Cracked!

July 8, 2018 § 7 Comments

A couple of months ago we were descending Highridge to the light at Hawthorne when I noticed the road was pockmarked with gnarly cracks and chugholes. They had been there forever but I never thought much about them. You just whiz down, pay attention, and avoid them. It’s not that hard.

Unless you’re riding with someone who hasn’t been doing this since 1982, in which case you realize pretty quickly that what is simply something to notice and avoid for you can be a life altering collision trigger for someone else. My someone else got to the light and shook her head. “Those are so dangerous!” she said.

I thought about it for a second. Then I agreed. “Deadly, in fact.”

Responsive local gummint

The next day my wife went back and emailed me photos of the mined-out roadscape, and I sent them on the City of Rancho Palos Verdes’s public works department, and noted that these were exactly the kind of cracks that can kill vulnerable road users like cyclists.

Twenty-four hours later I got a very nice message from the city saying that the holes and cracks had all been filled.

And they had.

So it occurred to me that taking the time to make a pothole report every now and then was a good thing, especially since the problem actually got taken care of.

A little over a week ago we were coming home on Vista del Mar, in the City of Los Angeles, and my wife hit a gnarly crack that jerked her front wheel violently to the side. She came within millimeters of hitting the pavement and knocking me down, too. I was shaking after she cleared the obstacle.

We got home and I sent an email to the city’s pothole reporting hotline.

 

There are dozens of dangerous cracks, raised manhole covers, manhole covers with degraded asphalt around them, and potholes in the Number 1 lane of Vista del Mar all the way from Napoleon to Imperial. Numerous of these conditions are dangerous for bicycles and will result in a bicycle collision if the front or rear tire gets caught in the cracks.

Thanks,
Seth

The very next day I got this response:

Your Pothole – Small Asphalt Repair request was updated on 07/02/2018 1:19 PM.

Service Request # 1-1085237921

Location: VISTA DEL MAR AT NAPOLEON ST, 90293

Status: Closed

Closed – See Comments

Recent comments:

No potholes found upon inspection of S/B Vista Del Mar between Napoleon St. and Imperial Hwy.. There were no raised manhole covers either.

So I went for another bike ride, and sent them this:

Hi—

I am not sure where you were looking or how you conducted the inspection. Attached are photos I took yesterday showing just a few of the cracks, holes, and manhole covers into which a bike tire can easily get caught.

Thanks,
Seth

And I included these:

To which the fine folks in the public works department the next day said this:

Thank you for contacting the City of Los Angeles. Please provide the exact location of where these cracks are at. Are they on Vista del Mar? Between what cross streets? I will reopen another request.

KM

Leading me to say:

Hi, KM

These are all on Vista del Mar at various locations, beginning at the light at Napoleon and running all the way to Imperial. They are all in the No. 1 lane, southbound headed towards El Segundo.

You will have difficulty seeing them at 45 mph from behind the windshield of a truck. The most effective way to inspect would be on bicycles.

Thanks,
Seth

Which resulted in:

Thank you for submitting your Pothole – Small Asphalt Repair Service Request. Please note the Service Request number for future reference.

Service Request # 1-1091425871

Location: VISTA DEL MAR AT NAPOLEON ST, 90293

Ignoring vulnerable road users

In addition to the hideous condition of Vista del Mar southbound, anyone who’s ever done the NPR knows that northbound it’s a billion times worse. But the city’s public works department isn’t really interested in fixing the problem, what they’re interested in doing is creating a record that will provide them with an absolute defense the next time they get sued. You can tell that because the location they’ve identified is “Vista del Mar at Napoleon St.” when I specifically told them it was all the way from there to Imperial.

This past year the city got dinged with a $9 million judgment when a cyclist hit a pothole and suffered catastrophic injuries. When you sue the city/county/state, you have to prove that they were on notice, or should have been on notice, of the dangerous condition. In order to do that the plaintiff makes a public records request to see if anyone has complained about the pothole or other dangerous condition in the past, and if they have and the city has done nothing about it, then the city is “on notice” of the dangerous condition and can be held liable for the resulting injuries.

So the city now has a policy, apparently, of rushing out to the site, giving it a clean bill of health, and calling it good. That way they can “prove” that there was no dangerous condition as of the date of the inspection, and therefore any subsequent collision would have had to have been caused by a “new” pothole that they didn’t know about. Of course Vista del Mar in between Napoleon and Imperial is one long 2-mile dangerous condition, but only for bicycles. The non-inspection performed by the city above gives them cover for their failure to repair.

I still think it’s worthwhile to stop and photograph the cracks and potholes, and to follow up with the city. It only takes a few minutes, and in the case of some municipalities, they will actually do something about it. For the ones that don’t, like L.A., as long as you keep emailing them that it’s not fixed, they’re “on notice.”

END

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Independence Day

July 5, 2018 § 4 Comments

What did you celebrate independence from yesterday, if anything?

I asked one of my African-American friends how he spent the day.

“Working,” he said.

“Bummer,” I said.

“Why bummer?”

“It’s a holiday, man.”

He shrugged. “It isn’t my Independence Day.”

Free at last?

That made a pretty good impression on me. There were a whole bunch of people who Thomas Jefferson didn’t have in mind when he said “all men are created equal,” not to mention 100% of women.

At the same time, there were a few things to celebrate yesterday, some hard won freedoms that were worth reflecting on.

  1. Freedom from drunkenness. A few nights ago I went to a friend’s 50th birthday party at one of my old haunts, Naja’s Place. They have about seventy beers on tap at all times, and the menu that night was lights out. Mmmmmm. Yummmmm. But I walked out of the bar having spent a nice time with friends, and reflected that it was one of the only times I’d ever walked out of there sober. Still got my demons, but that ain’t one of ’em.
  2. Freedom from cages. I got up early, made pancakes, then rode with my wife and Major Bob to Dogtown Coffee in Santa Monica. We watched a parade, then pedaled back to Manhattan Beach, hung out with some friends on the beach, then made our way to a party. After an hour or so we rode home. I can’t imagine a day like that in L.A. if we’d had to do it in a cage. No parking anywhere, traffic everywhere. But unchained from the cage we spent several hours on our bikes, saw lots of places and more than a few friends, and still called it a day by 2:00 PM. Dollars spent on gasoline and parking: Zero. Fucks given about traffic: None. Satisfaction rating: Off the chart.
  3. Freedom from shitty bread. This needs a long explanation but basically once you start baking your own bread you stop eating pretty much everything that’s commercially made. Industrial bread in all its forms tastes like a mouthful of sugary dirt. And when you make bread yourself, you’re not depending on anyone to do it for you. Bread is called the staff of life for a reason, a reason that I’d never really understood before.
  4. Freedom from chain oil. Really, ditch the chain oil and wax that puppy up.

I think that’s enough to say it was a pretty independent day.

END

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We, the childless Froomes

July 3, 2018 § 20 Comments

You could see the glimmer of hope, first when Hinault said that the riders should refuse to start with Froome on the line, and then, blossoming into a rather stronger beam, when the Turdy France organizers invoked Article 28 to ban Froome from the race.

Of course the glimmer was plunged into eternal night a few hours later when the UCI, taking a nod from WADA, threw the whole thing into the dumpster. As the protesters howled, WADA shrugged and said that it wasn’t practical to design a test to catch a guy who was doping, even though he’d already been caught, and even though past salbutamol cases had been easily, handily, and quickly processed.

As usual, the dead sport of cycling turned to doper, dope peddler, fraudster, and convicted felon Floyd Landis for insight, with suspected-but-unproven doper Chris Horner chiming in. This, then, is the state of things: The only people who have anything meaningful to say are people who have left the sport in disgrace, or under a dumping tropical storm of suspicion.

Trump and Froome

Everything, of course, comes back to Trump. Not because he is a cause, but because he is a symptom of the disease, just like the horrible tandem of Froome and Brailsford. Facts, truth, rules, and the moral spirit of fairness are completely dispensed with as the juggernaut of entertainment squashes everything in its path.

Politics, with its shouting, ignorant, unread participants on all sides, and cycling, with its shouting, less ignorant but still unread participants on all sides, have been co-opted by the corporatist state whose single-minded goal is returns to the shareholders no matter the social, environmental, or human costs. It isn’t capitalism run wild, it is human greed.

How did we get here?

The baby boom

The Greatest Generation in the U.S. was followed by the baby boom, which has now been followed by the baby bust. It is easy to see the boomers as the most despicable generation in the history of the species. They have taken everything, destroyed everything, given nothing. They have presided over the death of the environment, the veritable melting of the earth itself. And what have we given in return for all that we have taken? Trump, the last lobsterman.

I say lobsterman because many years ago, when the Maine fisheries were on the brink of collapse and regulators were trying to keep it alive, a reporter asked a crusty old lobsterman why he so bitterly opposed the fishing limits even though it would mean that in the long term his occupation would survive. “I’m a lobsterman,” he said. “And if the fishery is gonna die, I’m gonna catch the last damn one.”

That is Trump, that is Frooomesford, that is every local crit that keeps raping its dwindling loyal racers for a dollar a minute, or less, to ride around in circles. “The sport may die, but I’m gonna get the last fucking entry fee from the last damned rider.”

The boomers never seriously asked why the fishery has to die, or why the sport had to collapse. Why the hell is that?

The baby bust

The developed world is staring down the maw of its own cultural and human extinction. The replacement rate for a human population is 2.1 live births per woman. The most recent data for the U.S. pegged the 2017 fertility rate at 1.75, far below what is needed to maintain growth, joining Western Europe, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, Korea, and China as nations whose populations are swirling the drain.

Some people think that’s a bad thing because without a stable base of young people, there will be no one to do the work, pay the taxes, and be generally fucked around by the old folks. Other people think that a declining population, at least in the short term, is a good thing. Automation, robot dogs, algorithms that think for you, Viagra, and not having to pay for grandbaby college tuition is pretty much nirvana, they say.

Regardless of who’s right, the baby busters have some ugly facts in their corner. The first is that even countries like Finland, where maternity is supported at all levels by the state, have been no more successful in boosting fertility rates than places like Japan, where women are actively punished for making full natural use of their vaginas. Pregnant? You’re fired.

The numbers aren’t lying, and how could they? Childbearing sucks, even when you get a check from the government, generous maternity leave, free childcare, and you have a husband who really does share the housework.

You may be able to convince a few women to have a kid, a bunch less to have two kids, but it is a dead letter trying to get women to have three. They have birth control, thank you very much, and no matter how illegal you make abortion, the might and main of women on earth have figured out how to keep from getting pregnant in the first place. People point to economic factors, social factors, and factor-factors, but I point to the obvious: Pregnancy and childbirth suck.

Hope is the future, the future is hope

Every morning I listen to Falter Radio, a magnificent broadcast from Vienna that tackles all of the hard questions. Much of its analysis focuses on the upending of liberal social democracy in Europe, and tries to make sense out of why countries that have so profoundly benefited from it are now turning hard right and harvesting radical right wing racism in the process. The shuddering is at its most intense when they talk about America. If America is abandoning its democratic ideals, what hope is there for the rest of the world? China, where there’s a video surveillance camera every 200 feet, and where people are scored on a social reliability index that allows or prohibits access to things like buses and subways?

The folks at Falter can’t figure it out, but I can, and I have.

Our complete reversal away from fairness, law, democracy, and liberty is simply one — maybe the most important — manifestation of our collapsing birth rate. Every country in Europe that has turned hard right has a plunging fertility rate. Poland, 1.32%. Hungary, 1.44%. Austria, 1.47%. Germany, 1.50%. Italy, 1.37%.

World leaders with developed economies who are also in the throes of demographic collapse happen to correlate well with repressive, anti-immigrant, neo-fascist, corporatist states. China, 1.57%, South Korea, 1.24%, Japan, 1.45%, and Russia, 1.75%.

Why should this be, and what does it have to do with Froomesford?

Well, the simplest explanation is that developed countries with a lot of kids have historically found a lot of common ground on social, economic, and political issues because the polity understands the concept of future as something that extends beyond their own lives. When a society is awash in kids, most people take an active stake in the future for the purely selfish reason that they don’t want their children to live in misery.

Even my racist, alcoholic, mean-spirited, tax-hating Republican grandfather believed in public education and health care because he had a kid.

If you think about it, that belief in the future is a big leap. The future is an imaginary construct that never really comes, whereas the present and the past are demonstrable moments in time. When a society comes together to make policy about the future, it is making policy about an imaginary time, and how far out you imagine that point has everything to do with the policies you commit to. People talk about a divided America and about the collapse of dialogue, but that’s horseshit. My grandfather hated liberals in 1963 just as violently as the average white, 60-ish Texas voter does today. The difference is that my grandfather knew that without education and some basic access to rights, his daughter wasn’t going to have much of a life.

What’s changed isn’t the political divide, but the fact that there aren’t enough kids to force people to find common ground. If the only future timeline that matters is my own life, it makes sense to tighten things up and make sure that less wealth is distributed, less opportunities are provided to others, and that more resources and rights are devoted to fewer (and older) people. Fuck the youth, and especially the immigrant ones.

Nowhere is this forfeiture of the future more apparent than in school shootings. Here we have a wholly preventable social phenomenon that preys on children in the most violent way. But on a political level, who cares? Children are not the future, they are a vestigial reminder of our own past and a nagging critique of our impending mortality, but they are not a precious resource to be treasured, grown, loved, educated, valued. Another group of children got shot up in school? Well, I got my problems, too. And what has any kid ever done for me?

Cyclesport

You see this phenomenon of hopelessness play out in cycling as well. Even lower than the national fertility rate, few cyclists have 1.75 children, and most have less. Every now and again some cycling nut dad will get his kid into the sport and make a big deal about how the sport is collapsing and about how we have to do more for juniors and where are all the junior races and blah blah blah, but nothing ever happens, and not only because the kid hits puberty and discovers that bike racing is not nearly as much fun as ________ (fill in the blank with pretty much anything).

The main reason that nothing ever happens is because cycling, like Trumpist America, is dominated by aging, greedy, white men who do not give two broken fucks about junior racing. What they want is a prize list, a 45-minute crit, and a safe, unchallenging race that ends in time for them to prop up and watch the Big Game. And they don’t even represent the majority: The sport as a whole doesn’t even want racing on that pitiful level, it wants no racing at all.

As a whole, cycling is comprised of old white men who don’t want to race, unless you consider the Donut Ride, Strava, grand fondues, and grumpy grinders “racing.”

Without kids in the mix, there’s no reason to care about anything. That’s why even the angriest liberals look at what’s happening today and mostly shrug. By the time the true devastation of Trumpism blossoms, we will be dead or so close to it that it will have been worth it, or so we think. This is the only thing that explains the casual acceptance of the Froomesford scandal. Let ’em cheat. They’re only cheating themselves, I can choose not to watch it, and anyway, my kid’s not trying to make it in pro cycling, so what do I care?

I hate to break the news to you. You may not care. You may think that it’s okay to whore off the future to the slothful, insatiable, rapine greed of the present. But inside, the only thing that can ever make anyone feel good about life is the conviction that there is a future, and the knowledge that you’re doing something positive for it.

Froomesford is wrong. Trump is wrong. Xi is wrong. Kurz is wrong. Orban is wrong. Abe is wrong.

The little kids in the morgue are right.

END

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Bond. Not James Bond, please.

June 28, 2018 § 11 Comments

Six years ago I watched my last movie, “Skyfall.” My wife had coaxed and cajoled me into going even though she knew I haven’t been able to stand cinema for a long time. The plot was the only one that Hollywood knows: Money spends money and goes after money whose money gets money’s money. The sequel is that you spend more money to watch money chase money all over again.

Skyfall gifted me with a splitting headache. Modern movies’ use of digital technology means that they can do shots that only last a second or two. In a 143-minute movie that breaks down to about 4,290 different shots, and leaving aside the fact that it’s horrible storytelling, the constantly flickering images accompanied by bright colors and loud noises ruined my head for several hours afterward.

As we exited I turned to her and said, “That’s it.”

“What’s it?”

“That’s the last movie I’m ever going to watch.”

“Why?”

I didn’t answer, I just stopped going to movies.

Bicycle days

As I wrote here a few weeks ago, my bicycle peregrinations from PV to Santa Monica at a leisurely, non-race pace, resulted in a friendship with Ralf, a German dude who introduced me to Villa Aurora, leading to a fascinating evening during which I got to listen to accomplished screen star and director Maria Schrader talk about how she made her movie Vor der Morgenröte. It didn’t hurt that this biopic was about Stefan Zweig, one of my favorite Austrian writers, reprising his time of exile from WWII Germany until his 1942 suicide in Brazil.

The brief clip we saw reminded me of my childhood in Houston, when my dad would take me to the art cinema house in Montrose, and I’d feast on real celluloid stories like Mr. Klein and Bread and Chocolate. I left feeling a little different about movies, a little less convinced that I’d never see another one.

This was a good thing because a couple of weeks later I got an invitation from Villa Aurora to watch a screening of a movie called The People v. Fritz Bauer. The story is about how Fritz Bauer, the German Hessian state prosecutor, helped Mossad track down and kidnap Adolf Eichmann. But like any great tale, it has layers, villains, heroes, surprising sex, and pedestrian characters all leading up to a great climax.

Unlike Skyfall, its predecessors or its progeny, The People v. Fritz Bauer is loaded with ambiguity, complexity, and at least fifty-one shades of gray. Unlike James Bond the actors are cast for their ability to act rather than for their conformity to an absurd standard of plastic surgery-enhanced physical characteristics. And most unlike Hollywood’s broken records, rather than relying on guns and punch-em-ups and CG magic, The People v. Fritz Bauer creates drama through dialogue, human interactions, beautiful period sets, and a bedrock of recent history that it is presumed the viewer knows about and at least peripherally understands. It doesn’t hurt that the lead actor is a powerhouse of dramatic portrayal.

In short, like a great book, this movie grips the mind and the emotions and forces them to engage.

Bread bribes

We were unable to stay and listen to the brief Q&A put on by Villa Aurora, where the star of the movie, Burghart Klaußner, spoke to the packed room about the movie. But a chance conversation about bread led to the most wonderful thing … an impromptu invitation to a party the following evening.

We came the next night bearing three loaves of bread: A sourdough, a landbrot, and a simple white loaf, and were rewarded with several hours of conversation with Maria Schrader, Klaußner, and a cast of other fascinating people, including the new director of the Thomas Mann House. People were so well read, so versed in current affairs, and their work was so connected with ideas, books, and humanity that it took my breath away.

And of course it gave me a chance to showcase my breathtaking ignorance about film, when in response to a question I said “I can’t stand the way the shots change every two seconds. It gives me a headache.”

“Not every movie does that, you know,” Maria said. “Vor der Morgenröte, for example. It starts with a long opening shot.”

“How long?” I asked, skeptically.

She paused and looked at me, the corners of her mouth upturned just a little. “Ten minutes.”

I thought about that for a second, stunned, and it occurred to me that abandoning cinema because of Skyfall made as much sense as abandoning my bicycle because of Lance Armstrong.

“Surely it’s a bit narrow-minded of you to reject all films because of one genre?” she gently asked.

One of Maria’s movies, Aimee & Jaguar, is showing on July 9 at Ahrya Fine Arts.

I’ve already got tickets.

END

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Hope in the time of darkness

June 20, 2018 § 17 Comments

As I have followed the meandering bicycle path these last few months leading from the Dogtown coffee shop to the Villa Aurora and its connections to Germany here in Los Angeles, I ran across an extraordinary ray of light yesterday, one which has illuminated my whole year.

When I say darkness, I mean not simply our descent into the Trumpian dystopia, but I mean the concentration camps that our nation has erected to incarcerate and torture immigrant children.

If this is not wrong, nothing is wrong.

A friend of mine who mediates complex commercial legal disputes now begins each mediation by reminding the parties that we are a nation of laws and that children are being tortured in concentration camps here, in the U.S.A., and she reminds them that no matter how deeply they care about the outcome of their commercial matter, this crime against humanity, committed on our shores under the seal of our president, matters much, much more.

She is not the only one so profoundly disturbed.

The president of Germany

I recently received an invitation to go listen to a speech by the president of Germany. I told a friend about it, and he chuckled. “I think you mean the prime minister,” he said. “Germany doesn’t have a president.”

“No,” I replied, “it does.”

Although the president has no legislative or judicial authority, he signs all legislation, accredits all diplomats, and has the limited ability to veto laws, a power rarely exercised. More importantly, the president of the Federal Republic of Germany is invested with moral powers. He is the person who speaks to the higher aspirations of the nation, who speaks on behalf of his country in times of great tragedy or crisis. Elected last year, Frank-Walter Steinmeier is serving a five-year term, and yesterday he magically appeared in Los Angeles to speak at a symposium called “The Struggle for Democracy.”

Why Los Angeles? Why democracy? And why Germany?

Thomas Mann and the authoritarian state

Thomas Mann is hardly a household name, but this Nobel prizewinning writer fled Germany in 1933 when Hitler seized power, then sought exile in the U.S. when war broke out in 1939. He agitated ceaselessly here in Los Angeles, along with other exiles such as Lion Feuchtwanger, generating propaganda, books, and radio broadcasts criticizing Hitler and the Axis.

Hailed for his work in the fight against fascism, America’s love for Mann faded in the 50’s when Joseph McCarthy falsely labeled him as a communist sympathizer and hounded him from these shores. Mann died in Switzerland in 1955, but refused to renounce his American citizenship. His belief in American democracy and American values were stronger than the lies and hatred directed against him by the very government he had so ardently defended.

Mann’s home, which is located just off Sunset Boulevard near PCH, had fallen into disrepair until it was recently purchased and restored by the German government. It was officially reopened in a private ceremony two days ago, and one of the guest speakers was Michelle Obama. The following day, yesterday, President Steinmeier came to the Getty Museum to give a speech about Mann, about America, and about democracy.

The shock of a great speech

I have to admit that the fellow who introduced President Steinmeier kind of botched it when he talked about the president’s membership in the Reichstag. I’ve come to expect a certain level of nincompoopism when Americans talk about anything related to a foreign country’s institutions, but confusing the Reichstag with the modern Bundestag was a big enough blunder that you could feel a shudder run through the numerous Germans present, quickly replaced by their generous realization that Americans are pretty dumb even on their best of days.

But what really was astounding was to sit and listen to a head of state discuss books and literature. President Steinmeier launched into a discussion of Thomas Mann’s life, and he began unflinchingly with a quote from Mann, who as a young writer had espoused monarchism and was quite contemptuous of parliamentary democracy. This ability of Germany to confront its past is not limited to literature, of course, it is part of the entire postwar mentality that has courageously dealt with its war crimes in a way that the U.S. still cannot do with respect to its history of slavery and Jim Crow segregation.

The comparison between Steinmeier and Trump couldn’t have been more brutal. Can anyone, even Trump’s most ardent brown shirts, imagine him talking about an author’s body of work, or making reference to important protagonists, as Steinmeier did when he referenced Herr Settembrini in Mann’s “The Magic Mountain”?

Can anyone imagine Trump discussing the main character in a major novel set in biblical times as being a referent for the New Deal and FDR? Anti-intellectualism has and will always be part of the American fabric, but no president until Trump has ever made willful ignorance and blind stupidity points of pride, a fact that Steinmeier highlighted without ever mentioning the word Trump, and instead quoting from Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln.

The moral fiber of a nation

As Steinmeier spoke, he reminded us that our nation was founded on the highest principles of democracy, and he quoted Walt Whitman saying that “America and democracy are convertible terms.” More importantly, he reminded us that our country can only develop democracy abroad when we defend it at home, and that our interests abroad lie not in strategic or economic alliances, but in alliances with nations who share our democratic ideals.

As great as America is, he reminded us, we need partners, and the implication was that we don’t need partners in crime along the lines of Kim Jong-Un, Putin, Assad, Netanyahu, and King Salman, but partners who share our commitment to a nation that is build on laws which respect the dignity and worth of every human being.

Steinmeier recounted how he had stood at Dr. Martin Luther King’s graveside with John Lewis, and asked this titan of civil rights how he found the strength to persevere in the face of all that was and all that continues to be wrong. Lewis’s answer: “I am daily driven by the words in our Constitution, ‘to form a more perfect union.'”

Our job, as Lewis said, is not perfection, but to fight for a more perfect future. We have a future, there is hope, and I’m grateful that the leader of a foreign land destroyed by fascism and rebuilt by democracy took the time to remind us of it.

Steinmeier’s speech ended in tears by many and a rousing, standing ovation by all.

END

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First Annual All Clubs BBQ

June 12, 2018 § 5 Comments

It is pretty much a commonplace that cyclists rarely see each other with their riding clothes off, by which I don’t mean in the buff (that may be less rare than we think) but by which I mean in regular clothes.

People look different when they aren’t doing bicycle cosplay, and you know what? They act different, too. The faster you go on a bike the less you talk, and the less you talk the less you really interact. My favorite conversation is the archetypal Donut Ride rollout conversation, the one between people who have known each other for years, if not decades.

“Hey, man, how’s it going?

“Great. You?”

“Super.”

Then jostle for a little bit more position as you prepare for Mr. Scott to ramp up the engines.

The long talk

Of course when the mix and the route and the roads are right, you can have quite involved conversations while riding. I still remember the countless hours that Fields and I would talk as we cruised the back roads of the Texas Hill Country, or the multi-hour arguments that I’d have with Kevin Callaway on long winter rides.

But those are the exception these days; most rides occur on dense roads with a bunch of other riders, and the terseness is exacerbated when you happen to be riding with a completely different club or group of riders. As my friend Ken Vinson noted, the helmets, glasses, and clown suits make it even harder somehow to talk.

So Ken had a great idea about how to address the problem, which may not seem like much until you realize that we have a lot of racial conflict in the Los Angeles peloton. It’s not always overt, but sometimes all it takes is a bump, a push, or an angry word and suddenly racial tensions flare. I’ve seen it many times, and I am sure a lot of other people have, too.

Much of that tension is a product of the fact that people don’t really talk all that much on the bike. The relationships can be thin and limited to a few cursory greetings, greetings that don’t cut it when people are fighting for a wheel or disagreeing about whether a particular move was safe.

Ken’s solution was an all club barbecue, where any bike club in Los Angeles could come, put up a barbecue pit, bring the non-riding members of the family, and actually mingle.

The date is August 12, from noon to six

This was the impetus for the first annual All Clubs BBQ, which will be held at Eldorado Park in Long Beach, and will include a cook-off competition and barbecue samplers for a few dollars per plate.

This year we’re also going to fold in the sixth annual South Bay Cycling Awards with the All Clubs BBQ, but more about that later.

The event will take place on August 12, 2018 at the El Dorado Park West “Willow Grove” Picnic site from 12-6 PM. The All Clubs BBQ event entry is free.

Details:

  • El Dorado Park West 2800 N. Studebaker Road, Long Beach, CA 90815
  • “Willow Grove” Picnic site enter on E. Los Arcos St. off Studebaker Road
  • Ample free parking
  • Extensive tree covering and covered picnic shelters (available on a first come basis)
  • Family friendly outing
  • Playground
  • Games
  • The chance to mingle and talk off the bike
  •  It’s a picnic so bring your own food–BBQ sampler plates will also be available for a few bucks!

     

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Wheels of justice

June 10, 2018 § 8 Comments

I rode to Santa Monica a month or so ago and stopped at Dogtown Coffee. My first order of business was the bathroom, and when I got out I saw that my wife had struck up a conversation with some dude and his wife. I sat down.

The dude loved orange bicycles, which was a weird coincidence, because I belong to a club called Big Orange, was wearing an orange clown suit, and had sashayed up to the coffeeshop on my bright orange bike.

“I am the original lover of orange bicycles,” he said with the smallest hint of a foreign accent.

“You should join Big Orange, then. We are all orange all the time, except when we are collecting lizards.”

He looked quizzically at me. “Lizards?”

“It’s a long and painful story that involves lots of unsold ugly green socks, Facebag, an Asian lady winning a medal, and lots of butthurt. I’ll tell you about it never. Where are you from?”

“Germany,” he said.

So we began to talk in earnest.

Books and sourdough starter and links

I don’t really remember how this next phase came about, but a few weeks after we met, I was headed back to Santa Monica to meet Ralf again and to drop off a bag full of books and a jar of sourdough starter. The books were an assortment of recent reads that I’d designated for the library donation bin, and Ralf had professed interest in one of the titles, and his wife had professed interest in some sourdough starter, so that kind of explains it, vaguely.

Then, a couple of weeks later, he sent me an email. “Don’t know if you’re familiar with the Villa Aurora, but here’s a link, and they have some pretty interesting events from time to time.”

I clicked on the link. How many bad stories have started like that?

Hitler’s most wanted

Villa Aurora is a mansion. It’s about twelveteen hundred thousand square feet perched on Via Miramar, just off Sunset with a commanding a view of the Pacific Ocean. Lion Feuchtwanger bought it in the 40’s for $7,500. It is worth more than that now.

Feuchtwanger was a Jew, and he didn’t wind up on the West Coast by choice. He was driven from Germany in 1933 when Hitler published his first Denaturalization List, which designated enemies of the state who were thereby stripped of citizenship. Hitler considered Feutchwanger a personal enemy due to the novel “Success,” a fictionalized and brutal portrayal of the Nazi party.

After exile in France, Feuchtwanger and his wife Marta effected a daring escape from the Gestapo via Portugal to the U.S., settling in Los Angeles in 1941 and living there until his death in 1958. Feuchtwanger, along with Thomas Mann, formed an intellectual, literary, and social propaganda front on the West Coast opposing Hitler and Nazism, and Villa Aurora was a center for Jewish and European exiles who did everything in their power to encourage the U.S to enter the war against the Third Reich.

So here I was, living in LA, having ridden my sorry ass bike a stone’s throw from Villa Aurora a thousand times or more, and I’d never heard of it or its illustrious history. I’d never even heard of Feuchtwanger, and I learned about it all just because of an orange bike and a chance conversation in a coffee shop that led to an Internet link as reciprocation for a couple of books and some yeast.

Good government, bad government

The U.S. government is today led by a Neo-Nazi, and it maintains concentration camps for immigrant children who are tortured by being taken from their parents, subjected to mental and physical abuse, and who are also sexually assaulted. Their parents are now being incarcerated in federal prisons, and civil rights workers, lawyers, and social workers are denied access to these modern concentration camps.

This is our land.

But it was not always this way. After World War II, the U.S. government poured the modern equivalent of $110 billion dollars into decimated Western Europe, not to shore up dictatorships like modern Russia, but to to build up democracies like modern Germany. After spending its Marshall Plan funds, Germany set aside a portion of the money and founded something that, when I applied for it in 1988, was called the Bundestag Internship Program. It came with free accommodations at the University of Bonn’s married student housing, a generous monthly allowance, coursework at the university for two semesters, and nine months of work in the office of a member of parliament.

I worked in the office of a former Nazi soldier, Burschenschaftler, and all-round conservative Bavarian dick named Dionys Jobst, whose only memorable political act was to jokingly suggest that Germany purchase Mallorca as the 17th federal state, only to find out that for much of the world, German acquisition of foreign territory wasn’t especially funny. However loathsome I found his politics, the money I received from the German government changed my life. In addition to the friends I made, I received an education unlike any other, as my arrival in Bonn in August of 1989 coincided with the first freedom trains from Eastern Europe which presaged the imminent fall of the Berlin Wall, a world-changing event that came about in November. In the middle of this complete upheaval of the world order, I happened to be sitting in the front row, and it’s no accident that my eldest son is named Hans despite no apparent family connection to anyone in Germany.

It was in Germany that I first ate bread, real bread, that I first rode my bike over cobbles, that I first confronted the living, breathing intellectualism of Western thought, that I first understood racism as a global phenomenon, that I first saw how modern and alive Nazism was forty years after war’s end, that I first saw the depth and power of a real social democracy based on human rights.

Not a day went by during my time in Germany that I didn’t reflect on the fact that I was the recipient of welfare from my own government, and from the coffers of a foreign nation as well.

Those Hollywood nights

Shortly after I left Germany, its government purchased the Villa Aurora in Los Angeles. I don’t think the two were related. After investing several million dollars to shore up the home’s foundation, it was restored with those of Feuchtwanger’s books and personal items that hadn’t been donated to the University of Southern California, and rebooted as a guest home for visiting fellows, who rotated on a three-month basis.

This was remarkably similar to my own experience in that, again, the German government was investing money to develop good things around the globe, except in this case the Villa Aurora’s mission was truly extraordinary: At least one of the fellows is always a writer who is being persecuted by her government, just like Feuchtwanger himself.

After joining their email list, I received an invitation to an evening of Meet the Fellows, and it was extraordinary beyond any description, beginning with the villa itself. Whatever you think of Feuchtwanger as a writer, he was an impeccable judge of real estate, as the scenery stretching out below Via Miramar captures the ocean, the sunset, and the stunning beauty of the Topanga parkland. The villa is luxurious after a 1930’s fashion, but its most impressive feature is the leftover collection of Feuchtwanger’s books, which line every wall.

I spent an hour reading the spines of every book and covered less than half the volumes in only two rooms, a compendium of French, Spanish, English, and German writings that spanned every genre and every time period.

The high point of the night, however, was the series of presentations put on by the fellows, beginning with the brilliant and moving Onur Burçak Belli, a Turkish journalist fighting on the front lines of human rights against what can only be described as the true forces of evil in the form of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s dictatorship.

#freeTurkeyjournalism and #journalismisnotacrime

Belli, an accomplished writer who covers crucial issues such as the repression of dissent in Turkish universities, the plight of Syrian immigrants in Turkey who are fleeing Assad’s civil war, and the changing landscape of immigration in the EU, spoke at length about the dangers of working as a journalist in Turkey.

The price of the pursuit of facts for journalists can easily be death or decades in prison, yet Belli introduced writer after writer who, unbowed, has defied Erdogan’s Nazi-like regime and his security forces in order to publish punishing facts about the government. Belli described the fully militarized state, replete with continual police brutality, sham trials, political murders, and secret police reprisals that define daily life in the southeast part of Kurdish Turkey, as well as the atrocities committed against reporters who dare to disclose facts unfavorable to the regime.

By detailing the stories of individual journalists, Belli brought home the reality of those who are persecuted as well as those who continue to fight to keep reporters out of prison, and to fight for freedom for those who have been incarcerated. When Belli described the show trial of one reporter, the room shivered as she described the courtroom scene: Without a lawyer, without the ability to cross-examine or even know the names of his accusers, when the writer was allowed to speak in his own defense he laughed at the judge and said, “I am not here to defend myself for I have done nothing that merits a defense. I am here to prosecute YOU for your crimes against Turkey’s laws the Turkish people!”

Through the ringing applause, you could hear the clapping hands of Feuchtwanger, too.

A sound apart

The second fellow was Stefan Beyer, a composer from Braunschweig who currently lives in Berlin. Funny, intelligent, modest, and well aware that the average person has zero idea what modern music sounds like, he treated us to a fifteen minute selection from his composition, “I Have Never Eaten Human Flesh.”

I’ve never eaten human flesh either, but if I did, I wonder if it would be as interesting as Beyer’s music? Doubtful.

Of course listening to modern music as a wholly uninformed and ignorant listener, anything I might say about it would only reinforce my previously stated qualifications, even as an illiterate would be less than competent to interpret, say, ancient Greek. Nonetheless, I can say this: After listening to a couple of his pieces, I’m now listening to a third, and I wholeheartedly recommend that you check it out.

The world from yesterday

It was barely a couple of years ago that I returned from Vienna, my rucksack stuffed with books, and none impressed me more than Stefan Zweig’s epic, “Die Welt von Gestern.” Previously I had read one of his novels, Ungeduld des Herzens, but it was nothing compared to The World from Yesterday.

That book led me eventually to Karl Kraus’s “The Last Days of Mankind,” a most damning work that obviously influenced Zweig and The World from Yesterday in countless ways. So you can imagine the thrill that ran up and down my spine when I learned that the third fellow was Maria Schrader.

Who?

Right. I didn’t know either.

However, the whole point of education is to learn what you don’t know, and so I unashamedly googled Ms. Schrader only to learn that she is a famous German actress and, of much greater interest to me, is the director of the acclaimed movie Vor der Morgenröte, which, incredibly, is about the life of Stefan Zweig.

Schrader’s film, and yes, it’s a fuggin’ film, captures Zweig’s life in the most amazing way, with individual scenes from his life, concluding with his exile in Brazil, where, after escaping the Nazis, he settled down to a life of extraordinary happiness, peacefulness, and suicide. Having read Kraus’s work, and having read a wonderful series of works by great Viennese writers in the early 1900’s, and having read The World from Yesterday, it was like a dream to sit and listen to Schrader talk about going from an idea to a final, fully produced scene in a movie.

Her presentation taught more about filmmaking than I’ve known my entire life, and it was done with humor, self-deprecation, in beautiful English, and summed up with a scene from the movie that, in a brief four minutes, justified all of her acclaim.

All of this, right here in Los Angeles, a few hundred feet from PCH, there were movies, music, political resistance, great journalism, human rights, like-minded people supporting the same ideals … all of it courtesy of a generous and farsighted government, all of it accessible thanks to a fortuitous meeting on a bright orange bike.

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