July 3, 2014 § 44 Comments
In the late 1960’s if you were a kid and you wanted to go somewhere, you went by bicycle. Soccer moms hadn’t been invented yet, and during the summertime if you wanted to leave the house you had to pedal. And you always wanted to go somewhere because the alternative to outside was inside.
Inside meant nothing to do, absolutely nothing. TV for kids didn’t start until re-runs at 3:30 or 4:00, and since we didn’t have a television it didn’t matter anyway. Even the kids who had TV were up by seven and had the whole day to kill until they could watch Speed Racer or Ultraman in the late afternoon.
Inside there was a big box of comics that you had read ten thousand times. There was a stack of records you’d listened to a million times. So the only way you were going to have fun was by hanging out with your friends.
Someone in the neighborhood could always be counted on to want to steal something, beat someone up (hopefully not you, but sometimes it didn’t work out that way), start a game of baseball that would end in a fight, start a game of touch football that ALWAYS became tackle football and ended in a fight, throw things at cars and run away, smoke cigarettes, or see if someone’s older sister would show us her breasts.
The only way to find out what was going on and who was doing what was by using a bicycle cellphone.
You couldn’t call on the home phone because first and foremost, guys never called guys. It was un-guyly to begin with, and fraught with peril because the phone was always in some parent’s bedroom or in the living room. That’s “the phone” as in “the one phone in the entire house.” And it was black and it had a rotary dial with a piece of paper in the middle of the dial that had your phone number written on it in case you were too stupid to remember your own phone number, which no one was because the number was the same your entire life.
Mine was (713) 666-7639.
If Sam Rodriguez had stolen some of his brother’s drugs you couldn’t ask about it on the phone — his mom might be there, and so might yours. It was only by dialing the old bicycle cellphone over to a friend’s house that you could find out what was going on and if anyone wanted to play.
Of course with a bicycle cellphone you often got a busy signal. “Hello, Miz Schuermann. Is Mark home?”
“Why no, he isn’t, Seth.”
“Do you know where he is?”
“He may be over at John Sweeney’s.”
So you’d have to pedal over to John’s house a few blocks away and hope that he was there. Parents often had no idea where their kids were, and never had any idea what they were doing or when they would be home, except that it would be shortly before dinner.
Sometimes you’d have to go to several houses, then to the pool, and then to the park before you found anyone. That old bicycle cellphone would get dialed to hell and back before someone answered. And once you hooked up with your pals you’d ride somewhere else — the 7-11 to steal candy or play pinball, back to the pool for a swim to see if you could catch some girl’s top or bottom getting jerked down when she went off the high dive, or over to the Duques’ to see if anyone had any dope to smoke.
This meant you were always on your bike. More than that, it meant that the lousiest rider in the gang had “skilz.”
When I see new cyclists in their teens or early twenties, I always marvel at the things they can’t do. They can’t ride with their hands off the bars. They have trouble pulling out a water bottle without wobbling like a drunk staggering home from the bar. They can’t hop a curb. They clumsily totter at stoplights when they come to a stop. In short, there is a whole range of skills they never learned because they never had a bicycle cellphone to take them all over the neighborhood. When we wanted to see porn, we had to pedal all the way over to Patrick Klepfer’s place, where his big brother had a stash of Penthouse magazines, and after marveling at the anatomy we would gleefully read the Letters. Nowadays kids don’t need a cellphone bicycle to see porn, they just tap-and-jerk.
It was a matter of a couple of bike rides for me to learn how to use toeclips and toestraps when I got my first road bike. Why? Because sticking your foot into a metal cage and cinching down the strap was nothing compared to the ramps.
We had two. One was on the way to school, on Pine Street just before you got to Braeburn Elementary. There was a big ditch that ran parallel to the road. You’d start fifteen or twenty yards back and pedal like hell for the lip of the ditch. Then you’d shoot down into the ditch and up the other side, “catching air.” The landing zone was about five feet long, and you had to time it perfectly or you’d fly off the curb and into oncoming traffic.
No one got killed, but we had plenty of close calls. The idols could catch huge air, hit the ground, and stop just before going over the curb. We wankers would catch little air, close our eyes, and pray that the cars were paying attention.
The big ramp was on Chimney Rock. It had a long dirt entry, went down into a very deep ditch, and came up a vertical lip that was much higher than the entry lip. If you didn’t have huge speed you wouldn’t even make it over, and would tip backwards, cracking your head and spine as you backflipped into the ditch. If you had huge speed you would go so high in the air that without perfect positioning you’d have your forehead staved in by the giant tree limbs that overhung the landing zone.
Our parents never paid attention to us when we came home covered in dirt and smeared with blood. How else WOULD we have come home?
As I pedaled along the bike path the other day, despairing of this younger generation that doesn’t instinctively know how to avoid death and dismemberment on a bicycle, I saw something that made my heart sing.
It was a 12 or 13-year-old kid on a cruiser bike with a surfboard racked to the side of the bike. He had one hand on the bars and was texting with the other. No helmet, pedaling in flip-flops. The path was crowded and he weaved between countless Obstacles of Death. He hit a thick patch of sand, barely stayed upright with one hand, and never stopped texting despite narrowly avoiding a head-on collision with a baby stroller. He might even have been high.
My optimism for the future of America has never been greater.
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July 1, 2014 § 25 Comments
The guy who fired me was an asshole, but that’s only partly why he let me go. The other half of the equation was me: I’m the easiest guy in the world to work with but the hardest person in the world to manage. This is because I don’t like being told what to do, which is, you know, one of the most basic prerequisites for holding down a job, or life.
There were other reasons, of course. My boss was a cheapskate and he was paying me a lot of money, and once he’d profited from the changes I had brought to his shop, there was no reason to keep me on. Use ‘em and kick ‘em out the door because, ‘Murica. So there I was, unemployed a month before Christmas, one kid in college, two at home, and a wife who didn’t work. I was also living in one of the most expensive places in Southern California and the housing crash and Great Recession were just starting to peak.
The last thing anyone anywhere was hiring was another plaintiff’s lawyer.
When things are grim I have found that it is usually best to ride my bike. This is a proven way of avoiding the nasty consequences of whatever’s bugging you, and no matter how dire your circumstances are, they’ll feel less dire when you go pedal around for a few hours. It’s also a guaranteed way to run into other bikers, and when you’re down and out, no one cheers you up like a fellow parishioner at the Church of the Spinning Wheel.
One Saturday in the middle of this mess I ran into Michael. I knew who he was from the Donut Ride but had never introduced myself.
“Hi, I’m Seth,” I said.
“Michael.” He stuck out his hand and when I shook it, it was firm and solid. And although I don’t put too much stock in these kinds of things, he looked me straight in the eye, a look of kindness and friendship. The corners of his mouth turned up slightly, not a grin but a pleasant smile. With a few physical nuances he had convinced me to trust him in the first five seconds.
“You’re a lawyer, right?”
“Yes.” He didn’t add any of those fake comments like “don’t hold it against me” or “unfortunately.”
“What kind of law do you practice?”
“I’m a lawyer, too, but I just got laid off. Any chance I might come by your office and chat for a few minutes later this week?”
“Sure. You have kids, don’t you?”
This seemed like a strange question, rather out of the blue. “Yes. Three.”
“No.” I couldn’t help wondering why he was asking about my family. Surely it was obvious I was going to ask him for help finding a job.
“Why don’t you swing by Monday around five? I’m usually back from court by then.”
“Will do. Thanks.”
I went to his office at the appointed time and he graciously welcomed me. I told him my situation and wondered if he might be able to help my job search. “I will certainly try,” he said. At the time I didn’t know that when Michael said he would do something he always did it, and that there were no exceptions.
After an hour or so he changed the subject. “I understand you’re pretty familiar with Internet marketing.”
“Yes,” I said.
He asked me some questions and I answered them. They were simple and straightforward. That part of our exchange took about five minutes. “Well,” he said, “thank you for your help.”
“My help? I’m the one who should thank you. I really appreciate your making time for me and asking around on my behalf.”
“No,” he said. “Not at all, I’m happy to do it. And thank you for your professional advice regarding online marketing.” He stood up and lifted an envelope off his desk. It had my name printed on it. As he handed it to me, he said “Thanks again for your consultation.”
“Whoa,” I said, pushing his hand away. “I came here to ask for help and you have generously given it. I can’t accept anything from you. Five minutes of Internet marketing advice is nothing. I’m honored to be able to do it, and it’s nothing you couldn’t have found after a quick search on Google.”
Michael looked at me with kindness, but it was unyielding kindness. “You’ve given me the benefit of your professional expertise,” he said. He held out the envelope again.
I was humbled, and hungry, and desperate. So I took it.
When I got home I opened the envelope and couldn’t believe what I saw: a check that ensured that I, my wife, and kids would be provided for through year’s end, and then some.
I’m pretty sure that Michael hasn’t thought about it since then, but I think about it almost every single day.
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June 28, 2014 § 170 Comments
After experimenting with riding in the lane on the fastest, most heavily trafficked section of Pacific Coast Highway between Temescal Canyon and Trancas, I reached the following conclusions.
- A large group of 10 or more riders can do it easily and safely with little or no cager hostility.
- A small group of 2-4 riders will get a small amount of harassment in the form of honking and yelling, with an occasional chop.
- Riding in the lane and obeying the traffic laws while politely defending my right to be there is safer and more enjoyable riding on the edge of the lane or in the gutter.
Last Sunday I rode by myself, further testing the practice, curious to see what the difference in cager reaction would be towards a small group versus a solo rider. Exiting onto PCH at Temescal Canyon at about 8:00 AM, I elicited six quick angry honks, but not much else all the way to Cross Creek and back. My confidence soared.
Then yesterday morning I took the plunge, getting out solo on PCH at about 7:00 AM on a Friday morning. It was the worst cycling experience of my life. As dedicated as I am to lane control on this stretch of PCH, I simply cannot recommend that a solo rider tackle this stretch of road riding in the lane on a weekday morning.
I stopped counting the honks at fifty, and that was only until Cross Creek. One driver after Pepperdine got on my rear and laid on his horn for almost a full minute. I was buzzed several times, and although this has never really bothered me in the past because buzzers usually pass with plenty of room, one cager missed me by less than a foot. I was flipped off and yelled at continually.
The hatred and anger fed on itself; as one motorist began honking, others would lay on their horns as well. I noticed that by far and away the most common harassing vehicle type was a pickup, usually with a toolbox in the back or a modified tool rack in the bed. Young surfer types in cheap cars were also more likely to honk, but I was blasted by everyone.
Going up Pepperdine I thought I would be killed. Drivers were screaming and tailgating, and a line of cars was backed up behind me in my lane. A succession of about ten cars in a row honked as they passed. I even got screamed at by a jogger who was running against traffic on the shoulder. “What’s wrong with you?” she yelled. I have pretty thick skin and am pretty good at holding my ground, but I was shaken. I’ve never been abused like this before on a bike, and the cute chick in pink running tights added insult to injury.
However, none of this was anything compared to what happened after climbing the hill past Latigo. Firmly in my lane, traffic backing up behind me, I heard the squeal of tires. My heart leapt into my mouth. “I’m going to get hit,” I thought. I looked back and a Toyota minivan packed with construction workers had avoided rear-ending me by a couple of feet.
They were laughing, doubtless from the look of abject fear on my face.
I wasn’t just terrified, I doubted the principle that you’re safer in the lane — at least riding solo on this stretch of PCH during a workday. One of the criticisms that gutter bunnies make about lane control is that riding in the lane makes you more liable to getting hit from behind. Despite thousands of miles in the lane, I’ve never had a cager rear-end me or even come close, but it almost happened yesterday.
The minivan changed lanes and raced by, and a pickup got on my tail and started honking and gesturing. I was still shaking from the minivan, so I flipped him off. He raced past and pulled over, jumping out of his truck and motioning me to stop.
We had a heated exchange. He told me to ride “in my lane,” pointing to the shoulder where he was parked.
“That’s not a lane, it’s a shoulder, and the law doesn’t require me to ride there.”
“Yeah? Well you’re a fucking idiot because you almost got killed. And you could have killed someone else!”
“By making someone hit the person in the car who hit you, asshole!”
“So it’s my fault when a driver runs me over illegally and then someone who’s tailgating him has an accident?”
“You’re fucking right it is! Get out of the road! You were in the middle of the fucking lane! You have the whole goddamned shoulder! What’s wrong with you? You’re a complete fucking idiot!”
I thought he was going to punch me out. I tried to stick to the law and my right to be there, but I was still shaking from fear, and the conversation got crazier. “I don’t give a shit about the law!” he said. “Your Nigerian president spies on me with his fucking IRS and lets all these fucking Mexicans into the country. What about those laws? People break laws all the time!”
The only thing that might have fanned the flames was to mention the 2nd Amendment or maybe Benghazi, or to tell him that it was Kenya not Nigeria. “You don’t seem real happy about laws being broken,” I said.
“Damn right I’m not!”
“So why are you making the case that it’s okay to break the traffic laws? I have a right to be here.”
“Fuck you! This isn’t a goddamned debate it’s a fucking freeway! You are gonna be in the right all the way to the fucking morgue and you’re gonna kill someone else. Hope you and your fucking legal rights are happy! And I’ll tell you something else. You are the biggest idiot I have ever met in my whole fucking life. Goody-bye, Big Fucking Idiot!”
With that he got back in the cab and drove off, but not before I started again, got out in the lane, and made him pass me in the other lane.
Still, I was shaken, and worse, my ride was worse than an 8-hour trip to the dentist. When PCH turned into two lanes past Yerba Buena, I moved over onto the shoulder. My stress level plunged. I was happier dodging shit and running over glass and nails than getting continually harassed.
On the return trip I stayed in the shoulder except for sections — particularly past Cross Creek — where the parked cars are right against the fog line and there’s nothing to do but get in the lane. Moreover, when I did get in the lane I never ventured more than two or three feet from the edge, even though this encouraged cagers to squeeze by in my lane, passing me uncomfortably closely.
When I got back to the bike path at Temescal, I was relieved beyond belief.
So although I still think that group riding in the lane is the way to go for this roadway, it’ll be a while before I tackle it again solo on a workday morning.
In order to make this stretch safe, and more importantly, enjoyable for bicyclists riding solo, much work needs to be done. More groups need to take the lane so that cagers expect us there. Shared lane markings need to be put in the lane, along with plentiful “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signage. The people who are advocates for lane control need to get their asses out on PCH on a workday morning, solo, and ride this stretch of roadway. And don’t be surprised at the brown stripe in your chamois after you get home.
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June 27, 2014 § 21 Comments
CitSB sat down with Trek Factory Racing team manager Luca Guercilena to talk about the team’s 2014 TdF roster, announced two days ago.
CitSB: So it looks like Trek will be pinning its hopes on the single biggest bedwetter in pro cycling, his doped up older brother, and an over-the-hill-doper-who-never-got-busted?
Guercilena: That is outrageous and insulting. I wouldn’t call him a bedwetter. More like a nervous tinkler.
CitSB: Most observers agree that this is the team’s weakest Tour lineup ever. What gives?
Guercilena: Well, when we saw Team Sky drop Wiggins even though he had won the Tour of California, done well in Roubaix and Flanders, and had committed to help Froome, it was pretty clear.
CitSB: What was?
Guercilena: That to manage a winning pro cycling team you must be a complete idiot.
CitSB: But even with a colossal, hopelessly stupid person such as yourself, how can you expect to win with the Schlecks?
Guercilena: It will not be so difficult. Andy has been building since his Paris-Nice DNF in 2012. He had a very strong ride in the second stage that year, finishing 113th. It was impressive.
CitSB: It was?
Guercilena: Yes, especially when you consider how he followed it with his DNF in the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya. Let’s remember that he came in 104th in the first stage before giving up and quitting.
CitSB: I don’t think we’ve forgotten.
Guercilena: Then he continued his build with his 2012 DNF at the Brabantse Pijl. In this DNF he fought with great courage before throwing in the towel at Mile 45, and he followed it up with his amazing Stage Six flop-n-drop in the Criterium du Dauphine. When he quit that race it was a victory; his fans were thrilled. As William Stone reminds us, it is not winning that makes a winner, but rather a juice box and the courage to not admit defeat even when, in the face of defeat, you are soundly defeated.
CitSB: Is that when they started calling him The Bedwetter?
Guercilena: No, that was before. A few days after the Dauphine he confirmed his promise with a strong DNF at the Binche-Tournai-Binche/ 3rd Mémorial Frank Vandenbroucke. It was impressive the way he sobbed and hit his handlebars in frustration. The fans went wild at this display of raw competitive emotion.
CitSB: Yes. Yes, they did.
Guercilena: And how can we forget the cherry on top, the icing on the cake in 2012, the cornerstone of his preparation, when he bailed during Stage Six at the Tour of Beijing after strong placings in the previous stages of 137th, 132nd, 137th, and next-to-last? He quit that race with gusto, let me tell you! The Chinese government released 4 gigatons of coal smoke in celebration. It was beautiful!
CitSB: Fans went wild again, I’m guessing?
Guercilena: Oh, absolutely, the ones who didn’t die from the smoke. And the one pretty girl in Luxembourg sent him her 76th wedding proposal, a fitting end to a great year. And 2013 continued his march, building his momentum even stronger. He began with a powerful DNF in the Santos Tour Down Under, followed it with a devastating DNF in the Tour Méditerranéen Cycliste Professionnel, crushed the peloton with a masterful quitting performance in the Strade Bianchi, and culminated his March training block with an unbelievable DNF at Tirreno-Adriatico.
CitSB: Why was it unbelievable?
Guercilena: You jest, no? He grimaced, he suffered, he endured, he wrecked himself until he could do more. It was beautiful suffering. And then halfway through the first stage there was no more, he was spent, he had given all he had. How you Americans say? He left it all on a toad.
CitSB: The fans went nuts again, right?
Guercilena: Yes. The girl from his home country (her name is Hilda) sent him flowers and a certificate that she was also a 17-year-old virgin, Luxembourg’s first.
CitSB: Then what?
Guercilena: The rest has been history “writ large” as they say. Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, DNF. Amstel Gold Race, DNF. GP Oueste Plouay, DNF. Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec, DNF. Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal, DNF. Milano-Torino, DNF. Il Lombardia, DNF.
CitSB: Pretty amazing palmares.
Guercilena: And let’s not forget that as the team’s most highly paid stage racer he finished an impressive 20th in the Tour that year, 40th in the Tour de Suisse, 25th in the Tour of California and 35th in the US Pro Challenge.
CitSB: Sounds like he’s peaking for 2014.
Guercilena: Exactly, and his schedule confirms it. With a DNF in the Criterium Internationale this year, a DNF at Amstel Gold, a DNF at Flèche-Wallone, a DNF at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, a DNF at the GP du canton d’Argovie, and a stunning 29th place at the Tour de Suisse, no one can say that he is not poised to do what he does best.
Guercilena: We can only hope.
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June 26, 2014 § 39 Comments
We were riding along, not very fast, in the middle of the lane on PCH just past Pepperdine. A big new Ford SUV pulled up alongside us, slowly, with the window rolled down. The guy in the passenger seat stuck his head out the window. He had a joint in one hand and his eyes were redder than a Bloody Mary.
“Dude,” he said. “You need to get out of the road.”
“I need a lot of things,” Jay said to him. “But I’m pretty sure that’s not one of them.”
“Cool, man,” said the stoner, taking another hit on the joint. “Whatever.”
We rode on for a while. Then, a couple of miles before we got to the long downhill at Zuma Beach, we heard a different kind of honk, the braaaat of a cop car followed by a siren burst.
“Oh, boy,” said Kenny. “Here we go.”
We pulled out of the lane and onto the shoulder. The deputy sheriff got out, cherries and berries flashing away.
“Hi, officer,” I said.
“Hi, there,” he answered. He wasn’t angry or rude or aggro, just professional and polite. “Would you guys all come over here so I can talk to you together?” We gathered around — Kenny, Jay, Peyton, David, and I. “So can you tell me why you guys are riding out in the middle of the lane?”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “It’s kind of a long story, but we met with Captain Patrick Devoren back in January, him and the sergeant, and we discussed the issue of bicycling on PCH and enforcement of CVC 21202 and its requirement that we ride as far to the right as practicable.”
“Okay,” said the deputy.
“And we discussed the fact that 21202 has a couple of exceptions that, when certain conditions exist, no longer require us to right as far to the right as practicable.”
“Which exceptions are those? I don’t think I’m familiar with them.”
“One is when a bike and car can’t safely share the lane. Another is when the lane is of substandard width. When those conditions exist, we can occupy the full lane.”
“Why can’t you safely share the lane with a car?” he asked.
“Well, we need about 5 to 6 feet total, taking into account the width of the bike and the natural lateral movement of the bike for those of us who can’t ride in a perfectly straight line. These lanes on PCH are all about 11 to 12 feet, so that puts the total amount of space needed very close to the center of the lane. A car, pickup, van, or truck can’t fit into the remaining 6 or 7 feet of lane space safely next to a bike without running it over.”
From that point on we talked about the safety of riding in the lane versus hugging the fog line; the unsafe nature of the shoulder with its debris and pavement irregularities; hostile drivers; the unlikelihood that there would ever be a bike lane on PCH; the right of bikes to use the roadways; the risk of road rage induced by bikes in the lane; the necessity of patrol officers to interpret the law as required to provide for the public safety; the rules of the road as they relate to backed up traffic and when those rules apply.
I also explained that although there was certainly some risk of getting hit by an enraged driver, in all of the bike-car accident cases I’ve handled, only one was caused by something close to road rage. The rest were the result of the driver not seeing the cyclist and hitting him when he was either on the shoulder or over on the edge of the road.
It was a great conversation that ended with the officer enjoining us to ride with care and agreeing that we could ride in the lane. The deputy was a credit to the L.A. Sheriff’s Department and treated us with respect.
We continued on to Decker Lane, climbed it, descended Encinal, and rode in the lane all the way from Encinal back to Temescal Canyon. We got honked at less than half a dozen times on the way back and got shouted at once or twice. By the time we got back on the bike bath we’d begun waving at every person who honked or shouted, and had stopped taking umbrage at the honking. We saw it instead as a cager saying “I see you. Fuck you, but I see you.”
A copy of the letter that I sent to Captain Devoren is printed below:
Hi, Captain Devoren
Just a note to let you know that I and four other cyclists were pulled over yesterday by Deputy Mulay near Zuma Beach while riding north on PCH. He very professionally and respectfully initiated a discussion with us regarding why we were riding in the lane. It was not hostile or confrontational in any way. We talked about the hazards of riding on the shoulder and talked about the exceptions to CVC 21202 – substandard lane width, or when bike and car can’t safely travel together in the same lane – as reasons that we were not required to ride as far to the right as practicable and were legally entitled to make full use of the right-hand lane.
He shared concerns about safety, about shared use of the roadway, and about his work as it involves ensuring safe use for cyclists and motorists. It was a great discussion and reflected well on your department and the respectful way they interact with us cyclists. After we finished talking, we continued on our way, utilizing the full lane without incident all the way to Decker Lane and then back again to Temescal Canyon. I really appreciate the time you and your staff spent with me, Eric Bruins, and Gary Cziko back in January to discuss proper enforcement of CVC 21202 on PCH as well as motorist/cyclist issues on this beautiful but sometimes congested road.
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June 24, 2014 § 28 Comments
One of the things that comes with the Parent Package is an item known as “Regret ™ .” It is included with every shipment at no extra cost, it lasts for a lifetime, it never wears out, and it works especially well late at night, when all is quiet except for the sounds in your head.
The family I grew up in was almost the last one that participated in the cycle of violence. This is a simple cycle. Parent hits child, child grows up, hits his child, that child grows up, etc.
Our earliest family violence stories were about ol’ Great Granda Edward. He walked from Leesville to Alpine, Texas when he was sixteen, a very solid 500-mile stroll. In Alpine he bought a team of mules and became a freight hauler. Then he inherited some money from a childless great-aunt he’d never heard of in Philadelphia, so he bought a ranch.
When he wanted to make a point with his two sons, Frank and Eddie, he made it with a two-by-four and with his fists. My grandfather Frank got his points across with severe beatings. My dad vented his job/family/life frustrations with belt whippings, although many of them were richly deserved, like the time we mined the alley out back with a hundred broken bottles and watched gleefully as all the cars got double or even quadruple flats.
My own ventures in corporal punishment were brief — a few spankings when my daughter was two or three, and then one day I realized it was wrong, realized how much I’d hated being hit, and never hit her again. My two boys have never been hit, and they’ve never complained to me about it.
Still, just because our family has evolved out the beatings doesn’t mean that I’m not a victim of the frustrations and annoyances and anger that buffeted my dad, or my granddad, or my great grandfather. Take, for instance, beer.
A couple of months ago I hit on the bright idea to recruit my youngest son as the family brewmeister. What could be better than having a son who brewed your beer for you? We bought a brewing kit, he read up on the process, and after a long while we started on the first batch. I’m not much of a cook or a chemist, so I “supervised” by standing around and taking orders.
After a couple of weeks the beer had stopped fermenting and it was time for bottling. “You gonna bottle that beer tomorrow?” I asked.
“I thought I was the one in charge.”
That stung. “You are, but is it just going to sit there forever?”
“No. I’m gonna bottle it.”
“Because mom is making me go watch her Michael Jackson flashmob in Santa Monica and I’ll be too tired to bottle five gallons of beer.”
The way he spoke to me was a way that, if I’d ever spoken in such a way to my father, would have resulted in a memorable beating. I felt my blood heat up, then simmer, then boil. “When are you gonna do it then?”
“Monday, after summer school.”
“Why don’t you do it today?”
“You said we were going to ride bikes today.”
It was already six o’clock, I was wrecked from the Donut Ride, and I knew he didn’t want to ride bikes. It was a strategic ploy to force me off the beer gambit. My legs ached and I got so angry. Now I’d have to either admit that I didn’t really want to ride bikes either (he’d win) or I’d have to go ride (legs would fall off), and in either case the beer would get put on hold. He had me.
“Fine,” I said, even though it wasn’t fine. “Suit up.”
I stomped into my room and pulled on my kit. The anger was profound, and what made it worse is that he wasn’t upset at all. “Sure!” he said.
All of our previous rides had involved driving down the hill and commencing our rides in Torrance or on the gradual rollers. The reason was simple: leaving from our place meant a 10-minute descent and an awful, 2-mile climb with a couple of very severe pitches. I knew that there was no way he could make it up the hill, so we had always driven.
But this evening I still had one move left in this chess game, and I played it.
We rolled out. It was pretty obvious we weren’t taking the car. I never looked back as we dropped, descended, flew down towards Malaga Cove. He had never descended that far or that fast and now I was trapped in the full riptide of regret. “What if he fucking crashes? What if he gets killed?”
But we dropped like stones and all I could think was that we lived atop a high hill and if he was going to ride a bike with me, someday he’d have to ride it fast, and that some day was now, and anyway, it was way too late to turn around.
We reached the plaza. “Where are we going now?” he asked.
I made a loop through the parking lot and we started back up the hill. “Oh,” he said, looking at the wall of Via del Monte.
Now the regret took another phase; what I was doing was, it seemed to me, one step removed from a beating. I never looked back, but I didn’t have to. I heard him breathing, then grunting, and every minute I waited for him to say “Stop” or “I need to rest” or “I can’t.”
At one point after the hook turn he veered into a bush. “Goddamit,” I heard him curse. All I did was slow down, listening to him disentangle from the branches and get started again. The road flattened and then kicked up hard. He was gasping now. I hated myself and my father and my grandfather and my great-grandfather, but I couldn’t turn around and say a word of encouragement or do anything except push the pedals. It’s called the cycle for a reason.
He never stopped, though, or asked for mercy. Waiting for the light at Hawthorne I looked at him and said, “Good job.”
He didn’t look at me directly, only tried to catch his breath.
We got back home and he went in the door first. Yasuko was in the kitchen. “How was your ride?” she asked.
“It was so awesome!” he said. “I made it all the way up the hill without stopping!” Then he turned to me, beaming. “Thanks, dad!”
The beer didn’t seem very important anymore.
June 23, 2014 § 15 Comments
I was on my way to the Michael Jackson flash mob in Santa Monica (please shut up) and came up to the stoplight. There was a lot of traffic, and because it was Santa Monica, and because it was sunny, and because it was past the noon wake-up hour, the crazy people were out in force.
There was the toothless white man singing Swahili war songs. There was the shopping cart lady with four bags of empty plastic bottles slung over her shoulder. There was the toothless couple in their 70’s, he in a thong, she in a bikini (what is it about Santa Monica and bad teeth?). There was the fat shirtless dude shirt salmoning up the sidewalk with big steel hoops pierced through his nipples. There were the holistic women toting cloth shopping bags overflowing with kale, flanking a shaman who had a giant bone tied in his beard.
There were rich people trying to look poor. There were poor people trying to look rich. There was a dude carrying a surfboard wearing a wetsuit nowhere near the ocean. There was a dog adoption place. There was a farmers market filled with faux farmers.
The light turned green and a lady whizzed past me on her mountain bike. She was wearing black yoga pants that came down mid-calf, paired with a sleeveless white top, pink sneakers, flat pedals, and a white baseball cap. As she blitzed through the intersection she stuck her left hand directly out in front of her and shouted “Straight!”
Then a parked car on the right turned on its engine and the brake lights flashed. “Watch it!” she screamed. The car hadn’t even moved. A trash truck was doing its thing and blocking the bike lane, so she swerved like a pro slalom skier out into traffic, and screamed some more. “Everybody take cover!” she hollered. That, I had to admit, was a new on-the-bike warning.
I could see this was going to be good, so I picked up speed and started tailing her. She was in pretty good shape and ripped along in the bike lane, unevenly and unable to hold a line. The cars were barely going the speed of our bikes, and a convertible with four young women slowly passed us. “What are you looking at?” she roared. “Pay attention to the road!” Then she swerved in front of them, causing the driver to lock it up. “Goddamn you!” the crazy lady shouted. “God damn you to hell and back!”
At that split second another parked car started to open its door. She was no where near the door zone, but she let the poor guy have it, uttering a mighty shriek. “Watch your door! Watch your door! Watch your FUCKING DOOR!”
The guy jerked his door shut but hadn’t pulled his leg back in. It smacked his shin with a huge crunch. I heard him moan and curse as I cruised by.
Now crazy bicycle cat lady had a big old head of steam going. She was shoveling coal through the Ashland and Main intersection, and since there weren’t any cars to shout at, she abused a lady pushing a stroller. “Stay on the damned curb! How hard is it, fer Chrissake!” The lady hadn’t even started to move.
The faster she went, the more she shouted, and pointed, and cursed, and swerved. She finally caught the light at Ocean Park and let loose with a torrent of invective. “How fucking hard is it, morons?” she shouted. “HOW FUCKING HARD?” Watching the cross traffic lights change, she jumped the gun and rushed out into the intersection just as the light turned green. A guy coming the other way was trying to beat the yellow, and he braked hard, missing her by a couple of feet.
She never slowed down, but she roared and cursed and swerved and pointed and shook her fist. I was humping it to keep up with her, when I noticed something odd.
The long line of traffic was terrified. The entire stream of Sunday cars rolling down Main Street had one concern and one only: don’t hit the cat lady. The ones she made eye contact with got a fist shake and a curse. The ones who she passed, drivers who were minding their own business, got yelled at so loudly that you could see them start.
By the time we got to the Santa Monica Courthouse, she had whipped the whole lot of them. Straight-arming the traffic through Pico and rushing full bore towards the t-intersection, I marveled at her. This wasn’t lane control. It was lane domination. She was the spike-heeled, leather clad, whip-wielding dominatrix of the Santa Monica Sunday rush hour, and the more she cursed and yelled and abused the hapless drivers, the more they got the hell out of her way. She wasn’t even wearing a helmet.
We parted company on 2nd Street. I eased out into the lane as a bunch of cars started backing up behind me. I could feel what they were thinking, and I knew that all it would take to get them off my back was a good dose of crazy bicycle cat lady abuse. I turned around and looked at the angry driver, hunched over his steering wheel, pissed at having to troll for parking, pissed at being in his cage on such a pretty day, and most of all pissed at having to crawl along at 15 mph behind some dude riding around in his underwear. He shot me the scowl of a gun nut listening to a lecture about gun control.
I smiled and waved.
He relaxed and smiled back.
Then I mouthed the word “Thanks,” turned back around, and kept pedaling.
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