a pretty little wooden bird he had carved and polished himself. I still have it:

Across the street is the convenience store where my mother claimed to have disembarked from the bus after work to find a man bleeding to death on the sidewalk. None of the people crowded around him had called the police, and the owner of the convenience store earned her eternal wrath when he refused to let her use his phone. I have no idea how the story was resolved, and can’t ask her, as she died of breast cancer in 1999, when I was 28 years-old.

Here she is on our stoop, surrounded by her flowers, in a picture I thought was especially pretty when I took it at eight years-old.

This fitness studio was once a little convenience store (not the site of the infamous stabbing). I remember it mostly because when the Seattle Super Sonics won the championship in 1979, my teenage neighbor and sometime-babysitter, Melinda, took me there to get a treat. Cars were honking, people were shouting “Go Sonics!” from their porches, and the owner of the store gave me free candy. Of course I remember it!

Back on Market Street, The Raleigh and I paused to stare at the enormous hole where Sunset Bowl used to be. They tore it down about five years ago, assumedly to build more condos with fake, Swedish-y sounding names, but the economic slow-down has left the lot filled with rubble and standing water. Just across the street is another vacant lot. It was once a bizarre Norwegian-themed Denny’s, where my best friend and I liked to meet for banana splits when we were both in college. I still remember the night we last ate there, after we’d discovered her mother was listening to our conversation on the phone downstairs:

Me: Let’s go get ice cream at that Denny’s.

Friend: My mom won’t let me. She says it’s too late.

Me: It’s eight o’clock! You’re eighteen years-old. For heaven’s sake, just tell your mom to f**k off!

Mom: Hey, why are you telling her to tell me to f**k off?

It was a long conversation, but we triumphed and met for ice cream at ten o’clock, feeling very grown-up and rebellious.

Downtown Ballard was just a collection of mom-and-pop shops and Scandinavian-themed gift stores in my childhood. On long summer afternoons, I packed up my latch-key self and rode down there on my bike. This was about 2.5 miles round-trip, crossing many busy streets, and totally forbidden. But as I was home alone, who was going to know? Along the way, I’d pass Ballard Blossom, which is still there selling flowers, the intriguingly vaguely-named Stuff and Things for Pets, and The Bay movie theater. Each one held its own allure. The Carnegie Library building wasn’t a library, even in my day, but held a flea market where I bought “vintage” 78s of the Monkees for 10 cents a piece. Oh, what can it mean to a daydream believer, that today, it houses a Pilates studio?

Finally, I arrived back at the Dutch Bike Co. Fritz adjusted my saddle for me, rolled my North Roads bars up to help get my hands further off the ends of my grips, speculated on ways to improve The Raleigh’s braking capacity (front dyno-hub drum brakes? Aluminum rims?), and generally showed himself to be the most knowledgeable old-bike repair guy I’ve met in this town. He’s also all of 25 years-old.

I decided to buy a saddle cover before I left, as they sell intriguing Dutch-made oil cloth ones. I initially went for light blue with white polkadots, which Fritz politely admitted was “a popular choice.” Then he steered me to a more dignified plaid number by BikeCap, which The Raleigh wore home with great pleasure. It attaches to the rails and can be tucked under the seat when not in use. More shots of that another time.

I was pleased to discover that with its new saddle, The Raleigh fits better on my Saris rack. I no longer have to turn it around and attach the down tube anti-sway strap to the top tube, because the top straps now fit under the nose of the saddle! Hurrah for correct bike positioning!

Outside the back door of the store there are two bikes parked. One is a Dutch bike with a wooden cargo basket and the other… well, you can see for yourself! Whew, what a day!

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20 Responses to April 2nd, 2011 Ride: The Nostalgia Edition

  1. monk says:

    Thanks for the ride down memory lane. It was good to read that the Raleigh is rolling again. “Nostalgia” is right! Your story reminded me how much I miss my old Raleigh Sprite. Great pictures too. Especially that jaw-dropping one at the end. What a “Rube Goldberg”. 🙂

  2. Pingback: April 2nd, 2011 Ride: The Nostalgia Edition | PolymerClayLand

  3. adventure! says:

    Ah, Ballard. I would have liked to see it back in the day, before it became hip. Is it just me, or were “flashers” and urban indifference much more prevalent in the 70’s and 80’s? I don’t remember the last time I heard about an urban flasher. Or a store refusing to let someone use their phone for a 9-1-1 call. Then again everyone has cell phones now.

    Old Ballard reminds me a little of the working class town I grew up in. Doubt that place would ever gentrify, though.

    Out of curiosity, why did you spring (ha, ha!) for the B67 instead of the B66 you were originally thinking of getting?

  4. Auchen says:

    A wonderful post – with a bit of pathos I might add. You are a brave soul to revisit the haunts of your childhood. The closest I’ve come is Google Maps’ “man on the street”, but time has changed nearly everything!

  5. becks says:

    that was a great post, I really enjoyed reading it, especially seeing the old and new pictures. love the idea of a nostalgic bike tour too, what a great day it must have been!

  6. rideblog says:

    Monk: I’m dying to see that thing in action. I think that large gray thing in front is an umbrella!

    Adventure!: I couldn’t find a B66 locally. No one carried them at all. The B67 was almost as rare. One shop had only the copper rivet version, for another $50. Dutch Bike Co. only had them in black or brown, no honey. As for urban flashers, I think you’re right. The internet must satisfy folks’ need to explose themselves in public! I will note that I have been flashed in Portland. Not once, not twice… but three times, on three separate occassions. All in the 80’s and 90’s. My last two visits there have been phalus-free, thank heaven! I used to think I was jinxed!

    Auchen: I went recently to visit the house I lived in from 10-14, and discovered that someone had literally mowed down the entire block and put up a parking garage. I mean, one expects change, but that was a bit of a shock!

    Thanks, Becks!

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post – finding the narrative in turn funny, sad, and beautiful. You truly excel at personal ride reports.

  8. Your Bestest Friend says:

    I was, in fact, drunk in Napa. I did try to answer the phone, but there was much juggling of wine glass and prosciutto sandwich and I didn’t make it.

    This was my exact location when you called: http://bit.ly/f4XWVb

    I’m glad you got a new saddle after all. I’ll have to gift you some other bits and baubles for the bike instead.

  9. rideblog says:

    Thanks, Veloria! I learned from a great blogger… 🙂 (that would be you).

  10. rideblog says:

    D, you owe me nothing! And I owe you everything! (my god, how did I pull that reference out of my brain after all these years…). I’m glad you were having fun in Napa, and not sitting at work fussing over saddles. This is a good thing :). And I ended up with a better color than the honey, which clashed with the color of the bike somehow. So it’s all good. Keep workin’ on that Sella Italia for the Shogun. That’s all I ask :).

    Fritz the Mechanic suggested that if I had time, cork tape and “some Brooks bar tape,” he might be able to eventually build me up a pair of custom grips that would fit my hands perfectly. “Oh,” says I with a wink, “I’ve got some Brooks bar tape!” So the tape you sent me may get a use yet! I think he regretted the offer, though, the second it was out of his mouth. Still, I’m considering how this could be done.

  11. Erin B says:

    I have followed you from Lovely Bicycle and I’m adding you to my daily reads. I love your bicycle collection!

  12. rideblog says:

    Thanks, Erin! I can only hope to attain Veloria’s greatness :).

  13. Tom Reingold says:

    I think The Raleigh needs its own name. It should be something that evokes images of a tall, dignified woman, such as Cornelia.

  14. DKNHCAGrandPrix says:

    Wow, what a great read. Interesting, funny, poignant and masterfully blending both personal and universal themes. Does it take a 40th birthday to be able to produce a post of this epic quality ? Thanks very much for sharing and I look forward to reading more.

  15. rideblog says:

    Wow, Davidk, thanks! I’ve always been verbose, but riding around one’s childhood home just adds that extra bit of… something good.

  16. rideblog says:

    Tom, I’ve resisted naming them. I’ve resisted even giving them a gender (though The Panasonic seems to be a girl, and The Raleigh seems to me to be male). I don’t know why. I like the idea of them being machines, like a gorgeous old steam train.

    The Raleigh did have a name, anyway: The Root Beer Bomber. But I felt silly writing that over and over.

  17. Pingback: July 7 2011 Ride: Embracing Change | rideblog

  18. Anne says:

    I had the same Rainbow Bike. I have always been sad we got rid of it. I am looking for one to purchase if you know of any!! Want that little piece of childhood back! 🙂

  19. Gaby says:

    I also had the Rainbow Bike. I remember being at Sears around Christmas time and begged for this bike. My parents did a terrible job at hiding it from me. But it was one of my all time most favorite gifts! My father used to take me to the part and let me ride for hours. I found one for sale on ebay but it’s missing the rainbow seat :/ I wish I could have a close up picture of the seat. We didn’t get rid of mine until the late 90’s and I regret it now. Thank you so much for bringing back a great memory.

  20. rideblog says:

    You’re welcome, Gaby. I think the bike is far nicer in my mind, than it would now be in reality :).

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