Friday, June 8, 2018

Holistic


I choose to believe it was auspicious serendipity, rather than satellite telecommunications, that brought together the two contingents—one sweatier, one cuter—of the bike gang atop the far western heights of our fair city in the appropriately-named park at sunset, (or at least civil twilight), in the long lingering crepescule of a late spring evening in the Pacific Northwest.

Half of us—although who knew it was a fraction at the time—had done our best impression of responsible citizens, following nearly all the rules on the legally-mandated stroll through the local wonder of civil engineering, and, after visiting what might be the very first spot I’d ever ridden to of a Thursday night, exited just in time not to be locked in the Locks; reckoning, then, it being too early to decamp for singing, (and still possessed of at least a case of beer in bucket panniers on ice), we followed uphill to the western-facing viewpoint, only to be treated, in moments, to the southern exposure of nearly just as many riders approaching, familiar faces, one and all.

Of the very few things every human being on the planet has in common is that they were born, and while other nearly ubiquitous traits—such as liking deviled eggs and early Michael Jackson—might be more compelling, that’s surely no reason not to celebrate the occasion; and  if you can do so by pedaling somewhere lovely, drinking beer outside with comrades, and then assembling at a festive water(wheel)ing hole for singing and dancing with acquaintances and strangers, by all means, that’s reason to celebrate.

For this reason, and others, including their musical skills and wry insightfulness, I’m awful glad the event coordinator, Rza, was born, and it makes me glad to have come into this existence myself, because, after all, if I didn’t share this one trait in common with everyone else, then I’d have missed out on both halves of the whole damn wonderful thing.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Reverse

We live in a topsy-turvy world, just like Dr. Peter Venkman said in Ghostbusters: “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!”

The putative adults allegedly running the country act like children; young people, still in high school, present thoughtful and mature perspectives on the pressing issues of the day.  Multi-billion dollar corporations complain publically that the costs of doing business are driving them out of business; small local companies happily pitch in to make their cities better places.  Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups become just a minor player in the Reese’s candy company product line; M&M’s melt in your hand, not in your mouth.

So, you may as well embrace the backwardness of it all; or, I guess, in keeping with the upside-down theme, have it embrace you.

Case in point: instead of the usual route from south to north behind Husky stadium, (where nearly every day commuting to work, you “say a little prayer for Dan” at the spot he did his Halloween face-plant), you ride the reverse route, down through the Ravenna trails—which turn out to be remarkably shorter on the descent than the ascent.  Fremont Boulevard, typically a late night bomb down towards the water, then, becomes an early evening slog up to provisioning and then a charming little spot overlooking the vast light industrial wasteland of Freelard.

And as Mullet (né Mohawk) Mike observed, you can sometimes, if you try, turn the setting sun around instead to the become the rotating earth; lean back and enjoy the ride; imagine the planet-sized Ferris wheel slowly somersaulting heels over head.

“Life,” said the proto-Existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, “can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”

Well, sorta.

As we’ve seen, there are times (often between the hours of 7:30 and midnight on a Thursday) where the living happens in reverse; little joys become huge; the mundane spectacular; movement stillness; and the many, one.

Understanding, though, looms forward, still to come.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Trains

What’s the rush, really, when you’re outside on a perfectly pink and sky blue evening with everyone who’s anyone to such a degree that no one isn’t someone; you wait for one train going south until (at least those who are responsible for others than themselves) realize that railroad crossing gates are there for a reason, to wit, not getting killed by a giant metal behemoth that takes a minimum of a mile to stop.

Good to see some of the recently unseen and even if no one is ever as special as they think they are, the good news is that more than one person was reminded they do like riding bikes after all.

Post Ben Country, any fear of being abandoned with no direction home is minimized; I might have gotten lost, with effort, but only in the sense of being out of touch with those that might have brought me there.

It’s surprisingly comforting to realize that the mere act of keeping one’s eyes open constitutes something; the question then is whether being something is any reason for anything.

I did learn that a freeway median really can be a park if there are picnic tables and a patio.  It’s like how the selection of cold beer at the Gross Out is kind of limited for a place that sells toilet paper by the palette, but if you’re willing to take a chance on a brand that couldn’t even make the cut for Trader Joe’s, you might end up being reasonably satisfied with the outcome.

Not a lot of miles when all was said and done, but plenty of smiles nevertheless; the combination of Derrick and Long Island Ice Tea never disappoints in the department of LOL AF.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results; when you keep on riding and once again the expected hilarity is manifest, though, that’s just insanely great.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Mitzvah

photo from Dada
A “mitzvah,” as even your average atheistic non-practicing cultural Jew can tell you, refers to something you’re commanded to do by God, and while no one would accuse the Angry Hippy of being an all-knowing perfectly good Creator of the Universe, I’m pretty sure most of the thirty or so cyclists on this year’s version of his annual bike-camping debauch, Ben Country XIII: The Ben Mitzvah felt—if not commanded—at least strongly advised to fulfill their quasi-religious duty to ride a bunch of unnecessary hills, traverse miles of unexpected trails, and best (that is worst) of all, complete an absolutely ridiculous hike-a-bike (or just camping gear for those whom discretion turned out to be the better part of valor for) through “half a mile” of deadfall and brambles at the end of an already long day in the saddle and under the influence.

But just as Abraham unquestioningly raised the dagger to slay his son Isaac when Yahweh told him to, so did the assembled obediently transgress numerous secular commandments (such as the admonition never to follow Ben up a mountain or Fred down a gravel road) when the route called for it; so great was our faith that we’d be rewarded, not in some possible afterlife but right here and now in this one—at least when we finally managed to stagger through the woods to the washed-out highway to which we were directed.

The suburbs go on for a remarkably long way, but when they finally turn into pastoral valleys and gorgeous mountain watersheds, it’s hard to believe that all those McMansions are just through the woods over the hill.  It’s a little—all right, a lot—of extra work to get to real seclusion, but when it means you can roar as loud as you want for as long as you want, it’s worth it.

If Ben Country were a young Jewish boy, he would now officially be a man.

Mazel fucking Tov.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Nice

Creative writing instructors, entertainment critics, and your 7th grade English teacher, Miss Collins, justifiably excoriate the word “nice” as being bland, non-specific, and, in general, just an insufferably weak-titted term of approbation.

To label something “nice” is to paint it with a broad, flaccid brush—in beige—and sound like a combination of the Church Lady and your grandmother as she reviews the selection of Hallmark greeting cards at the local five and dime.

That said, there’s something nice about the term “nice” which is particularly apt in relation to a Thursday night bike ride with three dozen or so fellow cyclists on a lovely, cloudless evening in spring whose record warm temperatures really bring folks out—many of whom, apparently, have been hiding under rocks or being otherwise engaged during our recent months of drizzle and gloom.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “nice” originally comes from the Latin “nescius” which refers to foolish and silly; the semantic development of how it has come to take on its current meaning as pleasing or pleasant is, according to the OED, so mysterious as to be “unparalleled in Latin or in the Romance languages.”

But it’s surely no mystery how the foolish and silly become so nice when you’re out on two wheels.  All it takes is the foolish silliness of multiple routes to the same familiar provisioning stop and then the silly foolishness of riding east across the water to quaff quaffables in a public park a mere billy-club’s throw away from the city hall and police station of our region’s wealthiest municipality.

Additionally, the OED defines “nice” as well-executed; commendably performed or accomplished, as in “nice going,” “nice try,” or “nice work,” all of which were also on display: it was nice going across the lake twice on two difference bridges; nice try for half the group missing swamp trail riding, and to get all this and still be home by midnight--Nice work!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Reunion

I felt bad about putting the burden of decision-making on the visiting Nurse—for all of about 2 seconds.

And then, I was only glad since I had secretly hoped that a southerly route was in the offing anyhow.

It seemed like one of those nights where organization is a little jagged—droppings and indecisions were the theme, although no one could complain about the views: a city bedecked in spring splendor under bold skies that filtered a golden sunset through cottony clouds of persimmon and apricot.

The waxing crescent moon smiled a sideways smile in the west as twilight blued the snow-covered Olympics periwinkle and powder.

A shortcut took just as long as the usual route although it did provide the opportunity for gravel and a close-up look at our civic failure to combat homelessness.  A short descent was enjoyed just long enough to occasion an unnecessary climb and then there were those who preferred to get rad while the skater dude yelled for bikes to get it out of their systems.

We bombed down the favored bombing run and corkscrewed over the traffic; divergent routes were taken to the old-growth park and the firepit had to be backtracked to—and not just by those who weren’t as under the influence of leftover time trial cookies as yours truly.

Somewhat impressively, ignition was achieved by the perseverance and lung power of Fancy Fred, no fossil fuels required—(unless you count the leftover plastic wrap from the bundles)—which made for a cozy fire of just the right size for the size of the group.

Soon enough, several stragglers straggled in and almost concurrently, the early departing departed early.

Saltwater, freshwater, mountains, lakes, an urban core with plenty of bars, giant trees, gravel paths, not a single drop of rain all night long; stories from the forest, anecdotes about the kitchen and finding things at last.

 If you could live anywhere you wanted, why live anywhere else? 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Lots


In Nicholson Baker’s relentlessly introspective novel, The Mezzanine, the narrator reflects on—among countless other observations about social and psychological minutia—the ways in which everyday objects evolve organically to be used for purposes other than which they were designed. 

So, for example, the humble paper clip, whose primary function is to hold manuscript pages together, is regularly unbent and employed as an ear-scratcher or hole-puncher.  Or the common parking meter morphs from being a device for collecting money from automobile drivers to an apparatus for leashing your dog to when dashing into to the dry cleaners or for securing your bike on as you stop in at the corner bar for a few cold ones.

The same thing apparently happens to much larger structures, notably multi-story parking garages, which go from being a place to vertically store hundreds of cars in the horizontally-challenged core of an urban center in the Pacific Northwest to becoming a marble raceway for cyclists ascending to the perfect viewing platform upon which to observe a sunset over the industrial heart of that aforementioned western US metropolis.

It was a view no doubt soon enough to be reserved only for our future condo overlords on the tenth floor of the glass and steel box that will inevitably replace the concrete cube as real estate values in our fair city continue to rise, and the importance of enjoying it while we can was brought home when it turned out that the second of the two parking garages on the evening’s conceptual agenda was no longer accessible on two wheels, although that did lead to the opportunity to turn a pedestrian overpass into a windy single file outdoor bar for libations al fresco.

There are places in our town that given their geography and scale, are pretty scary to ride to by yourself, but when you’re there with a score of fellow cyclists, end up becoming a charming little park. Transformations abound, unbound transformationally.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Vortices

As did the Tasmanian Devil in those old Looney Toons cartoons, we ascended like a tornado one height after another.

First, we whirled up through the testing ground, which was funny to think of given that I was already riding the bike I would have wanted to buy.

And then, you might not have noticed, but the Fred way aloft from under the freeway is also a kind of wormhole, leading to yet another, one sanctified by St. Ignatius who apparently admonishes us to go out and set the world on fire which, literally, would have been hard to do given the dampness, although half an hour into things, no more drops fell from the sky.

Dead reckoning through the trails opened the secret marble raceway along the newly-paved route and soon enough superfluous laps hardly seemed like more than enough.

Then, there’s only a short up before a much longer down and then you’re being invited by the bartender to drink special extra-large beers around their toasty fireplace.

Moreover, how many places have you ever been where they happily turned off the lights once all the diners had left so that indoor one really felt and looked like an authentic outdoor one?

And to think that all it took was a power-move around a fence and over a pond past razor wire and brambles to make a long-standing wish come true.  The case for eating the rich is made ever stronger by the observation that such a perfect and perfectly flat vortex is usually reserved for the recreational activities of wealthy landowners.  That being said, it was nevertheless thrilling to emerge almost immediately across usually-distant space.

The quotidian is remarkable for those unfamiliar with it, which is yet another reminder that real shortcuts do exist as long as you’re willing and able to ride them.

Flat planes magically ascend, and you’re home before you know it; how can the secret to secret pathways still be a secret?

Friday, March 23, 2018

Sprung

When you realize, while storing your bike for the night, that somewhere in the course of the evening, one of your beloved winter gloves has gone missing, the question immediately springs to mind: Was it worth it?

Was the moon-watching, star-gazing, trail-riding, dope-smoking, story-telling, fire-fucking, song-singing evening out on two wheels a fair trade for one of your most trusted articles of outerwear, a piece that has served you remarkably effectively for the better (that is, worse) part of two years, keeping your left hand pretty warm and mostly dry even on the coldest and wettest days and nights of the seasons?

And the verdict is: a resounding yes!

After all, you can always go to the thrift shop and find a replacement, albeit, in all likelihood, inferior, but there’s no place to purchase standing under a redwood tree with a dozen or so cyclists to regroup and wait out a hailstorm and then taking the steepest way down to the paved woodland trail before going mildly off-road in a successful search for a covered shelter that wasn’t even necessary by the time of arrival.

And even Amazon doesn’t sell snaking along the waterfront to a semi-officially sanctioned barbecue pit, the perfect spot for faculty to collaborate on the between-term research project into oxidation and inebriation on the first waxing crescent moon night after the vernal equinox.

So despite the fact that the miles-to-lost-article-of-clothing ratio was not all that high, the data show conclusively that the amount of fun generated by the overall shenanigans easily outweighs the amount of pain created by the misplaced mitten; Utilitarians everywhere, from good old John Stuart Mill himself back in the 19th century, to Peter Singer today surely agree.

Of course, self-recrimination figures in, and you get to kick yourself a little for not noticing until too late, but ultimately, it seems a small price to pay—and that doesn’t even take into account singing and dancing to the Jackson Five!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Balanced

I felt sure that our old friend the widowmaker would have blown down already in one of our winter windstorms.  But such was not the case, as it still grinned its evil Cheshire-cat mad squirrel grin down upon the assembled.  Moreover, a good deal of shaking and few lobbed logs did little to dislodge it, much to the relief, frankly, of anyone who’s bike remained in the general vicinity.

Which I guess goes to show that you never know just how sturdy the unbalanced are, after all. 

Case in point: yet another route through the woods to a sylvan glade where fire is evoked with less than half a container of the improved technology on a cool but perfectly dry perfect late winter evening, the last waning days of the last waning moon of the season, meaning the stars were out in their full Pacific Northwest glory—which some might say is damning with faint praise, but it’s high praise nevertheless.

We rode to the occasionally-visited view park out west and ogled at our fair city from its backside.  Or maybe that’s the front—it’s the water front, anyway.  Suffice it to say that the appetite of one’s eyes was perfectly sated, setting the table perfectly for the most constrained perspective later under the trees.

I will never tire of seeing my colleagues back lit by the orange and yellow glow of controlled flames in the woods; mighty thanks to our hunter-gatherer ancestors for figuring out the secret to making fire; how tiresome it would be if we had to wait for lightning to do the job.  And how difficult it would be to keep alive a burning brand on a two-wheeler.

As it is, we’re able to rely on an electric bike to carry the fuel in its potential state. 

Then, all we have to do is bring the illumination.  And for humans like us, that comes as easily and naturally as falling off a log.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Rolling

Dreams really can come true, as long as you’re willing to propose an itinerary and enlist a gaggle of cyclists to ride them into being.  And if Fancy Fred takes point on the route, you can even augment the original vision with unexpected trails through woods you’ve experienced before but never so horizontally.

Two wheels to four wheels, and both, it turns out, are pretty great, although, oddly enough, balance is harder when you’ve got eight under you than just a pair—especially at first.  But then, you get into the flow of the music and for a few shining moments, you’re all Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu, before, of course, pride literally goeth-ing before the fall—or, at least, a few seconds of hilarious and embarrassing arm-wheeling and leg-kicking to stay upright.

The proposed castle in the sky was to involve an infant, a murder site, and, perhaps, a slight violation of the traditional norm against paid entertainment and it all came to fruition, albeit with a few minor modifications.

No Michael Jackson scene was evinced as we pedaled by the presumably sleeping baby, but the playground where the high school drug deal gone bad took place had a serendipitous zipline to go along with its spectacular view.  Whatever ghost may or may not rest in peace there sure gets to enjoy a panoramic perspective on the vast industrial underbelly of our fair city, and we did, too, made even more marvelous by the all-but-full moon making the visible spectrum visible at its edges in the evening fog.

Unfortunately, the envisioned karaoke on skates wasn’t happening, but it hardly seemed a loss, given that one could still glide down a ramp to a bar where intoxication levels were monitored simply by the ability to order and consume a tallboy without ending up on your bum.

Nevertheless, a coda of singing did occur at the traditional venue; and, to top it off no rain until safely abed; dreamy!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Full

Nobody climbed the rafters as in years past; nor were numerous waffles flung like Frisbees across the park shelter’s interior; and we all missed, no doubt, Derrick Ito throwing batter everywhere and antiquing folks with unmixed pancake mix and handfuls of flour.

Nevertheless, this year’s annual (13th annual to be exact) Point83 Waffle Ride was just as enjoyable, and every bit as remarkable as in every other of its dozen previous incarnations.  I woke to find my shoes coated predictably in dried batter, my nostrils filled convincingly with the scent of country breakfast, and my mind overflowing happily with images that while familiar, remain as unbelievable and precious as they have been for over a decade.

Where else will you see eight bike-hauled waffle irons, including the Hello Kitty model in all her pink-clad glory, steaming away merrily in a public park for the late-night dining pleasure of three or four dozen cyclists?

Or when else do you get to witness what surely began its life as a canoe paddle (or maybe Cricket bat) being used to stir the pot, so to speak, the “pot” being a six gallon bucket loaded with the raw materials of deliciousness soon to be pressed between hot metal plates?

Or how else can you find yourself in the delightful quandary of having to choose between balancing chocolate-covered coffee beans in every or every other square of the waffle before consuming?

Additionally, there was fire, sorta, and hot chocolate mixed with your liquor of choice, (or what was left over, eventually); plus, it never even rained or was so cold you couldn’t hold your beer without wearing gloves.

And once again, electrons got busy, free of charge, to make the extravaganza possible, thanks to the technical prowess of our resident organizer and the organizing prowess of our resident technician, huzzah.

No one crashed on the bridge heading home, either; a perfect topping to a night as full as our bellies could be.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Torched

Seattle P-I
“Which one of you assholes almost got me punched by the angry guy on the Fremont Bridge?!”

I was already burned up and we hadn’t even gotten to the conflagration. 

My grouchy old man rancor at the narrow escape from a fist to the face and at the frantic pace the piney pelaton had hightailed it towards the beach was a furnace within me and I couldn’t wait to scream a furious inquiry to the assembled masses who I hoped would be milling about at the traditional 7-11 stop on the way.

But there was only a handful of shoppers in the little parking lot one of which, fortunately, was tehSchkott, who, in an unprecedented role reversal, talked me down from the livid ledge on which I stood with the thoughtful observation that whoever it was who bumped the outraged hobo mid-span was probably right not to stop because, shit, that guy was dangerous.

Mollified, I continued on, and only felt my ire rise momentarily upon nearing the shore and seeing sparks already climbing skyward in the distance, but when I approached the circle and saw how much fuel was still remaining, I cooled down plenty sufficiently to be able to fully embrace the heat of all those Christmas memories returning their carbon to the atmosphere and the warmth of so many familiar faces lit by the glow.

Our traditional head pyromaniac, waylaid by the weather up North, wasn’t able to be there, but was there really—further evidence, for the Vedanta perspective the Angry Hippy and I were reflecting upon: that our individual selves are really the Universal Self, each lick of flame actually the fire, if you will.

I kept thinking about that scene in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, where Tom gets to observe his own funeral; similarly, having “passed the torch;” (almost literally); another adventurous rascal could see how brightly his influence burns in his absence.

And who could be angry at that?

Friday, January 5, 2018

Grateful

I’m not a huge proponent of New Year’s resolutions but I do think the turning of our yearly calendar page is a good time to take stock and be slightly more intentional about the things you do or don’t do.  So, while I won’t be cutting alcohol or caffeine from my diet this month, I would like to recognize my good fortune and make note of some of what I’m grateful for when I’m being more intentional about gratitude.

Above all, I’m grateful to be loved by someone who generally accepts my inclination for Thursday night bicycle adventures and whose general acceptance thereby makes possible my ability to regularly find myself quaffing quaffables around an outdoor fire to which I’ve ridden my bike with several dozen similarly inclined miscreants.

I’m grateful I have a job.  Full stop.  But especially a job that is not only mostly rewarding, but also allows me, with some regularity, to depart on Thursdays in time for a leisurely 18-mile pedal primarily on a lakeside bicycle path that brings me eventually to the center of our fair city for a rendezvous with said aforementioned miscreants.

I’m grateful that said miscreants, while fairly opinionated as a rule, are also willing to be persuaded to set aside worries about impending rainfall and head for the spot I’d had my fingers crossed they could be persuaded to head for.

I’m grateful that grocery stores sell firewood and spirits and for Joby’s largesse in acquiring mass quantities of both.

I’m grateful for the 12-pack of Rainier beer, which fits so perfectly in the Wald basket and is predictably just the right amount for drinking and sharing.

I’m grateful to live in a time and place where recreational cannabis is legal, fuck you, Attorney-General Jeff Sessions.

I’m grateful that, in spite of certain past indiscretions, said miscreants have not been permanently 86’ed from Bush Gardens.

And I’m grateful that the bicycle is a gyroscope all the way home.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Wealth

The Revolution may not, as they say, be televised, but it sure has been made easier to get to, courtesy of the Washington State Department of Transportation’s beautiful SR 520 bike trail on the Governor Albert D. Rosellini Bridge across Lake Washington.

When the tocsin sounds and we storm the barricades, we can do so in luxury as we pedal on the double-wide path into the land of one-percenters so as to requisition their ill-gotten gains for the deserving masses.

In the meantime, though, we will continue to marvel at the abundance of our region. 

Even those of us who don’t reside behind perfectly-groomed twelve-foot high hedges and ornately crafted wrought iron gates, are still able to enjoy the lavish gift of cycling together through neighborhoods and downtown cores where—if the streets aren’t exactly paved with gold—they certainly glitter like precious metal with an undeniable burnish of wealth and power at every intersection and byway.

I mean where else have you been cut off while riding by a Bentley convertible, the driver so content with her station in life that she merely waives like the Dowager Countess dismissing her handmaiden for tea?

It’s a place where a playground, even one in the part of town in which houses are permitted to touch one another, has a jungle gym that fairly oozes privilege, its complex system of ropes and rings like something from LeCorbusier via Chanel.

But then, lo and behold, after a rousing chorus of “Sleigh Ride,” you eventually pull up at a friendly watering hole that would be right at home in your humble homeland, illustrating that, in spite of what F. Scott Fitzgerald observed, the rich aren’t so different from you and me; after all, who doesn’t love tater tots no matter what hedge fund you manage or multinational conglomerate you own.

Eventually, the complete loop of luxury is completed, and you bed down, feeling, like George Bailey, the richest man in town.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Aligned

The root of the word “disaster,” as we know, refers to the star, the “astrum,” being “dissed,” that is, out of alignment.  So, there ought to be a word something like “enaster,” meaning, broadly, a time when the stars align, and everything comes out just right, or, that is, with all the right wrongness included in heaven and earth.

If so, then this year’s annual Point83 holiday “enaster,” "A Pointy-Three Christmas Disaster” would qualify as current poster child for term. 

It all came together in a glorious mess with a galaxy of stars, topped off with a Christmas miracle of singing Sugarplum Elves who twinkled brighter than that mythical stellar phenomenon whose scintillating rays supposedly led the Biblical Maji to the manger where the source of all this holiday fun was born.

It’s a fucking gift, really, to be blessed with such room in one’s life to enable bike-riding through paved forest paths, booze-swilling on lakeside promontories, and leg-wrestling on reasonably dry plastic fields even as, throughout most of the world, such luxuries are not of this world.

Most of us, in most of our lives, are kind, compassionate, responsible people, doing our level best to make the world a little bit better place, so it’s an almost indecent pleasure to be gifted with such a unique opportunity to tear off the wrapper of rectitude and celebrate insensitivity with such abandon. 

Hip-hip-hooray, surely Jesus, (and Allah, and Shiva, and Buddha, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and Bigfoot) loves us all. 

And Santa and his anagram Satan, too!

It’s been a rough year, no doubt about it, so perhaps that gift that keeps on giving the most is to just be kinder and gentler to each other but maybe that also means more forgiving of our trespasses especially the ones on two wheels in public parks around fires of palettes and logs.

The holidays have only just started and already we’ve got it all, thank our lucky stars.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Sparkle

Beauty is dangerous, as illustrated by cliff edges, thunderstorms, and all those femmes fatales in noir detective novels by Raymond Chandler or James M. Cain.

Also, icy streets, glittering with frost on a cold and uncommonly clear night in December out on two wheels.  At one moment, you’re remarking to a friend how remarkable it is that you’re still upright in spite of how slippery it looks, at the next, you’re circling gingerly back to check on another colleague who’s just bitten the dust, so to speak, although the “dust” in this case is actually asphalt coated with a frozen water glaze.

But all’s well that ends well and pretty soon you’re re-assembled in a cocktail lounge that looks too fancy at first, but soon is transformed into a reasonable facsimile of a living room, albeit one that serves pitchers of beer and French fries along with something that appears to be baby shrimp in a glass—another example, come to think of it, of dangerous beauty.

It was a throwback to the old days when bars came first before fires and resulted, for those who hung in there, in a legitimately late night of burning things, Jenga-type fires being one more instantiation of the lovely but perilous theme.  Fortunately, no human animals were harmed in the act, even with boiling accelerant in beer cans as part of the fun.

Of course, the stage was set for hazard much earlier as longstanding guidelines were eschewed by following Fred down a gravel road that, after a short spiral, became more like following Ben up a mountain; surprisingly, however, not a single angry homeowner came out their back door to complain; although leaving Westlake, accompanied by the Pedicab’s sound system blaring the prog-rock standard “Roundabout” by Yes, at least two sets of methheads leapt up clapping in support—a fitting send-off, I suppose, being a fine counterexample of that which, though almost certainly dangerous, is not at all beautiful.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Precarious

A “widowmaker,” I learned last night, is a term in forestry for a broken-off limb that hangs in a tree that’s about to fall or be cut down; according to the internetz, it’s also called a “fool killer,” which might be an even better term for the log that perched precariously above us during the forest revel component of the evening’s cycle revelry experience.

And fortunately, perhaps because of the old saw (no pun intended) that “the Lord looks out for babies and fools,” no significant other of any of the assembled fools was turned into a widow (or widower as the case may be) by the evil-looking tree trunk with the malicious chipmunk-face that was aimed like a bullet from above just outside the fire’s warmth but certainly right where it might have come crashing down on someone parking their bike or fetching a glove from their pannier.

Donovan (or was it Fancy Fred?) rightly pointed out that if it did fall, it would fall unpredictably, so surely discretion (something usually in short supply on Thursday nights) was the better part of valor for once, and no one, surprisingly, tried to dislodge the mighty branch with chucked rocks, hurled sticks, or even thankfully, a bottle rocket.

It seemed appropriate, somehow, to be in such proximity to imminent disaster, a situation that feels more and more familiar these days globally, and is, of course, a commonplace local state of affairs for anyone who’s ever followed a line of blinking taillights into the woods while under the influence of some, and soon to be more, of one’s favorite mood-altering adulterants.

Shining a light up into the canopy, you could see the rocking motion of the limb that held the widowmaker in place; a strong gust of wind was all that was needed to launch it earthwards.

And yet somehow, catastrophe was avoided (or perhaps merely postponed), but in any case, I’ll quite happily take it, thank you, my Lord.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Shout

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say, and although I’m pretty sure I’d not be particularly interested in experiencing any of them, I do appreciate the sentiment and am pleased to draw the analogy with bike ride planning.

There’s certainly more than one way to (dis)organize a group of cyclists for a Thursday night of beer-drinking and pedal-spinning.  One possibility, for instance, involves a theme that is stuck to and played out in a variety of forms; another, for example, envisions a destination and figures out how to get there one way or another; still another, by contrast, depends on costumes!

But all, pretty much, as Shahan pointed out at one of the half-dozen stops on the route he more or less commandeered last evening, are mostly a matter of shouting the loudest.  Point83, whatever it is, is at least not a democracy, a form of governance that, if I recall correctly (and why would I), Winston Churchill called “the worst form of government…except for all the others.”

Perhaps we might refer to the way decisions are made, then, as “Shoutocratic;” the person who shouts the loudest makes the rules, a “Shoutacracy” if you will.

With that in mind, the chief Shoutocrat, Shahan, had a plan, which essentially comprised quick stops at half a dozen outdoor venues, one for each beer in your virtual (or literal) six-pack.

More than one was a pea-patch, although one of those was modified to be a well-timed respite inside the parking garage while a brief thunderstorm drenched the uncovered.  And a couple were spots I’d never been to, an eventuality that becomes less and less likely with every passing year (although soon enough, I’ll start forgetting where I’ve been, so eventually, it will get easier.)

We can think of this mode of organization as process-oriented; instead of heading somewhere, we did something; wherever we were, we’d already arrived then; I’d call it a very successful “shout-show.”

Friday, October 27, 2017

Incognito

There are (at least) two schools of thought when it comes to Halloween costumes. 

On the one hand, you can create an outfit that fits your personality, perhaps highlighting some feature of yourself, like your essential nerdiness or eclectic taste in music, art, or even, if you have some skill with papier maché, videogames.

On the other hand, you can choose a costume that allows you to express a personality trait or way of being in the world that’s entirely different than your usual mode of expression; you get to fantasize about being someone (or something) else and don accoutrements that illustrate this difference flamboyantly.

It turns out that, for me, dressing up as Garth Alger, Wayne Campbell’s sidekick on the eponymous “Wayne’s World,” does a little of both and, perhaps not surprisingly, when combining that with a Thursday night bike ride featuring loud music and costumes galore, both the fit and the flamboyance are revealed.

Appropriately enough, for those for whom 1990s late-night television and low-budget film comedy references are less than top-of-mind, the Garth costume can alternately serve as a costume of me at age 17: same hair, same ripped jeans, same flannel shirt tied around the waist. 

Oh, and while the weed is better these days, that kid had also probably ridden his bike to some park with friends and was sharing what we called in those days, a “dube.”  “Plus ca change,” as they say in France, “plus c’est le meme chose.”

Which also sort of the same, but different, when it comes to Point83. 

It was surely, after all, at least the 10th time I’ve seen Winnie the Pooh on a bike, and multiple times that that I’ve enjoyed the face-melting pleasures of riding behind the Music Bike while Icona Pop’s “I Love It” bathed me in sound, and many multiple times that that I’ve stood around a fire drinking beer with drunken cyclists, all dressed up, whether in costume or not.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Convergence

It’s pretty remarkable that human beings have evolved to be creatures who can stand around a fire conversing about evolution.  There’s something delightfully circular about that, like the mind observing the mind, or riding your bike to ride bikes.  Natural selection, the “blind watchmaker,” as Richard Dawkins refers to it, sure has done a good job of enabling itself to observe itself, even with those sightless eyes.

Moistra and Softcore were debating, debunking, and splitting tiny hairs on points almost as miniscule as the genes to which they were referring, but the notion that stuck with this layman was the idea of convergent evolution, whereby similar structures evolve in organisms whose last common ancestor didn’t have them--like how wings show up on everything from dragonflies to bald eagles or how so many creatures in the ocean turn out to be streamlined.

The same principle applies to Thursday night rides, of course, as so often, by different pathways, we eventually find ourselves drinking beer and whiskey around a campfire.  Westlake Center, then, can be seen as those first amino acids coming together in the primordial soup but then the tree branches off in myriad directions, north, south, west, and as it did last evening, in a sort of easterly direction to first pay brief homage to interred ancestors and then take relatively familiar routes to the fanciest of our hometown’s official wood-burning venues.

Numbers dwindled along the way, but that’s evolution, right?  Nature prefers efficiency, but it also seems to adore excess, otherwise, there’s no way there could be peacocks and pandas, not to mention humans on bikes, at firepits, talking about genetic drift among other things.

Or this, from French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge."

Friday, October 6, 2017

Lunar

photo from Squirrel's video
The “Harvest Moon,” the internet tell us is the full moon nearest the start of fall or the autumnal equinox.  The “Harvest Moon,” says the Old Farmer’s Almanac, “isn’t like the other Moons. Usually, throughout the year, the Moon rises an average of about 50 minutes later each day. But near the autumnal equinox, the difference is only 30 minutes.”

All right then.  That explains why the luminous orb began appearing behind the Starbucks building as we pedaled along the industrial waterfront right after sunset, providing the first of the night’s many opportunities for howling at our planet’s shimmering satellite and also, I suppose, why it cast such remarkable shadows in Japanese Gardens, abandoned roadways, and alongside one more goddamned hill throughout the course of the evening’s festivities.

What it fails to make sense of, however, is how delightful each and every one of these opportunities turned out to be, even in the face of a certain bittersweet quality at the imminent departure for points south of a longtime OG member of the clan, whose fire-riding skills were on display one last time to the amusement of all and the detriment of his rear tire after the third time through the glimmering coals.

Speaking of things unlike other things, it was the first time, in my recollection, that the assembled have ever been chastised by a hobo, (as opposed to merely screamed at in passing), and the point was probably well-taken, (although given that the forest wasn’t ever set afire, perhaps superfluous).  Ultimately, no disrespect to outsider art was intended and given that, as our homeless interlocutor pointed out, all of the land upon which we were convening was originally Duwamish people’s territory, I think we can all agree that enjoyment of it around a hearty bonfire would be an appropriate homage to spirits both past and present.

One thing is certain: it was a ride as full of it as the moon, shine on, ride on.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Ample

As we pedaled along the Elliot Bay Trail between Civil and Nautical Twilight, Softcore began to engage me in a conversation of a deeply metaphysical nature and although I found his take on the matter lucid and illuminating, I just couldn’t connect. 

The vibrant streaks of orange and pink outlining the Bay with the silhouetted Olympics behind drew my attention so powerfully that I had to beg off from the discussion with a plea for permission to wordlessly appreciate the aesthetic moment.  Philosophical reflection, as appetizing as it usually is, was way more than I could stomach at the moment.

Similarly, as we hung out on beach number one, catching our collective breaths after portaging our bikes through the woods the first time, I couldn’t help but go all grouchy old man at the vocal stylings of one who, (in keeping with the monikers “Shuttup” and “Shows Up” Joe, I cannot but fondly think of as “Won’t Shut Up” Joe), accusing the singer of “gilding the lily” by attempting to pile on to what struck me as an already perfectly beautiful experience.

Likewise, I was my usual curmudgeonly self when having to hear another someone’s Bluetooth speaker create a public soundtrack to my suffering as I slowly mashed up towards the summit of Discovery Park; headphones there, son; I’ll take my bike ride through nature with nature’s own acoustic score, if you please.

All of which is to say that often—for me, anyway—enough is enough and sometimes, honestly, it’s almost too much as you begin to tip backwards down the stairs up which you’re carrying your rig, knowing full well, of course, that your own travails are nothing like those the Amazing Sergio overcame in bike-hiking his dreadnought through the trail earlier.

Perhaps I’m too easily satisfied at this stage in life; maybe more is better, but maybe, sometimes, as a beach fire that’s small enough to actually stand close around shows, less really is more.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Terra

Standing alongside the mighty Duwamish, the historical lifeline of our fair city, lit by the golden glow of a hearty palette fire, Shaddup Joe wouldn’t shaddup about his aspiration that the human race eventually ought to colonize other planets.  This sort of homo sapiens chauvinism escapes me; I myself resist the idea that having fucked up our home planet, humanity should look for other nests to foul. 

Additionally, it also seems to me that were the human race, through genetic modification and/or natural selection, able to adapt to life beyond earth, then those beings would no longer be human beings, and so the idea that creatures like us should see them as continuing our biological line amounts to the empty claim that sure, all the atoms that we’re made of will continue to exist in some form, no matter what; you know, we’re all made of star stuff, like Moby and Carl Sagan have observed.

Mainly, though, I can’t see why any prospective space traveler would want to leave a place like this, one where a surprisingly small group of cyclists on such a dry and temperate evening, (officially, the last Thursday of this year’s summer) is able to ride together down a four-lane mixed-use light industrial boulevard, pissing off only one angry Mercedes driver who loudly admonished all within range to “Follow the fucking laws!” and arrive eventually at a dead end overlooking the aforementioned civic lifeline in order to drink beer and reflect on prospects for extra-terrestrial terrestrials.

Anyway, the robots have already won; most contemporary human beings spend most of their time having machines tell them what to do; the bicycle, by contrast, unlike the “smart” phone or computer, is one of the few inventions in our lives that does our bidding rather than the other way around.

My bike takes me where I want to get go, (and amazingly, gets me back home, as well) right here, on planet Earth, where we belong.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Scrubbed

In my experience, the toothbrush has a life-cycle: It begins in your bathroom, for brushing of teeth, then off to the kitchen for cleaning the grout, and finally ends up on the workbench, for scrubbing cassettes.

There’s a class system here to be sure, but since so many make the transition, value judgments are set aside.  After all, flossing the teeth of a Shimano Megarange is no less noble an enterprise than getting into the spaces between molars. 

Your average toothbrush is just happy to have a role in life; it doesn’t matter whether it’s the penthouse or the outhouse, what matters to it is being used, performing its function, expressing its purpose, or as Aristotle would say, its telos.

Shirts in my house follow a similar trajectory as above: they start out as items in the weekday wardrobe, then become articles to sport on the weekend or in summer; finally, I figure I can put them on for a Thursday night ride without caring whether they end up with a burn hole or smeared with waffle batter or, as was the case most recently, shredded on the forearm due to an unexpected dive at the gravel path following an overzealous attempt to avoid a blackberry bramble hanging over the trail to Foster Island.

Nobody likes crashing, but I am pleased that my helmeted head slid under the park bench rather than landing on top of it, which is what I’ll try to keep reminding myself if the pace of sore shoulder recovery drags in the coming days.

And while I might regret the carelessness en route, at least I’ll be glad for thoughtful preparation: heading out on the ride, I swapped the nicer shirt I’d gone to lunch with for one already showing a few holes near the hemline, no great loss in its loss, after all.

Nobody minds when the workbench toothbrush falls to the floor; you just pick it back up and keep scrubbing.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Harmony

I like that the officer who rousted us out of our favorite concrete platform above a Superfund site had a patch on his uniform that said “Gang Unit.” 

I’ve long been of the opinion that, in spite of the embroidered jerseys, custom beer coozies, logo lighters, internet forum, sew-on patches, annual spoke cards, and other such identity-marking schwag, that Point83©™ is far more of a gang than a club; after all, there are no dues or admission requirements; all you have to do is show up on your bike and not be an asshole (or, at least be a relatively friendly, charming one), and eventually, you’re in, whether you like it or not, and if you don’t, then you don’t have to be, unless you change your mind and show up again.

I’ll always have a fondness for Jack Block Park, not only for its commanding view of our fair city, but also because it was, for me, the spot at which my association with the bike gang was more or less initiated—thanks not only to Derrick’s loving nutpunch, but also because it was probably the first time I found myself out on a Thursday night, riding my bike with a bunch of non-spandexed cyclists to a superior place I’d never been before, in order to mill about, drink beer, tell and hear stories, and, if I recall correctly, in that case, to play a little beer can/U-lock baseball.

So it was a bit of a bummer (and unprecedented in my experience) to be asked to leave so soon after we got there, but the good news, I guess, is that no one had to hoist their bike over (or under) the fence to get out. 

Plus, there was serendipity in coming across another bike gang at the alternative waterfront without having to go all Sharks vs. Jets on them.  Harmony reigns in the naked city; I guess that “Gang Unit” really is doing its job.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Priceless

When I arrived at the SLU Pre-funk, still in the mind-manifesting glow of my summer capstone adventure, Moistra and Shaddup Joe were conversing about Bitcoin and floating various strategies to scheme tech-bros out real money by gaming arcane aspects of the virtual currency market. 

Now, because I’m something of a Luddite (and no doubt in part due to the aforementioned capstone adventure), I really had no idea what they were talking about until Joe, with his usual bombastic air of authority, explained that it’s a scarcity model that infuses those zeros and ones with value since, after all, anything that’s rare is valuable.

That, I get.

Which is why an evening like last night is priceless.

Sure, the destination was not unprecedented; and yes, of course, several times a year, we find ourselves standing and sitting around a toasty bonfire on a bluff above the Puget Sound with the opportunity to launch glass projectiles at passing trains, but if you take the long view, and consider a whole life, even the traditional conservative estimate of three score and twelve years, and figure, in twelve years of Thursday night rides, let’s be generous and give the spot three times a year, that’s 26,293 days of living divided into a mere 36 such instances (and frankly, I’m sure it’s way less than that, but okay), that comes to mere 0.137 percent of one’s time on earth.

So, there’s about a 1 in a thousand chance that, on any given day you’re alive, you will be afforded such delights as bouncing through forest paths on a two-wheeler to congregate and quaff with friends and acquaintances beneath a rain-cleared sky illuminated by a brilliant quarter moon on an evening so mild that the fire is more for show and kinship than warmth.

Long odds indeed, but as 17th century philosopher Spinoza said, “All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare;” still, amazingly, it was ours free for the taking.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Fun

As we were wobbling out of Ye Olde Zipline Park in Ravenna, K-Sep asked me what I was laughing about and I replied that I was superstoned and kinda tipsy while riding my bike on a warm summer evening and he immediately saw my point and started laughing himself, further evidence that I was not the only one enjoying the opportunity to enjoy such an opportunity for such enjoyable hijinks out on the first post-eclipse ride of the season.

Moistra had a plan from the beginning, which featured a circuitous and unsurprisingly vertical route to familiar locations and an unbridled descent to a roundabout where the first disgruntled driver of the evening reminded us over and over that bikes have stop signs, too—a bit of unsolicited advice that induced lots of merrymaking and mocking, just for the fun of it.

Soon afterwards, more fun was to be had when additional testosterone spilled over as a driver of a small penis took umbrage at the line of bicycles making him wait three seconds to floor it to the red light but cooler heads prevailed in spite of missing a real opportunity to slam his car door and lock it when he exited the vehicle spoiling for a fight.

And who didn’t have fun killing time outside the least efficient Safeway in captivity as Derrick papered the area with “For Rectal Use Only” stickers and shared beers with hobos who spread the word about his largesse with impressive efficiency?

I was reminded that you can’t ride the zipline without cracking up, that’s just how fun it is, especially after you’ve been having fun two-fisting joints and blunts in a small circle of acquaintances.

And it’s always fun to navigate the paths, bridges, and tunnels of Woodland Park even though, I must say, I miss the elephant smell of the elephant trails.

But the fun didn’t stop there, did it?  Dancing, drinking, and welcoming home ensued; fun times indeed.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Solace

If President Donald Trumps ends up calling for a pre-emptive nuclear strike on North Korea and World War III begins, at least we will have had one more perfect summer evening out on two wheels to savor before we kiss our asses goodbye.

As the bombs rain down, at least we’ll be able to recall, (fleetingly), how swell it was to careen wildly atop the Chief Sealth Trail as a tangerine moon rose before us.  We’ll be able to savor the thrilling sensation of flying over hill and dale and under powerlines even as we duck and cover after the initial atomic blast.

While nuclear winter dawns, at least we’ll have in our memories (until they are extinguished) the feel of night swimming in lake water so warm that it’s warmer to stay in than sit on the dock, although the air is so mild you hardly even need a towel to dry off, even after dark.

In the last few moments of civilization as we know it, at least we’ll be able to reflect upon how grand it was to live in a world where a city park accommodates several dozen happy human-powered travelers, reclining on the grass, sitting in lifeguard chairs, standing in lively groups, drinking beer, sipping leftover vodka, and dining al fresco on Dreamsicles and candy.

When it’s all over and only cockroaches are left to skittle about, perhaps they will enjoy the Blattodean version of the characteristically homo sapien pleasures we were able to enjoy: conversing with friends and acquaintances, sharing libations among like-minded revelers, swimming way out into the lake, far enough into the deep, as did Topher with his steady crawl, that the milfoil no longer tickles your arms and legs with each stroke.

As the Doomsday Clock strikes midnight, perhaps we can take some measure of comfort in knowing that there was time when such simple joys were available, simply by launching the atomic energy of bikes, not bombs.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Phenomenal

Some philosophers of mind, notably Australian cognitive scientist David Chalmers, wonder about what they refer to as “the hard problem of consciousness.”  Basically, as I understand it (and frankly, I don’t really), this is the puzzle of how human beings (and perhaps other sentient creatures) have subjective experience, how, in other words it is that we experience phenomena in terms of sensory perceptions like taste, smell, sight, sound and touch.

The science fiction writer, Terry Bisson, captured this idea in a humorous piece he wrote years ago entitled “They’re Made Out of Meat” in which a couple of disembodied consciousnesses are confounded (and somewhat disgusted by) the existence of humanoids, who, although made out of meat, manage to have mental states.

And it is confounding (and probably a bit disgusting, too) that sacks of meat like us are conscious and experience the physical world in terms of non-physical mental experiences; we taste, smell, see, hear, and are touched—all of that from the inside of our minds.

But it’s phenomenal, in the normative sense of the term, because otherwise, how could we get to overload our senses with the phenomenon of another annual Slip n’ Slide Ride whose sights, sounds, smells (sorta), and, (new addition) tastes! touched all who had the good fortune to experience it.

The “easy problem of consciousness,” in Chalmers' terms, is to explain the mechanisms by which our senses work.  It’s no big deal to specify, for instance, how our eyes render the image of five score humans bedecked in multi-colored glowsticks and phosphorescent paint hurling themselves down a giant plastic sheet or grappling in a kiddie pool filled with jellied goo, or to scientifically determine the way our tastebuds work when we consume grain alcohol mixed with cranberry juice or homemade tacos served up by subsequent generations.

What this leaves out, though, is what it’s like: the delightful, joyful, and totally unexplainable experience that makes being a day-glow sack of meat so phenomenal.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Animation

Your shadow doesn’t age as quickly as your reflection, so imagine this Disney movie where the two of them carry on a doomed love affair as the image in the mirror turns old and decrepit while the penumbra on the sidewalk stays youthful and vibrant.  Eventually, your gray and wrinkled reflection has to bid a tearful adieu to your forever young shadow, but it’s a lovely moment, not a dry eye in the house, as the ancient image raises a gnarled hand to its still smooth friend, who animates like rippling water as it pedals away, zoetroping on the guardrails of the freeway overpass just like last night on the Lakeview Bridge where the best part about leading the ride is that going uphill slowly means you get to say hello to almost everyone who has come along as they eventually and inexorably pass you on the climb.

A somewhat smaller group of riders than might have been expected on such a lovely summer evening, but that can probably be chalked up to the expectation of much larger numbers for upcoming shenanigans; nonetheless, a couple of dozen or so turned out to be a sufficient data set for testing out Tony’s hypothesis about the phrase “Smoke follows beauty,” which may, indeed, track along the cowboy trail from Texas and New Mexico through to Montana, a conjecture that remains on the table until further disconfirming evidence can be found.

The few who obeyed the maxim never to pass up an opportunity for a swim in the lake were rewarded with water that was almost certainly warmer than the air, no mean feat given that it remained shirt sleeve weather all through the evening, especially around the small, but effective Jenga fire, an apt metaphor, if you think about it, for the ride itself.

In the end, nothing particularly exotic, but the familiar can be plenty delightful when reflection and mirroring connect, the old and the ageless pedaling together.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Bullish

I take these all as markers of a successful Running of the Bulls:

•    Being unable to precisely recall my route home

•    Blood dried black on my shin from what looks like an encounter with a chain ring, but who can be sure?

•    A yard sale of my bag’s contents on the floor of the bike shed this morning, but surprisingly, nothing’s missing (although my rear blinky is gone, but that was noted last night)

•    Plenty of new wine stains on my outfit, (but there’s a year to get them out and plenty of bleach on hand)

•    Freaking out the squares at the Troll!

•    A record number of bulls, I think, including at least one formed on the spot

•    Many a conversation, most of them funny or profound, I’m sure

•    No sash-in-the-spokes, even on that mysterious ride back

•    Perfect weather, a roaring fire, thematically-appropriate music, revelers still reveling when I left

Of course, much more can be said, about the value of tradition and the joy of a certain kind of nonsense made all the more merry through repetition or perhaps one could wax rhapsodic about how strikingly gorgeous our fair city can be on a clear and windy evening in July when observed from across the body of water whose far side you were just swimming in an hour or so earlier, but I’m quite sure that doing so (especially given the weakened state of one’s abilities in the aftermath) would fail to capture how remarkable the thing is and the fact that it still happens, year after year, a state of affairs only slightly less remarkable than that the annual fat-checking pants still fit, albeit more tightly, now just a year short of a decade into their service.

Previous years may have featured more running and I realize this year’s edition didn’t include a lakefront and, as far as I know, no nudity, but in my book, it was lacking nothing.

Except, of course, that blinky.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Immortal

photo by "80's Jeff"
Several points were made apparent to me last night.

First, the circumstances of one’s death do not overwrite the circumstances of one’s life.  That said, however, in the end, family is family and loss is no less keenly felt just because emotions are complicated.  In fact, such complication makes the cut that much deeper.

And second, trite but true: the world is a staggeringly beautiful place, whose grandeur will carry on in spite of us all. 

After we’re gone, the sun will still sink magnificently into the sea while an all-but-full moon hangs out watching; a Great Blue Heron will take this in calmly as it perches on a log in the wetland.  Our atoms will disperse back into the Universe and the cycle of beauty will continue as we become sunset and moonrise ourselves.

Quite a turnout on a lovely summer evening, the somber undertone of the occasion making the inevitable joy of two wheels and dozens of friends stand out all the more starkly.  A small fire meant that we huddled up, just as we needed to, flames being wiser than humans, as is their wont.

DerrickIto, as is his wont, tried to justify bad behavior on the grounds that dangerous, unexpected explosions were an appropriate memorial.  I can’t dispute that, but when I go, I’d like to be remembered with something less likely to put out an eye.  How about yinz guys just light up some joints, instead.

The twentieth-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote: “Death is not an event in life; we do not live to experience death.”  That’s true, of course, about our own demise: we’re not around for it, at least in our current form.  We do, however, poignantly experience the death of others we have known and especially, cared for.

He continues: “If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.”

Be present, live forever, ride on.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Midsummer

Sometimes the bike club is more of a drinking club and that’s fine (as well as traditional), especially when Seattle’s June-uary is in full swing. 

As Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” reminds us, the eponymous night in question is actually in spring, but given the weather, it could have been winter, (except for not needing gloves in the rain), and so, discretion (albeit often in short supply) being the better part of valor, it made perfect sense to skew the proceedings in favor of shelter rather than miles, and since what good is a roof over your head without a drink in your hand, tippling trumped pedaling when all was said and done.

A rooftop garden was the site of our first assembly, but the Garth-approved “shelter” was no match for the steady deluge and so proceedings were moved down a floor to less picturesque, but more comfortable surroundings. 

One thing you can count on from Thursday night rides: you’re apt to find yourself someplace that you would never find yourself were it not for Thursday night rides.  In six-plus decades of living, for instance, I’ve never before had the pleasure of a parking garage playroom and while it’s entirely likely I shall never again either, I would say it’s an experience I’d have been sorry to miss.  Hashtag bucket list, yes?

Joby was telling me about some new technology that lets you no longer have to discard hard drives with only one bad sector (whatever that means) but I took it as a metaphor for the evening: too often we eschew opportunities just because there’s one bad thing about them; consider, for instance, the chance to fraternize with a select group of intrepid cyclists in spite of a late spring downpour.  No need to chuck the whole thing just because of that single adverse feature.

The weather may have been lousy, but everything else was swell: a Midsummer Night’s dream, you (or the Bard) might say.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Reunion

The thing about halves is that they’re not always half of the thing.

How often, for instance, do we talk about the “big half” and the “little half?”

So, if you put together the first part of one week and the last part of another, you’re able to make a whole, and if you equivocate sufficiently, you can crawl through that hole and see yourself, at one point, commemorating a local celebrity passing and at another, rounding out the evening pretty much where it all began more than a decade earlier, give or take a couple months.

The eyes have seen so much of this before which is why the destination bar is predictable even if its name eludes you for a good part of the way along the lake.  Language leaves us before spatial ability, apparently, but you can be reasonably confident that if you continue pedaling, eventually the verbal and the visual will stitch together and what’s sort of amazing after all this time—and just a little bit frightening, too—is that when it’s all over and done with, the bicycle somehow brings you safely home, even in the absence of perfect recollection the morning after.

Initially, the moon has yet to rise, and subsequently, it’s so new that it doesn’t at all, but in both cases, its influence abides, pulling you all the way from the north and the east to the south and the west and most of the way in-between: those gaps are gapped and the stops stopped at; insides stay inside and the outside remains on the outside.

Details run together, so that one week’s climb is the next one’s descent; you’ve heard that song before but not this rendition.  And after all, as long as a person can dance to it a little, then does it really matter when it happened?

Two bodies warm themselves by the fire, both prone, one for old time’s sake and one for now.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Louder

When of a night that the inimitable music bike is just the second-loudest source of joyful noise, you know you’re in for a special treat.

from Prom 4 by via Bo Ttorff
And when the sonically-dominant font of mellifluous racket is something like two dozen female musicians cranking out hits by such luminaries as Madonna and Lady Gaga on saxophones, trombones, trumpets, a couple of Sousaphones, a drum line, and via their very own shared voices, then, well, you know it’s a gift so extraordinary as to be singularly unprecedented and far more than anyone could possibly deserve.

Yippee for the Filthy FemCorps, huzzah!

To be honest, the annual school dance can feel a bit of a chore, especially on evening that begins all drizzly, but if you make just a bit of an effort with your attitude and outfit, pretty soon, the clouds have parted and the occasion is underway, rolling down three lanes of traffic and a hundred or so decibels of Twisted Sister.

It would have been enough satisfy the aesthetic appetite of anyone to simply have feasted on all that party finery against the backdrop of the almost-as-lovely downtown Seattle, but that was merely an hors d’oeuvre.

For the main course, you got to be immersed in the dish, with horns and reeds all around, topped with glitter and black light face paint, and, as a whipped cream with a cherry on top, fire dancers!

A shout out to the Prom Committee, hip-hip-hooray!

The park shelter managed not to ignite, but, really, that was about the only thing there that wasn’t on fire, so much shimmying and shaking to beat that unbeatable band that even the wallflowers were belles of the ball.

And while there may have been an official King and/or Queen of the event, everyone got to feel like royalty when those sighing angel voices were heard; just like a prayer, I know they took us there, (on bikes, no less, feels like flying), let the choir sing!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Duodecimal

Twelve things to remember (more or less) from Ben Country XII.

1.    The mate on the ferry joking with “club spokesman” Ben birthday-boy-guest-of-honor, that the captain had a special treat for us: he’d agreed to let us off before the boat reached the dock!

2.    Part One of BCXII Animal Planet: a whale!  (Well, froth and foam on the Sound, anyway; you fill in the rest with your imagination and the cheers of ferry rider families).

3.    Part Two of BCXII Animal Planet: kittens!  (It’s still hard to believe that TooTall didn’t tuck one in his jersey when we left.)

4.    Part Three of BCXII Animal Planet: A goat named David, a peacock showing off on a fence, and an albino pheasant that stayed under wraps.

5.    No one, (except maybe Mark, who might have been misplaced earlier), getting lost on the Lost Highway.

6.    Whenever you go down a hill, you have to climb back up; and yes, it’s worth it, especially when you eventually get to re-group and congregate at the roofless clubhouse for the special opportunity to urinate on broken glass.

7.    So much pizza!  And even more at camp.

8.    Just enough rain to make it officially a Ben Country, but that’s all; and pretty soon, the clouds part to reveal an almost full moon bright enough to shine brightly through your rain fly.

9.    Sensible portions!  (Except of the so-called “time,” which the Fancy Dancer munched like potato chips while those of us with lower tolerances or less experience experiencing timelessness rode the cresting temporal waves with just a few blue-tinted crumbs.)

10.    Thirty seconds; twenty seconds; ten seconds of quiet; Happy Birthday!

11.    Lying in your tent, staring at the ancient Egyptians dancing on the insides of your eyelids, wondering why all those people around the fire won’t stop tickling that poor woman.

12.    No shame in catching a truck ride home; showered, shaved, and on the couch napping by noon.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Classical

One of the best parts of not knowing where you’re going is seeing the possibilities eliminated; it’s like the tumblers of a lock clicking into place as one after another, the options fall away. 

At first, you might be on your way anywhere, but then, it’s surely the Ghettodrome, but isn’t, even though the pedicab plays the perfect mash-up of Hendrix and Hanson as a candidate soundtrack for the spin.

And then, you could be heading to Queen Anne or Discovery Park, albeit with a Locks-walk, but pretty soon, you’re not, as even Fancy Fred’s penchant for hills falls by the wayside and there you are, crossing the bridge on the grating, despite a little water on the rails.

Ironically, as fewer and fewer destinations remain in the mix, more and more potential is released, and by the time there’s only one place you could really be headed, the likelihood of anything at all coming to be expands.

The Haulin’ Colin front rack is perfectly designed for the classical Thursday night load: a bundle of wood and a half-rack of Rainier fit perfectly and balance just right. 

Combine that with plenty more fuel tied to a score of other rigs, and a six-pack of accelerant tucked away one place or another and there you have it: all that’s needed for what is certainly is the first visit of the season, if not the year, to what may construed as default perfection; in other words, if you can’t decide where to go, don’t decide at all; just let the water show up through the woods and hear that train a’ comin.’

The almost-new moon was a smile and a wink as it set in the west and even Mars seemed at peace with a night sky that only sprinkled once and that, as a way to cool the ascent.

Ultimately, there was only one option: nothing that could possibly have happened didn’t, and all that might have did.

Friday, April 21, 2017

High

Before the internet, there was no easy way of fact-checking the authoritative pronouncements of your know-it-all friends, so back when Sammy Albano asserted that the origin of the slang term for marijuana, “420” was that the numbers were the California State Police code for a pot bust, you never questioned it—and, in fact, authoritatively pronounced the assertion yourself on numerous subsequent occasions.

And even though the claim turns out to be false, the error never compromised the enjoyment of celebrating the number, whether, specially, on April 20th, or more typically, on any given day of the week, precisely, (give or take a few hours either way), at 4:20 in the afternoon.

Which just goes to show that you don’t have to be correct to have fun or, more broadly, that it’s better to be happy than right, as they say.

I take this admonition as a reasonable guideline for Thursday night bicycle riding where, most of the time, mistakes are opportunities for enjoyment, meaning, of course, that they’re not really mistakes at all, except that then thinking of them as mistakes is, but then isn’t, but then is, paradoxically all over again and again.

See how you think when you enthusiastically celebrate the day right from the start through the traditional middle and then at the Superfund site park, which is, itself, appropriately enough, high above the ground, too?

It was an unprecedented full house for a while, with Joes over Kevins but attrition evened the score, although the Shuttup variety sported enough outfits for at least two more of his namesakes.

To my knowledge, no nuts were punched at Nutpunch Park, although we did get to savor the pleasure of exiting the site from the side door.  A few subsequent destinations were authoritatively, but erroneously, asserted before one more perfect skyline hove into view.

The stoner theme carried on with videogames, or in my case, a groovy pedal home to fall asleep on the couch.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Gift

You know the rules about following people:

Ben and mountains; Fred and gravel roads; Garth and “rain shelters”--all to be avoided.

Let us now, though, add an additional admonition:

Do not follow K-Sep up the steps!

A person comes to acquire a few guiding principles in the course of a long life, such as:

•    If you can’t unlock your bike, you’re not allowed to ride your bike, or
•    If you ride to the bar, have a drink at the bar, or
•    Always carry an spare brake cable on a bike camping trip

And, of course:

•    You don’t carry your bike, your bike carries you

All that said, the velo-portage up the back stairs to Pigeon Point was, afterwards, reasonably well worth it, not the least because it afforded the opportunity to bitch about it for minutes, lay a punch square on the sweater logo of the aforementioned ride leader, and best of all, gain access to a variety of trails on Joeball Ridge—although it should be noted that without the eponymous guide to said trails, one is apt to encounter a good deal more backtracking and route-aborting than with him.

At the traditional pee-pot-beer stop beneath the bridge, Joby mentioned that, given the meteorological expectations of the endlessly damp last few months, the evening was a gift, and even had the weather not cooperated so well with a warm dry twilight featuring striated bands of color on the setting sun horizon and a waxing gibbous moon that glowed behind contrails as night fell, it would still have been a benediction.

After all, when you have bestowed upon you a sufficient number of loops through the woods that even your cannabis-infused brain begins to recognize familiar climbs, and you’re bequeathed as a destination your very own pagoda in which to share libations with friends, and you’re also given the opportunity to plummet through the woods before heading home, that’s a fine bequest; put a bow on it!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Prodigal

The world would be a happier place if we all focused on our similarities rather than our differences.

Like, for instance, the fact that everyone poops, no matter what their race, gender, political affiliation, or NCAA March Madness picks.

Or, the simple truth that we all get wet when we’re outside in the rain, whether in Seattle, Spokane, Washington, DC, or North Korea.

Or, the unavoidable reality that, every single one of us: male, female, transgendered, genderfree, Shaddup Joe, you name it, had, at some point, in some way, a father, even if that dad was merely biological; nobody, anywhere in the whole world has not come into being as a result of some male’s sperm combining with some female’s egg; (so not only, of course, does everyone have a father, but also a mother, too), which seems like something we ought to be able to build on in our efforts to promote peace, harmony, and understanding around the globe—or at least refrain from name-calling on news site comments sections.

And speaking of dads, it’s unfortunate (and also, certainly fortunate) that the majority of humans in the world did not have dads like the rather surprising number of them out riding bikes and in drinking booze together in Seattle last night.

It’s hard for me to imagine, for example, my own dearly-departed father, the good Herr Doctor Professor Alvin P. Shapiro, MD, riding his bike down a crowded city sidewalk in order to head the wrong way on a one-way street on his way across town towards the local Research One University.

Nor can I see him waiting patiently in the drizzle as one of his colleagues purchased pizza slices from a walk-up window, then fed bites to another colleague as they pedaled along

And no way would he ever have happily consumed four jello shots in a single sitting.

He surely would have stood around a blazing fire and drunk cold beer, though.

Like son, like father!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Iron

photo by Apricot
These days, having fun feels like a political act, so it’s doubly fun to have fun, since not only are you having fun, you’re also fighting the good fight against fascism, intolerance, and perhaps, above all, bad taste.

Alcohol and cannabis-fueled bicycle shenanigans become not merely a good time, but, indeed, an aesthetic obligation, a sorely-needed poke in the eye of the powerful, an opportunity for revelers to manifest beauty in response to the ugliness and cruelty of the contemporary world.

Exhibit A: waffles, gorgeously created al fresco, courtesy of The JLC, slathered with Farmer Ito brand bud-butter, and consumed with or without toppings so heart-wrenchingly lovely that tears spring to one’s eyes—(or that could be a result of flying batter, marijuana smoke, or the tartness of the bathtub gin cocktails coming your way.)

Even for someone entering the seventh decade of life, there aren’t many things  done for12 years running (or, biking, that is), so it’s hard not to embrace the opportunity to keep the streak going even on an initially misty evening that, in the end, turns moonlit and dry, as if the weather gods themselves want to get in on the show, doing their best to enhance the artistic appeal of what is already a feast for the senses and an event for the ages.

Among my own goals was to avoid last year’s driveway tumble that resulted in two months of wrist recovery and I’m pleased to say “mission accomplished,” although I probably have the gyroscoping qualities of the bicycle to thank for that as much as anything, but that’s just the point, isn’t it?

To be grateful for that which protects you and makes possible all this useful useless beauty, that’s what I want to do, while at the same time having human-powered adventures that include tunnel-screaming and taillight streaming and which, in doing so, reaffirm the very nonsense that makes sense of all the nonsense.

Fight the powers that be.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Because

Why do anything, really?

After all, we’re all going to be gone in a couple hundred years so what’s the difference?

On the other hand, everyone loves Ferry Whiskey, even those who prefer not to indulge.

What I kept thinking most of the time was that it’s a little lonely to be alone but that you’re never really alone on an island since so many of your loved ones are also a ferry ride home from home.

I was also mostly glad to be pacing at my own pace since that meant pretty much any Porta-Potty was fair game, including those that belonged somewhere off-road but which enabled the appreciative peddler to appreciate peddling even up those hills that people with expensive bikes and uncomfortable shoes had to walk up in spite of what they had spent and endured.

I saw of a lot of miserable people but I only felt awful for half a second when half of the world was left behind; after that, though, it was all about appreciating the older growth and perfect air-conditioning; of course conditions might have been different, but I’m pretty sure there couldn’t have been anything less to imagine complaining about..

If you put your name in a bunch of times, it turns out you’re more likely to be picked, at least when there’s a dearth of options beyond the ideal Cheetoh Jeezus that rained down deliciousness after being carried on board instead of being left unattended and exploded, I guess, as opposed to having a carbon fiber handlebar raked across the baldness alongside the bay.

You missed it if you missed it, but, of course, you didn’t miss it if you didn’t. 

What I mean to say  is that the FHR isn’t the same without the FHR, but even without it,  it’s still the same and even better.

The island remains darling; the boat ride is still ineffable; the Sun Deck always shines; Fucking Hills Race, Fuck yeah.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Irrational

A rational number, I recall from 7th grade math, is one that can be expressed as a ratio of two numbers, like 1 to 2 for ½.  But I was confused, until I looked at the internet, about a number like 1/3, that—while it can be expressed as a fraction—cannot be represented as a non-repeating decimal number. 

Now I know, however, that as long as there’s a pattern that repeats, even if it does so endlessly, the number counts as rational, (contrasted, for example with π, whose decimal digits never follow a repeatable pattern even when calculated to the new world record length of 2.7 trillion places.)

All of which is to say that even though Thursday night rides may extend towards infinity, and even though there are destinations that come up with greater regularity than others, nothing is ever quite the same over time and therefore, we can conclude, that rides are—using the favored mathematical terminology—irrational (although one hardly needs even seventh grade math to confirm that).

And what this means, I thought, as I alternated between the redneck and artisan fires at our sylvan destination last night, that the longstanding question about whether—if indeed our Universe is but a vast simulation—“is it digital or analogue?” has a solution (or rather, it doesn’t but that’s just the point).

Point being: it’s neither and both, since neither digital nor analogue can fully represent the simulation’s fully irrational nature.

And this makes me more inclined than ever towards the view that we get in the non-dualist Advaita Vedanta where, more or less, Pure Being and Pure Consciousness, Atman and Brahman, are one, and that’s what each of us are, as well, “Thou Art That”, Tat Tvam Asi, just like it says on tehSchott’s formidable calf.

In other words, I’ve made my peace with two fires.

After all, they’re really just one, and while that may sound irrational, at least it never ends.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Thermal

Here’s one thing we learned: when the Zombie Apocalypse hits, don’t stock up on Pres-to-Logs; instead, commandeer as many clean-burning Tacoma Firelogs you can get your hands on.

Here’s another: all the accelerant in the world (or, at least in the bottle), doesn’t do a bit of good if you can’t achieve ignition.  (So, carry matches, maybe, during World War Z).

And finally, (although most probably knew this already): Once the flames are hot enough, pretty much anything will burn, including PBR cans pretending to be Rainiers, wet cardboard coated in plastic film, and even, surprisingly, not only little pucks but entire logs of overcompressed sawdust that seemed, initially, entirely unable to fulfill their vaunted claims about how many BTUs they produce under conditions of full combustion.

The wild weather of the last few days probably contributed to the relatively sparse turnout, but those hardy (or just stubborn) souls who were willing to ignore reports and simply show up and ride, were treated to a blustery but mostly dry evening with a  full moon bright enough to yield the relatively rare phenomenon of moonbow in the mist; our planet’s favored satellite peeking through bare branches overhead, like a celestial yoke nestled in its multi-hued albumen, evoking the occasional howl from humans feeling their ancestral animal roots.

Having fought the headwind for a couple hours on my way home from school to Westlake, I was delighted to have the gale at my back as we headed towards the tidy town of Magnolia; northwest along the Elliot Bay trail put the full force of the wind at our service; for a few shining moments, I was a beast, a cannibal like Eddy Merckx, taking full credit for the power of my pedaling, like those privileged Republican motherfuckers who were born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.

Honestly, anyone can set the world on fire, once it’s already ablaze; even Pres-to-Logs burn in Hell.