“No comment.”

November 21, 2017 Comments Off on “No comment.”

I was going to make a list of the great things that have happened since kicking #socmed to the curb and returning to my real and rather strange life as opposed to drowning in the fake and manicured lives of others on Facebag, Stravver, and the Twitter.

Part of taking back my mind has also meant disabling the comments on my world infamous blog, the one you’re reading right now. Countless readers have emailed to ask about the fact that they can no longer comment. To each of these three concerned citizens I have said something like, “It was taking up too much time and it was too distracting.”

They have asked if it’s a temporary thing or if it’s permanent.

“Permanent.”

And they’ve said that reading the comments was half the fun of the blog, to which I can only say (to non-subscribers), “Losing half of $0.00 is still zero,” (and to my $2.99 subscribers) “You’re only getting ripped off $1.4950 a month, which isn’t too bad when you compare it to a venti pumpkin spice latte.”

Also, over the lifetime of this blog there have been exactly 35,608 comments posted, and since I’ve been pretty faithful responding to each one, well, that’s a lot of time. Let me rephrase that: It’s a colossal amount of time. The hashtag for that would be #enough. Even more time has been lost deleting spam and emptying all of the unread troll posts from trash, orphan bytes that have easily tripled or quadrupled the number of comments that actually made it through the filters.

One person was curious enough about this change to reach out and say, “Let’s go for a ride,” one of those funny instances where ditching virtual reality led immediately to real reality. It was a friend who I don’t see very often, a real friend, someone who I’d not hesitate to ask a favor from and who I’d not hesitate to help. We met up this morning at Malaga Cove and did a few loops around the golf course, during which time we talked about the #socmed plague, about how much was #enough, about whether #socmed killed people or people killed people, and about the Latigo hillclimb.

This conversation was nothing like any conversation I’ve ever had on #socmed. It involved sound waves, reflected and refracted light that revealed the changing contours of a real human, the faint scent of sweat, and the touch of a fist bump. My friend said a few things I disagreed with but after responding I couldn’t delete anything I said, and I couldn’t unfollow the parts of what he said that I didn’t like. Since it was just us, I didn’t think it was appropriate to share the conversation with anyone, even my wife, something made easier by the absence of a “share” button. We didn’t take any pictures of each other, and although no promises were made and no particularly intimate secrets were exchanged, I’m pretty sure the conversation and its contents will remain private, the way mundane things between friends used to always be, and therefore, through privacy, they became a strand that strengthened the bond of friendship. No matter what Facebook says, friendship isn’t strengthened by publicity, it’s destroyed by it.

The things we said to each other weren’t linked to any other platforms. They weren’t copied and pasted, and no third party was able to record and store those things we talked about for purposes of determining our future purchasing decisions. During the conversation no one popped in and asked us to buy something, and none of our other friends dropped by to unload upon us a news story about something we felt strongly about. Most peacefully, there wasn’t an endless string of side conversations between other friends that we had to listen to while carrying on our own. There was a kind of freedom in knowing that after the ride there wasn’t going to be anything to review, analyze, compare, dissect, kudo, or critique.

And when our conversation finished, there was silence, which, I once read somewhere, is golden.

END

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Pumpkin spice

November 19, 2017 Comments Off on Pumpkin spice

Every fall, Starbucks pumps out its seasonal offering of pumpkin spice latte. It sounds great and rings in the autumn excesses of too much sugar, too much food, too much booze, and too many prescription medications, but when you think about it, it doesn’t really sound all that great.

Who eats pumpkin? It’s a giant, orange, nasty veggie-fruity thing that stinks and doesn’t taste very good. Pumpkin salad? Pumpkin soup? Pumpkin steak? Pumpkin burger? Ahhh … no, thanks.

Still, you order one anyway because it looks and feels like fall and it’s extra points in your quest to get a free fifty cent drink for every $150 dollars you spend, and you’re usually doing okay until about halfway through, when you start to get queasy from the pure sugar that is 100% sugar and all the completely sugary sugar that fills half the cup, but you keep slurping away, mixing in the whipped cream sugar with the rest of the sugar, until somehow you get to the bottom of the cup, and there it is: A nasty, orange-brown slurry of toxic sludge that suddenly you can’t believe you ate. You stare at it, grossed out, then maybe you fiddle with the end of your straw and suck down a few drops, which are plain old nasty, like drinking the dregs from the sippy cup of a two-year-old who has a bad cold.

In short, you feel terrible. Sugar bombed, 1,200 calories into the red (it’s only 8:00 AM), and, if you’re feeling really guilty you look up the ingredients on the Internet and learn what you already knew. There isn’t even any pumpkin in it, anyway.

pumpkin_spice

Fact is, we have a little seasonal offering like that right here in L.A. It’s called the Dogtown Ride. It’s a special product only sold in fall. You get tagged on Facebag by Tony Manzella, the ride’s progenitor, or you get a private text message if you’re not ‘bagging it anymore, and at 8:00 AM at Dogtown Coffee in Santa Monica the fastest cyclists in L.A. show up to do some early season polishing, and you’re gonna be the whetstone.

Like the pumpkin spice latte, I felt a vague attraction to this seasonal offering, even though I’ve done it before and knew that nothing good ever comes from it. I met up at the appointed hour, thankfully getting there an hour earlier so that I could enjoy what truly is the phenomenal brewing of Dogtown Coffee (no pumpkin spice latte there, folks), and so that I could let my stomach settle.

In small groups the riders appeared, each one possessed of the same silly delusion, that they would be able to hold the pace with Tony, Head Down James, Thomas Rennier, Eric B., bearded British dude, ex-cross country champ-turned-tridork, Kate V., Katie D., or any of the other people who were absolutely going to ride away, see ya. I exited Dogtown and paid homage to Tony and his dad, Rich, and noted that Tony had removed his Garmin. I didn’t know if this was his message that he is no longer into data, or a suggestion that he wasn’t going to go that hard, a feint designed to fool us pack fodder into a few moments of satisfaction.

I chatted with Elijah, who was now on his third team in three years, with Casey, with Patrick Barrett, with Josh, with Joe Pugliese, and with a couple of other riders as we pedaled through Santa Monica. It was sunny, beautiful, warm, and promised to be a horrible day on the bike.

The first climb, Bienveneda Avenue, might be a misspelling of the Spanish word “bienvenida,” which means “welcome.” Like the pumpkin spice missing the pumpkin, there was no welcome in Bienveneda, only the shock and awe as clumps of eager cyclists dashed past me, dangled in front for a bit, and then exploded, spectacularly, on the horribly steep climb. I plodded to the top, where the leaders had already finished checking into #socmed and were ready for the next fake ingredient of this foul-tasting fall seasonal “fun” ride.

Next on the ingredient list was Palisades Drive, much longer and much less steep until you got to the last part, which was just as long as just as steep. The Santa Monica/BMW riders shelled the entire field. I hung on for a bit before getting dropped, then got caught by Eric Bruins, who towed me the rest of the way up. Dave Holland, Michael Penta, Chuck Huang, Christina Oi, Tony Sells, David Mack, and countless others reached the top with the done look of a steak left on the grill overnight.

By now the full effect of the pumpkin spice was hitting our digestive tracts, which meant it was perfect timing to descend Palisades at 50+ mph, replete with riders squatting on their top tubes, massive chugholes blowing tires off the rim, Ferraris coming by in the Number One lane at 80, and everyone behaving as if a head-first fall onto the pavement would be “just a scratch.” We reached PCH and Tony, along with the Santa Monica zombies, beat the pedals all the way to Pepperdine Hill. Even tucked onto a wheel I was in pain. Many riders decided that they’d had enough and went home.

Like a fool, I continued.

We charged up Malibu Canyon Road, where hairy English dude dropped everyone, then created a small group of leaders. The rest of us clumped together on the windy, endless climb, wishing it would either end or finish or conclude or terminate, but it didn’t. I took one last pull, and although I failed to bridge, I did manage to ride everyone in the group off my wheel except four others, who, when I swung over, charged past.

One by one I got caught by everyone I had dropped, and was dropped myself; just me and the dregs in the bottom of the pumpkin spice cup, wondering why I’d eaten so much orange vomit. A few hours later I got home, depleted, cramped, and thoroughly looking forward to the next one. After all, Dogtown Ride only comes around a couple of times a year. And who’d want to miss out on that?

END

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“These stories are true.”

November 16, 2017 Comments Off on “These stories are true.”

With those words, Louis C.K. validated women everywhere who have come forward with accusations of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct.

In the world of cycling here’s what those words made up for:

Women in pro cycling who get paid a fraction of their male counterparts; local promoters who only offer women’s races when lobbied intensively by women; local promoters who refuse to offer women’s races; lopsided prize lists at the pro level; lopsided prize lists at the local level; coaches who rape their athletes; coaches who demean their women athletes by calling them fat; advice sausages who lecture women about how to ride; men who have no problem getting dropped by other men but give it 110% to not get dropped by a woman; cycling companies that market to women as an afterthought; cycling media that publishes women’s results as the afterthought of an afterthought; clubs that have lots of women members but no women on the board; racing teams for men only; cycling companies that advertise to men using “sexy” or “racy” women models; national cycling organizations that do little to develop women’s cycling; Olympics that have more men’s cycling events than women’s; men who stalk women cyclists on Strava; men who stalk women cyclists on Facebag; men who make unwanted and uninvited sexual comments to women riders; men who touch women riders without permission or invitation; men who give women cyclists a “helpful push” when it’s not wanted; men who tell women that their races are boring; men who give unsolicited racing and riding advice; teams that make their women racer dance with a male pro because “it’s his birthday” while everyone watches; the women’s national team coach not showing up for his athlete’s pro world road victory because had to “coach some (male) juniors”; women racers having to borrow helmets from men and being told they’d be banned if they didn’t return them; the coach who told his athlete to “go away and have a baby”; male pros telling women to “get over it” regarding sexism; the coach who called his women athletes “bitches” and “sheilas”; teams that changed or sabotaged women’s contract negotiations; management failing to honor specified contract terms; women’s contracts being cancelled without due process; women on pro teams being forced to ride for no pay; women receiving mechanical drivetrains while the men received Di2; team’s non-payment for women’s racing services under the contract; teams that fail to provide women with travel costs, staff, and equipment; teams that charge  women for ‘team services’ to make up for the team’s failure to provide essential services; teams that fine women riders repeatedly for “infractions” of rules with no previous documentation of those rules; teams that fine women for being “fat”; teams that fine women riders for damaging a pair of sponsored carbon wheels in a race-related crash; coaches and teams that emotionally abuse women racers; coaches that employ body-shaming to manipulate vulnerable riders; coaches that body shame women riders as an excuse to fine them; coaches that body shame women riders to create monetary, behavioral or performance repercussions; coaches that employ yelling, tirades and public humiliation against women riders; team managers who demand complete control over women riders by insisting they move into the team house; men who physically abuse women riders; coaches who force their women riders to dope; men who write misogynistic anonymous comments on the Internet …

Yes, Louis C.K.’s words made up for all of that.

Oh, wait.

No, they didn’t.

END

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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.

“Yes.”

“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.”

“Really?”

“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?”

“No.”

“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?”

“Lawyer.”

“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 twaffles.com, sonjasdiscounttravelsites.com, and jacketreplacementzippers.com. 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.

END

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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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END

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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.

END

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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.

END

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