The pelotonic plague

September 24, 2012 § 7 Comments

“It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a bird on a plane! No! It’s the space shuttle Endeavor on a plane! Okay! Everybody knock off work to snap photos!”

Life in LA came to a halt on Friday, which wasn’t odd, because nothing ever gets done on Friday anyway when the weather’s good and people are poring over their ride plans for the weekend. What was odd was that people were obsessing about the space shuttle, a rusted out bucket of bolts that cost an estimated $200 billion over its 30-year lifespan.

Quick: Name ONE FUCKING THING the space shuttle ever did for you. Right? Nothing. Squat. It didn’t even give us velcro or Tang.

Quicker: Name 50 THINGS you ever got from a teacher. Right? Reading. Writing. Spelling (some of you). Math (fewer, but okay, it’s still a lot).

Quickest: Explain to me again why we had $200 billion to dump on a fucking engineer’s handjob, but don’t want to pay teachers a living wage?

The flyover hangover

Facebook, Twitter, and the Interwebs overheated with all of the “Go, USA!” and “Proud to be a Merkun!” cell phone photos, as most of Los Angeles paid homage to something they never knew about, cared about, or that ever helped them in any way. I still remember driving out to Ellington AFB in Houston in 1979 with Rick Ellis and his family to look at the shuttle.

Rick’s dad was an engineer and extremely proud of all things American, especially if related to NASA. “This is American ingenuity at is finest!” he proclaimed.

“Wow,” I thought. “A plane strapped to a plane. How dumb.”

Then I remembered the Challenger tragedy. “Wow,” I thought. “What a terrible waste of life.”

Then I remembered the Columbia tragedy. “Wow,” I thought. “All this for NOTHING.”

On the plus side, initial estimates for the shuttle’s operating cost (adjusted for 2011 dollars) was only $54 million per flight, but with hard work on the part of the government and sole-source private contractors, economy-minded planners were able to raise that to $450 million per flight, ten of which would have funded the entire 2013 state educational budget for the state of Oklahoma. Which begs the question, would the nation have been better off with another ten space missions, or with the first generation of Oklahomans able to read on a third grade level?

The infection spreads

Among South Bay cyclists, the contagion of Shuttle Nostalgia began as a minor chest cold, and quickly laid low some of the Bay’s fixtures. First, New Girl was infected and forced to actually miss a group ride. Next, Junkyard himself got sick, with specialists theorizing that the vector was a nick in his titanium elbow that allowed the dreaded disease to attack.

By Friday late afternoon, Shuttle Nostalgia had ripped through the peloton, with Jay Y., Hockeystick, and countless others in full blown shuttle fever. By Sunday, the worst symptoms had dissipated, and I showed up on the Kettle Ride.

It’s been months since I last did the Kettle, and the group was full to busting. Tink was back from her muscle tear; Kimmy had been released from her 36-hour stints as a resident at the ER; Elron, G3, G$, MM, Johnny W., Nick P., Wankomodo, Major Bob, Prez, Jonathan P., Lisa C., Psycho Mike & the Bike Palace Boys, Dan-O, Pistol Pete, Shon the Bomb, Surf City Justin, Suze, Mike and Julie L., and a host of others were at CotKU, later joined by Knoll, Bucks, and a bunch of others at the Ocean Park toilets.

It’s not daaaaaangerous anymore

After a nasty dustup a few blog posts back regarding running the light at Vista del Mar and Grand, the group hauled ass through the stale yellow light with the battle cry “Rolling!” so that those of us at the back of the wankoton got to blow through a light that had been red so long it was about to turn violet.

This bothered me not at all, as it was good to see that the other idiots, when in charge of the insane asylum, were just as inept as I was.

A few hundred yards later, with the group kind of bunchy, a certain individual who will only be named if you send $5 to my PayPal account, decided that rather than going over the hole in front of him that no one had bothered to call out, he would slam on his brakes with about 20 riders immediately behind him.

Everything suddenly shifted into “Fuck, I’m going down mode,” as I too hit the brakes and swerved, with the idiot in front of me rocketing backwards into my front wheel. My back tire locked on the damp pavement and my front wheel skidded as things began to get sideways.

If music is what happens between the notes, bike accidents are what happens between the idiots, and I saw it all happen in the blink of an eye. Me, hitting Idiot. Me, flying over the bars. Me, hitting my shoulder or head or forearm or all of the above at once while the other hapless schmoes behind used my face as a braking surface for their tires or as a landing pad for their giant asses.

The hard whack of the asphalt, the grinding sound of snapping plastic, and through it all the grunts and “fucks” and yells as mayhem ensued.

There it all was, in the blink of an eye.

But it never happened.

My bike straightened, Idiot released his brake and moved just enough so that I didn’t slam into his back wheel, and the other idiots somehow straightened out the mess with no one going down. It was a ballet of club-footed imbeciles, and it was beautiful, as I was the biggest imbecile of all, having chosen to ride in the back third of the wankoton for the only reason anyone ever chooses the back third: The lovely, hunky, sexy, gorgeous, luscious draft created by sixty moving bikes in front of you.

Now, of course, I was awake. Eyes wide open. Heart pounding. Adrenaline gushing. Balls sweating. So grateful to still be upright that I didn’t even bother to curse at the idiot who slammed on his brakes. Another rider was less courteous. “Don’t slam on your brakes in the middle of the pack! Just go over the hole! It’s not that big and won’t kill you!”

Winning!

Most of the serious racers in the South Bay are done racing by the end of September. This is why I begin my build in August, so that I can peak when no one else is even going hard.

Today’s Kettle was denominated a “noodle ride,” which meant that unofficial orders had been passed out that there would be no hammering.

As soon as the light turned green at Temescal, I hammered. When you’re a wanker, the best time to be fit is when it doesn’t count. This lets you crow about how you spanked 60 of the best (“They were minutes behind! Minutes!”), and more importantly, it sets the stage for proper excusifying when racing begins in 2013.

“Fuck man, I was flying in September and October. Just missed my peak, you know, otherwise I’d be killing everyone like I was doing on the Kettle, beating those wankers by minutes. Minutes!”

Even on a noodle ride, there are always a handful of idiots who can’t resist the challenge of a throwdown, and today was no exception. Pistol Pete, Knoll, Major Bob, Rio Dan, Dan-O (for a while), Treebeard (from Colorado), Hammer Nutrition (Hammernut for short), and a gang of others joined in the stretched out line on PCH while the bulk of the wankoton shook their heads in contempt.

Before long, Pistol Pete, Knoll, Rio Dan, and Hammernut had ground everyone else up into little pieces of biker dung. Roaring into Cross Creek, Knoll jolted away, but soon exploded like a water balloon attached to a 45- jigawatt transmission line. Hammernut and Major Bob sprunted by as I wheezed and watched. Finally Pistol Pete, after having pulled for three days without rest, closed the gap with me somehow finding the energy to suck his wheel as he blew past Bob and Nut. Just as he smelled victory at the bridge, my wheelsucking ways paid the dividend of allowing me to sneakily sprunt by him at the end.

We turned around and rode back to Santa Monica Peet’s where Knoll treated us to coffee. Major Bob and I then returned to the South Bay. The plague seemed to have passed. Whew.

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