27 July 2014
This is a story about a Fiberglass ox named George, his friend Chuck the Cluck, and how I got to know them.
It all started when I met Cheryl in the fall of 1999, when Jack and I moved from an apartment in Plainsboro to our house in Lawrence Township and I switched gyms. She taught Spinning classes. By May of 2000 she'd convinced me to come out on a Free Wheelers ride. It was the Spring Fling out of the Masonic Temple in Kingston. Bob and Norene led the C+ ride. Terry C was on the ride; we'd met at the gym in Plainsboro, but we'd never talked more than a few minutes at a time.
I became a regular on Bob and Norene's rides, following Bob's lead on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. Terry S was part of that crew, and Barb, Marty, Our Jeff, Andy, Al, Chris, Terry C, and Gordon.
As I was learning how to be a ride leader and a proper Hill Slug, I met Marilyn, Mike, and Theresa. Bob stopped leading; I couldn't get to Jeff's Wednesday night rides anymore. But we still had parties together. We still went out to dinner together. We got invited to the Adirondacks together.
By this time, I'd discovered the post-century buzz, improved my gearing, shed a few pounds, and more or less cemented my reputation as a Our Lady of Perpetual Headwinds. Big Joe and Little Joe added me to their exclusive long-distance list.
I still hung out with the Friday night crowd. I still took Cheryl's Spinning classes during the week.
Big Joe died. Plain Jim swept in. Miss Piggy happened. Ron became a Slug. Blake took away some of my PA hill fear. The hills got bigger. More strong Slugs like Ed appeared. But I never lost touch with the Friday night crowd.
When it came time to plan Cheryl's going-away party, it was the Friday night crowd we thought of first, then the Slugs, then everybody else.
Which brings me back to George the Ox and Chuck the Cluck. Bob is one of the many artists who volunteered to paint an ox for the Hopewell Valley Arts Council's Hopewell Valley Stampede. After many months of labor, and an eviction from the local Senior Center for wearing a flag on his posterior, George the Ox is ready for his final clear-coat. Today was to be his last day in Bob's garage, on display in the driveway all day before being carted away, not to be seen again until mid-August (at the corner of Route 518 and Hart Avenue, at the Johnson farm). At Cheryl's party, Bob made sure that we all knew time was running out.
After yesterday's ride, I had no plans to be on a bike today. Blake, Al, and Cheryl were going to make one last trip to Carversville at 8:30 a.m. I was tempted, but I knew my legs would not hold out in the Pennsylvania hills. The only times I've been to Carversville, I've been miserable; I didn't want to extend that tradition. When I awoke at 7:00 a.m. I stood up, stiff-legged, saw rain and wet pavement, texted Cheryl that I was going back to bed, and did so. Half an hour later, there was a text back. Cheryl had seen and done the same thing.
I puttered around the house, drinking coffee and contemplating driving back to the intersection of Route 527 and Province Line, where, in yesterday's near-rainout, I'd fished the cue sheet back out of the zipper bag I keep in my jersey, spilling the bag's contents all over the intersection. I thought I'd retrieved everything, but when I got home I discovered that one key item was missing. I'd lost a small pouch where I'd kept an old driver's license, an old credit card, a spare insurance card, a Wawa gift card, a Homestead gift card, and a spare house key. It's not a good thing to lose identification that comes with a house key. On the other hand, I can pretty much guarantee that the only pedestrians at that intersection, ever, have been me and Cheryl, painting J arrows for the Ride for McBride. It would have been a safe bet to assume that the next lawn mower would turn my identity into mulch. Cheryl would no longer need the spare house key I'd given her. She texted that I could stop by and pick it up.
Then Bob sent a text image of George the Ox in his driveway. By this time the caffeine had kicked in and my legs no longer hurt. I suited up for a short ride to Cheryl's, and then to Bob and Norene's. "See the ox at 41 Buck," proclaimed a blue-paint sign propped against a fence near the development's clubhouse.
I turned the corner, saw George, dismounted, and rang the doorbell. Norene welcomed me in. Bob came out of the garage, blue paint on his fingers. Chuck was sitting on a table. I grabbed him and made for the ox.
Because an heir to the Johnson and Johnson fortune sponsored Bob's ox, Bob gave George a Band-Aid (also the nickname of one of the heir's sons, an athlete who had earned the reputation for a small amount of recklessness).
My favorite part of George is the teeth:
Credit where credit is due:
Washington crossing the Delaware from the left,
and from the right:
In order to maintain an even temperature inside and out so that the paint won't chip, each ox has a vent in its nether regions. Bob has disguised the puncture:
Our Jeff pulled up. Cars drifted slowly down the street, heads turned.
Norene took me around to the back yard. A storm shattered the glass on their patio table, so Bob made a sculpture from the frame, with wire and aluminum cans:
Lest one wonder how I became a collector of bikes, suffice it to say that I've learned from the masters:
Right around then I got a group text from Terry C, calling the weekend regulars (we're a subset of the Friday night crew, plus Dale and Sean) for an impromptu cookout potluck at her house in the evening. That settled it. I now had an excuse to go find my lost cards: I would pass by on my way to target="_blank" title="Emery's Berry Patch">Emery's Berry Patch. Jack, under the weather but a good sport, agreed to come along.
Finding my lost parcel was the work of ten seconds. Jack was impressed. I found my way from the intersection to the farm without a map. Dare I say I'm learning my way around the flatlands? I got us from there to Laurita Winery, too.
There is one decent thing about the winery: the view.
The wine is so bad that Jack called it quits halfway through the 7-sample tasting.
On the drive home, I winged it, mapless, taking different back roads through prime Free Wheeler country.
If Cheryl hadn't cajoled me into that first bike ride with the Free Wheelers, I'd never have known those roads, about Emery's, about how to paint route arrows, about how to lead rides, about the lives of several dozen people I'm still friends with after 14 years, about Hunterdon County, about being able to eat without gaining weight, about North Creek even. Or about George the Ox. I wouldn't be up past my bedtime writing this blog entry either, now that I think about it.
So, Cheryl, enjoy Florida. You'll have left your mark here in central New Jersey.