"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer

31.12.07

Observations on the last ride of the year

Erik and I took a NYE ride today, scoping out the route I'll be taking to work this year. Learned a few useful tips:

1. With lobster gloves, it's impossible to give the finger to a driver who nearly runs you off the road.

2. Whenever possible, always draft behind Big E. It's like riding the wake behind an ice breaker. But you need to be very trusting - you can't see where you're going. At all.

3. Just take the damn lane.

4. Heat up your water (but don't run hot tap water) for your bottles. The water was actually still warm by time we got to Northbrook, believe it or not.

5. Starbucks in the North 'burbs have lots of room for cyclists to lounge and warm up. Everyone else uses the drive-thru. Our gear was everywhere.

6. Once again, the ride to work will take as much or less time than if driving or using public transit.

7. Having Superdawg on my way home from work is going to be the greatest thing ehvahr!

26.12.07

Oh Thank Heaven For Two Thousand Seven

Each year, at this time, everyone seems to become a music expert. Or movie-slash-book critics. Or fancy themselves as political pundits, and put out their - as if it were the only one -sardonic, cynical, sarcasm laden and authoritative "best-of" and "top-10" lists. Most are not worth the bandwidth I spent downloading them. Although I do have two or three friends who's guidance always puts me on the right foot at the beginning of the annual path: I always reset my musical compass to Mat, Lou, and Tankboy's compilations.

I hold no such illusions for myself, however. So I offer you, again, my 2nd Annual "The Best That I Could Do" list.


But first, I would just like to say this about my very brief Christmas break. It is far, far, FAR better to give than to receive. I say with complete deadpan expression, because, quite frankly, I give far better gifts that I recieve, with a couple exceptions. Katy's wine decanter - thank you VERY much, baby - and the gift card to Performance I got from my dad. Now of course, I am being quite facetious, because I did get a couple sweet ties as well (and I don't mean to sound ungrateful), but really, when you are effectively on the road at Christmas, staying at a relative's house because you didn't have the time to go all the way back to Alaska, you are basically an interloper into some other family's Christmas. And it puts things into perspective.


A perspective that is cauterized quite dramatically as I fell asleep in a tipsy haze next to a roaring fire in a quiet room, only to be jerked awake by an in-law (my uncle's wife's sister's husband, to be exact) jokingly playing with my hands like a puppeteer trying to get me to do jumping jacks after informing that they were going to open Christmas presents now...on Christmas Eve. At midnight.


You would have safer luck poking a chained-up grizzly bear with a stick, my friend.


And it just wasn't the same. Christmas Eve is for wine, dinner, conversation, laughter, reminiscing, and anticipation. Anticipation to be broken only after walking groggily around the kitchen, making coffee, waiting for everyone else to come downstairs...and then stalling, laughing as your little sister screams at you to "hurry up, Brian!"


I opened two nice gifts, and had perhaps my first beer ever whilst opening Christmas presents, but it was better to see everyone open mine. And all of it galvanized in my brain that I need to be HOME next Christmas.


Enough of all that. 2007, you will be missed and fondly remembered. I give you:


2007: The best I Did and Could've Done. In chronological order - they're all equally important.


1. Superbowl Sunday


It was a greater day than Christmas. Even with the eventual outcome. I'd cleaned my apartment to a glistening shine, set up bloody mary fixings and snacks, and had music DVD's playing in between various movie marathons on cable all day as friends stopped by, either for a visit, to stay and watch the game. By time the 1st quarter was over I had more open bottles and half consumed bags of chips on my coffee table than if we had been tailgating at Soldier Field itself. Completely blasted for the ignoble end to the Bear's surprising season, I said goodbye to the last of them, and about 4 hours later I was woken up from my snoring on the couch by a very strange noise emanating from my bookshelf. Actually the noise had been manifesting itself in my fitful dreams for quite a while now, but it had finally made it to the forefront of my conscious. It was Lisa's cell phone. It rang again and I got up to inspect it. Her ex-boyfriend. He'd been calling that whole time and had left maybe 10 messages. It took a lot of will-power not to answer it.


Honorable Mention: Feb 1st, The Double Door


Marquee


Band3


BrianCharley




2. February 21st, 00:15: Bologna, ITA

I had just gotten off the shuttle bus in from Forli Airport, after having arrived from London around 22:00. Mat was due to pick me up when the bus arrived around 23:45, but now he was beyond just a little late. A feeling that was intensified by the fact I had no phone and no conversational Italian. I walked back and forth across the courtyard of the Bologna Central Station, and in and out of the depot. Trying to be in 4 places at once, worried I would miss Mat in the looming shadows on the cobblestones. I had a phone number, but wasn't sure where the country code ended, and I had no change for the phones. And couldn't get my credit card into the slot. I went outside again, gathered up my courage and said to a gruff looking gent sitting out by the fountain, smoking a cigarette, "Escuse, poso usare il suo telefono, per favore?"


"No," was the only reply.


I hung my head and cursed. What now? My only hope was that Mat would just evenually show up...I mean, where else was I going to go? And at that moment, across the plaza, I recognized the shuffling gait and the headphone wires coming up out of the coat, coming towards me.


3. Rome: The very next day


Roma, Bin 8, 1024


We'd arrived in Rome, found our hostel, and had just gotten off the train at the Colossi station on the Roman subway. We scaled the stairs, and the exit to the street approached. As we walked closer to the doors, Mat looked back at me, and just as I saw It, I realized Mat was watching me to see my expression.


The phrase, "takes your breath away" is a much overused cliche, not be redundant, and has virtually no meaning in 90% of its use. But it was the only way to describe my reaction to the sight that greeted me as I walked out the doors of the subway station acrosst the street from the Roman Colosseum. I had expected a long walk, across a field, dirt parking lots, and a wait, that it wouldn't be very big.


The Colloseum filled up my entire field of vision and my lungs filled up with air. A gasp it was. And I held it. Just looking up, my eyes getting wider. It was right across the street. Made of actual stone. With the actual grime and dirt and age and wear and wonderousness of two thousand years. The gladitorial contests. The Fall of Rome. The Dark Ages. The Crusades. The Inquisition. The Renaissance. The Enlightenment. Napoleon. Two World Wars and the ravages of Fascism. Modern Life.


And it was still there. The Collesseum had stood there all that time and been witness to all of that history. I let my breath out and walked across the street.


Collosseum at Night


4. April 28, Milwaukee, WI: My First Bike Race

It took enough courage just to join the damn team. Let alone ride in a race. But as Mat says, "There's nothing worse than regret." My only goal was not to finish last. And try not to get dropped. I didn't finish last and I almost stayed with the pack the whole time. I finally got dropped on the second to last lap and finished with some very encouraging words. You can read the full recap here. Big thanks to all my teammates, especially Luke and Jeff H., for all their advice and encouragement throughout the year. If it weren't for them I wouldn't be getting ready for a second season right now.


5. May 26th: Washington, DC.

I'd flown out to visit my friend John for a weekend. Nothing big, just to say hi and get out of town for a bit. We had some drinks, saw some monuments (The Jefferson - "what was Lincoln too busy?!" - Memorial is my favorite) but the highlight of the weekend was the morning run John and I went on through the Mall that Saturday morning. It was humid and cloudy as we stretched out in the parking space in Foggy Bottom. We headed past the State Department, and then paused for a moment at the Lincoln Monument before running up the mall, past the Smithsonian, through the commencement ceremonies of George Washington University out the lawn of the Captial, and by time we reached the Capital steps it was a glorious sunny day, and we stopped again to take in the view. I love DC. I think it's because I never saw it in person until I was 30, only in movies and pictures. And instead of being a let down, it was everything and more than I could've hoped. Much bigger in real life. Breathing, living history. All the barriers and security checks aside, so much it you can walk right up to, touch and smell and feel.


6. June 14th: STOP!

The truck didn't see me in the bike lane in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and the next thing I know I'm on my skinned hands and knees using my tongue to make sure I still have all my teeth. I spent virtually the entire evening at Norwegian Hospital in conditions that made the climatic scene in "Jacob's Ladder" look plush, but in the end I had no broken bones, and even my new racing bike was in perfect condition. The next few days very pretty painful but I was racing again soon enough. I just received my settlement check about 3 weeks ago, however. Ironic considering who I am working for.


Honorable Mention, August 6th: The Orphanage


We played a gig down in the heart of Bridgeport, away from the areas the northsiders only know, west of familiarity, deep in the roots of the southside. There was no booze, no smoke, no noise. Only open minds, artistry, good food, and genuine appreciation.


7. August 23rd:The End of the World


I watched those massive storms that afternoon roll in from the 7th floor of the Wrigley Building. I don't think I've ever seen the sky get blacker and more menacing that fast. Seeing the rain come down that intense and the flags that stiff makes you appreciate the indoors for sure. I'll never forget hearing the sound of that thunder, ripping apart the roiling clouds right on top of the lightning.


8. August 27th: "You're Fired"



9. September 9th: The Illinois State Team Time Trial Championships, Utica

I have never dug deeper to finish a race than on this day. I won't go into detail since you can read all about it here, but crossing the finish line, I had gained a newfound sense of accomplishment, and pride, in myself and for my teammates. As well as a lesson in not judging a book by its cover. Let's call him Peter (ha ha, Peter). At first he may have rubbed me the wrong way, as normally I'd normally not have much in common with a brash guy like him. Bragging, a lot of swagger (not that he doesn't back it up - 3 wins I think this year?) and not a lot of restraint, shall I say, in public speaking, is a nice way of putting it. He was really jumping at the bit during training and at the start of the race to go fasterfasterfaster. And when I got into trouble at the beginning, I expected he was going to want to move on, leave me to get dropped, to finish as best as possible. Yet, at those darkest moments in the time-trial, gasping into that headwind and redlining, it was Peter who was at my side, drafting for me leeward, and telling me, "it's ok, Brian. We've all been there. Don't feel bad." And then Peter, Jon, and Leonard brought me back and we finished with a very respectable 7th place in the open men's open division. I can't wait to do this race in 2008.



10. September - December: "You're Hired" x 3


There's sort of a lot to this one so I have to lump it all together. Waiting tables and working retail at a presitigous wine store before finally starting my new full time gig has given me a lot of perspective on my life and career choice moving forward (although, obviously not that much since I'm still blogging at work - but really, I am one of 3 people in this entire cube bank this week - this place is a graveyard today). It all really is a balance between play and work, between enjoyment and the recourses you need. That's all I'll really say, but even so, I really enjoyed the change in pace. And by that I mean working for cash and learning a lot more about wine and people.


And for those of you who are still wondering how that bottle of 1986 Chateau Chase-Spleen turned out? Amazing. Here's the thing about pairing wine and food: each should be good enough on it's own. So that when you have the two together, you are struck by the realiztion that something was even missing from either. It should go together like a puzzle piece. And that bottle of wine and beef stew I enjoyed with friends that evening in Evanston was just that. The wine coming apart at the grains just like the beef stew, and those aged, wise tanins just below the surface of the almost disapated acidity meshed oh-so-perfectly with the brown sugar and cinnamon of the gravy.


Thanks 2007. You - and everyone and everything in it - were gravy.


Ciao.


19.12.07

Rest in Peace - Mark Wolfe

Last night, Mark Wolfe, of Argyle, Texas was killed while riding his motorcycle on his way home.

Mark was a husband and a father of three, a wonderfully generous human being and one of the most talented musicians I have had the pleasure of knowing.

I studied with Mark for a year in 1995, and it was a formative period for me. His outlook on performing and his approach to the instrument opened up new worlds of musical expression for me. Music was a joy to be projected from deep within to everyone listening, or just for yourself. You were cheating yourself and the world if you didn't play with conviction and heart every time you touched your instrument.

His sense of humor and approach to teaching made every lesson, and every rehearsal, every meeting for a beer or conversation a joy. His smile and his funny anecdotes have stayed with me all these last ten years since I last saw him.

In the beginning of that year he was teaching at University of North Texas, he gave a recital. I remember he wore a bow tie. A red one. As our tuxes can tend to be, it was just a little tight around his neck. Every so often as he was playing, especially as he moved from low to high register and visa versa, that tie would flick up and down. One person in the audience noticed it, and told someone else. Soon the giggles were moving up and down the aisles of the recital hall like dominoes as Mark played on stage.

Of course he finished up with the beautiful "Morning Song" and the music's spontaneity and light melody were perfect for the moment.

God Bless you Mark. I was glad to have counted you as a friend. Go well.

10.12.07

This Friday

I know it's cold outside, but we'll warm you up.

The Midnight Shows hit the stage at 11pm.

Be there, or be a bike racer.




9.12.07

Work and Play

If you haven't been to the Irish-American Heritage Center in Chicago's Jefferson Park neighborhood, you really should make the trip.

Truth be told, it's nothing special. Just a single floor in a larger school building on Wilson, just east of the expressway. But, leave it to the Irish. Any other ethnic heritage building would have maybe a library, an office, a performance space and some classrooms. There are all of these at the Irish Heritage Center, but also a bar.

A nice warm space, with a fireplace and always a small folk band at the front. It just a place to come and enjoy some fish and chips, corned beef and cabbage, and a few pints. With a very laid back atmosphere and no smoking, not to mentioned a gin-blossomed gray-haired gent dancing a tipsy jig just outside in the hallway, come to Heritage Center to lay the stress of your of you week down with a smooth drag on the imperial pint glass and the comforting twang of a mandolin.

The first week of my new job wrapped up without incident. Nothing much to tell except A) that place is HUGE...and B) I am really going to enjoy working there. It's a lot of structure yes, but with the structure comes consistency with which to have more wiggle room in the rest of my life. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE is gone by 4:50, half of them earlier. There are two full cafeterias, and with the bridge connecting the two plazas of the campus in Northbrook, it's rumored that you can walk over a mile within the facility without touching a door or retracing any of your steps. Everyone is very conservative (except for Erik and me, ha) but in a harmless sort of way. I was immediately labeled the "weird guy" on my first day with my team, as I showed up in my usually outfit of thrifties. So moving forward will be black pants and blue shirt. Separation of work and play, and working for an insurance company, is as far as I sell out, however.

Anyways, walking the halls and hitting the cafeteria everyday has me feeling like I'm back at University, hitting the student union for coffee, books, and lunch.

Today we watched the Illinois State Cyclocross Championships at Montrose Park and had a blast. It sure does look like fun, but I need a season to just watch before I attempt this discipline. For the uninitiated, Cyclocross is basically a combination of road and mountain biking, unsually on a closed-circuit course, with modified road bike, and involves, riding, as well as tricky dismounts and carrying the bike up hills and over barriers. It's brutally tough, but looks like a helluva time.


I did a two hour trainer session straight through today without getting off for a break or even getting bored. The key, as my teammate Newt says, is to overload your senses so something is always distracting your from the ever-increasing numbness of your taint. The best is having a bike race DVD. Keep it sports for sure. Have a football game on, maybe, as you don't need to follow a plot, because you will also have music on. I mixed up a great playlist, without too much forethought through iTunes, and it really kept the variety up, and I cruised through a tough workout of spinning intervals, grinders, and long endurance intervals.

1. Acidosis - Micronauts
Start spinning slowly in a very low gear, increasing your cadence as the beat comes on strong, more spin through the end. This 8 minute techno piece is a great warm up.
2. Over and Over (Techno-Animal Mix) - Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Shift to the big ring, and five minutes of endurance pace on the crazy remix of this New York favorite of mine.
3. Purple Rain - Prince
Shift to maybe the 17 cog, slow your cadence and start grind it. Focus on form and each part of your spin. Up and down, back and forth. The sweat should be really comin now. Every couple minutes, with the section touchpoints in the music, shift up and really visualize a good climb up a scenic mountain, the sun beating down on, the valley dropping below you and all of the pack behind you. At the end of that searing, heart-melting guitar solo and long come-down you should be flush, have a good amount of pain, but not to much, in your legs, and be inspired to tackle the next 90 minutes of endurance.

Proceeding, alternate high and low gears, grind and spin, give yourself enough recovery time, but don't stop yourself from getting caught up in a great tune and just letting it all out. Constantly visualize yourself in breakaways, chasing down attacks, climbing, climbing, climbing, and winning the sprint. You only have to make it to the end.

4. Praise you - Fat Boy Slim
5. Surrender - Cheap Trick
6. Let's Get High - Benjamin Diamond
7. Tiger Woods - Dan Bern
8. Let Forever Be - The Chemical Brothers
9. Easy - The Commodores
10. I Just Need Myself - Ocean Colour Scene
11. Cherry Cola - The Eagles of Death Metal
12. Lips Like Sugar (Way Out West Remix) - Echo and the Bunnymen
13. Standing On My Own Again - Graham Coxen (of Blur)
14. Reason is Treason - Kasabian
15. My Vanity - Kiss n Ride (my old band)
16. Climbatize - The Prodigy
17. When the Kingdom Comes - Primal Scream
18. Keep the Dream Alive - Oasis
19. Fuck You, Pay Me - A.R.E. Weapons
20. La Femme d'Argent - Air
21. Black History Month - Death From Above 1979
22. Go Let It Out - Oasis
23. Heart of the City - Nick Lowe
24. Asbestos Lead Asbestos - Meat Beat Manifesto
25. Sweet Lover Hangover - Love & Rockets
26. Soon - My Bloody Valentine (Warm down this great Irish band - the last track from this particular album, a dancable mellow beat)

3.12.07

Did you see the same game I just saw?

Bart Scott is going to get shanked by one of Ray Lewis' friends tonight.

30.11.07

Chirp!

Saw the Jackson Park Monk Parakeets for the first time ever today.

Bright, bright green, and squawking loudly. Just hanging out with the geese and the pigeons.

They are descendants of pets that escaped in the 1960's and have adapted quite well to Chicago's climate.

At 33 degrees and 20 mph wind this morning, to see Parakeets mixed in, ruffled feathers all around, with the big, fat, lazy Canuck honkers was quite a treat and a reminder of the all quirky little ways that this city is one of the greatest in the world.

29.11.07

1986

I officially start my new job on this Monday, December 3rd. My last day of "transitional" employment is tomorrow from 5pm to 10pm at Sam's Wine & Spirits. While I have loved working there, I am glad to be moving on back to my career with a fresh perspective on what I want out of life.

Even so, Sam's has set me on a new obsession, as if I needed more, and I'll be celebrating my new job with the knowledge I've gained working there for the past 2 months.

Short answer: Wine.

I don't believe in spending more than $100 on a bottle of wine. It's simply a factor of diminishing returns. There are just too many great tasting bottles out there for under $15, $10 even, to ever justify spending that much. That is however, a matter of personal finance and preference. If you have the money, and vintage wine if of interest to you, then by all means. But if you only intend to drink it, then by no means.

But that said, I still wanted a bottle that would represent what I've learned about wine in the short time I worked there, as well as would be worthy of opening to celebrate a special occasion.

So I wanted to spend something above a bottle of Yellow Tail. But, then I didn't want something was just bottled and ready to drink now. Again, there are many just-bottled wines ready to drink now available for under $20. Grabbing a $50 and up bottle of Napa Cab off the shelf from 2004 is going to work out well. They'll be big, burly wines. Acidic, tannic, dark. But they'll still be young. A typical Napa Cabernet will need to be cellared for around 5 - 10 years to reach optimum age. As the molecules break down in the cool dark, the acidity calms down, the flavors open up, and the wine matures. So instead of having a giant burst of fruit and tar and acid in your mouth - with no definition - that a young, immature wine would give, the properly aged wine will have a defined structure, that is you will be able to distinguish the separate notes on the palette. The fruit, the vanilla, the oak. There will be an undertone of earthiness. Almost dirt-like. And the tannins will be soft and old, yet still strong and ageless.

Like Jack LaLane.

And since we have no Napa Cabernet Savignons earlier than 2003, what's the point of spending $80 to drink something before it's ready?

So much like 1776, France to the rescue. I give you the bottle of 1986 Chateau Chasse-Spleen I bought last night.



Already aged, ready to drink. For some reason, French Bordeaux's (sorry for the Anglicanism of that) stay in circulation for much longer. Probably because Napa Cabs are just so much more popular. Too bad. But good for me. This wine is a Moulis en Medoc from the Bordeaux region, and is therefore a blend of primarily Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by smaller amounts of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Therefore, it will fruit-forward and lush from the Merlot and it's already soft tannins. The Cabernet will give it some backbone, depth and mysteriousness, and the Franc, Malbec, and Verdot will round out the flavors with richer fruit, spiciness, and earth.

Bordeaux can age for years, and it's not uncommon for a 50 year or older bottle to be still drinkable. But they do reach their prime right around 15-30 years after bottling. As I said before the acidity breaks down into mellowness, the young fruit becomes subtle and gives way to earthiness. And those thick, chunky, tight tannins loosen up and become chewy, just as the grain in the meat will in the slow-cooked stew with which we are going to enjoy this bottle of wine.

We'll uncork it Saturday night and have a toast. I'll let you know how it was.

But for now, some perspective is due.

One of the things I love about wine is that it is a time capsule, of sorts. That you can bottle up the spring it was planted, the summer it grew, and the autumn it was harvested, and taste it all again. And the more that wine has matured, the finer that long-ago summer seems, the more wistfully you remember it.

While the seeds of the grapes in the bottle I am going to enjoy were awaiting planting, the nation was in the throes of shock and mourning following the Challenger Disaster.

During the evenings of the spring planting, the tail of Haley's comet was visible in the night sky. The Chernobyl explosion poisoned the sky and soil of eastern Europe.

That summer, as the grapes hung on the vines, as the vineyard workers tended to the fields, the peleton of the Tour de France passed close by, with Greg Lemond on his way to his eventual victory.

And that autumn during the harvest, a dribbler up the line went through Bill Buckner's legs, the New York Mets won the World Series, and the hopes of Boston were crushed and barreled like those very grapes.

That year Mt. St. Augustine erupted, blanketing Anchorage under volcanic ash, graying the white snow. I finished up 7th grade. I spent the summer mowing the lawn, delivering newspapers, and playing Capture the Flag at camp. I traveled to Seattle and Vancouver for the World's Fair and Exposition.

I'm looking forward to tasting it all again on Saturday night.

25.11.07

Grace on the Water, Lips Like Sugar

You'll flow down her river
She'll ask you and you'll give her

(My apologies to Echo & the Bunnymen)


There's nothing quite like the feeling of riding your fixie along with a strong tailwind.

The push in your back and the momentum of the fly wheel give you liquid grace with almost no cost of effort. Curled over the frame, silently flying with a solid single gear, you are true poetry, flesh and metal, form and function...united.

You could recite a Shakespearian sonnet if you felt the impetus to, not stopping once to take a single, unnecessary breath.

Unless, of course, it was taken away by the sight of the moonlight, hidden from view, splashing down from behind the lurking clouds like a stage light onto the lake. Far out from the shore. A midnight, mystical kiss. The gray water rolling gently and dreamlike under it's glow...hyper-dimensional and almost separate from reality, as if its entire panorama were a View Master slide. Denying the wind it's due. Holding all kinds of creatures, secrets, and mysteries.

An evening ride to remember forever.

24.11.07

Dumbass.

So everyone has those little "moments" on their bike...you know the one I'm talking about. You're spinning along, riding the same route you've ridden 1,000 times, daydreaming, on complete autopilot. Your hand are only loosely on the bars, and you're barely aware you are even on the bike as you think about what you're going to have for lunch or what other movie that actor was in you were just watching before you left...when - BUMP! - you are shaken from your reverie just in time to recover your form and get your hands back on the bars, with a sheepish grin, hoping nobody just saw you...

Sometimes.

I couldn't shift my weight back over the rear wheel quick enough and thought, "at least I'm not going that fast," when whack! I was on the ground. Just past the Oak Street Beach curve, I'd hit the last of those big asphalt scars on the lake front path, and completely lost control.

The next thing I knew there was a passer-by who helped me up and asked me if I was OK. I don't remember much of what I said, other than maybe, "I'm fine." So then I'm alone, and as I look down the path, I realize I can't remember which direction I am going. Or where I came from. Am I going to work? Or coming from work? I remember looking at my phone for the time and seeing it was it was 2:45. After what seemed like only a couple minutes of sitting on the steps along the path trying to get my bearings I looked again and it was 25 minutes later.

Again I looked down the path and struggled to remember. Where had I just come from? What was I doing before this? And as I struggled the synapses began to reconnect. I hit the Recent Calls button on my phone and rang Katy. Thankfully she answered right away, and I must have seemed pretty foggy still because she said she'd be there immediately. Later she told me that I'd asked her if I was with her that morning. It also took me until then to remember that I'd lifted weights with a teammate that morning, as well. Soon it was all back and I asked her to call work for me since I couldn't seem to get connected through 411.

My face hurt and I noticed my knee had a hole in it on my winter bibs as I walked under the overpass to get to the Chicago/LSD intersection to wait for Katy to come and pick me up. I looked in the glass on the law library and I was missing a little skin on my swelling left jaw.

She watched over me last night, making sure I didn't fall asleep until it was time to go to bed. We had pizza and watched bad TV while she sewed up my torn balaclava and winter bibs.

The head feels fine, no other symptoms such as nausea or dizziness, other than my skin missing a layer of skin on my jaw. My knee is a bit painful, and I was in fact on my way to the team ride this morning when the knee pain got a little bit more than tolerable, and I realized it was probably better to rest it.

So here I am, blogging of course, when I should be catching up on house work, and drinking coffee. But I have my memory, for now at least, if not my pride. In one more week I have health insurance again, and then I can have these dumbass moments all I want.

In the meantime, I'll just pay more attention.

21.11.07

Hump Day

Last night I worked at the bar. Early on in the evening I was out in our covered beer garden entering some orders in the computer out there and thought I smelled something bad. As in, off. Rotten, maybe. It almost smelled like fish that's been hanging in the kitchen trash for too long.

Back inside waiting at the drink station for a round I mentioned this to my manager. The first time after she went out, she said she didn't smell a thing. But later on, she found me at the bar again, and told me to look up above the computer cabinet the next time I went out there.

Sitting on top of the wood shelving that held the computer was a pumpkin. Only 4 feet or so from one of the beer tents heaters. Sagging around the bottom, cracking open, and oozing rotten pumpkin puss all over the wood cabinet.

-------------

What lovely weather we've been having this week. Odds are good I'll be on my trainer tomorrow morning getting my two hour ride in to the Bond Marathon.

20.11.07

Good(bye) Mornings

Don't you just love getting your longish weekday rides out of the way early?

I met a teammate at Diversey and Damen and we hit the path at 0700. The fog and the drizzle were our only companions. The path was empty except for some solitary runners and one group of cyclists that I suspect was a University of Chicago group.

I love riding this time of year. I love riding at any time of the year, of course, but each season gives me a different emotion, a different perspective. The damp air and the stiff breeze, the empty stretches of path - no more tri-geeks - gives me a powerful retrospective on the summer. My conversation with Jon this morning was almost exclusively about past races and rides this summer or xXx's upcoming spring camp in California this Spring.

We rode into the wind first up to Hollywood and then back to the Museum Campus. He turned around while I headed south further with some more gas to get my scheduled tempo ride. Basically, it's riding at top-end effort while still being able to sustain for the alloted time. If you want to put a number on it, you should be at 75% to 80% heart rate, or running at about 200-250 watts.

Now I'm back home with the full day to myself. I have a pot of strong French press to sip on while I listen to the BBC Worldwide on NPR, and type my letter of resignation from the Liquor store. I'm savoring it all like my steaming cup of coffee. Days like this will be a distant memory only a month from now.

18.11.07

The Whino

When you get the check, look for the drink refills. Were you charged? That's the way to tell if your waiter hates you.

I don't judge you if you don't drink. But who socializes over a Sprite? In a bar on a Thursday night at 9pm? It's your life and no one can make you have a beer. But I don't have to like it either, and if you're going to sit in my section for two hours and order nothing but a cup of soup and keep calling me over for refills and extra crackers, you are going to get the shitty service and get charged for every glass of soda and extra bag of crackers. I won't deny it. You are an adult and this isn't Europe. If you're hungry, order food. I work for tips and tables in a bar are expensive real estate. Be prepared to pay the taxes.

Even worse is the Cherry Coke. A Cherry Coke in a bar is Coke with grenadine...er, sorry, red-colored, cherry-flavored syrup. And there's never just one. Thursday night just brought the weirdness for some reason. First up was a table I never want to take. I've had them twice before. The guy and his wife love to come and order in courses and talk to me about the hand-written, laminated menu and specials like they're Alinea or something, then order Miller Light draft and send back the steak they ordered rare because it's raw in the center. And when it's time for another round of beer? Out comes the "You know what? I think I'll have a Cherry Coke," spoken with haughty tone like he's ordering a Baker's Manhattan with just a dash of bitters.

Cherry Cokes must have been in the air that night. I don't mind making them for cute high-school girls but out with your wife on a dinner date out? You're FORTY for God's sake. And I KNOW you live around the corner, so you walked here. This isn't Gibson's, I know, but it ain't Burger King either. It's a bar, and it's time to act like an adult. Worse still, after I welcomed them by name, timed their soup, salad, and steak perfectly, I got a 10% tip. And they really thought it was decent tip, because they chatted me up and said thanks and goodbye as they left.

I made so many Cherry Cokes that night my right index finger was stained pink by the end of the night from picking cherries out of the jar.

I wasn't all bitter that night, however. I did have a table to two women who ordered But Light bottles, with pint glasses with olive brine in the bottom. Gross, but funny. They also ordered nachos with chicken, yet no cheese. They knew they were pretty odd, enjoyed my commentary and tipped well, but, Bud Light and olive brine? Instead of flavoring your beer, why not just order beer with flavor?

My other favorite is when I bring a bottle of wine to the table. We open a lot on Wednesday nights, half-price bottle night. And we have some really good wines. Our distributer is Distinctive, which carries some much smaller labels than the giant Southern - and our manager Frankie is a wine lover. But her and my love of our wine selection is as far as it usually goes. I always follow the protocol of presenting the wine as though were any five-star restaurant (ironic following my commentary above, I know). It usually only gets the customary sniff (and I HATEHATEHATE the cork sniff), and it's then gulped down after maybe 2 seconds on the tongue. If I could get away with it I would give them a literal primer on tasting the wine: 1)slow down, 2) get your nose way in there and enjoy it as much as you would the taste and finally 3) actually taste the wine before you swallow it. Let it linger on your tongue. Get everything out of it that you can. It doesn't make you a snob, or some despised yuppie. You're drinking good wine. The people who made it put far too much love into it for you not to.

And speaking of wine:

Wherever you are serving the general public, you definitely get the full-serving of what is out there, as the cross section is definitely all inclusive. Yesterday was opening day at the liquor store and everyone was out to check out our new digs. Most people just browsed and enjoyed the selection, not as great or extensive as the Lincoln Park location but far more customer friendly. But as I sat at the wine help desk working on shelf tags I couldn't get far at all with my work as I was constantly asked to help pick out a great Pinot Noir. By the end of the night our Pinot aisle was destroyed and maybe 7 bottles of Merlot had been sold, 4 of them a 2004 from Alexander Vineyards that was being tasted earlier upstairs (and it was AWESOME).

Three years after "Sideways" Merlot is still unjustly maligned. If you've seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about. "I'm not drinking any fucking Merlot," Paul Giamatti's character shouts at Thomas Hayden Church when he pulls the bottle out before going into a BYOB place. The inference is obvious. But not really. What I love about the movie as that you really do have to be a wine connoisseur to really get it, just as with a truly good bottle of wine.

It's not just about the varietal, the blend, or the price, or even the region. It all comes down to how the wine actually tastes. Merlot is not a shitty wine, not a wine his character despises, contrary to the impression the movie gives. Remember the post-climactic scene? With Giamatti at his lowest point, having left his friend behind and heading back to L.A. with his tail between his legs? He's in a hot dog stand, scarfing fries and a dog while drinking the one wine he's been saving, the one he had from his ex-wife, that he was waiting for such a special occasion. Guess what it was?

So, now, we have a bunch of mediocre vineyards producing mass-amounts of shitty wine to satisfy an increased, albeit uninformed demand. The irony is that Merlot is such a friendly, easy-drinking, versatile, easy-to-grow wine. Pinot Noir is a grape that thrives, in fact demands, harsh conditions in order to achieve it's signature subtleness, it's earthy understatedness. The more you mass produce it, the more grapes on the vine you put, the less the vine has to work and the more it's energy is divided among it's grapes, the less of it's signature flavor and character the Pinot Noir will have.

Yet people are still slurping it up, and ignoring a wine that's been great and mass-produced - and tastes great mass-produced - for years and years. The height of the evening came as a gentleman in a scuffed black leather jacket and backwards Iowa cap started looking in the Pinot aisle and then began asking questions of our French expert - a guy who knows so much about wine it's inspirational and explains it in such easy to understand terms you will know what you're getting. And yet after 10 minutes getting several recommendations of some great French selections, the guy still walked out of there with a bottle of Mark West.

No, I'm not being a snob. If all you intend to get is something you were told to get - whether by a movie or your wife - then don't ask questions. If you are asking questions, then you should be receptive to trying something new. The person who is drinking Pinot only because a movie told him to is the one who is being the snob.

There you have it. Not only I have become jaded and cynical in both of my jobs - and only in two months! - they have come together perfectly meshed, and it's happened just in time for me to leave. I've learned a few things, primarily to never to take a full-time job, with benefits, for granted again.

11.11.07

The List

1. The Ride. 90 miles. The strongest I think I've ever felt on a bike...it was the first time I was able to complete the Three Sisters route without getting dropped. It was a mix of experiences. Riding a new route with the team's strongest riders has always in the past meant I was hanging on the back by a thread, never able to attack, and getting shelled on the hills. The Three Sisters route continues on past the River Road turn off - where in the past I have always turned. Either because I was about to get dropped or by myself at that point. Or recently the ride was headed that way. The Three Sisters are apparently 3 hills out near Gurnee, I believe was where we were. First time I've been in the small ring on a team ride, ever. Except for the boat ramp but that's so short it doesn't count. We went into the Sisters with at least 5 or 6 riders than we came out with. I stayed, for the most part, within my limits and was never in danger of getting dropped. But it was hard. While I rarely attacked, I was definitely grabbing good wheels and riding smart and efficiently, and had the gas left to contest all the end sprints, right on the mix at the front with Cat 3 and 2 riders. Definitely a breakthrough ride for me. The structure of my new training program is obviously paying dividends immediately. I am in the best shape of my life right now, and I've never been riding stronger. I can't wait for the real intensity and the changes that will follow this spring.

2. The Nap. Got home, ate a bit. And immediately fell asleep on the couch. Heavy, dreamless sleep.

3. The Party. The woman I am dating, Katy, threw a get-together at her apartment later that evening. Saw lots of friends, and drank some good wine. A few xXx-ers showed up. I love getting together with those guys out of kit. Out of uniform, that is. It was fun to see Rudy from my band having a conversation with Kirby late in the evening. My two mutually exclusive words - late night music, and early morning bicycling - coming together in perfect sync. The friends I've met and come to know in both worlds mean everything to me. Right around 2am, the morning's ride finally caught and cornered me. I must have been drifting off on the couch when Katy said to me, smiling, "you can go to bed you know..." Not wanting to be a party-pooper, and more than somewhat punch-drunk, I replied, "really?" Katy thought this was hysterical and sent me off to sleep. I remember only hitting the pillow, and that is it. Blackness. More dreamless sleep.

4. Childhood memories. Do any of you remember Shakey's Pizza? Tami and I, on our lunch break today while Shrieking Violet mixed our demo in the studio got to talking about childhood pizza places. Every time we went out for pizza, it was Shakey's. I don't know what it was, and that by my standards today I bet it was pretty bad, but there was something about those super thin slices, the balloons they gave us there, the impossibly huge pitchers of root beer, and Moon Patrol around the corner at the video game wall. I ate my weight there every time and put pineapple on my pizza. I make no apologies.

5. The Game(s). Go Bears. And Rex?! Where the hell have you been? This team is going to tease us all season long, right up to the bitter end. And I don't mean to speak ill of the dead, but how many of you noticed that the rink on which Blackhawks skated on tonight, and was broadcast on Cable, had a Blackhawk's logo on it. Yes. A home game has finally been telecast in Chicago. As time expired on the 3-2 victory, you could hear the strains of "Detroit Sucks! Detroit Sucks!" spilling out of the rafters at The United Center, and the Hawks are on a 3-game winning streak. And congrats Illinois. It was great to see OSU get their annual dose of humility. I'm holding out for a Hawaii vs. Kansas National Championship game.

Post Script: While the screenwriters strike is keeping me from enjoying Stephen Colbert, I am still enjoying his ice cream. What's not to love about fudgy waffle-cone pieces in vanilla ice cream and loads of caramel. Thank you, Stephen...I'll watch your reruns forever if I can have 'em with this stuff.

5.11.07

Get Dirty

Don't be afraid to redden your hands
And toughen the souls of your feet.
This is the work that marks and brands
And allows for no conceit.

Awake in the dark, the wind and cold,
Strip away the shine, the sheen
And veneer to lay bare the old,
And the beauty of what was unseen.

Your skin comes off with all the old layers,
Your clothes rip on the raw and new,
Your bones creak like the rusty nails.
But your smile and work are genuine and true.

Because it's far too hard to try and care
To find a pain so simple and easy,
A crystal clear view so fleeting and rare
Its reward is the act of your own discovery.

3.11.07

My Indian Summer

Lose your job.

I insist. It will change your life. Like a good Indian Summer can change your year.

Right around Labor Day I lost my job. Right around Labor day we notice a bit of a cool, the leaves begin to change, the day is a bit shorter, all the signs that summer is over. But the heat comes back, with a cool breeze which steals the sweat from the back of your neck as you sip a nice Pinot Grigio, holding on for one more week.

"It's a done deal." And with those four words, my Indian Summer is coming to an end. With the offer I am expecting next week - and the position is certain to put me where I am expecting, salarywise - I'll be rejoining the ranks of the 9-5ers.

Just as the cold comes on for real like the ice box door closing shut and the lights going out.

I'll most likely be hanging up my apron and box-cutter, moving to the sublist for the waitstaff at the restaurant, begin commuting like a normal Joe again. Even more so, in fact. I'll have a car, definitely be riding less to work - I'll even be working in the suburbs, and probably getting lunch at Chili's.

Summer is over.

Gone will be the Tuesday-Thursday endurance rides with Mark, meeting at the Russian Cafe to flirt with the waitress over hot coffee and a ham and cheese croissant, and then heading south and back on casual conversation. Gone are the slow mornings over more coffee and actually getting to listen to Eight Forty Eight on NPR. Gone are the fun nights at the bar, joking with patrons and making fun of them to my coworkers, milking the check, and walking out with a wad of tax-free cash.

Gone will be the just-now-nascent wine knowledge I have begun to acquire. The fun of simply talking and tasting wine all day long. And getting paid for it.

Discovering wine like this:


How is this not the most perfect harmony of interests for a guy like me?

Yet also gone will be the managers at the wine store talking to me like I'm a 7 year old. The fat woman standing in the Barolo aisle asking where the Yellow Tail is. That's retail for you.

Gone will be the table of the 4 teenagers paying in quarter's and leaving a 5% tip. Gone are the 10 trixies ignoring you as you stop by to check on the table but then tapping your shoulder to give you a 5 drink order after you've moved on to the next table. That's waiting tables for you.

Here again, with the cold, and the fleeing tourists, is normalcy. The good kind. Benefits. Direct deposit. A big, fat raise. On which to afford a plane ticket to see my family. Consistent hours. On which to plan my weekend - to race, to gig out with my bands, to go on dates, to go see a band, or a ball game.

For as beautiful and fun as it is, Indian Summer just delays reality. Winter is a time to get stuff done. This is not to say everyone's Indian Summer is waiting tables and working retail while they interview. For some it is perfect - and if I had more experience at it I could've begun working at a better paying restaurant and began living the lifestyle on a permanent basis. But it wasn't to be and I needed the money and the structure - plus I had marketable skills with which to get that structure.

And now it's all led me to Winter. And will get me through it to the reality and beauty of a true Summer.

29.10.07

Mr. Saturday Night

Number One Advice: keeping a number of hobbies keeps life interesting. I started the day holding a line at 34mph. And ended it wearing eyeliner dancing to Michael Jackson.



It was the end of my first rest week since beginning my training program with Randy and it was well deserved. I had been on the bike 15, 16, 13, and 13 hours again the first four weeks of the plan. This week was only 8 hours, on paper. I had a bout with food poisoning on Monday that kept me out of commission until Thursday, so Saturday's ride up to Highland Park was my first real ride in a week. I'd been getting recovery rides to work everyday, but that wasn't much to speak of.

It was a fast pace up, with the colder weather thinning out the pretenders who want to come out and test their legs. We averaged about 22mph into a pretty stiff head wind. People we definitely taking shorter pulls off the front of the paceline. It was gray and blustery, but yellow, red and golden leaves blowing everywhere. I love the contrast of the leaves against the gray sky in fall. It reminded of my first ride back in April, when I spoke with team president Bob Willems about racing at Snake Alley. I smiled and remarked to myself yet again at how much has changed in less than a year.

I got my first flat on a team ride this year, hitting a pothole square on my rear wheel, pinching it. Kevin and Stocky came back to help out. I didn't have any levers with me (wtf?) and I had some pretty cheap chinchers on with a really tough bead. But we got the tire off in short order and replaced the tube. I was also converted to using CO2 in the future. It was so much quicker. Plus it was really cool to see all the ice form on the canister. What causes that, anyways? I got a B in chemistry.

After a hard final pull into the wind, we arrived in Highland Park a little before 10am, and finally saw that the Einstein's Bagels was closed. Good. I'd been using the independent coffee shop across the street for a few weeks anyways. It's only drawback is the single use restroom. Their espresso is ten times better, and you get it much faster. And with the rides starting an hour later for winter, the bike shop next door is open to by time we get there.

The plan was to head to Superdawg with Tami, my drummer from Shrieking Violet, upon returning back to Evanston. Most of the team headed out for a few extra miles, but Kevin, Erik, Jenn, and a few others, plus I, headed back. We had a few good sprints, especially since I'd had really planned on doing them. I was riding my vintage steel Cilo, with downtube shifters and squeaky SPD pedals. I've popped out of them before, plus the bike weighs a ton, so I was nervous about it. But coming into Glenview I found myself on Kevin's wheel after he'd been left out in the open when his draft cracked. I dropped the right shifter all the way to the tube and passed to the left, winning the sprint. Athough Kevin's just gotten back on the bike in the last month after recovering from a broken collarbone from Superweek. Had he been in better shape it would've been a different ending for sure.

We reached Evanston in about 20 minutes - the swift tail wind kept us above 25mph the entire way - and I called Tami. She was about ready to go and would meet me at The Italian Coffee Bar in 15 minutes. I sat and read the paper and ate some cookies with my coffee, as the Judson riders came in, and then Tami arrived. As we were ready to leave, the rest of the xXx-ers came through. We headed off west.

It was just a perfect fall day. A great day to be on a bike. We took Church Street out to Austin, and found the bike path. The new pavement is still immaculate, and the vivid color and cool damp air were absolutely invigorating. And how awesome was it that we were headed the unofficial trail head of the North Branch trail, Superdawg. The line was long, the kitchen was busy, and it was the perfect end to a morning fall ride. I must ride there more often.

We ate, warmed up with some coffee, and headed back. I was home by 1:30, in time to relax on the couch for a bit and watch Psycho before saddling up again to head to Logan Square and load out for our Halloween Show.

Every year for the last 11 Double Door has done a Halloween show. Local band dress up as famous groups and do a half-hour set of cover songs. Last year was a great show, with us (The Midnight Shows) doing Rod Stewart, as well as The Go-Go's, Daft Punk, and KISS on the bill. This year Local H (the previous producer of the last ten year's shows but declining to be a part this year), Pearl Jam, Misfits, MC5, Alice Cooper, and us, playing third, as Culture Club.



Not take anything away from anybody else, but the rest of the line up was a lot of gray, heavy, head-bobbing rock, and we absolutely livened-up the evening with a ton of color and a set of 6 six hits that everyone sang along and danced to. We opened with the lights off and Rudy singing the opening strains to "Do You Really Want to Hurt me" and then Bang-Bang - hit the brights and into the reggae heavy riff. Next was "Time (Clock of the Heart)", and then "Church of the Poison Mind".

The crowd was really moving by "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" and set up for a strike with my personal favorite "Miss Me Blind." When the opening riff of the number #1 hit "Karma Chameleon" began the place went absolutely ape, and all of us on stage had huge smiles on our faces as all of our hard work had truly paid off.



We went off into the night for several parties - keeping the dress up game going. I still had a bit of the eyeliner left for work the next morning. I think it gave me a look of sincerity, because I sold a ton of wine.

24.10.07

Miss Me Blind?!?

Friends,

I know that I haven't been around much, but at the risk of being a Karma Chameleon, I wanted to let you know that Culture Club will be giving an exclusive, one-night-only performance at Double Door for their annual Halloween Show, this Saturday night, October 27th!!!

But, Time (Clock of Double Door's sales) is ticking fast and this show will sell out before the weekend...so please get your virtual ass to doubledoor.com and get some tickets. This is a night not to be missed! I would hate for you to miss it! Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?

The full line up:
The Last Vegas
(as Alice Cooper)
Catfish Haven
(as The Misfits)
Thunderwing w/ Mike O'Connell
(as The MC5)
The Midnight Shows
(as Boy George & Culture Club)
The Sleepers
(as Pearl Jam)
Blackbox
(as Local H)
The Double Door is at 1572 N. Milwaukee Ave, in Wicker Park, with the entrance on Damen Ave, just under the El tracks. The doors open at 8, music starts at 9, and each band will play approximately 30 minutes, with a 10 minute set change in between.



So come and relive the best (or worst) days of your life, dancing to the 80's pop alone in your room as you struggled to figure out life as an 11 year old, or as queen of sophomore year, your oversprayed claw in full bloom, supporting your ironic top hat as you Molly Ringwalded it down the hallway...wherever your Church of the Poison Mind was, we'll bring it all back on Saturday Night, center stage.

I'll Tumble 4 Ya...love,

Brian

22.10.07

The Whine Guy

So I'm sitting here, unable to stray too far from the toilet. Picked up a bit of food poisoning last night. I missed riding yesterday and today with the vomiting and cramps. Still had to go to rehearsal last night and to work this evening at the bar, however. I've never had food poisoning before. It was pizza. I eat anchovies all the time on my pie, and this tasted just as good, but shortly after I was lying under a blanket, unable to move off of my couch. Three hours later is was all coming up. I felt much better, but then headed to rehearsal, and started feeling chills. Slept until 10 am this morning and now the problems are with my other end.

Yet I'm still due to head out to Northbrook for a second interview at 1 and hopefully clinch this sucker. I may have to clinch something else while I'm at it. Even if it doesn't work out, I'm pretty satisfied where I've ended up.

I've had to switch a few things to make it work, but at least I'm happy and enjoying myself. The bar is a great place to work, and on a good night is pretty worthwhile. During the week I'll be working at Sam's Wine and Spirits as a Wine Consultant at their new South Loop location. It's going to be a fantastic store, with a wine and bottled beer tasting room and a rooftop party deck. The clientèle will be plentiful and wealthy, as is life in the South Loop. Currently I am working at the Marcey St. location in the Clybourn corridor, until the new store opens. It's pretty simple work.

Stock wine. Face wine. Talk wine. Taste wine. I still can't believe I get paid for it.

Now if I can just get some insurance. Not a good position for a bike racer to be in, I think.

Wish me luck. I'm outa here.

16.10.07

The All-American Boy Series - Part XIII: "The Weekend"

Author's Note: back in my myspace blog days, I had a long running series called the All-American Boy. Basically just funny anecdotes from my life. Everything from a passed field-sobriety test at Damen and Harrison at 4am to my mom's surprise birthday last year. I'll post the previous ones here retroactively soon, but here is a new installment.

A few years ago, I got a call from my brother, telling me he was coming down to visit.

His favorite band of all time, Anthrax, was playing at the House of Blues and he'd just purchased to tickets to the show and airfare to come stay in Chicago for the weekend. He'd be here on a Friday night, the show was on Saturday, and he would stay through Monday. It was to be a weekend I'd never forget, that started innocently enough and became one for the ages.

It started serendipitously enough. I had just started my training to become a Certified Personal Trainer and had also been dating a woman for a few months. The night my brother arrived I'd been out in the far south side, at an airport Hilton by Midway, attending a two-day conference sponsored by NASM as part of my training. The timing couldn't have been more perfect as I left the train to walk to my apartment and my brother called, saying his bus was just about the arrive at the stop I'd given him.

We literally met outside as we both walked up to the iron gate of my building, and hugged, and gave each other all sorts of brotherly greetings. He looked good. He'd always been a big guy since high school. Seeing him there in my living room, tall and broad, grinning above his scraggly long goatee, gave me a warm feeling. The knowledge that we were in for a magical weekend, no matter what happened.

We opened a bottle of wine, cooked a couple of steaks and some veggies, and visited and drank into the night.

I overslept my alarm for the next day's training by Midway - the trip was Red Line to Orange, and then the Hotel Shuttle from Midway. Although since I was late, I grabbed a taxi. During the first break I called Kat, my girlfriend, to let her know the plan for the evening. I was going to be done and back downtown around 6, and I was meeting Duff at the House of Blues for dinner and the show. The weekend had come on so suddenly I wasn't able to give Duff much idea for spending the day in town other than the Museum Campus. But Kat had offered to spend the day with him, so after talking with her, she called him, apparently.

Once I was back downtown and changed, I met them at the HOB restaurant for dinner. Duff had jumped on the Damen bus at Foster and Ashland and met Kat in Roscoe Village at Kitsch-in, a funky little cafe at the corner of Damen and Roscoe. From there they went to the Museum Campus - Duffy was a fish collector at the time and wanted to see the Aquarium - but the line was too long at the Shedd, so I they walked around for bit, hit the Field Museum instead and explored Grant Park.

It was very nice of her, and Duff had a great time. Kat seemed to enjoy his company. He's pretty much a large teddy bear with limited-listening skills, so if I like hanging out with a talker with very good manners open to all options and no where to go, my brother is your date.

After dinner it was time for the show, and Kat agreed to met us later. The crowd there to see Anthrax and Dio was definitely the bands' hardcore fan base. There's a Seinfeldian theory: your manner of dress is from the best year of your life. Once you hit that year, your style - clothes, hair - stayed that way. Apparently 90% of this audience hit that year around 1985. The only thing that changed about their clothes was that they had gotten bigger. These people were so morbidly obese the same audience back when Anthrax was a major act would've been twice as big. Center parts, bleached blonds, and acid washed jean jackets. It was all there.

Three were some hits I remembered. "Spreading the Disease." "I Am The Man." "Antisocial." But there rest was warm-over Nu-Metal that apparently Anthrax wasn't even above copping in order to keep today's generation of lower-IQ music fans at attention. The crowd was wired though, and it helped Anthrax was filming a video. The audience hammed it up with tongues and metal hand-signs.

Dio was about to start, and we weren't about to hang around for that. I'd had enough of the 80's arrested development. I called Kat, let her know we were on our way out and she met us up at a bar I'd worked at a year ago in Lincoln Park, Lilly's Tavern. A dirty, cramped little place, my friends of the band Penthouse Sweets were playing. I'd bartended there a few months there a year ago. It's a rat-infested hole that serves primarily under-age Depaul students $2Bud Light drafts and provides a place to get high upstairs.

Always on the edge of running out of beer because she never paid her suppliers on time, the bar's signature drink was an $8 Long Island Ice Tea that was built like an outhouse. She premixed pitchers of Rum, Vodka, Tequila, Gin, and Triple Sec, and left one on the bar. You simply poured it over a pint glass filled with ice, and topped with lemonade and Coke. She even advertised it in the window as the best deal in Lincoln Park: "8 shots!" It was routine to serve someone three and then have to throw them out. Occasionally someone would think the pitcher was filled with water. The resultant look on their face was worth the wasted liquor.

We stayed for a while, greeting more friends, and watching Lou and Loren play. Duff had settled into a good night of Chicago drinking. He knew everyone's name and appeared to be a Chicagoan through and through. Although, to anyone who would listen, he'd talk non-stop about Alaska We soon decided to move it on up to my neighborhood, and saved the best part of the night for Simon's in Andersonville.

Simon's was my favorite bar in Chicago for years. The clientèle was chill and relaxed, cool and funny. The jukebox had one of the best mixes in the city and there was always a seat. The light is low and it's always inviting, especially at Christmas when they have glog. Duff and I drank Jameson while othere drank cheap beer and we laughed and had a great time until closing. At some point before they chased us out I lost my brother. I assumed he'd cornered somebody to talk at about Alaska. I found him as they were throwing us out, near the front, talking to some long, dark-haired woman. I left him there as Kat and I were going across the street with Nadine so she could give me my birthday present - which had been the week before.

After opening it, I heard by brother's voice from across the street.

"Hey! Where's the Green Mill?"

Kat's face immediately lit up at the prospect of my brother going off with this chick, for him and the fact that we could have my apartment to ourselves for a bit. I told Duff it wasn't far, and even closer to my place. Kat and I went home, and Duff headed off with some pick-up for a classic 5am Chicago night at one of the most famous bars in the city.

Cut to the next morning, around nine. I'm in bed awake, Kat is next to me still asleep. I nudge her. "Did you hear Duff come in?" She just groaned. I got up, fully expecting him to be on the couch as I went to the toilet, but it was empty.

"He's not here yet," as I got back into bed. I wasn't worried, really but my unease grew as the hour went by and no Duff. He'd left his cell phone on my coffee table. I lay there unable to go back to sleep, waiting, until finally I heard the front door click open.

I got up and saw him come in. We stood in the hall, outside of my bedroom, and he told me that after the bar, she'd taken him back to her fathers Wrigleyville condo and they'd fooled around until just after 8, and then he took off. But he had no idea about the bus or train system. He still recognized Addison Street however, so he walked west from Halsted Street all the way to Damen, a mile and a half, to find the Damen bus. Once there he waited another 30 minutes until it arrived. He could've just jumped on the Clark Street bus and been home in 15 minutes.

"Well?" I asked. "Was it worth it?"

He nodded. I laughed, questioningly...

"She let me put it in her butt."

Once I picked myself up off the floor, I went back into the bedroom, and he took a shower. Kat was fully awake now, and her hands were up around her mouth while she giggled like a 10 year old. I knew she was something special when she saw the beauty of my brother getting laid on his trip down here, and even more so for the extra curricular stuff.

She spent the day at home, and Duff and I kicked it down at the Shedd. The line was long, it was worth it, so he could see it all again (we used to visit the Shedd when we were kids like it was going to Church - on family vacations to visit Grandma.) We got home in time to change, and then catch the Red Line down to State and Grand for dinner with the three of us at Shaw's Crabhouse on Hubbard St.

A lot of people like to bag on Shaw's. Sure, it's a Lettuce Entertain You place, essentially a chain. All of their joints are 40's type retro places. But Shaw's is special to me. It's menu is far beyond that of a typical themed restaurant, and really, it's not themed at all. It's a seafood place, with an inviting interior and a menu that changes daily. The waitstaff are incredibly knowledgeable, they know the specials backwards and forwards, and my dining experience there just two weeks prior for a work lunch meeting had me making reservations there again that night.

And miraculously we ended up with the same waiter I had at the working lunch. Who was a big part of the reason I came back. We met after having a cocktail in the bar, and Kat snapped this pic of my bro and I:



We sat down and Michael came over and gave us the spiel. We all ordered drinks, and then Kat ordered salmon, myself the halibut, and Duff, of course, got a 20 ribeye topped with $6 worth of blue cheese. It was a wonderful dinner. Expensive, but worth it to have Duffy there enjoying it with me and Kat. Michael was with us all night long, asking us about Alaska, and making jokes with us. He comped us dessert and a round of drinks, and we gave him nearly a 40% tip.

As we were leaving, Michael came out to thank us, and we told him no problem, it was the topper of a fantastic weekend. My brother clarified: Saw my favorite band, broke a 2 year dry spell...

"And she let me put it up her butt."

Once Michael got up off the floor, he said goodbye and we left.

I said goodnight to Kat and Duff and I went home. He was on a plane the next morning, and the weekend came to a close. But it lasted in my daydreams at work that whole week, and it's repercussions were even felt months later.

Postscript:

The following Valentine's Day. Kat and I are at Shaw's for dinner. Upon arriving at the restaurant, we realize to ask for Michael's section and he's working that night, so there they seat us. After walking with Kat back to our table, I excuse myself to run to the men's room. As I stroll back through the restaurant, I pass Michael, and we recognize each other instantly. After 5 months, he looks me in the eye and says, "Alaska." Upon returning to our table, Michael is sitting there, talking with Kat.

He then told us that he took our story to the entire kitchen, and my brother is probably now the most famous patron in the history of Shaw's Crabhouse.

Ah, the power of a great story.

11.10.07

Tomorrow Night!

My band, The Midnight Shows, is live at Dark Room, 2210 W. Chicago Ave.

A sexy, dancable mix of soul and rock, you will groove your ass off and I guarantee you will make out with someone! Might be your wife or husband, or boyfriend or whatever...but if you're single, you gotta like the odds.

We go on at 9:30...so plenty of room to get home in time for bed...(yeah, right).

10.10.07

Guinness and Chili

I greeted the weather this morning with a gusty sigh into the cold breeze and smiled. I hope it's here to stay.

How tragic and almost taunting, that it's finally arrived less than 72 hours after Sunday's debacle, the Marathon. I am so glad it worked out I wouldn't be running this year...even though all I did was sit around in the heat most of the morning, serving brunch to rude non-tippers. It was supposed to be an epic weekend in Cleveland with the Midnight Shows. We had a gig all set to play Fishbone's (yes, of Bonin' in the Boneyard - they are back on tour) afterparty at the Cleveland's House of Blues.

I had sacrificed enough for myself and my racing at the expense of my music and musical colleagues. So when we found out we'd be touring the weekend of the Marathon, I figured we'd get more than enough free booze to offset the $120 registration feee. But our drummer felt it wasn't very important enough to go, even though she committed to those shows. They were to be her last. We liked her a lot. Very talented and had time like an atomic clock. But she killed the whole weekend for all of us simply by deciding she didn't want to drive out to Cleveland. Breaking her word.

Not to bring everyone down. Regardless of it all, I wasn't running in that furnace on the city streets last Sunday. I'm glad it wasn't my first marathon.

Were you there? Was it your first time? Or 10th? I'd love to hear from you regarding how it all really went down at those water stations. Was it really poor planning? Reckless neglect by the organizers? Did you have to run into Walgreen's along the route for a Gatorade?

Bring the Haterade for the marathon in my comments section!

8.10.07

Gnats

I guess I can skip that protein shake.

7.10.07

The Year of the Rat

It's coming.

My year. The year of the Rat.

Epic days and epic nights. Weekends, and the month. 2008 is the Year of the Rat, and although it is technically next year on my birthday, the Year rolled in on the heels of my ride back from Evanston on last Sunday night, thunder rolling in the distance and finally soaking me to the skin as I arrived at my door shortly after midnight. Lightning flashed on the blowing leaves, like a camera-shot, showing green in the night, as though it were a negative in my eyes.

Smile.

Where do I begin?
...rats are leaders, pioneers and conquerors...
Last month began, as I so meticulously cataloged, with my layoff from my corporate job, and my life tumbling head over heels down the stairs and out the set of the creaky doors, spilling out into the sunlight. I took advantage of the daylight, and never took a faltering step. The very same week, less than two days later I was up before dawn to ride and train, bringing pain to fight the pain. Very soon after, I completed the race of my life, and began interviewing for jobs I never would have considered myself qualified to take. Including waiting tables.

How could I have ever thought I would be in this position 5 years ago? I wouldn't have occurred in the most delusional fantasy, much less that I would be good at it, or that I would like it.
A rat's natural charm and sharp demeanor make it an appealing friend for almost anyone...
At first the training was degrading, menial. Following around a server, being told the most basic tasks -, so obvious, that of course I would never have thought of them - of serving. And to smile though it all. The rudeness, the complaints, the too-fast pace, 5 tables sitting down at once, and going home with nothing but a $4.50 an hour wage, a free meal, and no tips. That is training at a restaurant. Fortunately, it only lasted 3 days, and then I was thrown to the lions.

And like Daniel, didn't fight them, but swallowed my pride (heh heh heh) and joined them. I have come to enjoy everything about this job, and my new identity as a server. It has made me much more humble, thrifty, independent, and not afraid to ask for help. And much more generous and understanding. The last two qualities I feel I have never been short on so I feel that is saying something.

The highlight of my new job however, came just this past Thursday night. It was one of those, yes, epic nights, as my friend Luke likes to say. It was Cubs Night, Game 2, highly anticipated after the nail-biter the night before, and I was closing. The best tables for money, right by the bar. Those people aren't there to eat dinner, tell their kids to stop playing with their food or send back the soup. They are there to drink. My new boss was sitting right at the middle table, as well, racking up a huge tab, including 2 bottles of wine. But when the ladies came in, the night was not looking as promising as I'd hoped, as many of the tables, had camped out, waiting out the long game with water instead of beer, not paying for their prime real estate.

But, the ladies came and rescued me. A bachelorette party of 12 came and sat in the back room, and it was inexplicably given to me. I already had the prime tables, but I drew first blood when they opened the party room up. It was round after round of shots, some on the tab, but several in a row of comped drinks, as the bartenders tried to get rid of some old, cheap alcohol. The tab grew longer and longer.

At one point, as I brought in another round of blow-job shots, the girls asked me to settle a debate. What is the proper "motorboating" technique?

A "motorboat" - since a visual is way better than a description:



"Do we push 'em together or leave them apart?"

I knew where this was going immediately, and stayed quiet, just smiling. It didn't work. "Would you do it on her?" And pointed to the girl at the table who appeared to have cantaloupes under her sweater. "Ohhhh, no," I laughed. "Are you serious?" Melon-girl was most enthusiastic that I motorboat on her. "Noooo, noo, nonononono," I protested, laughing. "Really?!"

Another girl screamed, "her boobs are a size G!" I looked at Melon-girl, who nodded sheepishly. I confirmed that they were absolutely serious. "Should I have you sign something that I won't get sued?" This brought waves of laughter, and Ellen just pulled her neckline down. When would I have a chance to do this on a set of G's again? The pictures were all too late, if I had waited for the flash to go off, I would had my face in her tits for at least 10, long, beautiful seconds, an eternity in which any number of other employees could've walked in, not the least one of the all-female managerial staff. But, I swear, true story. Later, when I walked in with another round of shots, the top was off. Girls just wanna have fun.

They left me more than a 30 per cent tip on a pretty big bill, and combined with my manager's tip on her 100 per cent comped tab, it made my night pretty worthwhile for the lack of sleep.
Rat in general should guard themselves against hedonism, as it may lead to self-destruction...
The actual birthday on Monday was an amazing one, the best I think I've ever had. It included an 80-mile solo ride down just past 145th street, past the south-side city-limits, a team-meeting, a rehearsal, and a last-minute change in plans to meet up at Quencher's. Good-friends, new-friends, old-friends alike. Quencher's kicking us out couldn't keep us down, and we loaded up and headed to Underbar. Rudy dropped us off at 4:30 in front of her apartment. She called in sick when the alarm went off about 4 hours later, and we had a leisurely lunch across the square around 1.
They are charming, passionate, charismatic, practical and hardworking...
And Friday, following my very successful (hopefully) interview in Northbrook, networked through a teammate, I helped him install his new bike rack on his car after he drove me back to the city. We shared a couple beers, cursing over stripped screws, bruised thumbs, and the dying daylight. We planned to drive out to the Fall Fling road race the next day in Rockford.

He left on a date, and another teammate invited me over for wine and pizza as a birthday dinner. He is a wine rep by profession, and is helping me network in that area. I love wine, and the chance to have fun night chatting and BSing over some bottles I'd never find on my own was too good to pass up. We drank too much, ate too much, and I got home too late. A great night. I rationalized that I didn't want to sit in traffic 4 hours to ride in a 40 mile race, when I could sleep an extra hour, not drive anywhere, and get in 80 miles, and still be home in time to get a nap and not be late to work. It was a grand ride, missing the usual suspects - at the race, but it was scorcher, and I met several new potential teammates. I certainly began to feel the benefits of my new training plan on the bike, since having hired the coach. We rode very hard, and had at least 5 sprints.
They are energetic and versatile and can usually find their way around obstacles, and adapt to various environments easily...
The interviews are coming in fast and furious, and hopefully growing to a critical mass. As of Friday, I will have had at least three in seven days, barring any new ones popping up on the schedule. 2 of them could potentially double my salary.

Hopefully all of them will let me continue working at the restaurant.

If all this can happen in one month, just think of what a year will bring.

27.9.07

Thursday meanderings

I ran into fellow teammate Luke Seemann on the path today, at the start of my training ride and his commute to work. He told me that I made it onto the radio today! Steve Dahl apparently read my email that I sent to him:

Subject: I think you owe us an apology
Mr. Dahl,

If it comes out that this guy is a listener of yours, maybe we can get you charged as an accomplice.

http://www.chicagobikeracing.com/blog/archives/2007/09/hit_and_run_on_1.html

Share the road, and have a nice day.


--
"...and if you play Defender, I can be your Hyperspace."


I was told he made fun of the Beastie Boys quote I put in my signature tag (for all my emails), that he didn't "get it." Ha.

Anyways, after saying goodbye to Luke I headed down to Calumet Park at 95th St. and Ewing, by the lake for a few laps to fill out the middle hour of my training ride. The draw bridge was up. I wish I had my camera. Does anybody know if this is the bridge the Blues Brothers jump across at the beginning of the movie?

And on the way back I had this Fred drafting on me the whole way. I hate that. I'll be ready to change lanes to pass, check back and there's some guy glued to my wheel without so much as a warning. If your going to draft on somebody training solo, introduce yourself first and ask if they mind.

Nap time. Ciao.

Open Letter

The following is related to the Hit & Run my bicycle team was involved in last Saturday on St. Mary's road just south of Libertyville, IL.

At the link posted above, there are several comments and a rather lively, yet civil, discussion of cyclists and the right-of-way on public roads, including. The comments were closed as it seemed the misconceptions a poster was expressing were leading to a dead end, and that the discussion could go rapidly south from there.

So, I emailed the commenter who posted as Richard with a simple, "Please share the road, and have a nice day," in the hopes that I might be able to continue a one-on-one discussion regarding his thoughts on the matter. Sure enough, Richard responded with a very civil letter which restated his earlier comments on the chicagobikeracing.com article of the incident.

I guess I would say a good chunk of my readers are Chicago-area cyclists, but for those that aren't, I am posting my reply to Richard here today. Some of his questions are the opinions held by many drivers, I am sure, and I want to address the issues of cyclist right-of-way, and why this hit-and-run incident deserves the vociferous response it is getting.

Hi Brian,

I received your email...fair enough.

But I am confused on an issue...I have checked out the internet and there are dozens and dozens of bike trails and ovals around the area. Cyclsts of the past lobbied and lobbied for more places for them to cycle, so the state built these ovals and trails.

Why do cyclists use roads when they are so many other alternatives?

One could argue that if these cyclists were not allowed on a streets and if they were on an oval or trail that this accident would not have happened.

You have to agree that cyclists do cause road rage, not all cyclists adhere to road rules...in fact I would say the majority do not follow traffic laws whatsoever. Hard to find sympathy for anything that happens to cyclists on the street knowing that there are many alternatives.

With regards,

Richard

---------------------------------------------------

Hi Richard,

Thanks for your well-thought out email. But you have some misconceptions that I want to address.

Not sure where to really begin, so I will say first that I sympathize with your frustration at cyclists who ride dangerously in traffic and then get mad or worse when they are nearly hit. And when they are hit...eek. I don't know if you heard about the messenger who was killed on the Southside about a month ago. He was traveling west in the east bound lane of 18th street and then turned south - on a red light - into the northbound lane of Clark street. He was immediately hit by a truck and instantly killed. I am just as frustrated as you. Everyone must use the roads and the rules are there for that exact reason. But what can you do?

We all have to deal with it. Especially other cyclists who ride within the law and have to deal with driver's frustration at all the others who don't.

However, just as you called us out for stereotyping SUV drivers, I can assure you, there is nobody who rides like that on our team. We love cycling, our team is a top priority, and every driver out on the streets who sees our uniform we want to have a positive impression of us. Even out of our "kits" as we say in the sport, we believe in karma - and swimming with the big steel sharks you had better believe - and we give in hope that we get it back.

Yes, cycling advocacy groups have lobbied for more paths (not ovals - there hasn't been a new track installed in years in this country - and the track is a completely other story - I hope you're not talking about a running track at a local high school? :) ). And those paths are FULL of people. Mom's, kids, joggers, dogs, recreation bikers. And the cycling community is greatful for them. As all of us on Triple X. When we want a fun recreation ride, we use them all the time.

But, as I said, we are a cycling team. We race. We go FAST. Very FAST. Too fast to ride on the bike paths. The paths are for the moms, the kids, the dogs, the rollerbladers, the wanna-be triathletes. We ride road bikes. And road bikes, well, they belong on the road. We take our passion for riding fast to a completely different level, with techniques and riding ettiquette that surpass anything you can imagine. It's more beautiful than you ever dreamed. It's art.


And we all pay taxes. And the law says we have just as much a right to all the road that you do, with in safe limits, such as limitations from dangerous sections (and are clearly marked) or the interstate. This is a free country Richard. Why should we be limited to using the roads for transportation only? Cars use the roads for far more than transportation. And for the most part, those cars peacefully coexist with cyclists every single day. We should be able to express ourselves physically, through our sport on those very roads. And it's perfectly within our legal right to do so, as long as we obey the law.

I have ridden that section of St. Mary's nearly every weekend in that very paceline this season. And ,most drivers don't mind that they might be 10 seconds late to the next light. Most drivers pass without any hindrance or annoyance in the least. Most drivers don't see a single or group of cyclists as something weaker, as an enragement (to coin a term), as something to be "dealt with."

I did see your comment that you didn't understand what the big deal was. That there have been dozens of cyclists hit by cars this summer alone. Probably every day. Of course. And they were accidents. Lots of times due to lack of communication, impatience, or poor riding by the cyclist.

But what happened last Saturday morning on St. Mary's was on a different level. That man, Thomas Lynch, attacked us with his car. Two other drivers testified on our behalf that we did nothing to provoke him, or "cause any road rage" as you say. (No matter how much any cyclist pisses off a driver - he shouldn't pay for it with his or her body as actual retribution via justified road rage.)

He attacked us with malice without any thought of the consequences his actions might cause, and then knowingly fled the scene of an accident. A display of anti-social intent, 100%. To argue if we had been on a path that the accident wouldn't have happened is completely off topic. It wasn't an accident.

I hope you can now see the reason the sport cycling community is up in arms over this event.

The weekend after next, Sunday, Oct 14th is the annual Dick Herron Ride, produced by the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation - the nation's largest cycling advocacy group. The ride is in remembrance of every cyclist killed by traffic. Not all of us ride like shit, Richard. I urge you to come out and ride with us, hear some of the stories, and see why it's so important to Share the Road.

Thanks for your time, Richard. Ride well.