Friday, June 12, 2020

So it is about 1980. I am 26 fresh out of Umass super academic but ready for earthier occupations. Masonry. The Annecharicos, Italian 2nd generation masons, they learned it in Italian but their accent was pure Sandisfied, Mass. Well, I was a kid but we worked shoulder to shoulder building stone walls, brick paths, pouring foundations. We used homemade forms for the foundations, 3/4” plywood, steel dogs and cleats and the fuckers were heavy. Which was my department, slight as I was. Lugging those forms up out and down into the cellar hole. I tended 2 masons, Rudy and Charley, laying brick chimney two storey house with an 8 pitch roof. Brick clamps and buckets of mortar, ladders, old school. Mixing in a wheelbarrow mixing in a 1/2 bag mixer. I was not a slave, I was into it. We scoffed at unions. I carried 12” blocks off the back of the pick-up when we knew that the union would not let 1 man even lay a block that size himself. But we worked for rich people in the woods and we didn’t mind. Like I say I was a small guy but I brought 5 sandwiches to work lined up on edge in my lunchbox every day plus a thermos of coffee and a quart of club soda, plus all the hose water I could drink.

So at end of day, depending on where we were working, that is, if we passed a package store on the way home, and in those days Sandisfield had 5 package stores counting bars, now there is 1 (if it is still open), we would buy a 6 pack of beer and split it. Sometimes stop at Daffer’s on the way. Daffer was a brother-in-law of Rudy and Charley and had been mob tied. Had once spent 3 years in Rudy’s barn without coming out once for fear of getting whacked. Anyway he wound up with a small bar in Sandisfied.  Not all the clients at Daffers were as civilized as we were. There was Dewey Plank, peg leg with a nail in the end of the peg, had a nose like a hand grenade spray painted red and pissed at the base of his own bar stool. Could drink a 6 pack of Budweiser between the New Boston Store and Daffer’s going the speed limit driving. Sometimes too we would stop at the Silverbrook Cafe. Got thrown out sometimes too for Rudy’s mouth. We even got thrown out of Ely’s Pizza once in Great Barrington once for supposedly creating a disturbance. Ed Ely used to paint regular tennis balls fluorescent yellow lined up in aluminum rain gutters on his porch with spray paint to sell to tennis pros he thought. He sparred with Rocky Graziano when Rocky was trying to quit drinking and fight again too when Charly Annecharico had his cellar hole decked over but no walls framed yet. They put ropes up to keep him from falling off the deck and barred him from Daffer’s, which was a 2 mile walk. But it didn’t work from what I heard. But Ed Ely was tough, although a little punch drunk . I remember him best when I was working at Carr Hardware and Ed would walk in, he’s in his 70’s,  a little stunned looking but still ripped in the abs, with a snarled wad of copper tubing in his hand that had been soldered together over the decades or maybe centuries with limestone dripping off it and no regular angle to any of the joints at all and ask me if I “had one of these on the shelf”.

Ok, point of the story. We are working for the Goodnow Estate, regular customers of Annecharico Mason Contractors and it is winter and we are digging a foundation by hand under a colonial house. Pick and shovel, wheelbarrow out to the footing area and then shovel it again into a backhoe bucket. And it is cold. And the backhoe was homemade and mounted on the back of a White’s dump truck. We’d take turns one guy pick one guy shovel and 3rd wheel it out, then rotate, different guy pick etc.The Goodnows did not want their lawn disturbed. The depth of the cellar was not specified, so Rudy had us dig it just deep enough so he would not bump his own head and Charly was the same height. I was a few inches taller so my forehead was covered with knots from hitting my head on the joists for most of the winter. And Charley Pease was a few inches taller than me, imagine. Got so when I hit my head they would not even look up just say sorry.

But we were tight. There was one night I fell in love and it didn’t work out so well and eventually got to work on time in the morning without sleeping and with a biblical hangover. Threw up while shoveling, everyone paused momentarily in reverence like moment of silence, I got back to shoveling and we were bonded and the day was long.

But then another day, bitter cold and the wind even bit in through the sheltered crawlspace where we were digging. End of day and Toad, the caretaker, (never understood his nickname
“Toad”, smart raconteur looked like John Wayne matinee idol), charming huge and good natured, fired up a small wood stove and brought out a bottle of hard cider. Flask of grappa followed, winds blew outside and we hunkered and warmed the shivers out and told stories and lies both bent down in the crawlspace. Well after the cider and the grappa and the other talk came  the talk of the Fucking Jews and the Fucking Niggers in Great Barrington and I had no where to shrink into. I had idolized those guys for their senses of humor, their ease with dealing with geologic mounds of earth, understanding of hydraulics, diesel motors, quarter sawing hemlock and oak logs, laying bricks and blocks straight, pouring concrete slabs flat with the drains on the low points and keeping your corners plumb and advising me in matters of love and sex. Life has never been quite the same. It has not changed.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

La Frontera and Whiplash

It is raining and dark outside Colmado Chiquito in Ciudad Nueva but I am under cover and my bicycle is too, leaning against the lottery kiosk. I have a neck brace on and am nursing a beer while waiting for the downpour to let up. There is a 2 pound plastic grocery bag of yucca weighed out on the counter for me. This colmado always has good yucca. I know because I used to live just two blocks from here when I was with Perla.

To carve the bark off the yucca tubers I have to kneel at the kitchen counter and work at eye level to keep my neck from cramping up. The yucca boils tender in about 30 minutes and I eat half of it along with some black bean and pork-bone stew that I had saved in the fridge.

Last year I became addicted to bicycling and, by chance, joined the Logia Ciclista Internacional de Santo Domingo, a bicycle club of artists, renegades, neer-do-wells, communists and ex-pats that tours the barrios and colmados and bicycle workshops of the city sometimes with picaresque results. There are about 25 members of the Logia all told, but active members number around 7 and we are all famous and it is Sunday mornings when we are most active. We have a private Facebook page but I cannot imagine that Carlos Mario, El Jefe, would refuse access to any curious pilgrim. We typically meet around 9:30 in the morning at Hugo's Colmado on the corner of Meriño and Portes in the Zona Colonial and you are welcome. We bicycle about 3 miles between colmado stops and, while much of the conversation is about bicycles, food and women; it ranges as far as Blake, Bukowsky and Buddy Holly. Donald Trump is never mentioned. I will tell you how I came to have this neck brace on.

Last December just around this time Kike (not Kiki from Villa Mella), Chiñou the Gallego, and I made the hungover decision to bike to Bayahibe, a small fishing resort town in the eastern portion of the island. In the morning we rode from our neighborhood up to Duarte and its dusty crazy complex of bus and guagua stops  and stowed our bikes in the hold of a giant bus that would take us as far as La Romana. From there we struck off on our bikes through the city to the highway through  swarms of Honda 90 motorcycles, fruit carts, coconut venders, wheel chairs and goats. We turned off on the old abandoned highway and found ourselves pedalling alone for the next 50 kilometers. The few people we saw on this biway asked us if we were afraid of robbers. We had one flat tire.

In Bayahibe we rented a cheap room with two beds, locked the bikes up in it and strolled off through the town. Two girls followed us through some of our wanderings and we shared street sandwiches and a glass of beer with them. I remembered the way one of the girls held her head while she listened and the curve of her posture which was somehow both lazy and athletic at the same time. She held her sandwich with two fingers.

Back at the room we decided that since I was the oldest I would get the single bed and Kike and Chiñou would share the double. Sometime during the night Chiñou, apparently acting on some drunken hallucinogenic dream groped Kike who responded with a sharp elbow in Chiñou's ribs.

In the morning I was ready to continue our bike tour on to Boca de Yuma right off but was voted down and so we went to the beach and drank beer. After the beach the town again but now it was Saturday night and the rum flowed more freely. Chiñou, the youngest of the three, struck off for decadent discoteques with our two followers of the night before while Kike and I cruised free rum sampling booths on the sidewalks and danced with the dancing girls in local colmados.

We tweaked the sleeping arrangements for this second night in Bayahibe by renting a second room for Chiñou, who had aspirations for liasons, with Kike and I now to share a bed in a separate room for economy's sake. At 3 in the morning Kike, being gunshy from his experience with Chiñou the night before rolled up all the towels from our bathroom to use as a berm between us. Lights off. We hit the hay, berm in place. One hour later lights on and Chiñou is at the door with the girl with the curvy posture saying she refused to be in the same room with him and could she sleep with us since she had nowhere else to go. We said yes. She slipped in between us and thus her nickname La Frontera; the Border. We passed the night as tired innocents. Nothing happened as the kids say.

I awoke first and went for coffee and rolls. Sustenance. Hangover. Walked La Frontera to a house a km away where some kind of aunt or cousin lived , gave her bus fare to get home, and we talked on the way. Her name is Xiomara. Single mother. 1 year old daughter. We exchanged contact info. I said I liked her forma de ser and she said she liked mine.

Chiñou, destroyed from drug and drink from the night before, stayed in Bayahibe. Kike and I mounted our bikes and pedalled bravely, massively hungover and sleep deprived, out of town. We stopped at a gomero and begged a dreg of contact cement enveloped in a scrap of plastic grocery bag in case we had a flat tire and then  bicycled on to Boca de Yuma on a secondary road through miles of sugar cane fields and little else. We stopped for water at a colmado run by a 102 year old woman. In the first town we sat on the curb and shared a beer.

Boca de Yuma, a seaside town popular during the Easter season, was nearly abandoned, it being out of season. We found a clean room with two beds and two fans and slept for 12 hours. In the morning we pedalled languidly around the still sleeping town waiting for a colmado to open to buy a cup of coffee, an empanada and some blood pressure medicine. Once fueled we headed north toward Higuey and an ATM. Narrow harrowing highway with broken borders and pot holes, tractor trailers screaming close by our elbows made the trek harrowing. Motorcycles swarmed through intersections in every direction in Higuey. We got cash and got out.

Outside of Higuey we saw a small colmado with a sign-- Museo de Ron and stopped. Kike was aghast, “there´re brands of rum here I never heard of”. We bought some chatas for the Logia and kept biking till we got home.
Museo de Ron. Kike.

I contacted La Frontera and we exchanged messages for a few weeks. She was living in Guyacanes, so when my friend Mike had a music gig near there I caught a ride from the Capital where I live. When we entered Guayacanes that night there were firetrucks and ambulances blocking the eastbound lanes tending a motorcycle wreck. I called La Frontera from Mike's gig and it turned out that she knew the folks in the accident and one had died. They had been at her house just before to see the baby. She had no baby sitter but I could come visit anyway. Mike finished playing at midnight and dropped me off. Xiomara and I spent the night together sad and confused and happy. It was December 20, 2015.

The Holidays
Xiomara mentioned during the week that she had nowhere to spend Christmas. I had been invited to visit friends in Las Terrenas so I brought Xiomara and her baby, Luz. This was, effectively, our second date. We stayed in the little guest house where the workers stay when Mike has employees working on his compost business. The baby babbled happily in the bed with us for hours while we stared at our cell phones waiting for her to go to sleep so we could make love.

On New Year's Eve Xiomara came to Santo Domingo from Guyacanes to her brother's house on the upper part of Ave. Venezuela. We drank beer and the cheap red muscatel La Fuerza and bought roast pork sandwiches on the corner. Along with some cousins we walked Venezuela, famous for its discos, picked one and went in. When I figured out that I would be the only one who could chip in for the second bottle of rum Xio and I left and found a cab and went to my apartment. Our first night together without the baby in the bed.

I learned was that, although she was born in the Dominican Republic in Jimaní, near the Haitian border, she had no birth certificate and thus no cedula, or government ID so she could not work or finish high school. I met her mother, Carmen, a thin, mousey, drawn woman that night at Tito's and also learned that Carmen did not keep Xio but that she was raised by her Father's sister, Aquilina, in Tierra Nueva, a hamlet more rural than even Jimaní and located closer still to the Haitian border nestled between the two great salt lakes of Hispaniola, one in each country. A year later I would bicycle to Tierra Nueva to meet her adoptive family and celebrate the issuance of Xio´s cedula, after a long expensive hassle with a shyster lawyer.

Tierra Nueva
Mike and I took the bikes off the front seat of the guagua in San Juan de la Maguana, remounted the front wheels and saddle bags and pedalled south toward Neyba 80 km away. Gently uphill for the first
Downhill to Neyba. Mike.
hour but downhill or level most of the rest of the way. Wide highway in good condition almost no traffic and few houses. Occasional livestock in the road and men riding small horses using woven straw saddles. We arrive in Neyba in darkness.

Next morning breakfast of coffee, boiled green bananas, dominican salami and deep fried eggs and we pedal away. The region is arid with cactus and rocky outcrops of rusty limestone but there are spring fed concrete lined ponds, or balnearios, along the route and we cooled off three times (to take a dip here is to echar un chapuzón) as we headed west to Tierra Nueva with the great salt lake, Lago Enriquillo and its caiman, giant iguanas and flamingos always to our left.
Balneario Las Marias, Neyba

We ate lunch in La Descubierta at a small comedor in a cool humid grove near a rill and another freshwater balneario. We took a short detour to see Nueva Boca de Cachón which is the town that was hurriedly constructed to house the people who were flooded out of old Boca de Cachón when the water level of Lago Enriquillo mysteriously and suddenly rose 20 feet a few years ago. Nueva Boca is built in a perfect grid and every house and building is in the same style and there was almost no one on the street. With its bright clear desert light it could be the setting for an old Twilight Zone episode

A green highway sign points to the turn for Tierra Nueva and the road surface changes from smooth asphalt to rough pebbles in tar. To our right sere pastureland leads to a mountain range a kilometer away and to our left is scrubby brush. No cars pass and there are no houses. Goats everywhere. A lone motorcycle approaches in the distance and it is Xio and her sister coming to cheer us on. They are laughing and waving and escort us the 7 km to the town. Xio's long microbraided hair extensions blow behind her on the back of the motorcycle.

The family compound consists of three small, cement block/tin roofed buildings connected in the shape of a U. The floor is concrete in places and dirt in places. Chickens and pigs wander in and out of the little courtyard. We met Xiomara's adoptive mother, Aquilina and a smattering of sisters and cousins. When her father, Tilson, showed up, Mike and I both stood up to meet him and Tilson looked at each of us and asked, “which one of you is Xiomara's husband?” I answered, “guilty, Sir.” and we shook hands.

The next day was Thanksgiving Day. I watched and we talked while Tilson slaughtered and butchered a goat. The intestines, feet and hide were all he threw out. A small boy toyed with the amputated goat's testes, squeezing them in and out of the scrotum. Luz, a little more than 2 years old now, toddled up from the house and cried when she saw what he was doing. We put the meat in a plastic grocery bag and brought it down to Xiomara and she made goat stew.
Note goat hanging to right of bicycle.

After lunch Tilson said to me, “Vamos andar”, or let's go for a ride. We took off on his motorcycle toward Jimaní but turned off on a discrete, rutted dirt track and bounced along over rocks and tree roots until we reached Poplume, Haiti a cluster of mud plastered huts on the edge of Étan Saumatre, the great salt lake of Haiti. No customs no border check. As we pulled into town people greeted Tilson with respect. Tilson is a carbonero, or charcoal maker and employs the people of the village to cut wood for charcoal and to carry the 100 pound sacks of charcoal off the mountain where it is
Poplume, Haiti
made. We sat on plastic chairs and drank Prestige beer while Tilson talked business with clusters of thin men asking about the next day's work. When he was handed an unopened bottle he pried the cap off with his teeth. No twist off bottle caps here. (Xiomara, by the way, has the same gift which is apparently learned and not inherited since he is her adoptive father.) After several hours we got back on the motorcycle and bounced back toward the highway. At a small bend in the trail, still deep in the brush, we were stopped by two Dominican soldiers with machine guns. They greeted Tilson by name, we all shook hands, Tilson gave them 200 pesos (5 dollars) and we moved on.


As we speeded back toward Tierra Nueva on the highway Tilson shouted back to me, “¿A la casa?” and I shouted back into the wind, “¡Sí!” But when he asked a second time I said wherever he wanted to go was okay. We motored into Tierra Nueva and, stopping once to buy beer, drove right through town and on toward can't remember the name of the town another Haitian village near the northern end of the lake. We dumped the bike once on a slippery bend in the rocky ledgy four-wheel drive track. It was dark and moonless when we got to the village and I could only see occasional flickers of candles through open doors of huts. No music played. We used our cell phones to light the way as
Sacks of charcoal
someone led us to a hut with a couple of chairs and a half dozen people hunkered on the floor and on empty beer crates. Someone handed me a Prestige and a girl maybe 16 years old held my arm for a while. Folks chuckled when I spoke the little French I know. Tilson disappeared but returned after a few minutes. We walked out to the beach where he showed me pallets of sacks of charcoal that were to be put on wooden boats and rowed across the lake tomorrow and eventually transported to Port a Prince to be sold.


Somehow we made it back intact to Tierra Nueva on the motorcycle although we had to get off and push it the last kilometer into town due to lack of balance. Aquilina and Xiomara came out and helped us park it, fed us leftover goat in the kitchen and put us to bed.



There were just three of us for Logia Ciclista that Sunday so we chose a different route through unfamiliar territory. After a quick jaunt into Chinatown for dumplings, which are only available on Sunday by the way and are excellent, we pedalled east over the Puente Flotante over the Ozama River and up past the enormous Faro de Colón and turned left up Venezuela and turned right onto Club de Leones, toward Santana Bicycle Shop. Which was closed it being Sunday. We stopped at several colmados on our slow return home and at the third, Colmado Repecho in the nadir of a short steep valley in the outer reaches of Ensanche Ozama, I needed to use the bathroom. The first visit to any bathroom in any colmado in the Dominican Republic can be an adventure. You often have to pass behind the counter and wend your way through precarious towers of stacked boxes of toilet paper, crackers, returnable soda bottles, broom handles and mop buckets. Sometimes you go through small dormitories where the employees sleep and it is often dark and the walls might be so grimy that you don't pass your hand over them to feel your way along. However, this bathroom was out back. I made the first turn and all was dark. I paused a moment to let my eyes adjust and could barely discern the dim form of a toilet in the back of the room-- my goal! I stepped over the cement block threshold into the darkness, feeling for a light switch with my left hand but my foot landed on a greasy slick floor that sloped sharply downhill and went out from under me. I lurched forward, sliding and somehow hit my head both front and back on my way down-- once on a pile of cement bricks and the second time on a pile of scrapped porcelain toilet tanks in the corner. Shit and urine. I used my handkerchief to clean myself off, urinated and left, blood dripping from my forehead. Left the handkerchief behind. We left on our bicycles.

The next morning I managed to move from my bed to the floor but an hour later the pain in my neck was so great that I could not move. I had my cell phone but could not reach my glasses so called friends not really knowing who I called. I called out for a neighbor who arrived about the same time as Kike. Neck brace, strapped to a board, ambulance and carted down the stairs and off, with Kike, to Dario Contreras, the public trauma hospital. Short lines, short forms, X-rays, no fracture, another short line to get prescription. Guy in the line in front of me was handcuffed to his wheelchair. Bought a soft neck collar for about 4 dollars. There was no other fee and I have no health insurance here.

Two and a half weeks later I can take short bike rides and remove the neck collar often. During the first week I bought syringes of Dexa-Neurotropas and walked into the nearby hospital (Padre Billini where I spent a week a few years ago with amoebic dysentery Visit to the Ward Healers) and looked for a nurse to inject me. Other pain medications included Bergeron, Dolo Ultrafen and Dolometaplex. Some prescibed by doctors and some recomended by friends.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Stolen Bike

            No more bicycle sojourns in Santo Domingo. I dozed off for a minute on a park bench with the bike on its kickstand inches from my feet and it disappeared. Nobody saw anything.
            I went to the Tourist Police office in the Fortaleza and filled out forms. One of the cops there gave me a ride to the Destacamento of the Policia Nacional and I filled out forms there too. I walked back home through the Colonial Zone peering up and down the cross streets hoping to catch a glimpse of my bike.
            The next morning I printed up posters announcing a 3,000 peso ($70 USD) reward for the return of my bike and posted a bunch of them in the park where it was stolen. There are very few folding bicycles with 20-inch wheels in the DR which makes mine easy to spot from far away. A Haitian guy who lives in the area read one of the posters carefully and said that he had seen a limpiabota, or shoeshine boy, riding that very same bike and that he had seen me too but had not connected me with the bike. When I pinned my reward posters up on bulletin boards inside the two police stations they attracted a lot of attention. A wiry, shifty informant type who had been hanging out with the cops followed me out of the destacamento and asked for more details and a copy of the poster. He explained that bicycles stolen by limpiabotas generally wind up in either Las Cañitas or Guachupita, both notoriously tough barrios, and that he knew how to find it and get it back. I loaned him two dollars for bus fare. I haven't heard from him.
            In the days that followed I searched the streets of Santo Domingo where used bicycles might be bought, sold or traded. I was lead into back rooms of tire repair places and pawn shops where I looked for mine among piles of rusty-framed mountain, BMX as well as kid's bikes and trikes and scooters and roller skates and, incongruously, even a pair of ice skates. I visited bike stores in both fancy and poor barrios and I scanned the online classified listings for Bikes for Sale on, and I crept slowly in the guaguita through the maze of streets in Villa Consuelo where everything is for sale and piled on the street and spilling out of warehouse doorways-- from giant slaps of rough-hewn mahogany, to piles of wheelchairs, heaps of toilets and plumbing parts, tangles of used copper electrical cables, barber chairs, bales of used tee shirts, towers of cheap foam mattresses, pyramids of bolts of cloth, cut rate perfumes and gold filled jewelry. Forklifts and wheelbarrows crisscross traffic in the crowded streets carrying stacks of plywood, Masonite, 2x4's, tinacos and stacks of nested plastic chairs. Motorcycles everywhere. People say my chances are good of recovering the bike since it is practically unique here. On the bright side I have sold a few Airzounds in my meanderings.
            Two nights ago I got a call from an agitated guy asking about my bike and I eventually gathered that he had a similar one. We agreed to meet at the colmado on the corner. Santiago is short, blocky and intense with eyes that look in slightly different directions. He ordered a Bohemia beer which we shared while he excitedly related that he had just been riding his black, 20-inch wheeled folding bike through Parque Colón when he was apprehended by Sosa, the Chief of the Tourist Police in the Zona, because the bike looked just like the photograph of mine on the poster. Sosa is famous here and not for patience or compassion for thieves. It was lucky for Santiago that the brand of his bike, Bfold, was clearly decal-ed on the frame and that Sosa had a photocopy of my ad in his pocket that clearly stated the brand of the stolen bike as Retrospec. Santiago pocketed two copies of the poster and is hot to recover the bike for me and it turns out that he lives only two blocks from my apartment. I hope nobody mistakenly kills him for his Bfold thinking it is mine hoping for the reward.

            It has been more than two weeks now and I spend less time in the evenings sitting in Parque Juan Barón or Maria Eugenia de Hostos or Playa Guïbia or some other bicycle meeting spot with a copy of the police report in my pocket waiting for my bicycle to pass by. I think it may still appear perhaps months from now after all my posters have been torn down or dissolved by rain and time. I keep a scan of the poster and the police report in my cell phone just in case. Hopefully the phone will not be stolen before then

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

More Bicycle

            My Airzound bicycle air horn arrived and it is an extremely effective traffic control. You get about 60 short piercing bursts of penetrating honk out of each 100 psi canister of air and you can refill whenever you like using a gas station compressor or your own bicycle tire pump. It stops busses, dump trucks, motorcycles, cars backing out of driveways and startles pedestrians a half block away. Drivers opening doors in the street recoil back into their parked cars like turtles backing into their shells when the blast hits them. People who have heard me honk before call out from sidewalks or colmado entrances when I pass by, “Pita, pita!!!!” (or Honk, honk!!!) wanting to hear it again.
            I have imported 100 Airzounds from the factory in Canada. It is too many but it was the minimum order for the maximum discount. My apartment is full of them.

            My main selling strategy is to put 3 or 4 horns in my backpack and a sign on my bicycle and pedal through the city and its parks tooting occasionally to attract attention when I see a group of bikers. This is not a high percentage strategy since very few people here go out with 1200 pesos ($25 usd) in their pockets. I think of it as akin to the Theodore Cleaver plan, named after the Beaver's idea of sitting on the steps of a bank waiting for a nice old man to come out and give him a bunch of money. But you never know!

            Thursday I joined up with the group of about 75 cyclists for their weekly nighttime 30 km tour of Santo Domingo. They hire 2 Amet motorcycle cops, one of whom rides ahead and closes intersections to car traffic while the other brings up the rear of the peloton to collect stragglers. If a cyclist falls or gets a flat tire the whole group stops and waits. Front riders shout out, “Hoyo!” to warn of potholes or missing manhole covers. I honked my horn when appropriate and gave out my phone number to all interested.
            Interest in the Airzound is intense, but sales not so. Today I will go to Aro y Pedal, the largest bike shop in the DR with 10 stores scattered around the country, to try to sell wholesale.

Last week marked the 36th annual Vuelta Independencia International Bicycle road race in the Dominican Republic. 17 teams participated over 8 stages ranging in length from 196 Km to 84 km traversing the country.
            On Monday I hung around the start line before the race talking to racers and a few fans and when the gun went off the bikers were gone in seconds and on their way to Samaná 177 Km away.
            On Saturday the race returned to Santo Domingo and I waited near the finish line in the rain at Sambíl Mall. Talking to the official Timer I learned that each racer has a small computer chip attached to his front wheel that triggers a sensor at the exact millisecond that he crosses the finish line that communicates with the timer's computer. A half-hour before the racers were expected the electricity went out. A battered pick-up truck eventually dropped off a gas powered generator and the harried Timer heaved a sigh of relief. The route to the finish line on Avenida Kennedy, a large multi lane divided highway through the heart of the city, was in the right hand lanes but, about 300 meters before the finish, crossed through a space between the jersey barriers to occupy the three left hand lanes hugely complicating traffic control for the Amet police. Cars coming out of the mall's underground parking garage kept entering the bike lanes head-on and a motorcycle suddenly appeared in the crossover area causing the American who was leading the race, as well as a few others, to crash on the wet road. He finished roadburned and near last.
27th Febrero and Ave. Winston Churchill
Sunday marked the 8th and final stage of the race and consisted of fourteen 6 km laps down Avenida Lincoln, across Ave. 27 de Febrero, and up Avenida Churchill; finally an ideal scenario for spectators. I watched the start in a throng of about 50 aficionados and then biked down the empty closed-off boulevard to the first corner to watch the next lap on the inside turn. There were no barriers so I sat alone on the edge of the sidewalk and when the racers whirred past they were only a few feet from me and were going so impossibly fast that I could feel the speed and danger in my chest. After the bikers were clear and the support cars and the trailing ambulance passed I, and 3 other fans, biked to the next turn to await the passing of the next lap. And so on until we all arrived back at the finish line for the exciting conclusion of the Vuelta Independencia, to the relief of all.

If you are interested in purchasing an Airzound Safety Air Horn I can give you a good price.

Friday, December 12, 2014


Turns out riding a bike is not like riding a bike, in that, you can forget how. After a 30 year lay-off I was wobbly and nervous the first few days that I got back on and when I mentioned that I made it up the hill in the center of South Egremont (Massachusetts) other bicyclists said, “What hill?” I started off on a borrowed 1979 Eduardo Bianchi 3 speed folder with 20“ wheels and, as I gradually regained the hang of it, I started to like it.
            I bought a more compact, folding single-speed, coaster brake Retrospec bike that fits on the front seat of my pick-up and brought it with me on my weekends in New York City where I sell rock art photographs and tee shirts on various sidewalks of the  five boroughs.
Isham and Cooper, Inwood, Manhattan

After work I would choose a restaurant that sounded good in a magazine review or on Yelp, and that was a suitable distance away, and strike out biking for it. In just a few weekends I pedaled the length of the bike paths on both the East and West sides of Manhattan and crossed the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queensboro, University Heights and Pulaski bridges and ate at some good Mexican food trucks, gourmet hamburger and hoagie spots and Caribbean Jerk Chicken stands.
Brooklyn Bridge, bike path

The Little Red Light House under the George Washington Bridge, NYC

            Once, I stopped to rest at one of the many little parks on the Greenway along the Hudson River. I was sitting on a bench with my Spec on its kickstand near me and a couple of men wearing nice slacks, loafers and sport jackets sat nearby, next to their own parked bikes that had fenders and baskets, when a guy heading uptown biked up fast off the sidewalk, locked up his brakes, hopped off the skidding bike, picked it up and smashed it against a tree, picked it up again and hurled it into another tree. He picked it up one more time and bent over it, apparently inspecting for damage, got on and rode away. After a moment the Italian guys stood up and, as they were starting to get on their bikes, one looked at me and said with an accent, “In the Old Country, sometimes, we used to fix things that way too.”
            I got used to riding in traffic, stopping for lights and not being afraid when I had to insinuate myself into the left hand lane ready to make a left turn when the light changed and I learned to watch for doors of parked cars suddenly opening in front of me and I rang my Schwinn bike bell when a pedestrian, or a squirrel, looked like they might step out in front of me. The Spec coasts and pedals nearly silently having no gears that make clicking noises so no one hears you coming. When I am biking alone I feel like I am going pretty fast on the level or downhill but I am often passed and rarely pass another bicyclist unless they are distracted talking on their phone or eating a slice of pizza or a sandwich while pedaling. On a longish trip with grades but few hills I average 9 mph.
            I am now in Santo Domingo which, this year, finally made it to the number one ranking of world cities with the highest traffic related mortality rate. (41 deaths per population of 100,000 with 20 being the international average.) On my first bike outing I cautiously crossed the Malecón on foot, walking the bike, to get to the miles-long sidewalk that runs along the Caribbean and that has few curbs. It is like a boardwalk but built with bricks and concrete. Heading west I kept looking over my shoulder for other, faster cyclists approaching, but there were none. Once in a while a Honda 70cc, heard from a great distance, would pass. I turned right on Alma Mater which cuts through the UASD, the giant public university, and wended my way through the strolling students until I had to return to traffic on Bolivár. Cars, semi-s, decrepit taxis, busses and guaguas and motorcycles, half of which go the wrong way on one-way streets, all vie to beat the yellow, and for that matter the red lights too. The stoplights that work, that is. Years of piling on layers of blacktop have left deep precipitous gutters and there are frequent potholes that would catapult any cyclist into the next lane who hit one full speed. Wherever the street became too narrow I bailed for the sidewalk. 
El Malecón, Santo Domingo
            On my next bicycle forays into the maw of Santo Domingo I realized that the drivers here are accustomed to looking out for slow moving obstacles in the street. Fruit carts, children, people in wheelchairs and on crutches, shaved ice slushy salesmen (or frieros), cars gimping along on flat tires, livestock, delivery motorcycles, windshield washers, and people selling mangos, avocados and bottles of cold water at stoplights and near speed bumps are common and all need to be avoided. Liability here is generally ascribed to the vehicle that did the hitting, even if the other object was passing in the right lane in an intersection or screaming through a red light. So while the side-view mirror on that Toyota Corolla that just passed my left elbow felt too close for comfort, I believe the driver saw me and missed me on purpose.  My biggest fear, and one that almost no amount of alertness can protect against, is of getting hit by a motorcycle coasting silently with no lights through an intersection going the wrong way on a one-way street at night. (As I write this I see in the news that AMET, the traffic police, just gave out 3,433 fines during a 10 day period for vehicles without lights, a little over half of which were motorcycles.) I have ordered flashing lights for the front and rear of the Spec, and an Airzound, a bike horn purported to be the loudest ever made and that runs on 80 psi of compressed air in a plastic canister that you refill yourself every 50 honks with a bicycle pump or at a gas station.
Malecón looking west.