Multiple Universes, In One World

Each day, the journey brings the traveler through multiple universes. Within hours, you can go from the murder capital of the US (Gary, Indiana), to the polluting and monstrous BP refinery, to the heavenly world of Lake Shore trail, where healthy, affluent urbanites are jogging and biking, listening to their iPods. People living in these parallel universes seem to be unaware of the existence of the other reality. Or they are too busy surviving/excelling in their own world to bother with the other worlds. But if you are biking through all them within a day, with their respective odors pressed upon your skin, then these multiple universes would stuck with you for a longer time.

Now reporting to you from the home of my "Chicago Jewish mom" in Boystown -- one of the largest gay neighborhood in the country. Arrived in Chicago on July 3rd, slept for 13 hours that night without interruption.

On June 30th, Sunday morning, I joined the Henschen family for their house church service. The father played guitar, while the whole family sang in a uniquely harmonious choir. We watched a 80-minute video sermon. The six children, with various level of attention, all sat through the two-hour service. No matter how much the children understood the message (or would eventually agree with the teaching later in life), this family and spiritual tradition is priceless.

When I was packing up my bag, the very kind children asked, "Is there anything I can help you with?" I said thank you, but I am all set. "But isn't there anything I could help you with?" That was very sweet.

The road was flat. Very flat. I stopped using maps, only compass. Kept biking west, until the little country road hit a dead-end. Then I turned North, find another west-bound road. Go west, young man. Keep going.

The only variation of the trip was the occasional change in the type of crops along the way: corn, corn, wheat, corn, soy, corn, corn, and corn.

Arrived near the border of Ohio and Indiana. Paula and Mike welcomed me into their house, let me sleep inside, and fed me a five-egg breakfast the next morning. That might be why I broke the personal record by biking 85 miles on July 1st, as a tribute to the 92nd birthday of the Chinese Communist Party. The wind was behind my back, defeating everyone's warning that I am biking against the wind by going from East to West.

In the evening, I knocked on a door, and Jim and Ruth welcomed me into their home on the farm. They let me sleep on their comfortable couch, and fed me dinner and breakfast with yogurt and fruit. Jim is almost 80 years old, but is still getting up every morning at 4:30 am to feed the cows and work on the farm. Admirable.

On July 2nd, biked in bigger and smaller rain throughout the day. Came across a group of young bikers. One 15-year old boy came up to me, introduced himself, and asked, "If you were to die today, do you know for sure, 100%, where you would go?" I said, no, not at all. That answer made me a prospective customer of their message. It turned out this is a youth group from a church. They handed me a small brochure and assured me of the only way to get into heaven. I am impressed by their concern of my afterlife-ly well-being. I listened to their 5-minute spiel with great interests, and thanked them before parting. They were clearly delighted that I was listening to the Bible on audio book. Now I'm through the book of Lamentation.

At lunch, a pair of brothers heard me asking for directions, and offered their advice. After learning about my journey, one brother stuffed ten dollars in my hand, and said, "here's for dinner." When I stopped at a gas station to buy a cup of hot chocolate to warm up from the cold rain, the clerk asked about my bike trip, and said, "this cup of hot chocolate is on us."

Passed the 1,000 mile mark on July 2nd. Rested for the night east of the town of Gary, because people have been warning me how dangerous the area is. The next morning, I deposited most of my cash at a bank (just to contain potential losses if I do get robbed), and biked as fast as I could through Gary. It was a pretty depressed once-industrial town, but the people all smiled and waved back as I smiled and waved to them. Maybe we are just scaring ourselves.

On July 3rd, biked through the multiple universes mentioned at the beginning of this essay. The urban dwellers seem more amazed by my trip than the country folks. The urbanites would ask, "How would you even bike out of Chicago?! I know how to drive out, but you can't bike on freeway!" "You just knock on people's door and ask to camp? And people actually would let you in their house?"

Yes, people do.

There are some good things about the city. I no longer need to eat at Subway every day. And the city is much more diverse. Here is a literal "melting pot," the Crown Fountain in Millennium Park:

Children of all races, speaking various languages, playing in the same pool of water, obviously enjoying each other's company. You'd be reminded of the old question, "Couldn't we just all get along?"

Also, in a city, you could more easily find life necessities, like a wig. According to a cool Hampshire alum Michael, it's more dangerous to wear a helmet than to not wear one, because if you wear one, drivers would assume you know what you are doing, and would pass by you really close. So, to get the best of both worlds, I decided to wear a helmet, and then put a wig over it, so the drivers know that I don't know what I am doing.


karen thompson said...

Hi Zilong - love reading your blog!! Glad you are experiencing so many kinds of people! And glad you made it to Chicago for the July 4th holiday weekend - hope you were able to celebrate with friends. We are continuing to pack up our house. We will keep reading your blog. The Thompsons

Anonymous said...

Hi Zilong, interesting pictures and people you met. Be well!

Sue A said...

Good thing you didn't bike through Gary wearing THAT wig! The family - including a very damp Sushi and Meki, send their love... Sue