Bicycling: From Here to There

Madison is ranked as one of the top cycling cities in the United States.  In fact, the League of American Bicyclists has rated Madison a Platinum Biking City, one of only four cities in the country to receive this recognition.  We have more than 200 bike trails totaling 100 miles, all within the city.  Many more trails stretch out into the nearby countryside.

People in this city are definitely encouraged to bike!  If you don’t have a bike, not to worry — rent a bike from B-Cycle, a bike-sharing program with 40 rental hubs around town and 350 bikes to rent out.

For many people, bicycling is an everyday occupation.  For some, it is their primary means of getting around as well as a source of healthful exercise.  I bicycled for pleasure, exercise, and getting places for many years.

When I was a young girl growing up, my friends and I waited with eager anticipation for the day when we would get our first bicycles.  I was 9 years old when I got mine — a red Shelby bicycle with white trim.  Attached to the handlebars was a woven bicycle basket that my mother had ordered from a magazine ad, made by “the blind.”  It was a beautiful sturdy basket, much better for carrying things than the wire baskets that all my friends had.  I remember, however, that it took some grit on my part to get used to it, and to come to accept and like it.  It’s difficult at that age to be the “only one” when it comes to just about anything.


Now it has been, probably, at least 20 years since I last rode a bicycle.  I don’t remember why, but, at some point, I stopped.  Part of me has wanted to get back to it, so I recently ventured out to a bicycle shop.  A very helpful young clerk gave me some background on what bicycles are like now days; he found a bicycle that would fit me and encouraged me to try it out in the parking area behind the store.

Disaster!!  I managed to pedal the bike forward for a few yards and then I inexplicably simply stopped, hung upright for a few seconds, and then promptly fell over sideways onto the pavement.  Right out of a Monty Python sketch.   It was like I had lost all those instincts and reflexes that came so naturally in my younger days.  I came back home that day with scrapes and bruises.  I don’t think cycling is destined to become a part of my everyday life again.

So its not quite true that once you learn how to ride a bicycle, you will never forget.  At least not for me.  I do still remember that dress, however.  Yellow and black plaid with ribbon decorating the sleeves and neckline.  Apparently worn on my 9th birthday!  

Bean Soup at the Capitol in 1955

In 1955, Ed was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, stationed at Fort Belvoir near Washington DC.  He and I did not meet until four years later, in 1959, when I was a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ed was a civilian again, working on his doctorate in horticulture.

In January 1955, Ed and an Army buddy spent a day in downtown Washington DC, visiting Wisconsin Congressman Glenn Davis in the U.S. House of Representatives. The image below is a photo taken that day on the steps of the capitol — Congressman Davis in the middle, Ed on the left and buddy Bob on the right.


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The picture is the front side of a photo post card, a souvenir of the visit to the congressman.  Ed sent the postcard to his parents back on their farm here in Wisconsin:  Mr. & Mrs. Theo. Hasselkus, R.R.1, Dousman Wis..  The message he wrote on the back offers a glimpse of his military life during that time.

“Dear Folks, Everyone is excited about orders now.  I am going to Europe, but don’t know what country yet. . . “

The House of Representatives had a restaurant and Congressman Davis took Ed and Bob to lunch that day.  On the souvenir menu was House of Representatives Bean Soup, complete with recipe.  Ed cut the recipe out and it’s been tucked in the soup section of my recipe box for the past 56 years.  We always make it several times during the cold months. The aromas are divine as the kettle of soup cooks slowly for an entire afternoon. We just finished a batch the other day, and there is plenty left over in the freezer.  Here is the recipe — it couldn’t be simpler.  Enjoy!

Recipe for Bean Soup

Served in U.S. House of Representatives Restaurant

2 LB. white Great Northern Michigan beans.

Cover with cold water and soak overnight.
Drain and re-cover with water.
Add a smoked ham hock or shank [has more meat] and simmer slowly for about 4 hours until beans are cooked tender.  Then add salt and pepper to suit taste.
Just before serving, bruise beans with large spoon or ladle, enough to cloud.
(Serves about six persons.)

P.S. Ed ended up being sent to England — working to convert air bases to handle take-off and landing of jets.

The Woman at the Stoplight

I did something a few weeks ago that I have never done before.

We have a phenomenon in Madison that the city officials are trying to disallow.  There are certain intersections in the city that are often frequented by people who are asking for money.  The panhandling occurs as cars are stopped for a red light.

The person who is doing the panhandling — man or woman — usually looks rather “rough.”  A few belongings are seen nearby.  He or she is holding up a hand printed cardboard sign asking for money and perhaps indicating something about their difficult circumstances (e.g., lost a job, can’t find work, homeless).

panhandler sign.jpg

I have never seen a panhandler being aggressive toward a driver.  They seem to stand silently in place in the median, letting their personal appearance and handmade sign speak for them.

One time, at one such intersection, I saw the driver in the car ahead of me roll down his window, stick his arm out, and hand the man a bill.  That was the first time I had actually seen a driver do that — hand money over to the person in the median.

So what I did a few weeks ago was exactly that.  I was stopped at a red light, and a woman was standing in the median right next to my car — belongings located at her feet, looking rough, holding her sign.  I scrambled to get a $5 bill out of my wallet, rolled down the window, and called out to her.  She took the money, looked me in the eye and said “God bless you, God bless you.”

Now, I don’t know what she’ll use the money for, I don’t know what her circumstances are, I don’t know if she ekes out a few dollars a day from her panhandling or (as some claim) hundreds of dollars a day.  But it’s hard for me to imagine anyone standing out there, with their downtrodden and impoverished circumstances for everyone to see, unless they are genuinely desperate.  In the moment, it felt like the right thing to do. Other thoughts?