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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Alley Cat

So when I met Corinna I didn't even know what an alleycat race was. I hadn't figured out how to use my bike to get to an from work or to and from campsites. I hadn't even ever used my bike to run an errand.

She got right on fixing that. In the hero's journey described by Joseph Campbell, there was my call to action and my refusal, then I met Corinna and she was my mentor. Which I guess means I married Yoda. Dreams really can come true if you let them.

Anyway, the other day she got embroiled in a Facebook fight with a certain local character who runs an alleycat. I won't get into the details here (or probably anywhere, I just want to forget about it), but people on all sides were being jerks. People on all sides were missing very legitimate points made by the other side, invoking things that should not be invoked and generally doing the Facebook equivalent of when chimps throw their shit at zoo visitors.

I can see both sides. On one side, you had someone who organizes an alleycat for zero pay, and no matter what prizes he awards to what riders, people will hassle him about cronyism, sexism, nepotism, and some other made up isms. And they shouldn't because this shit is done for fun, and if you don't like the way some guy runs an alleycat that's just for fun, you can damn well start your own alleycat. Run it your way and let other people bitch at you for not doing it just so.

On the other side, after Corinna came to with her bike on top of her in an alley two and a half years ago, she hasn't been able to do these things. In Star Wars Yoda gets to die of old age still perfectly able to light saber a Sith into mincemeat. Corinna hasn't even been able to work a full week since her crash. She's prone to epic migraines that sometimes come several a day. Her stamina went from 170 miles in a snow storm with a fully loaded touring bike to two to three miles no matter how light the bike is loaded. Sometimes eight or ten miles.

She's been doing vision therapy, which the jury is still out on. She has reason to believe it will help with a lot of her symptoms, but that she has to get worse before she gets better. Right now, we're getting the worse part for sure, with no guarantee of the better. But there's no quit in her, she's an Olympic athlete and you don't get to that dance if you're wanting resolve.

And last winter, before the vision therapy quest started, when she wasn't quite as debilitated as she is these days, she tried to return to alleycat racing. Participated in an event she'd actually won before. The pics you're seeing here are spoke cards and trophies from various events, both alleycats and events like Critical Mass she was a part of for years. She thought of herself as a part of this community, these urban cyclists who use bikes for transportation and get together for fun events like Rim Job where people race bikes with no rubber on the wheels and Street Cred, held over weekends in January when you can usually bank on weather that will keep the average cyclist at home.

And when she fought tooth and nail to just show up to one of these things, not one person asked her where she'd been. Nobody asked her how she was. And she didn't win, big surprise since just getting there kicked her ass, but then a woman who did show up and compete, who did win, got a pair of socks while the male counterpart got a messenger bag. And yes, there were 30 guys and six women, and it's not about the prizes. Plus yes, it was a free event, but as a bystander even I (who is rarely confused with a feminist), cringed a little. There was a definite vibe that the girls who tagged along were just being humored. And I didn't say anything because I wasn't sure how to bring it up to the organizer.

Said organizer is a good guy. I know of genuinely good things he has done, charitable, selfless, admirable things. And he runs a fun, free event. And he was dragged into a Facebook fight by my wife, and in the end had the good sense and class at least to delete the whole thread which in my view made everyone involved look like asses.

At this time I think Corinna is persona non grata at an event she isn't well enough to participate in anyway, and as her husband I'm probably persona non grata there, too, which is even less relevant since I was never competitive in these event anyway. And it's been promised that the event will be even more sexist thanks to anyone daring to call it out, so that should be super fun, and I'm sorry we'll miss it.

Hopefully these pictures (poorly focused some of them, one thing Corinna suffers thanks to her injury is she's light sensitive, so speed lights are not an option when I'm shooting in the same room with her) illustrate what she's lost. One of her alleycat trophies, she remembered F.C. won first in the men's division but she didn't just win best female but had way more points than he did, and F.C. quipped that he was glad they had gender specific prizes so the fastest man would get a trophy, too.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Other Christmas Mass

Lots of folks go to mass on Christmas, but Critical Mass?

Happened to be this year, Christmas was the last Friday of the month. Unfortunately, I wasn't really free to ride, but I drove to the pre-party to be social and take a few pics.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Firefighter Fountain

I ride by this fountain on my commute home all the time. These blue lights were added a while back, and I keep forgetting to throw the tripod in a pannier so I could photograph it on the way home from work. Coming at it straight on, it looks like blue walls that go straight back, but they're actually curved following the edge of the fountain pool.

I fidgeted with it and took a couple dozen exposures, playing with and without speed lights, and fussing with exposure compensation and experimenting with length of exposure. I kinda thought it might make a nice HDR project but I hated everything I got merging the photos for HDR. And the blue lights turned out to be trick, they almost invariably looked splotchy in the shots. Here are the two shots that were least problematic, one the firefighter gets lots in shadow, underexposed. But the lights look the best in this one. With the speed light illuminating him, he looks better but the lights look weird.

I'll have to take another crack at this. I also think I should have moved the tripod a couple of inches to the left to center him better in the lights.

Saturday, December 12, 2015


It's incredible how much more detail you see in where you are when you bike instead of driving. The car really isolates you, whisks you past the people and places you go by. Getting off the bike and walking, there's another boost in detail. You're moving so much slower.

So I wanted caffeine, and for me that means Diet Coke most often. La Chaquita around the corner from my house is too close to drive to. Too close to be an interesting bike ride, too. So it was suggested to me that I walk Sheba while I'm at it, and I set out. Ended up extending the walk a bit, it was too short a distance to be interesting even as a walk otherwise. For whatever reason, I'd never noticed that across the street from Christ's Church of the Jesus Hour there's, well, there's Christ's Church of the Jesus Hour. According to the cornerstone, it's got to be the oldest church in the Dotte.

It's boarded up, I guess they moved across the street some time ago (it's been in what I think was originally a grocery store at 18th & State Avenue since the 80s, I think), and there must have been issues with the building. Or maybe they didn't want to sell it to another church that would then be across the street competing for souls to save?

I think I remember they had a radio broadcast of their service on AM radio back when I was in high school, and they keep up the newer of the two buildings, so it must be a going concern though I can't remember ever seeing a car parked there. Which made the parking signage kinda stand out to me. It's posted not once but twice that the parking spots in front of the building are strictly for the church. Which is fine, but I can't figure out who would be trying to poach parking spots there, it's not as if there's any high traffic businesses adjacent to the parking lot. If they ever sold the old church building from 32 AD across the street to another church, maybe, it didn't look like that property had much in the way of parking.

Sheba and I wandered down State to the Have Guns costume shop, which I'd never been in before, and I had a nice tour of the place and visit with Jerry, the owner. That's going to have to be another post, I didn't have my Nikon with me (I take it with me everywhere, so it's really weird that I didn't), so I'm going to have to go back down there and document the weirdness.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015


Okay, the picture is a non-sequitur sorta, sorry Julie. I don't know how often she checks in here these days, but my dear friend Julie once asked if the text in my posts could have some relationship to the photos. Here's the tie in: what I'm blogging about is nutrition and perceptions of what's desirable in food. The picture is of my bike with its Christmas finery on, outside a store where I bought food. And on the same day, the encounter I wanted to blog about, I had that in the process of riding my bike home from work. See? It's dripping with relationship.

Being a cardiac patient who goes for a fairly exotic treatment for a blood disorder that causes early onset heart disease, I'm far from oblivious on the diet front. But given how much of my problem seems to stem from non-dietary sources, I sometimes wonder if I really gain anything when I grab 0% cottage cheese or yogurt instead of the full fat version. For that matter, when it comes to the desirable fats, like in fish, the healthiest options are supposedly the fattiest, your salmon, tuna, the 'oily' fish. Which is fine by me, I love some salmon nigiri a lot more than I like full fat cottage cheese, and rare tuna steak beats full fat yoghurt any day.

But anyway, today on my commute home I stopped for a beer at the truck stop. It's really just a convenience store in the West Bottoms, but they have diesel pumps and thus was nicknamed the 'truck stop' by some cyclists I know. It's owned by a Pakistani guy who tries to teach me Pashto and lets me bring my bike in the store since he has almost nothing to lock up to outside. I will grab a bomber of Guinness or a sixer of PBR there sometimes on the way home, every once in a while a snack. Anyway, this evening he showed me a video he was really excited about, of his daughter, who went back to Pakistan for a visit, milking a buffalo. There was some back and forth when I asked what he meant by a buffalo, because I didn't think there were bison in Pakistan, there's barely bison here in North America, where they come from. No, a water buffalo. That's allowed in the house, because it's so docile and charming. And makes such great milk. It doesn't get in the water often, but when it does, it's very enthusiastic.

'Very fatsome,' he told me. 'The milk of buffalo is very rich, full of fat.' They drink it, they let it ferment into yoghurt, and they prize it for it's fat content. 'Much better than cow milk.'

Which I guess is a holdover from that old world/third world way of thinking about food. Before you can worry about your arteries clogging up, you have to get clear of worrying about whether you're going to get enough calories to stay the hell alive. For most of human history, that wasn't an easy bar to clear and there are still probably more people on earth who can't be sure of clearing it than can.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Out With the Bad Stuff...

I once got bounced from the blood bank when I fainted at the finger prick anemia test. If memory serves, they gave me a 'nice try' sticker, something fairly patronizing I think. I'm better with needles these days, I guess I kinda have to be.

After my heart attack, some of the drugs they had me on they wanted a quarterly blood check to make sure the meds weren't killing me even faster than my blood lipids. I went from making them lay me down before the draw to being able to sit up while they did it, with only a hint of light headedness provided I didn't look.

These days, I go fortnightly for apheresis. It takes roughly half a day (sometimes it's 3-1/2 hours, sometimes it's more like 5-1/2 hours), and I have to sit still with 18 gauge needles in both arms while they filter my blood. I know I've blogged about this before, so if I'm boring you, well, sorry. But my veins are tricky, and sometimes the lovely and personable RN who does this to me, she'll have to stab my right arm two or three times before things are flowing. Sometimes she has to go down to a 17 gauge needle, sometimes I come away looking like a skid row junkie.

Keep in mind, I'm already trying to watch what I eat. I already take a couple of drugs that control lipids. I have a condition, high LP(a), most folks have never heard of, that causes early onset heart disease. That aforementioned heart attack? I was 32 years old. I needed a double bypass eleven years later. Everyone's got a gift, I guess, and mine is I build plaque like a champion.

So here's before and after shots of the filters my blood percolated through today. The process looks a lot like donating plasma to yourself or maybe similar to dialysis. They took four liters of my blood out, removed a ton of lipoprotein A and LDL cholesterol (and a few other things that have similar charges/chemical bonds). When I was taking the after pic, Jennifer told me she'd had to slow the machine down today because it 'can only filter so much at a time.'

What a gift.

On the up side, after a year scans of my carotid arteries showed a 10% to 12% improvement in atherosclerosis, so besides costing me a lot of money (my out of pocket on my insurance just keeps going up) and wages (it amounts to a half day furlough every two weeks), it's at least moving the needle the right direction on manifestations of the Grim Reaper in my body. Money is nice, but if you're dead it's hard to spend.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


I remember showing up to a group ride and taking some pics with my Nikon before we headed out. My friend Abbey said, 'You're not going to lug that thing with you the whole ride are you?'

Uh, yeah. I lugged it there (I had ridden to work that morning and then ridden from work to the start of the group ride, from where I planned to ride home after). But more to the point, I have lugged my Nikon D7000 and its lenses and more recently speed lights, basically everywhere for three and a half years. I have made exceptions, I didn't lug it on RAGBRAI, nor a couple of Bike MSs, but generally there has to be a compelling reason for me not to have my dSLR with me at all times.

The LowePro bag I bought the glorious day I acquired my Nikon is getting long in the tooth. Okay, actually, it's totally whipped. The zippers don't reliably close, sometimes I have to go back and forth three or four times before they close. The buckle on the stabilizer strap went from damaged to non-functional on Saturday. My wife thinks all such things can be fixed, but I'm like, dude, by the time I pay a seamstress to re-sew in two zippers and then swap out a strap, I'll be on the other side of what a new camera bag would cost.

Plus the new bag might be waterproof. That's the only knock I have on the LowePro I've been carrying, it has a rain shield but if I have to ride to or from work in heavy precipitation, I end up having to dry-sack my camera (and my phone and etc.)

Corinna lent me a messenger bag while I figure this out, and I had thought a messenger bag might be the next option for me. But I hated it, the way it sat on me, the way the straps felt, the way it offered no protection to the camera if I fall (which unfortunately happens from time to time).

But as if to illustrate why I 'lug' this thing around with me everywhere, as I was coming up Wyandotte this morning, I spotted two fresh tags in an underpass where such things don't typically last long.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


This is probably my favorite alley cat race of the year. Well, maybe tied for first place with Pub N Pedal, but where Pub N Pedal is pure bacchanalia, Cranksgiving is a bacchanalia with a good cause hooked on to it. Normally at the after party I drink hearty but this year, uncharacteristically, I drove to the event. Which meant driving home.

I long ago gave up trying to ride to all the stores on the manifest. The way the rules work, to win fastest rider you have to bring back an item from the listed needs on the manifest (for the St. Peter's food bank), from each of the ten stores with receipts to prove you bought them on the ride. Not only am I not fast enough to compete for the title, but the times I tried to ride to all ten stores I got back to no beer and almost no chili.

So then there's the heaviest load category. The problem with that is I don't have a trailer, and to seriously contend for that one you better have a stout trailer and some decent brakes. Last year a woman came in with almost 500 pounds. It's been won with less than a hundred pounds, but not lately.

But then there's also team heaviest load. So my old friend Eric, a libertarian I've known since the early 90s, asked me to join his team, I was like, sure. You can have up to eight riders, but more than that, we both figured we could make multiple trips. I've inquired about this in the past and gotten the answer, 'Sure go for it.' But Sam, the organizer, this time he said no, we could create a new category for that, but he wouldn't give team heaviest load to a couple of guys who made three or four runs apiece, that would be cheating.

For my part, I think limits make some sense as far as keeping it a competition. Teams can't have more than eight members, so to me that should mean no more than eight runs can count. A two person team should be able to do four trips per rider and count the same as an eight person team making one trip each. Right? Me and Eric probably wouldn't have made four runs apiece, financially that wasn't plausible, but we definitely would have gone back down the hill and brought some more shit up for the food bank.

As it is, we recruited Loni and Micah at the start, a super cute couple who ride a tandem. Then at Aldi we recruited Brandon, who was riding this for the first time. He had a backpack and I think one bag on his bike, so he had a limited capacity for weight but we were desperate. We had to do this in one trip, Eric with a cargo bike (a Big Dummy) and me with a Long Haul Trucker with four panniers and a trailer Eric lent me.

At one point we figured fuck it, we'd make multiple trips and shame Sam into counting it, but the financial burden started to add up. I had budged $100 for this, Eric had a bit more than that. Even at Aldi, and even with buying stuff based on maximum weight per dollar, it adds up. We had about $250 worth of groceries between two bikes by the time we headed our way up the hill for what has to be the most intense one mile workout of my life.

My heart was pounding as I climbed that hill in my granny gear, 26 up front to 34 in the rear, two miles an hour and wobbly as hell. It was epic. And I kept hearing/feeling these sproings and I feared I was breaking spokes, or that the bolts holding my rack on were stripping out or something. We got in and Eric, Brandon and me had hauled 430 lbs. And I'm pretty sure more than 200 of that was in my four panniers, on my rack and in that trailer.

Our purchases were made on a weight basis for the most part, but there was some filling in. We got a case of spaghetti sauce, and decided it was a dick move to not buy any spaghetti to put it on. And spaghetti is pretty dense as dry goods go. Canola oil was like four cents an ounce and came in squared containers so there was very little air space, four cases of that. Then after all that was loaded, I decided there was still room in the trailer, but Eric was worried about the weight, so I went back in and got three cases of Ramen (almost $30 worth of Ramen at Aldi prices), and threw that in the trailer.

So we were the first team back, and by the time our recruits came in we had 499 pounds. Some years, that would do the trick. But last year, Joel Dyke's team, the Insignificant Others, they hauled more than a thousand pounds in. And this year, there were not one but two tribute teams, Team Big Grin and Team Joel Dyke, and Big Grin managed just shy of 1,500 pounds between eight riders. Honestly, I probably would have joined one of the tribute teams, I loved Joel, but I didn't hear about them before I committed to Team Hydra (not realizing I was only the second member of the team).

And the whole event brought in over 5,000 pounds by the time I left. And me and Eric were scheming ways to do it better, bigger next year. If we can get eight riders together who haul 200 lbs apiece like we did, we should be able to set a new record. Or if we can get Sam to make the eight member limit on a team translate to eight runs, and plan a little tithing funds, we might be able to do the damage with a smaller team. Damage being food and necessaries delivered to a food bank.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Lovely Alexia

So I'm still learning my way around the world of speed lights. For the uninitiated, these are the external, hot-shoe mounted (or remotely fired) flashes you probably associate with wedding photographers and such. They have their downside, especially for street photography, a big honkin' flash on top of an SLR just screams 'photographer' to anyone who's camera-shy and camera-aware.

On the other hand, they really allow you to take charge of the light rather than just playing the hand you're dealt. For years, I shot with nothing but available light and I got some great images that way, but there were those other times where I was just hoping it would work this time but of course it didn't. And I guess I could practice on still life subjects, but so far that hasn't interested me. So that leaves me trying to find willing subjects for portrait sessions. Fortunately for photographers who are shooting for fun, there are models who will pose for fun.

It's called TFP, stands for 'trade for prints' a nod to the days when you'd typically provide prints from the negatives by way of compensation. These days it's generally a digital file handed off. I print my pictures some, but much more the appear on this blog, on Facebook, and lately Instagram.

I met Alexia at the Sirens shoot last summer. She's very easy to work with, has a good vocabulary of poses, and obviously she's gorgeous. And, as it happens, she was available when I was, so I trekked up to Liberty with my lights & camera Sunday afternoon. Partly I was wanting to get some more experience with the SB-800s, partly I was wanting to apply stuff I'd already learned. And partly I had been riding my bike to work marveling at the fall colors, the leaf litter on the ground, and thinking, this is a limited time offer.

The weather was spectacular, and the William Jewell campus was picturesque. We started shooting a little after 3:00, finished up around 6:00 when it was getting dark and cooling off.

I still feel like I need to get better about picking my moment, looking through the viewfinder and not pulling the trigger until things are perfect. But I'm definitely getting better on that front. These are the low hanging fruit, there are a few other shots that I think can be winners if I do some work on them. But as a percentage of 197 shots, this is a lot better haul than what I got out of over 2400 frames at the Sirens shoot last summer.

And sometimes there's happy accidents. For all the shots where I didn't quite get her in focus or caught her in transition between facial expressions, there's this gorgeous high-key shot. I've seen this effect before, I've just never achieved it. Two speed lights off camera, sun behind her, fiddling with the exposure compensation.