Evasive action

July 12, 2015 § 1 Comment

I woke up in my hotel room in Cologne. Cologne is one of the most beautiful cities in the world because of its world-famous cathedral, which is known worldwide for its gorgeous beauty, which is known worldwide.

I know about the world famous beauty of the famed and beautiful Cologne cathedral because twenty-five years ago I had biked over from Bonn to watch the Cologne Six-Day. It was rainy and pitch black outside, and smoky and dim indoors. I was there until midnight and an old man chain smoking no-filters prattled endlessly into my ear. Every few minutes he would cough up a big yellow piece of phlegm or lung into his hand, inspect it, wipe it onto his handkerchief, and clap me on the back.

“Cologne,” he said, “is one of the most beautiful cities in the world!”

“Really?” I’d say as I tried to keep track of who was doing what, which in a six-day is kind of like trying to figure out who’s actually running Greece. It seemed like every time they rang a bell Etienne de Wilde would scamper out from the group and be first, but I still wasn’t sure, and after four hours all I really knew was that Cologne was one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

I pedaled home in the pitch black, rainy night and never went back but the old man did such good job that whenever I thought about Cologne thereafter, as I was doing this morning, I automatically knew it was the most beautiful city in the world.

Of course I had no intention of exploring the city and confirming it’s beauty. Why shatter an image that had held true my entire adult life? Instead this morning I had two major objectives:

  1. Buy bicycles so we could do a bicycle trip.
  2. Avoid MB Jens.

MB Jens had shown up  in the South Bay a week ago on vacation. He had lived in the South Bay for five years on assignment and during that time had made many lifelong friendships despite being a world-class skinflint.

For his vacation he had sent out several hundred form emails requesting a place to stay, a bicycle, plenty of food, transportation, and laundry service. All of his dear friends were busy whatever week he planned to be there except two, one with a bike and one with a bed and car and laundry service.

Before he left to return to Germany, he insisted we get together. “I will make the whole day free for you and your son. We can do big hammer ride on the bicycles.”

“We’ll be on department store bikes in jeans and my son isn’t a compote titmice cyclist.’

“That is okay. We will hammer for only eighty miles and make into strong young German man. I have all the week for you open. It is only that I cannot meet with you on the 16th. What day will you be in Koblenz?”

“The 16th.”

“That is too bad,” he said. “I will try to rearrange my schedule.”

I went down to the breakfast bar at our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express in Troisdorf. I was ravenous. Our flight had gotten in at midnight. The Cologne airport was gleaming and beautiful and modern; it was nothing like the shed crammed with smelly people it had been in 1989. We were whisked down to the rail station.

Woodrow figured out the timetable, cost, denomination, and departure track. I jammed the machine and broke it. “Why don’t we take a taxi?” He asked.

“We’ll save money. Plus, everything is close in Europe.”

“The train doesn’t come until one.”

“That can’t be right. In Europe the trains come every few minutes.”

We went down to the track and the train came at one. It was filled with drunk teenagers. We alit at Troisdorf, a tiny stop. There were no people or taxis.

“Oh, well, we can walk. How far can it be?”

Woodrow mapped it on my phone just before it died. “Three miles.”

We only got lost four or five times and were sound asleep by three-thirty.

  

No bull in Istanbul

July 11, 2015 § 12 Comments

The phone rang. It was Jan. We were a few hours from leaving. I had messaged him on Facegag an hour before.

“We’re coming to Bonn next week. Let’s get lunch.” I hadn’t seen Jan since 1990.

“Man!” He said. “I can’t believe it’s you! My house is your house. Stay as long as you want! When are you arriving?”
That was pure Jan. 

“Uh, I’m not sure.” That of course was pure me. “How’s Wednesday?”

“Perfect! Call me when you get to the station or wherever and I’ll come get you! Fantastic to hear your voice, old friend!”

Many hours later I was standing in front of the economy pooper with a bladder overburdened by ten cups of coffee. A woman ushered her young son in front of me. “He’ll be done in a jiffy!” She promised.

A few moments later he emerged and I dashed in. The boy, clearly preparing for a career as a gardener, had done a stand-up watering job of the entire compartment. I was in my socks and didn’t realize the state of affairs until I’d entered and the warm pee soaked into my heels.

Thank goodness I had two pairs for the 21-day trip. I backed out and stood in front of the other one. I stood there for ten minutes, my teeth chattering, as groans followed by flushes came from behind the door. Eventually a rotund old fellow who had been in there long enough to finish a biography of Churchill emerged, looking very pleased with himself.

Inside it was clean except for the overpowering fumes, which had a bouquet of curry with hints of corn and undertones of dead goat.

We had begun our cross-Germany bicycle ride the old-fashioned way; walking. I saw a great teaching moment and seized it with both fangs. “Son,” I said to my 17-year-old as we walked down the hill with nothing but two small backpacks, “from time immemorial this is how mankind traveled.”

He looked at me funny. “Really? Uber?”
The arrival of the shiny white minivan spoiled the effect somewhat but I ignored it as we climbed in.

“This is my first day,” said the driver. “I’m from Armenia. Which airline?”

“Uh, Turkish Air,” I mumbled. It was very quiet the rest of the ride.

Aboard the plane and wedged tightly in the seat next to me was a woman going to Serbia, or Slovenia, or Srbrenica, and she was unhappy with the seat, the food, the service, and perhaps her neighbor. “Isn’t this terrible?” she asked. “I don’t know how I’ll survive thirteen hours in this trash compactor.”

I could only think about General William T. Sherman, when he hot reassigned from Ohio to Monterey, CA in 1848. His trip to the West Coast took two weeks …. to get to New York. Then it took another 220 days to sail around the tip of South America, where they had rough seas for “only” forty straight days. When they reached Monterey Bay their ship sank and all would have drowned had a boat not seen them and rowed out two miles to rescue them.

I looked at my neighbor. “Oh, it’s not so bad.”

We reached Istanbul and no one got their throat slit. As we sat in the steel prison chairs during our five-hour layover, I started thinking about our bike trip. “Hey, Woodrow,” I said.

“Yeah?”

“We’re gonna need some bikes.”

He sighed. “Ya think?”

  
  

3rd Annual South Bay Cycling Awards announces special guest Steve Tilford

July 10, 2015 § 10 Comments

The 3rd Annual South Bay Cycling Awards will be held on Saturday, October 17, 2015 at Strand Brewing Co.’s new facility in Torrance. The event begins at 5:00 PM. Mark your calendars now. Award presenters Sherri, Steph, Lisa, and Chris are already getting their stiletto heels and high-slit dresses ready.

In addition to the usual nonsense, self-congratulatory platitudes, and having the chance to play “Who’s that cyclist I ride with all the time but can’t identify unless my face is four feet from their ass?” the following activities are on the calendar.

1. Receive tremendous swag offerings from SPY Optic, our sponsor. SPY’s CEO Michael Marckx has supported this blog and grass roots cycling from the day he took over as boss in Carlsbad. Those of you who attended last year will recall the SPY glasses that were given to category winners (not to mention the ones that were stolen by drunken attendees), the SPY t-shirts, and all of the other support that Michael & Co. personally delivered on the day of the event. This year I’m leaning on SPY again to bring the HAPPY, and they have already delivered.

2. I won’t be drunk at the mic. The down side is that I probably won’t have much to say. The up side is that since we’ll be at LA’s best brewery, no one will notice or care.

3. This year I’m flying in a special guest, the legendary Steve Tilford. I can’t do a better job of introducing Steve than by sending you over to his blog, www.SteveTilford.com. But I can tell you this: Steve is one of the greatest cyclists this country has ever produced, and he still races with the intensity today that he brought to the sport as a junior more than thirty years ago. Steve is a fitting keynote speaker for the event because he has been an advocate of clean racing for decades, and has paid the price for refusing to cheat. Yet the reward he has reaped–a career marked by integrity and amazing palmares–shows that some things are worth fighting for. Steve will also join the Saturday morning Donut Ride, where you can try to follow his wheel. Good luck with that!

4. In 2015 we’re introducing a South Bay Cycling Hall of Fame. The first inductees are people you will recognize for their advocacy, their skill as cyclists, or for their contribution to the unique culture that makes LA one of the best places in the world to ride a bike.

5. Award categories this year will be posted soon. You’ll get a chance to vote, and like any good authoritarian regime, votes will only be counted to the extent that the comport with a pre-ordained outcome.

END

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The Wanker of Wall Street

July 9, 2015 § 11 Comments

I recently made a terrible investment, but let me back up: I have never made a good one.

I am pretty sure I am the only person I know who has made lots of terrible investments. How do I know? Because people talk about all kinds of things–failed marriages, bedroom embarrassments, drug addictions, jail sentences, and children who missed a question on the SAT–but they never talk about that.

In fact, during the eight hundred thousand hours I’ve spent riding bikes with people, none has ever said, “I just lost a ton of money in a stupid investment.” And if they’re unwilling to say that, imagine how much more loath they are to say, “I just lost a few hundred bucks on a stupid investment.”

The only thing more reprehensible than stupid decisions with huge sums is stupid decisions with small ones. You’re not only a loser, you’re a small-time loser.

So anyway, back to this stupid small investment that I made, which is the only kind I can make because all I apparently have is small money …

I used to have a cyclist friend who is still the one if not necessarily the other, and he recommended that I put my money with Ol’ Bill. I didn’t know that money managers like Ol’ Bill would open up an account with a bunch of pennies and nickels crammed into an old gym sock, but Ol’ Bill was happy to take me on as a client.

As time went by my investment shrank, but it shrank gradually rather than being erased all at once, so I could tell he was a pro. We hit the Great Depression of 2008 and when I checked in with Ol’ Bill to find out how things were going and to ask if maybe we shouldn’t put my money back in the sock and stick it under the bed, he vigorously assured me that the market was going to go up any day.

It did, but just before it started its meteoric ascent I demanded that he put it back in the sock, which he did, and there it sat while the market roared up, up, and the sock just sat there.

A few years later I checked in with Ol’ Bill and asked him to put the pennies back into the market and to keep the nickels in the sock, which he did. The market continued to roar, but somehow each one of Ol’ Bill’s picks was an underperformer. He had great hopes for Bonehedz, a social media site for archeologists, but that fizzled and we barely got our money back.

I say we but it was actually just I, because every time Ol’ Bill bought a bucket of shares of Rancid, Inc., or Stinkworthy Amalgamated, he got a little commission, and all I seemed to get was fewer pennies, but since it was a gradual reduction in value I figured he had a master plan, which he did, and its focal point was Ol’ Bill’s Retirement Fund.

One day Ol’ Bill called to thank me for my continued confidence in his acumen. “What?” I said.

“Thanks for your continued confidence,” he said. Ol’ Bill had called me once in ten years.

“Was there some reason you thought I wouldn’t be confident? I mean, you’ve reduced my net worth in a perfect mirror image of the current bull market.”

“Oh, you know, I just wanted to check in … ”

That sounded like a lie, so for the first time in forever I told him to send me copies of the statements he’d been sending for years but that I never looked at and always tossed in the shredder, figuring they were either great news and I was rich, or they were terrible news and I was broke and didn’t want to know. I’ll let you guess which one it was.

I glanced at the PDF’s he sent over. “Wow,” I said when I called him back. “We’ve underperformed the market by eight zillion percent like clockwork. Whenever the market does something good, we do something terrible.”

“Amazing, huh?”

“Yeah, but almost in a bad way.”

So I fired him and put all my pennies in an S&P index fund.

“Don’t do it,” he advised.

“Why not?”

“Because retail investors always buy high and sell low, which is a losing strategy.”

“Like we’ve been doing the last ten years?”

“Yes, but if you do it I don’t make any money.”

He had a point, but I wasn’t sure it was a good one.

After two days the market continued to tick up and suddenly, for the first time in ever, my penny portfolio was growing right along with the market. I don’t have to tell you that I felt like a genius, so I immediately decided to quit my job and become a day trader.

“You’ve lost your fucking mind,” said the Destroyer while we were out riding bikes.

“No, I’ve got it figured out. I’m moving everything into German stocks.”

“You are a complete idiot,” he reiterated.

“Nope, I’ve been listening to the German news every day and the DAX has fallen on Greek worries and everyone is pretending they’ll boot Greece and sacrifice the euro but at the last minute they’ll all agree and the DAKS will skyrocket and I’ll be a millionaire or a trillionaire.”

“Listen, dummy,” said the Destroyer. “Every clown who makes fifty bucks at the tail end of a bull market thinks he’s a genius. But no one can predict the market, except for The Rule.”

“What’s The Rule?”

“The Rule is this: The market goes up and down and down and up.”

“I can remember that.”

“But you can’t master it. No one can. If they could, that person would own all the fungible funds on earth. Instead, some two-bit halfwit like you gets lucky three days in a row, makes a string of terrible decisions, then the market drops, and the sucker holds his breath waiting for it to come back up, but then the market is down 30% and there’s no way he’s taking that bath so he decides he’ll hold his positions for the next thirty years to recoup and then in a midnight moment of panic he sells everything just when the market bottoms out. THIS IS HOW RETAIL INVESTORS LIKE YOU ALWAYS BEHAVE.”

“The market hasn’t started going down, though.”

“It will. And you will get ground up by it. Ol’ Bill was terrible at stocks but he was great at saving.”

“Saving what?”

“Saving you from yourself.”

“You think so?”

“I know it. It’s just like poker. If you sit down at the table and don’t immediately recognize the sucker, YOU’RE THE SUCKER.”

“I’m no sucker.”

“QED.”

A few days later the market started to go in the wrong direction. My thirty-cent gain became a ten-cent gain, and after a few more days it became no gain at all and then a couple of days later I had thirty cents less than I’d started with. Did I mention that I’d stuck the nickels into the fund as well?

As I was pondering all this late one night I started listening to the Chinese radio station. I don’t speak Chinese, but they were excited. The more I listened, the more I could divine what they were saying. China’s stock market had tanked. I know this because in between the howling strings of Chinese, every few minutes someone would say in English, “The stock market has tanked.”

I switched on the German radio station. No mention of China. It was all about Varoufakis and his no-tie Harley Davidson approach to negotiation with the EU.

I flipped on the Internet. China had indeed tanked, but it would have zero effect on Western markets, the analysts lied. “Whew,” I thought, “because I’ve already lost two more dollars.”

Then it hit me. I really was the sucker. First thing the next morning I cashed out, just as the Chinese markets froze into a congealed mass of debt, panic, and government intervention that only made the catastrophe worse. You mark my words, it ain’t over yet and if China’s economy has no effect on ours then I want to sell you a training program that can increase your FTP 50% with no drugs, exercise, or weight loss.

So, yeah, another bad investment. But you know what? A sock full of nickels under your mattress isn’t as uncomfortable as you think.

END

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The Atheist Training Bible for Old Bicycle Racers, Chapter 13: The sitting muscle

July 8, 2015 § 12 Comments

I don’t know if he ever really said it.

But.

Rich Meeker is supposed to have said something like this: “Masters racers train too hard and ride too much.”

Now, then.

Please check in all nasty comments about Rich at the door to the Internet, or refer to one of my earlier posts and pile on there. Just because someone cheated doesn’t mean they aren’t smart about their sport.

For over 30 years people have been telling me variations of “You train too hard and ride too much,” to which I always politely smiled while thinking, “WTF do you know? Where were you on the Donut Ride?” Right, Elron?

Of course on race day those know-it-alls are on the podium and I’m DNF because “no legs today.”

Turns out, they knew a lot. Masters racers, apparently, train too hard and ride too much. “Oh, yeah?” I can hear you Wankophizing. “Too much for what?”

Too much to do well at races, that’s what.

“Well, who cares about racing?” I can hear you shout back.

“Only the people who pay entry fees and show up to race.” In other words, ME. And YOU.

Of course it doesn’t matter what people say to me. My mind is ten million impermeable layers of granite, especially when it comes to cycling. I know everything, and what I don’t know isn’t worth knowing.

“Yeah,” Fields once said, “but the problem is that what you know isn’t worth knowing either.”

Then one day a very helpful pro (“What does he know?”) suggested that masters racers train too hard and ride too much. I ignored him while nodding wisely in assent.

But something made me listen, even though it was a few weeks after the fact. My 51-year-old body, whose recovery slows each year like a tiny pebble rolling uphill through a massive pit of wet cement, refused one morning to do what I demanded of it.

“I wonder if I’m tired? I mean, like, permanently.” I thought about an old blues musician from New Orleans who, in his 80’s, was asked how he felt as he sat on the corner strumming his guitar. He considered the question briefly, and looked at the eager tourist who was desperate for the aged musician to utter some reaffirming words about a life fulfilled from singing the blues.

“I reckon,” the man said, “that I feel like an old worn out shoe.” Was I, too, becoming a Converse All-Star that had been to one hipster convention too many?

I tried to ride my bike that morning and did so, without vigor. And from that point on I started exercising my sitting muscle. Throughout the race season, which in California runs from January 1 to about December 31, I have only ridden hard once, maximum twice, during the week, to wit:

  • Monday: Nothing or easy pedal
  • Tuesday: One 5-minute effort on the NPR or full gas 1-hour effort
  • Wednesday: Coffee cruise
  • Thursday: 60-minute full-gas Flog Ride, or 60-minute easy pedal depending on what I did on Tuesday
  • Friday: Coffee cruise
  • Saturday: Race or Donut with full sprinkles and choco pain glaze
  • Sunday: Easy Wheatgrass cruise

My results are as follows:

  • Still feel like racing in June, as opposed to weakening in Feb., cratering in Mar., and giving up after the BWR in April.
  • Legs feel fresh
  • Reduced reliance on Chinese doping products
  • A baby’s handful of good race results, i.e. a single top-50 and no crashes

They say less is more, which is definitely not true for money or penis length. But for masters racing, ol’ Meeker the Beaker may have known what he was talking about.

END

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Turdy France notes

July 7, 2015 § 12 Comments

As much as I try to ignore the annual pro-wrestling championships for skinny people, the Tour invariably impinges on my serenity. Here are the impingements so far:

  1. Cav is a d-bag. Sitting up in the sprint because he couldn’t win, letting Cancellara get third, and thereby depriving TEIMMATE Tony Martin of yellow? There is apparently a very large “I” in Teim, or rather a very large “Cavendish” in “douchebag.”
  2. Since the Tour no longer has 300-mile stages and it’s “short” enough for most riders to complete, and complete pretty tightly bunched, the challenging, cobbled, wind-swept, hardass opening stages are fantastic. Nice work, whoever continues to push for such stages.
  3. Tony Martin no longer has to drag his dick to the microphone and answer the German journalists’ questions about why he didn’t win stage one, why he didn’t win stage two, why he didn’t win stage three, why he didn’t win stage four and why in the world is he NOT in yellow?
  4. Enough with Astana and Boom’s doping. They all cheat, it’s pro wrestling for skinny people. Can we sweep all that under the rug for another few years until someone important dies? Thank you.
  5. Froome hasn’t fallen off his bicycle yet. Amaze-balls.
  6. In addition to boycotting the Tour, we’d appreciate it if Oleg Dickov would just boycott cycling and go back to making usurious payday loans to poor people. Oh, wait, he never stopped …
  7. There are three Americans in the Tour: Van Garderen, Talansky, and Farrar. Way to build the grass roots, USA Cycling! Perhaps they could work with Alto Velo to sue some more small pro teams and encourage promising riders and sponsors to quit the sport?
  8. Pro bike racing is more dangerous in terms of injuries per race than any motor sport. It’s no fun watching the yellow jersey swap shoulders because of crashes (Cancellara), or watching the whole event turned on its head because contenders crash out (Froome, Contador in 2014). It’s also no fun watching people get hurt.
  9. Trying to reach a cyclist on the West Coast on July late mornings is like trying to get a SoCal handyman when there is a good swell.
  10. It will be interesting to see how much, if any, Tour Fever has spread to Germany. It’s taken years for the cycling public to recover from Ullrich/Zabel Telekom.

END

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Peewee’s big adventure

July 6, 2015 § 34 Comments

When my wife, daughter, and I arrived in Bonn, Germany, in August 1989, the country was divided into two nations, one democratic and capitalist, the other autocratic and socialist. A few months later the Berlin Wall had fallen and the socialist regime in the DDR had collapsed. By the time we left, in June 1990, Germany was a few short weeks away from formal reunification.

I returned in 1995 for a brief visit that was marked mostly by herding my small children and trying to avoid death on the autobahn in my rental Dodge Neon, whose maximum speed, fully loaded, was barely 60 mph. We visited our friends the Mekkis and were only in Germany for a few days. I noticed little and remember less.

Last year I visited my eldest son in Berlin, another brief, five-day trip. I was blown away. While living in Bonn-Bad Godesberg I had never been to Berlin. The night the wall came down, my friend Jan Volek and I drove to the border crossing at Hildesheim, entered East Germany, and got caught up in one of the most famous traffic jams of all time: a several hundred kilometer “stau” all the way to Berlin. We were running out of gas and he had exams the next morning, so we became the first people in history to go from East Germany to West with our car in reverse on the autobahn through the military checkpoint without stopping or being shot at.

Since my visit last summer I’ve been planning another trip to Germany. This will be a bike trip. My youngest son, who is seventeen, will accompany me to Cologne, where we will buy a pair of department store bikes and pedal across the country to Berlin. It should be about 800 miles if we don’t make too many wrong turns and if we don’t have to take too much evasive action to avoid our German stalker, Jens the Biker from Manhattan Beach.

I should add that my son doesn’t hardly ever ride a bike. Also, being able to count to ten and ask the age of one’s wife, I consider myself to be rather bilingual.

I like to travel light, so here is what I’m taking for the 21-day trip, including the clothes I will be wearing.

  1. Small backpack
  2. Pants: 2 pair, one long, one short
  3. Underwear: 2 pair
  4. Socks: 2 pair
  5. Bike multi-tool that I don’t know how to use: 1
  6. Tire lever: 1
  7. Shoes: 1 pair of sneakers
  8. Shirts: 2, one long-sleeve, one short
  9. Belt: 1
  10. Rain cape: 1
  11. Toothbrush: 1
  12. Dental floss: 1 roll
  13. Toothpaste: 1 tube
  14. Passport
  15. Credit card: 2
  16. Cash: $500 Euros
  17. Hat: 1 SPY trucker gimme cap
  18. Pen: 1
  19. Notebook: 1
  20. Phone: iPhone 4, badly scratched but still has cool orange SPY sticker on it
  21. Book: 1, Undetermined
  22. Eyeglasses: 1 pair SPY Rx
  23. Sunglasses: I pair SPY Rx

Since we don’t know how far we’ll get each a day or where we’ll end up, we’ve decided to use Air B&B. Our first night is a really cool place in the corner of a Vietnamese student’s apartment for $11. After that we will look for more reasonably priced accommodations.

I think that should cover it. Istanbul, here we come. Glad my eldest son is staying home and manning the fort to shoot and kill potential thieves intent on stealing my other two pair of undershorts.

END

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