Editor’s note: This story by Elizabeth Boyle first appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #97, published in November 2002.
When I was a sophomore in college I lived with my older brother Joey and three other guys. There was also a five-foot blacksnake named Slobbers that lived beneath the porch, a family of wolf spiders that frequented my bed and a stack of Playboy and Hustler magazines spilling out from the sink cabinet in the bathroom. The house we lived in, a legacy began by a man known as Grandpa Banks, had been kept within the Ohio University cycling community for years. Those who knew the place affectionately called it “The Crack House.”
I ended up living there, the lone female among four single men, because it was the only place I could afford. I accepted Joey’s offer of a room in The Crack House after ending my freshman year with $11 in my bank account. I began riding mountain bikes when I got to college, and everyone who ever lived in The Crack House cycled, so I knew, in a way, I was lucky to live in a house with such history.
The house was located a couple of miles from campus at the end of a dead-end street, perched on the edge of a tree-lined slope. The front fence was broken from the time Joey and Kaleb tried to build a teeter-totter on it. The siding was falling off the house in some places, and the white paint was cracked. Occasionally, someone would decide to rake the layers of leaves that fell off of the huge maple tree onto the grassless front yard. The lawn furniture—a plastic chair and table set with the words “white trash” jestingly spray-painted on the white table—and a “borrowed” bike rack from a school parking lot sat forlorn amid sullied rags and trash.
Inside, mice left droppings by the sink of dirty dishes in the dimly lit kitchen. The couch pillows had dingy brown stains from years of post-ride lounging, and an entertainment center yielded the necessities, including stacks of VHS tapes of movies like “Strange Brew” and “Friday.” Stickers and magazine cutouts adorned every mirror, wall or window. Some examples: a Kenda sticker cut and re-arranged to say “naked” and the phrase “support your local dealer” taken out of its bicycling context.
My housemates had as much character as the house. Farting was funny, but particularly hilarious when it could be used as punctuation in a sentence or to answer a question. Once Kaleb asked me to hold a light for some in-home dentistry while he used a Dremel tool to sand down Joey’s jagged molar. Another housemate got arrested during a “Monday night training ride” that involved cycling through the uptown area of Athens.
Rank odors, dirty floors and ornery tenants typify most college houses, but The Crack House was a special place because it promoted, welcomed and exuded cycling.
The branches of the old maple in the front yard were home to discarded tubes and tires (and a large disco ball and year-round Christmas lights). Craig, Kaleb and Joey, all industrial technology majors, modified the lawnmower by welding on the pink handlebars of a children’s bike in place of a normal push-mower handle; they also welded the mailbox to the frame of a road bike stuck upright in the ground.
At any given time, slalom, road, downhill and mountain bikes lay in the yard waiting to be ridden. Plus, there were other types of bikes. A yellow tandem from my grandmother’s farm was refurbished complete with a RockShox fork. “The Gator,” homemade with a bucket seat and a canopy, leaned against the broken fence whenever not in use.
The Crack House operated with an open-door policy that made everyone feel welcome. Anyone (including a tenant from the homeless shelter a few blocks away who used to hang out on the porch) was invited to sit on the porch and enjoy the music. Everyone could go there to meet for a ride or to use Ryan’s power tool collection. Whenever I came home, someone stood in the yard working on a bike.
I write affectionately about the house now, though when I first moved in, I struggled to adapt to my new environment. Each day I attempted to increase the amount of respect a little sister gets, but it was hard to act tough. At the time, I had a limited knowledge of bikes, and my beginner legs had to fight their way home on the commute that was often dark and cold. I tried to fit in by contributing to the discussions at the house, but I found it difficult to say much during uncensored conversations about girls.
As the year progressed, I adjusted to life at The Crack House. I realized my four comical housemates were also mechanics that I could learn from when my Schwinn needed tinkering. Yes, I showed up to class on rainy days with wet, dirty pants, but I was getting stronger from riding my bike everywhere. Plus, not many girls showed up at parties with a bike-gang entourage like I did.
I found that I had come to appreciate my situation—farts, mildew and all. Living at The Crack House had changed me for the better, made me patient, developed my sense of humor, and taught me how to love my bicycle. Now, I regard the house with reverence. I thank the guys at The Crack House for letting me live there. I wouldn’t be the girl I am now if I had lived anywhere else.
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