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Jan. 30, 2006

Two recent moments:



I've always promised myself I wouldn't get too anal about my training. Ride hard, ride long, rest up, repeat. Anything beyond that -- power meters, heart-rate monitors, anaerobic threshold measurements -- would take the mystique out of cycling, and it's mystique that makes cycling so glorious.

But for every moment of decisiveness, there is a moment of weakness, and sometimes they are one and the same. It's in such a moment that I buy a heart-rate monitor. Like most impulse purchases, I don't shop for a good price. I don't even mind when the only model the shop has comes with a women's watch unit. (I tell time like a girl!)

Nontheless, it immediately pays dividends. The literature says my heart should beat 135 and 150 times a minute, which I discover takes more effort than I usually exert. Even when I'm watching "Leaving Las Vegas" on the trainer and Elisabeth Shue is having violent sex with her Latvian pimp, I hover around 130. This tells me I need to work even harder, or watch even steamier movies. (Or maybe I need a new seat after all.)

On my first team ride using the monitor there is a junior with us, so the ride is more mellow than usual. My heart rate sits around 100 most of the morning, getting above 120 only when I'm pulling or climbing.

After the ride a half-dozen of us mill about in Wicker Park and discuss lunch plans. We decide to go to Sultan's Market. Five minutes after I've stopped riding I look down at my monitor: 177. That's as high as it's been, and a precious 13 beats from my supposed maximum.

Who knew I could be this excited for falafel?

Note to self: Don't think about chickpeas during a race, or surely my heart will exceed its maximum and cleave in two.



I bump into a neighbor on the back stairs. "I was wondering," she says, "if I could bring my chicken to your place later on."

I give a queer look. "Sure, OK," I say, "but I had no idea you had a pet chicken."

Oh, right. The party.

She's made teriyaki chicken for our building's progressive dinner party, for which I have agreed to host the entree stage. I reminded the organizer that I have bachelor accommodations with bachelor furniture and bachelor housekeeping, including a bachelor toilet that sometimes doesn't bachelor flush unless you give the handle the ol' bachelor jiggle and hold, but she was unswayed.


Jan. 24, 2006

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be alley cats.

Yes, I am conflicted by the ethics of alley-cat racing. That's why I didn't write much after last week's stage of the Tour da Chicago, and that's why I changed the subject when my mother asked about it. (Hint: If you can't tell your mother, it's time to have second thoughts.)

Scooting through red lights during my commute is one thing. Racing through open streets, however cautiously, is another, and I've had second, third and fourth thoughts since hearing about last week's accident. It didn't happen in my pack, but I understand a rider cracked his hip and a driver cracked her windshield, losses for which all of us racers share blame. Collectively we own this race. Collectively we own its consequences. Organizers passed a hat for the rider, but I don't think the $5 I threw in covers my portion of the responsibility. (No hat was passed for the faultless driver.)

Ideally these alley cats would take place early in the morning and would be no more dangerous than normal urban riding. I gather that's how the Tour went down back in the day. Riders would stay up all night and ride at dawn. The messenger crowd must be aging. This year's events are starting at 9 on Sundays, an hour when the city begins to rub its eyes and traffic begins to flow.

And still I ride. I give in to the thrill and to the fun, risks to myself and others notwithstanding. After all, if I wanted a life without risk I'd live in Naperville. I'd order my meat well-done and use paper towels to open restroom doors.

Sunday's Stage 2 was a three-way time trial, a menage-a-TT: from a Starbucks on Division to Buckingham Fountain to Hyde Park and back to Division, about 20 miles total. Riders picked their own routes. I felt better about a time trial. We'd stagger our starts and, in theory, there would be no drafting. I wouldn't be taking anyone else's chances, and nobody would be taking mine.

For an hour before the race, 60 riders crowded the Starbucks and debated which routes to take. It was a comical scene, like 60 Betty Crockers comparing recipes before a bake-off: Everyone wanted to show off their expertise and creativity, but all held something back, lest their secrets help the competition.

The leg from Buckingham Fountain to Hyde Park caused the most grief. Take the streets, and deal with broken glass, cars and stop lights? Or take the lakefront path, which was safer but less direct and could be sheeted in ice?

Like most riders I took the streets for all three legs. Luck was with me. Traffic was negligible and most lights went my way. I had to stop for only one and cheat through only a few others. My biggest mistake -- other than riding in the first place, that is -- was taking the overpass at Roosevelt and Clark instead of going up State. I don't know what I was thinking. It easily cost me 20 seconds, especially when traffic prevented me from taking the descent at speed.

Nonetheless, I made good time, as my father would always say after a road trip, less than an hour total. My 6th place finish was one spot behind the three-time champion who'd come out from California to ride, and I finished ahead of the 2005 winner. I'm now in 5th overall.

I hesitate to commit to the remaining stages. This may be a race where the most decisive moment occurs before the first stroke of the pedal. The hesitation suggests that indeed I should take a pass -- if something don't feel right, it's probably wrong -- and wait till summer to risk life, limb and bike. At least then USCF points will be on the line and not merely the admiration of messengers. I've already proved I have better legs than most of them. If I have a weaker stomach, so be it.

Photo taken: Jan. 22, 2006


Jan. 22, 2006

Series leader and teammate Ansgar at Stage 2 of the Tour da Chicago. Race report TK.

Photo taken: Jan. 22, 2006


Jan. 19, 2006

Three recent moments:



I'm watching "The Squid and the Whale." Two women in front of me make out for most of the movie, a strange but somehow fitting counterpoint.



For the first time in almost three months it's warm enough to ride without heavy gloves. It feels like a prisoner's first moments out of the handcuffs.



The singer scolds me for checking my watch, as if I'm the one taking the stage an hour late.

Getting old's a bitch.


Jan. 17, 2006

Chicago pet store or strip club -- can you tell?

  1. Collar and Leash
  2. Doggpound
  3. Puppy Lovers
  4. Pete's Petland
  5. Birds and Beasts
  6. Ruff N' Stuff
  7. Doggy Style
  8. Off the Leash
  9. Ruff Haus
  10. Furry Beastro
  11. Cat Calls
  12. Lucky Horseshoe
  13. Heavy Petting
  14. Tails in the City
  15. Commercial Leather Products
  16. Chicago Eagle
  17. Bow Wow Lounge

Pet stores: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 17
Strip clubs: 2, 12, 16
Neither, as of this writing: 7, 13


Jan. 16, 2006

For the record: I'm not so sure about the beard either.

Nor, for that matter, my ability to comb moisten and tamp my hair.

Photos taken: Jan. 16, 2003; Jan. 16, 2004; Jan. 16, 2005; Jan. 16, 2006


Jan. 13, 2006

Well, I guess ... the contest. They're the last ... to be without ... I've thrown in the ... and joined ... What? ... are you? Maybe it's ... now?

Here, let me move under the sink. I get better reception there.


Photo taken: Jan. 12, 2006


Jan. 12, 2006

Boss, life is trouble. Only death is not. To be alive is to undo your belt and look for trouble.

Zorba, "Zorba the Greek"

Somewhat related, I placed 6th out of what I believe to have been a record 95 riders in Sunday's stage of the Tour da Chicago. I don't have any photos. In the interest of cutting weight, I left the camera -- and its whopping 1,050 grams -- at home.


Jan. 11, 2006

Two recent moments:



My gym offers a rudimentary fitness profile. The aerobic test is on a stationary bike, so naturally I nail it. The technician's eyes pop out. She's never seen a V02 this high: 67, whatever that means.

Then she administers the strength test, which measures how hard my hands can squeeze a caliper-like contraption. It goes something like this:

"OK, squeeze this as hard as you can."


"I said, squeeze this as hard as you can."

"I am."


She circles "1 -- Needs improvement" on my chart.

I almost protest the nature of the test. "But my legs! Test my legs! I have arms of cheese but legs of steel!" No matter. As it is in life so it shall be with my fitness: My capacity to endure will always overshadow my ability to apply force.



There used to be a restaurant downtown named Mirage. Months after it closed, its signage remains, so it looks like there's something there, but there's really not.


Jan. 7, 2006

(Ald. Ted Matlak [32nd]) said he had supported the tear-down because the development project proposed for the site would add parking, reduce density and eliminate space for a corner tavern.

Jan. 5, 2006, Chicago Journal story on the planned demolition of the 1899 Artful Dodger building

Things I would do if I were an alderman and wanted to make my neighborhood suck, and the order in which I would do them:

  1. Add parking, so there could be more cars, thus more congestion, noise and pollution. Also, less safety!
  2. Reduce density, because people shouldn't have to live in the suburbs in order to be isolated from friends and services.
  3. Eliminate spaces for corner taverns, so that drinking and socializing is ghettoized into loud clubs and sports bars.

Jan. 6, 2006

Three recent moments:



I'm walking down Glenwood and admiring my new lobster-claw gloves. They form a Vulcan salute -- two fingers, two fingers, thumb -- that make them warm yet dextrous.

I'm also reviewing the debate I've just had with a fellow cyclist regarding a rider's responsibilities vis-a-vis red lights and stop signs. His thesis was that if cyclists obeyed the rules of the road, drivers would be inspired to follow suit. My counterargument -- that he was a fantasist and an apologist -- was as inarticulate as it was ineffectual. It is only later, in the townhall of my mind, that I am a master debater.

And I'm thinking about the cyclist who was killed this week in Bucktown. I'd seen him at Critical Mass but never knew his name until now. Isai Medina. He rode a homemade chopper bedazzled with blinkies, and he always had a smile to share. That's the chopper for you: It sucks the mean out of anyone. Wednesday night he was standing on Western Avenue when a car hurtled onto the sidewalk, killing him. It was a freak accident, but it has nonetheless made me sad and angry.

I'm walking and admiring and reviewing and thinking when I see a car barrelling down the cross street. I step into the crosswalk, defiantly enough to say, "Piss off and slow down, 'cuz I'm not afraid of you," but hesitantly enough so that I can ditch in case the driver doesn't see or doesn't care.

Which he doesn't. He breezes through the stop sign and turns in front of me. His window is inches from my nose when I scream, "Gonna stop or not, asshole!?" Then I reach up to flip him not one but two middle fingers of righteousness.

Except I can't. The gloves. The lobster gloves. All I can do is wag two claws of powerlessness.



Sign I have too much cycling on the brain, latest in a series: I see the headline "Ted Koppel to join Discovery Channel" and think, "Isn't he a little old to race?"



The new 11-7 hours are killing me. I'm seeing my friends more, including the casual, chance encounters that are so important, but two nights in a row my eyes flutter while I'm reading and I'm in bed by 10. That hasn't happened since -- since when? Junior high?

I wasn't born to be this normal. Or maybe I just wasn't born to be this old.


Jan. 2, 2006

Games played during Sandy and Sarah's second annual Incredible Day of Games: Blokus. Ex Libris. Pirate's Cove. Boggle. Perquackey. Settlers of Catan: Seafarers. Puerto Rico. Zombies!!! 221B Baker Street. Carcassonne. Pit.

And my favorite: Eatalottapizza (best enjoyed with the expansion set Andsomebeertoo, or Vielegroßebiergetrunken, as it appears in Klaus Teuber's original German).

Photo taken: Jan. 1, 2006


Jan. 1, 2006

Found in Vogle Park.

Photo taken: Jan. 1, 2006