I woke up tired and bone sore and immediately “called an audible” to take the day off. My body was speaking loud and clear from multiple spots so I listened.
It was another laundry day to start off – feels good to have clean togs again. After a few days in the sun, the “on the bike” gear especially needed it.
So what do you do on your day off in Ashtabula? Go for a ride of course. I considered a movie or something briefly but that’s not really why I’m doing this trip. After laundry I wanted to see the town a little and the bike is a perfect way to do that. Without the bags it feels ridiculously light and nimble – I’d describe it a almost squirrelly really. In a mostly flat town like this, its’ amazing how little effort it takes to get around if you’re patient and seeing the sights as you go.
These boys stopped and asked a lot of questions about my bike; “are the tires skinny so it’s more aerodynamic?” Well, sort of but I thought these were my fat tires. Not compared to their BMX bike though. I feel sorry for the scooter guy – he’s having a hard time keeping up.
I went by the local museum which, since it wasn’t Fri, Sat or Sun, was closed. From there is the best view of the port, the main feature of which is this big coal-transport bridge (below) that used to take coal from one side of the river to the other. While there I met a guy who grew up here in the 50’s and he confirmed that the town used to be vibrant while he grew up here. That bridge, when they first put it in, “scattered coal dust all over the town and made the whole town black.” So they covered it and cleaned up the town (heavens how many people breathed in that dust?).
His thought was the jobs all “blew away” and then the town was taken over by drugs. Can’t say I’ve seen drug use – who knows. He also said that the coal mines were “opening up again”, which I don’t think is true but you can guess how he voted. I asked him “oh? Which ones?” – not trying to be combatitive but its a fair question and if it’s true I want to know about it.
This guy was exactly who Trump’s campaign was aimed at – aging white guy, worked at a bunch of formerly successful industrial sites doing machining, repair, etc. He’s seen the success of the boom days, has seen the jobs go away, and we wants back the old days. I knew he was out here and now I’ve met him. Actually I’ve met three retired guys like him that all more-or-less line up with that storyline. There were two guys I biked with briefly back in Erie – one retired construction, one retired metal plating guy. I guess if you mosey around at 11:00AM on a Tuesday, you’re going to meet some retired folks. And all these guys seem to think they just made it under the wire to retirement and their kids are not as lucky. I was curious too if he made a connection between the lack of jobs and drug use but he was on his way.
At the museum I saw a “Hulbert”. This is a big steam powered contraption for scooping up coal from a barge and loading on the land for trains or trucks to pick up, named after, well Hulbert of course. He grew up 20 miles from here back at Conneaut. Kinda tells you the importance of coal to this place.
BTW I checked and the local coal-fired power plant (that I passed yesterday) closed two years ago. “FirstEnergy Generation Corp. subsidiary plans to make operational changes at certain of its smaller coal-fired units in response to the continued slow economy and lower demand for electricity, as well as uncertainty related to proposed new federal environmental regulations.” Note that in their announcement they make sure to tie the economic downturn to environmental regulation which is a BS argument. Stepping down from soapbox now…
I took neighborhood streets through town back down to the old part of town by the water. After awhile of just following my nose, cruising through the neighborhood, coasting often, pedaling when I needed to, I started to get the feel of the place. Near the old part of town there is a clear sense of things having been much more alive here at one time. It has a bit of a ghost town feeling in places. Although there are a few restaurants and stores taking root in the charming downtown area and I hope they make it.
As I headed back to the Edge-o-town, some of the familiar smells of growing up in Missouri came to me, and the memories tend to rush up with them. Something about smells triggers my memory like nothing else. They seem so brief and precise in a way that seeing photos isn’t. With photos you might remember a era or a time. With smells it seems like I can remember a particular moment. Once this afternoon I passed an unmowed field, full of weeds, with the full sun shining on it. It was humid and this smell perked up from the weeds that put me right back in Rolla in 1970-something walking across a field to pick blueberries in a field that isn’t even a field anymore.