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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I Killed the Tall Pale Hooker

The Tall Pale Hooker is no more. Bereft of life, she rests at Midwest Cyclery waiting for a new frameset.

I'm not sure what name I'll give the new frame. My first bike, the one I rode two Bike MS's on and met my soulmate and wife (same person) while crashing, was the Foolkiller or Foolkiller Express depending on my mood.

When I moved some of those component over to the Surly frame (the Foolkiller was badly damaged in the crash and I replaced it promptly after just 5,000 additional miles), the new bike was the Tall Pale Hooker. I had just gotten it perfected, to, when...

 All of a sudden, by accident...

I was riding home from some freegan chestnut harvesting Corinna had done on the bike trail that runs along Parallel. It's not my favorite trail. In fact it sucks, old, neglected asphalt over tree roots.

Asphalt needs compression to hold up and neither bikes nor joggers provide compression. This is one thing in a place like Johnson County where there is a tax base capable of digging it up and redoing it every so often. It's quite another in an area that borders the dodgy areas of KCK. These are some of the roughest trails I've ever ridden and consequently I rarely ride them.

So when the trail forked and Corinna veered left (which was the opposite direction from home, where I wanted to go), I stayed right. I'd fallen behind, but it looked like I would beat her to the street going my way. I might have to climb a sudden hill, but I was gambling the distance mattered more than the grade.

As I got closer to the street I saw something. Stairs. Call me naive, but even on a badly maintained and barely designed bike trail, I didn't expect stairs. 

In 20/20 hindsight, I should have ditched. Right or left of the stairs, I might have biffed, but no harm.

I grabbed a handful of brake and almost stopped before my front tire connected with the staircase.

Then my groin connected with my headset or bar-end shifter, I'm not sure which, and I connected with my full vocabulary of loud, vulgar invective.

I knew I'd be sore from the impact, but I figured it was more of a near miss than a real crash. I was still upright, I was just startled, mildly injured, pissed.

But then I couldn't get my handlebars straight. My front wheel didn't clear the frame.

I just recently bought a new fork, uncut, to help get my handlebars up, and it seemed that fork was bent.

I couldn't even walk the bike normally, I had to hold the front wheel off the ground while walking the dog. Corinna left me with Sheba to go back and get the car, and she thought I should stay put, but that didn't feel right. A dark side street, sitting still, clearly stranded, seemed the wrong way to play it.

So I walked with the dog, holding the front end of the bike up until I'd passed a creepy liquor store (and it's heckling crew of regulars) and wound up at an intersection that was at least well lit and fairly busy. A place where cops my pass by before morning anyway.

I called Corinna to let her know where I was at. There was some discussion about whether she could bring me a backup bike and we'd ghost-ride the Tall Pale Hooker home, but really, this bike wasn't even walkable, let a lone ghost-rideable. She didn't seem to believe me: her natural inclination is to avoid cars. She hadn't driven in three weeks, and before that it might have been a couple of months. She's ghost-ridden her own bike home from River Market Cyclery, a good five miles. But it's wheels both agreed about which way to go and even at that it was a feat.

I saw my car, and figured the cavalry had arrived. None too soon, either, because a woman on the corner was yelling about me. I won't say she was a crack whore, but she seemed confused about whether I was a cop and what the hell I was doing interfering with her normal way of making a living.

Then I saw my car pull through the intersection and move on. I thought she was just going past the divider to turn around, but minutes started to stack up and eventually even the crack whore left me alone and moved on.

I called my wife maybe nine times. I texted a couple. Nothing.

The passers-by made me feel more and more like I was on the set of a zombie movie.

Turns out, Corinna didn't see me when she passed, and she'd inadvertently left her phone at home when she headed out in my car. Realizing she didn't have her phone, she had rolled down the windows so she'd hear me if I hollered at her, but I hadn't hollered since I thought I was in plain sight. She was looking for me even while I was wondering why she didn't turn around and come back to get me.

That was all just misunderstanding. But that was nothing compared to my surprise when I took my bike in so they could swap out my broken fork when the new one came in and realized that the fork wasn't half the issue. Caton, who built my front wheel, was mighty proud that it hadn't given out on this adventure. But if I'd wrecked my wheel instead of my frame, I'd be out half the money.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Tale of Two Photo Ops

On a photo safari one evening, riding home from work, I stumbled upon a painter by the FBI building. He had a poster-sized canvas he was painting the view of Downtown on, and I was fascinated.

He was pretty absorbed in his work because he didn't notice me pull up on my bike, dismount, put the kickstand down, unzip my camera bag and get my Nikon ready. I didn't want to startle him, though, so I announced myself.

"I hope it's okay, I'd like to shoot you working on this, it's a great image."

He said something along the lines of "Oh, okay," and went back to his brushes until he heard the first shutter. Then he said, "Wait, what are you going to use this for?"

I started to say for my own personal use. I was even going to ask him if it was okay to put the picture on my throughly not-for-profit blog, but it was too late.

"No," he said. "This is going to make me nervous."

"Okay," I said. "Deleting, leaving." And I deleted the one shot I'd taken, packed up and resumed my safari elsewhere. Case Park, as it happens, where I got one good shot and a couple of dozen to remind me about turning that godawful VR off on the lens before doing tripod work. I should probably leave the VR off all the time, I'm not convinced it helps with handheld shots.

Fast forward a week, and I was once again taking the long way home and looking for shots. I got some downtown from the 14th Street Bridge. By the FBI building, by where I'd frightened the painter.

I got some from another angle, then headed down the 12th Street bridge. Then, realizing I'd missed a chance to shoot the Edge of Hell's sign with my Nikon, I was going to go back up the bridge. The top deck.

But I figured the lower deck might be a more interesting angle, looking up at the sign instead of straight on. So I set up my tripod and started shooting.

Cars come down the deck every once in a while, and rather than trusting they were all sober, alert, excellent drivers, I reasoned that turning on my NiteRider helmet light to let them know I was there was a smart move,

After one of these encounters, reaching to turn my light off I accidentally set it to strobe. This got the attention of the folks across the street.

I'd observed, in addition to the rat eater and other carnies who work the haunted house, a uniformed KCMO cop, probably off-duty making extra money; a white-shirted, uniformed security guard, and then, it turns out, a black t-shirt wearing, fat, gray-haired guy who walked across the street to his truck and asked me what I was doing.

"Just taking picures," I said.

"You're going to have to leave, you can't be taking pictures."

Just because you have a job moonlighting as the third tier of security at a haunted house does not mean you own the 12th Street bridge. I didn't say it in quite those words, but it was close enough. I was on a public street shooting the facade of a building. I wasn't violating anyone's privacy and I sure as shit wasn't trespassing.

He got on his walkie-talkie and said something that started with, 'Sarge...'

A bonafide police cruiser pulled up right quick, and chatted with this guy for a sec, then the cop looked up at me. I called down, "I'm minding my own business, shooting pictures on a public street, and this asshole tells me I've got to leave like he owns the neighborhood. That doesn't work."

The cop said something to the jerk with the truck and left. The fact that the cop didn't then come bother me, I think, indicates that what he said was, more or less, "The dork on the bridge isn't doing anything illegal, lighten up."

The red truck did come up the bridge, though. Drove real slow by me, I assume looking to see if I was doing something like selling heroin to children, something Sarge would actually get worked up about.

I thought back to the painter. My instinct with him was to delete and leave. But his appeal was that I'd make him nervous, and I'm not out to ruin some guy's day or his painting. The dick in front of the Edge of Hell, on the other hand, was more like a counterfeit Yertle the Turtle.

After, I stopped on Beardsley (I wouldn't have had to go up the bridge but there was a train parked across the road down in the bottoms) to shoot the Bottom Cat. It's one of my favorite pieces of public art, and judging by the progress the Gray Paint Gestapo has made lately, the fish (maybe it's supposed to be a carp or a koi instead of a catfish) is on the endangered list.

Here's an example of how sharp the city cleanup crews are. They cover over gang tags and real art as if they were the same thing. Then, they encounter Frost, a fantastic piece, that's back on a limestone cliff face that's probably not even city property. And they clean out their paint sprayers just to deface it. With geniuses like this, the murals on the Woodsweather Cafe aren't safe.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Em has been very, uh, teenaged lately.  I've added a lot of gray to my personal inventory of hair in the past few months, and I think I know why.

But then there is the payoff.  Like today, when I was overwhelmed with freelance work, family responsibilities, and so on, and she decided she needed to express her inner darkness.

She had a real problem not smiling for these pictures.  It wouldn't be in character, of course, but she was having so much fun it was hard not to.

She should have put this makeup on the night before, when I dragged her to the Monsters of Mock concert featuring tribute bands to Poison, Mötley Crüe, AC/DC and KISS. She sat through Poison Overdose with her sister and then I did some calculations and realized the whole deal would last past midnight. I had no desire to see the Mötley Crüe tribute, but really wanted to see Almost KISS and to an extent KC/DC.

Ultimately I made an executive decision, left to drive the honyocks home and returned with Corinna to catch Almost KISS. I had more comp tickets than I needed, so I didn't have to worry about the gate, and I was able to convince the parking attendants that I shouldn't have to pay twice to park.

It was really good, Almost KISS. Very much as I imagine seeing KISS would have been around the time they recorded Alive. Not so much pyro as you'd get today, that's expensive, but the costumes, the choreography, the circus of it was all very much there.

We decided we didn't have the energy to stay through the set change for KC/DC, who turned out to be the closing act. I love AC/DC, but I wouldn't want to follow Almost KISS, not in terms of a stage show.

Then, after Em got into makeup for last night's hair metal show (a day late), Corinna got a call from Darby Trotter about helping to paint a caboose on the Riverfront Heritage Trail and she took Em along in the InStep trailer.  So here we have my girl Wednesday looking as sullen as she could manage while riding in a trailer meant for someone 14 years her junior.

Princess of the Darkness in an InStep carriage.

Sheba was going to go with, to get her some running, but she got off leash by slipping her collar it was decided she should stay home.  But there was no way Em could stay in character at that point.

Vietnam Memorial

This is another one of those things I ride past on my commute but seem to tune out.  A few months ago, I became vaguely aware there was a park adjacent to J.C. Nichols Park, around 43rd & Broadway.  A bit later, I figured out it was a Vietnam Memorial.

More recently still, I stopped there on the ride home.  I was surprised by how few names were on it.  A bit less than 400 by my count.  Not sure if that's the dead from Kansas City, Missouri or the dead from the metro area, but given that the country lost 50,000+ in that ill-advised foreign policy adventure, I'm surprised the roll isn't longer in either case.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


I can't swear to it, but I'm pretty sure this is one of the boats that sucks crap out of the bottom of the Missouri River to make it more accessible to barge traffic.

Surprisingly beautiful, don't you agree?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Comfort Food & Old Houses

We ate at Blue Nile the other day.  We don't eat out much, and neither of us had ever been there.  Ethiopian cuisine, which turns out to be pretty much all crock pot cooking.  We had the sampler, about fifteen things, all but three vegetarian.

They were all things that you'd put in a pot at the corner of the coals in your fire pit and leave to go work in the fields or whatever.  Slow cooker food, served with a delicious, spongy, slightly fermented bread that serves as utensil and accompaniment to everything.

The French, I've heard, think every dish should have a sauce or condiment, and apparently the Ethiopians agree and take out the middleman by cooking the dish in the sauce.

After, Corinna wanted to go to the Halal market and get some lamb to stew, inspired by the meal.  While there, we met Ken Sonnensheim, the organizer of Bike 4 the Brain, who was out marking routes;  we also met a girl named Stacy I can't swear wasn't selling herself on the same sidewalk as men who would have her stoned to death for showing too much face.

And we saw this awesome old house, painstakingly restored, around the corner from the Halal market.

Then, on the way home the other night, I noticed the Scarritt House in Westport.  I assume this is the same Scarritt the 'Scarritt Renaissance' near the Halal Market was named for, but I'm not sure.  I'll bet the houses are about the same age, antediluvian but barely.  It's not like there was much to Kansas City at the time of the Civil War, right?

Dessert Concert

Per Lobsterland tradition, I made Trailer Truffles* to take to Em's Dessert concert.  These are made by combining a package of Oreos, 8 oz. of cream cheese into a paste, forming balls of said paste, and dipping those in melted chocolate.

They're awesome, hard to distinguish from those high-dollar truffles chocolatiers sell singly for what it costs to make a batch of these.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Biking for Brains

My friend Brian Gallmeyer refers to this ride, routinely, as "Bike for Brains."

It's probably an unintentionally accurate assessment of why most of the hundreds of riders who turn out for this ride do what they do.  It's Labor Day, the weather is beautiful, so mental health seems as good a reason as any to go on a long, fun ride.

I was guilty of the same thinking in m first to trip son Bike MS: even though I know a couple of victims of MS, I was really just there for the party.  I'm not certain how helpful my fundraising efforts actually were, but it seems a worthy cause.

There were some wounded Vets riding across the country who joined in. As we went down Lamar to Southwest, one in a hand-trike broke out and zipped down the hill past everyone. Down on Merriam Lane, one of his teammates was chewing him out for being so reckless, and he said, 'What? I kept it to 57."

Those recumbent trikes don't have much wind resistance. I don't know how that chap got disabled in Iraq or Afghanistan, but I bet he joined the army because he is an adrenaline junkie.

Corinna set up a booth at the event, and I wanted to get a Century in since I hadn't done that this year. B4B doesn't have a Century route, they have every other distance from 10 or something like that to 70, a 70 Ken Sonnensheim assured me felt like a Century (he wasn't lying). So we left the house around 5:00 a.m., and after arriving at the staging ground together I went off on a short ride and had breakfast.

Buying breakfast, I realized I'd left my wallet at home. I had a little folding money, most of it going to the cause of breakfast, but I was hard put to figure out how I was going to pay the entry fee with no debit card and less than ten bucks on me. I'd gotten seventeen miles in before the start myself and I honestly figured I might as well poach the whole ride.

The organizers (even if I know them and like them) don't own these streets, after all, and since I probably can't keep up with 80% of the riders on speed, I might as well just go on a bike ride, even if it happens to coincide with their highly organized group ride for charity.

This worked out in practice more or less like theory until I was down on Holiday Drive heading into the suburban sprawl wilderness of West Shawnee. A SAG driver gave me waters and told me the next rest stop was about two miles away.

Five miles later (car people are terrible at approximating distances), I found this SAG stop, at a Casey's out in an area that was so remote back when I was in high school, I used it as a destination on dates with girls I hoped were sexually adventurous and/or irresponsible. It's all built up now, a staggering array of large, identical custom houses.

The SAG stop had free sandwiches, water, and even Casey's pizza, all you cared to stuff down your gullet.  Which, for me, turned out to be six slices of pepperoni.  That was a mistake, because I was cramping a bit when I got there, and with that kind of hydration deficit, it's imperative that you leave room for liquids in your stomach.

So the cramps didn't let up as I went on through some of the most brutal hills Shawnee has to offer.  On one climb, my thighs started cramping and I dismounted to stretch them, and as I walked stiff-legged, I realized that it felt like such a relief I just walked the bike the rest of the way to the top of that hill.  Where the SAG truck was waiting, hoping I'd cry 'Uncle' and let him take me back to my car.

I got to know the SAG guys pretty well by the time I was in Olathe.

Of course, they figured my car was back at the start of Bike For the Brain—so seeing I was struggling, they wanted to give me a ride back to the start of the ride.  In reality, my car was in Waldo, at my work.  Where I'd left it a few days earlier.  This is a bike ride, but you still run into lots of people who don't undersand cars aren't the only way people get around.

I had finally gotten mostly ahead of the cramps situation in terms of hydration, but they told me they wanted to pull me in because the organizers wanted to close the course.  I'd be on a bicycle home from there, I explained again, and they gave up trying to get me off the bike.

If I'd gotten in that truck, cooled off all the way, it would have been a nightmare setting out to ride again, and no way I'd get my century at that point.

I didn't quite finish the course.  It went up Quivira to Johnson Drive and then back to Mission.  Climbing Johnson Drive from Antioch to Metcalf is a stretch I'll avoid if I have the choice.  You can do it, take the lane, but Johnson County drivers tend to be slow on the uptake that this means you're a vehicle, so you're more likely to get buzzed.  Going super slow because of a long, steep climb aggravates this problem.  Since the organizers were packing up while I was still down at 119th or so, it just didn't make any sense to route myself where I didn't want to ride.

Corinna and Gallmeyer eventually met up with me and me at the Merriam Farmer's Market.  Gallmeyer had 93 miles in for the day already and was on his way to ride home and get his mountain bike so he could ride over to the Plaza and play Frizz.  I'm guessing this put him up around 120 miles by the time the day was over, but that's Gallmeyer.

Corinna was operating on one lung, effectively, getting over a bad case of bronchitis.  Still, she rode about 40 miles, accompanying me out by the Isle of Capris and on an extra insurance loop through the West Bottoms and out to 38th Street in KCK before we wound up at home.  I set my PR, 109.87 miles, a little over a mile better than my previous record.

The milage reads like a countdown: 10-9-8-7.

When I thought about all the SAG assistance I'd accepted on the ride, I couldn't go through with the poaching, though.  I went and made a $30 donation on the Bike 4 the Brain site in honor of the SAG crew.