Friday, February 29, 2008

Slowly I Turned

When I first started commuting by bike from my home out to Cascadia Community College in Bothell, way back when in fall of the year 2002, I used to be able, sometimes, if the wind was right, make it there in around an hour and 10 minutes. (I think my record was an hour and 8 minutes, or thereabouts; I used to have a cyclecomputer on my bike to keep track of that sort of thing.)

The way back typically took a bit longer, having a few more uphills, notably during the last three miles or so, but I recall being pleased that on the Rambouillet, when I wasn’t carrying a lot of books, I would generally average less than 80 minutes total.

These days, by contrast, I’m pleased when I come in around the hour and a half mark, and it’s not uncommon, especially if I stop to take off my jacket or retie my shoes, that I don’t pull into my backyard until at least an hour and three-quarters after I’ve left school. (On the way out, I can usually count on making it in an hour and half, but that brings me dangerously close to working up a sweat, always a bad idea when one is going to be teaching two classes in close quarters during the course of the day.

I sometimes wonder how long this slowing trend will continue; if I’ve essentially added three to five minutes to my commute every year, and if I keep this up until my predicted retirement date sometime around 2029 (assuming I hang on until I’m 72), then by that time, it will take me something like three hours in each direction, yikes! That means I’ll be traveling about six miles an hour, or barely twice as quickly as I could walk.

Of course, if I’m still riding my bike at three score and twelve, I’ll probably welcome the chance to pedal as long as possible.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Predictably Irrational

I saw this “behavioral economist,” Dan Ariely, last night give a talk, (sounding remarkably like Doctor Tony from the Simpsons), about his new book, Predictably Irrational in which he discusses the ways in which human beings can’t help but make less than ideal choices, depending on how information is presented to us and processed by our tiny little minds.

So, for instance, one of the strange things we do is make relative evaluations based on having previously made, for no apparent reason, absolute evaluations; we then “anchor” subsequent evaluations to them, even though the original evaluation was essentially arbitrary.

His example was how people have come not to flinch at paying four bucks for a Grande Latte at Starbucks because that’s way cheaper than a Vente, even though the original decision to pay three times as much for what we used to spend on a small coffee came essentially out of nowhere. But once we’ve made the decision the first time, we reinforce it by doing it again and then, just like we go to restaurants where there are lots of people, we keep queuing up behind ourselves to make the same original mistake over and over.

Another striking example was that if you give two groups of people a different anchor, their judgments about quite important things can change. So, for instance, tell one group to write down three things they love about their significant others, and tell another to write down ten things they love about them. Then ask both groups to talk about how happy they are with their partners and whether they think they’ll still be together in 10 years; the group who only wrote three will be way more likely to answer positively; those asked to come up with 10 found it difficult and so come to think they don’t really love their partners all that much.

It’s like at 327 words, I’m brilliant; any more, and I am, predictably, irrational.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Bad Taste

I am sometimes, understandably, called to task for one of my odd, or unrefined, or cranky predilections—e.g. 327 word essays, or Rolling Rock beer, or an unwillingness to get a cell phone, respectively—but none so often or with such vehemence as my taste of for the cheese sandwich with mustard and jelly.

When I tell people that cheddar cheese and raspberry Bonne Maman combines deliciously with Grey Poupon, they gag and retch and give me the “ew gross” treatment with sheer abandon, as if I’ve proposed the consumption of something really disgusting like barbecue-flavored potato chips smothered in Funyons and mushroom soup.

So be it; they all laughed at Edison, too, and I accept the limited world views of those less adventurous than me; I’ve even used this example of my taste for sandwiches in ethics classes to help distinguish between behaviors many people take to be distasteful—for example, seeing men kiss on the lips—as opposed to behaviors we might reasonably take to be unethical—for instance, passing a Constitutional Amendment that would prohibit such a kiss ever occuring at the end of a legal marriage ceremony—and I really don’t mind that my students, my family, and perhaps many in earshot of this posting are repelled by what I like to put in my mouth on certain occasions, notably Tuesdays, which tend to be my weekly cheese sandwich lunch day.

What’s odd is that many of the very same folks who shiver at the thought of mustard, jelly, and cheese sharing the same space inside two slices of bread have no qualms about consuming sweet and sour dishes—pork, wonton, even chicken—at Chinese restaurants, and what are they but mustardy, jelly-y, concoctions of the same sort?

At the Chinatown Inn, the Pittsburgh institution our dad used to take us after swimming on Sundays, we’d always dip our egg rolls (secret ingredient, peanut butter) in hot mustard and sweet hoisin sauce and nobody batted an eye.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

FHR 2008

This guy wearing black polyester spandex tights and a brightly colored neon top rode past me and Mimi and said something like, “The good thing about those pirate flags is that you can easily grab onto them,” and I retorted, “Yeah, man, hang on and I’ll pull you up the next hill,” after which what I thought about was awkward moments between human beings who dress differently, but mostly what struck me about today was how different Bainbridge Island looked on a sunny day in February, one example of which, right off, at the beginning of our ride around the island, was how you could see downtown Seattle, and then, how rather than being a mysterious tour of some sort of windswept spit of land on the edge of the continent, it was more like a spring ramble through rolling hills, but mostly downhill when you tallied it all up, even at most points during the ride.

And I was all smug at the start of the race when Kalin’s tandem broke a shifter cable, thinking “Hah! I just tuned our baby up, spending an hour and a half the other day on a 5 minute job,” but the Universe had the last laugh as we snapped ours with 3 hills to go.

To tell the truth, though, I was glad to have an excuse to walk the last few rollers and even Mimi, who otherwise wouldn’t have let me, could see the sense of it, especially since not a single racer passed us while we pushed the bike, enabling us to finish respectably and more importantly, while there was still plenty of chili left and plus, right about when the winning group of riders, led, not surprisingly by Stanglor, had just returned from a beer run.

Hooray for Derek for organizing another reason to live through February and oh my god my heart when his mom called him “darling” as we carried trash to his truck.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Bike Swap

With Andre and Lee, who I know from .83 rides, and Colin and Michael from 2020, I rented a spot at the annual Seattle Bike Swap, but I realized last night as I gathered up stuff from my parts stashes that I wasn’t really in it for the selling; what I really wanted was to be able to get into the hangar at Magnusson Park early, while the other vendors were setting up, too, so I could avoid the crowds and have first crack at anything that caught my fancy.

But I had also resolved not to buy anything—except maybe a small pair of gloves for Mimi to use in tomorrow’s FHR—so while there were all sorts of lovely things that called to me—a set of Cyclotouriste tandem cranks for just $200.00, and one of those Mavic “starfish” cranks, (thankfully in a 172.5, or I wouldn’t have been able to resist)—all I picked up in the early going was some new 27” tires for the 420 bike ($4.00 the pair, not bad), a Shimano 600 front derailleur that might work with the Tournesol ($5.00, I’ll take it), and a Phil Wood front hub in a trade for table fees with the shop crew.

By about 10:30, the two things I most wanted to unload had gone: the battery-challenged NiteRider and that one set of LX thumbies, so I wandered outside savor the sunshine and when I returned back inside, fell completely in love with this Top Gear San Juan tandem, with SunTour roller cam brakes and bar-end shifters, perfect for my friend Andrew and his son, $350.00 ready-to-ride out the door.

I spent $5.00 on pedals and switched the trailer from the Miyata to the tandem, so I could carry the bike I rode there on home.

Top Gear rode great, and since Andrew sounded like he was going to want it when I called him, I’m glad I had the chance today to ride it.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Eclipse Ride

I’ve seen two lunar eclipses this year.

The first was this summer, after a day at Disneyland, at about 2:00 in the morning, as I glanced out the window of my friend Beth’s house in Los Angeles during a late night pee break; I was singularly unimpressed, even though the moon was almost completely shrouded and had turned a compelling shade of red in the light-polluted skies overhead.

The second was Wednesday night, as I rode home on an unnaturally clear February night in Seattle and got to watch the progression of the lunar event for about an hour and a half as the full moon fell more and more into shadow, eventually leaving only the smallest sliver of a toothsome smile showing before slowly reappearing until, by the time I arrived in my back yard, it looked like it was wearing a yamulke or perhaps, a dark beret.

My experience of this eclipse, in contrast to summer’s, was one of complete awe. Not only was the phenomenon hauntingly beautiful, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the thrilling majesty of nature’s glory. Here was the hugest heavenly body with which we have direct contact, our earth, slowly being passed by the next closest astronomical entity to us, the moon, blocking out the light from the source of all our life and energy, the Sun, and giving us a brilliant show to boot.

All along the trail from Lake Forest Park to Montlake, I would see groups of people staring up at the sky, pointing and shaking their heads in wonder. My favorite was a handful of young men in baggy pants and upturned baseball caps standing around their car in the parking lot of Husky stadium, quietly taking in the celestial spectacle; the old man in me found it heartwarming to see that, at least for an evening, natural beauty overcame for them whatever artificial attractions videogames or loud music usually had to offer.

For me, too.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Chance of a Lifetime

Almost all the contestants on American Idol say that it’s the chance of a lifetime and I guess, for someone who’s 18 years old and has never been outside of some small town somewhere in the middle of nowhere middle America, it must seem like that, but there’s something sorta sad about people believing—even correctly—that they’ve only got one shot to make something of their lives and if it doesn’t work out this one time, then that’s all there is to it.

I’d like to think that we get lots and lots of attempts to turn our lives around and that we can fail innumerable times before we reach the end of the road. I want to be able to blow my one big chance again and again and still have one more opportunity to make a fool of myself or be made sport of or simply be forgotten as time passes me by.

I’m trying to think of what might count as my chance of a lifetime: perhaps it was losing that spelling bee in second grade; or maybe it was finishing last in the high jump when I was 10; or it could have missing out being a National Merit scholar in 11th grade; but then again, maybe it was when I didn’t qualify for the San Francisco International Comedy Competition in my 20s; or conceivably it was I wasn’t cast in that John Guare play back in college; or some might say that the chance of my lifetime was when I didn’t get hired by the New York Times or when NASA turned me down for that astronaut position or when I didn’t secure a sufficient number of votes in the California primary to be elected governor, but it could have been when Axl Rose got picked instead of me to be the lead singer of Guns n’ Roses, or maybe it’s this very posting that's the missed opportunity I've be waiting for all along.

Taco Truck Time Trial

(Image from here: Gypsy Rock)

In celebration of bicycles, burritos, and bacchanalia, 327 Words is pleased to present the First (and probably only) Annual Taco Truck Time Trial, a checkpoint-themed alleycat-style bike race starting at 20/20 Cycle, 2020 Union St., Seattle, WA, on March 29th, 2008, beginning at 3:27PM, with signups commencing about 2:30.

Riders will leave, time trial mode, in staggered starts, and head in a southerly direction to somewhere on Rainier Avenue where they will have the option of downing, for time bonus points, a taco or other comestable at one of Seattle’s finest taco trucks. (For additional bonus points riders, may also have the chance to abet their meals with New Belgium pale ale.)

Then, it’s further south to Columbia City for at least one more truck where the previous truck’s consumption will be reprised.

Finally, the event concludes with a full-bellied sprint along Lake Washington Boulevard for the after-party and prizes at the Madrona Alehouse.

Cyclists of all ages and styles are invited to participate and for those disinclined to race, the associated Roach Coach Rally will feature a group ride from the start to a selection of checkpoints.

Prizes—cash and bike schwag—will be awarded for fastest times, men’s and ladies’ divisions, as well as various runner-up positions, including style points and, naturally, DFL. Friends already on board include 2020 Cycle, 327 Words, Dutch Bike Seattle, Hampsten Cycles, Bicycle Fixation, Swrve Cycling, Chrome Bags, Vapolution Vaporizers, Deb's Lunch, and New Belgium Brewing Company.

Entry fee is a suggested donation of $7.00, which includes food and drink, spoke card, goodie bag, and commemorative shot glasses for the first 51 participants, as well as some measure of beer and/or other beverages at the after party.

Friends and relations are invited to show up at the Alehouse sometime after about 6:00 to join in the post-race festivities. Rumor has it that a Conference Bike may show up, with rides for all.

For more information, watch this site or email:

This race announcement is now a total of 327 words long.

Monday, February 18, 2008

What's Your Beef?

One hundred and forty three million pounds of beef sounds like a lot, especially when it’s all going to end up in the landfill—or an incinerator (it’s gonna smell like barbecue in the old town tonight!)—but it’s probably not all that much after all.

I reckon that the average American eats at least a quarter pound of cattle a day—one Whopper would do it—so, with two hundred and fifty million or so folks from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon chomping away from morning till night, seventy-some tons would be gone in a day or two, certainly a week at most.

I’ll bet, though, if you piled it up, patty upon patty, it would reach pretty high; figure almost 600 million quarter-pounders, each, let’s say, half an inch a piece. That’s 25 million feet in the air, a pile almost 5000 miles straight up. Talk about a king-sized burger!

It’s interesting to me that people associated with the recall are disturbed that the cattle were treated badly by the slaughterhouse, although it seems to me that if they really cared about the ickle cowzies, they would be opposed to slaughterhouses in general. I myself can’t get too worked up over the fact that the so-called “downer cows” were lifted up on forklifts and carried off to be processed; it’s not like the ones who can walk to the abattoir by themselves have it any better.

The real shame in my mind is that a good deal of the bad beef has already ended up on the plates of kids in school lunch programs. If this isn’t a metaphor for the US Educational System, I don’t know what is: slabs of sickened cattle served without humanity to unsuspecting kids in lunchrooms across the country. I always wondered what was in that stuff the lunch ladies at Kerr Elementary called “Salisbury Steak.” I guess this solves the mystery of “mystery meat,” and perhaps also, why it was gray.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Nice Day for a Ride

Today dawned clear and cold and it was actually light out by 7:00 in the morning, so I couldn’t hardly stay abed when one could be up and out and not getting wet, so—in spite of the unusual experience of not being the least little bit hungover of a Sunday morning—I rolled out for a chilly ride around Rainier Valley and then, marveling at the how close the light rail station at McClellan looks to being done, up to Beacon Hill before cruising down, then over on 12th (Live, Work, Play) to Capitol Hill and finally 15th Street for my usual coffee and a spinach-feta croissant and three sections—front page, sports, and Styles—of the Times, and all this before 9:30 in the morning.

And then, this afternoon, much warmer, Mimi and I took the tandem down through Pioneer Square and then alongside traffic on First to the Market where she got a caramel apple—a healthy alternative to the box of Nerds she had for breakfast—and we walked around a bit before riding to REI in search of gloves only to be turned off by the prices there--$40 for something that is certain to be lost before the season’s out?—so it was back on the bike and onto the Denny bridge over I-5, steep enough to be some practice for next week’s FHR, which we’re planning on doing, like last year, as a team, then all the way up Pine to Madison Market where a chocolate frozen tofutti bar, in spite of being arguably the least healthy item in the store, failed to satisfy her sweet tooth, but then, at least, we got the fast-flying downhill on Union before returning home for computer games and introspection.

Tonight we’re going to the movies—Persepolis—and I plan to avail myself of Jen’s indulgence and ride even if she and Mimi drive; I realize this is lame, but I can’t bear to pass up pedaling when the weather’s so fine.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


On the one hand, you could probably pigeonhole me in an instant: I’m a bicycle-riding, vegetarian, yogi, who lives in the liberal enclave of Seattle, is all for the reform of marijuana laws, shops at the Co-op, supports NPR, and opposes not only the war in Iraq, but the nearly all the Bush administration policies of the last eight years. No wonder I get emails from, catalogues from Restoration Hardware, and unsolicited phone calls from the local Democratic Party.

On the other hand, I only watch three things on TV: sports, the Simpsons, and American Idol; I like cheap American beer—notably Rolling Rock—I drive a Ford (when I drive); I opposed the smoking ban in bars; I enjoy the occasional hard liquor cocktail, and I’ve been to the Demolition Derby more than once.

Like many people, I’m torn between a need to feel like an unique individual and a desire to belong to some sort of like-minded community. But I’m disinclined to align myself with any one particular group—even the Unitarians kind of scare me—I guess I subscribe to Groucho’s old desideratum: I won’t join any club that would have me as a member.

There’s a phenomenon we explore in the Critical Thinking class called the “representativeness heuristic.” That’s where our minds incline us to draw conclusions based on stereotyping. So, for instance, consider Dave: is it more likely that he is a bicycle-riding vegetarian who does yoga and supports Obama? Or that he is a bicycle-riding vegetarian, full-stop? Oddly enough, most people would guess the first, when—as purely a matter of logic—it is necessarily more likely that the second alternative, which has one fewer condition to fill, will be true.

(As a matter of fact, the former IS true, but that’s beside the point.)

I don’t mind being predictable, but I resist being a cliché. That’s why, even though I’m a teacher, I resist growing a beard and you won’t catch me in wire rims.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Short But Sweet

I generally think that something is better than nothing.

Like, if it’s Valentine’s Day, giving your loved one something commonplace, like a bottle of wine, is better than ignoring the occasion altogether. Or if you really should be grading papers instead of puttering about with self-absorbed essays, then at least downloading one of the pieces of student work to your computer is to be commended. (There, that’s done.)

Or a few miles with your bike gang to a nearby tavern and just a couple beers instead of the usual long slog and alcohol poisoning is enough, at least, to tide you over until next time.

And in the process, because the moments are fewer, you get to savor the memorable ones just a little more.

Stopping for freshly-frosted cupcakes in a driveway/parking lot off of Westlake was not to be missed, especially when the Jamieson’s whiskey came out, prompting visiting Irish rider Joe to break his pledge not to drink anymore.

And I always love riding on the deck of Fremont Bridge, something I only do in groups; pedaling next to the Pugsley and feeling the subsonic bass hum of its tires on the metal grating was especially fine.

We congregated at Mike’s Chili in Ballard, where FHR organizer, Derek Ito, could work his strangely effective brand of salesmanship on the owner in the attempt to acquire free food for the race. And lots of uncomfortable laughter from being bombarded with the Tourette’s-y vocal stylings of the inimitable J while downing a couple pints in my defense, then, as I was leaving, falling prey to the oldest trick in the joint: above the bar is a hand-lettered sign that reads: “YCJCYADFTJ.” “What’s that mean?” I asked the waitress. “Your curiosity just cost you a dollar for the jukebox,” was her reply.

I ponied up, happily enough; after all, I had already gotten my money’s worth: the menu says clearly that the price of “Abuse” is “free.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Responsible Citizen

I’m one of those people who consistently behaves responsibly. I complete required tasks on time, show up at the appointed hour, call if I’m going to be late, clean up after myself, pay my bills and taxes, send thank-you notes, and in general, do what I say I’m going to do in the manner I said I would, fulfilling the expectations I’ve set for myself and that others have of me.

Frankly, I’m sick of it.

Of late, I can hardly stand the relentless grind of being good. I fantasize about going on a bender, disappearing from the face of the earth for a spell, blowing off my classes, and just making a mess of things for myself and the people in my life.

Of course, I’m way too responsible to do that.

Even if I were going to freak and act out so uncharacteristically, I’m sure I’d make arrangements beforehand so all the loose ends were covered. I’d find substitutes for my classes and inform my students that I’d be gone for a while. I’d call up the newspaper and have delivery stopped and make sure I’d worked out with my neighbor to take in the mail. My attempts to be irresponsible would no doubt be handled in a tidy, responsible manner.

I’m not even sure what I would do with myself were I to go ahead and blow everything off, anyway. Much as I like bellying-up and bending an elbow as the next guy, I find these days, that I more or less lose my appetite for keeping the party going after a certain hour of the night and definitely after a day or two at most in a row. So, while I might set out with the best intentions of ending up in the gutter, it’s entirely likely that within forty-eight hours at most, I’d be found in the library.

And how irresponsible can you be if you try to post almost every day?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Halfway Measures

I half realized today how often I just do things halfway.

For instance, this morning, I only did half of the full primary Ashtanga yoga series. I got to Navasana, and I decided I had had enough, so that’s where I ended, going right into half bow instead of continuing on.

Or yesterday, rather than staying with the group of riders in the Rapha-sponsored West Hills Continental Ride, I bailed—at less than half the distance, actually, if probably about half the time—and headed back to eat and nap.

Today, I ate half a bag of chips and crunched up and threw away the other half because I was half-tempted to eat the whole thing.

I have lots of half-read books; my refrigerator is half full of half-empty jars; I have half a mind to do something about it half the time.

Even this piece, I’m taking on half-heartedly; I’m less than halfway through, but am already half-looking for a way to end halfway at 168.5 word tot

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bike Show Weekend Day Three

For my last trick at the NAHBS weekend, I hauled my ass out of bed at 6:30AM to meet at the Rapha wool shop by 7:15 for their West Hills Continental Ride. There were already twenty or so serious-looking cyclists, lots in stylish and expensive Rapha gear and by the time we rolled out soon after, I’d say the group was about three dozen.

I wasn’t the oldest guy there on the heaviest bike, but I’m pretty sure that if you added people’s age to the weight of their ride, nobody would have had a higher number than me.

I set out with the first clump of cyclists, emboldened by the fact that the guy next to me was on a Dutch Bikes Transport, the only bike there certainly weightier and utilitarian than my own. But I was soon at the back of the front group as we headed north through an industrial area before diving into the woods and up a street called Saltzman that quickly turned into an unpaved path switching back and forth about three miles and a thousand or so feet of elevation gain until we emerged at the top of Portland’s northwest hills, on the aptly named Skyline Avenue.

There, I split off from the group who faced at least two more big climbs to complete the whole ride, but I had had my “Rocky” moment as I arrived not nearly last at the summit and so, enough was enough and breakfast beckoned.

My favorite moment on the climb was getting caught by a Japanese guy who wanted a picture of me in my wool and steel and leather to put in a cycling magazine he photographs for in his home country. He sprinted ahead of me, leaped off, took the snapshot of me passing by and then, unhappy with the result, hopped back on his bike, sprinted past me again—farther on a bit—and retook the shot, second time a charm.

Slap Dash Alley Cat

I came to Portland to look at bikes and ride my bike and I got to do both tonight as well as practice some of the skills you need to make a bike in the clever and inventive Slap Dash Alley Cat, a race organized by a nice fellow in a cool hat, Carl Larson, as part of benefit for, the website I’ve been using to keep track of news and events over the course of this NAHBS weekend.

I showed up at a place called Plan B in the midst of a craft show, where I bought a custom monogrammed tequila-themed beer cozy for my March race, The Taco Truck Time Trial. I ate a Shrooben, their portabello mushroom Rueben, before signing up and getting a spoke card and manifest listing five locations and five tasks: cut, paint, drill, weld, and bling.

I glommed on to this guy Michael, a zoobomber, known to and celebrated by all, who combined a generous and friendly manner with an ability to wayfare on the order of G.S. Barnes, and he led us on a highly-efficient route to first, a Northeast Portland workshop where riders had to cut bike tubes we’d been given at race start, then to an even farther away garage where we painted them, then across the river and downtown to where Rapha was hosting a party with roller racers, then back across the river and on a rustic but industrial trail along the Williamette called the Springwater, to a shop where we welded our pieces together before sprinting back to near the start for drilling and then finally once more to the Plan B where the after-party was in such full swing I completely despaired of getting a beer.

So, after swelling a bit with pride for finishing 5th out of over 30, and thanking Michael for his guidance and Carl for his organizing, I left and rode around a bit, crossing bridges two more times.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Bike Show Weekend Day Two

The bikes I like best are bikes that are ridden, so even though I spent several hours today ogling at handmade cycling porn inside the Oregon Convention Center at the NAHBS, the two-wheelers I appreciated most were ones I saw locked up outside the building or being pedaled around by skinny boys wearing rolled up jeans, too small shirts, and small-brimmed wool caps.

After a morning of wandering around the exhibition hall drooling over one more beautiful and gleaming bicycle after another, I had to get out of there and take a ride to remember what the point of these machines really is. A crosstown jaunt and a spin past the Reed College theater where I would have been spending my time were this thirty! years ago today and then a beer and I could face another sixty minutes or so of the show: just lots and lots of earnest and committed cycling evangelists and some very whacky and cool shit, too: I especially liked the Sycip bike with beer taps for shifters and the Calfee with longhorn bull horns for handlebars.

It was interesting to see how the crowd changed from morning till evening, too: before noon that tattoo and piercing quotient was way lower than at 4:30; but whether khaki-wearing baby boomer with graying beard or knicker-sporting hipster with septum ring, all had that same glazed look in their eyes that comes from staring at stunning craftsmanship; I watched a documentary about master builder Richard Sachs entitled “Imperfection is Perfection” in which he said something like the first 1000 frames or so he built was just to learn the craft, which is probably true, but sorta nutty, I think.

I did manage to make it all the way through the way with only buying one thing: a ten dollar steel water-bottle cage; it was either that or put down six grand on a custom by a company remaking an update of classics by René Herse.

Bike Show Day One

I liked showing up at the train station and seeing people I know with their bikes and then I really liked, after languishing at the end of a long, long line, being told that cyclists had to cut to the front—not that it really mattered to final seating arrangements, but I had to love the symbolism.

And then, after some reading, beer-drinking, and napping, some strolling about and a bit more sitting, I’m in Portland, and riding a bit too carelessly across the Steel Bridge and to the Red Lion Inn, where I’m staying tonight and tomorrow for the North American Handmade Bike Show.

Bike nerds all over the place; if you had a drinking game where you did a shot whenever you saw a guy in a cycling cap—wool, with the little brim—you wouldn’t make it down the elevator and through the lobby before passing out. Nice guys, though, and slightly less pathetic than those at a radio-controlled airplane flyers convention. I hope.

I rode over to a party that felt more like an opening at Vanilla Cycles workshop that felt more like a gallery and talked to people about bikes and got to meet the unassuming Sasha White and ogle at steel frames a bit in preparation for the big bike porn gorgefest tomorrow.

Then, about the time I often call it a night, I met up with Portland’s Midnight Mystery Ride; eventually, after the requisite milling about, I’ll bet sixty of us set outthrough neighborhoods and then, a long and deserted bike path that led thrillingly close to the lights of Portland Airport’s runways and in the end to the banks of the mighty Columbia where we could see our home state of Washington just across the water.

A nightcap at McMenniman’s Kennedy School Hotel pub provided late night fortification, and I got the full escort to just blocks away from my hotel, safely back but too excited by bicycles to sleep.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Waffle Ride II

I like a ride where you just show up on your bike and you’re invited.

Everyone brings something—at least an appetite—and shares in the end.

My tradition (two years running) for the Waffle Ride is to take the bus to Bellevue from an evening in Bothell and then pedal through that unfamiliar yet nightmarish downtown across the magical intersection where cars can’t go straight and suddenly, you’re cruising through wooded suburbs to the lake.

I got a tiny bit lost, as is also my pattern in the suburbs (and, for that matter, the city), but eventually found my way from the QFC to the park, where—a good deal earlier than I expected—many were already set up and serving waffles; thus, my sense of urgency as I dished out ice cubes to plastic glasses and filled them 1/3rd to the rim with vodka, then almost to the rim with orange juice, floated Galliano on top, before finally dropping in a marischino cherry, yum.

I had read in the Times that the Harvey Wallbanger was making a comeback, so I got the fixings, and lo, Jen and I were completely underwhelmed with a batch the other night, but this evening they worked very well: with the juice and the proprietary formula, each one tasted almost healthy; I could imagine why it may have been the surfer beverage of choice for a while.

A fancy drink also contributes to the festivity of the event; I know that after the several rounds it took me to get (or taste as) the mixture just right, I sure was more animated.

Although I wiggled, too, because I was freezing. A dry evening, but as we stood near that crest on Mercer Island, the wind whistled through my bones.

Even fortified by 70s cocktails and geometric cake, I needed to get home, and a reasonably frightening windy crossing of I-90 was the very Galliano afloat my own fancy drink of an evening with .83.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Bike Badvocacy

Every month or so, one of our local papers runs an article about some challenge or another that bicyclists face. The other day, the Times ran a piece about the dangers of cars turning right in front of riders at intersections; a couple weeks ago, there was a feature story about the dangers of storm drains catching a bike’s tires and throwing the cyclist down; and I seem to recall another story not too long before that about riders falling on the tracks for the new South Lake Union trolley.

All well and good, I guess, but inevitably what happens is that the next day—or even sooner on the papers’ online “Soundoff” sections—you get all these letters from people complaining about how cyclists ought not to be permitted on the roads because they run red lights, ride their bikes through crosswalks, don’t pay gasoline taxes, wear Spandex, and worst of all, cop some holier-than-thou attitude about not driving cars.

And while I’ve got no particular problem with any of these behaviors—apart from the Spandex—it pains me to see the ire generated when cyclists are represented as having special needs—even when those needs are legitimate.

No doubt this is because I’m a grouchy old curmudgeon who grew up in a time when cyclists had to fight for every inch of the road they could; (I never even saw a bike lane until I was all grown-up), but it’s also because, at least in part, I like the outsider aspect of cycling. While I’m all for advocacy programs that put more people on bikes and make it easier and safer for especially new riders, I also think that one of the best things about bike riding is self-sufficiency.

So, part of me would just as soon that the newspaper (and even some advocacy groups) simply stop trying to stick up for cyclists and just let us keep riding under the radar, avoiding the dangers on our own.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Sheldon Brown

I usually don’t cry in front of my computer, but I did yesterday when, on one of the websites I frequent, I found out that Sheldon Brown, a man I never met in person, but with whom I had a number of email exchanges and from whose expertise, generosity, and good humor I benefited greatly, had passed away suddenly from a heart attack.

Since then, hundreds of messages and numerous blog postings have attested to the vast number of people whose lives were also enriched by the famous “Captain Bike.”

Sheldon had a rare ability to reach across the virtual world to bring to bring forth an amazingly kind, wise, funny, individual with all sorts of quirks, interests, and abilities, all of which he was willing to share with perfect strangers for nothing more, as far as I could tell, than the sheer joy of discovery, interaction, and creative tinkering.

Over the years, I have referred to his Harris Cyclery website hundreds of times, often for much-needed information, but also, on loads of occasions, just to poke around and learn about some odd project Sheldon had undertaken, from building a 63-speed bicycle to performing Gilbert and Sullivan to reviewing films.

From across the country, Sheldon helped me acquire parts for my first serious bicycle project, a Waterford 1900 touring cycle; he built the wheels and gently explained to me why it made sense to go with an eight rather than seven-speed cassette on the modern hub I had chosen; and it was Sheldon who sold me the now lost Rambouillet; he commiserated with me in an email when I wrote to him that it had been stolen and asking if perchance he had record of its serial number two years after the fact.

I sorta think that bike is out there somewhere; if asked whether Sheldon is, I would respond as he did once, like the Three Stooges Curley, to an inquiry of mine: “Soitainly!”

Monday, February 04, 2008

Why Not?

I missed the “debate” last week between Hilary and Obama during which, I’m told, they broached the subject of running as a “dream team;” I understand neither was particularly warm to the idea, but why?

Or, more to the point, why not?

It seems to me that a combined ticket would bring together the skills and abilities each candidate is perceived as lacking—Obama’s visionary leadership would be complemented by Hilary’s managerial expertise; his lack of seasoning would be shored up by her White House experience; sexists who might refuse to vote for a woman—or a Clinton—would more likely support a man and a Washington outsider; racists who might refrain from casting their lot with a black man might be more comfortable with a middle-class white lady.

The question, of course, is who would be at the top of the ticket; I can’t imagine that either candidate would consent to being Vice-President, and probably the symbolism of having either one as the junior member of the team would be problematic; it wouldn’t look right to have either the woman or the person of color be number two, would it?

But, on the other hand, both candidates talk a good game about only wanting what’s best for this country and it’s hard for me to imagine anything better than two such fine public servants serving their country at the highest executive level there is. Could they put aside their personal ambitions to see to it that the best alternative to what the Republicans have to offer could be offered?

I’ve heard lots of people express a preference for either Obama or Hilary, but most have also said something like, “I’ll support either one for President next November; anything would be better than what we’ve put up with for the last eight years.”

Hear, hear; I agree. So, maybe they could just draw straws; the only question then would be whether the loser or the winner gets to be Veep.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


I’m banking on the Giants at +12 to beat the spread; however, just in case, I’m hedging my bet with the over 54 combined score. Either it’s going to be a close game or a blowout; I think.

I’m glad when Super Sunday rolls around, because it means baseball season starts tomorrow. And with the Steelers not in the game, that’s really all I’m looking forward to.

I hope that the Giants ruin the Patriots “perfect” season; it annoys me that a coach who dresses so poorly as Bellechick—what is that look, Flashdance, circa 1984?—keeps being heralded as a “genius.” “Genius” is a term that should be reserved for people who do particle physics, or create great works of art, not some guy who bosses around men in tights and helmets on Sunday afternoons.

I also splurged on a couple of silly proposition bets just to make the game more interesting: I wagered the Giants would be the first team to score, by field goal, to the tune of 5 to 1. And I’ve got five bucks says at least one touchdown will be scored in the first quarter.

I begged off on a few of the weirder props: which team will win the coin toss or who’s going to throw the first challenge flag. It’s too bad there aren’t some really odd ones on; I’d like to be able to wager on whether or not Tom Petty is going to sing “Refugee,” although I doubt I’d get better than even money on that one.

It was the craggy-faced Petty, I think, that my sister, Deb, once described as an artist she liked hearing on the radio, but would never buy one of his albums; I feel that way about a number of groups—the Red Hot Chili Peppers, for instance—and that’s kinda how I am about this Superbowl: I’ll tune in because it’s there, but I’m not making special sandwiches for halftime or anything.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Any Distance

Everybody’s favorite bicycling advocate, Kent Peterson is a legend to me for lots of reasons: having a car-free family for a number of years, riding a fixed gear from Seattle to Minnesota, being able to complete two-day randonneur rides subsisting entirely on salted nut rolls and Dr. Pepper (or something like that, maybe Slim Jims were involved too, hence his signature claim, “Not Not a nutritional role model”), but I think mostly for his reminder, which I thought you could also buy as a t-shirt or coffee mug, “Any distance is cycling distance.”

Kent’s point, as least as I understand it, is that your bike can get you pretty much anywhere, provided you have the time and the willingness to take breaks, rest stops, and other pauses for sustenance and reflection en route.

And I was reminded of that as I made my way home last night in a fairly persistent drizzle that may have defeated me on numerous occasions had I not stopped several times to dry off, warm up, and fill my belly with food and drink as needed.

I set out from school at the end of a long and emotionally draining day of balancing hiring meetings and teaching and after a trailside safety meeting followed by a few miles of slogging on through the wet, was all but ready to give it up for the relative comfort of Sound Transit.

Instead, though, I pulled off into Matthews Beach park, pulled on more raingear, and relaxed at a picnic table for a spell. Afterwards, I felt perfectly capable of the short trip to the College Inn Pub, where a beer, a fire, and a bit of reading gave me the strength to make it another few miles crosstown to the Elysian, and another pint with an order of fries.

Thus fortified, it was an easy glide home; instead of a 20 mile haul, just an easy series of 5 to 10 milers all the way.