"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


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




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.


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