Sunday, September 30, 2007

Safety First Alleycat

I love me an alleycat bicycle race, especially one with a clever theme, a reasonably challenging non-backtracking route, on a day that the weather is interesting rather than perfect, including a fair number of competitive, yet friendly riders, and finishing of with a buttload of prizes from lots of shops and individuals all around town.

Yesterday’s Safety First Alleycat, organized by Pirate Molley, MaLora Ann of The Ladies of .83 Calendar fame, had all that and more; I had a swell time, an enjoyable afternoon of bike-riding and a heart rate of only 116BPM after ascending the switchbacked hill from Golden Gardens to Crown Hill at the penultimate stop before the final one on the manifest.

Met up at 1:00 at Cal Anderson Park and mingled about for a bit; in keeping with the “safety first” theme, I consumed (and offered about to interested parties) a pat of bud butter on a Saltine; this proved to be a fairly successful compromise on my oft-ignored admonition to refrain from getting baked before the race.

Instead of starting out all confused and introspective, I began the competition with testosterone flowing, riding hard to the first few stops, (including straight up the Queen Anne counterbalance, although I pushed my bike most of the way); but then, about 45 minutes into it, as I pedaled along Shilsole Bay towards Golden Gardens, it was all about enjoying a lovely misty afternoon in our fair city, taking in the sights and sounds of an early fall afternoon, and celebrating the camaraderie of cyclists, especially .83-er ZAnimal, with whom I formed a mini-peleton, after we both got smoked by first-finishing female, Lucia, somewhere along the bike trail in Myrtle Edwards Park.

A couple hairy moments going east along 85th in traffic and a harrowing crossing of Aurora marked the final part of the race; then a festive finish at the Wayward Café in the U-District, perfect except no beer for this thirsty competitor.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Andrea Marcovicci

Our dear friend and best man, Harley Rees, took Jen and I out last night to see the singer, Andrea Marcovicci, at the Bullit Cabaret in ACT Theater. Of all the scores of performances I’ve seen in my life, hers was among the most beautiful and moving; I started crying at the first song and remained a soggy mess through the entire set. Fantastic.

Miss Marcovicci is a true artist, and her show celebrated the songs popularized by another true artist, Fred Astaire. As she pointed out, many of the standards in the Great American Songbook were first introduced by the “entertainer of the century,” far better known as a dancer, Mr. Astaire himself. She sang numbers from dozens of his movies, tunes penned by the greats of Tin Pan Alley: Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, Rogers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, and of course, George and Ira Gershwin. (Her rendition of the latter duo’s “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” was as powerful a piece of musical theater I’ve ever experienced; the nuances of emotion conveyed in her vocals and phrasing communicated an incredible range of feelings, from despair to triumph and left me totally drained by dying for more.)

And funny, too: Miss Marcovicci offered up a history lesson on Astaire that wryly critiqued the banal plots of his movies, but celebrated the great man as Hollywood’s finest actor at “falling in love at first sight.” And the theme of instantaneously being head over heels for someone ran throughout the show; this having been my first time seeing Miss Marovicci, I myself have nothing but love for the self-identified “chatty chanteuse.”

I loved sitting there drinking in her vocals (and drinking, too; hooray for cabaret!), holding hands with Jen and gazing at her with brimming eyes; we both kept wishing our moms could have been there to enjoy the show. This was adult entertainment as it’s meant to be, grown-up and sophisticated as hell.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Watch What's Left!

Even though latest horrific fatal bicycle accident in Seattle was caused by a right-turning motor vehicle, I still think it’s the left-turners that represent that gravest danger to those of us on two wheels.

Twice in the past two days, I’ve almost been creamed going through an intersection by drivers who are in way too much of a fucking hurry to look where they are going as they shoot left across my lane, almost broadsiding me.

The first time was last evening as I came down Jackson Street just past 23rd; a guy racing to left turn ahead of traffic coming through the light forced me to slam on my brakes to let him pass ahead of me with only the slightest hesitation on his part when he finally saw me coming and instantly concluded that I would pull up and let him by.

And then today, on Dexter as I crossed Denny after waiting for an ambulance to pass; a lady who was determined to not wait an instant longer came inches from plowing into me in her haste to make the light the emergency vehicle almost made her miss.

In both these cases, I was in a hurry; and so to the extent that anytime a car hits a bike the cyclist is guilty of not assuming every car on the road is out to get him or her, (even when, as I did in both cases, he or she has the right of way), I’m responsible, but still…

I think a helpful mnemonic for cyclists and drivers should be: Watch What’s Left!

Those of us riding on two wheels can be reminded to watch carefully for drivers turning left and those driving on four can be cautioned to make sure, as they turn left, that there is nothing (especially on two wheels) they have overlooked.

If the Watch What’s Left! suggestion had been followed last year, this girl, Susanne Scaringi, might still be riding.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Falling Apart

Richard Freeman said that even if you do yoga every day, you will still grow old and die. I’ve certainly arrived at the first, if not yet the second.

Today was one of those days when the meat husk in which “Dave” resides (the dualist in me can’t resist thinking of it in such terms) was giving me all sorts of problems: left knee totally fucked; upper back surprisingly sore; nose stuffed up for no reason whatsoever. Asana practice this morning was depressing as hell: poses I’ve been able to do for a long time were beyond my reach; even lotus was pushing it. I felt like some old guy, stiff as a board, though far from light as a feather.

And it got me to wondering who I would be if I couldn’t do most of the things that I currently do, those activities by which I define myself. Suppose I no longer did yoga, rode a bike, didn’t eat meat, wrote this blog, taught community college classes, engaged in occasional soft drug use, etc., etc. Who would I be?

Sure, I’d still physically be the same collection of genes and their phenotypical expression, but would I still be this guy? Maybe instead, I’d be a pot-bellied fundamentalist with a beard. Who knows? Perhaps I’d be a bald-headed cigar smoker at an Italian restaurant. Or I could even be a gentleman with a moustache.

Mainly, I wonder if this person whose capabilities are constrained is the person I’m going to be from now on. For some time, I’ve fancied myself as having this or that ability that now, at this point, eludes me. So, will I have to adjust my self-conception or is it possible that I will regain those lost abilities?

If I were a car or computer, it might be time to simply trade me in for a new model; if I were a horse, would it be time for the glue factory?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Should We All Just Up and Die?

I take it pretty much as an article of faith that riding a bike is good for the planet and the people, animals, and plants on it. That’s, at least in part, why I’m such an insufferable bore about two-wheeled transportation and why I go around all holier-than-thou about cars and drivers.

But I keep thinking about this paper I read a while back, by Dr. Karl. T. Ulrich of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, that raises the question of whether cycling really is beneficial for the environment given that, on average, cyclists will live longer than non-cyclists, so that any benefits in terms of resource reduction will be outweighed, over time, by bicycle riders’ use of carbon, water, topsoil, etc., in the extra years they survive.

I think Dr. Ulrich’s conjecture is reasonable; say I save 500 gallons of gas a year by not driving; I can expect, unless I move to Phoenix, Arizona or some God-forsaken hellhole like that, to use us somewhere on the order of that much energy heating my home in the five or so years I’ll live longer by cycling than sitting on my ass in a car.

Of course, maybe the riskiness of bike riding—that I’m more likely to be run over and killed on a bike than a car—lowers the overall age gap between motorists and cyclists—but that would be an aggregate, not just for me (assuming I’m not the one who’s dead.)

Or maybe bike riding makes me more environmentally sensitive overall, and so I buy compact fluorescent lights and a more efficient heater; and the difference is compensated for there.

But maybe it does follow that we have a moral obligation to the environment to die quick as we can; after all, it’s certain that the best thing I could do for the planet would be to turn my body into fertilizer as soon as possible.

I’d rather, though, take a bike ride.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Feeling Superior

Like every human being who breathes oxygen, I take a certain measure of satisfaction, when conditions are right (say, when the earth is in its orbit around the sun), in feeling superior to other people. No doubt this is a function of my own deeply-held insecurities, but simply being aware of that does nothing to prevent me from taking great delight in every single opportunity in which I can lord even the most minor aspect of my character or situation over some unsuspecting fellow member of my species.

So, one of the things I especially like about bicycling is that it affords me so many of these opportunities; and it’s not just the obvious ones whereby I get to smugly cast aspersions at people who don’t ride bikes; in fact, I probably find even more chances to feel superior to fellow bicycle riders. It’s always the internecine struggles that are ugliest; and while I consistently thumb my nose at automobiles; it’s those two-wheelers for which I really reserve my harshest judgments.

So, for instance, whenever I pass someone—be it a toddler on a bike with training wheels or a senior citizen pedaling a trike—I can’t help but despise them for being slower than me. Conversely, whenever anyone passes me, it’s because they don’t appreciate—as I do—the singular joys of cycling and in their haste, are missing these finer things that only someone traveling at my pace can.

If they’re on a hybrid or mountain bike, I pity them for riding in such an upright position; if they’re stretched out on a modern road bike, they’re fools for not appreciating the more relaxed position my bikes afford.

I see someone in full spandex and think, “cheeseball squid;” I see someone without any bike gear and say to myself, “clueless newbie.”

But best of all is when it’s rainy, like this morning, and a cyclist riding without fenders goes by: “Freshman stripe! I am so superior to that!”

Monday, September 24, 2007


I had an acupuncture treatment for my sore left knee that, in spite of my best attempts to ignore it, just seems to keep on getting worse. I had been assuming that the pain I was experiencing was all in my head—(all pain is, isn’t it?)—and that by sheer force of denial, could make it go away, but no such luck.

So today, I lay on a table while a nice Jewish boy from New York stuck needles in my leg, ankle, arms, and head. A couple on my knee even had electro-stimulation attached to them which felt weird in a pleasant way, sort of like effervescence under the skin.

I’m not sure if I notice any improvement so far; in the past, when I’ve had acupuncture, it takes a couple of days to see any changes, but I’m hopeful. At any rate, if I keep going on a somewhat regular basis for six weeks, I’ll probably be better no matter what I do, so I may as well go.

I’m much more confident, in any case, that these treatments will do better for me than going to see a sports medicine doctor at a hospital or medical center.

It’s probably odd, (or maybe not) being the son of a physician, that I have such skepticism about the efficacy of contemporary western medicine. I’m scared, I guess, that I’ll go see an orthopedic physician and he or she will tell me I’ve got degenerative arthritis and that I should consider surgery or something; and that’s all I need: to have my own nascent concerns about my body falling apart confirmed by someone in a white coat.

Not that acupuncture doesn’t have its own high-priest-of-voodoo thing going on, too; it certainly requires a suspension of disbelief (or maybe a construction of belief) on the patient’s part to imagine that it’s going to help.

But that’s easy enough for me to do since health insurance is covering it.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ooh, Technology

For the last couple years, I’ve been subscribing to’s “Field Pass,” which lets me listen to Pittsburgh radio broadcasts of Steelers’ games. Although I really miss the colorful color commentary of legendary broadcaster Myron Cope, who retired the year before last, I still heartily enjoy the “homer” stylings of Tunch Ilkin and Bill Hillgrove, who report the games in an unabashedly Pittsburgh-biased way.

Occasionally during the time I’ve had this service, the Steelers game will be broadcast on TV and when that’s the case, I have always turned down the television in favor of the sound coming through my computer. But because of the way the RealAudio is formatted and processed, I suppose, it is delayed about five seconds from the images being broadcast over the airwaves. I haven’t minded this really; in fact, there’s something to be said for getting the verbal descriptions of the plays a bit after you see them; there’s this confirmation effect where your visual experience is verified by the audio; and when the Steelers do something good, you get to enjoy it twice.

Still, it’s a bit weird to have the split and I’ve wondered if it might be possible to create a work-around in order to synch them up.

Enter EyeTV, this system we have set up on the iMac that lets us use the computer as a television monitor, but because it digitizes the image, you can delay it up to something like two minutes. What I’ve been able to do this morning, therefore, is pretty much synch up the sound and vision, giving me the experience of being in Pittsburgh watching the game on local TV.

What’s weird, though, is that I know I’m looking into the past as I watch the game. What I’m wondering about, therefore, is whether my gameday rituals to ensure the Steelers’ victory will still work.

In the third quarter, they’re up 17-6 on the 49ers, though, so, so far, so good.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Swapping Saddles

For many years, I’ve been a professional man; Brooks Team Professional, that is. All my “serious” bikes—the X0-1, the Saluki, the Quickbeam, the late, great Rambouillet, are fitted with the venerable bicycle saddle maker’s most venerable model, the same saddle found on great bikes for decades—and in many cases, probably, the exact same saddle still in service all that time.

I have tried other models: the wider B-17, the “sprung” Champion Flyer, and the B-67, which I’ve got on the 420 bike for comfort, not speed, but I’ve always come back to the Team Pro, which just seems to fit my ass like a glove, if such a metaphor can be used.

Lately, though, during my regular commute on the Saluki, I’ve found the Professional’s ride a little harsh; the big rivets seem to be hitting me in all the wrong places and I’ve continually been messing with the angle of the seat to no great success. At the same time, the B-17 I’ve had on the tandem has felt really good—the leather is a softer and the somewhat wider platform seems to cup my cheeks more lovingly.

So today I switched the two; after all, I don’t ride the tandem nearly as much as the Saluki, so if it’s long-distance comfort I’m looking for that seems the way to go. And although I’ve never done anything like this—typically, once on a bike, a saddle stays there or gets consigned to the parts bin—it’s a revelation.

The Saluki feels like a brand new ride and one more in keeping with its theme of “country bike” elegance. And the tandem has taken to the Professional perfectly; I ride a bit taller and get a better push from the more solid platform.

My only regret about this is that it took me so long to make the change; I wonder what other changes I could make in my life that would be so easy and effective.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Could Be Better

I’m riding along the part of the Burke-Gilman Trail in Kenmore where they’re doing some roadwork and you detour onto the road for about a mile; I’m getting to the part where you head up a short incline to reconnect with the trail. There’s a flagger there—seems like she has a pretty awful job, standing around all day turning an octagonal sign that reads on one side “Stop,” and the other, “Slow.”

As I pull up, it’s apparent that she isn’t quite ready to dispatch her duties; she’s just stepped off the trail to light a cigarette. So, she sort of hops in front of me and says, “Wait. Stop. He’s backing up.” The “he” she’s talking about is a cement truck, inching its way down the incline from the trail to the road.

So, I stop, even though I think I could probably fit around him if I’m careful. But I’m sort of in a hurry and I don’t like being told what to do, so I kinda inch around the flagger. “Wait right here, sir,” she says in that voice that authorities use when they’re trying to exercise their authority.

“I just don’t want to be behind your cigarette,” I say, which is true, but not really why I’ve moved.

“All you have to do is tell me,” she says, not meaning that either.

Then, while I stand there, she strikes up a conversation with her fellow flagger and says, obviously for me to hear, “I don’t give a shit. You could die from any air you breathe.”

And at this point, I feel bad because this whole little interchange between human beings has gone so badly. I’ve made her feel guilty for not doing her job and she’s lashed out at me in a passive-aggressive way. We could have all been nice to each other on a lovely fall morning, but instead, I ride off having made a minor enemy without even meaning to.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Aged Whine

Fifty’s not really that old…if you’re a sea turtle or a rock.

For a human being, though, it’s pushing it. Even if I do make it to 112, I’m still on the part of the ride that’s starting to swing me back home, that home being the mysterious void from whence we came.

Generally, I’m pretty sanguine about the prospects of aging; there’s much to look forward to: standing on the porch in a wife-beater t-shirt, madras plaid shorts, and sandals with socks, screaming at you punks to get the hell offa my property; taking in the early bird special at Olive Garden; not giving a shit anymore what anybody thinks about me or my particular level of personal hygiene.

But sometimes, I get a little freaked out about the inevitable decay and demise of my body and my faculties; in short, I’m not extremely afraid of dying, I just get nervous about everything leading up to it; death, I think I can deal with; it’s the decline that gives me the willies.

So, for instance, I’m sorta concerned about the increasing number of gray hairs on my arm of all places. My head? No big deal; I got my first gray hair there at age 25; (I know this because I saved it in a box for a few years, until I had so many it was no longer special). My chest? Yeah, well, those freaked me out at first, but now they’re so prevalent I’m used to it. But my forearm? Eek! That’s just a step away from gray pubes and at that point, you may as well just get the AARP card and move to Sun City, Arizona.

Of course, the baby boomers are redefining “old” just as they redefined extended adolescence; since I’m tailing along just behind them, I’ll get the Bee-Gees version of their Beatles, just like back in the day.

60 is their new 40; 50 can be my new 49.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Pornography of the Bicycle

As the organizer and curator of last night’s film festival, “The Pornography of the Bicycle,” Reverend Phil put it (I paraphrase), bicycles and pornography are fucking hot for each other. Who among us hasn’t fetishized his or her bicycle in a romantic if not sexual way?

Umm…people? (And the crickets go “crick-crick, crick-crick.)

Well, I have, anyway (when I first got the Rambouillet, Jen used to call it my “French mistress,” and complain that I once looked at her the way I looked at it.)

And so have lots of other cycling perverts, if last night’s collection of films is any indication.

The program comprised 28 (I’m told) different short films (as long as about 10 minutes, as short as about 5 seconds) related to bicycles, bicycling, sex, bicycle sex, and the sensual thrills of gravity-powered vehicles, including bikes, in-line skates, and homemade illegal soapbox derby racers. By and large, they were pretty good, and I say this even though I’m a total sucker for any movie with even a passing connection to cycling.

Plus, they were all linked cleverly by theme, including, for instance, “Payback” in which we were reminded (via graphic illustration of some guy’s hospitalization after a devastating bike wreck) that bicycles can fuck you, too (and not just the other way around),

My favorite piece, I think, was a superbly-rendered mock interview with a phony academic professor who was arguing that bicycle pornography objectified the bicycle and so should be, if not banned, at least frowned upon. He did a great riff on rejecting the terms “bicycle” and “bicycle rider” in favor of the less hegemonic “cycle” and “cyclist,” that had me in stitches, in part because it hit a bit close to home.

I also really liked some of the less explicit pieces (and there were a few that were squirmingly hardcore), especially one that strung together a number of clips of large groups of cyclists riding in mass; that was hot.

Monday, September 17, 2007

I Hate the Internet

It’s an open question, I think, whether the internet has made the world a better place. Sure, it’s great to be able to shop at any hour of the day or night, and I like never having to use a phone book, and who can complain about having an endless number of naughty pictures to look at, but I’m not sure those benefits outweigh the damage to civil society that’s been done by unlimited free access to the interwebby thing.

That the online environment has given every loudmouth around free reign to post his or her opinions about anything whatsoever might not really be a good thing. Case in point: 327 Words.

But even moreso, consider the Soundoff section in our local Seattle paper or the “Post a Comment” feature in the NY Times which are essentially, as one acquaintance of mine so aptly put it, opportunities for people to argue with the voices in their heads. Nobody listens to anybody else; they just spew venom in response to a position they imagine someone else is taking whether that person is really articulating that view or not.

In my applied ethics courses, we typically take on contentious issues of the day, like gun control, abortion, immigration policy, and the like. I try to make the point that the most important thing I think students will get from the class is practice in disagreeing constructively. I, for one, like living in a pluralistic society where reasonable people can have different positions on all sorts of topics; the main thing I hope, though, is that students get some practice in being reasonable.

On the internet, by contrast, it seems like people don’t really engage with one another; we just try to drown the other person in a sea of words and if that doesn’t work, WE CAN ALWAYS JUST TYPE IN ALL CAPS!

Of course, it’s completely hypocritical to complain about the internet on the internet; so, enough already.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Oh, the Humanity

This morning, I was sitting in Victrola coffee shop, enjoying my habitual Sunday morning with the New York Times and a couple cups of drip, and was looking out the window at the street scene passing by. A young father with his toddler son appeared; the kid darted towards something on the sidewalk in front of him and the dad, needing to corral the kid before he ran into the street, scooped him up. The boy started wailing and the father bounced and hugged him to make him stop. A typical scenario, repeated countless times daily by innumerable parents and children, but something about it—perhaps the way it evoked memories of my own experiences with Mimi nigh on a decade ago—made me all choked up and misty-eyed.

Across the street, a street person with pinkish-orange dye in his hair sat on a milk crate with a sign that said, “Any kindness is welcomed.” Two of his buddies, one pushing a department store bicycle piled high with plastic bags, joked with him. The laughter of all three made me sad for some reason; I guess, in part, I was wondering about the events that led a guy who was at one time like that little kid to turn into a toothless beggar like the guy across the street.

Later, I saw a trio of hipsters—two boys and a girl—crossing the street to head to Coastal Kitchen for brunch. Their goofy expressions, I thought, belied a sense of loneliness within—or maybe they were all just hungover.

Perhaps it was the overcast skies, portending the long, dark, wet winter ahead; maybe it was a failure of the caffeine to kick in fast enough, but all the while I sat there, the humanity of human beings seemed so apparent and so melancholy. It made me blue, a sort of a sweet blue all morning.

But then the Steelers whomped the Bills and all was again right with the world.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Just Chillin'

The best thing about being back at work is that when you’re not at work, you can totally not be. That is, instead of having to feel like the empty hours need to be filled up, you can leave them empty, and just do stuff like sit around, drinking coffee and watching college football, even if you don’t care about the outcome of the game at all. Because you are a contributing member of society for some specified part of the week already, you can justify being a slug he rest of the time. Advertisers and professional sports teams count on this and far be it for me to reject their considerable charms.

I do wonder whether really good characters—Mother Teresa, Zel Kravinsky, the Geico Gecko—ever check out as mightily as this. I’m inclined to believe those I really admire don’t ever really slack off; it’s hard for me to picture the Blessed Teresa with a pennant in one hand, a beer in the other cheering as USC drives the length of the football field for another score. (It’s hard for me to picture myself doing that, either; I’m much more likely to be asleep on the couch while the game plays silently.)

All this does raise a question that continues to bedevil me: how good should we be? Is it enough to be a moderately good citizen, father, and employee or is one required to do more, say at least doing those dishes that are currently sitting unwashed on the kitchen counter?

My own view is that, in general, one is not required to go above and beyond the call of duty; supererogatory acts are just that. So, while I should probably wash that coffee cup and salad plate I dirtied up at breakfast, I don’t really have to do Mimi’s lunch plate.

And now I won’t have to do her dinner dishes either; she and Ani just came in and asked for Ezell’s take-out Chicken.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Those Darn Kids

I’m riding home from school today on the Burke-Gilman trail, in Lake Forest Park, coming up on first intersection south of the Lake Forest Park Mall, (the one I got the ticket—which was dismissed, eventually—at a couple years ago for going through the stop sign), and there’s a group of three or four kids sitting with their bikes and skateboards on the south side of the intersection. The oldest looks about 10; the youngest is maybe 5; the two in the middle are probably 7 or 8.

I come rolling up to the intersection and slow a bit, look both ways, see no cars in either direction, so roll on through. “Hey!” yells the oldest, “That’s a stop sign!” I kinda smile, thinking he’s kidding, but then the middle ones chime in “Stop sign! Stop sign!” And the little one cries, “You’re supposed to stop at a stop sign!”

So I yell back, as I pass on by, “Yeah! If you’re a car!” And I chuckle to myself as I leave them in my wake.

Good for them, I guess, to be so well trained in the rules of the road; they’re right, of course, you’re supposed to stop at stop signs, but in practice, on a bike, especially on the trail, it hardly seems necessary. I certainly wasn’t doing anything unsafe, either for myself or for any automobiles (since there weren’t any around). Now, I suppose the argument could be made that it’s the principle of the thing; traffic laws are to be followed without fail whether they enhance safety or not, but that seems overly dogmatic, especially when you’re fighting a bit of a headwind.

I wonder who put the kids up to this, anyway; they’ve probably heard their parents complaining about cyclists running the sign and are just echoing those sentiments. If that’s the case, I’m glad I ran it. I just wish mom and dad were around to yell at me, too.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Party's Over

Tomorrow, my contract at school starts and I’m more or less required to be there more or less five days a week for more or less, the next nine months. I dread it a bit, in part because I feel so unprepared, in part because I’ve gotten so used in the last twelve weeks to not being bound by a schedule or a place, and in part because I’m essentially a lazybones who prefers to putter around the house, ride bikes, read novels, and overindulgence in alcohol and cannabis than being a professional post-secondary educator responsible for challenging young minds and preparing them for good jobs in today’s increasingly competitive global marketplace.

Fortunately, we’ve got a week or so before classes start so I can dry out and shape up and get ready to do the job I’m trained for and for which my fellow citizens of Washington state so generously support me.

The summer itself hasn’t been an entire bust, productivity wise: I did, along with my mentor and co-author, Richard Leider, finish the final first draft of our new book, Something to Live For: Putting Your Whole Self Into the Second Half of Life; I attended a four-day yoga and Buddhism workshop in Santa Fe; a couple of minor house projects got attended to; we traveled to LA and I got to swim in the ocean with my daughter; along with my friend, Stuart Smithers, I facilitated a three-day philosophy camp; I rode my bike a lot, including in several alleycat races; 327 words were poked out on the computer nearly every day and posted to the blog; and I did read a bunch of fiction, some literary, most popular.

I wish I would have done a short bike tour somewhere; I regret not painting the downstairs bathroom; and I should have read more philosophy. I probably succeeded in getting stoned as much as I needed to, but I’m not exactly sure I’m remembering correctly.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

9/11 Never Forget Freedom Fries Eat-Off

Last night, sort of to commemorate the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and sort of just for the hell of it, .83 Fattypants Subcommittee member (and noted nutsack-puncher) Derrick Ito organized the 9/11 Never Forget (How Fat You Really Are) Freedom Fries Eat-Off. About 40 people showed up at Red Square on the UW campus, rode bikes to the Northgate Red Robin restaurant, and proceeded to engage in a fierce competition to see who could consume the most fried potatoes. Longshot newcomer Mike Snyder outlasted everyone, eating eight plastic baskets of the deep-fried delicacies, and paying 40-1 for the win.

A pretty hilarious time overall, capped off with a good deal of projectile vomiting from the upper parking lot of the mall two stories high to the level below. And, fairly amazingly, not a single competitor suffered a myocardial infarction on the ride back, although reports of restless nights and dyspeptic mornings are still coming in.

Pedaling home, I reflected on the event and wondered if someone—a 9/11 victim’s family member, for instance—might take umbrage to it. Could our silly hijinks be construed as disrespectful to the memory of those who lost their lives on that fateful day six years ago?

Sure, I guess, but fuck that.

If there’s any lesson to be taken from 9/11, it’s that fundamentalist dogma in any form is to be rejected. And it seems to me that claiming there is a “right” way to commemorate the tragedy represents just the sort of intransigent view that true patriots should push back at.

One could even argue that the Eat-Off embodied an array of characteristically American values: community, self-reliance, and certainly when the food and drink bills came due, free-market capitalism. So in this collective spudfest, participants were not only paying homage to the victims of 9/11, they were also standing up for very way of life the terrorists tried—unsuccessfully—to defeat.

Until, of course, they fell down puking in the parking lot.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bikes and Cars

Seems like the tenor of the debate between automobile drivers and bicycle riders has gotten more heated lately; maybe it’s just that traffic’s worse; maybe cyclists are getting bolder; maybe it’s just a function of the ongoing decay of civil society. Or maybe it’s Dick Cheney, blameworthy in any case.

Whatever, I think it’s a shame, since, in spite of their differences (and admittedly, the moral, physical, and intellectual superiority of those on two wheels) cyclists and automobilists do share a number of common interests. Both groups have a stake in well-maintained roads; both have a desire to get to their destinations quickly and safely; and both hate getting stuck behind a Metro bus going uphill.

As a cyclist, I don’t hate drivers; if anything, I sort of pity them, kind of like the way you feel about a disabled person or Britney Spears at the 2007 MTV Awards show.

Moreover, like nearly everyone who rides a bike, I also drive a car (admittedly, feeling sorry for myself when I do), so to harbor animosity for drivers is, in a way, to cast aspersions against myself, something I like to reserve for worse offenses than driving, say, for instance, losing my house keys or spilling my drink.

It was that great American philosopher, Rodney King, I believe, who asked, “Why can’t we all just get along?” And I feel the same way about cars and bikes; it would be nice if instead of honking at and flipping each other off, we could all blow kisses; drivers would let bikes merge safely and cyclists wouldn’t take their U-locks to the windows of cars that didn’t.

Fear is at the root of it; bike riders act poorly because they’re afraid of being killed; drivers behave like assholes because they’re afraid they’ve wasted $25,000 on a vehicle that’s being passed by one costing $500.00; would we could all set aside our fears and focus together on the real enemy: pedestrians!

Monday, September 10, 2007

More Time, Please

The NY Times reports that General Petraeus "has recommended that decisions on the contentious issue of reducing the main body of the American troops in Iraq be put off for six months;” surprise, surprise. In other breaking news, the rich get richer, the Cleveland Browns lose, and college students binge drink.

Anybody’s whose surprised that the long-awaited report on Iraq concludes that more time is needed, please contact me immediately; I’ve got a great deal for you on some beachfront property in South Florida.

Of course the administration is going to ask for more time so the “surge” can work; ideally, Bush and his cronies would like to put off any decision on whether or not to “stay the course” until after January 19, 2009 when the then former President tucks his tail between his legs and heads back to Crawford, Texas to start fielding lucrative speaking offers from major corporations that have benefited mightily from his pro-Big Business economic policies.

In general, whenever things are going badly, it makes sense to ask for a reprieve; I get this all the time from students when papers are due. A typical policy of many instructors is that with each later increment, the work in question receives an incrementally lower grade. So, if the military commanders in Iraq want another six months to do their job, they can have it, but with each passing day, let’s say, they get paid a little less. And so does Haliburton.

Alternately, we could give Petraeus all the additional time he wants but let any soldier or contract employee who wants to come home now come home now. This would give us all a better picture of how those really involved in the fighting assess the situation; maybe things look like they need another six months when you’re sitting in an air-conditioned office in the Green Zone; getting shot at by snipers in 115 degree heat probably makes you somewhat less patient.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


My beloved Pittsburgh Steelers are waxing the hated Cleveland Brownies 34-7 in the fourth quarter of today’s game, so it looks like the 2007 NFL season is off to a good start. Not that I care about football, but now that the Mariners have imploded, it’s nice to have some group of overpaid professional athletes to root for at least once a week.

Football is a stupid game and professional football is even stupider, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are something else. Far more than a mere professional sports team, the boys in Black and Gold represent a last bastion of successful labor struggle for worker’s rights in a post-industrial world. (And this even though, I’m sure, the average salary for a Steelers player is well into seven figures and nearly all the starters are, no doubt, Republicans, or at least, fans of trickle-down economics.)

On my commute home the last few years, I have been passing a minivan parked in Montlake with a Pittsburgh Steelers bumper sticker; “Yay,” I would say to myself everytime I passed, “Go Steelers!” Some time after 9/11/2001, a “Bush/Cheney” bumper sticker appeared on it. “Yuck,” I mused, “I guess not all Steelers’ fans are cool.” But about a month before Superbowl LX, when the wrongheadedness of the current presidential administration’s policies, especially in the Middle East became patently obvious, the Bush sticker was removed, proving to me that rooting for the Steelers keeps a person from going totally astray.

I have high hopes for my boys this year; Big Ben Roethlisberger is fully recovered from his concussion; Willie Parker already has his first 100-yard game of the season, and wide receiver Hines Ward is set for another Pro Bowl season. Surprisingly to me, they’re pegged at 20-1 longshots to win the Superbowl . I should put down $100 on them right now. That should give me more than enough to cover my airfare to Arizona and tickets to the game, too.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Cyclist Down

Yesterday, in Seattle, a bicycle rider was hit by a truck and killed. It happened at an intersection I’ve gone through many times and so the tragedy hits home harder than it would had I no familiarity with the location.

But it’s not about me, of course; nor, is it even about the “cycling community,” whatever that is. The tragedy is intensely personal, for the family and loved ones of the 19 year-old kid who was run over, for his friend and riding buddy who witnessed the accident, and for the truck driver who, apparently was abiding by the rules of the road and just happened to make a turn at the wrong time in the wrong place.

Still, as a cyclist, I can’t help being especially saddened by the death of someone who was killed while doing something that gives me such joy. It makes me feel guilty in a way and embarrassingly fortunate that I should still be able to swing my leg over the toptube and ride on while this young man will never again have that opportunity.

I’ve done some terribly stupid things on two wheels and have gotten away with them. Just yesterday, I sped down alley behind my house and out into the street only to find myself a few feet from an approaching Mercedes. I slammed on my brakes and stopped, sliding sideways, inches from its bumper. Had I come down the street an instant before or if the car was a second or two faster, I might have ended up through its windshield. And I wasn’t wearing a helmet at the time…so why so lucky?

Life is full of risks and you can’t stop doing things just because something bad might happen. I could slip in the shower and break my neck, but that won’t stop me from bathing.

So, I’m going to keep on riding my bike—wishing there were one more rider still on the road.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Fondue Ride

Certain things just naturally go together: rice and beans, sex and drugs, Republican congressmen and sleazy behavior in public restrooms; but now we add to that august group of ideal collaborations, bike-riding and melted cheese.

Last night, during what I hope promises to be at least an annual event, I savored the dual pleasures of cycling and coagulated milk, on the .83 Fondue Ride, organized by young Remington, fresh from his summer spent, I think at least in part, in the land of fondue, Switzerland, and his co-conspirator in that apogee of 1970s haute cuisine, dear Lucia, who not only slaved over fondue pots all evening, but also came equipped with dozens of those ever-so-tasteful long forks specially made for dipping hard things in runny things.

We rode from Westlake Center over Beacon Hill the long way with a charming descent down to Rainier Beach and then north a bit along the lake to Seward Park where, in a flurry of activity that reminded me of a scene in a Keystone Cops movie, fondue pots, woks, and cheese graters appeared like magic from panniers and shoulder bags. Moments later, thanks in part to DerekIto's industrial size can of nacho “cheese” sauce, people were dipping, eating, and drinking, but only as an appetizer to the subsequent main event: at least three different flavors of cheese fondue, two of which—a stout beer/Swiss combination and an authentic Helvetian-style with port—absolutely rocked my world, and a seemingly bottomless vat of melted chocolate which at first sort of grossed me out but after a post-prandial safety meeting was pure ambrosia.

I particularly enjoyed standing just outside the park shelter looking in at the flying forks and beaming faces of loudmouthed cheese eaters; it resembled a mechanical diorama from the Disneyland ride, “It’s a Small World,” albeit minus that terrible song.

The subsequent ride back along Lake Washington Boulevard was unusually fast; again, testament to the natural affinity between biking and fonduing.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


When we were kids, we used to play a game where whenever you saw a Volkswagen Beetle, you would cry “Slugbug” and punch the person closest to you, ideally, your brother or sister. When some big kid, say a fifth grader like Brad Harrison was the one who was doing the punching, it could hurt a lot, so you came to fear the Beetle like no other car or make sure you saw any first so you could get your own punch in first, however feeble.

This game apparently has a life of its own, for kids today, specifically Mimi, still play it, albeit with a few modifications befitting the somewhat less vicious, but probably more complex world that youngsters today live in. In her version of the game, “Slugbug” is still called out, but then you get to throw a punch at ideally, your dad, ideally when he is at the front of the tandem and you are at the rear. Consequently, these days, I still fear the appearance of the Volkswagen Beetle, both the old style ones that gave rise to the fisticuffs of my youth and the new Beetles that abound on the streets of Seattle.

A few new wrinkles have emerged in the game, though, since the time I was playing it back in the proverbial day. For one thing, another modern small car (also based on a design I grew up with), the Mini Cooper gives rise to physical pestering, specifically, the so-called “mini-pinch.” Seeing a Mini Cooper allows you to take the flesh of another, again, ideally your dad on the tandem, between two steely little fingers and squeeze.

And then, the if you see a Scion xB, you get to cry “Boxy Boxy” and give the old one-two to your old man’s kidneys. (I don’t mind this one; it’s usually more like a rolling massage than punching; so it’s too bad Scion has changed their design to be less boxy.)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

People in Cars

I try to have compassion for folks in metal cages, especially in the morning when, in addition to being trapped in steel boxes, they are often also ensnared in long lines of cars, all waiting for each other and machines to tell them what to do.

So I like checking out what drivers are up to in the ongoing effort to alleviate the pain they certainly feel; you get an especially good view when you sidle up next to them. Lots of times, the person in the vehicle doesn’t even know you’re there and you can get a secret voyeuristic vantage point on their behavior; it’s like being some sort of urban anthropologist who enjoys observing the odd habits of automobilius driverus.

Today, at the traffic light on the corner of Martin Luther King Way and Yesler, at about 8:50 in the morning (I don’t mean to sound like a police report here; I’m trying to effect the tone of an objective empirical researcher); I watched a nicely-dressed woman in a well-maintained late-model Chevrolet load and light up her little crack pipe while she waited for the red to go green.

I had glanced over, as is my wont, and noticed her holding a cigarette lighter and what I took at first to be a cigarette in her lap, but then I saw her fiddling with a little baggie and dumping out a few white grains into her palm. It then became apparent to me that the “cigarette” was actually a glass tube, into which she inserted the cocaine (although I suppose it could have been meth.)

As the light changed, and we both crossed the intersection, she fired up her hit and pulled away. I didn’t observe any change in her driving behavior, but presumably things started looking different to her right away.

I felt sorry for her needing a hit so early in the day; but I can understand why, being stuck in her car.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


I sometimes think that the human race might not be doomed; for some reason, I discover a bit of faith in our ability to stop ourselves from destroying each other with a toxic stew of plastics, petroleum, and poo; but then I go shopping at the supermarket, with its vast array of monoculture-farmed products shipped in via cheap oil and it all seems utterly naïve to maintain a positive attitude and completely hopeless in the short and not-so long-term.

Our insatiable appetites will certainly destroy all that sustains us; and it must be only a matter of time (and not that much, really) before all of all of human society implodes and homo sapiens bids a not particularly fond adieu to planet earth.

I guess there’s something to be said for being one of the last human generations; no doubt it will be interesting to be here as it all comes crashing down; and I suspect many people (maybe even me) may harbor a secret wish that the end of the human world will arrive on their watch.

Think of all the debt we can safely accrue of the apocalypse is really nigh; think of all the bikes I can buy (on credit) if I won’t have to end up paying for them in the end. No sense in saving for the future if it isn’t going to arrive.

The Mayans, I’m told, set the date for the end of human time for something like May 22, 2012; that’s less than half a decade away! If there are only five years left for us, it’s high time to start really living it up. No more Nashbar brand tires for me, that’s for sure; I’m only buying the premium brands from now on.

If I’ve got less than five years to buy bicycle gear, I’d better get my order in for a Vanilla right way; I think the wait for a Sasha White is already like forty-eight months.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Labor Day Cargo Bike Ride

Mimi and I rode the tandem with the trailer attached (thereby winning the longest bike award) in today’s “Bakfiets to the Future” cargo bike ride from the disco pig at 4th and Spring to the Dutch Bicycle Company in Ballard. It was a pleasant, if sometimes painfully slow ride through downtown, down Westlake, across the Fremont Bridge, then on the Burke Gilman through Freelard to the shop, where we barbecued and drank beer.

I just love the mood of a ride where people are carrying stuff on bikes; with overloaded Xtracycles, a contingent of Bakfiets, and several other trailers, we took over the roads, but did so in a way that celebrated the bicycle rather than dissing the car.

Consistently, people would ask us, as they often do when a bunch of bikes appear, “What is this for?” As if the only reason lots of people would be riding bicycles together could be some event; usually, we would answer, “It’s just a Labor Day barbecue,” and the interrogator would look surprised and wonder aloud, or seem to wonder silently, how he or she could hook up with a similar ride next time.

On the way home, we crashed the trailer into a bollard on the Burke-Gilman, bending it; it made it stick out way to the right of the bike, causing us to have to get off and walk through tight squeezes the rest of the way. But Mimi was a champ, navigating the stickier passages for us superbly. And when we got home, slightly worse for wear, it was easy enough to bend the trailer back, good as new.

There’s a metaphor here somewhere, that escapes me slightly now. It’s got to be something about the inherent flexibility of two-wheeled transportation and how it represents solutions that have, as Wendell Berry calls them, “wide margins.”

In any event, one more memorable cycling event in a summer which neither of us are ready to end yet.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Great Gatsby

I just finished reading The Great Gatsby for probably the third time (same, if the blurb on my copy is accurate, as T.S. Eliot!) but the first since I’ve turned older than the narrator, Nick Carraway, who at thirty, says he’s, “five years too old to lie to myself and call it honor.”

That makes me 25 years past the age I can engage in self-deception of that sort but not nearly too old to appreciate Fitzgerald’s masterpiece once more, which left me, at its final unforgettable passage, like Gatsby’s father upon viewing his son’s dead body, “leaking isolated and unpunctual tears.”

I’m not entirely sure why I found the novel so affecting this time around; I think it’s the powerful sense of longing it evokes for an unattainable romanticized past; and in drinking it in, I felt layers and layers of that, not only through the nostalgic melancholy of the characters in the story, but also by recalling the other times in my life I’d read the book and mourning their passing, as well.

My father was a Gatsby fan; he liked Fitzgerald's restrained lyrical style much better than the stark journalistic prose of Hemingway and so reading the book brought up for me how much I miss my dad, especially right at the outset when Nick says that he and his father have “always been unusually communicative in a reserved way,” a characterization I’d like to think applies to my own paternal relationship.

It’s also the case that now, being old enough to recognize events I’ve lived through are clearly of another era—video from Vietnam, for instance, can look as ancient as WWII footage—while still feeling that they occurred only yesterday, I no longer consider the novel’s setting dated.

The world in which Daisy, Nick, and Gatsby live is made present, and the novel’s final words ring ever truer: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Different (Pedal) Strokes for Different Folks

There are many things in the world I don’t understand—the ongoing appeal of country-rock music, how even 30 percent of Americans could think that Bush is doing a good job, my inability to leave my fucking keys and wallet in the same place all the time so I don’t have to dig around my house frantically trying to locate them as I’m rushing out the door—but I’m okay with that. Not having answers is a good thing; it keeps me wanting to puzzle things out and reaffirms the essential mystery of all existence.

Or something like that; at any rate, it helps prevent me from being an even more insufferable know-it-all.

Last night, for instance, I couldn’t understand why anyone on the Critical Mass ride would have passed up the opportunity to stop at Seattle Center, hang out, ride the Cyclecide peddle-powered amusement park rides, and catch another show by Vancouver’s B.C.Clettes, the bicycle-inspired dance performance troupe of which I am arguably the biggest fan around.

But many did; the Mass, some 200 strong, split up at that point as those more interested, I suppose, in riding, headed towards Mercer to continue the parade, while those, like me, unwilling to pass up the more unusual opportunity to play on clown-designed bicycle carousels and Ferris wheels and watch performances, piled up their bikes and stayed put.

The good news, I suppose, is that it made the lines for the rides shorter and the performance more intimate. But I had to fight the part of me that wants bicyclists everywhere all together all the time, we are the world, we are the people.

In the end, I take it as an affirmation of the “big tent” that cycling is; there’s certainly room in the two-wheeled world for all these many perspectives on what counts as preferable.

It probably doesn’t matter if we all love each other, the important thing is that we all love our bikes.