Where have all the titans gone?

October 3, 2015 § 18 Comments

I showed up for the fancy trial lawyers’ mixer in Santa Monica lathered up in sweat. Apparently no one else had ridden a bicycle for 22 miles to get there, and adding to the sweat and smell were my jeans and button-down shirt in the sea of $2,000 black and blue Italian suits.

I sidled up to a table, my tiny plate piled high with beef empanadas, guacamole, pico de gallo, and sour cream.

“You know, you can always go back for seconds,” said the large man next to me, who had daintily placed a single empanada on his plate.

“You go through enough buffets with bike racers and learn pretty quick to get it all the first time through,” I said.

He didn’t understand that, but he understood the splat of bright red sauce that came shooting out the end of my empanada and forming the world’s finest Rorschach test on the front of my shirt. Everyone else tried to look away in embarrassment, not for me, but for being at my table.

I was midway through a massive chew. “This shit is so good,” I said, mouth full and open as I gazed at the Rorschach, “that I’m going to take some of it home with me.”

No one laughed.

People couldn’t leave because all the other tables were full; they were those standing tables without chairs, but the large dainty eater finally went back for seconds and another guy took his place. He didn’t seem to care about my Rorschach. We got to talking and immediately hit it off. His name was Adam Miller. A few years older than me, he was from Chicago, and when he found out that I’d attended the first desegregated school in Galveston, Booker T. Washington Elementary in 1968, he said this. “Your parents sound like they were rather liberal.”

“They were,” I said. “And are.”

“And the apple?” he asked. “Did it fall far from the tree.”

“Yes, it did,” I replied. “Two or three whole millimeters.”

He smiled, and told me about his father, Jay Miller, a giant in the 60’s who was the head of the Illinois ACLU until 2000. A person who knew him well said this: “He thought that our constitution wasn’t worth the paper it was written on unless it protected every American, rich or poor, black or white, Latino or Caucasian, male or female.”

Then he told me about his amazing mother, Joyce Miller, the first woman elected to the board of the AFL-CIO. On the issue of women’s difficulty getting admitted to the building trades, she summed things up thus: “Employers will say that no real woman wants to work in overalls. The truth is that no real woman wants to starve.”

Then I told him about my dad, a West Texas fundamentalist Baptist born on a cattle ranch outside of Alpine who found atheism in college about the time he also discovered the issue around which his life would be built–civil rights. The Austin stand-ins that desegregated the drag on Guadalupe took him on a path to a civil rights career that included testimony before Congress, expert testimony in voting rights cases that earned a citation by the Supreme Court in the City of Mobile single-member district case, and an unwavering, lifelong support for the underdog.

Adam and I looked at each other for a minute, oblivious to the suits and the dainty plates. “Where,” I asked, “have all the titans gone?”

He nodded. “Where, indeed?”



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1k to go

September 30, 2015 § 30 Comments

This isn’t going to end well, Head Down James I’ve got, no problem, he’ll flog himself and explode like a can of tomato paste in the microwave and he’ll be happy with the flogging and last place because he initiated, rode, and drove the break, that guy’s head is made of concrete which is why he’s so loved you can pour words over his head like a bucket of water but not a one will ever sink in and there’s no hope with Davy he goes on the list of “never beaten” and “never even held his wheel when he kicks” and no fuggin’ wonder he’s the masters national kilo champ and he hasn’t taken a single pull since bridging and he’s licking his chops the real problem is Sausage he also goes on the “never beaten never even close” list he’s got a ferocious kick and worse than that he’s smart but at least I’m on his wheel and not vice versa nine hundred to go and boom there goes Head Down James launching off Davy’s wheel now it’s Sausage, me, and Davy and Head Down James is opening a nice little gap but he won’t be able to sustain it on this riser but whoa now Sausage is on the front and he’s slowed way down he’s not chasing his teammate except it’s LaGrange so he eventually will and plus Sausage is no dummy he’ll never in a million years sprunt from the front I get it these wankers are waiting for me to close the gap yeah, perfect, I close, Head Down blows, and Davy beats Sausage or maybe Sausage gets real lucky and beats Davy but anyway I’ll be left dangling fuck it I’ve never won out of a break ever ever ever not in thirty years and now I’m stuck with two sprinters eight hundred to go Head Down’s gap isn’t growing his speed will crater any minute but Sausage is going so slow it won’t matter and Head Down will take the win this is maddening I’ve ridden the break the last two laps exactly like Daniel said don’t be the strongest guy in the break make sure we don’t get caught but don’t be the stud still the math isn’t here one slow old hairy legged guy never beats a kilo champ and a sprinter seven hundred to go well I’m not chasing that fucker isn’t that what Derek said sometimes you just have to be content with someone else winning because if you go it’s not gonna be you and he also said patience and holding back at the end is the hardest but you have to wait for the other guy to flinch six hundred to go I can see Davy’s shadow and Sausage just went up a gear so he’s ready for the jump better upshift too and he thinks it’s gonna be me but he knows it might also be Davy boom there’s the sound of Davy’s whole bike groaning under 1800 watts five hundred to go shit here comes Davy off my wheel shit Sausage was totally ready shit this hurts shit they’re pulling away shit go go go shit I’ve got Sausage’s back wheel oh man this hurts but is Sausage gonna get Davy’s wheel three hundred to go shit he got Davy boom Head Down’s blown we’re passing him like a bullet train passing a tree now Davy’s fading no way oh yes way he’s been conventioning at Eurobike and Interbike and hasn’t been training of course two hundred to go boom there goes Sausage but closing to Davy has hurt him he doesn’t have his usual kick go now attack his rear wheel and shear off into the wind at the last minute oh man one hundred to go there’s the finishing tree Sausage is staring over in disbelief with the you need to pee-in-a-cup look now I’m flying past him damn this is sweet should I raise my arms hell yes but it’s just the stupid NPR yeah but everyone’s looking so rub their noses in it arms up and don’t fred out and crash oh that feels good just keep them up, fingers spread, palms out, forever.



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Twirling the thingy

September 21, 2015 § 17 Comments

I went out for a ride today with my new titanium pulley wheels, forged in the metalworks of Thorin Oakenshield’s factory deep underground, made lovingly with the hands of ancient dwarf craftsmen, and finished with miniature dragon eggs for bearings. Tres chic, tres trick. If you want to ride fast these days, you need dwarves, titanium, and dragon eggs.

Then after a bit the derailleur thingy wouldn’t shift right and made that clickety-clickety sound, so after descending Hawthorne and turning right onto PV Drive West I pulled over to try and adjust it by twirling the little spinner thingy on the derailleur cable. Holding the bike in the air with one hand and pedaling with the other was a pain and just then a guy whizzed by and gave me the ol’ cyclist throwaway line of, “You okay?” spoken, of course, at thirty.

As he disappeared from sight I screamed, “Are you any good with DERAILLEURS?”

He locked ’em up, burned off most of the tread on his rear tire and did a u-turn, but unlike Prez he checked to make sure no one was behind him. He rode up. “What’d you say?”

I was seated on the curb in my baggy pants, skate shoes, and t-shirt, going full Fred. “Are you any good at derailleurs? I can’t get this thing to shift right.”

“Nope,” he said, “but I can lift it up so you can use one hand to pedal and the other to twirl the thingy.”

I looked at him in awe. “I thought I was the only one who called it that.”

I twirled the thingy so that it got really awful, then I twirled it the other way so it got even more awful, and finally I was just twirling it to try and make it as bad as it had been when I stopped, which had been bad, but tolerably so, as opposed to now, when instead of going clickety-click it was going clackety-clack-donk, and the donk had me worried.

It also wouldn’t get up on the 25 when I was in the 53. “That’s a bad gear combo anyway,” Eric said. His name was Eric Eastland.

“It’s the principle of the thing,” I cursed.

We finally gave up and rode on together, with the clackety-clack-donk beating a terrible rhythm, like a dyslexic drummer or someone trying to run across the desert in Dune in irregular steps so as not to get eaten by a sand worm.

“You live here?” asked Eric.

“Yeah. You?”

“Not anymore. I live in Bend but I’m here every other week on business.”

“What kind of business is that?”

“Stages for large performances.”

“Wow. How large?”

“Oh, the big stuff. Rolling Stones, that kind of thing.”

“Well, we’re having a really tiny event on October 17 and we kind of need a stage.”

“Really? What kind of event?”

“It’s called the South Bay Cycling Awards but it’s much less classy than the name sounds. Cyclists and beer, mostly, and a big inflatable penis.”

“I have a mini stage that you might be able to use,” he said. Eric’s a big supporter of cycling, promotes events in Bend, and will do almost anything to assist the sport, even though it’s not really a sport. Before long we’d exchanged information and it was, well, awesome.

I rode over to Boozy P.’s to get the clackety-donk repaired. He threw it up on the stand for about thirty seconds and fiddled with some cables. The noise went away.

“Wow,” I said. “That was quick. What was wrong with the derailleur?”

“Nothing,” he said. “It was your brakes.”



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To serve and protect

September 17, 2015 § 44 Comments

Before bike video cameras and dumb phones and such, I used to practice memorizing license plates of passing cars. You never knew when some cager would buzz you or hit you and if you couldn’t identify the car the police wouldn’t do anything.

I always had a chip on my shoulder about law enforcement that didn’t care about cyclists, a chip that grew with each passing stop-sign-blowing citation. As a buddy mused the other day, and I agreed, “You know, I can’t work up outrage anymore at senseless cager killings.” He was referring to the gal who was looking for her mascara and swerved onto the shoulder, killing a cyclist, then overcorrecting into oncoming traffic and killing a motorcyclist.


Thankfully, though, she wasn’t charged or even taken in for questioning. Ventura County law enforcement is understanding like that.

My pal and I agreed that the constant stream of killings, buzzings, screamings, harassings, abusings, and throwings has made us numb. Another one bites the dust? That’s what you get for riding a bicycle, you were warned. Warned, for example, by entities like the Boston Globe, which ran a nice editorial about how bicycling is dangerous so get off the fuggin’ street.

Closer to home, The Daily Breeze champions the cause of repressed and downtrodden cagers in the South Bay.

On my afternoon pedal along PV Drive West today I heard the catcall behind me followed by the deep hum of fat tires. PV High School had just released its Adderall-addled spoiled children from their playpen, and what could be more fun than hauling your brand new Jeep Wrangler stuffed with two friends within a foot of a grumpy old fart and pelting him with a sandwich?

Answer: NOTHING!!

I swung over after forcing my middle finger back into position and dialed 911. The PVPD dispatcher took my information. “What kind of car was it?”

“2014 or 2015 Jeep Wrangler, black.”

“Did you get the license plate?”

“In fact I did. 7LBC437.”

She was kind of surprised. “And you’re on a bike?”


“I’ll send a car out. Stay there.”

“But … ”

So I stayed. The cops arrived, and one of them was the same officer who had pulled me over and ticketed me the month before. He smiled when he saw me. They took my statement and then their radios beeped. “Just a second,” said one. He listened, then looked up at me. “Well, we’ve apprehended them. Do you want to press charges?”

“Hell, yes.”

“We’ll need you to come make a field identification. They’re just up the road.”

“Great,” I said, but in reality I thought, “FUCKING AWESOME! THIS NEVER HAPPENS!”

Things soon got complicated, though. I had ID’d three boys, but in fact the driver was a boy and the thrower was a girl. They grilled me about whether I could identify her. “No,” I admitted. “I thought they were all guys. Plus, I was so busy not crashing and memorizing the license plate and model of the car … ”

The cops nodded sympathetically. Later, another cop came, this time the head supervisor. He was direct. “If he tried to hit you with his car it’s assault with a deadly weapon. You want to press charges?”

“Yes,” I said.

He was all business and had exactly zero sympathy for these rich little brats. “Okay. Let’s go do a field ID.”

“Just a sec,” I said. “I didn’t get hit. I don’t want these kids to go to jail.” I thought about my own youth, the felonies I’d committed, the people who had given me a second chance (or third, or fourth), and about how different my life would be if I’d started out life with a felony conviction.

“So you don’t think he intended to hit you?”

“If he’d intended to hit me I’d be dead now.”

“What was he doing, then?”

“He was trying to get close enough so that his girlfriend could whack me with some ham and mustard.”

“That sounds like reckless driving to me.”

“Officer,” I said, “maybe pressing charges and dragging this kid’s sorry ass through the courts will change him. But what I’d really rather have happen is that, while he’s in your custody, he comes to appreciate the seriousness of what he’s done.”

“The girls are in tears and he practically is, too. We’ve got him in our database and we’re making a report and will refer it to the city attorney, who can file charges if she wants to. I think he’s terrified.”

“I’d like to let it go, then.”

The officer nodded. “Okay.”

“And one other thing.”


“Your guys popped me for running a stop sign the other day and it always seems like you take bicycle stop sign violations more seriously than motorists trying to kill cyclists.”


“And your presence and actions today have convinced me I’m wrong. Thanks for chasing those kids down.”

“It’s our job.”

“I know,” I said. “And thank you for doing it.”



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Club Merkel or Club Trump?

September 8, 2015 § 27 Comments

If you have been following the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe, perhaps you’ve been agog at German chancellor Angela Merkel’s bizarre, incomprehensible response to the poor, the wretched, the hungry, and the persecuted, yearning to be free: “Welcome!”

That’s right, folks. Instead of building a wall (U.S.A., Israel, Hungary, DDR), Germany is rolling up its sleeves and getting down to the hard work of accepting and integrating what will shortly be over 800,000 refugees. Sure, there are Germans who believe that the best welcome is a water cannon and a concentration camp, but they are a minority. Merkel’s word on the influx of hundreds of thousands of people pouring in?

“Deutschland schafft es.”

“Germany has this.”

Compare that with the standard bearer for the Republican Party and current GOP front-runner, Mr. I Am Angry Donald Trump. He hates immigrants from Mexico and proposes a wall that Mexico will pay for. Trumpy is pissed off, doesn’t like brown people, and wants to keep everyone away from the table except himself and presumably the handful of white male billionaires like him.

So there I was, jammed into the chute behind Michael Smith, Rico, and Matt Cuttler as we pounded up Mandeville Canyon on the 18-minute interval that is the Holiday Ride. The 80-person peloton had been surgically reduced to a tiny group with the messy, bloody, painful efficacy of a giant liposuction hose and only wheelsuckers remained, glued to Matt’s wheel as he relentlessly tried to reel in the Wily Greek.

Towards the end a few faces who hadn’t been seen the entire ride rushed forth, led by a searing attack courtesy of Big Wanker from La Grange, a strong young buck who clearly believed in making his elders do all the work. Attila Fruttus and Dave Holland scampered off with him. I held his wheel for 200 yards and cracked, experiencing the spectrum of cardiac arrhythmias described here.

I think I got eighth in a non-race that no one counts while everyone raced and counted.

On the way down I chatted with one of the guys, a newcomer from the Midwest. He told me about his few forays down south into Orange County, and about how he’d done the Como Street Ride the day before.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s pretty different down there.”

“How so?”

“Three hours of riding and talking with people and not a single person asked me a single question.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I’d ride next to someone, talk to them about THEM and hear all the details of their life, what they did, but never got any interest the other way. It was a one way street. No one gave a damn.”

“It’s called the Orange Curtain for a reason,” I laughed.

“When I came to the South Bay I was welcomed,” he said. “People asked me to join their club, join their team, join their rides; I spent my first two weeks saying ‘Thanks.'”

“You are a national class bike racer, don’t forget.”

“It’s not that. In the last several months I’ve seen all kinds of people welcomed and have seen zero shunning. It’s just different here.”

“That’s cycling for you,” I said.

“How so?”

“Merkel or Trump,” I said.

He looked at me funny but I didn’t explain.



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September 7, 2015 § 5 Comments

We dropped down off the Switchbacks in a line. Sweeping through the right-hander onto PV Drive South all of the familiar figures fell into place.

Charon, Rudy, Derek, Leadout, Michael, Cuttler, Stathis, X-Man, and Undercover formed the point while the rest of us jostled for protection on the screaming downhill followed by the punchy rollers through Portuguese Bend. Everyone knew what was coming and it was gonna fuggin’ hurt.

The scene of so much misery is called The Glass Church because, amazingly, it is a gradual roller that starts at the bottom of … guess what … a glass church. It’s not very long and it’s not very steep so it’s just the right distance for everyone to get in over his head.

Undercover pounded off the front in a hopeless kick destined for immolation and, always the one to pick the worst wheel at the worst time, I went with him. Chunks of sputum, toe jam, and tooth enamel began to bleed out of his eyes and after a couple hundred yards he began doing the Brad House arm flap. When he slowed to a pace that I could pass and maintain, I jumped past. The wankoton was well behind. I ground it halfway up the grade until I heard the telltale “whoosh, whoosh” of approaching carbon doom made of 100% full carbon.

It was Rudy. I grabbed on, then held on as he accelerated all the way up the roller and over the top. Derek was with him and we had a gap. I took something that looked like a pull, only it wasn’t. After a few rotations we were at the bottom of the little hill past Terranea. Rudy launched. Davy had bridged, somehow. Three-quarters of the way up the bump I punched it coming up the right-side gutter.

We flew down the short grade to the final uphill before the sprunt. Davy charged with X-Man, who had also come across, on his wheel. I faded backwards like the burnt out stage of a Saturn rocket.

We regrouped at the light and Rudy was grinning. “You hung on,” he said.

“Barely. There was that one point on the Glass Church when you came through and I had to bite down hard.”

“Those are always the moments when you either make the split or you don’t.”

“It felt like I was slowly chewing off my own tongue.”

“But then it lets up and you’ve made the split. Because everyone else backs off.”

“The taste of your own tongue isn’t very good,” I mused.

“I work with a lot of riders who are just starting out. They have that great ‘new’ fitness but the depth isn’t there yet, where they can max out and still bring their heart rate back down. They hit top gear and stay elevated.”

“There’s so much out there about how to train,” I said, “but I’m still waiting for someone to write a book about how to win.”

He laughed. “Yeah. Same as in poker. Cycling appears to be about training and fitness, or in poker it appears to be about luck, but in the final round it’s always the same five guys sitting at the table.”

“Because the guys who win have a playbook.”

He nodded. “And they follow it.”

“When are you publishing yours?”

We had hit the bottom of Via Zumaya and he glided away. “Someday!” he said.



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Just put your head down and everything will be okay

September 4, 2015 § 11 Comments

Ol’ Cracks doesn’t call me often, but when he does I drop what I’m doing and take the call. Thank goodness I wasn’t holding my future grandbaby.

“How the hell are ya?” growled Ol’ Cracks, his Texas accent thicker than bacon grease on a Southern hooker’s shirt sleeves.

“Can’t complain,” I said.

“Yer a lyin’ sack of rotten oats,” he said. “All the hell you ever do is complain.”

“Now that you mention it,” I said.

“Now lissen up,” said Ol’ Cracks, which was not an invitation to flesh out my nascent complaint. “‘Cuz I got a story for ya.”

I moved from my office desk to my office bed and stretched out. “Shoot.” I knew I wouldn’t even need a notepad.

“You ‘member Gizzards?”

“Gizzards? Was he the guy who was blind in one eye and couldn’t see too well out of the other? Kind of rotund?”

“Naw, you got him confused with Big Piles.”

“Which one was Gizzards?”

“He was the dumb bastard.”

“That doesn’t narrow it down much.”

“Well anyhow, Gizzards got one of his buddies into cycling and started bringing him along on the Sunday Gutterfuck Ride.”

“How’d that work out for him?”

“We gutterfucked him coming out the dogdamn parking lot every time, but he kept coming.”

“Okay. So what?”

“Well, Gizzard’s pal’s name is Stumpnagel but everyone calls him Sags.”

“Why ‘Sags’?”

“Hell, first off, his belly hangs down onto the top tube, so that’s your Sag Number One. And then when he gets tired, which is after the first five minutes, his head droops over the stem like the bend in a vulture’s neck. That’s Sag Number Two.”

“Sag Number Three?” I was almost afraid to ask.

“He’s allus the first bastard in the sag wagon.”

“Sag wagon? Since when did you guys start riding with a sag wagon?”

“Aw hell, never. That’s what we call the cars he flags down after we’ve gutterfucked him offn a ditch fifty miles from home.”

“Okay, so back to the saga of Sags.”

“So one day Sags and Gizzard come up to me and they say ‘Ol’ Cracks, how can we get better? You’ve been winning races for thirty years and you never train and you’re drunk half the time and you’re lazy as a post office supervisor. What’s the secret?'”

“What’d you tell ’em?”

“Same thing I tell everybody. I said, ‘Listen up you dumbasses, you suck and you always will. You’ll never win a race because you’re slow and stupid, in that order.'”

“Then what?”

“They got all mad but next week they come up again and were just as sassy as a sixteen-year-old with big boobs and Gizzard says, ‘Ol’ Cracks we’ve signed up for Big George’s training camp in South Carolina and we’re gonna ride with some pros and get fast and come back here and stomp your ass.'”

“I bet you didn’t take that lying down.”

“No, sir, I did not. Told ’em they were just as slow and stupid as they’d been last week and that the only thing they’d get throwing money at a lying, cheating, doping ex-pro was poor.”

“How much did it cost?”

“Five grand for the first sucker, I mean trainee, and $2500 for the second one.”

“Big George has a good gig going. Ride around with a couple of hicks for $7,500 bucks? Hell, it couldn’t be any worse than riding around with you, which I do for free.”

“You’re just as big a fool as Sags and Gizzard. You think Big George rides around with these yahoos? He escorts ’em out of the parking lot to the base of a climb and leaves ’em at the rear like a dingleberry on a horse’s ass. Then five hours later he circles back to the hotel, pats ’em on the back, cashes another check, and goes home to his wife and EPO.”

“So they’re out there all alone?”

“Oh, no. Big George ain’t dumb. That’s what all those washed up pros and masters national champs are for. He pays THEM a pittance to ride around with Sags and Gizzards and change their diapers.”

“So what happened? They came back and kicked your ass?”

“You got a good imagination,” he said. “But not quite. On the first day Gizzard gets put in a lodge that has a housecat, and he’s deathly allergic to cat hair, and the housecat has layered the place with six inches of fur, so Gizzard swells up like a pumpkin and winds up in the ER on an inhaler.”

“And Sags?”

“Sags starts at the bottom of Big Corkscrew Mountain, a twelve-mile climb with sixty-three switchbacks and an average pitch of 23 percent, and when I say ‘starts’ I mean ‘almost tips over.’ His nursemaid is Cardboard Box O’Houlihan.”

“Cardboard Box O’Houlihan? Last year’s 35+ masters national road champ? The guy who lives in a … ”

“Cardboard box. Yeah, that’s him. So CB rides off and then about halfway up he stops to wait for Sags. Way off in the distance, here comes Sags, head down spinning at 4 or 7 rpm, tacking like a catamaran, all 235 lbs. of him grunting and groaning and grinding up that fuckin’ hill.”

“Then what?”

“O’Houlihan’s phone rings and he pulls it out to see who’s calling. About that time Sags, whose head is still down, t-bones O’Houlihan at about 3 mph.”

“Thank goodness he was going slow.”

“You ever been hit by a piano going 3 mph?”

“Well, no.”

“Guess what? It fuggin’ hurts, especially when it lands on your leg, which Sags did, and it snapped O’Houlihan’s femur like a matchstick. O’Houlihan is writhing on the ground saying ‘You dumb motherfucker you run into me going UPHILL you dumb bastard!’ They fly him out or more likely drive him out in a pig manure truck.”

“Then what happened?”

“Sags comes home and I tell him man, you are one stupid sonofabitch. Couldn’t you make something up so’s you don’t look like such a brainless rhino? Running into a national champ going uphill? How the fuck does that even happen? And of course he says, ‘I dunno, but it was O’Houlihans’ fault.'”

“O’Houlihans’ fault?”

“Yeah, for stopping on the side of the road, to which I said, you dumb bastard he stopped because he was waiting for you because that’s his fucking job!”

“So did his fitness improve?”

“I don’t know, he was only in town for a couple of days after that.”

“Where’d he go?”

“The Levi Leipheimer training camp somewhere in California.”



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