The Mo(o)ngoose. I stumbled into that name earlier this summer as I waxed nostalgic about cycling during a conversation on Facebook. The 2003 Mongoose Rockadile AL light frame mountain bike came into my possession some 3 years earlier from an owner in Oak Park whose wife issued him an ultimatum. Since he had ceased riding, he could no longer justify its home in their basement. It was a somber separation, but his loss redounded to my gain. The bike had been well kept throughout the years arriving complete with a custom rear wheel reflector and a small handlebar horn bearing the words “I Heart My Bike”. All of this was traded for a pittance of 30 dollars and a promise that I would extract as much enjoyment during my riding time as he had known. Craig’s List, the bastion of all things unwanted seeking a home, had never found me a more satisfied customer. I loaded the bike into the back seat of my Chrysler Cirrus and began our journey southward.
No road test was conducted the first day aside from a ride around the block upon purchase. There were a few runs over the lake path through the remainder of the summer. A rack was attached to the back of my car that I might load up Kaya’s bike alongside mine and we could travel the path together. The Mo(o)ngoose had well paid its return in outdoor adventures echoing back to childhood cycling memories once left to collect dust. In Kenner, Lousiana, we didn’t have much in the way of public transportation save a single bus which circled the outer perimeter of the city. If I wished to escape home and move about the town with any swiftness, it required either a bike or a car. The depth of my pocketbook dictated that my time would be more economically invested in the repair and maintenance of the former. I loved riding then. I would journey my way through Kenner into our neighboring town of Metarie; from the Esplanade to the Lakefront; Clearview to Rivertown; Airline Highway to Williams Boulevard. I was anxious to breathe the sovereign air knowing that wherever I was situated, I no longer had to remain there so long as I was riding. When changing neighborhoods and schools as our family did often, old friends were never more than a 20 minute ride away. The bike was a force of stability, independence and expression during the measure of my youth.
What happened? High school. As I yearned for longer distances, downtown New Orleans or out east near the Plaza, the bike lost its practical value and reputational cache. I needed a car. For lack of the money to afford my own, I negotiated the dilemma as any self respecting teenager would; I begged my parents to let me borrow the family car. Inside its plush cabin, I could roll down windows, load a cassette in the stereo and cruise the mall, movies or main strips in search of girls who were impressed by my charm and nobility by virtue of mobility. DC was different only in that this city had a transportation infrastructure which was more advanced than anything I had ever engaged. On club nights, the members of the NCCC Campus would load into a shuttle which dropped us off at the Anacostia Green Line Station where we would search out drinks, dancing and loud music at Tracks 2000 and The Bank or catch a concert at the 9:30 Club. On working days, we had a team van in which we drove between our campus and project site. What little leisure time I had between assignments was spent escaping into AOL or dancing upon the campus roof and along the adjacent wooded area.
A return to Chicago found me going through erratic periods of self discovery where I recovered aspects of my personality once thought lost. Between ’99 and ’07, I had a very tenuous relationship with dance. We didn’t see each other often. When we did, I was always plastered before I felt really comfortable in her arms. House music changed all of that in 2008. This space encouraged sobriety by deeply intoxicating my senses in music, dance and effusive people. The permeating physical culture built an atmosphere around a long hushed ambition that I had to experience the joy of playing instrumentation to a crowd. The Chicago Public Library stoked the dying embers of my love for books until its torchlamp burned bright once more. The open mic poetry scene and local writers for whom I held a deep admiration inspired the creation of this blog. Chicago was where my child was born; a statement as literal as it is metaphoric in nature. It was only fitting that my love of cycling and exploration would also restored by the city while touring the Westside with a cadre of bike riding brown people under the aegis of Red, Bike & Green.
Red, Bike & Green is a community-building collective of Black urban cyclists seeking to improve the physical and mental health, economy and local environment of African Americans by creating a relevant and sustainable Black bike culture. On May 19th having missed every prior community ride the group had organized, I joined them on their Westside Chicago tour catching up with them while they were touring the Garfield Park Conservatory. An important component of the Red, Bike & Green rides is community mapping in which the riders become apprised of both the history, resources and needs of each community. In an earlier conversation around the event, I offered my adolescent summer youth center, Off The Street Club, as a tour stop. In addition to being a longstanding, self funded pillar of this Westside neighborhood, it is the oldest boys and girls club in the city of Chicago. I shared a few memories of attending the youth center and spending time at Camp Mathieu during the summer before we pedaled away to our next destination, the Fred Hampton Memorial Mural. Our final tour stop was to include lunch at New Life Health Foods where we were disappointed to learn that the restaurant had closed down. The back up plan found us at a Mexican eatery in Little Village where we traded tortilla chips and conversation before heading back towards the Buckingham Fountain.
Once I parted ways with the other riders, I headed south on the lake path making my way to the drum circle at 63rd street. On that day, I decided they should see my face, energy and instruments more often. This weekly trek to the drum circle on Saturdays along with a combined trip to my dance class in Humboldt Park and southbound home have allowed me to score a small collection of miles on these once neglected Mo(o)ngoose tires which has me eyeing the upgrade market. I am in love with my bike all over again. During the NATO Summit when I tired of dealing with the weekend rerouting my south to north trip included, I hopped off the bus, unloaded my bike from the rack and set my own itinerary on the fly. There is something clandestine and stealthy about riding which makes me feel simultaneously visible, but casually unnoticed. I change directions, hop traffic lanes and occasionally beat the signal which is agitating the driver behind me. Whereas 3 years prior, I could think of nothing better than hopping in my car and driving in search of no destination certain, I can now think of no better place to be on a warm summer day than beating traffic astride my bike. How does one survive another winter in Chicago after cycling through such a sovereign summer?