Charlie Cunningham Medical/Rehab
In early August, 2015, Charlie Cunningham, bicycle builder, inventor and all around amazing person, fell off his bike and sustained several serious injuries.
Charlie suffered broken bones, bruises, and trauma to his head. At the time, he didn't feel his head injury was significant. Unfortunately, seven weeks later, the head injury manifested into a subdural hematoma, a life threatening condition that resulted in emergency brain surgery. Having been about two minutes from death or complete vegetative state, he endured a hell period of about six months, beginning with two months in intensive care, followed by months of doctor's visits and rehabiliitation. His days of getting around by bike were over, or so we thought.
Currently, Charlie is at the "plateau" level. He has no sense of direction, nor much vision (his brain was affected, leaving the upper half of his visual field empty, as well as the periphery). But he is walking, speaking normally, with very little aphasia, and still working on learning the alphabet. he can read a simple news headline after about five minutes of careful study of each letter. We move about Marin on a gorgeous tandem, which will soon get a motor so we can go offroad, away from traffic.
His 'genius' resides now in his efforts to recover what most of us take for granted: balance, literacy and agency, the will to do things and make things, which seems to have disappeared when the brain bleed happened. Your donations will help to offset the costs of his rehabilitation and the visits to UC Berkeley Eye Clinic, and the weekly respite care visits. Thank you for your generosity.
A bit about the fund: it was dreamed up by Caroline James, a good friend of Charlie and Jacquie's since the 1987. She's an artist, web designer and was an early Wombat. Since the end of the first year of the fund, I have taken over most of the administration. Grant Petersen of Rivendell renown, and 1,200 donors like you have helped move us along, for which we're ever grateful.
At breakfast on Wednesday, I noticed Charlie carefully drawing four parallel lines on the open newspaper, with his cherished fat-line Sharpie.
Later I asked what he was doing. I’d never seen him spontaneously draw something (in the Post-Crash Era).
“It’s a design to keep our antenna pole from tipping over” he replied.
For a week, we’ve tried to get better reception by affixing a pole with a halo-like apparatus to bring in the good vibes.
But since it was held on by mere hose clamps, and the two things were both cylindrical in form, the tiny contact area was unable to withstand our roof’s exposure to the steady breezes in our canyon.
So I said nothing more, but thought, “Hm it just looks like a letter H….wonder how he’ll do it…”
The following morning when I was doing yoga, his best friend Scott came over and verily they DID fabricate an h-shaped thing (made of two sizes of aluminum square channel) held to gether ‘using pop-rivet technology’ as Scott soberly intoned. And damn if the pole wasn’t snugly held in its channel, just like the stub of pipe poking out of our roof was held snugly, and the double hose clamps—big beefy industrial types—held them.
So now instead of running up to the roof every few minutes during a good KPFA show, I can relax in comfort at our (new-to-us) Danish expanding dining room table.
Project censored is probably my favorite show. A local college, Sonoma State, inaugurated it in 1975, and it is more relevant than ever, now in the ‘post truth’ era.
The flowers are the local wild ones, currently blooming on Charlie’s route: Sticky Orange Monkey Flower, California buckwheat, and Tritellia laxa (Ithuriel’s spear)…he carefully writes their names, then practices I.D’ing them on the walk.
And it's very Jacquie to warble about his progresses, much like the mom notes the child's progresses. I will NEVER be judgemental about people crowing about their kids.
I get it now.
With a passable German accent!
A random iceberg of memory floated through his awareness and it melted my heart! The fact that it was delivered on the actual "viertel von Juli" added some depth of gratitude.
He'd taken a semester or two of German at Tamalpais High back in the 60's and some of it stuck. As with me and my Japanese, bits stick like Velcro, others very Teflonian in their slipperiness.
As I'm doing a house cleaning, I had to share a really darling fan-note from Bush Pig Brennan Bagdan, who, at fourteen and with his friend Noah Gellner, pelted us mercilessly with the most eager and hilarious letters and drawings. I hereby submit a portrait of Charlie by Brennan Bagdan(who went on to be a fine graphic designer, but was cut down in a fatal traffic collision on Halloween about a decade ago).
Oops. Can't do a pdf. Will endeavour to do image transfer another way...
Not being much of a ‘worker’ I flopped almost immediately. But I sure enjoyed celebrating the wacky disgustingness of the Greater Bicycle Industry with him. He had a way of conferring barbed honors that big-biz people almost wanted to win.
Won’t go into that, but the awards were titled The Goldy Toidy, and I can’t help but think my Golden Testicle award inspired him….long long ago I decided I couldn’t complain about sexist ads in the industry because us Vile Feminist Whiners are just ….on the rag or something. I decided that humor and love (as John Lennon put it in the micro video I Met The Walrus) would do a better job, so the most heinous (GT) got the gold, second-worst the silver (Diamondback) etc…
Anyway, he is going to be honored, missed and remembered this Sunday in his last hometown, Pedaluma California. I plan to haul the Red Rover and Charlie up there, to be there for him one more time, riding with beloved builders like Shaun Walling and Paul Sadoff, and others that managed not to get too upset by Bruce’s uncanny knack for writing people off.
Since three other building legends have stopped suddenly in the last year or two (Dario Pegoretti, Roland Della Santa, and Brian Baylis) I decided to renew ties with this second and third generation…
Does anyone remember the silly and delightful builder’s calendar, featuring a dozen such fellows in various forms of deshabille? 1998? Maybe? Back when women in their eighties, and other groups began doing these modestly naughty productions.
That has barely anything to do with anything, but I thought I ‘d bring it up. I was SO sorry Charlie didn’t make the grade, or Al Eisentraut. But perhaps they were too grise in eminence….
I also doubt CC would have gone for it even if I begged. He is happy in his skin but deeply private, and I’ve had to delete all the fun bathtub pictures I took when we got a claw-footer in our 5’x6’ bathroom.
So this summer has been lovely, but I rather miss the build-up and crescendo of RAGBRAI, and need to think of something cool to do with Charlie so he doesn’t collapse of boredom (he opted out of summer school at Schurig).
Charlie is one of half-a-handful of modern bicycle geniuses and personal heroes of mine (and I am basically "anti-hero"). Everything I know about him, I love. Everything he's ever designed or made or innovated on his own personal bike, I admire and wished I was that smart. I'm so sorry to hear of this accident. Of course we all want him back on his superlight plastic saddle, held by the seat post that also holds a pump. Go, Charlie.
This is a tragedy and a wake-up call about head injuries and getting them checked out and monitored for a long time afterward. I was just thinking about Charlie last week; I was riding on Mt. Tam since 1981 at Thanksgiving when I rode it with Charlie and a number of other friends. He is creative genius, and a great human being to boot; I hope he gets his full faculties back soon. Get better soon, Charlie, and hang in there, Jacquie!
Jacquie, while I absolutely love his thoughts on greeting age, something many of us are currently doing, my favorite thing is when he talks about the "milky silver finish". This finish is what I always thought was SO beautiful about Campy (you should excuse the expression!) equipment. As far as your personal struggle with responsibility, most of us have been there...we travel a path that is comfortable for us, where we can make the most of our abilities, and then when the situation changes, radically in your case, the flexibility we all develop allows us to change directions. You can do it. You have your friends in your area, and hundreds outside of that. We are all breaking as much wind for you both as is possible. Actually, that's maybe not the best choice of words...
OMG! I am kinda the Cunningham FP, having provided care for Bruce, Charlie's fighter pilot and custom home builder dad, and his tiny book and social antiquarian mom Carol. As a late comer to the world of off road biking, and having been privileged to visit Charlie's shop, I just wanted to confirm the need for this kind of funding effort. For all the closed head injuries that our lifestyle generates, we have a very unsupportive neuro-rehab environment here in the US and A. Maybe the rising tide of reality about football injuries will help, but not in time for Charlie. Any contribution you can make will really make a difference in his recovery.
i can NOT wait to see that footage!!! I think of charlie every time i ride up Tam - and the other day i saw a gentleman with a cunningham racer - WALKING!! - i should have taken it away from him ; ) - still my holy grail of bikes - until then my 88 merlin will have to do - sending you love & strength
Yep. And "death-grip somersault " can be a lovely metaphor for how stuck we get in our own heads and fears, sometimes. Make that time to meditate, soak in a tub, walk in the woods, breathe, even write for 15 minutes or an hour: you've got to take care of YOU to be able to carry on. Peace and strength, Jacquie.