This Odyssey Ends

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The six Rides have now gone to 29 states.  NYC is at the little red arrow at right.

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Sunset tonight, seen from my window.

Jeffrey here.  As every year, Joey allows me the last word.

Before embarking on this Ride—on which I pedaled 1,416 miles, for which kind people have so far donated over $27,000 to Human Rights First—I wondered, after months of vile xenophobic political rhetoric, how people in rural Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico would react to the idea that asylum seekers deserve more help than our American community (through our government collective) provides.

The right-wing Chattering Class stirs the Heartland pot, exploiting ignorance (and why shouldn’t ordinary people be ignorant of asylum issues?); up boils hatred. The left-wing Chattering Class regards people of the Heartland as hopeless blockheads, a lost cause.

Yet once again, The People came through.  Farmers, students, oilmen, veterans, merchants, truck drivers, devout Christians, members of First Nations, supporters of Trump and of Clinton—everyone I met—wants America to do right by refugees who follow the law and apply for asylum after they reach the United States.

Every one approves of the work of Human Rights First.  Every one engaged in real discussion: always friendly, usually as nuanced and sophisticated as you might find in Manhattan.  Every person, every single one, wished me well, and/or invoked Divine blessings, and/or handed me cash for Human Rights First.

As an ambassador of cycling, I cycle responsibly and wash, shave, and wear clean non-Spandex street clothes.  As a representative of NYC, I speak softly and smile at everyone.  As an advocate of human rights and of Human Rights First, I listen respectfully and advocate gently.  And people respond.  I feel welcome everywhere.

Heartland people take their beliefs as seriously as anyone.  I watched a man eating a Tex-Mex dinner in front of a TV; when the national anthem came on before a basketball game, he removed his cap; when the music finished, he replaced his cap and continued eating.  That song and the flag on display are that man’s objects of worship as much as any token of the Divine.  To awaken this man to the plight of refugees, and to show him that helping asylum applicants is an American’s duty, one must understand and respect where he’s coming from.  A citified country boy with a foot in both worlds, I understand a little, I show respect, and I have some small success in finding areas (such as a fair shake for refugees) in which we Americans, as different as we are, can agree.

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I like stories, too.  Do you?

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This sculpture was installed in a nearby park while I was on the Ride.

If—like Homer and me—you like stories . . . and if like Reverend King, you believe that if we live, we cannot be silent about things that matter . . . I hope you will listen to, and tell, stories from these Rides, from other sources, and from your own life.  Good people, our American people, are eager to hear true stories so they can understand what is right, then do what is right.  Then those who are forced to flee persecution will find a true American welcome home.

On these Rides, I talk, listen, write.  You sit, read, think.  Now, together, let’s do.  And if you are so moved, please donate to Human Rights First.

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I can’t thank enough the people from Chicago to Rio Rancho who treated me with generosity and kindness.  Thousands of heavy motor vehicles passed me; only a handful scared me.  Face to face, and from behind the wheel, good cheer and support were the norm.

My friends at Human Rights First, first among them Ellen Kim, backed me every mile.

Special thanks to daughter Deena and her David for welcoming me in Chicago, and to them and to friends Jeffrey O., Julie W. O., and Ruth W. for the warm sendoff.  Terri W. and Kay L. met me in St. Louis to buoy my spirit.  Thanks to Elisa E. and Irene S. for introducing me to Peggy and George, who opened their beautiful home to me at the end of the road in Rio Rancho.

Daughter Rebecca, her fiancé Andrew, and son Benjamin sent words of love and encouragement when I needed them most.

To each of you who commented, emailed, or otherwise conveyed support, you flattened the hills, smoothed the pavement, calmed the winds, more than you can imagine.  I am grateful.

I’m grateful also to the family, friends and professionals who have helped my recovery from the leg-shattering head-on collision between me (dutifully stopped on my bicycle at a Brooklyn traffic light) and a criminally negligent driver (driving on the wrong side of the street and not watching where she was going) in October 2014.  On this Ride, I had more power than on the 2015 Ride to New England.  But the story isn’t over.  Next week, the surgeon will remove these screws

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and two more like them, in the hope that this will reduce the pain when I walk.  (Cycling is less uncomfortable.)  Surgery scares me.  But I am determined to restore my former strength.  It’s hard to get stronger when something hurts.

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To even begin to convey the richness of experience of any of the Rides, I would have to compose you a symphony. A symphony?  I can’t compose a simple piano tune.  I can think only of music I’ve already heard.  So I do my best with photos and prose.

I have the same shortcoming regarding Nancy.  She is symphony-worthy.  Yet I am forced to resort to clumsy words.  Her brains and leadership constantly save me from myself, on Rides and at home.  And as Olga (the St. Petersburg native in Texas) said, Nancy has a special love for me, because while it can be frightening to do what I do, it’s much worse to be at home imagining things.  Nancy is at home, her imagination is powerful, she hardly sleeps, yet still she supports me every mile, every year.

And she’s beautiful.

I get into a rhythm on the Rides.  Life is simple.  I awaken, I bike, I write, I sleep, I do it again the next day.  I lose myself on the wide open land.  But where is Nancy, is home.  She is this Odysseus’s Penelope and his Siren too.

So I come home. ❤️❤️❤️

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Ride for Human Rights: Joey Goes to New Mexico

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Joey, in a Real Western Working Hat with Earflaps, contemplates new lands to explore. Chicago and Postville, Joey’s 2015 & 2011 destinations, are at the white and blue pins in the upper right corner.

Joey here.  Kangaroo Court Puppet.  One pound of 25-year-old, Australia-conceived, Korea-born, America-imported dead weight.  New Mexico bound.

Here’s my chauffeur, Jeffrey, acclimating to the Rajasthani desert in January under the supervision of Rocket the Camel, to prepare for the hot dry American Southwest.

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In our five annual Rides for Human Rights, Jeffrey and I have pedaled over 6,000 miles (10,000 km).  Our travels have led kind people to donate over $167,000 to Human Rights First to support their work to stop the violence that forces people to become refugees, and their work to help refugees who make it to our country.  Along the way, we have spoken about immigration and refugee issues to thousands of Americans.  The little red arrow shows where we started each journey: New York City.

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Everyone in these golden states to whom, face to face, we gently have explained the realities of immigration and asylum law, has agreed with the premise that—no matter what they think of immigration in general—America should welcome refugees and should provide lawyers to help victims of persecution plead their cases.

Our sixth Ride for Human Rights will test this precedent.

During the ongoing 2016 Presidential campaign, good, well-meaning Americans have been whipped into xenophobic anger by politicians who are ignorant of the facts and/or lie like rugs.  (We can’t imagine a third possibility.)

Politicians claim that people fleeing violence in Central America are lawbreakers when they come to the U.S. border to ask for refuge.  No!  Under American law, these people have the right to ask for asylum, and the right to have their cases decided by an asylum officer or an immigration judge.

Politicians claim that immigrants bring crime and disease and are a net financial burden.  No!  Immigrants, even unauthorized immigrants, have lower crime and disease rates, and higher labor force participation rates, than the America-born.  Their tax payments subsidize Americans.

Politicians claim that Syrian refugees are terrorists.  No!  Refugees are carefully screened before they are allowed to immigrate here.  Refugees are less likely to be terrorists than Americans are.  The 9/11 terrorists—just like the all-American 1995 Oklahoma City bomber—were non-refugees, non-immigrants.

It’s sad that lies have stirred up hatred of immigrants and resistance to refugees.

How much hatred?  How much resistance?

By riding deeper into the Heartland than we’ve ever gone before, maybe we can answer those questions.

Jeffrey and I listen to the people we meet.  We tell them our truth.  We hope, as before, it becomes our new friends’ truth.

On May 18, we will leave NYC by train.  On May 19, picking up where we left off in Chicago in 2014,

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we will pedal 1400 miles (2200 km) south and west on a new adventure.

Follow us to New Mexico.  Listen to what we hear along the way.  See whether, away from the foulness of 2016 politics, our fellow Americans are still the kind and generous people who welcomed us in the Rust Belt, in Appalachia, in the Deep South, in cosmopolitan places and in places where a stranger stands out.

Once we get rolling, as in past years we intend to post every night from the road.

Come back soon for more pre-departure news!

All We Need Is Love

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Here’s our approximate route, May 23 to June 9.

Jeffrey here.  Joey is stowed in plastic.  As ever, the last word on the Ride is mine.

Remember the first of the Bobs you met in Sanford, Maine?

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Bob said something that stuck.  He said it’s good that the U.S. admits people from Europe, Asia and Africa, as well as from the various cultures of Latin America.  He said that a good mix of people will maintain the America we have become accustomed to.

He has a point.  He and I and others want to keep the American multicultural gourmet stew. If everyone is a minority, no one is.  Then we won’t develop the bitter ethnic and religious “outsider” enclaves one finds in Europe.  We’ll continue to accept one another as Americans, just as the “stupid, unassimilable” Slavs and Italians and Jews and Russians and Irish and Chinese and Nigerians and Koreans et al. became accepted as Americans by the immigrants who preceded them, and by one another.

I got the sense that Bob represents a common view in New England.  Old families are uneasy with change, but they know it’s inevitable and they accept it.  Our new friends in Portland – Nancy, Conan and Crystal . . .

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. . . cut Maine’s governor varying amounts of slack, but all are ready to accept Central American child refugees despite the governor complaining that Maine could not afford to accept any.  (The Federal government proposed to send eight children.  For the whole state.)  We are what we do.  Mainers do good, so they are good.

On every Ride, the few people who expressed even guarded hostility to immigrants and refugees, were mellowed when I talked to them about real people and real problems and real cruelties in our law.  In the Shenandoah Valley, people were worried about Shariah law (I think they had been listening to talk-radio crackpots).  In the Midwest, people fretted about losing their jobs to newcomers.  Et cetera.  People everywhere had a regional take.  But I never met a person who wanted to hurt anyone because she was foreign-born.  Sometimes I write, um, carefully about my conversations, but I am honest.  These pages’ dearth of vicious xenophobes reflects my experience.

Rabbi Marc Margolius of NYC, a big fan of these annual Rides, was quoted in an Israeli newspaper: “The essence of Jewish identity is empathizing with—and even loving—the stranger.”  Judaism is the precursor of the two other Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Islam, and the “Old Testament” informed the opinions of America’s founders.  Thus I think empathizing with, and loving, the stranger, is part of who most Americans claim to be.  Let’s try harder to live up to that claim.

And let’s be understanding of those who are afraid.  Xenophobia may be wired into us, from our ancestors’ personal experience of perpetual war.  Every generation has to overcome this impulse.  Why overcome it?  Ethics aside, because when we accept one another, life is better for everyone.

Every Ride is too rich an experience to describe.  I can give you only a hint of the sights, sounds, smells, the terrain, the weather, the people . . . the feel of America.  And I feel welcome everywhere.

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Leaving Ellen & Steve’s ranch at Jay, Maine, the most northerly point of this Ride.

Consider the philosophy of the late scholar and teacher Menachem Mendel Schneerson, as described by another scholar, Adin Steinsaltz:

“In his last years, [Schneerson] used to tell people, ‘Open your eyes.’ Open your eyes and see. If you think people are only interested in power or money, you are mistaken. What they really want is a little bit of love. Those who seem to be striving only for power and for possessions are really striving for comfort and to hear a good word.”

I find comfort and good words in the Heartland.

I am grateful to all who emailed and posted words of support, letting me know that I wasn’t entirely (to coin H. L. Mencken’s phrase) bawling up a rainspout in the interior of Afghanistan.  I rarely answered any, because I couldn’t answer all.  Yet I love you for it.

Donors to Human Rights First took things a step further.  Thank you!  You will receive your souvenir postcards soon.

I am grateful to people along the way who offered me food, water, shelter, help, cheers, smiles, toots, thumbs-ups.  Some were friends of friends, some total strangers.  Even when I couldn’t accept their tangible offers, the offers gave me strength.

I enjoyed companionship on my first day’s ride from friends Daler and Sidney, who spent hours guiding me through the mazes of Queens and western Long Island.

I basked in the hospitality of Ellen and Steve in Maine, and of Renaz, Reina, and Anwar in Connecticut.  Wonderful food, clean laundry, shelter from the storm . . . and friendship.  Friends like these are treasures.

My friends at Human Rights First, chief among them Kathy Jones and Morgan Turner, were there when I needed them.  Kathy turned out to see me off and to welcome me home, “there” in person as well as in spirit.

Back to love.  Benjamin, Deena, and Rebecca are Nancy’s and my gifts to the future.

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The children and the women’s significant others, David and Andrew, are a joy.  All encouraged me to bike a thousand miles through New England despite the October crash, despite their worries.  I am sustained by their love and support.

Then there’s Nancy.  She’s in a category of her own.  Brilliant, beautiful, strong, patient.  A person of character.  Example: she doesn’t shop or cook or schlep, but after my leg was shattered, for months she shopped and cooked and schlepped.  She last bike-toured at age 17, but when I do it, she backs me, even though she can’t sleep for worry.  She works long hours under great pressure so I can dabble in law, nursing, eldercare and roaming the countryside.

I love people, and hope for love when I meet them.  But the real love, from my Nancy, my love, my friend for 40 years and my best friend for 35, is at home.  I want to be where Nancy is.

Nancy’s love is all I need.

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