Thursday, May 29, 2008

News Flash!

No, not for you non-media civilians. This one's a flash for the two mega-corporate entities that controlled 98.3% of all American news outlets at last count.

THIS JUST IN! If you report that gas prices hit a record high EVERY DAY, it is NO LONGER NEWS. You might as well start every newscast with this: "Our sources report that the sun rose in the east today. Experts predict it will set in the west."

Not that I mind watching a different version of the same interview with a different version of the same idiot every day. He's always pouring a tanker truck of X-plus-12 cents-per-gallon gas (where X=yesterday's "record high") down the maw of his Hummer, watching the numbers spin like a slot machine on crack, and stammering, "I just don't know what I'm gonna do if this keeps up. Sell a kidney, maybe? Or a kid? I already stopped feeding them!"

Ah, there's nothing quite like the smug, holier-than-thou vantage point of a guy whose primary vehicle runs on coffee and Cheerios, eh?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Apparently, I'm It

Pal Scott (of Landscape Cycling fame) just "tagged" me in some kind of blog game I'd never heard of before. Scott 'splains it thusly:

"Pick up your nearest book and go to page 123. Find the fifth sentence, and post on your blog the next three sentences. Acknowledge who tagged you, and then tag five more people."

I'm sitting quite close to my collected poems of the late, great Shel Silverstein, so I'm grabbing a tattered copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends. And being a bender of writerly rules, I'm going to find the third stanza (which is, coincidentally, five lines long) and post that. Hey, I got the five and the three in there, right? And the third stanza is where the master put the punchline anyway:

Double-Tail Dog, by Shel Silverstein
He cannot bite, he'll never bark or growl,

Just scratch him on his tails, he'll find it pleasing.

But you'll have to take him out

For twice as many walks,

And I'll bet that you can quickly guess the reason.

I wonder how many writers can reach back into the memory banks and pull out that one author who really lit the fuse for them? I know I can. Shel Silverstein was the guy. His words were so milk-snorted-out-the-nose fun to read, I just knew that he must have been having an absolute ball when he wrote them down. His writing was joyous, poignant, sad, hilarious, elevated, base, thought-provoking, and just as accessible to 6-year-old me (I was a freak-savant reader, but more on that another day) as it is to me today, three decades later. And when I'm absolutely on my best game -- those rare writing moments where I make myself laugh out loud or suck in my breath -- I think, "That must be how he felt."

Now I'm obligated to tag five more people, but I don't know anyone to tag -- and it feels vaguely like a chain letter. So if you're reading and want to play along, post your responses as a comment here. I know I have some voracious readers and excellent writers (I'm looking at you, Stevens!) in my audience of four, so show me what you've got.

I'm also making up my own game, just to wreak my petty vengeance (bwaa haaa haa haaa!!) on Scott. Everyone please go over to Scott's blog (remember, it's Landscape Cycling), read until something he's written sparks a song lyric for you (the more annoying and mind-sticking the better) and post those lyrics as a comment. It's a variation on something I try to do to him as often as possible on the mailing list where we met.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Any Old Porteur in a Storm

Carla's Peugeot (first seen in my "Obligatory Fleet Rundown" series) just got a bit of a makeover, and it's looking a bit more French these days.

She wanted a way to carry a light load on the bike for grocery runs, riding to class, etc. So, with a cheap Nashbar mini-front rack, a Yaffa cube (otherwise known as a fancied-up milk
crate), a little hardware, a toestrap, too much spare time, a smidge of ingenuity, and a healthy dose of pure dumb luck, I came up with what you see here.

I drilled a hole in th
e bottom of the crate that aligns with the reflector hole on the rack and bolted the crate to the rack. Then, a toestrap through the cube-holes and rack stabilizes things in the rear.
It's not a rock-solid "let's throw 50 pounds of gear in there and tour over the Andes" setup, but for tooling around town at moderate speeds with a light load, it does the trick just fine. Carla likes the fact that she can see her stuff while she rides, and the fact that it makes her bike look "dorky, in a cool sort of way" (her words).

True connoisseurs of the porteur will no doubt exclaim, "But ze bike, she has too much trail! And ze wheels, why are they not 650B? Stupid American!" I concede all three points and promise not to submit this steed as a Bicycle Quarterly test subject, for fear of being taunted a second time.

Oh, and the bike now has an official name, inspired by its model (Orient Express) and its dorky/cool old lady vibe. I give you AGATHA!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bike to Work Week: A Retrospective

Here's the bike rack on Monday (image lifted from the BTWW story on my employer's intranet).

Not bad, eh? By the way, that's my fixed gear, front and center, mugging for the camera. What a ham.

By Friday (the actual Bike to Work Day of Bike to Work Week), that same fixed gear was about 100 feet away, locked to the closest empty space I could find on a nearby fence. I saw people who I didn't even know had bikes, much less had ever considered riding them to work. And several told me how much fun they had on the ride in. I went into the weekend feeling pretty good about the state of things bike in Des Moines.

Then, there's today. Take that picture above, Photoshop out all the bikes but two (mine and another regular rider's), and that's the lasting impact of Bike to Work Week at my office. Sad.

And that, unfortunately, is my ongoing beef with Bike to Work Week. Its heart is in the right place, but without any follow-up from the city, its employers, and (three fingers pointed back at himself) people like me who commute a lot, it's all splash but no ripples.

I suspect I'm preaching to the choir here. So how do we reach the congregation?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Oh Boy, It's Amateur Hour

Can't find an empty spot in the bike rack? Must be the beginning of Bike to Work Week!

I was once a pretty strong proponent of BTWW, but these days, it just pegs my cynicism meter. For example, today's big event was "ride to work with a police escort alongside several local politicians who probably won't swing a leg over a saddle until this photo opportunity comes around again next year." Boy, there's nothing like a brisk morning ride down streets that can only be made tolerable by an entourage of squad cars. Needless to say, I took an actual bike route -- like I do every day -- and missed out on the free breakfast.

It is encouraging to see more riders and jammed racks, and not just because the expensive and poorly locked RAGBRAI toys will get stolen long before my humble steed. But it will be more encouraging if I see it again next week, after the heady rush of short-term environmentalism/trendiness has worn off. Heck, I'll be glad if I find a crowded rack tomorrow, when it's supposed to rain.

Rant over, climbing down from the high horse...

Friday, May 9, 2008

"The Cycle" Goes International

I've just learned that I have (at least) one reader outside the United States! My dear old grad school friend Tamara (call her "Tammy" at your peril) is reading from jolly olde England.

Watch as I become increasingly self-conscious, knowing that a real English teacher from England is looking over my shoulder. You'll know it's happening when I start to describe the "colour" of my bikes or the "queue" I got stuck in during rush hour.

Seriously, welcome to my devoted readership of a half-dozen, Tam, and cheerio! (a greeting to you, a breakfast cereal to me).

Monday, May 5, 2008

Happy Bionic Birthday to Me!

Actually, it was yesterday, so this is my Belated Bionic Birthday. One year and one day ago -- May 4, 2007 -- I got a titanium implant after splitting my OEM femur like a wishbone.

And wouldn't you know it, the weather yesterday was perfect for a ride. I only had time for a quick 30 miles, but it was a fitting way to commemorate 365 days as a freakish hybrid of man and machine.

Of course, the knee on the fixer-upper side aches like nobody's business today, but I just keep reminding myself that a year ago, I was having a Spinal Tap "this one goes to 11" moment on the pain scale of 1-10. By comparison, one complaining knee barely even registers.