April 20, 2013 § 9 Comments
I’m no patriot.
I don’t love my country, right or wrong.
I don’t think this is the greatest nation on earth.
And I don’t believe that soldiers are heroes.
The nickname that’s not a nickname
One of our South Bay stalwarts we call “Major.” What with all of the nicknames that get bestowed in the peloton, it’s easy to forget that we call him “Major” for a reason: He’s a major in the Air Force, and he’s nothing like Yossarian’s Major Major.
Our Major never skips a pull. Our Major never gaps out. Our Major always makes the break.
Most importantly, our Major is always straight up. You’ll get a good word when you do right, and a sharp rebuke when you don’t.
Looking for sugar coating? Look somewhere else.
The day job
Amidst the silliness of cycling in the South Bay, we often forget about the real world. Maybe that’s the point. Then something happens to remind us about the hungry maw of toothy reality that’s there whether we acknowledge it or not.
I learned via a Facebook invitation that there would be a send-off party today for Major. Send-off for what? Deployment number three. I don’t believe in patriotism or foreign wars. But I believe in my friends.
I believe in this guy’s honesty, decency…his humanity. I’ve seen it too often not to know what a rare man he is, and the thought of him going off to a war zone, again, fills me with fear and dread.
It fills me with dread not because he’s a hero but because he’s a good friend going off to do a dangerous job. But then I think about him as a representative of our country. I think about his character and his uncomplaining yet fully aware attitude towards his work. I think about how, of all my friends, he’s the one who never brags about his country or makes a big deal about what he does for a living, though he’s the one entitled to do both. I think about how when people abroad see him they will think he’s a typical American.
Then, reflexively and unconsciously and even embarrassed I flush with pride. Come back to us safely, Major. If you’re the face of our nation I guess I’m a patriot after all.
April 5, 2013 § 23 Comments
Due to the morning time hustle I occasionally drop down Hawthorne and continue straight on into the heart of the city. It’s a solid little 3.5 hour ride, usually cold, always quiet, never any traffic, and the monstrous Los Angeles thoroughfares are devoid of anything except my narrow wheels and the little beam of headlight that only occasionally serves its purpose of lighting the road ahead. Big sodium streetlights, the glare from early-hour fast food joints, and the shimmering illumination from this endless city transform pitch black night into a living, breathing, not-pitch-black-at-all bikescape.
The only real company are the buses, and that’s if you don’t get on the road until 4:45 before taking the long cold drop down the Hill. Even holding the Hawthorne descent down to 35 mph by sitting up erect to catch as much wind as possible, all it would take is a skunk ambling home after a night afield, or a chubby raccoon hustling across the lane before daybreak brings the raccoon’s nighttime to turn my morning ride into an ambulance ride. As the first glimmers of dawn turn the PV roads into death alleys for small creatures, I hope each time that I’m not the small creature…exhilaration always comes with a pricetag of fear.
Giant buses hooked together at the waist trundle by along Hawthorne, taking forever to stop and reload and relaunch, by which time I’ve left them far behind until they pass me again just in time to pull over once more and pick up someone going a long way, early, to a hard job. The far right lane of Hawthorne is so ample and welcoming, like the large, soft arms of a comforting lover into which I can fold myself completely.
Past the 405 you enter a slightly rougher part of town, and after a few miles you’ve cruised into the neighborhoods where people earn a living through manual labor indoors or out, or where the homeless begin scavenging the sidewalks and gutters and dumpsters for the garbage largesse that will keep them alive for another few days.
One terribly ill man in tattered clothes stands in the middle of the giant empty street and calls at me, waving and stabbing with his crippled arthritic fingers and rubbing the back of his hand against the spit and froth that spills forth from his mouth. The morning’s frigid air sears through the holes in his clothes, but his madness either heats him to the core or, more likely, makes him capable of enduring that which we cannot. I’m momentarily afraid and hit the pedals harder, my miracle safety machine leaping forward to take me further into the city’s electric morning bowels of blackness.
Coming up the giant hill at South LaBrea, cresting it and roaring down in the cutting morning dawn, fully owning a lane that in times of full sunlight is the domain of cars, and crashing my rims along the devastated pavement remind me that smooth is for the rich, rough and holy is for the poor. A brief wrong turn twists me in an odd direction, but then I’m found and humming along Jefferson. A bike path beckons “Come hither!” but is nothing but a tawdry promise of short-term pleasure; she ends in a brick wall a scant two miles later.
Washington, the father of a country built on the backs of slaves, and the namesake for the next large boulevard, takes me all the way to the bike path in Marina del Rey. The white and the rich get their nice paving quickly. In minutes I’m on the beach trail, watching while wetsuit-clad arms and legs and torsos on Styrofoam balance, or not, on the swiftly shifting opinions of the morning swell. By nine o’clock I’m seated at my desk , still shivering from the morning cold. And then I turn to the task at hand and remain there, more or less forever.
April 2, 2013 § 20 Comments
We’ve all been there. You’ve just taken a meaty pull into a brutal headwind. Your face is covered in a moist sticky film of sweat and snot. You swing over as the next wanker pulls through, and the group ride strings back in a single file twenty riders long before it bunches up and becomes the raggedy rear end, where the baby seals cower at the back and cling to one another for protection as they seek to forestall being clubbed to death.
You slide five or six wheels down the line and motion for the wanker next to you to let you in so you can move back up in the rotation. You don’t want to drift twenty wheels back because it will take forever to get to the front again; most of the riders after the tenth wheel will never pull through anyway. It’s just a stupid group ride or oxymoron “training race,” insignificant even in the already COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT WORLD of bike racing.
So you wave, or point, or look at the rider next to you. He sees you but doesn’t look at you. And he refuses to let you in. You drop back another wheel. Same thing. Pretty soon you’re at the raggedy rear with the baby seals.
None of the wankers who refused to let you in has ever pulled through. They’ve either gotten “near” the front before swinging over and drifting back, or they’ve gapped out and forced everyone else to pound by and close the widening space, or, best of all, they’ve called it a day and gone home.
You? You’re stuck grinding your way back up to the front, closing gaps, coming around guys into the wind or passing them leeward in the gutter just so you can get to the front and take a pull.
You’ve been in this next one, too. You’re in the last mile or two of the Tuesday morning/evening ride. Somehow you managed to get on Pork Loins’s wheel, the one dude in the group whose wheel everyone is desperate to have. He’s massive, providing the Cadillac draft of all drafts. He’s fast, able to wind it up to the finish at such a high speed that whoever comes around him, if they can come around him, always gets the vee.
You never get Pork Loins’s wheel because you’re not willing to kill for it, but today you got lucky and it’s going to be a full-bore launch to the line and for once in your life you’ve been guaranteed a win. You’re not much of a sprunter, or a clumber, or a time trailer, and today is your day.
With 500 meters to go, some dude charges over and tries to take the wheel. The only way you’re going to keep it is by bumping, maybe grinding a little, and muscling him back out. By now it’s full throttle and the popcorn’s popping and the baby seals are getting clubbed right and left and thrown to the wayside and it’s getting more argy-bargy by the minute, but you’re still locked onto Pork Loins and therefore have the guarantee of victory but this dude with the rock hard shoulder and the dragon tattoo keeps coming over and in a split second you have to decide this one thing:
“Is the thrill of winning the group ride worth the risk, which is increasing by the millisecond, of getting tangled up and hitting the asphalt and getting run over by all these other idiots and starting the day with head-to-tail road rash or, better yet, in an ambulance?”
So you let Dragon Dude take the wheel, and suddenly you’re pushed out of the draft and are face to face with that 38 mph wind which slings you backwards at the exact moment that all the other idiots surge forward for the final two hundred meter victory lunge, a pointless lunge because Dragon Dude has it by a country mile. Of course he does. He’s the one who got the wheel of Pork Loins.
That shoulda been you. But you know what? It wasn’t.