Slow learner

December 13, 2014 § 8 Comments

In thirty-three years of riding and racing, I’ve gotten two good pieces of advice, which makes for an average of one about every seventeen years.

The first one was from the Fireman. I was pounding my brains out on the front of some stupid group ride. A few people got unhitched, but most didn’t. Towards the end I faded and could barely struggle home, much less contest the sprunts. The fresher rides beat me like a rug on cleaning day.

“Dude,” said Fireman, “just remember. You race like you train.”

“Huh?” I said.

“Yeah. You train like an idiot, and you’re gonna race like an idiot.”

I thought about that, and he was right. Fireman trains smart, and every year he wins a couple of very hard races. The races that he targets, he almost always places in. He’s not the best climber, the best sprinter, the best breakaway rider, or the best time trialist. But he trains smart, and he races even smarter.

It was good advice, but useless, because I love to pound on training rides. “Everyone gets shelled,” is my motto, so when it’s my turn I accept my beating, almost joyfully. Almost.

The second good piece of advice I got was from three-time national crit champion and all-around hammer and good guy, Daniel Holloway. I had watched Daniel work over the Gritters brothers earlier this year on the third day of the 805 Crit series put on by Mike Hecker. It was two against one in a three-up breakaway. Daniel had to go fast enough to stave off a lightning fast pro field, but not so fast that he burned himself out when it came time for the sprunt. With one lap to go he attacked the Gritterses and soloed.

“How’d you do that?” I asked one day when we were coming back from the NPR.

“Easy,” he said. “I followed the breakaway rule.”

“The breakaway rule? As in, ‘Don’t ever be in one?'”

He laughed. “No, that’s the wankaway rule. The breakaway rule is ‘Don’t ever be the strongest guy in the break.'”

“Huh?”

“Yeah. If you feel great, don’t ever show that you’re the strongest. If you’ve got the legs to win and you’re up the road with three or four other guys, always be the second strongest guy in the break. Never the strongest.”

“What does that mean, you know, like, in reality?”

“Don’t take the hardest pull, take the second hardest pull. Don’t take the longest pull, take the second longest pull. When the ‘strongest’ guy takes a monster pull, show that it hurt you and rotate to the back, even quickly.”

“Then what?”

“You saw the 805 Crit, didn’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s the ‘then what.’ When it’s time, you go. And the ‘strongest’ guy who’s been out there crushing it for the last hour suddenly isn’t the strongest guy anymore. You are.”

I memorized every line of this conversation and swore I would put it into practice. On a few of the Donut Rides I’ve managed not to completely spend myself in the first ten minutes and have actually done respectably on the climbs. One time I even beat Dave Jaeger. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when Daniel showed up for our new Thursday AM beatdown ride on the Flog Course around the Palos Verdes golf club.

On the first lap the Wily Greek strung it out, dropped all but ten people, and stuffed the rest of us deep into the hurt locker. After hanging out for a few moments in that close, uncomfortable space without enough air, I got dropped. Then I felt a hand on my ass and a strong push. It was Daniel, grinning, and the fucker wasn’t even breathing hard. “Suffer, old man,” he laughed, easily throwing me back up to the leaders.

On the second lap he attacked and only Wily and Derek could answer. The rest of us melted into a loose coalition of hapless chasers. Forgetting everything he’d told me, I rode like a madman, the strongest guy in the four-man chase. By the sixth and last lap I was a puddle of guts. When I hit the 20% final climb up La Cuesta, my chase group companions roared past. Daniel was coming down the hill. He saw me, turned around, and rode up next to me, about to offer me some key advice.

“Don’t say it,” I said.

“Don’t say what?” he asked.

“Advice. Don’t give me any more advice.”

“How come?” he said, grinning.

“Because it’s not seventeen years yet.”

He looked at me funny and easily pedaled away.

END

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Louie Amelburu and his letter from USADA

December 12, 2014 § 48 Comments

I came across this Dec. 10, 2014, Facebook post by Louie Amelburu: “I know that many of you are aware I was targeted by usada and tested—for the fourth time in one year—at the Mt. Charleston Hill Climb this year. I am sorry to report that unfortunately my test results were such that you will have to race the Hispanic that creates panic for yet another year. For all my supporters, teammates and family, thank you. I would never let you down. As I always say, there is no substitute for hard work. If you ever have a doubt as to what my results are attributable to, you have an open invitation to train with me. Just turn the cookie and make it crumble.”

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I thought it was a strange post. First, there’s some pretty obvious anger at having been “targeted” four times this year. According to Louie, he was tested twice at nationals in 2013, once at the Pan-Am Games, and once at the Mt. Charleston hill climb where he beat former elite men’s champion Chris Walker. Why the indignation at being tested? At the 2013 masters nationals Louie got a bronze medal in the mixed-tandem road race, fourth in the time trial, 11th in the road race, and 12th in the crit. At the Pan-Am masters cycling road race in Guadalajara in 2013, Louie won the road race. The top three finishers at nationals and at major international events are always highly likely targets for testing. Instead of scorn at being targeted for a test, anyone who’s been around the block knows that being tested is how results are validated. It’s not that the organizers think you are a cheat, it’s that they know cheating occurs, and this is one way of trying to root it out.

Even stranger is the proud publication of his USADA letter. Dude, newsflash: A certain former professional now banned for life claimed to have been tested more than 500 times and never turned a positive result. He’s got a library of letters like that. The absence of a doping violation doesn’t prove you aren’t doping, it just means that your test was negative and you get to keep your plastic medal and box of Clif bars. Cycling is a sport where some people dope, and if you win there are people who will suspect that you cheat. Get used to it. I’ve heard so many whispers about so many people that if all the rumors were true everyone would be a doper, including the refs, spectators, and their dogs. Self-righteous publication of your non-positive letter will never convince those who think you’re a cheater, but it will make people who’ve never thought about it one way or another start to consider the matter. It’s like screaming from the rooftops, “I don’t beat my wife!”

Really? I didn’t know people said that you did. Hmmmmmm.

Strangest of all is the proud declaration that your results are attributable to your incredible work ethic. Do you really want to say that? Because if your results are solely attributable to how hard you train, it means that no one trains as hard as you, and we’ve heard that somewhere before. How do you know you train harder than all of your competitors? And since when does the hardest trainer in bike racing win the race? The real message about “how hard I train” is that you are simply better than everyone else, not just because you train harder, but because you’re smarter, quicker, more tactical, and genetically superior. The problem with that explanation is that in your SoCal category, the leaky prostate division of 50+ riders, you’re racing against former Olympians, Tour riders, classics campaigners, and elite national champions. You’re smarter and more genetically gifted than they are AND you train harder? Really?

In truth, your results are suspect for two simple reasons.

First, everyone who wins a big bike race, a whole bunch of races, or often even a small one, is suspect. That’s what the sport has become. Get secure in your skin, man, because if you want to stand on the top step people are going to accuse you of cheating, and it’s not because you’re Hispanic. It’s because doping is still a big part of the sport today, cf. Pro Team Astana.

Second, you have a resume that some find incredible. Ten top-five places, and an astounding twenty-one first places in 2014 including a national championship, according to the USA Cycling web site. 2013 wasn’t a bad year either, with 25 victories and a slew of podiums.

In 2012 you “only” had 19 victories, but you kind of made up for it with 15 top-five finishes. Then there were 14 wins in 2011, 10 wins in 2010, 17 wins in 2009, 9 wins in 2008, and 6 wins in 2007. Before that, things weren’t quite so stellar, at least by your standards, with 3 wins in 2006, 1 win in 2005, 1 win in 2004, 1 ‘cross win in 2003, one win in 2002, and no wins at all in 2001.

I’m no statistician or sports physiologist, but you have gone from being a pretty solid bike racer to the dude who, as you say, creates panic. I remember one year at Devil’s Punchbowl when you had a mechanical on the first climb. I’d already been shelled, and I passed you as you fumbled with your chain or tire or whatever it was. You caught me on the backstretch and I sat on your wheel for about three miles until you just rode me off it, and then chased down the pack which was in a different time zone, and then you attacked and caught the break. I think you won that year.

Some people might point to the fact that you almost doubled your wins between 2006 and 2007 in what is one of the most competitive racing categories among masters as evidence that you’d started putting something special in your Wheaties. However, although I’ve wondered about it in the past, after thinking about it and looking critically at your results I’d argue that your trajectory fits pretty well with a talented athlete who starts cycling as a masters racer, begins as pack fodder (2001), and over the course of thirteen years develops into a skilled and elite competitor. It’s not as if you went from fodder to unbeatable in a season, to the contrary — you’ve been working doggedly at this for years and years and years, racing against the best, learning, improving, and above all, racing. You’re a middle school health teacher and seem to have plenty of time to train.

Moreover, your wins tend to come in hilly road races or stage races. The champion masters doper profile of “wins TT’s, crits, stage races, hill climbs, road races, and everything else” doesn’t fit your resume. Also, your supposed dominance isn’t really all that dominating because much of your racing is in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona where fields aren’t as deep or as fast as they are in California. And although you put the wood to plenty of the best SoCal roadies, you’re by no means a shoo-in. In fact, the deeper the field the more normal (for an excellent bike racer) your results become. Tour of the Gila, 18th in the road race. In the SCNCA district championships this year you didn’t win the 50+ and you got 13th in the 40+. You got 3rd at the hilly Vlees Huis RR and could “only” manage 9th in the nationals road race and 10th in the crit. Your big wins were stage races, which makes sense because you excel at road racing and time trialing. Although the sheer number of wins is impressive, when you break them down they really do fit a narrative about ability, dedication, and focus on one or two disciplines.

But since it’s masters bike racing we’re talking about, there should always be a degree of skepticism. Check the USADA list of sanctioned athletes and you’ll find plenty of old cycling farts who thought they could dope their way to victory and never get caught. Welcome to 2014, where if you aren’t somewhat skeptical, you’re a fool.

With results and performances like yours, not to mention the personal humiliation of having you crush and destroy countless fragile egos, some people will always suspect that you cheat. This is where, instead of being offended, you need to shrug and say, “I understand where you’re coming from.”

People also suspect that LBJ killed JFK, that President Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya, and that Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk was done in a Hollywood movie studio. Get comfortable with your results if they’re legitimate, and don’t lash out at the testers who are not only doing their job but who are also validating everyone’s results, including yours. If possible, don’t hold it too much against the “haters” who’ve been around the block a few times and view your performances as suspect. It’s hard to have stars in your eyes when they’ve been previously poked with a stick.

I’ve seen you race plenty, and as near as I can tell you’re flat out better than the people you beat on that particular day. You don’t win every race, you don’t dominate every discipline, and people I know and respect vouch for the intensity of your training and the depth of your commitment. And if you ever do test positive, it won’t have ever affected me. I was fighting for 45th place.

END

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UCI reluctantly licenses non-doping team for Pro Tour

December 11, 2014 § 26 Comments

Armenian pro team Ride-Kleen has been awarded a WorldTour license for 2015 following extended deliberation by the UCI’s License Commission. The license will be subject to monitoring for 2015, according to UCI chief Brian Cookson, “In the event any non-doping anomalies occur.”

“Ride-Kleen is happy and proud to announce that we have received a 2015 World Tour License and will race at the highest level of the sport in the upcoming season,” a statement on the team’s website read. “Thanks to riders, staff, family, sponsors, friends and fans for your support.”

While the License Commission has ratified Ride-Kleen’s registration for 2015, it will be subjected to an independent audit and forced to adhere to stricter operational requirements for the coming season.

UCI president Brian Cookson stated, “The case of the Ride-Kleen team remains a very serious situation for our sport given the fact that no one in their organization has ever been implicated in doping. We shall be following the situation very closely and are planning to review the results of the audit. Meanwhile, the team will have to comply with the requirements imposed by the License Commission to ensure that they are brought up to speed in blood manipulation and other standard cheating methods as quickly as possible. The combined effect of this is that until they have demonstrated a top-to-bottom commitment to doping, Ride-Kleen can be considered very much to be on probation.”

Cookson said earlier that the approval from the UCI License Commission came before it received the new allegations by an Italian investigation which accused Ride-Kleen of systematic non-doping. The statement by the commission confirmed this. “If evidence of systematic non-doping is confirmed, and witnesses testify that the team is not run by a bunch of lying, cheating, scumsucking dirtbags, we will certainly re-evaluate the situation and, if necessary, require withdrawal of the license.”

The License Commission was asked to review Ride-Kleen’s status after the non-EPO positives of brothers George and Goody Twoshoes, and the failure of trainee Sammy Samaritan to test positive for steroids or any other banned substances this year.

With regard to the Armenian team’s poor record of non-doping in the past, the commission stated that Ride-Kleen’s current system of learning how to dope properly has strengthened its doping efforts. “The team has initiated a reorganization of all the support personnel of its riders in order to strengthen its fight against non-doping within the team to ensure greater cheating and access to powerful and potentially life-threatening drugs,” the commission wrote. “In view of the years of non-doping cases that have occurred within the team, it is therefore essential to monitor the implementation of such measures on the ground. They will need to have at least two bona fide mutants capable of riding with Froomster and Alberto by next July.”

Ride-Kleen has also volunteered to adhere to the strict standards proposed for the 2017 WorldTour, joining eight other teams in squirting every possible PED into their butts, posting “how-to” videos on YouTube, and working closely with George Hincapie’s youth development team to ensure that proper doping methods are learned early.

Ride-Kleen team manager Billy Boyscout, who himself served a ban for refusing illegal blood transfusions the 2007 Tour de France, was accused of working with unbanned doctor Suzy Straighennarrow, and referring riders to her in 2010, where they allegedly learned and implemented various strategies to ride without blood transfusions and Betsy. Ride-Kleen has been implicated in a number of other non-scandals in their eight-year existence, including the infamous 2011 Tour stage in which the riders were found to have water in their water bottles.

Italian website Tuttobiciweb got this reaction from Boyscout, who is with the team at the Big Baptist Summer Teetotaling Retreat in Waco, Texas. “We’ve been through some really difficult moments and the last few days haven’t been easy because there was obviously a lot of tension amongst the guys, worried that they’d be stranded without a team if the UCI decided to come down on us for non-doping. Now we can finally concentrate on getting ready for a great season and ramping up the EPO shipments from China. That’s the only thing that matters,” he said. “And now, if you don’t mind, my boys are waiting for me to tie the tourniquets and do our first ‘training’ session with the Ferraris.”

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She told two friends, and she told two friends, and …

December 10, 2014 § 14 Comments

There are three kinds of people with racing licenses.

  1. Racers. They race pretty much every weekend.
  2. Sorta racers. They race a few races each year.
  3. Fakesters. They have all the stuff, but none of the “stuff.”

If you promote bicycle races, aside from your obviously miserable financial judgment, your need for public abuse, and the strange satisfaction you get out of dealing with angry/stupid/selfish people, you have one really big need on race day, and it’s that people show up and race. For the most part, we expect you, the promoter, to promote your race. We’ll come if we feel like it, maybe.

This is a stupid model. Sure, the promoter should do his best to get people to race. He’s a fuggin’ promoter, for fugg’s sake.

But full fields have as huge a benefit to bike racers as they do to promoters. Full fields increase prize money. They increase sponsorship. They increase spectatorship. And most importantly, they help the promoter turn a profit, which encourages him to keep living in a tent and to promote more races next year. It’s my belief that fuller fields rather than emptier ones can be accomplished by the bike racers themselves, and in 2015 I’ll be giving my theory a shot. Here it is:

People who fit into category #1 above are the backbone, the meat and potatoes of racing. Guys like Brauch, Tinstman, Wimberley, and Charon are just some of the riders who show up week in, week out, with no prodding or encouragement. They live to race. More about them later.

People who fit into category #3 we can forget. They will never race. It doesn’t matter why; the fact that they’re on a race team, that they have team race gear, that they love to talk and read about bike racing is irrelevant. They would rather do a hundred group rides, team training camps, and century rides, than sign up for a single 45-minute USA Cycling crit. Forget them.

People who fit into category #2 are the rest of us, and we hold the key to successful turnout on race day. Sorta racers make annual race calendars, target certain races, and do lots of actual training. Sorta racers are sorta fit in January and sorta wrecked by late April. Sorta racers have no trouble putting in 15-20 hours a week on the bike, but lots of trouble doing more than a handful of races. Sorta racers have detailed excuses for not racing on race day, even when they’ve planned to race. Sorta racers think a lot about racing early in the season, and focus on kiddie soccer games, “work,” honey-do’s, “the high cost of racing,” safety, and butt pimples as reasons to stop thinking about racing later in the season.

In short, we sorta racers are fence sitters. We wanna, but most of the time we don’t.

The difference between a felony conviction and staying at home is often the difference between a buddy saying “Let’s do it!” and not. Same goes for racing. As any salesman knows, the customer has to be asked to buy. And as any good salesman knows, “No, thanks” is simply an opportunity to ask again with greater skill and persuasiveness.

My best race in 2014 resulted from Derek B. asking me to go race with him. I didn’t really want to go, it was the last race of the season, I’m not good at crits, at age 50 I don’t belong in the 35+ superman category, I was tired from Saturday’s Donut Ride, I didn’t have a good set of race wheels, the entry fee was too high, the race was too short, and my butt pimples were suppurating.

All of those objections were overcome by the simple act of being asked because being asked to go race your bike with a friend is flattering, and it also puts you on the spot. The super excuse of butt pimples sounds awesome when you’re talking to yourself, but not so great when you have to mouth it to someone, especially someone you respect, as a reason for not lining up and actually using your $10k in gear and your 25 hours a week of profamateur preparation.

In short, the people who are committed to going to a race can boost race attendance by sending out three, or five, or ten emails, or even more outrageously by actually telephoning, or even more extremely by asking a pal face-to-face to sack up and go race together. If you’re one of the people who’s a dependable ironhead, make sure you ask a couple of other people to go race, and for dog’s sake don’t limit it to your teammates.

Why ask non-teammates to race? Because one of the reasons that guys who aren’t on big teams don’t race is because they hate rolling alone against the big teams and they need extra motivation to go out and get crushed. Again. Asking non-teammates shows that you value their presence, and it stimulates smaller teams to get their act together. A powerful motivator for people to race is having a rider complain to his teammates that he’s the only fuggin’ one in the race, so please come out and help.

Another reason that sorta racers don’t race is they simply forget. I’m going to this weekend’s CBR race because yesterday, on a training ride, I asked EA Sports, Inc. what he was doing this weekend. “I’m racing, dude. And so are you.” It wasn’t a question. It was an order, but it was also a reminder as I’d completely forgotten about the race.

If you’re one of the sorta racers who sorta races, on the days when you’re actually committed, make sure you ask several friends to go race with you. This locks YOU in when it comes time to scratch the b.p.’s and prevents you (hopefully) from bailing at the last minute, and it will encourage one or two other riders to join you. (Hint: Asking others to race with you can also involve sharing rides, splitting gas fees, and saving money!! If it’s a CBR race in LA, it means having someone to ride over to the race with.)

Finally, if you’re the leader of a team, have you reached out to every single rider via email and encouraged them to line up? Have you made two or twelve phone calls to the sorta racers who have hogged all your swag and been conspicuously absent on race days? No? Well, get callin’!

So, does it work? I think it does. I’ve sent out about ten emails and had one buddy confirm that he’s in. His comment? “I’m not very fit, but it’s been over a year since anyone asked me to go race, so, hell yeah.”

If you tell two friends, and he tells two friends, and he tells two friends, well, who knows? The “problem” of declining race participation might simply vanish.

END

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FOG’d

December 9, 2014 § 28 Comments

There is no greater fear than the Fear of Getting Dropped.

FOG’d.

I used to think it was a function of cowardice, because everyone gets dropped, and people who avoid rides because they’re afraid of droppage, well, come on. Eddy got dropped. Lance got dropped. The fastest guy on your group ride got dropped. And of course you got dropped — repeatedly. It’s the nature of the beast.

Since droppage is inherent in cycling, i.e. there is always a point where, when people are going hard enough, you will get shelled, I’ve never understood why people avoid hard rides or hilly races because of their FOG’d. On reflection, though, it’s not about cowardice. For some it’s about the humiliating nature of reality. Getting shelled every time, every climb, or coming off the back early in the ride/race means you’re not very good. The people riding away from you? They are better than you, and all of the complex emotional defense mechanisms that we generate to “attaboy” ourselves crumble when the peloton rolls away.

But that’s not the main reason for FOG’d. The main reason is primordial and lies with the herd and the tribe. Whether it’s solitary confinement or lagging behind the other zebras because of an injured leg, being culled from the group speaks to our most primitive fear of defenselessness and death. When the tribe can no longer support you, you were either put on an ice floe or taken to Obasute-yama. When you could no longer keep up with the healthy herd you fell prey to the wolves who forever shadowed the group, waiting precisely for you to stumble or lag, and then pull you down, and then sink their fangs into your throat as they sunk their bloody snouts into your gore-soaked entrails.

Starting out with the group, getting popped, and flailing home alone has all of those connotations, not to mention mile after mile of cursing the sorry bastards who didn’t even have the common courtesy to wait.

When I heard about Tony Manzella’s new  Dogtown Ride and glanced at the list of guys like Rudy Napolitano and Matt Cutler who were in attendance, I knew it would be a great ride. It would be great because, with 60 miles and 6k of climbing, it was going to be hilly and hard. I knew it would also be pitiless and therefore a small group. None of these guys were hand-holders. They might wait for a couple of minutes at the top of the first few climbs, but after a while if you couldn’t keep up you would suddenly remember a kiddie soccer game or a load of laundry or that this was December and not really part of your profamateur training plan.

The ride began at 8:00-ish at Dogtown Coffee on Main Street in Santa Monica. There were about 30 starters. After the first hour we were down to less than twenty. By the time we took our first rest stop at the bottom of Piuma there were about ten, and when we got back to Santa Monica there were perhaps eight riders left. I’m sure I’ve done harder rides with better riders, but I can’t really remember when.

And you know the funniest thing of all? At one point or another, almost everyone got dropped.

END

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Wankology

December 8, 2014 § 43 Comments

It is kind of complicated every time I meet an English person. They sound funny right away and I always try to guess where they’re from and I’m always wrong. I figure it’s got to be one of the former English colonies like South Africa, New Zealand, Austria, or even England itself, but I always pick wrong and the person is always mildly annoyed.

Then when they say they’re English I try to show that I’m a knowledgeable fellow and so I say, “Oh, really? What part?”

Then they get this look like “This bloke [that’s an English word meaning ‘fellow’] isn’t going to have a clue where my little corner of England is,” but they go ahead and tell me in order to be polite, somewhere like Leeds, or Glasgow, or Cardiff, or Dublin or one of the other major cities in England.

Of course I’m never sure where any of those places are so then they’re still trying to be polite and they’re like, “So have you ever been to the U.K.?” and I’m always like, “No,” and I explain how I’m not good with foreign languages and I’m always too embarrassed to ask them what’s the difference between the United Kingdom and Man United.

It’s also pretty awkward when I ask them what’s their favorite football team (that’s to show I know it’s not called “soccer” in England) because they kind of already know I don’t know anything about it and it’s probably the 400th time this conversation has happened this week, usually at the checkout stand or while buying some coffee, but most of the time I don’t tell them that I’m related to the queen.

However, one guy I sometimes ride with, Nancy, really can’t stand English people. “Fucking I hate ‘em,” Nancy will sometimes say if an English dude shows up on a ride. Of course he tends to say that to anyone new, but he specializes in English people because the ones that hang out over here tend to be complete badasses on the bike and they drop him immediately, which he doesn’t much care for.

“Really? How come?” I asked him one day.

“Fucking arrogant bastards, that’s why.”

“Arrogant about what?”

“Fucking act like they invented the fucking language.”

“Well, didn’t they?” I asked.

That didn’t sit very well with Nancy. “They act like they fucking know everything,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said, “I kind of see where you’re coming from. But you know, they have a pretty badass tradition of being, you know, pretty smart.”

“Smart about what?” he snarled.

“Not that it’s a lot, but you know, Shakespeare, Dickens, the first novel, pretty much all the books worth reading in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries that weren’t written by Mark Twain, and I’m pretty sure they discovered DNA, oh, and the Rolling Stones.”

Nancy got livid. “The Rolling Stones? Those fuckers stole our music!”

“Our music?”

“Fuck yeah! They just ripped off our American blues masters and commercialized it!” Nancy is super white.

“You mean the music of the black Americans who Elvis ripped off and commercialized?”

“Yeah!” he yelled.

“Seems to me that the English did what everyone else was doing on that score, they just did it better.”

“What the hell are you? Some English lover? I bet you drink tea.” About this time a group of riders pedaled by in the other direction.

“Man, that’s a pretty big group of wankers,” I said, trying to change the topic.

Nancy went ballistic. “Don’t you ever use that stupid fucking word around me again!” he screeched. “Do you even know what it means? It’s English talk for a jerk-off! It’s the worst thing a British person can say about someone! I hate that fucking word and now it’s everywhere because somebody on a stupid fucking moronic blog started using it like a cutesy word and now it’s wanker this and wanker that and wank the other and it makes me so sick I could kill someone! It’s like calling everyone ‘cum-face.’ You think that’s cute? Plus it’s English and it makes me fucking sick so for fuck’s sake don’t ever use that word again!”

Nancy’s veins from his excessive drinking had popped out all over his face and teeth and he was shivering from anti-imperialistic fervor. About this time Rodley pedaled up, as we had stopped at a red light so that Nancy could take his seizure pills. Rodley is the nicest guy you will ever meet. He put his foot down and smiled the friendliest smile. “Hey, wankers!” he said. “What’s up?”

I’m not sure what happened to Nancy because he got off his bike and began moaning, and a couple of English guys I know rolled by and they started explaining that the U.K. wasn’t a football (soccer) team. I hope Nancy is okay.

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Craft water

December 7, 2014 § 34 Comments

Newsflash: It’s damned hard to quit drinking.

In addition to all of the other wonderful symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, after putting down the beer mug for a couple of days everything starts to look like a tall, frothy, Racer 5 IPA. My coffee. The bike stand. The toilet bowl. That street person pushing a cart and asking me for a dollar. They say that all of this has to do with the fact that I’m an addict, but that’s not true.

I’m not an addict, I’m a drunk. Addicts are people who have a handle on the fact that they’re addicted, whereas a drunk is just a deadbeat who can’t stay out of the gutter. Drunks have to work really hard, up their game, and get their self-awareness going in order to graduate to addict level. So AA is out for me; I can see my first meeting already.

Head addict (after my 57th meeting): “So, would you like to say something?”

Me: “Yeah. I got a question.”

Head addict: “Go ahead.”

Me: “How come I’m hanging out with all you addicts?”

So I’ve pretty much despaired of improving enough to reach addict status. There are some dark curtains that I just can’t bear to peek behind. Instead, I’ve decided to simply stop being such a worthless fuggin’ drunk, and, as noted above, it’s hard. However, I’m developing some workarounds and am laying them out here in the event they might be useful for someone out there, in other words, for me.

First, since I don’t think I’ll ever get my act together enough to become an addict, my goal isn’t to quit drinking. To the contrary, my goal is to drink, and to drink four shit-tons and half an assload. I’m making plans to drink so much beer that it will make all prior bad decisions, terrible hangovers, and legendary family embarrassments look like Drosophila malanogaster compared to the Death Star.

That’s not all, that’s just the start. After I descend into the endless drunk from hell I’m going to really turn up the gas by going on a 14-day bender. I pledge to start drinking as soon as I get up and to not stop until I’m in jail or dead or both. People will say in later years when someone’s bragging to them about the night before, “Yeah, sounds like you pulled a Wanky.” It will be the gold standard for self-destructive, alcohol-addled misbehavior resulting in the devastation of entire city blocks.

However, in order to pull this off I need to get into training, and as cyclists all know, training requires a kind of committed asceticism. In other words, to do this with maximum effect I need to completely detox and purify my body so that I can hit it when it’s defenseless and unable to respond, kind of like when I show up and register at those kiddie races and whip ass on all the three- and four-year-olds. This phase of the plan is already working, but it’s going to take time get really clean enough for this maxi-bender to have maximum effect. A long time.

Second, while I’m purifying my body, which is my temple, before I pillage and ransack it, I’m setting a clear and immoveable date for this off-wagon leap which will be longer, deeper, farther, and atop more nuclear-tipped land mines than any wagon-offloading in the history of drinking. The date for this? Tomorrow.

Third, in order to make this as spectacular as possible, I’m taking a vow to not have a drop of beer today. In fact, following through on that very simple vow has been difficult since I took it a couple of weeks ago, especially since I’m such a dedicated liar, and especially since the oath was sworn to myself, the person who I can most easily deceive and never be the wiser. Yet as I get through each today without a drink it only prepares me better for the glory and happiness that awaits me tomorrow, when I’m gonna drink all the beer in the South Bay as my fuggin’ warm-up.

Fourth, the only way to keep from drinking today is by relying on friends, and they’ve responded in a variety of subtle and overt ways. Some have texted, some have Facebagged, some have called, some have come over in person. Some have joked, some have spoken in earnest, some have shared their experiences, some have encouraged, some have challenged, some have implored. Today a buddy offered this with regard to hanging out in bars–“If you spend enough time in a barbershop, you’re eventually gonna get a haircut.”

Each and every friend has made my resolve strong enough to do the only thing I have to do before I go on my bender: Not have a beer today.

While I was riding yesterday and complaining about how everything looked like a yummy IPA, including the Pacific Ocean over on our left, my buddy was telling me about his Thanksgiving in Ohio, about all the great food, and about what a good time he’d had.

“They have a ton of great craft beer in the Midwest,” I said.

He looked at me. “You know what they have in the Midwest?”

“What?”

“They have a ton of great craft water. Really good stuff, hand brewed, various flavors and varieties, and it goes great with pretty much everything you’ll ever eat.”

“Craft water?”

“Yeah,” he said, peering steadily at me. “Craft water. And that’s what you need to develop a taste for.”

The ride continued for a few hours until we were both extremely tired and hungry. As we rolled through Abbott-Kinney we could smell the food. “Man, I’m hungry.”

“Me, too,” he said.

“And I’m thirsty,” I said.

“Me, too.”

Then I broke. “Dude, I’m gonna pull over and have a beer.” I fell apart just like that, all the miserably hard work and effort and fatigue and irritableness and depression lunging up in ecstatic happiness as I contemplated my first cold beer.

My buddy looked over at me. “No, you’re not. Not on my watch.”

We continued home, so it looks like I’ve ticked another today off the calendar. And in the meantime, please pass the craft water, the one with hints of minerals, overtones of PVC pipe, and a slightly arsenic-y finish. Yum.

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