Guest blog

July 30, 2015 § 14 Comments

My friend Derek wrote the other day, concerned. “Dude,” he said, “I get the whole Germany trip father-son bonding thing but there are concerns being voiced within the community that Cycling in the South Bay has become way too Eurocentric.”

“What community? The community of crazies?” I emailed back.

“No, man, your three readers.”

“What do you propose?”

“I will write a guest blog to kind of bring things back to this side of the Atlantic.”

“You will? Awesome!”

So he did and I emailed him right away. “Dude,” I said, “this doesn’t have anything to do with cycling.”


“What about my editorial standards?”

“I’d never noticed any.”

“Good point.”

“Look, you can just add a few things here and there to make it more cycling-ish. No one will ever notice.”

“Okay,” I said. So here it is:

Reality Politics

A drive-by guest blog from Derek Brauch

The Donald Trump campaign is fascinating. It’s the final fusion of the reality TV world with, well, reality. Donald Trump, the hard-nosed businessman who plays a hard-nosed businessman named Donald Trump on a reality show has brought the reality TV show Donald Trump character to a real presidential race. And of course he’s killing it. The Donald Trump reality TV show character does not have “Oops” moments a la Rick Perry because Trump doesn’t have pre-rehearsed inoffensive, bland, non-controversial talking points, which are the ones politicians believe the least and hence find so easy to dramatically forget under pressure. Trump’s analysis of Froome’s Tour victory was bold and unapologetic when he said that “all cyclists should be lured out onto freeways and killed like Cecil the Lion.”

The success of having a fake character run for a real political office got me thinking: Can Trump extend this formula to his cabinet selections? Of course he can. And I think that his cabinet would look like this:

Department of the Interior – Kim Kardashian

This young up-and-comer carved out her niche and made a tremendous amount of money with her wildly successful TV reality show. She will also make a great bikini model for the new ten dollar bill, and is rumored to be seeing Chris Froome behind Kanye’s back.

Attorney General – Judge Judy

An obvious choice, Judge Judy, like Trump’s reality-imitating-reality TV persona, is a real judge who plays a judge on a TV show. Also like Trump, there is no room for gray in her reality. On the offing is a perfect black and white world, with none of the tiresome thinking that is intrinsic to uncertainty, negotiation, and compromise. Judge Judy would also make sure Chris Froome was thoroughly tested.

Surgeon General – Dr. Drew Pinsky

Completely selling out your real patients and their real addictions heedless of the predictably disastrous consequences, and all for public entertainment and personal enrichment doesn’t get your psychiatric license pulled, it gets you promoted to top doctor. Doc Pinsky could also do a public psychoanalysis of Oleg Tinkov.

Secretary of Treasury – Theresa Guidice

A simple pardon will free up this choice, along with dropping the False Claims Act case against Lance.

Vice President

This one is too sensitive a selection to be revealed yet but let’s just say Honey Boo-Boo, leave your phone on.

Bikeless in Berlin

July 29, 2015 § 7 Comments

  The best part about buying our bikes in Germany was not having to pack or ship them or pay excess baggage of $250 per bike, and the worst part was going to be trying to sell them before we left. Before doing a please-come-rob-and-beat-me-up ad on Craigslist I stopped by a used bike shop filled with rusted out POS specials and which had a sign saying “We buy bikes.”Our two Radon ZR Team MTB’s were the newest thing that had been in the shop since the owner put on a new sweater back in ’95.

Mehmet, the owner, eyed them suspiciously. “Where you steal them? I’m not telling, our secret.”

“They aren’t stolen. We bought them in Bonn two weeks ago and rode to Berlin.”

“Yeah sure, of course,” Mehmet said, dismissing the presumed three consecutive lies. “And now you must sell quick, yes?”


“So you can show receipt?”

 “Actually, you see … ” I had thrown them away with the manuals in Koblenz.

Mehmet waited patiently for my explanation, nodding sympathetically. “Yeah so I can give you 75€.”

“I paid 400€ and they’re barely two weeks old.”

“75€ each,” he added, effectively halving his earlier offer.

“Thanks,” I said. “Let me check around before I take that.”

“Next time I see you, 50€,” he smiled and waved.

I went to the grocery store and got some wet wipes. It’s amazing how dirty two bikes can get in two weeks. An hour later they were clean, photographed, and posted in a “Like New!” scammer’s special on Craigslist.

Several buyers emailed, all wanting copies of the receipt. I was asking 200€ apiece. I had to admit, it did sound sketchy that, buying new with intent to quickly resell, I had tossed the receipts, but I managed to get a screen shot of my Visa statement and emailed the relevant transaction to the inquiring murderers.

“You take 175€?” asked Gregor from Potsdam.

“200€ each, firm. They are pristine.” And they were, except for the scratches, dents, dings, malfunctioning brakes and shifters and drivetrain, slow leak in the front and worn-through spot on the rear tire.

“Ok. When can see? Today? Now?”

“Yes; yes.”

Gregor showed up with his friend Tobias, who was 6′ 6″. I am not kidding.

“Test ride ok?”

I saw that they could simply hop on and ride off. “Sure,” I said.

They disappeared around the corner. Five minutes later I shrugged, pissed that I’d passed up Mehmet’s offer but glad that Tobias hadn’t punched my face.

A pregnant woman walked up. “Have you seen my husband?”

“I don’t know your husband. I don’t think.”

She furrowed her brow. “He was coming to buy a bike.”

At that moment Gregor and Tobias whizzed around the corner, smiling like kids. “These are fantastic!” He pulled out 400€ and stuffed them into my hand. “Thank you! Can we buy you a beer?” They were the kindest people.

“I don’t drink,” I said, bringing back all of their earlier suspicions about my trustworthiness.

“That’s okay,” said Kristina, “we will buy you a nice water.”

We walked over to Burger Amt, where Tobias ate enough for twelve people. They insisted that I eat, and we got to talking about East Germany, where they were from. At first I was puzzled by their polite and respectful attitude until I realized that I was old enough to be their dad.

“You should come to Potsdam, it is so beautiful,” said Gregor, so I told them that I would. Then I realized that I couldn’t, as I I no longer had a bike.

Checkpoint Charlie on foot!

What are these trains of which you speak?

Famous Berlin penis.

Friendly Tassie Ozzies

July 28, 2015 § 18 Comments

 When my daughter was twelve she started using the Internet. One day she told us that she was really looking forward to going back to Japan that summer “Why?” I asked.

“So I can meet my new friend!”

“What new friend?”

“A new friend I met in a chat room.”

“What is this friend’s name?”

“Mr. Tanaka.”

“That’s nice. And how old is Mr. Tanaka?”

“I dunno. Twenty or fifty or something. But he is a very nice man.”

So we sat down with her and explained that the Internet is filled with axe-murderers and even though Mr. Tanaka probably seemed like a very nice man the chances were good that he was a bloodthirsty killer and therefore not only would she not be meeting him that summer but henceforth she would follow The Rule: Thou shalt never make physical contact with a virtual friend.

On my way to Berlin I received an invitation from a stranger via my blog to meet up and go for a bike ride once we got there. He seemed like a very nice man and I had completely forgotten about Mr. Tanaka, so a few days later I emailed him.

“Hey, Ben, I’m in town and if the offer’s still good let’s go ride. Signed, Seth.”

He immediately emailed back. “Who is this?”

“The blogger dude you invited for a ride, but no worries.”

“Oh, it’s the world-famous Mr. Wankmeister. I was thrown by the name and the law office address in your email. I had no idea you were a lawyer, I thought you were unemployed. Yeah, let’s ride, mate.”

We squared away the details, then this came: “Is it okay if one of my mates joins us?”

“Sure. The more the merrier.”

“He just got here from France where he’s been doing a bit of riding and I told him about you and he checked out your blog and thought he’d have a go. He’s a super nice guy, great rider too, absolutely doesn’t feel pain.”

Suddenly the “merrier” prediction didn’t seem so apt.

“Okay, but you guys might be riding by yourself as I’m on a mountain bike with flat pedals and am very old and slow.”

“No worries,” he replied, to which I replied, silently, “Worries.”

I got lost en route to the meeting place and was mightily disappointed to find they had waited.

As I’d feared, they had the grim look of Internet axe-murderers, and the label on Ben’s cap that said “SUICIDAL” failed to instill confidence. “I’m Ben, this is Tristan, but we just call him ‘Assassin.'”

“Shocking,” I said. I had broken The Rule and was getting ready to pay. Dearly.

They were both from Tasmania, and if you think Australians are friendly, wait until you meet a Tasmanian. By the time we’d finished introductions they had offered to buy me dinner, treat me to some new beers, help me sell my bikes before leaving Berlin, take me to the airport, let me borrow their girlfriends, and give me a place to stay if I’m ever in Tasmania.

Then we started riding and they tore my legs off.

I spent the first hour doing sprint starts at each traffic signal as Ben bolted away. I spent the second hour clinging to Tristan’s wheel on the forested rollers around Wannsee. My age, heavy bike, wide tires, and flat pedals only encouraged them to twist the knife, even as I remarked on my recent AARP membership.

We finally stopped for coffee, then remounted and did it all over again. They were a bit disappointed that they hadn’t been able to dislodge their dad–they were both 23–but they had a solution.

“Let’s ride again Tuesday. I’m a bit tired today from my 250-km workout yesterday,” said Tristan.

On Tuesday I got up at 4:30, ate black bread with butter, had a cup of instant, and crossed the city for our 6:00 start. I got to Ben’s but no one was waiting out front. I checked my phone to see a message from Tristan sent late the night before explaining how he suddenly couldn’t make it.

I was relieved and it crossed my mind that, after our previous ride, perhaps he was, too.

I spent the morning doing a perfectly slow tour of the city’s monuments, uncrowded, beautiful, peaceful, serene.

My own private Brandenburger Tor.

Memorial pond for Sinti and Roma victims of WW2.

Reichstag viewed from Memorial Pond.

Ostentatious Soviet WW2 memorial.

Government buildings along the Spree.

Off-the-hook modern and beautiful Berlin Station.

Bundestag with Reichstag in the background.

Moabit Prison, right around the corner from the government. A different kind of revolving door.


Look legit

July 27, 2015 § 19 Comments

  The most awesome thing that has happened to me on this trip happened yesterday. There I was, sitting at a streetside cafe in my smelly socks and dirty cap, when a dude came up and asked me where the East Train Station was. In German.My heart began pounding I was so excited, but I covered up my enthusiasm with a look of vague annoyance and, using the fewest words possible in order to hide my origins, thumbed down the road and said, “That way.” Then to rub in the fact that I was a local, I added “East.”

He was grateful and thanked me, as he’d been lugging a giant box for what looked liked several thousand miles. I later found out that I’d sent him in the completely wrong direction and that he hadn’t been asking about the station, but no matter: I had passed the “looks Euro” test with flying colors and could now retire undefeated.

If you’re planning a trip to Europe here is a quick guide on how to look Euro so people will speak to you in a language you don’t understand and you can answer them in thickly accented, broken, unintelligible English to make them think you are Slovenian. The key is to NOT look like an American tourist, which is impossible.

  1. Carry a cigarette. Better, smoke one. Best, smoke one while exercising.
  2. Carry an open bottle of beer. Better, carry one in each hand. Best, wear baggy pants with giant cargo pockets and put three bottles in each one.
  3. Wear an American logo, but an obscure one. “Nike” and “Raiders” are out, “West Appaloosa BrewCo” in tiny cursive type on a faded olive background, in.
  4. Bring your small children and chain smoke around them. Better, make sure they smoke, too. Best, share your beers with the tots while you all smoke together.
  5. Order a cup of coffee, drink it over a two-hour period, then sit there staring at the empty cup for another four. Reading or phone checking is forbidden, vacant staring is mandatory. Better, make it six hours. Best, fall asleep.
  6. Study your money for days before departure and NEVER fumble with coins or bills trying to decipher the denominations. Better to indifferently drop a 50€ note that the vendor can’t change while buying a 50-cent drink than to try and figure out if the coins in your pocket are the right ones.
  7. Never try to pay with a credit card, especially where they are accepted.
  8. Stink a little. Better, stink a lot. Best, smell like a garbage dump while wearing immaculate designer clothing.
  9. Ride a bike everywhere, even when it’s 100 feet away. Better, ride a rusted out POS with a warped rear rim, a flat tire, and a 40-kg security chain wrapped around the basket. Best, steal a fancy racing bike with racing pedals and use it for errands wearing flip-flops. Better, bare feet. Best, push it.
  10. Lug around a stack of dirty newspapers bound with a string whose headline reads, “Revolution Now!” and ask cafe patrons to buy a copy for 10 cents or 50€. Better, sit on the stack with a beer and a cigarette and curse passers-by. Best, beg.

Nothing stamps you as “Euro” like doing your laundry at a bar, especially if you are only wearing a towel.

True Euro menu advertises the local product in English, thereby scaring away Americans.

Reverse-Euro stealth effected by eating at a burger shop.

Euro bike shop with “Eat shit, Tour!” graffiti and customer entrance through the window.

    Berlin by bicycle

    July 26, 2015 § 8 Comments

      A&O Hostels are great. All-you-can-eat breakfast for 5€. Free if you pretend you’ve paid. #dogbait #filds #winemaker #dustyevsky

    German high school bus tours drink, smoke, and are well-behaved. American college students act like apes, pick fights, can’t handle their liquor.

    It’s great being surrounded by youth and a few old people pretending they’re not cheap. A father berated the cafeteria staff this morning for not having the 4,000-gallon tankard of coffee ready at 7:00 AM sharp. “We must travel 850 km today and cannot wait!” Then he sat around with his finger up his nose for half an hour.

    The hostel has a guest kitchen where you can store food for other guests to steal.

    Boxhagenstrasse is the global center of hipsterism. Hundreds of awesome cafés, bars, clubs, and restaurants in a tiny area. There is a place called “White Trash Fast Food” and a tattoo convention going on.

    Ice cream shops every ten feet.

    You can ride a bike everywhere. 30 minutes to the city center, and it’s super safe if you go slow. 15-20 minutes if death is an option.

    The coffee you get at cafés is great but it costs 2€, which is pricey when you drink six cups a day. Solution? Jar of instant, 2.99€, makes about 30 cups and has that unbeatable “bargain” flavor. Grab two fistfuls of creamer capsules at breakfast and you’re set.

    I hate to admit it but cigarette smoke doesn’t really bother me here.

    The best fast food in the galaxy is the Turkish “doener.” It’s like a burrito, in the sense that sushi is like a tuna sandwich.

    Anyone who wants to do more than one museum a day is mad. The German Historic Museum is fantastic.

    The chocolate aisle at a German supermarket is the world’s most dangerous place.

    When you buy groceries you have to bring your own bag or buy one and they aren’t cheap. We’ve been using the same plastic bag for ten days now. I’m starting to feel like a bag lady, as I snatched a plastic bag out of the trash in case mine ever breaks.

    Recycling-reuse is big here especially the way people shatter their refundable beer bottles on all the streets and sidewalks so that you can patch and reuse your inner tubes.

    The shopping carts are all chained up and in order to get one you have to insert money which is returned when you re-chain the cart. We didn’t know this and couldn’t figure out how to unchain the carts so we stood around waiting for a shopper to return one. When I tried to take a cart from a lady who was returning hers but before she’d chained it and gotten her coin back she thought I was trying to steal her coin. I tried to explain but it came out something like “Your cart is attractive to me, may I put my hands on you?”

    Germany closes on Sunday so buy your food on Saturday or face extreme hunger.

    Street art here in Berlin is alive and well, but most of the graffiti (99.9999%) is like graffiti everywhere: Ugly and simple-minded.

    Hot chocolate on a cold morning does wonders for the attitude.

    They are EVERYWHERE!


    A little bike safety. Very little.

    July 25, 2015 § 9 Comments

      We set out on our first full day in Berlin to tour the DDR Museum. Biking Berlin is pretty easy as long as you understand a couple of concepts:

    1. Always take the designated bike route.
    2. The designated bike route will kill you.

    However sketchy it is navigating the city on bikes, taking a car is infinitely worse because all the city is under construction all the time. We had hosteled with the hostile youth in Friederichshain, in East Berlin, which is an interesting place.

    Somewhat new buildings stand next to renovated buildings stand next to burned out windowless hulks stand next to giant excavation pits. If it has been in one place for more than an hour it is covered with graffiti. The sidewalks are crowded and everyone has four nose rings, twelve tattoos, a fixie, and a pierced clitoris, even the men. Christian C. would not stand out here.

    Tour guidebooks, if I had one, might describe our area as “eclectic,” but I would say it’s more of a “don’t carry anything larger than a twenty” neighborhood.

    During the day the hostile youth are at the Brandenburger Tor taking photos to prove to their parents that they got some culture stuff, so that is a great time to sleep at the hostelry. Beginning at four-ish the youths trickle in, three longnecks in one hand and a fistful of condoms in the other, so I hope you’ve gotten your beauty sleep by then. Public intoxication is encouraged and the legal drinking age is six.

    We pedaled downtown using Koepenickerstrasse, which is a mouthful, and at 6:30 AM there was an all-night doener shop at the subway exit where the old DDR Kultur Klub used to be, and there were at least a hundred hostile youth lined up for grease and meat to dilute the effects of their all-night raging. It was inspiring to see so many starving obliterated youth who were too drunk to fuck but not too drunk to stand up.

    Berlin sidewalks are divided into pedestrian and bicycle halves to separate bikes from the cars but they are too narrow, end with no warning, and force you to dodge pedestrians who have wandered over into the bike lane, often clutching a beer bottle and a pram or both, and wrong-way cyclists who are supposed to be on the other side of the street but who forgot which hand was the right and which the left, all resulting in so much chaos and confusion that it’s often wiser to ride in the street pinned in the door zone getting passed by delivery trucks with inches to spare and last-second airhorn blasts up your shorts.

    The bike infrastructure is further complicated by separate traffic lights for peds, bikes, and cars, including separate signals for bikes going left. Your first instinct is to be an orderly German and figure out which lights mean what until you realize that no one else understands them either and you simply look both ways and sail out into the intersection and pray.

    We only saw one guy get hit by a car but he was wearing a helmet.

    Of course there is a very easy solution to all this nonsense: Slow down. If you ride at 10-mph or less it’s like slow motion and totally safe, but ain’t nobody got time for that.

    We got to the DDR Museum, which was packed thirty minutes after opening and cost 7€. If you subscribe to this blog and ever plan to visit Berlin your subscription will now pay for itself: Don’t waste your time or money at this junkhole. Instead, visit the German History Museum nearby or McDonalds.

    We pedaled over to Alexanderplatz where we found one and had a Happy Meal to go with our SPY Happy Lenses. Then Woodrow stopped for ice cream and the lady gave him two scoops of chocolate in a cone and didn’t charge him.

    “This ice cream tastes different,” he mused. “It’s really good.”

    “That, my boy, is the incomparably delicious taste of free.”

    Room with a view!


    East Wall installation.

    Uh, sure …

    Lunch and dinner for Sunday when Germany is closed.

    But until then … street pizza!

    Hard travelin’

    July 24, 2015 § 8 Comments

    When someone tells me, “I love to travel!” I always tell them, “No, you don’t.”

    “Sure I do! Last year alone we went to Maui and China!”

    “Only crazy people love travel. What you love is destinating.”



    “What’s that?”

    “It’s the act of quickly reaching your destination so you can enjoy yourself, which mostly means eating things you’d never eat at home for prices you’d never pay.”

    It’s normal to despise travel, and I do. “Travel” derives from the Old French root of “travailler,” which today means “work” but originally meant “suffering and hardship.”

    Okay, I made that up.

    But I didn’t make up the fact that people hate travel and love destinating. Stand in an airport or a highway rest stop and count the people who are happy to be there.


    Travel, which is miserable, is a means to an end, destinating, where we can do fun things like eat cake for breakfast. Travel is so miserable that to shorten it we invented airplanes, but then went straight back to square one without passing “Go” or collecting $200 by inventing airplane food. Travel is so awful that we invented cruise ships so we could arrive without ever leaving.

    People hate travel so intensely that they will pay thousands of dollars to get out of economy class even though it doesn’t shorten the trip and only changes the label on the liquor that stupefies them enough to endure the trip.

    Nor can travel ever be pleasant, since by definition it bombards you with uncertainty.

    “Are we going to miss our flight?”

    “Are we lost again?”

    “Where’d I put my passport?”

    “Am I really going to have to pay four euros for a cup of coffee?”

    “How much is a euro, anyway?”

    “Is that really our hotel and why is it on fire?”

    “Do we tip here?”

    “Is that a bedbug?”

    “What is this rash?”

    “What’s that smell?”

    “Why won’t this fucking Internet connection work?”

    “Do I get off at this stop? Or the next one?”

    “Is that guy a pickpocket or a bike thief?”


    Destinating, however, is joyous. For example:

    “No, we’re sleeping until noon.”

    “More cake, please.”

    “Order room service.”

    “We can diet after we get home.”

    “Make it a double.”


    See? Destinating is awesome and traveling is for shit. There’s a reason we have the clichéd phrase “weary traveler” but not “weary vacationer.”

    Yet there’s a paradox: The quicker and less miserable the travel, the less fun at the destination. I don’t know why this should be so, but it is. Maybe it’s because once you get through an ordeal you’re not too picky about the scent of the bath soap and are deliriously happy to be off your bike and prone in a bed, not a ditch. Maybe it’s because arduousness reorders the hierarchy from “worry, spend, complain” into “shelter, food, rest,” in that sequence, and there is no room for “My Alfredo sauce could use a touch less garlic.”

    In any event, when we rode through the Brandenburger Tor yesterday it was surreal, surrounded on all sides as we were by destinators already worried about whether the lighting for their selfies would be right, whereas we were desperately happy to have even found the fucking thing, to have survived Berlin traffic, and to “only” have five more ass-chewing miles to reach the hostile youth who, as Jack from Illinois (not his real name) pointed out, are the only youth you can trust anyway.

    I suppose you can make a cult out of misery, or you can justify cheap travel as somehow more virtuous (next up, my 2016 Tour: Crossing the Mediterranean with the Syrian Boat People), but that’s not my intent. Hard traveling simply makes a sweeter destination.

    Just ask Woody Guthrie.

    Only five miles left!

    Synagogue in Luckenwalde gutted by the Nazis.

    Old facade in East Germany.

    Nicest hotel of the trip … with a bathtub!

    Sunny skies on the way to Berlin. What hardship???

    Abandoned DDR station in Schoenefeld.

    Bike route replete with roots, cracked pavement, overhanging vegetation.

    Trabi style! Ostalgia!


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