Playin’ possum

November 20, 2017 Comments Off on Playin’ possum

I have been feeling kind of sorry for my ol’ buddy ol’ pal G$ lately. He has gotten super old. I think he’s at least 56 or a 100. I can tell because he doesn’t go that good on the climbs anymore. G$ used to be the fastest climber anywhere, but I have ridden with him a few times lately and he is over the hill.

It’s a sad thing to see, a good buddy who’s a darn good ath-a-lete, one day going gangbusters and the next day all creaky-kneed and slow and hobbling around on a walker drinking pumpkin spice latte. I felt extra sorry for my good ol’ buddy ol’ pal because today was the second leg in the Big Orange a/k/a Team Lizard Collectors First Ever Annual Forevermore Galactic Championships, an amazing competition modeled after a bad haircut that includes a 1k TT, a hillclimb up Latigo Canyon in Malibu, and ten laps around Telo.

Today was the Latigo stage and like I said, it was bittersweet to see ol’ G$ show up, a shadow of his former self but still high-fiving and backslapping and being full of good cheer, like an old dog licking its master’s hand right before you take it out and shoot it. Latigo Canyon is a 40-minute climb if you are really fast, and ol’ G$, my good ol’ buddy ol’ pal, still has top 6 on one of the segments; the overall is owned by “Cookies” Gaimon, who stole it away from Doper McDopeface Levi Leipheimer.

It was a mass start and the thirty or so starters were nervous as they should have been because I had some fiery good legs and was not going to be taking any prisoners. My plan was to start slowly and then gradually ramp it up until the searing pain inflicted by my tremendous power whittled the group down to five or six, including G$, my ol’ buddy ol’ pal. I didn’t want to drop him too quickly because if there’s one thing you learn over a lifetime of bike racing, it’s to show respect to your friends even when they are kind of broke down like one of Lee Iacocca’s K-Cars.

I had told Mrs. WM, who was traveling in the lead car to photo-document my impending victory, that I would be shattering the group at the ten-minute mark, so be ready.

The gun went off and Eric Bruins raced off the line like someone had stuck a string of lit Black Cats in his shorts. It was much faster than my plan stipulated, but I hopped on his wheel and waited. He is young and not too smart, so as soon as he blew up I would take over the pacemaking until the searing pain inflicted by my tremendous power whittled the group down to five or six, including G$, my ol’ buddy ol’ pal.

After a few minutes Eric got really tired, exhausted and on the verge of collapse, actually, but he is one of those guys who likes to try and fake you out with fake toughness so he didn’t slow down at all. Then at about the time I was ready to gradually ramp it up until the searing pain inflicted by my tremendous power whittled the group down to five or six, including G$, my ol’ buddy ol’ pal, my ol’ buddy ol’ pal G$ executed a silly, pointless, hopeless, very amateur, desperation attack.

It was everything he had (which wasn’t much), he went all out, which was kind of sad but I also respected it at the same time. He was going to splat but at least he would do it with panache. Eric hustled onto his wheel, still pretending not to be tired, and I hustled onto Eric’s wheel breathing kind of hard not because I was in the box but because I wanted them to know I wasn’t fooled. Behind me were four other riders, which meant seven, total.

I laughed to myself, because my plan had been to whittle it down to five or six, not six or seven, and we had one wanker too many. About this time poor old brokedown, creaky-kneed, a-little-bit-confused ol’ G$ did another fake attack, this one about as hopeless as the first one. I could see people get worried, but I didn’t get worried at all. I just figured I would let them all go and catch up to them later because I wasn’t quite ready to ramp up my tremendous power yet. Plus, it would make my ol’ buddy ol’ pal G$ feel good to have a little bit of a glory pull by himself with all those 20-and-30-year olds glued to his wheel with their faces all twisted and looking like they were giving a rectal childbirth.

About the time they all disappeared, if only for a moment, Mrs. WM came by with her camera. “Are you winning?” she asked and of course I nodded.

After what seemed like a few hours, along came Hiroyuki, Penta, and Maxson. They were going at a good clip because Hiroyuki was doing all the work while Penta and Maxson skulked at the back. I figured I would help them skulk so I jumped on. I would catch my breath before powering up to my ol’ buddy ol’ pal G$ and attacking him with my tremendous power.

For some reason, Hiroyuki decided not to slow down which made it very hard for me to gather my tremendous power. Penta and Maxson kept trying to skulk onto my wheel but I started playing possum, breathing like a dying man, wobbling, asking for my mother, and refusing to move so much as an inch towards that nasty and awful place filled with bad memories known as “the front.”

Penta and Maxson were not too pleased so they attacked me on the downhill, giving Hiroyuki a few moments’ rest and scaring the bejeezus out me. Hiroyuki then went back to the front and continued to stymie my tremendous power as I, Penta, and Maxson rolled over each others’ tongues, livers, and breakfast. Fortunately, about a quarter mile from the end I began to feel lively and fresh at just about the time that ol’ Penta and Maxson and Hiroyuki, tired from doing all the work, began to do the Bike Racer Arithmetic of “How do I not get last out of the grupetto?”

I jumped hard, throwing down a tremendous 200 watts or maybe 205 and sprunted past them, when up ahead of me, Ivan the Terrible, who had been dropped from the leaders way back in September, looked back and saw me coming on. No matter how tired he was, the thought of being pipped by cranky Gramps in the last hundred yards put the fear of dog into him and he took off like someone had put the other string of lit Black Cats in his shorts.

I almost caught him and would have if the road had been longer, which is Biker Speak for “he beat me,” and when I crossed the line, there he was, my ol’ buddy ol’ pal G$, having dropped everyone on the way to the top and completed the 40-minute climb in 37 minutes.

“Not bad for a guy who’s all washed up,” I said.

“Thanks, ol’ buddy ol’ pal,” he said. And he meant it.

 

Awesome photos courtesy of Geoff Loui and Yasuko Davidson.

END

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Pumpkin spice

November 19, 2017 Comments Off on Pumpkin spice

Every fall, Starbucks pumps out its seasonal offering of pumpkin spice latte. It sounds great and rings in the autumn excesses of too much sugar, too much food, too much booze, and too many prescription medications, but when you think about it, it doesn’t really sound all that great.

Who eats pumpkin? It’s a giant, orange, nasty veggie-fruity thing that stinks and doesn’t taste very good. Pumpkin salad? Pumpkin soup? Pumpkin steak? Pumpkin burger? Ahhh … no, thanks.

Still, you order one anyway because it looks and feels like fall and it’s extra points in your quest to get a free fifty cent drink for every $150 dollars you spend, and you’re usually doing okay until about halfway through, when you start to get queasy from the pure sugar that is 100% sugar and all the completely sugary sugar that fills half the cup, but you keep slurping away, mixing in the whipped cream sugar with the rest of the sugar, until somehow you get to the bottom of the cup, and there it is: A nasty, orange-brown slurry of toxic sludge that suddenly you can’t believe you ate. You stare at it, grossed out, then maybe you fiddle with the end of your straw and suck down a few drops, which are plain old nasty, like drinking the dregs from the sippy cup of a two-year-old who has a bad cold.

In short, you feel terrible. Sugar bombed, 1,200 calories into the red (it’s only 8:00 AM), and, if you’re feeling really guilty you look up the ingredients on the Internet and learn what you already knew. There isn’t even any pumpkin in it, anyway.

pumpkin_spice

Fact is, we have a little seasonal offering like that right here in L.A. It’s called the Dogtown Ride. It’s a special product only sold in fall. You get tagged on Facebag by Tony Manzella, the ride’s progenitor, or you get a private text message if you’re not ‘bagging it anymore, and at 8:00 AM at Dogtown Coffee in Santa Monica the fastest cyclists in L.A. show up to do some early season polishing, and you’re gonna be the whetstone.

Like the pumpkin spice latte, I felt a vague attraction to this seasonal offering, even though I’ve done it before and knew that nothing good ever comes from it. I met up at the appointed hour, thankfully getting there an hour earlier so that I could enjoy what truly is the phenomenal brewing of Dogtown Coffee (no pumpkin spice latte there, folks), and so that I could let my stomach settle.

In small groups the riders appeared, each one possessed of the same silly delusion, that they would be able to hold the pace with Tony, Head Down James, Thomas Rennier, Eric B., bearded British dude, ex-cross country champ-turned-tridork, Kate V., Katie D., or any of the other people who were absolutely going to ride away, see ya. I exited Dogtown and paid homage to Tony and his dad, Rich, and noted that Tony had removed his Garmin. I didn’t know if this was his message that he is no longer into data, or a suggestion that he wasn’t going to go that hard, a feint designed to fool us pack fodder into a few moments of satisfaction.

I chatted with Elijah, who was now on his third team in three years, with Casey, with Patrick Barrett, with Josh, with Joe Pugliese, and with a couple of other riders as we pedaled through Santa Monica. It was sunny, beautiful, warm, and promised to be a horrible day on the bike.

The first climb, Bienveneda Avenue, might be a misspelling of the Spanish word “bienvenida,” which means “welcome.” Like the pumpkin spice missing the pumpkin, there was no welcome in Bienveneda, only the shock and awe as clumps of eager cyclists dashed past me, dangled in front for a bit, and then exploded, spectacularly, on the horribly steep climb. I plodded to the top, where the leaders had already finished checking into #socmed and were ready for the next fake ingredient of this foul-tasting fall seasonal “fun” ride.

Next on the ingredient list was Palisades Drive, much longer and much less steep until you got to the last part, which was just as long as just as steep. The Santa Monica/BMW riders shelled the entire field. I hung on for a bit before getting dropped, then got caught by Eric Bruins, who towed me the rest of the way up. Dave Holland, Michael Penta, Chuck Huang, Christina Oi, Tony Sells, David Mack, and countless others reached the top with the done look of a steak left on the grill overnight.

By now the full effect of the pumpkin spice was hitting our digestive tracts, which meant it was perfect timing to descend Palisades at 50+ mph, replete with riders squatting on their top tubes, massive chugholes blowing tires off the rim, Ferraris coming by in the Number One lane at 80, and everyone behaving as if a head-first fall onto the pavement would be “just a scratch.” We reached PCH and Tony, along with the Santa Monica zombies, beat the pedals all the way to Pepperdine Hill. Even tucked onto a wheel I was in pain. Many riders decided that they’d had enough and went home.

Like a fool, I continued.

We charged up Malibu Canyon Road, where hairy English dude dropped everyone, then created a small group of leaders. The rest of us clumped together on the windy, endless climb, wishing it would either end or finish or conclude or terminate, but it didn’t. I took one last pull, and although I failed to bridge, I did manage to ride everyone in the group off my wheel except four others, who, when I swung over, charged past.

One by one I got caught by everyone I had dropped, and was dropped myself; just me and the dregs in the bottom of the pumpkin spice cup, wondering why I’d eaten so much orange vomit. A few hours later I got home, depleted, cramped, and thoroughly looking forward to the next one. After all, Dogtown Ride only comes around a couple of times a year. And who’d want to miss out on that?

END

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Dancing in the dark

November 17, 2017 Comments Off on Dancing in the dark

Yesterday was new bike day, which is always a sad day for me. It’s sad because once again I have to admit that after decades of riding on numerous bikes, they all feel more or less the same.

No, that’s not right. They feel exactly the same.

Whenever I read about some dude who has hopped on the “new, improved 2018 model” of the Whateverbike, and about how it’s stiffier and turnier and snappier and peppier and sprintier and climbier and time-trialier and aeroier, and about how the dude figured all that out in a 30-minute test ride out in the parking lot, all I can do is look in the mirror and say, “Wanky, you are a bicycling failure in every regard.”

So new bike day is always a stinky disappointment, and yesterday was, too. I had reluctantly climbed off my Cannondale Super 6 Evo All Carbon Bike Made From 100% Carbon because I had ridden it for two years and Team Lizard Collectors had an amazing team deal on a new Fuji bike that was almost like getting it for free except for all the money I had to pay for it.

My old roommate in college, Robert Doty, used to have a maroon Fuji, and we rode all over Austin and San Marcos and his parents’ home in Paris (Texas), him on the Fuji and me on my Nishiki International. My brother Ian’s first road bike, and the bike that got me into cycling, was also a Fuji, a black one. So I had some history with Fuji and was really looking forward to the disappointment.

After I picked up the bike at Veloworx in Santa Monica I took the new Fuji and the old Cannondale over to my trusty mechanic, Boozy P., for a quick swap. Boozy P. has lately gotten out of the bike business, but he was home from work and allowed as he could do a bike build for me if I didn’t mind waiting around. I didn’t.

He got to work right away, which meant taking out a couple of tools, putting the Cannondale up on the stand to haul out its guts, and then cracking open a tall boy to get him through the rough spots. Pretty soon we got to talking about bike racing.

“Destroyer wants to do a Telo Sunday, starting in January,” he said.

“Telo’s been on Tuesday evenings for the last 30 years.”

“Yeah but the course is so busy now with cars and shit. Place is empty on Sunday, and ever since Norris moved off to a log cabin and quit the Wheatgrass, there’s no decent ride on Sunday. Plus if we do it on Sunday morning we can do it all year and don’t have to deal with the time change.”

So we talked about that for a while, and then talked about some other things for a while, and pretty soon the sun had gone down. Boozy P. isn’t fast, but he isn’t slow, either. He’s methodical. And a big part of his method is working through those tall boys, because from my vantage point in the grease-stained chair it looked like he was only about halfway done with the bike but 100% of the way done with half a dozen tall boys.

Every once in a while Boozy would drop a handful of small parts on the floor and they’d roll away, completely invisible in the inky darkness, but he has the night eyes of a cat I guess and he’d pick up most of them on the first stoop.

“What about the other ones?” I asked.

“I think I got ’em all. And if I didn’t we’ll find out later.”

After a while it was plain old night time. I could barely make him out, much less the black Fuji frame, but we kept on talking, and he kept on draining the tall boys until he finally said, “I think that’s got ‘er.”

“I’m scared to ride it,” I said. “You just put the danged bike together in the dark.”

“Nah,” he said. “There’s still plenty of light.”

I held my hand up in front of my face and couldn’t see anything. “Maybe,” I replied, “but not on this side of the globe.”

We went out into the parking lot, but it was so dark I couldn’t even test ride it. “You’ll be fine,” he said. “I can put these things together with my eyes closed.”

“That’s good to know,” I said, “because you just did.”

The next day I took out the new bike and the shifters shifted, the brakes braked, and the handlebars didn’t fall off. Boozy P. had put that bike together tighter than a Republican plan to cut taxes for corporations and raise them for poor people. But I was disappointed anyway. That ol’ bike wasn’t any different from my Cannondale.

END

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“These stories are true.”

November 16, 2017 Comments Off on “These stories are true.”

With those words, Louis C.K. validated women everywhere who have come forward with accusations of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct.

In the world of cycling here’s what those words made up for:

Women in pro cycling who get paid a fraction of their male counterparts; local promoters who only offer women’s races when lobbied intensively by women; local promoters who refuse to offer women’s races; lopsided prize lists at the pro level; lopsided prize lists at the local level; coaches who rape their athletes; coaches who demean their women athletes by calling them fat; advice sausages who lecture women about how to ride; men who have no problem getting dropped by other men but give it 110% to not get dropped by a woman; cycling companies that market to women as an afterthought; cycling media that publishes women’s results as the afterthought of an afterthought; clubs that have lots of women members but no women on the board; racing teams for men only; cycling companies that advertise to men using “sexy” or “racy” women models; national cycling organizations that do little to develop women’s cycling; Olympics that have more men’s cycling events than women’s; men who stalk women cyclists on Strava; men who stalk women cyclists on Facebag; men who make unwanted and uninvited sexual comments to women riders; men who touch women riders without permission or invitation; men who give women cyclists a “helpful push” when it’s not wanted; men who tell women that their races are boring; men who give unsolicited racing and riding advice; teams that make their women racer dance with a male pro because “it’s his birthday” while everyone watches; the women’s national team coach not showing up for his athlete’s pro world road victory because had to “coach some (male) juniors”; women racers having to borrow helmets from men and being told they’d be banned if they didn’t return them; the coach who told his athlete to “go away and have a baby”; male pros telling women to “get over it” regarding sexism; the coach who called his women athletes “bitches” and “sheilas”; teams that changed or sabotaged women’s contract negotiations; management failing to honor specified contract terms; women’s contracts being cancelled without due process; women on pro teams being forced to ride for no pay; women receiving mechanical drivetrains while the men received Di2; team’s non-payment for women’s racing services under the contract; teams that fail to provide women with travel costs, staff, and equipment; teams that charge  women for ‘team services’ to make up for the team’s failure to provide essential services; teams that fine women riders repeatedly for “infractions” of rules with no previous documentation of those rules; teams that fine women for being “fat”; teams that fine women riders for damaging a pair of sponsored carbon wheels in a race-related crash; coaches and teams that emotionally abuse women racers; coaches that employ body-shaming to manipulate vulnerable riders; coaches that body shame women riders as an excuse to fine them; coaches that body shame women riders to create monetary, behavioral or performance repercussions; coaches that employ yelling, tirades and public humiliation against women riders; team managers who demand complete control over women riders by insisting they move into the team house; men who physically abuse women riders; coaches who force their women riders to dope; men who write misogynistic anonymous comments on the Internet …

Yes, Louis C.K.’s words made up for all of that.

Oh, wait.

No, they didn’t.

END

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Bike path crazy pants

November 15, 2017 Comments Off on Bike path crazy pants

Given the spleen that has been vented lately in L.A. regarding bike lanes, I paid close attention to how an integrated, multi-modal transportation network functioned while I was in Vienna. The city is quite small, about 1.5 million people, and it offers easy transport by walking, cars, buses, streetcars, subways, trains, and bikes.

The city’s bike paths are extensive and very well-planned. There is a bike path ring around the inner city, which is actually more like a “D” than a ring, with the straight side being the Donau river. The city’s bike paths follow many of the major streets, are fairly well marked and maintained, and will take you to any part of the city you want to go. In addition to these transportation-oriented bike paths, there are major touring and recreational paths that provide extensive access to large parks and that crisscross the entire country.

Numerous bike shops exist to support recreational and transportation cycling. The city of Vienna offers free City Bikes for trips that last less than an hour, and there are more than 120 pick-up/drop-off bike areas.

Bike paths play a major role in transportation planning. There is a major bridge crossing the Donau that is for bikes only, a completely separate structure that runs parallel to the one for cars. It is pretty boss to ride across that thing and look over at the cagers and think, “Yo, I got a bridge, too!”

After spending ten days riding in the city and its environs, it became abundantly clear that if the goal of this type of bike infrastructure is to provide an integrated, safe, usable, easily understood cycling network, it is, for the most part, a colossal failure. And if this type of bike infrastructure fails so miserably in a small city that has been committed to including bikes in the transportation grid for decades, then I can only conclude that attempts to do this kind of planning in Los Angeles will also fail, only on a larger and more catastrophic and more expensive scale.

As a backdrop to this anecdotal, off-the-pedal critique, I’d like to note that the only time in Vienna and the surrounding countryside I was able to safely and predictably and comfortably get around was when I rode in the lane and behaved the same way that motor vehicles behave. It was necessary to do this because the bike infrastructure always seemed to run out just when you needed it most. This is of course the same experience that anyone on a bike is familiar with in L.A.

Here is what a mature, open-minded, integrated bike path network looks like in one of the most advanced cities in the world:

  1. Haphazard AF. The paths start and stop with no warning. Despite being pretty savvy about the routes after nine days of riding, my wife and I got immediately off-path simply riding from the Waehringer Guertel to downtown the one day we tried the City Bikes, getting lost on about as easy and well-trodden a path as there is.
  2. Massive bike-ped conflict. Although some of the paths were well blocked off from vehicles, they were often side-by-side with pedestrian walkways. In a city that has huge pedestrian traffic, especially the inner city, and where large numbers of those walkers are tourists who have no idea how the bike/ped paths work, there was constant friction between walkers who were on the bike path, and bikers who wound up on the ped path.
  3. Car cut-throughs. The downtown ring is continually bisected by travel lanes for cars to cut through. Each one of these intersections is a potential collision. It also requires much more attentiveness to navigate the constant cross-traffic than it does to simply ride in the traffic lane with the cars.
  4. Inadequate signage. When you construct a completely alternate transportation system of bike paths, you apparently run out of money to sign it properly. Hence I found myself having to stop and look and think often, something that drivers never have to do–and that you wouldn’t have to do if you were biking on the street.
  5. Suburban breakdown. As soon as you got very far out of the main city, the bike paths became few and far between. Out of town they vanished completely. Since ultimately you have to learn how to ride in the street anyway, why bother with having to also learn all of the extra bike path skills and techniques and hazard-avoidance and wayfinding?
  6. Motorist acceptance. The times I rode along Waehringer Guertel and Linke/Rechte Zeile, hugely busy thoroughfares, I had zero problems with car traffic. The lanes are so much narrower than L.A. that there is no option for cars to squeeze by. They have to change lanes. I could tell they didn’t like it, but I only got honked at a couple of times, and had zero punishment passes or close calls. It was much hairier on the inner city bike path ring, as I was constantly afraid of hitting pedestrians.
  7. Extreme gutter bunny. Many of the bike paths are nothing but striped lanes up against an endless row of parked cars, with treacherous streetcar rails on the left, for example. It requires inordinate skill to thread these hazards and would be much easier to simply ride out in the lane. Many of these bike paths are only a couple of feet wide, with high curbs and traffic islands for the streetcars.
  8. False security. The green painted bike paths initially feel safer, but you quickly realize that ped traffic and constant vehicular cross-traffic are omnipresent and lethal. It’s more mentally exhausting to ride the paths than to ride in traffic.
  9. Inefficiency. You have to go much, much slower than you would in the traffic lane. The easy speed of 20-24 mph that you can hold on the guertels would get you or a pedestrian badly hurt on the painted bikeways in the city.
  10. Salmoning. Because the bike lane/bike paths create a separate travel maze, it is often faster to salmon for short distances, and I saw lots of people doing it. It drives the cagers crazy and doesn’t look terribly safe; in any event it encourages lawbreaking.

Of all the bike infrastructure I saw, the only ones that really did anything for me were the bike paths along the river and inside the parks, where there were no cars at all. It was pretty cool to zoom along a wide, well maintained, well paved bike path for mile after mile and to see only other cyclists. But as far as using bike paths as an efficient way to get around, it seems to me that by far the easiest, safest, most easily understood, and best way is simply to use the existing roadways and follow the same rules that the cagers do.

Auf wiedersehen.

END

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Goin’ down the road (feelin’ good)

November 14, 2017 Comments Off on Goin’ down the road (feelin’ good)

Why do we travel?

I was wondering that very thing at 6:30 AM on Sunday morning, struggling down a rainy street in Vienna with a cardboard bike box balanced on top of a rolling suitcase as we slowly marched to the subway station. I was also carrying a bright yellow, very giant, rubberized messenger bag that weighed a good twenty pounds, and then on my chest I’d strapped another, smaller rucksack. Even the street people gazed at me in pity.

However, once seated in the extra-economy window seat of a refurbished Aer Lingus jet, I figured I’d make a list of things that happened during my travels, memories that, whether fleeting or permanent, made this such an amazing adventure.

Black bread. Eat it with butter and plain yogurt and water for lunch, breakfast, and at least one dinner. Whoever said bread and water was prisoner’s fare has never eaten black Austrian bread baked with nuts. I carried a giant loaf of it onto the plane with me, and while my poor fellow travelers were agonizing between the chicken or the beef, I was happily chewing mouthful after mouthful of the staff of life. BTW, it will make you regular for days and days and days.

City Bike rental. Yasuko and I rented City Bikes, pedaled from our youth prison to downtown, ditched the bikes, had delicious coffee, and used up what was left of our subway tickets for a quick trip home. Total cost for City Bike rental? 1 € registration fee, and free for any trip less than an hour. Winning and fun AF!

Coffee. You can have ten cups of coffee a day in Vienna and never get tired of it. I did. Cappuccino with schlagobers, melange with schlagobers, schlagobers with schlagobers … it never gets old. Why? Because schlagobers is Viennese for “whipped cream.”

Pre- and postprandial walks. Every time we went to dinner, we walked 20-30 minutes there and 20-30 minutes back. It was always cold and often raining. When’s the last time you walked anywhere in the rain? It makes arriving so much better.

The asshole at U.S Preclearance in Dublin. Yep, your government stations American immigration assholes in foreign countries to check your passport and behave like complete jerks. Hope you feel safer! It’s such a better use of tax dollars than, say, housing for the homeless or more pay for teachers.

Getting ripped off. At a place where they spotted us as obvious tourist wankers, they gave part of our change in fake Polish (?) coinage, which looks almost exactly like euros. D’oh!

Falafel kebabs. We devoured them in the Turkish kebab shop while watching the Turks sit around and talk animatedly, perhaps arguing about who was going to give us the fake coins.

Riding in the countryside. Getting lost, asking for directions, being completely confounded by the Lower Austrian dialect; these are some of my favorite things.

Obnoxious American. Dude was decked out in his LA baseball cap, LA jacket, LA neck chain, and Darth Vader backback harangue the ticket agents in Vienna, in Dublin, and again on the plane for a better seat or a free upgrade, and watching him get sent to his room without any supper.

The shaving shop at 7 Krugerstrasse. Ogling the incredible array of straight razors and shaving creams and other manly articles for manly facial care.

Spending money. You can’t take it with you!

Shipping success! That incredible feeling of taking your bike out of the cardboard box and realizing that nothing is broken.

The flop. Getting to your hotel and flopping down onto the clean white sheets and puffy pillow.

Smells. Going down into the subway in the morning and getting hit with that aroma of fresh pastries, freshly baked bread, and hot coffee. Then ordering some.

Politics. Chatting with my son’s father-in-law about Austrian politics and trying to explain why we elected an insane bully ignoramus as president. And failing.

Nodding. Standing at the bar in Radler Treff drinking coffee and pretending to understand what the guy was saying.

Wandering. Ambling through the mall in Lugner City and watching some kind of public concert where everyone was wearing traditional Austrian clothing and playing lights-out brass band music. Viennese = Musicians.

Mechanical success. Not getting one single flat or having one single mechanical. Not having my headset come loose while descending and have the steering fail. Not losing my brakes.

Familiarity. Going down the same roads two or three times and starting to feel like I know them.

Hypocrisy. Bitching about how much crap I brought, much of which I didn’t even wear, and then somehow coming home with even more crap, and cursing as I tried to make the zipper close.

Street life. Listening to the drunks fight and yell and stumble out on the street late at night.

Disappearing money. Being astonished at how quickly 100 euros seems to evaporate.

Sobriety. Falling into bed dead dog tired, but awakening totally refreshed and with no hangover.

Gluttony. Realizing that no matter how much I ate, it wasn’t going to be enough.

Buildings. The Euro Magic of pedaling through streets lined with amazing architecture, where virtually every home is a work of art.

Crookedness. Not getting anywhere in a straight line; thinking I was going one way but actually going completely the opposite way.

Bike path I. The Donau Canal bike path. Fuggin’ awesome.

Bike Path II. The Donau Insel. Even more bike path and even more fuggin’ awesome.

Bike Path III. The bike path that rings the Old CIty. It’s super easy to use, you just have to slow down and pay attention to the markings and not run over clueless tour groups and wankers on Segways.

Meet-and-beat. Meeting some of the local bikers. Cyclists speak a universal language, and it’s the word “Hammer!”

Old World elegance. Cafe Hawelka and Cafe Diglas and Cafe Diglas and Cafe Sperl. Snooty AF, but you won’t regret the coffee, and no one cares if you sit there for hours.

Cobblestones! Fun AF!

Disappointment. Initiating conversation with dozens of people and having almost all of them answer in English, or worse, having them switch to English the minute you don’t immediately understand everything. Takes you down a few pegs every single time.

Feeling Germanic. Those conversations where everything was perfect, and the other person let you struggle a little, patiently, and then you got on top of the gear and felt like you were actually speaking German.

Trainventures. Taking the wrong train. Realizing it ten stops later.

Shopgasm. Wien Mitte. It’s bustling like Tokyo, super fun and trendy.

New dining experience. Vapiano. Italian food you will love, and a very unique method of ordering. There are no wait staff; you go directly to the chef and tell her what you want, she makes it for you, and you carry it back to your table.

Holy Grail. Joseph Brot. My favorite restaurant in Vienna because after you finish you can take home a giant 2-lb. loaf of organic black bread.

Bike shops everywhere. Cycloholic, Road Bike, and a zillion more, everything from high-end boutiques to general service shops located along the bike path, no less.

Gaelic. Chatting with the Aer Lingus flight attendant about all of the Gaelic in the Dublin airport and whether anyone actually spoke it. “Not many people, not fluently anyway.”

Book wormism. Reading my book on the history of Vienna. “Wow,” is all I have to say about that, along with “What a horrifically shameful history of pogroms and seemingly gleeful participation in the Holocaust, for which they don’t appear to have come to grips with.”

History. Learning about “Red Vienna” and the city’s commitment to social democracy; seeing all of the public housing for ordinary people, where it’s part of the city’s mission to provide affordable housing, not let landlords control the most basic human need after food and clothing.

GPS? Nein, danke! Maps. Reading lots of maps of Vienna, Lower Austria, and Austria.

Menu choices. No matter where we went, it seemed like there were plenty of non-meat options on the menu. Even the Austrian Gasthaus, that redoubt of beef and pork, had meatless options. And I took ’em.

Bookstores. So many and in such variety. I loved Thalia in Wien Mitte, but they were everywhere, and what was even more awesome is that so many people were reading in public.

Rain. Okay, this is probably a SoCal thing, but it’s really cool to hang out, at least for a little while, in a place where it rains.

And finally, of course, that feeling of dropping your bags in the middle of the floor and happily sighing, “I’m home.”

END

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Do you know who I am?

November 13, 2017 Comments Off on Do you know who I am?

We had made it through customs and were at the gate. It was half an hour before boarding so I moseyed over to the cafe for a final cup of good Euro coffee. I sat down at a long table where there was an open seat and started sipping my coffee.

The guy next to me had a scraggly beard and was wearing a dented porkpie hat made of green felt that looked like he’d been using the brim to clean his bicycle chain after a 100-mile ride through a swamp. He was three-quarters of the way through a giant mug of Guinness and it didn’t look like it was his first glass.

“You American?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Lucky bastard.”

“Why’s that?”

“Land of fucking opportunity, that’s why. Any dumbass with a crackpot idea can go to America and three months later he’s a fucking billionaire and owns an NBA basketball franchise.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yeah. I’m going there myself someday, not some tourist jagoff buying hot dogs in Times Square and getting ripped off by some cabbie jagoff, but to make some real money.”

“How’s that?”

“You know who you’re talking to?”

“No.”

“Clancy. Clancy O’Flaherty. That’s who. Clancy Fuggin’ O’Flaherty. World’s best rock guitarist. You don’t look like you know shit about guitars.”

“I don’t.”

“I knew it. You have that boring ass tourist American look. What are you, a dentist?”

“Lawyer.”

“Yeah, I knew it. Same thing. Anyway, Clancy O’Flaherty is the name. King of the Electric Guitar.”

The guy next to Clancy was shaking his head the whole time and finally had had enough. “You sound like Clancy O’Flaherty the Dumbass to me,” the guy said. I noted his glass was also mostly empty, and like Clancy’s, his nose was beet red.

Clancy glanced at the interlocutor. “Yeah? What the hell do you know?” Then he turned to me. “Hey, will you spring for a beer? I don’t have any more cash and they declined my fucking credit card. I have a $50,000 line of credit and they won’t let me buy a fucking beer.”

“Sure,” I said.

“Listen here,” the other guy said. “America is a fucking shit hole shark tank. You go over there with your phony electric guitar schtick and they’ll laugh you out of the crappiest bar in the crappiest town in the crappiest state of the whole crappy country. King of the Electric Guitar, my ass. Maybe King of the McDonald’s French Fry Machine.”

“Yeah? What the hell do you know? My cousin is in America and he’s a fucking millionaire. He’s a software guru. He made some computer program that finds the best price for car tires or some shit and he’s a fucking millionaire; owns half of Silicon Valley. So fuck you.”

“Your cousin drives a fucking taxi or probably not even that. He drives a Uber and shares some ratty apartment with five other broke blokes who design web sites. When his tourist visa runs out he’ll be right back here in Ireland broke as shit and living under a bridge. America will eat your fucking lunch.”

“It will eat yours, for sure.”

“Do you even know who I am?” the other drunk said.

“Yeah, you’re some bloke in an airport about to get his arse beat.”

“You’re looking at Sampson P. Mackelroy, that’s who. Sampson P. Mackelroy, probably the greatest living graphic artist in history. I did the artwork for some of the most successful products on the Internet.”

“Whatever, mate. Your t-shirt looks like it was designed by some blind kid with Adobe Illustrator version 1.0.”

“I designed every fucking graphic for twaffles.com, sonjasdiscounttravelsites.com, and jacketreplacementzippers.com. You don’t know a damn thing about America. I bet you couldn’t play Smoke on the Water if I spotted you the first two chords.”

Clancy turned to me. “Who is this asshole? And why’s he butting into our conversation? Thanks for the beer. Do you mind if I order a cheeseburger? I’m hungry as fuck.”

The guy across from us had been listening to the whole exchange, and appeared to be disgusted. “I wouldn’t hire either one of you stumblebums to wipe the rims on my Ferrari.”

Sampson laughed. “Yeah, that’s because your Ferrari came in a paper box and you put it together with modeling glue.”

Clancy chortled. “No, man, his Ferrari is the real deal. That’s why he’s flying coach on his annual luxury vacation to fucking Shropshire. In November.”

“Do either one of you jagoffs know who I am?”

I didn’t know, but I did know that my plane was taking off soon, and hopefully none of these three fine gentlemen were going to be on it.

END

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