"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


Reclaiming sense and sustainability

David Brooks argued in the New York Times yesterday that, "America should focus less on losing its star status and more on defending and preserving the gospel of middle-class dignity."

The middle class is a segment of society that has simultaneously grown exponentially worldwide and diminished greatly in stature here at home. A matter of relative perspective, Brooks explains. There are simply more of them, and less of us. While no longer as powerful in their ability to set national priorities, the American middle-class is not yet "eating cake." They simply aren't as distinguished amid so many others.

The middle class - and the United States - have been derided as "tepid and materialistic." In fact, those are the very traits – while stoked and exploited by those with more means – that have led to its nadir. The foreclosure crisis and the looming hammer of debt above are both underwritten by our continued dependence on ever-increasingly expensive fossil fuel; and it has whittled away our disposable income to point of seething anger and blind rage.

However, redemption is not impossible.

Ben Franklin, Brooks reminds us, was one of the original champions of the middle class. While superficially defined as having the means to spend on non-necessities, Brooks explores its deeper values of quality over quantity, of pluralism, innovation, and objectivity. In other words, distinguishing ourselves by what we spend on rather than by what have to spend. Or knowing what is simply not necessary.

"American culture was built on the notion of bourgeois dignity." This dignity is being rediscovered by overcoming the epidemic of obesity and chronic disease wrought by car-centric sprawl and the commoditization of our health and nutrition. It will be reclaimed by standing up and refusing to be marginalized by a lack of transportation options and infrastructure that ignores a great many people's needs and forces them into near-servitude.

Many Americans go into debt because they feel they must own a car, even while 37% of the money they spend on it is lost to depreciation.

Diabetes and its complications claim one in every five dollars spent on healthcare in this country. This "lifestyle" disease is the reason why so many of us cannot afford health insurance and it is now beyond any doubt that urban sprawl and its drive-only mandate bears much of the blame. Not only because it robs us of the time spent moving our bodies, but of the time spent preparing quality meals and sharing them with quality people during quality time. Robbing us of the expendable income to spend what is actually necessary.

I see a revolution of holistic self-sufficiency and the abandonment of suburbia. Robust transit systems that complement streets which welcome walkers and cyclists along with manageable and safe traffic flow, encouraging efficacy, commerce, and vibrant community will diminish our crushing debt and nihilistic consumerism. Rather than spend two hours a day in the car, then obsessively jump on a treadmill after grabbing take out, the new middle-class will simply bike to work or walk to the train, and have the time afterward to enjoy a real meal with family or friends.

Fewer teens are getting a driver’s license than at any point in the last 25 years.

Measured austerity and real sustainability (as opposed to the "greenwashing" of hybrid cars, wind powered parking garages, and carbon credits – i.e. bullshitting ourselves) will come to define the middle-class in the very near future. It will be the one characteristic that gives them back the power they once had.

Not the power to buy or own what it neither needs nor can afford, but to free themselves of the compulsion to do so.


Food Choices

From the Newsweek article "Divided We Eat":

"This is our charity. This is my giving to the world," says Alexandra,finally, as she packs lunchboxes—organic peanut butter and jelly on grainy bread, a yogurt, and a clementine—for her two boys. "We contribute a lot."

This is not just self-congratulatory masturbation. The "savings" of cheap food, brought about by way of equal amounts of cheap oil, are in reality buck-passing. Those "savings" are borne by the public in the form of healthcare costs (11% of which treat type 2 diabetes alone), pollution, and even directly out of our pockets in the form of subsidies for those "cheap" and very empty calories.

It seems self-defeating to give to charitable public health concerns while at the same time compounding those very problems with your own lifestyle choices. Instead, spend the extra on sustainably-produced foods that have far less negative impact on public health


Awww, poor baby!

It is ironic, sadly and supremely so, that the group of citizens now crying and complaining over the Transportation Safety Administration’s new full-body scanners and aggressive pat-down searches are the same that drive SUVs, minivans, and cars for half-mile trips to the grocery store, to work on days when it’s “just too cold” to wait for the bus or deal with a homeless person on the train, to the gym in order to run on a treadmill, and because “I bought it, so I might as well use it.”

This is a nation so lazily and vociferously addicted to oil, believing that driving everywhere is a civil right and a way of life that they voted for George W Bush, twice, and his gigantic expansion of our already unwelcome presence in the Middle East to outright war. Not that we’d have avoided war with another president, not without changing our ways. Obama is proof of that, ineffectiveness incarnate. But by electing Bush and a propaganda machine, we convinced ourselves we could go on living as we always have, with the small inconvenience of ensuring that our Middle Eastern oil supplies aren’t endangered by Chinese or Russian intervention by intervening ourselves.

That’s the cost of “freedom,” right?

Do you really think that we’re still in Afghanistan to ensure democracy? US combat operations in Iraq may be over but our occupation is not. Do you really think that the weapons-of-mass-destruction-fiasco was just an honest error in intelligence and judgment? You are stupider than your Hummer makes you look.

Do you really think that we’re there to “steal oil?” You are stupider than your Prius makes you look.

We are awaiting the inevitable: the supply crunch. Soon there will not enough available energy at affordable prices to go around among Europe, China, Russia, and the US. It is then our Asian mission will be realized; and once it is, the terror threat will recede far into the background. If you think all parties involved will politely negotiate their way to an agreeable resolution to this shortfall, you are stupider than your protest sign makes you look.

Until then, terrorism is the most visible consequence of our oil addiction, and we bitch and moan about the TSA “abuse” with zero sense of irony. By simply reducing the amount we drive through means theoretically within our grasp we could totally eliminate our dependence on any foreign oil and any need for energy-defense missions. Most trips fewer than two miles could be made by some other mode than automobile. Why do you need so much shit from Target at one time? Why do you need such a huge truck? Can’t you drive something with better mileage? Why can’t you live in a denser area that is closer to transit?

These are all choices that you can make. However, if you have chosen to live in the suburbs and more than 2 miles from your nearest food source, voted for the candidate who cut funding for transit, or would rather drive because the bus “is for losers,” then I don’t want to hear anymore complaining about being turned into a creepy, 3D, black and white centerfold or having your genitals touched by a glorified security-guard no more qualified to be a garbage man and probably paid half as much.

We have only our own selfish behavior to blame. We're losing essential liberty for a little convenience. 300 million people changing a little can change a lot.


Thursday hate

Extra tomato does not mean "one extra slice of tomato."

Someone who asks me for advice but is really only looking for validation on what he's already decided on doing.

People who must get past you to the doors while the train or bus is still moving, especially during rush hour; making me get up or contort to let them pass, risking a fall. I promise you will not miss your stop. And if you do, it won't be the end of the fucking world.


Thursday hate

My top ten targets in the post-oil apocalypse:

10. Litterers.

9. People who block the doors.

8. Eric Cantor.

7. People who start with "www dot..." when giving you a web address.

6. American soccer fans who hate all other American sports.

5. People who go apoplectic against cutting social services but don't have a library card.

4. Litterers littering energy drink cans get an extra.

3. People who blame the imminently approaching economic abyss on liberalism and over-regulation.

2. People who won't eat vegetables, but they'll have their own problems.

1. "I said, 'please move your bag.'"


Humped Day: we deserve it

This results of yesterday's election were a rebuke of Obama's first two years in office, no doubt. There's a link going around, What The Fuck Has Obama Done So Far? And, sorry, I have to answer, "so? Big fucking deal."

More mental heath care for veterans is great, it truly is. So is preventing providers from excluding pre-existing conditions upon new employment. These provisions would've been easily passed with bipartisan support. This is the kind of change people wanted.

The added entitlements of insuring millions of needy Americans who cost the most to treat because they suffer from chronic disease due to poor diet and lack of exercise, caused by government policy that was left completely untouched, was not the change people wanted. And the fact that it was passed without ANY bipartisan support at all has some people rightly pissed.

Especially after they just finished paying over $700 billion, instead of lining each of those motherfuckers up against a wall and putting a bullet in their brain, to the Wall Street criminals who fleeced the taxpayers that had any money left after they hatched a scheme to sell mortgages to people who couldn't afford them, then bundled them up in fraudulently-rated securities and sold them again, while taking out insurance policies on all of them - those millions and millions of little financial hydrogen bombs, credit-default-swaps.

Who's to blame? Probably Republican Phil Graham for sponsoring the 1999 bill which repealed part of the Glass–Steagall Act of 1933 and removed the wall between commercial and investment banks, or the current standard-bearer for modern Democrats, Bill Clinton, who signed it. Take your pick.

But Barack Obama passed financial reform, you protest? Big fucking deal. Too late, the horses are already out of the barn. The accumulated debt at the core of it all - mortgages owned by people who couldn't pay them - debt that was greater than our combined ability to pay it, caused it all to fall apart. We got stuck with the bill and the world would end if we didn't pay.

This may not have come directly out of our pockets, but in the coming years, as our schools get worse, more bridges collapse, and ever-more reactionary politicians rescind funding for rail and complete streets infrastructure and planning, the criminality of it all will become very apparent.

The world, as we know it, is still going to end.

And this is what pisses me off the most: there is not one word about what the fuck Obama has done for sustainable transportation. The planning and ideas coming out of our Department of Transportation are the most innovative in years, former Republican Illinois state senator Ray LaHood is doing incredibly great work. And it may all be squandered by Obama breaking his word on being a bipartisan reformer. Not all conservatives are entirely beholden to special interests, some just think entitlement spending has gone too far. And when we're spending money to insure unhealthy people without first addressing WHY they are unhealthy, I think that's a good reason to say no.

And now, because of it, very real planning and the few good ideas to come out of this administration so far - transportation mitigating our dependence on cars - are at risk of being cut. In many states, such as Wisconsin, it's already on the block. And amid the permanent energy crunch that is being direly predicted in the coming years, we'll again be left forking over many more millions to pay for this next, now permanent, emergency.

And the folks who reacted to Obama's ineffectiveness will react the same way to these new Republican's ineffectiveness, by voting in even more reactionary politicians. All very sad, because our downfall is completely out of any politician's control. They will make Joe Miller and Sharon Angle (and her vague threats of "2nd amendment remedies") look like Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale.

Bookmark this blog entry. Title it, "was Brian right?" Come back in the fall of 2012 and see if we aren't ruing our continued dependence on cars and suburban sprawl. And I'm very sorry that your feelings are hurt because a bunch of gun-wielding insurgents got voted into office around the country yesterday, but that's what you get when you don't take other people's opinions into account.


Fuck it, Dude.

A tragedy itself, "What Was the Hipster?" at nymag.com, definitively shows that the leading edge of popular culture has run into a brick wall, and is now being crushed to death as the trailing weight of society, full of unstoppable momentum, carreens into it, leaving an unintelligable, unnavigable morass of style, asthetics, and values.

Nothing is new.


Pipe dreams

Tea Party anger is genuine, but very sadly misplaced. It's like watching a trust fund kid run out of money. Except in this case that money is cheap energy - easily obtainable oil and gas.

A half-decent screed on t r u t h o u t was brought to my attention today by some friends on facebook. Author Henry A. Giroux claims that Tea Party vitriol is led by a vast conspiracy of rich people getting greedier and meaner, the result of a collective loss of our moral compass over the last 30 years - since Reagan's election.

I read it, realized he was partly right, and was quickly reminded of the book I just finished a few weeks ago, James Howard Kunstler's, The Long Emergency. We have gone through about half of our total endowment of fossil fuels - specifically oil and gas, Kunstler writes - the cheap and easy-to-get half (and especially our own rapidly depleting supply of gas, and we do not have the infrastructure to import LNG at soon-to-be needed levels). It's all down hill from here. If anything, read the book, written in 2004, for Kunstler's related prediction of the housing collapse and foreclosure crisis will make the hairs on your neck stand up as stiffly as a legion of brownshirts coming to attention.

And many sources would say he's right, showing that global production peaked as late as four years ago. Consequently, Giroux is right, too. Our "ideals" did begin to change once Reagan was elected, because Reagan's election was in fact a reaction to our collective failure to deal with our own national peak oil crisis, in 1970: blaming it on the liberals and Arabs.

What next immediately jumped out at me was Giroux's absolute denial that government solutions don't work; that reams and books and stacks and entire libraries and roomfuls of computer servers of rules and regulations have never worked. His stone-faced failure to acknowledge that the Tea Party is, ultimately, a very real reaction. We're as self-centered as we ever were, 30 years ago, or 3,000. Don't believe me? When has a rule ever changed what you wanted? Needed? Have you ever seen a government RFP? I have. It was 57 pages of ADA, EEO, and DBE accommodations that would drive Bill Gates to become a turnip-farming revolutionary.

That the Tea Party is a reaction seems self-evident at first, because all liberals love to tout how proactive they are. But failing to address the action that caused the reaction you are condemning makes you just as big a reactionary.

Everyone loves to argue these days about who the real Nazis are, who's the real next Hitler. The truth is, who ever is in power the moment the permanent energy shocks and blackouts start is gonna be saddled by that unfortunate historical comparison. Unfortunate because it will be completely out of their control. We'll all slip into a collective psychosis, as Kunstler warns, looking to blame our problems on someone that is not ourselves, very much like the real Nazis and the German people of the 1930s.

You think the Tea Party supports your right to bear arms? Just wait until they're in power when the center starts really coming apart and they suddenly start taking the blame. I got yer second amendment right here. And the 1st, 3rd, 4th...you get the picture. And if Barack Hussein Obama and his crew happen to be the unlucky ones still in power when the shit goes down, then Palin and Co. will be proven right, but only by accident. If only they could be so lucky.

Truth is, labels shift and blame changes with whoever is in power because nobody wants to deal with the truth. It's the reason Palin, Paul, Miller, Angle, and O'Donnell are all part of this current zeitgeist. They're on the outside looking in, claiming to have all the answers. They'll be sorry when they're finally in and want out.

According to Kunstler, the world's endowment of cheap energy has made the illusion of modern economic utopia possible, including the ability for our nation, with all its diverse political views, to tolerate the massive entitlements that come with a modern democracy. But as the energy that underpins our entire, now global, society becomes unaffordable, we're suddenly realizing that we can't afford those entitlements anymore because we've dumped so much national wealth into an unsustainable lifestyle that only runs on cheap gas in our cars (read: the suburbs).

Employers can't afford to keep the payroll what it was. Food prices, for goods shipped in from all over the world, are getting too expensive, especially for the unemployed. Utility shut-offs ("come on, people...gawd, pay yer BILLS!") are the highest since the Great Depression. Freezing in a dark apartment has a sudden chilling effect on your democratic ideals.

But how can we get rid of all the entitlements? Privatization? I have several family members that each lost nearly $100,000 in investments in 2008, all their own private stash, when the market tanked. It's all moot anyway, no one can live on a SSA check alone to begin with.

So let's blame Harry Reid and his Mexicans.

As if Nevadans are going to wake up November 3rd and find all the illegals gone before Sharron Angle even takes her oath. Or even the year after. Although, in a few years, Nevadans will wake up to find all the water is gone and no one can afford their AC bills. I'd like to see Angle fix that. If she tries to come to the great lakes with a water pipeline, long a Nevada pipe dream - after they've let private mining operations drain their unreplenishable aquifers at the expense of all those people living a friggin desert (Lake Mead is at it's lowest level since the Hoover Dam made the goddamn lake!)...she'll have a fight on her hands, by god, cause I'm voting local. That's one example of socialism against which I'll join a revolution.

(Plus I love that she got so upset when that fat woman on The View called her a "bitch"...that after she told Reid to "man up." She can dish it out, but can't take it. Gender stereotypes go both ways, Sharron.)

And now that we're trying make things more efficient and sustainable, they call people like me a "socialist." With our bike lanes, VMT-reduction goals, 20-minute neighborhoods. They may be right, because it will still be underwritten by oil. Socialism is only an attempt to keep it all banded together with bailing wire and bubblegum what won't stay together on it's own without a huge endowment, a trust fund of cheap energy - gas and oil.

And don't give me the nuclear power argument - do you think the technicians needed at those plants are gonna get to work in nuclear cars? Nuclear's contribution is currently far too low, and electric cars are barely on the market. The time is now, the danger immediate. By time the market responds it will be too late. You only have to look once at Russia's nuclear situation for a clue as to what our own infrastructure may soon look like. And the "socialist" solution is provoking the very reaction about which I've decided to write.

Is it too late? It depends on your definition of "too late." The reality is probably that renewables will never satisfy our current demand. Kunstler argues that contraction, in that scenario, is the only way. He is proving to be more right every day, and it is a bitter pill for an ever growing number of people to swallow.


Thursday hate

I couldn't wait until Thursday to pull the trigger on this one while the firestorm of idiocy on both sides of the argument rages almost out of control.

By now, even the most internet-challenged of us have seen the infamous video of the Delaware Senatorial debate where Christine O'Donnell appears not to know what the establishment clause is.

O'Donnell is no dummy, and she knew what she was doing. She was calculating, and she was in fact questioning Coons' knowledge of the 1st Amendment's actual wording.

It's a typical tactic by religious fascists to argue that prayer and Creationism in school isn't prohibited Constitutionally. It's of course incredibly disingenuous because of COURSE the intent is to keep religion and the state separate. What the hell else could you take from that? The proof is in the pudding with their pervasive "Moslem" comments. They'd 'd no sooner support Islamic prayer in a public school than support no prayer at all.

These people always want their cake and to eat it, too. O'Donnell and her supporters are the first to cite the 1st amendment when the government is telling religion what to do. But when religion is being imposed on everyone else - via the government in public schools and policy - crickets. No problem there at all.

Anyways, the term "separation of church and state" actually originated from Jefferson's correspondence with the Danbury Baptists. I just re-learned (I vaguely recall my U.S. History), this myself via Sarah Palin's twitter (linked to the link she posted), ironically because I'm quite certain she didn't intend for that piece of knowledge to passed on.

I don't have a problem with Creationism being taught in public school, as long as it is in a Theology class, i.e. Religious Studies, or within the context of a language curriculum. We studied the Bible as literature in high school, and this is completely constitutional. A teacher instructing, or the government requiring, that it be taught as "truth" is another matter entirely. Further, Creationism is not based on deductive reason. It's totally opposite, so how can it be part of a science curriculum?

I'll grant that the way evolution is taught in most schools could fall under the same criticism. However, since I'm not a botanist, a paleontologist, or a mammalogist, I won't argue how to best instruct evolution by employing the scientific method.

Moving on, the United States Federal Appeals Court just upheld the Illinois "moment of silence" in public schools. There was a time when I would've cried "slippery slope." But who am I to begrudge the available time made for someone to utter some incantation to whatever deity they want? As long as my kid can pull out his Richard Dawkins book at the same time, I think that's fair.

The slippery slope argument is admittedly laziness on our part in place of vigilance on when the line is crossed. The court's ruling seems like pretty reasonable middle ground, making accommodations for everyone. The problem is, religious fascists like O'Donnell try to grab yards and handfuls when offered an equatable inch. Make no mistake, however; she and her ilk will try to cross that line and use these kind wedges to open the door for far more pervasive impositions on our freedoms.

So don't be lazy. Be honest with yourself about where that line really is, and guard it with your life.

Into the woodshed

I don't think I've ever experienced such a battle in the final lap of any race as I did Sunday in Carpentersville, number 5 in the Chicago Cross Cup series.

After the typical first lap disaster on probably the most technical of courses yet this season, in which I went into the tape twice and endoed once, not to mention getting passed at each barrier remount, I found myself in a knife fight for a top 15 placing among three other riders, Sasha Reschechtko (Tati), Justin Merkey (Rhythm Racing), and Tyler Avery (Pegasus). We constantly stole and gave up lines to each other turn after turn, or tried to drop each other in the pitted and rutted straightaways.

(Bill Draper)

As we raged into the final sweeping arc before the last u-turn to the line, it was Justin, me, and Tyler. I shifted to the big ring and tried to pull away but immediately we were elbow to elbow. I stupidly was still trying to move up on right, but that would've sent me into the tape and a tree on the final right u-turn - or would've crashed all three of us out, so by time I dropped back to reposition myself, it was far too late. Tyler broke free at the same time, and I crossed the line 3rd out of that group for 16th place.

I was pretty pissed at myself for misplaying the end, but once the High Life was cracked open and I was watching the 4Bs negotiate the pump section, all was again right with the world.

Overall the best day yet spent racing this fall. I had my best placing yet in the 30+ (22nd) - even while washing out on the first lap heading into the pumpers and face-planting in a turn - and the long-awaited Chubby Spud found its way into my hand once again:

Incredibly, I've moved up two places in the overall standings to eighth - wait, are we rewarding mediocrity here? I'm gonna have to start red-baiting this obviously socialist series?!? Don't worry, my much-harder-working call-up mates; I'm traveling the next two weekends in a pumpkin-carving, cider-drinking, corn-maze-claustrophobia-panicked fury, so that current placing will drop with the November temperatures. While Bryan Lee is getting his call-up dressed as Lady Gaga in a raw-meat skinsuit, I'll drinking all of my dad's beer while handing out Halloween candy on his porch wearing a wrestling mask.


Falling in love

This is the best time of year to be a commuting cyclist in Chicago.

The vivid colors of turning leaves on my neighborhood streets stir almost instinctual feelings of change.

Post marathon, the throngs of runners are gone. The weather is cooling off. The wannabes have put their bikes away and are driving again. The path is once again ours.

That cool north wind pushes you and the dry fall air keeps you almost sweat-free.




Thank you BBVP, Team Pegasus, and Chicago Cross Cup, for another stellar race in the 2010 series. Last year, Dan Ryan Woods was a vicious kick to the baby-maker, and renaming it Elvis Cross changed nothing. Well, almost nothing:

(Bill Draper)

It was hard to get out of bed, harder to get to the office today, and hardest to even stay awake once there:


My placing in this category has trended downward since opening at 23rd in Jackson Park. The races have gotten more technical and hillier (or obstaclier, in DeKalb) and the competitive top half is getting stronger each time out. I started mid-pack, but then moved back quite a few places while trying to ride up the left-side singletrack: the first time I got caught behind teammate Paolo who had just taken a rear wheel on the chin, upending him; next time I lost traction all by myself, then locked up the front and endoed, finally getting back on once out in the sunlight only to start spinning my cranks madly, not going anywhere. Through the depths of my tunnel vision and frantic gasping, the cacophonous clanging of cowbells, I hear off to my left, oh so casually, “chain’s off.”

Thanks, guy.

Passed a bunch of dudes, ran up the hill on laps 3 and 4, and they all passed me again. Then I passed them again, and I said, “screw it” and decided to try one more time up the singletrack. FAIL w/endo again.

The race was still tons of fun however, mostly because a Team Tati rider in an old U of C kit wouldn’t let me pass him the last time of the second hill, cutting off my line and then opening a gap. I couldn’t quite close it through the final switchbacks, but didn’t let it get any wider by time we were hitting the last barrier. He phoned in the last 200m and I sprinted past him at the line for 33rd. It's the little battles that count for crossers like me.

After some recovery, I staked out some turf by the first 180 turn for the start of the Cat 3s, and nearly became the first off-the-bike relegation in racing history. Mr. Knauf approached to let me know it was Elvis Cross, not Dice Clay Cross. Sorry if I offended anybody.

I promise, later on I had some very clever, PG heckles.


I got a call up for 9th overall, and was 5th wheel into the first turn, but I took it really wide, found the crowd coming up inside, and then after the chaos of the mud (WTF, is this the triathlete division?!) it jammed up terribly and I went through the 180 nearly at a trackstand. I was 8th or 9th coming up on the hill behind a little bit of a gap, when teammate Nick Venice came past like I was waiting to put my bike on the 147.

(Bill Draper)

And that was the only thing interesting about that race. Dropped my chain again. It’s funny how you can hear certain voices amid all the heckling, cowbell, and moments of singular pressure. Kirby’s voice cut through my brain like a knife.

I always lost places on the hill. There was one high point I’ll concede, when a VCS passed and tried to drop me on the second hill the second lap, but I wasn’t having any of it, and stayed right on his wheel. He was slower in the turns and that was the last I saw of him. Oh, and the Elvis sighting after coming down the hill, he passed me fast, with a, “on yah raght, brother! A-huh-huh!”

It was a good feeling to know that my 8th time up that hill was the last. 13th place. I'm still 10th overall and in line for a call up next race, but I won't be spending the entire weekend driving out to the suburbs, so I'll just be racing Carpentersville on Sunday. I can only hope and wait through Saturday's race in Waukonda.

Note the ethereal mood of this picture:

(Sue Wellinghoff)

Heaven will always be post-race. The endorphins will freshly flowing, the cooler will always have one more cold beer inside, and a new field of 4Bs will be just about to start. Oh, there's a cupcake...


(Sue Wellinghoff)


Thursday Hate

Fly-by-night Halloween costume superstores.

I hate these places that are filled to the ceiling with Chinese plastic stuffed inside Chinese plastic bags. But, do you ever see anyone at Halloween parties wearing this stuff? No, because they’d look like the unoriginal tools the models are, on the packaging of these costumes. Dracula? Are you kidding me? Bride of Frankenstein? Ooo-o-o-o-o-o! Nobody – and I mean nobody – wears a costume straight out of the bag except for den mothers, Junior High principals, and these people.

So why are there 10,000 of them in these stores every October and where the fuck do they go?


The people at Cracked must’ve taken a header before writing this one. I was alerted to this article by Chris of I Go With Fergus, and it is actually spot-on until #3, specifically, with this gem:
“…there are multiple studies showing that bicycle helmets, in the long run, don't actually reduce the number of injuries.”
No shit…you mean a full-body energy field doesn’t emanate from the helmet, letting me bounce of the pavement and car bumpers, right back onto my bike?

A helmet is a crash-mediator, not a crash-preventer. Statistics such as cited in this article do not distinguish between head injuries and non-head injuries. A more accurate picture would be told by correlating head injuries to crashes with regards to helmet-use. I've had three crashes that did not involve vehicles which cracked my helmet instead of my skull; once I was probably going only 13 mph.

However, the article cites an interesting study that found drivers drive less safely around cyclists when they are wearing helmets. I’d buy that. Further, there is no helmet-law in Illinois due to large efforts by Active Trans and other advocacy groups. Studies show that helmet laws discourage cycling, and fewer cyclists make for a less safe and bike-friendly environment.


Finally, I want to say something about the Tennessee firefighters who let a house burn to the ground over $75. I had a discussion over Google Buzz on this yesterday, and the opinions expressed ranged from cold analysis of economics and civic policy to much deeper philosophical outrage. My own take on it was summed up as follows:

I wonder if it was less "grasping the golden rule" and more lazy and mean-spirited enough when presented with choices A and B to let somebody's house burn to the ground because they owed $75.

Again this all goes back to the issue of taxes that pay for essential services. Since when is it the Fire Department's job to collect and enforce a fucking service fee? Apparently, when the entire town has become so self-interested that local politicians are afraid to raise taxes to pay for the fucking service.

Maybe that has something to do with people living in homes they can't afford in suburban sprawl where they need cars they can't afford to drive to places to buy shit they need that they can't afford.

Choices and free will. All of it. Fuck 'em. I'm with Jeff. Let it burn.


Flyover Country

It was a 7am departure on Sunday morning with teammate Evan to Dekalb - far west farm country - for the second race in the Chicago Cross Cup series competition, Hopkins Park.

That's a long way to drive just to ride your bike and drink beer, and I skipped this race last year. Two things convinced me to go this time. First, I'm a bit more dedicated to the discipline now, looking to stay active and have a lot of fun, if not experience great results. I've got a cyclocross bike now, so I might as well use it. With the four races, plus practice I've already been able to get in, I'm seeing better technique, new fitness, and getting to know and hang out with a lot of cool racers.


Second, was this:

And by that, I meant this:

(photo by Luke Seemann)

Yes, an honest-to-God flyover. I love cyclocross.

Masters 30-plus

We arrived with enough time to watch the Men's 40 plus field finish up their race and even then I heard it was a somewhat rough transition from the ramp to the grass. So by time I was at the line getting the pre-race instructions from Dave Fowkes, "have one foot in and be off the saddle" the ramp was already in my head. I have a hard time getting in my clips and I was imagining my feet being jarred off the pedals and being castrated before the first lap was finished.

And sure enough, each time up, there were people laughing and heckling me and screaming at me to "just go!!!", still other racers behind me - shoving to get past or jeering. It was about as embarrassing as any number of personal events involving puberty and hygiene in front of the classroom from 6th through 9th grade.

There is new entry to the Heckle Hall of Fame: "Next race I hold your bike for you!" by Michael Kirby (xXx Racing). Thanks, Kirby.

(Upper-left, by Larry Stoegbauer)

I passed riders, the same ones, multiple times, because they would come flying fearless past me again at the top of the ramp, while I flailed to get my foot in the clip before rolling. As well, even the straight sections of the course were riddled with hidden dips and potholes in the grass, preventing me from really attacking to close all the gaps I was giving up. No big-ringing it like at Jackson Park.

Thankfully I wasn't so slow to get pulled and I was able to get the full 45 minutes of pain and suffering in. 6 laps in all. I was somewhat disappointed with my effort, all the same, as I didn't have that same queasy feeling and retching from that last Masters race, two weeks ago, probably from six dead-stops at the top of the flyover, helping me to recover.

(Larry Stoegbauer)


While waiting for the Men's Cat 1/2/3 race to start, I took about five or six practices of the flyover and down the other side, enough to where I felt comfortable jumping back on and rolling immediately. It was good to get that out of the way, and let natural ineptitude in the hole-shot sprint fuck things up, per usual.

I actually had a decent line coming out of turn 2 onto the bike path pavement before trying to make up ground on the left dirt shoulder, and then losing five or six spots coming back up over the pavement lip. Even worse, in mid-hurdle over the subsequent barriers, I smacked my head into a tree-branch, knocking me off-balance and catching myself in a Twister-like pose over my bike before righting myself, losing another three or four places. Then, I settled down, and into my usual cyclocross routine of playing catch-up and holding off those trying to do the same to me, and getting back into that top ten.

The flyover obstacle was much more fun this time around; I took it two and three steps at a time, and comfortably hopped back on and roared down, back up to speed with no issues, save for a few late clip-ins that prevented me from hammering right away.

(Sue Wellinghoff)

I was really deep in it this race, hacking and grunting, out of the saddle and in the drops, just trying to catch Tony (Beverly Vee Pak), Jonathon (Courage) and John (Main Street Bicycles). I really had no idea where I was, but catching them, and then seeing teammate Nick Venice in my sights (in 6th overall) I knew it was close to the front.


After coming down the barrier the last time with Tony right behind me, I suddenly heard the crowd roar in surprise: "Oooooooooh!" and looked back to see my pursuer off his bike. I found out later his carbon seat post snapped at the jarring transition back to the grass.

I am practically under contractual agreement to only say that you all know how I feel about carbon fiber components and a five-figure salary. Moving on.

The thing about the catch is it teases you forever. The rider ahead of you barely seems to be getting any closer for minute after interminable minute, and then suddenly, you are on top of him and passing quickly. Nick was still way out in front of me with only six turns to go, but then with with just three, he was behind me.

Based on some shouts from the crowd to a rider behind maybe a lap earlier, I was positive I'd just moved into 7th place. The last turn was a treacherous 180 around a tree, right in front of the crowd, over jarring, exposed roots. It was very easy to take it too narrowly and find yourself through the tape, or lose your traction and slide-out. Thankfully, I took it perfectly and sprinted as hard as I could, keeping the gap open behind me.

That effort was much harder than the 30 plus in the morning. That is what motivation will do for you. That kind of pressure in front and behind you will have you dry heaving in grass, struggling to catch just one more gasp of air, all with a smile on your face, because by yourself, it just isn't possible. We race because it's impossible to push yourself that hard any other way.

I had 11th place. Exactly the same as two weeks prior in Jackson Park. Hey, consistency is a good thing. The other top 10 placings were quite different this time around, and as such, with a couple of earlier upgrades to the 3s by others, I'll be getting a call-up this coming Sunday at Elvis Cross, Dan Ryan Woods, for 10th 9th place. (upgrades -woot!)




Thursday Hate: More Bikes = More Hate

It was said some months back that in order to get more bikes on the road as a mainstream commuting option, we simply needed more women on bikes. Meaning when women feel comfortable and safe enough to begin biking, that is when the numbers on the streets will truly grow, society will accept bike-commuters with open arms, and our traffic infrastructure will reflect this.

Today, the NY Times gave evidence that a growing number of women are indeed gaining the confidence to take the lane, and they're looking good while doing it.

And as long as women are being liberated, there will be men, especially from the south, speaking out against it:
Not everyone is thrilled. Ross Autry, a blogger in Birmingham, Ala., noted in an e-mail that multitasking bicyclists are too self-consciously hip for his taste and, what’s worse, may pose a hazard. “Fixing your makeup or sending a text message could have catastrophic results,” he said.
Certainly, Ross. All of us men know that women are the only distracted drivers. And if distracted cyclists would be catastrophic, what does that make our current situation with all of them behind the wheel of a two ton Escalade? And the current infestation of brakeless hipsters marauding through intersections, preening in a storefront window at 23 miles an hour, giving more thought to their color-coordinated chain, aerospoke, and top-tube pad than the poor fuck on foot they're about to run over is far more dangerous than a stylish piece of eye-candy who doesn't want to sweat through her Tory Burch top.

God knows my regularly-commuting girlfriend practically has a restrictor-plate and never goes any faster than most people jog. In fact, I witnessed the greatest multitasking-cyclist of all time on my first-ever bike commute to work, back in 2004. A dude, no less, riding no handed through the Oak Street chicane of the Lake Front Trail - before it was repaved - talking on a mobile with one hand and holding a cigarette and a coffee in the other.

"TEACH ME!" I yelled as I rode by.

I imagine Ross is probably enjoying a table for one at TGI Friday's right now, before heading to home to masturbate on the internet and throw a beer can at his dog.

However, ladies, the hate goes both ways.

Just because I place function over form doesn't make me some jarhead or as George Bliss says, "an infantry solider with a helmet,” who has “alienated every pedestrian.” Yes, a lot of people bike unsafely in crowded places, but most of them aren't wearing helmets or lycra. Many others pass safely and we announce our presence, so don't project your inadequacies and bullshit on me.

Speaking of tight clothes, I wear lycra on most commutes because it doesn't bunch up painfully between my balls and my thigh. Because when I commuted 15 miles each way to my last job no one would make that ride in jeans. Because sometimes I wanna ride fast, or get in an extra 30 miles before work at my current job downtown.

And I've cracked a helmet in each of my three bad crashes that didn't involve a car. A crack that otherwise would've been my skull. I think waiting until you arrive at your destination to finally look your best is a preferable alternative to looking your best and drooling on yourself while your mother argues with the doctor to keep the feeding tube in.

Oh, and I hope Topaz Page-Green (if that is her real name) carries personal liability coverage on her condo policy, because she's gonna need it when she takes out a four year old while riding illegally on the sidewalk.


Thursday hate

I gotta lot of problems with you people.

First, why the fuck do you draft on complete strangers riding the Lake Front Trail? Is it not immediately obvious to you what a gross invasion of personal space this is? It's the equivalent of reading over someone's shoulder on the train or at a coffee shop. Unless you ask, or introduce yourself...get the fuck off of my wheel.

Next up: riding in the dark, with sunglasses and without lights, weaving through ped and bike traffic at reckless speeds while wearing headphones, without so much as even giving back an, "on your left." I hope to god you only take yourself out with a tree branch or a pothole before injuring anyone else.

Finally, some guest hate. My dad was hit by a car this morning. Same dude who nearly hit him last week while backing out of his driveway, yakking on the phone. Shit caught up with him today:

The guy who hit me was totally freaked out. While I was clawing at his roof, trying to stay on, I could hear him inside on his cell phone, which of course he was on when he pulled out in front of me, "Oh my god I just hit a guy on a bike." I'm yelling back at him how I am going to rip his balls off and stuff them down his throat, etc. Then I slide off the roof still attached to the pedals, fall on my side and lay there yelling for his head. He gets out trying to call 911, he gets them, and I yell they better hurry cuz there is going to be somebody dead here and it won't be me.

I got up realized I was OK, but that the fork was now reversed. But the fucking wheel is true. Go figure huh?

Shop ordered a replacement fork that they think and hope will work but it will be at least Wed. of next week.

When you see this neighborhood you will understand how dangerous it is to back out of driveways. Everybody knows this and most back IN, then pull out forward, but still. It could have been the prego woman who walks her dog, then where would this knot-shit be?


Jurassic Park

(pix by the amazing Steven Vance)

No, not quite. Although I had a startling realization as I was filling out my waiver on Friday night for Coach Randy's Jackson Park race-eve skills clinic, that my cyclocross racing age is actually 39...so next year that won't be too far from the truth.

A dinosaur on a bike.

However, since this year I'm still the spring chicken in my 30s, I ponied up for the Masters 30 Plus and the 4As. You have to double up in my situation. The 4s races are too short, and when your team is hosting, you gotta be out there. Maybe next I'll do the hat trick with two masters races and the 3s.

You guys can yell sandbagger all you want, but I'm staying in the 4s this year until I'm either on the podium or forced to upgrade. I may have Cat 3 power, but I have Cat 5 handling skills, so I think the 4s is a safe average on which to net out.

Anyways, Jason Knauff hates my constant blogging and called me out on my call up...so Jason, here's to you.

I pre-rode the course - another A+ design by teammate Greg Heck - as the 40 plus men were staging and twitching to get the 2010 Chicago Cross Cup season underway. The course was long and fast - versatile, in fact - suited to both mad CX skills in the technical turns and off-camber twists; and to roadies, who could make up for their short-comings by hammering in the straightaways.

Game face


I'll keep it short and sweet for a long and bitter race. Two and half laps in I was almost puking, after having started near the back and then turned myself inside out to work my way up to 25th or so in a sold-out field of 75. Coming past the wheel pit I tried to hawk one but it got stuck halfway, stretched out between my throat and dangling down my chin. Trying to then force it out almost made everything else come up as well.

Pushing hard past David of Roscoe Village and a very determined Martin of The Pony Shop, the last two laps I could only keep the pressure up and held on to a well-deserved 23rd place. It was my best placing by far in an open field, so I was pretty happy with my effort there.


As I mentioned before, I got a call up in this race. Traditionally, and for the remainder of the season, call-ups to the line are given based on your overall placing. The starting line is ten wide, so a call-up is like gold in a racers quest for the hole-shot. But since there were no results to go on, the call-ups at Jackson Park were awarded on a lottery basis, rather than last year's placing as had been done in the past. And with 10 names out of a pool of 75, the odds weren't that bad.

And truthfully, in my second race, I wasn't too surprised to hear my name called with Sister Sprocket's third dip into the paper bag filled with names. And then to hear Erik's name right after I rolled up.

Sister Sprocket will draw 10 names

The starting sprint was madness, with two big crashes in the opening turns. My technical skills were a real liability in this race and soon the podium gone. Patty, with Jack, and her sister Rose and niece Kaila watched from the mid section where they could scream and heckle multiple times as we doubled and tripled back.

Brian's crew

I did cling to the Top 10 for most of my blazing three laps, until the very end when I was passed in a turn (where else) by Lew of Rhythm Racing. The gap closed little by little in the closing meters, but ultimately it was too late - 11th place - and I won't be getting a call-up on October 3rd in Dekalb, the next race in the series.

Brian on the slalom

The 4B started right where it left off last year, with every level of fitness and skill represented in their three laps, and more heckling than a heathcare townhall meeting in Tyler, Texas.

Huge thanks to Illlinois Cycling, Chicago Cross Cup, all the officials, the sponsors, and of course, all the teams that showed up and made Sunday such a spectacular opening to the 2010 cyclocross season.


Thursday Hate: Slim Sarah (Guess Who's Back?)

She's going to Iowa.

And a growing legion of creationist-"science"-in-our-high-school-labs-forcing, Walmart-grocery-shopping, Elizabeth Hasselbeck-wannabe moms with MMA-watching, Monster-Energy-Drink-for-breakfast, fat-man-titty-having, juggalo ("fucking MAGNETS! How do they work?!") teen kids will be voting for her.

Happy Halloween.


Hump Day

The top 10 signs you have a dream job (or "perspective is everything"):

1. There's an "office coffee club," with Intelligentsia and it only costs $5 a month per person, versus $2 a cup from the Starbucks-branded vendor, Sodexo.

2. The Red line is two blocks from both your front door and the office door.

3. Your colleagues, all 34 of them, don't look at you as though you are green and singing, "Blue Bells of Scotland" through your tentacle beaks when you walk in with a bike helmet under your arm.

4. Your workplan for the next three months is waiting when you arrive on the morning of your first day.

5. Did I mention there's no Sodexo cafeteria? But there's Chipotle, Jimmy John's, Trader Joe's, and about 17 Thai places all within walking distance.

6. There's not one, but two private unisex restrooms (read: no steath-poopers in the stall, no piss spray on the floor, and no gum in the urinals).

7. QBP access (don't even THINK about it) and a monthly bike-reimbursement.

8. The I-was meant-to-be-here moment of the day: the HR director knew Jack when he was in foster care at Chicago Canine Rescue.

9. At the bar-meet-up after work, the new Executive Director seeks you out and already knows your name.

10. Your work is to make the city you love a more livable place to be.


Waiting for the footfalls

Patty gets back from a ten-day trip to Alaska, Canada, and Portland tonight. However, she's forgotten to give me any flight information whatsoever, in spite of my asking for it several times, and I have absolutely no idea what time she gets in.

She sent me an email about 5pm Chicago time on an unrelated subject, which meant she wasn't on the plane yet then, and I still have yet to hear from her. I believe it's four hours to Chicago non-stop, so at the very earliest she could be conceivably landing just about now.

I have no desire to search the flight-tables however, to educate myself for some sort of guess. The current feeling gives me just a little taste of what it was like to await a loved one way back when there was no electronic communication of any kind.

You were lucky if you even knew that she was headed home, then sentenced to spend the days and nights in growing anticipation, reading and passing the angst-ridden hours as candles grew shorter and the wind howled outside against clouded window panes. And when you were finally absorbed in a task menial enough to completely rid your mind of her odyssey and whereabouts, the door creaked open subtly enough for the sound to be taken for granted...until familiar footfalls broke through your consciousness, and your heart tightened in your chest...



My professional status has been officially revoked.

I can’t daydrink like I used to, and have no desire to do so, regardless. I left the company-event at Wrigley Field yesterday at the top of the 7th to make a purposefully-scheduled 4PM vet appointment, specifically so I wouldn’t get sucked into, “what the hell, ‘hey Old Style here!'” and “what the hell, as long as the corporate card is going down!” or “what the hell, it’s last call!”

As I walked out after seven beers (including pre-game at Red Ivy) at 3:15 saying goodbye on my way out to Waveland Ave, it felt like getting off the Titanic at Cobh, Ireland with full knowledge of the iceberg laying in wait somewhere out there. All of the passengers did too, in this case. There was a time I, myself, would’ve knowingly stayed aboard and stared down the impending disaster along with them. The party was all that mattered; that and staving off the eventual collision: the more you drank the further away the frozen leviathan seemed to be, until the fun came to a sudden, crashing, panicked end.

Leaving early is sign of getting older and wiser for sure. Gone are the days of post-game marathons at the dearly-missed Wrigleyville Tap or the Blarney Stone, over pool sessions ringed in smoke, easy shots missed from fingers slick with pizza grease, and laughter intertwined with the clinking of dozens of glass bottles going into the trash at the start of a new round.

I don’t know if it means I’m weaker as well, but I just can’t handle going to bed drunk at 9PM on a school night, anymore. I want to feel normal, fresh; to be good-tired and not achingly dehydrated with the motivation to do nothing but lie on the couch and watch South Park episodes on Netflix. And the sleep I get, even hitting the sack early enough, is so poor that the morning alarm is unbearable.

The last real bout of daydrinking in my life was New Year’s Day, 2006. After an absolutely epic party in Lakeview with a friend in from out of town, we spent most of the late morning/afternoon at Morrison Road House in Skokie abating the wicked champagne hangover with Bears-game specials. As the sun set on that dreary and ice-cold Day One, we returned to Lakeview to Fil’s place where we drank into the evening before a flip-cup chick brawl sent us pacifists over to nearby Toon’s Bar to await the iceberg collision at last call. Thankfully, that never happened, since New Year’s Day was a Sunday that year, and the office gave us an extra day to recuperate.

Once back on the ground in Edgewater yesterday afternoon, I felt ok getting to and during the vet appointment – a little sweaty and lethargic – but the subtropical weather had returned that day. Doing anything with Jack always peps me up, however, especially in a situation like the examination table, soothing him and making him as comfortable as possible.

Getting home, however, I felt much worse. I did indeed take some couch/South Park time, and needed several glasses of water before I could get up again to take Jack out and then cook dinner. But luckily I started my recovery early enough so that, after finishing supper by 9:30, I was in decent enough shape to head to bed with reasonable confidence of quality sleep. I read a few pages before the comforting nod-offs started, and then there was only blackness until breaking the surface again a full half-hour before the alarm was to go off.

Then sunlight was peeking in through the curtains, and Jack was looking at me with anticipation. I felt superb.

I’m ready for this new stage of my life. It’s not like I’ve gotten here overnight. The bike racing has often necessitated some turbulent choices in my life; as Newt says, the dualities are always dueling. But this is the first time I’ve made the choice completely of my own accord. My new life with Patty, renewed ambition and purpose, and thinking of the future – of just to the next morning, and of the next ten years – makes it a very easy choice to make.


Hump day

Why is this woman single?

Yep, helmet visor. Also, dudes on charity rides who are confident enough to talk to chicks already have a girlfriend. The single guys either aren't or ride a recumbent. Most likely both.


Obama Un-mosqued

President Obama could have turned this entire Ground-Zero-Mosque issue right back into his critics faces with a smart, snappy reply, foregoing any emotion, gravitas, or grandstanding on First Amendment rights. With one quick and cutting retort, depantsed all of the frothing fanatics who still think he's a Muslim Manchurian Candidate biding his time and setting up the dominoes before springing Sharia law on all of us.

And given the vast middle ground of all of us the strong leadership we deserve.

"What do they want me to do? Say they can't build it? Maybe these Tea Party assholes, with their expert and infinite knowledge of the United States Constitution, could show me where in that great document I have the power to intervene in legally-established private property rights; especially when based on symbolic, emotional, and religious issues?

"Now, I'm sorry, but I've got far more pressing issues to deal with. Issues, such as getting this country motivated to work again, instead of commenting on Peggy Noonan columns all day long about how I'm a foreign-born, communist-Muslim, in all-caps, with really bad spelling and grammar..."

But, no, he equivocated. Again. Compromising his authority, by backtracking on his statements; statements that made it seem as though he was trying to find some sort of authority on this issue where none existed at all. Lowering his position by waiting too long to address and relieve the building tension.

Which ironically brings me to say that the developers of the ground zero mosque should have known better, and exercised a bit more common sense. They should have known that their chosen location would've brought heat down on them, and placed the very leaders who they count on to further their interests in the position of defending them.

This is where a true leader would've flippantly uttered the words above, pshawing and shooing reporters away, disarming his enemies and showing them what hypocrites they really are. Obama has stepped right into the snare, however, and will be fighting to get out all the way until Election Day.

Prediction: Hillary Clinton will run for and win the Democratic nomination for President in 2012. And the first words out of her mouth as she begins her acceptance speech will be:

"I told you so."


Friday Vitriol

Today, Friday the 13th, the executions will commence immediately:

  • A Domino's order will not get you a pizza, but rather a .38 slug to the forehead when you open the door
  • All Chicago trolleys to Navy Pier will actually be carbon monoxide gas chambers
  • All organic packaged food items from chain grocery stores will be laced with cyanide
  • The brakes of all hybrid and electric cars will be sabotaged
  • The nutrition pamphlets at fast food restaurants will be brushed with anthrax


Thursday Hate: the right (of) way

Fuck you, Edens!

If one more conscientious and gracious driver smugly waves me through a stop sign at which I so very obviously do not have the right of way, I am going to start carrying a megaphone and a huge, cartoonish arrow.

This goes for pedestrians, too. Which is ironic because they get the shittiest end of the deal, as said driver will nearly kill a pedestrian while turning through a crosswalk not 30 seconds after acquiescing to a cyclist. You'd think they'd be the most militant players in this drama, as the most vulnerable.

These people are enablers. They are the reason so many asshole-douchebag bikers are conditioned to blow through stop signs. Every time they slow down to yield the right of way, a driver will wave them, or a pedestrian will stop right in his tracks...so why stop at all? They're the only people in the world anyways, right?

Today, in the span of three miles between Kedzie/Granville and home in Edgewater, I had to unclip and almost-petulantly stomp my foot down on the blacktop, jerking my head at both the stop sign and to gesture the driver continue on, no less than five times.

And when I left with Jack on our return-home walk, I was nearly plowed into, right in front of a stop sign, by a so-conditioned cyclist. The look of panic on his face as he shuddered and stuttered his handlebars, while not even thinking of braking to yield, enraged me.

Someday soon, one will near-miss us close enough that I reach out and jerk him right off his goddamn bike.

"Doesn't anyone give a shit about the rules anymore?!"

Determining the right of way isn't hard. Bikers: ride like a vehicle. Drivers: bikers are vehicles. Pedestrians: stand up for your goddamn rights. Hey, if you're not killed, you'll get a helluva'n insurance settlement out of it.


Hump Day: happiness calling

Today, it was made officially official; I signed the offer letter for my new job.

I don't normally mix work and writing but I'm so excited I just have to give a little bit away.

September 1st I go to work for a group that I have been more and more connected to since I began volunteering for them in 2006. I feel like Superman right now, and I've been able to think of nothing else.

I will be working to get us - Chicago - out of our cars and onto our bikes, our trains, (yes our taxes and fares pay for them), and our sidewalks, paths, and parks. To make Chicago a better, friendlier, more enjoyable and happier place to live.

To give a much-needed push to the boulder that stands on the precipice of the tipping point in turning back a cancerous car-culture with a powerful and resounding, "No!"

And I get to develop lots of cool ways to do it, like top-down consulting and recruitment, grass-roots organizing, and web and mobile platforms to bring it all together. All the while riding, walking, and transiting to network with the people who will make it a reality.

I wasn't sure if I'd ever get here, but I think I've found my calling...is there a phone booth around here?



Before my most recent post, I last left you with a slight rant on Elston Avenue bike commuting. Thankfully, that post, written on Thursday July 1st, covered the last time I was to commute home down that harrowing stretch of Third World, Mad Max-inspired road, replete to the last with cabs darting into the bike lane and left-turning SUVs jerking back and forth in the intersection like a meth-addict trying to act normal as it strangles the cat.

For that night upon arriving in Independence Park, I gathered some things, and left for Edgewater to help Patty move her things down the street and spend my first night at our new apartment.

Patty's move was a quick and easy one, for she was only 2 blocks east on the same street. We had the help of several friends plus a late 90s Mazda, and we were eating pizza and drinking ice-cold Old Styles by 8:30.

I had purged all of my own furniture - every last bit of it, not even a folding chair remained - to the alley and to friends, so I had only boxes, and of course, the bikes. The next night, Friday, Patty and I took the Damen bus (it's northern turn-around is just a few blocks from us) to Irving, where we met some of my now-former neighbors for some heavy German food and refreshing summer Kolsch at Resi's Bierstube. The next two days were to be completely bike-free, and BBQ free, July 4th though it was.

But we got it all done, in hot-as-balls weather, sun beating down on us. We crammed it all in, and even though we'd gotten rid of half of what we owned, for the life of me I thought we'd never find a place for it all.

We did just in time for my parents to see it, less than a week later. I've come quite a long way since my mom used to arrive at my college apartment with a look of horror on her face and started scrubbing the place from floor to ceiling. We were even able to sit and drink coffee and watch the finish of Stage 8 on my laptop.

After an evening in which the waitress at my favorite local joint, The Edgewater Lounge, berated my stepfather for tipping 15% - and I then complained to the manager - we were off to Michigan for my cousin Paul's wedding.

A beautiful outdoor affair, amidst simple white trimming on the grass overlooking the bluff - I saw the sun set over Lake Michigan for the first time in my life.

We toured the S.S. Keewatin, a steam ship that ferried Canadian National Railroad passengers, in two and half days, from the western side of Superior to the eastern shore of Huron.

The following weekend my sister Maggie arrived from North Carolina to volunteer and have free evening access to the Pitchfork Music Festival. It worked out quite well for us. Me especially. I'd been worrying about a bit of contraband in my bag making it past the security checkpoint, but volunteers just walked right in through their own entrance. We were set. Security told us they needed wristband jockeys for the beer tents and people to watch the fences for jumpers.

I was told to assist at the vendor check-in, where four hipsters had made a break for it the night before, three successfully. Living dangerously, they scoped out their chances and took a running start from the sidewalk. Security had since set up a fence behind the table and forced a chokepoint, which I was to menace accordingly, with my arms folded, so everyone showed ID. The hardest part of the job was deciding what free food I wanted from the Chicago Diner booth, and listening to Real Estate.

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion absolutely killed it, as did Wolf Parade, Panda Bear was sadly out of place, and LCD Soundsystem had us dancing our asses off, working up a final sweat in the residual heat left over from the since-departed sun.

Hard to believe I was finally able to race competitively after all that time off the bike last week, and by competitively I mean not get dropped. I certainly didn't sniff so much as a top 20, but I did race three times in Milwaukee, Kenosha, and Whitefish Bay to finish up Superweek. The first and the last races were in support of my teammate Mike Seguin who pulled off a huge 2nd place overall in the series.

All of the races were brutally hot, and Friday really got the best of me. It was a 30 mile criterium, so I didn't have the benefit of Matthew Stevenson handing up bottles of ice-water to us. In fact, I'm so used to packing just one bottle for a 45 minute race, that it didn't dawn on me that I'd need three for a 75 minute effort in 95 degree heat.

Needless to say, that last sip of water with 15 laps to go tasted like hot chicken broth. I finished at least.

And here I sit. My self-imposed facebook exile continues. I was encouraged and disheartened at the same time to read this article today (thanks Leah). It confirms that Facebook is the new AOL of the 2010's...entirely self-contained internet. Except it's not for those who are too scared to go out on the world wide web, it's for those who are too lazy.

I will probably have to go back on at some point, at least to get pictures back, or for some professional networking. But right now, I feel like an addict who's been set free. I've been without a television for a year now, so I suppose this is the next logical step. At least I'm writing for myself again. I don't know if this was even interesting to you, but it feels good to unload the brain again.


Thursday Hate: I'm back, don't talk to me, I'm gone

I'm back.

It's been a crazy month. A move to Edgewater, two family reunions, my sister coming in from North Carolina for Pitchfork, and finally a week of racing in Wisconsin has really derailed my creativity and posting in this space. I promise to give the obligatory, "what's been going on post" tomorrow, but really it's more than that, I'll come back to it later.

First, some long overdue hate:

Why do complete strangers at work feel the need to give me a creepy and hearty, "good morning!" or "hey there!" as I pass them in the hall? My company is over 4,000 employees. And it's like a huge cult. I've never seen that person before in my life, and I likely won't ever see them again. Eyes front and keep walking, dude. I don't want any of your KoolAid.

If it makes me a grump than so be it. I don't know these people. If it were within my department and it was my first day or with a new person, that's completely different. Your pathological need to reach out and give every single person who comes near you a smile scares me. Because something tells that if I got to know you, it would go way beyond a smile.

Moving on.

I deactivated my facebook account today. I think I must have a problem, I spent way too much time on that site. Or other people think I do. At least that's what a little bird told me. "Little" bird. Heh heh heh.

Fuck those people, but they're right in a way. It's a sign, and I should pay attention to it. Hearing it really hurt my feelings, and that right there told me I needed to step away, way back. It's not like I was some redneck Farmville addict, or constantly begging them for Mafia Wars favors. I thought my postings were funny and smart. I just want to share what makes me think and laugh. Oh, well. It's not permanent, so at least I can always go back and just get the thousands of pictures.

But what a complete time suck. I haven't posted here at The Car Whisperer for a month. I feel Facebook has robbed my critical thinking skills, my creativity, my edge. When was the last time I posted some poetry? Or an anti-societal, car-culture rant?

It's was about time for some catharsis. Consider it my wake up call.

Next up, what I've been doing with myself the last month, and a preview of August 29th, 2010. The greatest day in the history of Chicago bicycling.


Thursday Hate: bike lanes

I prefer not to wear gloves when commuting. That way I can whistle better at the cab that's about to kill me.

My current ride to work is 15 miles each way. The last four miles are on Lake Avenue through Glenview, no bike lane and two lanes each way. Traffic clips along at 45mph plus.

What is the most stressful part of my ride, however? The Elston Bike lane between Foster and Montrose. Until we get dedicated bike roadways and buffered bike lanes, I'll always be a proponent of vehicularism, treating bikes as equal with all other traffic in the roadway.

Still, the narrow lanes of Lehigh south of Touhy are untenable for bikes as well, when the traffic approaching Devon backs up nearly a mile. Is a rider really going to wait patiently breathing exhaust? No, we'll either take to the sidewalk or shoal in the oncoming lane, as I did today - both are illegal.

And in the end, while the 45 mph traffic of Lake is statistically much safer to bike in, I feel like I have much more control of things in the Elston bike lane. You can see bad situations developing enough ahead to whistle at least.


Brian's Dairyland

It was quite a bit shorter than the full 11 stages that began last Thursday in Shorewood and ended today in Waukesha. I also didn't get any chocolate milk or a spotted cow jersey, but my own tour of Wisconsin included plenty of cheese, Spotted Cow beer, and lots of fun racing.

After transferring all my gear from the I-Go Honda to the O'Hare rental and kissing Patty goodbye, I was on my way to Greenbush, Wisc. for the stage 8 road race in the Tour of America's Dairyland. Light traffic and a 7am departure netted me a great parking spot on the grass two full hours before race time.

Randy and Luke arrived as I spun and sweated on the trainer, even in the less humid, lower temperatures. It was going to be a perfect day for racing, in lots of sunshine, and I was very excited to be in the same 35+ Masters field as these experienced and wily vets. The only snag of the morning was finding a definite hole in my racing tubulars after hemming and hawing about a slow leak the night before. Oh well, SRAM was present for neutral support, just one more PRO aspect of an apparently very well run series.

Our 50ish-sized field rolled out on time, just behind the Pro/1/2 field, and neither Luke or I were familiar with the course, beyond what people had told us about from last year. But, even then, the 10-mile lap was reversed this year, so we'd just have to ride out and experience the first couple of laps and hope nothing got away before then.

The course profile went something like this, if memory serves:

A short uphill followed by a steep drop, then another up and down roller. Here, you had to be careful of the hot tar strips, very hard to see on the new blacktop. Very squishy, and your rear end fish tailed at the high speeds going downhill over them. Then a left turn and a false flat, followed by a quick drop, another fast left turn, a couple rollers, then downhill to a right hand hairpin turn. Here it got interesting with a series of uphill stairsteps which led to a fun downhill series of banking turns through thick forest (watch out for those potholes). This shot out onto rough chip and seal pavement through farm fields, which brought back the wind, and then turned left into it. The downhill speed quickly slowed and the pack bunched as riders looked to move up for the final series of downhill, banking turns, back through the trees and then into town.

Immediately riders were attacking but couldn't get away. The pack could chase too easily on the downhill, and there wasn't enough support that early on through the headwind. Much of the time the pace was downright comfortable and it seemed everybody was taking it pretty easy, saving energy for the hills or attacks later in the final laps.

Out on the chip and seal on the 4th lap, I was moving up when I heard Randy call me over. "Luke's off the front!" he semi-whispered. This caught me completely by surprise as I still thought he was behind me, but you all know how much I pay attention in races. Sure enough, there also must've been IS Corp in the break because they were up blocking and a dedicated chase was forming as soon as I moved to the front to do our part.

I sandbagged on two hard chase efforts, but coming through to start the final two laps, the break had slipped out of view, and the field's speed came down to almost leisurely for much of the next time around.

The final lap was a bit more competitive, especially up the rollers, where I really had to fight to keep my position and not to cramp. Through the twisty downhill section and out in the crosswind, Randy came by tapping my hip and we moved up to the front before the pack bunched up, where we held a great position. However, he was on the outside, while I remained up against the yellow, which was my undoing amidst the final argy-bargy of the last two miles. A lot of sketchy moves came past my left, squeezing me further and further and back.

If those guys really wanted to pull that shit for a 6th place $50 check, they could have it. I still had to go to work on Monday. Randy managed to hold his position and finish 7th in the field sprint, for 11th overall. I came in at the back for 37th, and heard Luke on the sideline giving me an encouraging yell.

4th place for him, out of a final five-man break. What a stellar result in such a talented and stacked field as an open Masters race! The man is crafty as hell, and can be counted on to find the one place on the course to make the move that counts. In this case, on those stair-step hills, and then leverage the wind and the blocking behind to get out of sight.

After saying our goodbyes over the requisite post-race Culver's, I was on my way to overnight in Milwaukee at my cousin Rick's place on the northwest side of the city. Friday I'd be headed back to Fon Du Lac, but tonight was dinner, beers, and visiting.

Rick met me at his house and we went and got some pretty good Mexican food, fish tacos for me:

After which we each got a haircut at his regular place, where they offered us a glass of wine while we waited, and I also got some locally roasted organic coffee. The woman who cut my hair, Christinia, was a triathlete and we talked bikes the whole time.

The next morning after Rick left for work, I spent a few hours at Milwaukee's successful local coffee chain, Alterra, over some housemade granola and a pot of French-press:

Then I departed for Fon Du Lac, the site of the series' stage 9 criterium, and to meet former teammate and good friend Rick Dearworth for lunch before the race.

The Fon Du Lac Grand Prix has been around for many years in one series or another, and is famous for it's fast speeds, with the long home- and backstretches. Today's trip past the start-finish would be blazing as well, with the tailwind down Main Street.

I was the only XXX-er in the field, along with a few other solo riders, including a Wisc.-based Pegasus rider who'd had some success in the series, and the venerable Voytek Glinkowski, of WBD-Allvoi. Verizon and IS Corp had several riders each, so I'd be watching their moves in the headwind of the backstretch.

It was a very dynamic race. Attacks were constantly going off in the wind, and the field was either chasing, or giving out the hangman's rope, and then chasing. I managed to be in a couple of early attempts and bridges, but midway through the race I found myself at the back recovering when the real assaults came.

Rick and Jared Rogers (who'd raced earlier) screamed at me to move up, but the chase was committed and wicked fast between laps 15 to go though seven or eight to go. I could only hang on to the end and try for another chance when, and if, it slowed. The good thing was that it was completely single file the entire time, so there was no rubberband effect, even at the end.

No brakes, just breaks.

(photo by John Gray)

Coming up on six to go, the field slowed just enough with indecision that I was able to move up and hear the announcer say, "Field prime! Set of tires to the field, starting with Triple X rider number eight-sixty-nine!" I had no intention of contesting a prime while leading the start of the lap, and after turn two I got out of the saddle for a medium intense effort to keep the pace up for the chase. I was waiting for the jump, and when none came, I looked behind and saw a huge gap.

Talk about the right place at the right time. IS Corp was blocking, the field was tired, and I'd just ridden away. I took the prime with five to go and started thinking about my chances to bridge up. I could see them about a quarter lap up, and I couldn't let the pack catch me.

(photo by John Gray)

The break was shedding a few riders, which I then caught, worked with for a half-lap or so, and dropped in the head wind. Approaching one to go, I was with one final rider, who, from the depths of my pain cave I can't remember, either bridged to me or I caught him.

Either way, I pulled though turns 1 and 2, and into the wind, then shook him off my wheel and fought his gap effort to come though turn four in perfect position for a pounce. Which I of course botched. I waited too long, with me just behind him; we started sprinting at the same time, and that's how we ended up, 7th and 8th.

"Sorry for screwing you," he said. "That's racing, dude. Great sprint!" I replied. I was pretty happy, feeling the 100% effort and having salvaged a top ten in a bridge attempt after having missed the move, not to mention avoiding having to go shopping for tires for a while longer.

Rick and I enjoyed a Spotted Cow together and watched the Women's Pro race from the AC comfort of the corner bar along the course, and then said our goodbyes.

I was in the town my parents grew up in, Kenosha, two hours later, despite all the construction and Summerfest traffic, to greet my dad and stepmom, and my aunt and uncle at their house. We enjoyed a classic lakefront Friday fishfry and cocktails and spent the night catching up.

After a morning active recovery ride to the lakefront, checking out the Superweek criterium course and getting some espresso, the next day we attended the family picnic in Madison. This long-running reunion includes Baers, O'Keefes, and Scharches, in addition to the Morrisseys. It was my dad's first time attending in probably 40 years, and it's been going on for longer than that. It was complete with several rounds of bocci and one dude bringing a full martini set up. But since I was driving, I had to wait until I got home for that much needed beer to end a pretty long day.

It was a pricey weekend to be sure, but a chance like that to merge family and racing can't be missed. I probably won't be racing again until the very end of Superweek, in Kenosha at the end of July. The Tour of America's Dairyland was an excellent series for the small portion of it that I experienced, and I definitely will try to plan next year's visit around the family picnic again.


Review: Cook au Vin

A few months ago, Patty bought two 2-for-1s on Groupon for a cooking school on Elston Ave, Cook au Vin. I’d not heard anything about it, so it was only a curiosity on my several rides past it over the past five years.

We decided to make a double-date out of it with her friend Emily and her husband Marcus. Once we agreed upon the menu choice – French onion soup, coq au vin (chicken and wine), scalloped potatoes, crème brulee – the date was set for this past weekend, Sunday afternoon.

I arrived first on my bike, with a couple bottles I’d just picked up from Wine Discount Center just down the street; very helpful, those folks. In 10 minutes I was set up with a bottle each of Bordeaux and Vouvray, total cost of under $60. I waited in the sunshine a bit for the doors to be unlocked at the appropriated time of 3 pm.

Right on schedule the door clicked open, and Chef Amanda welcomed me inside to the cool air-conditioning. I was impressed at how clean everything was. And that, despite the vast amounts of cooking equipment within, there was still an inviting amount of space, especially around the dining table and prep area; both a dining-experience and user-friendly.

Amanda immediately opened my red bottle after suggesting we chill the white and pair it with the chicken, and I let it breathe while waiting for everyone else to arrive. It was the prefect complement to the bleu and goat cheeses, plus the chorizo and grapes on the appetizer plate offered.

We started with the dessert first, since the crème brulee first needs to bake, then chill. Amanda gave easy to understand instructions and key visual queues; such as suggesting we notice the color the egg yolks become as we whisked in the sugar (pale yellow is the ideal). She never lost her professional air and smile, even while I constantly ADD’d through the entire exercise, missing lots of steps and direction. The smell of the real vanilla beans being hollowed out was almost as intoxicating as a bottle of extract, and soon we had our dessert dishes filled and ready for the oven.

Her little cook’s secrets added a ton of value to the class. One such tip is to place all the dessert bowls in a tray of water for a steam bath while baking. This keeps the crème brulee (or other desserts, such as cheesecake) smooth and free of caking and clumping. She was a great leader who had an entire team of four couples working together.

The French onion soup prep was just as easy. Onions sliced, garlic minced, and into the pot they went with lots of butter. Again, Amanda’s color cues helped out, and it was easy to tell when we needed to add more onion. This particular recipe was modified from the traditional, very filling one with which we are all very familiar. To keep everyone’s hunger stoked for the chicken and potatoes, we next added broth to the onion and garlic, and then set it aside to simmer. Rather than baking each bowl with large amounts of cheese and bread, we next made lightly-cheese-crusted toast points, with sliced French bread, to add to the soup just before eating.

Next we mixed up whole milk and heavy cream, while others sliced large brown baking potatoes and minced fresh garlic. We layered all of it, garlic first, then the potatoes, topped with a level of cream, finally salt and pepper, until the baking dish was filled. It was topped with a couple sprigs of thyme, and away it went to bake.

Since the chicken needed to be marinated a minimum of six hours prior to final prep, the initial roasting was already done, and set to work with a large, cold container filled with the birds, carrots & onion, and red wine. There was still plenty left for us to do.

First, the chicken came out and went into a pan with butter and oil. Another cook’s tip: the flavor of butter, with the higher temperature of oil, without burning. Then Amanda had us add the veggies from the marinade, and get some searing going on. Once we had the browning and heat, we transferred the meat and veggies to a larger dish, and we reduced several ladlefuls of the wine down, finally adding some flour in with a whisk for body. When it was smooth and thick, we poured the mixture over the chicken, carrots, and onion, and then put in the over to finish cooking through.

My stomach rumbled and grumbled more and more through the whole process, but Chef Amanda kept us on track. I only snacked from the left over appetizer plate a couple times, but Patty and I did finish of the Bordeaux fairly quickly. Finally we could sit down and eat what we’d been slaving over. I popped open the chilled bottle of vouveray, my hand becoming wet in its condensation.

I’ll simply let the pictures speak for themselves. Our toast? "Salud, Groupon!"

First course:

These were pretty damn good:



The complete picture:

Using fire is always fun!