J-toast

November 17, 2016 § 27 Comments

Everybody knows about sushi but my favorite Japanese food is J-toast. It’s hard to describe perfection but I will try. J-toast is made from big thick slices of white bread that are too thick for sandwiches and too soft to eat plain with butter.

When toasted they form a perfectly sized piece of crack that absorbs butter slabs without getting soggy and allows you to mount thick layers of jam without getting more than a couple of heart palpitations.


Every morning Honorable Mother-in-Law gets up at four and has hot coffee waiting for me when I awake, which is immediately followed by two pieces of J-toast.

In addition to its amazing taste and medicinal properties, J-toast is the perfect fuel for mama-chari bike adventures, filled as it is with empty calories and butter, and pre-amped in coffee.

I rolled out the mama-chari, which is an abbreviation of “mama” and “charinko.” Charinko means “crappy old bike” and is the preferred means of transport for anyone over 80, which is most of Japan nowadays.

The mama-chari has a number of performance characteristics common across all makes, models, and prices. First, it is real fucking heavy. You may want to know how heavy but let’s just say Strava Jr. doesn’t even have any kids who weigh this much. The weight protects the mama-chari in a collision by allowing it to absorb the impact of, say, a cement mixer, and continue unharmed.

Mama-chari don’t do carbon.

Mama-chari’s key function is carrying Obachan and shit, fully laden, so it has tiny 150mm cranks that allow it to get started from a dead stop by applying granny leg power, which, although considerable, needs all the help it can get. Mama-chari backs up the mini-cranks with a mini-drivetrain consisting of a single gear that measures 12 gear-inches. At first this seems a tad under-geared but when you hit a big climb, say anything greater than 1%, you immediately appreciate the physics, any physics at all, that will help you move 300 pounds of steel against the chains of gravity.

And speaking of chains, the mama-chari’s chain is ensconced in a complete covering, and the wheels are protected with massive fenders so ensure zero spatter anywhere. This is because obachan is certainly running multiple errands from the cleaners to the green grocer to the butcher to the relatives’ across town to drop off some tea and pick up some gossip to the funeral hall to pay respects to a young hale fellow of 97 who dropped dead in his prime to the hospital to say hello to Uncle Hideki who is getting a stent to the doctor’s office to get a mole checked out so, in other words, Obachan can’t get any mud or dirt or rain on her which is a real risk as she’s often doing this in a typhoon, snow storm, or riding through four feet of spring-melt mud slush.

Mama-chari comes fully equipped with a massive rear rack sturdy enough for mounting a kiddy seat for triplets or for carrying a granite headstone. On the handlebars, which are upright to improve Obachan’s posture and stability, there is a giant yellow bell, activated with the slightest flick of the wrist which will alert all pedestrians for the next couple of miles and scare all the pigeons and crows off the utility poles.

Since the mama-chari is so heavy, if it ever tipped over it would create a two-foot divot in the asphalt, so rather than a side kickstand it has a rear-wheel kickstand with a lock so that it can’t roll backwards and slide down the hill, killing thousands and losing the bread that Obachan pedaled twelve miles across town to save fifteen cents on.

But the crowning performance detail is the mama-chari basket. Forget the cute wicker thingy that fashion-conscious boys and girls attach in Santa Monica for $99. This beast is a solid steel cage that, when properly loaded with seasonal ham gift boxes, wool panties  bought on sale at Tobu Department Store, three pairs of toilet slippers, a bag of mandarin oranges, and 30 kg of ready-crete to build out the rear deck, perfectly balances the uncut logs and 50-gallon planters that are strapped to the rear rack.

My morning goals were simpler than all that. I was going to ride out to the Utsunomiya race course that the UCI world road race championships were held on in 1990, and that my buddy Rick Kent and I rode when he came out to visit in 1999. Then I was going to do the epic climb and maybe shell a couple of unlucky locals.

I had forgotten the way to San Jose and after an hour of pedaling the mama-chari through narrow roads and rice fields I was lost, and more importantly I was exhausted from spinning the tiny cranks, the tiny gear, and the heavy bike uphill. Did I mention that the average obachan in Japan isn’t six feet tall? Because even with the saddle raised to its max my knees hit my chin. Bike Effect would probably not have approved of the fit.

My goal had been to find the race course, do the epic climb on my mama-chari, and still get home in time to leave for the family outing to Mashiko, the nearby pottery village, at eleven. I gave up, but not before running into an old friend out in the rice fields who I hadn’t seen in twenty years and who took a few seconds to realize he wasn’t seeing a ghost.

We chatted and caught up and I rode home just in time to un-thaw, bundle into the car, and head off for a day of food and reminiscences with Honorable Father-in-Law, Honorable Mother-in-Law, and Mrs. WM.

END

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Looking for Nakahara Heights

November 16, 2016 § 6 Comments

Time for a bike ride to shake off the jet lag and get the day started right. I wheeled out the mama-chari, jacked up the seat as high as it would go and started off.

I was going to look for Nakahara Heights, if it even existed.

When I got my first job after coming to Japan in 1987, I ended up with the job that no one else wanted. Although it was booming in the English teaching biz, after two weeks of relentless job hunting, no one in Tokyo would hire me.

Maybe it was because I looked like I was twelve. Maybe it was because in the interviews I came across as clearly having no idea what I was talking about. Maybe it was, as my wife later insisted, because I showed up to all my interviews in a suit and cowboy boots.

Whatever the reason, the job in Utsunomiya was the job no one wanted. Whereas all the jobs in Tokyo had a surfeit of applicants, the opening at the Utssunomiya American Club boiled down to a choice between the guy in cowboy boots and a strange woman with terrible breath who dressed like an Indian mystic even though she was from Wisconsin.

I got the job, which included an apartment at Nakahara Heights. The first night there I slept in my boots, heavy coat, and knit hat. It was fifteen degrees, snowing, and the only furnishings were a thin futon and an equally thin blanket. I had never been so cold in my life and have never been as cold since.

“How was your first night?” they asked me at work.

“It was fine.”

“It got down into the teens.”

“Yes.”

“Did your heater work okay?”

“What heater?”

Everyone freaked out. “No heater? You could have frozen to death!”

“Thank you,” I said.

After work my boss, who everyone called Chief, brought over a kerosene stove, showed me how to light it, and left. I cranked it up high and went to sleep.

“How did you sleep?” they asked the next day.

“Great,” I said.

“I’m so sorry we forgot the heater,” Chief said. “Are you sure you’re okay? You look funny.”

“I have a headache, to tell the truth.”

“Is it bad?”

“It’s the worst headache I’ve ever had. It’s unbearable. I think it’s from the heater.”

“The heater?”

“I could hardly breathe from the fumes.”

“Fumes?”

“Yeah. That thing gives off a lot of fumes.”

“Didn’t you crack the windows?”

“No.”

She blanched. “People usually suffocate to death if they fall asleep in a small room with the kerosene heater on. I thought you knew!”

“I do now,” I said.

Since moving out of Nakahara Heights in April of 1987 I had never been back. It took thirty years for anything approaching nostalgia to develop and I figured that not only would I be unable to find it, it was proabably torn down as it was already ancient when I had lived there.

I pedaled first to the elementary school my kids had gone to, then to the cherry trees that lined Shin-kawa, then to my kids’ preschool at Matsugamine Church. From there I went down Orion Mall, which was deserted.

I saw hardly anyone on bikes, unlike the bustling scene I remembered from the past. Nor were there any young people. The city had been made very car-friendly at the expense of bikes. My mother-in-law’s bike hadn’t been ridden in years when I pumped up the tires. “I’m afraid of the cars,” she said.

Progress.

From the mall I pedaled north to Imaizumi-cho and began hunting for Nakahara Heights but couldn’t find it. All the houses were new or new-ish, and there were hardly any buildings left that were ratty and cheap and falling down.

I explored a few back streets until I found what Nakahara Heights might have looked like with a paint job and some new doors, but it didn’t look right. I turned a couple more corners and came arosss a new black building that said “Nakahara Heights” on it. But it wasn’t my crappy old apartment. It was shiny and new. I peered around it.

Just across the lot was the old building, still inhabited. Ugly, rusty staircases, thirty years the worse for wear, but there it was in all its glory. I shivered thinking about that first freezing night. The sun gleamed. I snapped a couple of pictures and pedaled back home.

END

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Back to my future

November 15, 2016 § 14 Comments

On January 15, 1987, a day engraved in my memory, I first came to Japan. In those days that was the day of the Adult Day ceremony, when women who were 21 donned elaborate furi-sode kimonos and filled the stations and streets with stunning beauty.

I thought it was everyday wear …

That night the snow fell and I awoke, jet-lagged, and walked the streets of Kichijoji amidst the early morning smells of grilled fish and miso soup wafting through the windows. Those things and the blanket of snow that covered Inokashira Park changed my life forever.

Three decades later things the Showa emperor was dead and his son was now on the verge of abdication. The airplane’s toilets, though, were still tiny and cramped. Perhaps the food was better but perhaps it wasn’t because I still haven’t gotten over the luxury of flying, in any class, to notice or care about in-flight amenities.

But the thrill was gone. The mystery was gone. My youth and innocence and excitement were gone, I expected no surprises or adventures, no mysterious language, no fear, no wonder. I was just another old dude on an airplane going to visit his wife’s family in Japan.

Despite the iPhone plug-in and the seatback videos, I busied myself with a couple of books, paper ones, and made notes, also on paper, with a pen. The grown man next to me immersed himself in cartoons and cheap red wine. And no one was smoking …

I’m thirty years older, twenty pounds fatter, countlesss eyeglass prescriptions blinder, my brother is dead, my immortal brother, my father is in his eighty-first year, and the people I’m going to visit, strangers then, are old family now, not least of whom is my wife’s grandmother, who is also a great-grandmother, and now at 100 years is a great-great-grandmother.

I gnaw at the old bone hoping for a taste of marrow, knowing it isn’t there, but hoping for at least a scent, however faint, of what was, even though the Narita we’re landing at is no longer set in an ocean of rice fields, and is no longer surrounded by armed guards fearing a terrorist attack by farmers whose land was confiscated to make the runway. Confiscation is now the order of things, especially the democracies in name only, like theirs, like ours.

But people still farted on planes and babies howled on and off for eleven hours straight and flight attendants looked bored and vaguely angry at those of us in steerage and though Japan was no longer a haven for draft dodgers it was still a refuge for those who had come in the 80’s to the new Paris and instead of coming home with Picasso and Stein and Hemingway they returned with sushi and ceramics and wives and Hello Kitty. We created no literature or art and brought to Japaan instead poorly taught English to marginally willing learners.

I sat in my seat, 36F, reading a stunned post-election New Yorker and an enraged Economist; in 1987 I read neither and spent the time instead immersed in Eleanor Harz Jorden’s  “Beginning Japanese,” which for me might as well have been ending Japanese, too.

Time hadn’t changed its propensity to crawl inside an airplane cabin. Five hours to go was five thousand or five billion. United no longer even pretended that people read; the seaatback pockets had an emergency manual and a Duty Free catalogue. All you needed to do was survive and shop, and even the catalogue was an anachronism–the man next to me had brought his own customized shopping catalogue of nothing but shoes, and happily killed hours gazing at them.

Then I had graduated from college with three years of Chinese; our textbook was the old green Pratical Chinese Reader published by the Communists. Now I was still on Book 3, though the PCR had been updated, glosssified, CD-ified, and pricified as you’d expect from the New China. I wondered if Trump would be renotiating that deal, too, replacing it with good old-fashioned Rust Belt know-how about Chinese grammar. If nothing else it proved I really was moving in place.

I killed an hour by the toilets talking with an “Asia hand” in his 60s who spent half the year in various Asian countries. He had fifteen whole years under his belt and bragged about being able to speak bits of Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, German, Russian, Japanese, and Spanish. “I love foreign cultures and have devoted my life to it. It’s really important to know other languages when you visit a country for the hookers.”

America …

In the immigration line the same people tried to cut the queue and the entry permit cards hadn’t changed. The same immigration officers looked dreadfully bored in the same tiny cubicles but they were efficiently bored, at least.

We reached my in-laws’ home at 9:00 PM. A wonderful home-cooked meal awaited. We hadn’t seen each other in five years and it was good to be back. The same kotatsu, the same soft futon, the same tatami floors, and the same deep, hot bath to wash the miles away.

Just like it had always been.

END

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Revitalization project

November 14, 2016 § 18 Comments

November 13 would be deep into the off season, if there were an off season in SoCal, which there isn’t.

Thanks to marginal gains, old people with tons of time, global warming, Thorfinn Sassquatch, and lots of complete all-carbon that is 100% pure carbon, there are so many bikers rolling around this time of year who are race-fit that it’s scary.

Of course everyone, almost, pays lip service to the off season, but for the most part those are people who are smart enough not to have racing licenses. The only racer who told me on a particularly brutal off season seal clubbing, a 17-year-old kid, that there was no need to do a hard effort because it was the “off season,” got a serious talking to. More about Bader Aqil later.

Anyway, hats off to Jeff Prinz and his wife, who recently bought the CBR race series and got things going with three kick-butt, off-season upgrade races.

Yesterday was the second race, and over 250 racers showed up, paid entry fees, and battled for points and … cash. Yes, cash. There was $2,500.00 in cash primes on offer for off-fucking-season upgrade races, and the racers swarmed like bees to honey or pigs to, uh, mud.

Priscilla Calderon drove home with $300 in cash. Kristie Fox claimed another $200 and her first ever win. Look for her to smash the fields next year, her second year as a bike racer. Shaun Bagley and his assassin-in-crime from Ventura hauled home another $500 or so. And in what I think was a historic first in the HISTORY OF BIKE RACING, a Cat 4 got $100 in cash primes in a Cat 4 race.

I don’t know  what it was like when you were a Cat 4, but these racers, who are by definition the future of the sport, typically get the worst treatment of any category. So it was amazing to watch beginning racers get rewarded with gas money, lunch money, and most importantly, this line that they could take home to their boyfriends/girlfriends/wives/husbands when asked “How’d the race go?”

I won.

Which brings me to my Monday point.

I can’t fix the problems with bike racing. They are complex and they go deep. I can’t fix the problems with misogyny and discrimination in bike racing. They are complex and they go deep.

But I can tell you this, after a few hundred bike races since 1984: Bike racers like money and will race for it. And I can tell you something else: If you put money into the hands of the racers–not just the same five guys and gals who win every week–you will get more people to show up. In tune with a great vibe at this past weekend’s race, there were numerous vendors including Richard Hiraga’s GQ6, Augie Ortega and JL Velo, Bike Shift mobile bike repair, and several others.

So far in 2016 I’ve donated $20,000.00 in cash to CBR, Vlees Huis, Adrenaline Promotions, and Carlsbad GP. The only condition has been that the money be given out as primes and that it be given directly to bike racers. It’s not a lot of money … but it is for me, and when doled out in $50 or $100 increments, it is significant for the racers who take the time to show up and race. Imagine what  bike racing in SoCal will be like when there is $200,000 on offer every season in cash primes.

Yeah.

Jeff Prinz has put something in place now that focuses on what has to happen if bike racing is going to survive:

  1. A safe, convenient, reasonably-priced race.
  2. A fun environment where people are happy to show up.
  3. The possibility that everyone can go home with cash.

I know that there are other problems with the sport, but I also know I can’t fix them. What is certain is that without some financial incentive to race, cycling will continue to dwindle–last year there was a 30% drop in race entries, a cratering that no normal business could withstand. Without riders showing up, promoters won’t promote. And without sanctioned racing, the sport will be a shell of grand fondues, Strava fantasy competitions, and group rides where everyone’s a winner except they’re not.

There’s one more race on the calendar for 2016, on December 11. There will be the standard $2,500.00 in cash primes on offer for those who show up. Hope you can make it, and if you can’t, feel free to bitch and complain, just make sure you show up when the “real” race season gets started in January!

Oh, and remember Bader Aqil, the kid who told me it was time to “rest his legs” and “not go hard”?

Well, he won two primes, won the field sprint, and did three entire races, including his first Cat2/3.

So maybe it’s not quite the off-season … yet.

Bike leaning up against wall

November 13, 2016 § 19 Comments

Do you have bike leaning up against wall?

I do.

Different reasons for bike leaning up against wallage:

  1. Broken parts of bicycle.
  2. Bicycle fashionableness extinct.
  3. Tires of immense flatitude.
  4. Angry husbandwifeness at excessive bicycle times.
  5. Give-uppishness from falling off bike incident and resulting big fearishness.
  6. Drinky pants time interfering with happy pants bicycling time.
  7. Brokedickishness from repeated stompitude.
  8. New hobby times like hot yoga or cold fusion or sushi fusion. Or new juicer machine.
  9. Baby times with big poops, daily squawking and no sleepy times.
  10. Fuck this-ishness.
  11. Tummy growth exceeding parameters of old kit, crammed into looking sausage-like.
  12. Fact realizing of own suckiness.
  13. Cager fearishness from punishment passing and buzziness.
  14. Intensive care unit-wise.
  15. Dick City depressionism.
  16. Lazy pants sleep-in-ishness.
  17. Fun pants stay-out-too-late-ishness.
  18. Old deflationary IDGAF thinkyness.
  19. Muscular strain such as fascium buttassicus.
  20. Deadishness.

END

Aftermath

November 12, 2016 § 14 Comments

Here are a couple of thoughts, one written by my son Woodrow, the other written by a friend, a white guy with an adopted son.

A Political Revolution

It was a cool Thursday evening in Carson as Mom and I got out of the car outside the LA Galaxy Stadium. We were surrounded by a sea of cars, and had to do a little bit of maneuvering to get to the gargantuan line that stretched from one end of the stadium around to the other end. But soon enough, we managed to pass security and take a seat in a small stadium within the Galaxy Stadium. There, my mother and I had the opportunity to listen to man named Bernard Sanders rant away at the establishment, demand a higher minimum wage, and call people to action for a more progressive agenda. This is what he dubbed the political revolution, and the invigorated crowd cheered him on, hoping to see him catapulted to the office of the presidency.

But when July came and the final results of the primaries were tallied up, it was clear that ol’ Bernie wasn’t going to make it to the White House. For many people who had supported him, it was over; the political revolution was in its death throes.

They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Not just over whether the political revolution was still alive, but also over what the political revolution actually is.

For a lot of people, the political revolution was voting for Bernie and then putting him in the White House. After that, everyone and the country would live happily ever after.

Wrong.

The political revolution that Bernie was calling for was more than about free healthcare, free tuition, and a habitable environment. It was more than just electing Bernie to the presidency. At its core, it was, and still is, about getting those who are young to go out and be engaged in the political process. Not just reading the news and voting, but actually getting up off their butts and going outside to register others to vote or to canvass neighborhoods. Not just holding opinions, but also sharing those views with others and participating in meaningful discussions with people that you don’t know. Not just being political, but being politically active.

So when I came to UCSB just a couple of months ago, I found myself in an environment devoid of anyone telling me what to do (except for the R.A.s telling people not to drink or smoke) and with a bunch of time on my hands.

During Welcome Week, I visited a lot of the booths and looked at nearby events and happened to receive a flyer about a group called Campus Democrats and also information about an event at their headquarters; I was further emboldened to go after talking to a person named Ethan at one of the tables. So I did.

And next thing I knew, I was walking throughout Isla Vista with a clipboard and a bunch of literature in my hand, asking people if they’ve registered to vote and if they know anything about the local measures and local races.

So that’s what I did for more than a month: I went from house to house and talked with people. Some days I only worked for two hours; on election day I worked from 5AM to 8PM. It was by this time that I figure out for myself the meaning of Bernie’s political revolution: I was taking in part of it, along with the other dedicated volunteers that I worked alongside with. It was empowering, not just to me, but to others as well because so many people just don’t know how to fill out a voter registration form or where their polling location is. I took solace in knowing that I helped someone’s life out and ensured that their voice was heard.

In hindsight, it was the most rewarding thing that I have ever done in and with my life. Sure, I had a couple of foul people slam the door in my face or argue to me about their proud views of Trump, but for the most part, people were kind, attentive, and most importantly, open. It helped reaffirm my Rousseauist belief that people are born good, and that there was plenty of hope for the future of this country.

Now that belief may have been shaken from the election, in the same way that the political structure of this nation have been shaken, but just like my faith in the republic, I still continue to believe that people are inherently good.

To put it bluntly, a lot of bad shit happened: The GOP has maintained their majority in Congress, the amount of Republican governorships increased, and most frighteningly, we have elected a reality TV star to the office of arguably the most powerful office in the world.

Will this country survive? Yes, but not before having to fight some battles. Despite the unpredictability of Donald Trump and his capability of causing damage to America, I still think and believe that this republic and its institutions are more than sufficient enough to survive the onslaught of problems that will be associated with a Trump presidency.

So now what? Well, I simply invite and encourage anyone to become more politically active than they were this year. If you didn’t vote this year, vote in 2018. If you did vote this year, then volunteer with an organization that does voter registration; even giving up a couple hours of your life will help others cast their ballots and aid in the fight against right-wing extremism. Go out there and talk with people. If there is an issue or issues that you really care about, fight for it. Get up and stand up for your rights. Because this revolution is sure as hell not over.

And for those who think that none of this really matters …

My son and I spent this past weekend camping. We had a nice campfire. We slept in a tent. We explored the woods. We chatted about all kinds of things. Conversations with a 9 year old little boy are wandering paths of questions, non sequiturs, farting, and laughter.

Weekends.

Adventure!

His sisters used to join us. My oldest daughter is gone to college. His other sister is in 8th Grade and is way too cool for us now.

Weekdays during the school year are essentially sequences of uninterrupted routine.  Get up.  Get them up. Make sure they stay up. Make sure they’re dressed and fed. Brush teeth. Comb hair. Find back pack. Go to school. Pick up from school. Run around to activities. Eat. Brush teeth. Go to bed. Repeat x 5.

With kids, though, this routine is noisy. They fight each other. They fight me. They grouse and complain and sigh. Sprinkled in are question, non sequiturs, farting (mostly me), and laughter.

The morning after this election was different. There wasn’t much laughter. My family is very much Democrats. We were all down. I was particularly glum, lost in thoughts for my friends who just lost elections and would be out of a job.

“Dad” I heard my son say. His voice was soft and wavering. I thought he was going to try to console me. He’s a very good, sweet human. He worries about people.

“Dad, do I get to stay in the family?” he asked. I looked at him. I didn’t really understand the question. “Dad” he continued and beginning to cry asked, “Do I have to go back to Guatemala?”

I’ve never experienced a moment like this. The convergence of love, concern, despair, fear, confusion and more love made expression beyond a tight hug impossible.

“Juan, you are my son, tou are Mommy’s son, you are Susan’s brother, you are Ellen’s brother, nobody can pull us apart, we are a family and we will always be a family.”    We repeated these statements together in various ways repeatedly.

“Nobody can send you away.”

Ever.

Somehow my son has managed to pick up the messages I’d hoped he wouldn’t. This election, the news media, this horrible orange human, has broadcast messages that I hoped he’d be oblivious to. No such luck. The message is that Americans are white. They’re angry. They want brown people to “go back.”

Americans want to build a wall to keep brown people out. Brown people are rapists and drug dealers. They’re bad.  My son has been bombarded with this. I love him so much and I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.

My son knows he is loved by his family. He’s scared for the rest of the world.  It seems for good reason, too.

Adopting a child is possibly the most soul expanding endeavor. You learn that you have capacity for love that seemed impossible. You realize that any human, literally anyone, can be your child. The only boundaries that separate us are boundaries we build in our heads. They aren’t real.

But here I am. I’m worried about my little boy. As I worry about my little boy, I worry about all the little boys and girls. I worry about the people whose families can be torn apart by unfeeling immigration policies, by poverty, by violence. Families destroyed, humans rubbed out by the misfortune of being born a shade too dark. These little boys and girls are our kids.

All of them.

All at once.

My boy lives in a mean world. I can’t protect him all by myself. He doesn’t look like me. He was born a beautiful brown hue. He is going to become an adult. He is going to carry as much love into adulthood as I can give him. I’m not sure it will be enough to overcome the hate and suspicion of others, though.

Maybe if you pitch in, too?  Can you help me?  Please?

The guy you see pushing a broom, raking a garden, picking your fruit didn’t steal your job. He’s feeding his family. The woman who cleans your motel room? She’s not stealing anything. She’s trying to live. They’re my children. They’re your children..

I hope you never feel the fear that you will be pulled away from your mom and dad. I hope you never have to console your child who thinks he or she has to leave the only world he’s ever known simply because of where he was born and the color of his skin.

The little boy sleeping under the table at a restaurant while his parents work? Can you please see him as a little guy who loves Legos and Pokemon?  The little “Mexican” you see might be my son. In fact, he is.

And I’m your son, too.

END

Pizza conquers all

November 11, 2016 § 29 Comments

We showed up in force for the PVE City Council meeting on November 8, beginning with sign protests at Malaga Cove Plaza. Rather than riding our bikes, about twenty people stood on the various corners and held up signs that said “Bikes May Use Full Lane,” “3 Cyclists Dead!” and various other proclamations of our rights. We even had a young protester up in a tree!

It was fun sitting on the corner while the crazypants video nuts stood around and took videos of the protest, and the only non-fun part was that I’d pulled my fascius buttassicus muscle and had to stay seated holding up my signs. Roughly one in five cars came through the intersection, saw the signs, and gave us a shout or a thumbs up, and only a handful cursed, told us to ride on the sidewalk, or advised us to go die.

Living up to its moniker as Dick City, after the protest ended I hobbled across the street, hunched over from the spazzed-out back muscles, and a nasty old woman in a giant red Buick rolled down her window and screeched, “Get out of the street!”

In the crosswalk. So classy!

The huge benefit to holding up signage at the intersection was that passing motorists understood why we were there. After the previous protest ride one citizen had approached the group and said that people had no idea what we were advocating for or why we were riding around the plaza. It was a great point and we took it to heart, and of course our signage proved our point about BMUFL signage: IT WORKS.

People saw it, read it, understood it, and went away knowing more than when they got there. It also completely destroyed the NIMBY, Special Snowflake on the Hill theory espoused by Garrett Unno, Zoe Unno, Cynthia Bianchi, and Shannon Zaragoza that signage is unnecessary or that it somehow has to be part of a big, multi-year project.

Put up the fucking signs already.

After an hour and a half of signing we went over to the city council chambers where the mayor opened things up by praising a group of young students for taking an active interest in city government and becoming participants in democracy. Too bad the kids didn’t stick around to see the shenanigans pulled by Mayor King as she squashed dissent, illegally limited speaking times based on speech content, and showed a stony, cold heart to people’s pleas for help.

Our council meeting strategy was different because Mayor King had made it clear that she had dug in and not about to put BMUFL signs back on the agenda. In order to shut us up she had moved the meeting back to 5:30 from its regular time of 7:30, hoping that people wouldn’t be able to get off work (doesn’t she know cyclists are all unemployed?). Then she shoved public comment back to the very end of the meeting, hoping that by forcing us to wait around we’d give up and go home.

Sadly, both ploys failed. More than fifty people showed up to the combined protest and council meeting, including:

Doug P.
Kristie F.
Greg S.
Jay Y.
John W.
Joann Z.
Michael B.
Seth D.
Andrew N.
Sean S.
John K.
Greg L.
Yasuko D.
Alan K.
Michelle L.
Patrick N.
Hung N.
Alistair M.
Don W.
Ian D.
Tom D.
Geoffrey L.
Kate H.
Victor C.
Kathryn K.
Brian G.
Chuck C.
Charlie T.
Diana T.
Gary C.
Kevin S.
Larry L.
Jose G.
Mark M.
Steve G.
Alan S.
Delia P.
Leo L.
Reinaldo A.
Chris W.
Mario O.
Matt M.
Lisa M.
Lauren M.
Jeannette A.
Brent D.
Ron P.
Rebecca P.
Francie U.
Tara U.
Marv C.
Ava S.
Sarah B.
So instead of waiting patiently for our speaking “opportunity” which Mayor King had shoved to the end of the meeting, we objected to the entire consent calendar and submitted speaker cards for each agenda item so that we could provide the council with our input on the entirety of city matters up for consideration.
Kristie was brilliant and eloquent in her opposition to the city’s proposal to begin submitting draft pro/con arguments for ballot measures; Andrew N. spoke knowledgeably about the proposed increase in city funds for police patrols at Lunada Bay; Greg L. was emphatic opposing the “bad hombres” causing trouble in the city; and numerous people weighed in on the sunset provision for the fire department tax. They were so sick of us that Mayor King didn’t even bother to append the obligatory “thank you” after some of us finished.
Mayor King was livid and rather than giving each speaker the 3-minutes of time typically allotted for citizen input on agenda items, she slashed the speaking time per speaker to two minutes and then limited total discussion time to each item to six minutes. This was a blatant violation of the Brown Act and of the Ninth Circuit’s decision in White v. City of Norwalk, where the court held that public meetings may be regulated by a city council with regard to limits on speaking time, but those time limits must be content neutral. In other words, you can’t give lots of speaking time to people you like, and reduced time to those you don’t–which is exactly what she did when favored residents were given unlimited time at the lectern, and goofy cyclists cut off after sixty seconds.
If Mayor King pulls this stunt again, she can look forward to a lawsuit in federal court, and yes, the unemployed, broke-ass bike community includes hitters who are champing at the bit to fund that particular lawsuit.
The great thing about our strategy is that it really showed the need for education, both on our end and on the council’s. There is so much happening in PVE that is completely bizarre, like the $150,000 renovation of Lunada Bay Plaza designed to make it more attractive, while at the same time the city ignores bike safety and bike accommodations.
Don’t they understand that making the plaza attractive means having more pedestrians and bike traffic? Even the city council can’t possibly believe that the goal behind the plaza’s beautification is to fill the tiny area up with cars … or can they?
Finally, stuck at the ass-end of the meeting, we got to speak regarding bike signage. Mayor King made the most insincere, cold-hearted speech you’ve ever heard, and I encourage you to listen to it here, at about 2:44:58, as she tried to deflect blame by showing the fakest sympathy for the recent horrific collision a few days prior, where a person in a car rear-ended a person on a bike resulting in catastrophic injuries.
Rather than seeing this as a call to action, she stonily advised us–after chopping our speaking time to one minute and limiting the comment period to just a few minutes–that she had no plans whatsoever to put BMUFL signage back on the agenda.
Of course we had known from the beginning that she wasn’t backing down, which is why we came provisioned with much pizza, apples, meatballs, cupcakes, and other healthy party food. Hey, it’s the new normal: Twice a month the PVE city council will get to listen to the input of concerned citizens who have taken an active interest in the minutiae of the city’s governance in an attempt to better understand why they refuse to install a handful of signs.
Even with Mayor King working overtime to cut the meeting short, chop speaking times, and limit discussion, the 5:30 meeting dragged on so that we didn’t get home until after 9:30 PM, which will hopefully give the council a great idea of what future meetings hold: Beginning at the normal time of 7:30, they can expect to finish up close to midnight.
It’s the new normal because rather than doing the right thing they’ve invited the whole cycling world to get involved in their deliberations, and it’s interesting to see how it all really is related: $50,000 to tighten up enforcement for surfers where no fatality has ever occurred, but not one single nickel for signs to improve safety where three people have died. $150,000 to pretty up a plaza, but not one single nickel for signs to ensure the safety of those who visit. Long term taxation for fire department services that keep residents safe, but not one fucking nickel for signage to protect “outsiders” who travel through on public roads.
And as Mayor King is finding out, there may be ways to get rid of cyclists, but tiring them out isn’t one of them, although they did post custom notes telling us we couldn’t eat inside and we couldn’t  park our bikes indoors anymore. Next up are hall monitors.
It was pretty awesome spending the afternoon and evening with friends, eating pizza, hanging out, watching Mayor King flagrantly break the law, doing iPhone research on various agenda items, eating pizza, speaking on behalf of the dead and injured, eating pizza, and being happy. And eating pizza.
The contrast between the happy and enthused cyclists and the sour NIMBYs, not to mention the members of the council who looked miserable having to listen to flatlanders and transients opine on issues affecting their Special Snowflake on the Hill was incredible. I wanted to hand each of them a bike and an Rx to ride three times weekly. It really works.
Huge thanks to all who donated money or bought swag to help fund these activities. On to the next one, which is DECEMBER 13, 2016, 7:30 P.M. AT THE CITY COUNCIL CHAMBERS, 340 Palos Verdes Drive West, PALOS VERDES ESTATES, 90274.
Maybe we’ll get in some golf practice, too.

END

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