In four months of living in Portland, the only job that I managed to get was a temporary position as a seasonal employee for the Columbia Sportswear outlet about 3 miles from where we lived. I started working there shortly before Thanksgiving, and quickly learned that retail jobs are not for me. After the first week or so, I was grateful for the little income it provided, but I was equally grateful that it was a temporary position. The hours of walking around and being on my feet were not a problem, but the lack of intellectual stimulation and challenge that I normally seek was wearing on me. I must say that I really liked my coworkers, who were mostly outdoorsy, active, and friendly people – an important element that can make or break job satisfaction.
Knowing that my job would eventually end, but not knowing when Dallas would be ready to leave Portland, I continued to search for and apply for jobs, ranging from bicycle delivery to food service to biological research jobs. I also continued to work out, despite the dismal climate. Instead of running or bicycling outside, I was mostly cycling to the nearby community center to go swimming. I was receiving no positive feedback from the outside world regarding any of my job inquiries and was starting to lose hope about being in Portland. Then, one night after my swim, as I was getting ready to leave the community center, came a sign that maybe there was something for me in Portland afterall.
A man rolled up in a wheelchair and started talking to me as I was about to leave, complimenting me on my swimming. My reaction? Who, me?? This guy must have me confused with someone else. I’m a terrible swimmer. Surely, he can’t tell me apart from any of the other women in the pool when we’re all wearing swim caps. But he insisted that he saw me swimming laps and that I was a great swimmer. I engaged him in conversation briefly before leaving, and he revealed that he was a cycling coach with a team in Portland that rides every Sunday. He also leads rides for kids on Saturdays from the Boys and Girls Club in Northeast Portland. He sounded a lot like my friend, Dick, who started the US Open Cycling Foundation.
I told Dallas about my encounter with John Benenate when I got home, and he was intrigued as well. We agreed to meet at his house for breakfast that Saturday and join in on the kids ride to see what it was all about. When we arrived at John’s house on Saturday, we met Cody, who was cooking breakfast, and her daughter, Jasmine. John had a whole room of cycling gear and apparel that he encouraged us to pick from before we headed out in the freezing cold rain.
At the Boys & Girls Club, we met Tim, who was a regular on both weekend rides. Only two other kids were brave enough to show up for the 4 or 5 mile ride in the cold Portland rain. John gave Dallas, Cody, Tim and I radios to wear so we could hear him as he directed our ride from his station wagon. Jasmine, Blessing and Demario were outnumbered by “shepherds” as we all followed John through the city streets. For a stretch along the river, we rode in a paceline before heading back to the Boys & Girls Club. It was a slow, but rewarding ride, and the kids were still smiling when we made out way inside to thaw out.
This was the first ride of its kind for Dallas, and he was a natural. We both looked forward to helping out with more rides like this, and hopefully more kids. I had to work the next day, but Dallas joined John for the Sunday ride with his race team, Cyclisme. They rode about 40 miles through cold temperatures and intermittent downpours. Seeing Dallas’s refreshed face after work that evening, I could tell that these rides would provide a spark of energy for us throughout the depressing winter.
My schedule at Columbia seemed to exactly mirror Dallas’s schedule, in that I had to work during all the times that Dallas did not. We never really got a day off together, and I never got to ride with John’s team, aside from a Saturday women’s ride that he put together specifically taking my schedule into consideration. I was relieved to hear that my last day of work would be January 5th, but my outlook for earning any income was bleak. Spending my weekdays alone in a home that houses 6 other people is a lonely feeling, and having to go to work when my best friend is actually home was wearing on my psyche. I had spent more of my savings than I was comfortable with and started to think about going back to New Orleans to recover some of my losses. The Super Bowl was going to be this season, right in the middle of Mardi Gras, and my pedicab license was free to renew – I just had to pick it up at the taxicab bureau.
I didn’t have the time or money to visit my family for the holidays, but I did get to meet Dallas’s family on his father’s side. Unfortunately, we both spent half of our time in California crippled with food poisoning. Shortly after returning to rainy Portland, I decided to go back to New Orleans. I would go for six weeks, and Dallas promised to visit me for a week while I was down there. However, a few days after I bought my ticket, Dallas, overcome with sadness, bought a one-way ticket to New Orleans. He would meet me two weeks after I arrived, and we would stay until we figured out our next move. I would have liked to train with John’s cycling team, but the timing wasn’t right. I am glad to have connected with him though, and plan to ride more seriously the next time I find myself in Portland (hopefully not during the winter!).