September 17, 2016 § 18 Comments
Velo Club La Grange has an annual mass start bike race called the Piuma Hill Climb. It’s a club race and there’s nothing on the line except bragging rights, which means everything is on the line.
Every bike club in America should emulate VCLG. There were ninety-nine starters, none of whom had any hope at all of doing anything other than getting their tender parts beaten into mush.
At the top of the climb, which was 8.1 miles long, La Grange and Helen’s Cycles had set up tents and CPR stations complete with defibrillators and Joe Pugliese. I’d call Joe the Annie Liebovitz of cycling photography but that’s a disservice to his amazing ability. Better to call Annie the Joe Pugliese of celeb photography.
Back in Santa Monica the club had catered a massive, all you can eat gourmet buffet by Rick Friedman. Rick is the Joe Pugliese of cycling food buffets, and my photo of the food, which is an awful picture, reflects my lack of camera prowess, not the presentation or taste. Need I say more?
The ride itself was an out-of-body experience. Piuma is a legendary Santa Monica climb. It starts with a vicious little wall, and today the starter was none other than Tony Manzella, who pegged the first few minutes at 500 watts to make sure that everyone was blown to bits at the gun. Which they were.
In general I hate Strava because people who tout their KOMs rarely have much prowess in real life, head-to-head competition. Tony is not that way. He’s a complete Strava dork and he backs it up with performances like he did today, shelling 90 people in the first hundred yards, towing the fastest riders up the hill like they were hooked to a ski rope, detonating halfway up, and still getting one of the fastest times of the day.
My ride was unexceptional except that it began with the typical delusions. “Today I’m going to hang with Tony and Chad and Matt,” and “Today I’m going to stomp the dicks off Jaycee and Cowan,” and “I’m just going to hang tough and suffer like a dog.”
The suffer part happened at least.
In the first fifty feet Matt Wikstrom, the relentless engine of pain and winner of the climb in some inhuman time or another, eased up next to me. “Let me in, buddy,” he said, motioning for Tony’s wheel. Interpretation: “I don’t want you to gap me out, wanker.”
I know my betters and slid back.
After a few minutes some kid named Sean attacked the lead group, and I stayed with the acceleration until I didn’t. Then I was alone. I looked back and in those first few minutes we had gone so fast that the road behind was completely empty, like my legs.
Jaycee Carey, who is older than last year’s carbon wheelset, blew past me, motioning me to get on his wheel. He is friendly that way, kind of like the guy in the sawmill who says, “Put your hand on this rotating blade that we use to saw through fat trees, you will like it.”
I followed him as he dragged me up and past a couple of other riders who had been puked out the back. We formed a small group, Jaycee caught his breath, then rode off. (Note: James Cowan, who I had vowed to bury, buried all but two or three other riders in another amazing performance by Head Down James.)
My foursome grupetto hung together until the top of Piuma, when Roberto and the dude who had done most of the work jumped away. The two dudes I was with looked like they were trying to swallow a shovelful of salt, and I’m not kidding, all the way up Piuma guys were actually moaning. Not grunting, moaning, like what you do when your thumb is caught in a sewing machine that is stuck on overlock. I heard more moaning going up that fucking hill than in a cheap porn flick.
Roberto and I were alone on Schueren until he dumped me on the last turn, which sort of made up for his whimpering. I straggled in for ninth place, 37:30, which involved more brutality and sadness than I can ever remember.
At the top of Scheuren we got our pictures taken by Joe, filled our water bottles, watched the other corpses stagger in on their hands and knees, and lied about how we did all the work, how we almost hung with Matt and Tony and Cowan, etc., and how next year instead of being older, slower, dumber, and uglier, we’ll really turn in a stellar performance.
The camaraderie was amazing and everyone was happy at having participated. There were no ridiculously overpriced entry fees, there was free food at the end, there was amazing sag at the top, there was amazing photography to commemorate our tummies (Dan Champan shot a ton of pixels as well), there was gorgeous weather, and it was all part of a normal Saturday on the bike–no need to drive out of town, get a room, or do anything other than show up, pin on a number, and get your dick pounded off.
I’m going back to Piuma tomorrow to see if I can find mine.
Thanks VC La Grange for a truly miserable morning of fun!
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September 16, 2016 § 34 Comments
Ever since the combat with the cities of Rancho Palos Verdes and Palos Verdes Estates began over the installation of a few signs (more NIMBY agitation over this than over the federal class action lawsuit alleging gang behavior and city complicity, yo), I’ve been testing the theory that local residents dislike cyclists.
What I’ve found is that for they most part, they do not. At worst the don’t care. At best they actually like us. The Lunada Bay Boy on Mom’s Couch and his NIMBY vidiot-recorder who are making such hay with their hatred of cyclists are a tiny slice of nastiness and venom in otherwise pretty nice bunch of folks.
I’ve reached this conclusion by running the following scientific test throughout PV when I cycle.
- Approach walker, jogger, leaf blower, gardener, trash truck operator, woman pushing stroller, dad getting into his car on the way to work, etc.
- Wave when it’s safe to do so.
- Say “Good morning!”
- Alternatively, say “Hello!”
In virtually every instance people smile back, return the greeting, and/or wave.
There are always one or two people over the span of several days who are so deeply sunken in their reverie of how they’re going to evict their son from their couch, or who are so sour that nothing can penetrate their misery, that they pointedly stare at the ground or grumpily refuse to make eye contact.
But you know what? They are a tiny minority. Pretty much everyone else doesn’t object in the least to the fact that you’re on a bicycle.
Not only that, but the occasional grumpster, like the lady yesterday who said “Good morning!” back to us and followed up with “I can hear you in my bedroom talking at 6:00 AM!” are amenable to conversation. One of our riders stopped and spoke with her and explained that whoever she was hearing, it wasn’t us because we don’t ride at that time on that road.
The lady then … gasp … apologized.
This is the great evil of a few diehard haters and the cesspool of angry comments that makes up places like NextDoor, where you can post anonymously with no fear that you’ll ever have to reveal your name and explain your bizarre notions to real people. The evil is that the perception — “Residents hate cyclists!” — creates reality.
Fortunately, with the simple act of a few free smiles and liberal use of the greetings you learned in kindergarten, the myth can be shown for what it is, that is, much sound and fury, signifying either nothing or a very uncomfortable couch.
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September 15, 2016 § 22 Comments
This is simple even though you may have to sit down for a long time.
On Tuesday, September 27, at 5:30 PM in the council chambers of the city of Palos Verdes Estates, 340 Palos Verdes Dr West, Palos Verdes Estates, CA 90274, the city council will decide whether or not accept the recommendations of the traffic safety committee regarding the installation and placement of signs that say, and I quote, “Bikes May Use Full Lane.”
Although there has been an ongoing social media dust-up on the public toilet otherwise known as NextDoor regarding the issue, much of the negative commentary appears to be driven by a Lunada Bay Boy on Mom’s Couch who is likely creating fake accounts to talk to himself and gin up opposition (by patting his virtual self on his virtual back) to the signs.
What’s awesome about this tired, pudgy NIMBY is that he and his supposed supporters never show up. Like so many keyboard warriors, they are fierce and ferocious when it comes to anonymous attacks, but the minute they have to get out of their car, get off mom’s couch, or stand at a lectern and have their drivel videotaped they are suddenly too busy to, uh, do that.
What’s equally awesome is that the elected officials, the police, and the city’s employees have shown zero inclination to be pushed around. They know that their streets are public and that they have a duty to all road users. However they feel about slowing down for bicycles, none bears ill-will or hatred towards bikes, and all understand that everyone benefits from safer, slower streets.
As an example of how flaccid the opposition is, at the last city council meeting on Tuesday, after the Lunada Bay Boy on Mom’s Couch, urged his compatriots to appear and oppose the signage during the public comment section of the meeting, not a single person showed up to do so. Especially Lunada Bay Loser on Mom’s Couch. The ringleader has never spoken at any of the meetings on bike signage for two simple reasons.
- There is no ring.
- There is no leader, because you can’t lead anyone when you have to ask Mom for her credit card to put gas in the Range Rover you bought with Mom as a co-signer.
Nonetheless, one reason that the city has gone from bicycle troglodyte to aggressive proponent of BMUFL signage and a comprehensive road safety plan is because cyclists continue to show up and advocate. When the city has seemed poised to waver, dozens of cyclists have taken the mic and spoken.
On September 27, we need you there.
If the city isn’t going to approve the recommendations, each person needs to be prepared to speak in defense of the traffic safety committee’s recommendations. If the city is going to approve the BMUFL signage and road safety plan, then everyone should be prepared to sit quietly and enjoy the distant sound of the Lunada Bay Boy on Mom’s Couch cracking open another 92-oz. bag of Chee-tohs as he fires pistol rounds into his TV as it live-streams the meeting.
Mom can buy him a new Samsung, but she can’t buy away the signs.
Because democracy happens when people show up.
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September 14, 2016 § 13 Comments
I had been absent from the NPR for a long time. Thursdays was the Flog Ride, and Tuesdays was Telo. Plus, the handful of times I’d shown up to sample the NPR it had been nothing but a sad collection of preeners, the glorious days of “Go to the front!” having shamefully been replaced by “Cower and sprunt!”
David Miller, where art thou?
Now that I’d enjoyed my five-day rest from cycling and could return fully energized, ready to attack the off-season faux racing and fitness destruction period that runs from September to the New Year, and now that Telo had been euthanized, and now that the Flog Ride had been castrated and left to wander harmlessly about, rechristened the Friendly Fucking Flog until December, it was time to return and see if the NPR had changed for the better.
Last Tuesday confirmed the rumors. A happy, friendly, well-adjusted herd of baby seals gladly pedaled around the Parkway for four laps, enjoying friendly conversation, slurping new flavors of energy drink from their sippy cups, and then roaring to the imaginary finish line at the beginning of the third traffic island before the stop light that precedes the final stop light at Pershing.
I reflected on how miserable this once-proud ride had become. Gone were the days of bloodthirsty, antisocial misfits hurling themselves into the bleating throng of soft seal pups, bludgeoning the helpless and shattering the field within minutes of the Pershing launch. Gone were the days of grim, miserable, self-loathing outcasts whose sole goal at the NPR was to leave the pups in bloody tatters.
All that remained were happy people out enjoying healthy exercise before going to work. I’ve never been so sad. What had happened to the feared NPR, now reduced to a hand-holding love-in among friends who respected one another? What was next? Condoms and commitment?
Fortunately, on Monday I had received a brand new aero Wend Waxworks kit in the mail, crafted by StageOne Sports, tailored to my size and sporting the patented StageOne Pooch Hider, a slim, unobtrusive elastic band along the bottom of the jersey that pushes your tummy pooch back up towards your rib cage so that it is either hidden or that it sort of looks like muscle meat, a-la tofurkey.
My chain had a fresh application of Wend chain wax, the miracle, no-mess lube that doubles as a chick magnet, underarm deodorant, surfboard wax, bikini-line purifier, and aromatic candle that you can use for romantic evenings with that special Mr./Ms. Dudechick. [Pro Tip: To get the most out of your stick, put the lid back on after each use and return the container to a zip-lock baggie. This keeps the wax moist and soft, and ensures that your chain will continue to glide noiselessly along the cogs of destruction.]
My excitement level was pretty much like this awesome video clip. And with my chain purring, my tummy tucked, and my hi-tech kit sporting the following awesome features, I was ready to hit the NPR full club ahead since I knew I was wearing:
- Lighweight Italian fabric aero front and arm panels
- 7cm lycra compression sleeve band with comfort silicone
- Dragonfly mesh back panel offers breathability and SPF 50 protection
- EB waist band for comfort and fit
- 3 vertical drop rear cargo pockets
- Elasticized waist and rear silicone gripper
- YKK Camlock full length front zipper with StageOne Zipper Garage
- Body sculpted race cut
- Technical anatomic fit bib short for superior comfort
- 240g performance Power Lycra outer leg panels
- Thunderbike Coldblack outer leg panels reflect UV rays and keep the rider up to 30% cooler than standard lycra
- CyTech Elastic Interface 7hr Endurance 2.5 Super Air chamois
- Fully sublimated mesh stretch back panel for ventilation and breathability
- SOne Pro flat bib straps for maximum comfort
- 7cm lycra compression leg band with comfort silicone
Ray Colquhoun and I set a casual 28 mph pace out Vista del Mar, and by the time we hit Pershing there were baby seal pelts everywhere. Ray jammed it up Pershing then swung over and let Uncle Eric Anderson drive for a while, and the stone cold bleating pups waiting atop Pershing because they were too weak to join up on VdM were forced to accelerate from zero to thirty in a few seconds.
Many didn’t make it, and their NPR ended the way that all NPRs used to end: In disappointment and failure. Others were unlucky enough to latch on, and Eric’s nasty effort at the front was replaced by a chainsaw-leafblower-meathook multi-tool wielded by Evens Stievenart. More baby seal pups were ground into a reddish paste and left to drain down through the curbside sewer gratings.
By the eastbound turnaround on Lap One half of the baby seals had been relieved of the onerous weight of their skins, and the detritus up and down the Parkway was fearsome to see. Once-proud sit-and-sprunters had been mercilessly gaffed in the neck, only to catch their breath and play the Hop In Wanker Game as they cut across the Parkway and attempted to latch back on before they choked on their own blood. Each Hop In Wanker was given a spanking, sent to his room without any supper, and forced to write 200 times in his notebook “I will throw away my power meter and learn to suffer like the worthless seal pup I am.”
EA Sports, Inc., Jean Girard, and Dawg kept the knives slicing, and each time we hit a turnaround it was a full-on acceleration as another handful of sad sack seal pups was dropped headfirst into the stump grinder. The screaming complaints at each stop light were lovely and musical: “It’s the off season!” “You fuckers are ruining the ride!” “This isn’t a race!” “Fuck you, Davidson, you dick!” and many more etceteras expressed the sadness of once-happy baby seals who had been forced to pedal their bicycles at unhappy speeds in order to avoid the swinging scythes.
By Lap Four the small surviving group of hunters was too worn out to sprint, while Ray and Attila the Hun made a last ditch bid for glory. The Hun rolled across the line for an amazing imaginary victory.
Afterwards we sat around at CotKU, stripped skins from the carcasses of the pups and cracked their bones to suck out the raw marrow,which was still warm. I think pretty much everyone spent the workday drooling at the computer or twitching helplessly as mid-day cramps set in.
For the sad-faced seal pups who survived the slaughter, we regaled them with tales of slaughter from the days of yore and promised that from now until January each Tuesday morning would involve gaffing, knifing, skinning, and throat-slitting of the very worst kind. Why? Because NPR.
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September 13, 2016 § 9 Comments
The nomination process for the 4th Annual South Bay Cycling Awards™ a/k/a The Wankies™ has ended, and a rigorous selection that involved random people sending in names of friends, enemies, themselves, and their pets has resulted in the most impressive list of nominees since the beginning of this amazing event, which, admittedly, is a pretty low bar since our original nominees in 2012 included Brad House and we had to randomly give away several awards because no one showed up to claim them.
How times have changed, because nowadays Everybody Wants a Wanky™ and the lobbying has gotten shameless, insidious, bribe-filled, and intense. In addition to becoming a star-studded event that boasts Olympic medalists, Euro Pro Tour icons, and every ragtag wanker on a carbon bike in the South Bay, the Wankies™ continue to attract people who have absolutely no idea what we’re doing.
We’re proud to partner this year with the Southern California and Nevada Cycling Association, our USA Cycling District that administers amateur racing and that has recently elected a new board, dedicated to the proposition that bike racing should be fun. They’ll be handing out awards to the best racers of the year as well as a plethora of other escutcheons signifying greatness, near-greatness, or soon-to-be-greatness.
The nominees are below. Next week we’ll be posting the finalists, who will have been subjected to an excruciating analysis by a high-level board of razor-sharp cyclists whose choices cannot be swayed by anything besides careful, rational analysis, raging emotion, and bribery. There will be some butthurtedness after reading the list below. I for one am outraged that no one saw fit to nominate me for best female rider or best cycling club.
List of Nominees
- 2016 Greatest Advocate: Ted Rogers, Don Ward, Gary Cziko, Michael Barraclough, Seth Davidson, Gil Dodson, Al Crawford, Helen’s, David Kramer, Delia Park, Jaycee Cary, Brian Co, Sarah Barraclough for BMUFL/Master Safety Plan advocates
- 2016 Best Bike Shop: Safety Cycle, Sprocket Cycles, Bike Palace, Penuel Bikes, Shift Mobile, Bike Improve, Surf City Cyclery, Shift Mobile Bike Shop, Helen’s, Performance Bicycle, Peyton Cooke, The Old Bike Shop
- 2016Best Young Rider: Bader Aqil, Sam Boardman, Ryder Phillips, Makayla Macpherson, Zoe Ta Perez, Diego Binatena, Ari Elkins, Brandon McNulty, Jules Gilliam, Alex Wulfgang Lochmiller, Ivy Koester, Sean Quinn, Stanley Sez, Julian Rosenbloom
- 2016 Best Old Rider: George Pommel, Wendy Watson, Joe Yule, Jim Heise, Tim Gillibrand, Kurt Sato, Gil Dodson, Andrew Nuckles, Rich Manzella, Jan Palchikoff, Michael Hines, Thurlow Rogers, David Holland, Seth Davidson, Kevin Phillips, Pete Richardson, Rich Mull, Jimmy Huizar, Stanley Sez
- 2016 Most Improved: Kristie Fox, Kevin Nix, Ramon Ramos, Zoe Ta-Perez,
Alex Flores, David Holland, Chad Moston, David Wells, Rob Dollar, Makayla Macpherson, Bader Aqil, Josh Alverson, Alex Flores, Steve Shriver, Patricia Murray, Stanley Sez, Kevin Nix
- 2016 Best Club: Long Beach Freddies, BCCC, Big Orange, SBW, Manhattan Beach GP, PV Bike Chicks, Velo Club La Grange, Surf City Cyclery
- 2016 Best Event: Rock Cobbler, Wankies, Dogtown Ride, SoCal Cross Gravel Grinder Series, Cycling Savvy, Dana Point Grand Prix, San Dimas Stage Race, Levi’s Grand Fondue, Manhattan Beach Grand Prix, Yellow Vase Ride, BWR, Barrio Logan Grand Prix, Amgen TOC, Flog Ride, NPR
- 2016 Wanker of the Year:Heath Evans, Newport Surfer Dude, Lunada Bay Boys on Mom’s Couch, Mason Katz, Peter Smith, Jenny Vrentas, Dan Cobley, Seth Davidson, Dan Bilzerian, Denis Faye, Roberto Hegeler, James Doyle, Chuck Huang, Stathis Sakellariadis, James Cowan, David Kim, Frank Ponce, Dan Kroboth, Dan Kroboth, Stanley Sez
- 2016 Belgian Award: James Cowan, Robert Frank, Michael Hines, Ryan Steers, Pablo Maida, Jules Gilliam, Derek Brauch, Shirtless Keith, Evens Stievenart, Stanley Sez, Marilyne Deckman
- 2016 Group Ride Champion: Josh Alverson, Joann Zwagermann, Trevor Dowd, Matt Cuttler, Aaron Wimberley, Tony Manzella, Evens Stievenart, Elijah Shabazz, Matt Miller, Drew Kogan, Katie Donovan, Pablo Maida, Stanley Sez
- 2016 Best Sponsor: Beachbody, StageOne, Chevron, Santa Monica BMW, GQ6, Seth Davidson, Herbalife, Helen’s Cycles, RAAM, Back on Track Productions (lol)
- 2016 Best Male Racer: Evens Stievenart, Charon Smith, Derek Brauch, Josh Alverson, Jeff Konsmo, Justin Williams, Alistair Miller, Brandon McNulty, Thomas Rennier, Sam Boardman, Chad Moston, Stanley Sez, Matt Wikstrom
- 2016 Best Female Racer: Marilyne Deckman, Makayla Macpherson, Zoe Ta Perez, Katie Donovan, Lauren Mulwitz, Holly Breck, Kristabel Doebel-Hickock, Lizabeth Armas, Joy Duerkson-McCulloch, Jo Celso, Katey Wymbs, Olive Sez, Holly Breck, Heidi Volpe,
- 2016 GC Award: Joe Yule, Derek Brauch, Matt Wikstrom, David Holland, David Jaeger, Sam Boardman, Derek Brauch, Kayle Leogrande, Thomas Rennier, James Cowan, Tony Manzella, SBW Masters Worlds Track Team, Joe Yule, Stanley Sez
- 2016 Crashtacular Fred:Michael Hines, Marvin Campbell, Steve Shriver, Andrew Nuckles, Shon Holderbaum, Matt Wikstrom, Patrick Barrett, Seth Davidson, Tom Duong, Tom Buescher, Ray Dillman
- 2016 Strava KOM: Chris Tregillis, Tony Manzella, Michael Marckx, Brian Perkins, Lane Reid, Joann Zwagermann, Ryan Steers, William Evan Thomas, Thomas Rennier, Stanley Sez
- 2016 Most Happy to Help others:Joann Zwagermann, Yves-Marc, David Kramer, Chris Gregory, Patrick Barrett, William Aligue, John McNulty, Lloyd Bandonillo, Big Orange, Bob Spalding, Greg Leibert, Jeff Shein, Erickson Marques, Thomas Rennier, Erickson Marques, Seth Davidson, Michael Barraclough, Stanley Sez, Big Orange
- 2016 Most Fun: Robert Frank, David Wells, Sochin Lee, Peta Takai, Patrick Barrett, Donnie Marquez, Seth Davidson, Joann Zwagermann, Matt Miller, Drew Kogan, Gus Bayle, Patricia Murray, Stanley Sez
- 2016 Best Spouse/SO: Jeanette Seyranian, Yasuko Davidson, Jennifer Hirsch, Gabriella Szegedi Loughnot, Jami Brauch, Lisa Miller, Jena Rennier, Debbie Hoang, Elizabeth Alpert, Ray Landes, Robert Efthimos
- 2016 Ian Davidson South Bay Rider of the Year:Evens Stievenart, Robert Efthimos, Seth Davidson, Tony Manzella, Kristabel Doebel-Hickock, Makayla Macpherson, Derek Brauch, James Cowan, Michael Barraclough, Brian Koester, Stanley Sez
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September 12, 2016 § 14 Comments
If you have been cycling for a long time, then you have a lot of cycling clothes. And if you ride four or five times a week, laundry tends to come in clumps. Suddenly you’re staring at a big mound of bike stuff that has to be sorted, put away in drawers, or hung. It’s kind of a pain, but you do it.
After decades of this I’ve got a routine. As soon as the clean laundry lump magically appears from Mrs. WM’s hamper, then mysteriously migrates over to the couch in a giant mound, I take out the pieces, match them somewhat, and put them on hangers. Then it’s all out of sight, out of mind.
I wish Mrs. WM would exercise the same discipline with her underwear because for years now the preferred place for clean panties is hanging on the doorknob to the bedroom. I know what you’re thinking. “Wow! That ol’ WM is a one-man action movie! Things get hot and heavy and pretty soon there’s underwear flying all over the room, hanging from the rafters and even from the doorknobs! Stud! Go get ’em, WM!”
But no. Wanky is a worn out old shoe who has the vigor of a flat tire with multiple blowouts in the sidewall. You’re not looking at the remains of a wild night, but simply a convenient hanging place for undies.
Why there? What is it about the doorknob that makes any person want to put their underwear there? “Well, I have an armful of panties, might as well hang them on the door.” Really?
Or are they a hint? Is it like waving a red flag in front of a bull, this waving of green cotton granny shorts with daffodils that is supposed to awake the slumbering old shoe? If that’s the goal, lemme tellya. That ship hasn’t sailed, it’s sunk. The only thing that rouses the WM from a deep sleep is his prostate, and the only thing that delays him from sleep once his head hits the pillow is NOTHING.
Or maybe there’s a rotation system that I haven’t figured out yet, like the closet rotation system of my bike clothes, which is this: Far left for long-sleeved stuff, then newest clean stuff, with the next-in-line-to-wear things on the far right. If Mrs. WM has a panty rotation system, maybe the doorknob is for the undies that are about to be retired as old bike chain rags, or as canvas for stretching across a barn door.
Plus, the doorknob doesn’t seem that sanitary. That’s where you put your hand after changing a grandbaby diaper, or picking your nose, or scratching your sack. If you’ve gone to the trouble to clean those spinnakers, mightn’t it be a good idea to put them in a drawer? I’m just brainstorming here.
At least nowadays she hangs them on the doorknob inside the bedroom. They used to be on the outside, until one time a guest came over for dinner and remarked, “Interesting doorknob covers.”
I suppose it could be worse. I’m just not sure how.
September 11, 2016 § 25 Comments
My first cycling gaol was to get cycling legs and that’s going to take a while.
My second gaol came as a sort of happenstance, thanks to my Chinese teacher who lives in Shanghai. Her name is Merry Song.
I had been hanging out at Wikipedia the night before my lesson, hoping to come up with some idle chatter I could kill the time with and thereby avoid having to do the lesson I hadn’t studied for and review the kanji I hadn’t memorized.
“Do you speak Shanghai dialect?” I asked.
“No, but I understand it. My husband is from Shanghai.”
“Is it hard to learn?”
“No harder than Mandarin,” she said, meaning, “I’m Chinese and have lived in Shanghai for twenty years and my husband is from here and I still can’t speak it so, for you, impossible times a billion.”
“Oh. Do you speak any other dialects?”
“I can understand and speak Yunnan because that’s where my mother is from and that’s where I grew up.”
“Wow. That’s a long way from Shanghai, isn’t it.”
“Yes, it’s very far.”
“Do you still have family there?”
“Yes, I go back every year.”
I looked at the map. “How long does that take?”
“By plane it’s only a few hours. But by train it’s two days, about.”
“So you always fly?”
“No, I never fly. I always go by train.”
“Gambling. You sit in the train and meet many new people and chat and each time you go through a different area the food is different and play cards and gamble. Also there are different flavors of cigarettes in each region and you can smell them richly in the train compartment. Do you like to gamble?”
“No,” I said. “I’m extremely risk-averse.”
“You should take the train from Shanghai to Kunming some day. It’s very fun.”
“Yes. It’s a little expensive, slightly cheaper if you take the regular train.”
“How much is that?”
“About fifty US dollars.”
“For a two-day train trip across China?”
“Yes. But high prices can’t be avoided nowadays. I had a student who once came here and did this.”
“Did he like it?”
“It was wonderful. He learned so much about Chinese culture.”
“About gambling. He learned gambling and hospitals. They had to take him off the train one day because he ate bad food and got very sick. The taxi driver took him to the hospital and stole his suitcase and wallet and passport. It was very amusing to hear him tell the story about trying to get help in a rural village high in the mountains of Szechuan.”
“Oh yes, he had many funny stories. He had studied Chinese like you, but like you he really couldn’t speak or read or understand anything, like a small baby, very helpless. And they gave him some traditional medicine in the hospital and he got much sicker so they suggested cutting a hole in his skull to relieve the pressure and drain the fluid, but at the last minute there was an earthquake and all the power in the hospital went out. Many people died, but he did not.”
“He was taken back to Beijing and arrested because he had no passport in a disaster zone. Soon it was all straightened out.”
“Let’s see. He arrived in March and was back home by October.”
“Then what happened?”
“I’m not sure. I think he lost his job and the illness was bad for a while but eventually he recovered and can walk again.”
“Sounds like a great trip.”
“Yes, it was very memorable. I tell all my students about how exciting it can be when you are off the normal path and adventurous things happen.”
“What’s the best time to do this trip?”
“I would recommend March.”
“Are there bicycle rentals in Kunming?”
“I don’t know.”
So that’s my 2017 cycling gaol: Find out if there are rental bikes in Kunming after I arrive there from Shanghai by train.