Things That Dreams Are Made Of

There's a moribund love song by The Human League that romanticizes travel in a way that warms my heart every time I hear it. 

"The Things That Dreams are Made Of" was in heavy rotation on my yellow Walkman when I flew to Hong Kong for the first time in 1989.

The means of that business trip far outweighed its end, and kindled in me a love for travel and mass transit that flourishes to this day.

In less than 12 hours I travelled by land, sea, air and escalator from Kowloon to Hong Kong, mainland China and back, with a jaunt to Taiwan and a bus ride to Taipei's Rebar Hotel thrown in for good measure.

I can't recall the names of the men who gave me a tour of their fledgling bike factory, but I can remember my rickshaw ride from Star Ferry terminal to the taxi stand like it was yesterday.

Travel has been my life's raison d'etre since I flew to my first out-of-state BMX national as a teenager. That event was sponsored by the Schwinn Bicycle Co., and it was where I met Schwinn factory racers Kevin Jackson, Robbie Rupe and Mark Pippin. 

By 1977 Schwinn's woefully bad timing in the BMX wars were evident, but that didn't deter the Midwest manufacturing giant from pouring big bucks into the burgeoning BMX scene.

This was, after all, the company that invented the 20-inch bicycle wheel in 1963, and many of those same engineers and marketers caught lightning in a bottle for a second time with their coveted Krate series in the '70s. I owned a Schwinn Orange Krate in 1973, so my admiration for the brand and its products was manifest destiny.

By 1977 America's most famous bicycle company had already abdicated the 20-inch throne to Mongoose, but sales of its Varsity and Collegiate 10-speeds were still brisk, so the bike shop I worked at sent me to Schwinn School in Atlanta. It was the second time I flew out of state to practice my passion, and the first time I did so with no immediate adult supervision upon my arrival. In those days rebuilding Sturmey-Archer three-speeds meant more to me than girls, so earning my Schwinn Master Mechanic's certification in the conference hall of the Fulton County Holiday Inn was easy.

I thought I could lace and true a wheel with speed and precision until I watched 100 women demonstrate the same skill at the ABC factory in China. When I was a kid a small-time bicycle wholesaler named Bert Calderone paid me a buck per wheel to lace a 36-hole coaster brake on a steel rim. At the now defunct Asian Bicycle Company in Shenzhen, China, every woman who could build 100 laser-straight wheels during her 12-hour shift earned four dollars per day. I asked the factory manager why he didn't use robotic wheel-building machines. His answer was blunt as a cudgel and just as clear: a machine that can build 10,000 wheels for 400 dollars per day didn't exist. Even if it did, it couldn't do other jobs when no more wheels were needed.

This isn't the first lesson I ever learned on the road, but after 20 years, it has proven to be one of the more impossible lessons to forget. 


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