Rock collection

July 15, 2020 § 4 Comments

Perspective. You can’t get it at home or on a couch or on the tee-vee. You can’t get it in a bottle or in a pill or on the Gram. It’s not for sale at REI or available from behind the windshield.

The only way you can get it is to go out and let it get you.

I left my hideaway beach campsite a little after six thirty and immediately began climbing to Ragged Point. After an hour and a half lugging my bike and my ass up an endless series of climbs I reached the town of Gorda, There was one café and it was open, though you had to eat outside. This was going to be my second breakfast, like a hobbit.

The first item on the menu was the cheapest, two eggs, bacon, toast, and hash browns for $15. I’d have balked but for the sign on the tip jar: Thanks for helping us stay open.

The covids have destroyed all of the mom and pop tourist businesses in Big Sur. This is their peak season and there were three of us at the breakfast witching hour. I dug deep and was glad to do it. The eggs and bacon were worth it anyway.

If you haven’t ridden the coast from Ragged Point to Big Sur on a 60-lb. bike you’ve missed out. On a lot of misery. The scenery is stunning but who cares when you are about to blow a gasket and there are still “only” 25 miles to go to the state park in Big Sur. I began counting the mile markers, always a terrible sign, then I started timing my miles, which took 4-5 minutes each. At that moment when you truly realize you are doing the wrong thing at the wrong time with the hopelessly wrong equipment, you hit the long downhill into Big Sur.

Suddenly it’s all worth it. I waited in line to enter the park as the ranger explained it to the cars like this: “No, we’re full. This is the most popular state park in California. Reservations are typically required a year in advance.”

Then it was my turn. “Sweet bike!” she said. “Bike camper? $5 please. $10 if you’re staying two nights.”

The venomous looks of the disappointed cagers felt sweet like Twizzlers. I could tell you that my campsite was beneath towering redwoods a stone’s throw from the Big Sur river. I could tell you that it was silent, beautiful, restful, the kind of place you never want to leave. But by the time I got done telling you all that I’d be too tired to tell you about Ross.

And this post is all about Ross.

He and the two women who had adopted him somewhere in southern Washington were the only other people there. Ross had begun riding on May 16, leaving from Ennis, which is right outside … Bozeman, Montana.

He had a beat-up old Surly with cantilever brakes and down tube shifters. He was in his mid-20’s, shaggy bearded and shaggy haired with two brilliant laughing eyes that couldn’t seem to stop enjoying the world as it pranced by. He was from Florida but had worked all over the Texas oilfields as a mud logger before ending up in Montana working at a ski resort. One day the itch hit and he lit out.

I started complaining, as I always do, about my heavy bike and packs. Ross looked at my gear. “How much does it weigh?”

“A little under sixty pounds I’d guess.”

“That’s heavy,” he said.

Then we talked of other things, and his two friends shared their stories. Ellen was a third grade teacher from Culver City who didn’t ride anything besides a beach cruiser from time to time. Her girlfriend Kristin, a third grade teacher from Brooklyn, had finished a family event of some kind or another in Santa Fe and decided to ride her bike home.

Flustered family had implored her not to, and her mother had insisted that she talk to her good friend Ellen who would dissuade her from the insanity. Instead, Kristin talked Ellen into doing the ride together, only they’d start in Seattle and ride to LA where Ellen’s boyfriend had “something” planned for her. Everyone agreed that it was going to involve a ring. Afterwards Kristin would fly back to her husband in New York.

“I practiced bicycling for a week,” Ellen said. “So I’d be in shape.”

It was so astonishing to see young people in action. Her bike was a $250 rental that looked like it would barely get you down the bike path for a cup of coffee. But that’s what young people do, some of them anyway. They don’t fixate on gear or garb or meticulous preparation, they get on their fuggin’ bikes and go. If they have problems? They’ll worry about that later.

They’d found Ross along the way and adopted him up like the rescue biker he was.

Ross was handy, good with a wrench, built like the front end of a truck, and looked pretty rough from a distance, as long as you couldn’t see his eyes. So they’d been riding down south together and knew each other pretty well.

As the evening wore on, Ross allowed as how he’d go to the store and get some marshmallows. Everyone thought that was a great idea and off he went.

“That’s some bike Ross has there,” I said.

“Yes, it is,” said Ellen.

“It looks pretty heavy.”

“It is, but it’s down to around 90 pounds now.”

I stuttered. “90 pounds? What was it before?”

“He said it was 110 when he left Montana, but he’s eaten all the food so it’s down to 90.”

“What in the world does he have in there?”

The two women giggled. “You won’t believe it.”

“Try me.”

“His rock collection.”

“His what?”

“His rock collection. He never goes anywhere without it.”

“You’re telling me he has ridden for two months with panniers full of rocks?”

“No, he has lots of other … things.”

“Such as?”

“His hatchet. And his giant Bowie knife that he made himself. And some other stuff.”

Before long Ross returned. I didn’t see the marshmallows right away but I did see his bike groaning under the weight of a giant load of wood.

“Figured I might as well get us some kindling!” he said with a laugh.

I was on the verge of asking him about the rock collection when he opened up one of the panniers and took out the hatchet. In seconds he was chopping the wood into smaller pieces for the fire pit. Within a few minutes there was a small mountain of it.

The fire got to roaring and the marshmallows got to toasting. They had a thing where they stuck pieces of Hershey’s chocolate into the middle of the marshmallow, a thing that, well, can change your life if you let it. I listened to them talk and laugh and suddenly I felt old, no, ancient. And I felt that they were letting me into the secret world of young, if only for a few moments, where I could re-see men who rode thousands of miles with beloved rock collections on rickety bikes, women who thought of a thing and then simply did it, only because they were all young and tomorrow seemed like a forever away.

The beer cracked open and I said good night. It was past my bedtime anyway, being 9:05 and all. Inside my sleeping bag I heard them talking until late, an owl hooting along with them until I drifted off to sleep, the whispering leaves of 400 year-old redwoods wishing me the sweetest of dreams.

END


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Happy Dave

July 14, 2020 § 13 Comments

Wherever the camping was, it wasn’t here. Rob had confirmed that none of the campsites between here and Alaska were open due to the unholy liaison between the covids and the antifas, so I was on my own.

We had left Nipomo at 6:00 pointy-sharp in matching Molteni woolies, matching South Bay socks, and most amazingly, matching handlebars, saddles, and taillights. Later on it turned out that we were even scariery matchy-matchy: He’d started UT Austin in the fall of ’82, as had I.

There was no wind as Rob took me through rolling and beautiful back roads that looked for all the world like the Texas hill country, minus the 102-degree heat and the hummingbird-sized mosquitoes. For some reason my legs didn’t want to pedal but eventually we got to somewhere. Rob had never ridden so slowly for so far.

I stopped and ate a few dried apricots. Suddenly my legs turned on, which was excellent because we’d passed through SLO and Rob was ready to get revenge on me for beating me at Rosena Ranch back in 2016. I grabbed onto his wheel and he brought it up to puke-thirty then held it until I quit before Cayuco.

We’d done 47 miles, the morning was still, young, it was cool, the headwinds were still in bed, and Rob flipped it to ride home. This part of the ride had been so peaceful and beautiful. The ocean would appear on my left then vanish again, gulls cutting the morning sky and gaily sashaying RVs with bikes nailed to the back passing me with three or four whole inches to spare.

I got into a Chaucer rhythm and cruised on through Cambria. Rob had identified a creekbed there with some trails that might be a good campsite but it was still early, the wind was still in bed, and I wanted to clock as many riding hours as I could since the following day I’d have to make the hilly, windy, and bitter run from Ragged Point to Big Sur. After a while I began to get concerned about a campsite because each prospective pull-out was labeled with “NO CAMPING ON PAIN OF DEATH” and such things.

At one of these pullouts I saw a guy on a bike staring at the sea. I u-turned and rode into the lot. His face was weather-beaten, so brown it was almost black. Deep creases lined every inch of his face. His bike was as worn as he was; saddlebags that were full of what I presumed were only the barest of necessities, i.e. weed, and a few hawk feathers strapped to the pack. He was wearing a blue Patagonia jacket that looked like it had made the travel indeed from Patagonia, on its elbows.

But the fashion item he was wearing that no one in LA ever wears was a deep and abiding smile, pouring out from within and animating his eyes like thing that was wild and free. “Hey, man,” I said.

“Hey yourself,” he answered.

“Is there any camping in between here and Ragged Point?”

He laughed, the kind of deep laugh that you have to throw your head back in order to get all the air in and back out. “Nothing, my friend. Everything’s shut down.”

“Nothing?” My heart sank from my soles into the gravel.

“There’s never nothing, always something, just depends on how hard you’re willing to work for it.”

“Very,” I said, hoping this wasn’t a lead-in to an illegal sex act.

“Got a joint?”

“No, sorry.”

“That’s okay. I find lots of weed along the highway.”

“So about campsites?”

“Oh sure. You have to wait til a creekbed crosses the road, then climb down and follow it until you find something. So much amazing stuff out here.” He looked at my bike. “That’s gonna be heavy to drag down some of those banks.”

“Yeah,” I said, sympathizing with me.

“You can camp in all the no camping sites long as you don’t mind the cops or rangers rousting you out around two.”

“I mind.”

“Well, it’s a beautiful day anyway.”

“How long you been riding?”

“Me?”

“Yeah.”

“Five years now.”

“Holy shit.”

“Yep. Daughter graduated from college, third divorce and I said fuck it, I’m not starting all over again. I am finished. I got on my bike with a backpack and a couple of sandwiches and never lived under a roof again.”

“Where’s your tent?”

“I don’t have one.”

“What happens when it rains?”

“I get wet.”

“Shit.”

“There’s all kinds of things you can do. Climb under culverts. Or most of the time I’m up in the woods anyway, and there’s always a cypress or something I can hunker down under til the rain stops.”

“What do you do for money?”

“EBT. Costs me $197 a month to live, man. Wouldn’t trade it for a million dollars.”

“How come?”

“Well, money is just something invented by a sick man.”

A man in a beat-up pickup had been listening to us. He had a long white beard and a cigarette. “That’s the goddamn truth,” he said.

“Ain’t it?” said Happy Dave.

“What’s your story?” I asked him.

“I lived in a car-house for thirty years,” he said. “Then I got my claim settled with the VA and bought an abandoned barn about thirty miles from here. Parked my car in the barn so the car’s my bedroom and the barn’s my living room, so to speak.”

“What do you do for money?” I asked him.

“Social Security. And fishin.” He had a giant hand trawling screen.

“You catch fish with that?” asked Happy Dave. “I thought maybe you was beachcombing for gold jewelry.”

The old man snorted. “Gold? Listen here, sonny. You go looking for gold you are a damned fool. All gold is fool’s gold. You want gold? Go look for fish, or for a hot cup of coffee, or for somebody who’ll hug you when you’re lonely. Then you’ll find all the gold that God ever meant for a man to have.”

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Dave,” he said. “Just like him.”

“You guys have it figured out.”

Happy Dave smiled another grin that went from the back of his head all the way around again. “Not figured out. But I know not to look for roses in a bucket of tar.”

“I’d settle for a campsite,” I said.

“Listen,” he said. “You seem like a nice fellow. You don’t mind a bit of walking, right?”

“Right.”

“Leg it about seven miles up the road. You’ll come to a creekbed. It’s wider than the others. Midway up the hill from the creek on your left you’ll see a dirt trail. Take that trail through a gate and it will take you out onto the beach. Follow the beach to a big rock point. Round the point is a stone cove with a tree and stone circle. Best damn camping on this coastline. There’s a fresh spring runs into the ocean, you can drink straight from it. Shit down by the water and use the ocean to clean your ass. You might not ever leave.”

“Dang,” I said. “I’m in. Seven miles you said?”

“Thereabouts. You can’t miss it.”

I started off, carefully watching each creekbed, but none were accessible and there was no dirt path. After an hour I began having doubts. Maybe I was like a Coronado looking for the Seven Cities of Cibola and the Indians saying “Oh yeah, up the road man away from here, just a few more miles.”

Before long it was one o’clock. I’ve learned to ride by time not distance. Leave early AF and quit by one, two at the latest. That gives you time to eat, sleep, eat, sleep, eat, sleep, and get up the next day. I had given up on the Seven Cities of Creekbed and was determined to stop the next place I could. Problem was, there was nothing but barbed wire and those pesky “PAIN OF DEATH” signs.

I’d almost reach Ragged Point, which is the entry to hell, when I crossed a big creekbed. A few yards past the bridge there was a dirt trail. I hopped off my bike and rode-carried it to the sand, then pushed it for a quarter mile to the beach. The sand was so thick that I could only push it twenty or thirty yards at a time. I got to the beach, wasted. I looked to the left. The rock point was exactly where he said it would be. Around the turn was the cove with the tree and stones.

I collapsed on the cool sand, soaking up some of the happiness that Dave had left for me there.

END


Fried bread

July 12, 2020 § 19 Comments

I started worrying about where I was going to sleep the minute I woke up. Parks and campgrounds full from here to Pluto. The map showed a park called El Capitan. All I had to do was pack up my room at the Starbucks in Goleta, ride an hour or so into a nasty wind that neither Eric nor Jaeger bothered to warn me about, and I’d be there.

I doubted there’d be anything so I began scouting the roadside the minute I left Goleta. There were a couple of shady groves, some creek bottoms, and a small spot or two that looked like they’d do in a pinch, “pinch” meaning another night on a mat in the dirt.

I got to the park entrance for “camping.” My big Macs had worn off long ago and however far I’d pushed that 60-lb. monster of a bike, it was about ten miles too far.

“Are you camping here?” the guy asked.

“I hope so.”

“Do you have a cabin?”

“No.”

“Do you have a reservation?”

“No.”

“Oh …” he trailed off, staring piteously into my sunken eyes and sunken-er cheeks.

“Can I pitch a tent?”

“No,” he said, the pity mostly drying up. “But there is camping at our sister site a quarter mile up the road.”

I got back on the feeder road and went for a quarter mile. He’d forgotten to say it was straight fucking up and I’d probably not make it. But I did. I scooted through the kiosk and did a loop of the park. There were several open sites along with a giant banner that said “CAMPGROUND FULL.”

I was sure they didn’t mean it so I stopped at the kiosk. “Can I pitch a tent?”

“No. We’re full.”

“Several of the RV slots are empty.”

“But they’re rented and you’re not an RV.”

“I do a pretty good impression of one.”

“Sorry. You might try the beach park. They have sites for hike-bike camper tent pitcher subhuman types.” He didn’t really call me subhuman.

I went downhill through a beautiful park road. “I could definitely sneak off and sleep here,” I thought. “If I have to.”

I reached the entrance and a large lady with large gun was yelling at some kid who was trying to sneak in even though it said “CAMPGROUND FULL.” She was scary and she scared him. He left.

I got to the kiosk. “Any biker tent sites?”

The nice lady smiled. “Of course.”

“No, I mean where I can camp. Tonight.”

“Yes, of course.”

“You don’t understand. I’m looking for a place to camp that’s full so I’ll have to go sleep in a ditch because everything’s full.”

She had seen many such addled bike campers. “$10 and the sites are up top. We always save spaces for you guys. You’re special.”

I knew it wasn’t appropriate to kiss strangers with the covids on the loose, but I nevertheless got on my knees, sobbed a little, and licked the toe of her boot. This didn’t surprise her either because, addled bike camper.

Then I numbly paid and pedaled up the steepest, longest road in the park. I knew it would be packed with thousands of bike campers all high on self-importance. There’d be one site next to the dumpster, swarming with stinging flies, on a barren patch of ground a few feet away from the latrines.

The road ended. The camping area was … vacant. Everywhere else had been elbow to ankle, and this was completely empty. A site overlooking the ocean with a picnic table under a shade tree awaited me. Ipitched my tent and fried up an onion, a jalapeno, some garlic, and five or six pieces of bread, everything soaked in olive oil. Best meal on July 11 in Santa Barbara County.

For dessert ate the whole jar of peanut butter, only 2,600 lousy kcals. Still, there was water next to my tent, a toilet and shower off in the distance, and the ocean at my feet, at the bottom of the bluff. A few campers and RVers at the other sites periodically wandered by, eyeing my solitude with envy, but my bike not so much.

I’m hoping that tomorrow I can make it a few more miles, declare victory, and call someone to come pick me up. Really.

END


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Fear of poetry

July 7, 2020 § 6 Comments

If you want to scare people, tell them that you would like to recite a poem. It’s worse than telling them you’d like to sing them a song, or telling them you’d like to show them an album of your drawings.

Offering up something artistic or performancey uninvited is like an unattractive stranger saying “Hey, I’d like to take off my clothes and show you some stuff.” It’s almost criminal.

How did it get to be this way?

After (maybe) music, poems are the oldest form of art. In English, prose literature didn’t even come into being until, arguably, 1719, with the publication of Robinson Crusoe. Before that, the person who wrote about life and love was the poet.

Nowadays, of course, poets are strangely unfavorable people, never invited to the great feasts to recount an epic of love or war, never first (or even last) at the betrothal to speak a few stanzas from memory, rather they are oddball sorts somehow chained to an outdated thing called “poetry” that few understand, few read, fewer write, and fewest of all recite.

Yet poetry somehow soldiers on, clutching at the hearts and minds of people when they least expect it, like the time in a coffeeshop in Ventura when a cycling buddy recited a poem of Lord Byron’s that he’d learned by heart in high school. He claimed that he had learned it to “impress the girls,” but since I wasn’t a girl and since the days of being single were for him decades in the past, I was unconvinced, particularly as I listened to the cadence, inflection, and feeling with which he spoke.

In my own case, as I slowly close in on being able to recite the first 3,800 lines from the Canterbury Tales, it occurs to me that only two people have ever actually asked me to recite any of it. One is a friend; the other was a stranger who invited a recitation but made sure I knew that “just a minute or so” would be enough.

As Manslaughter put it, “Really looking forward to hearing something I can’t understand.” Which is a good point.

On the other hand, with poetry you don’t really know what you’re going to understand until you hear it. The things you might think are opaque can be brilliantly clear. The things you might think you know might be swirling, dark enigmas. This is in fact all, in my opinion, that poetry really is: Putting the best words to the right feelings.

In this way, all cyclists are more or less poets because bicycling is putting the best actions to the right feelings. Whether you’re stomping out your aggression, lazily wending a happy and carefree way, thoughtfully threading a cross-country course, or necessarily pedaling to the grocery store to quell a hunger, cycling has always been described as poetry in motion, not because the motion is always graceful, but because the motion always seeks to match itself to the way you feel.

But don’t worry. I’m not going to ask you to listen to my recitation the next time we cross paths on the bike simply because I’m a poet and you’re a poet. Unless, of course, you have five hours or so to spare …

END


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A word on Father’s Day

June 21, 2020 § 7 Comments

This annual day celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society took almost 80 years to become an accepted “holiday.” It was first proposed as a celebration in 1909, but as late as 1957 people were still lukewarm at best. Although made a permanent holiday in 1972, as if Sunday weren’t already a holiday, it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the people most active in the creation, establishment, and cementing of Father’s Day could declare that it had become a “Second Christmas.”

Who were these people? And for whom exactly, was the Second Christmas?

They were the Father’s Day Council of course, founded by the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers.

It’s easy to write Father’s Day off as another crass American marketing event, because that’s exactly what it is. What’s more difficult is to understand why Mother’s Day was embraced so quickly, and Father’s Day took almost a century to gain a foothold. And despite the Second Coming for the menswear retailers, Father’s Day is still viewed by many as a joke holiday.

“What do I want for Father’s Day? To be left the fuck alone,” quoth many a father, wryly or not.

Proposed in 1905, by 1911 every U.S. state had a Mother’s Day celebration, and in 1914 President Wilson signed the official Mother’s Day proclamation giving it a national designation. Nor was Mother’s Day a new thing. Variations of it have have existed throughout the world over thousands of years, including the Greek cult to Cybele, the mother god Rhea, the Roman festival of Hilaria, and countless others lost to time that doubtless were created coextensive with the birth of mankind itself. Where Congress and the President dallied for decades before taking Father’s Day seriously, people couldn’t sign the Mother’s Day proclamation fast enough.

This proves an iron law, of course: Don’t piss off mom.

Mother’s Day makes sense. Moms do the pregnanting, the birthing, the suckling, the rearing, the feeding, the housing, the clothing, the protecting, the loving, whereas dads essentially plant the seed and hustle back to the group ride.

And despite their minimal contribution to the world’s weal, dads hog all the power. They do all the raping, the killing, the conquering, the ass-beating, the fierce disciplining, the imprisoning, the lazying, the money-hoarding, the enslaving, the stock-marketing, and to top it off, they do all the glorying as well.

Dads are the champions of history, the heroes of novels, the writers of epic poems, the lovers par excellence, the athletes nonpareil, the adventurers chock full of derring-do, and most awfully, the chroniclers of their own made-up, puffed-up, overinflated, or wholly fabricated exploits. That is, they also get to write the damned history as well.

No wonder Father’s Day caught on so slowly. Every person with a father was well aware that the last thing dads need is another excuse to be special. As Freud pointed out in Moses and Monotheism, the most natural instinct of any son at all is to kill his father, and the sooner the better. Honor him with (more) gifts and (more) special events? Uh, no. Fukk no.

Yet without caving into the wishes of the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers, it also bears noting that dads are (occasionally) humans too. And while they may not be especially sympathetic humans, they are, like the rest of us, riven with the doubts, regrets, sorrows, and travails otherwise known as life. And while they may have been the absentee seed-planter who administered the random beating, chances are that they were also the one who taught you how to ride a bike, or at least how not to cry when you fell.

Dad may have been the person who first took you camping, who showed you how to bait a hook, who first played catch with you, who made and flew your first kite together, who let you curl up in the crook of his arm at night and read you a story. He may have been the person who taught you right from wrong, who taught you to stick up for the little guy, who believed that words were stronger than guns.

He may not have always been there when you needed him most.

But then again, maybe he was.

Love you, Dad.

END


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Why your comment was deleted and you were blocked

June 20, 2020 § 15 Comments

Some people write comments that don’t show up right away, so they write and send it again, but it still doesn’t appear.

This is because WordPress through its magic algorithm has identified your message as spam. Since I’m not hovering over the spam box all day, it sometimes takes a day or two for me to dig through the fish heads, chicken bones, and squirrel carcasses to find the comment or two that got dinged in error.

I always pull them out of the spam bin, wipe them off, disinfect them from the covids, and put them where they rightfully belong so that the other four readers can enjoy the insight.

Rarely, a really terrible comment jukes right, jukes left, does a half-spin, twists hard, lowers its shoulders, and powers through the tiny gap in the spam filters, making its way to the goal line of ***publication in Wanky’s blog***.

Such miscreant comments get doused in covid soup, sent to spam without any supper, and are permanently banned along with their creator.

“Why?” the creators sometimes wonder. “Where is my freedom of speech and my other gunnysack of consutional rats?”

The answer is that wherever they are, they aren’t here. This blog isn’t a forum for discussing whether or not the earth is flat, whether or not the covids are a liberal hoax created by the “mainstream media,” who shot JFK, and why systemic racism doesn’t really exist.

Why?

Because the earth is demonstrably not flat, the magazines “Science” and “Nature” are not “mainstream media,” I don’t care who shot JFK, and if you think systemic racism doesn’t exist, you’re not going to change your mind based on some random blogger in Southern California.

But perhaps you’re still wondering why you can’t talk about those things HERE.

Answer: because that place already exists, infinitely. It is called the Internet a/k/a Facebook. There, you can share conspiracy theories about which government created the #fakecovids, you can find people to argue with about which point on the compass the sun most often rises, you can say terrible things about decent people, you can say decent things about terrible people, you can do anything you want without ever having to sign your real name or leave your chair.

But not here.

Here, you are required to (choose one, minimum):

  1. Participate in the echo chamber.
  2. Subscribe ($2.99, cheap).
  3. Tell everyone you never read the blog that you read daily.
  4. Gnash your teeth in silence.
  5. Disagree with the echo chamber by using a real name and email or at least one that has been faked well enough to appear real.

If you don’t select one of these options and you insist on being heard, your only two remaining choices are:

  1. Drive over to another corner of the Internet a/k/a Facebook.
  2. Get blocked.

Not trying to be rude … but not trying to be particularly polite, either. Thanks!

END


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You’re not “over it” unless you’re dead

June 19, 2020 § 8 Comments

This past week I’ve been thinking about sashaying out to get a taste of the Donut. This past week I’ve been missing the intensity that you can’t get anywhere except by competition. This past week I’ve been getting a little excited about riding the old route with the old knuckleheads in the same pointless exercise of silliness.

This past week I’ve also not been reading the news.

Like, at all.

So after making a date with Donut Destiny for tomorrow at 8:05 AM, pointy-sharp, a friend sent me a quick note in response to me telling him I was going to Do the Doney. The friend said something like:

Uh, you are a fucking idiot. No group disease hug for me. Would you join a condom-free orgy where most of the people had been exposed to bacteria-resistant syphilis? I wouldn’t. It’s not safe to be with people closer than six feet outside of your own quaran-team. In case you’re interested in facts or science, the new Health Officer Order just got posted, effective June 18, 2020, which would be yesterday. Read it if you’re okay with medium-sized words. http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/docs/HOO/HOO_COVID-19_Safer_at_Work_and_in_the_Community-Phase%203_06182020_WITH_APPENDICES.pdf

Good Buddy, June 19, 2020

This zapped the lead right out of my Donut pencil, let me tell you, but I’m glad he said it.

People need to say the truth. And they need to be prepared to offend all of the lycra-clad people who think that a giant group Saturday Ride is their “right” because they’re “so over the covids.”

Listen. You know who’s “over” the covids? The people who’ve died from it. Everybody else is either being covidded or about to be covidded. There’s no science that shows you develop an immunity to it, and there’s no science that says you can’t get it twice, and there’s no science that says the covids have all moved to Brazil, and there’s no science that says the covids aren’t also mutating into new covids.

All there is, is science saying we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and you can either take reasonable steps to avoid groups or, and make note of this, “You are a bad person.”

Several folks have taken the opportunity to advise me that they don’t care anymore. They are gonna ride their bikes in a big ol’ group and they don’t care if they get sick or not. Good for them, I say. They have proven that narcissism is their strong suit.

But bad for them as it has to do with human decency. Not everyone out there is as sanguine about the covids as they are. Lots of people would like to keep on living, and would like their friends and family to as well. Lots of people have made extraordinary sacrifices in their jobs and businesses by first closing down completely, and second by gradually reopening in order to try and salvage a post-covid existence.

Cyclists who think that gaggling in a large group so they can get their riding fix in are plain ol’ bad people. Your grandmother would have pulled them by the ear, and you too for hanging out with them.

I know you’ve got that new cool kit you can’t wait to display.

I know your numbers are down because no competition intensity.

I know you think science is stupid and that you have a big ol’ bag of constitutional rights that some liberal right this minute scheming to steal out of your tightly clenched fist.

I don’t expect you to miss The Big Ride.

But I will. And I been doing it a hell of a lot longer than you have.

END


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One Chaucer at a time, or A Tale of Two Cities

June 15, 2020 § 7 Comments

On Saturday I rode down to Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade to do a Chaucer recitation. This would have been my first one since the covids closed everything down.

Pedaling through the city was surreal. It was a sunny, beautiful, cool summer afternoon and the place was empty. When I got to the Promenade, around 11:00, it was whatever is emptier than empty. I’m not kidding.

There were maybe a dozen people in three blocks. A lone guy was setting up his guitar and amp. “Are they still allowing street performances?” I asked.

“Who the fuck cares?” he snarled.

“Just curious,” I said.

“If they don’t like it they can tell me to leave or throw me in jail and confiscate my shit. Fuck ’em.”

I nodded. There were great swaths of that sentiment I shared. Still, today seemed like much too pretty a day to spend behind bars, so I sauntered along, looking at the boarded up stores. “Property and things,” I told myself. “That’s what makes America go ’round.”

I passed four old men in lawn chairs under a tree. “Wonder what they’re doing?” Then I thought about the old men who used to sit at Pearson’s Rexall Drug Store in Daingerfield when I was a boy. They sat there every morning from 7-8, drank coffee, caught up on all the gossip from the day before, then went home and shared it with their wives, who then broadcast it all over town via telephone.

One thing about four old men sitting under a tree, if I knew anything about old men, is they wouldn’t mind talking to someone new. So I turned around and walked over. “What are you guys doing?” I asked.

“We’re sitting here talking,” the oldest guy said. “Are you one of us?”

“Not yet but I’m working on it.” I had taken off my sunglasses, which are prescription, so I couldn’t see anything except talking blobs.

“No time like the present,” said the nearest guy. “Here,” he said, offering me a big blue book. “Take it. It’s yours.”

“No, thanks,” I said, and tried to refuse the proffered bible politely. I wasn’t going to become Christian on such a pretty day. It was awkward, though. Then the oldest guy started talking and I put my glasses back on. That’s when my eyes focused and I saw that they all had the same big blue book, and it wasn’t the St. James Bible, but rather AA’s Big Blue Book.

“Oh, hell yes,” I said. “I’m for sure one of you.” They all smiled big again and asked me for my story, like that part in Alice’s Restaurant where Arlo tells his fellow jailmates that he was arrested for littering, and they all moved away, and then he adds “and making a general nuisance,” and they all moved back again. I told them a few bits and pieces and then we chatted about other stuff.

“What you got in the backpack?” A big rolled poster was sticking out.

“Something no one here’s ever seen before.”

“Show us, then!” They were excited now. Old guys have seen everything, and the best thing about being told you’ve never seen something before is that you either get to say, “Oh, hell, I’ve got two of those in the garage,” or you get to say, “Well, I’ll be damned.”

I took it out and unrolled my giant Chaucer Recitation in Middle English vinyl banner. It was my turn to be surprised. They all knew who Chaucer was and were excited, genuinely excited, about my vanity project. “How much of it can you recite?” the guy nearest me asked.

“Right now I’m up to about 3,200 lines. Takes about five or six hours.”

“Oh gosh,” he said. “Let’s hear it. But not all six hours, if you please.”

“Yeah,” another guy said. “We could probably do with just a minute or so.”

I let loose. What with the Promenade being empty, the boarded up storefronts created a kind of sound tunnel, and the words boomed pretty big. The handful of people on the Promenade stopped to listen, which tells you how empty and devoid of anything to see the place really was. Anytime Chaucer wins out over the Apple Store, something is wrong in paradise.

They invited me to one of their meetings before we parted, and I said I might come, although that type of fellowship has never exactly been my thing. Trying can’t hurt, I guess.

The next day I rode down to the pier at Redondo Beach, and let’s just say it was … different.

The covids were every bit as active in RB as in SaMo, but the people in Redondo weren’t scared of no covids. The beaches were thronged and the pier was packed. “People are so over the covids,” a friend had said.

I wondered what he meant. How do you get over a covid unless you get sick from it and recover? I think he meant that people have priced in the risk of getting bitten by a covid (high), the risk of getting sick from the covid bite (moderate), and then the risk of having them write “Murdered by the Covids” on your death certificate–low.

They then compare that combined risk, which they get by listening to Fox News, and compare it with the risk of going stark raving mad at having to stay home without football. That risk? Very close to 100%. So they do the logical thing, which is go to the Redondo Pier, eat junk food and get drunk. People are a lot of things, but they are not irrational.

I parked my bike on the pier, cleared out a little space, and belted out the first part of the General Prologue, up to the end of the Franklin’s introduction. Took about 40 minutes. I had to quit because my voice was giving out. Turns out that speaking at top volume for that long is, um, hard. But what was amazing is how many people stopped to listen. Of course people will stop to look at a car wreck too, and I must admit that there were a few, ah, shall we say, distractions that helped them focus on something other than the unintelligible Middle English gibberish, but even so, Chaucer would have been pleased to see that people in the 21st Century were appreciating his poetry in their own way, washed down as it was with deep-fried rat tails and beer.

I got home and started reading about voice care. The first thing I learned is that although the leg bone is connected to the shin bone, mostly none of it is connected to the larynx. Maybe that’s why the covids haven’t gotten to it yet. That’s what I’m hoping, anyway.

END


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Stuff that won’t make it

June 12, 2020 § 8 Comments

The pandemic is thankfully over and completely done with except for the massive surge in “reopened” states like Arizona. Also, the covids have all moved to South America where the weather is nicer anyway. Pointy-headed doctor types claim that the covids is comin back in the fall but when they do we will have a big ol can of whoop ass waitin for their tiny covid asses.

So you can all relax and get back to normal.

But there are a few normals that you can’t get back to because even though the covids has left, they has taken some stuff with them. Here’s yer Wanky Covids Dead ‘N Gone List.

  1. Group rides. Stick a fork in ’em. Sorry. Yeah, there will always be folks who ride around in packs but they will never again be the hallmark of recreational cycling. And they’ll keep skewing older and older because young riders won’t be raised on a group ride diet of getting yelled at by mean old people.
  2. Bike racin’. Stick a bigger fork in it. It was already on three ventilators. You really think anyone’s going to discover industrial park crit racing or a road race in Pearblossom as their new hobby?
  3. Human interaction. Facegag and The Stravver and Zwifty had already chewed big holes out of person-to-person interactions. Now people have zero reason to hang out in person except for that silly thing, humanity. About which no one GAF.
  4. Bike racin’ teams. See #2.
  5. Fake bike racin’ teams. See #2.
  6. Masters bike racin’ teams. See #2.
  7. Wildly overpriced and ugly must-buy summer/fall/winter riding outfits for #4, #5, and #6.
  8. Human powered cycling. The covids has pushed lots of people into the shops to buy e-bikes. I see them everywhere now and people think riding them think they are actually bicycling. The motors will get tinier and more powerful and cheaper. Pretty soon even the covids will be on e-bikes.
  9. Coffee cruises. Lazy, marginally employed bicycle riders will no longer troll the SoCal coast in mobs looking for coffee and chocolate-covered anything. The sight of fifty people in their 50’s stuffed into undersized plastic clown suits will be a thing of the past, thankfully.
  10. Baseball. A fella can dream, can’t he?

END


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Out of control control

June 1, 2020 § 16 Comments

There are deep, historical roots to the protests over the extra-judicial murder of George Floyd. There are also shallow, recent tendrils.

Both have one thing in common: Control.

Historically the most powerful have controlled the share of resources allocated to the least powerful. Recently, the pandemic has smashed the levers of that control. As a result, people who were formerly submissive are now demanding more control.

You see it everywhere, even on bicycles.

Historically, “cycling” consisted of two types. People who predominantly rode in large groups and people who rode alone or with only a few companions.

The large groups were themselves divided into two groups, and both operated with sophisticated forms of control. The first group was organized racing. It was the most highly controlled, with national organizations, elaborate rules for sanctioned races, categories, licenses, drug testing, selection procedures, etc. However, racing’s ultimate control was speed. The person who rode the fastest sat atop the hierarchy and exercised control over those below. Cf. Eddy Merckx.

The #fakerace group ride, of which the Donut was one, operated the same way in that control was maintained by the fastest rider or riders. Anyone who wanted things done differently or who had an opinion about how the ride should or shouldn’t proceed was first required to be able to ride fast.

As an example, the numerous changes to the Donut Ride course over the decades have almost always come at the impetus of the fastest riders (let’s forget the landslide in San Pedro for a moment). When the course moved from a rest stop at Marymount to a full ascent to the radar domes, it was because the two fastest riders at the time, Stathis Sakellariadis and Greg Leibert, put their imprimatur of approval on the change.

Control in racing and in the competitive group ride was always ultimately exercised by the fastest riders.

Of course this was anathema to a great many people who enjoyed group rides, so they declined to participate and formed a different kind of group ride. These rides were denominated variously, “no-drop” being a common moniker, but what they all had in common was a ride leader or ride leaders who exercised control not by virtue of their speed but because of some other power factor such as wealth, age, years of experience, past race results, board membership, personal commitment to a ride or a cause, or simply being the person who started the ride, set forth the rules, and continued showing up to enforce them, a/k/a effort and enthusiasm.

This type of control, the control of personality, was by far the most dominant form of control pre-pandemic, and it created a place for riders of every type and skill level to enjoy cycling with their friends and peers. The benefits to the group ride governed by personalities rather than physical prowess were many.

First, they prevented the punishing mental beating that comes from getting dropped. Getting dropped sucks. Second, they allowed the personalities to dictate when the pace could be altered to their own benefit. In other words, “Today we’re going slow” [because I’m not fit], versus “Today we’re hammering” [because I’m fit] allowed for a modality that leaders could use to their advantage, creating an ideal ride for themselves.

Third, rides controlled by the exercise of personality allowed leaders to bring in riders of any type, whether slow or fast, skilled or unskilled, and force them to submit to the rules of the group. For various reasons people stayed or left. Some would always leave the group because they wanted to go faster or because they preferred a different set of rules or because of personality conflict. Others would stay with the group because it gave them security, a sense of order, predictability, or other benefits such as being part of a group, wearing matching clothing, having people to socialize with off the bike, networking … lots of reasons.

Not least of all is the actual reason of exercise: It’s easy to get in your workout when there is a set time, a set place, and someone is expecting you to be there. Personality rides also allowed participants to enjoy a shared experience. There is a special feeling when you roll up to the Rock in a peloton of 60 people, a unique sense of unity and group accomplishment.

Finally, the “non-competitive” group ride created a place for leaders to lead, and it was a place that could never be created for them if the ride’s sole mechanism for control was speed. Concomitant with that control it created a philosophy for why a particular ride happened in a particular way, and explained perfectly why any particular rider was slower or faster than any other. No one was better than anyone else (wink, wink), but at certain times on certain days on certain segments some folks were more equal than others.

The obvious contrast between the two types of group ride is chaos v. order. On the Donut, you don’t know who’s going to “win” the #fakerace, but you can be pretty sure that it will change from climb to climb and week to week. On the Donut, many who start don’t finish. Sometimes that’s you, and it’s almost always against your will. This is chaotic to be sure but it runs with a fierce and simplistic order, oddly enough. Fastest rider leads. Everyone else follows.

On the personality ride, you get pretty much what you pay for. There may be surprises, but getting shelled and left to fend for yourself as you slink home, beaten and deflated, isn’t one of them. In its most quintessential form, the personality ride makes sure someone stops to help you with your flat. On the Donut, no one cares, and unless you’re towards the front no one even notices. Better luck next week. The personality ride is orderly but has its own oppositional character–it is chaotic because any time something is controlled by personality, the characteristics of the leader(s) will create some level of discord with at least some of the followers.

The pandemic has decimated this order in cycling just as it has decimated social control of the most powerful over the least powerful. I see it every time I ride.

The people who used to throttle and rage on the Donut, Flog, or on NPR are now riding solo, maybe with one or two friends. The extraordinary energy and effort that they once put into prepping for Weekend Worlds has dissipated because there’s no more victory, only the raw output of speed as recorded on Strava or a Garmin. For these people, the pandemic has been rough. There’s not only no one to crush, but far worse, there’s no one to watch them crush.

But the people who have been truly devastated are the ones who invested so heavily in personality rides. Those rides have ended completely, and along with it the control that leaders once exercised over everyone on the ride. No more showing up as the boss of the chain gang, reciting the route and rules of the day, admonishing people what pace to keep or what to do if there’s a flat, no more organization of the peloton, defining where people are permitted to hammer, or explaining the greater physiological training benefits of the ride.

Instead, people who once rode together for the emotional safety of not getting shelled are out riding alone, and there’s no one they can instruct, advise, or admonish. When some hairy-legged dude in a t-shirt blows by them on a climb, there’s no one to look at in shared contempt, no finger to point, nothing to do except acknowledge that you got dropped by a dude in a t-shirt because, speed.

Make no mistake about it. The pandemic and ensuing quarantine have greatly destabilized the minds of people who are heavily invested in the control of others, on the bike and off. Even as the most powerful in society have been forced to submit to the reality of a killer virus and the harsh logic of the quarantine, their psyches have seethed at being deprived of control. As the government and corporations gear up mightily to reassert their control over the least powerful, cycling leaders have likewise sought ways to enforce control over their former minions.

In some cases it has been by sending out pronouncements about how people “should” ride during the pandemic, as if non-medical hobby bicyclists somehow have the credibility or power to tell ordinary people how to ride. Yet in the context of the past, this is exactly what cycling has always done, and what differentiates it from bicycling: Cyclists tell other people what to do; bicyclists ride bicycles.

I think back on all the times I have told people what to do and what not to do while riding and can only laugh at myself, wryly.

Unlike the personality ride leaders, some of the speedy leaders have attempted to reassert control by flagrantly ignoring any and all laws aimed at reducing the spread of the coronavirus. This includes riding in groups, refusing to stay off closed paths and trails, and most tellingly, by behaving as if it’s business as usual and in a matter of weeks we’ll all be back to our usual antics, with the fastest riders sitting atop the control heap in a flashy new Coronovirusy Kit.

I don’t think it’s going to work like that.

I’ve been a personality ride leader, a speedy ride leader, a follower of both types, a solo rider, and a commuter. 40 million unemployed people, a global depression, a pandemic that continues to rage, a poorly functioning government, global trade and political conflict, and a watershed presidential election don’t bode well for things getting back to normal any time soon, by which I mean “ever.”

On a broader level, control will likely be asserted with crushing weight as those with the most power show what happens when the empire strikes back. With cycling? I’m not so sure. An influx of new riders and commuters, a large body of people who have been freed for months now of riding in some type of fake hierarchy, and the general irrelevance of “cycling” to life writ large are going to make it awfully hard for those invested in control of others to climb back in the saddle, so to speak.

Put in its proper context, can you really say that you still care who wins Paris-Roubaix? Can you really say you can’t wait to join a big group and be told what to do? Clearly there are going to be people who try to reinvent the past, same as there are people who only rode because of the group phenomenon and who will do everything in their power to resurrect it. Maybe they’ll succeed.

But in the meantime, this might be a good time to start enjoying what, deep down, you’ve always enjoyed anyway: “Just” riding your bike.

END


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