Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Story - 8th Grade Art Class

Back in the day when I was just starting to discover bicycle racing, I was a geeky kid trying to get through middle school. For me, sixth through most of eighth grade were probably the hardest years for me as a kid. Move to a new place (back to the US, from Holland), new school, and, if it's okay to admit this, a much more close-minded place. My ethnicity, never an issue in Europe, became a major one here, at least at my age at the time.

Still though the area had some good things going for it - my parents selected the town mainly because of its superb school system. So superb that when the family moved to a different town a couple hours away, my mom quickly withdrew the kids (due to the poor school system) and promptly moved back while my dad tried to figure out a way to work in the "old" office.

One teacher in sixth grade, Mr. Morris, taught me how to write. I think he taught History, but I don't know. All he really taught was writing - and, to be honest, what he did got me through all of high school and college. My only As in college? English (where I had to write). Such teachers are treasures but unfortunately he's since passed away.

Another teacher, this one in middle school, encouraged my love for cars. Mr. Zellner taught art and all my projects were inevitably car related. However, I remember this teacher more for his social lessons than the school related stuff.

Back then, with no internet spreading the news, I had very little contact with the "popular" world. We had no TV, which, in pre-cable days, meant the only place we got news was from an occasional newspaper (or TV at a friend's house). The first football game I ever watched? The 13th Superbowl.

I know. "What? You mean there were days where there was no cable? 13th Superbowl???" Yep, there was such a Dark Age.

We didn't have a TV until sometime in eighth grade, and although we had TV in Holland, the government broadcast the programming, all two channels worth, starting at about 4:00 PM and ending at about midnight - and naturally most of the programs were in Dutch. Not really conducive towards watching TV and since it was safe to roam around as kids, that's what we did instead. We'd dig little tunnels under the fences, shoot paper blowgun darts at each other, and have cap gun fights. Oh, and take buses and trams all over that part of Holland.

Anyway, in seventh or eighth grade I did have an FM radio and managed to listen to one station, a classic rock station still around. I managed to learn of bands like Led Zepplin, Yes, Queen, and the like. Such stations, though, neglected to point out things like, well, that the Beatles had broken up. I mean if you listen to a station now, they don't say, "And here's a classic from that now-broken-up band, The Beatles!". So I didn't know that many of these bands no longer existed. I thought of them as, well, timeless.

I learned the Beatles fact in art class. I think I learned this when the art teacher announced (for those of us, like me, who didn't listen to current news) that John Lennon had been shot to death. I wondered out loud what the Beatles would do without their "lead singer" - and that's when everyone in the class looked at me like I'd sprouted a third eyeball. Naturally I took some ribbing, but it was okay. Learning such things is important.

I also learned about a comedic pair named Cheech and Chong. The teacher, Mr. Z, would play the records all the time. My favorite was the teacher (Sister Mary Elephant) who would say "Class... class... SHUT UP!". His classes were relaxing, fun, and I got to learn a lot about the outside world.

As I mentioned, he liked cars too, and had a nice BMW 2002. We'd talk about cars but since I only knew about Hot Rod magazine, I thought Chevy small blocks were the sizzle and the big blocks, well, they were just out of this world.

He'd smile, shake his head, and move on to the next student's problems.

It was about this time that I started getting interested in racing. Somehow this came up one day and, lo and behold, ends up his son raced bikes. But Mr. Z had some bad feelings about this, mostly due to a start/finish banner falling on his son, no medical assistance for 45 minutes, and yada yada yada. Whatever. He didn't want to talk about whether 4130 was really better than 1020 steel so I didn't pay him much attention.

When I started racing, I heard about this banner incident. Apparently two guys were away in a crit in Connecticut, Cat 1-2 race, windy day, and as they passed the start/finish line the banner fell on top of them. One racer broke his collarbone and for some reason it took a long time to get him assistance.

Mr. Z's son.


He was a lot older than me though (i.e. not in middle school) so I didn't feel like I could talk to him. So I didn't. I managed, with the help of other riders, racers, and friends, to get into racing. Got my bike, gears, wheels, clothing, and started riding with a local team.

Fast forward about 10 years.

I now managed a bike shop. The state championship road race was approaching - in 1992, a 10 or 11 mile loop which ended in a moderate 1 or 2 mile climb. A kid Mark that worked for the shop I managed was super motivated to do well in the Junior race and put up a banner over his work bench - 1992 State Championships or Bust.

Ballsy, right? The last guy who I knew of that made such a list was Greg Lemond.

He wasn't even the team leader. So he ends up he worked his butt off on the hill every lap, pulled three other racers free of the small field, and worked for the team leader, a great sprinter (and son of the founder of the Bethel Spring Series). Mark worked to drag the sprinter to the line and led out the sprint from the top of the climb, about 300 meters to the finish.

Incredibly, he dropped everyone, including his sprinter teammate. He won perhaps 10 or 20 meters clear, essentially solo, after doing massive amounts of work the whole race.

The Senior race was the one I wanted to check out. I didn't enter (2 mile climb, are you kidding?) and was there to feed and support any teammates or friends in there.

The first lap the field crawled around at about 15 mph. The second lap wasn't much faster. I started regretting not entering - if I'd gone on a nice solo break, I could average my normal 17 or 18 mph and have a great lap or two off the front, great photo ops, something to talk about in the off season ("At States I went off the front for two laps on my own and then..."), the possiblities were endless. At this rate guys would have time to stop, have lunch, and still bridge back to the field in reasonable time.

Finally, an unknown guy in a somewhat generic white jersey rocketed by us at the top of the hill (which was also the feed zone). He was riding like they were breathing down his neck. So we anxiously waited for the "breathers".

It was an incredible 3 minutes before the field went by.

Who was this guy?

One of the old hands said it was Robin Zellner.

Mr. Z's son. Back from Italy to try and claim a state championship. Unimpressed with the negative racing. And willing to change it on his own.

His move sparked a fire under the favorites, and a few laps later, he was in the lead group of four. Eventually someone else won (I think Doug of Benidorm Bikes) but Robin managed a decent place, perhaps second or third. I didn't talk to him that day, and he went back to Italy where he apparently preferred racing.

I guess they tie their banners a bit tighter or something.

Fast forward another 10 years or so. A new team formed with some pretty cool looking kits and bikes. Kodak Gallery Sierra Nevada.

And when I read the article, a familiar name popped up.

Robin Zellner.

Zeke's son was still in the race scene, but now he sat in the team car, not on the saddle. For 2008, he and the other guy that runs the team, Kurt Stockton, are splitting the team back up. So Robin will be running his own smaller team.

I'll have to see what happens in another 10 years.


Il Bruce said...

Cool. All that AND touring with Cheap Trick!

a.d.j. said...

It never occurred to me that you were already in middle school when we moved back from Holland. I always just thought of it in terms of, 'I was still a baby.'

haha Jason can't believe that I remember having a TV w/o a remote. I mean, he really doesn't believe me. He's convinced it must've had one and it just got lost. It didn't, did it?

I remember the day we got the microwave, and we had to go around to the back of the Caldors to have it loaded in the car. I thought you had to take out the food the SECOND it was done.

Aki said...

Actually I started in CT in sixth grade (!) in Cider Mill.

haha our TV had NO remote - and we just sold it at our tag sale last fall - it got three channels with its built in rabbit ears (including a car race!) and the guy took it away for $20. Not only did it not have a remote, it had "fine tune dials" for each of the 21 push button channels.

For reference (from the pictures I took for Craigslist):
The TV
The fine tune dials

The dial fine-tunes - the three position switch (red-yellow-blue) selects one of the three TV bands - UHF, VHF, and something else.

Ah I just looked at the picture and the instructions are on there lol.

The channel numbers are pop-out plastic inserts - you can "customize" your channels by changing the insert for each channel.

And this was our SECOND TV - the first one was a dial TV, black and white (for years I thought "B&W" was the best selling cheap TV brand...).

Our VCR (top load) had a wired remote which we did lose.

lol - microwave. Ann still insists on stopping the micro before opening the door. I was like that until someone pointed out that as soon as you start to open the door it turns off.

Anonymous said...

Someone incidentally tipped me off on your blog site...Pretty cool stuff! Mr. 'Z' is doing well and is retired after 40+ years teaching in Wilton.

Well, this is Robin Zellner, alive and well. Just to make sure how the "Ct. States" story goes, I was out in front all day long, my early mentor and Connecticut cycling Guru, Francios (Frank) Mertens yelled to me, 'slow down you will kill yourself wait for the break!' So, I did and next thing you know I was with another guy in a 2 up sprint, we were doing the usual track stand 200 meters from the line and just like that....another guy came sprinting by us both, yeah DOUG! I totally hate when that happens!! All my mother heard when I came across the line was the big 'F-bomb' something I do not encourage my riders to say, but it happens.

So, next time you see me say, 'hello' or something...throw a water bottle at me , whatever...I am now the Technical Director for PCT TOURS. See ya in Philly!

Aki said...

lol first thing I did was make sure I didn't write anything negative :)

Great to have you check out this blog and I hope you check back every now and then. And I'll try and pick you out in the hordes at Philly!