Four Freedoms, Distilled

Jeffrey here, back in NYC.  Joey yields the floor for a summing-up.

It’s Memorial Day.  We mourn the uniformed victims of America’s wars—a few wars for survival, mostly wars of political choice.  But that’s too big a topic for this essay of summing-up.

Regarding our 1000 mile goal, Nancy relented a little.  To finish the 2018 Ride, Joey and I will do the remaining 187 miles in NYC and environs, displaying our signs and talking to people.

Maybe we’ll post a coda.  Or maybe we’ll save our local stories for when we gear up next winter for the 2019 Ride.

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We enjoyed our stay in DC.  When I was young, it was a dump.  Now it glitters.

It’s not all glitter.  Beggars—some evidently ill, others likely displaced by gentrification—are legion in this imperial capital.

The fountain outside the Library of Congress reminded me of road turtles.

A74E727C-F9FA-4F02-8B63-0F37FB1C6969And the National Portrait Gallery of prominent people, reminded me of the millions who do the real work of making a nation, and who live and die largely unknown.

Never mind glitter or turtles.  America isn’t sights or animals.  America is People.

What does America look like?  America looks like this . . .

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Shimomura Crossing the Delaware, by Roger Shimomura, an ethnic Japanese who as an American citizen was imprisoned with his family in a U.S. concentration camp. (National Portrait Gallery, Washington)

. . . because America is the country of its inhabitants.  Whoever they happen to be.

(Yes, it was a concentration camp.  See the New Oxford American Dictionary.)

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And America looks like this.

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“Golden Rule” (Norman Rockwell, 1961)

Concerning Norman Rockwell:

Human Rights First’s Washington office displays prints of Rockwell’s 1943 paintings, “The Four Freedoms”.  They were inspired by the 1941 State of the Union address in which President Franklin D. Roosevelt listed the Freedoms—of speech, of worship, from want, from fear—11 months before the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor.

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Note the headline of the newspaper.

Four Freedoms.  But why at Human Rights First?

Executive Director Elisa Massimino suggested that I read FDR’s speech to the end.  And there it was (emphasis added):

Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere.  Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them.  Our strength is our unity of purpose.  To that high concept there can be no end save victory.

Imagine a president who doesn’t say that foreigners are diseased criminals; who doesn’t apply vulgar words to foreign lands; who doesn’t bully; who doesn’t praise murderers; who doesn’t worship money; who defines freedom as the supremacy of human rights.

I have been asked why I help persercuted foreigners in America, when so many Americans suffer from injustice.

My answer:  Citizens’ problems can be addressed while they enjoy their undisputed right to be here.

Our laws, though imperfect, promise protection to citizen and immigrant alike.  But when our country is indifferent to human rights abroad, and when it does not let the persecuted exercise their right to ask for refuge in America—when it turns them away without a hearing, or denies them a voice by denying them counsel—refugees have no protection.

As Yakov Bok says of the persecuted in Bernard Malamud’s 1966 novel The Fixer, “God counts in astronomy but where [people] are concerned all I know is one plus one.”

Alone, helping one plus one, we do so little, defend so few.  Alone, my voice and your voice are drowned out.

Yet when we join our voices with Human Rights First’s, we help the millions in God’s astronomy.  We are strong, we are loud, we force the slanderers, the bullies, to reach for their earplugs.

Thank you for following the 8th annual Ride for Human Rights.  Thank you for supporting Human Rights First.

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Every Ride is a plunge into the unknown.  This year, I worried that the nasty political atmosphere would poison my reception in parts of the Heartland.

But everywhere I went, people were kind and thoughtful.  Many were surprised to learn that asylum applicants are “legal”.  They were appalled that refugees, even unaccompanied children, are sent to court without a lawyer’s help.

My anecdotal encounters in 37 states convince me that Americans overwhelmingly have good hearts.  I think that religious and political leaders who address immigration issues calmly and simply, with truth and facts, would find that Americans support a return to American values.

We too can talk to family, friends, neighbors.  We can explain who refugees are and what they fled.  Gently, we can remind people of our moral (e.g., the Bible) and legal (e.g., the Refugee Act of 1980) duty to welcome and protect the stranger.

Then we Americans can make America humane again.

And when the few haters spew hate, we can answer with Rockwell’s “Golden Rule“.

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I’m grateful to the people I encountered on this year’s multipart Ride.  They welcomed me, spoke with me, gave me discounts, offered a wave, tapped a friendly horn toot, allowed my bicycle safe space on the road.

Everyone who posted a comment, sent an email or text, whether or not I acknowledged it individually, smoothed the way.  My children, Deena and spouse David in Kentucky, Rebecca and spouse Andrew in New York, Benjamin in England, were there for me.  Friends at Human Rights First had my back.  Movie-man David, who shot hours of footage in Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, enriched the Ride by leading me where I would not have gone but for David’s vision of a documentary film.

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One person deserves more thanks than I can express.

Beautiful Nancy is brilliant, meticulously organized, and a gentle laugh a minute even when she’s laser-focused on business.  She bankrolls my adventures in the Heartland.

For me, the scary bits of every Ride are tangible.  What is tangible, is limited.  From afar, Nancy suffers more than I do, imagining the worst.

Where would I be without Nancy?

Home is where the heart is.

My heart is with Nancy.

Wherever I would be without my Nancy, my love, I wouldn’t be home.

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Hail to the Chiefs!

This morning, we were invited to breakfast at Human Rights First headquarters in Washington.

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Left to right:  Jeffrey, Joey, Elisa Massimino (Executive Director, a.k.a. Chief, Human Rights First)

We were happy to meet some of the DC staff. Jeffrey told stories of our Rides—once he starts, it’s hard to get him to stop!—and Elisa, her colleagues, and Jeffrey exchanged ideas about how better to effect policy change through the Rides and through Human Rights First programs.

Meanwhile, Nancy finished her business meetings and explored the National Portrait Gallery.  More chiefs!

After dinner with a DC friend, the humans walked to the National Mall.

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Left to right:  Jeffrey, Nancy (a.k.a. THE Chief)

We have biked only 813 miles of our annual Ride thousand mile minimum. Chief Nancy says that after Jeffrey’s PE and pneumonia that suspended our San Jose to Seattle Ride, the hot humid Indiana to Louisiana Ride with adjustments for moviemaking, and a third Ride in DC and Virginia, we have worried her enough for one year. She wants us to stop until next spring.

Nancy being THE Chief, we must hasten to obey.

We’ll tie up some loose ends in the coming few days, and will post a summing-up when we’re back in New York City.

In the meantime, we thank you for showing your support by reading our words and following our adventures.  If you want to help further the goals of the Ride, consider HRF’s refugee protection efforts—

“Our Asylum Representation Program, which recruits and trains lawyers to represent refugees on a pro bono basis, is one of the largest and most successful programs of its kind in the country. Its impact could hardly be more profound: liberty instead of oppression, and sometimes life instead of death, for thousands of people. And beginning with the Refugee Act of 1980, which we helped draft, we’ve been at the forefront of all major reforms to the asylum system.”

—and if you haven’t yet done so (and earned your souvenir postcard signed by Jeffrey and me), we invite you to donate to Human Rights First.

See you next week!

 

Persons of Character

This morning, we found our way through the Washington traffic maze to the Kennedy Center.  Hamilton!

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From there, we crossed the Potomac River into Virginia, thus linking DC to our 2012 and 2013 Rides from NYC through Virginia  . . .

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. . . and bicycled to George Washington’s plantation at Mount Vernon.  The entire Virginia journey was on a paved bicycle path, except for a couple of miles on quiet Alexandria streets.

Mr. Kenneth King still works.  He has lived in the Alexandria area all his life.  After retiring from government service, he became a gardener.  He told us about his nearby home town, Gum Springs, settled by his formerly enslaved ancestors.  He said the Alexandria area is booming, and that people are coming here from all over the world.  The local adults know him.  All the children at the nearby school greet him on the street.  His popularity says much about Mr. King’s character.  He is is a lucky and happy man.

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Mr. King is 87.  He looks younger than Jeffrey.

When Jeffrey told Mr. King that we are traveling the country to listen to people and to talk about immigration and refugee rights, he said, “Bless your heart!”  He said that we project an aura of kindness, generosity, and friendship. We’re gratified that Mr. King validated our Human Rights First Ambassadorial approach.

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After 19 miles, we arrived at Washington’s home.

We locked the bicycle, and Dustin put our bag in a safe place.

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Dustin just finished his first year at William and Mary.  He approached college with exactly the right attitude: he took a broad variety of classes in sciences and humanities and is considering his options.

When Dustin heard that asylum applicants are not guaranteed a lawyer, he told Jeffrey that he is disturbed by many aspects of U.S. immigration law.  He agrees that the law does not reflect American values or common sense.  Dustin’s thoughtful empathy shows him to be a man of character.

While I waited in the bicycle bag, Jeffrey toured the Washington mansion (no indoor photos allowed) and explored some of the grounds and outbuildings.  We show only a few sights here.

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The original Mansion had 4 rooms.  At Washington’s death, it had 21.

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Washington’s lands covered 10 miles by 5 miles (16 km by 8 km).  He was a progressive, scientific farmer.

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Grazing bovine.

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Wallowing pig.

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George’s tomb.  His wife, Martha, is entombed to the left.  Behind the black screen, about 50 Washington relatives were laid to rest.

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A reconstructed slave cabin.

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This 1929 monument on the slaves’ burial ground was the first of its kind in the USA.  Another monument was erected a few feet away in 1983.  Many U.S. presidents owned slaves; George Washington was the only president to free all his slaves, albeit upon his death.

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Mt. Vernon has colorful, musical birds.

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A view of Maryland across the Potomac River from the rear terrace.

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Slaves spun thread six days per week.

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This is part of reconstructed enslaved women’s quarters.  The men lived in similarly spare surroundings, often sleeping two to a bunk.

One of the docents said that before the Revolution, Washington tried and failed to have slavery banned from British North America.  He recognized that it was immoral.  And inefficient: in Philadelphia, Washington saw a structure that would have taken his slaves a month to build, erected by free black wage-earning men in two days.

We think of all this when considering the contoversy about monuments to traitors of the so-called Confederacy.  Some defenders of the status quo say if we no longer lionize Robert Lee, the next to go will be slave-owning Founders like Washington.  Nonsense.  Washington built our country; he did not try to destroy it.  He freed his slaves; he did not start a war to keep them in chains.

And we’ll repeat a 1783 Washington quotation that we published last year:  “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.”  This is the language of a decent man.

Yesterday we saw the Washington Monument (seen again today, from Virginia, behind the Jefferson Memorial).

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We said yesterday that the obelisk does not evoke Washington’s character.  Here’s something that does.

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This panel, part of a stained glass wall in the Orientation Center, tells the famous story of the cherry tree.

Of course Washington lied.  And he did other troubling things.  He kept slaves.  He had his soldiers burn First Nations villages.  Et cetera.  He was human, therefore imperfect.

But you know something of a person’s character by the stories told about him.  And by what the person says and does.

Our country’s leaders don’t even try to be like Washington anymore.

In The City That Doesn’t Listen To What The People Say

This morning we rode the rails to the SW end of the Northeast Corridor line:  Washington, DC.

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A kind gentleman in the Union Station taxi line took our photo.

Here I am in front of the White House.

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Secret Service agents looked the other way to allow Jeffrey to put me on the fence.  Jeffrey remembers when the sidewalk wasn’t off limits, when Americans could approach, even enter, the White House.

We contemplated the (George) Washington Monument.

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Somehow it doesn’t evoke Washington’s renowned character.

We pedaled to the Capitol.  In Jeffrey’s youth, the People’s House wasn’t closed and barricaded.

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That’s the Washington Monument at the other end of the Mall.

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Everywhere we went, people talked to us, asked about the Ride, and expressed support for providing counsel and giving a humane reception to refugees and asylum applicants.  A family from India, now living in Connecticut.  A woman who said her first readings in law school were about refugees who were returned by the U.S. to face the persecution they had fled; she personally has helped resettle Syrian refugees, and said it is getting harder and harder to help them.  People from the world over who photographed our sign.

Here are some of our many new friends.

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L to R:  Riley, Joey, Keena.  They’re from Tupelo, Mississippi—we were there a few days ago!  Riley is a fine gentleman who believes in being kind to others.  That means that if people fleeing persecution aren’t equipped to apply for asylum without a lawyer’s help, a lawyer should be provided.  Keena agrees.  Like other Mississippians we met on our Ride, they get it!

Pedaling away from the Mall, Jeffrey spotted the Mayflower Hotel.  When he was 18, he won a scholarship and stayed there for a week as the guest of the W. R. Hearst Foundation.  He stopped for a souvenir photo.

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L to R:  Joey, Jeffrey

Asmamaw took our photo, and let us take his.

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Asmamaw grew up in Ethiopia.  He misses the Old Country, yet is grateful to be here.  He says it’s only fair for asylum applicants to have lawyers.

Our travels show that DC locals, and tourists, get it.  People from Maine to California, from Lake Superior to the Gulf of Mexico, get it.

They get what it takes to be fair to foreigners, to the fearful, to the oppressed.

We saw the White House.  We saw the Capitol.  We thought of the people who work in those buildings on our behalf.  Why don’t they get it?

Americans want to be kind.  They tell us so.  Yet our leaders talk trash and act mean in our names.

Tomorrow we’ll link DC to the rest of our Rides by tagging up in a neighboring state.  And inspired by George Washington, we’ll think more about character.

 

Intermezzo

Joey here.

We left Louisville, Kentucky, on Friday morning.  Deena and I mugged for the camera.

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Jeffrey drove us 200 miles to Grove City, Ohio, where we recharged the electric car at the same free terminal we visited on the way out.  While we waited an hour, we strolled the town.

The downtown is out of a movie about mid-America.  It looks like a modern version of these murals.

Jeffrey lunched at Plank’s, built in 1854.

Caijun style salmon and two sides for $11.50.  It was all Jeffrey could do to finish it.

Then Jeffrey strolled to the city museum.  No one was there but Barbara, the docent.  They talked about—what else—immigration, asylum, and refugees.  Before our visit, Barbara already was upset at how the government treats refugees.  She told Jeffrey about her lovely Middle Eastern neighbors.  There is room in her town, and in her heart, for people who need a home.

We reached Bentleyville, Pennsylvania, 380 miles from Louisville; spent the night; and drove another 380 miles east through construction, traffic, and rain.

We thought of a saying of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov:  “All the world is a narrow bridge . . .

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. . . and the important thing is not to be afraid.”

(ICE.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  You get the dark joke, right?)

We reached New York City on Saturday afternoon.

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Jeffrey greeting Nancy.

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Nancy greeting me.

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Our first gray view from home.

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Nancy and Jeffrey, together again.

Ordinarily, the Ride would now be over.  But these are not ordinary times.

Every year, beginning in 2011, Jeffrey has pedaled me over 1000 miles through the American heartland.  This year, in California, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennesee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana—combined!—we’ve biked only 759 miles.

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The black pins mark as far as we got in 2018 in California.  The gold pins are from 2017.

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The dark purple pins mark our 2018 Southern route.  The red pins are from 2012.  The light purple, marking St. Louis, is from 2016.

We still have work to do.

When we biked through Maryland and Virginia in 2012 and 2013, we skipped Washington, DC.  But biking to the Lower 48 won’t be complete without it.

Tomorrow, Nancy leaves for Washington, DC, on business.

Now’s our chance.  We’ll tag along.

We’ll be in touch soon from the capital city.

Six, Eight, Ten

Jeffrey here.  In two weeks of pedaling, we covered 635 miles from Indiana to Louisiana.  We added the five states (at left) to bring our Ride total to 37 (at right).

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I awoke this morning in a 19th century Airbnb house in Huntsville, Alabama.  Owner Jeanie helped with a special rate for the Ride. 

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At 6 AM on Thursdays, moviemaker David attends a Bible discussion session in Huntsville.  The group graciously allowed me to join them, listened to my explanation of how our country’s treatment of immigrants and refugees violates our moral principles, and assured me that sincere Christians must help the stranger and the oppressed.  In turn, I listened and learned.  Today’s topic was forgiveness.  L to R:  Tim, Reuben, Todd, Mark, Daniel, David.

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At 8 AM, David and I met in Huntsville with Caroline and Katherine.  They are starting a grassroots organization to help the 300+ immigration “detainees” (prisoners) in the Gadsden County Jail.  While they gather resources, they educate themselves and others about asylum seekers’ plight, and visit prisoners.  The visits are painful and sad.  I admire these fine women’s energy, conscience, and courage.

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At 10 AM, David and I met in Ardmore (the town split between Alabama and Tennessee) with Brother Brian, assistant pastor at a Baptist church.  His teachings about the Christian interpretation of scripture are fascinating.  Brother Brian affirmed that Christians must love the stranger.  We discussed how our country could be transformed if pastors woud lead their congregations to insist that the government that acts in our names, be kind to immigrants and refugees.  I respect Brother Brian’s intellect and heart.  We parted as friends.

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Our day’s meetings concluded, David chauffeured us back to Nashville, Tennessee.  I retrieved my electric car from friend Susan.  I transferred our gear from David’s car to mine.  Joey and I posed for David’s selfie.  We shook hands on a Ride well ended.  Cinematic David returned to Huntsville to begin editing his footage from our two weeks on the road.  I drove to Deena’s and her David’s house in Louisville, Kentucky, from which we left by bicycle on May 2.  Tomorrow morning, Joey and I begin the two-day drive from Louisville to our home in NYC.  Check back with us in a few days.

Living History, Feeling History

Jeffrey here.  Joey cedes the floor when things get most serious.

It was quite a day.

Joey and I left Meridian, Mississippi, in a car chauffeured by David.

 

Mississippi and Alabama are the poorest states in our country.  I expected to see houses like these more often than we have.  I suspect the worst poverty is off the main roads, where travelers like us are rare.

Our first major stop was in Selma, Alabama.  We ate lunch at Charlie’s Place.

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L to R:  Charlie, Jeffrey

Charlie told us some of Selma’s history.  Long ago, when it was a center for manufacturing and the cotton trade, it was the fourth richest city in the USA.  Charlie, a devout evangelical Christian, has some Jewish ancestry.  He said Jews were recruited to help develop the town after the Civil War, but they were not allowed to join local social clubs, so they formed their own associations and met in the building where Charlie operates his restaurant.  He spoke of the town’s remarkable eclectic architecture, its potential, its poverty.  Charlie says that asylum applicants deserve to be heard, and that he welcomes immigrants so long as they pull their own weight (as they will if we let them).  His delightful restaurant soon will close: not enough customers.  We wish him well on his next project.

After lunch, we went out to see a bit of Selma.  David videoed me biking over the notorious Edmund Pettus Bridge, where Alabama police attacked civil rights marchers in 1965.

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Linda Calvert . . .

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. . . spotted me, spotted the bike’s Ride for Human Rights sign, and told me that coming over the bridge on a nostalgic walk were Reverend Harold Middlebrook and Reverend Kenneth Calvert.

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Rev. Middlebrook (in blue, facing us) and Rev. Calvert (in black, facing and videoing Rev. Middlebrook) as they approached me down the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Rev. Middlebrook was a young colleague of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  He was the coordinator for Selma at the time of the 1965 police attack on the bridge, and the subsequent march from Selma to Montgomery.

Living history.

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Rev. Harold Middlebrook, out of the sun a few minutes after we met near the bridge.

Rev. Middlebrook asked about the Ride.  I told him how asylum applicants are not provided with lawyers to help them present their cases.  I asked what he thinks about America’s current treatment of refugees and other immigrants.  Rev. Middlebrook responded with a story about Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s response to a woman who offered to help fund the transport of black Americans to Africa.  Rev. Abernathy replied that he would go to Africa (where he never had been) when America returned First Nations (American Indian) land to the First Nations, and if all other Americans returned to their ancestral places in Europe and elsewhere.

Rev. Middlebrook supports our cause with all his heart.  He shook my hand and thanked me for my work.  I told him I wished his knees were better so he could do the Ride and speak for our mutual cause, as he did, so much more eloquently than I can.

Rev. Calvert took my hand and called me his brother.  And so he is mine.  I was moved and happy to be so warmly and quickly accepted and included by these people I admire, despite that I’m a nobody with few accomplishments—this is not false modesty, I have done but little for a man so old—and a stranger in a strange land.

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Rev. Kenneth Calvert, out of the sun with Dr. Middlebrook, David, and me.

I spoke with Betty Middlebrook, who talked of the couple’s 1960s civil rights work despite the dangers and their fears.

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L to R:  Jeffrey, Betty Middlebrook

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Ms. Middlebrook and Ms. Calvert led David and me to the Slavery and Civil War Museum, presided over by another legend, Annie Pearl Avery, a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organizer since age 16.

6BCB3F43-D206-4A74-A96C-01D6C3FBD85FMs. Avery is a ferocious advocate for civil and human rights.  She told us her view of American history and observed that despite good laws (which are not a given), people with money and power will find ways to subvert them, whether to enslave or exploit African-Americans, or to oppress the foreign-born.  Protecting human rights is a constant battle.  Ms. Avery remains in the thick of it.

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Ms. Avery and Rev. Middlebrook.  Their personalities filled the room.

David and I drove over the bridge and on to Montgomery, Alabama, to see the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

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Robert, a security guard, welcomed me and humored me by scanning my left leg.  My post-bicycle-crash titanium rod set off the metal detector.  Robert used to live in Mississippi.  After a pause, he said things are better in Montgomery.

I found the monument moving and disturbing.  It reminds visitors of the approximately 4,000 known, and vastly more unknown, victims of lynching.

Feeling history.

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A few days ago, I pedaled through Chickasaw County, Mississippi, and the friendly town of Vardaman, the “Sweet Potato Capital of the World”.  Here is the Memorial’s list of known Chickasaw County lynching victims; perhaps Malcolm Wright was killed in 1949 by people still living in Vardaman.

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These photos don’t convey the size or impact of the site.

One of the captions echoed an idea that has appeared in these pages on past Rides: that the abuse of America’s slaves and former slaves has parallels in today’s mistreatment of asylum applicants and other immigrants.

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I underscore “traumatized refugees” in red.

I asked docent William Black whether he thought the jailing and abuse of asylum applicants, and their expulsion to countries where some have been murdered, is a form of lynching.

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William, who has Moroccan ancestry and hails from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, said yes.  If we return people to places of persecution, torture and death, we lynch them as surely as if we violently put our own hands on them.  William came to the Memorial hoping to awaken Americans to our history and our responsibility.  If he succeeds, maybe then we will have the just and generous country to which we aspire.

William said that a few days ago, there was a lynching in Oklahoma.  Americans are not yet who we ought to be.

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This Toni Morrison poem is on one of the Memorial’s walls.

We drove north to Birmingham . . .

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. . . to a downtown food court to dine on delicious vegetarian Ethiopian food prepared by Amene.  He was happy to hear about the Ride, happy that I’m friends with the Stevie Wonder of Ethiopia (Amene put on a music video in my honor), happy to talk about Ethiopia and human rights.  Amene invited me to return tomorrow for lunch as his guest, but my time in the South is ending and I have to move on.

Through brief torriential lightning storms, David drove us to Huntsvile . . .

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Huntsville is late former Nazi rocket scientist Verner von Braun country—and thus military and NASA country.

. . . where I wrote today’s post too rapidly to make it short, so I could rest a bit and process the day’s adventures before tomorrow’s early start.

We Cross a Double Line

Just after dawn, we explored some of old Greenville.  We particularly liked the abandoned railway station . . .

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“COLUMBUS & GREENVILLE RY CO.”

. . . and the pig-meat eatery next door.

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(How odd that barbeque joints display smiling pigs, and chicken joints show smiling chickens.)

Then, with cinematographer David driving behind us to fend off reckless motorists, we sped 15 miles to what the Algonquin Nation called the Father of Waters . . .

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. . . made our third bicycle trip over the Mississippi (the other two were at Prairie du Chien [2011] and at St. Louis [2016]) . . .

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. . . and we crossed the Arkansas line.

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Isn’t it ironic that this was the first street we saw in Arkansas.

You may recall our recent visits to the World Capitals of Sweet Potatoes and of Cotton. Little Eudora is a Capital too, albeit only in Arkansas.

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In 44 miles, still before breakfast, we doubled the number of today’s crossed lines!

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After 124 miles in California, we pedaled another 634 miles on this, the second leg of the 8th annual Ride for Human Rights.

We haven’t yet reached 1000 miles for this year’s Ride.  We’ll address that later.  We did achieve our geographical goal:  Indiana to Louisiana, via Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

In tropical heat, we loaded our gear into David’s car and drove south in Louisiana, then east to Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Meet Sally, owner of Main Street Market, where the Ride’s humans had a delicious lunch.

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L to R:  Sally, Jeffrey

Sally’s Episcopal niece taught refugees in Turkey, where she met a Syrian Muslim.  The couple married and now live in northern Mississippi.  Sally and her extended family saw how hard it is for even the fiance of a U.S. citizen to immigrate to our country.  Our new neighbor can’t visit his family in Syria due to the civil war, and his family can’t get exit visas from the Syrians nor visitor visas from other countries so they could visit him.  Foolish paperwork keeps them apart.  Sally was pleased that we could hear her story.  She emphatically supports the goals of Human Rights First.

A visit to Vicksburg’s Old Warren County Court House Museum reminded us of Mississippian William Faulkner’s remark:  “The past is not dead.  It’s not even past.”

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David at the Museum.

The exhibits at this wonderful museum emphasize the nobility of the “Confederate Cause”, the kindness of masters, the happiness of slaves, the evil done by Yankees.  They also show that Vicksburg survived a Syrian who had a sharp object.

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“Survived”?  We wax sarcastic about our current government’s refusal to admit more than a handful of refugees from Syria.

We understand people’s reluctance to indict their ancestors.  But no gloss can blind us to the South’s goal during the Civil War:  to preserve slavery.  If fewer of today’s Americans rationalized and justified the past dehumanization of our neighbors of recent African ancestry, perhaps politicians would not find so much support for the present dehumanization of our neighbors who were born abroad.

David and Jeffrey had a fine dinner in Meridian, Mississippi . . .

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. . . served by Dennis, a young man from Enterprise . . .

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. . . who sympathizes with refugees and now is a fan of the Ride.

The adventure continues tomorrow as we motor hundreds of miles east and north.  Eventually we will reunite Jeffrey with his electric car.

More Questions Than Answers

Another hot day.  Another early start.

Fish farms.

3C271A29-2284-428B-8DCB-BF6564CAD47CFlat land.  Really flat.  For miles and miles.

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We pedaled to the left of the rumble strip for about 50 miles, crowded by 65 mph (105 kph) motor traffic.

Most of the pavement on four-lane US 82 is good.  But the shoulder was not bikeable, and the few aggressive drivers were periodically terrifying.

The stress of speeding motorists pushed us to an alternate route, on which Jeffrey stopped to talk to Roger, Justin, and Matthew.

79A95078-646E-4C8C-8398-74F217A37BA2Roger (at left) was working on a machine that feeds agricultural chemicals to other machines that distribute them over crops.  Justin is a crop-duster pilot, a real daredevil because he flies his plane near the ground, where there is no margin for mechanical fault or pilot error.  Matthew manages this 3,000 acre (1,200 hectare) soybean farm.

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Takeoff!

The men listened respectfully to Jeffrey and agreed that it’s unfair that the U.S. government doesn’t provide lawyers to help poor asylum applicants deal with our complex immigration system.

Jeffrey was full of farming questions. Roger and Matthew explained the advantages of crop dusting: it’s expensive, yet it’s fast and lets inputs like fertilizer be applied at the most useful time. And here, at the northern edge of the Mississippi Delta, the fields often are boggy and easily damaged by heavy equipment; crop dusting allows a light touch. Matthew said that he minimizes chemical use to protect human health, save money, and preserve the land, but until science comes up with alternatives, farmers must stick with what works.

All three admired our bike.

The most practical thing Jeffrey learned from this encounter was that about a half mile west on this “alternate route, the well-paved road turns to gravel that is hard to traverse even in a truck. Matthew said we’d be much better off on the busy highway.

By the time we returned to US 82, traffic had lightened a little.  Despite occasional aggressive-driver scares and a (cooling) headwind, we made good time to Indianola, where this sign caught our eye.

6AC14497-85E8-48E4-A01A-220B34132020In the past couple of days, we were in the world’s Sweet Potato Capital and Cotton Capital.  Is Indianola the Pecan Capital?

No. But it’s near Itta Bena, where B.B. King was born.

Pecanists (L to R) Molly, Landry, and Caitlyn (who just got her nursing degree and soon will take the RN licensing exam) already supported human rights.  Now they’re fans of Human Rights First.

721DB72D-15A1-418B-85E7-969C40B8414EWe continued west in scary traffic and foul heat.  We stopped at a joint in Leland, where one can buy fish bait, ice, cigarettes, ammo, food, and minnows.

Mike and Gustavo remarked at our bike and shook Jeffrey’s hand.  So did others.  Some gave us blessings after they read our Human Rights First sign (and perhaps because they know what motor traffic is like).

This evening, Jeffrey and David dined in Greenville at Doe’s Eating Place, winner of a James Beard award.

A8B74B0C-EB4F-427E-8314-0B73CF60C07BThey had a long, delightful conversation with Kay and Sam, born and raised Mississippians who know business, agriculture, local history, and human nature.

56E99778-53AE-466E-A809-5219F2F5FFF3Kay and Sam share our aspirations for our neighbors and for America, even if we may not entirely agree on the means to achieve them.  They have an uncommon grasp of the complexity of life.  And they are generous: they paid for the humans’ dinner, which Jeffrey will transmute into a donation to Human Rights First.

After dinner, Jeffrey spoke with Joe—for 23 years the restaurant’s security guard; in light of the neighborhood, his equipment includes a semiautomatic pistol—about the plight of unrepresented asylum applicants.

Joe wasn’t surprised that putative refugees are not guaranteed counsel.  That’s what happens to the little guy.  Joe talked to Jeffrey about his experience with people whose English is weak; bewildered Jeffrey had to rely on David, whose ear is better tuned to Southern accents, to interpret.  It reminded Jeffrey of how it is to be out of one’s depth, they way it is for unrepresented asylum seekers.

Jeffrey learns a lot every day we’re on the road.

Members of the Club

[The dear departed Ivy Room restaurant in Durham, NC, gave out “It’s Fun to be Nice to People Club” buttons in the 1970s.]

Last night, after posting the day’s events, we were fortunate to talk with Heather.

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Heather was born in Mississippi and has lived here almost her entire life.  She said the state is famous for hospitality.  She is saddened by what she sees as a decline in neighborliness and is angered by the mistreatment of refugees and other intending immigrants.  Heather says, we all bleed red, we all want to take care of our families, we all want to live.

Heather sounds a lot like a certain Kangaroo Court Puppet (me) and a particular Human Rights First Ambassador (my chauffeur).  We’re happy to know her, and her young son and daughter whom she encourages to learn, to work, and to help others.

The day promised to be even hotter than yesterday.  To avoid afternoon heat, we rolled before dawn.

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The view across the road from the Calhoun City motel.  Not a pretty scene by day, but it was redeemed by the predawn light, the sky, and the sliver of moon.

For the first two hours, we had the roads mostly to ourselves.

FA32231C-74CF-4053-9ABD-EDC36470C24BWe now make a rare exception to our policy against publishing photos of roadkill.

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Poor redheaded woodpecker.

“Church” signs are more common than “School” signs on our Mississippi route.  This one has dents, perhaps from a pellet rifle.

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Our first destination was a church in Grenada.  Jeffrey asked a fellow cyclist for directions.  George knew the place.  He talked to Jeffrey about his work at a lumber mill; logging is a major local industry.  George said that living in Grenada (population 13,000) is OK, not so different from other small towns.

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George is happy to show his pleasant face while alive, but does not want it remembered after he dies.  He has warned his siblings not to photograph him in his coffin.  Jeffrey respected George’s wishes, and with permission, photographed George’s back and his bicycle.  He showed George the photo.  Each was pleased with the compromise.

After 35 miles, we arrived at the Mount Olive Pentacostal Holiness Church in time for Sunday Bible study.  Today’s lesson was about the festival of Shavuot.

6CFE3F3A-9BF0-4F41-88A8-7B7B3293C31FThe pastor welcomed Jeffrey and David.  He asked them to introduce themselves.  Jeffrey explained our mission.  The pastor blessed our efforts.

At the end of the lesson, services—very musical—began.  We could not take photos, but the pastor’s grandson, Anthony, who is studying education and travels from out of town to lead the church choir, came outside for a selfie and to talk about the power of the clergy to lead people to be nice to people.

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L to R:  Anthony choirmaster, Jeffrey chauffeur, David filmmaker

At this point, it was too hot for us to be on the road.  Jeffrey loaded our gear into David’s car, and he drove us 30 miles to Greenwood, “Cotton Capital of the World”.

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96F = 36C • In the humidity and on sun-baked pavement, it felt even hotter.

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Some Greenwood neighborhoods have tiny old houses: colorful but probably unpleasant to inhabit.  It also has grand buildings, a pretty bridge over the Yalobusha River, and a charming downtown.

Lisa checked us into a motel and warned us about the heat.

230EA84D-1B20-4447-B0E1-8749058F021EShe strongly supports the principles of Human Rights First.

Felix lives at the motel while he works as a mechanic at a nearby cotton processing plant.8E32C142-2D16-46D6-B1A2-85060FF65B5AFelix was born in the USA to an American mother and a Mexican father.  He lived in Mexico until he was 13.  He has extensive agricultural experience—with watermelons, strawberries, chickens, and more—and respects people willing to work hard.  He says to solve the problem of the undocumented, simply document them.  That will let them help themselves and in the process, help America.  And Felix believes asylum seekers should be entitled to a lawyer.

Politicians in this part of the country resist showing compassion toward asylum seekers, refugees, and the unauthorized immigrants who are part of our community.  Heather, Anthony, Lisa, and Felix suggest that a policy of being nice to people, clearly explained in legal, moral, and factual terms, could be a popular one.

 

Through a World Capital

Euna spent more than two decades in the U.S. Navy.  It agreed with her.  She looks half her age.

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She was an aircraft repair specialist.  Once she was the only woman on a team with 42 men.  She’s kind and confident.  You don’t mess with Euna.

Euna told Jeffrey that the only problem with immigrants to the Tupelo area is that some come from countries with class systems and aren’t familiar with American egalitarianism.  Once they learn, she said, the newcomers fit well into the community.

This morning, a few aggressive drivers got uncomfortably close.  Most were respectful.  We made good time during the morning coolness, and stopped at several historic sites (related to the Chickasaw Nation, the De Soto expedition, and more) and natural overlooks.

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Life imitated art when we spotted a turtle by the Natchez Trace center line.  (What is it with turtles and yellow lines?  We encounted two “line turtles” on an earlier Ride.)  Like the turtle in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, flipped across the road by a driver who tried to hit the turtle, this one had grassy seeds stuck between a leg and the shell.

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Jeffrey gently picked up today’s turtle.  The animal hissed and withdrew into its shell.  Jeffrey placed it in a safe spot where the rising sun soon would warm it.  When the turtle emerged from its shell, its movement may have planted those seeds.

Part of our planned route was on a quiet country road and a trail.  We started down the 1.4 mile (2 km) road and saw that pavement ended and sand began.

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No thanks!  We backtracked and continued on a busy paved highway.

Vardaman calls itself the Sweet Potato Capital of the World.

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The smaller sign says, “Jesus is Lord Over Vardaman”.  We are indeed in the American Heartland.

In Vardaman we stopped to cool off at Sweet Potato Sweets.  Soon a couple from Columbus, Georgia, joined us inside.

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L to R:  Pauline, Susan, Ben.

Pauline recently retired from the Columbus police.  Ben, also a cop, will retire soon.  Ben grew up in the Vardaman area and when he visits, he stocks up on sweet potatoes and pies for himself and his friends.

Jeffrey told them about our Ride.  As police officers, Pauline and Ben have seen courts up close.  They are sympathetic to anyone who has to navigate our legal system without a lawyer.  Both shook Jeffrey’s hand.

We passed what we think are sweet potato fields on our way through oddly named Derma . . .

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. . . passed a house flying the Mississippi flag, which, startlingly in the 21st Century, incorporates the Confederate battle flag . . .

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. . . and reached the R & L, the only motel in Calhoun City.

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Casey, who does rustic woodworking, is renovating the place.

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He said there have been big changes since he was a Calhoun City kid, with Spanish speakers now comprising perhaps 20% of the local population.  He said the newcomers are hard workers, and when they stay at his motel, they pay their bills and don’t make trouble.  He recognizes immigrants’ importance to America, believes that nationality and race have no effect on whether an individual is good or bad, and believes the solution to the “undocumented” is to give people documents.

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And after Jeffrey explained that asylum seekers can have a lawyer only “at no expense to the government”, Casey said that’s just not right.

To support the Ride, Casey gave us a very good rate on two motel rooms, and paid for David and Jeffrey to eat next door.

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David expertly carrying the camera Nancy loaned for this Ride.

Jeffrey and David were the only customers.  They enjoyed talking to 5-year-old Erin Beth (“EB” to her friends).

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Here they are with EB’s mom, Torri, who went off the meaty City Limits Cafe menu and made the chauffeur and the videographer cheese sandwiches and sweet potato fries.

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Tune in tomorrow.  There’s more Mississippi to come.

 

Tupelo Honey

Dawn in Belmont, Mississippi.  Pink cloud.  Crescent moon.  Cool and quiet.

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We hit the road to beat the heat.

We had the countryside to ourselves.

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We came to the famous Natchez Trace Parkway.

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Smooth pavement, lightly traveled, with a useless shoulder . . .

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. . . but a pleasure to pedal.  Cyclists are respected.

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We heard unfamiliar, beautiful, elaborate birdsong, but most of the birds were out of sight.  We saw circling predators, though, ready to recycle edible Jeffrey if we were to falter.  (I’d be spared.  There’s no meat on a kangaroo puppet.)

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The Natchez Trace started as a large-animal trail.  Bison and other mammals wore a route through the woods when they traveled to salt licks at Nashville.  First Nations people found the route convenient.

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So did European settlers.  Eventually the U.S. Army widened the Trace for wagons.

The Trace played a role in the Civil War.

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Out of respect for the dead men, Jeffrey did not disturb the stones, coins, and other objects that had been left on the modern monuments (the originals disappeared long, and the 1930s replacements were stolen).  But the rebel battle flags—symbol of hatred, racism, slavery, treason, and bloody war—in front of 12 of the 13 monuments . . . well, it was like seeing little Nazi flags on German graves.

Surely the flags were placed by private persons, not park personnel.  Jeffrey thought of removing them.  He couldn’t quite bring himself to do that.  As a compromise, he pushed three of the flags upside down into the dirt, hoping to suggest to subsequent visitors respect for the men, but contempt for their cause.

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We believe that the original Constitution; slavery; the Civil War; the Jim Crow era; and the exclusion from full community membership of women, and of racial and national and religious minorities—all now officially, but not practically, remedied—injected poison into the American system.  The poison still circulates.

And yet, piloting our bike, our U.S. flag flying, our sign proclaiming Human Rights First, Jeffrey’s pale face showing, Jeffrey has received friendly waves from men driving trucks bearing rebel flags.

People, life, America, sure are complex.

We pulled into Tupelo (Lee County seat, birthplace of Elvis, population 36,000) . . .

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. . . before the worst of the heat.

Then, in the worst of the heat, we explored a bit of downtown Tupelo.  They play up Elvis with things like paintings in guitar shape.

 

We saw a modern mural near a row of tony gift shops, bars, and cafés . . .

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. . . and genuine old signs on a side street.

 

The grand courthouse . . .

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. . . has a temperance tribute . . .

 

. . . and a much larger tribute to the traitors of 1861-65.

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Tents were being erected for the 47th annual Gumtree Festival, “Mississippi’s Premier Arts Festival”.  Jeffrey spoke with an artist who carves cell phone speakers from wood.  He hails from cosmopolitan Atlanta, and moved to the U.S. from Cameroon twenty years ago.  The gentleman declined to be photographed, could not comment on how immigrants are received in Tupelo because he (like us) never had been here before today, and was astonished to learn that the government will not provide poor asylum applicants with a lawyer.

This evening, inspired by last Sunday’s services at a Baptist church, Jeffrey visited the local Reform synagogue.  He was welcomed, he listened to the seven members who came, and he talked about our mission.  The congregants are proud of Tupelo’s new diversity.  A nearby Toyota plant has brought Japanese executives to the area.  Near the synagogue are a Sikh temple and a mosque.  It’s not your grandfather’s Mississippi.

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We end the day with a vision of Tupelo Honey.  We’ll spare you our rendition of the Van Morrison song.  Instead, we’ll share a photo of Jeffrey’s (the sap’s) Nancy, his honey whether she be in Tupelo, New York, or anywhere else.

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L to R:  Nancy, Placido Domingo.  Photo taken today at graduation exercises of the Manhattan School of Music, where Nancy is a trustee.

One Mississippi, Two Mississippi . . .

On this Indiana to Louisiana Ride, we’ve biked 399 miles so far.  (We biked another 124 in March in California.)  This morning we entered Mississippi, our first time ever.

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“I” is Russellville, Alabama.  The blue dot to its left is Belmont, Mississippi.

We left Russellville at dawn.  We decided to stop in Belmont after only 34 miles.  With an 86F (30C) afternoon forecast, it seemed sensible to sit on a veranda with a Southern mint julep . . . minus the mint julep.  (Neither Jeffrey nor I drinks alcohol.  Not out of principle.  We just aren’t interested.)

About 15 miles before the Alabama-Mississippi line, Alton and Ryan passed us, pulled over their truck and trailer, and struck up a conversation.

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L to R: Ryan and Alton (Ryan’s father).

Alton built houses until the Great Recession, which coincidentally began about the time he found a niche building and refurbishing school stadiums.  School funding continued even when the housing market dived.  Alton’s son, Ryan, joined him in the business.

You gotta like Alton.  He is friendly (he stopped us to talk, as he said he stopped someone walking from Georgia to California a couple of years ago), has a sense of humor, and cares about people.  He leads a Baptist group that spends a week each year building a house for a poor famly in a different state.  His travels have shown him, as our travels have shown us, that Americans have good hearts, even if sometimes we are pulled or pushed in the wrong direction.

After Jeffrey explained the plight of asylum applicants who have no lawyer, and talked about helping the stranger, Alton spoke of his grandfather, who in nearby Vina, during the Great Depression, took in a young black wanderer.  Alton said tongues must have wagged, there were no other black people in Vina and perhaps none in Franklin County, but Grandpa took care of that young man for months as one of Grandpa’s own, until the kid decided to move on.

Alton said that immigrants are the backbone of Alabama’s construction industry, and told the story of a hardworking Mexican, a devoted father, who has spent a lot of money and tried for years to get lawful status, and there’s just no way.  People say, “Get in line!”  But there is no line.

Alton and Ryan want our country’s representatives to be generous and fair in our names, to treat the foreign-born as we know to be right.  They reinforced our view that Alabama people are better than their leaders.  They sent us to Mississippi on a high note.

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A bike, a kangaroo puppet, a border: the 35th state reached on the Ride for Human Rights.

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Soon we came to Belmont, a quiet old town of 2000 people, and took a room at the charming 1924 Belmont Hotel to wait out the heat.

We’ll head west tomorrow morning, before the heat sets in, on the famous Natchez Trace.

Forgiven, As Long As You Have Papers

Joey here.

Every religion and culture has something to teach us.  We like this passage from the Book of Mormon, Moroni 7:5.

“For I remember the word of God, which saith by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also.”

Yesterday, Jeffrey wrote about Alabama TV ads, in which Christianity was made to sound like a qualification for public office.  We were offended because the Constitution prohibits any federal religious test, and that principle has been extended to the states through the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

One ad proudly announced that the candidate opposes relief for Dreamers (children born abroad who grew up here as American kids, but have no U.S. papers).

In 2011, Alabama enacted HB 56, a law intended to drive unauthorized immigrants out of the state.  It is unforgiving, presaging current federal enforcement policy.

But Alabama’s government is forgiving to tax cheats.

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We thought about this today, when we learned that the governor of New Jersey signed into law a bill making NJ-resident Dreamers, already eligible for in-state college tuition, eligible for state-funded scholarships.

“By their works ye shall know them.”

Last night, we considered biking south of, north of, or through, Bankhead National Forest, on our way west.  This morning we chose the northern route, 61 miles to Russellville, Alabama.

We took some rough county roads, past houses with tornado shelters dug into hillsides.

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We passed interesting livestock: goats, cows, mules, miniature ponies, and some remarkable longhorn cattle.

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A long country downhill was so rough and steep (much steeper than appears in this photo), Jeffrey braked the entire way and had to stop to enjoy the view.

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But most of today’s journey was on roads more or less like this: dual carriageway, speed limit 65 mph (105 kph), wide shoulder, rumble strip between shoulder and motorway, largely flat.  Not bad!

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For $1 at Dollar General, Jeffrey got a Canadian foam “noodle” that he extended to our left, to encourage Alabama drivers to obey the state law requiring motorists to give bicycles at least 3 feet (1 meter) of passing clearance.  It seems to help.

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We didn’t take the turn to Muscle Shoals.  Jeffrey just loves the name.  And Lynyrd Skynyrd’s lyrics were playing in his head.

We had the usual pleasant personal encounters today, with a former motorcyclist who admired our bike, with people from Mumbai running a sandwich shop, with drivers, with the farmer who raises those longhorn cattle.  Perhaps the most interesting was Lisa.

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People across Alabama have been sympathetic to our mission, once they understood it.  We didn’t have to explain to Lisa.

Lisa has a strong accent from her Tennessee childhood.  She has nine grandchildren even though she looks like a kid herself.  And . . . her husband is Mexican, Lisa is a certified Spanish-English interpreter, and she has helped many, many people caught in the maze of our immigration laws.

Lisa knows.

She found us an excellent room rate, offered food and drink, gave us every good wish.  And she volunteered that the problem with U.S. immigration policy is public ignorance.  She agrees with us that our fellow Americans are smart and kind.  Too many just don’t understand what is being done in their name.

Alabama is magic!  Its chickens have fingers!

E88E244A-E39D-4F53-836E-CD84BBE3B6B3But it’s time for us to move on.

Before embarking on this Ride, we mused about whether the government of Alabama reflects the will of its people.  Based on our small, unscientific sample, we think the people here are smarter, kinder, better, than their government.  If their government reflects the popular view of refugees, it’s because so few Alabamians know what we know.

We weren’t here long.  Our impact is tiny.  We’re happy that Lisa, who also knows, will stay.

Tomorrow, to beat the heat, we’ll try for an early start.

 

A Peek at the Darker Side

Jeffrey here.  Joey was too discouraged to write, and gave me the floor.

The TV in the motel breakfast room displayed political ads, all from Alabamians who call themselves Republicans, for lieutenant governor, state legislator, state attorney general, chief justice of the state supreme court, and others.  Every ad referred to the candidate as a “Conservative Christian”—never mind the promises made.  It put me on edge.

Then movieman David and I made a side trip to Gadsden, seat of Etowah County, recently famous for Sheriff Todd Entrekin’s purchases of Florida real estate with at least $740,000 allocated, but not spent, to feed inmates of the Etowah County Jail.  A 1930s law allows (and Sheriff Entrekin wants us to think that it requires) Alabama sheriffs to pocket unspent food money.

Some Etowah County prisoners are immigration “detainees” who obeyed American law by presenting themselves to immigration officials and asking for refuge.  They are jailed, sometimes for years, while their cases are pending, at an average cost of about $170 per detainee per day.

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Etowah County collects federal money for each of its non-criminal immigration prisoners.  The less a detainee is fed, the more the county—or the sheriff—profits.

David and I entered the jail and spoke with two detainees the only way allowed: via a telephone/video device, limited to 20 minutes.  Both were African men: a Christian, and a gay, both threatened with death on account of at least one protected ground.

Consider the Christian’s case.  He said he was denied asylum by an immigration judge who found the Christian “not credible” based on inconsistencies between the man’s testimony and an asylum officer’s notes.  But according to the Christian, the inconsistencies exist because the notes were riddled with errors, such as rendition of a year in 5 nonsensical digits (such as “19951”).  The Board of Immigration Appeals rubber-stamped the immigration judge’s decision.  Now the Christian hopes for relief from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.  But the best that court can do is remand the case back to the BIA.  And it can’t do even that unless the court receives a timely winning appeal.  That’s not easy even with a lawyer.  The Christian has no lawyer.

These visits made me sad.

Then David led me to the site of a 1906 lynching.

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Here is the train trestle from which innocent Mr. Richardson was hanged.

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Sadder still.

The old Gadsden synagogue still stands.  It was firebombed in 1960.  Now part of it is occupied by a music school.

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L to R:  Jeffrey, David.  This photo was taken by a kind passerby.

 

The past lynching and the firebombing; the present political ads and the jail; I had had enough of Gadsden.

Then Robbie and Brandon cheered me up a little.

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Pawnbroker Robbie likes the president, he likes the sheriff, he has his reasons.  But probe a little and you see that Robbie wants what most of us want: a safe, humane, prosperous country.  After he talked to David and to me, he put his arm around me and said, see, we can disagree and still be friends.  Yes . . . and I told him that we agree on more than he might think.  Robbie wants immigration to continue in an orderly way.  He wants asylum applicants to have lawyers to help them get fair and prompt consideration of their claims.  He wants people to stand on their own if they can, without “communist” dependence on government.  I’m with you, Robbie!  Let’s keep talking about how to reach these goals.

Brandon, a car dealer, ran out of gas in a parking lot.  His snazzy little BMW is seen over his left shoulder.  We had neither gas, nor gas can,to offer.  That was ok.  Brandon was happy to talk.

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Brandon was quite taken with the Ride.  He thinks it would be of interest to the local newspaper.  But alas, we had to move on.  Brandon sent us on our way with hugs and good wishes.

David will be away on business for the next few days.  I pedaled Joey 27 miles to Cullen, Alabama, arriving just after sunset.  Tomorrow we continue west.  David will catch up with us when he returns.

What Do We Owe Caesar?

At the end of a long day, sometimes we overlook significant photos.  These two are from yesterday morning in Elkton, Tennessee.

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Sejal and her father-in-law, Grovindji, told Jeffrey about their immigration to the U.S., their family, the mango grove back home.  Grovindji admired our bicycle.

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Pulaski, Tennessee, is where the Ku Klux Klan was founded.  We were told that residents are sensitive about the town’s history.  Note the yellow Dollar General sign.  American Heartland!

Today at breakfast, Jeffrey met a group of Germans on tour.

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At left in the black shirt is Sonja, in the olive shirt is Reinhardt.  Their English seemed the best in the group.

Jeffrey apologized for interrupting their breakfast (which was pitiful compared to what is offered in German hotels), apologized for being unable to address them in German, and asked their view on the world refugee crisis.  Jeffrey praised Germany’s generous response, and surprised the Germans with the news that in 2018, the USA has admitted only forty (40) Syrian refugees.

Sonja has sympathy for refugees, who accept poor living conditions because they are afraid to go home; Sonja’s sister teaches German to newcomers.  Reinhardt, an enthusiastic bicycle traveler, also was sympathetic while acknowledging that there is a limit to what Germany can do.  These two talked at length with Jeffrey about cycling, the Rides, and America.  We wished them a wonderful stay; they wished us safety and happiness on the road.

As Jeffrey was checking our tires, Nate called out.

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Nate was intrigued by the sign on our bike.  After Jeffrey told him about the Ride, Nate decried the government’s attitude toward refugees and asylum applicants.  He understands the need for lawyers to help people present their cases.  He gave us his smile and his blessing.

Jeffrey needed help with his tire pump.  Christian to the rescue!

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Christian figured out how to configure Jeffrey’s exotic tire pump.  A humanitarian, he bicycled from Huntsville to Phoenix, AZ, on a successful mission to convince insurance companies to pay for a particular therapy for cystic fibrosis patients.

In downtown Huntsville, business owner Trang told Jeffrey about his harrowing teenage escape from Vietnam.

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Trang plans to write a book.  In his thick Alabama accent, he spoke of his love for America.  He believes that today’s refugees should have the same chance he has had since 1979 to contribute to the country, to work hard, and to be safe.

Trang joined Jeffrey and David for a talk with Ellin, a Baptist “liberation” pastor.

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Ellin has thought deeply about the political and economic systems that harm poor Americans while forcing people in other countries to leave home or die.  When others claim that Jesus would “render under Caesar what is Caesar’s” and expel refugees because secular authorities have so decreed, Ellin replies that nothing belongs to Caesar, that all belongs to God, that God’s command to love the stranger must prevail.

Ellin’s heart broke when her teenage daughter died in a car crash involving an unauthorized foreigner, but to whatever extent the foreigner’s status led to the tragedy, Ellin believes it was because he suffered here as an outsider, not because he was born on the other side of an arbitrary border.  We grieve for the sadness Ellin has borne, and admire her for how she has borne it.

After that intense conversation, Jeffrey and David had lunch where service was provided by Brook, of Utica, NY . . .

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. . . we were enlightened by Jack-of-all-trades Michael, a native of Jersey City . . .

. . . and we were delighted to meet Ashley (from near Rochester, NY), Oliver (in Ashley’s arms), and Katherine (from Brooklyn, NY, and whose father was from Ogdensburg, near Jeffrey’s native village).

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We loved our chats with these supportive new friends, and the reminders of home.

Jeffrey pedaled us 19 miles south, past an encouraging sign . . .

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The banner says, “Immigrants & Refugees Welcome”

. . . on a greenway along a creek . . .

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. . . and onto a parkway (not shown) where the speed limit was 65 and the shoulder disappeared.

Jeffrey phoned David.  Instead of pedaling through this dangerous zone, we let David drive us the last miles to tonight’s destination, Arab.  (The town was to be named Arad, after founder Stephen Tuttle Thompson’s son, but a clerk in Washington erred.)

Tomorrow we will head southeast to a town that has been in the news.

Sweet Home Alabama

Jeffrey was mistaken about the Smyrna McDonald’s.  Only the drive-in was open 24 hours.  We were to be expelled from the restaurant at 11 PM.  On this cold night there were no local hotel rooms to be had.  Jeffrey would have asked to sleep in the local jail, but Movie David’s arrival gave us another option.

David drove us and our bike through night and fog, over uninhabited mountains, to Elkton, Tennessee.

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Our souvenir of Elkton.

From Elkton, we biked 10 miles this morning to Ardmore, a town that straddles the Tennessee-Alabama line.

Jeffrey left me in a pannier while he attended services at the First Baptist Church.

The service began with announcements.  Then there was mingling and greeting—people were very welcoming to Jeffrey and David—and a moment of silent prayer.

F1E2BFA8-1696-4738-9A38-304676B9D62CWe were told that the service was less formal than ususal, because time was set aside for the children’s choir to sing about the Ten Commandments.

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Moses! Tablets!

After the service, Azie (who said his mother chose the name from a Hebrew word) talked to Jeffrey about northern Alabama, various life choices he has made, and family history.  Azie was sympathetic when Jeffrey explained that our government gives people the right to apply for asylum but provides no help for them to exercise that right.

03F6A39B-CE2D-4B3C-8897-FCD12E116D45Youthful Azie said that he is 81 years old.

Then Jeffrey and David had a fascinating talk with Brian, the assistant pastor.

E890C499-EB03-4ACA-8463-32A73280CA33Jeffrey greatly admires the sincere practice of Christianity, and told the cultured, thoughtful pastor that in this region of strong religious beliefs, pastors have great potential to guide their congregants to honor the Bible’s command to love and protect the stranger and the foreigner.  Brian taught Jeffrey about Christian approaches to this issue.  Jeffrey learned a lot, and hopes to continue the discussion.  He shared with the pastor a photo Jeffrey took in 2013 at the Museum of the Resistance, Amsterdam, which we may have published previously.

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Religion and the clergy, like any tools, can, can, humanize the world. 

After the service, Jeffrey and David lunched at Cassie’s Cafe.  Jeffrey was introduced to Cassie!  Brittney served lunch and took some photos.

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L to R:  David, Brittney, Jeffrey.  Brittney asked for a Ride card and said she will follow our journey.

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L to R: Ricky, Baron, Jeffrey, Mike, Jim.  Ricky asked about our bike.  Eventually discussion turned to the asylum system.  All four Alabama gentlemen asked for a Ride card and shook their heads at the notion that people accused of petty crimes, but not people fleeing religious persecution, can get free lawyers.

We biked another 28 miles through rolling hills, on smooth pavement, in sweet air with an occasional soft tailwind, often on bike lanes, to Huntsville.

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 The overwhelming majority of Alabama drivers have passed us gently.  They accept the culture of the sign: Share the Road.

To honor our efforts, Jigi gave us an extra discount on a room for the night.  A member of the staff (she declined to be photographed) saw the signs on our bike, cheered for human rights, helped Jeffrey maneuver our bike into our room, and wished us a restful stay.

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Jigi recently moved from Jackson, Mississippi, to Huntsville.  She loved Jackson but she and her Mississippi-born children all will benefit from being near extended family.

Jigi soon will feel at home in Alabama.  Eventually today’s Alabamians will see her as part of their home.  That’s America.  We’re on the move.  And in the end, E Pluribus Unum.

Meet Director David

Yesterday, Deena and her David drove to Portland to visit us.  I got a bit of an airing.

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Note the Dollar General sign that seems to be sprouting from my head.  When you see that sign, you know you’re in the Heartland.

This morning, in pouring rain, we made our way by car to Nashville.  At our new friend Susan’s house, we rendezvoused with Movie Director David, a NYC friend who spent the past academic year teaching filmmaking at a branch of the University of Alabama.  This David plans to make a documentary about our annual Ride.

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L to R:  Jeffrey, Susan, David, today at lunch.  Photo by Joey.  Not. 😉

David and Jeffrey made tenative plans for the coming days.  The nature of the Rides makes it hard to stick to a schedule, and part of the adventure is dealing with the unexpected, so you—and we—will learn the details after they happen.

Because David will accompany us by car, Jeffrey gave David some of our gear to carry.  (I am not “gear”.  I travel with Jeffrey.)  Transfers effected, Jeffrey took back his helmet . . .

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Photo by Susan

. . . put on his rain garb . . .

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Photo by Susan

. . . and off we went.

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Photo by Susan

The road to Smyrna, Tennessee, led us thorough parklike Nashville neighborhoods, and along busy roads with long stretches of bike lanes.

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There were some dicey stretches . . .

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A sign prohibited pedestrians.  But we didn’t want to pedal on the narrow lane between the cars and the Jersey barriers.  So Jeffrey walked the bike, feet toe to heel,  on the narrow concrete ledge.

. . . and signs of a more cosmopolitan Tennessee than we remember from our second Ride in 2012, when Spanish seemed a little exotic.

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Overall, it was a pleasant enough 32 mile trip. Pleasant, that is, until we arrived in Smyrna. Then we learned that all motels in the region were booked (it’s Middle Tennessee State graduation weekend, with a Cast of Many Thousands). We have excellent bike lights but the roads are too busy, the construction areas too potholed, and accommodations too distant for safe biking after dark.

But we roll with the punches. We stopped at a 24-hour McDonald’s. We were prepared to spend the night here, out of the rain.

David to the rescue! At the writing, he is driving out from Nashville. There is room in his car for us, our bike, and all our gear. We will find a place to stay out of the area, and be better poised for tomorrow’s planned small-town-Southern-Sunday adventures.

The day was not without its happy encounters.  Friend Susan, of course.

Amy, whose great-grandparents fled persecution in Italy and after doing what that had to do (involving burlesque on Coney Island) to get established, became great Americans, her grandfather a Seabee (Navy engineer) who later worked with Howard Hughes on aviation projects.

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And Chris, a pastor, whose church followed the lead of an activist member and offers regular financial and personal help to refugee families in Nashville.  Chris showed Jeffrey a photo of some of the refugee children.  The kids truly are a happy rainbow, with faces suggesting origins around the world.

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Susan, Amy, Chris: the good side of Nashville.  Sunshine on a rainy day.

David has arrived.  Now we’ll decide what makes sense to do in the circumstances.  Then we’ll do it.

Just by Being

Some housekeeping:

Some photos are jumbled in the version of posts sent to “followers”.  When that happens, you can see everything as we intend it by visiting rideforhumanrights.com . While there, you can check on our progress (so far this year we have pedaled 312 miles in 8 days on the road in CA, IN, KY, & TN); and if you want, donate to Human Rights First.

To enlarge an emailed photo, just click on it.

Here’s a peek into the concrete “wigwam” where we spent last night.

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As ever, too much happens for us to share more than a bit of our adventures.  Today we share this church name . . . just because.

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Midmorning, passing through Bowling Green, we were caught in a thunderstorm.  Jeffrey spotted Ms. Vivian putting a letter in her mailbox.  He asked if we could wait out the storm on her porch.  She said yes, and returned inside.

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The street flooded.

Jeffrey loves porches in storms. This porch even had a metal roof so he could enjoy the sound of the rain. I stayed in my waterproof bag.

Perhaps 20 minutes later, Ms. Vivian returned.  Jeffrey thanked her for her kindness.  She said we were welcome, declined to be photographed, and said that her husband soon would come home so we had to leave.  She directed us to a large, full-service outpatient clinic nearby, where there was an awning to cover our bike and a lobby where Jeffrey could sit.

John is on the clinic staff.  He helps patients coming and going.D111A76E-1C74-45C8-9841-AFC89064A563

John told Jeffrey about the changes he has seen in Bowling Green since moving there at age 13.  The community and the economy have become far more sophisticated.  Medical care is superb.  While he and Jeffrey talked, two women dressed in brilliant flowing African robes entered the facility.  The world has come to Bowling Green, and Bowling Green is ready.

When the downpour stopped, we proceeded south.

In a residential area, Bernard called out to us.  After Jeffrey explained the Ride, and how in life and death asylum cases, the applicant can have a lawyer only “at no expense to the government”, Bernard (who declined to be photographed) blamed the current president for not setting this right.  Bernard said his mother, Juanita, should hear what Jeffrey had to say.

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Juanita recalled the Bosnian refugees who came to Bowling Green in the 1990s.  She said the locals helped them, and that now the Bosnian community is strong, prosperous, and just built a beautiful church.

In Franklin, KY, we spotted our first Confederate flag of the trip.

See the small soldier statues at the base of the flagpole?

This being a historic site, the flag is not entirely out of place. Still, as a symbol of treason and racism, it jolts and offends.

More than 60 miles into today’s Ride, we finished traversing Kentucky, from north to south, at a spot unmarked by signs.  The tipoff (confirmed by our electronic map) was the change from fine Kentucky pavement to downright awful Tennessee asphalt.

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Pavement, L to R:  Kentucky, Tennessee.

Portland motel proprietress Jigna emigrated from India with her parents at age 13.

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After she learned our mission, Jigna told Jeffrey that when she, as owner, enforces house rules, some local people tell her to go back to “her country”. Jigna is a loyal and grateful American who works hard (a motel requires 24/7 attention), pays taxes, and spends money that keeps her neighbors in business. She tells her critics that their families, too, came from abroad.

We travel a few weeks each year to talk to people about immigration and asylum.  By living where she does, being the good American that she is, Jigna’s actions speak louder than our words.

Everyone Needs a Haven

Joey here.  Sometime this afternoon, we crossed into the Central Time zone.

This morning, as we were about to hit the road, Mike spotted our bike and introduced himself.  He and his wife are recumbent riders, from Portland, Oregon.

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Mike, a Presbyterian minister, just retired from a military chaplaincy.  He is very supportive of refugee rights.

So is Michael, who stopped to talk after he spotted our Ride sign.

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Michael was a roofer.  After he was injured on the job, he started a mowing business.  He and Jeffrey had a great conversation about roofing techniques, the tension between providing a good living for kids and having time to spend with them, and other topics.  After Jeffrey explained some things about the system, Michael told stories of hard-working immigrants he’s known.  He sees what people trying to follow the rules, trying to survive, are up against.  He’s a good man with a big heart.  And Michael has encyclopedic knowledge of local roads.  He told us how to avoid the worst of the traffic and of the hills.

We stopped to watch people salvaging lumber from a barn that blew down a few weeks ago in a likely tornado.

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Dewey told Jeffrey some of the history of the barn.  Dewey lived in the area for 50 years and recently moved to Nashville.  He is a doer.

Little Radin is a helper.

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Debby (holding our calling card; her friend John is holding the board) was happy to meet us.  She is involved in feeding the local hungry and is very sympathetic to refugees.

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Danny, also holding our card, worked at a sawmill until he was disabled.  Now he works with cattle.

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Danny, fascinated by our bike, asked Jeffrey about the Rides.  He listened thoughtfully when Jeffrey explained that lawful applicants for asylum can have a lawyer only “at no expense to the government”.  Danny doesn’t like people to go without help.  He himself is careful not to hurt anyone.

We passed through some poor towns.

And we saw nice historic buildings.

The area has a large Amish community.  Here’s a horse by a John Deere behemoth, some men reinforcing a barn damaged by that recent tornado, and a sign in tiny Glendale, KY.

We saw several Amish wagons on the road.  When Jeffrey saw these two particular wagons approach, he pulled over, having seen horses startled by our unusual bicycle.  Yet even when we held still, the lead horses in the first wagon shied at the sight of us.  The teamster quickly got the team under control.  Jeffrey apologized, and got a smile and a wave from the people in both wagons.

Clinton, on his way to work, stopped to talk about refugees.

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Jade stopped us to ask whether we’d seen her pregnant German shepherd (we hadn’t), and told Jeffrey about her former job at a local tourist cave, and her current job in a factory producing gourmet sauces.  Like Clinton, she thinks asylum applicants should be provided lawyers if they can’t afford them.  It’s just basic fairness and common sense!

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All these wonderful people, the smooth pavements, the courteous motorists, and the beautiful farms we passed . . .

. . . made the heat (86F/30C) and headwinds (16 mph/26 kph) less painful for Jeffrey.  (I wasn’t bothered in my shady pannier.)  Still, he was relieved to find shelter in Cave City.

These concrete “wigwams” were built in 1937.  We don’t regard them as insults to First Nations people.  We regard them as American kitsch that now is old enough to be charming.

It’s wonderful to find a safe place when you need it.  If you doubt that, ask an asylee.

No Banners of Hate

Sunup in Louisville scattered the birds that sang in the dark for hours, pleasing Jeffrey’s ears even as they annoyed him.  As puppets don’t sleep, I was not annoyed.

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We saw a variety of neighborhoods—rich, poor, middling, industrial, commercial— as we left the city.  This house was at the end of a row, so we could see more than the facade.  The city’s houses, all sorts, are fascinating and beautiful.

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For about 25 miles, we pedaled on quiet streets, bike lanes, and on the bike paths of the Louisville Loop.

Gary works for the sewer authority.

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Closed to motor vehicles, not to bicycles!

He works to prevent flooding.  Some of today’s bike paths are atop levees designed to protect the city from another flood like the 1937 disaster.

Gary is frustrated by the ignorance, greed, and nonchalance that threaten nature.  He waxed poetic about how people fight with one another when they should be enjoying and protecting the beauty that surrounded us today.

These chimneys emitted steam that blew toward (and above) a poor Louisville neighborhood.  A short distance away, the chimneys weren’t visible and the houses were nicer.80440092-5EC1-4316-AD86-CB02567679C1Fort Knox!  Gold!  (Strange stuff, is gold.  Not useful for much.  People kill for it.). Visitors aren’t allowed.

We didn’t know there is a National Gun Day.

0FF39F0F-EDC9-41F8-8A4A-9107FADBA63APerhaps Cody and Kylie already knew.  These friendly, tattooed people, live about 40 miles from the Fort Knox park.  They were sitting on a Harley that they ride without helmets, smoking cigarettes near a commemorative tank.

Jeffrey cropped a photo to show Cody’s pens . . . and his “sword”.  Which tool is mightier?

We focus on the pistol, and mention the tattoos, the motorcycle, the lack of helmets, the cigarettes, to remind us that there are various Americas with distinctive logic and values.  We respect this couple’s choices despite the dangers they present to themselves and to others.  We suspect they think Jeffrey is nuts to do the Rides.  But we still can wish one another well, and be friends.

Jeffrey spotted this butterfly along the road in West Point, KY.

4ABB7524-7659-4AD3-BD6D-16D153C4F42FBy this point, bike paths were history.  Several times, we crossed bridges and rode on highways where there were no shoulders, no escape from speeding motor traffic; we waited for a lull and Jeffrey pedaled as hard as he could, sometimes for miles, frequently extending his left arm to remind drivers that Kentucky law requires motorists to give cyclists a 3-foot berth.

Jeffrey had to walk up a long steep hill.  The compensation was the beauty of a small waterfall that motorists probaby don’t see.

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The waterfall begins at the very top of the rocks.

After a long hot climb, followed by more pedaling, we met Deena, whose work brought her to schools in the area.  At a Dairy Queen, Jeffrey asked for a root beer float.  The woman who took the order (and who said her moped could not climb the hill that Jeffrey couldn’t pedal up) never had heard of this concoction.  After some enlightenment, she made one for Jeffrey.  The sugars and fats soaked in, and after Deena took a daughter-father selfie . . .

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. . . Jeffrey and I were able to pedal another 22 miles to today’s destination, Elizabethtown.

This large mosque was at the edge of Elizabethtown.

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A mile or so down the road was a smaller mosque of the same design, with a For Sale sign.  This suggests that the local Muslim community is growing.  Perhaps, despite the evil rhetoric that one hears from the highest officials, Kentucky Muslims are well accepted.

We have spotted obscene Confederate flags in many states, even in rural parts of our own New York.  We expected to see them in Kentucky, a former slave state (although it did not join the Confederacy).

Today, in city, suburbs, and farm country, we saw none.

Do we miss things along the road, when we are navigating, avoiding danger, surrounded by too much to take in?  Absolutely!  Nevertheless, seeing one big mosque, one small mosque, and zero Confederate flags, on a 58 mile route through Kentucky, makes us hopeful.  And happy.  After a long hot day.

A Brief Return to Indiana

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First, a flashback to May 2011.

The Pennsylvania motel where we stayed last night is the weekday home of many shale oil workers.  Jeffrey counted 21 in the breakfast room.  We decided not to disturb so many breakfasts by talking about the Ride.  Instead, Jeffrey asked whether there had been a recent uptick in work.  One worker said business improved 1 ½ years ago, due to Trump’s election.  Jeffrey suggested that OPEC cutbacks and rising oil prices may have played a role.  The workers did not disagree.

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Farewell to Pennsylvania!

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We crossed a bit of West Virginia and drove to Grove City, Ohio, past an electronic sign that asked drivers to combine trips because of the day’s poor air quality (we were happy to be in a smokeless electric car), and past a huge sign that said, “HELL EXISTS” (we agree, but we might dispute the author’s geography and definition).

Grove City is an old, pretty town, with a free fast electric car charger and nice touches like flowers and brick pavements.

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Greg lives downtown.  After 25 years of factory work, he earned college degrees in culinary arts and business, and became a chef.  Now he does wilderness hikes, and soon will hike the entire Appalachian Trail.

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L to R:  Greg, Joey

Jeffrey and Greg talked about refugees.  Greg quoted Scripture, Matthew 25:40, in which Jesus says:  “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  After a long friendly chat about hiking, cycling, cooking, and other topics, Greg sent Jeffrey to meet Don at the nearby historical museum, chockablock with cool items like an antique bicycle, bicycle photos, a hot air balloon basket, and a Model T.

Don is a pleasure to listen to.  He shared stories about unusual objects, local cyclists, and local history.  Although he has been misinformed about the risks posed by carefully vetted refugees, he still is sympathetic.  He told Jeffrey of a friend, a researcher at The Ohio State University, married to an American, father of American children, who recently was deported in circumstances that aren’t clear.

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Don’s mixture of kindness and unease is no surprise when government and media play to prejudices and fears rather than sticking to facts and educating the public.  Don wants to do the right thing.  It can be hard for good people to know what that is.

A few hours later, we reached our haven in Louisville.

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L to R:  David, Deena

After we unloaded the car and reassembled our bike, daughter Deena guided us north to “tag up” in Indiana (through which we pedaled from NYC in 2011) so our state-to-state travel is contiguous.  For double continuity, we intend to pass through Nashville, to which we biked from NYC in 2012.  Some views (photos of Jeffrey are by Deena):

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Jim—Nancy’s Duke Marine Lab colleague, and now Jeffrey’s friend too—met us in a Louisville park. L to R: Pippin, Jim, Joey, Jeffrey.

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L to R:  Jessica, who works at a local hotel, and Cory, an auto mechanic.  Our new friends were disturbed to learn that asylum applicants in the U.S.A. can have a lawyer only “at no expense to the government.”

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L to R:  Jeffrey, Joey.  The Big Four Railroad Bridge, now for pedestrians and cyclists, was built between 1888 and 1895 to link Kentucky and Indiana.  It overlooks the Ferris wheel erected each year for Derby Week.  The Kentucky Derby will be run in four days.

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Deena spoke with Alan, who works at a Louisville shop that refurbishes bicycles and provides them to poor people, including refugees referred by a Catholic priest.

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Deena hydrates Joey in Jeffersonville, Indiana, at a monument marking the 1937 flood.

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L to R: Radecki (a retired tool and die maker, holding one of our calling cards), Jeffrey, Marion (a retired dental hygenist). The couple were interested in the Ride, supportive of justice for asylum applicants, and wished us every success.

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Jeffrey overtaking two women who had photographed the Ride sign on the bike, and who asked whether they could contribute online.  Of course they can!  And now, in addition to clicking on this blog’s “DONATE” button, they can text 646-791-3288 to make a gift!  As he passed, Jeffrey thanked them for supporting our laws and the Bible’s command to protect the stranger.

 

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An old-style paddle-wheeler, seen from the bridge, plying the Ohio River.

Tomorrow, on two wheels, we go South.

Caps for Male

(With a nod to Esphyr Slobodkina [1908-2002], author of the 1940 children’s book, Caps for Sale)

While the humans loaded the car, I took my turn behind the wheel.

CBEA0B91-35C7-415F-929A-1EA0CF965986We posed before sappy Jeffrey did the huggy-kissy thing with Nancy, his favorite in the world.  He misses her already.  The sap.8C18BE73-E152-4300-A88D-B069460214FEAfter a K turn, away we went!BF639BC1-6AD3-493B-9357-16E87162CFDBE35AAB18-CFBA-420F-8745-027EB675CA4DWe crossed the Hudson River, drove through New Jersey, and stopped to recharge the car in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  We have no photos from the drive; unlike cycling, driving allows one to see very little, and photograph even less.  The, um, highlight of Harrisburg was the state capitol in the distance.E21C65C7-3747-46B8-AB78-BA9C1256A03BWe stopped for the night in Bentleyville, PA, south of Pittsburgh, halfway to Louisville, at a motel with a statue and a car charger.  By morning the battery will be full.

At dinner, Jeffrey noticed that virtually all the men in the restaurant wore gimme caps, feed caps, whatever term you prefer.42FF9D07-C95B-4DBF-B4BE-18F0BB8D19D9He mentioned this to friendly Alina (who in deference to restaurant policy declined to be photographed).  Alina said in her home, the rule at the table is no phones, no caps, but that what I saw in the restaurant was common in the area.

No mistake:  we are far from the Upper West Side.

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Could Jeffrey pass?  “Illinois Pork.  Generations of Commitment.”

Kim, the motel manager, told Jeffrey that this part of Pennsylvania is a slice of Alabama.  That gives us an idea of what lies ahead.687656E6-4140-47A9-A4AF-A83BC04CC002Kim and Jeffrey had a long talk about the state of the world.  Shaped by their respective natures and nurtures, they disagree on the details of many hot topics, among them autism and vaccines, the state of medical care, the effectiveness of border walls, and the risks of admitting refugees.  Jeffrey was reminded of the limited value of marshaling facts (e.g., the Danish study debunking the vaccine-autism allegations, other countries’ better medical outcomes at lower cost, security experts’ disdain for walls in uninhabited areas, that not a single American terror death has been caused by the over 800 thousand refugees admitted since 9/11).  The notion of “alternative facts”, facilitated by the Internet’s unedited flood, seems to have taken hold.

But in principle, Kim and Jeffrey agree that there is an objective reality.  And they agree that we want the same things:  a safe country that rewards personal responsibility, that extends a hand to people in need, refugees included.  A country where incentives encourage, and the law allows, all of us to live and let live, and to do the right thing.

Kim for Congress!  If only she didn’t despair of The System.

We have a lot to think about as we roll west tomorrow.

 

 

As April Ends . . .

. . . we begin!

Joey here.

I allowed Jeffrey to post some remarks on April 4.  Since then, I have been in a closet while he took some time to tend his crops . . .

. . . visit his native village . . .

. . . enjoy sunrises and sunsets . . .

. . . spend time with Nancy, for whom he is such a sap . . .

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. . . and equip our Lightning Phantom bicycle for a long haul.  (Our tricycle is waiting for our return to San Jose next spring to try again to pedal to Seattle.)

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Karl Abbe, the wizard at Zipp Designs, made us a new Lexan fairing to protect us from wind and the worst of the weather.

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Tomorrow we’ll load our electric car and pilot ourselves and our kit toward Indiana.

We biked across Indiana in 2011.  We’ll tag up there, then turn south into Kentucky, bound for Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana.  We’ll tell the truth about immigration, refugees and asylum.  We’ll point out that accused shoplifters are entitled to a lawyer, but refugees fleeing death can have a lawyer’s help only “at no expense to the government”.  We’ll remind the people we meet of what Scriptures say about duty to strangers and refugees.  We’ll listen to what our new friends have to teach us.

At this moment, Human Rights First is mobilizing lawyers and advisers to help desperate people who are coming to our southern border and lawfully asking for refuge.  Lawyer Jeffrey, who has represented asylum applicants for 35 years, feels bad not taking part in that effort.  But all must help in their own way.  For now, our way is to talk with the people, to ride for human rights.

Please help in your own way.  Remind people of our better natures.  Extend a hand in a concrete way if you can.  And consider donating to Human Rights First.

 

Up From the Depths

Jeffrey here.  Joey yielded the floor.

As Joey posted in March, 3 ½ weeks after my pulmonary embolism, 2 ½ weeks after I contracted pneumonia, events proved the naysayers correct.  Only 120 miles into the Ride to Seattle, I flamed out on a California hillside south of Bodega Bay.  It was all I could do to roll downhill to Valley Ford and wait for my friends Nattie and Julie to fetch me back to San Jose.

Nancy flew out from NYC and took me on her business trip to San Francisco.

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Nancy. All business. All class. Sunshine! Fun!

Her business concluded, we flew home.

Darkness spared Nancy my annoying reminders that I had biked coast-to-coast over the terrain below.  I was happy to reminisce quietly in front of the flight tracker.

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Marked in red near our path are cities in which Joey and I spent significant time on previous Rides.

Now I try to strike a balance of activity (to get stronger) and rest (to avoid setbacks).  It’s been hard.  Shortness of breath.  Chest discomfort.  Deep sadness at failing to reach my West Coast goal.  Unpredictable ups and downs, reasons unknown.

Three weeks after suspending the Ride, I consulted the experts.

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L to R:  Joey, Jeffrey, Dr. Shujaat. [Photo by Shira.]

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L to R:  Dr. Graf, Joey, Jeffrey. [Photo by Marina.]

Concerned about my uneven recovery, the docs ordered diagnostic scans.  The verdict:  The embolus is a clot, nothing more sinister.  It is dissolving.  My left lung works again.  My heart is undamaged.  Coronary calcification score (lower is better):  zero.

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The dark artery-blocking embolus (circled in red) shrank between early February (L) and late March (R).

The docs’ prescription: time.  Only with time will everything mend.

Part of the process is to look to the future.

In early May, I intend to embark with Joey on the second leg of this year’s Ride.  We will pedal 800 miles (1300 km) from Indiana through Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas, to Louisiana.

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We’ll start in Jeffersonville, Indiana. “A” is Gadsden, Alabama. “B” is Oak Grove, Louisiana.

There is much to explore.

Consider Alabama.

Alabama enacted cruel anti-immigrant laws.  Yet many Alabamians revere the Bible, which commands us to love and protect neighbors and strangers without regard to place of birth.

In 2016, Alabama conducted a “Tax Delinquency Amnesty Program” for tax-stealing citizens.  Yet Alabama officials show no mercy to tax-paying immigrants who happen to be in Alabama without federal permission.

Does Alabama’s government reflect the will of its people?  Or, as on the federal level today, does the government defy the majority?  Perhaps we will find out.

But first we must go south.

Dear Reader, I will push the envelope.  I will get stronger.  I will prepare for the Southern Ride.  I will let you know how it goes.

Meanwhile, please join me in wishing Alfonso well.

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I met Alfonso in March in New Jersey.  Days before, he buried his 31 year old son.  Alfonso’s cart overflowed with Easter baskets, his gifts for the students at the school where he is a boiler operator.  It was moving to meet someone who remains so loving and kind despite recent personal tragedy.

I have met wonderful Americans like Alfonso on Rides through 32 states.  I will meet more in May as Joey and I pedal south from Indiana.

Onward.  Upward.  Southward.

Stay tuned.

 

Suspense!

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Jeffrey tries to hide his exasperation as Joey hectors him about human limits—as if stuffed Joey knows aught of cycling or lungs.

The Seattle part of this year’s Ride was suspended on Sunday.  While we wait for that Ride to resume, and as we look forward to the Ride to the Deep South in May 2018, the world continues to turn.

Nancy flew out from New York on Monday morning, a day earlier than planned, for some San Francisco meetings.  Friend Julie retrieved her from the airport.

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L to R: Nancy, Julie

Jeffrey was delighted to see Nancy.  Friends for 43 years, married for nearly 38, when Jeffrey is with Nancy, he’s home.

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L to R: Nancy, Jeffrey

Jeffrey placed the folded Sprint 26 on a shelf at Julie’s and Nattie’s house.  Nattie secured it, with reinforcment in case of (no kidding) earthquakes.

Jeffrey stored the rest of our equipment as he did at the end of the 2017 California Ride.  He’ll retrieve and reassemble our gear when the Seattle Ride resumes, later in 2018 or in 2019.

While Nancy attends to business, we’ll rest in San Francisco.  We’ll spend an extra night here to wait out a snowstorm in the Northeast.  Then we three will return to New York City.

Chauffeur update:  Jeffrey breathes easily in both lungs, but only his right lung absorbs oxygen.  We guess that with each breath, his oxygen absorption at sea level is what it would be with two good lungs at 12,000’ (3700 meters) above sea level.

Until circulation to the left lung resumes in a few weeks, it is as if Jeffrey is in thin mountain air.  He tires.  He yawns.  He gets out of breath.  Easy does it.

Shortness of breath doesn’t stop Jeffrey’s talking.  He continues to explain that the right (and it is a right, not a privilege) to apply for asylum is meaningless without a lawyer’s help to present the case.  In English only.  With evidence.  On a 12-page form.  Prepared according to 14 pages of instructions.  To an asylum officer in a government office.  Or in court to an immigration judge where a government lawyer opposes a grant of relief.

To help our sisters and brothers who fear persecution and ask us to keep them safe, please extend a hand to these least among us—and consider donating to Human Rights First.

We Call It a Day and Promise to Be Back

We spent the night in a place with history.

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And we met someone who appreciates an aspect of our history.

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Lisa grew up in Syracuse, NY, and studied and vacationed in Jeffrey’s native Thousand Islands region.  She and her partner regularly celebrate their anniversary at this hotel.  She pursues a helping profession in the retirement field.  She spoke of how nice it is to see Muslim refugee parents walking their children to school, laughing and at peace, in her Sacramento neighborhood.  And of how sad that some of her neighbors blame local crime on “the Muslims”.  It’s no surprise that Lisa thinks asylum applicants deserve a guarantee of counsel to pursue their claims.

Leigh works at the hotel.  A bartender, we imagine he has seen and heard it all.

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He asked about the Ride and gave Jeffrey valuable route advice, warning that we should stick to the coast because inland routes go through snowy mountain passes.  After yesterday’s hills, we’d been wondering if there is a better way for us to go.  Now we know there isn’t.

Our rear tire had gone soft.  Jeffrey inflated it.  He didn’t find a leak, but saw some cuts and will replace it soon.

The morning fog cleared and we set off for Bodega Bay.  What a beautiful day!

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A mile and a quarter (2 km) up the road—up a steep ¾ mile hill—the breathlessness that worsened yesterday, returned and brought Jeffrey to a halt.  He waited for it to pass.  It didn’t.  We were near the top of the hill …

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Close—yet too far.

… but Jeffrey couldn’t reach it.  And he felt too weak to pedal us back to town.  Uh-oh.

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The descent is steeper than it looks.

Jeffrey did something out of character.  He called 911.

Three medics and a state trooper came from Bodega Bay Paramedic Rescue, the Sonoma County Fire Department, and the California Highway Patrol.  Jeffrey’s vital signs and EKG were fine.  But in light of Jeffrey’s recent medical history, the medics asked to take him to the hospital.  Jeffrey declined.  Yet he was concerned.

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These fine people were provided by the community (also known as the government) to help Jeffrey, a stranger. No questions about papers or pedigree. That’s the America we love. Jeffrey regrets not recording their names.

Jeffrey rested a while at this, our closest approach to Seattle, 15500 California Highway 1.

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Then we turned and made our way back to Valley Ford.

Our generous friends Julie and Nattie interrupted their Sunday hike and drove 210 miles round trip to bring us to their home, where we started this Ride, in San Jose.

Nancy alerted Dr. Shujaat, the lung expert.  The doctor phoned and told Jeffrey that the embolism evidently has not dissolved enough to restore circulation to Jeffrey’s left lung.  The lung inflates, but no oxygen is absorbed.

Jeffrey has been propelling us on one lung.

Dr. Shujaat prescribed time and rest.  The recovery can’t be rushed.  He respected our Ride attempt.  We don’t know what we can—and cannot—do unless we try.

Quotable Theodore Roosevelt (he died in 1919 at age 60) admired “the strenuous life”.

Let us rather run the risk of wearing out than rusting out.  We like that.

Ninety percent of the work in this country is done by people who don’t feel good.  Perhaps.

Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.  That, Mr. President, is nonsense.  “To go on” requires strength.  For now, Jeffrey doesn’t have it.

We hope he’s strong enough to go on the Deep South Ride, as planned, in May.  We hope to resume the Seattle Ride, perhaps in the fall, perhaps next spring.

We’ll be fine.

We’ll be back.

Stay tuned.

 

Short Distance, Long Day

This morning was foggy and just above freezing.  There was frequent rain until midafternoon.  Ah, well.  We accept conditions as we find them.

Jonathan brightened our morning.  He is an engineer from Oxford, England.  He attended a Silicon Valley conference and stayed on to see a bit of California.

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He and Jeffrey talked about the American and European approaches to immigration and asylum.  Jonathan said that America’s current image abroad is one of hard-right insensitivity, but the Americans he meets belie that image.  Jeffrey suggested that the problem is politics, that the U.S. government is dominated by an unrepresentative minority.  For the second time in two days, Jeffrey explained the Electoral College.

Here are some scenes from the countryside.  The white dots in the photo in the lower center are sheep.  Click on any photo to enlarge it.

Two of these photos are of vultures.  There were many more nearby.  A coyote . . .

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. . . and a powerful stench suggested that these animals had gathered to feast.

Wyatt is an artist in Point Reyes Station.

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He was about to paint a mural in connection with a conference on sustainability and happiness.  He and Jeffrey talked about compassion for immigrants, and the importance of the arts.  More art, more artists, less cruelty, perhaps.

Kenny, a Marin County deputy sheriff, pulled over to chat.

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Kenny is kind.  He doesn’t like that asylum applicants are unrepresented, that ICE and The System break up families and send our neighbors away.  As a good officer, though, he thinks laws should be enforced until they are changed.  But Jeffrey pointed out that our government has become incapable of reflecting the will of the American people: thus we are stuck with bad laws that (e.g.) hurt the “Dreamers” (unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as children) and give civilians easy access to military-grade weapons.  Real police like Kenny use common sense when enforcing laws; for example, they don’t issue tickets for driving 59 mph in a 55 mph zone.  Fake police—ICE agents—enforce immigration violations with zero tolerance.

Jeffrey was tired and considered spending the night in the hamlet of Tomales, but after he decided to put some more miles in the bank, Nancy secured us a hotel room in the next town.  Jeffrey’s choice had consequences.  It took us two full hours to climb and descend 7 miles of hills, and to navigate a detour after Jeffrey saw TWO of these signs.

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Something bicycle-unfriendly must have been over the hill.

At last we reached Valley Ford, 37 miles from today’s start, 121 miles from San Jose.

At the top of the last hill, we met Filipe, a Mexican immigrant justly proud that he learned English.  He had stopped to close a gate so a neighbor’s cattle couldn’t stray.

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Filipe, on his way to work, took the time to talk.  He asked about the Ride.  He told us that Marin County is crawling with ICE agents but it is an agricultural center that needs its foreign workers.  Filipe wants kindness and common sense to be part of immigration law.  He gave Jeffrey a restaurant recommendation; Jeffrey went to the restaurant, gave Filipe’s regards to Enrique and Dolores as instructed, and refueled to chauffeur me another day.

(P.S. – We didn’t snap his photo, but Joe, a transplanted New Englander who owns a carpet company, approached us in Valley Ford.  Jeffrey explained our mission.  On the spot, Joe gave a nice donation to Human Rights First.  Our new Oxford friend Jonathan would recognize Joe as a real American.)

 

 

 

Water Above, Water Below

Today, knackered from the long cold rain, we’ll say it in pictures.  As always, we take many more photos than we publish.

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Dan, a transplant from Brooklyn and Queens, spent a good part of an hour conversing with us.  He has thought things through. He knows it’s important to vet immigrants carefully. At the same time, he believes we ought to emulate Jesus and treat them with love.

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FDR’s presidential yacht, USS Potomac, is anchored in Oakland.

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Greg (L), a mariner and a cyclist, saw our Ride sign on the Oakland-San Francisco ferry, tipped his hat to Jeffrey, and treated Jeffrey to a cola. Chelsey (R), a motorcycle aficionado, was disturbed to hear that HRF has to find free lawyers without whom poor asylum applicants can’t properly be heard. She admired our courage in pedaling in traffic. Jeffrey admired her courage in riding on two wheels at high speed. (Each may actually have thought the other was a little crazy.)

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San Francisco from the ferry.

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One of the famous San Francisco cable cars.

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A bit of the San Francisco skyline.

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Alcatraz.

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Taulant is a scientist from Kosovo, attending a conference. He has spent time in New York and Virginia.  He admires the social organization and wealth of the German university town where he lives. But Taulant is a people person and has fallen in love with American openness, the way people here smile and engage strangers. Jeffrey is no scientist, but was able to explain to Taulant the basics of the Electoral College.

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At Ft. Mason, still miles from the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Aaron, who took that last photo, was walking his friend’s dog, Rihanna. He is a kind and thoughtful man, a West Point graduate who works on projects to create small resorts that have low environmental impact and employ the poor (mostly in the Third World).  Jeffrey thinks Aaron may find community with Veterans for American Ideals, a project of Human Rights First.

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We saw various sorts of wading birds today, but only this one stood still for a photo.

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Manny was walking his dog near the on-ramp to the Golden Gate Bridge. He and Jeffrey talked about the plight of unrepresented asylum applicants. Their chat was cut short when the drizzle turned into a downpour.

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Approaching the Golden Gate.

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On the famous bridge.

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After many cold, wet miles, Jeffrey stopped in Fairfax, CA, to look for a place to stay.  Tao—whose parents are from Brooklyn and the Bronx, and who likes BMX biking—was excited to learn that we had pedaled all the way from NYC. Jeffrey and this self-possessed, articulate young man discussed the importance of helping refugees. Then Tao recommended a hotel in San Geronimo, six miles down the road. How’s that for a guy who knows his neighborhood? Tao went into a nearby supermarket to ask his father’s permission for me to take a photo. He has our card and will follow us on the Web.  We expect to hear great things of him someday.

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A bit of the countryside between Fairfax and San Geronimo, during a brief lull in the rain.

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At the Valley Inn, cold, wet Jeffrey got a warm welcome and a seat by the fire.

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Dante, who used to live at 79th & Riverside Drive in Manhattan, has a wonderful spirit. He grew up in Brooklyn and absorbed that borough’s cosmopolitanism. He and Jeffrey talked about immigration, politics, philosophy and more. Dante is fascinated by the Ride; he’d like to get a recumbent machine and see the country as we do.

Tomorrow, this biggest regional storm of the winter is expected to continue for a third day.  Good thing that Jeffrey’s late mother had him pegged.  She would tell him, “You’re not made of sugar.  You won’t melt in the rain.”

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We left this morning at sunup.  Friend Julie was behind the camera.

We pedaled through the rain.  And we had a 14 mph tailwind!  The value of the tailwind was emphasized when Jeffrey made a wrong turn and had to backtrack into the wind.  The wind-driven rain on his face was almost as painful as hail.

Most of the route was on dedicated bicycle paths and on busy streets with bike lanes.  But for the rain, the trip was generally civilized.

Jeffrey particularly liked the snail’s gold-green shell.  So California!

Since we parked the Sprint 26 last May, its front derailleur cable rusted.  We couldn’t access the lowest gears.  It’s our good luck that Otoniel immigrated from Honduras and became the top bicycle surgeon in Hayward, CA.