Buck Davidson, Superhero

June 30, 2012 § 8 Comments

Everybody needs a hero.

When I was growing up in Houston, I used to walk a lot. In summer I walked to the pool or the library. It was always long and hot and boring, so when I walked I imagined I was a superhero.

Buck Davidson was one righteously badass dude. His outfit was a leather suit with lots of buckskin fringe and big, pearl-handled six-shooters. He had long red hair and huge muscles. He was handsome and stronger than a hundred men. Buck Davidson was always saving the world or the galaxy or the universe from all kinds of shit.

Sometimes he’d pick up a bus and throw it at a skyscraper, knocking off an alien who was gnawing the tip off the Empire State Building. Another time he’d use his genius laser brain ray to look at bacteria and figure out how to cure cancer. Other times, handsome and super as he was, he’d run off to a quiet place and have awesome sex with Penelope Watkins, the beautiful actress who followed him everywhere and who he was always rescuing.

Although I was pretty clear on the bus-throwing stuff, the sex thing was kind of fuzzy. I knew that Buck had a penis, and that it was a honking one, and I knew from the one or two times I’d seen my mom naked that there was a furry bush to which the penis was somehow supposed to connect, but the actual mechanics were a mystery.

Having an active imagination, though, I didn’t sweat the details and just made it up, same as with curing cancer. I didn’t need to know jack about Stage 4 or metastasis in order to heal the world. Buck just stared with his brain waves and pow! Cancer was fucking dead. Then he’d flop his big ol’ penis towards Penelope’s bush and pow! They’d do sex, whatever that was.

Fake-believe heroes

Buck Davidson was real to me. As soon as I walked out the door he’d get involved in every kind of escapade and death-defying heroic act I could imagine, and let me tell you, I had an imagination that just wouldn’t quit.

One time Buck was tied up and about to be dipped in a vat of plutonium. Snaxellander, the evil villain from Dorskabenixx, got up close to Buck and gloated over his imminent demise. “Prepare to die, Buck!” he snarled in his alien dialect, which, because he was so fucking smart, Buck could understand perfectly.

Unable to move his superhumanly strong arms or legs, he opened his mouth and knocked the shit out of Snaxellander with his super strong tongue. Snaxellander was knocked out cold and fell backwards into the vat of plutonium, starting a chain bomb reaction that, if not defused, would detonate and explode the planet.

Buck then craned his neck and used his super strong tongue to snap the chains that bound him. Once free, he stretched his super-stretchy leather shirt with the cool buckskin fringe over the vat, revealing hugely massive and powerful muscles that were awesomely strong, and which made Miss Penelope Watkins faint, as she had also been tied up by Snaxellander. The buckskin cover deprived the plutonium of the oxygen it probably needed to start blowing up.

Then Buck lobbed the whole fucking mess into outer space, where it hit an asteroid, which then got knocked off course and wound up smacking into Dorskabenixx, killing all of the Hoganimms (the race of aliens to which Snaxellander belonged) and making the galaxy safe again. Then Buck untied Penelope and they a good ol’ sex together.

He did all that shit just walking to the pool.

The absence of super-villains isn’t the absence of villains

The thing that bummed me out, though, was that no matter how hard I wanted to be Buck Davidson, superhero, by the time I got to the library I was still just skinny little nerdly Wankmeister Jr. Almost as bad, I couldn’t help but notice that we didn’t have any super-villains or aliens or ticking plutonium vat bombs.

Most depressing of all, there was no one remotely like the devastatingly beautiful Penelope Watkins, with the possible exception of Doris Scrantly, the sixteen year-old babysitter who called me and my brother “little disgusting creeps.” I was pretty sure if I ever tried to show her my penis she would tie it around my neck until I choked to death.

Even though Snaxellander never reared his four heads on the way to the library, the world in 1972 did have plenty of villains. One of them, cancer, is still around and still killing people. No Buck Davidson has appeared on the scene to zap the fuck out of cancer with his genius laser brain waves.

There is, however, one globally renowned athlete who has made “curing cancer” his mantra. He has touched the lives of thousands of cancer patients, stumped for cancer awareness, and reached out personally to countless people struggling with the disease.

For this, he’s been called a hero.

Let’s accept his narrative as true, for a moment, and push all of the scandal and grand juries and witness testimony and the impending USADA hearing off to the side. Instead of weighing his heroism against accusations of cheating and foul play, let’s weigh his heroism against something else.

Let’s weigh it against the heroism of a cyclist a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

The Chosen

In 1938, Gino Bartali won his first Tour. Hailed by Mussolini’s Fascist government as proof of the genetically dominant Italian race, this devout Catholic and distinctly apolitical bike racer found himself used as a symbol of racial superiority just as the Fascists had allied with Hitler and adopted the basic German social framework for Italy that the Nazis used to plan, organize, and implement the extermination of the bulk of European Jewry.

In an extraordinary book by siblings Aili and Andres McConnon, “Road to Valor,” we have been given that rarest of things: instead of a bike book about a bike racer written by half-literate bicycle fanboys, we have a beautifully written history that took ten years to write and research by two Princeton grads, one a journalist and the other a scholar.

The Italian Jews were first stripped of their property, fired from their jobs, booted from the schools, and ripped from the fabric of the society they had been a part of for hundreds of years. Most importantly, their citizenship was essentially revoked, and along with it the all-important identification cards upon which life itself depended. Without a card, you couldn’t get food rations, rent a home, or work.

People who once led prosperous lives were forced into beggary in a matter of months. By 1943, when Hitler took direct control over the part of Italy that the Allies hadn’t yet conquered, Himmler’s SS arrived and began arresting and deporting Jews to the northern death camps in earnest.

The real suitcase of courage

Bartali, whose fame had allowed him to avoid combat, was recruited by a Catholic cardinal from Florence for a horrifically dangerous mission: to carry forged identification cards from Assisi back to Florence, where they would be distributed to Jews who could use them to either flee Italy or to obtain jobs, food, and housing.

With the cards rolled up and secreted in the seat tube of his bicycle, under the ruse of “training” Bartali regularly made the 170-mile one-way ride to Assisi, met clandestinely with his conspirators, and rode back to Florence. Along the way he ran the constant risk of detection. The stress of being discovered at the numerous military checkpoints led to such fear and anxiety that he eventually developed PTSD.

At one point he was interrogated in one of the most infamous torture chambers in Italy, and only escaped because the inquisitor’s assistant vouched for Bartali’s honesty, as he had previously been Bartali’s commanding officer. As a result of heroism that saved the lives of hundreds of Jews from the Nazis, Bartali was recognized poshumously by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

Come together

After the war, Bartali tried to resurrect his career but was far past his prime. He took up smoking as a way to improve his performance, and put in the huge miles of a younger man, with no time for his older body to recover. Moreover, he had lost virtually all of his fitness over the course of the long war, which for all Italians was an extended exercise in malnourishment.

Adding to the challenge, greats such as Fausto Coppi and Louis Bobet were much younger and in the early, rocketing trajectory of their legendary careers even as Bartali was at the end of his own. In 1948,  Bartali returned to the Tour with virtually no chance of winning. After Stage 12, Bobet had a lead of more than twenty-one minutes, and Bartali knew his campaign was hopeless. He was prepared to quit the race and go home in defeat.

That night, Bartali received a phone call while he was in bed. Alcide De Gasperi, prime minister of Italy, told him that Palmiro Togliatti, leader of the opposition had been shot, and Italy might be on the edge of a civil war. De Gasperi asked Bartali to do his best to win a stage in order to distract people from the impending conflict. Bartali replied that he would win.

Against all odds and prognostications, Bartali set out on Stage 13 of the Tour with an attack almost from the gun, an audacious and incredible tactic considering the stage’s 170-mile length and the fact that it traversed five of the worst cols in the Tour, finishing with the legendary Izoard. From the very first serious ascent the heavens unleashed freezing rain, sleet, and snow that continued for the entirety of the race. Frozen to the core, Bartali attacked each climb until none could follow. He took back virtually all of his 21-minute deficit.

The following day he clinched the lead with a devastating win on the 163-mile mountainous stage to Aix-les-Bains, and the next day won the 159-mile Alpine odyssey to Lausanne. No rider would again win three consecutive stages until Mario Cippolini took four sprint stages in 1999. The ten-year gap between Bartali’s first and second win has never been matched, and only three riders have ever won a Tour at his age or older. Bartali won the 1948 tour by more than 26 minutes, put more than 32 minutes on Bobet, and finished more than an hour up on the tenth place finisher.

This incredible victory convulsed Italy into celebrations, such that it temporarily forgot its divisions and drew back from civil conflict due to the exploits of this singular, indomitable man who had reclaimed his position as victor of the Tour a decade after his first win.

But he never made a yellow wristband about it

Like so many others who lived through the war, Bartali never spoke about his participation in this heroic resistance to fascism and the Holocaust. When asked about his silence, he would say only this: “I was no hero. Those who gave their lives, they were the heroes.” Others–particularly the Jews who owed their lives to Bartali’s heroism–disagreed.

Today is the first day of the 2012 Tour de France. We’re at the edge of our seats, waiting to see who will be crowned our newest Tour hero. Which man will conquer the field? Which one will conquer the clock? Which one will conquer the mountains? Which one will cross the finish in Paris wearing yellow?

We’re right to call them heroes in the limited sense of “champions.” We’re right to admire their heroic exploits in the physical sense.

But heroes cut from the same cloth as Gino Bartali, a man who combined physical prowess with profound courage? Heroes cut from the same cloth as…Buck Davidson?

No.

Never.

My best friend, “Sue”

June 28, 2012 § 19 Comments

Everybody’s so pissed off at the dude whose old lady is suing Strava. “Frivolous lawsuit!” they holler.

“Bullshit fucking plaintiff’s lawyer!” they scream.

“End of democracy and the free world!” they yowl.

Etc., etc.

Well look here, pussies, that’s not a frivolous lawsuit. In my world, that’s an awesome lawsuit of the most meritorious sort. You want frivolous? Come to me. I once sued a murder victim for littering a park with his blood. I sued the City of Torrance for failing to prevent drunk drivers from hurting themselves when they crashed into pedestrians. I sued a blind little old lady with Alzheimer’s for trespass when she tripped on a hose and fell onto a supermarket driveway.

You fucking want frivolous? What about the time I sued the federal government for making its forms too hard to understand? Or the time I sued all the teachers’ unions for failing to reduce the incidence of work-related blowjobs? I even sued RuggedMAXXX2 for compensation after all my jeans burst at the seams.

Yeah, baby. You fucking want some more of that frivolous shit? Come to poppa. I ain’t never met a douchebaggy, shitfucky, spitsticky, snotgnarly plaintiff with a trumped up claim who I couldn’t massage into a full blown, 15-inch, blue-veiner federal case. So don’t come crying to me about frivolous.

One, two, flush

Now then. Although I’m known far and wide for suing anything and anybody who hasn’t already been tossed into a wood chipper, there’s one tiny little thing you need to understand: all my frivolous cases lose. Yep, that’s right. The time I sued Big Honkers Gentleman’s Club for causing excessive sexual tension? Case got tossed on demurrer, and the defendants sued me for malicious prosecution and intentional stupidity. They won on all counts.

The time I sued Redondo, Hermosa, and Manhattan beaches for maintaining overly hot sand and scorching my soles? Laughed out of court and slapped with double secret probation along with multiple fines, sanctions, costs, attorney fees, and having my name written all over the bathroom walls at Stanley Mosk Courthouse. Go check ‘em out. They all say, “Wankmeister = WANKER!”

Funny how the knife only has one cutting edge

On the other hand, I’m racking my brain trying to recall the last time I saw an outraged article about some douchebag insurance company that rejected a valid claim by some poor cyclist bastard who’s now a quad due to the poor judgment of some drunk driver. Or the angry posts on cycling forums about the thousands of people who get life-altering injuries, yet walk away with nothing because the wrongdoer was uninsured, or under-insured, or a deadbeat fuckwad, or represented by an all-powerful insurance company who put the blocks to the crippled, maimed, or permanently disabled victim.

Fuck all those people. They’re just cyclists. What we’re really pissed off about is the occasional douchebag lawyer who files a shitty case and gets thrown out of court on his dingdong.

Please, therefore, make a mental note: Life isn’t fair. So you better be ready to fight hard.

What’s up with this Strava bullshit

I used to do Strava, just like I used to do meth, crack, and bike porn. But I quit. Why? Because it’s STUPID. I post my best time on Ol’ Wrinklesack climb, and then some wanker on a moped, or some wanker who can actually ride, or some chick who’s totally badass, whales the shit out of my time. So then I go back and whale on her time. Then she on mine.

At some point somebody ought to be asking, “Why don’t we just meet up halfway between our apartments, take off all our clothes, and fuck each other until we’re too tired to stand?” [Note to the curious: in my case, that’s at least twelve full minutes, counting foreplay and post-play discussion/analysis/video review.] Wouldn’t that be pretty much the same thing, only more fun? And think of all the clothes we wouldn’t have to wash!

I didn’t just quit Strava because of the misplaced sexual tension. I quit it because after a few months it confirmed what I already knew: I suck, and there are a zillion people who are faster than I am. Well, fuck all of you. I’m still taller than you, and look better than you in a tailored Italian suit. Once I can afford a tailored Italian suit you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Why the Strava lawsuit sucks

It doesn’t. I hope they get sued all the way to Ghana and back. I hate them because they send me nasty little goading messages saying, “Droopy Festersore just took your KOM! You gonna let that happen? Get out there and take it back!”

My first response is, “Fuck you, you spammer motherfucker, for cluttering up my fucking inbox.”

Then, after I cool down, I think, “Fuck you, you spammer motherfucker, for making me feel like a piece of shit just as I was about to really enjoy my day evicting some poor old blind lady out onto the streets.”

Next, I get on Strava, look up the douchebag who bested my time by some ungodly interval, and find out that it’s a fucking avatar. “Piddly Bojangles” is the Strava pen name for some asshole who you’ve never seen on a ride, never raced against, and never heard of. But he just urinated in your Strava coffee and made you glower and snap at your nice secretary before she even got her bra completely unhitched.

The lawsuit is also awesome because, unbeknownst to you, Strava has an indemnification clause that you automatically agree to when you become a user. What’s that, you say? You can’t spell “indemnification”? You think it’s a kind of adult diaper?

No, my friend, Strava has a sweet deal where, when they get sued, they can then turn around and collect the money from you…plus attorney fees! Sweet! That dry scraping sound that’s accompanied by sharp, blinding pain? It’s your asshole, and Strava’s probing it with a rusty legal pipe.

The nasty facts of life

If you do something that affects a lot of people, you’re eventually going to get sued. Hire people and give them jobs? They’re going to sue you. Invite people to join your group ride? They’re going to sue you. Create a foreclosure meltdown that destroys the world’s largest economy and sends the planet into a 5-year financial tailspin? You’re getting a raise. But that’s a different story.

Cycling is cool and fucked up because people get together to do it and have accidents. The getting together part is cool. The accidenting part isn’t. As long as we demand the right to be compensated when other people hurt us, there will always people people who stretch the limits of who-caused-what-to-whom. The flip side is that you could live in a country like Germany or Japan, whose civil law systems provide modest compensation for victims and bulletproof protection for corporations.

You want a few frivolous douchebags to skate through the cracks so that truly meritorious cases have a chance? Our system’s pretty fucking good. You want a steel-reinforced-concrete bomb blast barrier around corporations so they can fuck you at will? There are lots of foreign countries like that. Texas comes to mind…

Instead of pillorying the lawyer filing the frivolous lawsuit, why not take a deep breath and have a little bit of faith in the system? If it’s frivolous, it’s headed for the door.

Trust me. I know.

Me, my brother, and my bike

June 27, 2012 § 22 Comments

Yesterday’s New Pier Ride was dedicated to my brother, who took his life on June 16, 2012. Slightly more than seventy people rolled out from the Manhattan Beach Pier at 6:40 AM. By the time we turned onto Westchester Parkway, the peloton was easily a hundred strong.

Christine Reilly, Stella Tong, Greg Leibert, Lauren Mulwitz, Joe Yule, Vickie VanOs Castaldi, Izzie VanOs Castaldi, Chris Gregory, Tink, Suze Sonye,  Jay Yoshizumi, Brian Perkins, Gus Bayle, Rahsaan Bahati, Cary Alpert, Sarah Mattes, Greg Seyranian, Dara Richman, and David Perez brainstormed and got the word out so that people were at the Pier well in advance of the start time. Vickie and Greg took the sixty-five handmade armbands, beautifully lettered by Izzie with “R.I.P. Ian, ’62-’12” and tied one to each person’s arm. Then Dave Kramer introduced Greg, who made a short, moving, and beautiful speech about my brother, someone he had never met.

I then clipped in and led us out onto the bike path. Once I pulled off and floated to the back, I was overcome by the sight of the countless yellow armbands fluttering in the breeze. My friends had done this for me, as well as people I’d never even met, like Emily and her boyfriend Chris, who came over from the west side just to be there. Others who couldn’t make it like Dara and Laurie were there in spirit, and still others showed up at TELO in the evening and shared their sympathies and condolence. I’ll never be able to repay any of them.

It’s a very good debt to owe, forever.

Girls and bikes

I got into cycling as a result of my brother, indirectly. His second year of high school he got in a horrific fight with my mom about the car. Our parents had divorced a couple of years before, and it was the kind of hateful, acrimonious, bitter divorce that paralyzes the kids and poisons your life for the next few decades, like battery acid in the ice cream. Ian was tired of fighting over the car and one day he went out and bought a black

Fuji touring bike. It cost $300, an incomprehensible amount of money.

Going from a Jeep Golden Eagle Cherokee to a bicycle? I had one conclusion: “Dork.”

Within a couple of weeks, though, I discovered the source of his inspiration. His girlfriend was a cyclist, and they biked everywhere together. “Whatever,” I thought. “He’s still a dork.”

Then a couple of weeks after that I began to hear moaning and groaning coming out of his bedroom. This was way before Internet porn. This was awesome, and he was a dork no more. “What a stud!” I thought. “That bike deal is pretty cool!”

Buses and bikes

Although I didn’t rush out and get a bike to aid in the quick dispatch of my virginity, the idea remained that bikes were cool. This was partly because Ian had let me test ride his Fuji a few times, and it was so different from the rusted out Murray that I’d used for three years to commute to Jane Long Junior High that it hardly felt like a bicycle.

My freshman year in college at the University of Texas, 1982, my parents refused to let me have a car. I lived in the Village Glen Apartments out on Burton, six or seven miles from campus, and had to take the shuttle bus, which in those days was run by union-busting Laidlaw. They employed only hippy stoners from the 60’s and 70’s to drive the buses, and paid just enough to keep the hippies in weed, ensuring that there would never be any unionizing.

The Village Glen was one of the last bus stops on the Riverside Route before getting on I-35 and going to campus, so in the morning the buses were often full. That meant having to get out to the bus stop extra early, as the first bus or two rarely had room for even one more passenger. One morning in October I was standing in the rain waiting for the bus. The first one passed me and splashed me. The second one passed me. The third one roared by with an “Out of Service” sign on the front.

I screamed at the driver and flipped him off. He braked. I’d never seen a whole bus go sideways. Out bounded the raging hippy, fists balled and murder in his eyes. If I hadn’t been so tiny and petrified he would have killed me. Instead he screamed. “How about I beat you into a fucking pulp you snotnosed little fuck?” he roared.

“Uh, I, I, I’m really sorry. Please don’t kill me!” I begged.

“You ever fucking give me any attitude on a bus I’m driving I’ll break you in half you little prick. They don’t pay me enough in this shit job to put up with bullshit from spoiled little assholes like you!”

“Yes, sir,” I mumbled.

[To crack dealer] “So, should I start using crack?”

I had to wait another twenty minutes in the cold, pelting rain. During those twenty minutes I went from being grateful that I’d get to school with all of my teeth to angry at being a bus sheep. My resentment built throughout morning classes and exploded in an epiphany when my last course finished at noon. “I’m gonna buy a fucking bike, just like my brother did! Fuck Laidlaw! Fuck that hippy stoner fucker! Fuck the rain!”

I practically ran down 24th Street to Freewheeling Bicycles and Crackhouse, where I realized something else after walking the aisle. “Fuck, I’m broke!”

Fortunately, Uncle Phil Tomlin had just the bike for me, a Nishiki International with Suntour derailleurs, Dia Compe brakes, and Sugino cranks. At a paltry $375.00, I’d be able to easily afford it as long as I didn’t eat in November. Food or bike? It was an easy choice, especially with Uncle Phil kindly and professionally assisting me with my first bikecrack purchase.

The rest is history, and a year later I’d already been voted “Most Likely to be Killed by a Car or Truck” by my riding buddies. 1984 was my breakout year, when I dominated the Bloor Road to Blue Bluff Time Trial and won a coveted Laverne and Shirley board game for first place. The thirty years after buying that first bike have flown by, and somehow I’m still riding with the same happiness and joy as the day I pedaled that Nishiki out of the Freewheeling parking lot.

This is gonna hurt me and it’s gonna hurt you

So this thing that has given me more joy and happiness, this thing that has surrounded me with friends who are often closer than family, is a gift from my brother. I thought about that while Greg spoke. He paid me the ultimate compliment in the process, saying that they had come to honor my brother because without him, I wouldn’t be part of their community.

There’s no other way to say this than to say I felt more loved than I have ever felt in my life. Sweaty, muscled men threw their arms around me, and sweaty, muscled, beautiful women did, too, each one saying something that sounded like love, regardless of the words. And as proof that these weren’t just empty phrases, when we hit the bottom of Pershing they went so hard so fast that I was almost blinded by the pain.

“This one,” Jaeger said as he came by with the ferocity of a jungle beast, “is for Ian.”

There’s a place for gentleness and for camaraderie; it’s called the bricks on the Manhattan Beach Starbucks after the ride. The New Pier Ride itself is a place for the unbridled beatdown, the relentless attacking into the wind, the crushing of the weak by the strong.

“Memorial lap in silence?”

“Fuck you, dude.”

“Give ol’ Wankmeister the win?”

“Over my dead body. He wouldn’t want it and I wouldn’t give it.”

Suffice it to say that today I was the weak, and others were the strong, and the law of the jungle prevailed, as it always should. But even though I was the weak and struggled at the end, I didn’t get crushed. I got carried along by the unlikeliest thing of all, a raft of soft yellow ribbons floating in the breeze.

Finally, a good book!

June 25, 2012 § 10 Comments

“A Century of Paris-Roubaix” by Pascal Sergent has all the makings of a wankerbook. The format is coffee table. The original French has been translated by Joe the Plumber and copy edited by his sister in between jar-shaking sessions while cooking meth. Worst of all, at the outset at least, is the approach to rendering Paris-Roubaix’s history into words, which is done like the race itself, beginning at the beginning and slogging through every cobbled, rutted, nasty, miserable year from 1896 to 1995, listing the palmares of every winner and listing the top ten finishers of every race with detailed descriptions of what happened to whom at which juncture.

But what looks bad out the outset turns into a very solid read.

Paris-Roubaix is really simple

The whole fucking century of races could be summarized thus: Legit contenders, plausible hopefuls, and what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-heres line up to race. Everyone bonks, gets worn out, crashes, punctures, or breaks some weird part of the bike like the handlebars or the pedal or some other part that never fucking ever breaks even when you get hit by a car.

Six racers or less remain with 20-km to go. Some Belgian dude named “–inck” or “–ooy” or “–erckx” wins. Like all great French races, the last time a Frenchman won was back in 1766.

Strategy

Winning Paris-Roubaix is even simpler than describing it. 1) Stay towards the front but not at the front. 2) Don’t crash more than four times. 3) Attack with 40-km to go. 4) Solo in or win the sprint. ) Be Flemish. There. Now you too can win at Roubaix.

The devil is in the details

The real treasure in reading this book lies in the details. Sergent’s annual recaps bring life to the small things that make the race a monument. The dude who first rode the course to see if it was suitable for a race found it ghastly, nightmarish, and undoable, while the man who came up with the idea in the first place thought it would be “child’s play” for any worthwhile racer.

In 1904 they held a second Paris-Roubaix in the same year, only the entire 265-km were ridden on the Roubaix velodrome. What a bunch of nuts…hunh?

In the early days there were controls where the riders had to get off their bikes and sign in; they likewise dismounted at feeding stations. For many years the first big split in the race occurred at a hill in Doullens, and the split there was often the deciding move of the race. It wasn’t until 1968 that the Arenberg Trench made its first appearance. These and numerous other fine points show how the race has fluctuated and shifted over the years.

The human element is as detailed and fascinating. When the first Italian, Jules Rossi, won in 1937, the flummoxed band at the velodrome didn’t know the Italian national anthem, used as they were to dominance by the Belgians and the occasional French winner, so they played a soft, stylish tune that sounded suspiciously like the Marseillaise.

Honey bait

The awesome thing about the coffee table book format is that it’s filled with pictures; fantastic ones. So even though everyone in your family yawns and walks away when you start talking about cycling, and especially when you mention Belgians with unpronounceable names, this book will absolutely attract interest. Before long, they’ll be asking you questions, and allowing you to play to your strong suit, which is making shit up.

“Hey, Dad, who is this?”

“That’s Toady Wampers, 12-time winner of the Tour. He won P-R that year in a 300-km solo break.”

“And what’s this?”

“That’s the finish line in Helsinki. One year they raced from Madrid to Helsinki, all on cobbles. Everyone died. It was very sad.”

Finally, you can appreciate this book by reading this review, as it’s no longer in print and is hard to find, and when you can find it (I got this from Alibris) it’s a whopping $25. Compared to some of the other dreck in the Cycle Sport reading list, though, it’s worth every penny.

Captain Overpants

June 24, 2012 § 10 Comments

Mrs. Wankmeister and I were coming home along PV Drive North today when we approached a cycling dude from the rear. He had a very fine Cannondale, a very fine electronic transmission, a very fine Specialized helmet, a very fine pair of Sidi shoes, and a very, very, very fine commemorative jersey from the century ride he’d completed with 10,000 of his closest friends. It was purple and green and yellow and brown and white and black and red and green. It was styling.

For a moment.

“What a wanker!” I said.

“Why he’s wanker?”

“Look at those shorts.” Dude was wearing khaki loose riding pants.

“Oh. What?”

“Those are are called dickhiders. Pure wanker.”

“What’s dickhiding?”

“Not hiding. Hider. Dude’s got ten grand in bike and paraphernalia but he’s afraid to wear lycra because he’s embarrassed to show his package.”

“His chin-chin?”

“Yep.” Mrs. WM and I often speak Japlish together.

“Why he’s ashamed of tiny chin-chin? Asian girl’s gonna wear little tight thing shows tiny oppai. Why he’s not gonna show tiny chin-chin? Smart shopper wanna see it before she buy it.”

“I dunno. But any time you see some dude wearing floppy shorts on a racing bike, it’s cuz he doesn’t want you postal inspector chicks to examine his package. “

“He don’t oughta be ashamed about no tiny chin-chin. I don’t wanna see no big chin-chin in a bike shorts. Makes me sick, looking nasty all sticking out like bones and bagels.”

“Dudes I ride with, you won’t have to worry about that.”

“Onna bike I don’t wanna see no big nasty chin-chin poking in the lycra shorty pants with a pokey tip. Tiny chin-chin fits in the pants nice and don’t make a bump. Like a girl’s jeans. That’s why a boy’s jeans look nasty and not smooth. Gotta big lumpy donut and pokey in the middle not girl’s smooth line.”

“I’ll try to remember that the next time I go shopping for jeans.”

“But offa bike without no shorts it’s okay if a big chin-chin. But not too big like a German sausage. Kind of middle size is best. Offa bike tiny chin-chin it’s a kind of like a bumblebee who’s not got the stinger. It’s the disappointment.”

We pulled up to the dude at the light. Mrs. Wankmeister rolled down the window. “Don’t you worry about your chin-chin!” she said with a smile.

“My what?”

“Your chin-chin. It’s a okay one nobody looking it just don’t poke out like bones and bagels.”

Dude looked seriously fucking perplexed. Then we drove off.

Suicide isn’t painless

June 22, 2012 § 37 Comments

Nor, apparently, is it easy. After swimming out into the Gulf of Mexico late at night and trying to drown himself (swam back in because he was so afraid), then trying to asphyxiate himself with a rubber hose hooked up to the tailpipe (went to sleep and woke up with a blinding headache), my elder brother Ian went down to the neighborhood Academy, bought a .38 nickel-plated Rossi, and put a bullet in his chest.

At the funeral home they had neatly folded his hands, but if you looked closely, and you know, I always look closely, you could see the powder burns on the crease between his right thumb and forefinger.

He didn’t have any veins in his hands, and his eyelids sank unnaturally into his head. He’d donated his eyes and everything else of salvage value to people who needed it more than he did. The sleeves in his suit were completely flat and looked empty, but I didn’t have the nerve to ask the funeral director what had happened to his arms.

They’d tried to cut and stretch and twist his face back into something that might have looked like Ian, but it reminded me of the time I’d tried to throw clay on a wheel. Once it gets out of shape, you can’t ever put it back into shape. It’s just all pretty much fucked up forever.

Let me count the ways

Suicide is apparently painful in the planning. It’s painful in the execution. And it’s painful in the aftermath. The pain ripples out, not like a poetic pebble tossed into a still reflecting pool, but like a massive, horrible, endless discharge of vomit with your head hung over the toilet, splattering and splashing and staining and stinking and ruining everything it touches. And it touches pretty much everything.

Suicide’s real painful in the telling. For some it’s an embarrassment. For me it’s painful because Ian’s not the first person in the world to kill himself, and as I say it my friends and acquaintances share the spatter in their own lives with me. The sister hanged herself. The father shot himself on the son’s eighteenth birthday. The goddaugher did herself in after a happy, normal phone call. The brother threw himself off the balcony. Ian’s choice, for someone as imaginative and creative and original was so…pedestrian. It was just another suicide, one more bloody mess that family got to find and strangers got to clean up.

Suicide is unquestionably painful in the discovering. Dad checked his email at 8:00 AM on Saturday, June 16, Central Standard Time, conveniently before Father’s Day. Three emails sat percolating in his inbox, all from Ian, all time-stamped at 7:03 that morning. Tired of living. By the time you read this I’ll be dead. Etc.

Suicide is unbearably painful in the confirming. Screeching through traffic, blowing through red lights, frantically dashing up the rickety staircase and bursting into the filthy and debris-strewn apartment to find your eldest slumped over on the couch, the ragged drainage hole from the .38 having emptied the contents of Ian’s heart onto the sofa, and the dead fact of death leaving Dad there with his firstborn, deadened.

For whom the bell tolls

Suicide is painful in the alerting. I’d just finished up a Donut beatdown, and it’s odd how good I felt after such an abject thrashing. Shredded on the Switchbacks, unceremoniously dumped in Homes and Gardens, shelled up to the Domes, caught and dropped after the Glass Church sprint, and DFL all the way up Zumaya, what right did I have to feel good? I dunno. I just felt good.

“Seth?” Dad said over the phone and he didn’t have to say anything else because I knew it was bad, awful bad, and a few hours later I was on the plane to Houson.

Suicide is unbearably painful in the sharing. I didn’t want to go over to the apartment and find out how we were going to clean up the mess, but someone had to. That couch looked at me with an evil sneer, its cushions spotted with unthinkably huge circles of gore where Ian had slumped, gushing blood out of the hole, the back of the couch decorated with an enormous, thick clot that looked like a giant painter with a giant paint knife had cut out the biggest chunk of red oil off the palette and smeared it on the canvas, a clump bigger and thicker than five fists stuck to the fabric of the couch and thinning towards the bottom into a spill.

To think: All that raggedy, jagged exit wound, mess and destruction caused by the same thing that made the small, neat, perfectly round hole in the wall where the bullet passed into the next apartment.

I stared at the awfulness wishing I had a delete button, but it’s been recorded now permanently. The biohazard disposal contractor dude smoking a cigarette and driving a big white van that said “Plumbers” on the side next to a hand-lettered “Bio-Expert Cleners” was humane and human.

“Sorry for your loss, man,” he said in the 90-degree heat and stifling humidity as we stood outside the apartment. “Yeah,” I said. Me, too.”

Nothing ends like it’s supposed to

Suicide’s painful because it blames you. Unlike the cancer or the runaway truck or the accidental drowning, suicide’s uniquely the fault of the survivors. What could I have done differently? Was it something I said or did? Why didn’t I see the signs? Where was I when he needed me most? Oh yeah, I remember. I was on the Donut, riding my bike while he was bleeding out on the couch.

Suicide’s painful because Ian’s the person responsible for my decision in 1982 to buy a road bike. The person who inspired the gift that has made me happiest, was so terribly unhappy that he killed himself. The word for that is irony.

Of course nothing is all bad. Despite this ghastly ordeal, there’s something good and positive that has come out of it. But I’ll be goddamned if I know what it is.

Inside the Postal doping bus

June 19, 2012 § 4 Comments

Number 49 in Cycle Sport’s all time list of the greatest ever cycling books is, by pure coincidence, a book project that was pitched to Michael Barry by…Cycle Sport. I love it how when you come up with an idea, the idea gets implemented, and then you get to vote it as one of the greatest of all time. Next week I’ll be doing a list of the fifty greatest cycling blogs of all time, and can’t wait to vote on my own greatness.

“Inside the Postal Bus” is Michael Barry’s account of riding for Postal and an insider’s view of what it was like to support Lance Drugstrong in his Tour campaigns of 2002-2004. Barry doesn’t let it get in the way of the story that he never rode the Tour.

The short answer to the question, “Should I buy this book?” is “No.”

“What if I can get it on Alibris for $1.99?”

The answer is still “No.”

“What if I can get it at Half-Priced Books for fifty cents?”

“No.”

“What if a friend gives it to me?”

That person is not your friend.

The blurb review

It’s my opinion that books purporting to be factual should not be filled with deceptions and lies. So perhaps the best way to review this shovelful of shit masquerading as a book is to present the book’s jacket blurbs and contrast them with the actual book.

“From winter training camp in California to the Tour de France, ‘Inside the Postal Bus’ offers an accurate behind-the-scenes view of our team. If you have ever wondered what the life of a pro cyclist is like, read this book.” Lance Armstrong, 7-time Tour de France winner and teammate.

Michael Barry’s book doesn’t offer a behind the scenes view of the team in the Tour, because Barry never rode the Tour. The book offers a series of jumbled observations that Barry gleaned from watching the Tour on television, like the rest of us. If you have ever wondered what the life of a pro cyclist is like, after reading this book you’ll conclude that it can be summed up in one word: Coffee. Barry mentions the coffee machine on the bus so often, and updates us on details like whether it was working, that you can’t help think that “coffee” is code for “homologous drug transfusions, steroids, and EPO.”

If you’ve ever wondered what a pro cyclist’s life is like, you’ve wondered about training regimens. Barry is silent on this topic with the exception of a description of some early season team rides. So apparently pro cyclists do some “bonding” type easy miles early in the season, and that’s it. The other topic that’s ignored is doping. It’s interesting to read through Barry’s list of heroes, great riders, people he admires, and icons of the sport with today’s after-acquired knowledge of all the riders who were busted for doping.

Vino, Landis, Hamilton, Beltran, Armstrong, Bruyneel, and on and on and on, the boys on the bus, the magic bus, the happy bus. The “accurate” view that Lance promises in his blurb would really only be achieved with descriptions of how they did the drugs, where they stored them, how Bruyneel organized it, and what the mechanics were of shooting up before a big race. We don’t get any of that.

The subject that the book doesn’t skirt is the wonderfulness of LiveStrong. He’s the kindest, strongest, best person ever, a patient signer of autographs, a thoughtful and brilliant team leader, an inspirational fighter of cancer, and an unbeatable competitor when combined with Johan Bruyneel, who also gets mention after mention for his fantastically super smartfulness and cleverity.

“A truly remarkable story of Michael Barry’s life alongside a squad ruled by one man–Lance Armstrong. It is a great read.” Phil Liggett, OLN Cycling Commentator.

When I think of a remarkable life, I think of Helen Keller or Teddy Roosevelt or Abe Lincoln or Christopher Columbus or Winston Churchill. I don’t think of a Canadian dude whose dad owned a bike shop and who spent his career as a routinier in the service of Lance. Far from being remarkable, Barry explains that his life as a domestique is boring, hard, and not all that interesting. To call the book a “great read” is, like virtually everything else that randomly tumbles out of the mouth of Phil Liggett, rubbish. The book has no organization; it doesn’t even have a story. Various things are haphazardly thrown in with no connection to anything else. His 2003 Vuelta campaign starts at the beginning, and mysteriously ends at stage 5.

The next chapter randomly talks about the hotel, about bumping into Johan in the hall, and a reminiscence about riding in the snow in Toronto as a child with “Joe.” Great read? It’s nothing more than “Michael Barry’s random thoughts. Catch ‘em if you can.”

Barry does, however, display a keen sensitivity to sponsor suckass and nutlick. He mentions all of the Postal sponsors repeatedly. Berry Floor refloored the team bus. AMD helped design everything, including the bikes, because all the computers used AMD chips. Clif Gels get copious mention. Oakley and Nike get air time, and a portion is even devoted to the big sponsor dicklick where the entire team has to travel to Scottsdale and let the wanker sponsors ride with the boys.

For those who really want to lap up the encomiums, there’s great stuff about how wonderful Sherly Crow was, how she rode with the team occasionally, and about uber-wanker Robin Williams when he was in his Cat 4 mode and fed the addiction by groupie-izing the team bus during Drugstrong’s Tour victories.

“Barry has cycling in his blood. And now he has shown that he can write more than passably, too.” Vancouver Sun.

He’s done no such thing. In fact, he’s shown that he can’t write at all. There’s not a single drip, drop, or drab of analysis or insight into what makes any of the actors in this book tick, how they endure the hardships of the sport, or why cycling should capture your interest or imagination. Barry describes people as “awesome,” “fantastic,” and “incredible” as a substitute for describing them through their characters or actions. Instead of doing the hard, heavy lifting required to bring life to the world’s most boring spectator sport, Barry has generated a concatenation of insider-speak anecdotes for road junkies. You can make sense out of it only if you follow the pro peloton, and even then it’s a mishmash. Much of the writing, far from being “passable,” is garbage. Entire sentences, even paragraphs, add nothing except to help meet the word-count requirement of the editors. Like what? Like this…random opening to page 152: “Lance couldn’t have had two better guys [Hincapie and Ekimov.]

Or this, on page 60: “But that is the way it goes…” or “Generally everybody fits together really well; there really aren’t any cliques.” It’s one long string of platitudes and uninformative statements with zero peeking behind the curtain. The activities on the bus are shrouded in the same veil of omerta at the end that they were at the beginning.

“Written in an artculate, fast-flowing style…Barry has a keen eye for the minor details of professional life. This is the main reason that the book offers a real and rare sense of what it is like to be part of a major squad.” Cycle Sport.

They pitch the project, market the project, and then vote it one of the best books ever. Gotta love the wankers at Cycle Sport! Unfortunately, they lie. The book isn’t articulate; it’s written in the crude, rough, workmanlike prose of someone who spends hundreds of hours pedaling and not many hours writing. Barry admits his difficulties in the foreword and it’s the only honest thing in the entire book. It’s not fast-flowing, either, in fact it doesn’t flow at all. We go from training camp to his childhood to early season races to bus descriptions to here and there and everywhere. The only thing missing are the green eggs and ham. While it’s true that Barry mentions lots of details, his eye is hardly keen–he has no ability to discriminate between important details that reveal character and meaningless ones that add nothing. “America has changed since September 11, 2001.” Deep stuff.

Epilogue

Since the book’s publication, Barry has gone on to complete a Tour and publish two more books, Le Métier and Fitness Cycling. Without some indication that he’s improved, though, I’m declining to donate more money to the cause. As our former President once said, “Fool me once, shame on, shame on you. Fool me, you can’t get fooled again.”

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