November 10, 2015 § 33 Comments
On Sunday I went to a club banquet with Sausage. I rode over to his place, changed into my clean t-shirt and jeans that were clean a couple of weeks ago, and climbed into the passenger seat of his Fahrvergnuegenwagen 12-cylinder hi-performance luxury SUV.
The seats were leather. The dash was leather. The radio was leather. And when he pushed down on the gas pedal the Fahrvergnuegenwagen jumped like a stallion straining at the reins. We went around corners smoothly, the leather suspension absorbing LA’s terrible potholes as if they were mere pockmarks.
I sank back into the leather commander’s chair and rubbed my feet against the leather floor mats. Such a difference from my Prius, with its 142,039 miles and in which everything is made not from leather but from bits and pieces of plastic. I imagined the glory of sporting around town in that Fahrvergnuegenwagen, gaily hopping out of the leather driver’s seat in my leather pants, handing a leathery $20 to the garkon, doffing my leather porkpie hat to the girls all clad in leather, and taking the elevator up to my office on the penthouse suite.
But reality jolted me back when we passed a sagging Prius as it huffed and puffed its way up a 2% grade. I looked in the window at the penny-pinched fellow in his mid-40’s, hunched over the wheel, racked and smacked by every crack in the road as he anxiously re-calculated how many hundreds of thousands of Prius miles he’d have to drive to save enough money for the first two months of his son’s first year in college.
Or maybe not. Maybe he was simply Priusing because he liked small and he liked being able to park on something smaller than the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and he didn’t even have any kids or want any and the money he saved on gas he used to buy full carbon wheels that were made of 100% carbon.
I smiled and waved at him as we passed, which was highly unnatural, and what was odder, he smiled and waved back.
“Who am I,” I thought, “to judge someone by the car he drives?”
Which brings us to Santa Barbara, where they have a big morning weekend ride filled with bicyclists who are not only important, but who are terribly impressed with their own importance. Or rather, Importance. Best, IMPORTANCE.
This will sound unbelievable when I write it, but they express their IMPORTANCE by heckling riders going the other direction who have dared to venture out on their bicycles without conforming to the Dress and Equipment Code. Happy bicyclists who pass these IMPORTANT riders are verbally abused for being fat, or for riding dorky bikes, or for wearing the wrong things.
They have vented their IMPORTANCE at ordinary riders and extraordinary ones, pack behavior and poor manners exhibited by fellows whose life necessities are paid for by mommy and daddy and whose career trajectories surely include podium steps at the Tour or at least Ontario.
The traffic suddenly snarled and the Prius was stuck in a stopped lane. Sausage eased off the gas and let the Prius in. They exchanged waves.
“Now how hard was that?” I thought.
For the Santa Barbarians, it’s apparently hard. Very, very hard.
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November 9, 2015 § 26 Comments
My mortality was definitively announced with the full throated cry of a newborn, fully pink and flush from the hard passage, wailing his objection to the eviction and voicing his displeasure at the light, the air, and the awaiting life of toil that began with a life and death struggle for the nipple.
Not a milestone but a tombstone, a definitive thrusting motion off to the side like a large piece of family furniture, suddenly in the way, and now set over in the corner lest someone trip over it or stub a toe.
Live forever! Ride a bike! Avoid the void with fruit, grains, nuts, and complete abjuration of trans-fats, saturated fats, and saturated news cycles and recycled political crises and dilemmas. California! The golden shore! Where death is for other people and mortality only happens in whispers, quickly forgotten or painfully remembered in silence because Pontius Pilates and deep tissue massage and Zumba for the aged will anti-age you or at least make sure that everyone else croaks first.
I pedaled along the bike path with a friend, deeply thankful that my grandson had announced my demise, trying and failing to convey my gratitude which instead sounded like a whine or a sob or a spoiled brat crying “No!”
Not I. Facts for me are things to be seen and understood, never denied or prayed around. In order to die we first have to live. And nothing infuses life like the turning cranks, or as Robert Doty likes to say, “the Church of the Spinning Wheel.” Because along with the announcement that my time was shortening rather more quickly than I’d anticipated, my grandson brought with him a rare gift, and this too I carefully considered as I rode.
No longer the provider, the progenitor, the pater familias, the care for this new life was first and foremost the duty of someone else. Someone else had brought him into the world, had made the solemn contract to clothe, to nourish, to house, to succor, to protect, to guide, to comfort, and to heal.
My grandson brought with him into the world a gift to me, the freedom simply to love, and to love simply.
November 5, 2015 § 24 Comments
Rapha announced today that it would end its partnership with Team Sky at the end of 2016. Cycling in the South Bay sat down with Chauncy Chalmers, CEO of Rapha, to talk about the divorce.
CitSB: What was it? Irreconcilable differences?
Chauncy: Oh, far from it. We’ve both benefited immensely from the partnership and are leaving on the best of terms. We plan to remain friends, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without Team SKY.
CitSB: And where are you today?
Chauncy: We are the dominant player in the pretentious bicycle clothing market. $345 for a pink plastic vest. See? We OWN it.
CitSB: Yes, but there’s more to your success than that, isn’t there? Rapha is regarded as one of the best fitting, most superbly designed clothing manufacturers in the bike industry, combining the understated English qualities of Savile Row with the hardman exploits of volcano dopers. That’s what they say over at Red Kite Prayer, anyway.
Chauncy: Don’t believe everything you read; that guy was nominated for Wanker of the Year. Our stuff is made by the same underpaid Chinese garment workers as every other label. And get this–the average Chinese worker makes $19.81 per day, just under $2.50 an hour. Pretty sweet mark-up, I’d say.
CitSB: Schweet, for sho. So why the break-up with SKY? Seemed like a match made in heaven. Pretentious British label hawked by marginal gains volcano dopers with funny accents that sound vaguely aristocratic to the untrained American ear, which can’t distinguish between the Queen’s English, Ozzie Jibberjabber, and Pig Latin.
Chauncy: Yes, the American market is what we’ve always referred to as “gullible.” And it certainly has paid the bills.
CitSB: So why the breakup? Faux English tailored cycling kits with a vaguely 70’s design in updated 21st Century Pink; volcano dopers who talk funny and millions of tubby Americans who think Rapha’s been around since Eddy Merckx.
Chauncy: The market is saturated.
CitSB: How can that be? There are ten new baby seals on the NPR every week, ripe for clubbing and for new Rapha kits and for 100% full carbon parts made of pure carbon. It’s only just begun!
Chauncy: Our market research shows that with the exception of New York, Los Angeles, and parts of North County San Diego, the pretentious asshole demographic is saturated and shrinking.
Chauncy: It’s true. Most people who ride bicycles aren’t snobby twits who crave approval by being treated rudely and looked down on. What’s worse, most people who ride bicycles don’t really care what their bicycle clothing looks like.
CitSB: Blasphemy! How do you know that?
Chauncy: We took our team of designers to the Tour of Palm Springs last year to examine the market first hand. Three of our designers are still in therapy. It gets worse. We randomly sampled riders, asking them if they liked Wiggins better than Froome. The answer blew our mind.
CitSB: What did they say?
Chauncy: They all said the same thing: “Who?”
CitSB: Shocking. And so you’ve pulled the plug. What’s Team SKY going to be wearing for 2017 then?
Chauncy: It’s a secret, but I’ll tell you if you promise to keep it off the record.
CitSB: You can trust me.
Chauncy: They’ve hired one of your local guys here in LA to do their kits. Apparently one of the designs here has really caught their fancy.
CitSB: Which one is that?
Chauncy: Big Purple, or Orange, or something.
CitSB: Big Orange?
Chauncy: Yes, that’s the one. You know them? They must have a pretty understated look to catch Team SKY’s eye.
CitSB: Nope. Never heard of ’em.
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October 29, 2015 § 14 Comments
When the Great History of Bad People is written, Mark Zuckerberg will get a chapter, if not his own page. The hypocrisy of making billions by scraping people’s personal information via social media while fanatically protecting his own private life is terrible, let alone his bare knuckled and successful assault on the mostly dead U.S. right of privacy. The unfettered access that business and government has to us all the time is in large part thanks to him.
Bad Mark Zuckerberg. Bad, bad, bad Mark Zuckerberg.
And then Mark exploded last year on the stage at Tsinghua University, dazzling the crowd with his beginning Chinese in a performance that recalled a spoiled child mangling a novice piano piece for the indulgent relatives. Zuckerberg was so pleased with himself in this performance, and so doted upon by his audience, that to the non-Chinese speaker you might actually think he sounded good.
Alas, he doesn’t. His raw combination of misplaced confidence, horrible pronunciation, and supreme pride at being able to butcher a simple conversation, most of which had been thoroughly rehearsed, shows the gaping cultural chasm between America and China. When Jack Ma of Alibaba speaks in perfect English, no one bats an eye. How the hell else are you gonna make money here if you can’t speak English? When Harvard drop-out Zuckerberg hacks elementary Chinese to pieces with a claw hammer, the audience cheers and acts like they’ve been given a golden calf, or treated to the most amazing mental wizardry since Einstein figured out the universe.
Surfing the Jaws of his Chinese debut, Mark grabbed the rail and dropped deep into the hole a couple of days ago when he doubled down, giving a full-length speech, again at Tsinghua and again in Chinese. This time the pronunciation was still horrible, the overweening pride was still oozing out of his pallid face, and the sad picture of a billionaire practicing Chinese on a forced audience was still there.
The content was deeper. The fluency was greater. And this time the gap between confidence and ability, though massive, was much less than his first foray.
All of this is part of Zuckerberg’s charm offensive to try and get Facebook out from behind the Great Firewall of China. In addition to stomping through the Chinese language with heavy steps, he met with President Xi Jinping and made the horrendous cultural gaffe of asking him to suggest a name for Zuckerberg’s first child. Xi declined, and hopefully someone advised Mark that asking the most powerful man in the world to name your kid is like asking the top surgeon giving a speech at a conference to please take a look at this funny lump you have growing on your butthole.
Despite the bad pronunciation, and despite the naked self interest, and despite the bold faced lie of wanting to learn Chinese so he could “communicate with his wife’s grandmother”–which sounds lots nicer than “I want to scrape the shit out of Chinese computer users’ data and make billions there, too,”–despite all that, Mark has struck a blow for America in the 21st Century. We finally have the CEO of a big ass company who believes that the best weapon for business is actually understanding the target market in its language, in the context of its culture, and meeting the competitive challenges by putting himself in their shoes, and understanding it from the very top of the corporate hierarchy.
Because that’s what speaking in a foreign language does. Zuckerberg may have looked and sounded foolish at times, but you know what? He also looked incredibly nervous and exposed and vulnerable. It was the most intimate view of him you’ll ever have. You could even say that he pissed away all his privacy protections in a pair of twenty-minute videos. He was up there naked. Anyone who’s tried to fumble a few phrases of French to an impatient Parisian waiter knows that when you’re speaking their language YOU’RE ON THEIR TURF.
You think public speaking is hard? Try it in a foreign language that you’re not very good at in front of a global audience. The criticisms poured in, of course, how could they not? “Glad there were English subtitles for his Chinese,” wrote one Chinese commentator. Well, fuck those commentators. Zuckerberg will never be anywhere close to native pronunciation, but so what? He already knows more about China and the Chinese with five years of language study than many entire U.S. corporations who are actively seeking to do business in China.
The rest of the world takes it as a given that if they want to compete in the U.S. market they must master English first. As a result, not only has the world mastered English, it has mastered us. We still send out ambassadors who can’t speak the language of the country they’re assigned to, we still have military brass running wars in the Middle East for more than a decade who can’t speak any version of Arabic, and we still have presidents whose sum total of fluently spoken languages is one, and if Trump gets elected, it will be zero.
Whatever else Zuckerberg is, he’s a realist, and he’s exposed the lie that “Everyone speaks English” so commonly used by lazy Americans to avoid doing the heavy lifting that’s required if you really want to have a chance in war, business, politics, or diplomacy. When the guy at the top is a monolingual clod, so is the organization. He’s put himself out there, arrogant, self-satisfied, and shrewdly manipulative perhaps, but he’s clearly doing the hard work that it takes to speak a foreign language, hard work whether you’re trying to give a speech in Mexico City or in Beijing–and he’s offering himself up to a billion Chinese critics, each one of whom is supremely qualified to tear his language skills apart.
The beauty of it is, of course, that they don’t. People appreciate it when you make the effort, and they respect the hell out of the courage it takes to speak in public in a foreign language. Mark may scramble his tones, but the only message he really cares about is coming across loud and clear: YOU MATTER TO ME.
Hats off to the sorry-assed scoundrel. In this regard at least, I wish him the very best, and hope that more Americans in every walk of life follow his lead.
October 28, 2015 § 25 Comments
I’ve been climbing better this year than at any time since, well, a long time ago. A good friend asked me why. “Sobriety?” he wondered.
Keep in mind that “climbing better” doesn’t mean much in the big picture. I’m still an aged, hairy legged flailer who’s easily dispatched by the real climbers. Still, finishing with the leaders over and over on the Donut Ride’s big climb is an improvement by orders of magnitude, especially when it has occasionally involved whipping people 25 years my junior who I’ve never out-climbed before.
So I thought about it and here’s what I’ve concluded.
- Sobriety. Basically, the outcome of not drinking has been non-drastic weight reduction and, what’s even more important, weight maintenance. In the past I always found that losing weight was fairly easy, but maintaining it was impossible. I’ve averaged 150 lbs. per month since March, down from 167-170 in November when I had my last drink. Training and racing at the new weight has made it the “new normal,” and sobriety makes it easier to get back on track after a couple of extra trips down the buffet line. Sobriety also excises out all of the gratuitous eating that goes along with being slobber drunk. I no longer have to diet or count calories, I eat three solid meals a day, and I quit when I’m full.
- Climbing on the drops. I’ve been developing this technique a-la Pantani and Leibert for two years. It has increased my power significantly on the climbs, perhaps 10%? Maybe more? And since I’m on the drops I don’t get much in the way of an air drag penalty, which you do when you climb on the hoods. Drop climbing allows me to use my arms, shoulders, and back to supplement my legs and give them a bit of a break. Drop climbing also gives me acceleration uphill when trying to catch attacks. If you have a power meter, which I don’t, it would be interesting to see what your power output looks like drop climbing vs. seated climbing vs. climbing out of the saddle on the hoods. I can now climb on the drops for up to 30 minutes without sitting.
- Following wheels and sitting in. I’ve spent 30 years dragging my butt to the front and thrashing around with lots of riders on my wheel only to fall off the pace early. I watched a certain shirking wheelsucker this morning in San Diego and was impressed with how he’s always on a wheel, never in the wind, and seems to always be with the leaders. I’m trying to ride more like him, especially on climbs when the difference between getting shelled and making the split last year in Punchbowl and Castaic was only a handful of pedal strokes.
- Showing up for climbing rides fully rested. I ride better fresh than stale and have finally made rest an integral slice of the performance pie. It’s as important as intervals, and given my age, probably even more so. The biggest part of rest has meant riding less. A lot less. I probably did 5,000 miles last year, maybe not even that much. In previous years, 10k was on the low side. I’m no longer compelled to do hundred-milers, or to ride endlessly for hours to improve my “base,” whatever that is. After 33 years of cycling, if I don’t have enough of a base to do a couple dozen races a year, riding all day on PCH isn’t going to do the trick.
- Picking a target. Instead of trying to be first, which I’ll never be, I pick someone who’s marginally better than I am and make it my goal to beat that person. Trying to be No. 1 is too defeating when I’m up against Stathis and Derek and Julien B. every Saturday. Better to pick someone who’s always in the split but who sometimes gets dropped than the guys who can ride me off their wheel at will.
- Not going for every summit or sprint point. This fall, with one or two exceptions, I’ve gone full gas to the Domes and soft pedaled the rest of the ride. Better to have one super effort with a satisfying result than a bunch of mediocre ones. More importantly, those full gas efforts followed by slowness keep me out of the dreaded “middle” zone, which I define as too fast to rest but not fast enough to improve.
- Golf course intervals. Although it’s not climbing a-la Donut, the Thursday Flog Ride has 5-6 minutes of undulating uphill, repeated six times, and there are not really any races in SoCal with climbs that require more than one or two 6-minute, 100% efforts. I guess I don’t need a Latigo or Deer Creek to improve my climbing capacity. In fact, I’ve concluded that those long, killer climbs actually hurt me since at age 51 it takes days to recover from that type of effort.
- Purchasing speed. In 2007 I was still wearing a wool jersey, riding a steel frame, and riding 36-spoke aluminum rims. I now ride a frame that is full carbon and is 100% carbon, with all-carbon 404 Fast Forwards for training, ceramic BB, and super light 100% carbon FFWD climbing wheels for racing that are made of full carbon. Also re: aero: Losing weight has shed a bit of wind resistance. Not a lot, but when I’m clinging to the good climbers it doesn’t take more than a few pedal strokes either way to kick me out the back or keep me attached. Every bit helps.
- Not going hard out of the chute. A very good racer told me that most riders aren’t patient because they get too anxious. As a general rule, the longer you wait to hit it hard on a climb–up to a point–the better you’ll do. I practice waiting on the Donut now, except on occasions like last Saturday when, well, I didn’t.
- Let the quarry move first. My usual M.O. has always been to attack, then attack again, then attack again. Then attack again. This always sets up other riders to easily drop me because my attacks are too feeble to drop anyone, but intense enough to tire me out. Now on a climb I pick my quarry and wait until he tries to shed me. If he fails, I wait to see if he’ll try again. If he does and can’t, I can usually shed him, and then out of the diminished group choose another “beatable” foe.
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October 27, 2015 § 13 Comments
I see all kinds of weird shit on the bike. Here’s a list of things that you don’t need to try because they’ve already been done and they suck.
- Rear wheel pitch-back. Tomorrow will be a great day not to jump out of the saddle with someone on your wheel and throw your bike back six inches. Go ahead! Don’t try it!
- Architectural digest. Next time you’re riding along the crowded bike path, take a couple of hours not to ogle the oceanfront homes. You can’t afford them and you’re about to run over that small child’s testicles. So go ahead! Don’t look!
- First thong of spring. She’s not just old enough to be your granddaughter, she is your granddaughter, and someone much younger and virile than you has already staked his claim. So don’t enjoy the view. Look straight ahead.
- Uh-oh shift. When the road kicks up, don’t wait until you’re about to tip over before shifting in that horrible grinding way that sounds like someone is emptying a gravel truck. Go ahead! Don’t not shift in advance!
- Sticky shower. Next time you gobble a mouthful of sugary energy drink goop, swallow without dribbling a few tablespoons of spray on the rider or bike behind you. Go ahead! Don’t attract so many flies when you ride!
- Rubber beggar. You’ve flatted because it was easier and cheaper to put the 12,200-and-first mile on that threadbare tire, and now’s your chance not to beg a spare tire worth $9.99 from a kindly companion. Go ahead! Buy your own fucking tubes and CO2 cartridge!
- Window into eternity. Sure those see-through white bib shorts are vintage and covered with a shiny patina. Problem is, so’s your furry bunghole. Go ahead! Don’t cause PTSD a-la-Brad House to whomever’s behind you–put on a pair of undies or better yet, buy a fresh pair of bibs.
- It’s only time. Group ride coming up? Try showing up BEFORE the roll-out time rather than 15 minutes AFTER. Go ahead! Show your pals that you know what it means when the big hand is on the twelve and the little hand is on the eight!
- Weebles wobble. Galloping into the sprunt with legit riders? Now’s the perfect time to not charge to the front and show your mettle. Go ahead! Stop pedaling and float to the back of the bus and out of the way, where the only person you’re likely to harm is yourself.
- Mansplaining. See a new rider who’s in desperate need of your keen advice? Go ahead! STFU, or introduce yourself and try to remember their name. He/she’ll probably be riding you off his/her wheel in a couple of weeks anyway!
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October 25, 2015 § 13 Comments
In junior high I had a crush on a girl named Lana. My first crush was in kindergarten at Booker T. Elementary in Galveston and it was on my teacher, Miss Mary Session. Between Miss Session and Lana I had one or two crushes a year, real old-fashioned crushes.
Back then crushes were awful things because except for school there was no way to see the object of your love, and if your crush wasn’t even in your class it was limited to lunch or, most agonizing of all, passing in the hall and blushing. Without texting or Facegag those infinite periods between when you’d next get to see your crush were a hell without parallel.
By the time I fell in love with Lana I was fourteen and my crushes were major, overwhelming, incapacitating things that spiked such profound intensity as to approach delirium. Crippled as I was with the triple curses of observation, granular memory, and extraterrestrial imagination, every day that I came home I would collapse in the giraffe-patterned beanbag chair in my room and comb through my memory.
Lana’s beautiful eyes. Lana’s impossibly soft skin (I had borrowed a pen from her once and felt her hand). Lana’s shimmering black hair. Lana’s stunningly sleek body. Lana’s occasional noticing of my existence (she once called me “goofball”).
We only had one phone line, of course, and there were only two phones in the house, one upstairs and one downstairs. It was impossible to even think about calling her even though I’d circled her name in blue and red and yellow and green in the Jane Long Junior High School directory, because there was no privacy. And if my brother Ian even scented that I was hot on the trail of another unrequited crush, the physical pummeling and verbal abuse would be relentless.
So I would sit in the beanbag chair and practice my conversations with Lana the Unapproachable.
“Hi, Lana, this is Seth.”
She’d be thrilled to hear from me but would pretend to be surprised. “Oh, hi Seth. What are you doing?”
“I was going to go see ‘Alien Chainsaw Murderer Zombie Atheists’ tomorrow and wanted to see if you wanted to go. I’ve heard it’s a great movie.”
“Oh wow, I’ve been dying to see that! Sure, let’s go!”
Then we’d sit in the dark movie theater and I’d inch my hand over to hers where she’d be holding it deathly still on the little divider between our two chairs and I’d put my hand over hers just when the hero smashed the brains out of the atheist zombie who was trying to chew the leg off the heroine. Her hand would be so soft and mine would NOT be drenched in sweat and we’d sit there and eventually I’d give her hand a squeeze and she’d give mine a squeeze even though I hadn’t worked out how she’d squeeze it if mine were on top of hers but that would work itself out and then on the way home we’d stop behind a tree and kiss.
It was always at that point that I’d open my eyes and utter a curse, knowing that she’d never agree to go to a movie with an urchin like me, and that if I were going to get her attention it would have to be dramatic.
In those days I rode my bicycle to school, a gray Murray, and I rode it with an orange knapsack. This was back when knapsacks were like giant billboards saying “Beat my ass I’m probably gay” and riding a bike to school was a death sentence because in Houston you always arrived lathered in stink and sweat so that your jeans and shirt looked like they’d been dunked. On the rainy days you just rode in the rain, and even though you arrived looking the same at least you didn’t smell as much.
We didn’t have iPods and the Sony Walkman was years away so I would hum my favorite songs as I pedaled. I had stolen a nice collection of records from the Eagle supermarket around the corner and my favorite latest larceny was Van Halen and my favorite song was “Running with the Devil.”
After agonizing through science class one day as my heart broke two tables away from Lana, I jumped on my bike and raced home. Ian took the bus and wasn’t there and my parents were at work. I looked up Lana’s number and dialed. Lana answered in a voice so beautiful that it froze me my tracks. “Hello?” she said.
“Hi, Lana, this is Seth. Seth from science class.”
“Oh,” she said, and giggled. “Hi.”
“Do you have a second?” I asked.
“I guess so. But Debbie is here with me so I have to go soon.”
“Listen to this,” I said and began belting out “Running with the Devil,” screaming at the top of my lungs. After I finished there was silence on the other end. An amazing silence. Then a laugh. Then two laughs, because she’d apparently shared the receiver with Debbie.
“Oh my god,” she said between laughs, “that was awful!!”
“Yes,” I said, crestfallen, “I guess it was.” She started laughing again and Debbie was in hysterics.
“Bye,” I said, and hung up, cursing my bicycle-inspired attempt at demonstrative love.
Thirty-six years later I still think about Lana and about that song; needless to say the only thing that came of it was that Lana never looked at me again and when we went to high school together she would occasionally see me and move to the other side of the hall.
A couple of days ago her name popped up on Facebag; she’s part of my high school reunion group, an event I’ve never been to. I messaged her. She messaged right back. We exchanged lives for an incredibly pleasant stroll down memory lane.
“Hey,” I wrote. “Do you remember the time I called you and sang you a song?”
The wait bubbles floated eternally in the message box.
“Yes,” she typed. “I do.”