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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Riding to My First Seder

About a week before Passover, Corinna sent me an email at work that we were going to a Seder for dinner the following Tuesday. One of our Jewish friends had encouraged her in this, saying it was a thing not to be missed. I pictured a seder in someone's home, but of course I could tell from the email it was a confirmation to a community Seder at a temple.

The only resistance I offered was it sounded like something that would cause me to miss a bike ride. On a week when I'd have my kids twice, so only two round trips to work were practically in the bike commuting plan anyway. She said, ride your bike to it, I'll drive down and meet you, we'll put your bike on the car and we can drive home together.

It didn't sound quite as good as what we did Tuesday evenings for a while last year, where I rode to work, then out to Heartland for a Bible study, then home, making my Tuesdays into 50-mile rides, but I'm still getting my legs back from the months off after my surgeries, and a 30 mile day feels nearly epic. And Corinna has trouble driving at night and doesn't have the range to ride that far herself yet coming off that bicycle crash and the brain injury it resulted in.

I Google Mapped the bike route to the temple from my work. It prescribed riding Holmes to the Indian Creek Trail, which would be a silly way to go. Holmes isn't exactly bike friendly in rush hour, plus it's hilly as all get out. Much better to take Somerset to Lee Boulevard, at the end of which there is a logical trail to pick up, the Tomahawk Creek trail. There are other routes I could take through southern Johnson County to get there, but the trail cuts a convenient diagonal, plus you don't have to stop. Unlike the Trolley Trail, which is really just a gravel sidewalk that crosses streets constantly, this is a paved trail that goes under streets. Following a stream bed means it's sheltered from the wind, too, so I barely felt what would have been a considerable headwind. Johnson County residents haven't caught on much, but they really do have some pretty kick-ass bike infrastructure, the urban core where lots of people ride bikes for transportation doesn't have anything remotely like it. We have an occasional bike lane, which is mainly used to store broken glass and bent nails, but except for the (very short) Berkeley Riverfront Heritage Trail, there isn't anything as nice as the Streamway trails out in JoCo going through the city.

The trail only got me to 127th & Nall, and my target was more like 142nd and Lamar. Google Maps offered me the choice of taking Nall down a ways and cutting over (which would pretty much mean sidewalk riding given the nature of the road and the traffic that time of day—I could try taking the lane to make a point but sometimes that's a losing battle, and this was in my judgment one of those times), or I could go over on 127th (there's a bike/ped trail along it) to Metcalf and pick up another leg of the Tomahawk trail, though that trail truly is a sidewalk, just a slightly wider than average one.

But right off Nall, I spotted a familiar subdivision, I think it's called Turnberry. It's one of those labyrinthine neighborhoods I would normally never try to cut through when I need to be somewhere. Suburban planners believe in a dubious theory that crime is reduced and home values enhanced by designing streets to thwart transportation, at least transportation to anything but a home in that subdivision. As opposed to a grid designed to maximize flow, it's more of a filter design. It makes for fine cycling as far as nobody is tearing down these streets at fifty miles per hour, but there's often only one or two ways in or out of a large area.

As it happened, I used to go on a group ride a few years back that went through this particular neighborhood. I knew the one way through it. I don't know all the street names but you stay to the right, then wander left and make a right, then another right after it winds around down a hill, and eventually you clime a curving hill and find yourself on Lamar heading to a roundabout and then to 135th and beyond.

Between leaving work early out of paranoia that I'd get held up by something (a trail under construction, requiring a lengthy detour, for instance), and my little shortcut, I arrived at Congregation Beth Shalom a full hour early. I went on a little exploration of the area, finding a long trail going along 143rd, and that one Google Maps had wanted to send me to. I didn't want to be late, especially being an outsider, so I went ahead and headed back to the temple. I stopped at the sign to take a picture of my bike in front of it, then rode up to the parking area where I spotted another trail and rode briefly down it to see where it lead. When I got back to the circle drive, a cop who was working the door started chatting with me to see who the hell I thought I was and what I wanted.

I explained I was there for the service, meeting my wife who was coming by more conventional transit. "Your helmet had some people worried," he said. At the time this sounded utterly ridiculous to me. I know, evil had visited the Jewish community just a couple of days before this—if you have been under a rock and didn't hear about it, a cranky old Klansman committed a cowardly act of terrorism resulting in three deaths at two Jewish facilities on Sunday. The sort of guy who not only spent his life promoting idiotic hatreds, but as soon as it got hot for him he turned snitch on all his fellow idiots, and maybe I'm wrong to think that makes him even worse. How could you be worse than a Klansman or Nazi who shoots innocent people? I think it's the lack of courage in your convictions, as compared to a bearded idiot who will take his own life as eagerly as someone else's before he compromises his beliefs.

Anyway, I can't imagine who would mistake a pink helmet mohawk for a sign of Klan affiliation or Nazi sympathies. I'm reasonably certain just reading the stickers on my bike would get me a ticket to be dragged by one of those guys' pickups if they had an open shot at me. So I was truly baffled—weird is so threatening? But the trauma was fresh, so who am I to judge?

I put on a non-Hawaiian shirt and a suit coat my wife had thoughtfully brought, locked my bike onto the rack of my car and went in to what amounted to a long Jewish church service coupled with a catered meal. It was good. It was interesting. We drank sweet wine, we ate bitter herbs dipped in salt water (both of which it the spot after 30 miles in the saddle, even if you're not Jewish or a fan of sweet wines).

We had gefilte fish, something I'd never been brave enough to buy and try on my own (I can't say I'm a fan—the taste is okay but the texture is kind of like tofu, another food I have trouble with). I'm glad I tried it, though. It's better with some matzah cracker, and some of that purple horseradish stuff. But then there was matzo ball soup, and an enormous portion of grilled chicken breast. They had talked about the sacrificial lamb (or sacrificial yam for the vegetarians), but I guess it's okay if your lamb had feathers. The chicken was excellent, as was the soup (which is exactly like chicken noodle if you wad all the noodles up into a ball). The theme was not just how the Jews escaped slavery, but the importance of freeing all the slaves who still live in bondage. It was asserted, and it sounds true to me, that if you adjust for inflation, slaves are cheaper today than they were in pre-Civil War America.

There was lots of socializing, too, with neat people. About half my table where gentiles, spiritual and cultural tourists. The other half helped us follow along and figure out what to do and when. It was a lovely evening, even with the shadow cast by the aforementioned Klan type guy.

As we were leaving, I saw the cop who had originally been concerned with my presence and got a better feel for what had gone wrong. It wasn't the pink helmet mohawk, it was all my bags that could potentially hold weapons (they hold cold/wet weather cycling gear and a DSLR camera with accessories), plus that shot I was taking of my bike at the sign. Someone driving in saw that and thought, I guess, that I was vandalizing the sign. That's a narrative that is perfectly understandable, but that does make me look a lot more ominous light of recent events.

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