The point-one percent

August 16, 2016 § 27 Comments

Here’s a quick rundown of things that have happened in the last couple of months:

  • Three cyclists killed in PV
  • Crazy road rager assaulted a man and his kid for riding their bikes
  • Friend #1 got run over on PCH in Malibu
  • Friend #2 got terribly injured by hit-and-run in San Diego
  • Friend #3 got run over in PV
  • Entire club ride narrowly avoided being taken out by road-raging Tesla
  • Group of angry NIMBYs tried to ban cyclists from public roads
  • Surfer gang member advocated death for cyclists who break traffic laws
  • Wealthy citizen compared cyclists to “dog shit”

It’s easy to think that the world has gone crazy. When bicycles are the enemy and cars are the hero, we’ve literally turned the Imperial Stormtroopers into underdogs.

Except, we haven’t.

These same last few months I’ve been riding almost exclusively in PV, ground zero for the bike wars, and I’ve been sticking to some of the most controversial residential areas where opposition to cyclists is supposedly fiercest. What I’ve found is surprising, and it’s this: Most people are friendly.

I make a point of waving and saying hello to everyone I run across. Except for a couple of incredibly sour people for whom death will be a huge relief (for them and for us), people invariably wave back and smile. I’ve stopped and chatted with Mark the Dude with the Two Giant Poodles, and Bob the 80-Year-Old Dude Who Has Run Across America Twice.

What’s more interesting is that I’ve had zero car-bike incidents. This doesn’t mean they aren’t happening; video from other cyclists proves otherwise. But by and large, people in PV are fine with bikes, especially when the cyclist is highly visible.

Since I began riding with super powerful daytime front-and-rear lights, I’ve become visible at all times. A 1200-lumen flashing headlamp gets your attention no matter how distracted you are, and a 100-lumen red taillight does the same.

What’s more interesting is that some very low-grade detective work has revealed that the “horde” of bike haters in PV is actually one guy using multiple fake aliases on social media to create the impression that many in the community share his views. The police know his identity, and although he’s noxious, crude, and wants to incite trouble, he’s nothing more than a harmless crank afraid to show his face in public, not to mention a terribly inept surfer.

At their worst, people may be slightly bothered by having to slow down for bikes. But the 99.9% hardly get enraged, and they certainly don’t wish for death and catastrophic injury as the penalty for pedaling a bike. Of course the .1% that do can do incredible damage, and they have.

But most people are on our side, and recently, so are the police. And 99%? The odds could be a lot worse.

END

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The subscription thing

November 27, 2015 § 42 Comments

So, there’s this weird thing every month where PayPal notifies me of each $2.99 subscription. When I browse through I see people I know and people I don’t. The whole thing is so impersonal, people sending me money and me just going on about my business without acknowledging it.

Here’s why I feel guilty every time I see one of those notices and just go on about my day: Every single subscription is a personal affirmation that what I’m doing matters somewhere, to someone. You may not think $2.99 is a lot, but it is to me because it represents your voice that you’d rather pay than read for free. I struggle with this—how do I let people know how grateful I am?

So I take a stab at it from time to time, randomly emailing people what I hope aren’t form “Thanks you’s” even though they pretty much are, trying to let them know that I appreciate their support. It’s support of the financial, emotional, and spiritual kind, and even the Catholic-Jewish guilt kind because when I get bogged down in “What am I going to write today?” I get sustenance from the guilt of knowing that people expect me to produce something since they’re paying me to do it.

Yesterday I sent out a form thank-you to a buddy whose identity I’ve sworn not to reveal but who used to ride with a white baby harp seal under his seat. “Hey, Baby Seal,” I wrote, “thanks again for your support. I really appreciate it.” Then I hit “send” and went on about my business of carefully picking around the scabby edges of my road rash.

A couple of hours later I got an answer. It’s not the best email I’ve ever gotten–it’s the best email ever written in the history of the Internet. And I’m sharing it with you now.

You kidding me? You have any idea how much nonsense I’ve learned thanks to that blog?!?

I mean, despite every rational judgment telling me otherwise I’ve gone through periods of eating nothing but kimchi, only breathing through my nose, being made fun of at the gym, weighing my food to the gram, loving power meters, hating power meters, spending thousands on carbon, selling hundreds in carbon, re-buying thousands in carbon (this time ensuring it was the correct 100% carbon-carbon kind of carbon), riding only at the front, riding only off the front, realizing there is no off season, refusing to take any recovery days, learning to hide in a group, pulling through without ever pulling through, learning the importance of recovery days, caffeine only diets, 3 meals a day – no snacks! And of course, finding glory in the time I dropped Stathis…while he was on a beach cruiser in a pooofy jacket and jeans.

I’ve also learned to be a better partner, a better friend, a better father than I was planing on being and the best grandfather with a strained ball sack.

And the very best part has been watching you find your sobriety.

One day I’ll sue you for all those 2.99’s but for now, thank you.

-Seal

END

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As Lionel Ritchie said, “I’m lookin’ for a good time, goooooooood tiiyiyime.”

November 13, 2013 § 16 Comments

I met a kid yesterday at a cafe. “Hey, I know you,” he said. “I read your blog.”

“Really? That’s awesome! Thanks!” I replied.

“Yeah, it’s really funny. But you sure are one egotistical dude.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I sat down at his table and let him and his pal buy me a cheeseburger. After thinking about it, I’ve realized that he really misunderstood me. I’m not egotistical. I am, rather, narcissistic beyond belief, perhaps pathologically so. Okay, scratch the “perhaps.”

Still, there are limits. One of those limits has been shameless self-promotion of my book, “Cycling in the South Bay.”

I have promoted it as far as I comfortably can without my guilt at being so narcissistic getting so bad that I can’t sleep at night, like having a bad case of acid reflux. Fortunately, the moment my sense of shame and self-reserve kicked in, my friends came to the rescue in the form of Dave Wehrly.

“Seth,” he said. “I want to do a book-signing party for you on November 21st. You can read a selection from the book. I’ll organize everything. We’ll get wine so all the drunks will show up, and I’m friends with the folks who own {pages}, a bookstore in Manhattan Beach that has said they’ll be glad to host the event. What do you say?” (He didn’t really say that bit about the drunks. He didn’t need to.)

“That,” I said, “is awesome.”

Adding sauce to the awesomeness was Dean Patterson, 1970’s cycling hard man and 2000’s wine maker, who volunteered up the grapes of wrath for the event.

The economics of self-publishing

I can say this much: It’s economical.

There are historically some  off-the-chart bestsellers that were originally self-published. 50 Shades of Grey and the Gutenberg Bible come to mind. For the most part, self-publishing is a financial dead end, but so what? Life is a dead end too, and that doesn’t stop us from trying to live it to the fullest. Moreover, Manhattan Beach is lucky to have a real, live bookstore. You know, one of those places that sells books made of paper; a place where the owners have a stake in your reading interests. If you’re under the age of forty, never mind. You wouldn’t understand.

What this book signing is, is a celebration. It’s a celebration of what happens when friends get together and slosh down too much good wine, then stagger over to Shellback’s and try not to pass out under the table. It’s a celebration of what happens when men and women put on tight, sexy clothing, then ogle each other’s asses for hours, days, months, even years before breaking down in a sleazy bar and swapping underwear in the men’s room. It’s a celebration of delusional, over-inflated egos, of hard money poured into vanity bicycle gewgaws, and of adolescent impulses that were never outgrown.

… and …

It’s a celebration of the grit and the discomfort and the inner brokenness that we try to smooth out by spinning circles, by communing with each other, by being there in good times and bad, and by lifting each other up by the armpits, even if it’s just to get you out from the slop on the barroom floor.

The celebration, of course, only has meaning because we’ve all invested a little bit in each other, the investment of trusting someone enough to sit on their wheel, or pitying their frailty enough to drag them up a hill, or blowing off the group ride to lag back and help some numbnuts  change a flat that he never would have gotten if he hadn’t ridden the stupid fucking tire 4,000 miles past its expiration date.

Whatever your reason, if you’re part of the South Bay community, or you were, or you’d like to be, or you know someone who is, join us. You won’t regret, and neither will I.

Family

September 30, 2013 § 12 Comments

At the first cyclocross race of the season in downtown LA, my friend Greg Lonergan pulled off an impressive result in his first race despite flatting and losing scads of time trying to find a spare wheel with disc brakes. His wife and kids were there spending a beautiful fall day with the family, cheering him on, proud of him for going all out.

Marilyne Fichant was there with her two kids, and her 8-year-old Cooper won his division. Mom raced, too, and the daughter took pictures, cheered everyone on, and behaved like a perfect little lady.

Carey Downs showed up with a big contingent of Big Orange family. They all raced hard. Brian Perkins, Don Wolfe, Jeff Hazeltine, and a slew of other South Bay family sat around afterwards comparing notes, mechanical failures, excuses, successes, and washing it all down with cold beer and laughs.

When I got to the parking area at 8:00 AM, job one was to haul the heavy tent and equipment up to the top of the hill. Arik Kadosh lent his strong arms, strong back, and good humor, and soon the task was done. Robert Efthimos, also of the Westside family, showed up prepared to heckle all and sundry with insults and cheap beer, then joined us on the hill after the race (he’d snapped a chain) and shared his limitless good humor while we shared our limitless beer. When the day was done, he lugged the heaviest items along with Arik back down to the van.

The SPY family raced together, relaxed together, complained about flat tires together, had a post-race beer together, registered together, and did what family always does. We joked and cussed and planned for better racing the next time around. Randy with his DNF flat, Erik with his DNF flat, me with my DNF flat, Andy with his flat-but-to-hell-with-the-DNF-I’m-finishing, Ryan with the win, David Anderson with a super second, Jim Miller, Bull, F1 Jim and the rest of the team making a great day of it.

I got home and returned a phone call from mom, who had just read “Cycling in the South Bay” and said that it made her feel like she’d just been in a bike race.

My wife served dinner.

Family.

Cycling in the South Bay becomes major motion picture!

August 3, 2013 § 33 Comments

Okay, not a movie actually, more like a book.

Actually, an e-book.

Self-published.

But with your help it MAY one day become the best selling book since Dream of the Red Chamber.

Why a book?

I need the money.

How did it come about?

I printed out all of my blog excreta through December, 2012. It came out to 1,238 single-spaced 8 x 11 pages in 10-point type. After taking a look at the pile I got a huge headache, drank a lot of beer and then forgot about it.

Then what happened?

My good friend Barbara told me to email her the whole clump. She said she would read it and separate the wheat from the chaff. “If there’s no wheat, I’ll at least grade the chaff for you,” she may have said.

So that’s how you came out with a polished diamond?

No. That’s how I came out with 882 pages of “not completely awful” chaff.

Wankmeister, if you think anyone’s going to read 800-plus pages of anything, you’re crazy.

Right. So I whittled it down to about 200 pages, big font, double spaced, with photos of hot naked cyclists in the middle. The cover photo is from the San Pedro GP by Danny Munson.

Just like that?

No, I had more help from Barbara. Then Derek B. gave it a read and a critique. Finally, once it was all polished up and I’d read it another four times for typos, I sent it off to my favorite bicycling editor, Lesli Cohen. Once she finishes it I’ll call it good and publish it.

Which publisher are you using?

Smashwords.

That’s a joke, right?

No.

So what’s it about?

It’s about cycling in the South Bay, so I decided to call it “Cycling in the South Bay.”

Ah-hah. When is it coming out?

Two weeks, give or take a day.

Where can I buy it?

Amazon/Apple/Barnes & Noble.

How much will it cost?

$6.99.

Will there be a “bro deal”?

Yes. My bros will buy extra copies. And they will give it super favorable reviews on Amazon.

Aren’t you worried that it will be a POS?

No. I can blame it on Barbara, Derek, and Lesli. And Chris, who encouraged me to do this in the first place.

Is it going to be fiction or nonfiction?

Yes.

No, no, no. I mean, which one will it be? Fiction or nonfiction?

It’s all 100% true except for the parts I made up.

What if your local buddies get pissed off at what you say about them?

None of them can read, actually. And the ones who can will go straight to the nude photos.

And what about the ones who get left out, like Chris Lotts? They’ll be really pissed.

As long as they buy the book to find out, who cares? Look, the damned thing was 1,200 pages long. In order to get it down to size I had to dump more shit than a manure truck. Anyway, Chris loves me. Mostly. And I’ve had plenty of people ride up to me and offer cash not to be mentioned. Which I’ve accepted, by the way.

Okay. Well, I’m looking forward to it.

Thanks!

Big C, Part Two: The wrath is Stathis

July 26, 2013 § 23 Comments

I sneaked out of bed trying not to wake Mrs. WM and not to disturb the man with the hammer and the lightning bolts, who was now also playing “Do-Re-Mi” on an out-of-tune violin. I succeeded on one count and made it into the kitchen.

“Where’s the fuggin’ oatmeal?” I muttered. “Where’s the fuggin’ coffee?” I muttered.

With the oatmeal cooking and the coffee poured, I slumped over on the table. My temples were going to burst as the bow sawed crazily on the strings, out of synch with the lightning bolts and hammer whacks.

“You okay?” Mrs. WM was standing in the kitchen.

I looked up at her in misery.

“You don’ lookin’ okay.” She put the frying pan on the stove. “You can’t go onna Donuts Ride with that hangin’ over just eatin’ oatsmeal and coffee.”

“I didn’t want to wake you up.”

“You think you makin’ a coffee grinder like grindin’ a tree stump not gonna wake me up?”

I tried to say “Sorry” but the hammer and violin wouldn’t let me.

“You can’t be onna drinky pants like that at your age,” she said quietly. “You gettin’ onna drinky problem, you know? Drinky pants inna middle day when you oughta be onna workin’? Throwin’ out onna wall inna hallway like you was a college ager?”

“I’m so sorry,” I mumbled.

“Itsa okay, honey, I’m lovin’ you anyways.” The smell of fried eggs and sausage filled the kitchen as the great city’s pre-dawn night lights sparkled in through the window glass. “I don’ care onna wipin’ up some throwin’ up. I done worse in twenty-six years. But you keep up with the drinky pants and you gonna hurt people not just yourself.”

The only thing that could have made me feel worse than a bunch of shouting was the soothing lilt of her voice, mixed in with sausage. “How’d I get all cleaned up last night?”

“I cleaned you all up like you was a poopy baby. But I threw away onna your socks. They was too nastiful.”

“I won’t do it again.”

“I don’ wanna hear ’bout what you gonna do and not do,” she said, putting the plate in front of me heaped with fried eggs and sausage and toast and butter and jam and oatmeal. “I just wanna see you bein’ okay because I’m lovin’ on you no matter what.” She  leaned over and kissed my forehead.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

I rendezvoused with Jack from Illinois (not his real name) and Glass Hip a few minutes before the Donut Ride launched. “I’ve never done the new course,” said Jack.

“You hardly ever even did the old one.”

“That’s true.”

“Instead of stopping at the college atop the Switchbacks and comparing penises, we continue up to the radar domes. It adds a solid ten minutes to the climb and completely changes the tenor of the ride.”

“Do we get to compare penises at the domes?”

“They’re usually too shriveled for measurement by that point.”

“I’m looking forward to this,” Glass Hip piped up. “It’s the one legendary SoCal ride I’ve never done in almost twenty years. It should be fun.”

“Yes, it will be fun,” I said. “Kind of like having someone gnaw off your genitals with a rusty can opener is ‘fun.'”

Whereas Jack from Illinois was a kind, gentle, happy, smiling, pleasant, generous fellow who, deep inside, was a gnarly and steaming mess of rhubarb, bitter herbs, dog spit, old scabs, and the raw memories of a childhood spent locked in a closet while his older brother banged on the door with a hammer, firecrackers, and a loaded pistol, Glass Hip was the opposite.

Glass Hip, ugly as a fist, was, to the outer world, covered in scales, mottled with the scars and blotches of badly abused leather, and permanently emanated an aura of cruelty, viciousness, cheapness, and a full-throttled desire to mount, crush, and destroy all competitors of any kind. On the inside, however, deep down, far down in fact, way beneath all that, hidden from view and unseen by any living human, under layers and layers of protective viciousness, obscured from even the most discerning, lay a small, minute, tiny, hard-to-see, practically invisible, microscopically small kernel of warmth and kindness and generosity that burned with such brightness it could turn the hardest butter pat into a slightly less firm one.

In other words, these two heroes of the road were polar opposites, with the exception, of course, of the qualities they shared, and one of those qualities was this: They invariably thrashed me, cracked me, and rode me off their wheels whenever the pace picked up, which it did the moment we hit Malaga Cove.

Have pity on an old man

“The additional climb that’s been tacked onto the Switchbacks has completely changed the tenor of the ride,” I told Glass Hip.

“How so?”

“Used to be, everyone sat in until Portuguese Bend then the attacks came fast and furious, with huge accelerations at the bottom of the Switchbacks and throughout.”

“And now?”

“Now people cower in their own poop until the very last minute.”

“Then they attack?”

“Naw. They wet themselves. There’s a big group at the bottom and then it gradually whittles down into a small handful, which then disintegrates in the final killing ten minutes up to the domes.”

Canyon Bob, however, hadn’t gotten the memo, and fired off a pull of death as we approached Trump, shelling most of the field and leaving the remnants hanging onto his wheel in a gagging, ragged line. At the bottom of the Switchbacks, Stathis the Wily Greek and Sammy Snubbins attacked.

Hanging Chad followed, and so did I.

A thick fog covered the Hill and we were soon alone. G3 and G$ had attacked way back at Golden Cove and were far ahead. The rest of the field was in pieces. By the second turn I was in Old Man Hell. My breathing was so deep that it reached down into my colon. The stabbing pains from the hangover had been replaced with stabbing pains in my thighs, butt, arms, neck, face, and hair, especially my sideburns, which ached beyond any description.

At some point I realized the futility of it all. I am a few months shy of fifty. Hanging Chad is thirty. Stathis is twenty-six. Sammy is nineteen. Sammy and Stathis took turns, each one pulling so hard and fast that it felt like a flat interval. “I’ve never survived climbing with either one of these dwarves,” I told myself. “What makes me think I can do it today?”

Hanging Chad read my mind and folded. Stathis looked back at me and said something. “I think it’s English,” I said. “But mixed in with my breathing like that, it’s hard to tell.”

What was obvious was that Stathis was not breathing hard or even, apparently, trying. He pulled as far as Ganado and looked back, flicking me through.

“Are you crazy?” I telepathically transmitted. “I’m barely hanging onto your wheel. I’m old and slow and weak and frightened and riding far outside myself. You are young, strong, and not even sweating. This moment, when I have somehow survived this far on the Switchbacks hanging onto your wheel, will go down as the second greatest ride of my life, but you will have forgotten it by lunchtime. Have pity on an old, feeble wanker and let me suck wheel for just a few moments more.”

Stathis looked back at me again with the kindness and empathy of a great white shark about to tear its prey in half, or of a Republican contemplating a bill that included help for the poor, or for old people, or for children. With that brief glance he telepathed this: “Yes, you are old and weak, but you are on my wheel, so you are, by definition, stronger than all those who are not. Therefore you are legitimate prey. I feel no mercy or sympathy for you, as the moment I let you survive you will brag to the world, likely on your blog, about how you climbed with me all the way to the top, a half-truth that will lower me and exalt you. I feel no pity for you nor any desire to do anything other than crush you mercilessly under the heel of my jackboot. Your cries and pleas mean nothing to me, to the contrary, the louder you squeal the more I will enjoy the sound of my club against your eggshell skull.”

With that, he yawned and rode away. Sammy followed.

Cut adrift and resigned to being reeled in, I was surprised to see Hanging Chad come by at full speed. I hopped on and enjoyed the Cadillac draft of this triathlete-turned-savior. At the college he blew and I soldiered on. Stathis overhauled G$ and G3, completely consuming their three minute lead, followed by Sammy, then me.

Next up were Glass Hip and Jack. “We had you in our sights,” said Glass Hip, he whom I have never beaten on a climb.

“I got lucky.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “You did.”

“Don’t suppose it will happen again.”

“No,” he agreed. “It won’t.”

And it didn’t, as he pummeled me the rest of the ride.

With this one great feat, however, my confidence began to surge, because the following day was the MMX Birthday Ride Beatdown, a North County San Diego Fuckaganza in which many were invited to a happy celebration of cycling and fun and camaraderie in which there would be neither fun nor camaraderie but only a punishing, humiliating beatdown administered without regard to friendship or anything else.

In the back of mind, there were other things bubbling around the edges, too. I’d be heading to Houston after the birthday beatdown to be with my mom, who was scheduled for major surgery to combat a very aggressive breast cancer with which she’d been diagnosed. Sunday would involve a huge physical effort as well as a huge logistical effort. I’d have to get from North County to LAX in time to make the last flight of the day, which would put me in Houston at midnight.

I got back home and had lunch, then opened the fridge to grab a beer. “Nah,” I said. “Not today.”

Wankmeister goes Hollywood…kicking and screaming and suing the whole damned way

January 15, 2013 § 20 Comments

G3 told me on the Donut Ride a few weeks back that one of his Hollywood producer friends followed this blog and might get in touch to retain me as a “consultant.”

This was intended to flatter me, which it did, so I told G3 that his friend was a thieving fucking douchebag, and the only reason any Hollywood anything reads so much as the wall in a public toilet is to steal it and plagiarize it to a fare thee well.

“Not my friend!” protested G3. “He’d never rip you off!” Then G3 paused. “But his partner sure would.”

So, like Douchestrong’s confession, it was PREDICTED HERE FIRST: Now, get ready for the pilot TV show based on Cycling in the South Bay, followed by the mother of all copyright infringement lawsuits.

G3, is your Hollydouche producer hosebag listening? If he steals so much as a fucking indefinite article from these hallowed columns of honeyed prose and sparkling dialogue, he’ll find himself on the reaming end of more ass-lashing litigation than there are dickstomps on a cold, wet, windy NPR.

Next blog post: Sensitive, warm, thoughtful cycling poem.

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