Do you know who I am?

November 13, 2017 Comments Off on Do you know who I am?

We had made it through customs and were at the gate. It was half an hour before boarding so I moseyed over to the cafe for a final cup of good Euro coffee. I sat down at a long table where there was an open seat and started sipping my coffee.

The guy next to me had a scraggly beard and was wearing a dented porkpie hat made of green felt that looked like he’d been using the brim to clean his bicycle chain after a 100-mile ride through a swamp. He was three-quarters of the way through a giant mug of Guinness and it didn’t look like it was his first glass.

“You American?” he asked.


“Lucky bastard.”

“Why’s that?”

“Land of fucking opportunity, that’s why. Any dumbass with a crackpot idea can go to America and three months later he’s a fucking billionaire and owns an NBA basketball franchise.”


“Oh, yeah. I’m going there myself someday, not some tourist jagoff buying hot dogs in Times Square and getting ripped off by some cabbie jagoff, but to make some real money.”

“How’s that?”

“You know who you’re talking to?”


“Clancy. Clancy O’Flaherty. That’s who. Clancy Fuggin’ O’Flaherty. World’s best rock guitarist. You don’t look like you know shit about guitars.”

“I don’t.”

“I knew it. You have that boring ass tourist American look. What are you, a dentist?”


“Yeah, I knew it. Same thing. Anyway, Clancy O’Flaherty is the name. King of the Electric Guitar.”

The guy next to Clancy was shaking his head the whole time and finally had had enough. “You sound like Clancy O’Flaherty the Dumbass to me,” the guy said. I noted his glass was also mostly empty, and like Clancy’s, his nose was beet red.

Clancy glanced at the interlocutor. “Yeah? What the hell do you know?” Then he turned to me. “Hey, will you spring for a beer? I don’t have any more cash and they declined my fucking credit card. I have a $50,000 line of credit and they won’t let me buy a fucking beer.”

“Sure,” I said.

“Listen here,” the other guy said. “America is a fucking shit hole shark tank. You go over there with your phony electric guitar schtick and they’ll laugh you out of the crappiest bar in the crappiest town in the crappiest state of the whole crappy country. King of the Electric Guitar, my ass. Maybe King of the McDonald’s French Fry Machine.”

“Yeah? What the hell do you know? My cousin is in America and he’s a fucking millionaire. He’s a software guru. He made some computer program that finds the best price for car tires or some shit and he’s a fucking millionaire; owns half of Silicon Valley. So fuck you.”

“Your cousin drives a fucking taxi or probably not even that. He drives a Uber and shares some ratty apartment with five other broke blokes who design web sites. When his tourist visa runs out he’ll be right back here in Ireland broke as shit and living under a bridge. America will eat your fucking lunch.”

“It will eat yours, for sure.”

“Do you even know who I am?” the other drunk said.

“Yeah, you’re some bloke in an airport about to get his arse beat.”

“You’re looking at Sampson P. Mackelroy, that’s who. Sampson P. Mackelroy, probably the greatest living graphic artist in history. I did the artwork for some of the most successful products on the Internet.”

“Whatever, mate. Your t-shirt looks like it was designed by some blind kid with Adobe Illustrator version 1.0.”

“I designed every fucking graphic for,, and You don’t know a damn thing about America. I bet you couldn’t play Smoke on the Water if I spotted you the first two chords.”

Clancy turned to me. “Who is this asshole? And why’s he butting into our conversation? Thanks for the beer. Do you mind if I order a cheeseburger? I’m hungry as fuck.”

The guy across from us had been listening to the whole exchange, and appeared to be disgusted. “I wouldn’t hire either one of you stumblebums to wipe the rims on my Ferrari.”

Sampson laughed. “Yeah, that’s because your Ferrari came in a paper box and you put it together with modeling glue.”

Clancy chortled. “No, man, his Ferrari is the real deal. That’s why he’s flying coach on his annual luxury vacation to fucking Shropshire. In November.”

“Do either one of you jagoffs know who I am?”

I didn’t know, but I did know that my plane was taking off soon, and hopefully none of these three fine gentlemen were going to be on it.



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Fake friends, real friends

November 11, 2017 Comments Off on Fake friends, real friends

The whole point of this Austrian trip was today, watching my eldest son get married and serving as his witness. It brought back memories, of course, as weddings are wont to do, in my case of that day almost thirty years ago when I stood in front of the bulletproof glass at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, lined up behind the pregnant hostesses and their navy boyfriends, waiting my turn to get hitched.

It was a civil service, and my dad had flown over from Texas to do the same thing for me that I was now doing for my son. My wife was Japanese, my son’s Austrian, my civil marriage service was antiseptic, his moving. I had been just about to turn twenty-four, he had just turned twenty-five. My bride was twenty, his twenty-one. I had gone to Japan to teach English, he to Vienna. Life had grabbed us both by the throat, and we had both grabbed back.

But the differences were yawning chasms, too.

My mom and her husband had disapproved of my marriage and refused to sanction it with their presence, whereas Yasuko and I, our two other kids and our toddler grandson had shown up in force for our son’s marriage. The bride’s family, her sister and sister’s boyfriend, and a whole phalanx of childhood friends were also there to celebrate.

Hans’s side of the equation was further represented; Sean, Erin, Max, Lauren, and Anna had all flown over for the wedding and reception. Elizabeth and Auvid had bought tickets but Air Berlin’s last-minute bankruptcy canceled their flights and stranded them at home. Stefan, a good friend from Magic the Gathering, was there. Tomoko and Kazuyoshi, who have known Hans since he was born, joined us from Japan.

In short, he and she were surrounded by friends.

Which is a funny word, as it came out in conversation during the dinner. We had retired to a wonderful local restaurant called Gasthaus Hansi, where the wedding menu was strictly local Austrian cuisine with Wiener schnitzel, potatoes, roast beef, fish, fried Emmentaler cheese, and the like, all served up with copious quantities of Radler beer. Hans was wearing his wedding lederhosen and jacket, and Julia her Austrian maiden’s dress.

We were several hours into the dinner and had reached that point where we were circulating around, talking to different people. I had sat down with Hans’s old classmates and talk turned to Facebook. I announced that I was about ten days into Facebag sobriety, and everyone murmured that they wished they could quit it, too.

“How odd,” I thought. “Not a single person has anything good to say about it, but no one can quit it.”

Everyone seemed to realize the incongruity, and so they began tossing out reasons they couldn’t quit.

“I use it to stay in touch.”

“I just use it for messenger.”

“I need it for work.”

“It helped me get a cheap air ticket.”

“All my friends are on it …”

It was this last one that hit me, and I thought about it, how Facebook has taken the word “friend,” one of the oldest and most powerful words in the human vocabulary, and turned it into a meaningless, empty association with a picture and text, devoid from physical human contact, divorced from the acts that make up real friendship, that is, human companionship, laughter, seriousness, compassion, conversation, silence, and all those things that bind two people together when they are physically near one another.

I looked at the guy who had said that all his friends were on Facebook. “No, they aren’t. The people on Facebook aren’t people. They’re digital photos enhanced with curated, make-believe stories. Some of the people behind those fake friends may be real friends, but for the most part they’re just bytes of Mark Zuckerberg’s advertising and marketing empire.”

“But they really are friends,” he protested.

“Not on Facebook, they aren’t. You want to know where your friends are? Look around you. They’re the people who bought plane tickets and flew halfway around the world to go to a friend’s wedding in a small village north of Vienna. Those are your real friends. The ones you see in the flesh. Not the faces on Facebook.”

I was crossing the line into grumpy old sober father of the groom, lecturing the youngsters about life, but they took it in stride. One of the guys asked me, “How can I get in touch with you if you’re not on Facebook?”

“I’ll give you my number.”

We scrounged for a pen and then, just like people used to do twenty years ago, I wrote down my number on a napkin. He folded it and carefully put it away.




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Lost and found

November 8, 2017 Comments Off on Lost and found

Today’s rain never materialized so I got to ride in the hills again without the misery of treacherously wet descents and a spinning back wheel on the steeps. The always-wrong weather app says it’s 100% going to rain tomorrow so maybe I can count on a dry ride then, too.

There are a lot of great reasons to ride in a foreign country but one of the best is so that you can find your new best friend. If you ride a lot you have best friend routes, ones that feel more comfortable to you than others. Usually, one route is your favorite. Riding in Vienna I think I’ve discovered my favorite route out of town, up the wall called Johann-Staud Strasse and then through the woods to the tower and then down Ulmenstrasse with its crazy twisting endless hairpins through a fricking neighborhood.

Today everything was going great until I turned onto an arterial that was going to take me to the turnoff to the Exelberg, which is the highest peak near Vienna at about 530m. The arterial was choked with commuter traffic into the city and it was uphill and fairly steep so I had all kinds of vehicles passing me within inches and I was crowded onto a little strip about six inches wide.

However, the cars didn’t pass that fast and there was a good foot or eighteen inches between me and them so it was mostly mutual annoyance rather than chamois-browning fear. The low 40s turned into high 30s up in the hills and it was a damp cold, one that cut right through to your fingertips, but as soon as I turned off towards the Exelberg the traffic vanished and it was steady, heat-generating climbing.

Since getting to Austria I’ve refused to use GPS navigation and have instead bought maps, studied them, and then gone out and gotten lost AF. The most exciting thing about riding without GPS is getting lost and found. Remember when you were a kid and you used to get lost? Or when you started riding and you would get lost AF and you’d be out of food and water and nowhere near a store?

Turns out that was good for you, and reliance on GPS is brain-eating poison. Studies show that if you use GPS you automatically shut off a crucial part of your brain, the hippocampus, and if you continually use GPS your hippocampus will shrivel up into a wizened little nub, useless for anything more complex than finding your way to the fridge. Before GPS the brain had a pretty good system for getting around, but now that everyone uses a dumbphone it’s totally common to run into people who have no sense of direction at all. The more wayfinding technology they have, the more lost they become.

I, on the other hand, have been getting lost AF but then hitting the dopamine high of getting found. Getting found is the best feeling a person can feel. Okay, the second. And you can’t ever get found with GPS because GPS connects a bunch of dots and when you get to the final dot, your destination, you just eat the cheeseburger, but when you get found in cognitive brain mapping, a picture clicks into place.

Paper maps are far superior to GPS mapping as far as the human brain goes because they accelerate the development of your actual cognitive map. You know what I’m talking about; it’s when a particular location becomes part of an existing mental picture, like when a missing puzzle piece clicks perfectly into place. Like I said, second best feeling ever.

In a sense, I’ve been getting lost every few minutes here in Vienna, especially in the beginning, because the existing cognitive map was so tiny and it took so much work to plug in the pieces. The exhaustion behind getting lost occurs when your brain is overwhelmed by the landscape such that it recognizes nothing and you don’t see any part of the picture.

But the beauty of the brain is that it spins overtime even when you’re lost to create coherence, and after each ride I’ve returned to the hotel, studied the map, retraced my route, and locked huge chunks of the puzzle into my mental map. After a few days I have a very perfectly rough picture of the city, and granular maps of the area I’ve now ridden in three separate times. That would never have happened with GPS or by simply following along on a group ride. The anxiety of staying found, getting lost, getting found, and getting lost again keeps me on my toes in a way that GPS never could have.

In fact, I got found two days ago when, at the end of my rope, utterly turned around, frustrated and legs wrecked, I recognized a bank of trash cans that I’d tried to throw a banana peel into on my first ride. The can lids had been locked and I cussed pretty good. The second I saw those garbage receptacles, the whole surrounding area clicked into place including the buildings, the road, the crosswalk, and most importantly, the route back to the hotel. With GPS I might have gotten back more quickly, but no cognitive anything would have remained. Instead I’ve cemented a large section of the city into my head.

This cycle of lost-found-lost-found breeds “found-ness,” but also confidence. How many tourists spend a few days in this city and never remember anything at all about its layout or the location of its important streets, monuments, buildings, and natural features? Most, I’d guess.

Today’s getting-lost event happened between Tulln and the village of Muckendorf in the micro-village of Wipfing as I tried to find the Donau bike path. I interrupted two gabbing housewives to ask directions and they happily obliged, but the local dialect overpowered me and all I could do was nod as if I understood and soldier on. Austria has so many local dialects and they are crazy-hard to understand.

I found another woman and asked her the same thing. “I don’t know, sorry,” she said, which was kind of incredible since as it turned out we were only about 200 yards from the giant Donau River. Finally I asked some dude walking his dog on a berm and he answered in glass clear German that I understood perfectly, and then he translated it into even more perfect English. That feeling of mild panic I’d been having, the feeling of lost, was hitting a crescendo.

I followed his directions and magically reached the base of the levee, exactly where he said it would be. My brain stepped out and took a quick dopamine bath; this was the trail I’d been on a couple of days earlier. However, the bike path was on top, about 30 feet above where I was standing. Luckily there were stairs, and even more luckily they were covered in thick, slick mud. When I got to the top it was worth it, though, because I had a slight tailwind, a deserted bike path, a gentle downhill slope all the way to Vienna, and a massive piece of cognitive mapping had materialized like sculpture from a lump of clay.

With GPS I would have been back on the bike path, but with brain mapping I was both building out the chart and filling it in with crucial details made up of landmarks, distances, the curvature of the river, and all the other things that our brains have used for thousands of years to place us within our environment so that we can get home again.

Back in town I cleaned up and headed off to the bookstore. Vienna is busting out with them, real bookstores filled with actual books, not the Barnes & Ignoble-type places that carry fifty bestsellers, a rack of kids’ books, and a wall of schlock on travel. The bookstore I’ve been hanging out most at is Thalia, at the Wien-Mitte subway stop. It is filled with people browsing and the shop has lots of chairs for you to sit down in and read. Plus, it’s warm, which suits my t-shirt attire perfectly.

I curled up in one of the chairs with a stack of maps and other items. You can’t have too many maps. Really, you can’t.



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Bike bastardy

November 3, 2017 Comments Off on Bike bastardy

Bike travel involves the worst kind of bastardy, cobbling together the mismatched Frankensteinian body parts of horrendous luggage, distant destinations, clumsy connections, jagged time zone adjustments, airport cesspools, and staggering feats of meticulous planning in order to effect what is ostensibly an act so simple a child can do it, that is, pedal a bicycle. And all bike travel begins with the conundrum presented by that most awkward piece of luggage known to man, the bicycle.

Golf clubs you stick in a slightly rotund tube, like skis. Tennis rackets fit snugly in your rucksack. Even cellos get shipped in their daily form-fitting hardshell case. But with bike travel you are chained to an astonishingly ugly partner, a clumsy piece of geometry that defies sexy packing the same way it defies looking good in your living room or on your bridal registry.

Options are limited. You can rent, which has all the disadvantages of a mistress and none of the pleasures, or you can ship. Shipping comes in two flavors, cases and cardboard boxes. The cases offer the illusion of protection for several hundred dollars, whereas the boxes dispense with the lie and blandly assure you that you will likely receive your precious all-carbon frame smashed into 100% carbon bits. At least the box is free.

We were headed off to central Europe in November, when the temperatures are cold enough to be miserable but not horrific, when the skies are gray, when the days are shortening and rainy, and when the pro bike shops are only open a few hours a week because hardly anyone rides a fucking road bike in Austria in November, or works, for that matter. This is why Austrians are the world’s best skiers.

So it made perfect sense that, as I packed my tuxedo and braces and cummerbund and bow tie for my eldest son’s wedding, I would also pack all my winter riding clothes and rain gear and my bike. You get married in an instant, but over ten days you can log some serious miles, and it’s during momentous family events that I’m famed for staying focused on what matters.

Vienna, it turns out, is a world class place to get married, especially when your fiancee is from there, but it’s also a hell of a place to cycle. The fact that relatively few people do means that it hasn’t been discovered yet, and it was my mission to introduce cycling to the Viennese, and perhaps teach them about classical music, coffee houses, and dancing horses while I was at it. Always happy to educate, that’s my motto.

And speaking of education, I’d prepped meticulously for the trip with Sima, Daniel, Lars, Leo, and Abdu, my Internet German teachers. Every morning for a month I dutifully awoke for my 5:30 lesson. My favorite teacher was Abdu, an Arab dude who spoke atrocious German but charged outrageous hourly fees. He had learned his German from an old textbook, then ruined what he’d badly learned during a stint in Berlin selling fake passports and parting out stolen cars.

“Germany is for scheisse,” was his favorite phrase, in addition to adding “scheisse” and “beschissend” to everything.

“But I’m going to Austria, not Germany.”

“It’s no difference, alles ist scheisse.”

“Wie geht’s? You look like scheisse,” was his favorite greeting. I ended up paying Abdu $32 an hour to let him practice his English on me, showing what a sharp businessman he was. At least I learned how versatile the word “scheisse” was, probably even for wedding speeches.

Although my German was now pretty spot on, certainly in the “scheisse” department, I still had a big obstacle between me and some gloriously drizzly, bone chilling riding. That obstacle was of course the pizza bar at LAX. After reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” I had recently converted to near-vegetarianism, which involves wanting to quit eating meat but not actually doing so. It’s kind of like being a #socmed bike racer. Near-vegetarianism requires you to really feel strongly about something but not actually do it. So as Mrs. WM and I sat at the gate waiting for the flight I battled mightily with the moral implications of eating meat, and after a solid hour of anguish felt like I’d done my part for the environment and dashed over to consume an 18” sausage and pepperoni and meatball deep dish pizza.

With that obstacle cleared, we boarded and began the fully loaded flight to Heathrow, which I’m told is in London, which also supposedly belongs to England, a place I’ve never visited simply because I have a principle of never touring a country unless I can speak at least a few broken phrases of the local idiom. The flight proved eventful exactly 2:35:35 into the trip, because that’s when the baby in the bassinet began screaming her head off, and the nasty French lady next to the poor mom demanded that the baby be moved. “Yeah,” I said, “put that six-month-old brat back in the galley.”

Actually what I did was offer the nasty lady my seat, one row back in the sardine section. I’d take a crying baby with the extra legroom any fuggin’ day, but the nasty woman saw through my ploy, looked a few daggers my way, and kept bitching at the flight attendant. Before long the other passengers helped broker a compromise, which was that if the nasty lady would quit complaining about the infant, we’d agree not to kick her off the plane.

Somewhere over Hudson Bay the pizza kicked in and I fell asleep. As I nodded off I hoped that when I awoke there would be someone at Heathrow who spoke English.


#socmed Withdrawal

November 1, 2017 § 29 Comments

It’s been a little more than thirty-six hours since I deleted my Facebag account, shut down Twitter, and kicked the Stravver to the curb. Like any good act of defiance, man, it sure felt good. Sweet and good.

“Take that, #socmed bitches!” My narrow, bony chest swelled a little as I struck a blow for #dataprivacy and against #fakenews and for #livingintherealworld. Oh, and I also struck blows against #depression, #anxiety, and my favorite of all time, #FoMO, and its almost as awesome but not quite cousin, #FoBO, “Fear of Better Options.”

Yeah, I smacked down all that shit.

The problem is that I’ve smacked them all down before only to come groveling back to the opioid-laced trough of notification-induced, temporary euphoria. Quitting booze has been hard, but it’s got nothing on going #socmed cold turkey. Here is what you can expect to feel when you cut the cord:

  1. Loneliness: I don’t have any friends.
  2. Sadness: There’s no one and no #lolcats to make me smile.
  3. Isolation: Society is “out there,” apart from me.
  4. Anxiety: What’s “going on”?
  5. Uncertainty: What are my #socmed “friends” posting  about now?
  6. FoMO: How will I ever get invited to anything?
  7. FoBO: What’s going to happen to my law practice?
  8. Listlessness: I don’t want to do anything.
  9. Helplessness: I’m overwhelmed at all the empty time on my hands.
  10. Irrelevance: Might as well be dead.

Numbers 1-10 are intensified by the degree to which you were immersed in your #socmed life. Apparently, I was pretty immersed …

However, unlike past attempts to quit, this one has great prospects for success. For one, life is nothing more than a process of quitting; eventually you quit it all, forever. The gradual nature of giving things up is in the nature of life itself. There comes a time when you can’t think as clearly, remember as well, walk as briskly, chew as hard, jump as high, just like there comes a time when you give up fist fights, bungee jumping, contact football, running, choosing when you’ll relieve yourself, breathing …

The trick of course is to quit each thing on your terms before it quits you. The trigger this time was the unendurable death of another young person riding a bicycle, slaughtered by a drunk. I say unendurable because death itself is never unendurable, it is part of the predictable cycle of life in which things happen at random but eventually. In fact, death is one of those things that I’ve always been able to get my arms around. It’s real, it’s unalterable, it’s the blueprint that we can all benefit from by studying. Death is tangible.

What has changed over the course of my life is the creation of a third rail in our modern existence, the third rail of #socmed. #socmed is the antithesis of death. Where death is real and firm and unalterable and instructive and forever, #socmed is #unreal and #quiescent and #editable and #empty and #temporary. Facebag even has an account option that lets you pass on control of your account after you die, so that you never have to really go away or even be dead. You can continue your #fake existence for as long as the servers have a power source.

This #fake and #virtual third rail now powers things that are real. #socmed requires us to create a #fake world online and then enforce the norms and perceptions of that #fake world in the real world. Death is the perfect example, where a person dies (real event), and then #socmed is saturated with #fake emotion, and then real events are held to commemorate the person’s real death, and then the real event and real words and real emotions expressed there are memorialized on #socmed to give rise to another, more intense, more quantitative expression of yet more #fake emotion. Each spiral brings with it an intensity of anguish and unhappiness that is greater than the one before. #fake emotion intensifies real emotion, which, when posted and memorialized online, intensifies the #fake emotion all over again.

There is no separation, in other words, between real and #fake. Because we curate our #socmed selves and our #socmed feelings, our actual, human interactions (when we bother to have them), conform to and later inform our #curated selves. We become who we have #curated, but never quite catch up to it. Cue anxiety and depression and the absolute necessity to be logged into #socmed at all times … even after we die.

For me this has created impossible complexity. I’m not smart enough to keep it all straight, either my own #curated self, or yours. I don’t have enough neurons to tease out who the #socmed you is and who the real you is, and how to respond to either without hurting your feelings or making a fool of myself, or both.

The complexity of this mixed existence is heightened by the misfortune of my birth in the early 1960s, and being forced to grow up in a world where, for example, there was no #socmed bike racing. I could only transport myself out of reality by digging so deeply into reality that the actions became transcendent. I could only be a bike racer by racing my bike, and never by #socmed means. I could only have friends by meeting people and hanging out with them, never by #socmed #friendsuggestion buttons. I could only curate my personality through actions and speech, never by #socmed postings or #filters or #kudos.

This misfortune of having been born at the wrong time means that the only way to reduce the complex navigation of #socmed #curation is by returning to the quaint world I once inhabited. When I craved company, I sought people physically. When I craved conversation, I telephoned or spoke face to face. When I craved action, I acted. Although the negative emotions I listed above predominate, there are hints of better things to come, slivers of the old way that suggest, at least for me, the real world trumps the #socmed one. To wit:

  1. Calmness: What I don’t know doesn’t disturb me.
  2. Productivity: Look at how much I got done!
  3. Concentration: Thoughts last for a long time and reach a conclusion, without interruption.
  4. Silence: There is no #socmed chatter filling up my mind-space.
  5. Confidence: IDGAF.
  6. Humor: Can you believe I wasted all that time over all that shit?
  7. Recovery: Sleep recharges, it’s not simply a pause between #socmed postings.
  8. Happiness: Fewer conflicts.
  9. Control: I decide what goes into my mind.
  10. Independence: The #socmed storms and #curated lives don’t buffet me.

They say the genie can’t be stuffed back into the bottle, and #they are correct because #they write the algorithms that control most of our waking moments. But the genie, if you’ll recall, only came out when the bottle was rubbed,went back after his work was done, and you got to rub the bottle three times. I think I’ll stop at two.



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What would you do if you knew?

October 30, 2017 § 52 Comments

A buddy and Big Orange teammate was killed yesterday in Phoenix as he descended from South Mountain Park. I’ve heard but haven’t been able to confirm that Rob was killed when a teenage driver drifted over into his lane. Totally makes sense that we give teenagers 4,000-lb. death machines and turn them loose on public roads to “learn how to drive.”

The previous Sunday another friend was hit by a car and suffered catastrophic, life-altering injuries. The motorist was in a hurry and “didn’t see” the cyclist, who was wearing bright orange. Fortunately, the driver had rental car insurance so he was able to quickly get his car swapped out and get back on the road without any serious inconvenience.

This is how these cager-bike interactions go. It’s all over in a split second. Your life is altered forever, or just snuffed out, quicker than you ever thought possible.

What would you do differently today if you knew that tomorrow you were going to die?

What would you do differently today if you knew that tomorrow you were never going to walk again?

What would you do differently today if you knew that tomorrow would be a bend from around which you’d never come back?


Bicycle mugging

October 27, 2017 § 32 Comments

My son-in-law Torazo is a badass, by which I mean a physics nerd. He also rides a bike, and he rides it about as badassedly as he solves physics problems, by which I mean yes, he loves to ride the Donut and hammer, but even more badassedly, he commutes to school on his celeste green, 4,000-lb. steel Bianchi.

Torazo goes to Harbor Community College, where he takes physics, calculus, chemistry, and a bunch of other classes that I never took anywhere, anytime, with anyone. Despite his undergraduate degree from Tokyo University, he fell in with the motley Davidson crew and wound up preferring the laid back SoCal lifestyle to the manacled, daily psycho-beatdown that you get as a salaryman in corporate Japan.

Harbor is one of the the poorest LA coastal community colleges, serving urban students. It’s about 70% Latino, 15% African-American, 10% frightened white, and a smattering of everything else. The Japanese students in the South Bay bundle up for safety and study mostly at Santa Monica College miles and a horrible commute away, where there is plenty of whiteness and richness and where you won’t suddenly find yourself in that awkward situation of having to talk to people who make up the majority of the population.

But not Torazo. He likes Harbor. It’s close, he has a 30-minute downhill ride to school and a 50-minute uphill ride home, the teachers are great, the students are great, and he’s there for the physics and calculus, not for the white bread. Like I said, badass.

Still, the school does have its issues, and the biggest one is the bicycle parking area, which is behind the gym, which is where all the jocks hang out. Many of the jocks at Harbor are trying to get a pro slot or an NCAA D-I billet, and they are like major-American-sport jocks everywhere: Big, loud talking, full of bravado, not overly impressed by any human activity that doesn’t end in the word “ball,” and not especially well known for taking physics.

So every day Torazo the physics nerd, with his 75-lb. backpack and nerdy bike pants and nerdy Big O lizard collectors jersey and nerdy bike shoes has to click-clack through the jock gauntlet to get to his bike. Nothing has ever happened, but walking through a large group of big, athletic, loud-talking people can induce anxiety in anyone, especially in a gentle physics nerd.

Today, though, it went down. He had almost made it through the tightly packed group, when a voice rang out. “Hey!” It wasn’t a greeting, it was a command.

Torazo picked up his pace but as a physics nerd he could calculate that reaching his bike, unlocking the lock, and pedaling madly away wouldn’t happen fast enough. “Hey!” the voice repeated, and this time it was sharper.

Torazo turned around, the color drained out of his face. “Me?” he asked, his voice shaking. The entire group stared at him.

“Fuck yeah, you, man. You think I’m talking to the fuckin’ wall?”

Torazo’s first language isn’t English, and in moments of extreme distress, as with anyone, his facility with the language fragmented. “How may I help you?” he blurted out, realizing that this was probably not the right playground response.

The guy who had accosted him took a few steps closer. He was easily 6’4″, with ripped arms, sinewy legs, and very intent eyes focused on Torazo. Torazo stared up at the tower. “That your bike?” the basketball player asked.

“Yes, sir,” Torazo said.

“Don’t give me no ‘sir’ shit. You ride that to school?”

“Yes,” Torazo answered.

The big guy nodded, staring intently at the shiny racing rig that stood out among the ten or fifteen other junker bikes. “What’s that thing cost?”

“I don’t know exactly.”

“You don’t know? What, you stole it?”

“No sir,” Torazo blurted. “I bought it in Japan and I don’t correctly know the exact exchange rate from that time.”

The guy wrinkled his brow, skeptically. “You ride on the road, too? Or just commute?”

Torazo paused, processing the sentence. “Yes,” he said. “Road riding all the time.”

“Me, too. We oughta ride together. I been looking for somebody here at Harbor likes to ride. I love to ride. What’s your number?”

Torazo and the guy exchanged info. “I will call you for the next Donut Ride,” Torazo said, waving as he pedaled away.

“Cool, man. Looking forward to it!” The guy went back to his friends, and Torazo was gone, one more biking friend on the way home than he’d had when he left.



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