Most of my life is an open book not only on social media but on my website and among my friends and acquaintances. I suspect that my “politics“ are well-known.
What is less well known is that for 25 years I was the prosecuting attorney for two municipalities in metropolitan Kansas City. I worked closely with scores of officers in those police departments. Those officers were dedicated, hard-working, fair minded, and held the interests of their communities paramount in the performance of their duties. Every day they put their lives on the line and embraced the commitment to “serve and protect”. They also enforced the law… not something popular with those who break the law.
Early in my legal career I also was a Public Defender. For years I also had a private criminal defense practice. There was disparity in the way that people of color were commonly approached by law enforcement. In the 1980s there was a well know euphemism in the County Prosecuting Attorneys office that “NNR“ was probable cause for a law enforcement stop. “NNR“ stood for Nxxxx North of the River. ”North of the River“ was the predominately white area of Metropolitan Kansas City Missouri. My parents never had to caution me about random law-enforcement contacts. Sadly, that is a common conversation in families of color. Happily, attitudes are changing. Attitudes need to change more and perhaps the tragedies of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, among too many others, are getting the notice and action that they deserve outside of minority communities.
Perfect? Hardly. Police, like each of us, are human beings. The code of silence hurts good officers and the rest of us.
Over the years I encountered a (very) few who were not suited to wear the badge. They were usually weeded out by the command staff.
What makes headline news is not the good police officers or the peaceful protesters. What makes headlines is the “bad cop” and the rioters/looters all of whom have an agenda that is separate and apart from any argument for public service or social/racial justice.
I am a believer in social justice, racial justice, and that “Black Lives Matter”. Those beliefs are not exclusive to the support of good police officers and good law enforcement. Indeed, I find the beliefs wholly consistent.
When somebody says “Blue Lives Matter”, I say yes they do. When somebody says “Black Lives Matter“ I am just as enthusiastic. What I do not agree with is the use of one of those statements as a reply or response to the other. Embrace one statement and/or the other but not one in reply to the other.
We rode out of Miami on the morning of September 2, 2010.
Key West, Florida lay 160 miles south and west at the end of a string of island pearls known as the Florida Keys. We would overnight in Key Largo and on Marathon Island, before riding into Key West, our final destination, on September 4th.
Traveling the length of the Keys was extraordinary and at times even magical. We shared the road with motor vehicles, but we had long grown accustom to the risks. If anything, Highway 1, the thoroughfare that has connected the Keys since 1935, was quite bicycle friendly.
However, there were exceptions.
The ride was at times leisurely, allowing us to stop roadside for pictures and to just take in the sights.
In Key Largo Christine and I, in the company of riders Tom and Lissa Whittaker, sought out a well regarded local restaurant. “Tasters” was an exceptional find both for its cozy and intimate island atmosphere and the excellent cuisine. We were treated like valued local patrons by the owner/chef, Thomas Smith. We enjoyed his personal attention and also delightful conversation with another diner, Christi Allen Franchini, owner of the local Pilates studio.
We returned the following morning with rider John Mocella to pick up a souvenir t-shirt and this time met Thomas’ young son.
At a nearby dock we found the original “African Queen”, the famed steam vessel from the 1951 movie of the same name that stared Humphry Bogart and Katherine Hepburn.
Now in “retirement”, this 35 foot steam powered vessel, originally launched the UK in 1912 as the “Livingston”, plied the waters of the Ruki River in the Congo for over 50 years. She was shipped to the United States in the 1970’s, refurbished, and was added to the US Register of Historic Places in 1992.
She has continued on in Key Largo as a tourist boat, undergoing her most recent restoration in 2012.
Our evening in Marathon was equally pleasant with drinks and some dockside contemplation.
As is to be expected, the sunsets in the Keys were stunning.
Our ride into Key West from Marathon was rain-delayed by a strong early morning thunderstorm with accompanying rapid-fire air to ground lightning. The storm gave us a pause for breakfast and fortunately passed quickly. Back on our bikes we covered the last 50 miles, entering Key West shortly after noon.
We were greeted by a contingent of family and friends.
There was an overflowing of emotions and Champaign.
We posed for pictures.
We embraced, and we gave thanks that the 16 of us had safely made it across the United States without a serious accident or injury.
The following day Father Matt said Mass for the gathered friends, family, and dignitaries.
Hors d‘oeuvres, drinks and an emotional celebration followed.
The evening capped off with another spectacular sunset that lacked only“The End” followed by the list of cast and credits scrolling across the sky.
I know what we did, but the answer to what we accomplished is more elusive.
We bicycled over 5000 miles across the United States.
We carried the message of the problem of poverty in America.
We attended rallies, and we visited facilities that attend to the needs of the underprivileged. We lent a hand now and then along the way.
Certainly, we raised substantial funds for poverty related programs in Kansas City and in other communities that hosted us. While we may have touched some lives in a way that brought change, perhaps most important was the change that occurred within each of us.
For 100 days we were dedicated bicyclists. For 100 days we were a tight-knit family. We became disciples in a cause that did not end on the 100th day. It is not hyperbole to say that this was a life-changing experience. When I am engaged in conversation with a new acquaintance it is natural that the topic of “what did/do you do” comes up. After all, that is the fast track question to learning about one another. I am a husband of 43+ years, a father, a grandfather, a retired lawyer of 40+ years… and I bicycled over 5,000 miles across the United States as part of a commitment to the mission of Catholic Charities. It is telling that I mention those 100 days as a member of C4C with the same level of pride and accomplishment as other aspects of my life that are measured in decades. I suspect that the other 15 members of C4C are equally gratified with the part that they played.
I am proud to have been part of Cycling for Change. I am honored to call the other members my lifelong friends. I am especially grateful to Father Matt Ruhl, S.J. for the passion that he carries for the plight of the poor and underprivileged. Matt not only turns words into deeds, but he moves others to act, we of Cycling for Change among them.
In times past it was known as the Big Bend Coast. Since 1991 this unofficial region of Florida has been known as “The Nature Coast”. Loosely defined, this area covers approximately 8 Florida Counties that abut the Gulf of Mexico. Culturally, it is the transition from the southernmost extent of the “Deep South” into the more tropical and urban cultures of the Tampa Bay area and Miami.
From August 22nd to August 31st we enjoyed 9 riding days that covered over 480 miles and connected us with the Florida communities of Perry, Chiefland, Inverness, Polk City, Sebring, Clewiston, West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, and Miami.
“Enjoyed” is a term I present in the literal sense. The climate was comfortable.
The scenery was inviting.
The route was bicycle friendly and included the 32 mile long “rails to trails” Nature Coast State Trail.
Henry the “rubber roach” was still making his presence known. (Here seen attracting the amorous attention of a native Palmetto Bug)
It seemed that the most challenging hills we had to navigate were the roadside curbs.
The quality of our accommodations through most of this stretch were among the finest of the summer. The most memorable were our stays in Sebring (August 26th), West Palm Beach (August 28th and 29th), Boca Raton (August 30th), and the “pièce de résistance” was the Royal Palm Hotel in Miami Beach. These night stays read like a luxury tourist itinerary.
In Sebring we enjoyed rooms in the historic Kenilworth Lodge. This expansive resort hotel was built in 1916 by George Sebring, developer of the community. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000, its glory days were in the early and mid-20th Century as seen in this 1922 postcard.
During our brief stay hints of its past grandeur were apparent.
Sadly, it has lain closed and abandoned since 2016 due to a small electrical fire that lead to a detailed fire inspection and condemnation of the property.
Our stay at the Hilton Hotel in West Palm Beach was not so memorable for the otherwise typical accommodations, but for the unusual group that was also registered at the facility. Wherever we looked there were young people dressed as cartoon and fantasy characters.
One of our group asked an attendee what they were there for, “We are part of an Anime Convention.” was the reply. “What’s that?” continued the C4C rider. “A convention is a group of people meeting for the same purpose” was her response… and with that said she walked off leaving a bemused C4C rider in her wake.
In Boca Raton the oceanside Holiday Inn was anything but ordinary. Our arrival was heralded by a videographer.
The rooms looked out upon a delightful swimming pool and the sound of the Gulf waves on the beach mere feet away provided an aural backdrop for this piece of paradise.
At our 6 am departure the next morning the manager asked if we would join him for a group photo to add to his collection of hotel guest dignitaries.
And then there was the Royal Palm Hotel in Miami Beach. It was one of a group of extraordinary art-deco high rise hotels that adorn the South Beach strip. By day the hotel and surrounding environs were beautiful…
…but after sunset they transformed into a technicolor feast for the eyes.
Dating to 1939, the Royal Palm was named after the famous 1897 Henry Flagler Miami hotel that had been destroyed by fire a few years earlier. The staff at this decidedly upscale resort did not bat an eye when we asked to take our bicycles up the elevators for overnight storage in our rooms.
In spite of the changes that our venture into south Florida brought, we remained true to our established routine: An early start with Christine’s instructions for the day was followed by Father Matt’s morning prayer; “Let’s ride with peaceful minds and strong hearts…” and his concluding directive, “Buns Up Everyone!!”.
Daily Mass remained an afternoon or evening tradition. Often a “potluck” supper was served to us courtesy of a local church group. By now we had long lost count of the number of different ways that pasta could be served.
And of course we remained dedicated to the continuing mission of Cycling for Change, carrying the message of the problem of poverty in America. During this segment of our ride there were meetings and presentations with various parish groups, however the most endearing experience was our visit with the children at Miami’s Centro Hispano Catolico Child Care Center.
This child development center is one of 6 such centers operated by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami. The Centro Hispano serves up to 200 underprivileged children in the largely Hispanic community. Services include classes taught by degreed staff, 3 balanced meals a day, a curriculum to address literacy, social, and emotional development, individualized education plans, and training programs for parents that include development of language, job, and financial skills.
Ahead of us from Miami lay the final 160 miles to Key West. Ten years later a lump forms in my throat and a tear comes to my eye at the mere typing of those words.
Next: The final chapter: The Florida Keys and Key West.
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS. Christine’s parents, William “Bill” Alden Nichols and Doris Irene (Robinson) Nichols were born in 1918. At the age of 18 they eloped to marry, fearing their parents’ disapproval. On August 27, 2010, a little over 74 years after they had married, we of C4C were riding from Sebring to Clewiston, Florida. Christine took leave of the group that day to drive 60 miles west for an afternoon visit with her parents.
Doris resided in an assisted living community while Bill continued to live independently in their Florida home.
Doris passed away the following year at the age of 93. Bill lived past his 101st birthday, drawing his final breath in Kansas City on February 24th, 2020… “Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord…”
On the morning of August 15, 2010 we assembled to continue our journey east and south.
Ahead of us lay the final 1,150 miles, allocated between 18 riding days. Nearly 1,000 of those miles would be ridden in Florida. Certainly, we were not on the “home stretch”, but something had changed. We were excited, suffused with an optimism that had not been present over the last few weeks.
Perhaps it was the transformation that included palm trees and seashore vistas.
Perhaps it was the cooling offshore breezes that replaced the inland swelter that we had endured.
The roads had become pool table flat, except where the sea causeways arched to accommodate commercial shipping.
The sun shone brightly upon and within each of us.
However, all was not paradise in those coastal waters.
40 miles offshore from where we rode the largest marine oil spill in the history of the American petroleum industry was unfolding. On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon, a mobile oil rig, had been drilling an exploratory well in 5,000 feet of water. On that day the wellhead violently blew out, taking with it the lives of 11 workers whose remains were never recovered. The rupture caused the release of an estimated 210 million gallons of crude oil that continued unabated well into 2012. In Louisiana alone, nearly 5 million pounds of oil impregnated material was removed from the coastline. The direct environmental and economic damages were felt over 68,000 square miles, an area as large as the State of Oklahoma and easily visible from space.
Oil contaminated the beaches of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and extended along the coast as far as southern Florida.
As we rode we saw cleanup crews at work and witnessed the black corruption washing ashore.
What was hidden from us was the devastation to the flora and fauna. Thousands of species were impacted. The health and livelihood of millions of coastal residents were threatened, impacts that continue to be felt more than 10 years later.
Deepwater Horizon did not dampen our spirits.
Over the next 6 days we would pass through Biloxi, Mississippi, Dauphin Island, Alabama, and into the Florida panhandle: Pensacola, DeFuniak Springs, Marianna, and riding into Tallahassee we would enjoy a “rest day” on August 21st.
Between Marianna and Tallahassee we passed from Central Standard into the Eastern time zone, 4 time zones east from where we started on the Pacific Northwest coast.
It was one of a series of milestones that were reminders that the conclusion of our quest was drawing near.
On August 17th we were joined by Mark Dufva, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida. Accompanied part of the way by a few co-workers, he rode with us for 4 days and over 300 miles from Mobile, Alabama to Tallahassee, Florida.
Mark was not a veteran cyclist, but what he lacked in experience he more than made up for with enthusiasm and determination.
On the 18th, a day that was scheduled to cover about 90 miles, Mark joined me for an extension that would take the day’s ride over the 100 mile mark, a significant accomplishment known among bicyclists as “riding a century”.
Mark was also largely responsible for the explosion of publicity that we enjoyed.
There was a media event and mayoral proclamation ceremony in Pensacola, hosted by the Honorable Michael C. Wiggins.
En route to DeFuniak Springs we were hosted at a BBQ lunch in Ft. Walton Beach where another proclamation was made on our behalf.
Father Matt and Mark were interviewed via telephone on Christian Talk Radio.
Mark worked to make other connections for our meals and lodging. The most notable was the “Cycling for Change – Homeward Bound Rally” held in Tallahassee.
This was a festive family event that featured food and entertainment.
Tallahassee Mayor, John Marks, proclaimed “Poverty Solutions Week”, and County Commissioner Akin Akinyemi was not to be outdone by proclaiming “Poverty Awareness Day”.
We were treated to lodging in Tallahassee courtesy of the Newman Center of Florida State University and the endearing hospitality of its Director, Sister Christine Kelly, SSJ.
It is hard to imagine that after 10 years I could hold any regrets from my participation with C4C, but there is at least one. Over the years I have learned that I am fairly accomplished at beginnings, but quite deficient when it comes to conclusions. The child-like enthusiasm that I can barely restrain at the start of an “adventure” is balanced by my tendency to withdraw into myself when the finish line comes into sight.
As we lingered in Tallahassee, 86 days in the constant company of 15 extraordinary people were behind me. We had shared a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I could not shake the thought that in 2 weeks it would end and we would go our separate ways. There would be memories to last a lifetime, but it would never be the same as when together we rode across America.
I wish that I had not become so self-absorbed. I wish that I had been more gracious and grateful to those with whom I shared the experience. To paraphrase a line from a popular song, “Regrets, I’ve had a few… but then again just one to mention.”
Founded in 1718 by French colonists, New Orleans took its name from the French Duke of Orleans who reigned as Regent from 1715 to 1723 for King Louis XV. Louis inherited the throne at the age of 5 and reigned for 59 years until his death in 1774. The Duke served until King Louis reached his official age of majority, 13 years old.
New Orleans was held by The Kingdom France until ceded to Spain from 1763 to 1802, during which time significant Caribbean influences were exerted upon the city.
Its control briefly returned to the French Republic in 1802. The city and over 800,000 sq. miles known as the Louisiana Territory were sold by Napoleon to the United States the following year for 15 million dollars.
Statehood was granted to Louisiana, formerly known as the Territory of Orleans, in 1812.
By 1840 New Orleans ranked as the 3rd largest city in the United States and its largest slave market.
In 1861 Louisiana seceded from the United States and became part of the Confederacy until the United States victory in 1865. However, in 1862 New Orleans was captured and thereafter held by Union troops throughout the war.
This brief history may explain: why most of the 18th Century architecture that abounds in the French Quarter and old city are of Spanish origin;
why linguistically New Orleans and the surrounding area still present an unusual mixture of French, Spanish, and English dialects known as Creole; why Louisiana retains a French influenced “Code” legal system rather than the English Common Law followed in the rest of America; why Louisiana has “Parishes” rather than “Counties”; and why New Orleans is so ethnically diverse.
The 16 members of Cycling for Change entered New Orleans on August 12, 2010.
We remained in the city for 3 nights. The original plan had been for the group to either stay at a convent or to reside in a homeless/transitional living shelter in nearby Marrero, Louisiana. Happily, our “handlers” back at Catholic Charities in Kansas City acknowledged that our efforts deserved an upgrade to a hotel located between the New Orleans French Quarter and Garden District. It was a welcome concession to our comfort.
New Orleans should be on every North America traveler’s “bucket list”. It is unique among all the continent’s cities for its architecture, music, cuisine, culture, and of course Mardi Gras. We enjoyed a limited opportunity to see a few of the better known features of the city such as Jefferson Square and St. Louis Cathedral,
the oldest trolley system in the United States,
and of course Bourbon Street.
At the end of this post I will provide some of my 2019 images that give some insight into the tourism opportunities that New Orleans presents.
Historically, New Orleans has been a veritable magnet for hurricanes. This NOAA graphic shows the tracks of every category 3+ hurricane that came within 100 miles of the city between 1852 and 2005.
At the time of our visit in 2010, New Orleans was still reeling from the devastation wrought in 2005 by the Category 5 Hurricane Katrina. With over 1,200 dead and damages estimated at over 125 billion dollars, Katrina then ranked as the costliest storm in US history. Entire neighborhoods were erased in part because of engineering failures of the flood levee system and due to human caused ground subsidence which has left half of New Orleans’ neighborhoods located below sea-level.
Over a million people were displaced. In the immediate years following Katrina the population exodus reduced the city’s population by half. Poverty, which was already a pre-Katrina problem, became a critical issue.
Founded in 1982 by Archbishop Philip Hannan, Bishop Roger Moring, and Gregory Johnson, Second Harvest Food Bank of New Orleans is a leader in the fight against hunger in south Louisiana. By 2005 it had become the largest food bank in the world.
The 16 members of C4C spent much of August 13th volunteering at the main Second Harvest warehouse. As a part of our orientation we learned that 1 in 5 Louisiana households are at risk of hunger.
Second Harvest salvages over 35 millions of pounds of food annually… food that is still wholesome, but which has been rejected for cosmetic reasons, damage to packaging, because of expired “best by” and expiration dates, and surplusage.
Second Harvest relies largely upon over 9,000 volunteers for labor to sort, repackage, and distribute this food over 23 Louisiana Parishes (Counties).
Each year over 32 million meals are thus provided to nearly a quarter of a million people. It was an honor for us to participate in those efforts. C4C members sorted food,
repackaged and boxed food,
and visited the various warehouse facilities including the frozen storage unit.
Christine drew my attention to pallets loaded with PediaSure, a specialty nutrition supplement for growth challenged children. At that time our three surviving quadruplet grandchildren were directed to use this product by their physicians. The cost was approximately $2.00 an 8oz can.
Second Harvest Food Bank is a not-for-profit agency. It is able to stretch a dollar into 4 meals for a family in need. $0.97 of every $1 donated goes directly to programs that feed the hungry. Corporate offices located at 700 Edwards Ave., New Orleans, LA 70123. Donations are welcomed. For more information: www.no-hunger.org
Next: The Gulf Coast
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS: The following are pictures with limited commentary of New Orleans taken in 2019. If you have not ever visited this enchanting city please consider it.
New Orleans is a major port city on the Mississippi Delta near the Gulf of Mexico. There are opportunities for riverboat excursions.
The city market is delightful…
…and the architecture stunning.
Street music is everywhere.
Jefferson Square is surrounded by quaint shops and inviting dining venues.
Enjoying a cup of chicory coffee and a beignet at Café du Monde is a “must” tradition,
as is visiting one of the unique cemeteries where voodoo queens “mix” with dignitaries and figures of historical significance.
When we awoke the morning of August 3, 2010 in Memphis Tennessee, 561 bicycle miles and 9 riding days stood between us and New Orleans. That worked out to an average of a little more than 62 miles per day, known in bicycle parlance as a “metric century” (100 kilometers).
For 12 cyclists who had already covered thousands of miles together, that did not seem to be a heavy lift. However, as we were to learn that day the worst was yet to come.