Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Exclusive Breaking News!

After numerous bicycle commutes and walking forays following our recent snowstorms in Mpls, yours truly, editor of Urban-Crawl, could discern no rhyme or reason to the City's plowing methods and criteria. So, I decided to dig a little further.

While I had to pay two informants an undisclosed sum in Northern Lager Light (case packs) and gift cards to Sauce Wine Bar, as well as guarantee their complete anonymity, the cost was well worth the dirt I've uncovered. That's the grimy dirt that lay well below many of the unplowed and poorly cleared paths we cyclists have been forced to contend with so far this season.

It seems the City's plot is two-fold, but equally sinister at both turns.

My first correspondent, code name Hans Hunyuk, holds a position with Mpls Public Works. We spoke via Skype using an elaborate system of multinational relays. I posed a simple question in layman's terms: "Hans, how come the snow plowing is so shitty this year?"

He replied: "Oh yah, da City's made a lotta cost savin' measures dis year, ya know. Like skippin' da corners of every street and jus' pilin' snow on da sidewalks. Plus, der hirin' rookie plow drivers from Florida and Arizona to clear what we call, uh (he paused as if to pluck the term from memory) ... da 'non-essential routes'."

I pressed Hans for clarity just what he meant by "non-esential routes": "Well, der da trails around da lakes and all dem paths da skinny folk go ridin' bikes and joggin' in der funny outfits. Dat's da best place to go a-practicin' yer plowin', ya know."

I thanked Hans as we cut the conversation short to avoid a trace (but not before I got a few tips on the best holes this year at Mille Lacs).

My second informant, who goes by Zoe, is a fashion consultant/writer for a local trendy rag. In her spare time she's a social media maven focusing on conspiracy theory surrounding the City's dark inner workings. I'm not on Facebook so we texted. (I've expanded some of the text language because that stuff annoys me anyway, but I had trouble keeping up with her machine-gun texting prowess):

"The City doesn't care about bikers. They wish their hippie scum would move to Portland where they belong, so they've launched an aggressive campaign to strip away all the amenities you people have bragged so much about. The City needs new stadiums after all. Ones with real goddamn roofs."

"What might those amenities be, Zoe?" I queried.

"OMG, don't give me that shit! You know, 'Oh they plow our paths FIRST before the streets. They're smooth as a blow mirror. Blah, blah. We're number one in the nation now. Ha, f-ck Portland!' You know the lines, Dagwood." (That was the best code name I could muster on short notice.)

Zoe went on: "Well, blow me! I'm sick of your whiny crap because you naive bunch of sweaty, smelly, badly dressed misfits are gonna get screwed over like the rest of us. This town's no place for my art, my sensibilities and I don't give a shit whoever else they put the screws to either. You'll see."

Her last text read: "BTW WTF! WHY CAN'T YOU JUST DRIVE A FUCKING CAR IN WINTER LIKE THE REST OF US????"

I thought it best to forego thanking Zoe and instead contacted my cell provider to immediately have my number changed.

Well, there you have it folks. The City's definitely put cycling low on the list with snow removal this year. And it could be standard operating procedure going forward. Pray for subzero, because the warmer this unplowed stuff gets the nastier it's going to be when it does freeze hard.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Solstice


Sylvia made a small Solstice shrine tonight, complete with candles and an original illustration to show the lengthening days.

We’re on the uphill side of daylight. Uphill if you consider the days will lengthen between now and spring; as in, we’re no longer descending into darkness. That’s downhill, I guess, if you consider it’s an effortless slide toward longer days. Either way you label it, I’ll take it. I'm not averse to winter but I like daylight.

Unlike the growing days ahead, the weather’s been anything but effortless, however. Mother Nature is working hard to make us work harder here in the 6-1-2. I rode to work yesterday morning in a pleasant snowfall. I was aboard the fixed gear Cross-Check, deciding to give my experiment with Pugsley commuting a break. The Check has Schwalbe Marathon Cross 40c tires on it. They are great for snow and feel like racing rubber compared to the 4” footprint of Pugsley. I kept my chin up in spite of the impending accumulation. Keep in mind some park paths still haven’t been plowed from our mega-snow a week and a half ago. I admit the reality of more snow made me wonder whether, as some of my cycling friends have posited, the city is giving up on clearing some of the smaller paths.

Shortly after arriving at work it REALLY started to snow and didn’t let up for about 5 hours. I’m glad I waited it out rather than leave work early, since I was able to avoid most of the automobile traffic congestion as well as the poor visibility from the heavy snow. I did have a fresh snow depth of 5” to contend with. No problem, I thought. I’ll slog through the residential connectors and hook up with the plowed main roads as available.

Out of the parking lot and into the street I began the zig-zagging pattern that inevitably greets the cyclist navigating the compacted cookie dough left by hundreds of car tires. That’s not my favorite kind of riding for sure, but it lasted no more than a quarter mile since the sidewalk connection I take to avoid a major road was snowed in. Someone on a fat tire bike looked to have successfully cleaned it earlier, but I was not able to hold a sufficient line to keep momentum. Oh well, the evening was warm so I dismounted for a half-mile walk to the next residential street. Remounting on the next street I proceeded to zig-zag some more. A half mile later I popped out onto a nicely plowed secondary and began sailing along with a decent tailwind.

A couple miles down the road I turned onto another residential and got stuck on a hill. Off again and more hike-a-bike for a hundred yards. I was working up a pretty good sweat on these walking sections – no cold feet tonight. At first I thought the wetness on the outside of my wind shell was my body perspiring through the well-worn nylon. But I rethought that as I realized the moisture on my face wasn’t sweat at all, but a fine, misting rain falling. As I hooked up with the main road for a 6-mile push straight north I carried some steady speed. The windchill created froze the slick layer to my jacket and mittens. I’ve never had that happen before on a ride. It seemed plenty cold enough that anything falling should be frozen, but it wasn’t. The few sections of clear pavement were beginning to crust a thin layer of ice. Nice.


My helmet and mittens, encrusted in ice, upon arrival at home.

Rounding Lake Calhoun I had the one and only driver of the night shout something I couldn’t quite make out as he passed. I could discern that it was directed at me and was derogatory in nature. I’m sure plenty of drivers think riding a bike in the snow and ice is dangerous, stupid and perhaps should even be outlawed. So be it. Do they really think driving in the snow and ice is particularly smart? Especially when so many continue to drive at unsafe speeds and behave recklessly with little regard for other non-drivers exercising their right to get peacefully from point A to B. This thought led to pondering the city’s philosophy of clearing snow. The emphasis is placed on restoring the ability of average motorists to confidently return to the streets. The resulting piles of snow on walkways and paths (some are impassible and will remain until spring) prove the concerns of the driver take precedence. It’s a shame since I regard those of us who choose to explore alternatives to driving to be the saner, safer variables in the equation during any season of the year. The internal-combustion-driven wheels of commerce must keep turning, however.

I expunged the negativity quickly because I was within a mile of the saving grace of winter cyclists – the greenway system. This peaceful ribbon is reliably plowed during snowfalls making it one of the best parts of any commute. I stopped off for a few cans of fizzy liquid refreshment to celebrate this most epic of solstice commutes upon my safe arrival at home. Moving quickly, I tried to avoid shedding my entire layer of ice in the store and made my exit back into the steady snow that had resumed.

Minutes later I rolled my tires onto the greenway where my enthusiasm quickly flagged. It hadn’t been plowed. Not only had the path gone uncleared, but a generous number of walkers and a couple skiers had already chopped up the way. I wanted my Pugsley but had no alternative. My skinny tires cut back and forth in the all-too-familiar zig-zag pattern. In addition I was fighting to turn over the gear in the deep snow. Moving to the edges didn’t help since they had been pocked from footfalls as well. A man was jogging ahead of me. Under normal conditions I would have rapidly overtaken him and left him behind. Tonight I was struggling to catch him. The effort to guide the bike and crank the gear was wrenching my lower back. My cyclometer read 4-5mph. I gave in about 2 miles from home, reasoning I could walk almost as fast and save my back for shoveling snow when I got home.

I walked for a while, cursing the city’s lax snow removal practices so far this season. As I left the last row of visible houses behind I noticed the warmth in the air and the glow of the full moon illuminating the dense, gray cloud cover. Then I remembered I had beer in my panniers. Propping the bike against a snow bank I introduced a celebratory crack into the silent night air. Then I took a few minutes to quench my thirst and ponder the beauty of it all – a fresh snowfall, peace and quiet in the middle of the city, plans that don’t work out but turn out okay in the end.

Feeling somewhat refreshed, I trudged the final mile of walking, post-holed across the railroad tracks and ascended the spiral ramp into Bryn Mawr. I rode the last stretch toward home, stowed my bike in the garage and mustered a soggy grumble ‘hello’ to the family. Still a bit chafed by the city’s untimely snow removal this season I swapped jackets and headed out to grab the shovel and complete my own snow removal responsibilities.

Happy Solstice, friends. Winter’s here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Best of 2010 (continued)

2010 was a busy year. I've been thinking over the past few weeks about the things I enjoyed, milestones that were passed and memories that will warm my heart over the coming winter months.

I returned to Germany (made two trips there this year actually). A couple of my associates took me to a hometown beer festival in Forchheim outside Nuremberg. It's called Annafest and celebrates the famed beer kellers (cellars) burrowed into the massive hillside where the festival takes place.




Of course there is the beautiful scenery of Bavaria. Although it was late July the evenings were cool and the days sunny and warm. Perfect for riding and we got to do some of that, too. It's a bonus that my work travel doesn't consist of landing in a country and going straight to a convention center or conference to be locked indoors the entire time. Riding bikes is part of the job.


Also this summer we went north to our friends' cabin. Charlie and Kathy are the girls' adopted grandparents. Our family is lucky to have them in our lives. They have a very impressive little getaway perched on a rock outcrop overlooking Lake Superior. I'm not much for the MN "cabin culture" but in my opinion this is doing it right. Their place had an amazingly settling energy about it. The structure is sustainable and fits with the landscape, literally built into the bedrock of the hillside.


We broke away for an overnight trip into the BWCAW. It was our first canoe trip in 5 years. That's far too long between adventures. Even though the Boundary Waters is in the same state, it's a big commitment in time and planning to make a trip happen. Here April looks a little soggy. We'd just emerged from sheltering beneath some trees while an impressive thunderstorm blew threw.


After camping we ventured to Grand Marais with the girls. The town was hopping in honor of the Fourth of July holiday. We fled the packed sidewalks to wander on the rocks sheltering the bay. Grand Marais is a special place. If you've never been and you get the chance to go, don't pass it up.


More on 2010 later, I'm sure. For now, forget Christmas -- have you made solstice plans for Tuesday? This year it's a full moon and an eclipse. Fortuitous indeed.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Best of 2010



Sylvia confidently riding her own bike a long way.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Laziness

It's not quite winter, but winter has arrived in MN. We have about 8" of standing snow on the ground in Mpls and temperatures are holding below freezing. It's forecast to be below zero (F) tonight. The last snowfall came on Friday. I walked to get the kids from the babysitter today (Tuesday) and was a bit dismayed that most people in our neighborhod have not shoveled the curb cuts. That basically meant I could not push the stroller on our sidewalks; I had to resort to walking in the road. Same as it usually is in winter, I suppose.

When I shovel snow on our walk I clear at least a single swipe or a portion of the walk for both our immediate neighbors. I figure this is just being, well, neighborly. They tend to occasionally return the favor, which is a bonus. In addition, if we tell them we're gone for the weekend and it happens to snow they usually have our backs. Beyond that though I think about the common good. People who can't walk so well, but must, have a much easier time on a shoveled walkway. I shudder to think about those confined to wheelchairs living in MN. Once the snow piles up high enough few people consider a full width for passage.

Challenges with neighbors are relative I guess. Our previous neighbors were rude and sometimes hostile. We placed over half a dozen police calls against the building during the 18 months they lived there. Since then, the building went into foreclosure and was purchased by a conscientious landlord who renovated the place.

We now have seemingly affluent and quiet neighbors. They drive nice cars and mind their own business. They're almost too quiet. In a queer way I miss the noise from time to time. The silence is rarely broken by the four tenants -- save for one woman's automatic car starter which she uses to fire up her white Chevy Yukon sometimes 45 minutes before she comes out to drive it away. That grossly negates the 3-minute idling rule Mpls passed a few years back.

I have a problem with remote car starters, but I will spare you a full-fledged rant. I try to maintain an open mind. I knew someone a few years ago who moved here from a warmer overseas climate. She claimed she had an allergy to the cold. I understand we have identified a whole slough of modern allergies that were unknown in olden days. However, I have a difficult time accepting the existence of an allergy to environmental cold.

My own laziness is settling in. Getting myself on the bike for the 32 miles of daily pedaling to and from work has been more of a challenge. My toes are cold most of the way. It takes so long to dress and prep. If only it were 5 miles instead of 16. The list of 'If onlies' goes on.

Ah, inertia. Bless your inspiring, yet inanimate, heart.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Other

I do not like you
I do not like what you stand for
I have not sought to speak, discuss or debate with you directly
but I need know nothing else
I do not like you or what you stand for
I have my reasons
and they are sufficient

I do not see in you
humanity
commonality
Those like you swiped down towers,
spread as waste all you can conquer
in an effort to destroy my identity
I do not like you
And I do not like what you stand for

I have the luxury of living within my comfortable space,
a place where I can form the opinions that comfort me,
a place where I can proclaim myself to be oppressed,
a place of private judgment against any and all
Do not challenge me
I will only call you the dick,
the villain,
and proclaim any and all claims against me erroneous
hereafter the Victim
I do not like you
And I do not like what you stand for

Of course, I contest,
there are no generalizations here --
after all, your kind are all alike
As oppressors I do not see what you can possibly contribute
to any constructive discourse
So I will profile you,
avoid you,
document and revile you,
fear and build fear against you,
detain you,
torture you
So that I may feel safe,
feel free

I do not like you
And I do not like what you stand for
Why is that not enough?

This might not be necessary
if you'd simply observe the requirements

Why can't you conform, re-shape and fall into line?
Pray to my god
Eat the same things I eat
Fuck the same way I fuck
Believe the same lies I quote
What's wrong with you, anyway?

I can't stand you
You're not calling bullshit on me
You're not asking me to the table
because I won't have it
I'll fake
a headache
a tremor
a 19th-century episode
anything to avoid speaking with you

I can't stand you
and I won't stand for this
it is my entitlement
Do not bother me with reconsidering that

I need you to be evil
so I can feel pure
Together we can preserve this model
that is vital to my belief system
But to that end,
it's convenient,
I don't require your cooperation

So fuck off
and let me hate you.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Resolution?

I got a reply from Metro Transit. This pleased me since my prior experience (as I noted) was the run-around. I'd like to encourage any of you who have similar experiences to log them officially, no matter where you live. The reply is below, but first I'd like to post my complaint:

My encounter this morning with one of the Be Line busses proves the vehicle is aptly named. The driver was apparently “be lining” it to his next stop as he sped past me on my bicycle, clearing me by no more than 18”. I was cycling westbound on Poplar Bridge Rd on my way to work at 9:55am. I was in the shoulder (right of the white line) and there is a full center turning lane on this road. In addition, there were no eastbound vehicles present. Three facts – 1) I was not in the lane, 2) There was an empty turning lane to the driver’s left, and 3) No oncoming traffic was present – frame one important conclusion: There is no reasonable excuse this driver shouldn’t have allowed the 3ft passing distance proscribed by MN state law. While I begrudge belligerence frequently from private motorists, I believe professional drivers should have the training, skills and tolerance to observe all traffic laws and operate their vehicles with concern not only for their passengers but all other users of the road. In the case of those operating large vehicles such as trucks or busses that can cause sufficient wind disturbance to affect bike control, failure to provide a safe passing distance endangers cyclists’ lives. The last (and only other) time I filed a complaint about a bus driver’s behavior toward me on my bicycle it went no where. I was told since I hadn’t gotten the driver’s number you couldn’t identify the driver since no such bus runs on that street at that time … . I expect nothing more this time. However, I sincerely hope Metro Transit enforces operator policies that promote greater safety for cyclists. This is only the second complaint I’ve filed. As a regular bicycle commuter, however, I’ve witnessed numerous instances of behavior by bus drivers that indicates some need additional training on sharing the road.

Here's the reply from Metro Transit I received this morning:
Good Morning Mr. Fleck, You are right, our driver should allow you a 3 foot clearance on the road. Especially if there is no on coming from the other side and there is a middle turn lane. I am apologizing for our driver for not giving you that clearance. When I asked him about it, he said that he doesn’t remember seeing you at all that day. I have given him a warning about paying attention and I hope that there will be no more instances like this. I am glad that you are not hurt due to this encroachment into your space. Again, I apologize for our driver and I will be reminding all of our drivers to give the proper clearance in our next safety meeting. If you have any other issues, please feel free to contact me. Thank you for your input.

Steve Youmans
Road Supervisor
Transit Team
612-332-3323


Of note: Steve's email address is donald.youmans@metc.state.mn.us
He also copied Michael Richter (his boss?)whose email address is Michael.Richter@metc.state.mn.us

In short, if you live in the TC and experience a problem with a bus driver I encourage you to file a complaint with my encouragement to send it directly to the email addresses above.

Sadly, "doesn't remember seeing you at all that day" is a convenient excuse pulled by drivers involved in fatal crashes every day. But, friends, we'll fight each battle as it comes.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Clean Ride

I’ve made up a few games I occasionally play during my bike commutes. A 16 mile ride that follows the same basic route can seem mundane from time to time. I’d conjecture others who regularly ride longer distances do similar things. I used to think about cadence and heart rate. I’ll never tire of pursuing the perfect pedal stroke, but I don’t race anymore so the training aspect of my rides is no longer a consideration.

There are plenty of other things to think about. I’ve written hundreds of mental to-do lists in my brain over the years. I’ve had more than one great idea for a business venture, a woodworking project, a gift for the kids or April. Heck, I even come up with some damn fine ideas for blog posts while I’m pedaling. (The current entry not withstanding.)

Every once in a while though I like resort to little rituals, things that don’t distract me. A few examples: I chant mantras when I pass flattened critters who couldn’t outrun the death machine in time; I practice memorizing license plate numbers (I picked up that one from Brother Nick Sande); I’ll spend a portion of my ride consciously reminding myself to breathe with intention; I sing a playlist from a bad 70s and 80s radio station that broadcasts 24/7 from the dark recesses of my brain; I’ll see how much of the Cedar Lake Trail I can ride no-handed.

There’s one thing I dig above most any other, however. I get a special thrill from achieving what I call the “clean ride.” This has nothing to do with the Pro Tour peloton or doping scandals. It’s the rare occasion when I leave my house, clip in at my driveway and don’t set a foot down until I arrive at the door of my office. No interruptions, just 16 smooth miles of constant rolling at a steady pace. I can’t trackstand worth a piss, so I don’t count that. I’m talking about setting out with an empty mind, not even trying to make it happen. Then one-third of or halfway to work I realize, “All the intersections have been clear, the lights have been green. A few more and I will have a clean ride!”

If I rode mostly bike paths this would be a normal thing. But I ride across several major roads and through some busy interchanges. By my count there are 7, maybe 8, places I regularly must stop and put a foot down. There are another handful of possible snags on top of those. Getting everything lined up is a special occasion. Or so I think. Besides, it’s my dorky game anyway.

I was on my way to a clean ride this very morning. The weather was perfect for fall – overcast and 50s. Rain was in the forecast but I stayed dry the whole way in. I got that little tingle as I approached the halfway mark. With each successive intersection I rolled cleanly through my excitement grew. I was so giddy I approached the one hill of the ride – a steep bump on Poplar Bridge Rd – with glee instead of a sigh. I decided to let myself grab a smaller gear and stay in the saddle. After all, the clean ride ain’t about speed it’s about alignment of the constellations, working with harmonic energy, wheels spinning in synch with the world around, baby! Halfway up the hill I was feeling a little winded but ecstatic. The clean ride was practically realized; it was mine.

That’s precisely the moment the Metro Transit “Be Line” express bus be-lined its way straight past me. I was positioned right of the white line, in a comfortably wide shoulder but this guy, driving a freaking bus no less, chose to buzz me with 18” to spare. He had an empty middle turning lane to pull over. There were no cars coming down the hill. In other words, he had no excuse for nearly hitting me as he booked by at over 30 miles per hour. I was livid. I gave him the long floating finger while I muttered epithets in disbelief. “You had the whole road, asshole. Why did you, a ‘professional’ driver need to pull that stupid trick?”

The mojo of my clean ride was broken. Within 90 seconds I pulled up to the final light of my commute. It was red. I know this light. It’s long. It hates the very thought of the clean ride. The light is evil. It’s in cahoots with the bus driver.

The bus and its driver were in the turning lane. I pulled up parallel with one lane separating us. I contemplated knocking on the door to inquire what the hell his issue was to drive like that. I didn’t though. I stared him down. He’d seen me ride up. I saw his head turn as I approached the line. He stared straight ahead while we waited, never making eye contact. The son-of-a-bitch knew full well what he’d done. There were no passengers on the bus. He was smug and proud. I noted the time (9.55am) and his vehicle number (6015) and filed a complaint with Metro Transit after arriving at work.

I filed one other complaint a few years ago against a bus driver who cut me off egregiously, forcing me into the curb on Bryant Ave. It went no where. I don’t expect this one to get much further. For the two complaints I’ve filed I’ve had dozens of close calls with buses and reasons to file complaints on a few other occasions, but didn’t. I ride the bus from time to time. I’ve observed the drivers and how they interact with cyclists, quietly from the passenger seat. I can say there are many patient, competent bus drivers out there. I can also attest there are sociopathic bus drivers out there. For that demented subset perhaps intimidating cyclists is one of their mindless pastimes while they endure the drudgery of the daily route. In a twisted way there’s probably some truth to that. At least my little games aren't designed to intimidate or hurt anyone. These yokels need to find new jobs.

I’ve had a theory for quite some time. I strongly contend that habitual driving is psychologically unbalancing. The DOT might as well require a psych exam along with the vision screening and road test for professional drivers. Because worse than some nut job driving his Ford Explorer like a belligerent jerk, I truly cringe at the thought of encountering an intolerant wacko driving a bus, dump truck or semi – any vehicle capable of turning me inside out instantly.

My vision of a clean ride does not involve viscera smeared across the pavement, my organs or anyone else's.

Damn you drivers. Whether it's delusion or stupor -- wake the fuck up.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Warming the Bench

The moon is waxing. Daylight is waning as the evening temperatures fall. We have yet to turn the heat on in our house, but April's mentioned (and I've noticed) how chilly it's getting in here. Every year I believe we should hold out until some arbitrary date before setting the thermostat. I told April this evening that date is Nov 1. I don't think we'll make it that long without firing up the boiler, however.

I'm entering the period of introspection. I'm prone to turning inward but the fall has always been a time when I focus on contemplation. This year, more than any other in recent memory, I have compiled a rich mound of experiential manure to mentally compost this winter. Fortunately decay releases heat, so perhaps I can utilize this as a back-up source of warmth on the cold bike rides ahead.

For all intents and purposes wood shop season is over. It's getting cold enough that soon I will have to move wood glue and waterstones into the basement. I've considered many times installing insulation in my garage. I waffle though, reasoning the lack of full electrical service and other attributes make this less than ideal for a potential future owner. Read that as I won't get my money back (and it might be a less than ideal solution anyway). This year I intended to repair some siding and paint the garage too. That will have to wait along with the rest of the list that seemed so doable 7 or 8 months ago.

I was moderately productive this year for as often as I was traveling. I had intended to launch into a full-scale piece of furniture like a bed or table. While I did not accomplish either I tightened up some shop fixtures and organization. I also made a very nice frame as our friends' wedding present (see earlier post). I had sketched some plans for an entry bench, too, with the idea to build this from reclaimed wood stowed away in the garage rafters. Since I had the plank of wood and the project was not complex I decided this would be my last real project for the year.

Stored in our garage is all the original interior trim before our house was reconfigured, as well as some leftover timber from various projects. The board in question was a 2x12 plank nearly 10ft long with two rusty steel L brackets affixed to either end. I figured it was an old scaffold board since it had two colors of paint splotches and burn marks from soldering. Plus the whole surface was gray weathered and checked in spots. I have no idea how old it is, but it did measure 1 1/2 by 11 1/4", so it's not old enough to be true dimensional lumber as some other timbers in our house are.

One thing is for certain, it was too large and fair a piece of wood to cut and burn. The board was nearly flat and true over its entire 10ft length -- a rare trait in 2x lumber. I have a keen interest in conserving lumber. Wood takes a long time to grow and is typically wasteful to harvest. I regard it to be a precious commodity. With all this in mind I set out to adapt a design that would look decent (i.e. not look like it was built with Home Depot lumber) and allow me to have some fun with joinery.

This doesn't look like much but it is the four pieces of the bench cut to rough size. Four pieces and four joints -- simple, eh? I belt sanded the pieces and left all the screw holes and other damage. Planing it down was possible. I might have eliminated most of these flaws and made the wood more dimensionally appealing, but I wanted the piece to look intentionally built from a piece of construction lumber that most jobsites would have burned or thrown away.

Early stages -- I made a template and routed the rough mortises on the top and legs. I found a compromise with the tenon/mortise width that allowed me to cut them all the same size, thereby utilizing one template.



The whole piece has mass -- physical and aesthetic. That's frequently a problem with 2x lumber. To lighten the appearance I planned a diamond cutout to let light through. The waste of each mortise and diamond is relieved with the drill press and router; all the corners were cut and squared with chisels and mallet. The notch at the bottom of the legs also lightens the form and echoes the angular motif. Here the legs and top are stacked to allow a brief glimpse of the final shape beginning to take form.


Both the top and leg mortises are cut to partial depth in the middle to accept a stub tenon. With tenons cut the hand tools are used to fit everything. This is the slow (and fun) part in my opinion. It's quiet with no earplugs or safety glasses required.



This is the top of one leg detailing the stub tenon in the middle while both sides are through tenons. The joint is extremely strong since it provides a lot of glue surface and will later be wedged. (Note the burn mark from soldering at the left. This board saw some action in its day.)



Garage door open wide and working in the sun and fresh air. Here I'm cleaning up the mortises in the top. The tenons are cut fat and shaved with a plane to close the gaps. It pays to work slowly with a square close at hand to make sure everything is being fitted as precisely as possible. The tapers on the legs have been cut. Again, that visually lightens the piece since structurally it wouldn't matter.



The legs are mating nicely and I'm moving onto the stretcher. I carried over the diamond cutouts in that as well.



Here is a detail of the stretcher tenon. These are through tenons mortised to accept a square tapered key. The key is a wedge that can be tapped farther in to tighten the legs over time and resist racking forces that could pop the legs loose. As tight as the leg tenons were in the top I realized I might have skipped this step but the outcome would be a nice visual element in the overall piece. I've also added some chamfers to blend the raw edge grain with the weathered faces.



Here is the matching mortise that accepts the previous through tenon from the stretcher. The middle portion creates a pocket for the stub tenon. The chamfer detail was added to each of the diamonds, but I chose not to chamfer the legs or top of the piece. These details can be overdone making a piece of furniture look like you got too happy with the router.

After this step I dry fit all the pieces. They went together tight. It was beautiful, my best joinery to date. In disassembling them I had a mishap. The board had a surface split its entire length that went about 1/4 of the way through the board. Since the tenons spanned this I didn't worry -- they'd reinforce it all. However, tapping the dry fit assembly apart I completely split one of the legs in two. I had little choice but glue it back together and hope for the best. The next morning I inspected the results and they looked good. Reluctant to rely on a glue joint alone, I was contemplating how to drill a deep enough hole to sink some dowel reinforcements. Eventually it occurred to me I needn't worry. The tenon placement would hold everything together. Beauty.


The glue-up was like most glue-ups meaning everything does not go exactly as planned. I had a tough time getting the top seated and created another small crack in one end while "coaxing" it into place with a few anti-Zen mallet blows. Clamps picked up the slack though and things were looking good. Angles were 90 degrees, joints sealed and I got all the parts in the proper order.



The only pieces not cut from the same board were these cherry wedges driven into the tenons on the top. This was a technique I learned from my previous picture frame project. It spreads the tenon and locks everything in place. I'm a fan of bombproof joinery and am regularly accused of overbuilding things. I think there are worse shortcomings for an aspiring woodworker.

One of the revelatory details I've picked up about joinery is how one cuts projecting components long. Enter the hand tools. After everything is dry, a flush cut saw, chisel and finely set block plane make it all smooth. Notice the knot between the tenons. In laying out this project I had to be very deliberate with where critical through-cuts would land to avoid disaster like a blowout from attempting to chisel out a mortise in a knot.


I cleaned up the glue squeeze out and cut the stretcher tenon keys from the tapered leg off-cuts. The whole thing got a little more sanding and a couple of coats of boiled linseed oil. There's no stain at all. The weathered pine turned out very golden and reddish in spots -- with burn marks, holes and green and white paint stains. I'm happy that the piece has the elements I set out to preserve with more natural patina than I'd imagined. Finished dimensions are 36" long, 18" tall and about 11 1/4" deep. It's the perfect size for our front entry where guests can use it to remove and put on shoes. Mostly Sylvia uses it to stack her stuff when she gets home from school.

There's nothing special about the design but I wanted a piece that was Arts and Crafts inspired. I think I achieved that with strong angles, a dark appearance and bold joinery. After I finished the project though, I felt a bit let down. I'd invested all this time into a chunk of old pine. Shouldn't I have poured that energy into a finer wood and achieved a more refined piece in the end? I don't necessarily think so. This bench is in use now and it works quite well for what it was meant to be.

Last Saturday morning we happened to be watching PBS. Many people (whether or not they ever make a speck of sawdust) have heard of Norm Abram and the New Yankee Workshop. Well, he retired and there is a new show in town called Rough Cut with a younger, hunkier star. We saw our first episode last weekend. As Tommy assembled a walnut trestle table from rough lumber, April told me she could better appreciate each of the steps I put into my projects seeing them laid out in a 30 minute TV program. It makes sense -- there's no way she's going to spend 9 hours in a weekend day watching all the details unfold. While I'll never build a piece of furniture in 30 minutes (neither Norm nor Tommy could either) it's helpful to note that every time I assemble a piece my precision increases and the time required diminishes. That's pretty sweet.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Right on!

Here's a delicious quote from Dr. Ian Roberts, professor of public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and trustee of RoadPeace (this is in part a response to a World Safety Conference theme that 'youth, music and poverty' are significant causes of road deaths in Britain):

“We must reclaim our streets and neighbourhoods from the lethal motor vehicle traffic that currently blights them so that we can begin to move our bodies again, in the way that they were designed to be moved. Youth and music are not the causes of road death – wealthy middle aged men who refuse to surrender their cars, or even consider alternative forms of transport, are the problem.”

And here's a tasty sweet to follow that substantial main course assertion:

“Our dependence on motorised transport has made us fatter and less fit. It has made the roads more dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists, and driven many them off the streets and back into their cars, further increasing the demand for transport. It has made controlling oil supplies the primary strategic objective of nation states so that scarce resources that should be devoted to building a sustainable economy are instead spent on war and destruction.

“We should look to a future where there will be fewer road deaths and injuries, cleaner air and much less traffic noise. Urban infrastructure must show a new respect for humanity. The torrent of lies that has been used to justify the ‘accidental’ deaths of 3,000 people each day on the world’s roads and the daily disabling of 30,000 more, will take its place in history alongside the justifications for slavery, racism and imperial war.”


Check out the entire article from the UK's Road.cc

And here's a link to RoadPeace

Bully for folks raising awareness of the negative tolls of automobile culture and unveiling a long-view approach to assessing its impact upon our world.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ha

Fall is coming. Here is a summer memory. Willa at the aforementioned wedding of our friends. Classic two-year-old behavior. Or maybe she was just emulating me.

Cheers. Ride yer damn bike.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sawdust and Plane Shavings

It can't all be about cultural criticism. I don't fritter away all my time pondering what's wrong with our culture and layering my opinions over it.

Lately, I've been spending as much time as possible in the wood shop. That's not much given my travel schedule this year. I sometimes joke that I work harder in my free time than I do at the office. Perhaps that's true, but immersing myself in a project is extremely challenging and rewarding. The small scale focus is a welcome change for a person who often feels the big picture of politics, etc. is hard to reconcile.

Our dear friends, Angela and Eric, were married in June. April suggested I make them a wedding gift -- patterned after a picture frame from an issue of Fine Woodworking magazine. The project was small and had limited joinery. I estimated it would take a weekend to build. It just so happened I had a board of thick cherry suitable for the project. I scaled a drawing of the frame to hold an 8x10" photo with mat. What luck -- the board was just the right size to cut all the parts. This meant the grain would be be complementary. The board had some very nice figure.

I recollect this board was given to me in 1999. I'd used it to practice face planing technique but the board still had a pronounced twist. It was beyond the necessary thickness, so I decided to rough out the cuts, take out the bench planes and make the stock true. That part went remarkably smoothly. Here are the parts planed to dimension and stacked in preparation for joinery:


Attempting to cut the long through tenons with the table saw produced some tear-out. Behold the beauty of hand tools! I marked out the tenons in full, cut them with a dozuki and trued the shoulders with a plane. The entire time I worked quietly without the need for ear plugs or safety glasses.

The groove for glass/mat has been routed, mortises are pre-drilled and the tenons rough cut. It's all chisels and planes from here. Here's a shot of the frame with tung oil finish applied, sans glass, of course:

I absolutely love the natural grain and figure of hardwoods. This piece really popped when the oil was applied. It became a vibrant red with dark banded accents. The frame is double-sided and freestanding so you can show off two images or pieces of art. The original frame design used small dowels to hold the top in place. I thought this looked a little chinsey. I have a couple blocks of ebony that were gifts years ago, but I've never worked the wood. Rather I've been intimidated by how dense and hard it is. Inspired by my success with the frame, I decided to handcut tapered keys with a finial to hold the top in place. The black ebony would add a contrasting touch to the flaming red cherry.
To my surprise the ebony is very stable making it easy to control chisels and planes when shaping it. I don't have an image of the finished keys, but they added a nice touch.

I sometimes feel like all I build is shop fixtures out of 3/4" plywood and dimensonal lumber. It's true, that's mostly what I have worked on over the past two years. This cherry picture frame was a nice break. It served as a reminder of two important things: 1)I am learning a lot of practical skills, and 2)All my work setting up shop is a foundation for crafting many fine furniture projects in the not-so-distant future.
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Here's how the shop is looking these days. I have a short wish list of a few remaining tools. The list of fixtures and shop projects numbers less than half a dozen currently. My one-car space is well laid out. There is little space I'm not utilizing, but if I need to make more room I can.
By woodworkers' standards my space is quite small. I think it's pretty darned close to ideal for now. More space just tempts one to fill it with more stuff anyway, and more stuff costs more money. I'll eschew the pursuit of the fanciest tools with lazer sighting and jigs that do most of the layout work in favor of developing solid skills and handtool techniques.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Color u.s. stoopid

Greetings, Friends.

I may not be typing into this electronic box much lately, but my brain is still functioning. I have a handful of great essay ideas each week. I just don't make time to write. Every day, it seems, I am availed of something that is so downright inexplicable I not only shudder to reconcile the fact someone could have done or spoken it, but also the fact that it was done or spoken by people to whom others listen and heed.

No, I am not going to write about Sarah Palin. I am, however, going to mention what is sure to be one of her favorite songs.

I had the opportunity recently to listen to some christian radio. Actually, a lot of it. (Don't ask.) In the course of one of these sessions there was the jesus-approved version of the top 40 countdown. Number 2 on the charts this particular week was a song by Chris Tomlin & The Passion Band entitled "Our God (Is Greater)." It was mind-numbing background noise until I heard the lyrics. The words incited my ire. I've heard gangsta rap with more pertinent, truthful and meaningful lyrics.

First, a little preamble: I make it a policy to avoid discussing religion with people. I don't want to know and they probably don't want to either. This is true unless someone has something to prove; unless they believe their mission is to convert, witness or proselytize. At that point all I'm doing is taking the bait if I engage in the conversation. I have better things to do with my time.

If religion comes up, I'm typically forthright: I'm not a fan of christianity, but I respect its practice by intelligent people who espouse good christian (humanitarian) values of respect and acceptance toward others. I don't care one bit for the epidemic faith -- what I'll call "popular christianity" -- that is all too rampant in our nation today. Its banners pepper the crowds of Tea Party rallies and line the halls of every conservative congregation that preaches our country is in a state of moral bankruptcy, threatened by socialism, communism, terrorism ... . The list is continually refreshed with the fear du jour.

Yep, this song, "Our God," got me going. Perhaps I fancied it could make the perfect anthem of the popular christian movement (hell, it was already at #2). It poignanty depicts themes of divine right and superiority. The chorus is particularly offensive. Here are the first three lines:

Our God is greater
Our God is stronger
God, You are higher than any other

It's no leap to guess, "Greater, stronger, higher than whom?" Well, any god except the christian god, of course. Those would be the figureheads of a lot of the rest of the world's believers. Quick sidenote: Foremost in Americans' minds that is Allah and the followers of Islam.

The song wraps things up with a triumphant proclamation that forges a link to manifest destiny and that doctrine's extrapolated role of the U.S. in world politics. I make this claim based on the fact that popular christian believers and their leaders hold nothing back in stating the United States is a christian nation and must be governed by the rule of god if we are to escape destruction at the hands of amoralists, atheists and infidels:

And if our God is for us
Then who could ever stop us?
And if our God is with us
Then what could stand against?

It's beautiful propaganda actually, levied upon the feeble minds of people who believe faith is equivalent to reason and single issues are enough to constitute a voting platform. It also taps into fear, a motivation I find most disturbing because it excuses the practice of people and nations to close their minds and hearts, to justify torture, murder, exclusion and hegemony for the sake of self-preservation. This song is propaganda through and through. It reaks.

(Oh, a quick thanks to livingforjesus.com for publishing the lyrics. Any errors are theirs, although I did add some obvious punctuation and capitalized "You" in reference to Yahweh -- only the touches I thought would have been added by a diligent christian editor.)

****************************************************

I travel internationally a lot. In the course of the past 2 years, and a dozen or so trips to a handful of countries, I have to report that Americans are the butt of many a joke. I'm occasionally unnerved, but I have to admit, we deserve it. Our nation and many of our leaders, as well as celebrities' and commoners' hijinks alike, are of moronic proportions. But we're obviously damned proud of it since we keep supplying sensationalist stories for others to lambast.

I receive an email newsletter from a news service called Bike Europe. Sprinkled in with stories about the latest maneuvers of the bike industry's biggest players, shifts in trade regulations and reports on new products are funny headlines you can't avoid reading. Last week this one flashed by: "Bike Hire Schemes are 'Sinister UN Plot'." Whoa, I gotta dig into this one, I thought.

Mpls launched a bike share program, Nice Ride MN, this past spring. Apparently Denver did as well. Awesome, right -- more people exercising and getting out on bikes? That's what entrepreneur Dan Maes, a Tea Party candidate for CO governor, first thought. That was until he made the connection that the "bike sharing program is the first step to a UN takeover of the city." Apparently, god spoke to him in a dream or something telling him the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) is the UN's conduit for alien infiltration and domination.

Okay, so I made up that part about god speaking to Dan. But other than that you can't make this stuff up, people. Read the article. Maes even invoked the Constitution. That is, after all, what the Tea Party buffoons are wont to do. Like the bible, the Constitution is supposed to be a charter laden with absolute truth. Perhaps that will suffice for those who need absolutes to beat over others' heads.

After you read the very short article, sit back and marvel at the fact that the Tea Party even exists in our great land. Chuckle a bit that elitism is alive and well. Then look around you and ponder how many of your co-workers and neighbors subscribe to such fear-induced bullshit. Finally, be proud that you are not one of them; challenge ignorance at every turn.

I've picked on faith a lot in this essay. I'd like to step up and admit there is something I want to have faith in -- the belief that our nation can endure with intelligent leadership by its citizenry -- tempered with patience, acceptance and forbearance -- no matter whether we're Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Pagans, or abstainers altogether.

We elected our current president on a platform of change. Polls show his approval rate sliding and many are predicting a reactionary ousting of Democrats in our coming elections. Did anyone expect change to be easy or agreeable? Furthermore, did we expect ANY major party candidate to deliver the goods?

I suppose the rats would rather jump and risk drowning than work to right a tilted vessel.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Old Skool Beerz

I received a retort of sorts regarding my last post. That's always nice.

If you like beer and you like looking at old beer can art, then fritter away 10 or 15 minutes of your company's salary dollars on this gallery of classic quart canned beers. It's alphabetized with an index that allows you to jump to whatever letter you wish.

Much to my dismay, there's no Fleck's.

Thanks to J Marshall for the link.

Speaking of beer, I'm off to the Fatherland of Beer tomorrow to sample the best Bavaria has to offer. In the meantime, keep it real.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Oil Cans


I got into a rather vigorous debate this afternoon with Johnny Nebraska concerning the volume of an "oil can." He stated the cans hold the same as an old school oil can -- one quart (32 ounces). I retorted that I understand a true oil can held one quart but that a Foster's style oil can is 24 ounces. It turns out neither of us were exactly right.


I happen to have a couple of cans around from recent sessions, so I present Exhibits A & B. Exhibit A (the top photo) shows both varieties of Foster's oil can available in Mpls. Exhibit B (immediately above) shows a close-up. In reality the volume is 750mL. But in a reverse play on the French McDonald's line from Pulp Fiction ("You know why they call it a Royale with Cheese?") the fine folks at Oil Can Breweries (Albany GA & Ft Worth TX) who are licensed by Foster's in the US have seen fit to give us a measure we Americans can understand -- 25.4 fl. oz. (Am I the only one who finds it interesting that's also the conversion of millimeters to an inch?)

I'm not saying a larger "oil can" beer does not exist, but not in our venerable US Foster's. I once bought a Danish Lager in Germany that was in a 1L can. But, Mr Nebraska, that's not a quart. In beer terms, 1L is 1.81 ounces superior to a quart. This leads me to believe the Forty will never catch on in Europe or elsewhere enlightened enough to utilize the Metric system of measurement. They'll just one-up it with the 1.75L and be done.

Now if anyone else had engaged me in this debate I might have accused them of quaffing less volume than they claim. Like the folks who seem to think a 12-pack is a "case." However, my hat is eternally off to my opponent because he puts his tall boys where his mouth is.

While we are on the topic of beer and measure -- what gives? The British pint is 19.21 US ounces. We might have thrown off a lot of the imperial baggage when we formed our own union. But there's one tiny facet we should have held onto.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Socks and Sandals

The family and I attended the Tour de Fat (New Belgium’s beer and bike festival) in Loring Park last weekend. Costumes were encouraged. I decided to wear a kilt and tie-dye shirt along with some knee high argyle socks and Chaco sandals. The idea was to be outlandish. A female acquaintance saw fit to comment that I’d taken it so far as to pair socks with sandals. I thought nothing of the comment. The day was rather warm and the combination was functional – I could easily remove the socks and air out my feet if needed.

A couple of days ago I saw a headline on Yahoo entitled "Men’s 10 Biggest Fashion Mistakes." Yep, at the top of the list (#1 in fact) was wearing socks with sandals. I don’t do this much anymore but I used to all the time when I lived in TN and sandals were my default year-round attire. What's the big deal? Must function and fashion completely diverge?

A few years ago I learned the hard way at a pre-wedding party that knickers aren’t acceptable menswear. The mood was casual and plenty of others were in shorts and t-shirts. However, when I tried to convince a female acquaintance that knickers were gaining popularity in some circles, she wasn't having it. I guess they look dangerously like capris and even if you’re a cyclist who has decided knickers are perhaps the most functional garment ever adapted for pedaling, you’re still committing fashion murder. (Or maybe it’s gender murder, more aptly, in most people's eyes.) Geez, hang-ups.

Some guys don’t have this hang-up, I've since learned. A few weeks ago I stopped to get some beer on the ride home from work. The guy behind the counter asked: “Where’d you get those capris? I’ve been looking for a pair for riding.” I prefer to call them knickers, but you call yourself out if you like.

Over the Independence Day weekend we took the family north to visit some friends and get in a little time with canoe and paddle. It worked out that we could go to Grand Marais on the 4th to have dinner and walk around. The town was packed. I hadn’t changed out of my Utilikilt for most of the weekend since it’s a damned fine summer garment, not to mention the other two temperate seasons in MN. Again, I thought nothing of it -- what's wrong with wearing clothes that make sense? Most of the visitors of Grand Marais were apparently perplexed. It's been a long time since I’ve had so many stares – many to the point of rudeness (e.g. people sitting in their cars to watch the imminent fireworks, the front seat pair staring at me and muttering back and forth as we walked by). You’d think I was carrying a severed baby corpse with blood smeared on my face. I take it for granted how liberal most city dwellers can seem in contrast.

Last weekend we also popped by the Farmer’s Market to get some grillables. I’m a bag person. I have a pack or bag for almost any purpose including a Duluth Pack Haversack that is the perfect size for an every day tote. It’s a man-bag. Some might call it a murse, aka man-purse. I call it practical -- a faithful companion on many a trip long or short -- for a variety of excursions over the 8 years I've owned it. I carry it everywhere.

We stumbled across a booth hosted by a few folks calling themselves Man Cave. I’d have kept walking except they had the nicest stainless chicken-roasting grill pan I’d ever seen. I looked it over and in the course read some of their marketing materials. They are very much a "man’s man" kind of group (whatever that means ... it always includes football in America which I couldn't care less about). A sticker they displayed read, “A man purse is still a purse.” It turns out that’s their final Man Law.

I guess I can’t join "the Cave" or attend "a MEATing" if I choose to carry my bag. Bummer, since I rather agree with Man Laws #1 & 2: “1)No man shall ever turn down free beer... for any reason. Never. Ever. Seriously, Never. AND 2)Grilling, regardless of weather, is always the first choice for cooking.” Both activities at which I think I've achieved mastery level, despite the impediment of my purse.

I never knew I was a Fashion Felon or less than a "manly" man. I guess I’ve been kidding myself all these years.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Bike Path Culture

I'll summarize what I've said many times before -- I ride on bike paths; I enjoy a break from riding on roads. At this time of year, path riding can be a bit unnerving, however, given the glut of users of varying ability and the majority who seem to lack personal awareness skills. But overall, I recognize bike paths for their essential place in the infrastructure of a bicycle-friendly community.

For several weeks I've been thinking about blogging the very topic that tonight I was reminded is as pertinent as ever. In fact, it may be growing in significance as we pursue more "bike friendliness" along the current US trend of dedicating and paving more bike paths.

Regularly I read an argument that goes something like this: Without more bike paths (i.e. separate and PROTECTED surfaces for cyclists) communities cannot capture a large portion of folks who are motivated to ride more yet are intimidated by the thought of riding on streets. Strangely, as a seasoned cyclist, I am more unnerved by riding the bike paths in peak season. In fact, if my goal is to get somewhere on my commute, riding the bike paths can present more obstacles that challenge my safe egress than most busy streets I ride.

That's not the point I wish to make, however. I want to ponder for a moment the notion of the bike path and what it means not only to cyclists but its greater implications to motorists.

I was just over halfway home tonight when I maneuvered onto northbound Xerxes Ave. This is a busy four-lane but I ride about a quarter mile before it transitions into a two-lane semi-residential road again. Like France Ave a quarter-mile west it's a beautiful north-south direct route. However, a major shopping center and two freeway interchanges introduce a steady flow of traffic accustomed to driving fast and desiring to get someplace in a hurry.

I've often thought: What awesome spots to introduce bike signage and/or bike lanes to acclimate motorists. But in my personal assessment Mpls would rather spend money on trails. Perhaps there's even lobbying for expensive dedicated trails versus bike lanes that utilize space that's already paved because motorists don't want to deal with cyclists. That's certainly the popular movement afoot with bike advocates across our land.

Headed north at a pretty good pace I caught a yellow light at Hwy 62 (a freeway on-ramp). I could have run it but there were plenty of cars around so I opted, as I usually do when drivers are watching, to follow the rules of the road. I figure I'm presenting a better image for cyclists at large. I care about that.

I put my foot down at the signal. I heard a horn blast from the car directly behind me. A second or two passed, then a voice from the car window shouted, "This isn't the goddamn bike path. Get on the sidewalk." I paused and unclipped my other foot. I started to turn and actually contemplated laying my bike across the lane and walking to the driver's window to call bullshit in his ignorant face. But I bit my tongue, held my finger and waited for the light to change. Then I rode on not once acknowledging his belligerence.

I've heard comments like this plenty of times in the past, but this one struck me differently given its semantical qualities. Here are a couple of other common lines that get shouted. Let's see if you notice the difference:
"Get out of the fucking road, asshole."
"Ride on the fucking sidewalk, dumbass."
The difference, of course, is the mention of "bike path." The ignorant driver who chose to yell at me wasn't smart enough to know I have a legal right to ride in the road but he was aware that bike paths exist and wasn't afraid to exert his belief that's where cyclists belong -- exclusively was his implication. (Bikes Belong ... where?)

In the cycling mecca of Mpls (#1 in the nation, baby) who couldn't be aware that bike paths abound? But is this a good thing? As a transportation cyclist, I put forth a dissenting voice. It is not a good thing insofar as the growing divide between cyclists' perceived safety and the tangible loss of recognition among motorists that bikes should be allowed a spot on the road worthy of all the respect that is alotted fellow motorists. (Even though that might not be saying much these days.)

Cities and states can spend as much federally subsidized money as they like but they will never succeed in crafting a network of bike paths that get every cyclist where s/he needs to go without setting a tire on a common road. In most cases cyclists must ride on roads for a large portion of their commutes. Why should we begrudge that and avoid roads if the law supports our riding decisions?

A quick answer: Because public opinion is shifting -- thanks to advocacy groups that devote massive amounts of funding for bike paths. That means bikes should go there and get out of the way of motorists.

I've posed a challenge perhaps by linking bike paths with commuting because I don't think that was ever the intent. In a city like Mpls, god help the hapless soul who chooses to commute on many of the paths. I drive occasionally and I have been stuck in rush hour traffic enough to proclaim that I'd kill myself sooner than deal with that everyday reality.

Ironically, the congestion of the bike paths in fair weather sends my mood south as well. In the grand scheme I'm happy people are riding bikes, getting exercise. But no matter the intent, the paths have become the freeways of recreational cyclists much the same way legislation has benefitted the recreational cyclist. (Jim Oberstar = Poster child for middle aged recreational Trek rider. Must you always wear lycra and pedal a road bike in your photo ops?)

People are on bikes. Isn't that good? I suppose, but I surmise it's still a classist feeding frenzy of privilege. Godammit, I want people to wake up and take cycling seriously as a lifestyle -- not as a fucking hobby. If you're driving to a trailhead on the weekend or riding your $6K road bike on your days off you aren't doing the cause of biking any justice. You're not reversing the consumer trend in America and you're not challenging the automobile paradigm, you're simply paying off your legislators to grant you a place to play.

Sorry to spoil your fun, people, but bikes aren't simply toys.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Panorama

What's on tap?
Southern Tier IPA & 422; Full Sail Session Lager

Conundrum of the Week
The salsa in the fridge tastes like kim chee and the fresh jar in the cupboard tastes like marinara sauce.

Who's driving this space-plane anyway?
Two weeks ago I left for a ten-day stint in Japan. I get back and we have two failed attempts at plugging the Gulf oil leak and another failing one in the works. What the fuck, people?

Oh sure, blame British Petroleum BUT let's pick another reason to hold Obama's feet over the coals; let's crucify the high levels of government and draw partisan lines over unilateral (dare I posit non-governmental?) issues. I grow tired of the victim scenario ... along the lines of: "Oh, I can't believe these shining beacons of corporate greed could have let this happen. I mean, there are RULES and REGULATIONS and such, right? It must be THE fault of whomever is in power."

Think about your own job. How much shit do you have to deal with that was created by people above you, below you -- people you may not even like? But they stirred the pot, made downright crappy decisions and now you're left with the white glove and the butterfly net, expected to make everything right.

Culpability. The stark reality of this -- the blood is on us all. Each and every one of us are holding smoking guns. After all, we are the nation that commands cheap energy at any and all costs. The kicker? Look around you -- do you see any tangible evidence that this latest oil disaster has changed anyone's habits? Have you overheard any talk at the office coffee machine (err, sorry ... on Facebook) about this other facet of oil-mania? Forget community detachment, obesity rates, psychological malaise, global warming -- this is an apocalyptic reminder of the true costs along the full cycle of oil consumption. Yet, beyond pointing fingers at blame it seems few care. What a privilege to assert. How very American.

What did you really log on to write about?
Jetlag. When you fly back from a place that is 14 hours ahead of your home time zone you learn a lot about yourself. You behave in ways that are most shocking. You think, "I really ought to be able to just convince myself I'm not feeling psychopathic in this moment." Fortunately, it soon passes.

There are the upsides, too: Lucid dreams that are so vivid and joyful within 30 seconds of closing one's eyes: Appreciation for the old and familiar: Clarity that can only be gained by experiencing another reality for an extended period of time. I revel in this. It is perhaps the greatest personal benefit of my current job.

Another benefit is that I am up uncharacteristically early. This morning I cleaned several months' worth of blackened burner residue from all six stations of our antique range's cooktop. I scrubbed and scrubbed with citrus cleaner then resorted to oven spray. I washed all the laundry from my trip. I changed light bulbs and swept a few lingering piles of dust. I cleaned out all the old contents of the fridge (but missed one container of salsa).

So what?
This evening I watched the kids. I was determined -- after being a sleepy, jetlagged crank yesterday at this time -- to power through the urge to nap and do something fun. I suggested a walk. Sylvia countered a bike ride. Despite the lethargia I hitched the Burley trailer and Sylvia grabbed her bike.



We pedaled away from the house -- Sylvia on her bike and me towing the trailer with Willa aboard. The pace was remarkably slow. Here and there an occasional trackstand was necessary. I steered us toward the bike path. I wanted Sylvia to learn some new skills about riding around other people. She powered up several hills and pulled her bike over the railroad tracks. She also pedaled a muddy, graveled detour without being phased. Eventually, I had to load her and the bike onto the trailer. It is worth noting she rode 2.2 miles on her own.

Where are you going with this?
That short trip on the bike trail was not exactly care-free. I was tensely looking over my shoulder and reminding Sylvia to keep to the right. The path warriors are never at bay and sure enough a half dozen or so buzzed by us panting, knock-kneed and piston-pedaling along. Some said nothing, others seemed to whisper and others gasped abruptly 'On your left." I'm a critic for certain, but not until tonight do I think I fully realized why the lycra-clad give cyclists a bad name in most circles. Much to their (and our) demise, they transform the bike trails, streets and byways into ribbons of narcissitic pursuit, forging the carbon-copy type of speed-defined dominance. Still, we crawled on greeting the smiles of some who slowed enough to notice the utter joy that is a child learning to ride a bike.

I don't know exactly why I was compelled to note the mileage when Sylvia gave in, but I did. As the minutes ticked onward, it occurred to me she had surpassed a national milestone. You know that one about the majority of Americans' automobile trips being two miles or less?

"Holy shit," I thought, "My five-year-old daughter has just ridden her 12-inch kids' bike farther than most adults think possible."

Both kids and the bike loaded, my 100 lb+ burden-in-tow seemed like a balloon full of helium. We made our detour to the beer store. On the way back we swung by the seedy beach on the east side of Cedar Lake.


The kids played in the water as I pointed out the gregarious activity of Red-Wing Blackbirds flittering all about.



We rolled on to the abandoned rail dock that is now a gravel road west of Linden Yard. It's one of my favorite detours on the morning commute and a frequent stop on the way home. From there a few short, steep paths climb up to Kenwood. (Secretly, I always hope this egress for vagrants keeps the rich folks on their toes.)

I sipped a beer while we explored the paths. Sylvia and Willa practiced pied a canarde as well as a variation of glissading on the way back down. Willa settled on the most instinctual method of descent -- the ass slide. I was delighted as they both asked to go up one more time and test their new skills. Right there, in real-time, I could see their confidence growing.

Perhaps what we need is more opportunities for people to learn and more openness to these opportunities. Even amidst settled routine there is spontaneity awaiting the receptive mind.

Drop your baggage and follow your kid for 5 minutes. S/he will show you something you'd forgotten long ago.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bike Bells Demystified (For the Non-Cyclist)

Hi
I'd like to say that
but you see
I am 30ft away
and closing this gap
quickly.

Ding, ding.

A quick sharp ring
a pure brass tone
penetrates the drone
friendly conversation
dogs panting
shoes slapping
cell phone gabbing
or so, that's the plan.

Ding, ding.

"Good [insert time of day]
On your left."
I'd like to say
Hi
but you see
I am 30ft away
and closing this gap
quickly.

How shocking
The jumps and starts
The mutterings of profanity
The occasional outright insults
The deafness
dumbness
blindness
unawareness
That's why I have the bell
but you ain't hearing it.

If you'd rather
really
I don't need to ring it.

It's not meant to frighten
but if it offends
the bell is easily replaced.

Ding, ding
becomes a nudge or a push
or
a GETtheFUCKouttaMYway!
It doesn't really matter though
because what I'd
truly like to say is

Hi
Excuse me
Thank you
Have a good day.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Absolutes

Everything I ever thought was a constant I've desolved.

God.
Family.
Marriage.
Friendship.

I have found all transient, if non-existent.

I do not stand before anyone seeking solace.

I do not seek evidence to prove or disprove.

What is, is.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bumper Stickers

I like bumper stickers. I've been known to fly a few over the years. My zeal for presenting a message to the world at large from the surface of my car has waned in the past few years, considering I sold my car and get around mostly by bike.

However, I must admit the impact of bumper stickers is not lost on me. In fact, the more I cycle the more I realize the mindless beings trapped behind the wheel are fodder for AHA! moments when a lucid message can make some real impact for better or worse. In my observation, most people are not paying much attention to their driving, so why not suggest some social change amidst their profound dis-engagement?

There are categories of stickers for me. I admit I am a bit polarized. I believe there are worthwhile and useless bumper stickers. I'm not partial to the conservative or christian ones in part because they tend to show little creativity or intellectual depth. Then there are the obvious contradictions -- some of my least favorite are pro-environmental stickers plastered on cars. And I must admit pro-bicyclist stickers affixed to cars ('My Other Car is a Bike!' or 'I SHARE the road') that pass me too close, cut me off or treat me like a mere bug on the street get on my nerves. We're all human though and prone to forget what's hanging out of our garments, let alone stuck to our bumpers.

But I am not here to split those already frazzled hairs or dissect previously mutilated science projects. I wish to address a new sticker I saw this morning while driving the kids to the baby sitter. (Yes, driving ... it's a long story.)

Crossing a quiet neighborhood street in S Mpls, there was a smallish car parked with a brightly contrasting sticker stuck top and center of the trunk hatch. I particularly take notice when an automobile owner has chosen to adhere a sticker to the paint of their car, not just the plastic or metal bumper. This one was stuck smack on the paint of a newish car, high and proud. It read: Cats NOT Kids. The caps are not added for emphasis, that's how it read.

I am not the world's poster-child for Buddhism, but I am a Buddhist. I don't hate animals, but rather recognize everything from cows to cockroaches as sentient beings. I also happen to believe pet culture in our country is over the top. We've divided our country over socialized medicine while millions of Americans spend billions on their dogs and cats for everything from organic food to shrink sessions. We smash and poison insects, neglect destitute people on the street (they ought to know better, right?) but we extol the merits and rights of our domesticated pets. How bizarre.

As a Buddhist I believe in reincarnation. If you don't understand reincarnation, it is based on karma (merit of deeds) and presents a certain hierarchical order to why you end up as the being you are today. To be reborn a human is an extra special outcome -- a treat of merit. You've done a lot of good things in the past. Not only do you have sentience, you have reason, choice and the ability to further advance your presence (and help others) in this go-around. You have a choice to overcome instinct with reason and intellect.

Helping others means all other sentient beings -- animals, humans. That's cool. I don't kill bugs and I teach my children the same. Yes, we eat meat sometimes; I realize that is not ideal. I don't agree with war. Aspects of socialism appeal to me because they present a more level access to basic services that preserve a healthier state of human existence.

I was married previously. My partner and I both agreed having children was out of the question. That's lucky since we split up and I happen to think that kids caught in divorce have a really tough time. I endured it myself. At the time of my previous marriage though, I was even more convinced not to procreate from a philosophical viewpoint of zero population growth.

However, my viewpoint softened somewhat as I found myself partnered with someone who was confident and resilient beyond the call of social convention. I listened to friends who told me what a good father I would be. I pondered the possibility of raising offspring who are taught more than the empty urge to breed others to join the status quo (whatever the parent/society defines that to be).

What if the ultimate act of parenting is to raise kids who will question and cry bullshit at the norm?

That is my goal as a parent. I can imagine, but not actualize, the pain I'll feel the first time one of our daughters tells me, "Fuck you, dad." But I will revel in the realization that I have helped guide a free-thinking being who can discern shit from shinola.

To espouse a doctrine (Cats NOT Kids) of breeding animals over humans, however, is ludicrous to me. Sure, it echoes a statement against human overpopulation but it reflects an inability to relate to the dynamic human element that is necessary to make our world a better place. I'm not saying cats and dogs don't matter. We host a cat now. I have partnered many cats and dogs (not to mention hamsters, mice and rats) over the years and I've been seriously attached to them. They were good souls. I carry their presences with me now; I remember them fondly. But the bumper sticker "Cats NOT Kids" irks me.

I took some time off from work recently. As I am wont to do, I spent a lot of that time in the garage where my shop is. One afternoon I heard through the window a surreal hissing sound below the open window. I popped outside to discover our cat in a face off with a neighborhood stray. This critter was lean and mangy. I positioned myself between them, charged at him shouted, "Get out of here!" He not only didn't budge he stared up at me with a piercing gaze that said, "I'll just as happily fuck your shit up, too." I've stared down plenty of wild animals from skunks to bears and boars. But I have never felt as chilled as I did when challenging this cat. It took a foot and a grill cover, twice, to get him out of our yard.

Cats (nor dogs) are not going to change our world, our society, our government for the better. Not in the sense that they can begin delivering speeches, running for office or affecting policy. Perhaps I'm missing the point -- the person who bought the bumper sticker thinks otherwise and believes cats can bridge this gap of communication and reason (i.e. they can talk to certain people). In that case I should stop typing now.

If you believe you relate better in cat or dog language, you're probably not reading my blog anyhow.

Pet people, love your pets. But don't neglect, dismiss or hate your human co-inhabitants.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Spylab

The old stuff.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Corners

I’m going to jinx us all when I open up this topic, but I just have to brag about how incredibly awesome our run of early spring weather has been. A month ago when I boarded a plane bound for Taiwan it was sunny and topping out at a sweat-breaking 60 degrees. I cursed the fact I had to leave Mpls because I was certain I’d return to some cold snap or a late snow. Every year we yearn for the warmth as winter winds down, but you do well not to get too comfortable during late winter/early spring in MN. Things are known to change quickly.

When I returned from Taiwan a week and a half later it was warm, sunny and dry. This made me happy but I couldn’t let myself get too smug. It was only late March after all. Now as we slide toward the tail end of April it’s looking more and more like we are truly fortunate to bask in the glory of the earliest spring on record during my eight year sojourn here.


Sylvia sports a piece of fresh tulip jewelry.

The latest snow that I recall fell during the final week of April about 5 years ago. Those few slushy inches quickly melted and we were back on course for May flowers. I don’t want to knock them -- spring snow storms are fun in their own special way. But my main point here is this – no matter how you slice it, spring in MN is one of the most incredible seasonal experiences anywhere on Earth. All of our seasons are defined with well-marked transitions. I love that as do most of the others I know who choose to call this place home.


Last Saturday night Willa looked up into the western sky and spied the sliver of a moon. She pointed it out to me stating, “Daddy, there’s the moon … the moon.” She followed up by dispelling a popular myth: “There’s no cheese in it.”

Just in case you were wondering.

Things to be Happy About (Unless You're a Republican)

US Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, stating bicycling and walking should be given the same consideration as motorized transport in state and local transit projects. Yay.

Backbone. I wish more politicians, or appointed officials had one.

Bicycling voted Mpls the #1 city for cycling. Double yay.

Go ride yer bike.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Dumber Than We Look

It's old news now -- over a week old in fact -- the Harris poll that drew such shocking results as 24% of Republicans believe Obama is the antichrist. Plus, he's a Muslim, non-citizen socialist who's doing many of the things Hitler did ... blah, etc, blah. You can't Google a search for the poll without getting countless blog posts. It seems everyone has said something about this poll, and for good reason I suppose. In case you haven't kept up here is a nice summary I found along with some interesting analysis.

I couldn't leave it alone so I dug deeper and found the complete results of the poll on the Harris website. The poll is related to John Avlon's book Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America. I plan to check out this book because it: A) Sounds right up my alley and B) I'm very intrigued by this quote from the author (in response to the Harris poll stats):

"These new numbers are shocking but not surprising – they detail the extent to which Wingnuts are hijacking our politics. This poll should be a wake-up call to all Americans about the real costs of using fear and hate to pump up hyper-partisanship. We are playing with dynamite by demonizing our president and dividing our country in the process. Americans need to remember the perspective that Wingnuts always forget – patriotism is more important than partisanship."

I was not going to write about this since it has been drawn out by so many others. However, this morning I read a couple of stories about the arrest of the Hutaree wackos next door in MI, OH and IN. As my very patient wife-partner and better half can attest, I get worked up by such stupidity. Sometimes really worked up. I am an idealist at heart. But pragmatically speaking, I believe my greatest character flaw is the tenacious, yet erroneous, belief I hold that all people can be civil, intelligent and respectful. We can live courageously and take responsibility for our actions. We're smart and resourceful and confident in all the best, slightly above average and heavily gilted Lake Wobegon sorts of ways.

Wrong.

In America we might look pretty and have nice houses, big cars and cool clothes. We can eat like royalty to excess. We can firm our wrinkles, bleach our teeth, plump our pleasureable parts and suck out our cellulite. We afford exorbitant gym fees because we can't be bothered to sweat in the name of practicality or physical labor. We pay immigrants substandard wages to perform those tasks for us.

We might look like -- hell, we may actually believe -- we have it all. And we do; as long as "it" means "shit for brains." We are a pathetically stupid nation. This is an undeniable fact in spite of No Child Left Behind, higher rates of literacy/graduation and greater numbers of young people attending college. Some folks are getting certificates and degrees and whatnot, but aren't learning a goddamned thing about how to be intelligent and productive members of society.

Wingnuts and Tea Party-ers are saying they're fed up. Well, I'm saying, "Fuck you, Wingnuts and Tea Party-ers. I'm tired of your bullshit and the bad rap you and the rest of the putrid-brained people abusing their American citizenship are giving us the world over. Push off."

In fact, sensible friends among us, you'd do well to tell these people to fuck off too. Now, you may be wondering how can someone who espouses tolerance be telling others to fuck off? The distinction is simple -- I am not asking anyone to adopt any belief or accept any religion; I am simply saying that anyone who tries to get folks to do such should be stopped. Free speech does not encompass maiming or killing, or condoning such acts. If you don't get that you have serious road blocks to your development.

It's that simple.

I posit this: America would be a better place if we had far fewer people who believed they were ordained by god and carried some divine rite. You godly people are ignorant, weak and feeble because you replace intelligence with blind faith and rely on the hope of divine retribution. Fuck off.

Our country was built on humility but we outggrew our breeches. One may harken to the olden days of god-fearing citizens like it was some sort of golden, pure age. It was, but not in a naive way. Conservatives want to say we've lost our morals. Liberals want to say we are stretching our destiny.

Early Americans feared god because they were ironically humble; taking on huge rivers, unchecked storms and unscaled cliffs did that I suppose. As soon as dams were in place and bridges built exltation was in order. Who needs fear the natural world since mankind can tame it all?

The not-so-good part was the eradication of all indigenous people who were non-christian and would not convert. That phenomenon seems to have changed little these days. Now everyone with a bible study passport, an iPod and a plane ticket thinks they're a theologian. You're chaff, I assure you, in that whole wheat equation. Dumbasses, every one. You are doomed to repeat history and it will bite thee in thine ass.

Here's a taste of my creed -- to hell with religious zealotry and fundamentalism. Quit living life like you're right and others must therefore be wrong. Polarity of thought is useless. Morals exist without a god to carve mythical tablets or men to forge sacred scriptures. You can keep making them up but they will still be conditionally false and wrong.

Come on. Seriously. If you have enough brain power to craft dogma and defend empty positions based on faith can't you dream up a few positions based on square logic and reason? So what if I and we are all heretical -- can't you overcome reason and science that are based on "usurping god's law?" What the fuck ...

Friends, Romans, countryfolk ... give up your stupidity in the name of ... . ?