Friday, September 19, 2008

Riding in Bozeman - Part One - Getting There and the Kitchen

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Movin' To Montana Soon:

O.K., I can’t help myself. The first time I ever heard of Montana outside my grade school geography text book was in 1973. I was in sixth grade and hanging out in the basement of my friend Wayne Smith’s house. His older brother was having a party and they were listening to Frank Zappa on a horrible old stereo. Suddenly the calls came out from across the room, “Can I interest you in a pair of Zircon encrusted tweezers?”

I had no idea what they were talking about. Then we all sat down, cranked the volume and listened intently to the lyrics. The opening stanza puts the great schnoz and his genius in focus:

"I might be movin' to Montana soon. Just to raise me up a crop of Dental Floss"

And so it went, all of us singing along, happily immersed in the glorious weirdness.

Fast forward no less than 35 years. I’m in a car with my friend Torie driving from Michigan to Bozeman. From the rear-view mirror hangs an unusual talisman. If I hadn’t already told you the historical context you might not understand its significance. Dangling there in front of us, from a singular thread of dental floss, are two sparkly and jaunty….tweezers. Our friend Nels gave them to Torie as a going away present. She’s heading to grad school in Montana.

That’s how it starts. Knowing I’m on my way to Bozeman, I drop a message on the fixed gear forum and ask for some local support. Less than 24 hours later John Friedrich (Mr.DNA) pings me back. John welcomes me with an invitation to ride with him when he gets back to town, but also copies several other folks in town. Immediately I get a response from Casey Schenker. Casey’s a grad student at MSU and he invites me to come by the little community bike shop he heads up called the Bozeman Bike Kitchen.

"Raisin' it up, waxen it down. In a little white box that I can sell uptown. By myself I wouldn't have no boss, but I'd be raisin' my lonely Dental Floss "

The Bozeman Bike Kitchen:

Casey gives me directions like this. “We're having a work night tomorrow from 6 to 8 pm if you want to stop by and check it out. It's pretty humble, but we've gotten around thirty to forty bikes into the hands of lower income individuals this summer alone. This is approximately where to find us if you want to stop by, I'll be there by about six tomorrow night. It's a little hard to find, because it's basically in a shed behind a hedge, but if you can get into the parking lot of the school district building on the corner of durston and 11th and call me.”

Casey is not exaggerating about the directions. Even with the coordinates in hand, I wander around for a while before looking behind the right hedge. The Kitchen is in a dilapidated shed belonging to the Bozeman School District. It hides behind a couple old houses that now serve as office space. The shed has a low ceiling about six foot tall, which makes it difficult for someone like me to stand up in side. Here's Sam....he's about my height.

Most of the work takes place on the lawn outside. The main efforts of the Kitchen are directed toward refurbishing old bicycles for the use of people in the community who can’t otherwise afford them. In the process volunteers also are called upon to tune up the bikes of just about anyone who manages to find the place.

The evening I choose to stop by there's a work bee with a lot of busy work to do. About twenty yards from the shed is a pile of bikes and wheels that need to be stripped down. Many of these things are destined for the metal recycler. Three or four volunteers busily bang, pound, and pull separating the bikes into tall piles of steel, aluminum, and rubber. Here at the Kitchen everything gets recycled somehow.

Two other volunteers, Sam Haraldson and Catherine Schneider, are standing in the shed. During the day they have "real jobs", Sam as Gear Shop Manager for , and Catherine as a freelance graphic designer. Their collective job today however is to organize the parts and tools stored in the shed. Catherine works on all the bike tubes. One by one she fills them with air to check them out. If they hold air, or could be easily patched, she empties them again, folds them up and puts them in boxes with like-sized tubes for use by people wandering in. If the tires are beyond repair they go in another box destined for a craftsman in Whitefish who uses them for products.

While I sit and chat with Casey on the lawn, a 40ish year old man in a big blue parka and NASCAR hat walks up. He’s got a piece of paper in his hands that he presents to Casey. Casey reads it, smiles, and says in a kind voice: “Charlie…..what happened to the last one we gave you?” Charlie is one of the people that the state sent over. The Kitchen has a deal with the state to provide a working bike to anyone in need. The piece of paper tells Casey it’s OK to give one to him….again. “Got stolen.” Charlie says.

Casey responds chiding him: “Charlie, you gotta get a lock man. The bike is free, but you gotta get a lock.”

Charlie picks a bike from the few that are almost ready for the road. The one he wants isn’t quite ready so Casey says he can take it if he fixes it right here. Casey gives Charlie a 9mm wrench and sends him off.

Casey’s workbench on the lawn is a sight to behold. What first appears to be a narrow table with a truing stand attached turns out to be his mountain bike with an XtraCycle rack. He keeps all his tools in the panniers and manages to make it all look pretty natural.

The Kitchen has several sets of tools each in a separate tool box. The tools are painted a color to match the toolkit. This makes it easier for people to get their tools back to the right toolbox and acts as a small deterrent to theft.

Rubin showed up to help this night too. He admits to not having any experience and was here to learn so that he could someday do his own maintenance on his bike.

While I’m sitting there Casey also offers to help me find a rear brake for my fixie so I can more safely take it on the trails. He points out two huge boxes of brake calipers and tells me to help myself. I spend some time sitting on the lawn among the other volunteers and bike fixers chatting and tinkering.

By the time I wrap it up, there are about ten volunteers wandering the lawn and crouching in the shed. Another five or six people looking for assistance with their bikes - or helping to fix others - sit within shouting distance of Casey.

He is undoubtedly the hub of this place. The others lie as spokes working on their own, checking back with him frequently to either ask advice on a fix or to proffer their next assignment.

As I head off down the trail, there is a Bozeman Sunset. I pop on the headlight and flasher, grateful to have met these hard working folks and fascinated with the work they do.

"I'm ridin' a small tiny hoss (His name is MIGHTY LITTLE.) He's a good hoss, even though he's a bit dinky to strap a big saddle or blanket on. Anyway he's a bit dinky to strap a big saddle or blanket on anyway, any way"

Make sure to see Part Two - The Trail and Polo...

1 comment:

samh said...

I love bicycles. I love Frank Zappa. I love you, Bill. Your choice of theme for this post is superb! Not only did you tie in a stellar video of a Mother's of Invention performance, you also posted pictures of a set of REAL LIVE ZIRCON ENCRUSTED TWEEZERS!!! This post gets the best-blog-post I've seen all year award!

- Sam