May 20: Erie, Pennsylvania - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

May 20: Erie, Pennsylvania

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"OH THERE'S DEPRESSION here," John corrected us. "There's a lot like me, unemployed for two years or more."

John is 57 about to turn 58, a cyclist who rides 8,000 miles a year. He has the time. He has written a thousand job applications, he said, since International Paper closed in Erie and he lost his job in the maintenance computing section.

We were having our first day off, Steph and I, and John had ridden up beside us as we looked for a bike shop. "I'll take you to the best in town," he said, "the place I bought this." He was riding a black, carbon Giant.

I had said guides had warned us that Erie was a depressed manufacturing town but that we had been surprised to find it upbeat, clean and lively.

"Yeah, but things aren't good. There are a lot like me. I was in the computer section of running the facility. Then International Paper bought another company, decided they didn't need two factories. We were a union shop, one of just four, so they closed us."

We camped right on the beach and we had only just finished the climb from the lake when John met us on what he thought would be a 50-miler here, there and everywhere. It is cycling, he said, that keeps him sane. He looked after his dying father every day, every hour, after losing his job and there's never a day he doesn't cry a little at his father's memory. We were two other cyclists and so we were part of his life-survival plan, and he part of ours.

He took us on a tour of the lakefront and down to the docks, where Lakes freighters come in for service in the winter. "But fewer and fewer of them every year, I'm afraid." He looked for the rebuilt Niagara, which took on the British in fighting out in the Lakes a century and a half back, but it was out sailing.

Shooting the breeze in the breeze of the lake.
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We settled for a drink in a bar on the waterside and talked of life and the foolishness of folk who drink water when they could be drinking beer.

John was in the Marines before he joined the paper industry. It was another sad chapter. "I never got to Vietnam," he said as a statement rather than a regret. "They sent me to Hawaii, which was halfway house for guys returning home. I saw things there I'll never forget. I never speak of the things I saw there."

I didn't press. We talked cycling instead. It's what's keeping him sane. He said so himself. A nice guy, John.

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