It takes a village (idiot)

August 29, 2015 § 10 Comments


The South Bay Cycling Awards are fast approaching, and a number of questions are begging to be answered.

Question: Where do I vote?

Who said anything about voting?

Question: What are the rules for selection of finalists?

All questions regarding all procedures can be found by clicking on this link, which takes you to the South Bay Cycling Awards Rule Book.

Question: There were, like, a zillion nominees. Are they all contenders for a Wanky in their category?

No. Three finalists have been selected from each category.

Question: How will we find out who the finalists are?

Check your mailbox every three hours. Notifications were mailed out today.

Question: I am pretty sure I am a finalist and am going to win but I have my second cousin’s wedding in Lancaster that’s on the same day as the awards. I’ll still get my Wanky, right?


Question: By riding 30,000 feet up Scheuren Rd. today in 17:45:56 hours, is Head Down James going to get some special kind of award?

That depends on what you mean by “award.”

Question: I heard that there is a secret committee comprised of Brauch, Martin, and Spivey. What kind of bullshit is that?

Complete, fresh, stinking, steaming bullshit. With flies on top.

Question: I crashed all year plus I’m the best male racer and the most fun to ride with and I’m a great advocate. There’s not a limit to how many Wankys I can win, is there?

One Wanky per wanker.

Question: That’s total bullshit. Where is that in the rules?

In the Rule Book.

Question: I told all my friends and club members and FB friends and Twitterati to email you votes for me and my club and tell you cool shit about me so I can win, plus I’ve been giving you hints and making suggestions to you on rides and on Facebag. Does that help or hurt my chances?

A billion times zero is still zero.

Question: Who’s paying for all this?

Have you ever wondered who’s responsible for all those Nigerian prince emails?

Question: Will there be food?

There will be food trucks, with a $5 discount for the first 500 guests.

Question: Will there be beer?

At the Strand Brewing Co.’s new 34,000 square-foot brewery? No, definitely not.

Question: Who is Steve Tilford, why is he the guest speaker, and why should I give a shit?

He is a curmudgeon, Eddy Merckx was busy, Google him.

Question: I’m not a bike racer. Can I still come?


Question: I hate bicycles and drive everywhere but I like beer. Can I still come?

Yes. But you might want to Uber home.

Question: I heard there is also going to a South Bay Cycling Hall of Fame. WTF is that?

Ask Brauch. It was his idea.

Question: Who’s going to be inducted into the Hall?

Nelson Vails, Marilyn Sonye, Ted Ernst, and Tony Cruz.

Question: Who are those wankers?


Question: Is Martin making those incredible, bad-ass horseshit trophies again?

They are horseshoes, not horseshit. And yes, they’re bad-ass, and yes, he’s making them again.

Question: I heard there was going to be a really crazy, off-the-hook trophy for the Crashtacular Fred trophy. Is that true?

Let’s just say, “J. Marvin Campbell” and that should answer your question.

Question: Can I get one of those cool Wanky Awards t-shirts designed by Joe Yule?


Question: Can I get one for free because we’re pals?


Question: What is a fucking jar?

You’ll find out on October 17.



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Some people

August 26, 2015 § 20 Comments

About a month ago I stopped to help a fellow flailer change his flat. By “help” I mean “stand there and watch.” It was an amazing flat. As he was stuffing the new tube into the tire, I looked at the one that had flatted. It had been patched at least twenty-five times. “Waste not, want not,” I thought, looking also at the tire with the threads showing. “Wonder how long that’s gonna last?”

He aired up the tire and then pfffffffffft.

“Crap,” he said. “That was my only spare tube.”

“No prob,” I said, handing him my spanking new one. I hardly ever get flats because I always replace my tires when they start to wear. It’s expensive and I’m cheap, but the tiny little strip of rubber holding you in a precariously delicate balance on just this side of oblivion, that’s a place worth spending a few extra bucks. The main use to which my tubes get put, it seems, is on other people’s bikes, which is cool. Pay it forward, right?

I grabbed his second tube that had flatted as he was airing up the tire with my new one. This tube, too, had about twenty patches on it and looked like it had been used as slingshot rubber back in the 50’s. He finally got going, and that was that. When I saw him the next day he never said anything or offered me a replacement tube, which I shrugged off because even though I’m a petty bastard, I’m not that petty. But it’s not like he was one of those people you never see. He’s around all the time.

It started to get under my skin after a few weeks every time I saw him I’d yell out, “Where’s my tube?” He’d pretend not to hear and would always dash off, which guarantees that I will never, ever, ever stop asking about that tube. In fact, if he tried to give me one I’d refuse it so I could keep up the heckling.

About two months ago I was going down a hill on a coffee ride and a gal who gets everyone’s share of flats double flatted. She is a flat magnet; two giant thorns, one in each tire. Her tires are always new, and so are her tubes, but she only had one spare. I gave her mine and we continued on. That was a Sunday, and I usually see her on the Thursday Flog Ride.

That Thursday she wasn’t there, but a few hours after the ride she sent me a message. “Did you get it?”

“Get what?”

“The coffee and the tube!”

“What coffee? What tube!”

“No way!” she wrote. “I put a pound of good coffee beans and a new inner tube at the top of Via la Cuesta this morning with a note for you; left it there about 6:20 and rushed home because I couldn’t make the ride because I had to take my daughter to lifeguard camp.”

“There was nothing. Just a bunch of broke down old farts coughing up spit, blood, teeth, and shards of broken ego.”

“Some bastard stole it,” she wrote. “It had your name on it.”

“It’s the thought that counts,” I wrote back, smiling, not only because she’s such a good person but because she cared so much that the one small favor get repaid.

Today when I went out to get the mail there was a package for me, and inside the package, this. And there weren’t any patches on that inner tube, believe you me.


Then I thought about the guy I see every weekend who’s madly pedaling away from a six-dollar inner tube. One person pedaling away, another eagerly pedaling towards.



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Manties and armies

August 13, 2015 § 13 Comments

All in a day’s riding …

  1. One stop swap shop. I was coming back from REI in Manhattan Beach, where I’d purchased a pair of manties with a little pad to put under my regular shorts to reduce the incidence of cheesegrater ass. Dude on a fixie pulls up to me at Rosecrans and Inglewood. “Where are you riding from?” he asked friendlily. “Where did you get my arm warmers from?” I retorted.  Confused pause. “Are they yours?” “Used to be.” “I got them at a bike swap.” We had a good laugh.
  2.  armies
  3. Crustacean ride. Before going to MB I rode to San Pedro with two very old South Bay hermits, Crusty and Crusty Jr. Coffee was had at the Starbucks where Perez’s bike was stolen and he commandeered a vehicle from an old lady in order to (unsuccessfully) give chase. Every now and again you should take an old bikie crusty out for a ride. They need the sunshine and someone fresh to lie to.
  4. crusties
  5. Celebrity spotting and re-spotting. In MB I had to stop at the Center of the Known Universe for a crucial subcommittee meeting of the Wanky Awards support staff. Big planning secrets were discussed in detail. At that moment in walked Fireman and Soundman. “We were driving by and we saw the trick racing bike with the big stupid purple pedals and figured we’d stop in and say ‘hi.'” An hour later at REI someone yelled at me in the parking lot, “Get a helmet you idiot!” It was them. Everyone goes to CotKU and REI on their day off, I guess.
  6. Flog terror. It’s not often that I get a pre-apology for not coming to a ride but the Thursday Flog Ride is so terrible that *someone* felt compelled to send me this missive after being gently reminded of his long-running and noted absence from the ride: “I will be high altitude training in Mammoth until next Monday. Next week I will be in Holland working on my punchy-cobbled climbs … the following week… the FLOG is MINE!!!” My cred-o-meter rates this one at a -77.9.
  7. Check eBay for a cheap laptop NOW. After winning the TELO training crit eight times this year, Aaron W. received the grand prize of a Samsung laptop from teammate Prez. This looked suspiciously like the laptop that Prez was going to donate to the Wanky Awards, but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.
  8. South Bay Cycling Award categories. Here they are. Submit your nominees by email, as a comment on this blog, or on the bathroom wall at the Ocean Park toilets by 5:00 PM Friday.
    1. 2015 Greatest Advocate
    2. 2015 Best Bike Shop
    3. 2015 Best Young Rider
    4. 2015  Best Old Rider
    5. 2015  Most Improved
    6. 2015  Best Club
    7. 2015  Best Event
    8. 2015  Wanker of the Year
    9. 2015  Belgian Award
    10. 2015 Group Ride Champion
    11. 2015 Best Sponsor
    12. 2015 Best Male Racer
    13. 2015 Best Female Racer
    14. 2015 GC Award
    15. 2015 Crashtacular Fred
    16. 2015 Strava KOM
    17. 2015 Most Happy to Help others
    18. 2015 Most Fun
    19. 2015 Best Spouse/SO
    20. 2015 Ian Davidson South Bay Rider of the Year



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The Wanker of Wall Street

July 9, 2015 § 11 Comments

I recently made a terrible investment, but let me back up: I have never made a good one.

I am pretty sure I am the only person I know who has made lots of terrible investments. How do I know? Because people talk about all kinds of things–failed marriages, bedroom embarrassments, drug addictions, jail sentences, and children who missed a question on the SAT–but they never talk about that.

In fact, during the eight hundred thousand hours I’ve spent riding bikes with people, none has ever said, “I just lost a ton of money in a stupid investment.” And if they’re unwilling to say that, imagine how much more loath they are to say, “I just lost a few hundred bucks on a stupid investment.”

The only thing more reprehensible than stupid decisions with huge sums is stupid decisions with small ones. You’re not only a loser, you’re a small-time loser.

So anyway, back to this stupid small investment that I made, which is the only kind I can make because all I apparently have is small money …

I used to have a cyclist friend who is still the one if not necessarily the other, and he recommended that I put my money with Ol’ Bill. I didn’t know that money managers like Ol’ Bill would open up an account with a bunch of pennies and nickels crammed into an old gym sock, but Ol’ Bill was happy to take me on as a client.

As time went by my investment shrank, but it shrank gradually rather than being erased all at once, so I could tell he was a pro. We hit the Great Depression of 2008 and when I checked in with Ol’ Bill to find out how things were going and to ask if maybe we shouldn’t put my money back in the sock and stick it under the bed, he vigorously assured me that the market was going to go up any day.

It did, but just before it started its meteoric ascent I demanded that he put it back in the sock, which he did, and there it sat while the market roared up, up, and the sock just sat there.

A few years later I checked in with Ol’ Bill and asked him to put the pennies back into the market and to keep the nickels in the sock, which he did. The market continued to roar, but somehow each one of Ol’ Bill’s picks was an underperformer. He had great hopes for Bonehedz, a social media site for archeologists, but that fizzled and we barely got our money back.

I say we but it was actually just I, because every time Ol’ Bill bought a bucket of shares of Rancid, Inc., or Stinkworthy Amalgamated, he got a little commission, and all I seemed to get was fewer pennies, but since it was a gradual reduction in value I figured he had a master plan, which he did, and its focal point was Ol’ Bill’s Retirement Fund.

One day Ol’ Bill called to thank me for my continued confidence in his acumen. “What?” I said.

“Thanks for your continued confidence,” he said. Ol’ Bill had called me once in ten years.

“Was there some reason you thought I wouldn’t be confident? I mean, you’ve reduced my net worth in a perfect mirror image of the current bull market.”

“Oh, you know, I just wanted to check in … ”

That sounded like a lie, so for the first time in forever I told him to send me copies of the statements he’d been sending for years but that I never looked at and always tossed in the shredder, figuring they were either great news and I was rich, or they were terrible news and I was broke and didn’t want to know. I’ll let you guess which one it was.

I glanced at the PDF’s he sent over. “Wow,” I said when I called him back. “We’ve underperformed the market by eight zillion percent like clockwork. Whenever the market does something good, we do something terrible.”

“Amazing, huh?”

“Yeah, but almost in a bad way.”

So I fired him and put all my pennies in an S&P index fund.

“Don’t do it,” he advised.

“Why not?”

“Because retail investors always buy high and sell low, which is a losing strategy.”

“Like we’ve been doing the last ten years?”

“Yes, but if you do it I don’t make any money.”

He had a point, but I wasn’t sure it was a good one.

After two days the market continued to tick up and suddenly, for the first time in ever, my penny portfolio was growing right along with the market. I don’t have to tell you that I felt like a genius, so I immediately decided to quit my job and become a day trader.

“You’ve lost your fucking mind,” said the Destroyer while we were out riding bikes.

“No, I’ve got it figured out. I’m moving everything into German stocks.”

“You are a complete idiot,” he reiterated.

“Nope, I’ve been listening to the German news every day and the DAX has fallen on Greek worries and everyone is pretending they’ll boot Greece and sacrifice the euro but at the last minute they’ll all agree and the DAKS will skyrocket and I’ll be a millionaire or a trillionaire.”

“Listen, dummy,” said the Destroyer. “Every clown who makes fifty bucks at the tail end of a bull market thinks he’s a genius. But no one can predict the market, except for The Rule.”

“What’s The Rule?”

“The Rule is this: The market goes up and down and down and up.”

“I can remember that.”

“But you can’t master it. No one can. If they could, that person would own all the fungible funds on earth. Instead, some two-bit halfwit like you gets lucky three days in a row, makes a string of terrible decisions, then the market drops, and the sucker holds his breath waiting for it to come back up, but then the market is down 30% and there’s no way he’s taking that bath so he decides he’ll hold his positions for the next thirty years to recoup and then in a midnight moment of panic he sells everything just when the market bottoms out. THIS IS HOW RETAIL INVESTORS LIKE YOU ALWAYS BEHAVE.”

“The market hasn’t started going down, though.”

“It will. And you will get ground up by it. Ol’ Bill was terrible at stocks but he was great at saving.”

“Saving what?”

“Saving you from yourself.”

“You think so?”

“I know it. It’s just like poker. If you sit down at the table and don’t immediately recognize the sucker, YOU’RE THE SUCKER.”

“I’m no sucker.”


A few days later the market started to go in the wrong direction. My thirty-cent gain became a ten-cent gain, and after a few more days it became no gain at all and then a couple of days later I had thirty cents less than I’d started with. Did I mention that I’d stuck the nickels into the fund as well?

As I was pondering all this late one night I started listening to the Chinese radio station. I don’t speak Chinese, but they were excited. The more I listened, the more I could divine what they were saying. China’s stock market had tanked. I know this because in between the howling strings of Chinese, every few minutes someone would say in English, “The stock market has tanked.”

I switched on the German radio station. No mention of China. It was all about Varoufakis and his no-tie Harley Davidson approach to negotiation with the EU.

I flipped on the Internet. China had indeed tanked, but it would have zero effect on Western markets, the analysts lied. “Whew,” I thought, “because I’ve already lost two more dollars.”

Then it hit me. I really was the sucker. First thing the next morning I cashed out, just as the Chinese markets froze into a congealed mass of debt, panic, and government intervention that only made the catastrophe worse. You mark my words, it ain’t over yet and if China’s economy has no effect on ours then I want to sell you a training program that can increase your FTP 50% with no drugs, exercise, or weight loss.

So, yeah, another bad investment. But you know what? A sock full of nickels under your mattress isn’t as uncomfortable as you think.



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Is that a pizza?

June 26, 2015 § 7 Comments

A lot of my relationships were degenerating into digitationships, where I see fewer and fewer real humans and “interface” with them more and more through texting, emails, or other inhuman forms of server-modulated, data-vacuuming contact.

Thus, we had a biker beer mixer at the Strand Brewing Co. in Torrance. It’s amazing how much more fun it is to talk to people than it is to scream epithets at Brad House on Facebag over the racist, Nazi confederate flag. In fact, live people don’t scream at all, except for when Dan-O and Lovely Laura staggered into the brewery with a half-dozen giant pizzas.

The screamer was me because it was the first real food I’ve seen since Mrs. WM scampered off to Japan and left me holding the bag, or rather the bags, containing 72 days worth of rice, pasta, instant ramen, chocolate chips, and flour. For the first few days it was kind of funny. “What are we going to have for dinner?”


“Ha, ha, ha.”

Then it got gnarly. “Hey dad, we’re not having pasta again for breakfast, are we?”


Stony silence.

It wasn’t helping that I was saving the leftovers. Three-day leftover pasta that’s been reheated twice has the consistency of old carpet backing, although it doesn’t taste quite as good.

Before heading off to the mixer I had cleared out the last handful of corn tortillas by heating them in the microwave and putting on some salt, celery, miso paste, and jam. I thought wistfully about the Nutella I’d so disparaged, gone long ago and not coming back.

When Dan and Laura came in with the pizzas I was in the middle of a story about Billy Joe Hlavinka, a kid in junior high who used to always hang out with us. He really wanted to be cool. Who didn’t? And he had a job at the Kroger’s where he’d save up money to get a cool polyester silk-screened shirt, or to get his hair cut with wings at Joni’s Hair of the Stars.

But he wasn’t cool, he was a dork. The cool guy was Danny Martin. We’d stand at the bus stop on the hot July mornings, waiting to go to summer school to make up all the classes we’d flunked so that we could move up a grade in September. Summer school was much harder than regular school because all the subject matter was condensed and because we were so extra stoned from the extra-long wait at the bus stop.

As we’d stand at the bus stop, Danny would keep his eye peeled for cute girls. When one walked by, which was rare, he’d whisper to us, “Nice ass!” We’d all nod and then confirm it with a professional knowing smile, each of us saying “Nice ass!” in turn.

Billy Joe loved it when his turn came and he’d always embellish it with “Super nice ass,” or “Smoking hot ass,” or “Foxy ass.” Billy Joe would also try to improve on everything Danny said. When Danny would say, “Cute face,” Billy Joe would say, “Cute visage!”

It’s like he spent his afternoons reading a thesaurus, which in fact he did.

One morning we were all standing there and a really cute girl walked by. She was so cute and we were all holding in the smoke from a joint we’d been passing around that everyone was speechless except for Billy Joe, who was last in line and hadn’t gotten to take a hit yet.

As she passed, Billy Joe said loud enough for her to hear, and with a knowing leer, “Nice rectum!”

The smoke exploded from our lungs as we began howling with laughter. The girl gave Billy Joe a withering look. “What the hell did you just say?”

Billy Joe shook his head, not sure why we had all fallen down screaming and why the girl was about to clobber him with her 40-lb. handbag. “Nothin’,” he said, and backed away.

Well you don’t need me to tell you what Billy Joe’s new nickname was, and every time we saw something with an asshole — woman, teacher, dog, cat, man in wheelchair — we’d whisper, “Nice rectum!” and collapse in stitches.

It got so bad that everyone at Jane Long Junior High started calling him by his nickname, and the expression became ubiquitous. Someone would get a new haircut and we’d say, “Nice rectum!” Someone would haul out a smushed tuna fish sandwich from their paper lunchbag and we’d say, “Nice rectum!” Test scores, touchdowns, getting sent to the principal, you name it, that’s how we commented on it.

When Dan and Laura came in with the pizzas I was in the middle of telling the sad end of the story about how poor Billy Joe couldn’t stand being saluted as Nice Rectum so he moved away, to Tomball, until they somehow found out about it there, too, and this was back in the day when “internet” meant you’d tangled up a couple of fishing seines.

After three weeks of pasta and flour I lunged into that sausage pizza with abandon. It was the best food I have ever eaten in my entire life, and I washed it down with copious cups of craft water. Everyone was staring at me as my chin dripped tomato sauce and cheese. I’d attacked the pizza so hard that I’d bitten my finger and hadn’t noticed the blood draining down onto the floor, where one of the brewery dogs was lapping it up.

“Are you okay, dude?” Dan asked in a worried voice.

“Vicariously watching my biker buddies drink beer while breathing in the perfume of fermented hops and bleeding over a fresh pizza? Never been better!”

Then I glanced at the brewery dog, who was looking up for some more mixed cheese-and-grease-and-blood drippings. “Nice rectum!”



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Advice to an aspiring blogger

May 2, 2015 § 10 Comments

I recently dashed off a thank-you note, “Thanks for the support!” to a new subscriber. He responded with a hilarious email, which I won’t reproduce below simply because nothing I write will be as funny, and then everyone will go over to his blog and leave mine. It is a zero-sum game in the world of grabbing eyeballs, unfortunately.

However, here is a link to his blog. His name is Mike Hancock, and he lives in Alaska.

In Mike’s email, among other things, he asked about how he could emulate the fame and financial success of SoCal’s most renowned bicycling blogger. I told him that he should ask Nancy over at RKP directly.

Mike’s inquiry, however, speaks volumes for Alaska’s standard of living that $2.99 x 12 is a standard to which people aspire, but I took the time to give him some advice from the perspective of SoCal’s most reviled bicycling blogger. Here it is.

Hi, Mike

Thank you for the funny and entertaining email. I can assure you that the life of a hobby lawyer-blogger is gratifying and fulfilling. There are days when sleeping on a park bench hurts my back, but here in sunny SoCal I’m usually grateful for all of this unhoped-for success.

I went to your web site and spent some time on it. “What are you laughing at?” is always a good sign when coming from my wife.

“Oh, nothing,” I told her truthfully.

Aside from the humor I appreciate your attention to grammar and spelling. It’s the first sign, and usually the last, that a writer cares about either his audience or his topic.

You haven’t asked me for a quick guide on how to achieve riches as a bicycle blogger, but you sort of have, so here goes.

  1. I have no idea.
  2. The most interesting thing you have going for you, aside from what appears to be an incredibly fascinating middle-aged married white guy’s mediocre bike racing life, is Alaska. To you perhaps this is just where you live, but to me it is like having a blog called “Cycling on Jupiter,” only more interesting. Moose attacks, grizzly bear racing, and run-ins with Iditarod racers should all be standard fare in your blog and daily life, and this is not the time to stand on the ceremony of truth, honesty, or facts.
  3. If you’re seeking a wider audience you should write less about yourself in the first person. A good way to quickly identify whether a blog is too me-centric is to briefly scan it and see how often the writer uses “I,” “me,” “mine,” and other relatives of the first person. In other words, the personal works best as an accent for the impersonal.
  4. Consistency in publication. I understand that it’s hard to crank out a blog post more than once every six months, but you can do this!
  5. Write about your friends. You build readership by making people want to read, first about themselves and then about other things. You will eventually lose all of your friends by writing about them of course, but by then you will have 20 or 30 loyal readers in Ireland and Mauritius, and even a subscriber or two. Yes, mom counts.
  6. Comparing yourself to the cheap Chinese wheel was awesome. That is a great technique that I plan to plagiarize asap. You have a number of other witty and insightful lines, none of which appears to be protected by copyright, which, again, I appreciate.
  7. The gold standard for blogging success if Eben Weiss, a hostile, sarcastic, cynical wanker who, despite multiple books, a regularly insulting column in Bicycling, and thousands of readers, still has a day job. Of course the moose-Iditarod-grizzly bear angle, or the cycling-in-a-salmon-run approach may hit a bigger chord than the urban struggles of snobbish biking in NYC, but if you do have a day job, hang onto it at least for the next month or two. I understand that park benches in Anchorage are only really good to sleep on about three weeks out of the year.
  8. Repurpose random emails. When someone emails you something, copy and paste it into your blog. It saves mental effort, and with a bit of fakery you can usually turn it into a nice placeholder, especially for Saturday or Sunday morning when you’re in a hurry to go do the group ride and don’t have time to write because you forgot to check your tires the night before (the rear is flat), all of your bibs have poop stains and are in the dirty heap, your cleat has come loose and you can’t find the right sized hex key, you haven’t mixed any EPO and electrolyte yet, and you only have five minutes to get out the door and make the eight-minute pedal to the start.

Anyway, a heartfelt thanks again for the funny email and for the subscription. $2.99 doesn’t seem like much until you ponder what a cheap bastard the average cyclist is.

Your obedient servant,




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Travel around the corner

April 2, 2015 § 14 Comments

I get the newspaper once a week, on Sunday. It is filled almost exclusively with things I don’t like and am not interested in. There is an arts and leisure section, for example. My life is already leisurely enough, and I already have some paintings of my daughter’s on the wall.

Once monthly there is a big, fat, glossy, fashion section but I don’t need that either. I already have two pairs of jeans, a dozen t-shirts that Michael gave me, some underwear, some socks, and two pairs of shoes that Michael gave me for Christmas five years ago. And a gimme cap and a green hoodie.

Okay, maybe I do need the fashion section. But I toss it anyway, unread.

There is a sports section. I hate sports, all of them. And no, cycling is not a sport, it is social weirdness masquerading as a healthy lifestyle. There is a book review section that I always read so that I don’t have to buy any of the books. There is a Sunday Review essay section filled with people’s ruminations, none of which interest me. Cows are ruminants; I am not a cow.

And of course there is a Sunday Business section, which I don’t need because I’m broke. What good does it do me to know that somewhere in Manhattan I can get a good deal on a $2 million loft? What I need is a working disposal.

There’s the main section, which I read cover to cover because it reminds me that no matter how fucked up everything is, without investigative journalism we would be even more fucked up, and it’s my civic duty to pay $35 a month so that smart people can get kidnapped and tortured by IS as they try to shine the dim light of truth into the worst hell-holes of the world, like Indiana.

Finally there is a travel section. I hate this section more than all the others combined because it is based on the false assumption that travel should offer exotic experiences — riding elephants and outrigger canoes, sipping delicious coffee while overlooking an ice-blue sea, scaling a craggy peak on the roof of the world, etc., etc.

I’m the worst traveler alive. I won’t go anywhere I can’t understand the language, which means I can go to Canada, but not England. I don’t care about your art museum, your world class shopping, your zipline over a plunging waterfall, your thousand-year-old monastery tucked behind medieval walls, your 5-star restaurant, or your yaks and yurt on a windswept pre-Anthropocene plain.

I just want to talk to people. So today I took one of my many weekday travel excursions to Santa Monica, by bike. After a few moments sitting on the bench outside Philz Coffee, a homeless man sidled up to me. They always do. They can tell I’m broke and won’t give them any money, but at least I’ll listen to their story.

“What do you do, young man?” he asked.

“I’m a lawyer.”

“Well then it’s my lucky day. Maybe you can tell me what to do?” And he poured out his story, which was so sad.

He had worked as a janitor at Santa Monica city hall all his life and bought a small home in Compton that he paid for in monthly installments over 35 years. He retired at age 65, and his wife died a few years later. Then he got in a fight with his son, who swindled him out of his home. The old man and his brother hired a lawyer and sued the son for fraud, won, and got possession of the house back. Then the brother kicked him out and now he’s living on the streets.

“How do I get my name back on that house?” he asked me.

I told him I didn’t know and commiserated with him. He thanked me for listening to his story. Simply telling it made him feel better, it seemed, although I felt pretty worthless. I finished my coffee and rode back home, a few miles down the bike path, just around the corner in global terms, back to the safety of home from a long journey to a place where there was drama, and hardship, and a glimpse into strange, alien, unfathomable worlds.



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