Friday, July 25, 2008


If you’re lucky in this world, you’ll make a few lifelong friends. If you’re really fortunate, you will see them often. This makes me, by my own definitions, a lucky man who isn’t as fortunate as he’d like to be. However, this extended cross-country road trip is going a long way toward improving my lot in life. Which is to say we were able to see two of my oldest friends, in two very different cities, in the span of just a few days.

After descending the Ivory Tower of Jefferson’s Monticello, we pointed our good old bus north and bravely waded into the shark-infested swamps of Washington, DC. We did not travel there to fight for justice for the common man.

Nor did we go to speak our peace.

But we did go to DC to for a just and noble cause. We went to see one of my lifelong friends, Chris Munday, and his family—Tilden, his wife and Tayen, their son.

Chris is also an Iowa City, Iowa boy. We were both bike riders back in the 1980s, which means we spent a lot of time riding side-by-side on the backroads of Iowa’s farmlands, driving around the country to bike races, and otherwise making the scene with a shifty cast of road-wise bike bums: Dogbait, Dumpy, Sluggo, Bananas, Gomez, Blockhead, Mongo, Curly-Bite-Ball, Buzzsaw, Rat, Skin, Dirty Dick, Worthless, and many, many others. If you think this has makings of a fraternity to rival the Animal House, you wouldn’t be mistaken.

Who is to say why people become friends in the first place and remain friends? The reasons are likely as varied as the circumstances. It seems to me that Chris and I became friends long ago because, I think, we have common and complimentary interests that extend well beyond the normal dumb-athlete repertoire*. Chris is a master carpenter; I have held an actual saw in my hand. Chris is an expert on colonial era furniture; I like sitting in chairs. Chris is an attentive student of art and art history; I enjoy looking at colorful pictures. See what I mean?

Since Chris and Tilden currently live a scant few blocks from Capitol Hill**, the very best that DC has to offer was within easy walking distance—be it a groovy restaurant, coffee shop, or the many faces of the Smithsonian. As this was my first visit to DC, I insisted on seeing as much of it as I could. (Many heartfelt thanks to Diane, Chris and Tilden for so heartily indulging me.)

First up was Capitol Hill and the People’s House. Note the sharpshooter lurking on the balcony, above my pointy head. He’s there to keep us people out.

Then it was down the Hill to the botanical gardens, home to the world’s most far-out flower gardens…

By "far-out" I mean far out. This was as close as we could get to the actual White House gardens. Apparently George W. was playing t-ball on the East Lawn and couldn’t be disturbed (true!).

Undeterred, we took to the Capitol Mall, where Frisbee football games, clueless tourists, and protest movements freely intermingle…

… and where the marquee museums of the Smithsonian are located. No where else but in Washington, DC can you, in a single day, gaze at the actual death mask of Honest Abe...

… then lean over and touch an actual Nazi terror machine hand-built by slave labor.

What’s more, you can share an intimate moment with an actual stewardess…

… get cozy with two Ohio bike mechanics who had their right hands on the first flying machine…

… behold the world’s original space monkey…

(Yes, this is the real thing - he died four days after he came back to earth then was stuffed and mounted; and yes, this is how the little shaver was suited up for his blast into outer space.)

… then take a break and watch the other tourists Gogh by.

Of course we cased the White House from afar, paid our respects at the Ford Theatre, and reflected about the nature of Washington while on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

But mostly Diane and I simply hung loose with the Munday clan. We were only in DC for a few days, but these days were filled with excursions to the nearby farmer’s market, insightful neighborhood walks (Tilden grew up in DC and is a most excellent tour guide), and polished off heaping plates of late night dinners. We had a great time and we missed these fine friends of ours as soon as we left.

However, we were on deadline—a rare event on this microbus roadtrip—for if we wanted to visit another worthy old bike-bum friend of mine, Scott Dickson, we had to hurry. You see, Scott was a day away from flying to Iowa in order to make the start of the rolling circus commonly known as “Ragbrai.” (If you don’t know what Ragbrai is, I recommend you both Google it and then make plans to go.)

Feeling pretty good about driving a whole 110 miles from DC to the pastoral little college town of Norfolk, DE in a single afternoon, we arrived at Scott’s place a bit on the late side. Turns out Scott had just beat us there. He had covered about 80 miles that afternoon, too. On a bicycle.

But that’s Scott. He’s been riding and racing bikes longer than anyone I’ll ever know (since the 1960s) and sports many national championship cycling medals in his showcase to prove it. He also holds a Ph.D. in hydrology and assumes the role of adjunct professor when the circumstances are suitable. He’s an interesting and funny guy with many a mischievous tale to tell. Marsha, his wife, tells a good story, too.

So we had a great evening with Scott, Marsha—herself a reformed bike rider and professor at the University of Delaware (she studies apparel industry sweatshops in the developing world and advocates for better working conditions), and Marsha’s mother, Madge, who just happened to be visiting at the same time we did. Suffice it to say that the good old days are very, very good indeed when camped out on the Dickson’s back deck with a plate of garden-fresh food before you.

The morning came all to quickly, as it always does when you are in the company of old and true friends. We would have liked to stay longer, of course. But Scott was headed for the friendly skies and Marsha had a day of appointments at her office. So we again hit the road.

Next time we’ll stay longer. And, if I am fortunate, next time the span between visits will be measured in months, not years.

*Dumb-athlete areas of interest will be familiar to anyone who has played any sort of sport for any length of time. Specific areas of interest depend on the nature of the sport itself, of course, though the themes remain constant. In the world of men’s cycling, the dumb-athlete areas of interest are: Bike Racing, Cars, and Girls; Girls, Bike Racing, and Cars; and Cars, Girls, and Bike Racing. Heated discussions in regard to favorite bands and music genres have also been known to occur from time to time, particularly during cramped, cross-country road trips.

** Chris and Tilden want to leave DC for greener pastures, and their current plans could have them hitting the Oregon Trail and winding up somewhere near, if not in, our beloved Willamette Valley. Without doubt, if this were to happen then I would be a very, very fortunate man indeed.

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