Strawberry fields forever

April 20, 2014 § 9 Comments

The night had started off slowly. I was sitting next to a couple of dudes at the bar and they were discussing beer. “I like the slightly fruity finish, almost strawberryish,” one said of his light-colored ale.

“Yeah. And it’s amazing the way it starts with a full nose, almost chocolatey, then transforms into something airy and almost, like you said, a fruity aromatic.”

I looked at my 32-oz. glass of suds. “Are you guys talking about beer or edible underwear?” I asked.

They laughed nervously. “Ha, ha. Good one. What are you drinking?”

“Racer 5.”

“Oh, that’s a good beer,” approved Fruity Finish.

“Yes, very workmanlike, solid,” added Chocolatey Nose. “For sure it’s a biggie and has those strong citrus notes. Kind of muted compared to others but still lots of orange rind and piney notes. It’s a big beer, for sure.”

“It is?” I asked, wondering if they were talking about the big mug.

“Oh, yes,” chimed in Fruity Finish. “I’d add that, you know, it’s a well-balanced bitey IPA, right?” He eyed my giant mug. “You’ll get a better nose from a tulip glass, it’ll let the smell travel and pull out the high notes on that classic mix of piney, mango, citrus, resin, dankness. There’s enough bitterness, nicely mixes with the fruity, citrusy, fresh finish.”

I looked at them as if they were trying take upskirt photos of my wife. “You think so?” I asked.

Fruity Finish and Chocolatey Nose nodded. “How would you describe it?” asked Chocolately Nose.

I took another swallow from the giant mug as the bitter liquid charged down my throat. I savored it for a moment. “Hmmm,” I said. “Tastes like ass.”

The two connoisseurs winced. “Ass?”

“Yep,” I said, taking another swig. “A big old nasty swallow of ass. And that’s what beer’s supposed to taste like, by the way.”

They didn’t know what to say, so I continued. “Beer is one of the nastiest things ever invented, worse than kimchi. It’s rotted inedible offal stewed in a pot and left in a bucket to rot some more. If it doesn’t taste like shit you’re doing it wrong.”

Fruity Nose protested. “Good craft beer …”

“Fuck good craft beer. Beer tastes foul when you start and gets fouler with each successive swallow. That’s why by your tenth beer you’re cross-eyed trying to choke the shit down. That’s why men drink it after a long day digging ditches or clear cutting virgin old growth. If you’re going to fructify and chocolatify it, might as well soak a pair of flavored edible panties in ethanol and eat that.”

Convo saver

The two experts politely turned away, which was perfect timing because up came the Godfather. He sat down at the bar next to me and ordered a beer. Like a man, he pointed to my glass and said to the bartender, “I’ll have what he’s having.” Like a man, he didn’t bother to ask what it was, he just assumed that it was strong and bitter and there was a lot of it.

“How’d you get into cycling, Godfather?” I asked him.

The barkeep plopped the huge cold mug in front of him and he paused to take a deep, manly draft after we clinked the shit out of those 12-lb. mugs. “Fatty tuna,” he said.

I thought about that for a second, hoping like hell he wasn’t about to pronounce that there was a finishing note of raw fish. “Not saying I’m drunk, Godfather, but you’re gonna have to help me out with that one.”

“Fatty tuna,” he repeated. “And strawberries.” Then, like a man, he sucked down a full quarter of his glass and dissected it the only way any man worth his salt would ever evaluate a beer. “That shit is good,” he said.

“Damn straight,” I said, adding the only man-approved comment to another man’s approval of a cold beer. “But I’m still not understanding the berries and tuna thing and what it has to do with bikes.”

Godfather lives up on top of the Hill and runs the global energy consulting arm of IBM. He is always nicely dressed and seems like the perfect product of Southern California suburbia. But he isn’t. “You know, I grew up in Pedro,” he said, referring to San Pedro, the impoverished little armpit at the southernmost tail of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. “We were fishermen, and our family had fished the peninsula since they emigrated from a little village in Sicily in the early 1900′s. All of Pedro was fishermen, mostly Italians and Portuguese, and Croats, too.”

“Pedro?” I asked, incredulously. “You mean the place that’s now crawling with gangs and drunk longshoremen and street people who live in shopping carts?”

“The same,” he said. “We had three boats, the biggest was the Giuseppe, a hundred-footer. When I got big enough to work the boat, I was seven, they took me on my first run. We left in the wee hours and sailed up by Abalone Cove, shining lights on the surface to bring up the squid. Once we had a full load of squid, we sailed farther out to the bait barge and cashed in our bait for money that we used to fuel up the Giuseppe and the chaser boat.”

“What’s a chaser boat?”

“We had a little motorboat hanging on the back of the Giuseppe, my dad ran that.”

I tried to envision all of this happening right here on the coast of Southern California in the late 1960′s, a family fishing operation off a peninsula that’s now slathered in tract housing, faux Mediterranean designs, and filled with people whose only conception of beer is fruity finishes and chocolatey noses.

“I bet your old man liked beer,” I said.

“Damn straight he did. But we were a big Italian family, so he loved wine, too. Anyway, we fueled up the boat and headed out because we knew the tuna were running up from Baja, and if we could land a decent catch we’d be able to keep a roof over our heads for the next three months or so. It was a big deal. Grandpa climbed up into the crow’s nest and started scanning the water for dolphin fins because the tuna ran beneath the dolphin schools. Sure enough, he spotted ‘em. He had eyes like a hawk, just like the whalers back in the day.

“He shouted down to dad, and we rolled the chaser boat into the water, and dad cranked the motor and set out after those tuna with grandpa coming up under a full head of steam. Dad got to the school, and started to turn it with the chaser boat, bringing the dolphins back to the Giuseppe, where we had the nets. It was exciting stuff, yelling and the crew doing everything just exactly at the right time and then bam, those nets were filled with tuna and all hell broke loose. We wound up with three tons of tuna that run.”

“So what does that have to do with cycling and strawberries?” I’d managed to hang onto that thread despite the boat chase and the tuna catch and the squid and the old Italians drinking beer.

“I’d ridden my bike down to the harbor that morning at dark-thirty. Dad filleted a 30-lb. cut of fatty tuna, wrapped it in some newspaper, and put it in my basket. Now mind you, the bike and the tuna weighed almost as much as I did. ‘Go get us some berries, Gerald,’ he said. So I had to crank that big steel bicycle loaded down with fresh fish all the way up the wall on 25th Street and out PV Drive South out to what is now Trump National Golf Course. It wasn’t a golf course then, I can assure you.”

“What was it?”

“Strawberry fields. And corn fields. Paolo and Maria Pugliese farmed strawberries all along the coast along with a couple of other families.”

“You’re shitting me.”

“I am not. Where you now see multi-million dollar McMansions and a golf course there used to be strawberry fields and old Italians with sunburnt faces. It took me forever to get there, lugging that fish on that heavy bike. Remember, I was only seven. Finally I got there, and old Paolo took my fish and handed me two big wicker baskets. ‘Go pick your berries, Gerald,’ he said. So for the next two hours I bent over in the fields picking those fresh strawberries, then I rode home.”

“And that is how you got into cycling?” I asked.

Gerald finished off his beer in a one long manly pull. “Yes,” he said. “It is.”

END

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You’re in our way!

June 12, 2013 § 44 Comments

“Oh Dog,” I kept reminding myself as idiot after idiot took the mike. “These are the ones who bothered to show up. These are the smart ones.”

Sitting at the San Pedro town hall meeting at Peck Park a few minutes ago reinforced the truth: The wheels of democracy are turned by those who show up.

It was supposed to be a big showdown between the Pedro Troglodytes Who Hate Bike Lanes and the South Bay Enlightened Bicycle Riding Community, but only half the fight card showed up. As usual, the bicycle riders were too tired from the NPR, or from commuting, or from relaxing at home post-ride with a beer and a bong and a steroid cream rubdown to show up and advocate for something as pedestrian as bike lanes.

Despite the LA County Bike Coalition and lots of other do-gooders’ attempts to rally the troops, the troops sunk deeper into the La-Z-Boy and ceded the field to the true crazies. I mean, hey, why show up to a real meeting with real people when you can post meeting notices on Facebook and show your activism by sharing Jon Stewart takedowns of Dorothy Rabinowitz?

I showed up on my ‘cross bike with a helmet, jeans (pant leg rolled up), Krypto lock and shoulder bag. There were a few other bicycle riders interspersed among the frothing Pedro bike haters, and they all looked as frightened as I felt.

The Pedro outrage at the All Powerful Bicycle Lobby Enterprise

Los Angeles has one of the nation’s most anemic, lame-ass bike plans for a city of its size, but it’s a lot better than nothing and in its own fumbling way the city is trying to expand the plan. So what if implementation won’t finish for another thirty years? 79 will be a great age for me to enjoy a semi-connecting series of bike lanes. Part of the city’s plan involved striping some bike lanes on a couple of streets in San Pedro, a sop to the numerous cyclists and bike commuters who have to daily navigate that city’s bad roads and toxic atmospheric soup.

At the meeting it became clear that, as is almost always the case, the bike lane on Westmont wasn’t actually put there for bicyclists. It was installed as a “traffic calming measure,” which is engineer speak for “getting the lazyfuks in their gas guzzlers to drive 30 mph over the school zone speed limit rather than 50.”

Apparently, the bike lanes on Westmont had their intended effect, which was to slow down morning traffic by the school and also give bicycle riders a short lane in which to feel free and protected before being tossed out again into the sharkpit of Pedro’s bike-hostile streets. However, the sag-ass, droopy-bosom contingent was not amused and they had demanded a public meeting at which they could show they were stupid AND out of shape.

Until this meeting, I thought that all the congenital idiots on the Palos Verdes Peninsula lived in PV Estates and RH Estates, as I’ve attended bike meetings in both city council chambers and been impressed with the general cluelessness, rabid prejudice, and willful ignorance openly showcased by morons in both cities. However, the Pedroites in opposition to the bike lanes showed themselves every bit the match of their richer neighbors when it came to pigheadedness, sloth, and hatred of bicycles.

One fat slob with ankles that were bigger around than my neck kept interrupting the city engineers with catcalls, scornful “harrumphs,” and the kind of drunken public behavior that you expect at Godmother’s but not at a public meeting. Another turdblossom was panting and out of breath simply from the exertion of sitting down. Both took the mike and scored points for the large segment of the population that doesn’t just want to be fat and ill, but that wants you to be that way, too.

The real problem with bike lanes

The Pedroites made clear what the problem with bike lanes was: Bicycles get in their way. The dialogue went like this:

City Engineer: “Bike lanes slow traffic and decrease death and injury.”

Pedroites: “They’re in our way!”

City Planner: “Bike lanes increase bicycling which decreases traffic congestion.”

Pedroites: “They’re in our way!”

LA County Bike Coalition: “Decreased carbon emissions are part of a state and federal mandate to combat global warming; bicycle riding decreases those emissions.”

Pedroites: “They’re in our way!”

Traffic Engineer: “Bike lanes increase ridership which improves air quality and helps meet state and federal clean air requirements.”

Pedroites: “They’re in our way!”

Unfortunately, the bike coalition people, traffic engineers, and city staff attempted to accommodate and conciliate with the rabid, stupid Pedroites who hadn’t bothered to read the Bicycle Master Plan but felt qualified to criticize it anyway. As is often the case at town meetings, the desire not to antagonize the local idiots frequently runs afoul of the truth, which in this case was painfully obvious.

Painfully obvious truth: Bike lane opponents were dreadfully fat and sickeningly unfit

The great thing about America used to be that it was okay to be morbidly obese and encourage your children to adopt lifestyles that helped them get quickly on the path to Type 2 Diabetes while they were still in elementary school. I grew up in Texas, where horrible health was and is a matter of pride, and of course I’ve always supported the right of my fellow Americans to be disgustingly fat, even when it means their obesity impinges on me in the neighboring airplane seat. I’ve even supported giving free, nationalized health care to people who intentionally eat themselves into a whole medicopia of obesity-related diseases.

But just as I’ve never tried to encourage any of them to lay off the tater tots or, for Dog’s sake, go ride a bike around the block, I’ve also never supported the right of those people to force their lifestyle on me. They want to die from diabetes or heart disease after a lengthy illness and years spent in an electric cart. I want to die on the hood of a pickup. To each his own, right?

It’s too bad that our society has become, on the one hand, mean and nasty, and on the other hand, afraid to say things that are mean and nasty and true. In the case of the Pedro bike lanes, the cruel truth is that the bike lane opponents were caricatures of an anti-bicycle lobby that is fat, lazy, and hideously out of shape. Their hatred of the bike lanes was nothing more than a reaction to the fact that each bicycle rider was a reminder of their own laziness and sloth. It never dawned on any of the haters that the reason they were overweight wasn’t because of the bike lanes.

“I had to wait five extra minutes to drop off my kids!” wailed one lady whose bosom drooped around her ankles and whose ass-halves looked like they hadn’t been worked since 1982.

“We need to fix potholes, not add bike lanes!” shouted one drunken lardass, whose three chins jiggled so violently that they shook off beads of sweat that had collected in between the folds.

“Bike lanes are dangerous for drivers!” complained one dyspeptic old sow, matted white wig askew on her liver-spotted skull, three stomach folds drooping down like a series of miniblinds, and front-tummy pouch busting so hard up against the zipper on her sweatpants that the little flap of cloth stood straight out from the zipper seam.

One teletubby in front of me stood up, lost his balance, and almost tripped over his own chair because his stomach was so big that he couldn’t see the edge of the seat. “Why weren’t we told about these lanes!” he shouted, even though the engineer had just rattled off half a dozen public meetings in San Pedro at which the whole thing had been discussed and approved by the community.

In other words, the people who were most incensed about the bike lanes were the ones who felt most threatened by the idea that someone could pedal a bike up the moderately steep incline on Westmont without having heart failure. It was personal.

Helping bridge the gap

When it came my turn to speak I praised the bike lanes, praised the bike master plan, and made fun of the people who were so lazy and slothful that rather than make their kids walk or bike the .5 mile to school, they insisted on driving them in a traffic jam. In response to their wailing about the “dangerous” bike lanes, I pointed out that of all the injury cases I’ve handled, I’ve yet to have a driver come in and say, “I was severely injured by a bicyclist who ran over my Suburban.”

I reminded them that they were fat, out of shape, and that like it or not, we bicycle riders had a legal right to use the street and we weren’t going away. They booed and catcalled, and as I left one nasty, droopsy lady accosted me.

“How many kids do you have to carpool?” she shouted.

“None.”

“Well, I have four!”

“You should make the little fuckers walk or bike so they won’t look like you.”

“Are you calling me fat?”

“No. I’m calling you morbidly obese and dumber than a box of hammers. Now get out of my way before your blood pressure and high cholesterol get the better of you.”

With that exchange I left, pleased to have helped more people have positive, enlightened feelings about those of us who bicycle. It’s hard to win friends and influence people, but you can do it if you try.

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