Dec. 8, 2006

There's a winter sensation that all cyclists hate. It comes when you've been on the trainer for an hour or two and you check your watch -- only to discover you've been riding for only 15 minutes.

I have a widget on my start-up screen that counts down the days to my team's training trip to San Luis Obispo, Calif. That is the week that will cleave winter from spring. The suck will end, the fun will begin. When I installed it, it read in the low 90s. I checked it today thinking that surely it would be well into the 70s, maybe even the 60s -- only to discover that it stood frozen at 85.


This week I hopped on the trainer and watched "Overcoming," a documentary about CSC and its 2004 Tour de France. It wasn't as good as "Höllentour," but it included timely training scenes and was a fitting season's-first-movie-on-the-trainer. (I subscribe to the NetFlix base-training plan: If there's a red envelope by the TV, ride. If movies are in transit, rest. Tomorrow is either "Yojimbo" or "Dr. Zhivago," depending on how long I feel like going.)

My favorite character in cycling documentaries is the soigneur. He's always the same: stoic, wise and muscular, often with a Scandinavian accent. He's the one who, while all the others are out riding, will fill water bottles, fold laundry and, sotto voce, explain to the camera what's really going on with the team.

The soigneur in "Overcoming," Ole Kaare Føli, is the best so far. There's a great scene where he steps from the shadows and confronts directeur sportif Bjorn Riis, telling him to smile more. Even better is when he counsels Carlos Sastre after the death of his brother-in-law and then tells his future by kneading into his back, like a gypsy reading a palm. "You will have a good day tomorrow. I can feel it!"


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.


Dec. 29, 2005

I have a map neurosis when I travel. Even when navigating a straight line in a grid city, I must pause every few blocks to reorient myself. God help me in a non-grid city like Boston or London. The spines of my guidebooks crack, the corners and folds of my maps turn soft, and any time I save by not getting lost is negated by all the time I stand checking coordinates and scratching my head.

It's in that spirit of wayfinding that I've been re-reading lately, giving second and third reads to the books that on their first read promised to be my guidebooks. Over the years I have shuffled along and changed, so it makes sense to revisit them. (And why bother having a personal library if it is never drawn from?) In this double-checking I reorient myself according to where I've been, what landmarks are now in view and what roads are newly opened or closed.

(That said, I concede that I'm not sure where I'm going, but I'm nonetheless happy with how I'm getting there. Recall my experience in Yosemite: I wasn't lost. It was the goddamn path that didn't know its way.)

No surprise, media consumption this year waned whenever the cycling waxed. Even though I didn't race as much as others, I trained like a madman, and my heaviest months for movies were the winter months when I plowed through DVDs on the trainer. (Movies spiked in May, but six of the seven were from the "Star Wars" series in anticipation of and including Episode III.)

Here, then, are my 10 most-enjoyed books, movies and races of 2005*:


  1. "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," Jonathan Foer
  2. "Ballad of the Whiskey Robber," Julian Rubinstein
  3. "The Rider," Tim Krabbe
  4. "Cloud Atlas," David Mitchell
  5. "Slouching Toward Bethlehem," Joan Didion
  6. "The Perfect Mile," Neal Bascomb
  7. "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," Robert Pirsig
  8. "Ravelstein" Saul Bellow
  9. "Big Deal," Anthony Holden
  10. "Chicago Noir," Neal Pollack ed.


  1. "Brokeback Mountain"
  2. "Annie Hall"
  3. "Hell on Wheels"
  4. "American Flyers"
  5. "Adaptation"
  6. "Syriana"
  7. "Capote"
  8. "Before Sunset"
  9. "House of Flying Daggers"
  10. "Shopgirl"


  1. Circuit of Sauk
  2. Fall Fling Criterium No. 1
  3. Tour da Chicago (Tic Tac Toe)
  4. Lakefront Road Race
  5. Sherman Park Criterium
  6. St. Charles Cycling Classic
  7. Alpine Valley Road Race
  8. Leland Grand Prix
  9. Matteson Tuesday Series (June 28)
  10. Tour da Chicago (Prologue)

* Not to be confused with "10 best."
** I saw only 17 theatrical releases, so big- and small-screen viewings are classed together.


Nov. 6, 2005

Two recent moments:



Enough people ask whether I'm growing a beard that I begin to think the answer is, "Apparently not."



I have a new wide-spectrum lamp. It's supposed to improve my disposition, especially during winter, and I could use that. I could use more light, more happy, a wider spectrum.

Mostly I use the lamp to read. This week I read "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Foer and find it extremey sad and incredibly heartbreaking. It fills me with longing -- insofar as one can be filled with emptiness -- which pretty much negates any benefit of the lamp and puts me right back where I started. It's like putting on a raincoat to stay dry and then jumping into a swimming pool.


May 11, 2005

I've seen plenty of improv in Chicago, but this weekend I went to my first Second City show.

The sketches were borne of improv but came to the stage scripted and rehearsed. As a result the comedy was polished, smart and very, very funny. And the players clearly understood that the most impor-TIMING!

An unadvertised aftershow featured Second City alumnus Jim Belushi. (Speaking of funnier, more gifted older brothers, Happy birthday, Hank.)

Most of the crowd was from out of town -- the Ed Debevics caps and tank tops gave them away -- and they ate him up. A celebrity! A TV star at Second City! For them it was like going to Wrigley Field and catching a home run, a bonus thrill that all the folks back home will be doomed to hear about. They didn't seem to mind that he was unfunny, flat and possibly a little drunk.

I found the rest of the cast to be much funnier and sharper, so it was strange to see them fawn over him, too. They were the All-Star pitcher and he was the washed-up slugger, and they were letting the ball run through their legs in order to make him feel better.

The final bit was the common improv game of freeze. In it, two players act out a scene. At any time someone on the sideline can call "Freeze!" and then tap a player, assume their position and take the scene in a new direction. Once Belushi got on stage, each cast member in quick succession tapped whichever player was opposite him, all for the sake of briefly sharing the stage with The Celebrity. Meanwhile, he was stuck there like a mannequin -- an unfunny, flat, possibly drunk mannequin.

For the record, if I were to guess who will next make the jump from stage to screen, my money would be on Antoine McKay. I just hope that when it's his turn to return to the stage as The Celebrity Alumnus he acquits himself better. It will help that he has a fantastic sense o-TIMING!


April 15, 2005

Where are all the faces?

Chicago is a city of 3 million people, but you'd never know it from its photoblogs and Flickr entries.

With rare exception -- Derek Powazek comes to mind -- we're a timid lot, we photobloggers. We're fearful. We're wary of offending strangers, sensing their nervous looks and desires for privacy. We fail to convey that our cameras are signs of affection.

So instead of taking pictures of people and bringing life to the Web we shoot buildings, quirky signage or, in our most daring moments, the backs of people's heads on the train.

Reluctance to offend or discomfort is a revolutionary concept these days, but it's driving me crazy. The facelessness that results approaches misanthropy, and it gives the false impression that Chicago is a cold, vacant and inanimate place.

I'm as guilty as anyone, but here's my summer goal: More faces and less fear. More smiles, more crying. Fewer parking lots, fewer industrial sites, fewer empty seats.

People are beautiful, and Chicago people are the most beautiful of all. We should show them off.

Photo taken: April 9, 2005


Jan. 24, 2005

Three recent moments:



My key snaps off in the back gate. I arrange for a locksmith to come. I stick around to let him in, but it seems unnecessary. What is a locksmith's raison d'etre if not to let himself in?



I watch "The Big Sleep" with Sandy and Sarah. The movie's title proves to be justified: Sandy and I both nod off about an hour in.



I have a bicycle trainer and a borrowed TV set up on the back porch. My pace is about 30 miles per movie. This morning I watch "The Triplets of Belleville." It feels akin to watching "Passenger 57" during a hijacking.