"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


Dateline: Anchorage

Saturday we had a reunion of sorts, in downtown Anchorage at a bar, the F Street Station.

Craig Hasund, who played saxophone and oboe with me in high school band and the Anchorage Youth Symphony (1987-91) and his wife, Rena:

...and Mark Edwards, the big surprise of the night (he sat behind me in chemistry, 1989-90):

My brother with Sam Gray, also a saxophonist in the East High band:

And Jimmy Egan doesn't look a day older:

Later on that night one of my best friends, Erik Wegscheider - clarinet: AYS, All-state, All-Northwest band, showed a bit later. He actually called me from his truck as he drove past to tell me he wasn't coming in and I didn't blame. It was asses to elbows in there, some sort fire code was surely being broken, so we stopped in at Anchor Bar, attempted to find an open bar at the Captain Cook Hotel (Anchorage's answer to Chicago's Penninsula), and then to the old standard, Humpy's, for the final round of the evening...

The next day my brother took us to the firing range in Birchwood to pop a few rounds on his AK-47 and Glock .40 S&W:


Anchored down in Anchorage

I arrived in Anchorage late on Christmas Eve night. In fact, with the three hour gain, my body time was Christmas. It had been almost four years since last coming home, but walking into the house I'd first moved into before the 6th grade felt almost routine.

Christmas day was one of the best ever. Very few presents - I bought the wine for dinner, we all got socks, but Mom bought a Wii for the house, and I found out my brother had quit smoking! An old family friend came over to eat with us, and we had lots of good wine over prime rib and uproarious conversation, before heading downstairs to play a few hours of Wii tennis and bowling.

The backyard:

Today Mom and I went skiing on the truly world-class network of urban trails that Anchorage residents enjoy. My stepdad's wooden skis, handmade in Norway, are probably older than me but with the appropriate wax applied, they glide along just as well as the high-end composite models.

Madison Way at high noon in December - that's looking straight north (the sun never really gets above the southern horizon this time of year):

Just a right and a left turn and three-quarters of mile from the house is the access point to Chester Creek Trail:

One of the many underpasses on the ski trails in Anchorage:

We stopped at West Chester Lagoon, near the head of the Coastal Trail, and watched the ice skaters:

Long story short? Keep your distance:

A view of Cook Inlet and Mt. Susitna (Sleeping Lady) from the Anchorage Coastal Trail:

Informational sign at Earthquake Park, where the entire neighborhood of Turnagain Heights slid into Cook Inlet during the March 27, 1964 Earthquake. At 9.2 on the Richter Scale, it was the largest seismic event ever recorded in North America:

At Earthquake Park:

Downtown Anchorage from the Coastal Trail:

Needs no further explanation:

Three hours and 11.5 miles, it was a great workout. We are about to enjoy some leftovers from last night - I am starving - and then my brother and I are headed downtown to meet up with some high school friends we've not seeing in quite a long time over some beers.

Until tomorrow...


Thursday Hate - Early Christmas Edition

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

First, most Christmas music sucks. You can really only listen to it so many times, even Vince Guaraldi; so, I'll be pretty adamant here, there is no "great" Christmas music. Therefore, nothing is more teeth-grindingly grating than having to put up with people who rave about the "moving experience" of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and how it truly "captures" the holiday spirit. These are the same people who still think there are honest politicians left, or that the Whole Foods frozen dinners are good for you just because they say, "organic" on the box.

If pigeons are the current sad state on the evolutionary trajectory of the Velociraptor, the TSO are the natural progression from 80's hair rock. Although having said that, virtually nothing has changed since the 1989-91 era of arena rock, with their platinum blond straightened hair, petticoats and pirate shirts, and their Jackson Flying V knockoffs being wielded as though at a renaissance faire. You know that pose: where they lean way back and hold on to the guitar as if it's going to fly out of their hands at any minute while they stare at it, like they can't believe what they're hearing...

People who would otherwise call Tony Iommi and Randy Rhodes "noise" will pay good money to sit through nearly two hours of heavy metal cliches; giving their warmed-over religious Christmas favorites unneeded gravitas in order to feel cultured. Ugly sweater parties all over American suburbia will be accompanied - OH, so unironically - by these bland, Wonderbread collections.

Of course if you took these same people to some truly exciting "culture", such as Stravinsky (CSO, January 2010) or Mozart's Marriage of Figaro (Lyric Opera, March 2010), they'd fall asleep on you faster than a freshman who's just rubbed one out on the back porch couch after a frat party.

And that's a wrap for the Hate this year. It was certainly a rage-inducing 2009. I'm off to Alaska on Thursday, so stay tuned for a more heartwarming range of posts, such as pictures of frozen moose poop along the Anchorage ski trails, or accounts of my parents getting drunk and putting on some TSO; and be sure not to miss my 4th annual "Best that I could do" recap of the year.

Happy Holidays! Lots of love,

The Car Whisperer.


Anchorage (a love letter to home)

(with apologies to Carl Sandburg)

You were once the crossroads of East and West
Keeper of the gateway between new and old
Off in the corner, yet noticed when needed
At the edge of forever by our own fingernails.

I knew no differently: you were me and I was you
And together in the snow we found our place in the world
While the rest of them twisted and burned in roiling water
We simply crunched past on our frozen, quiet way.

They say you are cold and I know this
Your pitch black mornings let me stay under the blankets
Or to contemplate the day’s start - still so far off - in a quiet kitchen
They tell me you are dark, and I nod and smile
The miserly light that you offer drives me out into the snow
To risk fingers and toes before returning to the fire
They wag that you are lonely, and I agree
We are made from your expanse, meant to return
And being lost amid your empty whiteness makes us thankful

Each time away grows longer and farther
A remembered breath, misty and faint in the air,
Grown whispier in my warmer, later, lighter days
Than when it came frozen from my reddish cheeks.

Each time I’ve returned you’ve become more like them
Trying to belong
And not nearly so cold. Just like me.

We have aged.

But there are times when we can go back
To wake up in darkness, laugh in twilight
And crunch on past through the cold and quiet
While they writhe and squirm and ask for help.

I’ve arrived in search of your comforting clutch
And to hear your heart beat beneath the snow.


Thursday Hate - Dr Grammar

You're. Your. One is a contraction, the other possessive.

"You are (you're) a piece of shit who deserves the death penalty for using your car to kill an innocent bystander in a road rage incident."


Loose. Lose. Two completely different words.

"You will have loose bowels for the rest of your life once you lose your (eh?!) virginity in prison."


It's. Its. Again, one is a contraction, the other a possessive. If you write it with the apostrophe, sound out both words, "it is" and if it doesn't fit, remove the apostrophe, like so:

"It's going to be great seeing your cowardly ass shanked in the exercise yard when one gang or another gets its hands on you. Rot in hell, I hope you die from a perforated colon."

Yours in hate and education,

The Car Whisperer.


The Unified Theory of Facebook

1st Law: People who didn't know you/didn't talk to you/made fun of you/beat you up everyday in high school will add you as a "friend."

2nd Law: Any status update that is commented on enough devolves into nothing more than Big Lewbowski quotes.

3rd Law: The first time you "hide" a friend's status updates will be to block the messages from "Mafia Wars" and "Farmville.

4th Law: Posting an "I lost my cell phone" event is a really great way to ensure a smaller contact list on your new phone.

5th Law: You will have one friend who only posts DJ status updates. And you will hide him.

6th Law: You will find out that people you otherwise like are stridently Republican/Democrat.

7th Law: Your mom will be a "mutual friend" of your ex.

8th Law: You will be tagged in a monstrously embarrassing picture without your permission, and by the time you see it, 27 people will have already commented on it.

9th Law: At least one friend a month will leave only "is..." as their status update, in an attempt to be "deep" when they're afraid to just not have anything to say.

10th Law: You will want a dislike button very soon.


Hump Day

A rudderless boat on a cloudy day
On an aimless drift through a crowded bay.

Rusty steel and angry horns
Menacing bows like threatening thorns

But do not lose faith in such a place
For the sun will show like a beautiful face,

And lead you out from amid the blare
To follow that smile to quiet, sweet air.



File this under "Early hate."

I don't think it's too much to ask that I at least be able to experience my first interview to write a book, even if I had no chance at all.

I figured I should have some shot, however remote, at being chosen to write Bicycling Australia's "Where to Ride Chicago". I'm sure there are many accomplished writers out there with a long resume full of books, but I do offer a unique, or so I thought, sweet-spot combination: I can write, I can ride, and who knows the city of Chicago from the vantage point of two wheels better than I?

I would've loved to at least presented my passion, to talk professionally about what I love for the chance at a life changing opportunity. Oh, well. By 4:15 as my phone was ringing while we carpooled home from work in growing snowfall, the publishers of Bicycling Australia had heard enough and had their author. It was far more painful than if I'd received that call after meeting them. I am beside myself, and they are sipping cocktails at Rosebud.

I should've at least had the chance. I know where to go. Let's rent a tandem. One ride. Come with me.

Let's start from Navy Pier, at the Bike Chicago rental.

We'll head down the path, snaking towards the Lakepoint Tower (look up, did you know Oprah and Eddie Van Halen lived there?) and the Illinois Street viaduct, and then north onto the lakefront path.

We'll pass Streeterville, named after the lunatic/rebel who crashed his boat on the lake shore in 1886 and claimed 186 acres as his own sovereign, the "District of Lake Michigan," until 1928.

Look up to your left as we ride through the Oak Street chicane, by the majestic waterfront apartments beneath the Palmolive Building. Once a beacon of the Art Deco 1930's and Chicago's rise to world prominence, alternatively synonymous with the the acrid smoke from the Tommy guns of Capone's legion, the rotating light at the top was finally shut down in 1981 after years of complaints from the residents of the next door John Hancock Tower and the defenders of migratory birds.

Let's head west at the North Avenue underpass, and ride into the shabby chic of Old Town, with it's well worn and comforting storefronts and entryways, the birthplace of Chicago's gentrification from the counterculture that once occupied the lakefront public space from Grant Park to Belmont Avenue during those hot August nights of 1968.

We'll take a right onto Wells Street, riding by the SNL nursery and ground-breaking Second City Theater, and then jog right/left to head north on Clark Street. Just north of Armitage you'll see an empty lot that was once a garage, where seven criminals, expecting no harm from the men dressed as cops behind them, leaned patiently by their hands against the wall and had their brains and guts spilt in a fury of semi-automatic gunfire onto the dusty floor by Al Capone's gang on February 14, 1929.

Let's turn left onto Fullerton and pass by the historic brownstones of Lincoln Park, once occupied by tenants of German brewery owners, and before that nuns of a seminary. Then north on Halsted, behind the Biograph Theater alley where John Dillinger was shot dead, and past the old Everleigh Sisters' northside franchise at 2447, later a hangout-slash-lair of occultist Alister Crowely (and my first apartment in Chicago). Ask the bartenders at Tonic Room to show you the pentagram on the basement floor.

Or alternately stay on Clark Street for a visit at the Weiner's Circle, if on a late night ride. Be sure and ask for the chocolate shake.

Either way, stay on or turn left back on to Clark when they intersect, and head northwest into Wrigleyville for a chance to have beer spilled down your shirt, or to tour the "cathedral" of baseball, home to the most cramped, rank, rat infested, and hated visitor's locker room in all the major leagues. Continue on up, past Metro, where Billy Corgan got his break and Cheap Trick never forgot their fans.

We'll head west, left on Irving Park, where at this intersection the entrances to Graceland and Wunders Cemeteries beckon to the graves of such prominent Chicagoan as Marshall Field, Tribune owner Col. Cyrus McCormick, and architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Louis Sullivan, and Daniel Burnham, and last but not least, George Pullman.

At Irving and Ashland stands the monolithic Lakeview High School, a massive heap of brown brick topped with turrets where my grandmother graduated in the year 1922.

Just before Damen on the south side of the street is the Blue Stem lounge, a dingy martini joint where the late-night bartender shoots the extra cocktail that doesn't fit into each drink she serves, yet amazingly stays sober the entire night.

The traffic gets a little more aggressive here, so we'll turn northwest on Lincoln, and enjoy the confines of the bike lane again. At Montrose, be sure to stop and lock up the bike before scheduling some folk guitar lessons at the Old Town School of Music.

Park again in Lincoln Square between Wilson and Lawrence to take in vintage books, authentic German delis and of course the world famous Brauhaus (where one late Sunday night I found myself with my cousin alone save another table of Polish students calling out requests to the Polka band). See a second run movie at the Davis Theater, or grab the Capitalist Pig at Chubby Weiners (a hot dog with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue from the liquor store next next door).

Jog north and go west (young man) at Lawrence, but if it's the third Friday of the month, don't pass up the open house invite to the bar at Dankhaus, the German Cultural Center. Further down, back in the bike lane, you are treated to signs written in every language from Slovakian to Korean and offered both latkes and fishballs (and everything in between - from gold rims to wholesale underpants) at seemingly every storefront. If you're going to stop, make sure it's at Great Sea Chinese, just east of Kimball.

We'll keep going to Elston and take a right, heading back northwest, into the Mayfair Historic Bungalow District, although mostly all you can see from here is autobody and machine shops. A nice sidetrip would be southwest to Wilson and Knox, for a Guinness at the Irish American Heritage Center, and then some post-drinking fries at Susie's Drive-In, or maybe karaoke at Sidekicks.

A pretty good (and massive) Italian beef can be found at Dukes, up further at Central, and there are many working class bars on the way to the city limit at Devon where we can find both a stool and an ear to lean on.

Right at the end is my personal jewel, Superdawg, with the green tomato in the box on top of your sausage and fries. Pair it with an ice cold strawberry milk shake, and a slight breeze cooling the sweat off the back of your neck on a hot summer's night under the sunset, and you might think yourself in heaven.

Across the street is only Niles however, and the very beginning of the North Branch Trail. Now, on to the botanic gardens...