May 23, 2007

Someone had some time on her hands.

By the next day she'd raided her own library to fill out the entire bookcase from red to purple.

Photo taken: May 20, 2007


May 16, 2007

"Everybody hates for a crash to happen," everybody says after a crash has happened, but it's not completely true.

Within a race, for example, there's no sweeter sound than that of mangled components -- if the sound comes from behind you. The surviving riders feel a small euphoria, for each crash means fewer people trying to take your prize.

Opportunistic riders accelerate at the sound of metal scraping against pavement. Part if it is the survival instinct, to get as far from danger as possible. But it's also a natural point of attack, to drive the stake deeper into the unfortunate.

The unscathed rider doesn't look back but secretly imagines the entire balance of the field writhing in a heap. He counts n riders ahead of him and fancies that the race has been reduced to n+1. Alas, even the worst-sounding crashes typically take out only one or two riders.

And photographers love crashes. We train our long lenses on each sprint, secretly hoping this will be the one that provides the perfect shot. The image of the unfortunate rider floating helplessly away from his bike is a decisive moment that carries as much portent and energy as Henri Cartier-Bresson's classic shot of the man leaping across the puddle. The proper crash photo, in which a hovering rider has not yet hit the ground but is about to, is a piece of kitsch that every cycling photographer dreams of adding to his collection.

In this case the unfortunate rider is Ansgar, one of the area's best sprinters but one who sometimes underestimates his own strength.

Ansgar was one of the first friends I made in racing. I confess that I enjoy crash porn such as this, but I do so only by knowing he walked away unscathed.

According to the time stamps on my photos, it took only 20 seconds from the time he started going down to when he was upright on the curb and beginning to laugh it off. In those 20 seconds his skipped across the ground like a plane ditching into a field. He must have gone 15 meters. If he'd gone 5 meters more, he might have salvaged a top-10 finish, but he ground to a halt just short of the line.

Something I enjoy about this series is the reaction of the spectators. Some recoil in horror. Others stand agape in disbelief. Some don't react at all. A father shields his children.

Speaking of wrecks, my body is a bit of one at the moment. At my team's practice time trial this morning, I had one of my worst times ever, 10 percent slower than this time last year. My head wasn't in it, and neither were my legs. I'm not sure what's going on. Perhaps staying up until 2 a.m. editing race photos wasn't a good idea?

Photo taken: May 13, 2007


April 26, 2007

One of our destinations in Milwaukee was the Lakefront Brewery. Five dollars gets you a tour and tokens redeemable for 32 ounces of beer. Bartenders casual about taking tokens gets you 32 ounces more.

The tour is about 10 minutes long. About one minute is devoted to learning about hops, wort and the biological miracle that is beermaking. The other nine minutes consist of the tour guide cracking wise about bungholes, making fun of the frat boys just there for the cheap beer (especially those who had already been on the Miller tour that morning), and dancing to the theme song from "Laverne & Shirley."

Her shtick was pretty funny, and the guy standing next to me was in stitches. He had a very distinctive laugh, a resonant, appreciative laugh. His laugh, in fact, sounded a lot like that of Dan, a guy I knew in college. He even bore a passing resemblance. But it couldn't be Dan. Dan was in Ohio.

As we moved on to the next round of taps, I said to Sandy, "Does that guy resemble Dan, or what?"

"Hey, that is Dan!"

And so it was. Of all the breweries, in all the towns, in all the world, he walks into ours!

Photo taken: April 21, 2007


April 22, 2007

At the Milwaukee Art Museum

Photo taken: April 21, 2007


Jan. 1, 2007

9 dinner guests, 7 menu items, 2 fondue pots, 1 smoke-filled kitchen. Happy 2007.

Photo taken: Dec. 31, 2006


Dec. 26, 2006

For several years I have been saving my pennies, emptying my pockets each night before bed. In doing so I have filled a pickle jar, a peanut jar and about 10 percent of a Carlos Rossi wine jug.

For several months Ellen has been asking me to get rid of those silly penny jars. She wanted me to redeem them at the Coinstar and then do something fun with the proceeds.

I was reluctant. I harbored this fantasy that one day my nephew would visit. What if it rained and we couldn't go to the zoo or the park or the bar? We could stay home, count pennies and learn about the rewards of thrift! Because surely nephews love counting pennies, almost as much as uncles love nephews who do chores.

Finally I relented, but stealthily and without Ellen's knowledge.

As I walked to the grocery store, my messenger bag groaned from the weight of the jars. The Coinstar there was defective and counted only one of every five pennies, of which I had thousands. Every few minutes I had to take handfuls of rejects and reload them into the intake hopper. The transaction took about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, the machine shook like an epileptic R2 unit, hemorrhaging pennies into the aisle.

The clatter reverberated through the Jewel. I scrambled to nab coins that had rolled away. I heard clerks and shoppers raising their voices to be heard above the disturbance, and I felt their accusing stares: "Who's that asshole with the pennies?"

This asshole with the pennies ended up $50 to the good. I took it in the form of Amazon credit, which enabled me to afford Ellen's Christmas present: an iPod. I miss my penny jars, and if my nephew ever visits on a rainy day we will have to play poker or fold laundry instead of any penny-related merriment, but it was worth it to see her face light up Monday as she tore through the newspaper in which I had wrapped my gift.

Then it was my turn to open her gift, and my greatest fears were realized: She had sold her entire CD collection -- in order to buy me a coin-sorting machine!

Ho ho! That last part is not true, but a day later my witty reimagining of the "Gift of the Magi" still makes me laugh. (O. Henry? Oh, brother!)

In truth, Ellen and her family spent the weekend burying an undeserving me with chocolates, casseroles and various wrapped delights. The highlight was a scarf made with yarn Ellen and I had selected this August at a rural Arizona truck stop/trading post/yarn emporium, a magic scarf that somehow keeps me warm even when it does not slither around my neck.

Homemade gifts are always the best, of course. I had hoped to make her an MP3 player out of twigs, plastic bottles and other found objects, but I could not find enough lithium ions for the battery and had to abandon the project just as I'd finished soldering the circuit board.

Photo taken: Dec. 23, 2006


Oct. 25, 2006

Photo taken: Sept. 21, 2006


Sept. 12, 2006

Mazel tov.

Photo taken: Sept. 10, 2006


Aug. 8, 2006

Last week I helped Ellen move the last of her belongings from L.A. to Chicago. I didn't think it could be done, but after a yard sale and trip to the thrift store, we packed nearly everything into a rented minivan.

The most troublesome items included a mountain bike, a curvy coffee table and a snowboard, not to mention five years' worth of photographs, kitchen accoutrements and sociology texts. Seeing it all stacked in the carport, I was certain that tough choices would have to be made -- choosing between taking the boyfriend or the bicycle among them -- and prepared to provide consoling hugs as Fiestaware and statistics assignments were dropped into the Dumpster, but Ellen somehow got it done. I never should have doubted. We even had enough room to accommodate a spree at the outlet stores in southeastern California. Later, a new pair of flip-flops, my first, fit nicely in the glove compartment. (Strangely, the van did not come with a flip-flop compartment, despite having been rented in Santa Monica.)

Helping a significant other with a cross-country move is an important rite of passage, one I recommend everyone do exactly once. I'm happy to report that after approximately 224 straight hours in one another's company, we are still talking. Which is not to say the week passed without its icy moments. A week is a long time. I don't know how you married people do it.

Photo taken: Aug. 2, 2006


July 25, 2006

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

Photo taken: July 22, 2006


June 26, 2006

Warm-up lap.

Photo taken: June 25, 2006


June 20, 2006

If it's going to storm during a camping trip, there's only one good time for it to do so, and that is while the two of you are making a grocery run. And when you walk out of the grocery and are greeted with a rain as hard as any you've seen, there is only one course of action: Look at each other, look at the beer under each arm, look at each other again, and then sit underneath an eave, split a Spotted Cow and watch as the wind carries grocery carts from one end of the parking lot to the other.

Photo taken: June 17, 2006


June 12, 2006

I don't believe the rider who ... told me how he had seduced a woman during a criterium. She was standing behind a crush barrier when he discovered her, or she him. (If she'd told me, I would have believed her.) Every hundred seconds he came barreling past, and so their love blossomed as prettily as a flower in one of those time-lapse films. Ten laps long they smiled at each other, for another ten laps she winked, they began running their tongues over their lips, and by the time the race was approaching its decisive phase their gestures had become downright salacious.

He said so, but I don't believe him, because he's a very good racer. It's impossible.

Tim Krabbe, "The Rider"

But nothing is impossible if you are not a very good racer.

My team had four people in last year's Spring Prairie Road Race. Only one finished with the pack, and it wasn't me, not by a long shot. This year would be different.

With a killer hill right before the finish line, it was a course suited to me. As soon as I noticed registration was open and that the field would be limited to 75, I started recruiting. Since it was Wisconsin's state championship, I figured the field would fill up quickly. I wanted as many teammates as possible.

A teammate was the first to register. I was second. Other teammates were third and fourth.

And sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth.

And 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th.

By the time capacity was reached, xXx constituted 23 of the 75-person field.

Alas, my fiendish ploy to hijack Wisconsin's championship was foiled when the promoters created a second field, separating the Wisconsinites from out-of-staters like us. (With our 2006 palmares -- victories at Parkside, Cobb Park and Baraboo, podiums just about everywhere else -- who could blame them?)

Rain fell in buckets Saturday morning. At 6:30 I checked the radar and found a green and orange blob spread across the Midwest. I drew an appropriate shirt, from Ride Across INdiana shirt, out of the drawer.

I'd been obsessing about this race for two weeks, but I hadn't thought to consider weather. There's nothing worse than a crowded race on wet roads.

Miraculously, rain, darkness and sorrow yielded to sunshine, warmth and glee once we crossed the state border.

As I greeted friends in the parking lot, I asked, "Ready to break some legs today?" To a person they answered in the affirmative. I had teammates who could drive the tempo in the flats. I would do the same on the climbs. It was entirely possible that someone could beat us, but we would make sure they earned it.

We would do six laps, ending each one with a steep hill that promised to damage the peloton each time up. It was this hill that would teach me an important lesson this day, that of not getting cocky about one's strengths.

Ever since San Luis Obisbo, I've relished opportunities to show off my climbing abilities, and I spent each of the first three laps showing off my nonchalance.

The first time up I casually glided to the fore and waved to spectators, as if I were a parade marshal leading a caravan of elephants and marching bands.

The second time up I made a show of drinking from my bottle and gargling.

The third time up I planted a kiss on Ellen. (I was going so fast, her head spun. Neck injury was narrowly averted.)

After the frst three laps whittled the field from 60 to 40 to 20, it was time for a selection to be made. A Northwestern rider joined Ed and me in setting a punishing tempo after the fourth climb, and the final group of 12 was established. Five were xXx: Me, Ed, Kevin, Ken and new teammate Pieter, who not having a uniform was riding incognito.

Once this group was established, only a few took pulls. Others moaned about how they were isolated without teammates. They'd just sit in back, thank you very much.

Ed and I spent the last few laps whispering about how we were going to win this race. It was pretty much a continuation of exhaustive discussions we'd been having over e-mail all week. Do we attack? When? Where? Both of us?

That's why I love cycling so much more than running, and it's why I enjoy writing these race reports as much as you enjoy reading them. Each race is a new puzzle waiting to be solved, a Rubik's Cube that continues to shift and change colors just as you think you have it figured out. If you've run one marathon, on the other hand, you've pretty much run them all. Strategy is the same, independent of course or competition: Run hard, run hard some more.

Heading into a stiff wind in the backstretch of Lap 5, the pace settled into a mosey. Naturally I did the same stupid thing I always do when I'm in a pack and I'm bored and impatient: I rolled off the front. And naturally the pack did the same smart thing it always does: It let me go.

I was surprised but pleased with the gap I got. 400 meters? This wasn't anything Ed and I had discussed, but I thought maybe I could expland it over the hill and make it stick for a lap. It was only 6 miles. I had blockers. What could go wrong?

We were starting to lap riders. When I passed a teammate, I yelled, "When they come through, tell Ed I've cramped up real bad!" Then I made a show of shaking out my right leg. I figured if the group thought I was injured it wouldn't chase so hard. Such is lesson No. 1 of cycling tactics: When you can't be fast, be sneaky. (I'd read about this stunt in a book some time ago. It worked in the book, but it didn't here. Nonetheless, I had fun trying. )

Halfway up the hill, I could tell I was going to get caught, but I was startled to see myself get caught in such a blaze of glory: Here was Pieter screaming up the left! He flew up the hill faster than anyone I've ever seen climb. Great! A counterattack! The move was brilliant.

Except it wasn't an attack: Pieter had thought we were on the last lap, and this was his big finish. It was a shame, because nobody could have ever matched his rapid ascent. (Afterward, impressed with his amazing tuck as much as his climbing, I asked him, "Where'd you learn to ride like that?" "Belgium." But of course.)

And then the last lap. Again we moseyed through the finishing flat until Ed moved to the front and set tempo to keep people honest and discourage attacks. He pulled off and other riders started to attack, but none got separation.

I came into the final corner in third. And here's where I blew it.

The first five times up the hill I'd done it by the book. I nailed it each time. Great form, smiling for maximum oxygen intake, spinning in my largest cogs. This time I got cocky and tried to assault the hill in a smaller cog. The gear was too high. I couldn't turn it over fast enough, and I had too much hubris to shift down and get into my proper rhythm.

I tried to grind it out. I had plenty of gas and had been feeling great even after my flyer, but I was sputtering. Meanwhile, the rest of our group started to pass. Ed almost looked upset at me as he went by, upset to be picking up my slack when this was supposed to be my moment. I came close to catching two riders, but I ended up ninth. Normally this would have satisfied, but I couldn't help but think that this had become a 12-man race, and I could claim no better than fourth from last.

Happily, Ed showed his usual excellence. He came in second, finishing behind the rider who had moaned the loudest about his lack of teammates. ("He didn't pull!" I would pout over lunch. "Yes, and he won," Ellen would remind me.)

Afterward Ed and I bowed our heads solemnly and crossed our arms. What happened? How did we not win this? What was the right solution to this puzzle? Sure, we broke some legs, but there's no prize for top leg breaker. There's only a winner and then everyone else.

This was a course and a field tailor-made for us. When do we get a chance to crack it again?

Photo taken by E. Wight: June 10, 2006


June 1, 2006

I wasn't planning to race Sunday. I was just driving to Indiana with Matt so I could rendezvous with Ellen and join her in Monday's road race. But an hour before Sunday afternoon's criterium, only 12 people had registered. That sounded like an active-recovery ride to me. Plus, what kind of rider would let a teammate race alone?

Ultimately about 30 riders entered in temperatures that again topped 90. The course was a basic four-corner downtown race: 1 kilometer long, 45 minutes plus 2.

About 25 minutes in I was near the back and noticed the guy next to me complaining about the heat and appearing like he was about to cry. I figured if he was on the brink, others would be as well, so this would be a good time to accelerate and shake things up.

There I went, gliding off the front. I was foiled, however, by the very clever thing the pack did next: nothing. Instead they let me get a 200 meter lead, and with 30 minutes to go in stifling heat, they were smart enough to let me keep that lead for about four laps. Finally they started to chase, and as soon as my lead started to recede, I stood up so they could put me out of my misery.

Back in the pack, I occasionally let a gap open in front of me, hoping it could cleave the pack, with Matt in the lead group. This didn't work, and racers would scold me for allowing the gap. I feigned fatique. "I did Snake Alley yesterday. What the hell did you do?"

We were down to 20 in the sprint. Nothing special. Matt took 7th. I was near the back in 13th. One of these days I'll learn to sprint, or learn not to attack so early.

By the next morning I had still not learned not to attack too early.

Ten miles into the 44-mile road race -- and in the same 90 degree heat -- I rolled off the front and the pack let me go. I maintained a 20-second gap for about five miles. The question is, Why? Did I really think I could hold off the pack for 34 miles? Who do I think I am? Will I ever learn?

If I never learn not to attack so early, maybe I can at least learn to abandon the effort once it's obvious nobody is going to join and help. Instead I dangled. The only joy was passing Amish women on their bicycles. I tipped my helmet and bid them a guten Morgen.

With 10 miles to go an unattached rider was off the front. He looked strong, so on a hill I attacked to bridge. I caught him easily and we started trading pulls. A minute later we were joined by another unattached rider, a guy I recognized from April's McCormick's Creek race. He had came in third, so I knew he was strong and, just as important, friendly and cooperative. It took a few cycles, but soon we had a great rhythm and a huge gap. I had two teammates blocking in the pack, and the first unattached rider said he had two confederates as well. There would be no stopping us.

And then I made the biggest blunder of my young cycling career.

There was a spot about 8 miles from the finish where the course turned right at a dead end. There was too much gravel on the right side, so riders had to turn left, then slow and make a 180-degree turn.

As fate would have it, there was a very similar intersection about a quarter-mile prior. When we got to it, I had just come to the front and thought we had arrived at the second, more complicated turn. Indeed, a marshal waved his flag from left to right, which I took to mean, "This is where you turn left, then right." I alerted my break partners: "Here comes that U-ey!"

I was wrong. This was in fact a normal left turn, but when I slowed and veered right, the two behind me collided and crashed to the ground. Our break -- and my first real shot at a victory -- was done for.

That was crash No. 1.

The orginal attacker was hurt and couldn't continue. I stopped to express my horror and remorse, but when the pack came by 30 seconds later, the third rider and I hopped back in.

Climbing with 1.5 miles to go, I attacked yet again and got a small gap. I don't know whether I could have held my lead, but it became moot when I took a bumpy downhill turn too wide and rolled onto the grassy shoulder. I stayed upright, but by the time I got back on the pavement, the pack of 20 was several bike lengths away.

That was crash No. 2.

The pack drifted away. I was certain I was out of it. Then, my salvation: another hill. I scrambled up in time to reintegrate with the pack.

The course was windy and undulating, so nobody was sure where the finish line was and started jumping way too early. I, however, had noticed on the second lap that there was a Prudential "For Sale" sign about 600 meters from the finish line, then cones at 200 meters, so I waited until the Prudential sign before I became aggressive about position. By this time people who had jumped were losing steam. I was able to hop from rider to rider and took fifth place with a throw.

Oh, to think what could have been ... if I hadn't attacked so early ... if I hadn't crashed out my break partners ... if I hadn't ridden into the ditch ... if I hadn't raced four days in a row ...

Rolling through the cool-down area, I abruptly turned around to catch the finish of the women's race. Naturally I did this without looking to see whether anyone was behind me. There was. He was going slow enough that neither of us fell over, but there you go: Crash No. 3.

After 11 races in 30 days, maybe it's time to take a few weekends off?

Photo taken: May 29, 2006


March 20, 2006

If only I'd come down with a puncture. How often ... have I longed for a flat tire? A puncture, permission from beyond to stop the dying ...

A lot of praying goes on in the peloton, especially to God and to Linda. Please let me get a puncture. But the speed of prayer has its limits, so the rider occasionally resorts to more drastic measures. He pounds his wheels through potholes, through gravel, searches for sharp rocks and, perchance, when he has a race to ride but no morale, he'll even mount a carefully selected tube that's ready to blow ...

At the start of Race 129 ... I was extremely tense. There were a multitude of signs that something terrible was about to happen, but not a single excuse not to start. Criteriums in Holland! Curve, sprint, brake, curve, sprint, brake, curve, sprint, brake, curve, every twenty seconds a curve, a hard-riding house of pain, two-and-a-half hours long, unimaginable if you've never been in it yourself ...

But when no heed is given to your longing for a puncture, there's nothing left but to suffer. Suffering is an art. Like the downhills, it's a non-athletic art in which the great champions nevertheless outstrip all amateurs.

Tim Krabbe, "The Rider"

I didn't get much of a chance to suffer in Sunday's criterium, the long-awaited first race of the year, but I was tense nonetheless.

My front wheel stood on the starting line next to Ansgar's, just as it did at last year's Winfield criterium, where a flat at the line had given the reprieve I longed for. "Quick quick and hush hush!" I wanted to whisper to a teammate on the sideline. "Whip out your shiv and slash my tires! Take care of my spares, too!"

The tension wasn't solely because I fear and loathe criterium racing. Mostly it was performance anxiety. I looked around, admiring rival bodies and the bikes they were clipped in to. I expected to not only keep up with these guys, but lay on some attacks? Get it up? Keep it up? Ha!

All winter I've been a chatty Cathy on my team's message board, giving wise counsel to rookies and discussing graduate-level tactics with the veterans. What I declined to mention was that I've never actually finished a Cat 4 race with the pack. I got dropped from all eight Cat 4 races I did last year, including in the first lap of the only 4/5 crit I braved. Now, I feared, I was about to be exposed as a hack and a fake.

Suddenly there was no more time to cringe. We were off.

The jitters receded quickly. Racing's rhythms came back to me. I saw my lines and took them, feeling comfortable navigating the pack. Sitting around 40th wheel at one point, Matt asked how I was feeling. "Pretty good," I said, "except I wish I were further up." Soon I found a hole on the left. Matt found a hole up the right. Seconds later we rendezvoused at the front.

My teammates put on some impressive attacks, including several by riders competing in their first races. An attack on Lap 2 by Ed, who as of two weeks ago was determined not to race at all this year, was particularly inspiring. My heart swelled with pride. Ever since I saw him outclimb me in California I'd been badgering him to give racing a go. He would get reeled in, as would all our attacks and breaks, but at least we kept the race interesting, and I imagine it will take dozens of more attacks before we get the knack for making them stick.

Hurting my chances in the breaks was my inability to discern real opportunities from mirages. Twice in this race I bridged to what looked like viable breaks -- the riders had nice legs, they seemed to beckon, and it looked like we would get along -- only to have them fizzle as soon as I made contact. Whether the unions were destined to fail without me or whether they failed because of me, I don't yet have the expertise to say.

This is something to work on: knowing when to be assertive and be off with another rider, and knowing when it's better to be safe and mousy in the pack. God grant me the patience to sit in when I cannot affect a race, the power to attack when I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I thought I'd have one more chance to get away but the officials started flipping the lap cards early. Before I knew it we had three to go, and now my job was to get to the front to help lead out Ansgar in the sprint. This was our plan: Attack, attack some more, and then get a three- to four-man train ahead of our strongest sprinter.

It wasn't to be, however. The pack slowed considerably and spread across the entire road, blocking any lanes I could have used to move forward. The 10 or so riders between me and Ansgar proved impassable. Happily, it didn't matter. Even without anyone's help, Ansgar was able to sprint his way to victory. When I came out of my own sprint -- for 17th -- the first things I saw were his arms raised high.

This was the first time I'd been on the road and witnessed a teammate win a race, and it felt great. I found one last attack in me and surged forward to pat him on the back.

The first thing I did when I got home was shave my so-called beard. I'd had it for the 160 long days that had passed since my last race, a whimsical way to mourn the passing of the 2005 cycling season. But it's now a whole new season, the mourning period is over, and I urgently need to be as aero as possible.

We return to the same course next week. Nominally these are "practice" criteriums, in that there are no cash prizes, but nobody at this level races for anything but love anyhow. Race, learn, race again. And, it is hoped, win again.

Photo taken: March 19, 2006


Feb. 26, 2006

Breaking in my new remote.

Photo taken: Feb. 25, 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. 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


Dec. 30, 2005

Chrismukkah 2005.

Photo taken: Dec. 30, 2005


Nov. 13, 2005

Lincoln Square Lanes.

No black lights or lasers, no computerized scoring, and at the bar, no cosmos, just domestic bottles and a half-dozen barflies smoking and watching the Bears game.

Photo taken: Nov. 13, 2005


Nov. 1, 2005

Levi has all the ingredients for a pleasant fall day: Patch of sun ... check. Fruit jar of Strongbow ...check. Fighter pilot/reading cap ... check.

Commence laziness.

(I think he's reading a book about polar exploration. He'd already read the Libby indictment a dozen times -- a half-dozen of them out loud -- and was now waiting for the Rove and Cheney sequel: "Lying, Cheating Motherfuckers II: The Reckoning.")

Photo taken: Oct. 30, 2005


Oct. 24, 2005

Five recent moments:



"I'm seeing Sleater-Kinney at Metro. The crowd will all be short lesbians, so at least I'll have a good view of the stage."



When I start a book, I like to get through the first 10 percent in the first sitting. Then, whether it's a good book or not, I continue to flip toward the back to monitor what kind of progress I'm making.

On my 30th birthday, I decide that this is a life hack I wouldn't mind. I don't want any spoilers, thank you, but I wouldn't mind knowing where I am. Halfway through? Nine-tenths? One-tenth???

Also, better footnotes, please.



"I noticed you taking communion."

"Yeah, I didn't want to be the first to not take it. Also, I was sort of hungry."



I'm driving to Ohio with Gus and Conrad. I take a turn behind the wheel, and Gus does Sodoku puzzles in the passenger seat. I realize that this is the problem with Sodoku: Unlike a crossword, there's no potential for collaboration. At no point is Gus going to ask, "What's a one-digit number that's not 3, 4 or 6 and is also not 1, 5, 8 or 9? And if it's 2, then what's a number that's not 1, 2, 6 or 9 and is not ..."



"I'm not sure which is worse: dating or looking for a job. They both have the same, insufferable interview process, the same 'I enjoyed meeting you, let's do it again' follow-up e-mail, the same sense of lonely rejection."

"But if you don't get the job, you can't go home and hire yourself."


Oct. 20, 2005

At Stan Hywet Hall, Akron, Ohio.

Photo taken: Oct. 15, 2005


Oct. 16, 2005

Photo taken: Oct. 15, 2005


Oct. 14, 2005


Photo taken: Feb. 5, 2005


Sept. 13, 2005

Four recent moments:



"... but then working for Marvel would mean living in New York City."


"Did you just say 'Gotham'?"


"Gotham is DC."

"Oh. Of course."



A fat woman in flowing, fat-woman clothes gets off the Clark bus at Bryn Mawr. She's shaped like a pear -- an overripe pear that's been dropped once or twice. From behind thick, ugly glasses she squints at the noon sun. Teeth are missing. On her left arm is a constellation of sores, but also a large homemade tattoo: "LOVE."



I gather that one sign you have a gambling problem is when your poker playing makes you late for other, more important responsibilities. Is it a problem, then, when your poker playing makes you late for other, more important poker games?



"As soon as I could once again remember the lyrics to 'El Paso,' that's when I knew I was sober enough to get out of bed."


Sept. 2, 2005

What's amazing is that the bride and groom were registered for it.

Photo taken: Aug. 27, 2005


Aug. 16, 2005

Three recent moments:



Bob comes over to help me change the pedals on my racing bike. He feigns shock at all my new cycling gear. "You're gay for bikes!"

OK, so it's true that my bikes rival my friends for my most important relationships in Chicago, and that there's nobody else I currently clean weekly with a Q-tip. But Bob forgets an important fact: All of my bikes -- Faith the mountain bike, Charity the commute bike, the Colonel the racing bike and a fixie I'm hoping to buy this fall whom I haven't even seen but have already named Amanda -- are girls.

I'm gay for girls.



I'm at Johnny Sprockets, my neighborhood bike shop, because I have decided to buy a new wheelset and naturally have decided to buy it right away. I cannot wait to shop around for the best price.

My wheels are there but they're not ready, so my guy at the shop drops what he's doing and starts working to make them true and centered. I sit and listen as he and the other mechanics talk shit. No manhood or mechanical skill goes unquestioned.

My guy carefully spreads talcum powder inside a tire before inserting the tube and putting it on the wheel. We chat about wheels and racing and my bad experience when I strayed and visited a different shop. He asks whether I have a wife or a girlfriend or anything.

"No, just my Jamis."

"That's what I thought, the way you came in here and bought a wheelset without having to consult anyone."

"I've heard of people who are able to do both -- ride and have a girl -- but I've also heard of the Yeti. Doesn't mean it really happens."

It's been an hour and he's still working on the second wheel. There's no way his commission on this wheelset covers more than an hour of labor, let alone labor this careful.

I slip out. Busch Light is the best stuff at the liquor store across the street, so I walk a half-mile to the Jewel and buy a case of Goose Island. When I return, the work is done. I give my guy the beer. "Aw, gee," he says, "you didn't have to do that."

He shows me the boxes with my wheels. While I was gone he had tossed in about $25 worth of tubes, gels and chamois creme. "And you didn't have to do that," I say.

How often does good karma balance itself this quickly?

And that's the great thing about the local bike shop. Even if I could have saved $100 by going elsewhere, my guy does things he doesn't have to do. There are many things in this world that are best measured in dollars and cents, but sometimes things are best measured in beer and chamois creme.



The Cubs are on at the gym. Derrek Lee hits a groundball to first and runs to third, where he is forced out.


Then I realize I'm watching in a mirror, but for a second it made sense: The Cubs have been playing so poorly that a clockwise run around the bases wouldn't be all that surprising.

People know how I feel about color-man Ron Santo, but still it breaks my heart to hear the anger and frustration in his voice. A few days earlier Santo gave his signature "Aw, geez!" -- "Aw, geez!" belongs to him as much as "Holy Cow!" belonged to Harry Caray and "Hey, hey!" belonged to Jack Brickhouse -- when Aramis Ramirez popped out to the infield and casually walked down the baseline, bat in hand. "Does he even want to play?" an exasperated Santo asked.

It would not have surprised me if the next thing I heard was Pat Hughes explaining that Cubs legend Ron Santo had put on a uniform, barged into the dugout and demanded to be put in at third, just to prove that a legless, 65-year-old diabetic could run with more spirit than Aramis Ramirez.


Aug. 13, 2005

While we waited for "The Night of the Hunter," orange-jacketed security shooed several dozen Canada geese that had been calling Grant Park home, often from one patch of trees to another and then back. It was like a giant game of keep-away.

The geese flew in large, panicked flocks, an activity that to those of us on the grass was more disconcerting than had they remained standing quietly under the trees.

"Whatever you do," someone nearby said, "don't look up!"

"At least not with your mouth open," I thought to add.

Photo taken: Aug. 9, 2005


July 30, 2005

What a great Chicago day.

It began with BBQ on the South Side. In the evening, Critical Mass wended through the North Side and wound up at Foster Beach, where the water was warm and the waves were high. Dozens of riders dove in in street clothes, a few in nothing at all. It had been awhile since my last spontaneous night swim. I'd forgotten how fun they are.

Afterward, my friends and I convened at Levi and Stacey's. A man tried to sell us a rubber shark on the way. We declined. We changed into dry clothes and discussed everything from Santorum to santorum over martinis and potstickers.

(Levi has made the martini, forged in a penguin-shaped shaker and served in a proper martini glass with a half-dozen olives, a part of his evening routine. I have yet to acquire the taste for martinis, but I can fathom why one would endure the agony of doing so. What I like is how it mandates patience and lingering. You take a sip, and only after you have forgetten its foulness do you take another sip. An hour later, when you look down into an empty glass, you experience relief and accomplishment. "Well, that's done with, and I am a stronger man for it." (It is also possible that I misunderstand the point of a martini.))

In a few hours I leave for a week in Yosemite, where I'll see my 14-month-old nephew. I imagine that 14 months is an impressionable age, sensory wise, so I'm tempted not to shower. This way can I arrive stinking of BBQ, gin and Lake Michigan and it will lock an association in little Malcolm's mind. The hope is that the next time he ever smells one of the three again -- whether in 10, 20 or 60 years -- he will think fondly of his uncle, and he will follow his nose to the good life.

Photo taken: July 29, 2005


July 29, 2005

At Comiskey a few weeks ago someone mentioned that 35th was the farthest south they'd ever been. "So where do you go for your ribs?" I asked.

In the conversation that ensued it came out that although she worked in Hyde Park, Stacey had never had proper South Side ribs. Today we filled that void in her life. I picked up some ribs, tips and links from Barbara-Ann's and met her, Levi and Sandy on the Midway. She brought Diet Cokes and a large roll of paper towels, and God smiled upon our plans by delivering perfect weather.

A month ago I found one serving to be too much for one person, but two servings today turned out to be the perfect amount for three people and a vegetarian, Levi, who dove into the fries and bread.

Photo taken: July 29, 2005


July 18, 2005

Saturday I joined Cameron (pictured) and Cynthia for the Ride Across Indiana, the RAIN Ride. This photo was taken in Richmond, Ind., 161.3 miles and seven and a half riding hours after leaving Terre Haute.

Last year's RAIN ride marked the first time I'd ever ridden in a group. Even though I didn't know what I was doing or how to work with others, it was transforming. The next morning I watched the Tour with Mikal in Indianapolis, and it was then that I started to put two and two together: Cycling + racing = what I need to be doing with my life. And so it has been. Rare are the moments where one's life shifts this decisively.

I intended to ride this year's RAIN at a moderate pace and stick with Cynthia, a good friend who has done more to advance my cycling than any other person, but, to borrow Robert Pirsig's language, ego got the best of Quality. A recreational ride turned into a personal race. More than anything I wanted to beat last year's gross time of 9:30, just to prove to myself how far I've come. I latched onto fast riders when I could, and I pushed the tempo when it was my turn to pull. As a result, I came in at 9:20, despite hours of rain that washed every last drop of lube from my chain.

Also as a result, I missed out on the social aspect of the ride that helped make last year such a life-changing experience, and I lost contact with Cynthia about 50 miles from the finish.

And then I got home and realized last year's time was in fact 10:30, not 9:30. I'd beaten it by more than an hour.

Another good intention gone awry: Today was supposed to be a rest day. But as of last night my legs weren't feeling as heavy as I thought they would, so at 5 this morning I headed back to Wisconsin for another Superweek road race, 45 miles near Hartford, Wis. I knew this was folly and that the limited recovery would slow me down, but I expect that six months from now, when I'm sipping glogg in my pajamas and looking forlornly out on a snowed-in patio, my regret will be only that I raced too little this year, not that I raced too slow.

One great thing about being so new to cycling is that each race presents a new and fascinating excuse for getting dropped. "I'd have held on if it weren't for the climbing! ... or the descending! ...or the crashing! ... or my cheap-o wheelset!"

Today it was the wind that did me in. I hung with the main pack for a little more than one of the race's five laps. Then we turned into a fierce wind and I wasn't able to cover the gap that had formed between me and the rider in front of me. The wind was a bully's palm on my forehead. The pack, which by that point had been whittled to about half of its original size, drifted away.

This was my sixth road race and the sixth road race in which I've been dropped less than halfway in. But two things have yet to happen following a drop: I've not yet quit, and I've not yet been passed.

Tomorrow's another race, this one on the Milwaukee lakefront, and I'm not expecting to fare much better. It's a technical course with many hairpin turns, and bike handling is a weakness, but this will be my last chance to race for several weeks. Better to have raced and gotten shelled than to have never raced at all.

A final cycling lesson learned today: Never enter a men's room in bare feet after a race. Let's just say there are some Cat 5 racers out there who have trouble holding their lines as long as they're still in their bibs.

Photo taken: July 16, 2005


June 28, 2005

Sandy putts the 27th hole in Baraboo, Wis., a tough par three that I triple-bogeyed, costing me the game.

Photo taken: June 20, 2005


May 18, 2005

The only good meme, I always say, is a meme deleted with a mournful sigh.

But Matt asked nicely, so I'll play along.


Total volume of music on my computer:

22.33 GB (5,980 songs)


The last CD I bought:

Andrew Bird, "The Mysterious Production of Eggs"


Song playing right now:

Lambchop, "Life's Little Tragedy"


Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me:

  1. "Fanfare for the Common Man," performed by Woody Herman. My father is not a music lover, but he would put this on whenever he was entertaining students. I regard it as the family anthem. When I am dead and the bicycle parade is sprinkling my ashes through the streets of Chicago, this had better be playing on the loudspeakers.
  2. "Gonna Fly Now," either the original Bill Conti or as performed by Maynard Ferguson. I rely on this when I am at the end of a hard run. After 20 miles I neither mind nor notice how corny it is.
  3. "Thank You," by Led Zeppelin. Long story.
  4. "Lilac Wine," by Nina Simone.
  5. "It Never Entered My Mind," performed by Miles Davis.

Five people to whom I’m passing the baton:

Let's see -- five people who are aware of my wee blog here.

Fingers tapping ...

Crickets chirping ...

Ghosts moaning ...

How about:

  1. Sandy and/or Sarah
  2. Jim
  3. Mikal
  4. Ted
  5. Darth Vader

May 16, 2005

Three recent moments:



We're discussing a friend who a few years back got the Kansas state motto -- "Ad astra per aspera" -- tattooed "right above her butt crack." I point out that it's a good thing she's from Kansas and not Illinois or else she'd have "Land of Lincoln."

But then someone from New Mexico points out that "Land of Enchantment" wouldn't be so bad.

(It turns out that Illinois' and New Mexico's mottos are in fact "State sovereignty, national union" and "Crescit eundo," respectively, the latter of which would be entirely inappropriate.)



Bob brings two friends to poker. On the first hand one of them loses 20 percent of her chip stack to me, and I feel terrible: Here Bob ropes these nice people into filling out our table and has failed to tell them how good we are. This isn't nickel ante at summer camp. Plus, she's a librarian, so I suspect $20 is an entire day's wage.

She spends much of the night sighing silently and furrowing her brow. Meanwhile, I play uncharacteristically loose and am the first to run out of chips. Toby exits soon after, and then Bob and Sandy go out on the same hand ("You stayed in and you didn't even have the flush!?"). It's down to her and Jason, and after a dozen hands that go nowhere she finally wins it all with a medium pair.

I still feel terrible, but obviously for different reasons. Maybe this is why we never let women play with us.



I'm watching the Giro d'Italia on a live feed of Italian television. I don't remember any of the Italian I learned in college, and we never got to the chapter on cycling terms anyhow, so the announcers are but white noise. Yet I'm transfixed. I feel like I'm back at the Uffizi and staring at one of its masterpieces: Even though I have only a slight idea of what's going on and the nuances and characters are well beyond my ken, the canvas is beautiful and humbling.


April 18, 2005

It was drizzling when Cam, right, picked up me up at 7 Sunday morning to go on a group ride with Cynthia. He'd later tell her that carrying my new bike into the rain for the first time I had the terrified look of a father taking his child to the first day of kindergarten.

By the time we got to the ride's starting point at Governors State University, the weather was clear and on its way to warm, blue skies.

Cam and I opted for the 68-mile loop but the riders we were with kept getting strung out. It seemed a waste to be breaking the wind and not have anyone on my wheel. Eventually I was alone with an older rider and we realized we had missed a turn. Fortunately he knew the area, but once we got back on course I dropped him and rode the last 25 miles solo.

Amazingly I felt stronger as the day wore on, and my pace riding alone was faster than that while riding in a group. Granted, these were recreational and not competitive riders, but charging past one after another on the hills was reassuring after Saturday's difficulties.

Photo taken: April 17, 2005


March 30, 2005

Four recent moments:



I take a long nap on a Friday afternoon. I wake a little before 6, which coincidentally is when I woke up in the morning. This might explain why I was tired enough for a long afternoon nap -- that and having spent the morning helping two friends pack for an interstate move.

Also by coincidence, a little before 6 in the a.m. on this day is as close to sunrise as a little before 6 in the p.m. is to sunset, so the light coming into my room is nearly identical as when I woke up the first time. I am gobsmacked with confusion. "It's still 6 a.m.? Did I dream this entire day? The move? The improbable cardboard cut on my neck? The post-move enchiladas? Do I now have to help them move again?" It is as if "Groundhog's Day" were rewritten as "Good Friday."



We're leaving "Melinda and Melinda" at the Landmark and Sandy spots Wilco's Jeff Tweedy leaving at the same time.

It's funny how careful with your words you get when you descend four flights of stairs near someone famous, the thought being that if you are sophisticated and witty enough the famous person will interupt and invite you out for a drink, or maybe up to their apartment for a private show.

We are neither sophisticated nor witty enough, and Jeff Tweedy ignores us accordingly.



I'm leaving the video store. Cars that have tried to sneak through on a yellow are blocking an intersection. I figure I'll leap onto my bike and zoom through the gridlock, thus proving once again the the nimbleness of the bicycle and the folly of the automobile.

What I do not figure on is catching my pants on my seat, sending both me and my bicycle crashing to the pavement.



"How the hell do you ride a paceline through the Loop?"

"Very, very carefully."


Feb. 28, 2005

For four years Sandy and I have volunteered at the Inspiration Cafe, an organization that provides meals, job training and other important services for those in need in Uptown. The Cafe's major fundraiser is an annual art auction, a gala sale of dozens of juried pieces donated by local artists.

It was at last year's auction that I bought my very first piece of art, an abstract painting of an El platform at sunrise. What's funny is that earlier that day I had helped hang the art and came very close to hanging it upside down. Such is abstract art.

Later, during the silent auction, an older gentleman was looking at it and asked for my help in seeing the El. "I just don't see it," he said. I studied it and suggested where the platform was. A few more moments and I could make out the El speeding by. The more I looked at it the more I liked it. It reminded me of countless Thursday mornings bicycling down Broadway, parallEl, to cook breakfast at the Cafe.

"Well, I just don't see it," he said, "but I like it." He put in a bid at $55. Once he left, I put in a bid at $60 and later increased it to $85 in order to win.

This year's auction is March 18. This weekend Sandy and I photographed all the art to be auctioned. Sandy will put the pictures online. There are a lot of great pieces this year, some of which I'll surely bid on. Perhaps I'll make my second art purchase, though you are encouraged to try to stop me.

Photo taken: Feb. 26, 2005


Feb. 18, 2005

Gus watched through her Treo.

Photo taken: Feb. 5, 2005


Feb. 17, 2005

The groom wore flip-flops.

Photo taken: Feb. 5, 2005


Feb. 16, 2005

Photo taken: Feb. 5, 2005


Feb. 8, 2005

Sandy won by 20.

Photo taken: Feb. 3, 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.


Jan. 17, 2005

Three recent moments:



A young office assistant reads the Bible during his down time. Propped open on the desk is a paperback novelization of the "Doom" video game. I speculate he is writing a book report. "The Bible. 'Doom.' Compare and contrast. Attach Venn diagram(s)."



Sandy tells us the handles his mother uses to keep track of his friends. One is "the handsome one," another is "the reader," a third is "the one who smiles."

I am "the quiet farmer."

Which is fine -- I've been called worse -- but couldn't I be known as "all of the above"? Don't I smile enough?



The coffeeshop is playing Creedence Clearwater Revival. It's not popular behind the counter. "At least it's not Kansas," one employee says.

"Right," says a colleague. "You want to avoid those bands named after states. Y'know, Boston, Chicago ..."


Jan. 2, 2005

The human body loses heat in three areas: the groin, the armpits and the head. Submerging all three (in Chicago, the head must be dunked for the plunge to be official) can cause hypothermia, leaving the victim drowsy, confused and uncoordinated. It also leads to a massive spike in blood pressure.

Julie Deardorff, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 2, 2005

This was my second time doing the North Avenue Beach polar bear swim. I don't remember there being ice in 2004. To get to the water this year we had to walk gingerly across four feet of jagged, icy shoreline. It was, ho ho, the polar opposite of walking barefoot across hot coals.

Sandy agreed to be my caddy, and it's a good thing he did. Coming out of the water I was disoriented and couldn't find where I'd left my things. I was frantic. But just when I thought my feet had become solid blocks of ice and I'd never tap-dance again, I saw Sandy waving my towel, like a battle flag rising out of the fog of war.

Drowsy? Check. Confused? Check. Uncoordinated? Check. But that's how I spend the first few hours of most days, so I don't know if the water is entirely to blame.

Photo taken: Jan. 1, 2005


Jan. 1, 2005

On Bob's 30th birthday he and I co-hosted a New Year's party. Sandy and Sarah made the cake.

It turned out to be one of the better parties I've been to, and I say this with all the modesty you've come to expect from this blog.

The only unpleasantness came from a gentleman -- a friend of a friend of Bob's -- who left a little bit of himself on the back patio. I was up at 10:30 this morning cleaning it up. He apparently liked our radishes, which is remarkable. Have you ever seen someone actually eat the radishes off a vegetable platter? I have not, but I have now seen what happens when one uneats them. A cracking start to the year.

Photo taken: Dec. 31, 2004