Kicking and screaming

March 15, 2018 § 6 Comments

I get all kinds of email. Letters from Nigerian princes, potions that can make my parts young again, natty neckties and charming colognes, screaming discounts on Conti clinchers, you name it. Yesterday I was lucky enough to get this email from a friend:

“Every day I get a suggestion from FB to friend you, with a prompt that tells me how many mutual friends we have. And every day that number rises.  Today we’re up to 37. Apparently these people don’t know that this is the Seth who is only here to host a work-related Facebag presence.

“As I was cruising around the golf course yesterday I was thinking about how, as you have observed, people come into and depart from the local cycling scene. They also come into and depart from the somewhat similar cycling #socmed world. The entries into these worlds can be temporary or intermittent, or in some cases lifelong, like a really bad prison sentence.

“And these people’s presence can be loud, with lots of contributions, being outspoken, driving the front, posting lots of selfies from coffee rides, or quiet, sitting in, sucking wheel from the posts of others. Their contributions vary as their cycling or #socmed time and emotional illnesses ebb and flow. And of course some of these “contributions” are not positive, those who glorify unsafe riding, being a dick, racing triathlons. Thankfully you still pillory such people, such as Rider X, whom you described in a blog post a few months ago. I hope the defamation suit comes out okay.

“But there way more good eggs than rotten apples. EA Sports, BoozyP., the Chocolate Rocket, Mr. and Mrs. Hair, Manslaughter, Smasher, Wily Greek, Surfer Dan, G3, Shirtless Keith, The One And Only Michelle, the French Connections, Skier Girl; enough to fill a madhouse. They all show up on occasion for bike rides or #socmed rides, sometimes they are consistent, but they can be gone for months or years. For me, when they’re around, I like it. They add a lot to rides, two-wheeled as well as the rides made exclusively from 1’s and 0’s.

“In the #socmed cycling world, some show up and can add a lot, and it’s generally a positive influence. Like JZ. For some reason Team Lizard Collectors really pulls people in, where people are so suddenly and addictively a part of this scene that it’s almost like a drug. They feel accepted and part of a group, a group that has common interests (lizard collecting, chasing down teammates) and often they discover new interests such as Strava, riding in PV or along PCH, Strava, enjoying beautiful scenery, getting fitter, carbon, 100% carbon, pure carbon, Strava, and getting to hang out with Greg Leibert, or at least claim to. (Please don’t let Yasuko join Strava.)

“Team Lizard Collectors isn’t like a club of IT support employees or an AA group; there’s too much exertion involved, so people get excited about it and go whole hog. It’s a common pattern, and it’s generally not sustainable, like doing intervals past the age of 50. You can’t spend four hours a day doing rides and taking pictures from the lookout on Del Monte as well as from Yellow Vase, and then three hours more on Facebag uploading and liking and commenting and emojiing. We’ll call that a verb.

“Toss in hours spent hitting the gram and more hours working the Twitter and pretty soon you are flat out #socmed overtrained.

“I say you can’t do it, but some people apparently can. However, the candle, not very long to begin with, shrinks quickly, burned as it is with a blowtorch on both ends. So eventually people get to a more sustainable place, or at least they gyrate to a sine wave with lesser amplitude. And that wave may be a large amount of ride time with minimal #socmed, or less-to-hardly-any ride time with bagsfull of Facebag. Or neither. I mean, there are other things in life like family, work, hobbies, and other interests. I’ve been told this by people I trust, even though I googled “other interests” and frankly FOUND NOTHING THERE.

“So does that mean that you, Wanky, have found your right mix, with a healthy amount of riding and no #socmed? Maybe. Or maybe for now. But it can change. You are nothing if not predictably unpredictable. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In your case, you departed with a bang, a grand announcement and some pretty impressive blogfare, moralizing, chest-thumping, and grand pronouncifying. So does that make your return rather shameful? I hope not. I for one wouldn’t think any less of you if you were to have some #socmed presence, and let’s face it: Hardly anyone thinks anything of you to begin with, so what have you really lost? If a Wanky vanishes from Facegag and no one cares, did it really happen?

“Is it possible you could Facebag in a non-binary way, more measured, kind of the opposite from the way you ride, write, talk, travel, read … live? I don’t know. You’re a pretty big character, and you tend to throw yourself into things fully, even though it does sometimes seem that you don’t always recognize the difference between a swimming pool and a septic tank until it’s too late. But I don’t see you often, and I wish I saw you more. Maybe your “new old new Facegag” presence will give me a little bit more of the Wanky that I crave. I’m not really a stalker, but I think about you a lot. I think that’s what they called a friend way back when.

“My other point is the old “out of sight out of mind.” In the case of your blog, I fear that it is out of people’s minds if they don’t see you on #socmed.  Of course, you have the data, and are probably aware that with only seven readers, an additional three or four aren’t going to put you on the list of America’s billionaires. You know how many page views you’re getting. I hope. Of course, you also are intelligent, your blog notwithstanding, and you walk the walk as a cyclist, a racer, a lawyer, and an advocate. And your financial support of the local racing and cycling community is exceptional.

“So would some #socmed involvement for you be better than none? Maybe. Can it fit within the jet-setting life you live, hopping from one desolate hellhole and a cheap motel to the next, always flying coach? Maybe. You’re the best judge of that. But if you do flow back a bit into #socmed world, it might not be all bad. My $0.02, which you can add to my $2.99. And with that, it’s off to PV for some cycling.”



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The Calzone Crit

March 11, 2018 § 2 Comments

Surfer Dan lined up at the table, squaring off against Boozy P. and Smasher. Surfer was undefeated in ten consecutive food crits at Chez Davidson, having always left capable of eating more than he was served. Boozy P. was a Cat 2 eater and definite underdog, as his calzone sprints were going to be undermined by his propensity to beer dope, which took away valuable appetite and stomach space. Cat 4 racers Olive and Stanley were not considered a major threat.

The gun went off and Surfer came up on the inside on the appetizer laps, eating half a tub of hummus and slaughtering half a bag of helpless, mewing baby carrots. Boozy P., who was only on his fifth IPA ten minutes into the race, snagged an edamame prime as Surfer sat up to catch his breath and down another two bottles of San Pelligrino.

Olive and Stanley shuffled around at the back, spending the appetizer laps nosing around in the garbage can, dragging out paper towels sopped in olive oil and pieces of sausage, and staying generally unfocused on the race. Smasher opted to save his bullets for the calzone, and appeared unconcerned while Surfer polished off the hummus and the squalling carrot babies.

Suddenly the homemade calzone came out of the oven, next to a giant green salad with feta cheese and avocado, which appeared next to it on the table. Smasher attacked, hacking off a piece of calzone bigger than his head, and choking it down his gullet in two mighty swallows, one of which included a half-chew. Boozy P. sprinted hard for the end pieces and wolfed them down. Surfer followed Smasher’s attack, which had gapped out Boozy P., and countered Smasher by inhaling a double-slab.

The calzone’s homemade crust had been stuffed to popping with Italian sausage, pepperoni, ricotta, fresh mozzarella, grated parmesan, mushrooms, and basil. Stanley and Olive sniffed around the edges of the table, but were repeatedly denied by the Surfer/Smasher breakaway, and were unable to bridge up to Boozy P., who was stuck out in no-man’s land.

Just as it looked like the two-man break was going to stick, Boozy P. made a superhuman effort by stuffing his entire salad into his face with his fist, and making it across to the break. Olive and Stanley couldn’t follow his wheel, no matter how hard Stan thought about the taquitos he’d stolen off the table at the 2014 Davidson Taquito Crit in an unforgettable come from behind victory.

In the twinkling of an eye, a calzone the size of a small paper shredder had vanished. The last piece went into Boozy P.’s mouth. As the competitors eyed one another, out of the oven popped calzone number two, and Boozy P., now on his tenth IPA, suddenly found himself in difficulty despite digging deeply into his suitcase of courage, which was unfortunately filled only with dead soldiers and bottle caps.

Surfer attacked first, shearing off a calzone slab resembling the calving of an Antarctic glacier. The gap was big, but Smasher smashed the calzone with his fist, squirting copious piles of cheese and meat and crust onto his plate. In one deft move he had seen Surfer’s calzone and raised him a double slab.

Coming into the final lap both riders were cross-eyed and queasy as the cheese and meat took its ugly toll. Huge rivers of sweat poured off their faces. Everyone stank of olive oil. Surfer and Smasher began playing cat and mouse with each other, nibbling on salad, sipping on water and baby carrots, and throwing cagey edamame moves with their elbows as they jockeyed for position.

But lo! As the two experienced pros locked onto the last piece of calzone, preparing for the final lunge to the line, Stanley somehow managed to come across the gap! While Surfer and Smasher eyed each other, Stan made his patented table-grab, snatched the last piece of calzone off the table and took home the spoils, scoring another daring win for the South Bay’s champion chihuahua!

Afterwards, Stan went out onto the balcony and pooped in satisfaction.

#winning #won



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Coffee shop or coffee … house?

February 22, 2018 § 2 Comments

A good book makes you do something, and reading about the old coffee shops in Vienna made me want to go to Austria and get some coffee. With the exception of full carbon that is 100% carbon and made exclusively of carbon, few things are more important to underwear bicycle riders than coffee. But Vienna is far and Los Angeles has lots of coffee shops, so why cross the ocean for something you can easily get right around the corner?

The answer is long. #sorrynotsorry

The Vienna Coffeehouse

Once upon a time, the legend goes, Vienna was the world’s center for coffeehouses. The greatest writers, artists, actors, politicians, and financiers of Europe could be found at their favorite coffeehouse, conducting business, arguing, reading, romancing, discussing, holding forth, snorting cocaine, observing, in short doing anything but drinking coffee. This was the Viennese coffeehouse, a place for the “vagabond and footloose nomad who didn’t like to leave home.”

As I read through the book I jotted down notes that captured the essence of the people and the times better than anything I could regurgitate or plagiarize.

  • One famed writer always refused to move outdoors when the weather warmed and his favorite coffeehouse opened its garden terrace. For years his friends begged him to leave the hot and stuffy indoors during the summer months, but he never budged. Then one day a man hurled himself from the fifth floor of the hotel above the coffeehouse, crashing onto a table in the garden and nearly killing a guest. “See?” said the famed writer. “That’s why I never take my coffee outside.”
  • “The only pleasure I ever gave my parents was nine months before my birth.”
  • “Words are never so right as those written for the eyes of one.”
  • “You’ll be my guest at the Royal Hotel tonight! Assuming I can find someone to invite us.”
  • “I’d never do him the honor of sponging off him.”
  • “When your last name is ‘Cow’ and you want to be taken seriously, you’d best act like a bull.”
  • “It was his incomprehensible fortune that made him a beggar.”
  • “It was the laboratory of the destruction of democracy.”
  • “He was divorced, like every educated person.”
  • “And it ground the mass of humanity into soulless materiele.”
  • “She was like a burned up piece of paper made entirely of ash but retaining its shape, waiting only for the tap of a finger to crumble into formlessness.”
  • “Nothing makes a renegade quicker than money.”
  • “Man accustoms himself to nothing so quickly as comfort.”
  • “He sat there forced to do what so many before him had done, the choice not his but the Muse’s.”
  • “This is the place where Karl Kraus used to sit and so studiously read the newspapers, which he hated.”
  • “If you’re in a coffee shop the coffee is the goal, but if you’re in a coffeehouse, the coffee is the means.”

The Los Angeles coffee shop (cyclists, take note)

A couple of days ago I did Intelligentsia the dishonor of insulting its atmosphere and clientele. I made fun of its ridiculous customers, its jangling atmosphere, and its inhospitability.

The fool, however, was I, because a coffee shop is not a coffeehouse, just like a strand cruiser is not a time trail bike. Unlike the coffeehouse, whose existence has little if anything to do with coffee, the coffee shop is all about coffee. You buy it, you pay too much for it, you drink it, you pose a bit, and you get the hell out and make way for the next patron. Plus, you have somewhere else to go pose. The coffeehouse is a state of mind; the coffee shop is a state of mindlessness with a profit motive. In fact, if you are staring around wondering “How does this shabby place possibly stay in business?” you may well be in a coffeehouse, although you may also simply be in a crappy coffee shop about to go under.

On reflection, no place could possibly be better for cyclists than the Center of the Known Universe, the Starbucks on Highland and Manhattan Beach overlooking the pier and the Pacific Ocean. Where better to preen, flex, gab, and look at the people who are also looking at you? Where better to quaff an espresso or, better yet, a quattro? And where else is it 65 and sunny in February?

But if Starbucks isn’t your fancy, then Intelligentsia or Zinque or Nikau Kai or Dogtown Coffee or that place in Santa Monica where the coffee is made with butter should be. These places all define themselves based on what they sell and how it tastes, and they provide a venue to strut your stuff, or at least to hide in a corner and watch while others strut theirs, but please don’t do it for very long even though we do have wi-fi.

But what if you want a coffeehouse? And what is a coffeehouse, by the way, really?

What a coffeehouse is, really

For starters, and for most folks enders, a coffeehouse is a place with mediocre coffee. No one goes to a coffeehouse to drink something out of a cup with this description:

As the cold air rides in on the north wind Borealis and settles in for the season, warm yourself with our new winter blend. Our inaugural Borealis blends three sizzling coffees from Africa and reminds us of butterscotch, candied ginger and plum jam. [That’s a real description from Intelligentsia, by the way.]

People go to a coffeehouse to scrounge around. To lay about. To waste time and while away the day, and perhaps to talk with an acquaintance or, best of all, to wash down the taste of the mediocre coffee with a cigarette or three.

Nothing, however, defines a coffeehouse like books. In short, if books are not strewn about, or if someone isn’t lounging on a broken sofa reading “Dianetics,” then you’re not at a coffeehouse. And if everyone is hunched over a phone or iPad or laptop, you’re not at a coffeehouse either, unless it’s clear that most of the people are looking at each other or, better yet, the walls. In Los Angeles, the true coffeeshop has at least one patron who’s never written a screenplay, book, or poem, never acted, never played guitar, never developed an app or had an idea for a new social media app, and never tried to surf, but who looks like he might have done each of those things professionally before he stopped shaving in 1983.

The coffeehouse close to home

It didn’t take long for me to find a coffeehouse, and better yet I didn’t have to fight the killing traffic on the 405 to get there. No sir, right down the hill was a place that fit the bill to a “T.”

I walked in and noted that the place actually smelled like coffee. It was quiet, old, worn, and dumpy, and my “here” order came in a permanently stained mug that, with a little effort, could easily have been chipped. But what told me in no uncertain terms that I was in a coffeehouse were the books. Hundreds of them were lined up in bookshelves, and as you’d expect they were books of the worst sort, old, pawed through with ratty covers, and left behind only because donation required less effort than tossing them in the trash.

More than the overflow of bad books, however, were the actual human beings reading them. What could be weirder than people reading books in public, unashamedly?

In the background Wes Montgomery slid up and down the guitar neck, and muted, first-class mediocre jazz standards ensured that you wouldn’t have to leap out of your chair at the first lyric of a rapper fucking his girl. A big, algae-stained aquarium made splishing noises that further drowned out the mindless conversations that no one was having, and if they were, that you couldn’t overhear.

Deep leather chairs and ugly velour sofas, long past their expiration dates, sucked the patrons in like quicksand; uncomfortable and mismatched, they were hard in the wrong places and not soft in the right ones. Commanding the generally degenerate scene was no barista, perish the thought, but rather a part-time dude in a t-shirt “making coffee.” And however sketch his coffee knowledge was, he knew the names of the customers and, more impressively, was able to make their drink without even asking. He had a vaguely foreign accent that sounded like “no work visa.”

Bad photos from local photographers were interspersed with ugly artwork from local artists, all overpriced, and none appeared to have been purchased in years judging from the geological strata of dust along the top edge of the frames. The bathroom was washed in graffiti, none of it obscene. A woman was giving French lessons to a Japanese student; scroungers were smoking outside on the terrace; strange looking old men hunched over their coffee while scrolling through Facebook … but best of all was the dumpy fellow with the smell of stale armpits who sat on the couch and stared out the plate glass window for more than an hour, unmoving.

This coffeehouse had Stammgäste, regulars who plainly loathed human contact but who craved the society of others, nomads who preferred to stay home. In sum, a coffeehouse is a place where you can go in with nothing but a book and some pocket change, although I dare you. A coffeehouse is vaguely tattered in all its particulars, made uncomfortable by everything that has passed from broken-in to simply broken, but it exceeds anything you could possibly lounge in that is new or comfortable.

I pulled my book up over my nose and sipped my brackish brown water, lightened with a bit of foam, as I read the Gothic letters: “It began to rain softly, quietly, like silent tears.”



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The Dumbigentsia

February 20, 2018 § 9 Comments

I pedaled over to the Intelligentsia coffee shop on Abbott-Kinney because with a name like that I was sure I could snag a nook, grab a cup of coffee, and nurse the espresso for a couple of hours while I read a book.

Just to make sure I’d blend in, I checked Wikipedia before I left to make sure I was going to the right place, and lo:

The intelligentsia (/ɪnˌtelɪˈdʒentsiə/)[1] (LatinintelligentiaPolishinteligencjaRussianинтеллигенцияtr.intelligensiyaIPA: [ɪntʲɪlʲɪˈɡʲentsɨjə]) is a status class of educated people engaged in the complex mental labours that critique, guide, and lead in shaping the culture and politics of their society.

Imagine my surprise when I got there and saw not a single person reading a book, and not a single person who appeared to be engaging in any mental labors at all, much less complex ones. Half the people were boring into their phones, half were boring into their laptops, and the third half was looking at the other two halves and hoping someone would notice their casually thrown-together, perfectly mismatched artisanally grown jeans and poncho with orange Converse All-Stars.

I got my espresso, wedged into a corner, and took out my book. I could feel the eyes rolling. It’s okay to be pretentious in a pretentious coffee shop with the most pretentious name ever, but a book? Really? There. Are. Limits.

No one in Intelligentsia was intelligenting with anyone else, and it seemed that no one could stand to be there for more than about twenty minutes, eighteen of which were spent waiting in line. Delicate coffees that elegantly attired baristas who had trained for ten years just to make minimum wage pulling that one perfect espresso shot were inhaled, the cups clattered aside, and the impatient patrons stomped out.

After a couple of hours the space next to me opened up again for the fourth or fifth time. My espresso was still only half-drunk and cold as the chill outdoors. A very pretty woman and her jealous girlfriend waltzed in, foppish boyfriend in tow. The jealous girlfriend had eyes on the boy, who only had eyes for his girlfriend.

The intelligentsia began to discourse.

He: “This coffee is so awesome and this place is so cool.”

GF: “I love it here. Oh! Look at those shoes!”

JG: “Look at my Instagram!”

He: “That’s so cool!”

GF: “Let me see! Oh, cool! Here, look at this one I just posted. It’s got all our feet!”

He: “That’s so cool!”

JG: “I love that! Guess who just texted me?”

GF: “Who?”


GF: “He’s so hot. Are you dating him?”

JG: “Look at his IG.”

He: “This place is so cool.”

The place was now so packed that people were backed up against our little bench-nook, squeezing by and jostling the tiny table. Girlfriend reached into her purse and pulled out a beautiful, petite leather strap with a gold key ring on the end. “Look what I got at the leather shop! On sale–$150!” It still had the tag on it, and she hadn’t transferred her keys over to it yet.

Jealous Girlfriend handled it, stroked it, and her eyes sparkled with greed. Then she laid it back down on the table and the three of them hunched back over Girlfriend’s phone as she scrolled them through a mutual frenemy’s IG feed. “She’s such a bitch!” the two women cackled.

There were so many people and there was so much noise that I had fallen into ultra-concentration reading mode, where I read and comprehended one word at a time.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Jealous Girlfriend palm the leather key ring as the three of them mooed in disgust at another execrable post by the frenemy. Then, like the practiced thief she probably was, Jealous Girlfriend slipped it into her purse.

Another fifteen minutes went by and the crush finally thinned out. The three of them got ready to go and Girlfriend noticed her key ring was gone. “Oh my god! What happened to my key ring?”

The three of them searched frantically beneath the table and around the bench and stools. “Somebody must have swiped it while we were looking at my phone!”

Girlfriend was outraged and aghast.

At that moment the boyfriend stared at me, who was clearly the most suspicious person in the whole place, reading a BOOK and not even finished with a thimbleful of coffee. Plus, I was an old man, and likely a dirty one at that, and even more disgusting, clean-shaven. I ignored him.

After a few more minutes of suspicion and scorn and dirty looks, they left.

Eventually I did, too.



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The day the earth stood still-ish

February 16, 2018 § 4 Comments

It takes a lot to shock me when it comes to bicycling, but yesterday, pedaling home from a cup of coffee near the Center of the Known Universe, I got a shock. A big ‘un.

I was on Esplanade in Redondo Beach, about to start the ascent into Palos Verdes, when I saw a familiar bare back a couple of hundred yards ahead. Blonde hair, check. Jeans shorts, check. Work boots, check. Shirtlessness, check.

It could only be Shirtless Keith. And it was … I thought.

As I approached, though, the picture didn’t add up. Sure, that was Keith on a bike. But it wasn’t the bike, not by a long shot. Instead of his legendary Raleigh hybrid, 55-tooth single chain ring with a Pop-Tart strapped to the rear rack, Keith was riding a NEW BIKE.

And not just any new bike. This was a spit-polished, all chrome GT BMX single speed. I did a double take, then a triple, then a quadruple. “Hey, Keith,” I said. “What’s up with the new bike?”

“Aw,” he said, “my old one broke. Cracked the frame just before Christmas, and then the crank sheared off. She was just done.”

“How many miles did you have on that thing?”

“I dunno, but I logged 19,000 last year.”

“All in PV?”


“That’s about 100 feet elevation per mile, so you’re at nearly 2 million feet.”

“I reckon so.”

“How many years you been riding that Raleigh?”

“Well, a real nice old lady gave it to me ten years ago, and it had a big wicker basket on the front, and I rode it a bunch, you know everything broke on that bike, but I could always fix it.”

“20,000 miles and 2 million feet of climbing a year for ten years works out to about 200,00 miles and 20 million feet. And I’ve seen you ride. You don’t go easy. I’m not sure that bike was designed to handle that kind of riding.”

“It was time for a change with that cracked frame.”

“How do you like the new ride?”

“I like it. It’s got a beefy rear hub, real solid. Bike weighs 34 pounds, which is nice; the Raleigh was about 36, so I’m actually saving some weight.”

“What about the single speed?”

“It’s okay. I don’t mind it.”

“How’d you get into riding, anyway?”

“Like I said, lady gave me that Raleigh and I just started riding it, couple laps around the hill, one lap is about 22 miles, and then I lost a bunch of weight and was having cardio problems and some other issues but they all cleared up.”

“How much did you weigh when you started?”


“How much are you now?”

“About 170. That’s a good weight. Anything less and I start eating too much.”

By now we were going up Silver Spur, a really steep climb followed by Basswood-Shorewood, which are even steeper. Keith cruised up the hills, chatting and not even breaking a sweat.

“People are gonna be surprised seeing you on that new bike.”

“Yeah,” he said. “But it was time.”

We parted company, me to go home and rest, Keith to knock out the remainder of his 65-mile ride. I still couldn’t get over the sight of Shirtless Keith on anything other than the Raleigh + Pop-Tart. There was hardly a rider on the Hill who hadn’t been dropped by Keith and his legendary rig. The new bicycle sparkled as he rode away with a wave.



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Love letters

January 20, 2018 § 1 Comment

Sometimes people take the time to write me love letters. Real ones, on paper. Okay, they’re usually not much to look at; folks nowadays don’t have writing materials on hand, like writing paper, or, um, handwriting. But I don’t mind. In addition to the thought, which doesn’t always count for much, especially when scrawled in the hand of a four-year-old, the content is most always heartwarming. Yugely so.

This first love letter is from a pretty awesome dude who puts his money where my bank account is.

The second love letter is from a local wanker who takes time to notice the important things in the cycling world, such as me winning a fake Sunday training race.

Read and enjoy. I know I did.

And then this gem …

love letter

Must be Belgian

love letter

love letter

Keep your motor running!



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About This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.

The Hunt for Pen November

November 28, 2017 Comments Off on The Hunt for Pen November

Well, here I am, happily seated with my reasonably fancy fountain pen and reasonably fancy paper, and one thing is certain: Fountain pens leak. However, in the same way that shaving with a straight razor has left me with a couple of nice scars, and the same way that roasting coffee beans in an iron skillet has charred a bit of hand meat, it appears that writing with a fountain pen is going to leave a few marks too, albeit of the kind that will eventually wash off.

In fact, my November hunt for a reasonably fancy fountain pen began exactly three years ago, on the day I quit drinking. I didn’t know it at the time, but the decision to go from being an active drunk to a passive one was going to free up a whole lot of time, and if you had told me that in a couple of years I’d have enough time to write my blog in pen and ink, I’d have offered to buy you another round.

I know it was three years ago, not because I remember that kind of thing but because my friends do, and one of them emailed me a quick note to say congratulations. I’ve always resisted commemorating the date because all the years of sobriety in the world don’t matter if I fail to get through today. However, after three years of bare knuckling it, I reckon I can let myself feel a little satisfaction, and maybe even allow myself a little hope that this is forever, and then put a dollop of dream on top and imagine a life where one day the craving is gone, like a distant dead relative you always hated who’s been gone so long you can’t even remember what he looked like.

On Saturday, when I decided to get a reasonably fancy pen, the shop was closed, so we returned on Monday, pushed open the dusty sliding glass door, and entered a tiny room where the kindest looking grandfather was sitting behind a big desk eating Caesar salad out of a plastic container. “Are you the fellow who called the other day?”

I figured he didn’t get a lot of calls. “I am.”

“What kind of pen are you looking for?”

It was a reasonable question since I was in a pen shop and had driven all the way there not once, but twice, and on a holiday weekend no less. “I don’t know.”

I could see that the next most reasonable question was, “Why are you here, then?” but like any good grandfather he started telling me stories, beginning with his time in the Far East. “Here’s my photo album from when I was in Japan.” He pointed proudly to a picture after pulling out an old sheaf of faded photos from the 70’s and early 80’s. “That’s a stack of used Japanese car motors.”

I tried to appreciate the Japanese aesthetic of ten pallets of old motors and two or three workmen in hard hats, but failed.

He continued. “First time I went to Japan was in 1978. And it was a weekend so I wandered into a store and bought this pen, a Pilot ‘Vanishing Point.’ He reached into the display case and pulled out an old fountain pen.

“That’s nice,” I said, unsure if it was or not.

“Thank you. And from then on I started collecting them until I retired a few years ago, and my wife said, ‘You still have your old office and it’s filled with junk, why don’t you throw away all that junk and get all these danged pens out of my house?’ She had a point because I had hundreds and hundreds of them, so I bought a couple of display cases and bought myself a web site and moved these big leather chairs around to accommodate visitors and here I am, in business after retiring from business.”

I could see that his pens for sale were mixed in with pens from his personal collection and it was hard to tell which was which. Each pen appeared to have its own rather dramatic and detailed life history, and I wasn’t sure but that I might somehow be obliged to hear them all.

“I don’t know anything about pens,” I said, which was exactly the wrong thing to say to a kindly old fellow who was filled with facts and information and tales from long ago. “I’m kind of getting away from doing all my writing on the computer and decided to try writing the old-fashioned way.”

“Well, here’s one you might like. I wouldn’t advise you to start at the high end of the scale, $45,000 is a lot of money for a first time fountain pen user.” He bent over and pulled out a pretty green one and showed it to me.

I had to lean against the wall to steady myself when he said “$45,000,” so I shakily asked, “How much is it?”

“This one is $70 but I’ll give you a 20% discount.”

I exhaled, sensing something in my price range that would even leave money over for a carton of milk. “Wow, thanks.”

He scrunched his eyebrows. “Tell you what, let’s make that 25% off.”


He shrugged. “Better yet, you can have it for $40.”

This guy was a tough bargainer, but he needed to do the bargaining against someone other than himself. “You don’t have to do that.”

“It’s okay. You seem like a nice young fella. What color ink do you want?”

This seemed easy. “Black?”

“We can do that. Now I also have a cannabis ink, made with cannabis. First one in the country. I’ve been working hard to get it into those, what do you call ’em?”


“Yes, those. Cannabis ink. Next year it is going to be a best seller. Not a smoker myself, but the young folks sure seem to puff it up like crazy. But for now let’s get you some black ink. I’ve developed several different blacks. Let’s go check ’em out.” It sounded like we’d be hiking to an adjacent building over at the Ink Development Plant, but actually we just took two small steps which put us on the other side of the office, in front of a cluttered table covered with a dozen different ink bottles. “I recommend we don’t go with the waterproof black, as a beginner you will be glad about that. Let me show you how to fill your pen up.”

He performed what seemed like a simple operation were it not for the fact that every move threatened to pour black ink everywhere. He finished and handed me the pen. “Here, try it out.”

I put it to paper and the ink magically, smoothly, beautifully followed the nib without the slightest effort. I grinned. “This is great!”

“Yes, it is,” he said, handing me a giant wad of tissue paper to wipe off the giant black smear that covered most of my hand. “You might want to hold ‘er a little higher up. And I’ll throw in a bottle of this.” He gave me a white plastic bottle.

“What is it?”

“It’s my own proprietary ink remover, it will take the ink right off a starched white cotton shirt. But don’t drink it.” Finally he handed me a couple of stacks of Japanese writing paper. “I can’t give you these but you will like this paper,” he said. “You know, kids anymore can’t write cursive.”

“That’s true.”

“And they can’t read it, either.”

“Yes, that’s a fact.”

“And they are atrocious spellers because the spell checker does it all for them. We used to use our brains a lot more when we had to write stuff down with a pen and paper.”

“Yes, we did.”

“So what kind of stuff are you going to be writing about with your new pen and all this nice new paper?”

“Stories about bicycles, mostly.”


“Yes. And maybe even one or two about fountain pens.”

He nodded sagely as if I’d finally said something that made sense.



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