Just beneath the surface

April 27, 2018 § 3 Comments

Team Lizard Collectors is a pretty big outfit. It has about three hundred members, most of whom I’ve never met. There’s another contingent who I kind of know by sight but have never ridden with, or I’ve ridden with them briefly and talked to them briefly-er. Especially there’s a dude who sometimes shows up at Telo and rides around in a TLC jersey and a floppy black pair of shorts.

Last night I was at the Team Lizard Collectors Prayer Circle, which was being held in the Chapel of Beer at Strand Brewing Co. One of the dudes there was Floppy Black Shorts Dude. He was normally attired. As I nursed my craft water we started talking and exchanging the pleasantries that bike riders always do. “How’s the riding going?” “Got any carbon?” “Are we friends on the Stravver?” and etc.

It started out pretty normal but then took a hard left turn.

“I’m going pretty well,” he said. “Upgraded to Cat 4 and I’m pretty pleased with that.”

“You should be,” I said. “It’s hard to be that deranged and that old all at the same time.”

He laughed. “Well, I’ve come a long way.”

“We all have,” I agreed. “I came from Texas. I bet you haven’t come that far.”

He laughed good-naturedly. “Thirteen years ago I wouldn’t have thought I’d ever come out of the ICU.”

“Really? What happened?”

“I was at work one day in my boss’s office and I felt something go pop in my head, then I felt kind of light headed, and then I sprawled across his desk, cleared it off like a broom, and collapsed on the floor.”

“Dang. I bet he was surprised. Most people just say, ‘Can I have a raise, sir?'”

“Right. I lay there and fortunately he was ex-military and in a few minutes EMS was there and the next thing I knew I was in the ICU.”

“Not the best ending to a Monday.”

“Or any day. Because I had something called an arteriovenous malformation, or an AVM.”

“I’m no doctor, but anything with ten syllables or more sounds real fuckin’ bad.”

“Yeah, it is. It’s basically a malformed network of blood vessels in the brain, and if it’s your unlucky day, a vessel breaks and you stroke out.”

“Dogdamn. I guess you lucked out then?”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“You didn’t have a stroke. I mean, you look fine and everything.”

“I totally stroked out. When I woke up I couldn’t move the left half of my body. The docs said I’d never walk again.”

“How long ago was this?”

“About thirteen years.”

“Then what?”

“I said ‘fuck that’ to the prognosis and decided I’d come back, even if I had to learn everything over again, which is what I did. First day of rehab they put a ball in my hand and I couldn’t even move my fingers. It took hours and days, man, just to be able to close my fingers around a ball, and once that happened, I had to learn the other thing.”

“What other thing?”

“How to let it go.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“I’m not. It was like that with everything. Standing, walking, using the left half of my face to talk, every possible use of my fingers, arm, hand, leg, foot.”

“How long did it take?”

“Years.”

“But I saw you out at Telo the other day, hammering like a madman. You look great.”

“I’ll never be 100% on my left side. My ankle is all messed up and never really recovered, so I have a bit of a limp and can’t run anymore. But I don’t care. I can walk. I can ride. I got my life back.”

I looked at him for a second. He had this incredible smile on his face, the smile of someone who has been where you never have, and returned from it alive. Someone whose toughness and fortitude go out to the very limits of human endeavor. Someone who appreciates the simple act of breathing in and breathing out, the true gift.

“You know the best part?” he asked.

“What?” I said.

“I work for the government, so in order to really get up into higher management, some degree of significant brain damage is mandatory.”

“Promotion!”

“You know it!” he grinned.

After a few minutes the Prayer Circle started and we all began praying to the deity of Leibert. But Floppy Shorts Dude, I’m pretty sure, was praying to something else.

END

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How to race yer fuggin’ bike

March 7, 2018 § 2 Comments

One of my best friends on Planet Zebulon (not to mention earth) sent me a report from the cockpit after the UCLA Road Race this past weekend. G$ is one of the best bike racers there is. He wins time trails, hill clumbs, crit thingies, and most of all, toughballs road races. He is a nice guy but not really because what he does to other racers isn’t nice.

At first blush you might think what follows is a race report. However, I ran it through the Wanky Bike Race Report Transmogrifier in order to interpret it for us mere mortals. I’m reprinting below in segments, along with the transmogrifier’s output.

Race Report: It was supposed to be a rainy, dark and stormy morning, and in Venice at 7:00 AM, it was. I’ve gotta admit I was looking forward to a nasty weather race filled with cold, snow, wind. I knew that bad weather would thin the field, and only the stupid and the strong would bother racing, both, actually, and sometimes in the same person.

Transmogrifier Output: Twiggly Jeff K. and others with crashophobia would be home in bed.

Race Report: This year the promoter took away the 55+ category, so I was stuck racing with possibly the fastest non-pro race category, the 45+.

Transmogrifier Output: G$ was going to be racing against twiggly climbing hammers twelve years his junior. In old fart years, one year equals seven younger fart years.

Race Report: As I drove the 1.5 hours to the race it rained for the first hour, but the last 30 minutes it was dry, cloudy and threatening, but dry! And not that cold, maybe 51 degrees whereas it was supposed to be 44 and rain, with gusty winds, and huge turd squalls, hailing meatballs. It was windy, and I was pretty happy that it wasn’t cold and rainy! And so many of the guys who thought it was gonna be nasty, all stayed home! Better for me!

Transmogrifier Output: G$ is a bike racer. Many other licensed riders with very expensive equipment and fancy clothing are not.

Race Report: Tom Doung had set up a little Big Orange team campground; nice! Tom and our race committee are awesome.

Transmogrifier Output: Big Orange team genie Tom Duong is the best dude ever. Sets up the tent, prepares the traditional goulash stew, brews the Body of Beach Performance elixir, and ensures that all Big O racers are lavishly cared for. Other teams can only dream of this level of professional support.

Race Report: It was so nice weather wise, I changed my whole plan, and went with basic SoCal morning gear: Bibs, jersey, arm warmers, and I did have my clear rain jacket for an emergency meatball storm. Pro tip from a non-pro: The clear rain jacket that stows in your rear pocket is super key for rain racing, since the officials can still see your number thru the clear jacket and you can keep it on while you race, if you need to as the meatballs hail down.

Transmogrifier Output: Don’t race in your down jacket and ski goggles.

Race Report: There were a few really fast guys in the race, LaGrange hammer James Cowan,  tough guy and national crit champ Matthew Carinio, and of course my nemesis, Thurlow Rogers, world road and time trial champ, Olympian, etc., and his teammate, Tony Brady, who has won the 35+ San Dimas time trial, and regularly beats us all in road races. Great …

Transmogrifier Output: This race was gonna be so fucking hard it made your legs hurt just looking at the start list. You’d be better off in a dungeon chained to a rack than trying to contest this lung-busting, leg-shredding, ego-shriveling death march.

Race Report: As we started, it was a pretty good headwind up the climb, and we all climbed pretty slowly, since everyone believed it would damage the leader more than the followers. Nevertheless, the hill is super hard at any speed and we lost most of the 25 or 30 brave souls who drove all the way out to this place to ride by themselves, so now there were only six of us.

Transmogrifier Output: Everyone got dropped in the first two miles. Out of the toughest of the tough leaky prostate racers in SoCal, all were dipped into the wood chipper ten minutes in. Now doesn’t a 48-mile windy, hilly solo TT sound funnnnn?

Race Report: The descent was fast, and cross-windy. I hit 55 mph, yikes!

Transmogrifier Output: You or I would have crashed and died.

Race Report: As we hit the bottom of the downhill, we entered a rolling section, about five miles long, which led into the 1-mile climb where there was a KOM award for the first racer up the hill to claim. So as we rounded the corner and began this section, Tony Brady accelerated, and rode away with no response from anyone. I couldn’t believe it, I was sitting fourth wheel, you could see everyone thinking, “It’s certainly not my responsibility to chase!” Unless of course, you just wanted race for second. “Guys! He’s not coming back!” I yelled, hoping that someone would hit the gas for even ten pedal strokes and bring him back, now it was more like twenty pedal strokes, and he was up the road! I should have gone but I would have just given everyone a free ride up to the leader, and I guess everyone else was thinking the same thing. I yelled again, “You guys really just wanna race for second?” I heard only one response. Thurlow said, “You mean 3rd?” Meaning that he would beat to bits everyone in our little group. Smartass!

Transmogrifier Output: G$ hesitated and everyone (four other mostly dead riders, one of whom was the leader’s teammate) waited for him to close the gap. He didn’t.

Race Report: Well, Thurlow was in the ‘ol catbird seat and that’s because, he could do the least amount of work in our group, and whatever we did, if we chased, he could sit on, and if we didn’t chase, he could sit on. Either way he would be the freshest at the end to win the bunch sprint, and if we didn’t catch his teammate, their team would win and maybe get second, too. And if we did catch his teammate, Thurlow had a great chance of winning because he is a fast finisher.

Transmogrifier Output: Bike racing arithmetic is pretty simple.

Race Report: Oh, and guess what? Nobody could work, it must have been a national holiday. “I’m too tired,” “I have a hangnail,” etc. And there was a guy in the group wearing a plain blue jersey, who I didn’t know, whose two race numbers were flapping around like open parachutes! A rookie move, using only four pins, one in each corner, creating two little parachutes on the rider’s back, and noisy in the crazy wind. Were we rationing safety pins or something? Rookie or not, he made the split and was in with the front riders, and of course he wasn’t working either.

Transmogrifier Output: A hangnail is a truly painful, bike racer career-wrecking condition. Unless you have an inhaler. Also, flappy numbers please stay home.

Race Report: So, I got in the wind and kept trying to keep the pace high, and every so often, I’d put in an attack, when the others let a gap open up behind me. But oh man, those guys were all tired as heck and had major hangnail issues preventing them from taking a turn at the front, but they could triple the watts in a flash to chase me down. That really drives me crazy. If I could have just slipped away from those bloodsuckers I would gladly have put my head down and made a real effort to catch the one-man Brady Bunch.

Transmogrifier Output: G$ made the race so fucking hard that people were barfing hairballs. If he was gonna get second, or third, it was going to cost the sitters a liver.

Race Report: Tony had one minute and twenty seconds on us as we started the main climb, and we had 3 laps and 37 miles to go. I set the pace up the climb, and then again on the stair steps, with very little help from the others. Thurlow was glued on my back wheel and I wasn’t going anywhere without him. Thurlow is a funny cat. I have beaten him year after year in the uphill San Dimas time trial, by a lot! Sometimes in the 1-minute gap area, but in a road race, he can lock onto my wheel, and I can climb my little heart out, but he will not lose my wheel! He can suffer like no other! He is also a 4th Quarter kind of racer, for instance the last two years at the Mammoth Gran Fondo, by mile 80 I was in the front group, consisting of pros and former pros, and we dropped super old ex-pro Thurlow Rogers (58), but he chased back on, and beat me both times. We’ve only raced each other for the last sixteen years.

Transmogrifier Output: Thurlow has won more bike races than the rest of the field combined had ever entered.

Race Report: Anyway, up the climbs we kept losing a guy or two, and they they would chase back on during the downhill, and we get Tony back to just under one minute, continuing our dysfunctional chase. Flappy looked strong, and he would sometimes rotate through, and take a hard pull, even up the climbs, so he really had my attention. He was mostly sitting on, but showing that he can really lay down the wood. With two laps to go, and just after the main climb, I hit the jets hard and tried to escape our small group, and I did! I thought I was free but here came Flappy, and guess what? Because he didn’t want me to be lonely he brought all his buddies with him. So, I have to admit the race was getting to me, and I was angry that these guys could smash such hard efforts to chase me but would barely lift a finger to chase the danged leader of the race. I yelled at Flappy, “What the heck was that?” and he responded, “Did I do the bad?” with some French or Russian accent, and I responded “Yes, you did the bad! Why are you wasting so much energy chasing me when you won’t even help chase the leader?” It occurred to me that he might not have had any idea what I had just said to him, but since I had been bitching to all the guys in our group for the last two hours, you’d think that he would be apprised already that I was less than pleased with everyone sitting on watching me do the work. All the while Thurlow was just laughing, and enjoying my little show, knowing that he was gonna mop us all up for second place. Meanwhile Brady Bunch was two minutes ahead. The moto official was giving us updates two times a lap, which was really cool.

Transmogrifier Output: Bike racing is hard and frustrating and miserable and nasty, which is why we do it.

Race Report: Anyway, I really can’t remember now as I’m writing this what the hell lap we were on, but I do remember that Flappy started to help! And with a lap to go, he was taking some real meaty pulls, that if you’d put tomato sauce on ’em and served up some pasta you’d have had dinner for twelve. Now there were just three of us. Thurlow, Flappy, and me, and as we hit the top of the main climb for the last time, I was getting tired. Thurlow attacked hard and got a little gap, and everything I know about Thurlow is that he doesn’t come back without a fight. Luckily, we entered that little downhill portion just before the stair step climb, and I slammed it into meatball gear, and Flappy and I caught back on. Now Flappy puts it in his meatball gear and sets a stinky hard tempo up the climb, and we dropped Thurlow! That never happens! I mean, we really lost him. You could have sent out a St. Bernard and it wouldn’t have found him. As we crested the top, I couldn’t see him. We prepared for the long downhill, and I really wanted to stay on the gas because nobody goes down a hill like Thurlow. More meatballs! We did not let him catch back up!

Transmogrifier Output: Every time you finish a bike race ahead of Thurlow, light a candle, circle the date on your calendar, and make sure you have a photo because no one is gonna believe you.

Race Report: We rolled fast down the hill, and there was no sight of Thurlow, I think we even lost the St. Bernards.

Transmogrifier Output: At the end of a hard hilly road race against top-shelf competition, Max and G$ still had enough meatballs in the pot to ride harder than they did at the start.

Race Report: When we got to the bottom, Flappy said, “I will not challenge you for the place of second, my name is Max.” Well, you could have knocked me over with a mini-meatball, mostly because I was roasted, but also, because that was a really unexpectedly cool gesture.

Transmogrifier Output: Flappy is a good dude, ergo, not really a bike racer.

Race Report: Moto guy said we were only fifty seconds from the leader, so, more meatballs!! Max and I worked together over the rollers. We got to the bottom of the last climb, both on fumes, but now we were forty seconds from Tony and there was no possible way to catch, unless he fell off of his bike, and maybe not even then. As we approached the finish line, Max fell back a bit and let me ride across ahead of him. Racing … for … second … place.

END

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THOG chum

February 19, 2018 § 1 Comment

I knew it was gonna be a great day at the CBR crit because when I peeled off my skinsuit in the port-a-dumpster, the right long sleeve slipped down behind me and dangled straight into the brown hole of death, but I was miraculously able to jerk it out before it touched any of the burrito/coffee/egg sandwich mixin’s stewing in the bottom of the tank.

It was obvious before the race started that it would end in a bunch sprunt, which was great because I’m still recovering from The Influence, and after so many years of doing this I have a sixth sense about when a race will end with a breakaway and when it will end in a mass gallop. My race plan was simple. Sit for forty minutes, race for ten.

As I rolled up to the line scanning my competition the only possible fly in my ointment was Thurlow Rogers a/k/a The Hand of God a/k/a THOG. Incredibly, there are still people, all newbies, who don’t know who Thurlow is. I explain it like this: “I first saw him destroy a pro-am race in 1983. He’s the best living active bike racer on earth.” If people don’t get that, after watching him race, they do.

Archibald & Rufus, CBR’s crack announcers, had warmed up the crowd with their unique blend of edutainment, teaching the audience about the race while also talking about their Valentine’s Day gift exchange of dead flowers, a roast dog, and several anonymous calls to Crime Stoppers naming the other as a felon. Anyone who thinks that it’s boring to watch a bunch of tired old farts in their underwear pedaling around an abandoned parking lot windswept with dirty diapers and used condoms has never listened to a race get lit up by Archie and Roof.

It’s money time

The race began rather animatedly, with Dandy Andy firing off the front. I sat comfortably in 67th place and sighed. “Hopeless. No break is going today.”

Sure enough, they brought him back.

Next went G$, stomping away from the field and opening up a healthy gap until the field realized that sitting out in the wind for 45 minutes was something that Money was not only willing to do, but that he had done countless times before … for the win. I sighed though. “Hopeless. No break is going today.”

Suddenly THOG shot out of the pack with a couple of riders in tow. This animated all the sitters, none of whom was interested in racing hard, but all of whom were interested in chasing THOG. There is a beauty in cycling because even though you may personally suck, with a little bit of effort you can ruin someone else’s day who is really good.

I sighed as I watched the hopeless move. “No break is going today.” It occurred to me that one reason I was so convinced no move was going today is because I was weak, tired, sick, and desperate to do a few parade laps then go home.

WTF? I said NO BREAK TODAY

Once the bunch was back together, G$ glanced around and kicked it. This time he opened up a small gap and three other riders bridged up, Dandy, Jaggs, and No Pull Dude. The field watched, everyone keying on THOG and waiting for him to do all the dirty work. THOG slunk to the middle of the field and the break really started to pull away.

I sighed. “Not today, wankers. No break is going today.”

I checked my watch and we were a mere 25 minutes into the 50-minute race. I still had fifteen minutes to sit, which was good, because I wasn’t feeling it. Suddenly the pack had slowed and my momentum carried me far towards the front. At about the same moment, THOG attacked.

When other people attack it’s sometimes unclear whether they’re attacking or whether they’re imitating a fully loaded city bus pulling away from the curb while dragging a building behind it. When THOG attacks it is pretty clear that the only thing worse than being a toilet roll in the CBR port-a-dumpster is being a crank or pedal on THOG’s bike. The viciousness of the smashing and the acceleration hurt to look at, and then you don’t have to look at it any more because he is gone.

After half a lap THOG was a tiny speck. For some silly reason I attacked, city bus style. The peloton yawned and hell began. I was a dangling worm on a hook, stuck between the group and THOG, which is like having your head crushed between a grand piano and a concrete wall, only worse.

Three laps passed, but after two I was a solid two hundred yards back from THOG and couldn’t make up an inch. It was a matter of minutes before I detonated and floated all the way back to the peloton. At that very moment my pals Archibald & Rufus screamed over the microphone, “Davidson is bridging to Thurlow!!”

“He is?” I thought, wondering who this Davidson guy was and watching Thurlow get smaller and smaller as smoke began issuing from the cracks of my everything.

What goes around

One thing I learned the hard way is that when you are in a break with Thurlow, you pull your fucking guts out. He is the greatest. You are shit. If you wind up on his wheel it means something epic is happening, and now isn’t the time to be clever or cutesie or calculating. It’s time to beat the pedals so fucking hard that you think your knees will come unhitched. The times I’ve been in a break with Thurlow he’s never had to say “take a pull” or “quit dicking off” or wheel-chopped me and sent me flying into the ditch.

Most importantly, when there’s prime money or a finish on the line, he has always dispatched me with the facility of a large hammer removing one’s front teeth. In other words, breakaway chum.

And when Thurlow heard the announcers say “Davidson is bridging!” he looked back, and what did he see? He saw chum. THOG chum. Tasty, fresh, bleeding THOG chum. So he eased off the pedals for a few seconds and waited. By the way, Thurlow never waits. If you are too weak to bridge, sucks to be you. But in my case, if you do bridge, then it really sucks to be you. I struggled onto his back wheel, and the beating commenced.

In a few moments I’d recovered and was able to pull, and that’s the beauty of being in a break with Thurlow. You go harder than you ever thought you could. Who cares if you get dropped, who cares if you lose, who cares if your feet fall off or you scrape a pedal and impale your head on a fire hydrant? The only thing that matters is DON’T BE A FLAILING WANKER.

With the added chum power, we pulled far away from the wankoton until they were invisible. All the while in the real race up ahead, G$ was tossing his breakmates into the paper shredder as they sat on his wheel begging for mercy. With a couple of laps to go the RuggedMAXX II kicked in and G$ left his unhappy companions to fight for scraps, but none of that mattered to me. I was covered in sheet snot and could care less about the race; I was barely even aware I was in one. All I knew is that we had two laps to go, and until the moment that Thurlow rode off I was all in.

We hit the next to last turn, uphill and into the wind, and I wound it up, sprinting from corner to corner, taking the final turn, and giving it a dozen final smashes. Then I sat up and Thurlow breezed by, hardly even pedaling, and frankly rather bored with the whole thing. Fifth for Thurlow is an embarrassment. Sixth for me is a tattoo on my forehead.

After the race my cheering section ran up. “Why did you quit sprinting?” they asked.

“That’s Thurlow,” I said. “If you’re not sprinting him for the win, you sit the fuck up and pay your respects.” Which I did.

END

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Here comes the Hun

January 16, 2018 Comments Off on Here comes the Hun

There is a nasty part of every day recently, and by recently I mean since about 2011, when it dawns on me that I have to sit down at the computer and write something that will offend enough people to get them to read the first paragraph, but not so many that I will be beaten to a pulp the next time I show up at a bike race or group ride or social mixer, raging inside at not being able to douse my soul in suds but insanely proud at resisting the call of the demon drink, like water torture infused with cocaine.

Today I pretty much knew what I was going to write about, which is a way of saying I had no fucking idea what I was going to write about because I am possessed by a mean bastard who waits until I hammer out the slug and then rips up the rails and sends me down a blind, bleeding, raucous, raw rabbit hole filled with mines, razors, concertina wire, and chocolate. I can handle everything except the fucking chocolate.

It was a simple story, really, about a bike racer whose nickname is “the Hun” not because he is an invading, one-man-horde of death and ruination, but because he is a Magyar, an Eastern European man born and raised in the Kingdom of Hungary, from whence the Huns originally were spawned and issued forth to ransack, pillage, burn, and upturn the citadel of Rome before giving into the weather, the art, the women, the boys, the poetry, and the wine, especially the wine, which, once hooked upon, turned them into the same soft and easily eaten cronuts of the emperors they’d only recently disemboweled and whose heads they’d set tastefully on bloody pikes.

I was going to talk about Attila the Hun and what a badass he is, and it was going to be complimentary and kind and a gentle revelation of a decent father and son, but what is the fun in that? Who wants a fucking fairy tale on the eve of MLK Day, when our Racist-in-Chief is celebrating the enslavement of a race by whacking golf balls, way over par and tipped in at the last minute by his lying henchmen who have stolen our national wealth and sold our fake democracy to the Russians? Who wants a happy ending, well, everyone who hasn’t been to China recently, I guess, and hasn’t seen that the iron fist of George Orwell has been increased 5,000% in size through daily workouts at Gold’s Gym and clothed in lululemon yoga gloves to make the rusty nails protruding from the knuckles look sexier, that’s who.

So, no happy story with a pretty ending for you today. It’s Tuesday and the job is in full meatgrinder mode, and even if you can’t keep your fingers clear, try not to stick your tongue into it.

This morning’s Tuesday Horror Story started on Sunday at noon at Telo, the world’s worst training crit ever. Even if you like wind and pain, even if you get wet and weak inside when you think about having someone stand on your left eye, nah, even then it was a shitty day. The whole idea behind moving Telo from Tuesday to Sunday was a stupid idea; “On Sunday there’s no traffic,” “We need a training crit between January and March, when Telo is SUPPOSED to start up,” and the dumbest fucking lie ever told, “It will be fun.”

Newsflash: Bike racing isn’t fun unless you’re doing the fake old supermaster jagoff World Championship 70+ ITT where you compete against one other idiot so that you can scurry home and brag that:

a. I’M A WORLD CHAMPION JUST LIKE PETER SAGAN and

b. I’M GOING TO PUT WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STRIPES ON MY BUSINESS CARDS

For everyone else, bike racing is a nasty, painful, disappointing, sadistic exercise in masochism and deflation and delusion that runs aground on physics, physiology, and mental decrepitude, and nowhere are the shoals as sharp and shark-ridden as Telo.

On Sunday it was a horrible contingent of actual bike racers. Not fake-fuck posers who buy all the fancy shit and wear all the fancy clothes and wouldn’t get near a number and a safety pin for all the trinkets on Strava, but actual people who raced actual bikes against actual other people for no other reason than the misery and disappointment of physical and mental collapse.

Prime among this tribe of angry people was Attila (his real name), “the Hun,” (not). With a paltry field, we started, took the first lap easy, and began attacking. After thirty-five minutes everyone was ready to call it a day, a week, a lifetime, anything but “not over,” yet for all that it was not over. Jon Davy seized the exhausted moment, kicked it hard in its tender private parts, and Attila followed. By then the minuscule field of a dozen had dwindled to six, with various collapsed and beaten competitors doing lackluster laps, randomly hopping in and out, unsure why they were there or what they were doing.

Dog knows I don’t know.

After a couple more laps Derek Brauch sprang free, Greg Leibert followed, and as I waited for Josh Alverson to do something, anything, they rode away and that was that. Derek was finally dumped, Greg bridged to Jon and Attila, and they took turns attacking Jon. Attila got free and soloed for an ugly win, not as ugly as the wreckage and destruction that the Huns had visited on Rome, but close.

Afterwards everyone sat around in the heat, dehydrated, sunstroked, in shock at having done something so hard and stupid when, for a mere $45, we could have spent six hours on I-10 doing a real 60-minute race in Ontario with racers who were not only more real than we but also way smarter. The Hun didn’t care. As he has done so many times past, in road races and in crits, he came, he smashed, he won ten dollars and a loaf of bread, and he went home happy, the skins and heads of his victims stapled to his jerkin.

No one is sure if Sunday Telo will ever happen again. I hope it doesn’t. But in the meantime, the demon has let me out of his clutches and this particular post is done.

END

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180 degrees

August 28, 2016 § 44 Comments

It’s hard to admit you’re wrong.

It’s harder to apologize to the people you’ve wronged.

It’s hardest of all to affirmatively do something about it.

The last couple of weeks have seen a slew of attacks on cyclists. Mason Katz, a professional baseball player, used his Twitter account to attack people who ride bicycles and suggest that their mere existence made him contemplate harming them.

mason_katz.jpg

Then there was the woman who I’ll just politely refer to as the Charlotte Nutjob. After assaulting a peaceful group of cyclists she was portrayed in the first news stories as a victim.

mercedes_menace

At least one follow-up story confirmed that she’s actually an idiot. Maybe that makes some people feel better.

And then there was the San Diego Easy Reader story, peddling lies and absurd analyses from the Cato Institute trying to argue that bike planning is irrational and we should spend more time and money helping the poor beleaguered car industry.

 

All of this followed hot on the heels of stories in which Peter King, Sports Illustrated flunky, and his flunkette driver Jenny Vrentas, made a ha-ha-ho-ho joke about driving their cage in the bike lane on the way to a football game, which in turn was contemporaneous with a tweet by NFL Network analyst @HeathEvans 44, which highlighted the irrational rage that so many drivers feel at simply encountering an ordinary bicycle rider “clogging the street,” i.e. “riding lawfully.”

But then the story line changed.

One of my Big Orange club members, Delia Park, reached out to @HeathEvans44 and invited him to come apologize to our club before the Sunday ride. “Sure,” I thought. “Like he’s going to show up at 6:30 AM on  Sunday to get berated by a bunch of old farts in orange underwear.”

“Sure,” @HeathEvans44 responded. “I’d love to.”

“Believe it when I see it,” was my cynical thought.

Yesterday morning at the Center of the Known Universe a/k/a CotKU a/k/a the Manhattan Beach Pier Starbucks, @HeathEvans44 showed up as promised. Delia, Joann Zwagermann, Greg Leibert, Steve Utter, my youngest son Woodrow, and I were all there.

I had prepped my son about what to expect, prejudiced as I am. “The guy’s going to be some insincere asshat who’s been hassled on social media and probably by his employer to make this right. He’ll be condescending as shit.”

What we found was something so far away from that. @HeathEvans44 was, first and foremost, appalled that he’d tweeted something that condoned violence. He was more than apologetic. His voice, his manner, and his words evinced nothing but regret of the sincerest kind. You got the feeling that here was a guy who was gentle, kind, and who wanted to right a wrong. You know the old saying, “People make mistakes”? Well, they do. What they often don’t do, is apologize for them.

In addition to profoundly apologizing, Heath admitted to not having known the law. He asked forgiveness. He praised cycling as a sport, and he had obvious, unfeigned respect for the riders who were getting ready to roll forth for the day. He was an athlete who respected fitness and athleticism.

As if all that weren’t enough, he agreed that something further needed to be done to help educate the motoring public and to help counteract the gut reaction that many people have when they see a rider “in their way.” In our short pre-ride meeting there was no time to nail down specifics, but he shared his private cell phone and promised to work together with us to help get the word out.

Finally, he stood out at CotKU while iPhones snapped and popped. I’d had no idea that so many cyclists loved football. One rider asked him where he went to college. “Auburn,” he said.

“My daughter goes there,” said the rider, rolling up his sleeve to show an elaborate War Eagles tattoo. Football talk quickly ensured. Far from rushing away as soon as he could, he hung around to chat until the cyclists themselves clicked in and rolled out.

@HeathEvans44’s Twitter tag line is “Don’t dish if you can’t take it.” Pretty admirable to see someone turn a negative into a positive, and be adult enough to reverse course when the initial tack was just plain wrong. It’s a lesson we should all take to heart.

[EDIT: The original post neglected to mention that this would not have happened without the work of Joann Zwagermann, who helped spotlight the problem and who relentlessly engaged. It also omitted to recognize the work that Matt Miller, also of Big Orange, did to make sure that our efforts were positive, peaceful, and dedicated to rapprochement rather than acrimony and recrimination. Thank you to all.]

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A tale of two Francises

February 24, 2016 § 34 Comments

The first time I did the Old Pier Ride on a December day in 2006, I got yelled at by Stern-O. My crime? Daring to be a new face contesting the sprunt on a steel Masi while wearing a wool jersey.

On my first few Donut Rides I was yelled at and pushed around, and was only able to create breathing room by riding some of the worst-behaved people off my wheel. The only way you could get people to lay off was by beating them down.

Those few short years ago road riding in LA was like it still is in many places. Cliquish, hostile, and full-to-overflowing with self-important preeners.

Nowadays LA is not that way, even though other parts of SoCal and NorCal are still rife with faux elitism. Guys like Rahsaan Bahati, Robert Efthimos, Greg Leibert, and especially Greg Seyranian have created an environment where inclusiveness is the norm. New faces like David Wells, and old ones like Gerald Iacono and Michael Norris have kept up a steady drumbeat that welcomes new faces.

Eventually the most offensive snobs relocated to faraway climes, or took to riding by themselves in tiny groups at odd hours where they come into contact with hardly anyone, or they’ve simply quit riding.

This environment has attracted a lot of people to the old group rides. The NPR now easily starts with 70 or 80 riders. There’s often shouting and sometimes a bit of jostling, but it tends to be based on actual riding behavior rather than to establish a pecking order.

One of the guys who started showing up one day was named Francis, but one look at him and you pretty much knew that:

  1. You weren’t the first person who’d thought about saying, “Lighten up, Francis.”
  2. He’d beaten up lots tougher guys than you for lots smaller infractions than that.

In a universe where bikers are the underdog and the police are the enemy, Francis was like that overgrown guy in the movie with beard stubble and a knife who shows up in the 7th Grade classroom after riding his motorcycle to school and befriends the twiggly dork getting bullied by the bad guys. Turns out that Francis was a homicide detective and beneath his tough, flinty-eyed exterior there lay a hardened, unflinching, barefisted interior.

This was amazing because suddenly when the group got pulled over by a cop responding to a call from an irate PV housewife who’d been slowed down four seconds on her way to Starbucks, instead of getting a lecture, four back-up squad cars, and tickets all ’round, Francis and the cop would have a conversation and that would be it.

It was also amazing because we now had a cop who backed us up when bad things happened. It’s a funny feeling to think that when some cager in a pickup buzzes you and flips you off and then gets it into his head to escalate the situation that he’s going to find out he’s grabbed the red-hot poker with both hands by the wrong end.

Of course, what are the chances that a hard-bitten homicide cop would even be named Francis, let alone also be a cyclist, and a good one, at that? One in several billion. So in an effort to let him know how much he was appreciated, I made an especial effort to give him as much shit as possible, which, to his credit, he always returned in rather unequal quantities.

But back to the NPR …

In tandem with the large size of the ride, the police whose jurisdiction is LAX International Airport have their own Wellness Department, which focuses on health initiatives for employees and for the broader community. After a particularly bad car-bike collision on Westchester Parkway, which abuts the airport’s runways, the officer in charge of Wellness decided to get involved.

This guy’s name is Officer Sur, and with the department’s backing he now escorts the group on Tuesdays. He drives an SUV patrol car with large magnetic signs that say “3 Feet Please!” indicating the minimum legal passing space a motorist must give a cyclist.

He assists with intersection control when we make the u-turns on the Parkway, and also helps control traffic at lights when the lights are changing and only half the peloton has made it through. Officer Sur even came to our 6:40 AM liftoff at the Manhattan Beach Pier and gave a talk about rider safety and police involvement with things like the NPR.

From the time that he has been escorting the ride, we have gotten noticeably less (as in zero) buzzing or harassment by cagers. So in addition to the lottery-like odds of having one guardian angel in the form of a homicide detective named Francis, we wound up with an even more improbable scenario: Having two policemen who ride and who look out for others on bikes.

 

So I was talking to Officer Sur after the NPR, and telling him about Francis.

“Francis?” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Pretty weird, huh? I mean, what are the chances of having a cop named Francis who’s not only involved in cycling but who’s also kind of a guardian angel?”

Officer Sur looked at me to see if I was pulling his leg. “Pretty long odds,” he said. “Because that’s my first name, too.”

officer_sur

Officer Sur giving a talk before the NPR.

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Chastened and sad face with Hungarian sausage

February 14, 2016 § 16 Comments

Team Lizard Collectors rolled up to the start of the UCLA Road Race in our pimping Bonk Breaker Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van and Hotel and Restaurant. G3 and I had argued the entire 1.5 hour drive to the McDonald’s toilet about race strategy.

“The Cat 3 race is harder than the Leaky Prostate 45-plus Profamateur race,” he said.

“You are insane,” I diplomatically replied. “Our field is stacked with THOG, the desert rat brothers, Roadchamp, Capture the Flagg, Strava Jr., and a host of other mutants. They will kill it from the gun and we’ll all be dropped. We’ll never make it over the first climb.”

“Yes, we will,” said G3. “We’ll do them just like in the Cat 3’s.”

“Oh, brother,” I said. “How is that?”

“We’ll roll up to the front and ride tempo.”

“Great. Until the desert rats and Roadchamp and Strava Jr. hit the gas and drop you like Chinese egg soup.”

“Nope. I’ll chat them up and make small talk, ask about the kids and stuff. By the time they get through telling me about their new chain lube and Strava Jr.’s 1-oz. derailleur we’ll be through most of the climb and you won’t get shelled.”

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Works every time in the Cat 3’s.”

“This ain’t the Cat 3’s.”

The race started, G3 rolled to the front, and holding a steady tempo began chatting with the rat brothers about the carpet cleaning business, the pool cleaning business, and whether they thought it would rain in the desert anytime soon.

Even at tempo half the field was shelled, and when we made the first turn by the blowing trash and the flimsy gates that only barely restrained a rabid Rottweiler and a foaming pit bull who thought we had come to raid the meth lab, the hitters realized they’d been tricked and three of them scampered away.

“You did it!” I exulted to G3. Making it over the first climb was the hardest part of the race; even though we had four laps the remaining times around would be easy in comparison.

Since we were there to sacrifice all for our team leader G$ (easily confused with G3, at least on paper), and since we still had seven riders in the lead group, we all slunk to the back to let G$ do the hard work of reeling in the break, which he did. Once he made the catch, G3 yelled, “Come on guys, let’s get to the front and bring back the break!”

“They’re already back,” we said from the back.

“Good job!”

Now that the hard part was over, all we had to do was continue lurking and shirking while the peloton dragged us to the finish, where we would gloriously win the first seven places, and maybe G$ would get eighth.

However, as we started the climb for the second time, the group seemed to shrink and Team Lizard Collectors suffered a major reduction of its core members, including Dr. Whaaat?, who was experimenting on a hot and hilly road race with a new homemade energy drink made of pickle juice and salt. Just as we approached the rabid dog gate, one of the pre-race favorites, Strava Jr., rode straight into the back of G$’s rear wheel and fell off his bicycle.

The leaders, realizing that one of their chief competitors was down, stomped on the pedals, shredding the group. Strava Jr. lay writhing in not really pain, and after determining that his handlebars were twisted 5-degrees he declared his day over and went home to collect some more KOM’s. In the meantime, our valiant team leader G$ had pulled over to check the wheel that Strava Jr. had smashed into. As the sole remaining member of Team Lizard Collectors near the leaders, I considered my options:

  1. Stop and help my team leader with his repair, give him a wheel if necessary, help him remount, get him speedily on his way, and tow my heart out so he could rejoin the leaders and win the race.
  2. Pretend I didn’t see him, pedal blindly by, and try to catch back onto the group I had no hope of staying with so I could possibly get 14th.

It’s not often that life presents such easy choices, so I left him at the side of the road and tried to rejoin the leaders.

This failed.

However, G$ fixed his bike, remounted, and with no assistance powered across a hilly windswept stairstep to close a 30-second gap and rejoin the front group. I was soon caught by a rather hopeless and dispirited group of people who once resembled cyclists but now looked a lot like homeless desert people on bikes. They dropped me after a few miles.

One by one, everyone remaining in the race passed me except for one fellow who was afterwards declared retroactively dead. I sensed that he was a real threat to the leaders and even though we were 40 minutes back I knew it would take a lot of skill to keep him from going across to G$, who eventually attacked the lead group and won the race.

Fortunately, Mr. Corpse was unable to execute his plan and I kept him blocked safely in 39th place, just out of reach of G$, who was mostly in another county. It was a super valiant team effort and I was humbly honored to play such an important role in G$’s win.

Thanks to my hard work, I demanded that G$ buy the whole team lunch with his $80 in winnings. He agreed and we went to the Hungarian Sausage and Meat Company, located back in Pearblossom between the bail bondsman, the liquor shop, and the Baptist church. Since we had Attila the Hungarian with us, we figured he would appreciate some of his native food.

Inside the shop, he went to the counter. “Anyone here speak Hungarian?” he asked.

The young lady shook her head. “No. What makes you think they would?”

“Well,” said Attila, “the sign says Hungarian Sausage, so I thought maybe someone here was Hungarian.”

hungarian_sausage

The woman made a complicated look with her face, straining muscles that seemed attached to her brain, but that hadn’t been exercised much in the last few years. “No,” she said. “We only speak American here.”

Attila looked at the menu. “I’ll have the Hungarian sausage sandwich,” he said.

The woman scowled. “That takes twenty-five minutes. You’ll have to wait twenty-five minutes. It’s a twenty-five minute wait.”

“Then I’ll have something quicker. What do you recommend?”

“The summer smoked Polish blood sausage with spicy entrails.”

“I’ll have that, then,” said Attila. We all ordered the same thing.

Twenty-five minutes later our food came. I don’t know if it was good or we were ravenous, but it was gone in seconds. At lunch we were joined by Derek the Destroyer, who had gotten second place in the much easier 35+ race against a very weak field.

“Second is okay,” I said. “But 38th in the 45+ race was a lot harder.”

“Really?” he said. “Because we had Tony Manzella, Kirk Bausch, Gary Douville, and a few other guys who go pretty good.”

“Pffft,” I said. “They would have gotten 39-41 in our race.”

“But I think we almost lapped you,” he said.

“That’s because I was blocking. We had a dead guy who was trying to bridge and if he’d gotten across G$ wouldn’t have won.”

Derek munched on his sandwich thoughtfully. “I see,” he said.

On the way back we dissected the race. “Good job, G$,” I said. “I think I could have won but I had the wrong gearing.”

“I could have won, too,” said Attila, “if the race had stopped after the first lap.”

“I could definitely have won,” said G3, “if I hadn’t ridden tempo for Wanky in the beginning. And Dr. Whaaat? was on the podium for sure if it hadn’t been for the pickle juice and salt.”

“I was really surprised that I won,” said G$, who has only won the race five times previously. “I guess I just got lucky.”

No one said anything.

END

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