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Sunday, June 30, 2002

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

VERSUS
THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE


There aren’t many things I enjoy more than listening to Mariners baseball on the radio while driving back to Seattle after a day spent in the mountains. Baseball on the radio is better than books on tape when you are driving; at least it is if you are a baseball nut. Tonight’s game with the Rockies began just as the Seattle skyline popped into view.

By the time I got home, showered, and planted myself at the bar near my apartment it was already the third inning. I had missed Ichiro’s lead-off home run but the Rockies’ troubles really began as their second baseman missed tagging a runner which would have been part of a certain double play. The M’s were already leading 1-0 when Ruben Sierra hit a sacrifice fly.

The rest is all in the box scores. If you are reading this then you are a click away from MLB. I’m not a baseball writer, just a fan. One of the greatest things about baseball—and there are many--is that when you go to the game everyone gets up and sings a song. If you don’t stand up for it nobody will ever say anything to you nor will you be reproached for not singing. It is strictly voluntary and carried out in an amiable spirit. It is fun.

After 9/11 the seventh inning stretch tradition was amended to add the singing of God Bless America. Thank goodness that was short-lived. We already stand up and sing the National Anthem at the beginning of the game. I think one nod to patriotism is enough for one sporting event.

I can’t remember when I was last required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance but I’m sure that I have repeated it unthinkingly about as many times as a Catholic kid says the Hail Mary. Just as no one has ever become holy by reciting the Hail Mary no one has ever become a better American by repeating the Pledge. I’ll bet Timothy McVeigh lead his class while saying the Pledge. The pledge is just a dumb prayer and we should lose it.

In the past, God, baseball, and apple pie have been served up to Americans as representing what this country is all about. As an atheist and someone who rarely touches sweets I would ask the server to hold the God and to substitute bacon for the apple pie. If you don’t like baseball then you can substitute something else for that. You and I could never be friends because I am about as intolerant towards people who don’t get baseball as is some radical Muslim cleric towards infidels. This is nothing for you to worry about. As they say, it’s a free country.

Friday, June 28, 2002

More "Don't You Wish You Lived Here?" Stuff

If you are a cyclist and you live in the state of Washington you’ve got it about as good as it gets. I can drive 30 minutes from my apartment in downtown Seattle and I’m in a mountain bike heaven of tough single track trails, or an endless network of Forest Service gravel roads that reach the top of vertiginous peaks.

On days when I can’t get out of town I get on my racing bike and pedal up and down the big hills of Seattle. The views on my city rides alternate between the snow-capped peaks of the Olympic Mountains to the west and the Cascades Mountains to the east. At 14,410, the dormant volcano Mount Rainier looms over the city and can be seen from hundreds of different angles around town. Seattle is also bordered by water on several sides: the Puget Sound to the west and Lake Washington to the east.

The hills of Seattle would challenge Lance Armstrong in the short run. Queen Anne hill, which usually starts and ends my city ride is an impossibly steep climb that never ceases to exhaust my cardio-vascular system. I have always been a strong hill climber but at my present weight of 180 at 5’9” I pack a little too much muscle to be the effortless climber that I was when I was a skinny, 150 pound kid. What I gave up in finesse I try to make up for in brute force.

I wish that I could shed some of the pounds I have gained over the years of weight training because hill climbing is what I love the most about cycling. When I have the time I throw my mountain bike on my car and head east to the Cascades. Yesterday I parked at Lake Kamchess and started up the first Forest Service road that I came upon. Most of these roads go in only one direction: straight to the top of the mountains. They are used either for fire suppression or for logging.

To give you an idea of how high I get on these climbs let’s just say that I walk on snow every time I have gone out. On June 14 I have a picture of myself standing with my bike in a four foot drift that covered the trail and ended my upward progress on the day. I haven't figured out how to post pictures but I'm working on it.

As much as I’ve tried I don’t think I have adequately articulated how these workshops in masochism can be fun for me. It is easy to talk about how magnificent the views are from atop these peaks in the Cascades. Perhaps the pain of pumping through these trails is the price I’m willing to pay to escape the crowds and cars of city life. I haven’t quite figured this out.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

We're on the Road to Nowhere

Privitization Versus the Public Good

I was in my car listening to the news about Amtrak’s financial woes when I came upon a railroad crossing. A huge freight train thundered past. Under a proposed plan by president Bush, Amtrak would become increasingly privatized. This notion of the benefits of privatization is a mantra, like the claims of the supposed liberal bias in the media, which is repeated so often by conservatives that to disagree sounds almost childish in its assumed naiveté.

The report mentioned that about 500 million dollars was necessary to continue operation of the passenger rail service. Some conservatives would have us believe that this country can’t afford to continue financing passenger rail service and we should allow the free market to determine its fate. Of course, these same people don’t expect our highway system to be self-sufficient. A tax is simply a cost. Car payments, insurance, repairs, etc. are all costs to the driver.

In Seattle the list of road repairs needed in the very near future make Amtrak’s current financial difficulties seem insignificant:

The Alaskan Way Viaduct—$3.5-11.6 billion
The #520 bridge between Seattle and Bellevue—$5.9 billion
I-405 widening—$10.9 billion


The sums this country throws at the military and the intelligence community every year cannot even be calculated to within $20 billion dollars. In fact, the military simply LOSES $1 billion dollars in inventory every year, yet we are constantly being told that we can’t afford to shrink classroom sizes in our nation’s public schools. There is talk of charging a user fee for our nation’s parks; in essence we would be privatizing them. I hesitate to even put public and medicine in the same sentence for fear of being attacked by every Chicago School disciple from the last 30 years. The people who completely dismiss the idea of public medicine and think the private sector is doing such a great job should look closely at a bill from a hospital.

As I listened to the debate about Amtrak on the radio, the freight train kept rolling past. I tried counting the cars but stopped at around 50--each car comparable in size to the load carried by a semi. All I could think about was that each car represented one less semi on the road, one less sleep-deprived driver weaving through lanes on a busy highway, one less diesel engine spewing soot across the country. All I could think about was that trains are a safe, efficient means of transport that this country has refused to support.

For those of you who don’t know this, Europe has decided that it can afford the infrastructure necessary for rail travel. European countries have decided that they cannot afford not to embrace this technology. Parts of Europe’s rail system are privatized but the majority of the system is under state control—much like our highways. If every American citizen got a chance to travel by rail in Europe we would be screaming for a similar network in this country.

President Bush, an ill-educated aristocrat who never attended a public school, would also like to weaken the public education system in this country. Public education, good public education is what makes a nation great. It is what made this nation truly great. What really gave America a quantum leap in history was the decision to give WWII GI’s a free college education (as well as cheap loans for the purchase of a home). Poorer citizens who never in their wildest dreams thought a higher education possible suddenly found themselves on campuses. My father was one of these first generation university students.

Public education is the single most democratic ideal that this nation has ever embraced and now we are talking about doing away with it? I have two words to describe Bush’s plan: THIRD WORLD. Call me a flaming liberal but to me the highest ideal to which a nation should aspire is equality--not commerce. Equality can’t be left to the private sector; it must be pursued vigorously by a government of the people.

This is a topic that I plan to discuss in more detail. If you want some reading on this subject I highly recommend the books of the brilliant Canadian visionary, John Ralston Saul.

Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West
The Unconscious Civilization
The Doubter’s Companion

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Ten geographers who think the world is flat will tend to reinforce each other's errors. If they have a private dialect in which they do this, it becomes impossible for outsiders to disagree with them. Only a sailor can set them straight. The last person they want to meet is someone who, freed from those constraints of expertise, has sailed around the world.

John Ralston Saul

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Detailing Culture

The celebrity interview format is about as rigid as the Quran. It goes something like this: an obsequious reporter for a large publication contacts the people behind which ever celebrity they wish to “interview.” Arrangements are made. At the beckoning of the celebrity, the reporter is herded through a hotel suite along with other reporters, from other major publications. They take turns sucking up and asking non-threatening questions until they are waved away by the gods of the new Hollywood Mount Olympus.

The subsequent interview is published to coincide with the release of the star’s new film. It remains unclear to me who is best served by whom in this arrangement but I suppose that everyone makes out pretty well since the folks who own the movie companies also own the magazines. A lousy film sells a lousy magazine because we all want to hear about the star on the cover.

I read a recent issue of Details magazine I found at the gym. Matt Damon is on the cover and inside he half-heartedly promotes his most recent movie, The Bourne Identity. The interview is fatuous and reveals nothing of the star except the fact that he is rather dull, has absolutely nothing to say, and is unworthy of an interview. To his credit he seemed as bored with the whole process as I was reading about it.

Another issue of Premiere magazine was on the floor next to me. Tom Cruise graces its cover, and as I already know what he is about I didn’t bother picking it up. On some women’s magazine the swollen-lipped Angelina Jolie tries to look seductive. There is a vast industry that promotes this fast-growing religion of celebrity.

Personally, I like foreign movies for one simple reason: I don’t recognize the actors. Take a movie like Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. For all I know those guys could actually be a bunch of two-bit London hoods. When I see a superstar on screen my minds yells out, “There’s Tom Hanks!” If the superstar does a decent job of acting I may gradually begin to sink into a position of suspended belief but often I just see the star on screen.

This familiarity with actors, this incestuous need to use the same handful of stars in films, has made the process more of a ritual, like a Catholic mass, than art. Forget about the rigid three act formulas, and the stock characters involved, the personnel alone severely limits the quality of Hollywood mainstream films.

When I listen in on other people’s conversations about film I generally hear the question, “Who’s in it?” The stars sell the movies, no ifs, ands, or buts. This is truly unfortunate. Hollywood is becoming increasingly more drawn to the big budget, big pay-off films. Fewer and fewer films are made for adults in mind. Film is a limited enough medium for the expression of thought without abandoning any idea unfit for teenage consumption. In a culture that shies further and further away from the novel I wonder how people articulate their own thoughts on the human condition. Movies like Star Wars and Spiderman don’t help. These are children’s movies, folks.

I’m not suggesting that we need to be elevated by every movie we see but once in a while this should happen. I am suggesting that everyone go out and see a low budget film, a film that has none of the standard Hollywood stable of actors. Even if this low budget movie sucks—and plenty do—at least you have caste a vote. A vote in favor of choice. A vote in favor of diversity. A vote for films for adults. The vote, a very American idea. I'm a big fan of voting.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

Ou Est le Cyber Café?

In my opinion the single greatest thing about the internet is instant communication: e-mail and its offspring such as web logs. If you have traveled anywhere outside of this country you will find that cyber cafes can be found all over the place. I live in Seattle which prides itself on being a leader in the tech industry and you’d be hard-pressed to find public access to the internet. Of course, everyone in this city, and this country, has internet access at home and thus feels no need to be further wired.

But why must we all sit in our little dark rooms, hidden away in our apartments in what I call the Anne Franck Technology Syndrome ( me steal material--that's un-possible). It's time to walk out into the world. I think most of you don’t know what you are missing.

For one thing, most people wouldn’t even need to own a computer if they had cheap, convenient access to the internet. E-mail represents about 99% of why most people have a home computer. If they had the ability to log-on away from home they could skip buying all of the hardware themselves.

There is a big cyber café franchise across Europe called Easy Everything. The one I used in Amsterdam had over 600 work stations each with high-speed DSL connections. It cost very little to get internet access. They make additional money via their concession stands. The place was open 24-7 and was always teaming with people, mostly kids 17-24 or so.

I also frequented an Easy Everything in Paris on the Rue Sébastopol. This place was even more of a hang out than the one in Amsterdam. They actually had bouncers and a velvet rope to manage the crowds coming in, like a night club. I especially liked these places because they served great coffee at all hours. I am a chronic insomniac so this was where I would go from 5 a.m. until 8 a.m. when the rest of the world was asleep.

In Mexico just about every city I visited had a cyber café. They were generally not as sophisticated as the Easy Everything sites but business was always good. I remember in one small town I sat at a terminal in the middle of a computer class of high school kids.

These cyber cafes have the same appeal as do regular cafes. They are a place where you can interact in the community. A sidewalk café is about the most glorious institution ever conceived by man, yet here in America deem them unnecessary. I should correct that and say we here in the USA. Latin American countries have embraced cafes whole-heartedly. If you have never lived in Europe or south of the border this phenomena is difficult to articulate. On the one hand it is merely squatting at a table drinking a coffee or a beer but on another level it is a very pleasant perch from which to watch the world go by.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Moving Day

Everything material in this world is fleeting. Even the pyramids will be gone some day. A moving truck was parked in front of an apartment building near mine the other day. I watched as the movers hauled off a house’s worth of possessions. A life’s worth of possessions were being boxed up and placed on the truck. It made me stop and think of everything that I have left behind in my life of many, many moves. What will I leave behind when Seattle is just another place where I used to live?

There is certainly nothing among my possessions that I can’t live without. For the most part, anything that can be bought can be replaced. Is there anything that I will miss? Not really.

There is a wonderful freedom in not being burdened by stuff. I suppose that this is mostly true if you are by nature a traveler. When I go away anywhere, whether it’s a short trip or a journey, I pack a single medium-sized backpack that fits in the airline overhead. What I leave behind in the way of creature comforts I more than make up for in ease of movement. Once, on a trip to Los Angeles, the cab dropped me off at the wrong terminal at LAX and I had to run about ½ mile to make my flight. Had I been encumbered with luggage I would have missed my flight.

I understand people who don’t feel the need to get up and move every so often--I’m just not one of those people. I remember passing through some village in the Austrian Alps. I went into a tavern for something to eat. I looked around at the crowd and I could tell that these people had lived in this village since birth and weren't planning on leaving any time soon. Why would they? It was a beautiful alpine hamlet that seemed very prosperous. No one probably ever leaves that place. Having lived here in Seattle for 3 ½ years now I certainly can understand why people feel no urge to leave this place. It is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. But I am just visiting and sooner or later I’ll move to visit some other city. Seattle will be one of the few places I have lived in my life that I will miss when I leave.

It always amazes me the speed with which I acquire things. When I moved here to Seattle I sold or gave away an enormous amount of stuff. Most of it was junk, some of it wasn’t, but all of it was expendable. I came here with the bare minimum and already my place is bulging at the seams with stuff. I should start getting rid of some of this stuff right now. As the saying goes, "He who moves with the most toys pays a fortune in moving expenses."

Moving day is coming for all of us sooner or later. What will you do with all of your stuff? Back in the days of the ancient Egyptians they didn't have yard sales so they stuffed all of their crap into a pyramid. They also didn't have the option of giving most of their stuff away to their Haitian immigrant neighbors like I did when I left south Florida a few years ago. The best thing is to resist accumulating so much junk in the first place. Having less stuff means not needing such a big pyramid. Having a smaller place means you don't have room to put new crap even if you really want it. This is all detailed more thoroughly by Thoreau in Walden.

Sunday, June 09, 2002

Top Ten List

"There's more to life than books, but not much more." The Smiths

I’m not as fond of list making and favorites as most people. Upon a bit of reflection I feel that a top ten list of books isn’t a bad idea simply because it may let someone, who thought otherwise, know that books are important to some people. In a culture where books seem to be increasingly irrelevant this should be the duty of all who read. Here goes.

1) The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe

I have read this book about 8 times and I defy anyone to open the book to any page and not find something brilliant. Every chapter is a well-crafted short story and can be read as one. Wolfe is an excellent reporter and this novel is a snapshot of NY in the late 20th century.

2) La Tia Julia Y El Escribidor, Mario Vargas Llosa

It's called Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter in English. This is by my favorite Latin American author who once ran for president of Peru. Writers are actually important people in some parts of the world and not just the academic douche-bags who make up most of American letters in our time. This novel is uproariously funny in telling the tale of Llosa’s teenage romance and marriage.

3) L’Etranger, Albert Camus

The first book I read in French. I was in college and studying some boring-as-hell economics text. I was wandering the stacks trying to wake up when I came across this novel. I sat down and began reading and was thrilled that my French was adequate to propel me through this most existentialist of existential novels.

4) Kurt Vonnegut

Any and all of his novels. I discovered Vonnegut as a 17 year old kid bored to tears with school and equally bored with high school social customs. I wasn’t a geek but was disturbed by the inequality of life around me. Vonnegut made me think that maybe I wasn’t the weird one or at least it was OK to be weird. What I especially like about Vonnegut is that he is still as funny as fuck even in his 70’s. I hope I can be mildly hip and relevant as I get older.

5) Germinal, Emile Zola

Zola is Tom Wolfe’s hero and thus mine. Zola wrote this critique of the terrible conditions of the mines with an even-handedness that is rarely seen in the best journalism, let alone in literature.

6) The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

I recently reread this book and I found his racism and bigotry disturbing and disappointing. I will refrain from criticizing Hemingway because he was a product of his time, as are most mortals. I read it first when I was a hick kid of 17. It made me want to live in Europe and learn to speak French and Spanish. I did. That’s pretty strong stuff for a novel. I am grateful to Hemingway for inspiring a kid to dream and learn (often the same thing).

7) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

After Ken Burns’ biography film on Twain, I read Life on the Mississippi for the first time. Laugh out loud funny stuff just like Huck Finn.

8) Earthly Powers, Anthony Burgess

A vague pastiche on the life of Somerset Maugham. I have read this 800 page book three times, and each time when I finish, I am sorry it has to end.

9) The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

I remember back when I lived in D.C. I went over to a friend’s house. We were meeting there before heading out for a night on the town. While the gals were getting ready I found a copy of Gatsby and started rereading it for the umpteenth time. When everyone was ready to go a half hour later, it was too late, I wasn’t going anywhere. Someone took a picture of me reading that night and that is my favorite picture of myself.

10) Charles Dickens

Like Vonnegut I have to lump everything I have read by Dickens together. He changed the society in which he lived by what he wrote. I like writers who have the desire and the ability to make a better world.

Friday, June 07, 2002

Tiger Mountain

HOW TO SPEND A COUPLE OF HOURS NEAR SEATTLE

Put your mountain bike on or in your car. Stop by the Starbucks at the gas station on the way to I-90 east. As you cross the floating bridge across Lake Washington be thankful yet again that you don’t live in the suburbs—traffic over here is terrible. Be thankful that you’re going the opposite way. It doesn’t look like it will rain but you wish that you would have brought along one of those expensive high-tech sweaters. Roll open the sun roof and turn up the heat.

You are again astonished by the close proximity to Seattle of vast expanses of wilderness while still able to keep NPR station tuned on your shitty car radio. Lots of clouds, but snow-capped peaks of the Cascades visible in front of you. Take exit #25 to route 18, take a right when you get off the ramp, and proceed four miles to Tiger Mountain Summit. Turn off route 18 and pull into the parking lot.

As you get ready, talk to some guys who have just finished the ride. Not sure where they are from so speak to them in the Esperanto of knuckle-head dudes: Mariners baseball news. Topic: Do ya think Ichiro can bat .400 for the season? No need to ask them how the ride went because they are standing next to two very expensive mud sculptures of mountain bikes. Thank god for remembering to bring fenders.

Mid-week and ominous-looking weather gives you the mountain to yourself. Stupidly decide to opt for the trail up the mountain instead of the usual route of the fire road up and then the trail down. Two hundred yards in wonder if it is too late to go back and take fire road. Holy shit, you don’t remember this trail being such a ball buster. When not terrified of imminent death, comment to yourself on the beauty of this forest. The trail is dark beneath lots of big cedars, spruce, and ferns.

Think up idea for the Pocket Homer. This would be a small device attached to handlebars like a horn but the Pocket Homer emits two sounds: Homer’s “AAAAHHHH!” which he screams often but most notably at show’s opening when wife nearly runs him over with car. Other sound is Homer’s trademark “Woohoo.” These two sounds describe the two emotions, terror and joy, that are prevalent on this trail.

After lots of pushing bike up steep-as-hell ruts make it to the top of the mountain. Go down another trail. Stop at the lip of a four foot drop that falls down a steep slope. At the bottom, look for dead bikers (good place for spare parts). No casualties found, continue down the trail. Note that Pocket Homer battery would probably be dead by now from repeated “AAAHHHH’s” and “Woohoo’s.”

Notice cute coyote on the trail ahead and wonder if there are enough road runners in Washington to sustain coyote population. Thank countless hours viewing cartoons as a kid for knowledge of wildlife. Coyote scared shitless as crazed biker (you), with mud-caked brakes not working well, barreling down the trail directly towards this member of the wolf family. Apologize for this breach of mountain biker-coyote etiquette.

Back in the parking, lot hang expensive mud sculpture of mountain bike on car rack. Drive back to Seattle while listening to crappy car radio--program about TMBG concert film playing at the Seattle Film Festival. Before going home, stop at car wash and erase mud sculpture to reveal mountain bike. Washing body covered with mud has to wait until you get home and get in the shower. After shower, ride other bike to Cyclops bar for refreshing mojito.

Mojito
muddle mint and 1/2 lime in a pint glass with ice. Add white rum, a bit of simple syrup, and splash of sour. Rinse and repeat.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

TOUGH HARSH MOTIVATING INSPIRATION AND TALK FOR FAT PEOPLE WHO NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT (sic)

Yet another bizarre yahoo search request that landed some corpulent wanderer at Leftbanker. I think that this syntactically-challenged search at least merits a half-assed attempt on my part to actually address this issue in one essay. The way in which search engines come up with requests is like some sort of enigma machine from an old spy novel. Although all of the words in this title can be found on this page they occur between lots of other words and thus have nothing to do with the intended request. I’ll attempt to right that little wrong.

So it’s tough harsh motivating inspiration and talk for fat people who need to lose weight that you want, eh? Here goes. I'll try the Richard Simmons meets Full Metal Jacket meets Judge Judy approach: You fat fuck! You make me want to puke. 1-2-3-4 that’s it, people, you can do it. We need to discuss your grocery bill. $800 dollars last month on ice cream toppings? Forget about what you spent on ice cream itself, I’ve spent less on a good used car. Just stay the hell out of the ice cream aisle altogether and maybe we can get somewhere in Operation Less Gravitational Pull.

Another thing, maybe you should steer away from the pastry shelf. Maybe you are just memorizing all of the names for pastry like a mathematician memorizes P(ie) (sorry, don’t know how to make that character) down to a thousand decimal points. Perhaps you chant these pastry names as a soothing mantra, “cruller, bear claw, long john, cheese Danish, scone, tart, cinnamon bun, mmmm, cinnamon bun.” I just think it would be better to remove the temptation from your life.

I think that I will simply write all of my posts to correspond to the insane search requests that pop up every day. How about a few hundred words on “pull down your pants and slide on the ice robert frost," or a short discourse on "indain housewife porn(sic)(how can they misspell indian?)?" I just want to give the readers what they want. Nobody gives a shit about my pseudo-intellectual views on the evils of pop culture or under-written homages to the great outdoors. Give me five minutes and I'll give the google searchers what they want: tailor-made search findings.

Tuesday, June 04, 2002

Parking Violators of the World, Unite!

I was walking through a sort of tough, gritty neighborhood of Seattle the other day when I decided to get a drink. I walked into a place called The Violation and sat down at the bar. I ordered a beer and took a look around. Oops! This could be trouble. I knew that I was out of my element. I had accidentally walked into a meter maid bar.

What was I thinking? I should have known by what was on TV: America’s Most Wanted Parking Violators. I had never seen the show before and I immediately got caught up in the action. They did re-enactments of real parking infractions. A loud cheer thundered through the bar when a citizen frantically searched for change as a parking enforcement officer punched out the last digits for a meter violation ticket.

I was too terrified to leave so I eavesdropped on a few conversations. There was lots of talk about taking down scumbags. One parking enforcement officer speculated that if Bin Laden only drove a car in Seattle he’d be begging the U.S. government to take him into custody. I would agree. My own car is hounded to death by these vigilant crusaders, these super-heroes in golf carts.

I finished my beer and was ready to run out when I was approached by an Amazon in uniform.

“You must be new.” Her right forearm, pumped up from writing tickets, weighed heavily on my shoulder.

I was parked in a commercial zone and was petrified. I heard myself say that this was my first day on the job.

…and so on and so forth. Perhaps a little vague sexual innuendo rife with double-entendre to further elaborate on the meter maid subculture. What I had written at the end of this article was a lot funnier than the crap you just read at the beginning of the piece but I was forced to remove it by the Meter Maid Anti-Defamation League of Seattle. I would rather piss off the IRA and the PLO than go toe to toe with this lobby. I hereby do apologize to all offended parties and in no way did I intend to bring discredit against the honorable and hard-working members of Seattle’s Parking Enforcement Bureau.

Monday, June 03, 2002

Mount Saint Helens

(as seen from a mountain bike)

After investing in a bike carrier for my car I now have the ability to carry three bikes whenever I leave town for a ride. This should increase my chances of making new friends but will certainly mean that I’ll always be doing the driving. If you have read this page before you should know my simple motto: biking good, driving bad.

I just drove back from the Mount Saint Helens area. This volcano, named after a man (Baron St. Helens), has recovered nicely since it was blown all to hell back in May of 1980. The new growth forest has come back as strong as ever in the soil enriched with volcanic ash. I got my first peek at the peak from I-5 coming down south. We lucked out and got a fairly cloud-free day yesterday.

It is still an impressive mountain even though it lost 1,300’ from its pre-blast height of 9,677.’ This peak, pointed out in the journals of Lewis and Clark, was once called the Fujiyama of the Cascades for its near prefect, cone-shaped beauty. My Cascade Alpine Guide is a 1973 edition and has a picture of the old summit. I wish that I had seen it back then.

Once again, as is true of much of Washington state mountain areas, this area is a huge wilderness with few paved roads and fewer services. Driving on the southern end of the area we followed the highway in an attempt to circle up the eastern side. An ambiguous sign said “road closed” but I didn’t believe it until I made had to make a 50 mile U-turn. Once again snow had stopped me from forward advancement. The pass is marked 'closed in Winter.' Did I mention that today is June 2nd?

I was going to make a trail loop on my bike yesterday and was also stopped by snow. This was only at 2,200’or so and I was surprised by how much snow was still on the ground at this elevation. We road on the summit pass road, carrying our bikes over the drifts for a few miles, before we decided we wanted some off-road stuff and less snow.

After coming down 1,000’ feet or so we started up a fire road. These fire roads are all over the mountains and are fairly well maintained. We pedaled straight up for about a mile when we came to a big wash-out in which twenty feet of the road had been swept down the mountain. We were able to cross over to the other side on a makeshift log bridge and continued up.

With every switch-back the view of the lake and valley below became more and more dramatic. The downside was that the road, now off-limits to motorized vehicles (or any sort of traffic as far as we could tell) became more and more inhospitable. We had to carry our bikes over and under trees that had fallen across the path. It was pretty obvious from the trees growing in the road that this area had been out of service for at least a year, perhaps two.

We did our best to clear as much debris from the trail as we could on the way up so that our dismounts on the return trip would be minimal. When the trail started going back down the mountain we decided to turn around and head back down the way we came up.

What makes mountain biking a hell of a lot more fun than hiking is that all of the work and anguish you go through on the way up is rewarded on the way down. I like that about gravity. Sure, hiking is easier going down but it isn't exactly fun either. Going down was pretty much a blur and I was back at the car before I could stop laughing from the sheer fun of it. The stability I felt flying down this hill, jumping logs and sliding through heavy gravel, further convinced me of the merits of my new full suspension bike.

We stayed overnight in Cougar, Washington, population not-very-fucking-many. The town has a general store, a visitor center, one motel, and one restaurant, and everything closes at 10 pm on Saturday. A couple beers (Rainier in a can for that whole 'When in Rome' thing), some really bad TV (America's Most Wanted), and lights out.