Monday, June 28, 2010

At least the gates of Hell have a dog.

Was in Wisconsin for a doggy event all weekend. I'd packed stuff to sweat in, to wear afterward, to trial in. Neither enough shirts nor socks, however. Then I was informed I had to wear long pant to trial. I don't mind it, but was miffed because, a. it was fecking hot, and, b. I'd just arrived for the weekend, leaving my entire wardrobe, including pants/slacks/trousers, at home.

So I went to WalMart, or Wall Mart, or Wall's Mart.

And there, in the wilds of Wisconsin, were the people of WalMart. Actually, before that even, I negotiated a parking lot full of the cars of the people of walmart. The right-wing and reactionary, and xenophobic/racist/idiotic, excess of bumper stickers gave me, briefly, pause.

WHO, exactly, was threatening these good, doughy burghers? WHO was impingeing on their right to... eat a LOT of processed foods?

This is America, I thought. Too smug, self-satisfied, incurious, dull to hoist ourselves off a throne of skulls to look at the reality behind our blue-screened fantasy world. There were no sneaky minorities threatening homes, safety, lily white daughters, jobs, schools. Just a lot of pre-type-two diabetics with horrendous tattoos.

Seriously. I nearly went to a lazer place in horror at the atrocious skin art. I, too, am shamed. And there appeared a paucity of lily white daughters, while we're at it.

As a nation, we resemble an indolent, insolent teenager: bored, myopic, self-obsessed, petulant.

And I was there, marveling at the forced-labor greeters at walmart (who have earned chairs to rest on while saying hello/goodbye to everyone). They reminded me of the early-post-911 TSA gate checkers at Mpls airport: three former school lunch monitors who were gurgling like hyenas over their discount cinnabon, the frosting of which matched nicely their gut-strained uniforms, who refused to let us leave the waiting area with an infant. THIS is our security? THESE harpies who are actually searching a grandmother and, yes, an infant are responsible in some form for national security. If only Canada could take over...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Relativity, in a relative context

It's an odd predicament to be competitive but also realistic about one's limits. Almost oxymoronic, but not quite. I'm not old, but closer to long-toothed than to baby teeth... I do most things to excess. I stopped drinking and drugs for that reason, but most everything else is done thoroughly. I don't flit about or dally in/with things or people. If I like you, I'd doggedly faithful. If I don't, so be it. I frustrate Annie to no end because, when she is pipe-dreaming, I only filter in what's possible. No point wasting time on implausible fantasies--when we're talking about What-If issues. If there's a way to make it happen, I want to do it. So, when I get into something, I don't dabble.

It's been about a year since I began riding my bike more seriously. My ankle hasn't really healed after I broke it five years ago, so running has gone largely to wayside. My friends Dan & Linda are devoted/fanatical/maniacal/inspirational cyclists (athletes, but, now/finally, cyclists), and encouraged me to give it a try. Who knows why I resisted initially, or why it clicked for me when it did, but I've found such direction and pleasure and vehicle into which to channel my focus/drive/interest. In the past month I've done two hundred-mile gravel rides. Technically, races, but if one finishes nearly 20% after the first group, that's more of a ride than a race. Except, of course, it's ALWAYS an interior challenge. Pushing myself to finish as quickly as possible makes it a race of sorts.
I seldom dally; I go all out when I'm into something. After six-plus years heavily into dog training, I have fatigued a large amount with the poorly socialized humans attached to the far ends of the leash. I would enjoy spending lots of time training dogs with good people, but it is hard to make happen w/o lots of driving, which becomes problematic for my schedule.
Cycling can happen from my doorstep, during the day (this past was first year both girls were in school, so my off-shift days were free 0900-1530 for first time in a decade), and by myself.
I'm not in bad shape, and I've ridden my bike for years. But to actually ride with endurance and speed and power...that takes hours and miles of repetition, let alone practice and understanding. So, I go for my little rides around Mpls and I chase after people who look fast/er. Sometimes I catch them; often I don't. We're all entertaining our own private races in our heads--generally the other person is wholly unaware that you're in a race together...
I will get caught and dropped by skinny punkettes on single speed Raleighs. By paunchy older men. By insolently lanky teenage boys.
If one has ridden a bike at all seriously, nothing I say here is new or revelatory.

Americans don't really follow European sports--futbol/soccer & cycling, to wit--and our superficial attentions miss the point, the essence, not to mention the details of these highly complex sports. 'Lance Armstrong is a bad-ass Texan. He beat all those skinny Euro wimps in that race, right?'


The tactical complexity of bike racing makes American football and baseball look like four square with three squares removed. The endurance and suffering required to do it well are so far beyond comprehension of casual Versus-in-July viewers that it's scandalous.
As I've spent more time reading and watching local races and discussions, watching videos, talking with my friends who do it, I've begun to get an inkling about the sport. Still, watching vs doing...
I generally like to support local businesses, esp. ones with good intentions and foll0w-through, so I've begun lurking at Twin Six, Cars-r-coffins, Behind Bars, Peace Coffee, Angry Catfish... local bike and coffee joints. Two good things going great together. None of which makes me a better rider, but it's enjoyable to find 'communities' that aren't militantly right-wing, paranoid, socially dysfunctional (as a large swath of dog people are; not my friends--who know I like them--but the rest). As my dad said years ago, 'People are people, no matter the job or circumstance.' So, clearly, lots of cyclists are bonkers, but it's a different sort of crazy than the dog nuts.
Hurl at CRC invited me to ride the Slick 50, a season-beginning group ride. First group ride, first fifty mile ride for me. I saw a flyer for the Almanzo 100, and signed up. Good challenge. Something to aim for and to endure. Meanwhile, I wanted to find more people to ride with. My schedule means I'm out there with the retired codgers (many of whom are long-time cyclists who dust me) and Pilates mommies. I'd like to have camaraderie of a team, plus direction and support from others. One team caught my eye and appealed to my sense of humor and aplomb when I watched track racing and cyclocross last summer, Behind-Bars/LGR, a small, dedicated, mostly-mentally balanced squad based near me. I don't have much to offer, skill-wise, but I'm willing to work hard, try hard, and I've got a good sense of absurdist humor.
Even if we all agree that local club-level racing shouldn't be taken for more than it is (a bunch of enthusiasts going bonkers for imaginary goals, on far-too-expensive equipment), there's a far, far chasm between wanting to do well and even being able to keep up with the lower-tier racers.
The two portions of the AGRS I've done in the past month are both the first two hundred mile rides I've ever done and the first gravel riding I've ever done. Having done one doesn't mean I can do another just like that. Mental uncertainty is a real figment, and a real adversary. And, I'm competitive: I want to do it as fast and honorably as possible. Sure, I could ride ten miles an hour and finish in ten hours, but I want to be competitive, and, for me, that isn't a competitive pace. But it's a fucking long way to roll over gravel, regardless of pace.

Saturday's Westside Dirty Benjamin was far less hilly than ye olde Almanzo, but there was wind galore. And it was still 100-plus miles, which is no joke for casual riders. I'd toyed with riding my single-speed but thought better of it. I chased a couple single-speeders for several hours, so I know it's possible, but I need better legs to pull it off. In the wind howling through the front-side of the race, I tried to pace a couple different single cats, since I knew they were putting forth serious effort to get over the rolling hills in the gale of prairie gusting. I caught one guy for the third time with about six miles to go, and we rolled in together. I leaned over and croaked to him, 'Just so you know, I'm not going to launch a wreckless sprint for the end. You've been ahead of me all day, it's yours.' He laughed.
This series is inspiring for its simplicity and militant, obstinate belief that people can/should put together challenging events free of charge. Lots of generous support from sponsors and donators helps immensely, but it's the dedication and will-power of those hosting each event that makes it come together. I love that spirit, and the people who run the shops listed above, plus many others, graciously support these events to help make them happen AND to go off with style and grace. The riders are largely overwhelmingly supportive of one another, helpful, cheerful. We're each and all on our own private journey, churning the miles away, but I've had nothing but great interactions with 99% of the other riders.
My sisters-in-law and a neice/nephew came out to the checkpoint Saturday to say hello. I'd just spent 12+ miles worrying a faulty crank, so I was a bit distracted. So distracted, I shorted myself water and carried superfluous food. Oh well. It wasn't too hot.

And, here I am at the finish. A bit tired. Wondering how everyone else at the finish picnic looked so damn fresh and cheery...
(And to those fuckers whose big-ass cars have bumper stickers that read 'Bikes are for kids; spandex is for aerobics; roads are for taxpayers' I make the brief riposte that a. fuck you, b. fuck you, c. fuck you. Or, bikes are for everyone, and they are traffic, and they need under two feet clearance on the road; sport-specific clothing is ALL silly, out of context. If I'm unappealing & ridiculous to you in my cycling togs, how does your fat fucking ass look to me, as you lard it around in a excessively compensating vehicle? I pay taxes, too, you fuck, so the road is also mine. What threatens you so much about a dork on a bike? From the safety of your car, what compels you to 'teach cyclists a lesson' by swerving at them? If someone wipes out, or hits a curb, or your wheel, what will your defense be? You're a good person? Get fucked.)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Elmer Gantry stands tall in the HD-age

The papers were full of emotional response to the tragic fire deaths last month. In the aftermath, we learned that the building, a bar with apartments above, hadn't been inspected for over fifteen years. The bar itself had, and an inspection for the apartments was scheduled but the tenant cancelled/rescheduled it. This is a red-tape failure spanning three or four mayors and fire chiefs, but in the tumult of the deaths, politicians DEMANDED answers.

Many problems in the old system. People had/have been working to streamline, improve, and fix the issue for several years, with success. But there are many buildings that fall between the cracks, or haven't yet been completed. We can't barge in to every place, so it takes time to arrange and coordinate inspections.

Two mealymouthed firefighters went to the press to complain that when the MFD re-assumed inspection duties (there's a territorial pissing match or grey area between regulatory services, FD, and fire prevention bureau, which itself hovers between Fire and Reg Serv.) we were given shoddy training. I don't disagree that a three+ hour powerpoint isn't the best training tool, but we were given good info, plus very clear direction for problem solving and references. Most of all, none of us would, or should, claim we can't recognize CLEAR safety violation--missing or damaged smoke detectors, exposed wires, gaping holes in floors/ceilings. But, because the dumb firefighters chose the aftermath of a high-profile tragedy to try to undermine the inspection process (because they are pouty about 'having' to do the inspections), they also gave the media ammunition in the finger-pointing flock shoot.

'Building not inspected for 16 years!' cried several headlines, followed by, 'Fire captains say they weren't trained well, can't do good inspections.' And, from there, a second (or third or fourth) narrative developed: that the fire occured because firefighters didn't do a good job inspecting the building.

How can you do a bad inspection, or not know what to look for, in a building you DID NOT enter because the FPB had not assigned that building yet?

The building was a slovenly mess. Residents all said they accepted that in exchange for cheap rent. No one is prevented from installing or maintaining smoke detectors in their apartments or houses, regardless of whether the fire department or reg services inspects. The fire was likely caused by careless smoking. Without smoke detectors, the fire grew and the smoke killed all six of the people in the apartment. That is horrible and a tragedy.

We live in a culture, or society (since culture seems sorely lacking), in which government officials, bankers, CEOs, and other power people regularly stand before the flat-screen eye of the nation and lie their fucking asses off, but they do so with carefully modulated intonation, so they sound 'honest.' When, or if, anyone bothers to fact-check or call them out on blatant lies, they simply equivocate, deny, or ignore the reality-based facts. And continue on their way. Lance Armstrong will continue to issue his doping dance denials until they nail him to his own cross with his own dirty needles giving him B-test stigmata. Marion Jones/Mark Maguire et al NEVER did steroids until, oh yes, they did (admit to what was clear from the start).

Reality tv has engendered a generation and its followers of vapid fucks. The shows inject threadbare 'dramatic tension' into ... anything: can Bob and Bill get past their differences to make a cake by Friday? Will Khloe and Khimmy quit bickering in time to get their bodies bleached? Isn't Simon mean? NONE of it matters or is even real. My co-worker gets berzerk over it, saying he's glad he went to Iraq so these fucks can eat their own shit in hopes of just two more minutes of cyber 'fame.'

I also work with a religious guy who preps for his weekly sermons by watching/listening to HOURS of televangical television, loudly. It's near impossible to escape the braying invocations, and I cannot shut it out. Much of what these preachers are preaching is utter nonsense--literally: their words have no denotation and seldom a legit connotation. But if they say it in a preacherly fashion, it must be holy and inspired. But it's bullshit. Self-justifying bullshit spewed to keep the flock in the pocket.

Steven Soderbergh's Schizopolis merits rewatching, and widespread discussion.