Weird funky brains tangled up in the sound all around us

March 11, 2014 § 15 Comments

I have come to accept that nothing is as it seems except for those things that appear incomprehensible, which is to say all people, each of us, you, me, your mother, your father, and the real person inside the true person inside the secret you.

One of the craggy inscrutables was always Dave, with his wry grin and potato-chip-thin build and weird way of talking and weirder way of spelling and writing, weird because he was Plan II and had read books and had written sentences, in theory at least, to get through his rigorous liberal arts college degree, but maybe he’d forgotten all of that? Maybe he’d had the whole four years ghostwritten? Maybe he was beyond grammar and syntax and spelling and normal speech because you know, he raced bikes for Labor Power and when you raced bikes in the long cruel shadow of MKA, the self-invented caricature of a cartoon, the loneliest one always surrounded by people, maybe you have to forfeit the common currency of language as we know it and speak only in tongues, mystic ones understood by a nation of two, or even fewer.

And then!

That tumbling moment of car and bike and crush of bone on steel and hospital and blood and bills and the poor Mexican in the next room who was hurt in some horrific industrial accident and who they slapped Band-Aids on and hustled out asap because NO INSURANCE AMIGO while they plugged and prodded and poked and rode the rich bitch of Dave’s comprehensive health insurance policy until he was sewed and screwed and glued back together as good as new except, you know what?

He wasn’t.

Humpty was put back together again but they left out the bicycle, the screaming madness down a wild and woolly hill surrounded on all sides by other idiots who thought the glory of a city limit sprint or the cheapass trinket for winning a forgettable race in some shithole in the desert made it worth risking this, the only time that Dog has granted us, privileged us, us in all of the universe and in all of infinity and the space-time continuum, and you’re gonna squander even a second of it on a fuggin bicycle race?

No, that part got dropped in the gut bucket when they put Dave back together, so he had the memory and the love and the camaraderie and the sensations of having been buried deep in the bike delusion but he got sprung from the ICU free, free of the baggage, nothing left to show, nothing left to prove, hand up a bottle, help the boys get ready before the race but my time in the rack is done, son, it’s all you.

And he changed his name and I didn’t understand it until today, Dos Gatos.

He teamed up with a traveling pharmaceutical drug rep guitar player who he’d known in high school and drunk Pearl beer with in a rusted out Pinto, a dude I’ve never met but whose German name I can sure as hell pronounce and who I can tell you has a wife who I’ve also never met but is smoking hot and she’s gotten a million inviting looks from strangers if she’s gotten one and I’ve never even seen her, all I’ve ever seen is his mother-in-law, a hard drinking, chain smoking Midwestern woman who’s tough as a boot and tougher, who laughs and who loves from the bottom of her heart and so her daughter must, too, did I mention that the mother-in-law and I once got drunk together in a bar in Germany because that’s exactly how small the world is and it explains, nearly enough, how I learned that Dave the tough and gritty former bike racer made music with the drug hawker and who would have thought that under all that gritty bike racer and bad grammar there lay a musician?

Who would have thought that the people you know are such profound strangers?

Of course it was thanks to Facebag that I clicked on a link of photos of Dos Gatos, and boys, your Hollywood photo shoot was nice and all but when the link took me to the two music clips of your band and I hit “play” and heard sounds soulful and easy, good with who you are, okay with the broken pieces that got left out of the rebuild and the half-fixed ones that got put back in, feeling and warmth and a little frilly undergarment of pain and loss and hope for what wasn’t, what isn’t, what can’t be, but that maybe, after all, with a little bit of luck, just might be anyway, you know what I heard?

I heard the highway pouring beneath narrow wheels and the wind in my hair.

Give it a listen. I hope you’ll hear it, too.

Dos Gatos music on Reverbnation, http://www.reverbnation.com/dosgatos

Loser, loser, chicken dinner

March 10, 2014 § 21 Comments

Wankmeister stared, almost unseeing, at the big greasy leg of chicken that dripped enormous globs of grease onto his fingers and hands. With each mechanical thrust of the chicken leg into his mouth, the grease drizzled down into his beard and slowly congealed there until the whole thing looked matted and sticky as it shone repulsively in the burning afternoon sun.

He didn’t care.

At the next table over, two chatty ladies from Seattle were proudly detailing each pedal stroke of their successful assault on the Solvang metric century. They had already changed into matching orange tops and miniskirts, and seated across the way with legs slightly parted Wankmeister duly noted that the most animated of the two was full commando and completely shaven. “Holy shit!” whispered Squishy. “Check that out!”

Wankmeister didn’t care.

Big Bowles came cheerfully over with a foaming cup of Firestone I.P.A. and set it affectionately down in front of him, patting him on the back. “Take some of this, pal. You’ll feel better.” Wankmeister tilted the cup back until the holy liquid poured down his parched throat, but the magical reaction of fresh beer in dehydrated body never happened. All he tasted was bitter. Bowles was concerned. “You look awful.”

He didn’t care.

The sun kept beating down on his exposed neck as various South Bay riders trickled in. There was Gussy, happy and backslapping. There was Toronto and Mrs. Toronto, she pleased with her Metric 100 and he displeased with multiple tire blowouts and flats and various issues. There was Major Bob who looked like he hadn’t yet ridden a bike this day. And of course the contingent of FTR DS Jaeger, King Harold, Bull, Squishy, Checkerbutt, Luscious Lucious, Tub Top, sat around enjoying the day and the beer and their completion of the full hundred miles.

Wankmeister didn’t care about anything, and more melted rivulets of fat trickled down into his beard.

A baby dolphin hunt gone terribly wrong

Cycling, when done properly, is a series of poor decisions culminating in despair. Having paid the $90 entry fee for the Madera stage race, Wankmeister bailed the night before due to incomplete recovery from his bubonic plague and ovarian cyst. Overcome with guilt, he decided that rather than staying home and doing the Donut he would instead go to Solvang for the annual baby dolphin hunt.

In the beginning it had been glorious. Jaeger, Wanky, Bull, King Harold, and the Long Beach freddies had engaged in a wonderful morning of gaffing and filleting the baby Solvang dolphins by the hundreds. At one point DS Jaeger flatted. Imperiously handing his bike over to Tub Top to change the tire, he waded out into a field and happily pissed on the vegetables. Tub Top got his revenge by improperly seating the bead, which meant that despite the record-setting tire change DS Jaeger was soon enough standing on the side of the road wasting more of other people’s CO2 cartridges as he tried to do right the fifth time what he’d been too lazy to do right the first.

The one happy outcome of so many unplanned stops was that it allowed hundreds of baby dolphins to pass by the hunters with snide baby dolphin smirks, as if to say “You thought you were so fast, but who’s passing whom now?” Actually, none of them said “whom.” Baby dolphins don’t know how to use the objective case.

It was a happy outcome for the hunters because it simply meant that rather than a one-time dolphin slaughter, the brave predators were engaged in a catch-and-reclub program whereby the dolphins were caught, clubbed, released, and the clubbed again. By the time they reached the 60-mile-mark at Santa Maria, it looked like it would be a day for the record books. At least a thousand baby dolphins, countless “we can hang with this train” flailers, and even a pair of triathletes were clubbed, gaffed, gutted, and filleted.

Don’t count your baby dolphins before they’re gored

On the first set of rollers outside of Santa Maria, however, FTR DS Jaeger, forgetting all of the CO2 cartridges he had shamelessly borrowed, forgetting the quick wheel change he was given while he urinated in the field, and forgetting the camaraderie of the great sport of Solvang Century Ride Dolphin Clubbing, accelerated hard and kicked Bull out the back. Next to go, despite a last minute push from Checkerbutt, was Wanky. Then, a few miles later, Tub Top was clubbed. Shortly thereafter, Squishy got squished. One by one DS Jaeger disemboweled each of his friends, soloing in to the Solvang finishing tent and beer garden with no one in sight.

Last to finish were Bull and Wanky, the former tired, the latter barely able to stand.

“How was the ride?” a vaguely familiar person asked, but what was there to say, except this, and he was too tired to say it …

Nothing is as lonely and miserable as getting dropped by your “friends” 35 miles from beer, and then, over the course of the next miserable hour and a half, getting passed by slow people, old people, young people, male people, female people, triathlete people, tourists, first-timers, last-timers, riders on their last legs, riders getting their second wind, the strong, weak, rich, poor, handsome, ugly, lovely, pitted, proud, sympathetic, gloating, oblivious, in short, everyone and everything on two wheels. Finishing a ride such as this imparts no sense of accomplishment, no feeling of pride, no joy at a job well done but rather a profound sense of worthlessness and failure, a recognition that the icy hand of death is laid fast upon your balls and has begun its final squeeze, a grim glimpse into the near future where everyone is younger and stronger and your trajectory is moving from quickly downward to flatline, the beauty and nobility of the human spirit nothing more than a willful suspension of disbelief that got us through our youth and, now devoid of all magic, that we can angrily cast aside, or gently lay to rest as a sweet nothing no longer worthy of whispering in the ear of fate and no longer holding any power to deny or delay or even momentarily forget that rust never sleeps. Other than that, it was a great day, one of those moments in time where each passing hour erases a little more of the awfulness until in retrospect, like a terrible disease from which you only barely recovered to avoid death, the pain becomes blurred and forgotten except as a historical fact, and you have forgotten the sweat-encrusted, laboring grunts of the riders who suffered with you, the fiery burning in your feet from shoes that fit perfectly until mile 80, what felt like fiery shards of glass being shoved up your rectum from too many hours on a hard, narrow ass hatchet, the crackling and contorted neck, aching from holding the watermelon in a distended position for hours on end, the shivering stings of muscular cramps, the dull and primeval message of “You’re going to die soon” that comes from dehydration, and worst of all the frenzy of feeding and sugary faux hydration at the feeding stations that neither replenish nor hydrate but instead caulk your muscles in stiffness so that when you remount it’s worse than if you had never stopped, while all around friendly volunteers are telling you “good job” and offering you another stale chunk of p-b sandwich, or a quarter of a green banana as you hate them to their very bones for being cheerful and kind and even more because at the last way station, with its famished riders and the one or two geniuses who have conned their way into the ambulance and a free ride back to beer by claiming heat prostration, some well-meaning sadist says “Only 12 miles to go!” In your own little hell, of course the only thing worse than not knowing you only have 12 miles to go is knowing that you have exactly 12 miles to go because you know what a mile is and how long it takes, and twelve of them, stacked up like this at the end of five hours of unmitigated misery are unendurable to contemplate, let alone complete, it’s as if the dentist gently reminded you that after the root canal he would be operating on your brain with pliers and a screwdriver, but you continue slogging away because as much as you’d love to lie down in the road or, yes, call the Solvang taxi, there is something inexplicably stupid about people in trouble on bikes that makes them continue on for no good reason other than the best reason of all, which is that they are impervious to the normal operation of a rational mind.

Wankmeister looked at his vaguely familiar friend and didn’t say anything. With the grease in his beard and the sunburn and the haggard eyes, he didn’t have to.

You’re never too old for ice cream

March 9, 2014 § 44 Comments

I put the call out on Facebag to see if anyone had a starter bike, 54 cm or thereabouts, for my 16-year-old. We’d been talking and he had said, “I’d like to go riding with you sometime, Dad.”

Several friends reached out with various kind offers, but none kinder than Wankomodo. “I have a fairly nice bike I could let go for $500. It’s just sitting in the garage and I’d rather see it used than gathering dust.”

A couple of weeks went by and I finally got around to visiting to check out the bike. It was an immaculate S-Works Tarmac with Campy 10-speed, Ksyrium wheels, brand new Continentals, and Speedplay pedals. “If you want the compact chain rings and rear cogs I can throw them in for fifty bucks.”

That night I got home with the new bike and showed it to junior. He glanced at it. “That’s nice,” he said.

Some more weeks went by. I was busy, then sick, then he was at a track meet, and then finally our schedules meshed. “Let’s go for a ride on the bike path,” I said.

“Okay!”

In the interim I’d yanked the Speedplays and replaced them with a pair of flat plastic pedals. This would be the only super bike in L.A. with “pedal” pedals.

“What should I wear?” he asked.

“T-shirt and shorts and sneakers should be perfect.”

“Okay. Who’d you borrow this bike from?”

“I didn’t borrow it. It’s yours.”

He looked at it differently.

Before we left I aired up my tires and then gave him the pump. He pushed and strained to get the gauge up to 100 psi. “This is hard!” he said. I had forgotten that not everyone is born knowing how to air up a tire as I watched him struggle with getting the pump head on the valve.

We loaded the bikes in the car and drove down to the Riviera. I parked on the flat section of Camino de Encanto and got his bike out. He put on his helmet. He hadn’t ridden a bicycle since he was eight. “How do I do this again?” he asked.

I’d forgotten that not everyone rides a bike everyday.

“Throw your leg over the top tube and set the pedal up like this … “

“What’s the top tube?” he asked.

I’d forgotten that not everyone knows what a top tube is.

“It’s this.” I walked over and showed him. Then I returned to the car to get my bike out. I heard some funny noises and looked back. He was weaving and barely staying upright.

“Keep pedaling,” I said casually, my heart in my mouth. I turned back to the car. He wasn’t a child anymore. I could not run to him, because he is now a child with the mind of a man. He passed by, smiling, still wobbling a bit. I smiled back as if it were the most normal thing in the world, as if I were not afraid.

“Stay to the right,” I added. He reached the stop sign, turned around, and came back. “Why don’t you do that a few more times to get used to it, then we can go.”

“Okay,” he smiled. “My ass hurts though.”

I grinned. “Welcome to bicycling.”

A small group of Serious Cyclists were going the other direction. The fattest one with the fanciest bike eyed our amateur get-up. “You’re going the wrong direction!” he smirked. “The hill is the other way! C’mon, don’t be weak!”

“Martin Howard would have laughed at that,” I said to myself with a smile.

The bike was a terrible fit because I hadn’t jammed the seat forward and put on a super short stem. It looked awfully uncomfortable; he was stretched out like a circus performer. But I didn’t say anything. He was riding, and he was riding with me.

We coasted down the street when suddenly I heard someone say, “Hey, Seth!” It was Marilyne, Craig, Lisa, Renee, and Carey, all returning from the Sunday Wheatgrass Ride. I was wearing shorts and a tee, and they summed up the situation instantly. We chatted and coasted down to the traffic circle. They all went very slowly, with my son tagging along on the back, uncertain and wobbling and me so afraid. He was in the road, the damned road, on the damned bike, anything could happen but I swallowed my fear.

“We’re going down to the bike path,” I said.

“See you!” they said, and rode off.

We went down the embankment and I was afraid again but I said nothing and showed nothing because he is no longer a child. Something happened and I heard a scraping noise. He got back on the bike and didn’t say anything and I didn’t say anything either because there was nothing for me to say.

On the bike path we rode to the pier at Redondo Beach. The path was crowded with people. I had forgotten that not everyone easily weaves between hundreds of people on a crowded path and never worries about hitting them. “Hey Dad,” he said. “Can we stop for a second?”

“Sure.”

We stopped. “This is stressful,” he said with a nervous smile.

I had forgotten that, too. “You’re doing great,” I said.

He remounted, smoother and faster and more confident than even ten minutes ago. We reached the pier. “Take a break?” I said. “This is the turnaround.”

He looked relieved. “Yeah.”

“How about some ice cream?”

Out came the big grin. “That would be great!”

It has been lifetimes since I rode my bike a couple of miles in shorts and tennis shoes with someone I loved and stopped and ate ice cream. Never, maybe.

We sat on the bench and watched the Jesus freaks and the tourists and the man with the battered guitar and the happy little kid dashing with his mom running after him out of breath and the ice cream tasted so good. “You ready?” I said after we were done.

“Sure!” He had the enthusiasm of ice cream, now.

We pedaled back without incident. Behind me, he talked about a book he was reading. It was as pretty a sound as any symphony.

We got to the ramp and he almost fell making the turn. Then he got off and walked to the top. I’d forgotten that not everyone rides a bike up steep hills for miles at a time. We remounted and made for the car. There was the little climb up Calle Miramar and then the more significant bump up Camino de Encanto.

He was puffing. I had forgotten that not everyone rolled up those two small hills without puffing.

We got to the car and loaded the bikes in.

“That was fun,” he said.

“Yes, it sure was,” I answered, thankful I hadn’t forgotten that you’re never too old for ice cream.

———————————

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Bike upgrades

March 8, 2014 § 41 Comments

People always ask me about bike stuff.

“What do you think of the new Slobotomy aero-helmet?”

“I hear that slightly wider tires are actually faster than the ultra-narrow profiles. Is that true?”

“How does the GoPro Super Narcissto 4 stack up agains the Garmin 24/7 MeMeMeMe?”

“Is a computerized bike fit as good as a hand job?”

Needless to say, I devote hours answering the person’s question, and they do the exact opposite, or, more commonly, nothing at all and instead go buy a large pizza.

Still, there are ways to really upgrade your ride, and they aren’t the ways you might think. I will list them here for you in order of the impact they will have on your riding experience.

  1. Make your next two purchases the best and brightest taillight you can find, and the best and brightest headlight you can find. Then, mount them on your bike and use them all the time, especially during the day. How it improves your ride: Cagers will not horribly maim or kill you and you will get home alive.
  2. Max out your uninsured motorist insurance. When you get hit by some idiot who doesn’t have enough insurance, or who has none at all, or who hits you and drives off, leaving you for dead, the only way you can pay for the damage is through the uninsured motorist coverage ON YOUR AUTOMOBILE LIABILITY INSURANCE POLICY. It’s cheap to max out your UM coverage, so do it now. $500k in coverage is not too much. How it improves your ride: 48% of LA-area collisions are hit-and-run, and you will, with maximum UM coverage, get compensation for your injuries and your destroyed bike.
  3. Enter an event you would normally never do. A century ride, an MTB race, a ‘cross race, the Eldo Crit, a charity ride, a Fredfest, Ciclavia, critical mass, certification at the Velo Sports Center, whatever it is, if it’s outside your normal riding band, do it. How it improves your ride: You’ll meet new people and get a new sense of appreciation for the fun that is cycling.
  4. Read a book that treats some aspect of the history of cycling. How it improves your ride: You’ll understand the incredible changes and challenges that have been overcome in order to allow you to effortlessly, electronically shift your way along the streets on a carbon fiber bike.
  5. Go into a local bike shop and buy something. How it improves your ride: The vast majority of people who own bike shops do it first and foremost because they love bikes. Supporting their passion supports yours as well.
  6. Proffer roadside assistance to someone. Even if you can no more change a flat than swap out a car’s transmission, take a second to pull over and see if the fellow cyclist on the side of the road needs help. Everyone appreciates consideration and concern, even if just means holding their bike or pulling the tube and cartridge out of their seat bag. How it helps your ride: Cycling is a community, and the good deeds you do to strangers will get paid forward.
  7. Say hello to someone you don’t know. Whether it’s your regular ride or whether you’re passing someone on the street, greet a stranger and exchange names. How it helps your ride: People remember being spoken to, especially when they’re new to a group, and it makes them feel good, and making others feel good will make you feel good, too.
  8. Get rid of five cycling-related things you no longer use or need. Most riders are awash in crap. Old shoes, old helmets, old wheel sets, even (especially) bikes. Slim down your possessions, especially if you can pass them on to someone who will actually use them. How it improves your ride: Makes space for you to buy newer, cooler crap.
  9. Ride to work one day a month. How it improves your ride: Once you begin commuting, odds are that you will do it more often. I went from 0 days a week to commuting almost every day. How it improves your ride: You’re riding more, of course. And bikers who cycle to work will tell you that the commute is the best part of their day.
  10. Go on a ride with a family member who isn’t a “cyclist.” Not a 25-mile hammerfest, just a fun 15 or 20-minute pedal. How it improves your ride: You can slowly trick them into riding if you do it in a way that is actually, you know, fun. And the family that rides together …

The Sealpire clubs back

March 7, 2014 § 29 Comments

Wankmeister’s ass hurt, the kind of butthurt that felt like his saddle had been forcefully wedged somewhere between L1 and T9 for an hour or so. Even though he was curled up in bed, coughing chunks of dark green phlegm, his legs still ached the deep ache of “you are too old and weak to exert yourself in this fashion and expect anything other than collapse.” The roots of his teeth hurt, always a bad sign. Most worrisome, his headache had sunk down below his brain and had morphed into a deep throbbing at the back of his eyeballs.

Wanky wondered if he’d ever had sore eyeballs before from a bike ride. He hadn’t.

Don’t roll NPR when you’re droopypants

The morning had begun with the most ill of omens, an incredulous interrogation by Mrs. WM. “You not goin onna NPR?”

“Yeah, I am.”

“You crazy? You been droopy alla week with cold and coughin and fluin and spittin onna washbasin and onna toilet seat. Why you goin onna ride so soon after bein droopypants?”

“I’m better now. I need to ride.”

“You ain’t better now you still all sick and still coughin because you woke me up alla night spittin, you was spittin an chokin like a cat spittin four hairballs outta his butt.”

“That would be shitting, then, not spitting.”

“You was doin that too and you wasn’t turnin on the high fan because it stinked up alla hallway and even inna kitchen.”

“Honey, I’ve been off the bike for a week. I’m losing fitness.”

“What you’re losin, you’re losin onna your mind. An you’re gonna come back home even bigger droopypants you watch, an askin onna “hot tea” this anna “leg rubbin’” that but I ain’t doin it.”

Etymology of the South Bay seal hunt

Few know that the concept of baby seal clubbing on the New Pier Ride was invented by Bull Seivert, also known as “KitchenAid” for his thrashing, mashing, mixing, heaving, whaling, pig-fucking-a-greased-football pedaling style that, when observed up close, makes you wonder whether the bike wouldn’t go faster if he flipped over on his back and rowed the thing in the air with his giant hams. Bull is known far and wide for his fearless, senseless, single-minded charges to the front, charges so filled with fury and strength that he typically explodes halfway through the ride like a giant blood sausage overstuffed with snot, sweat, and sputum.

However, by the time that KitchenAid rolls over like a great, bleeding, wheezing harpooned whale, the hangers-on, suckers-of-wheels, waiters-for-the-sprunt, and all other manner of lower life forms have been beaten into a lumpy pulp of quivering flesh and bone. It was after one particularly memorable thrashing that Bull compared the pack fodder to a raft of baby harp seals, innocent, bleating, helpless, chubby, doe-eyed and defenseless in the face of the murderous, blood covered drunks swinging their hooked clubs, matted as they were with the blood, gore, and fleshy pieces of their victims.

The baby seal analogy stuck, and the truism of the analogy was such that entire contingents of NPR riders began referring to themselves as “baby seals.” Like their namesakes, they relived the brutal clubbing of their furry friends each and every Tuesday. Only a few of the most daring pinnipeds, creatures with names like Sausage and Poopsie, ever raised their flippers in victory at the NPR. The passion play remained forever writ in stone: The giants clubbed and the baby seals rolled over in a bloody trough of shame, pain, and defeat.

Carrying the hunter’s club to the seal’s own demise

Winter before last, on a cold and rainy morning that had less than twenty riders on the NPR, Wanky had stopped at the alleyway exit to take off his rain jacket. The pack kept going but one baby seal stopped. It was a weak and barely developed juvenile seal, Phoque de Paris, who was in his second season of riding. Phoque accepted his place in the clubbing hierarchy so completely that he had purchased a baby stuffed seal and strapped it beneath his saddle, just in case there were ever any doubt. There wasn’t.

Wanky fumbled with his jacket, got it stuffed in his jersey, and the pair, hunter and prey, set off in chase of the peloton. Wankmeister wasn’t feeling great, and his less-than-great sensations were enhanced by Phoque’s madman time-trial mode along Vista del Mar, battering into a nasty, miserably cold crosswind. “What the Phoque?” he wondered at this sudden display of speed and power by a heretofore undistinguished baby seal.

Phoque never swung over, and barreled for several miles until the pack was in sight. With one huge final effort he got to within a couple of hundred yards. By now Wankmeister was quite warmed up and he noted Phoque’s shoulders as they swayed and sagged, his head beginning to evince the tell-tale “cranial droop” of a tired rider. Thankful and profoundly appreciative for Phoque’s selfless effort, Wanky took out his club, inspected the shiny, sparkling, unblooded tip, and jumped as hard as he could around Phoque to close the gap. Unable to follow the sudden burst, the hapless baby seal, after doing all that hard word for a friend, found himself alone, shelled, and hopelessly dropped as the pack rode away.

Wankmeister wiped off his club and went on to a glorious NPR victory that day, which he dedicated to “that little phoquer who waited for me.”

When the club swings full circle

Now, many moons later, Wanky reached the Center of the Known Universe and greeted his fellow riders. The chief talk that morning was whether or not the angry psychotic homeless person would be waiting to ambush them in the alley, and what the best response would be if he challenged the group again with his fists. Most agreed that the bragging rights attached to 60 healthy grown athletic men beating the snot out of an insane poor person were minimal, and although a certain “fun” quotient was mentioned by one or two, the consensus was to take evasive action if he appeared.

Wankmeister’s cold/flu/bronchial infection/ovarian cyst reminded him how bad he felt, how right his wife had been, and how he should have stayed in bed. When the group turned onto Vista del Mar, he realized that in his current condition the only sane thing to do would be, of course, to attack. So he did.

Unbeknownst to our hero, however, there is a sacred rule espoused by those who are famed for never attacking anywhere, ever: “Thou shalt not attack on Vista del Mar.” In retrospect, when he was curled up in bed, Wanky wished that he had known about the rule if only so that he could have enjoyed breaking it. By the time he passed Imperial, a nascent break had formed including Bull, Phoque, Lamchops, Brewmaster, and Ronan the Mini-Barbarian. The first time that Phoque pulled through, Wankmeister noticed something that surprised him. Beneath Phoque’s saddle there no longer dangled a stuffed baby seal.

After a few rotations Lamchop had been seasoned, fried in the pan, and served up with a sprig of parsley. Mini-Barbarian decided to go back to the pack and get civilized. Brewmaster’s yeast infection had gummed up his pedalworks, and there were soon only three riders left. After one rotation KitchenAid began to suck and heave, and each time Phoque swung over for Wanky to pull through, he couldn’t. “Hey, fucker!” yelled Wanky. “I can’t pull through if you don’t slow down!” Shrugging, Phoque kept the gas on.

Dragging the corpse

They raced up the small hill on Pershing, with Bull still hanging on for dear life, unable to take a pull. In his pain-besotted misery, Wankmeister cursed his friend and teammate. “Pull through you sorry fucker, I don’t care how much you’re hurting,” he muttered to himself between mighty exhalations of snot that were immediately absorbed by his dripping mustache, then drooled into his mouth or into his beard.

By the time they hit the Parkway, KitchenAid’s beaters had been reattached and he started to pull through. The peloton was a distant memory as Poopsie, Sausage, Hallpass, and Finnhead bitterly complained and gnashed their teeth about the early attack while they had been discussing gear-inches, motorcycle protective clothing, and drag coefficients. They angrily made plans to impugn the integrity of the breakaways, people who had none, on Facebook. “Just remember,” Finnhead said to Poopsie, “it’s easier to complain about a breakaway on FB than it is to chase it down in real life.” Then they all went to the back and Instagrammed each other’s kits.

The three-man breakaway, however, was completely unconcerned with Finnhead’s gnashing teeth or with the long, detailed complaint that Sausage and Poopsie would draft and mail to the New Pier Ride Advisory Board and its director, “Toofs” Prettytree, one of the staunchest advocates for fair, honest, riding on the NPR and dental work and wheelsucking. The breakaway was concerned with something much more important: Not becoming a one-man breakaway, as Phoque was drilling and grilling like an insane combination of dentist-turned-Texas-BBQ-chef.

Phoque kept the torrid pace up for minutes at a time, pausing only to catch his breath while Wanky leaked tears and prostate juice all over his bike and while KitchenAid kept staring mindlessly at his Garmin, hoping that it would say something other than YOU ARE COMPLETELY FUCKED NOW. It didn’t, but deep in the throes of cranial droop KitchenAid slammed into Phoque’s rear wheel, creating a nice brown stain in Wanky’s shorts that would take several hours of hard scrubbing to remove. “Keep your fucking head up and quit looking at your fucking computer!” Wanky roared, but it wasn’t a roar, it was more of a whimper, as Phoque was driving the pace into the wind again and the two cabooses needed every bit of oxygen to pedal.

Swing. Thud. Swing. Thud. Swing. Thud.

If you’ve ever been in a break on the NPR with four laps to go, you know the meaning of hell. 99 times out of 100, you’re going to get caught and when you do, you will be wrecked. However, Phoque didn’t appear to care, and he swung his club at Wanky and Bull with abandon. The blood flowed.

“So,” squealed Bull. “This is how it feels.”

“Ouchies,” whined Wankmeister. “My prostate juice is sopping my shorts.”

“Oh, did that hurt?” Phoque asked solicitously. “Let me give you another one.” And he’d pound away. Occasionally the chasing peloton would come into view, with Sausage and Finnhead and Toofs seated comfortably at the back, adding new points and sub-points to their detailed legal polemic that would be posted after the ride. Poopsie tried to drive the pace, but as an inveterate baby seal his efforts were for naught, and anyway, while the chasers got hung up at the occasional red light Phoque & Co. had full advantage of the NPR’s Three Breakaway Rules, which are as follows:

  1. Never stop.
  2. Do not stop.
  3. Stopping is prohibited.

Finnhead and Toofs made note of this and added it to the long list of infractions being compiled, to wit: “Faux breakaway cheaters and early attackers in neutral zone furthermore didn’t stop but we had to stop at all the lights so there.”

“Be sure to add that we almost caught them anyway,” said Finnhead, comfortably sitting in the very back as the break continued to put huge amounts of time on the pack.

It pays to have friends in high places

Even with their gargantuan lead, the breakaway would have succumbed had Wankmeister’s SPY teammates not sat at the back of the peloton and refused to assist with Poopsie’s doomed chase. Before long even Poopsie, he of the detailed report to be submitted to the Rules Committee, threw in the towel. Finnhead, realizing that his usual zero probability of winning had been reduced to negative numbers, focused instead on the 38 mph max speed that he would reach by sitting on others’ wheels, and chalked it up as a win. Sausage planned to purchase the Parkway in his next M&A acquisition and jail all future rule breakers.

As they sped up towards the bridge on the finishing lap, Phoque finally swung over. He was starting to look winded and well-tenderized for a late attack, the kind that would be quick and hard enough for him not to respond to, and the kind that would leave him gasping for air as Wankmeister claimed another glorious victory. It would be a nice “don’t forget your elders” touch to pay Phoque back for the relentless clubbing he’d administered the entire morning.

“Hey, man,” Wanky said as he passed.

“Yeah?”

“You ever won the NPR?”

Phoque shook his head. “No.”

“Well, wanker, you will today.”

And he did.

———————————

Why not subscribe? Everything here is true except for the parts I’ve made up, which is all of it. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner if you feel like it, and even if you don’t … thanks for reading and for commenting!

How to buy a revolutionary

March 6, 2014 § 12 Comments

Don Ward is a big guy with big opinions and a big mouth and big, big, big, big street cred to back it all up. Infamously known as “Roadblock,” he’s the legend behind Wolfpack Hustle and the mainspring behind the off-menu L.A. Marathon Crash Race.

If you don’t know what a marathon crash race is, then you are tone deaf when it comes to urban cycling in America. Beginning in 2009 the Wolfpack Hustle riders “crashed” the L.A. marathon course. As soon as the barriers went up, usually around 4:00 AM the morning of the marathon, the ridazz would hop the barriers and race pell-mell from the start to the finish, ripping down L.A.’s biggest and most off-limits-to-bikes thoroughfares in the glory of a pre-dawn 26-mile beatdown.

The crash race, like all bike races, also featured crashes. Dudes on fixies, road warriors in full bike racer drag, the curious, the crazy, the anarchic, the manic, the insomniac, and every other species of rider found her way over the barriers and onto the marathon race course to sample that sweet asphalt freedom that is normally RESERVED: FOR CAGERS ONLY. It quickly became known as the largest unsanctioned race in the country.

It was the running of the bulls, L.A. style.

Have you ever been to Pamplona?

Whatever the running of the bulls used to be, it’s not anymore. In 2014 this completely bizarre, alien tradition of getting drunk and running from fighting bulls is now a college stunt. In addition to frat boys, it’s mostly a mix of young white guys, frat boys, some English fellows, frat boys, and boys from frats. What is the cachet? Hint: There isn’t any.

The L.A. Marathon Crash Race found out the hard way that you can’t be a rebel without a cause and a rebel with a city permit. Rebels don’t need no fuggin’ permits. What they need are open streets and a good criminal defense lawyer. The crash race’s demise, however, was much more terrible than everyone waking up one day and suddenly realizing that it would be “cool” to bike downtown L.A. in the wee hours, thereby making the crash race forever uncool.

No, the death of the crash race, like its life, was deeply embedded in the tattooed, drunken, drug-using, marginalized, borderline poverty line cycling counterculture that makes up the vast majority of bicyclists in greater L.A., a counterculture much of which may not even be tattooed or drunken or drugged. In short, the sanitized social view of cycling as something done by middle-aged white men on expensive bikes wearing $900 Rapha outfits had been turned on its head by Roadblock and the Wolfpack Hustle.

Most L.A. cyclists aren’t “cyclists”

The might and main of people who ride bikes in L.A. are not part of the lycra road riding crowd. They have a lot more in common with the Wolfpack Hustle, economically and socially, than they do with Velo Club La Grange. They ride bikes for transportation, and also for fun. Most of their riding terrain is the asphalt of urban Los Angeles rather than the off-road tracks of the Santa Monicas or the groomed climbs of the PV Peninsula.

Wolfpack Hustle began as an expression of this common bicycling humanity, a rejection of roadie elitism, a rejection of USA Cycling’s dictatorship-cum-greed, a rejection of cagers, and an assertion of every Angeleno’s legal right to ride in the street. It was no accident that Roadblock chose the night, a time that cyclists are typically terrified of riding, to establish the legendary late night ride of the Wolfpack Hustle. Even the word “hustle” was a carefully crafted mission statement. Life’s a hustle. To live in the city you gotta hustle. Ride your bike in traffic you sure as shit better hustle. Don’t straggle or fugg off in the group … hustle.

To lead is to advocate is to compromise is to change

Ward became a leader. No, he became the leader. He tapped into swirling currents of ostracism and outsider-ness that percolate through the urban L.A. cycling community, and he, with them, became a vanguard for the rights of bicycles in CARS ONLY LOS ANGELES. More importantly, he saw the connection between poverty and transportation and urban survival and police-community relations and took the issue of cycling rights to its logical conclusion: Human rights.

As an advocate he was hard-nosed, efficient, smart, and an ingenious consensus builder. The Hustle went from an outlaw ride to an organized ride that received the informal blessing of the LAPD. The success of issues related to riding bikes in downtown Los Angeles owes a lot to the work of Don Ward, and in the process he’s gone from cocktail-tossing revolutionary to patient member of the cycling establishment.

This repels many, who call him “corporate” and a “sell out” and who long for the good old days of outlaw rides and devil-take-the-hindmost. But these criticisms only prove the point: You can’t advance without compromise and you can’t compromise without change. Which means, of course, changing yourself.

Victim of a petty schmuck

The crash race was shut down by the “Chief of Investigation and Enforcement of the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services,” or “COIAEOTCOLABOSS,” for short. It’s pronounced “Coya-Yotco-Laboss,” or just “dipshit.”

Dipshit informed Roadblock that if he went through with the crash race he faced jail and fines for whatever the city had to pay as costs for enforcement. A revolutionary would have promptly placed the letter in the round file, or perhaps would have sent an email along the lines of “I have two sweaty balls. You are free to lick them.”

Jail and fines, of course, are the way you bring a responsible advocate to his knees. The event’s “cancellation” came five days before the crash race, which was itself no coincidence, because it gave the disorganizers no time to try to obtain the mysterious “permits” without which such an event couldn’t be held. No matter that the whole beauty of the crash race is that it piggybacks on the existing infrastructure supporting the L.A. Marathon. No matter that the city’s “enforcement costs” are zero. And no matter that this is just one pinhead’s power play.

What matters is that an outlaw event, once tamed, can never return to the wild.

Thanks to Don Ward, L.A. is a better place to ride a bicycle for countless people. Thanks to Don Ward, bicyclists for five years sampled the sweet, evil pleasure of crashing the marathon. Thanks to Don Ward, a huge section of LAPD no longer looks at bikers as de facto criminals.

If we have to trade the crash race for all that, it’s a trade well worth making.

Hats off to you, Roadblock. Ride on.

———————————

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Butts (Part 29)

March 5, 2014 § 7 Comments

Somewhere between Columbus and Smithville Turner came down. The clear moonlit night rushed into and was thrust away from the windshield as the big motor pushed the Chevy effortlessly along the highway. Clem had cracked her window halfway and was smoking a cigarette. “Feeling better?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said.

“You were down at the bottom of a pretty black hole there for a while. Thought I might have to come lookin’ for you.”

“How could you tell?”

She smiled. “Hmmm. Was it the wrenched expression on your face that looked like you were taking the world’s longest crap? For two solid hours? Yeah, that might have been it.”

“I hate pot. Makes me paranoid. And that beach weed is nasty, just nasty sick gross. How in the world will you sell it? Nobody’s gonna buy that stuff. You won’t be able to give it away.”

“Sure I will. High school kids’ll buy anything as long as it gets them high. They won’t care. I’ve seen schoolkids pay good money for the worst stuff you can imagine. Transmission fluid, airplane glue, they do not fucking care as long as they get high.”

“Let me get this straight, Clem. You’re going to target schoolkids?”

“Sure. Why not? Everybody knows kids do drugs. I did. You did. Plus, this beach weed will be cheap, so it’s like a discount. Easy on their budget.”

“I hadn’t thought of that. You’re actually doing them a favor. ‘Clem’s Discount Illegal Drug Sales.’ Kind of like the K-Mart of drug dealers.”

She smiled. “Pretty nice of me, don’t you think?” She spit out the window. “Stuff does taste pretty nasty, though.”

“Actually, it’s not really very nice of you at all. You’re preying on kids. Pot may not be the ‘demon weed,’ but it never helped any kid who was struggling in school.”

She rolled her eyes. “These are practically adults, Turner. Little stoner delinquent druggies who listen to Rush and bang each other and get high. They’re old enough to make up their minds about which drugs they want to take and they don’t need you or me acting like their parents. If they wanna get high let ‘em get high. Kids just wanna get hi-igh, kids just wanna get hiiiiiiigh … plus, we need the money. Right?”

“You need the money.”

“Sure do, sweetcakes. You know why? ‘Cause mommy ain’t sending me monthly checks so I can fart around on my girlfriend’s couch reading some dumbass book so some dumbass college teacher can give me a dumbass grade so I can go out and be a doctor or a lawyer or an Indian chief and swindle people so I can have enough money to give to my kids and start the whole damn thing over again. You don’t like dealing or hooking, Turner, so how the fuck would you be paying the rent if mommy weren’t sending you those checks?”

His cheeks were burning. “I’d do something you’ve never done.”

“Like what, Mr. Philosphizer?”

“I’d get a fucking job. You think the only kinds of people in the world are rich kids, hookers, and dealers?”

“I know which one you are. And I know without that little monthly check you’d be out on your ass and I wouldn’t be gettin’ any holypants lectures about selling pot to stoner high school dropouts.” Her anger made the words hard and sharp. “And why the hell is some job slinging shit in a Denny’s more honorable than selling pot? Who made pot illegal? Some asshole in Congress, that’s who, so he could make a billion off tobacco or alcohol or some bullshit they peddle in hospitals that you can’t buy without a prescription. You ever worked in a restaurant?”

“No.”

“It’s shit work, Turner. I’ve done it. People treat you like shit, the men ogle your tits and ask you for a date while their fucking wives are in the ladies’ room, snotty little brats spill shit on the floor, they tell you the food’s for shit after clearing off half the plate, they run you shitass ragged and then leave a fifty-cent tip. At least when they’re lying on top of you it’s over in five minutes and there’s enough cash left over to make rent.”

“When they’re not throwing you of the pickup at 50 miles an hour.”

“Right, or raping you or cursing you or threatening to beat you up if you don’t do their cousin as a freebie, but you know what? I’ve seen waitresses slip on grease in the kitchen and get third degree burns on their faces and get shitcanned for not showing up the next day. I’ve spent enough time in emergency rooms getting my own broken ass fixed to know what happens on job sites. People get hurt, fucked over, fired, and left for dead, and if they’re lucky some ambulance chasing douchebag takes their case, gets them a few bucks and keeps the rest of it for himself. So tell me again about how you’re gonna go get a job and protect the youth from the evil drug dealer Clementine? What job are you gonna get, Turner?”

“I don’t need to get one yet.”

She snorted. “Exactly my fucking point.” She blew a cloud of cigarette smoke in his face. “You know what’s weird about you?”

“What?”

“Here you are all healthy and shit and you’ve never asked me to quit blowing smoke in your face.” She blew some more smoke in his face. “Doesn’t it gross you out?”

“Yeah.”

“I knew it.” She exhaled the next breath out the window. “So how come, Turner?”

“How come what?”

“How come you never asked me to stop?”

“Aside from the fact that I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t?”

“Yeah. Aside from that.”

“Because I’ve been waiting.”

“Waiting for what?”

“Waiting for you to bring it up.”

“Oh crapcakes. What if I’d never brought it up?”

“Then we’d never have talked about it.”

“You are completely nucking futs,” she laughed. “Okay, I’ve brought it up. Now what?”

“Would you mind not blowing smoke in my face?”

“Just like that? That’s all you have to say?” She screwed up her face. “Of course I’ll stop. Anything else?” Her left hand was on the wheel and her right hand was on his thigh as the ash crumbled off his leg and onto the floorboard.

“Yeah.”

“What?”

“Would you  mind throwing those things away and never smoking them again?”

She looked straight ahead and flicked the glowing butt out the window. “You know how many times in my life I’ve thrown away a pack of cigarettes?”

“How many?”

“One.” Then she grabbed the almost-full pack of Marlboros off the dashboard and tossed them out, too. “What’s next, hon?” she asked with a giggle. “Do we start going to church now?”

“Fuck church,” he laughed.

She licked her lips. “I like the way half of that sounds.”

———————————

I hope you’ll consider subscribing to this blog if you’ve been enjoying the serialization of this story, which is a true story except for the parts I’ve made up, which is all of it. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner if you feel like it, and even if you don’t … thanks for reading and for commenting!

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