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Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Critical Mass

I freaking love Halloween. I never seem to get my act together costume-wise, this year I bought a Hannibal mask for ten bucks the day before, which is better than nothing, I guess, and last year it was a Roman collar and cross (child molester costume).

I think I'm going to try and hit the Halloween store tomorrow, see about some day after closeout stuff because part of my problem is all the cool costume ideas seem too expensive for a one-off deal. Well, the really cool ideas don't cost a ton of money, they involve sewing—a lot to ask for a guy who can barely reattach a button to his shirt.

That and makeup, I just don't have the experience to pull it off well. My last attempt at a costume that involved makeup was trying to do a Heath Ledger Joker the year the Dark Knight came out. I followed instructions from an article in the paper specifically telling you how to bring the whole thing off and I looked like a reject from an Insane Clown Posse tribute band.

And of course I love Critical Mass. I couldn't ride tonight, didn't have someone to watch Mo while I went and played. But I dragged her along to the tailgate part so I could say hi to my friends and take pictures of them in all their splendor.

I was having trouble with my camera. I do a lot of my shooting in Aperture Priority, wide open with my 35mm prime lens set to f/1.8. I don't even carry the 18-105 kit lens on a routine basis anymore, I so seldom use it. I like the narrow depth of field and the clarity I get from the 35, which functions on my D7000 approximately as a 'nifty fifty' would on a full frame camera. I'll tweak the ISO to deal with light levels, and I did tonight when I got there, cranking it up to 1600.

But something was wrong, I could hear it in the shutter speed, see the blur in my shots when I chimped 'em. I kept cranking the ISO higher and still not really getting it right. After a hundred or so frames, I realized the problem: I'd set the aperture to f/4.5, meaning there was far less light getting to the sensor than what I'm used to all other things being equal. I think I had set it like that when I was taking some pictures for my car insurance claim the other day and forgot. I don't always shoot at f/1.8, but when I narrow it down from that I generally spin the wheel back to the left all the way when I'm done.

My friends are used to me being a shutterbug, but a couple of them looked askance when I was all of a sudden coming back around for seconds. I more or less recaptured some shots, others are lost to my carelessness.

It was a good party but I definitely felt left out as they all massed up and left. It's not the first time I've driven to Critical Mass, I did so when I had my heart surgery last year a couple of times, and it's better than not seeing my friends, I really love these people—most of them anyway.

Elina was even back from Colorado for a minute. Made her bike into a dragon for the occasion and everything. More surprising was a certain family, who are definitely on my short list of favorite people on earth, but who I thought were conscientious objectors to Critical Mass. I've been on both sides of the controversial aspects of Critical Mass, when I first heard about it I thought it was probably counterproductive. Maybe, but it's a ton of fun, and if you look around the country and even the world, the cities that have strong cycling cultures and good bike infrastructure are also the cities with the biggest Critical Masses.

I don't know that it's causal, maybe it's not. Maybe climate change isn't caused by a trace gas going up less than a half of one percent. The causation could even be inverse: Critical Mass doesn't cause a robust cycling culture but is a product of it; elevated carbon in the atmosphere might just be a symptom of warming temperatures.

But whether big Critical Mass turnouts are the sign or cause, I still say they are correlated with a good thing.

Sheba the Service Deer

Corinna dressed up the dogs for Halloween and took them to the Humane Society's costume contest.

It was a homecoming for Sheba, she spent a lot of time at that shelter before Corinna adopted her.

Her service reindeer costume won her a case of Milk Bones and I don't know what all other doggie swag.


Thursday, October 30, 2014


Me and baseball, well, we got off to a bad start. Here's the photo of me holding the trophy from my first season playing the game. Macek's Auto won first place in our four team league. If memory serves, we beat Harkins Oil for the title.

It was in no way even tangentially thanks to my contributions. Zarda Dairy was the Bad News Bears of our league, and I probably should have found a way to defect to their ranks, my ineptitude at the sport might have put me in the bottom quartile of their squad, but I wouldn't have stuck out quite so much.

Part of the problem was me getting my growth in early, being the big, awkward boy who runs like a girl and doesn't know where he begins and ends. Part of it was my team, the same bullies, assholes and twerps who made Cub Scouts a miserable experience. I don't know why I signed up for the baseball thing, in my head, as I wrote my name on the list, I thought it would be different, but of course it wasn't. And where in Scouts I could honestly chalk the abuse up to my peers being jerks, in baseball their abuse had the veneer of truth.

I had a zero batting average. That's not a joke for exaggeration, I didn't hit a fair ball during a game the whole year. The coach would tell me the ball can't hurt you but that's bullshit. I got on base, usually when I was struck by a pitch. In fairness to the pitchers, we were third graders being offered a first chance to play hardball and throw overhand, so the pitcher was the one kid on the whole team who could throw a ball as far as the plate. He had no control, no idea where the ball would go but it would at least cover the distance most of the time.

The collective groan that would issue from the bench when it was my at bat would be met with the coach saying, "Cut that out, he's on your team." If you've ever met a third grade boy, you know how effective this admonishment was.

My fielding was even worse, as my fear of being struck by the ball was compounded by my attention span, which even today can often be measured in nanoseconds. They'd play be in deep center where most didn't have the power to hit and then put a gifted sprinter at shortstop with the understanding he had to cover for me. Because in the unlikely event a ball got out to where I was standing, thinking about cute girls and whether I could ever become a member of KISS, and I happened to notice there was a round incoming, I'd cover my head with my mitt and duck. Then, after the ball was on the ground, I'd pick it up and throw it nowhere near anyone else on my team while the kids shouted invectives about just how hard I sucked.

Then, after the 1985 World Series my hometown team the Royals went kind of dormant until this October. Any baseball fan that was left inside me after that traumatic playing experience was systematically killed by 100 loss season after 100 loss season. My National League team, the Pirates, didn't get all the way to the bottom until the early 90s, but they got there and did their part to make me regret ever looking at the standings.

The Pirates made the Wild Card last year and this, and which was cool even if they were one and done. The Bucs got company this year with the Royals, and I fantasized (even predicted) a Royals-Pirates World Series (which would be awesome because no matter the outcome I win).

Except the Royals actually started winning. Hell, they couldn't seem to remember how to lose a game for a couple of weeks. They swept so many series in the playoffs people were carrying brooms into the stadium as props and there was serious talk of a sweep in the World Series. Well, there was until that first game when Mad Bum calmly smashed our streak. Then he did it again on Sunday night, and I thought we were safe. Besides the stat that 90% of seventh games go to the home team in the Series, I didn't think they'd play him on short rest. And if they did, I thought he'd be a shell of what he was Sunday night.

I want to hate Hunter Pence and Madison Bumgarner for having such a great World Series but they actually carried themselves with so much class that the only knock I can really find for the Giants is that their fans basically rioted after the victory. I think Kansas City has enough class and poise that if we'd won the series, nobody would get shot and there wouldn't be trash fires in intersections as a way of celebrating.

The cliché is to thank the Royals for having such a great season, for in my case re-introducing me to being a baseball fan at all (call me a fair weather fan, I'll cop to it). I'm not there, I still see the loss as bitter and unacceptable. But I guess they won me over, because I keep thinking that Shields can go elsewhere for bigger money (he's supposed to be an ace, but Ventura is more of one to my eye), Billy Butler might or might not be back (I'd love to see someone finish his career with his original team, though), but the guys who made this an interesting and exciting October are all back next year, and even Giants fans don't think they can win in an odd-numbered year.


Still going to apheresis therapy every two weeks. It's unpleasant and boring, but as far as I can tell it's my best shot at having an old age.

The process filters out some LDL, but that's not the big reason to do the therapy. There are drugs and diet changes that impact LDL quite a bit. But the LP(a), which is the thing that has made a couple of credible attempts on my life, this therapy is about the only thing on the market that has much effect on it. So I find myself sitting perfectly still for several hours at a shot with 17 gauge needles in both arms while all this yellow gunk gets pulled out of me. That filter in the middle was white when I started.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fender Bender

A couple weeks back I got rear-ended. Not a big deal as car crashes go, I had a few days of whiplash but basically nobody got hurt. The woman who hit me has good insurance. But waiting for that stuff to all process has been a hassle and a half.

I have trash bags over the back window, which was punched out by my bike rack. Which was also destroyed. Basically I need a new back door, bumper and bike rack. It's kind of an expensive rack (glad for that insurance)—it was the only one I could find that didn't require a trailer hitch that would mount on my xB.

So to take my bike with me I have to take the front wheel off, untape the hatch (the trash bags functioning as the window require duct-tape wrapping around to the side windows), and wrestle a bit. My XB has tons of room for an economy car, but that's not that much room when you're dealing with a large touring bike with fenders and racks and whatnot. Which has meant that my usual bike commuting rhythm has been too much of a hassle to maintain: I either drive round trip or ride round trip, the usual mix and match is just too much trouble.

Better Block

BikeWalkKC put on this event, the 'better block' on Broadway. They put down temporary stripes for a proposed bike lane on Broadway in Westport. My hat's off to the folks at that fine organization, though they have their work cut out for them.

I talked to a Mission merchant the other day, they've been redoing Johnson Drive this year, and he was puzzled that they said they were making it more pedestrian friendly but there were all these obstacles that had been added, to his eye, that made it harder to get out of your car and walk into a store than it was before. When I told him that pedestrian friendly meant creating an environment where people would opt to leave their cars at home in the first place, he didn't believe me. And I got the sense that he was a mover and shaker, someone who had attended the various city meetings and hearings and all that went into planning this renovation.

I couldn't tell that the obstacles he was perceiving really made it any harder than it's always been to access those businesses by automobile, but the fact that he completely misunderstood the concept is a symptom, I think, of how car-centric Kansas City is.

The Better Block concepts they were showing off last weekend are good ideas, ones long past time if the city is serious about becoming even vaguely bike-friendly (various city leaders have asserted that this is a goal, but I've seen very little evidence of action). Broadway is one I'm intimately familiar with because I use it regularly on my commute, mostly going home in the evening.

I favor it in part because it's ridiculously wide. Down near the Plaza end of things you are better off taking the lane, it's narrower there and the parked cars that are generally along Nichols Park barely fit, such that a lot of car traffic sticks to the left lane by default. If you take the lane, they all take the left lane (and you're in less danger of getting doored—though going uphill, that's not as big of an issue, you'd have time to stop unless someone opened the door into you as you passed). But north of 43rd, the lanes get really wide and it's a sharable lane for the most part. What would improve it immensely of course is to stripe that out so everyone knows where they're kind of expected to be.

And actually, to really go the distance, it would be a good road to put on a lane diet. You could eliminate the on-street parking, of course, but what might make even more sense is to eliminate a car lane entirely, put the on street parking there and have the bike lane go between the parked cars and the curb. It's a model other cities (NYC, for instance) have used with great success. It segregates the bikes from the cars, makes getting doored less of a risk (sure, passengers get out on the bike lane side, but given how many people drive places alone, the incidence is bound to be lower), and it would tend to calm traffic a bit. Nothing like wide-open spaces or the perception of them to give people a lead foot.

Monday, October 27, 2014


Church used to be a pretty much every Sunday thing, in part, because Molly liked to go and she's so routine oriented it seemed like I had to commit to either always taking her or never. I'm not sure how much she really gets out of going, she mainly does sticker art (just like at home) and lays around on a giant bean bag (just like at home, except no bean bag, just a bed, a couch, a recliner).

At some point she started saying no to church, as in when I'd be tucking her in on Saturday night and I'd say we were going to church the next day she'd say no to that. And more and more times, there were other things I wanted to do, and the next thing you know it'd been months.

But then she asked, specifically, at bedtime to go to Heartland Community Church. So we went, and it'd been so long the volunteers in the Through the Roof room had never met her before. It worked out, she did stickers and laid around on the bean bag and didn't have any seizures.

They had these halo installations and she posed in front of each one for pictures. The guy who created them, Dylan Mortimer, explained that people seem comfortable stepping into the halos for pictures, more than they often seem accepting salvation. It's a clever concept because the halos are definitely evocative of old church iconography, but by letting simply anyone who wants to stand in front of it be illuminated, it takes sainthood from something earned to something conferred by the grace of God and accepting Christ. I don't want to offend any of my Catholic friends too much with this, but this is an area I think the Roman church really goes astray in.

I have my struggles with Christianity and faith in general, but the Catholic concept of saints and praying to the Virgin Mary and company for intercession, it's like they've replaced grace with an HR department. Or, as I once put it to a Catholic friend, show me the scripture where Jesus answers a question with, 'Yeah, you better take that up with my Mom.'

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Riding the Bandwagon

As I write this, the World Series is tied at two games apiece between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals. Of course, the Giants have been there, won it in 2010 and 2012, so they should probably sit on their hands and let someone else have a turn for crying out loud, but that wouldn't be as satisfying as winning it legit. And they don't show signs of being inclined that way, we had them all but put away in game 4, their starting pitcher was in the dugout crying before the third inning was over, and they came back to whip us 11 to 4.

And that Home Alone guy, Hunter Pence, he's earning a special place in the hearts of Kansas City fans. He probably wouldn't seem like such a twerp if he wasn't playing so much like an MVP. One of my Facebook friends has posted accusing him of every crime and social indiscretion she could come up with: walking in the house with muddy shoes; knocking her to the sidewalk and not saying sorry; listening to Nickleback; to breastfeeding until he was 11 years old; liking the new Star Wars movies more than the old ones. And so on.

Anyway, it's all awakened the latent baseball fan in me. My teams being the Royals and Pirates, my adult life has been spent mostly regretting the times I peak at the standings or go to a game. When your teams collectively lose 200 games a year with regularity, it's better to focus on football, the arts, a good book, almost anything. But with the excitement and fun this fall, I even turned my bike into a bandwagon complete with a Royals flag and a spoke card I designed styling the Royals crown into a broom. Actually, I think it looks more like a fly swatter, but I know it's a broom.

I've even developed some baseball superstition: until game 4 the Royals were undefeated in post-season play if I wore a Hawaiian shirt. I messed up on Game 1 of the series and was stuck in my work shirt. I got changed in the 7th inning, and the Royals started to rally but it was too little too late. I know my shirt has nothing to do with the team's play and success, but damned if I'm going to let my wardrobe be misaligned again, even after we lost Game 4 with me properly attired.

I've watched more televised baseball this October than I probably have in the past 30 years combined, and I've really enjoyed it. As emotionally satisfying as a swept Word Series would have been (after that incredible run from the Wild Card to the ALCS where the Royals turned out to be literally unbeatable), it's great for this town that the series will end at Kauffman Stadium. I'll cop to being a fair weather fan, and as such I don't really deserve any success.

But the hardcore fans, they've been waiting so long for this. The people who have been buying season tickets all these 100-ish loss years, who have spent their time and money rooting for players like Carlos Beltran who leave the minute they hit free agency, those folks deserve a Royals World Series and the incredible party that will be Kansas City for sixth and possibly seventh game.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

21 Sax Salute

Feels like ancient history, it's been over six weeks since I took these pictures.

The Charlie Parker 21 Sax Salute was a New Orleans style funeral for Bird on (approximately) his birthday. He'd be 94 this year, a ripe old age for a jazz musician to be sure.

Parker is one of those catalytic innovators, I guess they come along every century or two. What Mozart was to Vienna's opera houses, Parker was to 52nd Street. And like Mozart, he didn't live long.

It was a frustrating event to try and photograph. Parker is buried in Lincoln Cemetery and the place wasn't really set up with events in mind, it's just rows of buried corpses.

It was mid-day to boot, so the light was harsh, the sun bearing straight down and casting everyone's faces into shadow. The trees provided some relief from that, but it was still rough shooting.

I got a few shots I wasn't totally ashamed of, and got a partial of what would have been the hero shot for sure. A thoroughly decorated bottle of booze was being passed around among the musicians, and as they were getting ready to march off, one upended the bottle over the grave. I was twenty feet away or so, caught by surprise with a flower arrangement in the way. If I could have been about where the flowers were, I would have gotten a beautiful shot.

After, we went to the Blue Room for Stroud's and more music.

Tagging Up

They had a bit of a mural art seminar at the Kansas City Museum, a presentation that tied together the Mexican mural art tradition with modern tag/graffiti. A bit of a stretch in some ways, to go from Marxist oriented art that was sanctioned and subsidized by a government to art that is considered by the government to generally be vandalism.

After Hector Casanova's slide show, Gear gave a presentation, then both of them and José Faus went out and worked together on a wall. They had a second canvas set up for the kiddos, too.

I guess that's fairly radical, a museum essentially teaching kids to tag up. But then, these guys aren't really outlaw types. Even Gear, by his own admission he used to tag wherever he could get away with it, shinnying up downspouts, jumping from billboards to building roofs, and bombing railroad cars, but after getting caught a few times he says it's not worth it, he sticks to legal walls.

I was surprised at how methodical Gear was when they started painting. Another photographer who was there commented to me that Scribe would be finished by now, that he was a very rapid, fluid sort of painter. Which, whatever, you work at the pace you work at, it's art. But I wonder how much getting caught relates to how long it takes you to finish a piece. I know from trying to photograph tags on trains, the longer you spend in a rail yard, the more likely you are to encounter railroad bulls.

I try to avoid the bulls with just a camera, let alone a case of spray paint and a ladder. They're a terrible hybrid, essentially private security operating under the delusion of being actual law enforcement, employed by companies the Supreme Court has held to have government-type authority since before the Civil War—half Wyatt Earp half Mall Cop.

Anyway, it was a good show. The museum's new Executive Director, Anna Marie Tutera (the blue jacket above), is one of the most charismatic people I think I've ever met, looking forward to seeing what all she does with the place.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Artsy Fartsy

Late in my first marriage, I was a bit of an absentee father, dividing my time between workaholism and alcoholism. Not something I'm proud of, certainly nothing I set out to be, the water just kept getting gradually hotter over the course of a decade and the next thing you know there were frogs like my marriage and my relationship with my kids that were basically cooked.

In the immediate aftermath, I took my kiddos to the museums a lot.

At first, I was a bit of a deer in the headlights on the three weekends a month I had the girls. The weeknights weren't as hard, by the time I cooked dinner, took care of baths and such it was time for bed, but the weekends, well, I guess we could have sat around in front of a TV like Americans or something.

We did have TV back then, I even popped for cable eventually, though at first it seemed like an impossible luxury. I know young single people who think they're broke, but there's broke and then there's recently divorced father broke. Recently divorced, upside down in an absurd mortgage unknowingly on the brink of a real estate value meltdown, suddenly paying almost as much as that ridiculous mortgage in child support every month. I had exceptionally generous family supports and a very good job and I still wondered how the hell I was going to make it. I wonder how folks who don't have those things going for them do make it, in fact.

But TV isn't really a way to spend a weekend. Maybe when the Royals are in the playoffs and the Chiefs are playing, I can see a certain amount of binge viewing. Or when I was off work for a month and a half laid up from open heart surgery, I got caught up on five seasons of The Office on DVD. But as a general rule, I don't consider watching TV to be doing something.

So rather than sit around the house with TV blasting in messages about what our lives ought to look like, getting on each other's last nerve, I loaded my kiddos into a hand-me-down 1988 Buick I was gifted when my Dad felt insulted by the offer CarMax made him on it, and I took them out into the world. Gassing an '88 Century isn't free, so the destination we went to had to be.

Frequently that turned out to be the museums. The Nelson and the Kemper both have a suggested donation sort of admission, and the Nelson is freaking huge. I've been to the Met in New York, which the old Nelson building is a miniature of, so yes, I am aware that there are more monstrous museums out there, but you can wear out a couple of kids and yourself pretty handily at the Nelson Atkins.

See a lot of cool shit in the process, too. Especially since they opened the Bloch addition.

Anyway, over the years my kiddos got older and less game for that particular outing. But I still really like museums. Somehow, though, my kids seemed to think they outgrew them.

Em isn't a regular feature at my house on the weekends anymore since she graduated high school and enrolled in the University of Hard Knox. Mo will say no to almost anything except a garage sale store or the chance to eat a metric ton of cheese, but she's not the sort to launch into a diatribe about how boring the Kemper museum is or how impossibly huge and boring the Nelson is.

Some of that is autism, Mo doesn't really have the tools to do diatribes. But she's also a good-natured kid who will pretty much have fun in the moment almost anywhere because she can't see the value in honing her joylessness. If that's part of autism, it's a part we shouldn't try to cure.

So my weekends aren't as open as they once were, either, but I decided rather than ask and get a no, I'd just tell Mo to get in the car and off we'd go. We did both the Kemper and part of the Nelson (the Nelson is more than I can do in one day and still have fun).

I think Mo enjoyed it. Especially the hammocks outside the Kemper.

I didn't ask her to pose in front of any of the works of art she's posing in front of. I may have started this, years ago, but I think she signals that she likes something or finds it interesting by standing in front of it and gesturing like, 'Look at this!' Or sometimes, instead, she mimics the art, like making fun of the wax museum guard by assuming his pose, or sticking out her tongue alongside the enormous bust I think of as Bacchus out in front of the clay building at KCAI. I'm not sure he's supposed to be Bacchus sticking his tongue out, but that's how I've always thought of him.