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Columnist spin-cycles through KC

The Kansas City Star

(MIKE RANSDELL/The Kansas City Star)

She can help you get stains out of clothes but she’s also Heloise on wheels. Heloise was in Kansas City last week tooling around in her Russian motorcycle.

Well, it’s not every day you find yourself zipping around downtown Kansas City in the sidecar of a camouflage-green Russian motorcycle driven by a celebrity with one name.

Sorry to disappoint you, Fabio fans, but we’re talking Heloise here. Heloise, queen of household hints. Or, as she calls herself these days, “America’s No. 1 lifestyle manager.”

We don’t know what Martha Stewart was doing back in 1977, but that was the year the first Heloise — this Heloise’s mom — died, and Heloise II took over her newspaper column. These days Hints From Heloise runs in 450-some papers (look for it periodically on FYI’s Solutions page). This Heloise, 55, has also written 11 books and contributes to Good Housekeeping.

Next year the silver fox who can get any stain out of anything will celebrate 30 years as a columnist.

But none of this explains what she was doing in Cowtown last week on that Russian motorcycle or how a certain FYI reporter ended up riding shotgun — or machine gun, as the case may be.

Here’s the deal. Between them, Heloise and husband David Evans — he’s a retired plumbing/heating/AC contractor, builder and risk evaluator — have five motorcycles at their home in San Antonio. Heloise has been a biker babe, or at least had a motorcycle license, since 1975.

Three of their cycles are sidecar models. Now, granted, you could argue about whether a motorcycle with a sidecar is a real motorcycle or an ATV putting on airs, but we won’t do that here. Anyway, one of the sidecar bikes is an Italian job (a Moto Guzzi; Heloise calls it Sophia), and it needed some adjustments. As it happens, there’s a place in this neck of the woods that works on them: Harper’s Moto Guzzi in Greenwood in Jackson County.

So Mr. Heloise thought he’d bring his bike up here. Later the couple decided they’d bring their Russian cycle along because, what the heck, they might want to do some off-roading. Heloise thought the trip would be a good chance to drop in at some of the papers that carry her, so she started making calls and promising sidecar rides to editors and such.

But once they started loading up their SUV and trailer for the 10-day adventure, there was so much stuff — Heloise’s office-on-the-road stuff, their miniature schnauzer Cabernet’s stuff, la la la — there was no room for the Italian motorcycle. You know, the reason for the trip. The Russian cycle couldn’t stay behind, because then Heloise would be a welcher.

(MIKE RANSDELL/The Kansas City Star)

It’s safety first for Heloise (here with reporter Tim Engle) when she offers rides on her Ural motorcycle with sidecar. She brought an extra helmet and gloves, and her bike has a spare tire, gas can and shovel.

Heloise Full Throttle arrived at The Star on a gray, chilly morning and immediately introduced us to her bike. It’s a Ural. Like the Ural Mountains in, yes, Russia.

“I call her Svetlanya,” says the chatty, good-natured Heloise, launching into a Texas-ized Russian accent. “She no sexy. She no pretty. She sturdy and stout.”

Svetlanya is also accessorized. She boasts a gas container, a spare tire and a shovel (when you’re in the Ural Mountains, you never know when you might get stuck in snow). Oh, and a place on the front of the sidecar to stick a machine gun. Or an extra spotlight.

Svetlanya also does something most motorcycles can’t: goes in reverse. Heloise demonstrates this in the parking lot, going backward in circles until you start seeing two of her.

The bike may look straight out of World War II, but it is actually new, a 2005 model.
And on the open road, she purrs like a kitten.

OK, so we exaggerate. Our 10-minute ride through the Crossroads area over to the West Side and back to Star Central is smooth enough, though, despite Heloise’s warning that gear changes could be a little clunky.

Actually, the best part about riding in a sidecar — besides pretending that Heloise is a grime-fighting superhero and you are her sidekick — is waving at people. Most folks waved back, we’re happy to report. One guy, a passenger in a pickup truck, lifted his hands and applauded.

All in all, a Hel(oise) of a good time.

As for the domestic goddess, she and the hubby would be headed back to Texas, via Oklahoma. She had a speaking engagement with some lucky Girl Scouts in Amarillo and a few more newspapers to visit.

There’s no Heloise III in the wings — Heloise has a stepson, who as far as we know is not famous for his household hints — but H-II has no plans to retire. She’s adaptable; she keeps up with technology. Plus, as she has discovered by speaking at colleges, the kids may know how to text-message, but laundry is still a mystery.

“My thinking is, with each new generation that comes along, they’re still gonna need me,” Heloise says. “Probably even more!”

Undoubtedly. But in the meantime, can we please go for one more spin in the sidecar?

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