Wednesday, August 31, 2011


On a not-very-busy four-lane street near Recycled Cycles, I’m cutting left to the center lane just before a stop sign to make a turn in that direction. Suddenly, this van, probably a good fifteen yards behind me, starts honking. I give the International Sign Language shrug and outstretched palm gesture for “What the fuck?” and continue on my merry way.

Half a block down, the van pulls up next to me, and the guy driving it leans across the passenger seat and shouts, “What about a signal? And stop at the stop sign?”

Okay, sure, I didn’t do either, but seriously, my path left was totally obvious (why else would I be cutting across the lane?) and as for stopping at the stop sign, you’ve got to be kidding: I slowed, looked both directions and proceeded on safely, even though I didn’t put my foot down.

Of course, I had the usual l’esprit de l’escalier moment after the van drove off: I should have said to him, “What about your seat belt?” (He wasn’t wearing one) and “How about that speed limit?” (He sped away far faster than the posted 25mph.)

People in glass houses, they say, shouldn’t throw stones. (Nor should they parade about in their skivvies—unless they happen to be Heidi Klum.) Point being: I don’t see why so many car drivers get so incensed about the roadway violations of bicycle riders when they, too, are continually playing fast and loose with the rules of the road themselves.

So-called “Rule Utilitarianism” is the ethical theory that says that acts are right insofar as they are endorsed by a system of rules that when followed maximizes utility. This means that everyone will be happier if everyone stops at the Stop sign rather than deciding for himself whether running it will maximize utility.

Still, blind adherence to some rules is just silly: I didn’t follow the rule to give a honking car the finger, did I?

Sunday, August 28, 2011


I’m a guy who doesn’t mind things a certain way: the same yoga practice every day, the identical breakfast seven days a week, a bike ride to familiar spots as often as possible.

Consequently, I’m a bit out-of-sorts from the last week of unfamiliar paths: the family and I spent four nights in Las Vegas from Sunday to Thursday, and then I attended the annual Philosophy Camp at Smoke Farm over the weekend.

Both events had their charms (although the one’s at Smoke Farm were infinitely more charming), but I’m glad to be back home in my usual spot preparing for a week ahead that promises to be just as typical as I tend to like it.

That said, Sin City was reasonably enjoyable: I came home a winner at the craps tables and even, for the most part, at the few slot machines I put five bucks or so in a couple times. My high point as a gambler was making three passes and throwing a bunch of numbers while shooting at the Hard Rock Casino and Mimi, Jen, her dad, and I were suitably awestruck by the Cirque du Soleil production of “O,” which featured dozens of contortionists falling from great heights into an ever-changing pool of water.

Philosophy Camp, by contrast, had only a minimal water element—an afternoon swim on Friday in the Stillaguamish River, but the dialogue was way better. We read a bunch of Continental philosophy and beat our heads together over what the authors were supposedly saying and while this year, for the first time, there wasn’t any yoga, I did get to experience my yearly struggle with sitting meditation, a practice I admire deeply but not enough, at this point, to take it up myself.

So, this week, I’m hoping to sleep in my own bed every night and enjoy my usual breakfast of yogurt and nuts, although I may go wild and add cashews to the almost mix.

Friday, August 19, 2011


At some point in my travels, I found myself pondering the metaphysical question: “What constitutes the ride?” Is it the people? The meet-up spot? The attitude one has while pedaling? And how do you know if you’re really on the ride or not?

Suppose it breaks into two more or less evenly-sized groups: which is the authentic original, and which is just another gang of drunken cyclists out on a Thursday night?

No matter, really, since for much of the evening, the issue didn’t arise; it was obvious what made things what they were: a warm August night, several dozen human beings riding two-wheelers much to the chagrin of neckless fellows in BMWs rushing to get nowhere fast, and an outdoor destination where beer was set on picnic tables and steadily consumed.

In my ongoing effort to never pass up an opportunity to swim outdoors (because really, you just never know when—or if—you might have another chance), I paddled around a bit in the yucky shallows feeling as if the abundant ferns might tangle themselves around my legs and draw me down, but even that was lovely as, at water level, myriad moths circled around my head like stardust and birdies from a cartoon bell-ringing.

And then it was off to the long-coveted white whale for which, in my enthusiasm to finally land Moby Dick, I may have pushed too hard, thereby severing the golden cord connecting us all, although it seems to me that since the birthday boy came north, the necessary condition, at least, for identity was met by the half which followed.

And while the reality fell far short of the dream, the back deck was surprisingly charming, and karaoke Kansas rocked, if I do say so myself.

Express lane aspirations aspired to were not—sadly, but sensibly-ever met, but my solitary surface spin home was nevertheless a sparkling delight and still, I believe, authentically part of the ongoing ride.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


No doubt we are all meant for greater things. Each of us should be glorfied by angels; we ought to stand on mountaintops and proclaim our greatness to the gods.

At the very least, it would be cool to win the lottery, or just do things that occasionally get written up on the local neighborhood blog.

And yet, when it comes down to it, the most mundane of behaviors take up most of our time, and thankfully, for me, anyway, it’s those little things that provide me with whatever modicum of satisfaction I find with existence.

Take today, for instance. (Please!)

Here are some of the little tasks I accomplished that, in spite of myself, have made me feel like I have some right to take up space and breath air on the planet:

• Doing almost two hours of yoga first thing this morning, including a second short practice with Jen.

• Editing a couple dozen pages of my forthcoming book, Plato Was Wrong! Classroom Exercises for Philosophizing with Young People.

• Cleaning the glass in our glassed-in shower.

• Fixing a loose screw in the faucet of that same shower, a task I put off for almost two years before today.

• Making a grilled cheese sandwich for my daughter’s brunch.

• Doing a load of wash, and replacing the clean duvet cover on the kid’s comforter.

• Repairing a flat tire on one of my bikes, even though it was only a very slow leak.

• Taking a bicycle ride around town on the single-speed, including climbing all the way from the downtown to the top of Capitol Hill.

• Re-shellacking the handlebar tape on four of my bikes.

• Riding to the Columbia City Farmer’s Market and back to buy salad fixings for dinner.

• Sort of fixing the annoying latch on the back gate.

• Making croutons, cleaning and drying romaine lettuce.

• Cooking a cheeseburger for my daughter’s dinner.

• Reading three chapters of Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray.

• Writing this 327-word essay.

Monday, August 15, 2011


This is the time of year when everyone talks about the weather in Seattle, unlike those other times of the year when, in Seattle, everyone talks about the weather.

The chit-chat now is all about how nice it is, even though, all it takes is a cloudy morning for folks to get all like, “Oh man, what a crummy summer we’re having,” even though we did early on, despite the fact that it’s been pretty lovely for days on end just like it usually is from now until about the middle of September.

What worries me more than the inevitable onset of the drizzle is the dying of light. Already, the sun isn’t rising until after six and this evening, it’s setting before 8:30 or so. Oddly, you hear many fewer people going on about this than you do about raindrops. (Can you actually hear fewer people? I guess, technically, you don’t hear them.)

I don’t mind talking about the weather, but I feel sort of embarrassed when I do so. I can’t help noticing that I’m being one of those people who talks about the weather and I think I ought to be holding forth on far more lofty considerations. On the other hand, there’s probably no subject of greater natural interest to human beings; surely, our hunter-gatherer ancestors spoke (or grunted) to each other of little else.

The good news is, should I become too self-conscious about weather-talk, I can take a step back, and like a well-trained 21st university-trained philosophy teacher, talk about talking about the weather. Meta-level conversation affords me the ability to hold forth on the mundane, but do so in brackets, thus allowing me to persuade myself that I’m actually discussing something of great interest, even though it’s the very same subject I dismissed as boring just moments before.

Of course, I have no idea what I’m really talking about here, anyway; chalk it up to being slightly under the weather.

Friday, August 12, 2011


After fifty-four and a quarter years on this planet, the last five and change riding bikes with the drinking club with a cycling problem, opportunities still present themselves for experiences I’ve never in my life had before.

Sad but true: in the five-plus decades since my birth, I’d never, before last night, swum in two different lakes on the same day.

Sure, I’ve been in two different bodies of water: the ocean and the hotel pool, the hot tub and the cool plunge, and I’ve cavorted in the Seattle Center fountain a few hours before taking a hot bath, but this was the very first time I’d ever ridden my bike to one outdoor body of water—South Lake Union—donned my trunks, jumped in and paddled around, then, after fortifying with silver tequila from the impractical shot glasses dubbed by Henry, “the horn of infidelity” ridden en masse to another large pond—Greenlake’s Greenlake—once again put on my (now cold and clammy) swimsuit, and, for a second time in less than ninety minutes, floated around in smooth and silky H20.

The all-but full moon was a gleaming dime on the glassy-smooth surface of the water, which was warmer than the air, but once more, upon exiting from the wet, I was fortified by distilled cactus juice and thus eager to pedal to the next stop on this themeless, old-skool tour, a pleasant spin, marred only by a scary-sounding, but ultimately uneventful crash of a fellow rider, who might have been, like me, imbibing freely, but who hadn’t, unlike yours truly, availed herself of the sobering powers of summertime lake water.

At this point, rather than staying indoors to sing, I rode off, intent upon trying for lake number three; I didn’t achieve my goal of Lake Washington, but I did manage to drag my fingers through the Cal Anderson reservoir on my ride home.

Not quite three lakes in three hours, but certainly a first.

Saturday, August 06, 2011


The indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest had that lovely tradition known as the potlatch, in which clans would hold big parties and give away gifts to attendees. Fortunate to live in a part of the world abundant in natural resources, tribespeople understood a host’s willingness and ability to share food, drink, and material goods as a sign of his wealth and power.

It’s nice to see that this tradition is being carried on today, at least by the indigenous Dead Baby Bike club, who last night, hosted their annual gift to the local cycling community, the Dead Baby Downhill and Messenger Challenge which, as usual, lived up to its reputation as the Greatest Party Known to Humankind, although if truth be told, I split fairly early in the evening, preferring to head home about the time that it seemed that more of the burgeoning crowd had driven there than arrived on two wheels.

The race itself was a gas; I hauled a Haulin’ Colin trailer with a cooler full of dry-ice cold beer and, in keeping with the generous spirit of the event, pulled over about a mile from the finish and passed out frosty cans to thirsty riders. While most, it turned out, were older guys on department store bikes, I also got to give some refreshment to a guy who snapped his crank on the West Seattle Bridge approach and was finishing the race in velocipede mode and luckily, I saved the last beer for longtime .83 rider, Meg-Ha, who was a bit farther up the road, fixing a flat that she, like many others, got on the train tracks leading to Georgetown.

I didn’t see as many freak or tallbikes as in years past, although that could have due, in part, to the relaxed attitude I took to the race start; it was great to be towards the rear setting out with a view of several hundred bikes before me.

What a gift.

Friday, August 05, 2011


The way I reckon it, all that was missing from the full tasting menu was roller-skating, but since he didn’t actually create that, but only took us there, I think it’s safe to say that all the popular faves of tehJobies were on display last evening: the bicycle-mounted mobile disco (even louder this time around) the waffles (though pre-packaged, surprisingly sweet and tasty), the stiff drinks stirred with unusual mixers (short on ice but long on liquor), the Slip N’ Slide (wider and faster than ever), the Christmas tree burning (just one, but packed with explosives), the glowsticks (to excess, but that’s the point), and, ultimately, the general merriment and shenanigans on a lovely summer evening in Seattle at its best, all dolled up for SeaFair and still basking in the contrail glow of Blue Angel dust from the afternoon’s air show.

Let those images of back-lit bodies, smiles like headlights, skittering off blow-up rafts into jumbled collections of arms and legs—and all this nonsense carried there on two wheels—settle in to your memory banks so you can retrieve them as you sit on the porch of the retirement home in your dotage; the pictures will put a secret smile on your old wrinkled face, and those whippersnapper grandkids of yours won’t believe a word of it: “It’s just too good to be true,” they’ll say, “You’re remembering a beer commercial or something; nothing like that ever really happened.”

But you’ll know; you were there and witnessed it with your own bloodshot eyes, which just goes to show that while planning may indeed be over-rated, there’s much to be said for preparation; if one sources and assembles the proper accoutrements and lays them before a willing and grateful public, joyfulness will ensue.

We’ve seen it happen time and again.

The best-selling record album of all time is the Eagles: Their Greatest Hits, 1971-1975; good for them; as for me, I’m groovin’ to tehJobies compilation, 2008-2011.

Thursday, August 04, 2011


I’ll bet a case could be made (and I’ll wager someone’s already made it) that the rise of the internet—especially being able to post comments online and hold forth, as I am doing, on one’s own personal forum—has correlated with, if not actually contributed to, the decline of civil discourse in politics and society at-large.

On the interwebs, nobody talks to one another; we do a pretty good job of talking at each other, but I’m not sure it’s co-mmunication; maybe all we do is “municate.”

The machinations over the recent effort to raise the country’s debt ceiling seemed to characterize what I’m talking (not communicating!) about. We saw a lot of politicians holding forth with their views but not really listening to what anyone else had to say. In the end, I guess there was some exchange of perspective, but that was more about horse-trading than human interaction.

Of course, conversation is a lost art; it’s difficult to really engage in dialogue with another person when the whole time they’re speaking, you’re trying to come up with a witty rejoinder or find some fault in their argument that you can exploit. Most of us never actually converse; at best, just take part in parallel versing, like some sort of weird competitive poetry slam.

And duh, it’s totally oxymoronic for me to be writing about this; I’m doing the very thing I’m complaining about—but, you see, I’m doing it intentionally, “in quotes,” so I get a free pass.

Anytime you’re feeling too good about yourself and your fellow human beings, all you have to do is go to your favorite newspaper site and read a few pages of readers’ comments on an article about an issue that’s even the least bit contentious. Whenever I really want to get myself all worked up, I read what folks have to say in response to a story about bicycling; like Ring Lardner said, “Shut up,” I explained.