"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


Conrads in Chicago, Part 2: A Pieceful Day

The snoring briefly stopped for Matthew to stir at the clicking freewheel and snicker as I stood in my bike lycra amid the three of them, sprawled out in my living room like discarded laundry in growing daylight. It was 6:45 and the five drinks tossed back last night were apparently early enough...I felt strong and rested for my weekly Saturday morning ride.

65 miles and two out of four sprint "victories" later, I arrived home just before noon (would normally have been about 10:30 but our ride up to Evanston was marred by flat tires and newb unpreparedness) to see my dog, Jack, doing the snoring on the floor. The cousins had taken him to the park after grabbing brunch at The Abbey and run him into the ground. In fact on the way out, he'd simply sat down, refusing to walk anymore. They carried him home.

We had a 2pm date at Piece to meet Maggie, her friend Amanda, and her cousin Meg. I was beyond hungry from my earlier ride, and the half-pint of ice cream I ate for recovery immediately after only lasted so far.

Located on the edge of Wicker Park, near Six Corners, Piece is owned by Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen, and brews award-winning beers and slings New Havem, CT style pizza. After catching Cheap Trick at the Taste of Chicago in 2007, a friend of mine and I went there for some pie. As he was relieving himself in the men's room, my friend realized he was standing next to Nielsen himself. Rather than impose at that personal moment, he waited to reach the sink before complimenting him on the Grant Park performance.

"Thanks!" Rick belched, and then added, "...was hot as fuck up there."

We were already on our second round of beers - with such names as "Worryin' Ale" and "Fornicator" (an IPA) - when Maggie et al walked in. Trying to get seven people to agree on a pizza would take longer than a UN resolution to pass, so we settled on two larges, a red for us and white for them. With the anchovies on one half and clams on the other, ours smelled slightly worse than a run-down fishing harbor, but it tasted wonderful. I ate more than my fair share, but it was pushed upon me since there was so much. The salty cheesy doughy meal perfectly filled the groove my hunger craved.

It was enough to keep the overall experience positive even with the slow service and three screaming babies behind us.

We then tried the newly-reopened iCream ice cream spot around the corner next to American Apparel on Milwaukee Ave. - made to order ice cream and yogurt with mixed results. The whole store resembles a nightmarish lab, done in an ashy-white color. The employees doing food prep are dressed in the same, head to toe. Each ice cream maker steams like the dry ice punch we used to drink at Halloween parties when kids, and the process is almost too complicated. Choose ice cream or yogurt, choose flavor(s), choose mix-ins and toppings. Seems simple enough until your eyes glaze over at the amount of possible combinations. Upon standing outside with my rather bland blueberry with strawberries, I realized I missed out on rootbeer, burnt sugar, and cream soda. Ironically it all sort of took the fun out of ording ice cream. We finished trying each other frankencreams and split up to catch game two of the weekend.

Much better seats this time around:

The Sox took this one, 5-3 to even the series. We each got a round of beers again, and after splitting the nachos, we all got out of there for about $30, not counting the seats, which the cousins had treated me to in exchange for the luxurious sleeping quarters. I think I got the better end of that bargain, but I'd make it up to them.

My phone, the piece of shit that it is, died mid-game. Since the dawn of digital address books, I've been unable to remember a single phone number. I briefly got it on long enough to get some important numbers for the night into Philip's phone, but it crapped out again before getting the last one I needed, permanently. We tried some creative outreaches through mobile Facebook on Matthew's phone from the next bar, but we never did in touch with anyone else.

That next bar was Margie's Pub. A first for me. A nice dive with nice people. Alberto was celebrating his 30th birthday and we had many $2 Old Styles in his honor. We actually started off with four boilermakers - which I unbelievably had to explain to the old bartender (you'd think those would be a staple in this place).

Mat showed up with Lori, his girlfriend who'd I'd not seen since Italy, and we had more Old Styles. We chatted and caught up, and they were soon on their way to meet more old friends on their week-long stay in Chicago from DC. We too said our goodbyes to them and Alberto and stumbled our way out the door, on the way to Resi's Bierstube.

Resi's is a favorite of mine. A classic Northcenter holdover from area's German roots. Kinda dirty and austere, with berber carpet and wood paneling, Resi's has a short but authentic beer list and serves some of the best Kraut comfort food in the city. Its beer garden is still one of the best kept secrets in town.

Late at night it's the best place to mingle with an unassuming crowd under soothing low light amidst the home country chatchkies while pounding some seriously heavy beers.

We started off with Spaten Optimater, a dark, malty, and yeasty 9 percenter served in giant glass steins:

...oh yes. Jagers, too. Well, four.

After finishing up with a round of whatever was on special, we hit the road at 2am for grub. We could have stayed out later but it had been a long day for all of us. No bus was coming, and the next burrito option was at California, less than a mile, so we started walking.

Along the stretch of Irving between Western and the river is a bunch of industrial buildings on the north side. As we passed an open window, Matthew pointed inside to some dude lying on a bed in the midst of a horribly messy office, watching TV. It was hard to if he was awake or not, but upon listening, he was watching an instructional video on how to make love to women.

We snickered quietly for a bit, and then I let out one of my trademark whistles, with two fingers in my mouth, the ones that make your ears ring and pisses everybody off. I didn't stick around to see it, but Matthew said Casanova-in-training came up off the bed by about three feet.

Burritos and tacos purchased, we found an immediate cab home, where upon we ate, drank the PBR in the fridge, and entertained ourselves with youtube.


Thursday Hate

Yesterday I pussed out and carpooled to work. As bad as I felt about myself, it seemed every car I counted on the expressway with me had only a driver inside. It's one thing if you need your car for actual job duties, but if not, think about the next time you complain about green-space being eliminated. Or the option being passed over.

It's not just about pollution or the dwindling supply of a precious resource.

Today I'm just packing a full dry kit in my bag.

(Courtesy of bikehacks.com)


Conrads in Chicago, Part 1: Charm City to the Windy City

Now that I've finally detoxed from the weekend and gotten back to my regularly scheduled homebodyness, I can finally give a wrap up from my cousins' visit from Baltimore. This morning I was pedaling Jack home from Maggie's at 5:30 after a brief but efficient 5 hours sleep when I first realized I felt pretty good. I think he did too. Jack really enjoys it down there in Lincoln Park, save for the constant El traffic outside her apartment.

As Matthew, Andrew, and Philip were arriving at Midway on Southwest last Friday, I was riding home from Northbrook to meet them at my apartment in Old Irving. Their first text came as I waited for the train through the Morton Grove station to pass, about 20 minutes from home. They'd landed safely.

Upon arriving home, I had another text that they were waiting for the train, and a warning:

"I hope you have LOTS of toilet paper."

They seemed to be having one of those magical El rides where everything syncs up, with no waiting. After less than 15 minutes, drinking a glass of Gatorade, I saw this picture pop up on Facebook:

That was just south of the Roosevelt Station. They were really moving.

I put a leash on the boy and grabbed a plastic bag and headed out to Athletic Field, just west of the Addison Blue Line to await they're arrival. I wasn't there long. Like three Sasquatch carrying overnight bags for a vacation from the woods, they came lumbering up Central Park.

Game time.

We dropped the bags off in the apartment and immediately left for Comisky Park. The Orioles were in town, and we'd been planning this weekend since my visit out to Baltimore in late April.

The rain held off and the game started on time; we arrived just after the 3rd inning started. We managed to get three rounds in, starting with four 20 oz Leinenkugel's that I spent $28 on. That always makes me feel like an asshole, but these days, that's relatively cheap. By comparison, at Camden Yards, a 24 oz Molsen Ice costs you $10.

If you can get over the vertigo from the angle of Comisky's upperdeck, they're really not bad seats at all; you get a very good view of all the action.

Philip and Andrew:

After the game we decided to keep it a relatively tame evening, as I had a 7am departure for the XXX Saturday ride the next morning. The Blue line was down between Clark/Lake and Western, so we opted to see a little extra of the city, via the Red Line to Irving, where we rode the 80 bus to a divy little Italian place at Kedzie most people don't even know is still open, Manzo's.

Two or three years ago I'd taken my dad to this place, and we were pleasantly surprised. Very cheap, and the food was better than you'd expect at that price. Very retro, with lots of berber and tinsel, but obviously not on purpose, it wasn't full. In fact, there only two other tables in there. Not caring how the place stayed in business, we loved the calamari, tolerated the steak, and were happy to pay less than $30 for a bottle of Mondavi. I figured we'd save Resi's for the next night, and take advantage of the best part of Manzo's, the ridiculously cheap bar.

I'm taking $5 top shelf cocktails here, people. We walked in, dialed Willy Nelson, Led Zepplin, and the Beatles on the jukebox, and enjoyed a few martinis and some calamari, while watching the Cubs lose to L.A.

These guys are some of the funniest people I know. Matthew, the oldest, is generally pretty quiet until he drops some heavy observation on you - about sex, alcohol, politics, philosophy, or some mix of them. Andrew's sense of humor is to generally make you look at him funny, mispronouncing common words or telling you long, rambling stories about how he twisted his elbow cleaning the toilet. And Philip spends most of his time making fun of things you say, and trying to knock your hat off. They all make fun of each other, and are probably the three closest siblings I know, in my family and out. Andrew and Matthew own a condo together, and all three of them play on several softball teams together.

I can't think of a better picture to sum up their relationship than this one I found on Matthew's facebook page:

At Manzo's:

We said goodbye to our gracious bartender, and shuffled outside. Our luck with the CTA was continuing, as almost immediately another 80 bus rolled right up taking us home.


Thursday Hate

Damn, it's over for Bridgeport.

"Oh...myGOD. I...jus'HAVE...toGOthere.


Every single afternoon I ride through Elston/Irving/Monticello, I have to weave my way around the assholes stuck in the middle, blocking traffic, because they were too stupid, or too inconsiderate to care, to wait for the intersection to clear before going through on the green.

Traffic is gridlocked, the light changes, “fuck everybody else.”

It’s also no coincidence they are drunk, sweaty, and head-to-toe in Cubbie Blue.

Iowa plates, too.


And earlier that ride home, two smarmy little high school boys in their daddy’s Beemer drove by on Lake Avenue shortly after Phingsten, yelling out the open window and pointing at the sidewalks. I bet those assholes didn’t anticipate us catching them by the next light at Greenwood.


A Hump Day retrospective on the eve of 500 posts

I started this blog over two years ago shortly after I finally became a bike racer.

I wasn't sure what I would produce or focus on, but looking back, that first post pretty much set the tone for what has followed since. "Bicycling, poetry, and other bullshit." Those first free form verses came on a Sunday night following the week in which I joined my bike racing team. The previous Monday I completed my application at the meeting, then had my first sprint practice on Tuesday, did my first time trial on Thursday, and my first team ride on Saturday.

Earlier that Sunday, I'd ridden out to a team social in Oak Park, then riding back with two seasoned messengers, Andrew Nordyke and Adam Clarke, through the Austin neighborhood after dark. We kept off both the headlights and the brakes - Augusta was banging that night. I had never ridden with such focus. It was an awakening the likes of which I'd experienced the first time I commuted to work or rode 50 miles by myself. I felt so connected with the bigger picture I was literally bursting when I got home to write it down.

My first race was also a seminal point in my life, and so I wrote my first race report as culmination of a journey. And I haven't ever really lost that perspective. Each race is a learning opportunity, another notch in the table, always a positive experience, no matter how much of an emotional wreck I may seem immediately after.

I have grown as a writer far more than I could've hoped for ever in my life, let alone a mere two years. It shows that whoever you are, whatever talent you have, if you are completely honest about what you write, regardless of the consequences (often in the comments), the end product will always be positive and high quality.

My chops as a poet have come exceptionally far; I will be so bold to say. The worst kind of poetry is self-serving, pretentious drivel, meant to overwhelm with haughtiness and an overwrought sense of self-importance, which masks the lack of real insight, and tells rather that shows. I’ve learned to paint with words, to communicate my experiences by painting pictures inside your head. And I’ve never been above utilizing a little humor.

At first it was completely free form, lacking even verse.

I began to experiment with metaphors to stay away from telling you what I was thinking, and instead show how I was feeling. This was written three days after Peter Ombregt died racing in Matteson.

I found that I wrote best when I didn’t think – think about how my words would be read, how I’d be perceived. That comes later. It’s best to just get it all down there, throwing paint against canvas, strumming open strings at full volume, and then sort, rework, or discard after.

This produced some wild results, at first.

Yet it led to some personal breakthroughs for me: learning how to write a Shakespearean sonnet, and successfully experimenting with new rhyming schemes after some inspiration from Dylan Thomas, such as these pieces, "Untitled" (within a larger post), "And So I Go" and "An Ode to Ride..."

This effort eventually led to “From Martyr to Gladiator,” of which I am very proud. As I began writing, I wove the rhymes and pentameter out of nothing, and just let it take its own shape. This work addresses my lack of competitiveness – in both my professional and personal lives, and especially bike racing. The martyr fears conflict, specifically risking failure. He fears not failure itself, but failing after trying. So rather than risking the disappointment of failing after trying, the martyr simply gives himself to death without effort, hoping for pity.

He receives none; nobody respects the easy way out. The crowd has no chance to cheer for him; the easy way out has no chance of success.

They heap praise on the gladiator instead. The gladiator tries no matter what the risks. He cannot succeed without first trying. So he welcomes failure and death because while winning is the goal, self-respect is what ultimately counts.

The poem definitely affected me positively. After writing it in April, it became my mantra, and I finally began to have real success on the bike in May and June.

Finally, the bullshit comes and goes on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s loaded, other times empty. I love to make you think, to help you learn and laugh, and always to piss you off, or just give you some insight into what has made me who I am.

Tomorrow will be my 500th post. How fitting it will be a Thursday Hate.

Could it be any other way?


And so it goes...

...in the end, my dog is still more scared of the trains than the planes. And he is glad to be back home. Nothing personal to the Lincoln Park neighborhood, but if he had to walk underneath the El one more time, he was going to tear the seat out of a pair of khaki shorts coming out of State.

By the way, could that place use a few more televisions.

This girl. She's got me. Got me good.

It was good to have Jeff out on the road again. He's back, officially, finally, after a long recovery. We left early for a good 80 beautiful, late summer, long golden sunrise miles on Saturday morning, and he held his own - none too soon. Our favorite event of the season, the last event of the season, for me, anyways, is less than a month away. The 4 Man Team Time Trial. We did this together last year, and we promised we'd do it again. I know he's got a plan, and it shows that he's been following it. I also plan on driving his ass and getting as much out him as I can in time for this race. Hup, Jeff! HUP!

And speaking of planes, I caught the airshow down on the beach for the first time in probably 10 years yesterday. For a pacifist who hates the military-industrial-complex more than almost anything, I sure do love to watch those fast, loud planes.

Planes are sexy.



Dr. Weil says it perfectly:

But what's missing, tragically, is a diagnosis of the real, far more fundamental problem, which is that what's even worse than its stratospheric cost is the fact that American health care doesn't fulfill its prime directive -- it does not help people become or stay healthy. It's not a health care system at all; it's a disease management system, and making the current system cheaper and more accessible will just spread the dysfunction more broadly.

It's impossible to make our drug-intensive, technology-centric, and corrupt system affordable.

(I am on a serious jag now...)

I've stopped (health) caring...

Was that a moth that flew out of Palin's mouth?? It's not euthanasia, it's end-of-life counseling, and the traditional health care plan that she, and you, subscribe to includes it as well. They all do.

And apparently, the high journalistic standards employed by my uncle in sending this to clog up my inbox are all that a major newspaper should need as well.

However, a good friend of mine recently pointed out those lopsided "I want change" polls we heard so much about during Obama's runaway campaign are now be disabused and are coming back to bite the President in the ass. "Yes, I want change!" is a little more vague than, "I want my health care cheaper!"

Throw in a lot of disinformation - on both sides - and when combined with the general state of ignorance - on both sides - it's no wonder people are getting angry. But this is far from any kind of grass roots organization - on both sides.

What's next? Brown shirts vs. black shirts?

I've stopped caring, about the actual reform, because no matter what happens, nothing good will come of it. It's not heath care that needs reforming. We need reforming. Our health care system used to work pretty well when there was much less a demand on it.

Our priorities are incredibly skewed, and nobody wants to fix the problem since it will mean a few less Almighty Dollars in their pockets.


Friday links

RIP John Hughes.

I think they fixed the garage window...


Go ahead. Let the evil out.


Well, at least it keeps you from constantly reaching in your pocket to add more songs to the on-the-go playlist. Just leave the headphones at home.


Good point.


Keep Fatty in your thoughts on your ride this weekend.


Finally...the Chicago Cycling Examiner posts again - Edgewater/Andersonville and Johnny Sprockets LBS are covered.


Heath Care Reform?

Until the federal government gets Kraft, McDonald's, Monsanto, etc out of the Department of Agriculture, begins to regulate their ability to advertise to our kids, and gives it's monetary support and subsidies back to individual citizen-farmers - who grow real food, not commodity ingredients for "packaged-goods" - nothing is going to happen on health care.

Health Care's costs are out of control in part because we are so unhealthy. And this is due in no small part to corporate agribiz turning food production into a profit. As a result, the majority of us eat most of our meals out of a box. Don't buy their claims that they are regulating themselves and bringing us "Better For You" options.

"0 Transfat!" "Now with more Omega 3!" BFY does not equal "healthy."

Healthy is real food. Organic when possible. Greens, fruits, veggies, and real grains like oats and rice. Free-range, grass-fed meat, in moderation. Oil-derived fertilizers feed the crops that feed you. More insidious, it feeds the corn that feeds the beef and chicken that feed you.

Take back your food and take back your body.

I've discussed this at length before, with some controversy in the comments section, but until I watched this documentary, "The Killer at Large - How Obesity is Killing America," I never really put the connection together with "Health Care Reform."

If trends continue entire generations of could be stricken with diabetes and heart disease, compromising our entire ability to be productive and protect ourselves, our entire foundation as a society.

The fact is our state of terrible health as a society probably has as much to do with the cost of health care as does business trying to turn a profit with it. I believe that modern countries with public health care have far less problems with it than our right-wing is predicting for us, due to the fact they have a far smaller obesity problem, and therefore less demand driving up costs.

If we were able to reduce the demand on our own health care system, that would at least get us halfway there to reducing costs to a level where not having insurance isn't nearly the death sentence it is today.

The weekend in quatrains, part 2

In the low heat of morning, I never boiled
Releasing the sludge that coated my skin
In a slow rising steam, the days I had toiled
Shimmered off, exposing the shine within.

Live wires bared, my smile jumped and arced
My body went taut at the strength of the current
Those who touched me were shocked from the spark
And kept their distance, or again be burnt.


Sign says yes, sign says no
Who the hell knows which is which?
Not the loser in sandals and kimono.
Lance and Lancette? Shut up, bitch.


The weekend in quatrains, part 1

Headed home on Friday's sweet breath
Reacquainting my legs to spinning gold.
Suffering for others is passion's quick death
You can't always do as you're told.


We stopped at that oracle of high Chicago-style
Don't ask for ketchup, not even a dab
I hope somebody told those four New Yorkers
Who rode up from downtown in a taxi cab.


My stumbling fingers just get in the way
That voodoo is best left for someone else
Yet it will do to get me through the day
And up those hills to find my pulse.

My faltering focus was broken by insistence
And it lured me out for some tangy jokes
I wanted more than just a sip of that sense,
But that could wait for my sweat on my spokes.


And to the back you go

The remainder of the racing for last weekend was not nearly as interesting as Kenosha. In fact, it gets pretty boring looking at 50 to 80 spandex-wrapped asses as you try to avoid getting dropped in the rubber band effect.

Starting at the back in the Humboldt Park Criterium was probably the worst decision of my racing career, and by the time I got back home and downtown in Grant Park for Sunday's Chicago Criterium, my legs were quivering slabs of powerless meat.

I love the Bayview area of Milwaukee. It's a lot like the Milwaukee Avenue corridor with great restaurants, fun bars, and far less slumming yuppies, skinny jeans and fixed-gear bikes. The race course was a spacious park about 4 miles from downtown, a unique layout - with a hairpin turn just 50 meters after the start finish and then a decent hill absolutley littered with potholes and rough pavement. The downhill finish was negated by a ripping headwind that actually started at the turn after the hill, and this setting definitely helped the eventual break get off.

Myself, I saw none of it. Because from lap 1, I was at the back struggling to catch up with the rubberband effect the worst I've ever experienced, and from laps 5 through 25 of the 35 total, I said to myself just before the 120 degree turn, "this is it, you're getting dropped." Andrew Treumper was valiantly trying to bridge up to the break that had gotten off early, and about halfway through he did fall off the back and I was alone for the rest of the race.

The pack finally conceded to the break of 5 and let up on the last 10 laps, but even then with the turn followed by the hill I was in recovery-land right after every time around to the finish. I held on the end, and I was just glad it was over.

Back in Chicago that night I slept like a log after a relaxing dinner with Maggie, and the two of us rode downtown the next morning with Jack in tow under the promise of a beautiful day to register for each of our races.

It was more of the same for both of us. Maggie got dropped from her 4s field and I spent the day at back of both of mine - the 3s and the Master's 1/2/3s. Her result was purely from lack of experience - in her 2nd race only - and my was both extreme fatigue and some lack of motivation. They were my 10th and 11th races since Superweek began on the 11th, and both were huge fields over well over 80 riders. The team did manage 4 podiums, including a win however, so it was not an unsuccessful day at all.

The 3s race was a decent speed, but there was so much chaos in the middle - at least three crashes - that it was almost impossible to get through to the front. I simply sat at the back of the Master's race panting for mercy as the Bissel team got a man off the front and worked for him. I was told it was still 2 mph slower than the previous year, so I can at least be grateful for that.

I've got a lot of work to do mentally before I am competitive in the 3s. Overall there isn't much difference in the speed, besides the speed you go to the back when you lose even a modicum of concentration at the front. It is so much more aggressive up there. Everybody is trying to steal your wheel, and gap on a turn that would've been inconsequential in the 4s is filled with a new rider now.