What’s your name?

June 1, 2014 § 11 Comments

My good friend Michael Norris generously gave me permission to publish what follows:

Until yesterday, all I knew was that her name tag said “Amanda.” And when we spoke, she answered to it.

Our world is an incredibly beautiful place. We can swim with dolphins, not just in a Hilton resort swimming pool but here, if we want, in the ocean, close enough to reach out and touch. And the music. And the artistry. And the literature. And the food and drink. The beauty lives all around us.

On today’s ride, while I pedaled my bicycle around our little hill for a few hours, twenty other riders offered encouragement to me, and they each called out my name as they rode by. Imagine. My name.

The world is also dark and unforgiving, where hope is an illusion and a bygone notion and where children are abused and mistreated. It’s a place where hatred runs rampant, and compassion has long since been abandoned. It is not easy, this humanity thing. And, for some, the darkness and the hard edge are especially relentless.

Rob Lowe is certainly not mentor material, but on his recent book tour he made an observation which seemed unusually profound: He said that we never really evolve beyond the people that we were as teenagers. The fears, anxieties, and insecurities of our youth become baggage that we lug around all of our lives, and the baggage can get very weighty. We never outgrow it or run fast enough to elude it.

Amanda was not prone to complaining, and she worked hard at being a good person. When she had the early morning shift at the health food store where I met her, she would drive in to work with a friend. When that car was no longer available, she commuted on the bus. This added many idle hours to her day, but she bore it well. And whenever I saw her, she smiled, but the smile always seemed only half complete. It was as if she were trying to remember what it meant to be happy.

Yesterday, I learned that she had been abused as a child and that her family had not been there for her and that she had been very alone at a time when a shoulder would have been the least that she needed. But she bore it, somehow, and she endured. She “endeavored to persevere.”

I learned many years ago, when my son decided to become a football player, that everyone gets knocked down, but not everyone gets right back up. Later I became a coach, and each year during the first two weeks of conditioning and training, we taught the boys about what was to come. We had a few new players each year whose proud fathers would show up to the conditioning practice every day, recounting their sons’ prior athletic achievements and accomplishments. I always tried to temper their pride and enthusiasm by telling them to wait until we put the pads on because it would only be then, when every kid got knocked down over and over and over, that we would find out which ones had the core quality they would need to play football: Which of those kids would get right back up?

You can help with that as a father and a coach, but you cannot really teach it. And you find that some people just get tired of getting back up.

Last Saturday, Amanda made a fatal choice. It was entirely voluntary, and considered, and thought out. She simply decided that she did not want to get back up anymore.

During the last many years I have visited Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach during the Christmas holidays. I have developed a relationship with the support staff there, and have been allowed to visit the kids and their parents. I always try to spend extra time on the pediatric cancer floor, where the kids have tubes hooked up to their arms or are going through incredibly painful treatment. Their parents have set up cots next to them so they can sleep there at night. The only things those kids ask for, and all that their parents dream of, is one more day. To breathe in one more morning, to continue to live in a world where dolphins swim and rainbows come to life.

I try to remember those kids and their parents whenever things get especially difficult in my own life. This is their gift to me.

Spoken in another way, our lives are truly not our own. Amanda had no idea how much the rest of us needed her to carry on, and how invested each of us were in her future well being. We did not have the chance to tell her that because last Saturday, she said goodbye. Worse, she said it alone, as she had been alone for so long, despite being surrounded by friends and family.

I know all this because yesterday I found the handmade, xeroxed signs posted around her former store. “RIP” they said. Her last name was Rios. Amanda Rios.

And then a squirrel fell onto my handlebars

May 31, 2014 § 27 Comments

Today is the 2nd Chris Cono Memorial Ride. It is in Pasadena, which is a long way from the South Bay. The ride starts at 7:45 AM. Since the memorial ride only lasts about two hours, it could be made into a full day by pedaling to the event.

It made sense to recon the ride to Pasadena yesterday. Dan Barr suggested the Rio Hondo River Trail. He said it would take about two hours from Torrance. Maybe it would. On a motorcycle.

This was Day 3 of the Wanky Crashfast Diet. It is a four-day diet. It is simple. In the morning you eat 350 calories. Then you ride your bike for eight hours. Then you go to bed. After four days you are guaranteed to lose eleven pounds. The literature states that some people have difficulty making it to the fourth day. Perhaps because they die?

The literature does not state that some people have difficulty making it past the first hour. That is in fact what happened. But at the end of Day 1, the fatmeter had dropped from 164 to 162.5.

At the end of Day 2, it had dropped from 162.5 to 162.

Today was Day 3. Have you ever ridden your bicycle for 8 hours and ingested nothing more than a Coke? If you haven’t, don’t bother. You will not feel very good or go very fast.

Before taking a complicated trip from the South Bay through the center of L.A. to the wilds of Pasadena, most people check the route on a map. Maps used to be made of paper and required a brain. Now all you need is a phone.

People without brains don’t check their phone maps and go off in search of things called “River Trail.” If you go out Del Amo for a long way you will find something called the “Compton Creek Trail.” It is a bicycle path along Compton Creek. You didn’t know that Compton had a creek.

You think the only thing in Compton is crime, but the Compton Creek Trail takes you under massive shade trees along an immaculate path. Male redwing blackbirds with their  brilliant epaulettes flit among the rushes, trying to ride herd on the females who are fraternizing with other males in their absence.

Fucking and cheating are universal animal endeavors.

A green heron glides above the creek. It is beautiful and peaceful and the pavement is better than a new Interstate. But like all bike paths in Los Angeles, it teases you and pulls you up short. The Compton bike path ends, dead, at a railroad track.

After retracing, and getting back on Del Amo, the Los Angeles River Trail bike path appears. What is a river doing in Los Angeles? What is a concrete sluice doing calling itself a river?

It doesn’t take long for the majesty to reveal itself. Amidst the shopping carts and giant tires and green scum and other pinnacles of the human creative spirit are the birds. Black-necked stilts, killdeer, western gulls, great blue herons, and even an avocet. In the bushes and trees that line the bike path are the shamelessly gaudy hooded orioles.

The trail veers off onto the Rio Hondo trail. Under some of the overpasses, homeless people live in horrific little shanty towns, but it makes them not homeless. One man has a rope ladder he ascends up into the crevices of a steel and concrete superstructure. The gangland graffiti has been blacked out by conscientious county workers.

Rio Hondo descends into a forest. It is beautiful. Butterflies flutter and flowers release their perfume. Other people on the path smile and wave. They are not professional masters racers. They are people riding bicycles.

A firing range emits the pop-pop-pop of small penises and their blood lust. It displays a banner that says “Do Not Fly Over Firing Range.” This makes no sense until you come to the El Monte airport. Small aircraft occupied by lone, older men, speed down the runway. They see World War II, or grand commercial jets, or modern fighter planes, but all anyone else sees are Cessnas. Second hand ones, at that.

Pasadena is nowhere near the South Bay. After the trail ends, even the park workers are mystified as to how one would cycle to Pasadena. “This trail, you can pick it up somewhere else, man, but it goes up into the mountains.”

After circling back there is a trail called the Santa Anita Wash. It tricks you by being paved, then disintegrates into a beautiful, pine-covered, soft dirt and soft sand track. It goes on for miles and requires huge effort. Your road bike sinks and slips, skitters, hits roots, but the shade is welcome. Somewhere along the trail a squirrel tries to leap from the fence onto an overhanging branch. He is a Cat 4 squirrel, so he misses the branch and lands on the handlebars. He stares briefly at the human eyes he wrongly imagines want to eat him and leaps again, catching another branch. Perhaps that means he will get his upgrade soon.

Eventually, all roads lead to Velo Pasadena. Hrach is welcoming and warm and friendly and presses a cold Coke in your hand. Those 240 kcal kill the Wanky Crashfast Diet, but who cares? Hrach also relates the best route back to the bike trail.

The return trip is long and downhill, but the downhill is offset by the strong headwind. Suddenly two kids on motor scooters appear. Scooters are illegal on the bike path. One has run out of gas and is hanging onto the other. When you pass them they laugh and gun the engine. It can’t keep up. Kids without helmets dragging scooters breaking the law laughing at adults are doing what all children should do.

A patrol car has driven down into one of the shanty towns. A pretty woman is being led away in handcuffs. Why police the banks and stop the 2nd Amendment slaughter when you can bust a woman living under a bridge? She will never fight back and she may even screw you in the back of the patrol car to stay out of jail. “May”?

The whole trip takes six and a half hours. Its most challenging moment was when the bicycle crossed Western on Del Amo, only a few yards from Monkish Brewery.  The keenest memory is the lone avocet searching for food. I hope he found it.


People of the State of California v. G$

May 29, 2014 § 63 Comments

Last fall a movement began. A handful of riders in the South Bay stopped playing gutter bunny on Pacific Coast Highway and took their rightful place in the lane.

It was like the Prague Spring of 1968, and repressed cyclists, long confined to the detritus of the roadside and the terrorization of buzzing motorists, rode smack in the lane, forcing drivers to slow down and pass them, safely, in the left-hand lane. It caught on.

The justification for selecting the dominant position in the lane was legal and practical. Under California Vehicle Code Sec. 21202, bicycle riders are required to ride as far to the right as practicable unless the width of the lane is such that a bike and car cannot safely share the lane. As everyone who rides PCH knows, the narrow lanes (often less than 11 feet wide) make it lethal to coexist in the same lane with trucks and their tow mirrors, trailers, boats, buses, big-ass SUV’s, and even ordinary passenger cars.

Before long, the South Bay’s biggest, most visible, and most activist racing club, Big Orange, was leading all of its Sunday rides on PCH in the lane. Riders who were initially doubtful about the safety and benefits of riding in the lane rather than cringing in the gutters as they dodged nails, glass, rocks, cracks, garbage cans, and the rear-ends of parked cars, became believers.

At its height Big Orange was towing 70 to 80 riders in an orderly 2×2 formation down the best bike lane in America: the right-hand lane of PCH.

Trouble in paradise

That all came crashing down one Sunday last October when the ride, being led by Greg Leibert, was pulled over by a pair of sheriff’s deputies in a squad car. G$ was cited for violating CVC 21202 — failure to ride as far to the right as practicable.

Discussion was fruitless. When G$ whipped out his handy-dandy copy of the vehicle code, one deputy advised him that “I been writing these tickets for 20 years, I know the law, and you’ll never beat it.”

For this law enforcement duo, the sight of so many riders behaving like cars was too much. Despite the clear language of the law they slapped G$ with a citation.

In one fell swoop this single ticket turned the victorious PCH Sunday riders back into gutter bunnies. All the talk about how it was legal to control the lane was overcome with one traffic ticket. Who wants to go out for a Sunday ride and come home with a fine that runs into the hundreds of dollars?

With the same force of Leonid Brezhnev’s tanks rolling into Prague, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department had crushed the cyclist uprising.

LA County Bicycle Coalition to the rescue

But G$ wasn’t going down without a fight, and he had an ally in Eric Bruins, policy director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Eric had been working for months to arrange a meeting with the captain of the Agoura Hills Substation, which has jurisdiction of PCH all the way from Santa Monica to the county line.

When Captain Pat Devoren met with Eric, me, and Dr. Gary Cziko earlier this year, I laid out our chief complaint with riding on PCH: the lane was the only safe place to ride, it was legal for us to be there, and the sheriff’s department was illegally writing citations. After a few minutes, Captain Devoren raised his hand and smiled. “Guys,” he said, “I get it. I’m a bicyclist.”

We all looked at each other in amazement. A bicyclist in charge of law enforcement on PCH? The dogs must be crazy.

We continued the discussion for a while with Captain Devoren –an incredibly polite and professional man — and the sergeants who were also in the meeting. Some skepticism was expressed that riding in the lane was safe, but when we detailed the dangers of riding in the gutter, they agreed. “Anyway,” one of them said, “it’s the law.”

At the end of the meeting Captain Devoren told us that he would inform his deputies regarding the proper interpretation of CVC 21202 and that henceforth cyclists would no longer be cited for failure to ride to the right on those sections of PCH where doing so was unsafe, hazardous, or where the lane could not safely be shared with a car. The three of us walked out of the meeting in a daze. We felt like we hadn’t so much won a battle as gained an ally.

It was too good to be true but … there was still that matter of the ticket.

 L.A. Law

G$ and I showed up in Santa Monica traffic court on Tuesday morning. He had pled “not guilty” and we were going to try his case in front of the judge. Rather than descending into a he-said, she-said confrontation with the officer who wrote the ticket, we came armed to the teeth with two of the finest expert witnesses in the business.

It was the largest display of legal firepower to fight a traffic infraction that the court had seen in a while. Dr. Gary Cziko was going to be our first weapon, beating back the state’s assault on our right to ride in the lane with his unpronounceable last name. The strategy was that by the time the court had figured out how to spell it, then say it properly (Psycho? Seeko? Cheeseko?), they’d be so tired of the case that they’d acquit just to move things along.

If the slavic name stratagem failed, Gary had brought three gigantic exhibits showing the amount of space in lanes of varying width when the lane was shared by a bike and a vehicle. These exhibits would clearly demonstrate how deadly it is when a bike has to be in the lane on PCH with a fast-moving vehicle.

We planned to lay a foundation as to Gary’s expertise in cycling safety by pointing to his three decades as a professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois, his certification as a cycling instructor by the League of American Wheelemen and Cycling Savvy, and the scruffy patch of unshaved facial hair he’d missed in his morning shave.

We would further cement his qualifications as a cyclist to opine on the safety of the lane where G$ was ticketed by pointing out the bike helmet he brought into the courtroom, his giant commuter backpack, the strap around his ankle to keep his slacks out of the chain, and if necessary we’d take the judge out to the front of the courthouse where he could see Gary’s commuter rig chained to the flagpole, a misdemeanor. (Kidding. Gary would never chain his bike to a flagpole.)

After putting on the killer testimony of our hired gun Dr. Cziko, we planned to storm the battlements with the erudite and nattily-dressed Eric Bruins. Eric would testify regarding safe lane widths, standard lane width determinations under a variety of federal design regulations, and would further opine that the point at which G$ was ticketed could not have been safely occupied by a bike and a vehicle, and therefore G$’s decision to control the center of the lane was legal and defensible and the safest possible option.

After stabbing the twitching carcass of the police state with these sharpened harpoons, we planned to save the final bludgeoning to the head for last. We would put G$ himself on the stand.

In preparation for his testimony, our hero had shaved, brushed his teeth, bathed, put on deodorant, whacked the four inches of dust off his blazer with a carpet beater, and taken a 2-hour YouTube course on “How to Tie a Necktie without Strangling Yourself.” He was clean and buffed, his hair was combed, and he had even decided to wait until after the trial before re-dying his hair with his signature electric orange coiffe.

I had spent the previous six months preparing for this momentous trial, which I knew would be the defining moment of my career. I’d carefully analyzed every detail of the seminal CVC 21202 Supreme Court case, Pooky v. Festersore. In Pooky, cyclist Blood E. Festersore had been cited for “running” a red light. The arresting officer, Fluffer Pooky, had cited him for conspiracy to overthrow the government and Festersore received a life sentence.

In its landmark decision, Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for a unanimous court said this: “Guns. Benghazi. Obamacare is for commies.”

Victory for the little people

As the court came to order, Judge Kahn looked up. “The following cases are dismissed due to the citing officer’s failure to appear for court today. Case No. 292811, Greg Leibert.”

We threw our hands up in the air and began hugging. G$ broke down into uncontrollable sobs, relieved at the thought that he wouldn’t have to pay the $221 fine, and would only have to pay $4,000 for my legal services and $15,000 in expert witness fees.

Camera crews from CBS, NBC, and Pornhub.com captured every moment of the victory celebration, and the other people in court, although they would have clapped, instead cursed and threw cigarette butts at us for being lucky enough not to have to go to trial. After interviews with major news media, we went over to a coffee shop to debrief.

Everyone was amazed at the withering cross examination I would have unleashed, and we thanked Eric and Gary for the devastating expert testimony that they would have used to crush the state’s case. The credibility and forcefulness of the testimony that G$ would have given was so brilliant that we clapped him on the back for how great he would have been and how amazing we would have felt listening to him.

Of course the true import of Greg’s case is that as a result of our discussion with Captain Devoren, the Sheriff’s Department appears to have accepted that controlling the lane on PCH is in fact legal, and CVC 21202 citations will not be issued for riders who safely and legally occupy the full lane. Let’s hope that riders will begin to take advantage of this new development, and get back to the joyful days of last fall, when we could, with nary a care in the world, cruise the best bike lane in America.

Victory for the people!

Victory for the people!



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Helping the younger generation

May 26, 2014 § 16 Comments

One of the things most important to me is helping young folks, especially young bicycle riders. Although I have never coached anyone, whenever I ride I keep an eye out for young, impressionable minds who might need a bit of help with regard to learning the ropes in this complicated and demanding sport.

We started this morning and chugged along towards the base of the reservoir climb. The Wheatgrass Ride, held every Sunday, is an amalgamation of old and slow people who either have an AARP card or soon will. One or two tough guys such as the Wily Greek regularly show up, but for the most part it’s our one chance to beat up on other old people, or to avenge the wounds suffered the day before on the Donut Ride, wounds inflicted by young, strong, fit riders who lack the chub and flab and other indicia of age and inability.

I hit the bottom of the reservoir with a vengeance. Halfway up there was a gaggle of nine or ten riders on my wheel from the original group of about thirty. I swung over and Canyon Bob charged through with a very young rider tucked in behind. A slight gap opened and I hopped in behind Young Pup.

Bob mashed and smashed, shedding a few riders, and swung over. Young Pup swung over, too.

I pulled through and pounded the few IQ points I had left in a mad surge to the top of the climb. At the top I wobbled over to the side, wasted, and Hoof Fixer Man pounded through.

I clawed onto the back and coasted the long downhill all the way to the foot of Better Homes. Hoof Fixer Man accelerated up the hill and there was only a group of five or six left.

Ugly Ankles, who never takes a pull but who is also close to 90, attacked. I strained to bridge, towing the gaggle with me. As I started to fizzle and pop, Young Pup bounded by, dropping us easily, closing the gap, and fastening onto Ugly Ankles’s wheel like a suckerfish attaching itself to a dugong.

Now the chase was in earnest. With four riders on my wheel I pushed and groaned and flailed, and after five desperate elbow flicks Chatty Cathy finally, reluctantly, barely pulled through. He was no match for Ugly Ankles, however, who easily kept the distance.

Young Pup sat tucked in behind the dugong-draft, stick-like legs merrily spinning away.

The climb flattened and then reached the base of the longer, tougher climb to the Domes. Young Pup jumped hard and dropped Ugly Ankles on the first steep ramp, dropped him like a heavy turd from a tall horse.

I jumped too, and was now chasing Young Pup alone. Except for the brief respite by Canyon Bob and Chatty Cathy, I’d been mashing for the entirety of the morning’s climbing. Young Pup couldn’t get any farther away, but I couldn’t claw him back, either. He kept looking back to make sure I was in check, and I was.

Then the Wily Greek came by. He’d spent the better part of the morning twiddling his thumbs, and he overtook the elderly fellows and the elderly me with ease, gliding by on the climb hardly breathing. As he raced up the road, Young Pup jumped on his wheel and held it for a couple of hundred yards before blowing. Still, he’d increased his distance, putting my effort further out of reach, and his insectan recovery rate meant that within a few seconds he was racing off again.

At the top of the climb Young Pup wheeled around to watch us straggle in. I was the next finisher, a long way back. I pedaled up to him.

“Can I give you some advice?”

“Sure.” He was pleased to accept whatever tidbits I had to offer, seeing as how he’d bludgeoned me into a bag of broken dicks.

“When you suck wheel on a gang of old farts, most of whom have children old enough to be your parents, and then at the very end jump by them, fresh as a daisy after they’re worn to shit … no one’s impressed.”

His face fell and his lip quivered.

“If you’re good enough to smush us like a bug — and you are — then you’re good enough to attack early, or take a fuggin’ pull, or do something classier than suck and jump. There’s no honor in strategically out-riding your granddad.”

He looked like he was going to cry, but he didn’t. He clipped in and coasted down the hill.

A buddy came up. “That was a bit harsh, don’t you think?”

“I hope it was. If they learn chickenshit riding when they’re young, they’ll ride chickenshit all their lives.”

“It was pretty good tactical riding.”

“Yeah, except this isn’t a race and there’s no one here on his level except the Wily Greek.”

“He’s just a junior.”

“I’m just an old man.”

We regrouped at the bottom of the Switchbacks and the group rolled at a stiff pace to the bottom of the Glass Church hill. Davy ramped it up the long roller with Young Pup on his wheel. Davy swung over and Young Pup charged ahead. It was a vicious, long, thoroughly nasty headwind pull that instantly put everyone into the red.

He swung over and I came through, trying to match his effort. When I finished my turn, I looked at his face as he hit the front again. His mouth was twisted open in agony. Chunks of spit caulked his cheeks and face. He was gasping as if he’d been harpooned.

Still he hit the front and, after stuffing us in the hurt locker, punted the hurt locker off the cliff.

I would have told him “good job.” But I couldn’t.



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Butter battle

May 25, 2014 § 10 Comments

Marriage is a war. Within that war there are countless battles for high ground, Pickett’s Charge, the bluffs at Bougainville and Okinawa, numbered hilltops around Khe Sanh, yards between trenches at the Sommes, and incremental progressions over the mines and barbed wire on the sands of Iwo Jima.

Each foot of turf in these bloodless marital battles is gained only by dint of full commitment, where both combatants give it their all to gain an inch of ground that could prove pivotal in a war that will last a lifetime.

Our most recent pitched battle was over the butter dish.

In my family, when something breaks, you are what’s known as “shit out of luck.” It will never be replaced. Part laziness, mostly cheapness, he who breaks the butter dish will for many years hence live without one.

When Mrs. WM broke the butter dish, we therefore did without one. “How come you haven’t bought another butter dish?” I asked. For me, butter is the third pillar of the three B’s which constitute a perfect man diet: beer, butter, bread.

“I was onna Bed Bath and Beyond but they ain’t havin’ a good butter dish there now.”

“What’s a ‘good butter dish’?”

“Itsa butter dish where the butter ain’t onna squeezed when the butter dish top is clankin’ down.”

“Who cares if the butter is squeezed? It’s fuggin’ butter.”

“It looks onna smushed and nasty.”

“So? All I do is smush it on my bread anyway.”

“Yada,” she said. In Japanese this means “no,” but it is final, like the “no” your wife says when you ask if you can go to a strip bar. Not that I ever have.

So we were at an uneasy detente, using a saucer for the butter, which worked fine for me, but not for her. “That’s onna nasty,” she said.

“What’s nasty about putting the butter on a saucer?”

“It gets onna dust.”

“Dust? Our whole apartment is layered in dust. Dust on the computer. Dust on the top of the fridge. Dust on the empty beer bottles. When have we ever cared about dust?” Don’t ask why I save empty beer bottles.

“Yes, dust. There’s a dust onna air and itsa floating down onna butter.” So she started putting a piece of Saran wrap over the butter on the saucer.

“Can’t we just put the saucer in the fridge?”


So the butter always had this patch of Saran wrap on top of it, and every time I needed butter, which is all the time during every meal, I had to take off the wrapping, which smeared the butter. Usually, the Saran wrap would fall on the table and smear butter there, too. “Look,” I said one day, mustering my troops for the charge. “The fuggin’ butter gets smushed by the Saran wrap and makes a nasty mess. Plus, I eat the butter before the invisible dust which no one can see alights on the butter, so can we just leave off with the Saran wrap, or go ahead and get the butter dish? It won’t be any messier than this.”


Then we had a heat wave and the already mushy butter turned into butter soup, sloshing over the edge of the saucer. In a premeditated act of aggression I put the butter in the fridge. Caught between my pincer movement of tossing the Saran wrap and demanding a butter dish while putting the saucer in the fridge, she was temporarily unable to repel the assault.

But not for long.

The next week I had used all the butter but there were no new butter sticks. “Where’s the butter?” I hollered.

“There ain’t no more butter.”

“Hell, I can’t eat my cereal without butter.”

“Butter is bad onna your liver. We ain’t eating any more butter.”

“My liver? It is not. The only thing it’s bad for is my heart, and maybe my arteries. It’s the beer that’s bad for my liver.”

“Plus butter is makin’ you with a big tire tummy. When you goin’ to court in your suity pants itsa so tight your pockets is pokin’ out like a rabbit ear.”

She had completely devastated my charge. My strategy was in shambles. I know I looked forlorn and beaten, bereft of butter and rounded in chub. “Don’t look onna so sad,” she said.

“I am sad,” I said. “No butter? Ever?”

“You can have some butter next two weeks,” she said. “But first you gotta get out and ride more onna bicycle for skinnying down in your suity pants.”

“Oh,” I said. “Thanks, honey!”

Neither one of us understood the other, which is the most crucial ingredient for a lasting marriage or, perhaps, for any marriage at all.

Everywhere is local

May 21, 2014 § 17 Comments

A couple of days ago I traveled to Philadelphia for my eldest son’s college graduation. It felt good to be away from the bike, not overtrained or undertrained, just mediocritrained. Sometimes it’s nice to leave your bike behind.

On Saturday I posted a photo on Facebag and immediately got a message from Skip. I met him last year when he was in Los Angeles. He’s a national masters champion and rides for the Time Factory Team out of Pasadena, even though he lives in Boston. He showed up for a couple of NPR sessions, handily outsprinting everyone, and hung around afterwards to trade lies and drink coffee on the bricks at the Center of the Known Universe.

Skip was in Philly on business this past weekend and was just around the corner from Franklin Field, where graduation ceremonies were taking place. We swapped a couple of messages and agreed to meet up at Monk’s Cafe that evening. If you’re looking for the inside track on the best beer joint I’ve yet to find in Philadelphia, Monk’s is the place. They don’t have a beer menu, they have a beer telephone book. Bring your reading glasses.

Fortunately I didn’t have to read much farther than on the first page where it listed “Lost Abbey Devotion” as one of the beers on tap. I couldn’t make up my mind whether it was nicer to meet a familiar face or a familiar beer in this faraway city, so I compromised and agreed with myself that it was great to meet both.

The night went on and the empties kept piling up and everything got foggy and all the women started looking beautiful and the proprietors of Monk’s Cafe began to shake the entire place so that the floor and table swayed in the oddest way, but I endeavored to persevere. Back in the hotel it occurred to me that Skip had never shown up, which was weird. I checked my Facebag messages and saw that many hours ago he had taken a picture at the cafe, surrounded by food and drink, wondering where the hell I was.

“That’s a great question,” I said to myself. “Where the hell am I?”

The next morning Skip and I exchanged messages. “Sorry, dude,” I said. “I never saw you.”

“That’s okay,” he said. “I was at the bar right next to the door the whole night.”

“How much longer are you in Philly?”

“Leaving later today.”

“Want to grab a beer after I’m done with the commencement exercises?”

There was a pause in messages, as if he were trying to work out how someone who couldn’t find someone else in a small bar was going to make contact in a big city like Philadelphia. “Sure,” he wrote.

One thing led to another and that afternoon we were seated at the City Tap House. Now here’s the weird thing. When you don’t know someone all that well but you’ve ridden with them, it takes about five seconds before you are talking like old friends. You know lots of the same people, you’ve done lots of the same races, you’re both suffering from the same mid-life cycling delusionary syndrome … you hit it off.

I’m not sure if it’s like that for golfers or soccer players or bass fishermen, but my bike follows me everywhere, even when I leave it at home. And that’s the way I like it.

Burn your bra

May 19, 2014 § 36 Comments

It started about three years ago when Surfer Dan showed up on a ride with stubble. Leg stubble. Being a hairy chap, a week later it was a solid coating of fuzz. By month’s end his legs were furry. Gorilla furry. Cavewoman furry. It was the most daring fashion statement anyone in the South Bay had ever made, and it sent shock waves through the peloton. What was worse, we all waited for the inevitable collapse in his cycling performance.

Everyone knows that hairy legs slow you down, lots. People have known this since the 1900′s, when early bike racers tested their legs in wind tunnels. With his hairy legs, it was just a matter of time before Surfer Dan would start getting dropped on group rides, dropped on the climbs, dropped in the crits he never raced, and dropped in the individual time trials.

Oddly, it never happened. Even with all that hair down there, he continued to break legs, put hard legs in the breaks, and remain the alpha Big Orange Cat 3 Who Should Be a Cat 2 Sandbagger.

It wasn’t long before Cavendish followed, and then Wiggins. Although not quite daring to go hairless down there, the British Duo began showing up at real bicyle races with facial hair, even though the old Romagna di Corleone Wind Tunnel tests from the early 1900′s showed that the only thing worse than leg hair was facial hair. (Experts will also tell you that having a smooth visage facilitates face massages, and, when you fall on your face and tear off your lips coming down Las Flores after writing a book about how to descend properly, the absence of facial hair allows the easier application of Tegaderm, etc.)

The inescapable conclusion is that it is now okay to ride your bike with hairy legs and furry face. Apparently the data from the mule-drawn wind tunnel of those early days was wrong: it is possible to ride a bicycle fast, or even fastly, certainly fast-ish, without shaving.

This presents a dilemma of sorts. If you let the hair grow out and enjoy the feeling of the breeze ruffling through the thicket in your thighs you will have to explain to everyone at work how it’s now OKAY and how it DOESN’T MEAN YOU’RE A FRED and most importantly that YOU ARE STILL A FAST BICYCLE RACER. The first few weeks it will, however, be helpful to bring all your medals, ribbons, trophies, juice boxes, etc. to the office if you haven’t already just so people don’t forget that YOU ARE STILL LEGIT.

On the other hand, if you continue with your shaving ways you’ll have to continue that funny pose in the shower where you twist backwards while holding onto the soap dish while not throwing out your lower back as you try to get the little patch of incipient fuzz on those two tendon thingies behind your knee without slipping and ending up in the trauma ward.

For myself, I’m following the lead of Surfer Dan, G3, Wiggo, and the Manx Banana. Henceforth the only razor you’ll find in my medicine cabinet is Racer 5. For those who are on the fence, by going full hair you have nothing to lose but your ingrown red hair follicles about mid-thigh that get infected from sweat and bacteria and end up looking like you rubbed your crotch in an ant mound when you stand there in the mirror sucking in your gut while trying to get the abdomimals to poke out from underneath the protective layer of chub.

Hair on!


May 15, 2014 § 8 Comments

My alarm clock went off but I did not. So, at 7:30 I rode down to CotKU to at least say hello to the forcats du NPR, who were massed on the bricks drinking coffee, exaggerating their greatness, and minimizing the derring-do of others.

I minimized and exaggerated as best I could until Eric, Surfer Dan, Sam, Phoque de Paris, Chris, and AEPie-hole indicated it was time to ride some more. We approached the light at Beryl. “Which way?” asked Dan.

“Let’s do Gussy’s Cobbles,” I said.

“Gussy’s? You mean mine.”

“No, those cobbles were discovered by Gussy. He showed them to me about six months ago and I’ve been doing them ever since.”

Surfer Dan sighed. “Wanky, they’ve been a Strava segment called ‘Tha Surfer Dan’ for well over a year. That’s my turf.”

We flew through the stop sign at the end of North Harbor drive, dashed through the parking lot, and shunted onto the gravel-and-cobbled walkway that threaded between two concrete posts. Any error here and you were gash.

Through the posts the mini-cobbles led up a grass-stone-dirt-tree root embankment and we charged, full bore, Surfer Dan in the lead until he veered off to the right. Unbeknownst to me, “Tha Surfer Dan” Strava segment went right whereas the “normal Wanky commute” went left.

Erik, charging hard on my left, also veered right at the top of the embankment, precisely where I began to drift left. There is no better epilogue to a Strava segment charge than taking out your good friend and teammate, but unfortunately we only smashed bars and untangled at the last minute.

Everyone else laughed and cat-called as we hustled our way up to Catalina.

A happy disrespect for the usual

Ever since the first Belgian Waffle Ride in 2012, I have been impressed with the SPY Optic motto of “A happy disrespect for the usual way of doing things.” But I never really understood it until Tha Surfer Dan.

Over the last two years I have altered my perspective about road bicycling. I used to think that road bicycling meant pavement, but the BWR taught me that there are other paths you can take using the same things you have always used. New paths, different paths, exciting paths, not limited to cycling.

Tha Surfer Dan was a little mix of grass and mini-cobbles I would have never sought out before 2012. Now I went out of my way to ride it.

At the top, Surfer Dan said “Let’s do a couple of climbs. Anybody up for Dirty del Monte?”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Instead of going up Via del Monte the usual way, we hop onto a dirt track next to the library, go up a wall, empty out onto the golf course, then go up another dirt track, follow an abandoned road, and come out near Paseo del Sol.”

This seemed very happy and very disrespectful to the usual way of climbing Via del Monte. “I’m in,” I said.

“There’s a chute you’ll have to walk up, though,” he said. “I’ve never made it to the top without dismounting.”

Far from the madding crowd

Riding in Palos Verdes is weird. You’re in the heart of Los Angeles but it’s mostly quiet and almost rural. There are hardly any shops or stores and almost any road takes you up to breathtaking views of the Pacific. Nothing prepared me for Dirty del Monte, though. It was like being spirited into a different world.

We blasted off the pavement and up the narrow dirt track, suddenly surrounded by trees and shade, and the noise of traffic was instantly obliterated. We beat the pedals until we mounted the wall, dumped out onto pavement, and a few moments later were again ensconced in the silence of the trees. We clawed our way up and up and up until the dirt track gave way to an abandoned and overgrown narrow strip of shattered pavement.

On every side were trees, and each sharp turn threw out another priceless view of the ocean and the bay all the way to Malibu.

It finished almost before it had begun, a 1.5-mile dirt climb straight up the face of the peninsula on road bikes and narrow tires.

No one said a word. We stopped our bikes and caught our breath. Whatever we were feeling, it wasn’t disrespect. But on the other hand, it wasn’t usual, either. Finally, I understood.



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Rattle and hum

May 12, 2014 § 14 Comments

The rental RV sounded like it was coming apart at the seams. Every imperfection in the road surface caused the entire chassis to violently shake. The windows and screens howled like they were about to come off, and drizzles of piss laced with vomit and feces oozed out from the bathroom, where the stopped-up toilet was brimming with the spoils of cycling victory. Shards of broken glass littered the floor amidst a thin floating layer of beer. Everyone either had a headache, wanted a headache, or was causing someone else’s headache.

I hadn’t bathed since Thursday.

Derek the Destroyer lay on the bed in the back, moaning and intermittently dry-heaving or wiping strings of puke from his chin. It was eleven PM and we were still caught in traffic, a few miles away from home but at least another hour of aggravated waiting as our RV guzzled vast quantities of gas and we calculated the surcharge we’d be assessed for the clean-up charge. I tried to find the language in the contract where it itemized the cost of cleaning up shit and vomit. There it was, under “Acts of God.”

The trip had seemed like such a great idea at the time. We would rent an RV because all the hotels were full. $279 for three days, split between the three couples. We’d race our bikes at the 805 Crit Series in Buellton/Lompoc. We’d finish each day with a beer or two, socialize, have a healthy dinner, and return to L.A. with a wonderful weekend under our belts and perhaps some good race results as well.

We had, of course, forgotten the inflexible truth: Bike racing is nothing but a bad time gone worse.

Optimism is the foundation for all disappointment

We alit from the Cruise America 30-foot RV, which was really nothing more elaborate than an old U-Haul with a broken toilet. It was the first day of the race series and the wind was blowing at 30 mph. We complained to the volunteers about having invited so much wind to a bike race. “It’s always windy here,” they cheerfully smiled. “Thank goodness today it’s not that bad.”

The race course was at the Greater Lompoc Disaster Training Center, a place where cops and firemen prepare to shoot people then rescue them. There was a fake town, numerous crashed cars, and Lompoc police everywhere. The proximity of so many ambulances would prove to be a bonus in the pro race, because on the last lap (where else?) a rider slid out in the last turn (where else?) and went face first (what other body part?) into the steel barricades. The destruction and carnage were horrific, but it was great practice for the medics, who enjoyed it thoroughly.

Before our race began, I almost drizzled in my shorts because there was a deafening volley of gunfire, as loud as if I were standing at the end of a firing range. This is because I was standing at the end of a firing range and the cadets were blazing away. A few seconds later they came marching by in formation, guns smoking. Anyone wearing an Al-Qaeda for President t-shirt would have been gunned down on the spot.

The course was on a police car training oval. We raced around in circles, but I had the misfortune of racing with the 35+ group. Note to self: 50-year-old legs that can barely keep up in the 50+ races do not fare well against 35+ legs. Our team did great. Harmony John won and the Destroyer got fourth. I distinguished myself by bridging up to Fukdude, who was chasing the chase group that was chasing the chase group that was chasing the leaders.

We got swarmed a few hundred yards before the line, but not before I refused to do any work and got roundly cursed by everyone in our flailaway. This proved the Number One Rule of Racing: If they’re calling you a “motherfucker” you’re doing something right.

Pro hydration

After the race we ran down to the Albertson’s in King Harold’s slick BMW and bought twelve cases of beer, six enormous bags of chips, and five tubs of salsa. Dinner and hydration were taken care of.

Back at the Buellton RV park, we snuggled in for a long night’s sleep. It’s really weird sleeping with strangers and listening to them snore, fart, get up in the night to piss, and mutter in their sleep. Of course, they probably thought it was weird seeing someone bring one small bag for a three-day trip, and to have hygiene products for the entire stay consist of a toothbrush and a stick of deodorant. “Wait ’til they see me take a spit bath,” I thought.

The next day the wind had picked up and we were facing 30-40 mph winds with occasional 50 mph gusts. Our race was an hour long, or rather the race was an hour long for those who finished. Half of the field was dead and buried by the 30-minute mark. I came unhitched about then and quit, unable to assist my team in its effort to keep the leader’s jersey except by hollering “Go, everyone!” from the sidelines and making sure the beer was cold.

Harmony John stayed in the race leader’s jersey for another day, but the monsters from Monster Media let it be known they were intent on stripping it from his back. I joined a post-race strategy session that included several vicious rounds of beer, polishing off the chips and salsa from the night before, and then going to a steak house and ruining the meal by eating four baskets of crackers and eighteen butter pats.

We were joined at dinner by Daniel Holloway, who regaled us with stories of winning the Athens Twilight Criterium, winning the Dana Point GP, winning the race the night before, and numerous other winning tales. I was going to regale him with my story of getting third at a CBR crit a couple of years ago, but decided not to. Back at the RV things were looking grim, especially at three in the morning when my stomach roared to life.

The battle between the crackers, steak, butter, beer, wine, and all of the leftovers that people had shoved off onto my plate along with the cheesecake, apple fritter pie, and ice cream had reached a fever pitch. I now had to puke, but couldn’t bring myself to do it in the RV because the crapper was already filled with shit and it seemed preferable to vomit all over myself rather than sticking my head down into that mess.

I couldn’t go outside because the RV had a safety lock on the door I’d never bothered to learn to unhitch, and in my current condition there was no chance I’d get the door open before machine-gunning my dinner. Also, even if I did get the door open I wouldn’t get far, and the thought of a giant mound of partially digested dinner in front of our U-Haul/RV was simply too embarrassing.

Finally I decided to mentally overcome the physical desire to throw up. My body was soon soaked in sweat, including the jeans I was sleeping in (my bag hadn’t had room for pajamas). Next to get saturated was the bed/couch. After an hour of struggle, the beer and food mush gave in and I went back to sleep.

The next morning everyone wanted to know, “Why were you groaning so loudly?”


The last day of racing I swore to have zero beers prior to the race and I kept my vow. My legs felt great since I’d only raced thirty minutes the day before. I was ready to do my duty and help Harmony John keep the leader’s jersey. On lap two I was shelled, and on lap ten I was pulled.

I later calculated my cost for the weekend as $491 for 95 minutes of racing, or $5.16 per minute, or about $310 per hour.

Our team lost the race and the jersey. Derek fell off his bike at the end and threw up. “I’m sick,” he said, which we pretty much figured out because he was lying on his face in a gravel driveway surrounded by a swarm of bees.

Hair took over the drive home and I kept him awake by listening to his stories about learning to drift back in Okinawa. Every few miles he’d demonstrate and the RV would slide over a lane or so on the freeway, clearing space and bowels like nothing you ever saw. Derek could only moan as each pothole bounced him several feet in the air on the mattress in back.

We finally got back to the Metro parking lot in Inglewood, where Mrs. WM was waiting for me. “How was the racing?” she asked.

“Perfect in every way,” I said. “As usual.”



Did you know that you can subscribe to “Cycling in the South Bay”? Your donation will go directly to paying clean-up fees for the rental RV. Plus, everything here is true except for the parts I’ve made up, which is all of it. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. I’ll be glad you did.

Also, if you haven’t picked up a copy of “Cycling in the South Bay,” you can order it on Amazon here.

You can also click here to see the reviews.


If the (bathroom) walls had ears, and sometimes they do

April 16, 2014 § 31 Comments

We used to joke that his feet didn’t touch the floor until he was four years old. Friends have wondered where his happiness and smile came from, and most have traced it to his mother, but I put it squarely on the shoulders of his Japanese grandma, because that’s where he was raised.

The day he came home from the hospital she fashioned a kind of sling that fit underneath a loose quilted jacket, and she bound him to it, with his tiny head peeking out from above her shoulder. His consciousness developed between long and loving sessions at his mother’s overflowing breasts, followed by sleep, a diaper change, and an awakening world seen from the back of his grandmother. His first conversations were with her.

Each child is loved differently no matter what you tell yourself, and he was loved by his grandmother as the first son, a tradition baked in the kiln of prehistory, a man who she would serve in a long line of men including her father, her own younger brother who was the eldest son, an arranged husband, the father-in-law with whom she lived for decades and cared for in his floor-ridden, gradual, cancerous demise, the unpalatable brothers of the arranged husband, and of course the husband of her only daughter. That would be me.

The tiny one bound up on her back and carried to the market, to the butcher, and to the fish shop as she pedaled her old red mamachari, however, was different from the other males in her life because him she served without complaint, him she carried on her back with the quiet confidence that although she had never had a son she now had him.

So many times I would hear them talking, him marshaling the first thoughts into words, her listening to the infinite warble on her back with endless patience as she cooked or cleaned and then answered, sometimes just as lengthy, a call-and-response from the fields of time.

The new century

Last Saturday I was returning from a memorial ride for Eli Ritchbourg, a young father who had died of an aneurysm. I had run out of water and decided to refill at the toilets in Santa Monica. The big, clean, spacious stalls are more like small apartments than public toilets, and are much prized by the homeless for that very reason. As I pedaled up I noticed a Middle Eastern grandmother, her head covered in a dark scarf and her body wrapped in a dark, loose-fitting dress that covered the tops of her shoes.

She was holding the hand of her grandson, who looked like he was somewhere between two and three. She had slowed her pace to match his, and he had that funny hitched walk of a kid with a diaper full-to-busting with the overflow of digestion. He was talking, perhaps in Arabic, and it was a lengthy little speech indeed. His grandmother said nothing, but she listened attentively as they headed for the toilets.

In their path was a group of three or four Santa Monica moms, each with a Mercedes-Benz’s worth of kiddy stroller, and each stroller hung with bags, toys, juice carriers, and oversized cup-holders for the the venti triple shot soy mocha latte. The Arab woman carried nothing but a nondescript canvas bag. Where the old grandmother listened, the young mothers snapped and carped and nagged at their children: “Vicent! VINCENT!” along with my favorite verbal torture as a child, “Suzy! Share! I told you to SHARE!”

The children brawled and bawled back, a staccato exchange of brats and their brat-minders, of angry parents and whiny children. The mothers had lovely skimpy outfits that revealed just enough to be sexy and not quite enough to be tawdry, and their hair was pulled back in that casual babysitting mode that takes a solid hour of careful work and makeup to achieve.

The Old World crossed the path of the New World and each was aware of the other. One mother raised an eyebrow, and it spelled out contempt, before she quickly resumed scolding her child for unreasonably wanting to shove a fistful of sand down the other child’s throat.

The stall next door

I pushed my bike into a stall and locked the door. As I zipped up my jersey I realized that the old woman and her grandson were in the stall next to mine; the stalls were completely separate compartments whose walls reach to the ground on all sides. The tops of the stalls opened up about seven feet above the ground so there was circulation of the cool ocean breeze, and what was said next door was perfectly audible.

I paused to listen as the little boy continued speaking, unhurriedly, to his grandmother. After a while he stopped. His question or his story, the one that had been going on since they crossed the open space outside, had ended with nary an interruption by his grandmother. Now it was her turn, and she answered with the same patient, loving tone that I had heard so many years ago in Japan.

What had he been saying? Was he telling her about whales, or about the dead fish he’s seen washed up on the shore, or had he been asking her where the ocean came from, or why the sky was blue?

And what was she answering? Was she telling him about the first time she had been to the sea, or about her grandfather who used to cross the ocean’s desert in a caravan of camels, or about whales and fish and why they couldn’t walk but had to live in the water?

Whatever she was saying, it was patient and long, and it drowned out the cacophony of scolds and whines and sharp rebukes from outside.

I thought about another little boy, my eldest son, who long ago would listen to just such an explanation and then, on the back of his Japanese grandmother, would launch off into another eternal question as she pedaled the bike to the tea shop. Something of the happiness that she had given to him, she now gave to me through this brief eavesdropping, and it powered me in its own way as I rode joyfully home.


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