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.


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 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.

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