Wednesday, July 8, 2009


I know, I know. It might seem that I have been a bit inattentive when it has come to the blog lately. For that, please pardon me. The only excuse I have is that my work has been really keeping preoccupied. But, hey—at least I have little idle time. In fact, in a time like this, I am thankful to be among the blessed men and women who do have the benefit complaining about not having any free time.

Of course, I do get a smidgen of freedom here and there--time away from my advising, managing, writing and reading--and those times are usually spent either with the family or a very small group of my friends. Recently, though, I have had the honor of adding one more friend to that short roster. Let me introduce you guys to him…Ladies and gentle-worms, this is Da Baron (pictured above and pronounced like "The Baron"). Yup, that’s my new friend—a tough-looking, gadget-laden, red-black-and-silver bicycle whose modern design trumps just about any bicycle that I’ve ever own. He's named, rather aptly, after one of the notorious characters from my book, and that is with good reason; he's bad! And I don’t want to offend anyone or discount anything else going on in my life, right now, but I dare say that Da Baron is the single, biggest highlight of my entire year.

“So why a bike?” you might wonder. Well, the answer to that question can probably be credited to two immutable words: peer pressure.

For a few months, I took to walking and jogging in the lush park at the center of the city. The routine made me feel better and better my health. I have been able to really impact my weight, and more importantly, the exercise was also good for the pesky organ in my chest that had been giving me so many problems. I became devout about this routine, loading up my MP3 player with lots of tunes, and hitting the street daily for an hour or two of decent strutting. In fact, I’d recommend this regiment to anyone: slip on a pair of comfortable shoes, find a serene environment devoid of congestion—and go, not once, but often.

City Park is the perfect location for everything from a leisurely stroll to some fully-charged sprints, but I was starting to notice something peculiar. Every week as the summer grew near, more people were traversing the parks on wheels, not on foot, and bikes were everywhere. “Well, why not?” I asked myself. The park’s sprawling lanes and winding paths were perfect for bike-riding. And as I realized that fact, I started to get a solid case of “me-too-ism”, curable only by the procurement of my own pair of wheels.

When I first got Da Baron, I tried to remember my very first bicycle. Unfortunately, I could not. What I did remember, though, was that every summer or so, for a good while, my Dad bought me and Bridget new bikes, just so we’d have new ones to sport during our long vacations in Mississippi. I guess, to him, that was enough penance to absolve any guilt for his bout of parental absenteeism and the manner in which the divorce played out—but, hey, I was not going to complain. In fact, I always knew that I was blessed. While most other kids never dreamt of owning new bikes, at least until the tires rolled off of their older ones, this was not case for Jake’s kids. As childhoods go, we were living the good life.

Until I discovered the primal urge for driving and the lofty status that an automobile could bring, I was in love with my bikes, and I rode them everywhere. In fact, I even remember one fateful night when a group of us—no one over the age of 11—rode our bikes from our Louisa Street neighborhood, in eastern Houma, to the Elysian Fields Elementary School neighborhood. To be sure, that was not the first time I had made the trek; I had friends in that community, and went there often. But it was the first time that I had gone with this set of clowns, and most of them got left behind when it became apparent that, on that night, they were out to steal bikes. When I finally made it home, it was after 9:00 PM, and though my negotiating skills were good, even for a ten-year-old, there was no sliding out of this one. Greg, my stepfather, took me into the laundry room of our house, removed his leather belt, and beat my ass silly for the first and only time…Yes, I will never forget that.

While most of my memories about my bikes are fun and exciting, the bad ones will probably remain indelible. In fact, I already have a pretty bad one about my new friend here. For most of you who don’t already know, a few weeks ago, I took a serious slip on Da Baron during my second ride. [Okay, people. Stop laughing now.] Indeed, the reason that I call it serious truly is not exaggerating the whole thing. This accident taught me a very critical lesson about bicycle safety, one that I expressly never paid attention to as a child.

Here’s the story: I was in the middle of what was intended to be my new routine of weekend rides, and on that warm June morning, I was doing it at the Lakefront. The area had no crowd, with the exception of a few joggers, shoreline fishermen, and early risers, and so I deemed it safe to just cut loose on my new wheels. Unfortunately, I did not take into account the prospect of the other “obstacles” along the course. When an errant dog strolled into my path, I maneuvered to avoid, taking care to stare at it as I passed it by, if only to make sure that I was keeping a safe distance. What I should have been paying more attention to, instead, was the 8-inch buckle in the pavement ahead of me. I went over it at nine-point-something mph, and having never seen it coming, I was not prepared. My handlebar and front wheel did something funky, and before I knew it, I was flying over them.

The flip may have only taken a second or so, but it was remarkable and very painful. I slammed my left temple against the pavement, as well as my left shoulder and leg. My palms were scuffed up by the same pavement, while the bike, itself, tore into my inner thigh. And even Da Baron, himself, got wounded—two warped wheels and a twisted alignment. Fortunately, though, the pavement was not damaged at all in this accident.

I was blessed. I was able to get up and walk away from all of this—of course, with no assistance from the dog owner. And as I sit down to write this post, I can assure you that I fully appreciate the fact that it could have been worse. In fact, I appreciate it so much that I’ve come up with my own, little list of bicycle safety tips...Here they go:

Wear a helmet:
Although I still have the big bruise on my left leg, I think the biggest lesson from the ordeal was that every bike rider needs to wear headgear. As a child, I often thought of helmets as dorky, and that made it an afterthought when I started riding as an adult. But the massive headache and disorientating reverberation of brain matter that followed my skull-to-pavement collision genuinely change all of that. At just a small speed a head injury can be debilitating, or even fatal, and only a helmet offers enough protection against in this type of blow. Not even an ONO baseball cap can stand up to such a hard substance—trust me.

Ride where you are welcomed:
If you are going to be a serious bike rider, try to find a route that is pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly. All too often you hear tales of walkers, runners, and cyclists who are mauled over on busy streets. To avoid this fate, you can find a quiet and spawning area where traffic is at a low level, or even use your city’s bike lanes and paths. And once there, you have to remember to still be mindful of motorists, because it only take that one motorist who isn’t mindful of you to inflict real harm.

Go with the flow:
Yes, you have to ride with the traffic, not against it. I know that might seem counterintuitive to some of you, but that is the law. End of story.

Ditch the iPod:

Everyone loves music, of course, and in this age of gigabytes and small devices, no one wants to go anywhere without their own tunes. Unfortunately, music—particularly the kind that is piped through earphones—and biking shouldn’t be mixed. Cyclists can find themselves too easily distracted when music is flowing directly into the ear canals, and that music could be drowning out other important sounds meant to alert the cyclists to needed evasive actions. Better that we save the groove sessions for when we’re behind the wheel of a car than when we are cruising urban streets on light-weight frames that afford us no protection.

Gear up:
It’s important that you prepare yourself for a bike ride. That’s because you never know what is in store. A tool kit for making on-the-fly repairs can easily be strapped to your bike, and it can come in very handy when you are away from your destination. What’s more, part of gearing up is preparing your own person. If you are commencing a long bike ride, you need dress appropriately, taking into account comfort and potential changes to the weather. Also, you need to adequately hydrate. These kind of tips can give you added piece-of-mind.

I hope that these tips were helpful, and if you have not done so in a while, I hope you consider getting to a bicycle shop or sporting goods store, and making a new investment in a little piece of your past. Buy a bike, and get out into your community or parks this summer. I can tell you that Da Baron (who is all fixed up now) and I will be doing a lot of this for years to come.


efos (via email) said...

It's the general consensus that what caused your accident was not a dog, but instead you were probably watching the butt of a hoochie instead of watching the street! Huh, did we get it right? lol

Just kidding of course. Actually I thought it was a pretty good blog entry, perhaps you could have also mentioned something about riding during daylight hours and avoiding the dusk, or nighttime hours since that would make it more difficult for vehicles to see a bicyclist. One should also consider reflective clothing and possibly lights for one's bike if it is to be ridden at later hours. Oh, and for residents of New Orleans, a great big, thick chain for locking up said bicycle.

Cedrick said...

That is a nice bike, Gary. We were talking about getting some to ride with the kids.

mike carson said...

Gary Harrell ran with a gang that stole bikes????


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