November 4, 2015 § 20 Comments
The path of truth is straight, but lined with razors and thorns.
Reading about George Hincapie got me thinking about Steve Tilford. You couldn’t pick two people who are more different. One is quiet, dishonest, and makes his living on the back of ill-gotten gains that he earned through a career of cheating.
The other is garrulous, honest, and makes his living by playing fair and giving it his all. I’ve been meaning to do a write-up of Steve’s visit to the South Bay a few weeks ago, when he flew in from Kansas to give the keynote speech at the 3rd Annual South Bay Cycling Awards.
But I haven’t been able to do it because each time I sat down to type, the job seemed too immense. This evening it seems even more impossible, and not just because there’s a pot of Cajun beans and pork bubbling on the stove, infusing the room with a smell that screams “Eat me now!” without pause.
Big job or not, here goes.
Steve flew out and we met him at the Hotel Shade in Manhattan Beach. I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve ridden with lots of pros and cycling icons, and for the most part they are really disappointing in terms of personality. Something about endless miles seems to make the top tier of riders mute, or stupid, or bland, or some tasteless combination of all three.
Not Steve. From the minute we started pedaling, he was talking. Friendly, funny, and more stories than you could ever remember. Riding next to him was like leaping off into a bottomless pool of anecdotes and cycling history. If we had been expecting a bitter old curmudgeon, we would have been sadly surprised. As Steve said, “I’m not anti-doping, I’m pro-cycling. And that means I reject cheating in all its forms.”
Surrounded by us, the clueless clods of the South Bay, Steve never missed a beat, never looked down his nose at anybody, and politely followed the etiquette of the ride–an etiquette that ended with him stomping the collective dicks of some of SoCal’s strongest riders. Smiling, game for a hard ride, happy to cruise, he made us all feel like champions even though the real champion was he.
It’s impressive to watch great athletes do their thing, but the beauty of cycling is that you can sometimes participate, however briefly, in the performance. Finishing a hundred yards back from Steve the first time up to the Domes and right behind him the second time was better than any masters race, even though he was obviously going at quarter-throttle. Later in the ride, when he pulled out the stops going up Via Zumaya, no one could hold his wheel. No one. And where we were all wrecked after the ride, he had coffee and then went out for another “easy” 30 miles.
But his athletic performance was nothing compared to his keynote speech at our award ceremony. He literally graced us with his presence, speaking with conviction, with passion, with honesty, and with hail-fellow-well-met good cheer that turned a special night into an unforgettable one. Sincere, funny, and happy to hang out with the crowd after speaking and knock back a few beers … this is what every champion should be, but hardly any of them are.
The path of truth may be a hard one, but seeing people like Steve Tilford should give everyone hope and inspiration that it’s not simply a path we can take, but one that we should.
May 22, 2014 § 27 Comments
It was a sunny, perfect day for the legendary South Bay Donut Ride. The fast riders preened and flexed, the somewhat aged fellows clenched their bowels and prayed for a miracle, and the no-hopers stood on the periphery like dorky kids in junior high school, hoping to be noticed but then again hoping not to be, either.
The Wily Greek surveyed the pitiful gaggle of third-class citizens. He’d had to make a tough choice. Go to Bakersfield and race against his peers in the tough, dreaded Vlees Huis Road Race, or stay close to home, wake up late, beat off and beat up on the pudgy geriatrics with leaky prostates? It was an easy choice.
The pack rolled out and the Wily Greek paid no attention to the surges, the glory pulls, and the half-legged efforts up Malaga Cove. As the pace quickened in earnest after exiting Lunada Bay, he deigned to take a leisurely pull. No matter. With a condescending glance he noted that many of the baby seals were already spilling blood and gray matter from their bludgeoned braincases. The gasping, wheezing, emphysema-like gurgles uttered by the old farts were almost amusing.
The Wily Greek was still breathing through his nose, except for the occasional yawn.
By the time the peloton hit the punchy rollers of Portuguese Bend, many had already called it a day and were hurrying home to check Strava and lie to their wives about flatting. By the time they hit the bottom of the dreaded Switchbacks there remained but a small group of twenty survivors carved out of the 100-plus dreamers who had started out in Redondo Beach.
The Wily Greek loved this part of the ride. He started at the back and casually took in the grimaces of the sufferers. Some displayed heaving, dipping shoulders. Others, hunched over the bars like a dog mounting a cat, shivered and shook as oxygen debt demanded a repayment that they couldn’t afford. The leaky prostate riders who had hung on to that point began to drip, drizzle, and pop like the fasteners on their loaded diapers.
Of all the beautiful things about cycling, the Wily Greek appreciated this aspect the most: watching the lame, weak, sick, old, deluded, and infirm crate, crack, and give up. It was better than playing tackle football against kindergartners. It was better than winning a chess game in five moves. It was better than being the house in Vegas.
For the remainder of the ride, the Wily Greek toyed with his victims like a tomcat toys with a maimed mouse. Like a wife toys with a husband who has forgotten her birthday. Like a mortuary salesman toys with a bereaved family. It was a beautiful thing, voluptuous in its crass exercise of power by the strong over the weak.
As the Donut Ride regrouped for the final run-in to the Hawthorne sprunt and the Via Zumaya climb, the Wily Greek preened a bit more. It was so much fun watching the little guillotine addicts come pedaling up for another session under the blade.
The reconstituted group had about forty riders in it, including a large contingent of leaky prostates. Since the downhill section was so fast, the Greek couldn’t lose anyone. To the contrary, even some of the slowest and flabbiest were able to hang on to the speeding group.
This disgusted and offended him.
Sitting at the back he prepared the launch that would eat their lunch, an acceleration so rapid that he would rocket by and finish alone. At that very moment he heard a rumbling. With a quick look over his shoulder he saw the huge, lumbering truck, and just as quickly he violated the Rule of Rules: Thou shalt not draft a garbage truck.
The leaky prostates watched in amazement as the truck flew past with the Wily Greek tucked into its massive draft. As it shot past, however, the older, weaker, leakier, but still somewhat wiser old ones heard the terrible sloshing sound of hundreds of gallons of liquified, putrefied smegma that had been smushed by the compactor’s giant ram and then collected in the floor of the compactor.
The seeping, liquified filth that is squeezed from the compacted garbage load normally collects toward the front by virtue of a slanted floor, which prevents the goo from sloshing back out the hopper into which the trash is first collected for compacting. (I learned all this from Google).
Unhappily for the Wily Greek, when the truck went up the final, very steep little kicker in Portuguese Bend, the liquified ass-drippings drained back into the hopper and then, when the truck hit a bump, sloshed out in a giant wave onto his front wheel, legs, shorts, and chest.
As Al Jaffee would have said, “Yecccccchhh!”
The horror and shock that the Wily Greek felt, suddenly covered as he was in rotting slime, was nothing as compared to the hilarity and laughter that erupted from the wankoton. In a fury, the Wily Greek accelerated over the bump, intent on chasing down the garbage truck and giving them a tongue lashing for their errant smegma sloshing.
However, the truck was driven by garbagemen, union garbagemen at that, men who spent the day hoisting 200-lb., fully loaded trash cans up over their heads. They were men with tattoos, not cute dolphins surreptitiously marked on their calf where they couldn’t be seen by fellow lawyers and dentists, but big, nasty tattoos with pictures of female genitalia, dragons snorting fire, knives through skulls, and slogans like “Kill to Live” emblazoned on their arms, legs, chests, necks, and backs.
These were men with bad teeth.
And in short, they were not to be frightened by a slim, veiny waif riding a bicycle in his underwear.
At Abalone Cove, precisely at the point where the Wily Greek overtook the garbage truck, it slammed on the brakes and veered hard left. The fetid goop in the hopper sloshed again, but this time it poured out in a giant projectile vomit-arc directly into the Wily Greek’s face.
At that same precise moment the wankoton came by. Face dripping in shit, the Wily Greek did what any person would have done. He tossed his Barbie food. He tossed his electrolytes. He tossed his whey protein breakfast. He tossed his gluten-free, all natural, 250 kcal breakfast. He tossed everything down to the lining of his stomach.
Several riders thought briefly about stopping to render aid, but only briefly.
There are so many morals to this story. Take your pick.