Sunday, November 15, 2009

The God of Things That Ought to Be

Have we got a slacker God? By the shape of things today, it seems the little God of Things That Ought to Be has been taking time off. Never heard of Billiken? I hadn't either until I saw the play Two Wheels North.

A little while ago I posted about the Book-It Repertory Theatre's production of Two Wheels North, an adaptation of the book by the same name by Evelyn McDaniel Gibb. Two Wheels North is the tale of two high scool graduates who rode borrowed bicycles from Santa Rosa, California to Seattle in 1909 to attend the much ballyhooed Seattle Yukon Pacific Exposition. The author is the daughter of Vic, one of the two intrepid young men and she won the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Nonfiction Book Award for Two Wheels North. This Book-It production was adapted and directed by Annie Lareau and starred Damian Peterson (pictured above) as Vic McDaniel and Nik Perleros as Ray Francisco. Supporting actors included Kelly Kitchens and John Ulman.

The other character, our aforementioned Billiken, isn't depicted onstage, but he was a big deal in the U.S. in 1909. Especially at the Seattle Yukon Pacific Exposition. Billiken, the God of Things That Ought to Be, was a clay totem for the Exposition. Haven't heard of the Seattle Yukon Pacific Exposition? Neither had I until recently. But aside from a double shot of gumption, Vic and Ray carried Billiken on their journey as a good luck charm. And while he didn't reshape the world into the way it ought to be, Billiken did the boys alright.

The actors relax just before showtime at Book-It.

The actual Vic (left) and Ray in Santa Rosa as they readied to embark. Photo scanned from the book, but originally courtesy of Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Close-up of the 1930's era Excelsior bicycle loaned by Recycled Cycles for the production.

There are many ways to take in Two Wheels North. One is as a coming-of-age story of two young men who set off as friends are wont to do, to see what the world is all about. Another is as an exploration of the world 100 years ago. Or, more specifically, as an exploration of cyclotouring a century ago. Still another is as an introduction to the Seattle Yukon Pacific Exposition, a fascinating subject itself.

Then there is Vic's and Ray's journey as an epic tale: the myth of Ulyses by bicycle. This is how I absorbed Two Wheels North. A constant tangle of heroic choices, moral minidramas, and creatures that sought their demise.

Think I'm exaggerating? How about a very large rattle snake that bites and doesn't let go until his head is shot off. Even then, it hangs on. How about a fistfight between naked bathing workmen over the treatment of a young orphan boy whom one views through the lens of homophobia while the other sees a fatherless boy making sense of a world that oughtn't be. Or the knocking of almonds out of a tree, veritably manna from the heavens. As for sacred places, this epic tale has them too. Mount Shasta is a mystical mountain, and the Exposition--if you really place yourself back in time--was as close to a world wonder as most would ever see. And if you've got young men, you've got young women and hot young love. And unfortunately for the young lovers a watchful mother not to be messed with on an epic scale!

And of course, the heroics of long distance, unsupported cycling--randonneuring the hard way--is ever present. Falling over the edge of cliffs. Crossing high train trestles at night. Meeting a train midway through a narrow tunnel.

The author, Evelyn, was there for the show and graciously posed with the actor who posed as her father.

I thoroughly enjoyed Two Wheels North, and I'm grateful that Evelyn took the time as her father aged to talk with him for an hour a day to get down the details of this amazing tale. I bought an autographed copy, and though I haven't finished it yet, I highly recommend it.

As for the production, I thought it too was well done. Good acting, creative effects, and simple staging that left me--sitting in the first row--feeling like I was aboard for the ride.

If you enjoy history or Seattle or World's Fairs, I also recommend poking around all the great stuff that celebrates the centennial of the Seattle Yukon Pacific Exposition. For starters, check out the hour long special that aired on the Seattle Channel. DartreDame scored me a copy she gleaned from her travels (I think from the producer), but you can view it online now at the Seattle Channel website.

Of course if you're Buddhist, you'll not highly regard this Billiken, because the world just is. Maybe it oughta be this or that, but it's not. Both Vic and Ray went on to fight in the War to End All Wars, WWI. Talk about wishful thinking!

But for me, I savored the tale of two young lads setting off to just see how the world really is. The original Curious Randonneurs perhaps?

Keep it curious,



  1. Nice read. You seem pretty busy with all the various topics and posts. Just wanted to ask why you said the story of Two Wheels North was "mostly true". Since it received the Pacific Northwest Writers Association award for nonfiction, I assumed that meant it was, ummm, nonfiction.

    I haven't seen anything telling me otherwise. Could you clarify? Thanks!

  2. Good catch. I think I must have got the sense that the author conjured up some of the details to fill in what she had learned from interviewing her father and reading the old postcards.

    But, I may not have that right. Perhaps she wrote very clearly about only what she learned directly. I'll go back and edit my post since I can't be certain. Thanks for reading and caring to post!