20121020-182940.jpgA NICKEL NEAR NAVASOTA

Every day I see coins on the road. They’re usually banged up like this nickel. If I had stopped to collect all the coins I have seen from Washington to Florida I would probably have a heavy, sagging pocket with $16.31 in it. But I haven’t picked them all up.

As the captain of our tandem I have the weighty responsibility of guiding our “ship” through constant road debris, cracks in the asphalt and concrete, and the rotting, stinking, fly covered carcasses of roadkill. Tandems, for all their advantages, have the disadvantage of being top-heavy and unstable – especially when your stoker is clipped to her pedals the way Mary is. Believe me, it ain’t pretty when a tandem goes down!

Anyway, where I was going with this, is that 90% of the time my eyes are glued to the road immediately in front of us and that’s an excellent vantage point to see coins in the road. Inflation has, of course, greatly reduced the allure of coins since I was a boy but old habits die hard so I am always tempted to stop and gather coins. If I were walking I probably would have the full $16.31 but stopping our tandem is like turning the Queen Mary – an action not to be performed on a whim (or a least not for less than ten cents.)

Actually, I have stopped for nickels on occasion as the photograph above proves. A typical nickel stop scenario would be something like: country road, no traffic, at a stop sign or traveling very slowly. A dime will get me to stop on a busy road as long as there is a wide, safe shoulder and I’m not traveling at more than 10 mph. A quarter stop still requires a safe shoulder and speeds up to 15 mph. I’ve never actually seen a dollar bill on the road on this trip but I’d probably come to a screeching halt no matter what my speed for a dollar. (If I saw a twenty I’d probably swerve across three lanes of freeway traffic to recover it!) Pennies? Fuhgettaboutit!

All this talk about coins and bicycles reminds me of a bicycle trip I once took as a young man from Chelan to Anacortes to visit my parents. I was all the way over Stevens Pass when I discovered that I had left my wallet at home – I had no money and no food. It was fifty miles back home and 150 miles to Anacortes but I decided to keep going. By the time I got to Monroe (100 miles?) I was famished. I considered shoplifting a little something from the Safeway there but couldn’t bring myself to do it. I settled for a dumpster dive behind the store. The only thing edible I found were some cartons of whipping cream which were a little on the sour side but I managed to drink about a half gallon of the stuff. That got me through noon the next day. All along the route I kept my eyes pealed for coins. I think I found about thirty cents which I used to buy several candy bars.

I was within forty miles of Anacortes when my energy reserves were completely drained. I found several pop bottles and took them into a roadside store for the deposit which was enough to buy a handful of penny candy. I sucked on those candies like my life depended on it (and indeed it may have.) Do you know how hard it is to pedal a bicycle up a long hill when your stomach has been empty for ten hours? I think I rode that last twenty miles into Anacortes at about 5 mph; it was all I could manage. I probably ate everything in my parents’ refrigerator when I staggered through their front door.