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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Iraq isn't like Viet Nam

Iraq is not like Viet Nam. The liberal cowards have been comparing our present, incredibly ill-advised excursion in the Middle East with our totally awful decision to send troops to Asia 30 years ago. I agree with President Bush when he said recently that the war in Iraq has been a “catastrophic success.” At least I think that the president is half right with that statement.

President Bush is correct in calling the war in Iraq a catastrophe. He could even call it a successful catastrophe which actually makes more sense than saying something is a “catastrophic success.” You could call the war in Iraq a successful disaster, just don’t say that Iraq is like Viet Nam. Republicans are really touchy on that point.

Iraq isn’t like Viet Nam. Our troops face a much greater cultural gulf with the nation hosting our present excursion than U.S. soldiers experienced in Viet Nam. As much of a hellhole that Viet Nam was for our troops at least they could go to Saigon on R&R, get drunk, score some drugs, and get laid. Iraq isn’t like Viet Nam because Iraq is just the hellhole part with no vices. It is like a Mormon idea of hell. R&R for our troops in this war is in Bahrain—the party capital of the Muslim world.

Viet Nam had jungles where the enemy waited to ambush American soldiers. Iraq has urban slums where the enemy waits to ambush American soldiers. That’s a big difference unless you happen to be a U.S. soldier waiting to be ambushed. It is silly for me even to try and illustrate the many, many differences between Iraq and Viet Nam.

Let’s use another analogy for Iraq instead of using another U.S. foreign policy debacle like Viet Nam. Iraq is like a baby bald eagle that we found and are helping to nurse back to health so it can soar on its own. We are nursing the little eagle back to health by using military force and 130 billion dollars of U.S. taxpayer’s money. Who cares that we have sacrificed our credibility in the world to help the baby eagle. It will all be worth it when the eagle can fly off to democracy. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.

Maybe Iraq is like Puerto Rico. Iraq is so grateful for our help that they aren’t even sure whether or not they ever want us to leave. Iraq is like Puerto Rico but their basketball team can’t beat us in Olympic competition. It would be easy enough to rewrite Westside Story with Maria as an Iraqi immigrant.

After we leave Iraq, after we have given up on whatever it is we are trying to do there, will we be flooded with Iraqi immigrants who were even remotely sympathetic to our occupation and are now persecuted there? Not that being flooded with persecuted immigrants is such a bad thing—Seattle has lots of great Vietnamese restaurants staffed by our foreign policy failure in their country. We could use some good Iraqi restaurants. Iraqi food is not like Vietnamese food.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

I Came, I whined, I quit

I Came, I whined, I quit

From the directions in my guidebook I only got lost twice on the way to the Mount Thurston/Mount Mercer Loop ride. I know the metric system is different. I have actually lived places that use it full time, places that have never heard of feet and inches. I know it’s different but I still look at meters and kilometers and think feet and miles. The good news is this loop is 34 kilometers. Kilometers are less than miles so this route was shorter than my first-glance estimate. The elevation gain is 1,220 meters, and meters are longer than feet. When you are ascending, meters are a fuck of a lot longer than feet. By psychologically misjudging feet and meters and miles and kilometers I was definitely going to lose the “Who Needs the Metric System” game.

I still had not registered 1,220 meters in my mind as I started this ride which started on a bitch of an incline. No warm up at all. No foreplay whatsoever. I had just spent the past three weekends riding mountain roads in Washington so I thought I had built up an immunity to hills. I love hills, right? This was a forest service road and not only are forest roads steeper than paved roads but they are not paved. Unpaved means you lose traction and traction isn’t something you want to lose when you are grinding up a seemingly endless and brutally steep hill. I also ride a full suspension bike so that means I lose traction. What makes the back end give when you hit bumps also gives when you apply torque to the back wheel. When you are applying torque to the back wheel for all you are worth you don’t want an ounce of this energy wasted by the suspension, but that’s the trade-off for a smooth ride down.

I don’t think about it much—perhaps for a only few minutes each time I am out by myself—but there are plenty of mountain lions and bears in these areas. I’ve seen a few bears myself while out biking. I’m sure a lot of cougars have seen me. I wasn’t too worried about being attacked on this ride because I figured that no right-minded wild animal would eat anything as old, out of breath, and as foul-mouthed as the guy on my bike today.

This road was so steep that not only was it over-taxing my cardio-vascular system, I think I spit up some blood. The road was so steep in parts that if you stopped, you had a hard time getting enough traction to get going again. And it kept going up. And then I did something I’ve never, ever done before. I got off my bike and walked for a while. I did something I haven’t done many times; for lack of a better word I ‘bonked.’ I was done, out of gas. I looked back and remembered that all I had to eat all day was one puny little taco at a taqueria somewhere back in Washington. Under-eating isn’t usually one of my vices, believe me.

Bonked or not, going downhill is always a breeze. Before leaving I meant to replace my brake pads but the shop by my house was closed on Monday, so old clapped-out brake pads would have to do it. Bombing down a rough road like this is what makes riding a full suspension bike worth the effort on the climbs. Even a chicken-shit like me can get fairly reckless on descents when every hole you hit is sucked up like a vacuum by your shocks.

One thing that kept me going—if you can call walking your bike like an old hag ‘going’—was that I knew that I was going to go swimming in the Chilliwack River when I was done for the day. If you haven’t taken a dip in a mountain river lately, take my word for it; it’s really, really COLD. You can also take my word on this: If you want to feel about as good as you possibly can feel, try humping up some lung-busting steep mountain roads on a hot August day and then go swimming in the river you’ve been listening to all afternoon. If you can do this once in your life then consider yourself a lucky person.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

"Canada, huh? Almost Made It"*

I loaded my car up with both my bikes, road and mountain. I made a new CD for my car’s MP3 player (heavy on the Latin), and I actually brought along a couple of changes of clothes this time in case I wanted to do something around other human beings and not get stared at for smelling like a goat. I bought a map of British Columbia and a book called Mountain Bike Adventures in B.C.. I had no idea where I was going but that has never stopped me from going someplace before.

I was going to cut over to Canada from Bellingham, Washington on Highway 9 through Sumas. I pulled up to the Canadian customs gate in my car. There was a young kid who didn’t seem too bright. He asked me a long series of questions about why I was going to Canada, where I was going, and for how long. Anyway, the little dipshit flagged me for a search so I pulled over and went into the customs building. At immigration I was asked a bunch more questions. They seemed a little confused that I was without really firm plans as to where I was going and for how long. I tried to be more definite than I really was.

The people at immigration were nice enough. One of them even commented on my Che Guevara t-shirt. I only then realized that I had worn this shirt that was bought as a gag. I now reflected on how this wasn’t the best sartorial choice for a border crossing. I won’t make that mistake again. It was on top in my top drawer that morning and I almost chose the "Dare to Keep Kids Off Drugs" thrift store t-shirt which I bought because I always thought that was one of the lamest programs/slogans I have ever seen. That, too, may have been an unwise choice because if I were a drug smuggler I'd probably wear an anti-drug t-shirt.

I was told to go check in at another desk. Another agent told me to “have a seat” while he checked my car. Before I sat down I went to the restroom. I had just finished at the urinal when the agent came busting into the bathroom screaming, yes screaming, asking why I had not followed his instructions and taken a seat. I told him it had been a while for me since I last had to ask permission to use the bathroom. He told me not to be a smart-ass.

He was a big guy and this was taking place in a pretty cramped bathroom. I half-expected it to come to blows. It was hard not to notice the fear and anger in his voice. I don’t get angry or scared in situations like these which further unnerves the other person. I even tried to apologize but he wouldn’t let me get a word out. Nice police work, asshole. I finally told him that when he gives people instructions perhaps he should be more explicit. “Have a seat” doesn’t mean the same thing as “sit the fuck down and don’t move.”

As he was tossing my car I talked with one of the other “good cop” agents I had spoken with before. I told him what a jerk the other guy had been. He said that I was welcome to talk to a supervisor about the incident. I thanked him. I passed on his offer because maybe it was his thick Canadian accent but the way he said, “Talk with a supervisor” rhymed with “cavity search.”

When I was instructed to return to my car bad cop was there but he had changed his demeanor a bit. He had been told that perhaps I was going to talk to a supervisor and he started explaining how tough his job is and how hippies will flush things down the toilet (I was using the urinal, Kojak). I was trying to be nice but I repeated that he needed to be more explicit when he gives an order. I told him that I was in the Air Force and when you were on the flight line there was a line painted on the tarmac. You did not cross the line or you got jacked-up by security police. It didn’t matter why you stepped over the line. It didn’t matter if you were out getting drunk and playing darts with the cop the night before: You didn’t cross the fucking line.

If you have never been to Israel then you should go if only to see how their security people work. They look as casual as can be but if they pick up the slightest flaw in your demeanor or story then it’s off to the little room. I tried to buy a one way ticket from Tel Aviv to Athens on one trip and the red flags may as well have come shooting out of my ass. I got the “come over here to this little room” treatment but it only took them about three questions before they had me on my way. They profile the living shit out of people because they know what and who they are looking for. The less time they spend dealing with no-threat people the more time they have to spot trouble.

U.S. customs is guilty of taking too broad an approach to searches and questioning of U.S. bound travelers. You don’t need to search everyone and by doing so you dilute your effectiveness against the true targets.

The agent was completely civil after our initial bathroom encounter. As I was leaving he said, “Enjoy your stay.” I can hardly wait to deal with customs on the U.S. side.

After I had a chance to reflect on this whole matter I realized that what the bad cop was experiencing was panic—plain and simple. Panic isn’t the best emotion for keeping borders safe. You have to remember, sometimes—most of the time—a guy taking a leak is just a guy taking a leak.

*If you don’t know this line (my favorite, I don’t know why) from Super Troopers then we can’t be friends.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Poetry on the Radio

I was driving north to British Columbia with both my mountain and road bike on the roof for a week of tuning out.

I got me a brand new car waiting in the driveway.
Shinin' like a bright new star;
I been wishin' on it everyday.
To take me away from here.
So I called in to where I work; told a little white lie.
No my back don't really hurt, but that's my alibi,
My temporary ticket to anywhere but there.
Call it an early weekend; call it goin' off the deep end;
Call it what you want, I made up my mind:

I don't have to be me 'til Monday.
Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
I ain't gonna face reality.
Three days without punching a time clock;
Three nights of goin' non-stop;
No work and all play.
I don't have to be me 'til Monday.

I can do what I wanna do, be who I wanna be.
I got no one to answer to, soon as I turn the key.
A cash machine, gasoline and we're outta here.
Call it an early weekend; call it goin' off the deep end;
Baby, you and me, we can leave it all behind.

I don't have to be me 'til Monday.
Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
I ain't gonna face reality.
Three days without punching a time clock;
Three nights of goin' non-stop;
No work and all play.
I don't have to be me 'til Monday.

*by Steve Azar from the album, Waitin' On Joe


Life is a bitch. And then you die.
--a bumper sticker

I hated bumper stickers, hated
the notion of wanting to be known
by one glib or earnest thing.
but this time I sped up to see
a woman in her forties, cigarette,
no way to tell how serious
she was, to what degree she felt
the joke, or what she wanted from us
who’d see it, philosophers all.
If I’d had my own public answer—
“New Hope For The Dead,”
the only sticker I almost stuck—
I would have driven in front of her
and slowed down. How could we not
have become friends
or the kind of enemies
who must talk into the night,
just one mistake away from love?
I rode parallel to her,
glancing over, as one does
on an airplane at someone’s book.
Short, straight hair. No make-up.
A face that had been a few places
and only come back from some.
At the stop light I smiled
at her, then made my turn
toward the half-life of work
past the placebo shops
and the beautiful park, white
like a smokescreen with snow.
She didn’t follow, not in this
bitch of a life.
And I had so much to tell her
before we die
about what I’d done all these years
in between, under and around
truths like hers. Who knows
where we would have stopped.

*by Stephen Dunn from the book, Between Angels

One of the above is a poem by a fine American writer, the other a popular country western song now in rotation on stations around the country--both western and otherwise. I'm not trying to discount either one by saying that just about anybody can probably tell which is which. I liked both of these works when I first encountered them. They both had something to say and both didn’t have any trouble saying it to me. Country music is pretty far from poetry, and poetry doesn’t come around often to the world we generally think of when we think of country music, but they don’t seem so different after reading these two pieces.

Life is a bitch but sometimes you skip a day of work and drive far from home or see a stranger you wouldn’t mind talking to if your parallel universes ever could intersect if only for a minute, or a drink. The possibilities are limitless—at least in our imaginations. What else matters? These are the things we are compelled to write about, those of us who are compelled to write (and that seems to be just about all of us these days).

I can’t say I’m a big fan of modern country music but I tune in once and a while. I listen because I am rewarded with a really great phrase now and again. I could repeat those two sentences and replace ‘country music’ with ‘poetry.’ I have to say that I am more comfortable with prose but I’m always willing to listen and learn.

Maybe it was the mood I was in when I came across that poem and heard that song but I was struck each time by the honesty of both works. Just like you can usually look someone straight in the eye and tell if they are telling the truth, honesty is fairly easy to spot in a song or a poem. It’s like you just want to say to the author, “Yeah, I know exactly what you mean, brother.”

I heard both of these works on the radio. Stephen Dunn’s wonderful poem was read by Garrison Keillor on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac and Steve Azar’s song I heard today when I got the radio fixed in my car and tuned to the country station. NPR and KAYO Country are close enough on the dial but probably worlds apart as far as demographics go. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t get outside of my target market ghetto as often as I should. As big as my world is, it seems pretty small at times. All it takes to get out of where you’re at is a cash machine and gasoline, or a spin on the radio dial, or a library card. I get out as often as I can, and I’m always glad when I do.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Clash of the Nutritional Titans

We were driving home from a not-very-ambitious day in the mountains--my first day of rock climbing this year. We did two routes and called it quits. I thought I could get in a bike ride before the end of the day if we made it back to Seattle before 7 o’clock. We threw our gear in the car and got on I-90 west.

I had to skip my tradition when I am out in these parts of ending the day with a beer at the North Bend Bar and Grill in North Bend, Washington which lies at the foot of beautiful Mount Si. The Mariners had a day game that had already ended. They lost to Minnesota. Watching the Mariners is the other reason besides beer that I go to the Bar and Grill. It wouldn’t kill me not to have a beer; it would just hurt a lot.

We pulled in at the quickie-mart in North Bend to get something to eat and drink for the drive home. Once inside the store we headed our separate ways and we met again in the car. Anyone can tell you that there aren’t a lot of healthy choices to be made when buying something to eat at the I-90 quickie-mart in North Bend, Washington, but I thought our choices were startlingly unwise. My friend opted for an ice cream sandwich, while I went old-school with a pepperoni beef jerky stick. Just call us west coast health food nuts.

Between an ice cream sandwich and a pepperoni stick, which one represents the biggest iceberg to the ship Titanic of personal health? Which one is more of a nutritional Chernobyl? Which one of us would die more quickly and in the most painful manner if our diets were reduced exclusively to a supply of our choices made at the North Bend quickie-mart? I should have had the beer after all.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Don't Quote Me on That

If Ben Franklin made a fortune off a stupid aphorism like “A stitch in time saves nine” then I think I can come up with a memorable quip that will put me on easy street. To be perfectly honest, I don’t even know what Ben was talking about. I don’t know if that makes it easier or more difficult for me to hit the jackpot in the quotation industry.

How about Shakespeare? He got famous for some pretty weak observations. “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Or maybe that was Tennyson. I might take exception to that one. Wouldn’t you rather have been born without a hand than to have your hand cut off in an industrial mishap? It probably doesn’t hurt like fuck to be born without a hand; I can only assume that there is no such thing as a painless saw mill accident. My advice to you, Mister LORD Tennyson, is that you shouldn’t try and peddle your lies in a lumber town—too many guys missing body parts.

So now that I have debunked two of history’s top quoticians (quoters?) all I need to do is come up with a couple of my own. I want my quotes to be useful, to have meaning in this era of technology. I just thought of one:

Buy as many pairs of the same color of dress socks as you can so when you immediately lose a few you won’t get angry and punch a hole in the laundry room wall.

Ok, so it’s not very catchy, but it makes total sense to me, and no one lost a major appendage at the lumber yard. Let me try again.

Always put your keys in the bowl on the bookshelf by the door so when you come home shit-faced you won’t put them some place really stupid--like in a drawer in the kitchen--and then have to spend the next day hung-over looking for them.

So maybe Shakespeare had something with that “Brevity is the soul of wit” bit, but it won’t help you find your keys. I need something nice and short. Someone else already came up with “No Fat Chicks.” You just know that guy made a fortune off that one. This is harder than I thought.

Return movies on time so you won’t have to pay late fees.

That one really sucked but I wasn’t ready. Don’t rush me, and when you just stare at me like that I get nervous. I just can’t do this with you right here. Why don’t you just put a gun to my head? Step outside and have a smoke or something.

If you try to force it out you might strain something, something might tear or rip. You could burst a blood vessel. You have to be perfectly relaxed. If you think about it too much it won’t come out, either. Try to think of something else, something pleasant. When nothing comes out you get frustrated and feel backed-up. I don’t plan on blowing a bowel just to get stinking rich writing witty one-liners. I’ll finish this later. Does anyone have a magazine I can borrow?

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Almost Talentless

One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I never learned how to ride a wheelie on my bike. I am constantly being humiliated by hot shots who ride by me on one wheel. They can barely contain their contempt for a rider who chooses to have both tires planted firmly on terra firma. I’m sure that they are smirking at me, but I’m too busy staring down at the ground in shame to take note of their derision. And don’t even bother with the “it’s never too late to learn” crap. It’s no use; I can’t do it.

I don’t think it’s asking too much out of this life to be able to pull a wheelie for a few feet. It’s not like I’m out to perform in the circus or like I asked God to make me taller. I was about nine years old when I came to the horrible realization that I would never make it in the wheelie department, not in this life. That’s just about the exact same age that I decided that I was an atheist. You do the math and come to your own conclusions as to the reason for my split with the church. And don’t try to sell me that “you’ll be able to pull wheelies in heaven” shit. Show me where it says that in the Bible or the Koran or the Book of Mormon. Actually, the Book of Mormon has an entire chapter devoted to the issue of wheelies in heaven, but you have to ride one of those dorky Mormon bikes with no gears and a bell on the handlebars. No thanks, and I don’t care how many wives you dangle in front of me.

And please spare me the “God has given you other talents” lecture because I just don’t care. What am I supposed to do the next time some bike messenger stud rolls by me on a wheelie? Do you think that if I yell at him that I can play some of the Goldberg Variations on the piano that I will somehow feel more like a man?

And speaking of not feeling like a man, have any of you guys ever been on a date and the woman you are with has to hail the cab because you can’t do one of those ear-splitting whistles where you put two fingers in your mouth and she can? It takes about a wheelbarrow full of Viagra and a case of Pabst to make me feel like a man after something like that.

“No one said that life is fair.” You know what, I’d like to find the guy who said that life isn’t fair and kick the living shit out of him for making such a grotesque understatement, because if you can’t pull a wheelie, or whistle so loudly that it makes ears bleed, then life is a hell of a lot worse than unfair, it is unspeakably cruel. What about hell? I’m so scared (insert sarcastic sneer). Don’t try to threaten me with eternal damnation, because it is hard to frighten a guy who has spent his entire life riding a bike with both wheels on the ground and not whistling very loudly.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

What, and Give Up Show Business?

(based on a true story)

A man goes to the doctor for a terrible rash on his arm. The doctor asks him what he does for a living. He tells the doctor that he works at the circus. He shoves suppositories up elephants’ butts. The doctor tells him to get another job and the rash will go away. “What, and give up show business?”

I don’t like to drop names but I know Kevin Spacey’s personal assistant’s ex-dog walker. Yes, there is quite a view from up here but I promise that I won’t let the stardom that I now enjoy change me in any way. I won’t forget where I came from and all of the people who have helped me to get where I am now. Life is so different for me, I won’t kid you. No more waiting in those humiliating lines at popular night clubs. I always get the table up front by the window in the best restaurants in town. If I were still a lowly dirt bag like you, it would be hard for me not to be jealous of me.

It’s not like my fame doesn’t come at a price. I just wish that I could go out and have dinner with friends like a normal person without being interrupted constantly by fans. I always try to be polite to people but knowing Kevin Spacey’s personal assistant’s ex-dog walker isn’t always a bowl of cherries. Dark sunglasses are a pretty effective disguise. I wear them all the time—even when I’m sleeping.

This is going to be difficult for you but I just don’t think we can hang out anymore. I need to be around other famous superstars. They are the only people who are capable of understanding what it is like to be me. I mean, Mick’s musical career has slipped a little, but he used to be pretty huge, so he knows what it is like for an A-list celebrity like me. Maybe Johnny Depp just likes to bask in the glow of stardom that surrounds me, but he’s not a bad guy, and he always picks up the check.

How is my sex life these days? Call me spoiled but I won’t even look twice at super models. Guys like me only date super-duper models. Let me just say that those letters to Penthouse Forum now seem like harmless bedtime stories for the kids compared to what life is like for a guy who knows Kevin Spacey’s personal assistant’s ex-dog walker. I try not to let my insecurities bother me because I know all famous people wonder at times if the woman lying beside them loves them for who they really are. Lying beside me now are Siamese twins, a transvestite midget nun, an entire women’s softball team (fast pitch), Mrs. Howell from Gilligan’s Island, a blow-up doll that looks like Oprah, and an Amish hooker. I’ll be honest with you; I’m too damn tired right now to care if they love me for who I am or if they just want to be with a guy who knows Kevin Spacey’s personal assistant’s ex-dog walker.

It may all come crashing down on me some day; I won’t be the first celebrity to take a bad fall. Substance abuse, divorce, paternity suits, plastic surgery, drunk driving, eating disorders, weight gain, bad hair cuts, and sometimes even murder--these are all occupational hazards of the rich and famous. We are only human, after all. Not loser not-famous human like you, but celebrity human. My star may fade. I’ll be stuck doing Hollywood Squares and late night infomercials for exercise equipment, but I’ll still be more famous than your sorry, unfamous ass. You have absolutely no idea what it’s like for us people in show business.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Road Trip


There is a wonderful sense of freedom when you have a few days off, a tank of gas, a debit card, and a bicycle on the back of your car. Living in Washington State is as good a place as anywhere I have ever lived when it comes to short road trips. I had extremely vague plans made on extremely short notice. I was only planning on going out for the day. Ten minutes before I was to leave, the person I was supposed to ride with canceled. I decided to at least stay over night somewhere. I grabbed a tooth brush. I’m a terrifically light traveler.

This was the third consecutive week that I have left town to do some serious mountain road riding. I’m still in my Tour de France frenzy so the more hills that I can ride the better. Last week we rode up the 18 miles to the highest point you can reach on Mount Rainier on a bicycle. For this trip I had seen a road the map a little north of Seattle that I wanted to check out. A little black line on a map was about all of the planning I had put into this trip.

I got a cup of coffee and headed north on I-5. The radio in my car is on the fritz so it was just the road, coffee, and me. I used the blank space of driving to work on my funny foreign accents. If someone had a recording of me singing songs in a heavy Arabic accent I would pay a lot of money to buy it back and destroy it. An idle mind can be pretty frightening at times.

I turned off I-5 at Marysville and headed east towards the Cascade Mountains. I liked what I saw on the map. Small towns with names like Granite Falls and Verlot were surrounded by five, six, and seven thousand feet peaks. This part of the State is dominated by the mountains and small communities that make their living from logging and playing host to travelers. I drive pretty slowly through beautiful country like this so try not to get stuck behind me.

State road #92 goes to Granite Falls, after that the road doesn’t have a number. They call it the Mountain Loop Highway. There were signs saying that the Mountain Loop was out up ahead. I thought it was worth it to check it out anyway, for future reference if nothing else. I pulled in at a ranger station.

The Mountain Loop was washed-out in three places before it got to Darrington from this side. They had pictures of the wash-outs; there was no way to make it through in a vehicle—even if I had a Hummer. I did think that I could ford the wash-out on foot carrying my bike. The park ranger told me that the Mountain Loop Highway included 14 miles of gravel. I had my racing bike with me so that was pretty much out of the question. This route had too much road for it to be much fun on my mountain bike. I had flirted with the idea of buying a Bianchi cycle-cross bike that would have filled this void in my bicycle collection nicely.

I abandoned this idea and drove around the other way, taking highway 530 to Darrington. As I drove into Darrington the clouds were lifting to expose Whitehorse Mountain that dominates that town. It was already about 1:30 in the afternoon. If I couldn’t ride here my other option was to cross over the mountains through North Cascades National Park, find a place to stay in Winthrop, and then do some riding. The motel in Darrington looked decent. Staying there would certainly be the easiest option so I ditched what little I brought in the room and started riding.

Because the road is closed there was almost no traffic on this end of the loop. The highway follows the Sauk River and rises slowly enough that I didn’t know I was even ascending. I soon got over my disappointment that I wasn’t getting my ass kicked humping up some cruelly steep mountain pass. Fooled by the false flat, I couldn’t understand how I was having such a hard time keeping my speed up to an acceptable level. What would Lance think if he saw me plugging along like grandma?

I can’t tell you what a luxury it is not to have to dodge cars on a ride like this. I didn’t have a single person pass me until two sheriff vehicles came along side of me. One stopped immediately in front of me while the other boxed me in on my left. I rode right around the stopped car and rode on. Who knows what they were up to? I had expected them to question me on matters relating to Homeland Security or something. I guess they had bigger fish to fry. I hope to fuck they have bigger fish to fry than a recreational cyclist.

It was getting pretty warm as the clouds evaporated and the sun came out in force. I was standing up on the pedals hammering for all I was worth for a lot of the ride—both up and back. I checked out a nice pool in the river on the way up so on the way down I dismounted and disrobed and plunged into the icy stream. It was a beautiful calm pool about chest deep and clear as glass. If you have never spent a day riding hard up a road and then taken a swim in a mountain river, then you are letting one of the best things in life pass you right by.

On the flip side of this, let me tell you about one experience you should definitely pass you by. The next day I drove up to North Cascades National Park to ride. I only got about an hour and a half into it when it started to rain. I could tell it was going to get a lot worse so I turned around and headed back. By the time I got to the steepest descent it was raining pretty good which means that I had to grind up a tough mountain pass without getting the satisfaction of ripping down the descent. On top of this I got stuck at a construction spot on the road that held up traffic for 20 minutes. It was pretty cold and all I was wearing was a lycra jersey. This whole thing wasn’t really my fault because the weather report called for rain.

I stayed in a hotel in Darrington. Darrington has two bars on the same street. I had a beer in the Red Top Tavern on one night and the following night I had a beer across the street at the Triple B’s Elk Horn Restaurant and Saloon. There was a Mariners’ game on both nights. The only clothes I brought were a pair of shorts and a Mariners’ T-shirt so I had street cred in any bar in Washington and Oregon. I have a Mariners sticker on my laptop so when I pulled it out to do some work, instead of stares I got compliments.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Zen and the Art




Maintenance, of motorcycles or any other thing, isn’t exactly my strong suit. Much like I turn a blind eye to kitchen untidiness, I also ignore (or try to ignore) the less-than-state-of-the-art level of tuning on my three bicycles. All three of them work, but they have a few quirks. That isn’t being completely honest with you. Replace “a few quirks” with “potentially life-threatening flaws” and you are closer to where my bicycles stand in the maintenance department.

I can’t really get around to repairing them all now because the window to the Seattle bicycle season is open. I have to climb through it and fall two floors to the street to get in as much riding as I can before the monsoon season begins in October. I’m more of a bike rider than a bike geek. You can be both a rider and a geek. Being a geek requires a little too much curiosity about any given subject than I seem to be able to muster. I do have a lot of curiosity about one subject, but in that endeavor they don’t say geek, they say pervert.

I suppose that it wouldn’t kill me to spend a few hours a week making sure all of my bikes were in top working order, but that might cut into the time that I sit on my butt daydreaming about helping the Incas kill off Pizarro and the Spanish conquistadors. Bike maintenance might interfere with the time I sit at my piano thinking that, although I can’t play piano worth a shit, I could probably kick Chopin’s skinny little tuberculosis-ridden ass. You could put Mozart and Franz Schubert into the ring along with Chopin and I’d walk away after the first round without breaking a sweat. So like I said; I’m too busy to do my own bicycle maintenance.

Just like Robert Pirsig can find Zen in monkeying around with motorcycles, I can find Zen in being a lazy slob. I think there is definitely a Zen-like devotion that I attach to staring off into space for hours and hours each day. Daydreaming is like watching TV but without the TV. I rarely ask people, “Did you see that show on TV last night?” I do ask people dumb shit like, “If the Incas had kicked Pizarro’s ass at Cajamarca, how long do you think their empire would have endured?”

Just using the word ‘Zen’ in the title of a book has to be worth about 100,000 units in sales in our purpose-starved culture. If you want to call your geeky devotion to whatever it is you do ‘Zen’ then go right ahead. Two can play that game. Or, come to think about it, you can go play it by yourself. If you want to say that you want to be a Zen master at golf, that’s your business. I will just put myself into what you would call a Zen-like trance. I call it a nap.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Household Hints

In this stressed-out, over-booked, over-worked, under-paid, short-handed, terrorist-infested world in which we live, we could all use a little help around the house. I have a few secrets of my own that I would like to share with you today that I’m sure will save you money and may very well save your life.

Nobody likes a dirty kitchen, although, from the looks of mine, I think it is fairly safe to say that I don’t like a dirty kitchen less than the average person doesn’t like a dirty kitchen. In fact, I have come to a sort of truce--a peaceful coexistence, if you will--with the forces that are responsible for kitchen dirty-ness. I wouldn’t want any daughter of mine to marry one of their kind, but we are able to live together in the same, small, inner-city apartment. A dirty kitchen seems to me like a really awful house guest, and I just don’t have the heart to ask him to leave.

This isn’t to say that I have completely given up on kitchen cleanliness. A week ago I cooked a big Mexican meal. I used every pot and pan in my very ample store of kitchen stuff. On top of that I cooked with a bunch of other objects around the house that are probably only meant to be ornamental. The next day the devastation was so thorough that police investigators theorized that someone had set off a C4 explosive charge wrapped with tamales.

It took some doing but I cleaned up the mess that the Mexican terrorists had inflicted on my kitchen. Then I got an idea. I thought to myself that maybe I shouldn’t invite the Mexican in me to come over and cook a huge meal. The next time the French chef impersonating me comes to the door with a bag of groceries, I'll pretend that I'm not home. Having a multiple personality disorder is really only a problem if you let one of them cook. Unfortunately, none of my multiple personalities is the obsessive-compulsive cleaning type.

Here is my amazing discovery: If you don’t cook then your kitchen doesn’t get fucked up. Inside my refrigerator I now only have a Britta water filter and half a bottle of Ketel One vodka. I don’t even have any mixer for the vodka that I could spill on the floor. Drunk and hungry isn’t the worst way to go through life. If you want to get rid of an unwanted house guest, just empty out the fridge (and hide the vodka).