Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bike Hunt Stories Show the Power of Bicycles - Story 2: Jim Lucas

My recently published memoir, Bike Hunt, is based on my disturbing time as executive director of the Thunderhead Alliance back in the early 2000s. Interlaced throughout the book are my stories of hunting for then giving away used bicycles when I travel. Those bike hunts kept me from losing myself as I fell into that abusive situation, so I recall them with fine detail. Readers seem to enjoy them. Plus, each bike hunt story shows the significant impact a bicycle can have on someone who is struggling. So, I have decided to offer a series of my favorite bike hunts in this blog. Today is Story 2: Jim Lucas.

I’ve chosen the Jim Lucas bike hunt story because it reminds me of the bike hunt I just enjoyed. I spent the last four days in Oakland, California for a community land trust conference. Upon arrival in Oakland, I asked a few people at the subway exit where I could find a used bike. A three-block walk later, I found myself settled into the backroom repair area of a sweet bike shop where the owner takes pride in helping his neighbors. Andre had agreed to sell me a traumatized black Schwinn commuter bike whose bottom bracket had been ridden into dust. After more than an hour of wrenching and replacing parts, black grease up to my elbows, I rolled my new ride, dubbed Otis, out the door to pedal through the graffitied neighbor to my Airbnb room.

But the surgical beginning of Otis’ bike hunt was not what reminded me of Jim Lucas. Instead, like Jim Lucas’ giveaway, it was my chance to connect with a heartbroken woman in downtown Oakland and give her a bike.

Yesterday morning, I’d only managed to spare fifteen minutes to find Otis a home before the conference session began. I pedaled him slowly away from the conference venue forcing myself not to rush, but to look at faces instead. After a few blocks, I glimpsed the hunched form of a thirty-something black woman sitting on a fire hydrant. I had to interrupt her deep conversation with herself. I think I was the first person to talk with her for a while, because a tear formed in one of her eyes as she folded me into her conversation and I jumped along with her scattered threads.

I learned about her mother’s struggles and that she is now in a home or institution that is difficult to reach. She told me about a brutal beating that seemed to be her explanation for her ramblings—messed up her mind.

When she realized I was giving her the bike, the tears flowed. She’d had once had a red Schwinn, but it was stolen. I showed her the lock and key dangling from the seat so she wouldn’t have to worry about that. We shook hands and I dashed back to the conference, only slightly late for my session, though it took me some time to refocus.

So today my excerpt from Bike Hunt is the bike hunt giveaway story in Chicago of Jim Lucas, a beautifully preserved 1950s black Raleigh three-speed:

I pedaled downtown the next day to give Jim Lucas away. As I turned onto Michigan Avenue, its wide expanse between skyscrapers and landscaped median forced me to choose a side. I chose the southbound side and slowed to a crawl to study the passing faces. Most of the pedestrians were in suits or fancy dresses rushing to important places. Behind this flow of people I spotted a stationary man. He was sitting on a rolled-up blanket, his smudged, bearded face watching the people pass as if he was at a tennis match. No one stopped to drop coins into his hat. His sign read simply, “Please.” I liked that. No specifics, just a polite please. I used to add that word to the end of my hitchhiking signs. Still, I wanted to make sure he’d take care of Jim Lucas before committing. After rolling up to him, I could tell he didn’t see me because he was so focused on the rush in front of him. I’d come from the side and was no longer moving.
“Hi,” I said.
“Huh?” he said. “Geez, where did you come from?”
“Sorry to surprise you,” I said, moving my eyes back to the swirling crowd for a moment to let him get used to me. “So,” I began again, “what’s your story?”
He sat up a bit, obviously pleased that I’d asked and scooched a bit closer to me as I leaned down across the handlebar to listen. He started by asking my name. His was A. J. Then he told me of thieves and beatings, the fear he felt each night when he tried to sleep, the vulnerability he was growing so tired of. And then, as if to balance this fear, he told me how much he still loved his girlfriend who had left him nearly a year before to fend for himself on the street. When I asked him if a bike would help, he frowned, saying he couldn’t buy a bike. But when I explained further, his blue eyes brightened.
“Would you really give me that beautiful bike?” he asked.
“I would be honored to give you this beautiful bike,” I said.
He stood up slowly, his eyes on Jim Lucas. I pushed him into A. J.’s hands and he swung his leg over to straddle the frame. After one quick glance at me he jumped onto the saddle and started riding in a circle, disrupting the flow of people who had to step sideways and then collide with others. A. J. no longer cared about them as he laughed and chattered about all the places he could go now, riding many more circles on the sidewalk. He coasted to a stop in front of me to give me a hug. As I walked away, he chanted my name.

Jim Lucas’ Bike Hunt story is one of many throughout the book. I’ve got my eye on several more to share on this blog. All will have the label “Bike Hunt” so you can easily find them.

Better yet, you can buy your own copy of Bike Hunt to read all of the stories and more. Find it through any online book vendor worldwide (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) or order it through your local book store. We also have copies for sale at


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