Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ex-Mess, A Recap

Here we are well past the tail end of another December 25th, having ringed in the New Year. Our house, like the homes of many others with children, went through a transition. It became a place resembling a littered city after a ticker-tape parade and slowly returned to a subjective state we call normalcy.

This year we found ourselves on the receiving end of a couple of gifts that were real hell-raisers. Now, if Mom and Dad are crying WTF, something must be up. I won't call any gifts out by name or explicit description, but I want to air a couple of grievances.

One: Those people who write those age recommendations for kids' toys product packaging know a lot about laws/liability and a surprising amount about what's appropriate for a child of a given age. Now, you may think our kids are SOOO smart (and they are, mind you -- just like everyone else's prides and joys) but he or she may have a sibling who is too young to know better. Please keep that in mind, people, when you're choosing the cutest science-inspired erupting volcano-like contraption that is certain to do one thing alone -- wreck our dining room and cause Mom and Dad to spout age-inappropriate phrases after stepping upon one of hundreds of misplaced plastic remnants that have landed on the floor.

Two: Packaging. I might already be on the road to dressing my kids in clothes sans zippers and cutting off electricity to our house, but, by Zeus, I am just goddammed tired of excess plastic packaging. This doesn't go for toys exclusively, but toys seem to be a prime offender. The toy itself is made of plastic. It's doubly encased in a plastic clamshell and plastic twist-tied to the plastic-reinforced header card. Some of these things take me 10 minutes to extract intact with a tool or two. Then I get to spend another 10 minutes bagging and disposing of this plastic, all the while carrying a heavy heart in addition to the bag of useless plastic shit going to the can.

All kind-hearted givers of gifts to young people can help. Head it off at the pass. Don't buy or gift useless, meaningless crap. Cute is not an acceptable enough excuse for Mini Coopers or Julia Roberts, let alone dumb bobbles made in somewhere else.

Am I looking forward to the myriad arguments that will erupt when I tell my daughters they can't have something because it is useless and wasteful? No. Am I looking forward to the greater good this "hardline" stance can affect? Yes.

Not to worry. I'll be sure we have plenty of fun along the way. In the meantime, I'll be carving some whalebone buttons in the shop.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Beer Stop

I rarely ever enter a beer store and march right out with a quick purchase. Some people buy the same brand of something all the time. I might always buy Colgate (if I'm too cheap for Tom's of Maine) toothpaste, for instance, but I never buy the same beer again and again.

Now, there are the old stand-bys and the brands that I frequent. But I'd guess I spend on average 5 to 15 minutes pacing back and forth in front of the glass cooler doors taking in all the possibilities. Occasionally, something will stand out due to one of a number of reasons -- type of beer, label, place of origin, quantity, price or a combination of quantity/price.

The latter attributes were stacked in my favor when I spied this dark, dappled bottle through the glass a few weeks back. With a brand name like Baltika it sounded distant and intriguing. It had an ABV that would be high on the pH scale and 51oz of this liquid set me back less than four bucks.

That bottle thrice filled my pint glass. Good thing, since the first glass was sufficient to deaden my taste buds and bring them around to my foreign experience. After that the second was startlingly palatable. The third made me believe it would matter not if I were stranded above deck on a freighter hauling timber stuck smack dab in the middle of the actual Baltic during a winter storm.

O, Baltika ... I hope to visit your shores one day, but I think I'll drink your salty brine before I quaff your namesake malt liquor ever again.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Noteworthy Quotation: Quote-Worthy Notation

"Cars are all right on occassion, but they are not moments of grace, as bicycles are."

From The Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy

I stumbled upon this quote while checking out the website of a bike touring outfitter in Vietnam. I was at work at the time and the reason I was on this website was completely work-related. However, the quote resonated with me so completely that I sat daydreaming, meditating on it for a good long while (consequently ignoring my tasks at hand). I could get neither the quote nor the images of quiet, rhythmic motion that accompanied it out of my head.

Now, at least a week later I'm still captivated. The words are so true, to me anyway. Beginning our winter with subzero nights and a few inches of snow causes me to dig deep for cycling inspiration. The thought of four seasons of graceful movement lightens and warms me.

May you all be light and warm, my two-wheeled friends.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Now Back to Some Cycling-Related Banter ...

We had a dusting of snow this morning that managed to cling to the streets deceptively well in our lower 20 degree temps. I accomplished my first slow speed wipe out of the winter season while cornering onto Xerxes Ave. As my Big Dummy was sliding away from me into the traffic lane I executed a deft leg hook and reeled it back into the shoulder next to my body. I’m sure the motorist who slowed to pass my sprawled out body and bike was laughing and/or thinking how foolish it is to ride a bike in winter. Note to self: Remember to be mindful of corners for the next few months.

I recently cleaned out my panniers. This can be a truly revelatory experience 2-3 times per year. I discovered I had been hauling around a couple dozen plastic bags of all shapes and sizes that had settled out of sight to the bottom of the packs. I never know when I’ll need one to waterproof something or cover a saddle, but I think I can get by with a half dozen at the most. It’s amazing how those shopping bags seem to breed. They multiply no matter where they congregate.

I added my emergency clothing bag – a couple of dry outer layers to don should I have a breakdown in winter. I once had to change a flat when it was 18 degrees and windy. Hopping around to generate body heat in sweat-soaked riding clothes taught me to carry some insulation along at all times. Over dressing in winter sucks while riding but the game changes when you have to make a stop.

I’ve been selling some bike bits on Ebay of late. I made a run to drop off a few parcels a couple of days ago. It didn't matter that these packages consisted of a bike frame and a wheelset. Transporting them was no problem. I marvel at the ease of loading stuff on the Big Dummy. I wonder how I’d live without this bike, yet I believe I’m far from maximizing its potential. Next year I plan to craft a couple of custom decks – one with dual kid perches and another with bungies to haul a lock and a trunk bag.

Wideloaders snapped in place and the load is ready to go. I had a little extra time so I was able to explore some dead end streets and happen upon a couple of new connector trails that saved me the hassle of riding down Excelsior Blvd. Despite the sudden snap of cold we had back in early October, things evened out and now we're experiencing a slow, steady drop into winter temps. Still, the ponds and lakes have begun to collect that micro-thin crust of ice around the edges signaling the inevitable freeze to come.

>I pulled up in front of the UPS Store and easily off loaded the goods. Riding a long bike attracts attention on its own. Every time I haul a conspicuously large load, however, I marvel at the stares and double-takes. I usually pay them no mind. If nothing else, I hope the image of me transporting large loads on a bike sticks in people's heads and makes them reconsider the viability of cycling as a mode of transportation.

Pedaling back from the UPS Store and Post Office was very pleasant. The sun was setting on rush hour. I had a pleasant tailwind and peace along the Cedar Lake bike highway. I rode the bike path alongside I-394 at Penn facing the drivers stacked in a quarter-mile long line along the ramp, stopped and waiting to merge into bumper-to-bumper traffic that was going nowhere fast toward downtown.

I try hard to understand people’s unique situations and respect them as best I can. However, at that moment I found myself unsympathetically thinking how dumb these drivers were to get in their cars, pull into an asphalt sea polluted with fumes, and languish there in sheer boredom and frustration day after day. Maybe some people actually get off on driving in rush hour traffic. But I believe most people regard it as a necessary inconvenience, nonetheless an undeniable reality. How else am I going to get to work? To the store? Get the kids to soccer practice and violin lessons? … And the list goes on.

I’m certain more than the majority of these drivers believe traffic engineers could fix these congestion problems with more lanes and bigger, better roads. (If only the money weren’t spent on bike trails ...) They think automobile transportation is a system that can be made efficient. I do not believe this.

The problem could be mine, too. Perhaps I don’t have a new enough automobile, one with sufficient amenities to coax me out of believing every time I drive I’m dying behind the wheel – passively, sitting still -- one red light, stop sign and traffic snarl at a time.

My commute’s been wearing on me this year. It’s finally hitting home that 16 miles is a long way to ride to work. But when I let my laziness set in I encounter a significant conundrum – even if I could justify buying another car financially (which would allow me to drive whenever I wanted), I would still be left with this ideological chasm: I simply don’t believe I could let myself become a habitual driver again. I think I’d quit my job and find some way to make a living closer to home before I would get another car.

Yep, it’s probably just my problem. However, I am convinced that I, and so many others like me who use their bikes every day to get places, have struck upon one fantastic component of the solution.

The Knife-like Edge of Karma

So, I bought three Swiss Army knives on Ebay for $11.50. They arrived today. The seller did not specify the knives were TSA forfeitures or otherwise confiscated, but I should have guessed. All look to have been carried a while and used occasionally. The one I really wanted in the lot has a name engraved on the handle.

Now I suppose this isn't like boxer shorts or lingerie. Swiss Army knives are tools. Like most tools, performance depends on the care devoted by the owner and can be refined by others afterward. Unlike good shoes or Brooks saddles, Swiss Army knives do not break in to conform to one's anatomy. Rather tools, being made of steel, can be reshaped and revived.

Thank goodness for the former owner of this knife. Brian Connolly, I have the Swiss Army knife that was once your property before it was confiscated somewhere along the way. If by some weird stroke of Zeus you read my blog, let me know.

But first, let me ask you a couple of questions, Brian. Did you think it was okay to attempt to cut, repeatedly, beer cans or some other metal with this knife? Whoa, 'cause you sure mangled the edge. And the small pen knife blade ... did you not notice there was a thin screwdriver already built into the knife? Because you tweaked the blade pretty good using it like so many morons before you have done with knives -- misappropriating them as mini screwdrivers.

In short, Brian, you can't have your once knife back. You don't deserve it. It appears the TSA or the police rescued this knife from you, the same way they rescued knives from other simpletons who don't know an edge from The Edge. Your blade has a better home where it will be much more at hone. Deal with it.

Good night, forfeitors, wherever you are.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Swiss Litigation

Swiss Army that is. And if I were in the upper mucky-muck of Swiss Army Brands Ltd I'd be a little pissed at the latter 20th century Keystone Cops -- the TSA, or Transportation Safety Administration -- for cutting into sales. You know that event that changed our country forever ('9/11'), well it made possible the careers of all these folks charged with protecting us from ourselves ... err, and the unforeseen threats of terrorism too, I guess.

I fly a lot these days. Usually it is out of MSP International, our local airport. Earlier this year a friend recalled an overheard conversation at our airport between two folks in TSA uniforms who were off duty. The jist of it was one quote: "If only people knew how much of what we do is just for show." Well the GAO has apparently picked up on that theatricality. You see, the TSA has spent money like crazy since its inception but to little or no avail. The article I recently read cited none of the fancy new security systems they'd been developing ever went into service.

During one heavy travel period this year I flew out twice within two weeks. I showed up, checked in and made my way through the cattle chute known as 'Security.' Nearing the scanner conveyor I slipped off my shoes and overheard a TSA member barking at other passengers, "Shoes on the conveyor, people. Your shoes must be directly on the conveyor!" He backed this up by marching up and down a couple of lines and yanking folks' shoes out of bins and slamming them onto the conveyor. Point conveyed. Terrorists get craftier by the day, y'know. Who are we to question?

Two weeks later I went through the same line at the same airport and it was business as usual -- shoes in the bin -- no muss, no fuss. I asked around, "Do we need to put the shoes directly on the conveyor?" Nobody knew what the hell I was talking about. Security measures perhaps. Just some prick two weeks earlier fucking with everyone for the hell of it more like it.

So what are these people, this governmental organization, doing anyway?

Well, they're confiscating shit left and right. You see it when you fly and I do too. There's the 2 oz rule and the ziploc baggy rule and the laptop rule and the bottles of Evian and Gatorade swiped from folks just trying to hydrate or die. And there are the pocket knives (not to mention nail clippers). I'm talking about small pocket knives, keychain knives etc. The kind that are little longer than a key itself and of little consequence in the hands of anyone except Chuck Norris. Funny, I don't believe the TSA has started checking for sharpened keys because you could do just as much harm to someone aboard an airplane with a filed key as you could most of these knives.

However, there's no arguing the rules with someone in an airport who has been beknighted with the authority to tase and subdue your ass. In fact, in the "new reality" you'd be well advised to avoid dissecting semantics or literality with anyone employed in an airport. I once got charged the bike fee -- the fee for an oversized bag which encases a partially disassembled bike frame (a large bag indeed) -- for a regulation luggage size bag which I had foolishly revealed to the agent contained a bike (a break-apart bike). I gave an honest answer to an honest question, but she got stuck on that word 'bicycle' and the rest is $150 worth of history.

I have a 20-year-old Swiss Army knife which has been carried daily in my pocket for that duration, on countless backpacking trips, climbing adventures and everywhere I've been in between. It's gotten me out of many a jam and saved a plethora of wine drinkers by the by (it's the magical corkscrew everyone forgets to carry). I have been fortunate enough to avoid confiscation by remembering to place it in my checked bag. It's missing a handle (I glued both back on twice) and the blades are thinner now from dozens of honings. I've entertained getting a replacement more than once over the past few years.

Recently it came to my attention I should check Ebay for Swiss Army knives. I don't shop Ebay much, but I've bought and sold tons of bike stuff on Ebay. Occasionally you can find a really screaming deal if you're savvy. I discovered one needs little savvy to get good deals on Swiss Army knives, however. Just log on, search and it won't take long to discover some conspicuously low-priced auctions and buy-it-now deals on all models of Swiss knives.

The best deals to be had? Well, I discovered the sellers have little remorse admitting in plain print in their listings that these knives they're selling (most often in lots of 3, 5, 10 or more) are TSA 'forfeiture' or confiscated knives. Dozens of sellers on Ebay in locations all around the US are selling these knives for next to nothing compared to retail. And because most people have no clue how to sharpen knives, most of those being sold might as well be new except for scuffs on the handles and blades from being carried in pockets and bags.

So the next time you forget to clean your pockets before airport security and that innocent pen knife you carry every day gets lifted by the TSA with no chance of retrieving it, you might want to check Ebay. If you don't find your exact knife I guarantee you'll find a deal that will most likely wipe your remorse away.

Perhaps someday the TSA will be held accountable for giving away the personal property of millions of citizens it is supposed to be protecting. And those citizens making a few bucks off those of us ignorant enough to attempt to carry a pocket knife onto a plane? Well, you might want to get your good deal and then rip 'em a new one with negative feedback.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Shop of Bikes

Old school/New school. Nearly 30 years difference in age and design development but the same basic principle. I can tell you, though -- they behave nothing like one another in practice. Still, both are sculptures of metallic beauty. (Either could be yours soon on Ebay.)

A photo of the bike shop. For those who follow my blog and have kept up with all I've done in the garage/woodshop, it is apparent I need to spend some time imparting such order to the basement. I've bought tubes, chains, bottom brackets and not soon afterward discovered I had the part I needed hidden in a box I had yet to unpack. Argh. That is one of my first generation woodshop benches now functioning as my main bike bench -- built in 1999 and since modified slightly with a pegboard back and extra shelf.

There is decent head clearance in the basement but it is far from ideal. (Our basement was originally earthen -- like most Midwestern basements -- dug 6-8" deeper than it is now that a concrete floor has been added.) However, it makes a good space for bikes and maintains an even temperature throughout the winter. That's a plus when it's ten below and the garage is basically off limits. (I still can't get the Big Dummy down here for maintenance however.) Incidentally the small box to the left of the bench is our boiler, followed just beyond by the water heater. You tend to warm up quickly if you're sawing a headtube or leaning against the pipes drinking a beer. By the way, the floor joists are all true 1" by 12" lumber and have shrunk little over the years. Funny to own a home that allows you to get why we use those now arbitrary numbers to call out lumber dimensions.

Tools organized, degreaser and beer at hand. Some might argue no further organization need be accomplished. Yes, Houts, that's the 'Cow misses Patch' photo to the left of the bench, stuck into the 9 x 9" solid column (the main center beam of the house is basically the same dimension, nearly 50 ft long, but only two pieces of wood). I still hang that photo in every shop I establish and I always think of you ... well, and Cow.

Goodnight, folks.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Garage With a View

"Oh, hi. How's it going?"
"Great. That's good to hear. Yeah ... thanks for stopping by."
"Where have I been? Oh, I dunno. Around ... you know how it goes."
"Yep, thought so."

I'm gonna ease back into this thing, the blog that is, with some miscellaneous and sundry updates. Nothing very earth shattering has gone down. I wasn't in the hospital with swine flu or locked up in detox. Just kickin' it with friends and family y'know. Fall is a time for revelry and irreverence. Plenty of both going on and, well, maybe they've just sapped my energy for writing. Personally, I blame Vegas, but that's just me.

Since we moved into this house in July 2008, I have been on a mission to create the perfect woodshop space in half of our two-car garage -- all 217.5 square feet of it. I think I've mentioned this before. In fact, I know I have. You'll just have to bear with me, I guess.

Woodworking is no new hobby of mine; I grew up tinkering with wood. My Dad was a carpenter who in his spare time built reproduction muzzleloading rifles and period accoutrement patterned after 18th century designs. Later he restored furniture and built a number of fine pieces himself. I suppose I inherited from him no sums of money or fancy possessions, but I did gain a love for working with my hands. For that I'd barter not even a king's ransom.

I can't shake it. At times I feel it is the thing that drives me most passionately. I've had a string of "professional" jobs that I've been fortunate to love in one way or another. I think he would be proud. What blue collar parent isn't happy their kids are working with their minds and not their hands, after all?

My jobs have tied me to the outdoors and allowed me to peddle in things I pedal -- bikes now, but previously canoes and kayaks, climbing and backpacking gear. It's not like I'm a guide or something -- living in dirtbag glamor out of the back of an oxidizing Land Rover, gracing the glossy recycled pages of a Patagonia catalog. I sell stuff. It's fun stuff, stuff that isn't going to overdose people or rot them from the inside as they sit glued to electronic gadgets and LCD flat panel screens. For that I am thankful. But, still, I sell stuff. I make my living in front of a computer screen writing emails, compiling reports, laying out processes, policies, plans and documents. I am a cog in the capitalist machine and we all know what oils the gears of that machine. (Kinda tough when you also carry Marxist tendencies in your heart.)

Anyway, I think I was talking about my garage and maybe leading up to what it means to me. Members of the fairer reproductive set (no, not the Kennedy clan) can say things like "man cave" or "man space" but I believe that belittles the deeper implications of what my garage shop means to me. I want to throw out two caveats: 1) I've spilt plenty of beer in said garage with my guy friends telling stupid guy jokes and whatnot, and 2) I admit I fully grasp that what I am about to describe will mean nothing to some people. I don't get you people, but I am trying to become more tolerant and open to those who care little about systems and order -- those who think "work triangle" means gossiping in the office about a certain office mate, not achieving the most efficient use of a limited space that supports a subset of highly repetitive tasks.

This is the fourth woodwork-specific shop space I have designed. My first was on the back porch of a tiny rental house my first wife and I occupied from 1997-1999. My Dad came into town for a weekend and we bought the lumber and materials to frame, deck and wire the 6 by 12 foot concrete porch within the span of 2 days. Most of my experience working alongside my father had been while I was younger. He'd explained things like roof pitch and how to mark it out with a framing square. As a kid, that stuff would go in one ear and out the other. But that weekend I absorbed volumes. It was to be the last time he and I would work so closely together, ever. I've since thought back to that experience and wished I had a dozen more tutorials like it. But I won't. Even though I went on to study calculus, probability theory, differential equations, statics, dynamics and physics I never grasped the proficiency with which my Dad and his peers were able to perform such "simple" math on the fly at a jobsite.

I grew into that first tiny shop and my skills grew some too. My next space was the basement of a large rental house. I had so much room but still too little experience. My father-in-law lent me a bandsaw and a jointer and I had no idea how to use them or maintain them. I was still of the belief that power tools weren't supposed to need adjustment from the factory or occasional sharpening and tuning. He gave me a decent set of bench chisels and I sharpened them all wrong. I bought my first plane and set it on a shelf when all I did with it was butcher wood marginally better than hacking through it with my poorly honed chisels. I was spoiled though with space. It was pretty nice while it lasted.

Things went on hiatus as we moved into and then out of a small house from 2000-2001. I packed everything up and mothballed it in my mother-in-law's greenhouse. When I moved to Minnesota in 2002 I sold to friends the tools that were too big to carry (tablesaw, router table, miter saw) and kept the rest in boxes. Except for occasionally breaking out the cordless drill or saw, most of my stuff didn't see the light of day again until July 2008 when I began moving into this garage.

That is where our story resumes. (Lucky for you, I'll stagger your monotony with some photos!)

Previously, my workspace had three sources of light: 1) A generous assortment of fluorescent worklights. Nice if you need them but far from ideal on their own. 2) A garage door on the west wall. A beautiful option for nice days but less than adequate for cold or rainy weather and what if you want to fire up the table saw at 10p.m. on a summer's night? 3) A small 2X2 window pane on an anchored door (I don't even have a key if I wanted to remove the 3" drywall screws holding it closed) on the southeast wall. I'd been daydreaming of windows and skylights and anything else that could bring some real sunlight streaming into the shop since I began outfitting it over a year ago. With the basic space allocation finalized this summer I knew where I needed to place a natural light source. I built my final bench and shelves in anticipation of popping a window smack in the center of the east wall.

Here's the interior view of the east wall with the bench moved away. Dark, eh?

And here is the exterior view of the same wall. A lot of bland siding. This is also the view from the kitchen at the back of the house. (Some dark gray touch-ups indicate where I had to patch holes from pesky woodpeckers attacking the garage. Placing a suet feeder out there was the instant remedy for that problem.)

Making progress with new king studs, jack studs and sills in place. After measuring once, twice, three times ... hell, I think I measured nearly a dozen times because there was no going back from the next step -- cutting the hole all the way through. One website I'd consulted referred to it as "violating the building envelope." Yes, that is a descriptive phrase.

Once you're sure of the whole deal, grabbing the reciprocating saw and plunging it through the masonite is a cool feeling. I was even more pleased because our annoying neighbors who like to argue and play loud music at all hours of the night were hanging out on their back porch the entire time. Perhaps the next window will be installed on a full moon at midnight just for effect.

Marking the rough opening to square it up with the circular saw. Compared to cabinetry doing something where a sixteenth or even an eighth of an inch mattered little was fun.

Here's the trimmed, finished product complete with bird feeder. The new window is nice. I find myself spending some time staring out of it at different times of the day. Most mornings, as I'm loading my bike, I take a few minutes to walk over and see the birds going nuts at the feeder while I notice where the light illuminates previously dark recesses of my shop. I sink away in my mind to imagine a time when the projects of the future -- the moments that will be spent there with perfect golden sunlight guiding my pencil to mark boards or position material to make a cut -- are all that will occupy my mind.

I also think about how the proficiency to install the window, simple as it is, would not have been possible without my Dad. Years ago when we'd built my back porch shop we didn't quite finish it that weekend. I distinctly recall some of those final tasks seemed extremely daunting to me. I called him to ask for advice and instruction. In one of the clearest moments of wisdom I ever recall my father displaying, he calmly told me, "You know all you need to know. You can do it."

The window, and the shop, mean something intangible to me. Those who get it, get it, perhaps. But I'll keep thinking and keep writing in hopes of better realizing it for myself.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I'm gonna rip off Pinch Flat News courtesy of friend Paul. (Thanks, Pinchie, in advance. That reminds me, I should add a link to yer shot on my blig.)

I'm gonna rip off this quote only because of Paul. Otherwise, I'd have never known it was there. He sends me emails at work, but his are some of the emails from friends and co-workers alike I never mind receiving at work. Even though they are hardly ever related to work. Let's face it -- who ONLY wants to get work related emails at work? But, then again, some of those non-work related ones are worse than the "Does anyone have a safety pin?" missives sent en masse to 400 co-workers. (Yeah, guy ... at least 379 of 400 co-workers have a safety pin or know where one can be found. Try asking a minimum of two people before you disrupt the whole company next time.)

Back to the rip off ...

I've never read any Carl Sagan. In fact, I owe all I know of the guy to a comedy skit by Robin Williams overheard many years ago ('cause I was young and probably should have been asleep instead of listening to it). In short, I know nothing. But this quote makes me want to learn more: "Some people think God is an outsized, light-skinned male with a long white beard, sitting on a throne somewhere up there in the sky, busily tallying the fall of every sparrow. Others — for example Baruch Spinoza and Albert Einstein — considered God to be essentially the sum total of the physical laws which describe the universe. I do not know of any compelling evidence for anthropomorphic patriarchs controlling human destiny from some hidden celestial vantage point, but it would be madness to deny the existence of physical laws."

Holy Jehoshaphat, that's rich! I say that because Sagan's quote is within me. Despite an upbringing that leaned heavily toward christian fundamentalism, as a young man (perhaps about the same time I was eavesdropping Robin Williams' uncensored comedy) I began to think how preposterous an uber-man-shaped-god concept sat within the confines of a ripe intellect. Throughout my adult years I've sought solace in eastern philosophies which (although too readily generalized and mislabeled by many westerners as pantheistic and denigrated as 'pagan') are perfectly comfortable with the notion of energy as god-like force, and humans as a self-contained, fully realized vessels that direct said energy.

I had no intention of going anywhere with this entry. The sole purpose was to circulate this quote in a form much more graceful than a preachy junk forward email. I get enough of those from my family. Fortunately, you can just click away from my blog.

Me? Well, I rarely check that email account anyway.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Eating the Nuts, Saving the Raisins for Sunday

Winter's coming and don't we know it in the Upper Midwest. We got our first snow Saturday morning. That was followed last night and this morning with a steady blanket of wet, slushy pellets that accumulated a couple of inches on the grass and in the trees. The pavement was mostly wet melt. It would have been just like riding in the rain except for tree branches lining the path regularly dumping their heavy loads on unsuspecting riders passing beneath. Oh, and the wind-driven ice projectiles pelting my face incessantly. Don't get me wrong -- the experience, as early season snow usually is, was quite beautiful. But it's only mid-October. I'm not ready for this stuff yet.

If someone had walked up to me in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, while I was sweating my way through the oven-dry heat of midday in the desert, and told me I'd be commuting through snow in exactly two weeks I'd have thought they were loony. But, then again, I never would have believed I'd walk off and leave my digital camera on a bench either. (It's a shame, because I missed a lot of great photo ops this morning.)

Softness and whining aside, I have begun to tap into my favorite thing about off-season commuting in MN -- the solitude. All of a sudden I have the bike trails to myself and I kinda like that. I no longer have to play nice with blissed out wanderers, chatty path-hogging walkers, overzealous and impatient skiers on wheels, tight-dudded weekend warriors or canines guiding their retractable human yo-yos. The few cyclists I do pass seem to have the same idea. We mutter a short 'Hey', or perhaps nod silently and roll on.

Of course, the seasonal change affects other areas of life. "Shop season" is over. I say this because my tools and workspace are housed within an unheated garage. That's probably best since I tend to hurl myself toward projects like a brakeless train, working into the wee hours of the morning and beginning my "real" work week more tired than I went into the weekend of supposed time off.

I was able to complete my last project -- a set of sawhorses. I did the old hem and haw for months before settling on a design and getting down to work. I could have knocked out a set in a day with simply a Skilsaw and some drywall screws. But of course I didn't go that route. Instead, I resawed and handplaned the hell out of some 2X6's from Home Depot in order to create a slightly more elegant set of horses that are held together with pegged mortise and tenon joints.

Given a plunge into the freezing temps, I decided to haul the project into the house for the glue to cure overnight. As you can see, the kids enjoyed that. They seem to have no problem making light of Dad's hard work.

Perhaps I could learn a thing or two. After all, there's no stopping winter from coming.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Friendly Cycling P.S.A. (Rerun from last season)

Darkness is upon us, friends. It seems like just yesterday we had twilight until 10pm. Now it's dark by 8 and the days are shortening as I type. It's getting chilly. Returning from Las Vegas I plunged my body from a week in the 90s(F) to the 50s in a matter of hours. Instant autumn. Man, that was fast.

Leaving work last night I opted to blink my front and rear lights all the way home. That still did not prevent two trucks facing opposite directions at the same intersection from pulling directly in front of me. I have enough experience to anticipate these things and simply braked hard to avoid any real danger. All I was left to do was give the 'attaboy' wave and shake my head. Ignorant drivers.

Tonight I opted for an extra spoke light to increase my side visibility. That was the theory anyway. Halfway home a vehicle gunned it to cross four lanes of busy traffic. I was on the main road crossing the lane the car was destined to end up in. I watched the timing and grabbed the brakes at the last moment. So did the driver who was already 3 feet from hitting me. I slowly rolled in front of the Lexus SUV and stopped completely. Peering through the windshield I spied a woman, cell phone pressed to her ear, staring back at me with an expression that read: "What the hell are you doing in my way?" I shouted "What the hell?" and making the finger phone with my thumb and pinky motioned a quick hang-up gesture. I then rolled slowly away and said, "Hang up your phone and learn how to fucking drive!" Without missing a beat, she deftly stretched her left arm out the window and unfurled a boney, bejewelled middle finger at me as she drove off.

I guess indignance is the fallback reaction when someone calls out your shit. Funny though, it's a bit different than cutting in front of someone at Starbuck's. She broke the traffic laws and almost ran me down. Would a simple 'sorry' have been too much to muster?

Drivers in general are negligent enough with regard to non-motorized traffic. But the more I bike the more I support a law that prohibits cell phone use while driving. Furthermore, why not instate the death penalty for drivers stupid enough to text message while operating a moving vehicle?

So folks, one message: BE SEEN. If you think one little LED front and back is enough, it's not. Be seen. Lights are cheap. The batteries last a long time. Wear some bright clothing. Put reflective tape all over your fenders, rack, frame, helmet. Dork out. Ride naked with your body painted dayglo orange. Do anything to BE SEEN.

That goes for you two-wheeled yahoos who take the ninja approach to cycling not only the streets, but the very dark, tree-lined bike paths after sundown. Personally speaking, I'd rather have a dozen close calls with cars in one night than one run-in with you dim-witted fools. You're idiots. Why? Here's why: It's not just your safety you need to worry about, jackass. I'm not a violent person, but if you crash into me or I clip you because you're cruising in stealth mode I'm gonna get up off the ground and attempt to enlighten you with fists of compassion.

I reiterate: Lights are cheap. The batteries last a long time. Wear some bright clothing. Put reflective tape all over your fenders, racks, frames, helmet. Dork out. Ride naked with your body painted dayglo orange. Do anything to BE SEEN.

Good night.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Stranded in Vegas

"Vague-ass." "Lost Wages." I'm weathering the last day here coming off Interbike. Call it by any name you want but I don't like this place. Never have.

I got out of the hotel and past the casinos today. Work was finished and I had time to kill, so I went for a long walk. It was really hot but so dry that it felt pleasant. I thought to myself, "I'm gonna find something to enjoy about this final day in Vegas."

I found a local Korean restaurant where I ate my favorite dish. It was delicious. Afterward I wandered down some more sidewalks, empty except for locals, littered club brochures and homeless destitutes. I circled the block past second-tier casinos still trying to live in a heyday of yore. I kept walking, back toward the Strip, revelling in the heat, learning that even the shade of a utility pole can deliver respite from the baking midday sun.

I climbed stairs instead of using escalators. I studied the blown litter and broken glass in vacant lots awaiting new condos, shopping malls and casinos. Perhaps the economy will one day allow "progress" to continue. I quickly learned that perpendicular diversions from the Strip can grant one a bit of solace away from the noise and bustle, to places free from drunken frat boys as well as young and old women alike trying in vain to impress someone whose tastes I'll never comprehend. I thought to myself, "Maybe I've found something in Vegas to enjoy. This is not so bad after all." I was pensive about adopting this conclusion, but I marched on somewhat encouraged.

I walked to Caesar's Palace because last year I found the only spot on the Strip designed for stopping and sitting a while -- absolutely free of charge. It's a small Hindu shrine to Brahma, a modest yet brilliant oasis of genuine spirituality amidst a desert run amok, heeding a quasi-religious doctrine of empty consumption. The shrine's surrounding air is scented with sweet incense instead of fake floral casino stench. I sat and studied passersby. I photographed a few groups who shuffled through to inspect this cultural curiosity in all its preposterousness. Mostly it appeared to represent another quaint photo stop along the way.

The sweat on my back quickly evaporated. Deciding it was time to move on, I shouldered my bag and went off into the crowds again, past cooler toting street vendors offering "ice cold water ... one dollar!" I paced onward, smugly sipping the now warm tap water from my stainless flask and shirking off the cards thrust at me by men whose t-shirts promised girls in just 20 minutes. After all, I had found my Vegas and it was so far above all of this.

Quite by chance I arrived in front of the Bellagio at the stroke of 4pm. The fountain show was beginning. I had never seen it before. Music cued and the jets of water shot choreographed patterns of water-dance across the previously placid pond. Camera shutters clicked around me. I, like all the others, felt this to be a picture worthy stop. Reaching for my own camera I noticed it was not where it was supposed to be. I had little time to panic because I knew right away what had happened. Oh shit, oh shit! I'd set it beside my bag while shooting photos at the shrine. Then I got up, shouldered my bag without looking down and marched away. I left the camera, neatly in its case, in open sight on the step.

I ran back to Caesar's, but five, maybe seven, minutes had passed. My lovely new Canon was gone.

In my Vegas I'd found the one spot I could sit and enjoy absolutely free of charge. Ironically, one could say that slice of peace cost me an offering of $250.

Damn, I despise this town.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Japan is a fascinating place. I spent a week and a half there at the end of July. It was my second trip and was much more enjoyable than the first time. If you've never been to Japan, expect to be incredibly confused and disoriented the first time you go. On this second go-round I was able to fall back on much that I'd learned and observed last year. I could relax and take in more of the culture.

One of the things I find interesting, even shocking at times, is the Japanese affinity for American English slogans. I might not be able to read signs or advertisements while I'm there, but cruising the streets I would constantly spot t-shirts, posters, etc. with English phrases. Some were borderline offensive. I thought that funny in a way considering the conservative demeanor and lack of flamboyance exhibited by most Japanese. But when you realize most passersby can't read the phrases, it's bizarrely humorous to a native English speaker. Even if some Japanese folks can read the words, many of these phrases are so obscured with slang and profanity that it would be difficult to make a direct translation.

Here are a few fun sightings from Japan:

Tommy Lee Jones is BOSS. At least he's the posterchild for BOSS beverages. Kinda reminded me of Bill Murray from Lost in Translation. Similar wrinkled crusty old guy persona.

This is a crappy photo of a poster in the Kaze messenger headquarters in Kyoto. Who knew drunk cyclists had their own tarot?

I saw this gem in a respectable tea shop in Nagoya. Just a place where friends meet for a quiet beverage and some chit-chat. This poster was displayed front and center behind the counter.

Okay, I was once told by a friend that Japan is the land where they perfected the plastic fake food used in restaurant display windows to give you an idea what a dish looks like. I chose this one thinking the white squigglies beneath the tiny shrimp were noodles. Look closer. The noodles have eyes. Yes, I ate it. And it was, like all the food I've eaten in Japan, damn good.
I'm off to Germany for Eurobike. Be well, friends.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wow: Bike Parents Challenged Part II

My last post has elicited many responses. I appreciate them all. My longtime friend and lost-soul-brother-at-birth, Brother Houts, just emailed me a link to a most disturbing story extracted from reports of an incident in Asheville, NC involving someone who chose to use a gun to show his disapproval of a parent hauling his kid aboard a bike.

"You're endangering your child, so I'm going to attempt to kill you." That's sound logic.

The moral of the story, I guess it could always be worse.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Meddling with Pedaling

Quite often April and I are approached by friends, acquaintances and occasionally strangers who are impressed with what we do to integrate cycling into our family's lifestyle. The truth is we're copying a trend set by others across the country and around the world. We are far from original or ingenious. We supply some gumption and will power, but otherwise there are countless people who've actually developed concepts and designed products that make it possible. We're far from radical. We own a car and April uses it plenty to shuttle kids around during the week. Even though I am able to commute daily by bike, we try to offset the family's regular car reliance by keeping it parked as much as possible on weekends and days off.

I sometimes think about detractors, the people who aren't fans, don't agree and like to make sure someone hears them. You know the types -- they're quick to condemn an action as irresponsible or dangerous based on a narrow subset of rigid criteria programmed into the collective psyche of the status quo. We all suffer from judgmental tendencies. I firmly believe it's human nature to bolster status and shore up ego by criticizing, evaluating, judging, then labeling good/bad, right/wrong. As far as cycling goes, there are enough people who think and actually go so far as to decry the simple act of solo bike commuting on roads as foolish and flagrantly fatalistic. If one chooses to pull young children along on such 'irresponsible forays' the likelihood for negative criticism increases greatly. It only stands to reason.

Quite remarkably, we hadn't experienced any overtly negative feedback until yesterday. Unexpectedly, it came in the form of a safety lecture (replete with citings of supportive interweb research) from none other than some friends of April's. The background info is innocent enough. They dropped their daughter off in the morning for a play date. April wanted to visit the farmer's market to pick up some food for the week -- a normal weekend activity. The market is only three-quarters of a mile away along quiet roads. Since we had an extra kid with us, I surmised we could carry two on the back of the Dummy and one in the kid seat on April's bike. That would make it a quick, efficient trip.

Our young visitor had never ridden a Big Dummy, but Sylvia is a pro by this point. Her enthusiasm was beneficial -- there wasn't the slightest hesitation from her friend. We had an extra kid helmet, so we buckled lids on everyone and slowly rolled away from the garage. Our new passenger wasn't freaked out in the least; she was already telling Sylvia that next time she wanted to sit in front and hold on to the handlebars. A few minutes later we rolled up and parked the bikes on the curb outside the market. The kids were beaming. I get excited when kids have fun on a bike ride. It's just how I'm wired.

We did our browsing, got a snack and eventually met up with our guest's dad to make the hand off. In hindsight I knew it was coming -- a seemingly benign question at first: "How did you get everyone down here?" April immediately piped up that we'd brought the two bigger girls on the Big Dummy. "What's a Big Dummy?" It's a cargo bike. "Does it have a box enclosure?" No, it has a flat deck and handlebars. "So ... the kids aren't strapped in?" No. All right, enough Minnesota passive-aggressive questioning; I could see through it like worn out lycra shorts. We were ready to leave anyway, so we walked over to the bikes and showed him.

He tried to act interested in the concept but it was all too obvious he was mortified. I could see it unfolding in his body language, but I like to watch people squirm if they can't muster the chutzpah to say how they actually feel. April accentuated the fact we'd properly fitted his daughter with a helmet and ridden extra slow to be sure she was comfortable. We talked about how Sylvia rides the bike all the time and how I've even carted the whole family around on it. It's stable, safe and easily hauls a lot of weight.

Sadly, I realized that in his eyes my lowly cargo bike was missing a few things to pass muster as a "safe vehicle" for transporting a child -- namely a roll cage and CPSC-certified kid harnesses -- go a little further and add anti-lock brakes, a metal skin and an internal combustion engine. Both April and I had a hunch the case was far from closed as we bid them farewell. Sure enough April got a call from the girl's mom later that night.

I want to offer a caveat upfront: At play is a divergence of parenting styles. While I may have some strong opinions, I am not in the business of saying one is better than the other. However, it is clear some other people make it their business to do so.

I will state a fact: Our style seems to be working rather well. We have vibrant, healthy kids whom we have never injured in anyway while cycling, camping, canoeing, hiking or doing any of the stuff we love to do outdoors (and started doing with them practically from birth). Instead, we are beginning to notice our kids are well-adjusted to weather, bugs and the elements. They play outside four seasons of the year. They are both quite adventurous as well. Far from reckless though, they are connecting the dots between the physical laws of cause and effect in terms they can grasp. We don't hand them forks to shove into light sockets, but we don't bemoan the opportunities they take to leap off an object without first bending legs to land the jump. They learn -- it's a rather linear process. Neither of them would get the slightest lecture on physics if I attempted to deliver one, but they can learn tons in the experiential classroom of playgrounds, backyards and forests.

Now, I say all of this not as a self-indulgent digression. I say it because the comments from our parental counterparts warrant it. The mom on the other line could simply have said, "We'd prefer you not take our daughter out on bike rides." Churlish perhaps, considering we are a family of skilled cyclists who have a positive track record of safe family cycling. But at least that would have been to the point and would have asserted a personal choice. Fair enough. I believe in honoring friends' wishes.

However, they chose to surpass that and launch into the realm of condemning our actions and choices as substandard and unsafe. Here are a few paraphrases: "I think you'll find you guys are pretty far out in your choices" was one comment. We started riding with our kids in a Burley trailer way too young, according to their sources. And, "Research shows that kids shouldn't ride on those 'things' until they're thirteen." Wow, really? I plan on kicking my kids off the Big Dummy well before that age. They can pedal their own bikes.

I can be rather self righteous at times. Especially when it comes to topics like people taking steps toward deconstructing the culture of the automobile. April will tell you I all too easily slide out the soap box and climb aboard. But I genuinely try to follow the philosophy of 'live and let live.' As such, I generally have a disdain for self righteousness united with proselytizing. If you don't like what I do but it ain't hurting you, then why are you blowing wind at me?

I don't really know these particular friends but I've weathered secondhand comments from them that have occasionally chafed me -- offhand, judgmental comments concerning everything from kids' diets to car seats and lead paint. Add "unsafe cycling" to the list and a critical mass was achieved. I was reminded of another bit of practical wisdom I try to live by: If you don't know someone, have never really had a conversation with them, forged a friendship or had a glimpse of what makes them tick, then chances are your misplaced criticisms are not well-balanced, nor are they welcome.

Is this simply a personal rant or can it have some relevance to others reading? It can have some relevance. If you think you'd like to have kids or are a new parent, let me share a lesson I've been slow to learn, but one I believe is a timeless maxim of parenting: If you choose to have kids, be forewarned there's a chartered bus load of people waiting in line to offer comments on everything you're doing wrong. Sometimes those comments might hold water; if so, act on them. Some people just like to stick their noses in odd places, so most of the time it's fine to smile and nod and say 'Thank you ... buh-bye." A few occasions may actually warrant a stern reminder that someone is out of line and might want to politely fuck off.

Furthermore, I like to expose such off-base comments as attempts to vilify cycling. Cycling has been condemned, implicitly and explicitly, by many for countless reasons but one that is cited wide and far is a blanket indictment: Cycling is not safe. Hooey. Do you really know safe? Are we talking absolute safety -- a mythical state that government agencies strive toward, one where nothing bad happens to anyone and stat counters remain at 0? Do some people really hold the belief that even if you're living the most mind-numbingly bland existence, practicing all the agency-endorsed safety tips you can print out on a daily checklist, that nothing bad will happen to you?

By the way, if you'd care to condemn biking have you bothered to check any stats for automobile deaths lately? Can I find safe at the end of the "Toward Zero Deaths" corridors I see posted along Minnesota's highways?

I won't sit back and be told that transporting my family by bike is unsafe or irresponsible. Beyond practical evidence, I'll argue safety is an illusion, like comfort and security. I see great merit in learning to develop a proper relationship with similar conditionalities, not make oneself a slave by attempting to construct them as concrete states of being. Mostly though I'm disconcerted by this: Everytime someone bashes cycling as dangerous or risky, worried people everywhere (which is the majority of our society, especially parents it seems) are shaking their heads and agreeing, thereby further narrowing any portal of expanded vision, quietly massacring another chance to see solutions, possibilities and sustainable ways of doing things differently.

I don't admire scared people. I simply don't see the world in the same way. I believe skill and resourcefulness are more powerful than flimsy insurance policies and empty precautions. I don't carry sanitizing gel to the playground, but I pack a first aid kit on my bike and I know how to use it. We let our kids occasionally eat candy and potato chips. But we don't let them play with lead paint chips. We don't cloister our kids at home because we believe the benefit of interaction with other humans and the value of seeing their parents in a wide array of social situations will make them adaptable and resilient. We trust the mores of our friends and caregivers and regard their lessons as valuable additions to the sets of guidelines we are working to instill within the girls.

Do we make mistakes, exercise poor judgment or occasionally just screw some things up? Hell yeah. But raising our kids in, on and around bikes is one thing I will never apologize for.

My heart genuinely aches when I imagine children held back, not allowed to experience a gateway to the lifelong joys of self-reliance, resourcefulness and practicality that is cycling.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


What an awesome weekend. Perhaps it was the perfect weekend. I am not one to brag on weekends usually, but I feel compelled to recap what made this the ideal end to and start of a new week.

First I'll backtrack to Thursday. My friend Sara was in town. We rode around. There a few simple pleasures better than just riding around -- the rare moments when one has nowhere to be and no time required to get there. I have too little time to just get on my bike and ride around, so I welcomed an excuse to do just that.

We made the rounds and ended up at Shockspital. I got to peruse B Rose's new digs. Business was hopping. It was good to see.

We cruised Cedar Lake, hit a little urban singletrack, stopped for a beer, then picked up some food and headed home to grill dinner and see the rest of the family.

Sylvia set up an impromptu bike repair service in the backyard while Sara pushed Willa around. Sylvia can dream up all sorts of games and she's very good a roping grown-ups into playing along. She's even convinced Dad to occasionally play Candyland.

Super Bridge Club happened Saturday. It was super indeed and major thanks to Brother Nick and friends for pulling it off. Conceived as a celebration of the recreational opportunities provided by the myriad bridges we have around the city, the route took us on many paths and trails I've never seen. That's what I love about these rides -- I always learn new places to go on a bike that are off the usual paved trails and lanes. Oh yeah, I suppose drinking beer with friends is kind of fun too.

Some of the heavy hitters made a trip into town just for the event. Chewey Moffit frames the Grain Belt sign nicely just after the start of the ride.

Andy is double-fisting it. He's so pumped he's got two drinks in one hand. Okay, no white Russians -- rather these were baby formula.

After all, Garnet had to have something to feed Max on the curb in front of Lee's. Mpls cycling: Classy to the core.

As a father myself, I have no problem indulging the baby photos. Props to Andy and Garnet for towing the Burley to the first stop. Max was having a blast.

I simply call this one 'kids and sunglasses.' If you're a parent you know all too well your shades, cheap or spendy, stand no chance when you're holding a kid.

Our group crossed the bridge at 394 and Penn. I ride this a few nights per week and always enjoy pedaling home facing traffic at rush hour. I smile as I whiz by the drivers stuck in stop and go traffic trying deperately to merge onto 94 into the city.

Dominating the Midtown. At this point our ride was 64 thirsty riders strong. And had only verifiably pissed off one trail user.

Aww, aren't they a happy pair? We were all happy since by the time we made it to the Bryant Ave ped bridge, Nick showed up with a huge cooler of sandwiches and beer. Brian was packing ice cream sandwiches and push-ups on dry ice. I have to admit the mood was more festive than Zito's towel.

We rode on and on through Minnehaha Falls park and across to the east bank. The sun soon faded about the time eyesight was beginning to dim anyway. We waited out a shower beneath a bridge or two. Somewhere along the way we derbied and a wheel got broke. Wet, tired and happy, a number of us reconvened at Town Hall where it all began some 9 or 10 hours earlier. Then we went our separate ways for some much needed downtime.

Sunday felt like it came a little too early. I'd been exhausted from a busy week anyway, so I enjoyed sleeping in courtesy of April. Sylvia's friend Lilia came over for a few hours. We all piled onto the bikes and rolled down to the farmer's market just before it closed for the day.

The kids split a cheddar brat. When they're still babies, watching kids eat and make a mess of half chewed food can be a frustrating test of patience. However, Sylvia is now at the age where she can keep the food contained and manage to flat put down some chow when she's hungry. By the look on that face, she was hungry.

While April browsed for produce I watched the girls and managed to get a couple more cute photos. Another lazy rain shower came and went. The chaotic throngs at the market, awash in more cultures than you can count, seemed united in a celebration of food and good old-fashioned barter and commerce.

Yep, folks, it was a fine end to a splendid weekend.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Bike I Couldn't Bear to Own

A little over a year ago a friend asked me if I still had my Surly Steamroller. Yes, I did still have it. The color was the old metallic charcoal gray, no longer available, and he wanted that color. "Will you sell it to me?" he asked. I thought about it for a while. I wasn't riding it much at all so I agreed. I reasoned I could easily get another frame down the road. Besides, he only wanted the frame and fork; I could keep all my favorite Campy parts, King headset, etc.

My Steamroller replaced a beloved 80s Shogun fixed gear conversion. It started life a kind of coral color but had bleached to a nice semi-metallic pink. I rode that bike everywhere and I loved it. It was my first fixed gear. It was sensible since it was a 27" bike to begin with and that extra clearance left tons of space for fenders and a rear rack. The ride was cushy. It just fit and it cost me next to nothing.

The pain in my back was nothing compared to the pain in my heart when I crumpled the frame one night by running it into a fencepost on the darkened greenway. I still have the frame in the basement. I'm sentimental like that. The Steamroller frame came along like clockwork though. The day after I mangled my Shogun a deal literally fell into my lap. I was stoked and perhaps a bit overzealous. I built it too nice -- the result was a bike I didn't want to subject to daily riding. What a shame when that happens.

After selling it last year, I didn't miss the Steamroller all winter. But when spring came I saved my bike cash and bought a replacement frame in cream. All the parts were ready to go on including pink headset and pink wheels. I decided to fiddle with the choice of bars and built it up just enough for a couple of test rides:

Man it looked nice. It looked classy too. But the joy soon wore off. It looked too nice. Again. Not because of the parts spec -- I had already decided I was going to ride it as a commuter, not mothball it like some kind of cafe bike -- but because of the bling. Color matching on bikes is as old as the velocipede, but in the past few years the urban fixed crowd has tainted that once innocent fascination. As long as anodized bits and colored rims adorn a fixed gear anyway.

I rode the bike to work and back once. As I wheeled it to the basement that evening, my heart fractured a bit for a second time in this whole saga of the pink Shogun. I came to terms with two hard facts: 1) The Steamroller, no matter how fashionably accoutered, could not replace that beloved bike; 2) There was no way I could ride this bike in public. The implied guilt of association was more than I could bear. ("My god, what if someone thinks I'm one of them?")

Things come around. It wasn't hard to find a co-worker who was looking for a Steamroller frame. Another had a relative who needed a wheelset and was not disinclined to, but actively seeking, the bling. All's well, I suppose.

But I still miss my $25 pink Shogun.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Happy Monday

This photo has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Have a great week.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Blind Eye

[An entry begun in June ... ]

I've been thinking a lot lately but not writing. I've been doing a lot of other stuff, too. Some of it I might bore you with at a later time.

I'm fascinated with the idea that we humans "find ourselves in situations." I indulge this thought pattern all too often myself. When, in reality, I firmly believe we create our situations. We must own them free-and-clear; lock, stock and barrel. We also create the polarized viewpoints that some situations are good and some are bad. It's all in perception. That's a simplistic way to put it that can be incredibly intricate, but enlightening when approached with an open mind.

At least that is the way I see it, most of the time.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I'll keep on thinking.


We got into an argument with our neighbor last night. It was a really freakish series of events precipitated by overhearing evidence of the all-too-real possibility that she was beating her kid. Someone else on our street called the police before we could. By the time we made it out to the front porch the neighbor's roommate/relative had talked the cops away. We questioned what was going on and the source of the crying. He played it down, said it was just the mother getting the kid to bed. We knew what we'd heard and pressed it further. He smuggly said we should mind our own business, in much more colorful terms. I wanted badly to march over and get in his face but I swallowed my anger.

Convinced we'd called the cops on her, the mother was on our porch within a few minutes -- pounding on our door at 11pm. I can't begin to repeat what she said for I can't even remember it all now -- but little of it was cognizant and none of it was civil. It had the tone of a well rehearsed litany. In fact I'll indulge it no further except to say April very tactfully endured, for several days afterward, being called a 'stupid white bitch' from our neighbor's second story window while she played with the kids in our backyard. When I arrived home one evening I noticed egg residue on the garage wall with a conspicuous trajectory not coincidentally traced in the precise direction of the neighbor's back porch.


I wrote the first part of this essay over a week ago. While I wondered today whether to write about this or how it could possibly tie into what I had already written, it hit me -- what a horrible situation these people have created. My mind struggles with the myriad of back stories (which I admittedly can't understand) that brought these people to their current place. But I will begrudge no sweeping socioeconomic excuses -- our neighbors have created their situation.

Yet, I could not extract myself from culpability and that was the second epiphany on the rocky, angered road of understanding -- too many, too often turn a blind eye. It's easy to turn up the stereo, drink another beer, close the windows and turn on the A/C to convince someone "that's just not my business." However, if we acknowledge a lack of community and greater alienation from one another within our culture, I will posit one of the principal reasons for that is a lack of gumption from neighbors to step out of their houses and get involved. For me, getting involved often means calling someone's shit, crying foul, reminding others that people are watching.


I wrote all of that two months ago. Shortly afterward we learned the four-plex next door was in foreclosure. Needless to say we were ecstatic. Our problem neighbors are forced to move. At last!

Some nights it seems they've moved out, but they're still here. Gas and water shut off, they're still here making as much noise, spewing as much repetitive music and abusive profanity as before into the common air for all to hear. I want them gone. I want them gone so badly. But I only want them gone as much as I desire one other thing at the moment -- understanding. I want to know how, and why? I think I know how one can shout such things night after night toward one another, but why does one think it's okay to blare music and shout arguments at a volume that rattles one's whole building and disturbs the neighborhood?

I'm dangerously conservative in my viewpoint at the moment. Conservative in a Reaganistic way and I'm none too proud of that. Our neighbors don't have jobs. This fact is confirmed. They are sitting on their porch day after day, getting drunk and stoned, on someone else's dime. That's where the mindfuck occurred for me: They're blasting a stereo that keeps me up all night -- but I payed for it; They're erupting into alcohol-fueled disputes multiple times a week -- but I bought their booze.

I should say we -- we bought these things for them, because obviously our system is providing all they think they need. Never mind their kids sometimes come over to play and often beg for our dinner leftovers. The parents have all think they need -- the kids can fend for themselves, right?

I've vastly oversimplified this point, so I'll dig no further. I've needed to let off some steam regarding the neighbors. However, while I consider myself a political liberal and even a socialist at times, I am at odds with the notion of idiot compassion. Flinging money and good intentions at problems will not cure them. Perhaps more of us have to walk out of our comfortable homes and traipse the gutters to re-assess issues with the folks who are involved. In all honesty, I'm not so sure I'm up for that challenge.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sins of the Father

I've been thinking a bit lately about all the things that have gone on in recent history that I have not posted. Not like I need to, I guess. It never ceases to amaze me, however, how many friends "keep up" with me through the blog. Have you lost my phone number or email address? You can come over some time, y'know.

In January I went to the UK. In March I was in Germany and the Netherlands for a week. The Fruita Fat Tire Fest happened in April. I glossed over our family bike camping trip Memorial Day weekend. I barely covered Willa's March birthday and Sylvia's May. I took a stellar work trip to BC in June. And last month I just cut a new notch (to loosen my belt) to commemorate my 36th year. Thanks to those who came to our party. Even those who fed me malt liquor and Jack Daniels. May ye have learnt yer lesson.

I'll provide only one shot from that shindig:

No, Don did not give me the Jack Daniels (right hand) or malt liquor (left hand). Notice he's drinking water. Wise man.

An old (and older) friend from Tennessee once told me, while I was young and yet untraveled, "Wherever you go, once people learn you're from Tennessee, they'll say, 'Let's drink some Jack!'" I despise Jack and always will. But please don't dare me to drink anything because I'll take the dare -- even if I have to crawl home dragging my bike. A party in my own backyard simply meant I had less distance to stumble.

I've lived in Minnesota now for seven and one half years. It blows me away to think that. Most of you reading my blog knew nothing of me before, in my past life. Tennessee is far from here, mentally and geographically. When I loaded all I thought I'd need into the back of my Toyota pickup and temporarily said goodbye to my wife at the time, I had no idea what I was venturing into. I came with an open heart. For the most part that openness has served me well. I'd visited Mpls twice before and had swiftly fallen in love with the city. That love for this place has served me very well indeed.

Here, I have been blessed with many, many new friends. Some new friends have come and gone in fact. Has it been that long? I'm beginning to tell seasons by feel, by the cadence of the chanting bugs. And it was a bit eerie when, last week, it occurred to me that summer has reached its peak and will soon be over. We have about 7 weeks to get our ducks in a row and finish all those painting projects and such before it's time to reach for long sleeves. It has been a cool summer in fact; leaving work some nights I've thought a long sleeve jersey might be just right. But I push away such frivolous thoughts, convincing my body that in a few short months I will yearn for this cool warmth again.

I returned from 9 days in Japan last Friday. On the flight home, NWA showed a film entitled New in Town. I'm not promoting the movie, it was cheesy as all hell. Set predominantly in New Ulm, it centers around a Florida-based food corporation exec who has to venture off to the hinterland in winter to revamp a plant and (naturally) falls in love in the process. Of course knows not what to expect and the writers saw fit to play up every stereotype available regarding wacky MN behaviors and mannerisms. Stuck on a ten-and-a-half-hour flight, missing home and watching cutaway scenes from downtown Mpls pulled at my heart strings a bit though. This place is home. Some of my friends talk and act a bit like characters from that movie. Wow, life chucks change at us whether we recognize it or not.

I don't go to concerts much, can't afford the hot restaurants, don't see much art or take advantage of the hundreds of festivals happening here. But, damn, I'm lucky to live in a place I love.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Meaningful Production

It's been quite a spring and early summer. Matters that were put in motion over three months ago have yet to see resolution. It's work related. I won't go into it. I will simply say the actions and decisions of those entrusted with power are far too often detached from a balanced view and are never devoid of personal bias. Objectivity is a museum piece, locked away in an opaque box. The shell of the word lives on to be thrown around freely in a token gesture of authenticity.

I like to shift focus to other means of production -- industry of the cottage variety, if you will -- the real business that should matter most but is frequently usurped by the need to achieve and consume and "better one's situation." The reality of two young humans in our home, growing and learning and developing leaps and bounds every day humbles me when I truly stop to consider it. It puts to shame all the professional development initiatives and training sessions. It translates dictionaries of corporate speak into sheer gibberish.

A couple of months ago we built Sylvia her own workbench. She no longer has to balance precariously atop a stool to use the big bench. Like most things, I overbuilt it. But considering Willa has already begun to pound on it too, this bench will see at least 10 years worth of nail holes and glue spills. Sylvia has already grown to appreciate the front vise.

Productivity of the meaningful variety takes on many forms. This was the first family paddle where Sylvia tried to contribute to moving the canoe along. Mostly we all appreciated the blooming lotus flowers and families of ducks moving quickly by for safety.

The subtle curves of a canoe's bilge are naturally suited to children. If I were able to sit on the bottom of the boat and comfortably settle into the rocking motion while others did all the work I think I'd be happy as a clam. By the time we got back to the car, both kids had been lulled to sleep.

One vastly underrated means of production is flying a kite. This we attempted to do one Sunday not long ago. It transformed into a patient study of the wind which would lightly gust for 30 seconds then die again. Sylvia didn't mind. She'd let out 6 feet of string and run all the way across the field and back. Willa gave it a try, too, with limited success and many technical difficulties.

Kiting is hugely satisfying. I've taken to occasionally carrying my small parafoil with me to and from work. A couple of evening stop-offs to test the wind, sit in the grass and watch the daylight wane have been just the ticket for countering the trappings of conventional industry.

Untangling knotted kite string is pleasant when juxtaposed with fixing problems created by others or attempting to right some larger issue that, in reality, truly doesn't matter to one's overall well being. As the breeze picks up and the string uncoils I'm reminded of my cue to simply breathe out and release matters into the blue.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Running Toilet

Our downstairs toilet mostly behaves. But I have learned to listen. Listen for the water refilling the tank; I've learned the duration of a tank fill by means of a mental stopwatch. It has become most precise.

Our downstairs toilet mostly behaves. Believe me, I've tried slow depressions of the lever, leaning to one side, making a ju-ju grimace and hoping for the best. There is no rhyme. There is no reason.

Our downstairs toilet mostly behaves. It is a finicky, if altogether non-personified, beast. The chain is the culprit. It has a weak link. Yet, I am weaker. That much is apparent.

Our downstairs toilet mostly behaves. When I am here, to hear, I can catch it. Lift the lid and correct that dastardly link -- the last before the flapper. Tonight I thought, Why use a chain at all? Why not a single filament of something reliable like kevlar core fly line backing? Or bailing twine? Or dental floss. Links bind. Why?

Our downstairs toilet mostly behaves. Its chain is defective. But the chain is bound. It is smarter than me. So, I listen.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Welcome Back/Learning to Fly

Hello, friends. I can take the good natured ribbing when I run into folks at parties and such and they tell me I need to update my blog. I suppose I hadn't realized it's been nearly a month and a half. However, when I received an email from my father-in-law last week checking in to see if everything is okay, I thought, "Self, you really need to spew some words onto the screen."

There's much material available but little time it seems to get it up on the interweb. Although there have been trips and travels and lots of good riding, here are a few snippets that have warmed my heart over the past couple of months.

Sylvia is now officially ripping it up on two wheels, completely unsupported or aided in any way. I'd forgotten how amazing it is to watch someone learn how to ride a bike. There's not just the physical challenges that are overcome, but the greater notion of freedom and independence that person will experience through pedaling. We've been working on dropping curbs, but she's not quite up for that yet.

We enjoyed our first ride together -- one mile up to the neighborhood store where Sylvia got to pick out the fruity drink of her choice. The way home is about halfway downhill. It had not occurred to me that she was less than confident with her coaster brake, preferring instead the foot-down technique that is less effective but highly theatrical. Dad, who had been following, decided it prudent to instead ride in front of Sylvia so the Big Dummy could be used as a net should she roll toward an intersection at terminal velocity.
Sylvia asks to ride constantly. We're lucky to have a parking lot up the alley. We just wheel the bikes up and ride circles together. Round and round and round ...
Meanwhile, back at the ranch ... We finally got around to putting finish on the beautiful porch swing that Sabra built and gave to us for Chistmas. The front porch seems complete again. I can occasionally be seen relaxing in it. That's rare for me to sit in one place for long, but the swing has a certain allure. It whispers, "Sit here a while. Get a little rhythm going. All those to-do's will still be there when you're done."
Riding in circles, talking to porch swings, yielding to the urge to take it easy. Maybe I'm just getting old.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cyclist Down

Those are rarely words we cyclists like to read, but they flash across my email too often.

Dennis Dumm is dead. I did not know him. He looks familiar from the press photo that is circulating. I've probably passed him at some time or another. Such is the way of the Mpls bike community.

I know in my last post I said I did not give a shit about bike advocacy. Hopefully, if you actually read my words, you took away that I meant popular bike advocacy. What could pop bike advocacy have done for Dennis? What does it do for me or thousands like us? Another bike trail? Fuck off. A repainting of bike lanes? Too late. You people are missing the point.

Dennis Dumm died doing what he's probably been doing for weeks/months/years -- he was simply riding in the bike lane on Park Ave on his way to work -- where the city told him, through painted lines and signs, he belonged. But there he died. Bike lanes fail, and failed horribly in this instance. That is where pop bike advocacy can kiss my ass, and Dennis's dead ass.

I followed this story throughout the day and there was nothing new to report. Such is the case with mainstream news -- they focus on helmet usage, did a cyclist run a signal ... . Fuck you guys, too. If there are three things I've noticed from years of following bike/car incident reports they are thus: 1) Always report whether the cyclist (although maybe dead) was wearing a helmet; 2) Report whether or not the cyclist was at fault for breaking a traffic violation; and 3) Twist the language so that the cyclist was at fault. You penny-a-dozen journalists seeking the next Connie Chung award may not know you're doing it, but as late as this very night I watched the KSTP footage and heard "the cyclist collided with the semi" ... What?? The cyclist collided, meaning intentionally or not, "collided" with a vehicle some exponential amount heavier than him?? Please.

This brings me to my final point. The driver of the semi will NOT be issued a citation. That patent news phrase chaps my ass drier every time I read it. Excuse me, not issued even a ticket?? This dumb ass fucker cut into a bike lane to make a turn and KILLED someone but he will not be given even a slap on the wrist?

I have been issued one traffic violation, for speeding -- driving over the limit on a desolate section of Hwy 61 just south of Grand Marais. It cost me $135 and I thought it was unfair but I had little recourse to challenge it. I paid it with a smile the next day at the county courthouse and made the clerk's day because I was nice and she'd never had that experience before.

I have plenty of friends in the city who have been issued citations aboard their bikes for rolling through stop signs and lights. But you are telling me, in our American justice system reknowned for fair treatment and due punishment, that a person can KILL someone with their car and not get so much as a ticket?

Where is the justice in that?

A biker rolling a signal does nil damage, but a barely awake semi driver can kill. The former can get the Nth degree; the latter, nothing. Wow.

Dennis Dumm is dead. It was not an "accident," it was the result of an inattentive driver who killed him. End of story. I, personally, am tired of stories ending like this. I am sending a letter to our mayor, to state officials, to national legislators and to the bike advocacy guy that my corporation supposedly pays a lot of money to in order to make things better for cyclists. I suggest you get off your ass and do likewise.

Even if you're not an avid cyclist think about the disparities. A DRUNK driver strikes and kills someone -- s/he is charged to the maximum penalty. A driver strikes and kills a child and there's an outrage. However, it's all too easy to dismiss what happened this morning as an "accident."

Drivers are implicitly trained that all you have to do is say the stock phrases (that have been reported over and over in the media): "I didn't see her/him"; "I wasn't even aware something had happened." But, hello, driver, if you'd have been talking to your significant other on the cell phone you'd have heard it; if it had been your favorite team on the sports radio cast you'd have been listening. Accident, no. Negligence, certainly. Murder, yes. You have control, or should maintain control, over everything you do in your car. That is the implication of DWI, but the principle is thrown out the window as long as someone is "sober."

I maintain that double standard must be breached and eradicated.

Branching widely, where are you pro-lifers when things like this happen to adults? Could it be that you're only pro-life when it involves babies, and not adults or death-row inmates or any of the multitude others who "deserve" to die for misjudgments or poor choices? Hypocrites. Prove my judgment otherwise, please.

People are dying. The environment is wilting. Much is askew with the law but nothing is being done about it. EVERYONE deserves this chance to speak up.