"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

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.