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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Returning to Mass

Felt like a real homecoming.

It seemed so long since I'd been to Critical Mass, I really thought my last one was before my heart surgery. It wasn't, I rode in October. Tried again in December, but by the time I got to Westside, the thing had dispersed into a couple of Westport bars, so I went and rode my bike alone.

But that was four months ago, and my memory has gotten a little weird the past year or so, and my perception was that I was out of the saddle all the way through the fall and winter. I can look at my cycling log and see it isn't quite true, but there are enough two week long gaps on top of the four month one from the heart surgery to make it seem like I'd forgotten how to ride a bike for quite a while.

This was Corinna's first Critical Mass since my heart surgery. Right before I went under the knife she had a nasty crash that left her with a gnarly brain injury she's still not all the way back from. She was struggling to do it at some points on Friday, but had her breakthrough moments of actually having fun, especially towards the end when we ended up down at the 'castle' by the old water works off The Paseo. I don't have photos from that late in the ride, not because I quite shooting, but because the light was so bad none of my pictures turned out in even a half-ass sort of way.

Me and Corinna broke from the group in the Crossroads because there was a poetry open mic she wanted to do, something else that's been a long time coming. I think our second date was a poetry open mic, and it used to be a regular feature of our life together, so while I was having fun with the party (Critical Mass is as good as parties get), I couldn't say no to the poetry event. It was at Kultured Chameleon, and tags are near and dear to my heart, so that was a bonus. I spent a lot of my wait reading a coffee table book on the modern history of tags.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Great Old Truck

I was pickup up my car from the shop, as the name implies Vee Village specializes in old VWs. Apparently really, really old VWs.

A very old Type 2 pickup, in this case. I could use an old pickup sometimes, kind of wish I hadn't let the one I used to own go. I'm not sure this would really work for me, I'm pretty sure it'd have a hard time hauling more than I can squeeze in my xB.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Good Turn

Just another day to ride my bike to work. I've been trying to get the bike under me by 5:45 a.m. It's not that it takes quite that long to ride to work, but when I first started back in on it I was slower and I had to pad things for that. Then I realized how much easier the whole commute went when I left by a 5:45 instead of my old saddle time of 6:00. I've regained the lost speed, but everything is easier with the earlier start.

I actually mean to experiment with even earlier departures, try some experimental routes that might be longer but a pleasant deviation (I do this a lot in the evening when there's not a deadline to make), but mainly I've realized that there are a lot of stop signs and lights that don't involve nearly the waiting if I get that fifteen minute jump on the world.

I don't do it for flats, because I basically never have flats. I spend a little extra (about half again what I used to) for tires, get Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour tires with their blue 'Smartguard' layer. Stans' is probably fine, and I even know riders who swear by Slime, but I have over 5,000 miles on my front tire without a flat, got 3700+ out of the rear tire before this one. I ride through possibly the worst parts of town from a flat-hazard perspective, but this morning was the first time I've had a puncture since the beginning of May last year.

I was just about to flip the quick release to take the back wheel off after pulling a pretty decent sized finishing nail out of the tire, when a truck pulled up and offered me a lift. He wanted to know how far I was headed, but I had just left home so I accepted his offer and had him drive me a half mile back to the house where I had a floor pump, a way to hang the bike for easy access, and a new tire in case that nail had ruined the old one. I don't think it did, but I put a new one on just to be safe because now I was running late for work.

I rode hard once I had that flat fixed, but as I humped up Penn Valley Park, I saw something that made me stop. It was a phone. In an Otterbox case, something I've poo-poohed in the past as overpriced, but it turns out this phone had probably spent 24 hours getting run over by cars and it was still working. That was a surprise, I assumed when I reached for it that it would be dead. Then I swiped the screen thinking it would be password protected but it wasn't. Well, technically it wasn't, but everything was in Spanish.

The battery charge was pretty high so I looked about to see if it might go with someone I could see but there was no one. I took it on to work with me, thinking how to find the owner. Can't call him, I have his phone, right?

I tried to compose a text saying 'I found this phone, looking for its owner,' but the autocorrect kept changing 'found' to 'fomo' or something like that, all my English words swapped for phonetically similar Spanish. So on my computer I went to a free online translation site and entered something like 'I found this phone in Penn Valley Park and want to return it to its proper owner. I have no Spanish but I can tell the person who owns the phone is probably a Spanish speaker. I'm using a free online translator, so I'm sorry if my Spanish is painfully awkward. If you know the person this number is associated with, call or text back, or let him know I have his phone and want to return it.'

Then I transposed into the text message app on the phone, 'Encontré este teléfono en el Parque de Valle Penn y querer devolverlo a su dueño apropiado. No tengo ningún español pero puedo decir a la persona que posee el teléfono es probablemente un altavoz español. Uso a un traductor en línea libre, tan Perdón si mi español es dolorosamente torpe. Si usted conoce a la persona este número tiene que ver con, llamar o texto atrás, o avisarlo tengo su teléfono y quiero devolverlo.' I sent this to a bit over a dozen contacts he had listed by first name only (in my phone, if you are listed by first name only, you're a pretty close friend or relative most of the time, someone who might know a way to reach me other than the cell).

A few minutes later, the phone rang and I answered it, got Omar's girlfriend or wife, not sure. Her English was stronger than my Spanish, but that is damning by faint praise. She eventually figured out that I had her guy's phone and wanted to return it, and she was grateful but I was unclear how we were supposed to close the deal. She asked me to text my address to her, which I did, my work address.

An hour or two later, it rang again, this time it was the phone's owner calling from his work. The language barrier was again the issue, and I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to do Rosetta Stone or something because you just can't live in America these days and know as little Spanish as I do. Mom was right, she tried to tell me to take Spanish instead of French when I decided to go for a foreign language, and I didn't listen. I was in 8th Grade and the French teacher was really hot, and in any case I didn't really end up learning any French, I dropped that class like a bad habit when I found out I'd have to learn a new word for everything.

So fast forward to today, and we were having trouble figuring out the return of this phone. Omar finally gave the handset over to a coworker and I found out that while he was 'at work,' there was another 'at work' starting at 4:00, and as luck would have it Omar's second job is about two blocks from my work. A good eight miles from where I found the phone, so that's a pretty good piece of luck.

It felt so good to return the phone. I didn't meet Omar, I gave it to a bartender who saw me walk in, saw the phone in my hand and said, 'Omar? He'll be so glad to have that back.'

I'll bet. I guess I haven't technically met him but from what I can tell he's probably from Mexico and works at least two jobs in a place where he struggles with the language. I'm sure that Otterbox was a big investment for him, not to mention the phone, but talk about worth it when you need it. As cool as my Tardis cover is, I really probably should pop for an Otterbox for my own phone.

And the way these things go, the information in the phone is worth a lot more than the phone itself. I guess the guy in the pickup who rescued me from being late for work started it, and then when I saw that phone I had to try. `


I was out running errands one Saturday afternoon, and I came across a big wiener.

Road construction on Johnson Drive made it almost inevitable that I'd meet him, but he was out there promoting one of my favorite places to grab a bite on the go, Werner's.

Set up a grill, press-gang your kids into staffing it, and sell awesome sausages, brats, and so on all afternoon.

A heck of a knackwurst, gotta tell ya.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Evening Ride

Em doesn't buy it when I tell her a bicycle is a legit mode of transportation, one she shouldn't discount, especially as she works her way through college. She tends to interpret this as me trying to 'force my hobby' on her.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when, offered the chance to ride with Corinna the other evening, she put on a helmet and went.

I don't think it's fair to describe it as me forcing a hobby on her. It's more of a way of life than a hobby.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Riding home from work, the first Monday where it really felt like spring and daylight savings time had started, I decided to go by the Kickball game.

The Kickball crew was there, beer and whatnot was imbibed, but nobody brought a ball.

Everyone had such a bad case of spring fever, it didn't much matter, but I drank a beer and shuffled off toward home. Most of these kids live within five or ten blocks of the park, I had more like eight miles to go and had to get up super early to ride back to work Tuesday morning.

I thought of that old saw about what if they gave a war and nobody came? Well, what if everybody came but they all forgot their weapons?

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Future? The Past?

So I'm riding through the West Bottoms on the way home from work and I spot this truck. Well, it used to be a truck. I sometimes thing this is what petroleum based transportation will all look like soon enough, other times I'm not so sure.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Riding to My First Seder

About a week before Passover, Corinna sent me an email at work that we were going to a Seder for dinner the following Tuesday. One of our Jewish friends had encouraged her in this, saying it was a thing not to be missed. I pictured a seder in someone's home, but of course I could tell from the email it was a confirmation to a community Seder at a temple.

The only resistance I offered was it sounded like something that would cause me to miss a bike ride. On a week when I'd have my kids twice, so only two round trips to work were practically in the bike commuting plan anyway. She said, ride your bike to it, I'll drive down and meet you, we'll put your bike on the car and we can drive home together.

It didn't sound quite as good as what we did Tuesday evenings for a while last year, where I rode to work, then out to Heartland for a Bible study, then home, making my Tuesdays into 50-mile rides, but I'm still getting my legs back from the months off after my surgeries, and a 30 mile day feels nearly epic. And Corinna has trouble driving at night and doesn't have the range to ride that far herself yet coming off that bicycle crash and the brain injury it resulted in.

I Google Mapped the bike route to the temple from my work. It prescribed riding Holmes to the Indian Creek Trail, which would be a silly way to go. Holmes isn't exactly bike friendly in rush hour, plus it's hilly as all get out. Much better to take Somerset to Lee Boulevard, at the end of which there is a logical trail to pick up, the Tomahawk Creek trail. There are other routes I could take through southern Johnson County to get there, but the trail cuts a convenient diagonal, plus you don't have to stop. Unlike the Trolley Trail, which is really just a gravel sidewalk that crosses streets constantly, this is a paved trail that goes under streets. Following a stream bed means it's sheltered from the wind, too, so I barely felt what would have been a considerable headwind. Johnson County residents haven't caught on much, but they really do have some pretty kick-ass bike infrastructure, the urban core where lots of people ride bikes for transportation doesn't have anything remotely like it. We have an occasional bike lane, which is mainly used to store broken glass and bent nails, but except for the (very short) Berkeley Riverfront Heritage Trail, there isn't anything as nice as the Streamway trails out in JoCo going through the city.

The trail only got me to 127th & Nall, and my target was more like 142nd and Lamar. Google Maps offered me the choice of taking Nall down a ways and cutting over (which would pretty much mean sidewalk riding given the nature of the road and the traffic that time of day—I could try taking the lane to make a point but sometimes that's a losing battle, and this was in my judgment one of those times), or I could go over on 127th (there's a bike/ped trail along it) to Metcalf and pick up another leg of the Tomahawk trail, though that trail truly is a sidewalk, just a slightly wider than average one.

But right off Nall, I spotted a familiar subdivision, I think it's called Turnberry. It's one of those labyrinthine neighborhoods I would normally never try to cut through when I need to be somewhere. Suburban planners believe in a dubious theory that crime is reduced and home values enhanced by designing streets to thwart transportation, at least transportation to anything but a home in that subdivision. As opposed to a grid designed to maximize flow, it's more of a filter design. It makes for fine cycling as far as nobody is tearing down these streets at fifty miles per hour, but there's often only one or two ways in or out of a large area.

As it happened, I used to go on a group ride a few years back that went through this particular neighborhood. I knew the one way through it. I don't know all the street names but you stay to the right, then wander left and make a right, then another right after it winds around down a hill, and eventually you clime a curving hill and find yourself on Lamar heading to a roundabout and then to 135th and beyond.

Between leaving work early out of paranoia that I'd get held up by something (a trail under construction, requiring a lengthy detour, for instance), and my little shortcut, I arrived at Congregation Beth Shalom a full hour early. I went on a little exploration of the area, finding a long trail going along 143rd, and that one Google Maps had wanted to send me to. I didn't want to be late, especially being an outsider, so I went ahead and headed back to the temple. I stopped at the sign to take a picture of my bike in front of it, then rode up to the parking area where I spotted another trail and rode briefly down it to see where it lead. When I got back to the circle drive, a cop who was working the door started chatting with me to see who the hell I thought I was and what I wanted.

I explained I was there for the service, meeting my wife who was coming by more conventional transit. "Your helmet had some people worried," he said. At the time this sounded utterly ridiculous to me. I know, evil had visited the Jewish community just a couple of days before this—if you have been under a rock and didn't hear about it, a cranky old Klansman committed a cowardly act of terrorism resulting in three deaths at two Jewish facilities on Sunday. The sort of guy who not only spent his life promoting idiotic hatreds, but as soon as it got hot for him he turned snitch on all his fellow idiots, and maybe I'm wrong to think that makes him even worse. How could you be worse than a Klansman or Nazi who shoots innocent people? I think it's the lack of courage in your convictions, as compared to a bearded idiot who will take his own life as eagerly as someone else's before he compromises his beliefs.

Anyway, I can't imagine who would mistake a pink helmet mohawk for a sign of Klan affiliation or Nazi sympathies. I'm reasonably certain just reading the stickers on my bike would get me a ticket to be dragged by one of those guys' pickups if they had an open shot at me. So I was truly baffled—weird is so threatening? But the trauma was fresh, so who am I to judge?

I put on a non-Hawaiian shirt and a suit coat my wife had thoughtfully brought, locked my bike onto the rack of my car and went in to what amounted to a long Jewish church service coupled with a catered meal. It was good. It was interesting. We drank sweet wine, we ate bitter herbs dipped in salt water (both of which it the spot after 30 miles in the saddle, even if you're not Jewish or a fan of sweet wines).

We had gefilte fish, something I'd never been brave enough to buy and try on my own (I can't say I'm a fan—the taste is okay but the texture is kind of like tofu, another food I have trouble with). I'm glad I tried it, though. It's better with some matzah cracker, and some of that purple horseradish stuff. But then there was matzo ball soup, and an enormous portion of grilled chicken breast. They had talked about the sacrificial lamb (or sacrificial yam for the vegetarians), but I guess it's okay if your lamb had feathers. The chicken was excellent, as was the soup (which is exactly like chicken noodle if you wad all the noodles up into a ball). The theme was not just how the Jews escaped slavery, but the importance of freeing all the slaves who still live in bondage. It was asserted, and it sounds true to me, that if you adjust for inflation, slaves are cheaper today than they were in pre-Civil War America.

There was lots of socializing, too, with neat people. About half my table where gentiles, spiritual and cultural tourists. The other half helped us follow along and figure out what to do and when. It was a lovely evening, even with the shadow cast by the aforementioned Klan type guy.

As we were leaving, I saw the cop who had originally been concerned with my presence and got a better feel for what had gone wrong. It wasn't the pink helmet mohawk, it was all my bags that could potentially hold weapons (they hold cold/wet weather cycling gear and a DSLR camera with accessories), plus that shot I was taking of my bike at the sign. Someone driving in saw that and thought, I guess, that I was vandalizing the sign. That's a narrative that is perfectly understandable, but that does make me look a lot more ominous light of recent events.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Shooting Star

I've been accused by my eldest daughter of being a paparazzo. I felt like one, when after arriving at her Shooting Stars Gala in my suit (first time I've worn it in seven years) and spotting her walking by with a bunch of other overdressed high school seniors. I clicked away like I could sell the shot.

Corinna and I had been out to Suburban to get a couple yards of compost in a borrowed pickup, said truck was parked outside the venue resting on its overload springs.

We availed ourselves of the art gallery at the Nerman Museum, then of the snack buffet that was provided.

The Shooting Stars thing was a scholarship deal. Em was a finalist in vocal music, with the potential to win a $700 or $1,400 scholarship. I was in my suit because she'd asked me very nicely not to be myself and show up in a Hawaiian shirt. I didn't do the tie thing, and the shirt I wore with the suit was a paisley print affair, but I was more dressed up than a lot of the parents, or come to that, the teacher who nominated her, so I think I did okay.

I did feel slightly like a hobo who'd been told by his public defender to wear a borrowed suit for a court appearance.

It was cool to see how much the kids' own personalities showed in their choice of dress. One of the finalists in the stringed instrument category had on a suit with a snazzy purple shirt and pink bow tie. Some of the girls dressed very conservatively, some wore loud, splashy things you could only wear to something called a 'gala.'

For the main event, we sat in a huge auditorium and the kids were introduced one by one. Each finalist had to walk down a red carpet to the front/center of the stage while a video played overhead of their performance (or a slide show of their art for the visual art kids, or a clip of them reading their writing samples, etc.) Em gets pretty bad stage fright, so I wasn't surprised when it looked like all she could do to stand there for this part, but I was surprised at how many other kids seemed to have the same problem. If you're there for drama or music, I would expect you had enough of a case of the look-at-me's to revel in this moment, but I think about half the kids struggled with it.

Bryan Busbee emceed, spotted a pro photographer and me in the front row and made the kids stand with him as they received their awards and look at us. I was really only there to photograph one kid, but when he was holding them there and smiling right at my lens like the pro he is, I had to snap away even if I couldn't care less about that particular kiddo.

And unfortunately, I didn't get to shoot my own kiddo shaking his hand and holding one of the scholarships. I think it was still a good experience for her all the way around, though she sure could have used the scholarship.

Afterward, they had a star-shaped cookie and sparkling grape juice reception for all, but by then the tension was gone, so after we'd had our snack and taken a few more pictures of Em and whatnot, we headed out to shovel compost out of the borrowed truck.

A few more pictures of JCCC's features, too. The place has changed a lot since I attended classes there, but until the last semester or so I was there, you could smoke. In the building.

Back then, the Nerman Gallery was a little alcove, not even its own building. And the school had about one parking space for every three students trying to park and make it to class—if only I'd been hip to the bike commuter thing back in 1989.

Anyway, win or lose, I was super proud of my grown up daughter. All that Daddy's Little Girl thing kind of gets knocked down a peg when you realize if this person wandered in to an Army recruiter's office and said, 'Yeah, I wanna be a soldier,' the guy wouldn't just laugh and tell her to come back in a few years.