November 4, 2020 § 7 Comments
Today was a big ol’ day in Trumpington, USA.
Please believe me. I haven’t so much as glanced at a headline.
I voted and am not worrying my scraggly little beard about it at all.
Instead, I started the day with a ride to San Pedro with an old friend. He was telling me about the stars at night out in the desert. “It’s so calming,” he said, among other things.
That struck me powerfully, that simple juxtaposition of “stars” and “calming.” It reminded me of the Milky Way I’d seen so many nights on my last sojourn, as John put it, “hanging down so low in the sky you could touch it.” He was right. The stars, the night sky, are calming.
You look up and at first only see twinkling, but as you look you notice it is a hotbed of activity. Things are moving up there at blinding speeds, Somehow it doesn’t make you anxious, it calms you down. There is profound reassurance in watching the whirling and twirling of things whose birthdays are measured in billions.
A lot of what we are invited to participate in, or rather be sucked into, isn’t calming at all. I mean the news, #socmed, the teevee, the Internets. For the most part those things, when you spend much time with them, raise disturbing questions, questions that you can’t ever really answer. Was Kobe’s death a conspiracy? Does Greta eat hamburger in secret? Is global warming caused by frogs?
There are other things that don’t calm you down much, either, like driving in traffic, or really, driving almost anywhere.
One thing that calms me down is buying groceries. I am not especially interested in food or in shopping, but without a car, and having the grocery stores either way above or way below, it means you have to carry it all on your back. In your pack. This can be kind of an ordeal since we have to do it every other day or so. But it’s like the ordeal of “How long is the universe going to last?” It’s not one of those questions that is disturbing, like “Who’s going to be the next miller of Trumpington?”
To the contrary, it’s oddly calming to ask, “How am I gonna get all this shit into my backpack?” It’s practical. Has a solution. Requires focus and attention. Makes you use your muscles.
Wherever your calm is, I’m wagering it’s not where “they” want you to think it is. Maybe it’s in a bike commute and some honest sweat.
Or maybe it’s in the stars.
March 2, 2020 § 17 Comments
I was just riding along.
I had left home at 4:30 and was making great time. I had a 2 PM appointment in Pacific Beach, about 123 miles away.
Past Dana Point I ran into a woman who was riding from San Francisco to San Diego. She was a former hotshot wildfire firefighter, and works for the forest service. She was riding pretty fast on a mostly loaded bike.
We started talking and she remarked about how different it was to wake up every day and know that you had to ride your bike. I was inspired by her solo trip. She had also ridden a big chunk of the north coast route. Solo. Like any hotshot firefighter, you could tell she was really tough.
As we passed through Carlsbad, a group of cyclists came in the opposite direction. I looked to see if I knew any of them. “I know a lot of cyclists in San Diego,” I said by way of explanation. It sounded pretty fake.
Another mile or so later there was a guy standing on the side of the road beside his car waving his arms. “That’s my best friend!” I said excitedly. It sounded even more fake. However, the person was none other than my best friend Michael Marckx. He had seen us riding along, passed, and pulled over. We hugged, then stopped and had coffee while the firefighter continued on. So, not fake after all!
On the way back from Pacific Beach I got hungry, and I stopped in at pizza port for a large pepperoni and mushroom pizza. I ate it in about 15 minutes. A table of five or six women sitting next to me stared.
I took my tray filled with crusts up to the counter. “Do you have any take-home boxes?“
The counter guy looked at the crusts. “What for?”
“These are dinner,” I said. I went back to my table and boxed up the crusts. The women looked disgusted. Or jealous. Or both.
There was another man off to the side who was also watching me. It was early afternoon, he had a small half eaten pizza, a bowl of salad submerged in a tsunami of creamy dressing, and five empty beer glasses on his table. I wanted to tell him that I didn’t think the salad was going to do what he wanted it to do, but I said nothing and left.
After all that riding the pizza would not digest and it sat in my distended stomach like a pizza baby. In Encinitas I got hungry for a smoothie so I stopped at the smoothie shop. To pay, I had to take out the pizza box which rattled as if it were full of bones.
“What’s in there?” the counter girl asked. I opened it and showed her the crusts.
“Dinner,” I said.
She looked at me like she thought I was going to ask if I could go around back and rummage in the dumpster. As I rode through Encinitas I saw a familiar face, Tom, the guy who works at Campagnolo I thought, but since he wasn’t wearing a bike costume I wasn’t sure. I stopped. “Hey, are you a cyclist?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Seth,” I said.
We laughed and chatted and I continued on.
That was pretty much my day. I stopped in Oceanside and checked into a motel, 156 miles or thereabouts. Serendipitous meeting with friends, new acquaintances, and a pizza baby.
Just riding along.
February 24, 2020 § 6 Comments
On Friday I had to go to Santa Ana for a mediation. If you are unfamiliar with the mediation business, it’s yet another brick in the wall that fences off the courts to ordinary people.
Time was, you had a problem, you couldn’t work it out, you sued, you went to court, a jury heard your problem, rendered a verdict, and everyone went home to groan or gloat. Nowadays going to court has for the most part priced out all but the very richest corporations with the very biggest disputes. Doubt me? Go to a federal courthouse any day and you will enjoy silence and emptiness that is generally only found in deep space.
The not-yet-rich people, because they can’t afford to go to trial and lose, wind up in mediation. Mediation is a private affair. It’s non-binding and if the parties can’t agree at mediation the case lumbers along towards trial.
One of the biggest mediation outfits is Judicate West. They charge several thousand dollars for a couple hours of a mediator shuttling back and forth trying to raise the defendant’s offer and trying to lower the plaintiff’s demand. If you’re okay with a fully private court system that is crazily expensive and further reduces access to the public justice system, Judicate West works just fine.
But what I really can’t stand about them is their bike parking.
On Friday, Day #151 of my carmaggeddon, I had to ride from PV to Santa Ana. It’s not long, only 2.5 hours, but it’s plenty long in the sense that by the time you get there, you’re glad you’re there. Leaving home at 6:05 was very peaceful. The streets were quiet and the air was cool.
Rolling through the middle of Long Beach about an hour later was also pretty nice. Traffic had picked up but when you are bike commuting it’s merely a fact of the road rather than something that impacts you directly. On the bike you still roll to the front of the line no matter how many cars there are. Big parts of PCH in Long Beach have a bike lane stripe, and from 2nd Street, which turns into Westminster–a straight shot all the way to Santa Ana–there is even a fake bike lane that goes along for a couple of miles before it dumps you out, helpless and unprotected and with virtually no warning, into the traffic lane. Great job, bike safety infrastructure advocates!!!
Which I don’t mind because, vehicular cyclist.
I had one car the entire morning beep at me, a tuned Civic. Otherwise, the No. 1 lane on Westminster is wide enough that, when your bike is properly lit, you can troll along with zero problems.
Until, of course, I got to Judicate West, where lawyers pay thousands of dollars to drive up in their Teslas and bargain for their 40% cut of the client’s settlement fee. I rolled up into the little plaza, lights blazing, looking for the bike parking.
An obese and nasty security guard ran out. It’s rare that people run nowadays. They’re generally not fit enough and there’s generally nothing important enough to run for, but a cyclist in the plaza, man, that’s enough to get even the most corpulent and sedentary among us up to a full gallop.
“Hey!” he shouted. “Hey! You! Do you have business here?”
I was wearing a backpack, a white dress shirt, khaki slacks, black shoes, and suspenders. My bike was all sparkly and orange. I’d shaved and had even gotten a haircut in the last couple of months. Did I look that suspicious?
ANSWER: YES. YOU’RE ON A BICYCLE.
“I do have business here, unfortunately,” I said.
He eyed me for a second, sizing up me and my story. “With who?”
“With whom? Judicate West. I’m looking for the bike parking.”
He deflated for a second. It had looked like he’d get to start his day by running off a homeless bike person. “It’s over there,” he waved his hand towards the parking garage.
“In the back. Next to the green cage.”
I turned around.
“Hey!” he shouted again. “Get off your bike and walk!”
Because there was no one in the plaza and I might … what? Run into the tree?
I dismounted and entered the garage. At the back was a big fenced in area covered with green netting. Next to it were those horrible front-wheel bike racks, where you can lock your wheel but nothing else so that anyone who knows how to use a quick release can walk off with the rest of the frame and the rear wheel.
Of course since it was Judicate West and no one had ever ridden a bike there before, I was able to lean my bike sideways against the entire rack and loop my cable through wheels and frame. Even this third-class citizenship was pretty good, though, because it was closer to the exit than all but the the reserved “executive” parking spaces.
At the counter on the 16th Floor I had my second best human interaction of the day, the one I love best. The receptionist said, “If you give me your parking ticket I can validate it for you.”
I smiled broadly, right pant leg still rolled up. “No thanks,” I said to the rather full lobby. “I came by bike.”
December 5, 2019 § 3 Comments
I stood in line at the post office. I had parked my bike in the foyer, lights still blinking. My hi-viz rain jacket was dripping a bit, making a little puddle around my feet.
I recalled something I’d once read. “There are no successful people at the post office.”
Like that part in Alice’s Restaurant where everybody on the jail bench moved away from Arlo when they found out he’d been arrested for littering, the patrons were giving me a wide berth and looking through me.
I thought of the corollary to the above rule: “And people at the post office on bicycles aren’t people.”
I got to the window. “How’s your day going?” I asked the lady as a raindrop splopped onto the counter.
She nodded at the window. “The weather. I hate the rain. Just hate it.”
She was so big that there were two of her. “How come?” I asked.
“You can’t do anything on days like this.”
I was standing there in my rain gear, rolled up pant leg, and bike visible in the foyer. “You can’t?”
“Nope,” she said. “Days like this all you can do is sit inside and drink hot cocoa. Which is EXACTLY what I’ll be doing in four hours’ time.” She said it with the sadness you’d expect if someone had told her that Sara Lee had gone bankrupt, or was now vegan only.
I loved the way she made it sound like the rain was preventing her from engaging in her normal active lifestyle, all that bungee jumping, rock climbing, and hang gliding she normally did after work when the sun was out. As if her today wasn’t the equal of her every day, always indoors or wrapped in a steel cage, shuffling from chair to sofa and back again from the moment she awoke to the moment she went to bed.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Days like today you just have to stay put.”
She nodded without looking up, weighing my letter and slapping on a stamp while breathing heavily from the effort of existing. “You said it, my friend.”
I kinda did.
November 25, 2019 § 10 Comments
I’m getting the jump on 2020.
Seems like resolutions for the new year are quaint. Studies show they don’t work anyway.
But what about a New Year’s Evolution? I kind of like that. Evolution isn’t as quick and it’s ongoing. Plus, you can (and will) break a resolution, but you can’t break evolution.
My New Year’s Evolutions are these:
- Ride my fuggin’ bike more.
- Depend on fossil fuels less in all things.
And because I am in a generous mood, I’m going to give YOU a list of evolutions to consider, in case you’re so inclined.
- Ride your fuggin’ bike more.
- Depend on fossil fuels less in all things.
- Ride your bike to the grocery store once a week.
- Ride your bike to the coffee shop once a week but not as part of a group ride.
- Ride your bike with your family to dinner once a month.
- Ride your bike to work once a week.
- Swap out ONE car for ONE e-bike.
- Retrofit ONE of your road/cross/MTB/vintage bikes as a commuter bike.
- Ride with huge headlights at all times.
- Ride with huge taillights at all times.
- Control a busy lane once a week.
- Ride from the South Bay to DTLA once a month.
- Ride the bus with your bike.
- Ride the train with your bike.
- Use a Metro bike locker then walk somewhere.
- Ride with a friend/family to Union Station and have a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.
- Do one trafficky gnarly commute (full lights) through somewhere like Anaheim/PCH to Long Beach or Orange County from the South Bay.
- Do an East Side Riders Feed the Hungry Ride.
- Take a Cycling Savvy online course.
- Ride your bike somewhere and lock it up.
Do this list in 2020, starting now, and you’ll evolve. Guaranteed.
November 24, 2019 § 7 Comments
The closer you get to living without a car the scarier it gets.
It’s true that I haven’t driven since August 17, 2019. But the car, well, it is still there, a giant 5,000-lb. security blanket all plugged in and ready to go.
I’ve used the Kelly Blue Book online quote service and have found that a 2017 Chevy Volt with leather seats, 48,000 miles, and nary a scratch will fetch real money. And worry not, the dealer will come to you.
I don’t miss driving, and I’m daily astonished at the mass stupidity of it all.
Car washes? Are you kidding me?
Gas stations? Are you kidding me?
Car shopping? Are you kidding me?
Stopping in a line of 30 cars to go through a light? Are you kidding me?
Status based on your brand of steel cage? Are you kidding me?
Pulling over for a fire truck? Are you kidding me?
Sitting on the freeway? Are you kidding me?
Drive-thrus? Are you kidding me?
Oil changes and maintenance? Are you kidding me?
Road rage? Are you kidding me?
Flipping through radio stations hoping to find Tom Petty? Are you kidding me?
Paying tolls? Are you kidding me?
Going 3 mph through parking garages? Are you kidding me?
Rental car packages with airfare? Are you kidding me?
Parking? Are you kidding me?
Valet? Are you kidding me?
Speeding tickets and traffic cops? Are you kidding me?
Finding a charging station? Are you kidding me?
Exhaustion from doing nothing? Are you kidding me?
The 110/405/10/101? Are you kidding me?
18-wheelers? Are you kidding me?
Depreciation depression? Are you kidding me?
Insurance? YOU ARE NOT KIDDING ME.
Because as a bike lawyer, cyclist, and 4:00 AM blogger I know that having underinsured/uninsured motorist coverage is the third leg of the stool for savvy cyclists: Use a light, Take the lane, Insure thyself.
And once you get rid of your car you lose your UM/UIM coverage. Or at least that’s what I thought. But then I recalled Francis X.’s famous quote: “Wouldn’t it be great if all the computers in the world were connected with some kind of electronic network that would allow them to instantaneously share information on demand so that you could get answers to questions right away?”
A google later I discovered “Non-owner Liability Insurance.” This is liability insurance for anyone with a driving license who doesn’t own a car, and it comes with UM/UIM coverage. There are a couple of catches.
- The insurance is not offered by all carriers.
- You can’t have any motor vehicle registered in your name.
- The UM/UIM coverage generally maxes out at $250,000, rather than the $500k or even $1M policies offered by some carriers.
Since we haven’t sold our Volt yet I’m not eligible for a policy, but once it’s gone I’ll be reaching out to State Farm agent, cyclist, and friend Stephan Buckley and buying coverage. It’s almost $900 cheaper than my current $500k/$500k policy, which only means one thing: More carbon.
November 23, 2019 § 6 Comments
About two years ago I stopped reading the news.
Before that I was a news junkie, I mean a trash junkie. I would have to read the news first thing when I got up and then check it during the day.
One day I read an old article in the Guardian that explained how awful news is and how bad it is for you to read it. The takeaway was that not reading the news will make you happier.
I read this in the early days of the current presidency, which in and of itself was an unending source of unhappiness. Sure enough, when I stopped paying attention, I felt better.
Since I had never consumed teevee news, I became instantly insulated from the news effect, which is what I call the highs and crying jags that come from being emotionally manipulated. I found out that whatever happened to the stock market was going to happen. That the globe would continue to heat. That bad actors would continue their badness, and no matter how much I read about it or didn’t read about it, all those things would continue.
Most importantly, simply listening to people talk was enough to get the basics of what was “going on.” And what was “going on” is what’s always “going on.”
I started focusing on real events in my life and on people I actually know and hang out with, both of them. For me, news became “What had I and my family/friends done?” rather than “What high crimes and misdemeanors did the president commit today?”
This extended most importantly to cycling news. I used to actually pay attention to the results of a UCI 3.1 race in Belgium. I wanted to know who the next stage winner of Tour of Qinghai Lake was going to be. Vanderpoel’s latest cyclocross win? Had to know.
But that was all news, so I stopped reading it.
Actually, what I stopped read were advertisements. Online content now is designed so that you can’t get more than two or three paragraphs, sometimes lines, without having to read or consciously skip over an ad. It’s the ultimate brain cage. I compare it to the books I read, where you go page after page after page, hundreds of them, AND NEVER SEE AN AD.
See? Old technology isn’t all bad.
Despite all this, like a wino and his bottle, the background hum of impeachment has gotten so loud that I decided to read an article yesterday, if article is what you call modern Internet newsvertising. This was in the New York Times.
All I can say is that my generation and the ones preceding have left everything in tatters. There is no law, no order, no logic, no decency on the national stage. It’s not the president’s fault. He’s simply the most extreme exponent of a national creed that doesn’t want to study, think, discuss, compromise, and love strangers.
But the good news? I promised good news, so here it is: If you quit driving in order to become a full-time bike commuter in LA, you don’t have to give up your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, even if you no longer own a car.
Details to come!
November 21, 2019 § 8 Comments
We all go through phases, but I seem to go through more than the average bicycle rider. I cycle through phases so fast that I eventually get back to the beginning, like the 12-year Chinese zodiac.
I’m a bunny, by the way.
My first bicycle phase was steel bikes and wool jerseys because that’s all there was in 1982. That phase lasted until 2008, when I purged all wool and bought a carbon bike that was 100% carbon and made fully of genuinely pure carbon, all of it.
About that time I sold my steel Eddy Merckx Leader and my backup, a Masi Gran Criterium. Handlebar shifters were neat, I decided.
Earlier this year I bought a couple of wool jerseys, and on cool mornings they reminded me of why I really like them. They aren’t so tight, they feel great, they warm when it’s cool and they cool when it’s warm.
I had an appointment in Hollywood yesterday so I threw on a woolly over my t-shirt. Then I glanced out the window and saw the gray rain threats, so I stuffed a raincoat and wool cap into my backpack. A few drops of rain hit me on the 23-mile ride there. It was cool, the jersey was perfect, and the tailwind had me giddy.
After I finished my business I got ready to leave and the skies opened up. By the time I had put my raincoat on and rolled outside it was pouring worse than the sweat off your obese neighbor wedged into the next-door-airplane-seat.
Plus, the temperature dropped hugely, so it wasn’t rain, it was cold rain. I pulled the wool cap over my ears and started pedaling.
In minutes my pants were drenched all the way through to my parts and my shoes were waterlogged. The jacket, sold to me by Baby Seal at the Bike Palace, worked wonders, but after a half-hour of relentless rain, and water walls being sprayed by the passing cars on LaBrea, the freezing wet started to get down the neck and into the raincoat.
Thirty more minutes and my inwards were as soaked as my outwards. My hands and feet were going numb and the rain kept pounding. It didn’t let up until Torrance, and then the sun broke through on the first part of Silver Spur. It reminded me that when you’re in a car you’re cozy and warm but you don’t get the joy, the incredible joy, that happens when the rain stops beating you and the sun comes out.
But that wool jersey and wool cap had kept my core and my head as warm as company in bed, even though soaked.
I got back and unzipped the rain jacket. Out in a rush came the warm, nostalgic smell of sweat-and-wet wool. I breathed it in. It didn’t smell all that great. But I didn’t complain.
November 19, 2019 § 15 Comments
For years I’ve had it in my head that cagers in LA hate bicyclists. That drivers are the enemy. That as far as they’re concerned, the only good cyclist is one driving a car.
Yesterday, though, it struck me that I have been terribly wrong.
It’s true that there is a disturbing number of cagers who, when they see bicycle underwear, racy bikes, helmets, and Terminator glasses, go apeshit. I certainly haven’t imagined the decades of honks, middle fingers, punishment passes, offensive shouts, and physical altercations that have happened while being a #leakyprostate #mastersfake #profamateur cyclist.
I left the South Bay at 11:30, rode through downtown, had a meeting in the Fig/Cypress area, rode through densest LA crosstown traffic, crossed Hollywood to Beverly Hills to Santa Monica, had another meeting, then pedaled through insane 6:00 PM Santa Monica traffic, all the way down Arizona to Ocean, along the entire length of Main Street which was jammed bumper-to-bumper all the way into Marina del Rey and the marina bike path. I got home at 8:20.
It was the most extended traffic jam I’ve ever seen, literally stretching in a giant loop around the bulk of the LA metro area. But get this: I got honked at once.
And get this: I’m not even sure the dude was honking at me.
And get-get this: I had innumerable vehicles nudge their stopped cars to the left to make space for me to get up the gutter or to split the lane, and the couple of times I had gnarly, high speed, no-room-to-maneuver left turns with no space to change lanes (think hanging a left onto Argyle off Franklin, with 8 billion cars queued to get onto the 101), I made the move by simply putting out my hand in a “halt” sign and watching as traffic patiently let me cross two lanes of traffic and slot into the left-hand turn lane.
Equally telling, in the long stretch along Fountain Ave., which has BMUFL markings, my 16-17 mph speed and liberal interpretation of the numerous stop signs angered no one, engendered no punishment passes, no middle finger salutes, zero ugly honks.
What does it all mean? Here’s what it means:
- When you are riding with seven super bright rear lights, people see you from a long way off even when they are texting. And a big chunk of motorist rage is their shock and surprise at having you “come out of nowhere,” i.e. having to navigate your presence when they weren’t paying attention in the first place. This displaced anger is a large part of cager rage–they’re the ones at fault for not seeing you, and they blame you for it. Put on the massive rear lights and voila, the rage disappears.
- The brilliant, 1200-lumen headlights also explain why cars make space when you’re up against the curb, passing a hundred stopped cars as you skip to the front of the line. Your headlights blast their side and rearview mirrors, a/k/a THEY FUGGIN’ SEE YOU. And a lot of cagers are either cyclists or at least sympathetic to them or, perhaps, appreciative that one bike means one less car.
- Hair (or bald head). When you ditch the helmet you look like a person. When you wear the helmet you look like a Star Wars storm trooper. Remember them? They were the true villains of the whole movie. But underneath those helmets that fell off after Luke killed them with his blaster, they were actual people. It’s just that when you saw the mask you hated them because mask = enemy.
- Backpack. Storm trooper cyclists deserving of death look inhuman. Person on a bicycle lugging a backpack looks like a barista late for work, and a late barista means you may not get your coffee! It’s hard to feel superior to a storm trooper all sleek and shaved and getting fit while you’re gaining weight sucking down a mocha frap in a 3-hour traffic jam. But it’s impossible not to feel superior to someone who not only is too poor to own a car but who also has to carry a backpack en route to a minimum wage job. And when you feel superior, you often feel just a little bit nicer. At least you don’t feel consumed with rage.
- Jeans and t-shirt and sneakers. This completes the human outfit. #winning
There may be other factors involved. I’m sure they are. But yesterday wasn’t an anomaly. I’ve now crisscrossed some of the nastiest gridlock in LA, Orange, and San Diego counties, and my experience isn’t that motorists hate me, it’s that they see me. And once seen, for the most part I’m safely and patiently steered around.
Light yourself up. Take the lane. You will be surprised.