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Wednesday, May 25, 2016


So this billboard is across the street from my work. It's generally bought by McDonald's. It's a blight on the community, as were the gypsy car traders who built it (it's a 'highway' billboard, one that's supposed to uglify the countryside by an Interstate, but there it is right in the middle of Waldo.) I think I remember hearing it could be condemned and taken down if it went unrented for a period of time, though I don't recall the period.

Anyway, it's been blank for a few days now. One friend of mine suggested it was a promotion for the Spinal Tap album "Smell the Glove."

I liked my take on it better: it's a very clever promotion for a Rothko exhibition.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Dave & Lizard Going Away

My friend David is going away. Very far away. To Seattle.

He's been a great friend and my go-to bike mechanic for a couple years now. So I'm sad to see him go, but then, I think he was bored with that gig and the one he's moving for sounds like it will provide satisfying challenges. And honestly, a chance to live in Seattle. If I didn't have family ties to Kansas City, I'd probably be in the Pacific Northwest by now, either Seattle or Portland.

Climate alone would move me there, I detest the extremes of summer and winter in the Midwest.

Not that we have it bad in KC. Boulevard is a world class brewery and there's lots of other little craft breweries and brewpubs around town. The Nelson and Kemper museums. The cost of living is very reasonable. And as far as bikes go, it's coming along (okay, it's still ass backwards on that front but there are a few glimmers of hope for civilizing our roads).

And there's the people. I know they have people in Seattle, too, and I'd probably love them once I got to know them. But just looking at the pics I took at the moving sale going away party at Dave & Lizard's, I guess I have more than just family ties to the area.

And as far as reforming that transportation system, look how fast the beer thing turned around in America. When I was in high school, it was all Budweiser, Miller, Coors. Guinness if you were really out in left field looking for adventure. Even when the craft brew thing started to catch, when I got into home brewing in the mid 90s, it was thought that at most craft beer couldn't be more than a percent or two of the total market (I think it's around 25% these days depending on how you define your terms, whether you include import craft in the picture, etc.)—it's changed so much that mostly the traditional powerhouses are buying up craft breweries left and right, not to shut them down, but to recapture market share. So when we reach a tipping point to sanity on transportation, it might well make your head spin how fast we park cars and add transit and embrace transportational cycling.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Skeptical About Helmets?

Okay, I know people who never wear a helmet when they ride. There are coherent arguments to be made against bicycle helmets: they're not fantastic protection, they might lead to greater risk taking by cyclists, they send a message that riding is more dangerous than it is, etc.

To which I say bullshit. If a car screams you going 40 miles per hour, the helmet probably won't save you, but there isn't a situation where the helmet makes things worse. That slipsy fallsy thing we all do from time to time, the helmet makes sure that shit stays minor. And when you crash into something hard enough to break your bike frame, well, look at my friend Koosh's injuries, his bike frame, and his helmet.

And then tell me about how much better off he'd have been with a bare noggin when this happened. He was having a few beers and a good laugh with his friends instead of laying in the ICU or worse.

The helmet isn't perfect protection, just ask my wife who's been struggling three years now with TBI from a crash wearing a helmet. But at least she's alive to answer the question, I doubt she would be if she'd had a bare head.

Plus, a helmet gives you a great place to mount lights (a headlight that looks where you're looking is infinitely more useful than a handlebar mounted one), and it gives you something to attach a tulle mohawk to.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Plaza Street Bands

I was biking to a movie on the Plaza, Money Monster, good stuff, but I missed the showtime I was aiming for by ten minutes. Which meant I had lots of time to run around shooting people and street bands and whatnot.

The movie claims to be a work of fiction but gets to more truth than some documentaries.

With the time I had to kill I was able to shoot the Groove Pilots and the Troubador Retreivers (who did a killer War Pigs), and on my way back out of the Plaza I came across the Battery Tour folks.

The street bands were by themselves enough reason to go to the Plaza, actually.

The White Train

I'm willing to be proven wrong on this, but to me a $100+ million street car to serve a couple of miles that were already thoroughly served by bus is just silly. If it takes more dollars, that means it uses more resources, so you're not doing the planet any favors, either.

I know, when there's federal dollars to be had, a city would be crazy not to take them, but for the local resources put up we could expand the rubber on pavement type of transit substantially and market it.

One of the pro streetcar arguments I hear is that middle class (read white) people won't ride the bus. Well, I'm middle class and white, and I ride the bus more than I should (it's made me soft in terms of bike miles this year). But unlike me, most people they mean when they say 'middle class' own televisions and have cable. There is no demographic more susceptible to advertising than these people, they actually sit down for hours at a stretch and beg for you to market to them.

Get Don Draper on the case, tell him to make the bus sexy, the transportation of choice for people who are unrealistically beautiful or wish they were. The 'love affair with the automobile' was a Madison Avenue invention commissioned by the Big Three auto makers roughly a half century ago, and if they can make people believe they love a rapidly depreciating total liability, this should be a piece of cake.

People ask me what I did with my bike. I took it on the tram with me, of course. This is allowed, explicitly by signage that rightly gives priority to wheelchairs but recognizes that strollers and bikes are part of how people get around.

I will give the White Train this: it's a smoother ride than the bus. I barely had to old on to my bike, in fact, or the straps. The bus is a rattletrap by comparison, though except when I was so recently post-op on my bypass surgery that I wasn't allowed to drive, the bus has never been a problem for me.

It's sleek, it's comfortable, and it's overwhelmingly popular right now. Most of the riders were just there to check it out, it didn't connect the with anything in real life (pretty true of me, actually). Though I did hear a woman ask a guy what he was doing there, and he said he lived a block away, was on his way to get groceries. My former boss and mentor Rich Nadler (RIP), made a comment once that nobody would ever want to live in downtown Kansas City, and sorry Rich but you missed on that one. There may not be enough of them to make the White Train legit but they are there, more and more all the time.

I was a skeptic about transit in general until a few years ago. My friend Roj (who drew the Midwest Rock Lobster logo actually), described transit in Prague as 'like having a friend who would take you wherever you wanted to go.' I thought he was out of his goddamn mind, then my friend Karl hosted me in New York and it was true. I had budgeted $100 a day for cabs, instead bought an MTA pass for $21 (for the week), and spent that cab fare doing a second set at the Village Vanguard, eating soul food at Sylvia's in Harlem, etc.

My slightly more recent visit to Chicago, bus and train trips made that whole thing possible, and if I'd had a bike to pair with them (found a bike rental right around time to go home), it would have been perfect. So yeah, I would have spent the money differently, but it's not a bowl of suck, it's a somewhat overpriced transit option that might get more people to think seriously about transit than they do now.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Stood Up

I've been wanting to do more photography with models. It's portrait work in a way, but it's got its own skill set on both sides of the lens and I'm keen to learn to do it better. But for that, I need a model.

I know several who are for hire, and worth every penny of what they charge, but the problem with paying hourly is I'm not making any money. Much better to find TFP partners (trade for print, though these days digital files are the 'prints' typically). And that's been more challenging than I would have supposed. I mean, I suppose I'm asking you to pose for free, but in return you're getting a free portrait session. I might not be Joe McNally, but I think I give a model his or her money's worth on a TFP shoot.

It wasn't really a model who cancelled on this occasion, more an acquaintance. The down side of which, for me, is as green as I am at portrait photography, I'd be the experienced one. But that's okay, she's cute as a button and said she'd never had a proper portrait (LifeTouch yearbook photos don't count), and I knew I'd learn something. All it takes is both of us showing up at the appointed time. It's not like she just didn't show, she cancelled a few hours in advance, but it was the third reschedule so...

So street photography. Which is kind of tricky with a big-ass SLR. While a Leica costs much more and has a bigger sensor than my D7000, it looks tame and pocket-camera-ish. Raise an SLR and some people will literally jump three feet sideways to get out of your way. Others get super awkward when they become aware of the camera. But I'd dragged my whole kit, tripod, all my glass both my speedlights to work and back by bicycle to do this shoot, so damnit, I was going to shoot someone. And Westport, on my way home from work, is about as target-rich an environment as you get in Kansas City, where hardly anyone walks anywhere but to their car. That's more or less where they walk in Westport, too, but they had to park blocks away which generates sidewalk traffic. Plus, they're drunk, which helps slow them down and keep them from freaking out about cameras.

The lighting leaves a bit to be desired in some of these, and I almost got out a speedlight to fill flash with but like I say, just the camera scares people enough.

Shooting these made me covet that 17-55mm f2.8 Nikon lens all the more. Being able to shoot fast in those focal ranges would be golden (equivalent to the mighty 24-70mm of the full frame world). That and maybe a 105mm prime, might be good for capturing people at sufficient distance that they don't notice the camera, get more candid expressions & such. I knew before I got my D7000 that one of the downsides of owning an SLR was I'd never, ever quit wanting glass.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Westbound Coyote String Band / Why I Ride

Bike commuting is so social. I drove home this evening, and the only interaction I had the whole way was a cunt in a white crew cab pickup truck who tailgated me all the way up 18th Street Expressway (even though I was doing 10 over), who then passed both lanes of traffic on the shoulder and aggressively inserted himself a whole three cars further forward and started riding someone else's bumper.

But yesterday I got up early enough to bike to work, and while the occasional jerk with a crew cab or SUV* can spice up a ride in a bad way every now and again, it doesn't happen often.

But anyway, on the way home yesterday, first I stumbled on a group ride that invited me to join them. I recognized the guy who invited me, I took him to be their leader and recognized him from a human interest piece about a guy in his eighties who lives car free out in the burbs, bikes everywhere. I declined as they proposed to take me several miles in the opposite direction of home and (I was already two hours later than usual) I'd have had a hard time getting home early enough to get up to ride back to work the next day.

Full disclosure, I made a series of bad choices** after meeting up with a friend and my wife, then resuming a storyline on Mad Men*** that I'd gotten hooked on, so I'd have been better off riding out into JoCo with the geezer and his entourage, I'd have gotten more miles in to offset my, it turns out, inevitable car commute today.

Anyway, then I'm riding through Westport, my usual route, and there's street musicians. Which isn't that unusual, but this pair was exceptionally cute and entertaining. Westbound Coyote String Band, and I was like, is it okay if I shoot you? I had my Nikon out before I asked, which is a good idea since gun laws in these parts have gotten so Nineteenth Century that the question could be taken wrong.

Then after I'd shot a bunch with a couple of lenses, and they'd performed a fun song, Selene (don't you just want to put her in your pocket?) thanked me. Which I thought was sweet since they'd just been my unpaid street photography models. Well, okay, I did put a dollar in their case, but that only gets 30 seconds with some models I know.

That wasn't all the social interaction this commute turned out to offer. I passed up meeting Pablo and his friends at the Scout, then ran into Patrick, who helps me with the bees here in Lobsterland, then ran into Dustin who's helping me with the Post Modern Pentathlon, and then into Richard and finally my wife.

I'll give you this: the car is faster. But no way do you ever have the kind of adventures, fun meet ups and so on that you do on the bike. For all the people who think bike (or for that matter transit) commuters are only out there because they can't afford to drive, dude, I'd pay extra to bike commute.

*...or Prius, but the tendency is the bigger the vehicle, the bigger the asshole behind the wheel. I'm not casting aspersions on the millions of perfectly decent drivers who happen to drive Suburbans and F350 XLTs. Not all gays are nelly queens, but all nelly queens are gay, as the song goes.

** As far as bad choices go, staying up a bit to watch Mad Men pales by comparison to some bad choices. As an example, Donald Trump is apparently going to be the Republican nominee for President in 2016. Every element of GOP politics that is even remotely defensible, he is against. Apparently the GOP establishment has come to the conclusion that they have to work with him, but that's like thinking Hitler will settle for Poland. I'm a Libertarian of long standing, haven't voted for a Republican or a Democrat since 1988, but if I can keep this motherfucker out of the White House, I swear I will vote for Hillary. I'm not joking, Bernie. Vermin Supreme. I would vote for goddamn Johnny Dare to be President before I would let The Donald have a finger on the nuclear button. He makes me nostalgic for W. And for conservatives to want to defund education at the state level, I'd like to point out that the only way Donald Trump is your nominee is if a majority of people in your party can be so badly educated they'll pull the lever for this piece of shit. We don't need voter ID laws, we need voter IQ laws, if you'll vote for Trump, you're not even allowed to drive a car, let alone elect a President.

*** Mad Men is my latest Netflix fixation. I generally only watch during my fortnightly apheresis therapy, but then sometimes I get sucked in and end up trying that trick of 'I'll just watch as I fall asleep' which doesn't happen until two or three hours later when I shut the fucking laptop. I don't have regular TV, just streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime, and believe you me, that's as much trouble as I can handle plus a little. I don't know how you people with cable and satellite dishes even hold down jobs.