Friday, February 27, 2009

Semblance of Hope

I think there might be a chance that the US and the world will eventually claw their way out of this recession; it’s probably going to take a long time and I’m sure we’ll hear way too much of what Wall Street bankers and Main Street CEOs have to say in the coming months. But I felt just a little bit of hope the other day when Mimi asked me to check out a picture of something she thought was cool on the computer.

“Sure, just a second,” I replied in usual distracted parent mode and eventually made it over to where she was sitting in half an hour or so, after doing some dishes, hanging up some neglected clothing and otherwise tidying up in my somewhat anal-retentive way.

What she wanted to show me was an image of this three-wheeled electric sports car that’s apparently coming to the US market sometime later this year or next and the reason that gave me hope is that it made me feel like the consumerist impulses that are apparently so necessary to our economic survival aren’t going to go away, they’re just going to change.

In the same way I ogled a gas-guzzling 400 cubic inch V-8 engined 1969 Pontiac GTO “Judge” when I was 12 years old, she’s drawn to a similarly sporty number only this one, presumably, won’t summon the demise of civilization as we know it quite so quickly.

Now, of course, our only real hope of human survival is for all of us to rein in our appetites altogether, but since that’s less likely to happen, it’s probably a step in the right direction for youngsters to covet stuff that might be somewhat sustainable, at least in the shorter term.

Moreover, as hopeful as this made me, it’s not as if the example assuaged all my concerns about humanity’s future; it’s not, after all, like she showed me a picture of a human-powered sports car.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tour de French Fry

In celebration of bikes, bike riding, starchy tubers, hot grease, and distilled spirits of the family Solanaceae, 327 Words is pleased to announce the first (and probably only) Tour de French Fry, a checkpoint-themed alleycat-style bike race starting at 20/20 Cycle, 2020 Union St., Seattle, WA, on March 28th, 2009, beginning at 3:27PM, with signups commencing about 2:30.

Drawing upon the best (or is that the worst?) of fabled events such as the .83 Never Forget (How Fat You Really Are) Bike Ride and Freedom Fry Eating Contest and the 327 Words Taco Truck Time Trial, the Tour de French Fry will see cyclists racing around town to various destinations that will afford them the opportunity to replace lost calories with warm spuds and favored condiments.

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. Prize sponsors on tap include the Madrona Alehouse, New Belgium Brewing Company, Bicycle Fixation, Swrve Cycling, Bicycle Paintings by Taliah Lempert, Drunk Cyclist,and while the amount of loot will no doubt pale in comparison to the haul provided for the Fucking Hills Race, we remain hopeful that some sort of reward will be found for each and every rider who completes the course.

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 52 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 Madrona Alehouse sometime after about 6:00 to join in the post-race festivities. With any luck, most cyclists will have returned by then and none will have had an eye put out by an errant French fry or lost a finger while mishandling a package of tomato ketchup.

Should be fun, rain or shine.

For more information, watch this site or email:

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

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Three's A Charm

I’m not sure that knowing what’s ahead makes it easier, but at least you’ve got a point of reference for how much longer you’re going to be pedaling and maybe that counts for something and could be the reason, perhaps, that Mimi was able to perfectly time our rendition of “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” so that just as we pulled onto the boardwalk at the end of this year’s Fucking Hills Race, she was just hitting “1 bottle of beer on the wall,” which was exactly what I was looking for and as testament to my heartfelt desire for suds, Miller Lite tasted really delicious.

I’d be looking forward to this year’s race for weeks and it didn’t disappoint at all: the weather, partly cloudy and cool, couldn’t have been better and there was plenty of vegetarian chili left for us, even though we finished no higher than 60th or so out of the 80-some riders who pirated alongside the 2009 version of Cascade Bike Club’s Chilly Hilly.

Our tandem performed beautifully; just one small mechanical when we dropped the timing chain downshifting on a hill relatively early on; and to my surprise, we were able to get the cranks more or less in phase on the roadside with the bike turned upside-down.

Fortunately, riding home last night, I snapped the rear derailer cable, so that repair took place this morning before leaving rather than en route today.

The kid, as usual, was a champ from start to finish; no way we’d have made the final post-race push up Jackson Street without her relentless stoking.

Race organizer Derek Ito worked harder than he does any other day of the year to make the event come together and the pile of prizes was impressive to say the least: I got a fresh pair of wool armwarmers and Mimi a cool t-shirt, but the real reward was the race itself; already I’m waiting for number four.

Friday, February 20, 2009


I read some of this David Suzuki book, Sacred Balance, and it had me thinking patterns of movement all evening as I rode home.

And one thought that occurred to me was that the input/output relationship between effort and pleasure while riding a bicycle is beautifully balanced.

Which is another way of saying that I get out of it what I put into it.

A tautology, but whatever.

And then it came to me:

Why doesn’t the government give the money to people who owe it to the banks rather than the banks to pay off loans that those people can’t pay?

I’m probably missing something in the complexity of it all, but it sure would seem a more sustainable model of repayment.

This inspired me to wonder about the kinds of final assessments I want to create for each of my classes. In one, I think, I will ask to be part of a conversation about an idea from this class. In another, they will be ask to formulate a question that they would be willing to talk about for 3 minutes. And in the other, it would be cool if they would consent to teach the rest of us something.

Later, I couldn’t help thinking that maybe the solution is for everyone to just slow down. All of our problems in modern life stem from trying to get someplace more quickly.

This suggested to me that we need to convert intangible value to the tangible. That means it seems like what the sensible thing to do is to figure out the right relationship between those so as to sustain real value in the valuable thing.

Whatever that is.

But one thing that’s surely obvious is that a warehouse full of bicycles would be worth more than bunch of intangibles.

And if they could be used by people conveniently then even more real value could be generated.

Especially if something like a Conference Bike were involved.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Often, when somebody discovers that I’m in the habit of riding my bicycle (usually) (at least) (about) twenty miles a day to and/or from school they say something like, “Wow. You’re really dedicated.”

And I guess, on the one hand, I am, but maybe only to the smug feeling I get when someone says that because really, I don’t think of it that way at all.

The simple fact is, I just like riding my bike and if that’s dedication, then it’s only dedication like someone could be dedicated to eating ice cream, or getting massages, or taking mid-afternoon naps in the sun after a few beers at lunch.

When I think of dedication, I think of commitment to something one doesn’t like to do or which serves some greater good or that represents a cause one is fighting for. Because to me, bike riding is mainly about bike riding (and, sometimes, on Thursday nights especially, camaraderie and consciousness-twiddling), it doesn’t really strike me as the sort of thing one dedicates to.

Tonight, for instance, I left school under nearly cloudless and in reasonably temperate weather—no rain, anyway—for February in Seattle. At first, I was going to take the bus, because it was already dark and I was feeling tired and lazy from a long day of teaching and meeting.

But once I got on my bike and started pedaling, I didn’t want to stop; it just felt so good to be turning the cranks, feeling the cool breeze whistle around my helmet, enjoying the night air and, as a bonus, passing a long line of cars bumper-to-bumper on Bothell Way.

Am I dedicated because I chose that mode of transportation rather than something else? (Probably not, because by the time I got to Kenmore and the bus caught up with me, I took the opportunity to put my bike on its rack and ride, but that’s my point: I ride from desire, not dedication.)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Lobby Day

I’m on a bus (I wrote this morning) with about 50 fellow members of the American Federation of Teachers (and a handful of students from Seattle Central Community College) as we travel together to our state capitol, Olympia, for a full day of rallying and lobbying on behalf of higher education funding and support.

Upon arrival, we’re supposed to break up into teams who will descend upon our local state congresspeople and senators and talk them up as constituents who share an interest in getting money for the post-secondary cause.

I’m kinda excited about getting into the office of my state legislative district’s representative, Eric Pettigrew, in part because I think I have a special “in” with him, given that his former campaign director was once a student of mine. (As it turned out, I played that card, but all it got was a laugh and a “Oh, now everybody is trying to take credit for him!”)

Anyway, that’s how naïve I am, to believe politics works this way (or works at all) and that’s why I’m giving (that is, gave) up a vacation day for this: I could have slept in a graded papers, but I decided that this mission warrants turning back students’ papers a few days later than usual—even if they don’t.

As usual, I was slightly on the outside of things; I had to take a walk around downtown Olympia to kill some time before gearing up to visit the offices we were scheduled for.

It was interesting to see the hierarchy: the senators seemed to have nicer offices than the legislator and we even got a room all to ourselves when we met with the senator from my district.

It’s not entirely obvious to me that any of what we did made any difference at all, but I’m glad to feel somewhat connected to the political process, but even gladder to be headed back home to Seattle, even though grading awaits.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Race of Shame

Completed my first alleycat of the season, Emerald City Bike Bloc’s “Race of Shame,” a post-Valentine’s Day-themed race in which all the checkpoints connected in some way to places that could be tied to events one might regret, such as one last drink at the Twilight Exit or a lost evening down by the gum wall or a motel room out on Aurora Avenue where a person might imagine waking up with someone they couldn’t remember going to bed with.

I was pleased to complete whole course, which started by the Colonnade mountain bike park then, for me, went east to my new favorite neighborhood bar, then south and west down Jackson and up First Avenue to the Market.

I think I was almost sort of in the running at this point, but then I missed the turn on Dexter at Galer to cross the pedestrian bridge over Westlake and almost gave it up altogether, but glad I didn’t when after crossing the Fremont Bridge and heading north to the motel room I got a good laugh at the guy, naked from the waist up and wearing a Nacho Libre wrestling mask with whom you had to pose for a picture.

Afterwards, it was back towards the U-District and the Wall of Death before pedaling west to Golden Gardens and then back for a walk across the locks to Magnolia and the Boxcar Alehouse for prizes, which as 29th finisher out of 40th, I was the first person not to get any loot, an outcome that while initially causing me a twinge of consternation, now feels just right.

There were some real athletes in the competition and it seemed like some number of riders were in it to win it, but that could be because I finished so far behind the leaders that descriptions had come to seem like bragging.

I didn’t stick around for the bike films at the bar; no shame in coming home early.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Governor Cannabis

No, I’m not talking about former governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson, who thrilled the folks at NORML a few years ago when he came out in support of legalizing marijuana; here, I’m using the term “governor” in the sense applied to machinery as, (according to “a device for maintaining uniform speed regardless of changes of load, as by regulating the supply of fuel or working fluid,” by which I’m suggesting that cannabis use could, at least for some people, be a way of helping to ensure they didn’t zoom out of control on whatever fuel it is they get themselves started with.

And here, especially, I’m thinking of my old pal, Looey, who—if he’s still among the living—is totally a mess. The guy, thanks to his taste for alcoholic beverages and, (at least if he still aspires to the same habits as he did when I knew him well a couple decades ago), the infamous Bolivian marching powder, has managed to work himself entirely down the ladder of success, from a position as some sort of production manager for multinational garment companies in San Francisco to barely scraping by as a 7-11 clerk in Lacey, Washington.

Now it seems to me that if only he were more of a pothead, he wouldn’t be such a drunk. Usually, if you get good and stoned before you start drinking, you tend to consume more slowly, so as not to mess up the more delicate marijuana experience; and, it seems to me that a couple of lungfuls of cannabis smoke after a few drinks sobers you up enough that another shot of Jagermeister or whatever doesn’t seem like such a good idea.

But maybe I’m being a Pollyanna here; there’s no doubt that for some people, adding one intoxicant upon another makes things worse. I do think, though, if Looey had had the cannabis governor on last week, he might not have totaled his brother’s van.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thursday, Thursday

On the way to school today, Mimi announced from the year seat of the tandem that her favorite day of the week was Thursday.

I assumed she meant, as do I, that this was because Friday had almost arrived and the sweetness of anticipation combined with the longing for the next thing were perfectly merged, but what she explained was it was simply that Thursday was the school day without Math class.

But maybe that’s what we’re paying the big bucks for because certainly, this perspective on Thursday night, where it gets to be the first chance opportunity to try out new things, is one I want to pass on down.

The four-day workweek could save us.

That’s just one thing that occurred to me as I pedaled home from Bothell on the Quickbeam, perfectly comfortable on a singlespeed to get me home mostly because I know that, this being Thursday, that somewhere out there on city streets are at least more than one person on a bicycle who has almost half a notion to ride that bicycle somewhere that will combine an interest in seeing what happens after drinking booze with an interest in seeing what happens when people ride bikes and that, to me, is sustaining, at least a little bit.

I would venture to say that most people, when presented with a choice, just so long as unexamined taboos didn’t decide for them, would agree we, as a people, are allowed to be amazed by what we take to be art.

(And this is where “art” gets to mean all those examples that we recognize but which we can’t provide necessary and sufficient conditions for.)

But all I really mean—as this entry is meant to illustrate—is that there can be solo adventures that wouldn’t feel nearly so much like an adventure were not real adventures which shared two wheels in common taking place more or less concurrently and with a similar spirit.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Stop-Frame Animation

Mimi and I managed to put together our entry for this year’s Filmed by Bike program; as planned a stop-frame animation of the classic tale of the tortoise and the hare, starring two great bikes. We filmed it in a little over an hour and took about twice that long to edit it and since every picture is supposed to be worth a 1000 words, all I have to do to meet today’s 327 word requirement is include single still from the flick and I’m done, but since they’re all on the other computer and I’m too lazy to switch over to that one, I’ll have to simply paint word pictures with the 200 or so I have left.

What I like best about our work is its length; we come in at just under two minutes with not a single wasted instant. From the opening credits that announce the piece as a PhiloCycle film to the closing moment when the credits run, it just buzzes right along, one joke after the next.

The movie stars the Schwinn Hollywood as the Tortoise and the beloved XO-1 as the Hare, and I think it does a pretty good job of leveraging its shortcomings. In a couple frames, you see the random hand or foot come in during the animations, but all that lends a certain charming homemade quality to the work, if I do say so myself, and I do.

Mimi and I worked together pretty well, once I decided to pretty much give over the creative reigns to her; I had to be willing to give up some of my preconceived notions of where I thought the story was going, including who would win the race in the end, but having let that go, I enjoyed being surprised by the outcome.

We got really lucky on the choice of music, a Django Reinhard ditty, which magically made it all come together, surprising both filmmakers with their own creation.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Fish Out of (Bong)Water

Poor Michael Phelps.

The guy just can’t win on land.

After he won those eight (was it nine?) gold medals, I was all like, “Ho-hum, what do you do for an encore?”

And so I was thrilled the other day when he appeared in a photo on the internet with his face stuck into a bong. “Ah-hah! I’m thinking, “Way to go, brother. Works for me, too on bike rides.”

But then, there’s all this controversy: “He’s a role-model, you know, on Wheaties boxes.” And Phelps caves immediately, even though some of his sponsors come out in support of him, and apologizes all over the place.

What does he have to apologize for?

If you fetishize the law, then maybe you’ve got a case that what he did was wrong. But nobody does that; even the Uptight Seattleite sometimes jaywalks.

If you’re worried about the integrity of Olympic sports, not to worry: cannabis isn’t even on the list of performance-enhancing substances banned by the IOOC.

And if he’s somehow let down all his fans who see him as a role model, then so what? He’s probably gained just as many new ones from the photo.

The only potential wrongdoing that I can see in this case would have to be the person who shot the picture and then provided it to (I would assume for money and not just meanness or stupidity) the news media. (Although a much more likely scenario is that cellphone cameras appear wherever Phelps is and that those photos inevitably appear the next day on sharing sites.)

No doubt the same parties and sources that have made this a story are the same ones who inexplicably hold on to our country’s current failed policy on the legal status of cannibis.

Would a picture of Michael Phelps with a can of beer to his lips excited so much controversy and hand-wringing?

Can’t society just admit it’s time for pot-smoking to be accepted…as an Olympic sport?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Waffle Ride IV

Evolutionary psychology is all the rage these days. That’s where you can explain any human behavior in terms of its adaptive fitness, so you get people telling “Just-So” stories about how, say, the fad of wearing baseball caps backwards can be made sense of according to how it allegedly confers an evolutionarily adaptive advantage on males who turn their brims around such that our hunter-gatherer ancestors who did something similar were more likely to pass on their DNA by doing so.

Frankly, I’ll be glad when the fad passes and we go back to Freudian rationales for our human quirks, but even so, I do love me any event where I get to feel like I’m reliving something like the kin group experience that our ancient forbears enjoyed out on the savannah tens of thousands of years ago.

And here, of course, I’m speaking of how swell it is to be amidst a gang of about four dozen self-propelled homo sapien sapiens who descend upon a public space, light fires, cook food, and intermingle for a couple hours before packing up and heading out, leaving only a few drops of uncooked batter and some bacon grease in their wake.

Waffle Ride IV went off last night in fine form, with tireless cooks churning out literally hundreds of textured griddle cakes which were greedily consumed under layers of everything from whipped cream and blueberries to guacamole with peanut butter.

I met up with the group en route by the I-90 tunnel and shared gingerbread spaceman cookies which, serendipitously, turn out to have built-in calibration markers: eat just the head and that’s where you feel the effect, add the body and you can count on a more corporeal response; finish up the legs and feet and you might have to sit down.

I snacked on slightly more than one man over the course of the evening; I doubt whether it was evolutionarily advantageous, but it sure tingled my DNA.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Tempest In A Teapot

There’s all this broohaha in the comments section of The Stranger’s blog, Slog, in response to a posting by Erica C. Barnett about the this year’s upcoming .83 Fucking Hills Race, an event I’ve enjoyed riding in on the tandem with Mimi two years running and which I have every intention of doing again with her come Sunday, February 22nd.

Given the tone of the discourse, you’d think that there was really something significant at stake or that anyone might even care about or even notice a couple of dozen bicycle riders sharing the road with a couple of thousand, but what’s really striking to me about the commentary—and I suppose I have to paint myself with that brush to some degree in this meta-commentary here—is just how exercised people can get on the internetz and what that portends for the future—if there is one—of bipartisan collaboration in the world.

I mean how the fuck are we doing to solve global warming when we can’t even negotiate a Sunday out on two wheels?

I think that all of us typing away on our screens, presenting our positions to the world as authority, have forgotten how vital it is to be wrong; even as I pollute my own little corner of the bandwidth here, I want to go on record as not halfway believing half of what I have to say—even that—so that maybe I can learn something from someone else rather than just demonstrating to another few lines of disembodied text that I know better than it does.

My training in and taste for philosophy has given me great affection for principles and points to be made; however, my desire to live in the world makes me impatient with arguments intended mainly to each other who’s boss.

The ironic thing, of course, is that these internecine struggles are always the most vicious; having an affection for bikes in common makes us hate each other more.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


The Steelers eked out a thrilling 27-23 victory in today’s Superbowl XLIII, Santonio Holmes making an amazing touchdown catch with 35 seconds remaining, allowing me to get off my hands and knees and stop praying even though I had no fingernails left by the time the last half-minute of the game was over.

It was way more exciting of a contest than I expected and far better from an entertainment perspective than I’d have liked. But even though the Black and Gold cost me ten bucks for not being the spread, I’m delighted to take it.

The good news is I can show my face around school tomorrow without people giving me the pity-party look.

At the outset, it looked like the Steelers would win in a walkover; they drove down the field pretty easily on their first drive, were up 10-0 in the second quarter and went into halftime ahead 17-7 after James Harrison’s 100 yard pick-six interception return.

And then, I was feeling really good because it seemed like I finally got the recipe right for my homemade Primanti Brothers’ sandwiches; on the advice of my sister, Deb, I broiled them open-face to melt the cheese, then slapped the coleslaw, French fries, and tomato inside to seal them together. Washed down with a couple Rolling Rocks, and I was feeling no pain.

But in the fourth quarter, the ageless (weird that someone 15 years younger than me can merit that term) Kurt Warner drove his team for two scores and things looked pretty bleak with two and a half minutes left for my boys.

Then, though, it was the Roethlisberger and Holmes show, with quarterback and receiver hooking up on four completions in the final game-winning drive.

Even Jen and Mimi had to cheer, although I think part of that had to do with feeling relief over not having to deal with a grouchy husband and father for the next six months.