Masters of the coffeeshop

May 25, 2018 § 10 Comments

When I was a kid we didn’t have a television, so getting to watch cartoons at my friends’ houses was an especial treat. When my kids were kids, we didn’t have a television either, so getting to watch any television at all was an especial treat. Now that one of my kids has kids, she doesn’t let them watch television, which is easy because they don’t have one.

I do, however, have a laptop that I take to court and to depositions, and sometimes when I travel, and a laptop is pretty much a television thanks to YouTube. About a year ago my eldest grandson started sneaking up into bed with me after they had come over for dinner, and I began putting on television shows for him. I am a subversive grandpa.

We started with Timmy Time, which of course wasn’t around when I was a kid, and then for a long time we watched nothing but Speed Racer, the old ones. His favorite was The Mammoth Car, parts one and two, and we watched them together over and over and over.

We didn’t actually watch, he did. I sat next to him leaned up against my prop pillow and read. The first couple of times I watched Speed Racer it was nostalgic but after that it was just stupid. Television was stupid then and it is stupid now, but sometimes, I’ve learned, stupid is okay, especially when you can sneak in a good book.

Recently, my grandson graduated from Speed Racer to He-Man, and the Masters of the Universe. I only vaguely knew about this because by the time it was produced in the early 80’s, I was at college, t.v.-less, and buried in my books about philosophy and history. The only reason I knew about it at all was because one of my riding buddies, Spanky, was an ardent He-Man fan at age 24, and would occasionally sing the theme song on rides.

The collapsing of the American mind

A major audience for YouTube cartoons is grown men. Say whatever you want about the profundity of modern animation and how it “isn’t just for children anymore,” but don’t say it to me. He-Man, Speed Racer, and their ilk are a wasteland. And society knows it. I’ve yet to meet an adult who admits to kicking back after work for a few episodes of the Smurfs. Better to admit you’re an opioid addict, a vaper, or a time triallist.

Yesterday I had to drive to Bakersfield to go to court on a bike case, and I got there pretty early, with more than an hour to spare, so I pulled into a crowded Starbucks to get a coffee and answer a few emails. There was only one stool available up against the window, along a narrow bar, the kind where if you open up your computer everyone can see what’s on it.

My laptop is pretty new, it’s an Apple, and I’m a PC dude, which is one reason I don’t use it for much besides cartoons with my grandson. I’m not comfortable with it and don’t know all the controls well.

I sat down, opened up the screen, and logged on.

Unlike my PC, which is slower than dental surgery, the Mac is crazy fast. You enter the password and boom! You are up and running.

What up and ran, unfortunately, was the last thing that had been playing, which was the theme song to the next episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, where I’d had to turn off the laptop so my grandson could go home. And of course it was on at almost-full volume.

Everyone turned and stared at the dude in a black suit with a leather briefcase, looking oh-so professional and ready to collect scalps in court as he fumbled with the laptop screaming a moronic kiddie show. A couple of people snickered. And of course I couldn’t find the fucking volume switch, and of course the little “x” where you close a screen on a Mac is different from a PC, so enough seconds went by that the whole Starbucks got to take it in.

I don’t often blush, but I did then. The guy on the next stool was looking at me with a smirk.

“It was playing for my grandson last night,” I said, loud enough that people around me could hear.

“Whatever, man,” the smirking guy said. “I don’t judge.”

END

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On the rivet (Raid)

May 24, 2018 § 4 Comments

Miserably hard.

Crazy fun.

Gorgeous roads.

Spine-crunching climbs.

Lung-emptying vistas.

Dirt roads.

Five-star coffee.

Racer Five.

Tough as nails riders.

Low water crossings.

Dazzling countryside

Carless dirt tracks.

Rolling country roads.

Oceanside.

Crisp mountain air.

Dickstomping competition.

Camaraderie.

Humor.

Familiar faces.

Fresh meat.

Grizzled veterans.

MTB wizards.

Road warriors.

Full support.

Sock lottery.

Challenge.

Accomplishment,

Luck.

Destiny.

Self-made fate.

Exhilaration.

Fear.

Unforgettable.

In 2017 I got to experience all this and a thousand adjectives more. It’s all awaiting you on the 2018 Rivet Raid. Don’t miss it.

END

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908A9746-Edit

Copyright 2017 Steve Cohen, Used with Permission

TLC strikes (itself) again!

May 23, 2018 § 7 Comments

Two weeks off. Fresh legs. Telo start. Small field, 20-ish. Hitters King Harold, Frexit, Brexit, EA Sports, Inc., Baby Seal, Heavy D., Medium Banana, Chase.

Heavy D. Lap 2 launch. 4 riders. Brought back. Stayed towards front. Pulled through. Ten minutes in field relaxed. Frexit chilling. Greensox and Heavy D. at the back. EA Sports, Inc. watching. Baby Seal flapping flippers.

Chad attacks. Followed. Took turns, him into the headwind, me on the tailwind. Good gap four laps. Felt the chase. Heard a noise while on the front. Never looked, just sprinted. Right reaction; Frexit. Barely grabbed on.

Full Frexit death mode. Hang on for dear life. See rear shadow. It’s Chase. Chad got him to within striking distance, Chase closed, Chad couldn’t get across. Another lap. Joined by EA Sports, Inc. Glad I’ve got teammate Chase with me.

Chase sandbags with baby pulls. Break established. Frexit and EA Sports, Inc. not pulling hard, thinking about the sprunt. I fear getting caught. Keep digging hard. Chase sandbags.

Five to go. King Harold, Baby Seal, Medium Banana six seconds back. EA Sports, Inc. senses the chase. Revs it up. Frexit throws down monster pulls. Can barely come through. Gap reopens. Chase loading more sandbags than a citizen volunteer crew before a hurricane.

One to go. Headwind section. EA Sports, Inc. and Frexit eyeing each other. Chase loading more sandbags for the sprunt.

Slowly roll away. Gap. Head down. Go almost all-in. Gap grows through chicane. Out of chicane, might stick this one.

Chase realizes teammate is up the road. EA Sports, Inc. and Frexit shrug. We ain’t chasing Wanky just so the other guy can outsprunt me. Chase sees teammates, does the arithmetic:

Do nothing = Teammate wins

Chase = Probably catch teammate, lose to EA Sports, Inc. and Frexit.

Therefore, third and fourth for TLC better than a win.

Chase chases.

EA Sports, Inc., Frexit laugh. Everyone knows they can count on Chase to chase.

Chase chases.

Chase catches at the last turn.

EA Sports, Inc. and Frexit leave Chase like overturned manure wagon in ditch. Chase beats Wanky for third. TLC strikes (itself) again!

END

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Local motion

May 22, 2018 § 16 Comments

I have a friend named Nancy. She rides bikes. She is a super friendly lady. Nancy always smiles at you, compliments you, has something nice to say. Weirder still, it’s sincere.

Occasionally I will do a bike seminar with her and her friends and she always finds some way to thank me. Sometimes it’s a coffee card, sometimes it’s a treat at a coffee shop, and most recently it was a gift card to an Italian cafe that specializes in … coffee.

Nancy knows what I like.

Down at the grass roots

Thing is, Nancy knows what everyone likes, and what everyone likes is a good word. It’s funny how a good word here and a good word there can make good things happen. For instance, if I asked you to name the biggest bike club in Los Angeles you might say it was Velo Club La Grange, or Team Lizard Collectors, or Beach Cities Cycling Club, or Team Gargantua, but you would be wrong.

The honkingest bike club in Los Angeles is almost certainly the PV Bike Chicks, with over 900 members. I’ve totally made up the statement that they’re the biggest, but you have to admit, 900 is massive.

How did it get that way? I’m sure I don’t know. But part of it has to do with the vibe that Nancy is famous for. It’s the vibe of inclusiveness and friendliness. In fact, all of the PV Bike Chicks I’ve ever met are that way. Chicks on bikes just want to have fun, apparently.

I’ve noticed something else about my friend Nancy. She’s always trying to figure out how to help local businesses get a toehold.

How can I help?

Remember Steve Bowen, the wonderful man who ran the PV Bicycle Center? Nancy was an ardent supporter of his. The new bike shop over on Deep Valley that opened up a little while ago? Nancy makes sure everyone knows about it. The little cafe next to the PV Ranch Market? Yep, Nancy makes sure to patronize it and introduce other folks to it, along with the other businesses there.

So when she gave me a $25 gift card to a new coffee shop called Caffe Tre Venezie that has opened up on PCH and Madison, we went over to check it out. As you might expect, the moment we showed the owner our gift card, he smiled broadly. “You must be friends of Nancy!”

Alessandro is Italian, and his cappuccino is sublime. The gelato, equally so. There was even a dude hunched over an Italian textbook, practicing phrases with Alessandro in between customers. The coffee and gelato were great, but the vibe was even better. And of course it always feels good to thumb your nose at Starbucks.

Being there made me think about how powerful one person can be when she’s out there trying to do good, saying good things about people, supporting their businesses, doing what she can to make the hard work of entrepreneurship just a little bit easier.

What if everyone were that way?

END

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Breadversations

May 21, 2018 § 12 Comments

If you have grown kids who have moved out of the house, gone to some faraway place and started a family of their own, you may have experienced “conversation awkwardness,” especially if you are a guy talking to your son. This happens when you are having a conversation and the son is very animated and updates you on all kinds of interesting stuff, after which he lobs the ball back into your court.

“So what’s new with you, dad?”

Well, the fact is that there’s nothing new with you and hasn’t been for about twenty years. You are stuck in a rut deeper than the folds in Trump’s chins, and although you might be able to muster up a news item or two, chances are good that when you reflect on your past week or month, everything seems like it’s been painted with the old unvarying color of same.

“Oh, not much. Same old stuff, really.”

This is a pretty classic dad answer, even if you manage to garnish it with a doodad or two about a bike ride or something you read in the news.

Prepping for conversation

Since re-entering the gladiator ring of Facebag I’ve been super savvy. Before I log on, I take out a notepad and jot down exactly what I’m going to say. Then I go online, type in my update, do a couple of other things, and log off.

Although the idea behind this strategy is self-protection from the Face-abyss (Destroyer once told me I was #socmed bipolar), it occurred to me that this technique might also be, at least in part, a good strategy for kidversations. So before I dialed up my son in Vienna this morning, I jotted down a few notes to prepare myself for the inevitable “What’s new with you, dad?”

The notes are reprinted below for your benefit. Feel free to use them in your next kidversation, or to make up your own.

What’s new with me

“Well, I’ve been baking bread lately, as you know, and I made a little outline so that there would be some give as well as take in the give-and-take. So here’s what’s new with me, son:

  • A mostly-bread diet has helped me control my weight. Sounds crazy, but whole grains chock full of seeds and eaten with butter, cheese, and jam fill you up from one meal to the next, so no snacking. [Opportunity for son to express disbelief at this latest quack theory.]
  • By baking every day you have way more bread than you can possibly eat, so I’ve been giving it away. It’s fun to give away bread. People seem to like it. [Opportunity for son to express amazement that I would spend so much time doing something and then simply donate it to the bottomless pit charity of cyclist stomachs.]
  • Bread is great for cycling. You don’t have to buy candy bars anymore or snacks of any kind. Just wrap up a couple of small bricks with PBJ in tinfoil and you’re good for 100 miles. [Opportunity for son to note that home baking, when you factor in the time, is about 1,000 times more expensive than a Clif bar.]
  • Little kids love it. Grandkids and friends’ small children like fresh bread. This is way better than a new video game. [Opportunity for son to openly doubt that small children like gnarly, 281-grain bread with the density of the atmosphere on Venus.]
  • Baking everyday is a great part of a healthy morning routine. [Opportunity for son to scoff at having to awake daily at 4:00 AM for anything, ever.]
  • Every time you pull a loaf out of the oven it’s exciting to see how it will look. An adventure in every loaf! [Opportunity for son to wonder why, after the first three hundred loaves, you’re still unsure how it’s going to turn out. Competency issues?]
  • Bread is a great intersection with all things Germanic. Think Viennese bakeries! Sechskornbrot! [Opportunity for son to point out that you can get all the same recipes by running them through Google Translate without having to mutilate German.]
  • Super fun meeting other home bakers, who also happen to be cyclists, and who share your passion for 4:00 AM. [Opportunity for son to doubt that other home bakers are equally unbalanced.]
  • Learning how to bake requires dad to avail himself of mom’s baking expertise, which leads to lots of great spousal interactions in the kitchen, teamwork-type stuff. [Opportunity for son to closely question how long this goes on before it leads to an argument.]
  • Down with consumerism! Home baking frees you from the shackles of the supermarket’s industrial food chain and Wonder Bread, and you can bake only what you need using basic, organic, healthy ingredients. [Opportunity for son to ask why, if it’s so economical, you make so much you have to give it away, and also have to buy a $500 home grain-mill.]
  • Books! Anyone who bakes will eventually buy a library of baking books, and reading is its own highest good. [Opportunity for son to point out how this is more rampant consumerism disguised as education.]
  • Travel opportunities for bread bakers abound. Now, each trip abroad can focus on visiting a quaint bakery with some local, historical specialty. [Opportunity for son to note that 10% of global carbon emissions are from tourism.]
  • Reducing needless food purchases because good bread goes with everything. [Opportunity for son to note that no, it doesn’t, you’re just on a bread kick now, dad, and will soon tire of it.]
  • Home baking is a new hipster trend that has outflanked craft beer and beard care products. Your old man is now on the cutting edge! [Opportunity for son to sigh.]

In the final analysis

As the conversation wrapped up, my son looked at me through the Facetime thingy and smiled, especially after I gave him a tour of the giant 11-gallon buckets filled with flour, seeds, and wheat berries.

“My family is … funny,” he said.

He’s a very literate guy. I’m sure that wasn’t the first adjective that came to mind.

END

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He’s a real NOWhere man

May 20, 2018 § 6 Comments

I got a text from Pornstache. “6:40 AM CotKU. Yerba Buena, 100+. It will be fun.”

Despite the obvious lie I showed up, along with Surfer, Ruins, LoLo, Megajoules, and Medium Banana. Pornstache was in a great mood. “If we hustle we can make the NOW ride and get a free tow up PCH, then continue on to Yerba.”

This made no sense at all, first and foremost because there are no “free” tows in cycling, and certainly not on the NOW ride. Not that I’d ever done it.

In fact, for years I had studiously avoided it. It is the West Side’s answer to the Donut, minus all the climbing. If rumor were to be believed, the NOW ride was a 28-30 mph jaunt up the coast in an insane bike mob of 70 to 100 idiots. It begins in Santa Monica, but that first eight or nine miles of blistering speed on the pancake flat portion of PCH going to Malibu is just the warm up.

The grenade goes off on Pepperdine Hill, and I’ve eaten plenty of grenades in my cycling life. No desire to eat another one.

“Dude,” I said to Pornstache. “Have you ever done the NOW ride?”

“Nope. But it goes up PCH so we can just hop in.”

I shook my head. “Yeah, like you can hop into a steel foundry.”

You shoulda been here yesterday

During my surfing career as the world’s biggest kook EVER, I learned early that no matter how great the surf was when you paddled out, as soon as you commented on its awesomeness the guy next to you would shrug, bored. “Yeah, it’s okay. But you shoulda been here yesterday. Triple overhead, low tide, and hollow AF.”

We joined the NOW ride as they descended from Santa Monica towards PCH and I made mental note of the hitters. Pain was there. Head Down James was there. SoCal Cycling dude was there. Charon was there. Engel was there with a gnarly looking teammate. And there were a dozen or so other bonesnapping riders who were sweating testosterone, in addition to our South Bay contributions, especially Megajoules.

I rode up next to Head Down James. “Hey, man. How’s this ride shake out?”

“You’ve never done it before?” he asked incredulously.

“No.”

“Things get pretty lively on Pepperdine Hill. I was dropped there the last two weeks when the hitters showed up. It was hard, man.”

My stomach churned. I had never not been dropped by Head Down James. And if he was calling someone else a hitter, what did that make me, besides a roach under the heel of a boot?

Next I rode up to Pain. “What’s up, Tony?” I said.

“Hey, man, good to see ya! You picked a good week. None of the hitters are here this week. Should be easy.”

“Triple overhead and hollow last week, huh?”

Pain laughed. “Exactly.”

I felt a little squirt in my chamois as we hit PCH and the pace immediately went from languid to Very Effin Fast. I hunkered down over the bars and sat at the back, glued to Head Down James. Whatever was going to happen, he would be there.

Bleating of the lambs

According to Head Down James for whom this was a warm-up for what would be his 140-mile, 12k feet of climbing “average day,” we were doing 28, but it didn’t hurt at all tucked in at the back, sucking wheel for all I was worth while the worthies up front gnashed and mashed. And before I knew it we were approaching the bottom of Pepperdine Hill.

By now I knew that there was zero chance of making the split. So I came off of Head Down James’s wheel and surfed over to Surfer’s, who had slotted in second wheel behind Pornstache. I wondered what the hell Pornstache was doing at the front on a ride he’d never even done before at the exact moment the Brownings were about to open fire.

I soon found out as he lit the fuse at the bottom of the hill, quickly gapping out Surfer.

Just so you understand, Pepperdine Hill isn’t long and it isn’t steep. I’m not great with distances and you can find it on Strava if you really want to know what it’s like. Maybe half a mile and seven percent? I dunno.

It doesn’t really matter because about halfway up my legs caught fire. Not that gradual heating up where you start to think “Uh-oh, I am fucked,” but the sudden injection of molten lava and acid into every muscle at once, and the pain hits you like a Trump speech, nasty, awful, unbearable, loathsome, and filled with vileness and bile.

Surfer kept going and I heard the hoofbeats of the onrushing herd, the sound intoning “droppage” from all those carbon wheels starting to accelerate at the very moment I had decided to decelerate in the other direction. [Reader’s note: Technically, acceleration is a change in velocity over time, so acceleration can be both positive, or negative. Unfortunately, along came the automobile, and engineers simply couldn’t have a positive and a negative accelerator pedal. Too sciencey, and the general populace became acquainted with negative acceleration as deceleration.]

The wisdom of Daniel Holloway

However, my decision to post up at the front hadn’t been completely dumb reflex. Best U.S. Bike Racer Daniel Holloway had once told me that it’s better to be at the front of a climb and then drift back as the faster riders pass, trying to latch onto the very end, than it is to be at the back of the chain and try to match their accelerations.

The only problem with his strategy was the “latch on” part.

Elijah blew by. Charon blew by. Head Down James Blew by. Pain blew by. DNA dudes blew by. SoCal Cycling dude blew by. Megajoules FLEW by. Then a string of complete strangers blew by. In the horror fog I got that funny feeling that I was the last guy, and unable to look back, I grabbed the final wheel in the sweep.

There were only about a hundred yards to go. Only. Kind of like “only another hundred yards with both thumbs slammed in the car door.”

If Mr. Scott had been in charge he would have uttered more obscenities than Howard Stern, but the engine was engulfed with flames, smoke, poisonous gas, and eruptions of plutonium from its cracked nuclear core. I played every mind game in my thin and tattered book of tricks until I came to the last page, which was ugly, brutal, and jagged around the edges and writ large: “Don’t quit, wanker!”

Everything went dark around me except the stranger’s wheel, and at that very moment when the collapse of willpower and muscular power intersect, I was over the top. At that precise moment of course the beasts at the front jumped. I mechanically stood, and what I did wasn’t a jump, or even a hop, barely even a skip, but it connected me to the caboose.

I glanced back only to see the brokedick remnants of the peloton smeared along the roadside in little clumps like bugsplat on a windshield.

“You made it,” Pain said with a grin, as if he’d just strolled around the block with a puppy. “Good job.”

I said something no one could understand. Me, either.

Freedom isn’t free, at least on the NOW

To make a miserable story less so, additional people got ejected from the lead group. I brought up the rear as we rolled into the first rest stop at Trancas. Pornstache looked breezy.

“Great idea, getting a free tow with the NOW ride,” I mumbled.

“Aw, come on,” he said. “It wasn’t that bad.”

I looked around at the other riders, none of whom was within ten years, and most of whom weren’t within twenty. “Yes,” I said. “It was.”

Before long the ambitious plan to ride Yerba Buena, an endless, badly paved, faraway road of death had been reconditioned into a trip up Decker Lane, a less endless, well paved, much steeper road of death. I went along, got to the top and gave up, turning tail and riding home.

Fortunately, I was overtaken at Zuma by two very fresh dudes from team Every Man Jack. They set the needle at 26 and hauled me back to Sunset in no time, which was great, but which left me with another 30 miles to go and no legs to get there with. I got to see a motorcycle collision, a police rolling enclosure along PCH for a group of marchers, and my friends Deb Sullivan, Kristina Ooi, Alx Bns, and Matt Wikstrom, all in the course of my ride home.

When I got back, I was, um, tired. Or should I say a zombie?

In any event, if you ever start thinking it’s NOW or never, I encourage you to choose never.

END

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1

Do bike lanes make drivers friendlier?

May 19, 2018 § 14 Comments

You can’t help notice the change when you start getting closer to Santa Monica. The overt hostility that is a fact of life here in the South Bay seems to weaken, then disappear altogether.

Take this morning.

We were pedaling harmlessly down Catalina in Redondo Beach, when a scruffy, overweight guy in a tiny, beat-up Subaru who was double parked shouted through his open window, “Quit running stop signs!”

There were no moving cars in sight at 6:30 AM, and his engine wasn’t even on. Rather than chomp down on the bait, I flung it back in his stinking face with a smile and a wave. “Have a nice day!”

This infuriated him. He fired up the ‘Roo and raced up alongside us. “Quit running stop signs!” he shrieked.

“Thanks,” I said. “Have a great day!”

“Fuck off!” he roared.

“Jesus loves you!” I added with a beatific smile.

Into the peace zone

By the time we got to Santa Monica there were cars everywhere. It was morning rush hour and everyone was in a panic to get extra coffee extra quick while texting and driving and emailing “Traffic!” to their bosses as they frantically looked for a parking slot near their fave kaffeehaus.

We were crammed into the narrow little green stripe with traffic passing inches from us. No one wanted to know why we ran stop signs. No one honked except for a dude who gave us a friendly beep and shouted “Have a good ride!” as he passed.

As we drank our cup of coffee on the sidewalk we marveled at the constant stream of bikers, pedestrians, and people riding those little electric Bird thingies. People were everywhere, and didn’t appear to be following any noticeable rules of the road except for the rule of “The shortest distance between me and there is a straight line and I’m taking it.”

Has it changed or am I older or both or neither?

I remember when there was plenty of conflict riding through Santa Monica and Venice, or at least I think I do, back when Abbott-Kinney was an early morning ground zero for epic Walks of Shame, bedraggled waifs hoofing it barefoot with their high heels in one hand and their handbag in the other, long before Uber.

After the bike lanes went in, and it did take a few years, it seemed like bike riding in Santa Monica exploded, and along with it people’s expectations that lawless, unpredictable, stoned or soon-to-be-stoned bikers/skaters/e-bikers/walkers/Segway-ers were lurking on every corner ready to trash their clear coat. And incredibly, people slowed down, or at least they sure seemed to.

In a similar vein, the horrible Bikeway o’ Death on Hermosa Ave. in the South Bay seems to have resulted in completely non-hostile drivers for that short one-mile stretch, combined as it is with BMUFL stickers in the roadway that parallels the cycle track, which gives cyclists a choice to either ride in the Deathway or on the road. No one honks at me any more there.

Is it possible that badly engineered, inherently dangerous, congested and confusing bike infrastructure can actually slow down motorists, make them more patient, and give cyclists a safer riding environment?

Nowadays when I drive downtown I hold the wheel in a lizard grip because of all the cyclists, none of whom is predictable, and all of whom seem to zoom randomly in and out of the numerous bike lanes. It’s almost as if repeated, nonstop chaos keeps the cagers on their toes.

Or at least, it keeps us off their hoods.

END

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