Friday, July 31, 2009

Best Summer Ever

Lemke the Shirt God said that this one is shaping up as the best summer ever and the claim seems hard to dispute: last night, for instance, was the third night in a row—and about tenth overall—I’ve ridden by bike to Lake Washington for a sunset swim, (although it was the first time I’ve done so in a pack of urban cyclists invading the tranquil shores of west Mercer Island) and it’s still not even August.

About thirty of us descended upon Groveland Park Beach, stripped to our farmer-tan pastiness and took to cavorting in the water and throwing ourselves off the diving platform; the place, wholesome at it is, was surprisingly unsupervised, so nobody really seemed to be bothered by our antics or our open containers, least of all the pack of Asian teens tossing each other into the air in waist-deep water.

Eventually, the dying rays of sunlight turned those assembled by the diving board to glowing silhouettes backed by a sunburst horizon right out an Eagles song, and, after finishing all the dessert wine, people were ready to start drinking, a goal accomplished with relative success at Mercer Island’s Roanoke Inn, whose impressive back lawn made me wonder about all the shady real-estate deals and adulterous liaisons which must have gone down there.

And then, completing the thematic bookending I’d once ruminated about, a big clump of us managed to find our way, by different routes, to the Roanoke Tavern, the unrelated, but somehow similar—in a little brother sort of way—drinking establishment on north Capitol Hill.

Unfortunately, I left before the big condiment fight, but I still count the night as a rousing success: a reasonable number of miles ridden, a satisfactory amount of beer consumed along with adequate cannabis to keep it confusing enough to be interesting; and a night so warm it was shirtsleeves in the moonlight all the way home.

Best summer ever?

Definitely in the running.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Beer Summit

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out what I can do or say to create enough of a tempest in a teapot to have President Obama invite me for a beer; I love that this is the endgame in the unfortunate incident at Henry Louis Gates’ house last week; (you’d have to have been living under a rock to not know what I’m referring to—although as hot as it’s been these last few days in Seattle, that wouldn’t be such a bad place to reside.)

Endless bytes and soundbites have been wasted on post-mortems to the arrest and Obama’s subsequent comments about it; “stupidity” abounds on the part of nearly all parties involved. Apparently, people are even getting worked up over the possible beer choices for the meeting; all this demonstrates to me is how race remains a potent issue in this country, and one that probably brings out the stupidity in all of us.

While I imagine that the event will be tightly-scripted and extremely congenial, I think it would be cool if they’d encourage everybody to take more than just a single beer; I’d like them all to get wasted—do shotguns and kegstands—and find out what they all really think.

Plus, it’s too bad it’s Gates who’s representing academia; I think his old colleague, Cornel West would be a far more entertaining choice.

But back to controversy I could generate to be invited to hoist a few with Barack: maybe I could inflame the old Mac vs. PC holy war; or perhaps I could get in a fight with a cop over which company makes superior bike components, Shimano or Campagnolo. Or, I know, let me stoke the flames of ire between fans of Oasis and fans of Blur. Or, for that matter, maybe Christina Aguilera vs. Eminem.

Ultimately the best battle before beer might be over beer itself; I’ll insist Rolling Rock reigns supreme; who’s gonna fight for Bud?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Heat Wave

Ohmigawd it’s ninety-four degrees! Duck and cover! Assume the position! Run for the hills! (Or at least, the cool of your basement or the air-conditioned public library).

Everyone is freaking out around here because it’s so freaking hot around here. You’d think it was the end of the world or (at least the start of a NASCAR event) the way the press is reporting it. We haven’t seen so many television reporters doing outdoor mobile reports since Micheal Jackson's funeral!

I guess there’s nothing like hot weather to get folks all hot and bothered; I’m sure that neither the ongoing war in Afghanistan, nor the confirmation vote of Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayer, (not to mention Tim Lincecum’s 15-strikeout win against the Pittsburgh Pirates last night) rate anywhere near the importance of this story.

You want tips for staying cool?

Get outta your friggin’ car, for one thing. On a bike (at least the way I ride) you’re always comfortable. Uphill, you just pedal slowly and downhill, you enjoy the breeze. Honestly, I’m never hot while riding until I stop at a traffic light and get surrounded by internal combustion engines burning up fossil fuels inefficiently, losing so much of that potential energy to heat.

I’ve yet to see anyone try to cook an egg on the sidewalk, but I’ll bet you could fry one up on the hood of a black Mercedes. And use the hood ornament as a spatula! And the side view mirror as a bowl!

Oh, sorry, man, is this YOUR car? My bad. I thought it was an Easy-Bake Oven! Because see how easy it is to bake an egg on the dash?

No need to get all worked up over it; I’m just trying to illustrate a point. That point being, Ohmigawd, it’s hot! Ninety-five degrees! You can’t expect me to behave rationally when it’s like this outside! Don’t you watch the news? We’re all gonna die! Fry! Fry! Fry!

Monday, July 27, 2009


Beats me, but I’ll take it.

I’d been getting this “chirping” noise with each revolution of the front wheel on the Saluki. I’d considered all the usual suspects: I’d checked to see if the tire was rubbing the fender; I squeezed all the spokes, and lubed them up where they crossed; I’d even tried fiddling with the connector to the Schmidt generator hub, thinking maybe there was something there, but still no luck.

So, I’d come to the conclusion that it had to be something broken in the hub itself, and resolved to have it serviced, since what other choice did I have?

I put the wheel in the basket of the 420 bike and rode it downtown to Elliot Bay, where I’d originally gotten the hub. Their mechanic looked it over and explained that there was nothing they could do about it really; they don’t have the tool for opening up the hub; all I could do was send it to Peter White Cycles and, if I managed not to piss Peter off with political talk, maybe he could do something about it.

So, back in the basket it went and back home I went; I checked with Aaron at Aaron’s Bike Repair and he, too, said to send it back east.

A couple of emails with Peter White confirmed that my only recourse was to get it to him and then off to Germany where the Schmidt folks would have at it. Meanwhile, I looked into the possibility of buying a whole new hub and have a wheel built up, but the $400 price tag sort of dismayed me.

Defeated, I decided what the heck, I’d just put the tube and tire back on and ride the wheel anyway; maybe I could wear headphones or something if the sound was too annoying.

Today, though, as I pedaled down the alley, the telltale chirping was all gone; I have no idea why, but I’m not complaining.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

In Stages

Incremental: you start out by riding downtown, just to see who else is riding.

Then, you think, “Well, I’m going right past the newsstand, may as well buy a Racing Form.”

As long as you’re at the bar, and it’s Sunday at noon, a bloody mary is in order.

And since you’re having one, why not have two?

Unlocking your bike, especially since you’re trying to entice your weak-willed acquaintance to cave, you’ve got to have a brief safety meeting. And while this makes for a wobbly start, you’re on Airport Way before you know it.

Suddenly, Georgetown appears; Nine Pound Hammer is closed, of course, but if you didn’t know anything about the ownership of Smarty Pants there’d be no complaints whatsoever: ice cold beer in cans on a outdoor patio, with shade.

Now, the ride commences, since why not, you’re on your way: Tukwila, Family Fun Center! Then Kent and due time along the straightaway, Emerald Downs appears.

Moments too late for a bet in the third race and the good news is, the horse you would have bet on didn’t win.

Bad news is, neither did any of the other fucking nags you picked in the fourth or fifth races, either.

And then, you’re on your way back north-ish with the wind right in your face, but if you just keep pedaling, the light rail station will have to show up.

So, when it doesn’t, it’s back to incremental stages and familiar routes, even though the way back turns out to be way longer than the way there.

But what’s reassuring, as usual, about the bike is that if you just persevere, then, eventually, you’ll end up, in a city park, near water, with your family, drinking cold beers and finding your land legs all over again.

A pause to refresh, and then you’re home, tired legs, lighter wallet, and a major farmer tan.

This is how a summer Sunday unfolds, step by step.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Old Fart

Lance Armstrong, in an interview after today’s penultimate stage in the Tour de France, referred to himself as an “old fart,” claiming that, for a man of his advanced years, coming in third place overall in the general classification isn’t so bad.

Old fart? Old fart? Old! Fart!

If he’s an old fart, what does that make me? Some sort of ancient flatulence of the highest order?

Dude’s only 37 or 38 and, as was pointed out to me in the comments on an earlier posting, isn’t even the oldest (fart) in the race. That honor goes to Inigo Cuesta, who’s actually 40, born in the 1969, when I was already riding my Schwinn Varsity all over Pittsburgh.

Age, of course, is only a number, even if, as is increasingly the case, it’s a number divisible by double-digits. You’re only as old as you feel, they say, and while I’d love to encourage nubile youngsters to poke and prod me in an effort to see how old I feel, it’s probably better for everyone that I refrain.

To tell you the truth, I don’t really mind getting old, especially since the preferred alternative, dying young and leaving a beautiful corpse is already out of the question, anyway. At this point, I’m hoping to live long enough to be one of those shriveled old men who look kind of like newborn infants all over again—although I’ll wear my diapers under my pants, if you please.

In any case, whether or not Lance is indeed an “old fart,” it’s pretty impressive that he’s done so well in this year’s Tour. Barring the unexpected, he’ll finish on the podium in Paris, ahead of more than 150 of the top cyclists in the world. Many riders are just happy to finish; he’s done a lot more than that.

Besides, he can console himself with my technique when I “race”: subtract your finishing position from your age.

Highest number wins!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Old Skool

Mom always said, “It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye,” and once again, last night, that maternal wisdom was proven true as the joys of pelting each other with loaves of dumpster bread and hard rolls declined precipitously after Joeball got clocked in the eyeball with a mini-ciabatta, and although he didn’t actually lose an eye, the smart money is on him waking this morning with a major shiner and a funny explanation for it.

Prior to that, though, it was all shits n’ giggles circa June 2007, as we rode to the site of the old .83 southern edition clubhouse, formerly known as the Pacific Rim Pub, now reopened as Big Al Brewing, where we mingled around outside, drinking pitchers and listening to the some Jeep’s stereo play Michael Jackson tunes over and over.

I found it heartwarming to ride along the Longfellow Trail, a route I haven’t enjoyed in over a year, and while nobody topped the feat of Aaron Goss carrying a Lazy-Boy recliner through the woods on his Bakfeits like before, you had to be impressed by riders who did the gravel and hills on fixies without—at least by the time I left—not a single broken collarbone in sight.

The right combination of somewhat unfamiliar streets and quite familiar intoxicants made West Seattle seem terribly exotic; on the way from White Center to Alki I was able to imagine that I was somewhere I’d never been before even though I’ve taken that route lots of times and have even been towed by the Huffalicious stinkmobile along part of it.

It’s funny how the commonplace can be exotic (and vice-versa, too, I guess); there was a time when last night’s ride would have been so typical as to be almost boring; this version, with echoes of past editions, including Bread War Park, while reminiscent of times past, was all brand new and shiny—just like Joeball’s eye, I’ll bet.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Five Years Hence

It’s five years ago today that my mom passed away; how time flies.

I was teaching an all-day summer philosophy for children class and got a call at lunchtime from my sister that mom’s cancer had taken a turn for the worse and that I’d better fly to Madison to bid farewell to her; she died, though before I got there, just like my dad, who also breathed his last while I was en route by air to see him off.

The sad thing, in both cases, was that I didn’t get to say good-bye; what’s comforting is that, in some sense, I’ll never have to; since I wasn’t there at the moment of demise, I can still imagine that they’re both still here—or there, as the case may be.

I realized, the other day that, coincidentally (or not, really), I’ve also been writing this weblog for essentially five years. My first posting was August 4, 2004, less than a fortnight after I became an orphan, something I wrote about in one of those early entries.

And so, it’s occurred to me that 327 Words has been—and I guess continues to be—a part of my grieving process.

One way of looking at it is some kind of attempt to affirm that, while my mom and dad are gone, at least I’m still here. The regular postings—and especially my challenge to go 327 days in a row writing a 327 word essay—are probably a weird way of ensuring myself that I exist; not cogito ergo sum, but scripto ergo sum.

To commemorate the day today, I had some foods at lunch my mom would have liked: a green bean salad, some dark rye bread, a stinky cheese, washed down with a rose wine I think she’d have gone for. I wish I could have shared them with her in person; writing about doing so, even though it’s all I’ve got now, pales miserably.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Shirtsleeves to Shirtsleeves

I recall my mom once using the term “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in the three generations” to describe some ne’er to well scion of some rich family who had ended up squandering that last remnants of his family’s fortune. The idea, I guess, is that grandfather, a working man, gets rich due to hard work and persistence, then turns the family business over to his son, who, wearing a suit and tie, I suppose, expands the business precipitously; the third generation then squanders what remains of the fortune, leaving his children with no choice but to go back to working class life all over again.

I gather it’s a pretty common phenomenon in family businesses, especially; I sometimes fantasize what my life would be like had my grandfather been more ambitious and my dad more traditional. Grandpa’s family-owned dry goods store on Staten Island could have become a giant big-box Shap-Mart; my dad could have expanded it and overreached; and I could have finalized the enterprise’s demise through high living and substance abuse, and then my daughter would end up working as a clerk at, no doubt, Wal-Mart.

It seems to me that something similar to this happens with intellectual ambitions, too. My grandfather, Samuel Shapiro was, I’m told, a kind of amateur philosopher; my Aunt Harriet once told me that he liked nothing better than to hang out in his store chatting about big ideas when he should have been hawking shirts and underwear. My dad, however, was true intellectual: a medical doctor, full professor at a major research one university, who wrote dozens of scholarly papers for peer-reviewed journals. Me, I’m a kind of wannabe: community college teacher, writer of popular self-help books, a guy who would rather read James M. Cain novels than the serious philosophical works he ought to be.

And then there’s my kid: like my grandfather, she’s all about hanging out and chatting; although for her, it’s online, not in a store.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Okay, Okay

Lance Armstrong has apparently conceded the Tour de France to his teammate, Alberto Contador. The Spaniard smoked him on yesterday’s mountain stage, prompting Lance to admit that Contador is the “strongest in the race,” and reconcile himself to playing the role of domestique to the Astana team leader and yellow jersey wearer, now ahead of the American by over a minute and half in the general classification.

While it’s sad to see this passing of the torch and poignant to have the great seven-time Tour de France victor eat crow like this, I’m kind of relieved because now, I too, can admit to the world that, like Lance, I’m also setting aside my dreams of winning this year’s Tour.

Now, of course, my challenge was much greater to begin with, given that I haven’t a team, nor am I anywhere near France, and plus, I’ve never raced competitively except in local alleycat races. Also, being fifteen years older than Armstrong (who is, himself, the oldest competitor in this year’s Tour), doesn’t help; neither is it in my favor to be a good fifteen or twenty pounds heavier for my height than any world-class rider would be.

But I can dream, can’t I?

Until Lance conceded, I was willing to hold out hope that maybe, just maybe, I’d be riding my bike home from the store or somewhere and, all of a sudden, the race director for, I dunno, Rabobank, in town to meet with Bill Gates or something, would spy me grinding up Pine Street from downtown, and spontaneously decide to hire me, pump me up with the latest undetectable performance-enhancing drugs, and set me at the front of the pelaton on the road to stage victory after stage victory.

Now, however, I’ve come to grips with the undeniable truth that there’s no possible way for me win the maillot jaune, so what’s the point? Second place is first loser, right?

Maybe King of the Mountains, though.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Larry Livermore has written lovingly of the Weakerthans and his endorsement is enough for me, so I went to see them last night and, while I’m not ready to follow them around the country as Larry has, I did think they were pretty great, even though I eventually experienced wistfulness overload after about 10 or so of their songs.

I was especially impressed with their songwriting and musicianship; there were at least a couple occasions when their sound was so tight it almost seemed like they were lip-synching, but you could tell they weren’t by the passion and intensity they brought to all their songs.

I was under the impression that they were going to be more punk-sounding than they were; in fact, they reminded me more of an alternative college rock band like Death Cab for Cutie or Modest Mouse than the kind of pop-punk stuff that I was under the impression that Larry usually favors.

The other thing that surprised me was how many of their songs I seemed to sort of know; I guess they must have been featured a lot on KEXP, the radio station I usually listen to when I listen to radio; that tune “Night Windows,” for instance, I’m reall familiar with, although I didn’t know it was the Weakerthans who were singing it.

The show was pretty packed and lots of people seemed to know many of the lyrics to many of the songs; on several occasions, the lead singer, John K. Samson was able to stop singing so the audience could mouth the chorus of a tune.

As is so often the case in situations like this, I felt just a little outside of the action; it wasn’t exactly that I was old and out-of-it; it was more that I felt like I’d been there before with some other band, maybe the Replacements circa 1985 or even Fountains of Wayne, first time I saw them in 1995 or so.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

What to Do

I doubt whether our hunter-gatherer ancestors ever fretted over having a full stomach, a warm, dry place to sleep, and shelter from wild animals who might do them harm. That is, I think we’re probably hard-wired, as humans, to be content with contentment; I can’t see why—at least from an evolutionary standpoint—anyone ever ought to be worried that he or she isn’t busier or more in need of undertaking efforts that aren’t even indirectly related to continuing survival or well-being.

And yet, I keep finding myself vaguely stressed-out because I’m not as stressed-out as I think I should be. Here I am, for example, sitting on my back patio, in the shade, sipping coffee, and reading a book but instead of just taking in the relaxed joyfulness of the experience, I’m thinking that I ought to be writing philosophy or educational policy or working on my bikes, or cleaning the house, or organizing my sock drawer, or even putting together a 327 essay, just so I can tell myself that I’m not a complete and utter useless drain on the world’s resources, who is just taking up space and resources that would be better used by someone who is making a positive difference in the world through sheer hard work, determination, and intestinal fortitude.

It’s weird to think that nobody’s really counting on me to do anything these days, no students waiting for the papers to be graded, no colleagues expecting me to do my part on some administrative busywork, no fellow Union members needing my input on some tricky aspect of contract negotiations. Not even any clan members wanting me to join them in digging up tubers or chasing down a Mastadon.

All I’m really on tap for today is pitching for my softball team; oh, and drinking beer afterwards; then there’s that band I’m going to see tonight; and I’ll need to shower. Shit! How am I going to fit it all in?

Friday, July 17, 2009


It’s kind of amazing when an offhand comment on an electronic bulletin board turns into about forty people dressed in all white with red sashes and bandanas showing up for a drunken bike ride and the opportunity to chase somebody else sporting horns on his helmet and terrycloth bull testicles on the back of his saddle around a city park; if that’s not evidence of the chilling power of the internetz—or that we live in the fucking end of days—I don’t know what is; I’m am sure, however, that the memory of last night’s shenanigans will provide comfort and solace as I reflect back on it from my deathbed some years hence, at least what I can recall of it, which is almost as spotty as the drops of spurted red wine on my formerly clean white shirt.

Oddly enough, dressing like a person running with the bulls at Pamplona doesn’t really solicit stares from passersby in Seattle; I got no double-takes as I rode alone to the meet-up; on the other hand, when you’ve got three or four dozen similarly-attired cyclists in a pack, people definitely tend to hoot and holler.

And when you congregate in an outdoor amphitheater and stage mock bullfights while sharing a handle of cheap whiskey, no one can resist.

Surprisingly, none of us got gored, even when we descended upon the frat-boy western-themed bar to ride the mechanical bull, an endeavor I somehow managed to eschew although I did undermine any future political ambitions by singing a Foreigner song at karaoke later in the evening.

What will stick with me longest is the delightfully random stupidity of the whole event; that’s the human condition laid bare: we do these absurd things because why the fuck not and if that means you wake up on the couch with your shoes on and wine spatters all over your one good dress shirt, so be it, the memories alone are worth it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Bear

I’ve tried to get serious about William Faulkner novels a couple times. When we lived in France back in 1988, and I hardly had any English books to read, I plodded through Absolom, Absolom and As I Lay Dying and I couldn’t help thinking some sort of emperor’s new clothes thing was going on; I mean, the man was obviously a genius and could turn a phrase like no other, but why did he have to make everything so opaque? It’s like when you see a movie and it’s in reverse chronology, like Memento, that’s when you know that there’s something lame with the story and the director figured the only way anyone’s going to tune in is if you turn things around so it’s like some kind of puzzle to be figured out, even though if it were presented normally, there wouldn’t really be any “there” there.

But now, it being summer and having plenty of time on my hands and wanting to fill some of those hours with something at least a tiny bit intellectually challenging, I’ve picked up Faulkner’s collection of stories, Go Down, Moses, and have been taking on his celebrated novella, The Bear, and have, for the most part, been amazed, intrigued, and quite moved by it.

The endless mea culpas for slavery I could do with less of but the dramatic unfolding of the hunt for Old Ben completely captivated me, especially how the relationship between the Boy and his companion Boon emerged. I especially liked the scene where they go to Memphis and Boon wants a dollar to go into a bar and the boy is at first reluctant but then recalls how a few years earlier Boon saved him from the “wild never-bridled Texas paint pony,” by grapping its reins when it bolted, “Boon vanishing rapidly on his stomach in the leaping and spurting dust and still holding the reins until they broke too.”

“He gave Boon the dollar.”

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Spare Change

When we were in France last summer, bums on the street (“flanneurs,” I guess, or “chomeurs,”) would routinely hit us up for spare change.

“Petites pieces, petites pieces” they would implore, meaning, literally, “little coins,” which I assume is the idiom for “spare change” in French. Mimi thought they were saying “GPS, GPS,” which seemed to fit, since most of them looked pretty lost; it made sense they were asking for direction, and in the mind of a 21st century kid, requesting a global positioning satellite was a perfectly reasonable request.

Back here in Seattle, we regularly get sparechanged; usually it’s some guy who wants a dollar—which, unless it’s a Susan B. Anthony or a Sacajawea, doesn’t really qualify as change, does it?—for a sandwich; I go through phases where I alternate between it being my policy to always give something to someone who asks and then never doing so, especially if the sparechanger is smoking a cigarette, which I realize is pretty arbitrary on my part, but so be it.

I mention this because today, with no conscious intent that I"m aware of, I’ve apparently been sparechanging the universe. As I’ve ridden along on my bike, I’ve kept finding coins in the road, not a long, mind you, but just enough to make me wonder what’s going on.

This morning, on the way back from yoga, I rolled over a quarter; at first, I didn’t stop, but then thought, “If I can pick it up in less than 15 seconds, that’s $60.00 an hour,” so I did.

Later, on my way from the store, I found a dime. Since I scooped it in no more than 10 seconds, I think that pays off.

Then, just now, returning from the library, I spied a penny. That, I left sitting in the road; I’d have to scoop at the rate of 1 a second, I think, to have it pay.

Some petites pieces are just too

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I’ve always—or at least since I had a morning paper route in seventh grade and would get up at 4:30 AM so I could be finished by 6:30 and back to bed for forty winks before bursting from the covers at 8:15 to be at Fulton Elementary by 8:30—been one of those annoying people commonly referred to as a “morning person.”

I like being up before anybody else. My favorite time of day is just after sunrise, when the streets are mostly empty and you get to see—especially if you’re out on a bike—all the detritus from the night before, including, if you’re lucky, some people in evening wear doing the infamous walk of shame. On Sundays, I’m happy to be at the coffee shop before 8:00, when I can almost always be assured of my favorite table and I never have to wait in line behind people ordering double-tall half-caf no-foam mochaccinos to get my mug of drip coffee.

My plan for this summer has been to rise most days by six so I can be out the door to practice yoga and back at home reading the paper by nine; I managed to do that a few days prior to going away on vacation and it seemed like the model for the remainder of July and August.


These last few days, it’s all I can do to crawl my way out of the sack by 7:30 or so. My alarm goes off at 6:01, I take a look at it, change the wake-up time to 7:01, and then when it goes off at that time, snooze for another half an hour or so. And it’s not like I’m going to bed at all hours; it’s just that it feels so good to keep dozing.

Too bad you can’t “bank” sleep; I could definitely use these hours come September when school starts.

But enough of this; time now for a nap.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I came in second or third to last and still got exactly the prize I wanted—Mathauser brake shoes—which is a perfect metaphor for how the positive and negative sides of today’s race: The Tour de Watertower: Guerilla Time Trial—embraced one another, so that, in every case, the worse the hill, the better the ride, or at least that’s what I think when I reflect upon it, now in the relative comfort of my home, and after a few pain-killing drafts of grains and greens, as well as a lovely dinner leftover for me on the counter in the kitchen.

The route took us to seven of the highest spots in town—makes sense, those are where you put watertowers—and after four of them, notably Magnolia’s at the second top of Dravus near 38th—I was really all about just holding on for dear life, finishing, rather than finishing fast being my only true priority.

My low point was after leaving the Magnolia tower; I made a few wrong turns and ended up at the bottom of a cul de sac from which I had to ride uphill to escape; that had me wasting many minutes consulting my map at the next unclear point.

Dumbest decision was to go east on 85th from Phinney; grinding up the unnecessary I-5 overpass, my left thigh cramped up and I had to hotfoot it on the sidewalk; that was the only time I really could imagine giving up, and once I was on my way downhill from Maple Leaf—even in the thunderstorm (a nice touch which almost added hypothermia to my collection of ills)—I knew that I’d make it, although that could have been a result of the safety meeting I belatedly indulged in as I headed down Roosevelt.

Props to the organizers and sponsors, to all the riders and to the winner, who finished more than an hour and a half faster than me.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Home Again

Travel is broadening (especially, given how we tend to take all our meals in restaurants, about the beam), but I’m glad to be home again with all the requisite constraints on my psyche that being back to my usual way of doing things affords; I don’t think I’d be a very good fulltime explorer; I’d want, sooner than not, to be sleeping in my own bed, with my own pillow, and drinking coffee I’d made out of my favorite mug.

I recently finished reading Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis and the Opening of the American West; it’s a thrilling story—poignant and tragic, too, at the end, when Lewis takes his own life—and even though, as Ben the Angry Hippy put it, being out on an expedition like that would mean you’d have something to write about every day on your blog, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have been happy on the Corps of Discovery. I think I’d rather have been hanging around Monticello with Thomas Jefferson, especially given the diet of the men on the journey, which—at its best from their point of view—consisted of something like nine pounds of meat a day.

Back here in Seattle, in my own little Monticello—where I play the part of the dumbwaiter, I guess—I’m looking forward to a few weeks of uneventful living, which, I hope, will entail some writing, some bicycle riding, a bit of yoga, perhaps a barbecue or two, a fair number of margueritas, a solid component of sitting in a chair reading and napping, and maybe even a household chore should the spirit take me.

The only downside of this, as I can see it, is having to answer the dreaded question, “what have you been up to?” Maybe I’ll just have to make something up; I can tell people that I’ve been exploring the American West, looking for an all water route to the Pacific; not much, really.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

This Might Work

I rented a bike here in Santa Fe and it’s helped me to see that maybe this place is a model for how things could work in the post-petroleum world. The downtown is small and dense and there exists, around its perimeter, all kinds of places to which goods could be delivered. I could imagine trains and trucks unloading palettes of stuff that would then be distributed, via human power, to homes and business in the central core; people would walk and ride bikes to their homes and workplaces, and you’d have entrepreneurial human-powered businesses to bring people and goods to their doorsteps.

There’s certainly no place I need to go from my hotel that I can’t get to by bike or on foot; last night, we wandered around in search of the perfect marguerita, although we failed, we did sample a reasonable selection of drinks in the process. Then, after returning to our room, I was able to easily pedal to the liquor store for the beers we needed to make it through the evening.

It remains fairly shocking to me to note that when I lived here, I didn’t even own a bicycle. It just never occurred to me that I didn’t have to drive everywhere I was going and as a matter of fact, there was that time when my car was in the shop and I waited for something like two hours for a taxi to take me the three miles or so to my work, a distance I could have easily pedaled if I’d known it was possible.

The Conference Bike would be amazing here; I could imagine making a living ferrying tourists around the downtown area on it’ you’d have to put up some kind of canopy to shade the relentless New Mexican sun and it might be a bit of a tough sell for the glut of overweight Texans, but it would sure beat trying to find a parking space.

Monday, July 06, 2009

We're Doomed

The distance from where we left the car in the parking lot was almost as far as the distance we drove to the restaurant, but we’d never considered walking since to do so would have marked us as weirdoes or losers and besides, who wants to be outside without air conditioning when it’s already 90 degrees by 10 in the morning and even though I’m exaggerating a bit, it’s obvious that there are many places on earth—Albuquerque, New Mexico being one—that couldn’t possibly exist, at least in their present form, without plentiful cheap petroleum and big cars filled up with it.

I fear mightily for my country and the way of life that many of my fellow citizens enjoy, a way of life that I can pretend isn’t so prevalent in my little green corner of America in the Pacific Northwest, a way of life that depends completely, as far as I can tell, on a resource that’s got what, 10, 15 years left?

What’s going to happen to these giant four-lane in either direction highways with shopping malls on both sides of the road when there’s no gas left? Who’s going to buy those hundreds of cars in the massive auto dealerships that line the roadways? How are people going to get across a town that’s got to be 25 miles from end-to-end and where are they going to put their Starbucks coffee when there’s no cup holder to put it in?

And the sad thing is, unlike most of the time, when I get to pretend access to the moral high ground as I bicycle commute everywhere, here I am, in my Chevrolet HHG, driving three blocks to breakfast, knowing that if I lived here, I’d get totally used to it and would think nothing of filling up and cruising around everywhere without any worries that this way of life wouldn’t continue forever even though it’s obvious it can’t last and we’re doomed.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Hands Free

The world is a reasonably decent place, all things considered (at least if you don’t consider the political situation in many parts of the world and the economic situation in most) but it was also a reasonably decent place in 1990 before the latest scourge of up-to-date technology arrived and, believe it or not, I’m not talking about cell phones; I’m referring to hands-free bathroom appliances, notably those fucking faucets and paper towel dispensers that are so annoying that they’ve become a trope used in television advertising, but even so, it bears reapeating that here’s another example of something somebody invented that was supposed to make our lives better but if you really think about it, and even more, experience it, it’s not better at all.

I mean, do I really need to have some electric eye turn my water on for me when I come to wash my hands? I don’t mind, I’ll admit, having the toilet flush automatically after I do my business, but this thing where I have to waive my hands under some sensor that I can never exactly figure out where it is, bugs me; and then, after I finally get my hands wet, having to waive them again in front of some other sensor to make the paper towels come out is just too much.

I think these systems are probably why diseases like swine flu are more likely to spread—it’s so goddamn annoying to wash your hands, you just give up—and plus, it’s probably a conspiracy on the part of manufacturers to save money at our expense, since—if you’re like me—you simply despair of getting water or paper and just give up.

I know that this is another example of a development that marks me as an old person, but here’s an instance of that I don’t mind; if being old means you know how to wash and dry your hands without help, then that’s me.

Friday, July 03, 2009


I took as a good omen, not getting creamed by the truck that barreled past me on the left as I started a U-turn to the Elysian Fields brewpub on Occidental, but as the assembled group agreed, we’d all have wanted the trip to go on anyway, even were I flattened on the pavement, especially if someone had the good sense to rifle through my panniers for the shortbread cookies I’d brought along.

And luck held out all the way to Joeball Mountain and back, although, like most of my fellow travelers, I did manage to get smashed in the figurative sense around the fire later in the night—a nearly perfect one, by the way, with the waxing moon appearing before sunset over the trees, and the temperature so mild the flames were almost too much, especially with plenty of anti-freeze in me, especially as the hours careened past midnight and the second wave of riders arrived, got quickly caught up with the earlier contingent of revelers and ended up singing and spitting booze until the sun began to lighten the edges of the horizon all around.

My memories of this year’s edition of Joeball Mountain are all smooshed together like fingerpainting, but I do recall being amused by my proclamation to the effect that it's logically impossible to cheat on your fiancé; only on wives and girlfriends does it count; and I know I laughed at lots of other things people said and did, including somebody’s observation of somebody’s observation that you should never create anything because, as the story of Dr. Frankenstein reminds us, the monster will always turn on you and the villagers come with torches and pitchforks.

Although I’m not sure that principle applies to events like this: because while it’s true that the ride and the imbibe did kick our collective asses, I saw no one taking up arms against it; on the contrary, if schedules didn’t require a race downhill to the ferry, we’d still be there.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Making and Breaking

I’ll tell you what’s wrong with the world: physics!

That’s the problem; these so-called “laws” that govern the way things work.

If it weren’t for phucking physics, we’d have perpetual motion machines, faster-than-light travel, and I could go back in time and avoid making all these mistakes that I’ve made that have resulted in broken dishes, pointless arguments, and the cracked screen on my laptop when I slammed the trunk lid on my knapsack in which it was stored.

Oh, and those favorite shirts that I shrunk in the wash would still fit.

The thing is, most laws can be broken, or at least negotiated. For instance, there’s a law against riding your bike through a red light, but when no one’s around, who cares? By contrast, even when I’m alone, I can’t break the “law” that says matter can’t be created from nothing—as evidenced by my inability to manifest a pile of hundred dollar bills from thin air.

I blame this not just on Mother Nature, bless her pointy little head, but also on physicists, who have to take the blame for “discovering” these laws. If Newton, for example, following his misadventure with the apple on his noggin, hadn’t come up with the law of gravity, then maybe I would be able to levitate these days, or at least dunk a basketball.

Other disciplines have their “laws,” too, but most recognize those laws can be broken; in philosophy, for instance, we have the so-called “law of non-contradiction,” which says that something cannot both be something and not be something, or as philosophers like to say, cannot simultaneously be P and not-P. But, of course, that law is broken all the time like when the home team blows another lead in the late innings and I’m both a Mariners’ fan and not a Mariners’ fan all at once.

We need a master criminal to break the laws of physics for us: Bernie Madoff, where are you?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Good Solution

One of my favorite essays by one of my favorite essayists is “Solving for Pattern,” by Wendell Berry. In it, he uses the example of farming practices adopted by a farmer named Earl Spencer to illustrate the difference between good solutions and bad ones.

Bad solutions tend to be of two types: one creates a series of additional problems, outside the scope of the original problem, and the other just tends to make the original problem worse.

Nuclear power, with its attendant problems of waste disposal, potential meltdowns, terrorist attacks, and so on, could be an example of the first type of bad solution (to the problem of energy creation); taking out a payday loan could be an example of the second type of bad solution (to the problem of limited cash flow.)

By contrast, says Berry, a good solution tends to work in harmony with the system or pattern in which the problem has been generated; the Earl Spencer example highlights how the farmer used agricultural (rather than technological) means to solve the problem of how to profitably run his dairy farm.

From this, Berry generates a number of criteria or desiderata of good solutions, my favorite of which is that a good solution tends to solve more than one problem at a time.

All of which has me thinking about the bicycle and what a good solution it is since not only does it solve the problem of how to get from one place to another efficiently, it also solves the problem of how to do so economically, healthily, and environmentally sustainably.

The internetz tell me today that almost half of American kids are overweight; that’s because, I think, they’re all sitting on their asses in the back of SUVs eating Doritos. Get them out on bicycles—and their tubby parents, too—and voila: fewer fat people, better and cheaper healthcare for all, less traffic, reduced emissions of greenhouse gasses, world peace and harmony, magic.