Out in the open

June 9, 2014 § 15 Comments

When I was nineteen, my father was the faculty sponsor for the Gay and Lesbian Students’ Association at Rice University in Houston. They had to have a faculty sponsor in order to be recognized by the university, but no one would sponsor them. My dad was glad to do it. In the first year of the association, the students took their group yearbook photo with bags over their heads. They were afraid their parents, or worse, potential employers, would find out.

We were driving along I-45 one afternoon. I was home from college for the summer and dad was telling me about the group. “I don’t have anything against gay people,” I said, “but I sure wouldn’t want one teaching any kid of mine.”

There was a pause. “Why not?”

“It’s just weird,” I said. “I wouldn’t want them, you know, teaching gay values to my son.”

“What are gay values?”

“You know, men having sex with other men. I’m not good with that.”

“How are people’s private sex lives ‘values’?” he asked. “And how does one teach sexual preference? Is that what your heterosexual teachers taught you?”

I remember getting really angry. “Look, dad, I’m glad you’re sticking up for these kids, but I don’t want them teaching my kids, all right? I just don’t!”

I have thought about that conversation for a long time, and about all the bigotry and prejudice it contained. Why such an emotional reaction? And why was the first objection I raised related to my own children, children I didn’t even have and in fact never even planned to have?

For years, long after my opinion on the subject changed, I chalked it down to homophobia. I had been raised in the racist and bigoted hell hole of the deep South, and had absorbed some of its worst prejudices while thankfully not absorbing others.

Then someone made the comment that there really isn’t such a thing as homophobia. People who perpetrate violence and intolerance against gays aren’t in truth afraid of homosexuals, they are afraid of the homosexuality impulse within themselves and the terrible emotional dissonance — not to mention religious, familial, and personal repercussions — that could result from openly expressing that impulse.

It is a common joke among cyclists that, for men at least, the hobby is a kind of apotheosis of gay behavior. We shave our legs, dress up in our skin-tight underwear, endlessly obsess about kit colors and designs, and spend 15, 20, or 30 hours a week nuzzled up against the sweaty asses of other men. With the exception of football, soccer, basketball, hockey, swimming, accounting, church, Islam, corporate boardrooms, courts of law, prison, and life, nothing could possibly be gayer.

It is also common knowledge that some of us are gay or lesbian, and the only distinction seems to be that some are open and down with it, and some are not. And of course there are many in our ranks who have gay or lesbian kids. It is in this context that a cyclist friend made the announcement on Facebook a couple of days ago that her child was transgender.

“Announcement” is the wrong word, of course. It is a cold, authoritarian, imperial word, warmer than “edict,” but not by much. What those parents did was not announce, but embrace. For an old person, for a young person, for any person to be denied the love and acceptance of a parent as a result of simply being who they were made to be is as terrible a thing as its opposite is wonderful and beautiful: being given the unconditional love of a parent regardless of the emotions and attractions that swirl around inside you.

These parents, people who are high profile in the admittedly minor world of cycling, publicly celebrated their child with the kind of acceptance and love that we unfortunately still desperately need in a world where non-heterosexuality still finds itself the object of bigotry and hatred. And in that public celebration, they gave their child the ultimate gift.

What was even more astonishing about these parents and their public embrace was the effect that it had on me. I thought keenly about that conversation with my own father more than thirty years ago, and about how his acceptance of his students was also an acceptance of me, regardless of the form of my sexuality. Even though I am married to a woman and am a lover of women, my father’s attitude let me know that if within myself, attraction to men was also part of me then it would be accepted without questioning or judgment or anything else.

And when you think about it, how else can you describe the camaraderie and masculine pleasure that a man gets from cycling other than as “attraction to men”? And why should I be ashamed of it? As the two parents mentioned above reminded me, and as my own father obliquely suggested so many years ago, I shouldn’t.

And I hope you aren’t, either.



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Under the nails

June 7, 2014 § 10 Comments

A lot of people hate air travel. They complain about being cramped in little chairs and about sitting next to unpleasant people who have bad breath and who fart. They fondly remember the days when airlines served terrible food that left you angry, your stomach full, and your psyche filled with self-loathing at having stooped to chewing on the miserable rubbery salted chicken parts. You knew the food was putrid but you were too weak to refuse it.

People complain about everything, but long before Louis CK talked about the marvels of sitting in a chair and flying in the air, I had made peace with the vagaries of planes and airports. It was simple. Would you rather cross the continent for five months in a covered wagon? Would you rather do it in a steam-powered train? Or a stagecoach? No? Then shut the fuck up. The worst thing that you can possibly encounter is no more than a mild inconvenience.

I was recently able to get in a flying chair and go to Houston, ride my bike with some pals, and take the flying chair back to Los Angeles, all in the space of five days.

On the return flight, a lady got on the plane who was more than a mild inconvenience, but the key thing is that she wasn’t my inconvenience. She was seated two rows back on the opposite aisle. She got on late, you know, that tense moment when the plane is almost completely full and all that’s left are three middle seats in the rear of the plane.

The people next to the open middle seats were clenching the seat rests and trying to look unfriendly or fartacious or ill, but the stewardess had said that it was a full flight so now it was down to roulette. Would she take it or keep moving?

“Is this seat taken?” the giant woman asked, and you could see that both guys wanted to say “No, but please don’t sit here, for dog’s sake keep moving,” but they made that fake smile, a grimace actually, as the end guy got up to let her in, but not before she took a massive rollaboard and smashed and mashed and crushed it into the small remaining space in the overhead bin. You could hear the Ming vases and the sand dollar collections already carefully stored in the bin disintegrating into dust as she gruntingly shoved the oversized suitcase into the clotted shelf.

The guy next to me, who was fairly slim and very conscientious about not taking too much armrest space, exchanged glances with me. “Sucks to be them,” we telepathed to one another.

The plane took off and the big lady fell asleep. She didn’t have a cozy little neck sleeper thingy because there was so much back fat on her neck and shoulders that her head had plenty of support to keep it from lolling. Unfortunately, she had sleep apnea. After fifteen minutes of huge snores, snores that reverberated throughout the cabin, snores as awful as that deathlike sucking sound of a flushing airline lavatory, snores that began somewhere down in her bowels and shook the airframe of the plane itself, she woke up. Sitting in a cabin with a sleep apnea gag-and-snore person is like watching a stranger take a dump. It defiles everyone.

She tried to stay awake but couldn’t, and the cycle repeated itself. I buried my head in my book, repeating the mantra: “This is better than a Conestoga wagon. This is better than a Conestoga wagon.”

I glanced at my neighbor, who was reading a book called “Negotiating with Giants.” I saw he was on Chapter 3: Filthy Rich Asians. Then I noticed he was cleaning out his fingernails with the exceedingly long middle fingernail on his other hand, which appeared to have been groomed for just this purpose. He collected a fair amount of grime, then sniffed it, then ate it. He thought I was not looking.

“Dude,” I said. “Did you just eat the smeg from underneath your fingernails?”

“What are you talking about?” He pretended to be offended. The first rule of airplane etiquette is to pretend that whatever disgusting thing is happening isn’t really happening. This is the only way people survive trans-Pacific flights with poopy babies, malodorous neighbors, and that awful backdraft smell of shit and chemicals that hits you every time someone opens the toilet door.

“You just scraped the muck out from under your nails and ate it. I saw you.”

“What if I did?”

“That’s nasty.”

“You know what’s nasty?”

“What?” I asked.

“That stewardess. She’s nasty.”

“What are you talking about?”

“She’s a sexual pervert. When I got on the plane she waited until I passed and then she pressed her butt up against mine. She sexually assaulted me.”

I moved as far away from him as I could. “You’re nuts.”

“I can prove it. Watch.”

He got up from his seat. The flight attendant was standing halfway up the aisle. As he passed her, he drew in his butt to make as much space as possible. Sure enough, she stuck out her rear and rubbed his bottom as he passed. He went to the lavatory and then returned with a triumphant grin. “See? She’s a pervert.”

“She is not. She was leaning over two seats to hand someone a coffee. You’re the whack job.” The sleep apnea lady began to gag and blow giant spit bubbles. Somewhere in the cabin a digestive system cried silently for help in the form of pungent methane.

I tried to focus on my book, but couldn’t shake this thought: “If only I were in a Conestoga wagon.”



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Bringing the heat

June 5, 2014 § 15 Comments

Matt knocked on the door. He had come to fetch me. His big pickup backed out of the drive and got on the highway. He had driven over from Austin, and now we were headed to Sugarland to meet Russell for a bicycle ride. I didn’t have a bicycle. All I had was my kit, shoes, and pedals. Russell had borrowed a bike for me.

It wasn’t too hot outside but the humidity was slaughtering.

At Russell’s, Matt pulled his bike out of the cab. It is the same bicycle he has had for thirty years now, a beautiful red and white Rossin with the original Campy Super Record components. I screwed in my pedals and put on a loaner helmet and off the three of us went. The brutal sticky heat felt like you were swimming in hot syrup on a bicycle.

But before we could really get started with that I had to stop. My legs felt terrible. I supposed it was the heat or because I wasn’t very fit. Or fast. Or good. Then I realized that in my haste I hadn’t eaten breakfast, and that my last meal had been at noon the day before, when I ate a big pizza. We stopped at a convenience store, where I drank a coke.

Before long it became time for us to do what old bicycling friends are obligated by law and custom to do with one another; we were obligated to try ride each other into the ground. Then we proceeded to maul each other. After the sprinting and the hammering and the dropping concluded, we pedaled easily for the remaining twenty miles. Matt and I reminisced about the terrible thunderstorm we encountered riding home from Marble Falls to Austin one day in 1985. We had had a 30 mph tailwind until the front came through, lashing us with rain and terrifying us with lightning strikes. Then Russell and I reminisced about dropping Matt a few miles back and how much fun that had been.

Matt was thinking about upgrading to carbon, so Russell gave a brief doctoral presentation on the subject. Matt had a lot of questions. Bikes and wheels had changed in the last thirty years. Who knew?

Back at Russell’s we changed and went to a taco shop. We ate the tacos and they tasted good, with taco sauce dripping onto my hands. Food that drips onto your hands and requires you to lick your fingers always tastes better. There must be something ancient and therefore good about sucking juice off your hands. We ate outside on the patio under slow, creaking ceiling fans because even though it was ferociously hot and humid, the taco shop also served giant frozen glasses filled with ice-cold Sierra Blanca pale ale.

People who drink cold beer in an air-conditioned room when they could drink cold beer in the sweltering hot outdoors, there is something wrong with those people. Also, if you are very dehydrated and you drink three of those giant mugs of beer you will feel it immediately. In fact, you will feel it even if you are not dehydrated at all.

Matt has been going through some tough times, like we all do. But a lot of things recede in significance after you’ve gone on a hard bike ride with your buddies and then topped it off with tacos and cold beer. There is something about being able to reach down through the years and grasp old friendships, those smooth, worn relationships that so perfectly fit your hand.


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News in brief

June 4, 2014 § 1 Comment

The good, the bad …

  1. SPY-Giant-RIDE p/b MRI brought home two impressive victories in the state team time trial. Winners of the 4-man elite division were Logan Fiedler, Anthony Vasilas, Chris Waggoner, and Leroy Walters. A composite SPY team comprised of Brett Clare, Michael Marckx, Todd Parks, and Thurlow Rogers scorched the field in the 180+ Category to win the coveted state championship jersey.
  2. One of the most beloved fixtures of the SoCal cycling scene passed away yesterday. Zeke Yule, the chocolate lab who always had a sniff and a lick for anyone willing to give him a pat, passed away at the age of eleven. His loving disposition, his peaceful and good nature will be missed by us all.
  3. A raging cager attempted to kill an Orange County cyclist by running him off the road. Watch the video link and see if you can help identify the criminals who did this.
  4. SoCal cyclist David Worthington, half the team of the musical group Dos Gatos, announced the release of the band’s first CD. Local support has pushed them to #3 on the indie Reverbnation charts! Give them a listen and add your voice to those of other listeners. Cycling in the South Bay is pleased to report that neither David nor Eric is delusional, and neither would quit his day job if he had one. And what music release would be complete without a promo video by lokalmotors Charon Smith and Kayle Leogrande?
  5. Ride safe if you can, but if you can’t, ride anyway.



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Helping the younger generation (Part 2)

June 3, 2014 § 16 Comments

The Wheatgrass group of about fifty riders pushed up past the golf course. Golfers unloaded their expensive bags filled with implements of frustration. Where the road hits a long descent the speed picked up. Everybody got in single file. I didn’t see the kid I had yelled at last week. Perhaps he had a big test on Monday and was studying for it. Perhaps he was mad. Perhaps his parents had told him to quit riding his bike.

At the bottom of the Reservoir Climb a single figure shot out from the pack. It was the kid. He was making a statement and he was making it in all caps. “YOU THINK I’M A WHEELSUCKER? SUCK ON THIS!”

The gap he opened up was instantaneous and huge. Kenny passed by and took the bit between his teeth, stretching the pack, which had momentarily bunched, into a long strand of pain. By the first turn the chain had snapped in various places. The lead line had about fifteen riders and Kenny was storming to close the gap. I sat second wheel. We came around the second turn and Kenny kept on the gas. He was going to close the gap and then detonate. The kid had slowed down a lot.

Kenny popped. There were about 100 yards between the kid and the remaining ten riders. The moment my front wheel got within five feet of his, the kid looked back. He leaped out of the saddle and kicked it hard, harder even than his first attack. Everyone was pinned. All we could do was watch him open up another huge gap. When I had closed to within ten yards or so, Dan Martin attacked. Everyone watched. The kid jumped with Dan, but couldn’t hang on. Dan rolled away.

When the kid was finally overhauled, two turns from the top, he had given it his all. “Great riding,” I said as we passed.

Clodhopper punched it up Better Homes, followed by Marc Mansolini. The Wily Greek came by, slowed down, way down, and let me grab his wheel. He towed me to the base of the climb to the Domes and then rolled away, easily. We regrouped at the water fountain and Cyclist FilAm got it started on the Glass Church climb. Three-quarters of the way up, the kid appeared again, jets blazing, shedding the entire group except for one or two riders.

This day it was the old, wheezing guys desperately trying to hold onto his wheel. That of course is the proper order of things.  He went so hard and spent so much time out in the wind, I don’t even think he noticed the wrinkled shrapnel in his wake. The next time I have a mind to give someone advice about bicycle riding, maybe I won’t give them any.


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.


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