March 16, 2016 § 6 Comments
One of the really great horrible things about cycling here in the South Bay is that there are so many opportunities to get on your bicycle and go have a wonderful miserable ride. One of the best most terrible rides is the Telo World Championships, held every Tuesday at 6:00 PM after the switch to daylight-saving-but-sanity-losing time.
Telo is often referred to as a training crit but no one is sure what it really trains you for except perhaps to make poor choices and suffer unpleasant consequences. I’m not sure that by age 52 I need any more of those opportunities, having already elected marriage, children, law, and a host of other fantastic awful choices.
Still, the hallmark of truly stupid people is that they apply poor judgment skills across a wide spectrum of experience, and Telo is no exception. As a beneficially destructive training crit, the mythology goes like this.
KK: What do you think about me doing Telo?
Wanky: You crashed in the Cat 4 race and said you were going to quit racing for a while.
KK: But I was told Telo is a great training crit by really experienced people.
Wanky: Are these the same people who encouraged you to race your bike?
Wanky: Well okay then.
KK: But do you think I should so it?
Wanky: My coaching services have been suspended by the state so we’ll pretend this is Scrabble and all I have is a “q” and an “x.” I’ll pass.
KK: But my thinking is that since I’m really freaked out by Cat 4 races that maybe I can get acclimated to racing better by doing Telo.
Wanky: That’s possible. I’m just not aware of any 27-second crits being promoted by Lotts. Or anyone else.
KK: What do you mean? I thought Telo was a hour long.
Wanky: It is for some people.
KK: What’s that supposed to mean?
Wanky: Unlike sanctioned crits, Telo lumps everyone together. So the leaky prostate profamateurs like me and the boot-shaking Cat 4’s like you have to race with the young, the strong, the fast, the quick, the savvy, the relentless, and basically everyone who has a 30-second recovery whereas we have like, 3 minutes. Plus we have to race with Smasher who specializes in attacking the shit out of everyone all the time, especially his breakaway mates with a lap to go so the breakaway can fail and get caught by the swarm and all our efforts can result in 38nd place.
KK: But why 27 seconds?
Wanky: That’s the average time that a newcomer lasts at Telo.
KK: So it’s harder than my Cat 4 race?
Wanky: The first 27 seconds will be. After that you can leisurely pedal around the office park and memorize the lessees of all the offices.
KK: So why do you always do it then?
Wanky: I don’t. I didn’t do it at all last year, and only a handful of times the year before. It’s a really fun unhappy race with lots of very safe deadly opportunities to get hit head-on by traffic in the chicane, plus it has a 25-mph headwind for half a mile every lap that feels really good fucking awful beyond belief.
KK: So I shouldn’t do it?
Wanky: Still nothing here but x’s and q’s.
Shortly thereafter, KK and I lined up and did Telo. KK’s race lasted a lot longer than 27 seconds but it was nonetheless very helpful in a tearing-down, lonely, and defeating kind of way. We chatted afterwards.
Wanky: So, how was it?
KK: I loved it! It was awesome! This is just what I need! I can’t wait ’til next week!
Wanky: Oh, brother.
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March 12, 2016 § 11 Comments
$1,672.23–Round-trip coach airfare for two with one stop in Shanghai, not necessarily at the airport listed on the itinerary.
$1,200.00–Five nights at the Shangri-La Hotel Tainan. Presidential suite, lights-out breakfast (all you can gorge on) that includes full Chinese buffet, Western style breakfast buffet, ordering off the menu, or all of the above. You will start your day with a massive waddle. Also includes a happy hour with free drinks and exquisite food which, if you are like us, quickly becomes happy dinner.
$0.00–Amount spent on dinner for seven days.
$3.25–Average daily cost of lunch for two at the noodle shop down the street.
$0.00–Amount spent on coffee and cakes and snacks because the hotel’s Presidential suite package includes all-day coffee/tea/cake/snack service.
10–Hours spent in the gym on the stationary bike vainly trying to work off breakfast and happy dinner.
4–Hours per day spent walking around the city.
$1.50–Bus fare for five days.
$76.00–Cost of a four-hour personalized tour guide who won’t speak to you in Chinese even though that’s what you’ve ostensibly paid him for.
$6.00–Cost of souvenirs which comprised a loaf of Castella pound cake.
$150.00–Cost of two round-trip bullet train tickets from Taipei to Tainan.
125–Pages I conquered in Ulysses.
5–Times I washed my Team Lizard Collectors kit in the bathtub.
2–Pocket umbrellas we bought.
6.50–Cost of pocket umbrellas.
165–Times that people spoke to Mrs. WM in Chinese.
0–Times people spoke to me in Chinese even after I spoke to them in Chinese.
15–Bird species I successfully identified out of a total species list for Taiwan of over 500.
$0.00–Amount spent on tips.
$4.50–Amount spent on postcards and postage. Yes, they still have postcards.
1–Days we got rained on while out tramping around.
5–Nights we planned to go to the Night Market, famed for its food stalls.
0–Nights we went to the Night Market thanks to the Horizon Club’s happy dinner.
$175.00–Amount left over from my 7-day spending budget of $500.00.
4–Pairs of underwear brought.
1–Wend baseball caps lost at LAX.
1–Artsy, kanji-covered baseball caps bought in Tainan.
1–Pairs of pants brought.
1–Pairs of swim trunks brought.
0–Times swim trunks worn.
3–Massages gotten by Mrs. WM at the hotel spa.
0–Times I didn’t wake up between 2:00 and 3:00 AM.
2–Days I stayed awake past 7:00 PM.
24–Hotel staff who recognized us as “The Hungry Davidsons.”
March 10, 2016 § 14 Comments
I am an easy tourist to please. I don’t care about the food, the bed, the bedbugs, the rats in the kitchen, the pickpockets, the surly wait staff, the closed attractions, the lost baggage, the little ant-mounds of filth in the door-corners of the airplane lavatory, or the highway robbery airport exchange rate.
The only thing I want is the one thing I can’t have. Of course.
If you thought that after making your way to a dusty little corner of a dusty little island stuck off on the edge of a dusty little ocean where everyone is Chinese that it would be really easy to get people to speak to you in Chinese you would be wrong. Frightfully, terribly, credit-default-swap-mortgage-backed-securities-wrong.
From the moment we got to Taiwan, everyone did in fact speak Chinese. But they refused to speak it to me. This was pure racial discrimination. No matter how many times I said, “Where are the oxtail suspenders?” or “How do we get to the plutonium?” or “What is the cost of a young girl like your wife?” and no matter how smilingly I said it, the result was always the same: The person being addressed ignored me and spoke to Mrs. WM.
“Sorry, I don’t speak Chinese,” she would answer, upon which utterance they would repeat themselves. It was like being the ugly American in reverse, where instead of shouting slowly in English to make the locals understand, the local shouted quickly in Chinese because whether or not Mrs. WM could speak Chinese she looked Chinese and when forced to choose between someone who looked Chinese but couldn’t speak it and someone who looked tall and white and who was urgently asking “Which cow to the upper bowl of noodles?” they defaulted–every single time–by talking to the fake Chinese person.
At one point Mrs. WM even said, “I’m Japanese!” at which point the person said to her, in perfect English, “All of Asia is our little brother.”
If we’d had Kim Jong-Un around I’m sure the nukes would have been loosed.
Of course the hotel staff was super pro at ignoring people who tried to foist off their bad Chinese thereby complicating their lives, confusing them about what was actually being asked for and generally giving everyone a headache, so they simply smiled and answered everything in English.
“Ni hao!” I’d brightly say as we showed for the 6:30 AM breakfast at 6:31 and have thirds before the next guests even arrived.
“Good morning!” they’d say.
“Qing gei women liang bei kafei,” I’d ask to which they’d reply “Cream and sugar?”
Before long I was enraged as I watched my entire trip swirl down the toilet, although it wasn’t exactly rage because four days in I still had only spent a hundred bucks, and nothing salves a wounded ego like a bargain. Still, fo this I’d spent the last seven months torturing my family with 5:00 AM radio programs? For this I’d memorized two dozen Chinese characters? For this I’d paid $46 each for books 1 and 2 of the New Chinese Practical Reader?
No and hell no.
So I went to the concierge and asked for a town tour guide who would conduct the whole tour in Chinese. “Sure,” he said. “$2,500 okay?”
I did the math and it came out to either $76 or $760, so I took a chance and said “Yes.”
The next morning Mr. Zhou showed up and we started off. “How are you today?” he said. “My name is Zhou.”
“Please only speak to me in Chinese,” I said.
“Okay,” he answered, and began a torrent of Chinese, none of which I understood. However, having been married to Mrs. WM for 30 years and still not understanding much more than 5% of everything she says, I handled him easily. You can fake anything with a smile and a nod and $76 bucks.
An hour or so went by and I was completely not understanding anything at all, not even a little, and Mr. Zhou knew it. He feebly tried to switch to English a couple of times but I smacked him down. “Chinese only, please,” I said.
As he began to stare into the maw of an 8-hour day speaking to the human equivalent of a tree stump, his sails visibly slackened. Two hours later he was completely exhausted, depressive, and sunken into despair. I of course was thrilled. I’d finally found someone I could force to speak Chinese. So what if I couldn’t understand anything? What the hell was there to understand, anyway?
“This old place was founded by this old person and these old people killed these other old people and here are some pots and a painting and bunch of stones.” History is the same everywhere.
However, Mr. Zhou’s momma didn’t raise no dummy. He eventually realized that he could realize his secret goal, which was getting me to hire him so he could practice his English, by “translating” everything from Chinese to English for the “benefit” of Mrs. WM, who was about as interested in historical facts as she was in learning to iron, probably less.
Pretty soon it was all English, all the time. “Hey,” I’d protest “what about the Chinese?” Mr. Zhou would then ask me in Chinese “Do you need to use the bathroom?” or “How old are your children?” and go right back to Englishifying with Mrs. WM.
By the end of the day I was completely exhausted, depressive, and sunken into despair. What kind of loser can’t even pay someone in a country filled with Chinese speakers to speak to him in Chinese? Wait a minute. You don’t have to answer that.
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March 10, 2016 § 45 Comments
Life, the real kind, unfettered and un-faked by the Internet and social media, is a personal thing. It’s encapsulated by these phrases which remind us that it’s not the masses that matter, it’s the person.
“All politics are local.”
“Nothing ever happens until it happens to you.”
And this: “Misery is news but tragedy is personal.”
The closer it is the more you feel it, and even though I was 7,000 miles away yesterday I felt the death of Jonathan Tansavatdi, a cyclist who rides for my club, Big Orange. Jon was killed when he was hit by a truck as he descended Hawthorne Blvd., a road that every cyclist in the South Bay knows intimately.
These words were written by his best friend and riding buddy, Matt Miller:
On March 8, 2016 Jonathan Tansavatdi died doing what he loved. Riding his bicycle.
Jon was a true friend. He was my partner on the bike. We rode together more than we rode alone, and we rode a lot, thousands of miles. Over those miles we became brothers. We shared our dreams, our fears, and our water bottles. My wife took care of his dog Leia when we’d spend entire days on the road, and he would always bring her a bag of Groundworks Coffee as a thank you.
When he learned we didn’t have a coffee grinder, he bought us one.
Jon was a man of unlimited potential. On the bike he was becoming unstoppable. He was so strong that even after 180 miles he couldn’t keep himself from going off the front of our peloton time and time again at the Camino Real Double Century. On our last ride together, the FDR, we approached a cyclist who had passed us on Crest and was running out of gas. “Let’s come up on him slowly, then step on the gas and drop him,” I said.
“Let’s just go now,” was Jon’s reply. And then he dropped us both.
Jon wasn’t just strong, either. He was kind. After the last bro ride, we sat on our top tubes for 10 minutes outside his apartment while he gently encouraged Bader to ride hard, but also to ride more safely and obey the rules of the peloton.
Off the bike He was a prodigious success. He was a founding member of the Rubicon Project, a tech startup that made it big. He just left to found another start up company that had already secured several million in investments.
Perhaps most impressively, Jon had invented his own photosharing app, nearly at the beta testing stage, that allows users to automatically share photos with friends nearby via bluetooth. We mused how useful an app like that would be on our rides.
More than anything, Jon loved his family. He spoke of his sisters and mother and wife with compassion, understanding, and a clear desire to protect them.
No one was more proud to be Orange. He wore our kit with honor and distinction and guts and a smile. He embodied our club’s only rule: Don’t be a dick.
Jonathan Tansavatdi was a beautiful human being that paid the ultimate price for living his dream every day. He was a hardman of the road, and he was my brother. He leaves this life aged only 29 years, but I will carry him in my heart and on my bike for the rest of my life.
Rest In Peace, brother. May a tailwind carry your soul to eternity.
March 9, 2016 § 14 Comments
Today there were no plans for cycling. Nor are we in the South Bay. (This meets Blogbot 4.5.7 system requirements to mention “cycling” or “South Bay” in order to generate today’s machine-written post.)
There were, however, plans to test the breakfast buffet, which had stir-fried vegetables, dim sum, baked sweet potato, curry & rice, bamboo shoots, and the best Oolong tea I’ve ever imagined.
Note: After careful observation I’ve concluded that the Chinese are somewhat expert at tea. Possible business/import opportunity here?
We were late for breakfast, which opened at 6:30 AM, arriving at 6:31-ish. After my second trip through the buffet I realized that this was going to wreck my diet for master’s states the week after we return, so I abandoned the Chinese buffet and ordered eggs Benedict and a waffle off the menu.
Mrs. WM looked askance. “Your tummy onna poppin’ your top button if you keep onna food shovel.”
“We’ll walk it off,” I said.
Mrs. WM took out her calculator. “What are you doing?” I asked. “There’s no tipping. It’s not even a place in China.”
“Thirty-five miles,” she said.
“Thirty-five miles to where?”
“To your skinny. Thatsa how far you gotta walkin’ today to lose one pound. And the way you onna eatin’ breakfast like starvin’ blogger you got two new tummy pounds my guessin’. So 70 miles walkin’ today. I’m onna taxi though.”
We left the hotel and it was a gorgeous morning and we started tripping. There are 3 to 12-inch drop-offs and step-ups along the sidewalks every fifty feet or so which either keeps you on your toes or puts you on your ass.
To get to the other side of the station we took an underground passageway reeking of piss and the refuge of a few bums on cardboard mats. One guy had shit his pants and rolled over in some old chicken bones and curry and seemed to be getting a pretty solid sleep or was dead or both.
I gave $50 NTD to a beggar and felt like a Rockefeller even though it was only about $1.50 USD.
We walked over to an old fort and strolled the grounds which were alive with birds. I got spotted dove, red collared dove, and black-vented bulbul, three outrageously beautiful birds. There were a couple of other obviously common birds I couldn’t identify, one with a striped breast and the most amazing red eyes I’ve ever seen not at a Grateful Dead concert.
It rained on us but we didn’t care, stopping at a tea shop and again enjoying this tea thing. I’m really starting to think that Westerners might like it.
Mrs. WM was super impressed when I ordered tea and we got coffee. “Your Chinese gettin’ better,” she said. “Lady knew you talkin’ Chinese anyway.”
March 8, 2016 § 22 Comments
One thing I can say about Tainan is that it’s filled with bikes. Thousands and thousands ands thousands of them, ridden by kids, parents, and grannies, parked so thickly you can barely navigate the sidewalk and filling the streets from gutter to center line.
Unfortunately, they all have motors.
The other thing I can say about Tainan is that I love it. It’s gritty, unpretentious, and like traveling back to the Japan of the 1980’s. Our hotel, a 38-story luxury monstrosity, is plopped down in the middle of town next to a train station that hasn’t had a bath in forty years.
What’s more amazing is that all of Taiwan looks like the Utsunomiya I first experienced in 1987. The bullet train is one of the Japanese models from the 80’s but in immaculate condition. It’s exactly like the one I used to commute on, only a different color.
“Is it that bad?” I asked.
“Let’s put it this way,” he said. “I’ve never heard of them.”
We boarded expecting an Aeroflot reject from the 90’s, but it was a brand new 777 with the only thing Mrs. WM cared about, which was clean toilets.
My neighbor, however, was displeased with the fare. He looked like the grumpy complaining type and I envisaged thirteen hours of complaints. “This airplane food is disgusting,” he snarled.
I looked at him. “Dude, what is it about the phrase ‘airplane food’ you don’t understand?” That shut him up.
Everything went great until 30 minutes before landing. “Captain not landing Shanghai Pudong International,” said the intercom. “Captain landing Shanghai Hongqiao.”
I turned to Mrs. WM. “At least they both have ‘Shanghai’ in the name.”
The plane erupted in angry Chinese chatter. “What are they saying?” asked Mrs. WM.
“‘Oh, fuck!’ and ‘The fuck you say!’ and such,” I guessed.
“You makin’ that up? I thought you was onna Chinese talking champion.”
“Come on, honey. I only been studying Chinese since September. I’m still on the chapter called ‘Can you use chopsticks?’ I haven’t gotten to ‘What the fuck do you mean we’re landing somewhere else I’m gonna miss my fucking connecting flight to Taipei.’ That’s still a few chapters away. Maybe Book 3.”
Everyone swarmed the waitress for info but she clammed up. When I got my chance she smiled sweetly. “Ground crew telling all information. Maybe free shuttle bus to Pudong.”
“How far is that?”
“Only 60 kilometer.”
“That’s not so bad. We have a five-hour layover. How long does it take to drive from Hongqiao to Pudong?”
“One and one half hour no traffic.”
“How long with traffic?”
“We only have five.”
“Maybe you take subway.”
“How long does that take?”
“One and one half hour if you no lost. You speak little Chinese?”
She rattled something off. I stared uncomprehendingly. “What she say?” asked Mrs. WM.
“I have no idea.”
“You better get onna refund for your Chinese book. You ain’t can’t Chinese for nothin’.”
The waitress saw I was clueless. “Maybe for you get lost in subway badly, three hours unless mistaken train Nanjing then overnight.”
“Are there no flights from Hongqiao to Taipei?”
“Ask ground crew,” she shrugged and continued along the aisle, thronged by angry passengers shouting questions.
We deplaned onto the tarmac into a pounding rain and couldn’t fit on the bus. A staffer held a broken umbrella over our heads as we got soaked waiting for the next one.
Inside the terminal it was madness, but at least it was dry, warm madness. We went through customs and immigration and towards the China Eastern Airlines counter. Mrs. WM saw a line forming and sprinted away in her white sandals with thick black wool socks dragging a giant red suitcase whose wheels began smoking from the speed.
I caught up to her, breathless. “This onna good line and we’re fourth place!” She said excitedly. “Plus Chinese onna rude and pushy inna line,” she said, elbowing her way past a pair of quiet and orderly people.
“How do you you know it’s the right line?”
She shrugged. “I know I’m Japanese.”
We waited a half hour. “I’m sorry, this is wrong line, you line over there at Counter 70.” The ground staff pointed to a tiny speck on the other side of the airport.
Mrs. WM sprinted away. I got there much later. “Honey he said Counter 70. This is Counter 17.”
We argued and I lost until we got to the front after half an hour. “This is wrong line you line Counter 70.”
I was too worn out to curse for more than about five minutes. We got to Counter 70 where we were #57 in line. Each person ahead of us had a lengthy life’s story, twelve bags, and a carry-on filled with seething rage.
The staffer would furiously pound the computer, shout into a walkie-talkie, then dash away with a clipboard. She’d then return, apologize, and tell the waiting passenger and his family to take the shuttle bus at which point they’d erupt in fury. “What they saying?” asked Mrs. WM.
“‘I’m going to miss my flight!’ and ‘Who’s gonna lug these 12 bags back through the airport?’ is my guess.”
After an hour we got to the front with only one angry family ahead of us. They, too, got shuttle-bussed. “Let’s go, honey, and take the fucking shuttle bus.”
“We ain’t waitin’ onna one hour in line to go shuttle bussin’ without talkin’ onna clerk.”
“Don’t be silly. EVERY SINGLE FUCKING PERSON HAS BEEN SENT TO THE FUCKING SHUTTLE BUS FOR FUCK’S FUCKING SAKE.”
“I waited an I’m onna get my talkingsworth,” Mrs. WM insisted.
The staffer pounded the computer, shouted into the walkie-talkie, ran off with the clipboard and never came back. Those behind us went up to AngryCon 5 as we’d apparently run off the only ticket agent in Shanghai.
After ten endless minutes which is a long time to hated by a 200-person queue she returned. “Here boarding pass leave Gate 6 ten minute.”
Mrs. WM snatched them and sprinted away. The angry mob stared in awe and envy. We made the flight and got into Tapei a half hour ahead of schedule.
March 7, 2016 § 14 Comments
Jimmy Huang was better than me at everything, except maybe being tall. He was my debate partner and he was the brains behind the team. I was the judge appeal, if that gives you any idea how unappealing we were, and the only reason I spoke better than he did was because he had moved to Houston from Taiwan when he was eight and when he got to talking quickly he would lapse into a very thick accent and spit.
He was a big spew-spitter, but he was still the brains. We went to nationals on the back of his IQ, and lost three out of four rounds on the weakness of mine.
He was a better athlete. We briefly went to swim team practice because Thomas Lin, another Chinese dude who was smarter than my whole family tree, was a state champion breast stroker and lured us into workouts one summer. Jimmy had the swimming grace and technique of an old typewriter tossed off a pier, but he could beat me in every stroke. He was tough as nails and really enjoyed watching me crumple.
He went to Harvard. I went to Texas.
He became a world-renowned pediatric oncologist at one of the world’s leading medical schools. I became a blogger. About bike racing. For old people.
I tried to keep up our friendship until I realized it wasn’t a friendship. He had needed me to get him to nationals in debate and add a line to his college application, but once that function was served, we drifted apart as in “he rowed as fast as he could in the other direction.”
Jimmy was Chinese, which is what I always called him, even though each time he patiently corrected me. “My name isn’t Jimmy, it’s James, and I’m not Chinese, I’m Taiwanese.”
“What’s the difference?”
“China is a communist authoritarian regime. Taiwan is a capitalist democracy.”
“Taiwan is a friend of America. China is an enemy.”
“So please don’t call me Chinese. I’m not from China.”
“Okay, dude, sorry,” I’d say until the next time.
Finally he got exasperated. “Would you please stop calling me Chinese?”
“Dude, I’m sorry, but you fucking speak Chinese, you look Chinese, and Taiwan used to be part of China.”
“So can I call you English?”
“You can call me whatever you want. I don’t fucking care.”
“I do care,” he said. Then he lectured me about Taiwan and China and stuff. About how Taiwan was a lone outpost of democracy with democratic institutions, constantly threatened by a totalitarian regime, about how the island’s existence depended on the industriousness and dedication of its people, and about how in this age where despotism ruled most of the world and was growing, we had a moral duty to support Taiwan.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” I said.
“To you it’s just a place with ‘Chinese’ people, even though they speak a language called Taiwanese and are independent from China. To me it’s a homeland and its precarious existence matters. Democracy and rule of law are real things and every little bit of democracy on this earth punches a thousand times over its weight. Slavery and oppression are real, Seth. Freedom matters.”
“What am I supposed to do about that?”
“For starters, you could use the right words. I’m Taiwanese, not Chinese. And maybe one day when you become an adult, you can remember this conversation and do something for Taiwan.”
“I don’t know. Go there, maybe. Educate yourself. Spend some of your American dollars on your American allies.”
After we left high school in 1982 I got into biking and it became a craze after the ’84 Olympics. Coincidentally Jimmy had bought a bicycle and started riding. One summer I was in Houston for one of Tom Bentley’s races. I called Jimmy up. He had heard through a mutual friend, Ferdie Wong, who went to Rice and rode for their Beer Bike team, that I rode. “So I hear you are a bicycle racer now?” he asked.
“Yeah, it’s pretty much all I do.”
“Well, I bought a bicycle in Boston and have been riding for a few months. We should go ride together.”
“Nah, you don’t want to do that,” I said. “I’ll rip your fucking legs off.”
“That’s okay,” he said smoothly, recalling a summer’s worth of beatings administered in the pool. “I’ll try to hang on.”
“Jimmy, you don’t understand,” I said. “I don’t pedal around the block with a few buddies sprinting for stop signs. I’m a licensed Cat 2 USCF road racer. I train 500 miles a week. I know you think this is another one of those things where I’m just a puffed-up fraud of a bullshitter, but trust me, even though I am, if you only started riding a bike in earnest a couple of months ago I will be forced to tear you apart and leave you for dead somewhere far from civilization.”
“It should be instructive,” he said patiently. “Why don’t we meet out in Katy? There are some roads out there I’ve been riding on since I came home for the summer.”
“Okay, but why don’t we just go have lunch somewhere? I’m going to destroy your perfect record of always being better than me at everything. And a perfectionist like you will grind down your fucking rear molars from the ignominy of it all.”
“I will take my chances,” he said humbly.
We met out on one of the farm roads west of Katy. He had shorts and jersey and helmet and an entry-level racing bike. I had my Team Peloton garb (Team “Group of Cyclists” translated from the French), my sparkling blue Eddy Merckx with Campy Super Record, shaved legs, and a musette bag stuffed with ten flavors of whup-ass.
The roads west of Katy are flat and the prevailing wind is southeast. “Let’s start with a tailwind,” I said. “It will be easier for you. In the beginning, anyway.”
I was pretty excited, and I started kind of hard. He knew how to draft and immediately got on my wheel. Pretty soon I backed it off and let the tail wind push us along. After ten minutes or so I looked back. He was still on my wheel, but he didn’t look very good. I couldn’t believe my good luck, so I eased off a bit so that he could catch his breath. We rolled with that tailwind for 30 minutes. I glanced back once more and saw that he was in the box.
“Hey, pal,” I said. “You’re looking like a fish that’s been fed a live grenade. Want to turn around?”
“Okay,” he said.
We did and hit that headwind. It was awful. I settled into a pace that I figured was just enough for him to hang on, knowing that he was a tough, no-quit bastard, but fast enough to be a living hell. I checked back once to see him dying two deaths: One was the physical death of trying to hang on, the other was the emotional death of getting crushed by someone he held in contempt and had fully expected to destroy.
We got back to our cars. He was giddy and could barely stand. “If you want to go knock out a couple more hours, I’m game,” I said. “But frankly you don’t look like you’ll be able to make the drive home without an oxygen tent.”
He tried to smile. “I think I’ve had enough for today.”
Many years later I realized that after almost thirty years of marriage I’d never taken a vacation or leisure trip with my wife that hadn’t included kids or parents. “Hey, honey,” I said. “Let’s go take a trip. Just you and me.”
She looked at me funny because she knew that this was going to be a sideways invitation to go hand up water bottles at a road race. “I might be busy. When? Where? And what for?”
“Let’s go to Taiwan,” I said. “We’ll stay in a super fancy hotel, you’ll get the spa package where they buff those four-inch calluses off your feet, and we’ll lounge around.”
“What about the bike racing?”
“There’s no bike racing.”
“Because,” I said, “it’s a super beautiful place. It’s mostly national park and rural and incredibly rich in Chinese culture–like the mainland before Mao destroyed everything with the Cultural Revolution. Plus the food’s awesome. And there are tons of great birds, 30 or 40 endemics.”
She was in a bind. It sounded good, but thirty years of hard knocks and disappointment are hard to overcome with a few glib words, especially from someone who majored in Glib. “Okay,” she said, “but how are we gonna get around?”
“I’ll learn Chinese.”
This sounded like the insane husband she was used to, whose grandiose delusions always turned into unrealistic plans that went down in flames. “In six months?”
“Sure,” I said. “How hard can it be?”
“But why Taiwan? It’s bicycles, isn’t it? Your bicycle is made there, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but that’s not the reason.”
“Because Jimmy was right.”
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