Saturday, October 31, 2009

Drifters or Grifters?

So I was riding my bike home on Wednesday night, minding my own business -- as always -- when I passed through a group of homeless people who have been hanging around this part of the bike trail for the last few weeks.

Now that I think about it, they could have been hanging out there for years. The city just extended the bike path on Alaska Way near the football and baseball stadiums (stadia?), so I've only recently been riding that new section, which just happens to be near Pioneer Square.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Seattle, Pioneer Square is an old and beautiful section of Seattle that's famous for (1) Elliot Bay Bookstore, (2) the underground ruins, (3) live music hopping, and (4) crime and homelessness. Unfortunately, crime and homelessness is on the rise in Pioneer Square, as evidenced by the fact that Elliot Bay Bookstore will be moving to Capitol Hill soon.

Anyway, a number of Pioneer Square ragamuffins have been making their way down to the bike path that runs under the Aurora Bridge and hanging out in a certain area, forcing cyclists to slow down and weave through them.

On Wednesday, as I was making my way through the crowd, I noticed a homeless guy look at me and then start riding ahead of me in the same direction. I was musing about why the guy decided to hop on his 45-pound mountain bike, and why he was riding in the middle of the path, and whether I should pass him on the left or right, when all the sudden he slammed on his brakes and turned his bike sideways.

I slammed on my brakes and t-boned his chain stay, barely pulling myself out of an endo. When I glanced at the guy for a reaction, he had a funny look on his face, as if he were trying to look sorry but was secretly disappointed. A few of the other loiterers approached the scene of the collision, and a woman was yelling, "Are you OK? Are you OK! Are you hurt?"

Something felt wrong. The last time I'd been in a situation like that was in Barcelona, when two guys hopped on the subway in front of me and started jostling each other unnaturally, which led me to think that they were trying to pull something over on someone. As it dawned on me that that someone was me, I turned around and noticed that a third guy had opened my fanny pack -- which was filled only with tourist maps and a bike lock* -- and was trying to pull out the coiled bike lock. I grabbed the other end of the bike lock, hopped on the subway, and won the little tug-o-war as the train pulled away.

* I have been using the coiled Avenir bike lock since 1989. Still works great.**

** Footnotes are frequently distracting.

Anyway, as I was standing next to this homeless guy I had crashed into while a woman behind me seemed overly concerned, I had one thought -- get the hell away from these people. No apologies, no demands for apologies, no lectures. Without saying a word, I hopped on my bike and rode off, even though the front fender was scraping against my wheel. I spent the rest of the ride home wondering whether this was a dopey accident or a lame scam.

I still don't know what that was all about. When I was riding home on Friday, I thought about skipping the new section of trail where the homeless loiter and just riding on the Alaska Way shoulder, but I was too curious. I rode along the homeless section on the night before Halloween with my head on a swivel, riding over leaves that may or may not have been covering cracked vials, used needles, and burnt spoons, looking for a person dressed in rags to jump out at me.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Race Across the Sky

Last night, Wendy and I went downtown to see Race Across the Sky, a documentary about the 2009 Leadville race. The movie was shown as a special event in theaters across the country, which I think is a cool thing for movies with a relatively small but enthusiastic audience -- vertical markets, as marketing people would call them.

The people who created the documentary did a good job of showing what the race is about. It's primarily a race for amateur cyclists who want to test themselves. Even though the Lance Armstrong-Dave Wiens battle is the focus of the movie, the filmmakers emphasized the grassroots nature of the event, cutting back and forth between the leaders and the unknown cyclists battling to finish. Personally, I would have preferred a little more of the unknown cyclist and a little less of the top riders.

Here's what I liked:

* Near the beginning of the movie, they showed the terrain by tracking a yellow line over a Google Earth-like map. They cut back and forth between the racers and this map, letting viewers know exactly where the racers are on the course.

* I was wondering how they would show the heartbreak of failure, which is very much a part of the Leadville experience, as Dug wrote about in my favorite Leadville write-up. Dug talks about a wife and kids waiting for their husband and father to roll across the finish line in under 12 hours, and the disappointment on their faces as the shotgun goes off and he's nowhere to be seen. You can't end the movie on a downbeat note like that, so instead of showing some of the tragic figures who cross after 12 hours -- I was one of those people in 2007 -- they show the people being pulled off the course before the Columbine climb because they missed the cut-off time. It's a great agony of defeat moment.

* They did a good job of emphasizing the altitude and its effects. All four times I've done the race, I've traveled from Seattle. The thin air isn't that big a deal to my Utah friends, but it's a major factor for some of us.

* They showed what a great job the volunteers and medical staff do. I was telling Wendy after the movie what a cool experience it is to pull into an aid station and get treated like royalty, despite the fact that I curse them while spitting half-eaten banana chunks at their feet. OK, that's not true.

* The scene where Lance is riding across the top of Columbine with a huge drop-off in the background. Purple mountain majesty that.

Here's what I didn't like:

* No mention of the 9-hour belt buckle. I guess they didn't want to over-complicate the story, but breaking the 9-hour mark is a huge deal to about a quarter of the racers.

* Not enough Fat Cyclist jerseys. I actually saw more Racer's jerseys than Fat Cyclist jerseys.

* Bob Roll narrates the movie and does a good job despite a few wince-inducing lines, but where were Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin? They might very well have had something to say about Lance Armstrong.

I loved the movie. It's going to join my DVD collection as soon as it's available.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

October Update

It is a possibility that my readership is dwindling.

I like to think that this is not the case. In fact, I assume that the longer I go between web log entries, the more hits I get, as devoted readers continue to click the link to my web site a couple times in the morning, once in the afternoon, and several times in the evening, and then more and more people join in the clicking fray. Unfortunately, there is no way to determine how many hits a web site gets, or else I would test this hypothesis using some kind of analytics program. For now, I'll treat it as a theory, like the theory of relativity, and assume that it is true because it falls under the umbrella of science.


It turns out that I don't have much in common with 5-year-old boys. They like to talk about things that I don't care for, and I am frequently bored. Let's take last night as an example.

It was my turn to put the boys down. I gave them a bath and sat in their room while they toweled off and put on their pajamas. For people in their forties, toweling off and putting on pajamas takes less than a minute. For 5-year-olds, this task takes 7 hours unless they are prodded and coaxed and threatened. An argument broke out.

Max was upset because he had the idea of putting underwear on over his pajamas, superhero-style. Unfortunately, because he had put two pairs of pajamas on, and I made him take off the second pair, he watched in horror as Luke put underwear over his pajamas. You see, that was Max's idea. Max threw a fit. He shouted invectives at the brother born 20 minute before him.

Frankly, I wasn't interested in the argument. It was beneath me. So I just said things like, "It looks like there's no way out of this jam" and "Only one superhero wears his underwear over his pajamas, and that's Aquaman." Then I pressed my forefinger and thumb against the bridge of my nose and sighed. No one listens to me.

In case you're wondering how it played out, Luke put underwear on top of his head and hung his long soccer socks from each of the holes, making him a Super Rabbit of sorts. Max, seeing that Luke's version of a superhero differed from his, stopped throwing his fit, and covered his arms with socks. Both willingly brushed their teeth and succumbed to the ritual of reading books.

Good night, young superheroes. Now let me relax.

Weight Loss

When I rode in the Livestrong event in June, I weighed 194 pounds. A few weeks later, when Stan and Grey came up from Portland to visit, Grey noticed that several of us were fat and challenged us all to a weight loss contest. It was actually a smart contest. We must lose a certain amount of weight in two months, and stay below that target weight at a weigh-in five months later. If we fail to make our weight at either weigh-in, we must pay $75 to everyone else in the contest.

I was inspired enough to change my diet. No more grazing. No more apple fritters the size of my head. I permitted myself to eat whatever I wanted for breakfast and dinner, but I could eat only one dinner. No seconds. And just soup or salad for lunch. Given the fact that I lost 12 pounds in two weeks, you could imagine what my eating habits were before. Now I weigh 173 pounds or so, and I'm down to an A cup.

MS Bike Ride

In the summer, I got fired up about doing Leadville in 2010 on a singlespeed. Since I didn't sign up for any races this year, I treated the MS Bike Ride as if it were going to be a grueling event that required ferocious training. So I went on long weekend rides and did hill climbs and burst riding.

The MS Ride itself was laid back and charming. I camped with a bunch of other Adobe folks, but I rode on my own, at my own pace. The first day was a 90-mile ride around Whitbey Island. On the second day, I wanted to get back in time to see the end of the Colts game, so I rode the 70 miles averaging nearly 20 mph. This is fast for me. I was able to watch the end of the Colts game, which they won 14-12.

One drawback -- camping without a campfire is like having sex without an erection. For a man, I mean.

The First Week of School

Public school? Charter school? Private school? Try as I might, I couldn't avoid that discussion. We settled on public school.

The kindergarten teacher at our local public elementary school came by to visit us before school started. I looked at this as a positive sign. Also, our local elementary school shifted its budget a few years ago to prioritize small class sizes -- another positive sign. Unfortunately, that approach works for only a year or two in a good economy. In a bad economy, schools in bad neighborhoods shut down, and the poor kids flood into the neighboring schools, and the small class size advantage disappears as superintendents try for fairness.

I'll write about this some other time, but for now, let's just say that I have complex, conflicting opinions about race.

The first two weeks of school were rough. When I dropped the boys off while Wendy was working, I was shocked by the chaos. Instead of simply meeting in front of their classrooms, all the kids in the school, including the 70+ refugees from Senegal, met in a huge playground and lined up for their classes as the bell rang. Each teacher then led a class to their rooms, or tried to, as the different lines circled back and crossed each other. Children frequently spaced out and didn't keep up, so they ended up wandering around and crying. "I can't find my backpack!" It was heartbreaking.

Luke and Max each professed to hating school. As in, "I hate school. I have a tummy ache."

As expected, the kids have settled into a rhythm and now claim they love school. Just when I was thinking it wasn't such a bad idea to send our boys to a public Seattle school, we got a flyer yesterday that said one of the kids in the class has head lice, so we need to check the boys' scalps regularly for crawling critters. I'm trying to look at it as an adventure.

But I'm going to be doing some supplemental teaching.


As I continue to read mindless books and avoid creative endeavors of all types, I am laying the groundwork of a mid-life crisis. I imagine my mid-life crisis will not take the form of a sports car and young girlfriend. Instead, i expect to be kayaking in South America or sighing heavily between play dates. We'll see.