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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Big Grin Fundraiser

I know there are people who frequent charity auctions and fundraising cocktail parties but that's never been my scene. I give to charity, not as much as I should but I do. This one I couldn't pass up.

I blogged about how Joel had a helluva a funeral, and he did. He passed a few days after Christmas, of all things from what actuaries will tell you is the all-too-common 'accident in the home.'

The Big Grin fundraiser, that was a no-brainer coming out of the tithe fund. It's not the first fundraiser that's been conceived for Joel's widow and their two children (one of whom is still gestating). If Joel had been a jerk, his death would still be tragic given what was riding on his shoulders, but of course he wasn't a jerk (if he had been, these loads wouldn't have been on his shoulders in all likelihood).

If you want to help out, there's a site with a convenient PayPal donation setup. A friend, Brian Chasm, who also organizes the Street Cred alleycat classic, also had some sew-on patches made, the first run of which sold out and I think he's close to the end of the second run. Or you could have joined us (if you didn't) at Boulevard Brewery for a beer soaked party.

Joel's mortality really is the greatest offense to decency and good taste I can think of, as Chasm put it, he was a real dick for dying. Consequently, the event sold out. Your ticket got you a couple of drink coupons for modestly sized servings of Boulevard beer, two raffle tickets for assorted bike gear, and entry to the best party in town. There was also a semi-silent auction, and of course you could buy more raffle and drink tickets once inside. Pretty much everything was donated, so the money you parted with mostly went to Michelle and the little Big Grins.

I saw some friends I hadn't seen in a long time, some other friends I see all the time, met some new ones. The acoustics in the room were abysmal but there was a good band. And after a few Boulevards, the acoustics get better actually. And hosting this at Boulevard was brilliant. The click-bait that shows up on Facebook listing countries that lead the world in per capita alcohol consumption, it's usually a list along the lines of 'Moldova, Latvia, Russia, Cyclists, Czech Republic, Belgium...' And I'm sure there are studies somewhere that show the wallet-loosening effects of that alcohol consumption.

I entered all my raffle tickets for a pair of Oakley sunglasses. I had a pair once, they got shredded by my youngest daughter years ago and I've been getting by with Wal-Mart sunglasses ever since. I remember how good the Oakleys were, though. I didn't win them, but I had fun watching other people win stuff they seemed to covet at least as much.

Then the silent auction turned not silent. As in, the last bid on the sheet wasn't the winner, it was the opening bid for a live auction. A couple of guys with huge hearts and deeper pockets than I'll likely ever have got into a bidding war over a frameset and ended up paying almost four times it's retail price. A couple of banners went high, too—as in at least twenty times their wholesale cost. It was really cool to see the hypercompetitive nature of cyclists couple with a worthy cause. I'm pretty sure that frameset went for $100 more than the second bidder had in his bank account, these two guys were just not going to get beat by the other one if they could help it.

I don't know how much was raised, but I bet it sounds like a lot. A lot until you picture trying to raise a couple of kiddos on it with the income restrictions having two wee ones places on a single parent. Yes, I know there are social safety nets, and at one time I fell for the line that the biggest worry was that the net could become a hammock. Don't call me a liberal, but these days I worry more about the net having holes in it or not being big enough to catch those falling on it than I do about someone deciding to relax and take a nap in poverty. I mean, really, a fundraiser like this, even broadly attended and with folks with means vying to out-give each other, can't possibly raise enough, let alone too much.

And I know Michelle to be a frugal, clever and capable person so I'm sure whatever it is will go farther in her hands than it would in, for instance, mine. I suppose it would have been better, if Joel had to die (my best case scenario is he pops out of a cake at the end of this thing and shouts 'fooled ya!'), is if he'd have happened to buy a big fat life insurance policy. But the way Joel lived, the way he touched people in positive ways, the way he twisted their nipples in a way they hated without losing their love for him, the way he was always funny, surprising, and original, those were premiums in another kind of life insurance policy. Not just direct premium payments either, a woman with an enormous Coach handbag who chatted me up, I asked her how she knew Joel and she didn't. She had a neighbor who had raced bikes with him. And not only was she there, but she bought a shit-ton of raffle tickets and the guy she was with bought a raffle prize in an impromptu auction and then donated the prize to someone who actually wanted it. It was a fairly astonishing show of generosity no matter what jaded filter you want to try and view it through.

I've thought a few times that the whole checking on how Michelle is doing thing, the helping out thing, it's pretty easy and obvious now while Joel's loss is fresh. The trick is remembering the challenges will still be there years down the road. And as I was taking a leak preparatory to riding home from the brewery, a guy came in the bathroom and said, 'We're not done.'

It was a pretty emotional evening. There was a tombstone someone donated with a great photo of Joel flipping the bird (his signature way of saying 'I love you') etched into it. Lots of fun in between but several times I found myself choked up. And Michelle seemed like she could just barely handle it, honestly. She's not really someone with a bad case of the look-at-me's to begin with, and I'm sure the moment is far more complex for her than anyone else in the room. I'm sure she wanted Joel to pop out of a cake and shout 'fooled ya!' more than anyone else there. And that he was a dick for dying. And probably a whole bunch of other things, and I'm sure my speculating about these emotions is way out of line and I wish her the best at coping with whatever it is she's actually feeling.

Of course I had fun with my camera, though the lighting was an atrocity even worse than the acoustics of the room (which was designed by whoever came up with the 'basement.' And just as I ran into people who knew they wanted to help even if they hadn't really known Joel, I had to really encourage some people to show me their fingers. And a few refused even with an engraved hunk of marble to show them that really, Joel would want them to flip me off. Then again, I didn't even have to ask at least one person to pull down his pants.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

KCBM 32: Getting Judgmental Again

I haven't entered a beer in competition in at least 15 years. But I love judging.

I love brewing, too, but I found I enjoy a sort of freestyle brewing, a focus on what sounds fun and what I can't run out to the liquor store and buy, as opposed to trying to fit an established style guideline. My improvisations are informed by my knowledge of classic beer styles, of course.

But evaluating beers as a BJCP judge at homebrew competitions, I do it every chance I get. Which isn't much given my other life commitments, once or twice a year is the best I can usually manage. But the next year or two, I might try and wrangle a few out of town competitions. I'm National rank, which means I can pretty much always find a place as a judge in a sanctioned competition. I've been National for a long time, twelve years or so now, and I just checked my BJCP points and it's long past time I re-test. Which means I need to bone up on the latest style guidelines first (they've been revised in big ways a couple of times since I tested in the late 1990s). I have almost 50 experience points, and 40 is the threshold for Master rank but I need to score a 90 on the test, too.

People hear you're 'judging beer' and they think, yeah, I do that all the time. I know the exact score the beers all get, too. But it's more like competitive barbecue, there's style guidelines and the entries are evaluated not on the basis of what a judge likes, but on whether the beer in the glass is what it's supposed to be.

Case in point, I had a beer this weekend I gave a 20 to. This is a 50 point scale, and I might have given something in the teens at some point, but a Diet Coke would score at least a 17 in some categories if you're honest about what its characteristics are. Wet, bubbly, blackish-brown, it's not going to medal but it's not getting a zero.

A 20 is pretty harsh, really. And honest, I really liked the beer I gave that 20 to. It was wildly inappropriate for the style it was entered in, but it was very enjoyable beverage. Entered in another category, it might pick up twenty points.

There are some styles I wouldn't really want to sit down and drink for that matter, but if I'm judging, a good example still has to score high. I'm not a fan of Miller's Lite, but if I'm judging a flight of 1A's, I think I could score it at least 45. I hope I could anyway.

The usual raffle was held and everyone seemed to have their sights set on Snoop. That and a Billy Dee Williams Colt 45 neon light. It's hard to figure how Colt 45 (let alone Blast) is even here in the room. This is the People's Republic of Beer Snobs, mostly homebrewers themselves. A lot of us started making beer in the first place because we weren't interested in stuff like Colt 45, which while lacking in flavor, is actually a fairly technical project if you wanted to make it yourself.

Well, and Blast doesn't even fit that criteria. The temperature control, precise recipe, timing and whatnot that goes to making a hyper-consistent light beer (or a malt liquor which is the same thing with a lot more alcohol in it), that's art compared to Blast. Blast is, as far as I can tell, Hi-C, vodka and CO2. At least I think it's bubbly, I've never cracked open a can of it personally.

Anyway, the Founders neon, the Pilsner Urquell neon, these are things I'd have rather had. I won, instead, a couple of tin Boulevard signs which are cool enough. The Bully Porter one would have been an absolute keeper as I think that's my favorite of their beers. But I won a smokestack logo tin and a Pop-Up Session IPA, and I'd have taken them home but when Amanda won the Snoop...

This thing, it's the modern equivalent of a Velvet Elvis and while I can't imagine who'd really want the thing I found it's kitchy-ness irresistible. I offered her a trade, my Boulevard tin signs for Snoop and I think she was actually relieved. I think Snoop is so horrible she didn't even want him in her house. Which I can understand.

Because what Blast is to beer, Snoop is to music, at least in my humble opinion. I YouTubed some Snoop when I got the prize home and it's even worse than I expected. I like me some Flobots, The Urge, maybe some Blackeyed Peas, but Snoop is the lord of a musical wasteland, making his millions off messages that are the last thing his audience needs to hear as far as I can tell. He really seems to me to have gone down the crossroads, met up with Old Scratch and said, Okay, I can hawk terrible booze and glorify weed for that much money. Oh, and my soul? Sure, I'm not using it for anything.

So now I own this thing and I can't decide whether I want to let Snoop ironically lurk over my brewing area, sell the thing on eBay, use it as a gag gift or wait 20 years and then sell it on eBay for a fortune (it seems like the kind of thing that would be rare and obscure enough after a decade or two to really drive collectors nuts).

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Shooting Julie Ann

I took a few pictures of framebuilder Julie Ann Pedalino (isn't that a fantastic name for a bike builder?) at Velo+ the other day and she started inquiring about what I'd charge to come photograph her and her work for an upcoming trade show.

Part of me really wants to turn the camera into a revenue stream. I'm an enthusiastic and ambitious amateur, and I'm a person who tends to let his hobbies kind of run wild. I won't say never, but while I might like to pass myself off as a 'photographer' I'd feel like a poseur. I mean, I have some friends who are the real thing and they could shoot circles around me with a fucking iPhone.

So I told Julie Ann I didn't want to jeopardize my amateur standing, it really just sounded like a fun shoot to do.

Challenging, too. The shop lighting, the clutter of tools in the shop, these are all things that work against good photography. Plus, she wanted some shots of her actually brazing shit. I wasn't wrong when I supposed that the super bright flame of the torch would wreak havoc on the camera's metering, especially for getting a photos where you could actually tell who was wielding the torch.

I shot a few with Julie Ann's camera, a nice Canon 6D. Full frame, and she had some really good glass for it, a 100mm macro and a 24-70mm. None of those shots are here, I didn't think to get the files from her card when giving her the RAW from mine. But I was a fish out of water shooting her Canon. You might think dSLRs all look the same, and they are in the way that Spanish and Portuguese sound a lot alike. If I got anything worthwhile with her camera, it was dumb luck.

There's quite a bit of luck on my own camera, actually. She'd brought some lights, which was helpful though it would have been even better if we could have had enough quality light to turn off the shop's fluorescents, which we didn't.

I struggled a bit with remembering backgrounds, too. You'd think shooting a framebuilder in a workshop where bikes are built and worked on is a natural fit, but actually a bike workshop is cluttered as hell. We kind of figured out a backdrop at the front of the shop with some pallets and the crate walls from Velo+'s coffee roaster, and the brazing area had good brick, but it was still tricky.

The challenge I hadn't anticipated is Julie Ann isn't eager to be the subject of a photograph. I blame TV for this, somewhere along the line she picked up a notion that she wasn't photogenic, which is just silly. (I mean really, don't you want to just put her in your pocket?) I think it's a fairly common delusion, especially in America. It's fucked up, a Victoria's Secret model doesn't actually look anything like what you'll see in the pages of a Victoria's Secret catalog, that's all makeup and post-production Photoshop bullshit. And not to take anything away from those lingerie models, but can they take a few tubes of Reynolds steel and make a four pound bike frame?

The amount of work that goes into these frames is pretty staggering. One of the frames (the one with the copper lightning bolt on the head tube), I saw it Wednesday and the joints looked rough as hell. Four days later, Julie Ann had sanded and buffed them shiny and smooth. A custom hand-built frame is crazy expensive, but when you really think about the work it takes to make it happen, it's a bargain.

Looking at these things, I want to build frames. I could probably learn the skills myself, it would actually fit my general temperament, but it'd have to be a hobby at this point in my life and I need another vastly time-consuming hobby like I need Sam Brownback to be an even bigger embarrassment to the state I live in.


One of the guys learning to make frames at Velo+ started with a cross bike more or less modeled on the Surly Straggler. He was pretty self-critical of his first-time efforts, but he took some tubes and brass and made a bike frame you can actually ride. And painted a hell of a clever name on the top tube.

All Grown Up

My youngest daughter is 18 years old. Wow. What the hell happened?

I asked her if she wanted to join the army, she said no. That's a relief, really, because now that she's 18, if she said yes to that question, in the presence of, say, an army recruiter, she could be in for a terrible haircut and a ridiculously long-term contract. Well, that's not really a danger I suppose with her autism. Verbal Q&A isn't really her forté, neither is following orders.

But conceptually, the idea that my kids could get a job dropping bombs on people, well I guess the fact that there even are jobs in that industry is bizarre. Actually, having watched Mo play Fruit Ninja, I bet she'd be an ace drone pilot if they ever did recruit her.

I offered to take her to sushi for her birthday dinner. She loves sushi, doesn't get it very often. It was my first choice, too. But she wanted me to make pizza. I offered fried chicken (one of her all time faves), I offered the sushi thing, she wanted pizza.

And of course I made a cake, and I asked her what color she wanted the frosting to be and she picked orange. I really love taking the picture of my daughters blowing out their birthday cake candles. It's a semi-tricky shot, I've learned you need to take your UV filter off or you get reflections of the candles bouncing between the lens and the filter, and of course the light is low except for the candles which are super bright, and then there's the timing of the shot. But Mo wasn't having it. Last year, after we lit the candles she ran to her bedroom and wouldn't come out.

This year, she was ready to go to her room when she saw me put the candles on the cake, and I finally talked her into staying for her party by promising not to light them.

Her Mom got her to blow out the candles on the ice cream cake at her party the next day, go figure. But while I really wanted to shoot her blowing out her 18th birthday candles, it was her party, not mine.

I did have fun making the pizza, though trying to photograph it was probably an extraordinarily bad judgment call. I realized this when I put down my Nikon, realized I'd just grabbed my expensive dSLR with flour-coated hands. I know it has good dust seals, but damn.