Category Archives: Cycling

The Numbers Game: Wordtabulous Meets MOTOACTV

When I bought my first bike as an adult, my friends encouraged me to get a cycling computer, a small electronic device that was wired to a little plastic doo-hickey (I am pretty sure that is the term) which registered how fast a magnet attached to a front wheel spoke swept past it. The computer gave me numbers for how long a time period I rode, distance I covered, my current speed while riding, my average speed over the entire trip, my max speed, and an odometer that collected all the miles I ever rode (when I remembered to turn the thing on.) I hadn’t even been sure I wanted one of the things–they seemed suspiciously fancy, but once I had a computer, I was hooked. Suddenly I was ALL ABOUT wanting to ride longer distances faster. When I got tired, I could see the numbers getting lower as I slowed, and it inspired me to fight through the fatigue and press on. When I wanted to be done, but saw I only needed three more miles to hit a nice, even number on the odometer, I’d add a side trip to get a little more distance. Training involves at least as much mental dedication as it does physical toughness, and numbers are a way to distract a person from the discomfort of a grueling workout, or help them focus on the results they want. Numbers are our friends.

I have had several different computers over the years, but they were all pretty much on the same level as that first one. Priorities shifted, and I started riding more sporadically. When I did get out my rides were slower and shorter. For a time I was taking a lot of group fitness classes like Kettlebell and Pilates and TRX, but when I got a job (in addition to the freelance work and the domestic engineering I already do,) my new work schedule and life in general conflicted with the classes. I began spending more and more time sitting in front of the computer or on the couch. When I rode the Tour de Cure last weekend, it seemed obvious to me that my new sedentary lifestyle had taken a toll. Fortunately, a friend at work had a connection to someone at Verizon Wireless, who was willing to loan me a Motorola MOTOACTV device for a week, to see what I thought. Great opportunity! So here’s what I think:

The package I got from Verizon Wireless included the MOTOACTV device, which is about 1.75 inches square, and the following accessories: a wristband, an armband, a belt clip, earphones, a bike mount, and a USB cord and wall charger. The device charged up in less than two hours. It was pretty easy to navigate through the various menus. There is one for Settings, where you can sync the device to a heart rate transmitter, and add personal information like height, weight, gender and age. There is a Workout menu under which you can choose to look at data from recent workouts or start a new workout by choosing running, cycling, walking, elliptical or step machine. The Main screen shows the time, date, estimated calories burned (either for the day, if you are using all day monitoring, or for a workout you are doing if you are trying to conserve battery life,) and a pedometer readout. There is a Music menu (I loaded a playlist from my iTunes,) and Notifications, which I never used. The device is cool, but where things got  amazing was when I hooked it up to my computer (to load music and see what there was to see,) and then went to the MOTOACTV website ( From then on, the device synced all my data wirelessly and automatically.

I used the MOTOACTV for four workouts: a 45 mile long bike ride (Tour de Cure,) a three-mile walk, a fit-test run (I know-me running? I am a very dedicated data gatherer,) and a 21 mile bike ride I took by myself. I had trouble getting things rolling at the Tour, I was leaving the start line on a winding path and since I’d only gotten the device the day before I was unfamiliar with it. There was the GPS to connect to, and the start button to hit–no biggie but a little bewildering the first time, particularly with other bikers riding alongside. I had left the device on “all day monitoring,” the bluetooth was activated and I hadn’t charged it again since the day before, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised when it died 28 miles in. There was a lot of data flowing when it WAS working: all the usual stats mentioned above, plus  data for speed broken down by each mile ridden. When it shut down, there were 28 discrete pieces of data waiting for me to analyze, and when I recharged the device, it was still there along with a tiny little route map!

When I checked on the website, the info was waiting for me, no cables or button pushing required, all wirelessly updated. Nice. I borrowed a Garmin heart-rate transmitter from a neighbor (thanks, Lynn!) to do the Fitness Test (an eight minute run) so the website could set up my Carmichael Heart Rate Zones. Within a hundred yards I was reminded of how much I dislike running, but I cranked out my fast-as-I-could-go for eight minutes and was rewarded with a bunch of new data that seemed very compatible with the  “perceived exertion” levels I generally use. In a Wordtabulous first, I am inserting a video below to show you my favorite features.

Things I didn’t try, but wish I had: the device will compare what music you are listening to, to how well you are performing which can help you build a list of power music. Competition could be fun, although I would be more likely to compete with my own results rather than someone else’s, which is an option they offer. I didn’t use Notifications or link the device to my smartphone, but I am curious how that would all work.

Things I would want that I either didn’t figure out or the device doesn’t offer: a workout setting for monitoring heart rate and calorie burn during group fitness classes. I also think it would be interesting to see heart rate over the course of the day so you could assess your true resting heart rate and exactly how stressful certain times of your day are, but the only heart rate info I could find seemed to be attached to workouts.

In summary, a week was only long enough to dip my toe into what MOTOACTV has to offer but I was really intrigued by the versatility of the device and the wealth of data collected and organized. The battery running out was a newbie user issue not a product problem. I loved the wireless syncing aspect and the GPS tracking and route display. If I owned this device, I KNOW I would get out and do more. The belt clip made the device unobtrusive for all day wear, and the wristband is comfortable and kind of attractive in a chunky way. For my purposes I would want the bike mount and heart rate monitor, but not being totally hard core I don’t know if I would need the cadence meter. The MOTOACTV is spendy at $249.99, or $399 with the sports pack including accessories, but if numbers and high tech visual affirmation of your effort help get you off the couch, it could very well be worth it.

Thank you, Verizon Wireless, for the loan of the device!


It’s OK, Red Rider. You Can Take a Break Now.

Saturday, June 2 was a beautiful day in Minnesota. In fact, it was absolutely breathtaking, which made it so much easier to get up early, load up the cycling accoutrements and head off to Minnehaha Falls Park to ride, party and kick diabetes’ ass.

Last year, I rode with a team I didn’t know very well. I met up with teammates at one rest stop and at the end. I raised $500 dollars. I was really impressed with the ride, the organization and the people involved. I loved how, every time I passed or was passed by someone wearing a red jersey that said “I Ride With Diabetes” we all called out “Go, Red Rider!” I knew I wanted to ride the Tour again but also knew after trying the 64 mile route I needed to either train more or ride less distance for full happiness.

This year, I had my own team of seven people (including two Red Riders.) I rode with one of my teammates and used my phone and texts to stay in touch with everyone else. Three of my teammates were brand new to the event. I only had one teammate who got sick and was unable to ride, but all of us raised at least the minimum and we surpassed our fundraising goal. I rode 45 miles and instead of making conversation with total strangers as I did last year, (which was cool in its own way) I got to reconnect with the friend who rode with me. We had an excellent ride and were pleased with our route choice, which was long enough to be a challenge (since once again I hardly trained at all) but not so long as to give me a screaming migraine, which unfortunately sometimes happens. We hit all last year’s great landmarks: Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun, the Target Center and the Stone Arch Bridge, the Greenway, Grand and Summit Avenues, the Cathedral of St.Paul, Kellogg Ave, Harriet Island, Fort Snelling and back to Minnehaha Falls. We took advantage of the rest stops when we felt like it. At one stop, we took the opportunity to get our photo taken with the Winter Carnival royalty who were very colorful and friendly. And, right to the finish line, we called out “Go, Red Rider!” as the occasion arose, which really helps a person stay focused on the cause.

Yes, we are wearing leis. You DON’T wear a lei when you ride a bike? Weird.

Once we were done, we got together with as many of our teammates as we could gather; one needed to leave early and one we had difficulty connecting with due to phone issues. We got our free lunch (I had a turkey burger and chips and a Zevia, which is a zero calorie fruit-flavored carbonated beverage naturally sweetened with stevia) and there was free beer (thank you Schell!) for drinkers 21 years and older.

A word about beer. I don’t LOVE beer, but there are situations that call for it: baseball games, German food, and post ride. Especially that last one; beer is like a post-cycling miracle beverage.

We got a picture of the four of us that convened at the beer garden. I am so proud of everyone on my team, for saying yes to the event and and supporting the American Diabetes Association, and am so honored they chose to sign up with my team! I only wish I had a shot of all of us together plus all our fabulous friends and family who donated to support our efforts, but their faces are all engraved on my heart.

Don’t we look happy? Wouldn’t you like to ride with us? I don’t know who that guy in the black T-shirt is, but I think he wants to join our team!

Even BEFORE drinking the beer, we agreed we all would be riding the Tour de Cure again and–even better–one might start his own team, and recruit friends to start more teams! The only downside of the day would have to be the fact that I was forced to face the fact that I am definitely not as strong as I once was. The ride itself was great, but I was a limp rag the entire rest of the day, when in the past, I think I would have been fine. Maybe a little tired. I think the “repetitive nap attack” might be blamed a little bit on the midday beer, but the truth is that I really need to get back to the workouts.

One additional upside to the day was that I got to try out a new toy! Thank you, Verizon Wireless, for the loan of the MOTOROLA MOTOACTV! I will have a review of the device later this week. I will be using it to jump start my enthusiasm for additional workouts. I CAN tell you that by mile 28 of yesterday’s ride, I had burned an estimated 1,073 calories. Sadly, due to user inexperience, the unit’s battery died at that point, so I am not sure how many calories total I burned. Still, exciting!

Thanks for hanging in there with me through this report of Tour de Cure 2012. Eat right, exercise, and send your pancreas positive thoughts so diabetes doesn’t darken your door, and if it does (or already has,) know that there are thousands of people out there pedaling for you and for a cure!

I’ve Got a Ticket To Ride!

  Yesterday I picked up my packet and dropped off my waiver and now I am bona fide (did you hear that in the voice of Holly Hunter in “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?) This weekend I will be riding the 2012 Minneapolis Tour de Cure for the American Diabetes Association. I rounded up six awesome friends, we each rounded up donations from other awesome friends and Saturday we will live the event’s motto: “Ride. Party. Stop Diabetes.”

Some of us will ride the 18 mile route (with the option to jump to 27 miles if so inspired.) Some of us will ride the 45 mile route. Some of us are riding this event for the first time. For some, this is their first organized ride ever. There will be plenty of hard-core cyclists at the Tour, but we aren’t them.

I’ve met everyone on my team, and ridden with most of them, but there will be plenty of introductions made Saturday morning, since most of them will be be new to one another. We aren’t a close-knit friend or family or corporate team, although there will be plenty of those riding Saturday morning as well.

We aren’t world-class advocates or philanthropists. What we are is a group of everyday people drawn together by the promise of a well-organized and supported event and the hope that we can do a little something about a big problem. We aren’t heroes, except for the fact that by saying yes to a pretty minimal bit of time and effort, we have collectively raised over $2,000 dollars so far for research, education and patient advocacy, more than twice our goal and 100% more than we would have done if we’d said, “Maybe next year.” Two men on our team are “Red Riders” which means they’ll be wearing spiffy red jerseys to indicate they ride with diabetes while the rest of us (like almost everyone else in this country) have friends or family members with either the Type 1 or Type 2 diagnosis. We all want to make a difference; committing ourselves to the effort brings us one step closer to actually doing that.

Share with us one of the ways you give your time, money or sweat to make a difference!

Related Post: Warriors on Wheels: Cynthia Zuber

Related Post: Tour de Cure: The Finish Line

Blowing Off The Cobwebs

Spring is skipping happily toward summer, and I have finally gotten my bike out on the road. Both my bikes, actually. There was a rough patch in my life, following the birth of my second child and lasting for several years, during which I felt I was losing large parts of my identity as an individual. I loved my family, and loved my job (until I didn’t, when I stopped,) but I felt a little lost in the mix. I needed something fun that was just mine, and I remembered loving the wind on my face as I coasted down hills as a child. I bought a Raleigh bike with medium nubby tires, a cushy saddle and a straight handlebar. Something happened as I mounted the bike and pedaled off with no destination in mind. My focus on meeting others’ needs evaporated, with no one needy around. My preoccupation with concerns and to-do lists lifted. I could feel my blood coursing through my veins, practically singing, and I felt like I had come home.

I met Linda, a lovely woman from church, and we started to ride together. She had a road bike, built for higher speeds on paved roads and coaxed me into longer distances. She was the one who persuaded me to sign up for my first-ever organized ride: The Ironman Bicycle Classic in Lakeville, MN, so named because it offers distances of up to 100 miles in the early spring before anyone here is fully ready for long distances and because sometimes participants ride in snow, not because of any relationship with the Ironman Triathlon. Linda and I rode the 62 mile course in 1999, and I was hooked. She moved away, but I found an outdoor cycling group through the local fitness center. I bought a road bike, a Univega Modo Vincere. I eventually began organizing the group and teaching indoor cycling classes. I rode in recreational and fundraising events (including a few centuries, or 100 mile rides,) and even competed in a few events.

Then I turned, or re-turned to writing, and while I have never lost my love for cycling, it has become less and less a part of my life.  Now I ride one fundraising event a year, the Tour de Cure for the American Diabetes Association, and a handful of rides with others or by myself each season. And this is the thing: getting back in the saddle is still like coming home. When I am in a bad mood or mentally blocked, pedaling 10, 15 or 20 miles in the fresh air blows off the cobwebs, bringing me clarity and inspiration. Nowadays I ride a Specialized Allez Comp, but I still get that Raleigh out once in awhile. Chasing speed and distance is a thing of my past, but I hope I never fail to find myself, when I am feeling a little lost, out there on the open road.

How or where do YOU find yourself, when you have felt the grind of life eroding away who you are?

Related post: Cyclists: Smug But Balanced

Related Post: The Finish Line

San Fran, Finally.

When you tell people you are going to San Francisco for the first time, whether they have been there themselves or not,  they give you a wistful look. “Oh! You are going to have such a good time!” they say. A northern Great Plains girl, my associations with San Francisco were the 70’s TV shows “The Streets of San Francisco” and “McMillan and Wife.” Also Rice-a-Roni. Of course the Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars. I imagined Fisherman’s Wharf to be a place where boats pulled up with their fresh catch and sold it to wandering passersby who had flowers and baguettes (or more probably, sourdough loaves) tucked into their market bags. As a person well into my adult years, I am savvy enough to know how naive my childhood impressions were. Also, since childhood, other cultural impressions of the area have surfaced, such as the gay rights movement and the movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

My first impression of the San Francisco area was the thrill of driving the winding hilly roads around Muir woods, and the disappointment of not stopping there because the parking lots overflowed to roadside parking that extended a mile beyond the entrance. My husband navigated and I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to our hotel, Marriott on Fisherman’s Wharf, along which route I discovered that San Franciscans communicate by car horn. I don’t think any honks were directed at us, but from watching other drivers I could see that hesitation or confusion is not well tolerated there. Learn fast, or get out of the way. Cyclists, who aren’t well tolerated in other areas I have driven (ahem, looking at you–rural outskirts of exurban Minneapolis/St. Paul)  have apparently earned the right to cohabit the streets there, but then, if you are fit enough to climb the hills of the city and experienced enough to descend them without killing someone, you have been there awhile. We were happy to pull into valet parking. Almost immediately we headed toward Fisherman’s Wharf, two blocks away, to see what was up. The noise and the crowds were building around us as we approached the waterfront, when Mr. W’s cell  phone rang. It was his uncle, calling to tell him his (maternal) Grandma Marian had died unexpectedly, and asking him to pass the news onto his brother and father. This was a seismic shift; foundations were rocked. Physical fatigue and emotional aftershocks colored the rest of our stay. One second before we had merely been tourists, now we were Outsiders, viewing the colorful city through the bittersweet  lens of fond remembrances dislocated 1400 miles, and a feather light caress of mortality’s scythe.

The rest of this post could be quite maudlin if I dragged a lot of words into it and I hate that, so here is my San Francisco in a nutshell:

  • Fisherman’s Wharf: amazing people watching, and what a spectrum of race, culture, age and style choice. Could have sat and watched all day, but I needed a warmer sweater. Restaurants, bars and shops? Meh.
  • Ghiradelli Square: empty when we were there. Looked nice, but we aren’t big shoppers. We can get most of the same stuff back home without worrying about the packing. An okay place to look around while we waited for the cable cars to get back online.
  • Cable cars: remarkably unreliable. There were two breakdowns on different turnarounds the day we rode. The grips running the brakes vary a lot in comportment. Our first driver I wanted to invite out to dinner, and the second one I wanted to curse out to his face. I was a little emotional, I think.
  • Spicy Shrimp and some Hot & Sour soup at City Chopsticks  helped restore me a little. We just got off the cable car randomly.
  • When we looked lost, strangers stopped to ask us if they could help us. One friendly soul was definitely of French origin. We met Brits everywhere.
  • Union Square: more shopping, bigger crowds.
  • Restaurants: we practically burned out our smartphones checking restaurants out on yelp! and TripAdvisor. I was going to ask my facebook folks for a recommendation but it wouldn’t load. In the end we ate some pretty good food, nothing spectacular, but the biggest hit was honestly the cheap coffee and rolls at Coffee Adventure near our hotel. The mocha I got the first day was not quite hot enough, but the raspberry or almond croissants were enormous and we both ate for less than one meal just about anywhere else.
  • Before heading to the airport on Tuesday we stopped at Golden Gate Park, and enjoyed the simple but stunning Japanese Tea Garden before the crowds hit. The quiet and the beauty was exactly what we needed at that point. We also visited the De Young Fine Arts Museum and loved the observation tower that overlooks the city. At the entrance, a young woman walked up to me and handed me an extra ticket her group had for the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit. I had seen the CBS Sunday Morning piece on the exhibit and was excited to go. Mr. Wordtabulous was excited that I had only one ticket so he could get some alone time and not have to see all the fashion. I tell you, ANYONE would be amazed by that exhibit, and 98% would love it. There was not as much explicitness as I expected based on the warnings. I may have to buy a book on the exhibit, because there was that much awesome in it. Go, I urge you, if it comes to a city near you. Beauty, message, craft, humor, darkness and light…truly art.

So it took a day or two, but in the end I too loved San Francisco, just not for the reasons I thought I would, and with a special poignancy from the sadness we carried with us.

Warriors on Wheels: Tour de Cure’s Cynthia Zuber

This is the second installment of the Warriors on Wheels series which is intended to celebrate unique individuals who transcend their diagnosis, and promote Tour de Cure, the event they participate in to help defeat diabetes. Ride. Party. Stop Diabetes.

Cynthia Zuber recently observed the twenty-fifth anniversary of her Type 1 diabetes diagnosis. Diabetes wasn’t the end of her life, but it wasn’t the end of her health difficulties, either. She was later diagnosed with other conditions, such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, and multiple food allergies. As Cynthia says, “Diabetes + food allergies = very challenging,” and as a result, she takes her health very seriously.

Five and a half years ago she began seeing a classical homeopath whose interventions have helped her naturally regulate her blood sugar levels, reducing, though not eliminating, her need for insulin. “I have found that holistic therapies have helped me feel my best, and let me live life well even with chronic health conditions,” she says. Homeopathy, Shiatsu massage, an organic whole foods diet, a daily walk and yoga 2-3 times a week are a handful of the things Cynthia does to stay in balance physically and emotionally. “Exercise is an everyday must,” she emphasizes, “as well as proper sleep, a good diet and controlling stress.”

Cynthia is a St. Kate’s graduate with a BS in speech communication and minors in psychology and theology. She is currently taking classes part-time that put her on track to become a holistic health practitioner specializing in healing touch and homeopathy. “I want to share the holistic therapies I have found to help others live a healthy and happy life. Health challenges do not have to limit you. Holistic treatments integrated with traditional medicine can greatly reduce symptoms, allowing people to live a much better life and accomplish their goals.”

One goal that Cynthia has for 2012 is a return to the Twin Cities Tour de Cure. She first rode the Tour in 2011, signing up two weeks before the event, and riding 27 miles on a mountain bike. She had mixed results from the experience, finding her lack of experience with cycling to be a challenge for controlling her blood sugars that day, but she was more than impressed with the overall event.  “Being a Red Rider [a Tour participant who wears the iconic red jersey that indicates they ride with diabetes] and being part of the community of the American Diabetes Association, I have never met kinder people with more passion for a cause. They call themselves family, and they really are. The whole experience is one of being supported, encouraged, and cared for.” This year Zuber plans to ride the 27 mile route again, only this time with more training under her belt, and a lighter bike.

Another goal Cynthia has acted on to help share her passion is her blog, Diabetes Light: My holistic journey to health, which she began in December and on which she offers information about holistic health practices, perspectives on living with chronic health conditions and even recipes. To learn more, check out her blog at If you like what you see, click the “Like” button, and/or find the Diabetes Light community on Facebook and join in! For more information about the Tour de Cure and options to join in, volunteer or donate, check out their website:

Related Post: Warriors on Wheels: Tour de Cure’s Kevin Wells

Related Post: Tour de Cure: The Finish Line

Warriors on Wheels Part 1: Tour de Cure’s Kevin Wells

Last June I blogged about Twin Cities Tour de Cure, a cycling fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association that I participated in for the first time in 2011. I was blown away by the route, the organization and the amazing people I met. Also by the party at the end of the ride, which was the best ever finish line I’ve crossed (great food, live music, a beer garden and NO speeches!) Janeece, one of my new best friends at the TC Tour de Cure headquarters, asked if I would write a few words about some of the people involved in this year’s ride and see if we can’t get a few more of you as excited as we are about the upcoming event (Saturday, June 2, 2012! Save the date!)

A lot of people I have talked to who have gotten either the Type 1 or 2 diagnosis have talked about the changes they have had to make as a result of their diabetes. Some of the changes are to improve health, like healthy eating and weight management, and other changes, like blood sugar maintenance, are to prevent health problems. When I spoke with Officer Kevin Wells at the 5th Precinct in Minneapolis, I was struck by the fact that when he was diagnosed in 1993, he was already a long-time nutrition and fitness enthusiast. His approach to diabetes seems to be to not let it change the way he likes to live.

Kevin’s passion for cycling began in 2005, when he took an indoor spin class to add something new to his workout regime. “Everyone there talked about riding outside,” he says, so he tried it. “I fell in love. That was the first year I did the Tour de Cure.” He commutes to work on bike whenever he can and pushes himself with distance and/or intensity on training rides outside as often as possible, or inside on a trainer when the weather is bad. In addition to the fun and challenging workout he found in cycling, Kevin discovered another obsession: the gear. He now owns several bikes and a plethora of garb, cycling computers, GPS systems, and other things that take his ride to the next level.

I asked Kevin if his intensity with cycling complicates his blood sugar management. “Long steady rides will continuously burn carbs,” he explains, “so you just have to be sure not to let your blood sugar fall too low. The way I ride pushes my anaerobic threshold, which is where the blood sugar actually spikes. When I don’t feel good on a ride I have to test [my blood sugar] because I can’t always tell if I feel off because I am low or high. I don’t let it stop me, though.”

Kevin enjoys other cycling events, such as the Tour de Tonka, and local duathlons, but Tour de Cure has a special place in his heart. “The Tour is a great, fun event. I’ve met a lot of nice people, and the food’s good. Last year, I rode the 62 mile route, and commuted to the event and back home on my bike, so I got in 100 miles. I calculated that I burned 6,800 calories that ride. I felt great.”

The folks at TC Tour de Cure would like to thank Kevin Wells for supporting the Tour with his participation and story. Please join Kevin, myself and the other riders at the event either by riding or joining the ranks of volunteers, or consider donating to support the ADA drive for research, education and advocacy for people with diabetes. You can get started by clicking on this link:  TC Tour de Cure.

Related Post: Tour de Cure: The Finish Line

Working Girl, Howard’s Restaurant and The Peanut Shack

I spent my first year of college finding independence and re-inventing myself, forty miles from home in Brookings, SD. Baby steps. Brookings was a town of about 15,000 people, which grew by 7,000 when classes were in session at SDSU. I could have returned to my awesome tour guide job in De Smet, but that would have entailed moving back to my parent’s house, which was unthinkable. Two friends and I rented a small two-bedroom house near campus for the summer and got jobs. I got my first waitressing job at Howard’s Restaurant, an independent family-style place on 6th Street. The owner, Howard, was the main cook. Howard was a chubby man with a pointed face who taught me that orange juice is like gold and nothing is free. He had a young guy who worked the grill and a crew of waitresses, four or five of us, the others all with experience and drive. I felt out of my depth when I started there, but was sure I would catch on.

Howard’s had amazing hand-dipped shakes and malts; egg-nog and butterscotch were my favorite, but his specialty was  fried chicken, the preparation of which fell to the wait staff. While the others were jockeying for the good shifts out in front with tip-leaving customers, I, unaccountably intimidated by both the customers and the other waitresses, slumped into the back room and pried half-frozen chicken pieces apart so they could be batter dipped. I found out that my hands are painfully sensitive to cold and that I hate the wimpy side of my personality that trembled rather than demanding my share of shifts out front. No one was doing great, because even though the food was decent and reasonably priced, the traffic just wasn’t there. They made me choose a different name because mine, Lynnette, was too similar to one of the other waitresses, Annette, which was confusing. I refused to go with Lynn, so I took Val, from my last name, Vallery. Val became my alter-ego, and not the fiery kick-ass alter-ego I would have enjoyed, but the one who was trying to warm up her hands and wondering how she was going to pay for both groceries and rent.

Halfway through the summer I saw an ad seeking a manager for the Peanut Shack at the mall. Peanut Shack was a counter-front shop that sold fresh-roasted nuts, popcorn, and a variety of candy that we either freshly prepared or purchased. The manager’s job was to work shifts, hire and train staff, schedule other people to work shifts, track inventory, keep my mouth shut when the owners came in and grabbed a handful of cash out of the register to go shopping, and balance the cash drawer as well as possible under those circumstances. I rarely saw the owners except when they stopped by for money. I enjoyed the autonomy. The mall was small and in summer doldrums. Most of my customers were people who worked there. I stocked the Jelly Belly jellybean jars, I roasted cashews and other nuts, and made nut clusters with white, milk and dark chocolate. I dipped potato chips in chocolate and begged people to try them, because they were amazing. I made a homemade version of Almond Joys that taught me to love coconut. I could eat as much of the popcorn, nuts and handmade candy as I wanted, and got a discount on the candy purchased from headquarters. I loved the products, but quickly got sick of eating them as my main sustenance, and daydreamed of pot roasts and lasagna. When my parents gave me a beautiful Black Hills gold ring for my birthday, I was disappointed. My heartfelt desire was three big bags of groceries.  They had no idea. Of course, I also spent some of my hard earned wages on cheap 3.2 beer at the Lucky Lady,  the only bar that served 18-20 year olds in town, but I couldn’t have bought much of a pot roast with what I spent on happy hour brews.

I counted boxes of truffles and caramels and jellybeans, and cartons of raw nuts and chocolate for melting. I worked as much as I wanted, and more, when my meager staff didn’t show up for their assigned shifts. One day a woman came up to the counter and asked if I had any jobs. I looked at her in disbelief. Her hair was greasy and snarled. She stared at me blankly, breathing heavily through her mouth. Her blouse was misbuttoned, gaping open between her unrestrained breasts, and didn’t match her stained polyester pants. “Nope, no jobs here,” I told her, and she shoved a paper at me to sign for the unemployment office, attesting to the fact that she had indeed applied for a job at the establishment. The light went on–she had dressed, not for success, but for failure. Mission accomplished, signed and good-bye.

This was also the summer I rode everywhere on my big sister’s ten-speed bike, which she had given to me for my birthday a few years before. It was my sole mode of transportation until the accident. I was approaching an intersection where I had the right-of-way and the cross traffic had to stop. Seeing a car approaching the stop sign, I slowed slightly to make sure they were really stopping, then pedaled forward. The driver came to a complete halt, and then, when I was just past the center of her grill, she went, knocking me across the hood of her car onto the street and crushing my bike beneath her tires. “Don’t move! Don’t move!” she and a few passersby insisted, and a police officer showed up, but spent most of his time talking to the driver, who told me her husband owned the Taco John’s. Eventually the hot, gritty asphalt became too uncomfortable and I crawled to the curb, surveying my road rash and crippled bike glumly. The driver took me to Kmart a few days later and bought me a brand new Huffy ten-speed that cost probably a fourth of what my sister had paid for her bike, but I didn’t know any better. I named it Grace, and instead of becoming nervous about riding, I started edging toward a daredevil mentality, blazing through town in the dark of night, alone. That was where I found my kick-ass alter-ego.

At the end of the summer I went back to classes full-time, and declined an invitation to stay on with The Peanut Shack. Weeks later the owners went into bankruptcy and the store was closed for months before anyone else took it over. Howard’s Restaurant eventually folded and remained vacant a long time as well. Summer is tough going for business owners in a college town, and it isn’t a picnic for the people who work for them either. I never took another job in the food service industry, though I deeply respect the people who are great at it. For me, there were other worlds of work to explore.

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My Inner DJ

After Michael Jackson died, I woke up every day for two weeks with the song, “The Way You Make Me Feel” playing in my head. For about that same period of time last July I had a variety of Lady GaGa songs greeting me in the morning and, as I recall, “Pokerface” was the one I was most likely to hear. As clear and abrupt as a clock radio, my inner DJ was hard at work. I am most aware of my own personal disc jockey when I am riding my bicycle on my own. Unfortunately, DJ seems to have limited material to work with. For instance, on my most recent ride of 24 miles (good weather, nasty road conditions, gear-shifting problems, and some serious saddle soreness,) I was rockin’ out to KISS, “I Wanna Rock and Roll.” Which was fine for the first ten miles or so, because it has a good beat and I can pedal to it. But after ten miles, it started to get annoying. I made a request for anything else. Apparently in my head the flip side to that party classic is Loverboy’s “Everybody’s Workin’ For the Weekend.” Horrible. Much worse. I tried hitting my mental “shuffle” and what came up was “Life is a Highway,” (by Rascall Flatts not Tom Cochrane, no idea why) and “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics. Not what I wanted, but better. However, every time I hit a hill and had to really put my head down and work, I’d lose control of the playlist and by the time I’d crested the climb, KISS was back and we were rock and rollin’ all night long and partying every day. 24 miles. That’s almost an hour and a half.

For five years I taught an indoor cycling (aka spinning) class, and to this day I still hear songs I like and try to calculate if they would work in a set and how I’d use it to joyfully and sadistically impose fitness on my spinners. None of the songs my inner DJ is playing on bike rides are songs I’d have picked for class, and I have a library of hundreds of songs I’ve used. It is as though when my adrenaline and endorphins are pumping my brain goes back to the primitive state it was in the 80’s. This may also explain why I have a hard time doing math immediately after a workout–I don’t think the math center in my brain really got going until the 90’s. Mr. Janish, my high school algebra teacher, would back me up on this. In the early morning my DJ likes pop music and big hair bands are the thing for punishing bike rides. I need to work on the repertoire. As much as I like the absolute quiet I work best in, I need to pull out the iPod or turn on the radio and replenish my inner library. What would you recommend?