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Thursday, October 29, 2015

How Much Fun? ALL OF IT!

I don't own a TV. When I tell people this, they often look at me with pity, as if I was somehow to poverty stricken to find one of the free non-flat TVs people put out to the curb when they get an astonishingly cheap flat screen with higher resolution and stunning picture quality. If you can't afford a TV in America today, you probably can't afford the ketchup packets by the trash can at McDonald's.

You get the same reaction when you commute to work by bicycle—if you only had a car, right? But no, I have a car. I really like my car, it's sexy with pink polka dots, gets great mileage, it's paid for and it's roomy too boot.

But that's not what I came to talk to you about, as Arlo would say. I came to talk about baseball. The only reason the TV thing and the bike thing is even vaguely relevant is the Royals are in the World Series for the second year in a row and I am loving it. And since I don't have TV at home, I tend to watch the games in bars, mostly bars I ride my bike to.

For so many years, rooting for the Royals (and for that matter, my NL crush the Pirates), has been like watching Star Wars: A New Hope and rooting for Alderaan.

After deciding Chicago's wasn't my bar to watch sports in after the NL Wildcard, I started casting around for a new place to watch the Royals in the post-season. My first attempt was a bar that will remain un-named in Lobsterland. When I walked in, I smelled the distinct aroma of Mom's house, which is to say cigarette smoke. Actually, more like when my Mom's sister and my Uncle Vick used to visit and the three of them would get chain-smoking for a few days. The smell of me in my twenties, actually, when I smoked like I was afraid they'd shut down North Carolina if I didn't do my part. But I quit that nonsense twenty years ago (I'm certain I'd be dead if I hadn't), so all those smoke-free laws they've passed, while the libertarian in me thinks such laws are bullshit, the human who likes to breathe is fine with that.

I wondered, after a while, this place, the bartender was smoking, there were ashtrays on the bar. And I thought about how when I smoked I thought second hand smoke as a health hazard was bogus, but I could feel it at work during a single baseball game. I wondered if KCK's no smoking law had some exemption for tap rooms, a bar with no grill. Not inconceivable, the Dotte was pretty much the last one to even drift towards such policies when they started sweeping through. I thought, Well, if you can't smoke in a bar in the Dotte, where can you smoke?

I inquired of a woman who was practically lighting one off another, is there some sort of loophole? She took a drag and exhaled a raspy, 'The loophole is don't tell on us.'

I will never rat you out. I will also never try to watch a game at that bar even if they did have cheap pitchers and the game on. The place is a last haven for the handful of hardcore nicotine addicts who won't switch to vaping, can't relax without their smokes, and don't think that means they should sit at home in solitude. I can dig it, though I want to borrow Walter White's respirator next time I watch a game with those people.

So my next try was Johnnie's on 7th. And we have a winner. The place is elbow-to-elbow Royals fans, most sporting the blue, all of them into the game. Loud bars are generally a turnoff for me, but this is more like a tiny stadium except you don't have to pay to park or get in and the beers are two bucks. A bartender periodically will jump up on the bar and shout, 'What are we watching?' and everyone shouts 'ROYALS!'—to which he asks, 'How much fun are we going to have?' which earns a chorus of 'ALL OF IT!' People who live near this joint who aren't baseball fans had to be distressed on Tuesday's Game One of the World Series, which went fourteen innings and finished after midnight (resulting in the Royals becoming the only team in history to win two World Series games on the same day).

One game I drove to the bar, had to meter my consumption very closely because, driving. I've been scolded by naysayers who insist you can get a DUI on a bicycle, but it's not a motorized vehicle. Maybe you could get charged but I doubt you could get convicted. Public intoxication, sure, disorderly conduct, possibly, creating a public nuisance, I suppose. But DUI is not an issue when you pedal home from the bar.

The fourteen inning marathon that was Game One, a friend of mine commented that everyone leaving the K was sober by the time it was over. They stop selling beer in the seventh inning. At Johnnie's, the effect was counter to that for a lot of folks. People who were hammered by the eighth inning and just kept drinking, well, one of them decided I was wearing a Hawaiian shirt not because that's all I generally wear, but because I didn't have a Royals blue Johnnie's on Seventh t-shirt. I tried to tell him I wasn't that much for t-shirts, but he wanted to know my size. I said a 3XL, he said the biggest they had was a 2XL, and the next thing I know he's handing me one.

I wore it, under an open Hawaiian because really, when I went back for Game Two. I asked him if he remembered buying me the shirt, and he said, 'There's a lot of last night I don't remember, but I do remember that. It looks good on you.'

And then Johnny Cuedo threw nine innings, allowing only two hits and one run while we lit up the Mets' pitching staff like the Las Vegas Strip. How much fun did we have? All of it.

Monday, October 26, 2015


I despise clickbait. By which I mean those things that show up unbidden in your Facebook feed that lead to tedious, ad-centric time wasters. I despise them, because every once in a while I take the bait.

This was a case in point, a list of cities that almost were. The amount of information in the actual clickbait site was frustratingly sparse, and each image had to be clicked three times, first to advance to the image, then to a paragraph of explanation (that didn't explain much) then to another paragraph summing up the first paragraph slightly more succinctly, providing no new information.

So I'd started clicking as rapidly as possible through the cities and then using Wikipedia to find something out about them for real. They were pretty interesting, Buckminster Fuller's floating Triton City or flying Cloud Nine for instance. But the one that grabbed me was Ebenezer Howard's Garden City. Not because of the garden thing, but because of things that jumped out at me on the map.

He condenses people into a really small area to maximize land use, I can dig it. He has canals through it, of course you need water for all this stuff. But the areas he's laid aside, he leaves an equal area for 'large farms' as he does for 'insane asylum.' Another equal area for a 'home for inebriates.' Epileptics and waifs have to share their lot with forests and reservoirs, so I guess he knew a lot of crazies and drunks. I also note that while Garden City is supposed to be slumless and smokeless, it abounds with reservoirs and quarries.

Still Garden City beats the hell out of Fordlandia, which the car company actually started in an effort to get their tires cheaper. I guess the evils of VW cheating on their diesel cars (which are still cleaner than a semi I'm pretty sure), compared to a company town where you're not allowed to have a drink, smoke, or woman in your home. Talk about wage slavery.

The problem with cities planned by a visionary is the same problem with armed revolutions planned by visionaries. They all figure they can save the world if everyone will just quit being themselves and start being a clone of the visionary/revolutionary. That's the fluke that made the American Revolution work from a standpoint that unlike most revolutions it didn't replace a shitty government with a shittier one. The Founding Fathers planned a come-as-you-are party, tried (imperfectly) to come up with a system that would work with actual people instead of trying to make us all be Mini-Me to Jefferson or Hamilton.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Trout Fishing in America 2015

Dad used to take me and my brother fishing from time to time, when we were tiny kiddos. We moved from Baldwin when I was just about to turn five years old, but when we lived there I remember going to Douglas State Fishing Lake and fishing off the stone piers. I remember throwing rocks in the water, my brother threw a big one and forgot to let go, Dad caught his ankle as it was about to disappear. Personally, I think he would have let go of the rock and bobbed to the surface, but yeah, it was a scene.

The other big memory I have of those trips, and I don't know how many there were, might have been just a couple or a couple dozen I really don't know. But I caught my first fish down there. A bass, I know because Dad told me so, and it was 12 inches long, I know because we measured it. I remember the scales flaking off, the head being cut off, and soaking the carcass in salt water in a Pyrex bread pan overnight in the fridge, then Mom dredged it in flour and fried it for dinner the next night. She must have cooked some other food, too, because a 12 inch bass won't feed a family of four even if two of the family are pre-K.

So a few years later, when we were adults, my brother turned me on to fishing for trout at Bennett Spring.

My couple of attempts in the intervening years, fishing was pure frustration. Standing on shore catching nothing but rocks and twigs. Hot, sweaty, boring, pointless.

I don't know how Brian talked me into going down to Bennett that first time, I was pretty negative on the concept of fishing by then. But he did, and we caught fish. From shore, I remember thinking waders must be outrageously expensive. We sight-fished with ultralight rigs, mine newly purchased at Wal-Mart for I doubt much more than $25.

We camped, my brother brought some mesquite chunks to flavor the fire. I don't remember how many fish we caught but I think it was few enough that a camping neighbor gave us a couple to supplement our catch saying, "I got more than I'm supposed to have anyway." Back then you could keep six a day and have twelve total in possession provided you had the licenses and tags to warrant it. That's down to four and eight these days, no doubt thanks to guys like that camping neighbor.

So then we went the other day. I mean eight years ago. Me and my brother and my Dad. We rented a cabin, waders (they only cost $10 a day), and ever since at every family gathering around Christmas, Easter, birthdays, etc., we say we should go do that again. When are we going to Bennett again? Soon, for sure, soon. It was a fun trip, besides catching some fish, we had a good family bonding time.

This year we finally did it. We farted around until there was only one cabin and one campsite left on the last catch and keep weekend of the year, but by golly we got it done. And with my nephew who is the same age I was when I caught that 12 inch bass. He got to camp with his Dad, in a tent with a fire (that he almost backed into, to my horror).

I did as thorough a job packing as one can do when one goes to a bar a couple miles from home by bike to watch the Royals get into the World Series. With a rain delay. Yeah, I woke up Saturday hungover with a deadline to get to my Dad's house and packed with no sense of what time of year it was or where we were going. I brought my laptop, but not a sweatshirt of jacket. Just so you know, if you're heading to Bennett, you'll be lucky to get a cell signal, my T-Mobile phone sure couldn't, WiFi hasn't reached there, leave the laptop at home. If it's late October bring a hoodie, maybe a coat, too.

I'm pretty warm blooded so I was more okay than I should have been with what I brought. And I was able to buy the toothbrush I also didn't bring at the park shop when renting my waders and buying redundant flies I already had with me. I don't think of myself as much of an angler, I hadn't fished in eight years and my gear was in disarray to prove it, but I was stoked. So stoked I had trouble going to sleep then woke up at 4:00 a.m. unable to get back to sleep. The horn blows at 7:30, and we were about a ten minute walk from the river, so that was a tad excessive.

Of course I didn't bring my Nikon down to the water because what if I fell in the river? Alternately, what if I left it on shore and it Bermuda triangulated? Not that I think camera thieves are as rife as fish poachers at Bennett, but still, it'd suck to be wrong. I almost didn't bring my phone, but did so I'd be able to tell when the siren was coming.

When the horn started to blow, 40 minutes after my premature arrival at the water, my fly promptly came off the line in my hand. By the time I got it retied, there were people who already had two fish on a stringer. After an hour or so I decided to try a a different fly a bit further from the floater, and the fish weren't having that either. As I struggled to untangle my reel, a teenaged girl fishing with her dad encouraged me saying, 'Same thing happened to me yesterday, I had to take the whole thing apart.'

I decided the black and olive thing the guy said worked best first in the morning might be the problem after a few people had cleaned their limit by me, so I switched to a white/red/yellow that looks a bit like fish guts and got an investigational taste from a fish. I was so excited that when I tried to set the hook I think I ripped his lip open and got nothing. Or he just got away, either way, it wasn't working and I was freaking freezing from standing in 45ºF water in waders with a long sleeved t-shirt and Aloha up top to keep me warm. My rig wasn't really functioning properly but I decided my only chance was to fish with it as it was, I wasn't about to pull a miracle fix out and if I hooked something I could land it. Probably.

When it was time to check out of the cabin (which was awesome and I hated that we were there for such a short time with such great accommodations at such a reasonable price), I decided I was done fishing even if I hadn't caught anything but a chill.

But by then my nephew had landed his first fish and was engrossed in watching a couple of guys who might have been over the limit filet their catch. His excitement at landing a fish, getting a 'Larry's Lunker Club' pin and seeing fish cleaned more than made up for my frustration and not getting a single fish for two and a half shivering hours of effort.

It was a good trip even if I didn't catch anything (neither did my Dad or brother actually). Before I try it again I'll see about getting a new spool of line installed on my cheapie ultralight rig, that should fix the issues I battled all morning aside from the fish not liking anything I offered in terms of a fly.

Or maybe it'll be time to graduate to a proper fly rig, though a guy was expertly casting one of those near me and when I expressed frustration he said, 'Yeah, I can throw the thing out there but I haven't figured out how to get them to strike.'

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Fire at the Edge of Hell

When I shot these folks last year, I didn't have a speed light. I didn't think I needed one.

I recently picked up a used Nikon SB-800 so I could supply some light of my own instead of letting available light determine whether I could get a good shot.

There's a definite learning curve to it, as there always is with a powerful tool. It's not exactly cutting edge technology, they haven't made this model since 2007, but the nature of light didn't fundamentally change in the last eight years and I saved a fortune not getting a new SB-910 instead. Radio activation would be nice, sometimes on this shoot the speed light didn't fire because the sensor couldn't see the pop-up flash commanding it—so I had to be mindful of where the sensor was when I placed the light, and make sure I didn't step where I was out of range of the sensor.

Another thing that would be good is to have more diffusion. There's a diffuser on the flash, but I was still getting really harsh shadows in some of these shots because I didn't have a good surface to bounce the flash off of. Toward the end I did try just bouncing it off the ground with a white reflector on the ground, though my reflector was too small for the job. I picked this one for being small enough to fit in my camera bag on the bike. Alternately, if I had a sheet or something like that to diffuse the light, that would have helped.

I forgot to take my UV filter off. It's generally a good thing to have on at all times because it amounts to a scratch guard for the lens itself. But when shooting fire in the dark, you get weird artifacts that are the light reflecting off the filter.

All in all I got some shots I like better than what I got last year. And some that I'm still pretty frustrated with. And some that I might not be in love with, but there's something I like about them.

What I didn't count on was the management of the Edge of Hell haunted house, outside which Sparacus and Nikki were performing, hassling me. Not a lot, and it took them like an hour to get around to it, so I'm not saying they were being dicks about it, but a woman named Amber came up at one point and asked me if I'd asked permission to shoot, and I'm like, from who? And she said, 'me.' That they need to know who is shooting their characters and what I planned to do with the pictures.

Then right after I satisfied her with some contact info and assurances that I'd share my images with them, I got the same thing from the general manager, who I recognized as the Rat Guy from years past. Partly because I like the guy, I went along, and partly because it doesn't make any sense to fight with them about it: I don't mind sharing my images with them, even if they absolutely have no grounds to demand I do so.

When I say they have no grounds, I'm not saying I don't understand why the Edge of Hell would be nervous about someone shooting pics. Never mind that they seem to encourage their patrons to pose with characters for phone pics and whatnot, they don't want a competitor coming in and scoping things out too well, for instance. Fair enough. But I was in a public street, not on their property and so where their performers. So push comes to shove, I don't need their permission and have no obligation to share my images from a legal standpoint. On the other hand, they could send the performers home for the night or simply tell them to lay off until I left, which would hurt the performers, deprive me of shots, and generally be a shitty situation.

I was a little surprised when right after satisfying Amber, I was confronted by the manager of the haunted house. It took a minute for me to decide if he was just fucking with me for a joke, actually. I recognized him as the Rat Guy who used to work to work the crowd waiting in line. They have a new rat guy now, and he was being serious. And again, partly because it wasn't a fight worth having, and partly because I like the guy, I just gave him my name and contact info, as well as my assurances that I wasn't there for industrial espionage or whatever.

And at that point he warmed up and even said if I wanted to shoot inside there or the Beast sometime, just let him know in advance and something could be worked out. Which I think means I played it right, my friends didn't get in trouble, I might get the chance to shoot some interesting stuff inside the haunted houses, nobody's pissed off.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Roast Suck

So I've been playing more and more with the used SB-800 speedlight I bought off eBay. And getting a lot of flats.

A. Lot. Of. Flats.

I wanted another Mavic A719 rim when I got my back wheel built last winter, but the shop that rebuilt the wheel wasn't set up a as a Mavic dealer and I was told, 'I got something better.' Cool, better is awesome.

It went fine for a few months, but when it quit going fine, it really quit going fine. I had a flat caused by a roofing nail (fair enough, even Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tours have their limits), but it took me almost an hour to get the tire off and back on because the fit was so tight on the Velocity Cliffhanger rim I'd been sold. I was getting close to RAGBRAI so I put a new tire on, got through RAGBRAI, then had a couple more flats (with no apparent cause), and all of a sudden a bulging sidewall. New tire, an even shorter interval and more mysterious flats, a blow-out, another bulging sidewall. Another new tire, and Schwalbe warranteed out the two, and more flats, and another delaminated sidewall.

Some tires don't play well with some rims, I was told. Try this one, and I'll order you a new tire, a Vittoria Randonneur Hyper. I've been skeptical of the Randonneur because I've used tires that felt like it before. It's a full pound lighter than a Marathon Plus Tour, and as far as I can tell that pound is a pound less of stuff that will keep you from getting flats. Three days later, another flat going home. The loaner tire didn't even get me to the new Vittoria tire. It's my third flat in a week, and one of those was a blowout. If my disgust were a gun, there'd be another massacre on the TV news.

I've already ordered another Mavic A719 from the shop that built my front wheel. The guy who sold me the Velocity rim and lent me the Vittoria tire wanted me to try another tire before asking him to do two hours of labor for free, and if he really thinks another, new Vittoria tire will yield a different result, I guess I'll try it but as far as I'm concerned I'm done with Velocity components. I will never buy another one. Ever. Done.

In a related note, I won't buy any more Cateye computers. I've had two different units now that consistently list my top speed as 65.9 mph, the max the thing goes to (but twice as fast as I ever go). Cateye sent me a replacement sensor, the bike shop replaced the whole unit, I've swapped batteries out of both ends, and it still gives me this 65.9 max speed bullshit. It's obviously a firmware problem or something like that, but if you won't acknowledge and fix the problem, I'm done buying your shitty products.

Oh, and I know the bus I photographed says 'Roast Sick,' but 'Roast Suck' more aptly described my evening.