Wednesday, October 29, 2008

San Francisco Bicycle Culture II

More thoughts.

San Francisco, all 7 X 7 miles of it, is a complex mix of bicycle sub-cultures.

It has probably been talked to death elsewhere, but the urban bicycle sub-culture here is kind of fascinating. These are the single speed/fixed gear kids -- tight jeans, no helmets, ignoring the traffic laws, doing alley cat racing, disrupting Friday night traffic every month with their Critical Mass events.

Next are the fitness road cyclists. These are the guys with the overpriced roadbikes. I probably fall more into that category, even though I'm pretty cheap when it comes to bicycle equipment -- craigslist all the way.

Then there are the mountain bikers. Often they are yuppies, and they are definitely athletes. But they are made of much rawer and tougher stuff than most roadies.

Going to local bike shops and talking to the mechanics, the mechanics seem to fall into these schools. When they start talking about their own equipment, swapping war stories, you can tell who is a part-time/aspiring road racer, who is a hipster who loves fixed gears, and who shreds up the firetrails on the weekends.

I could never be a fixed gear/urban cyclist. But I will say one thing -- they are the reason so many beautiful old bikes are still on the streets of SF, in decent condition most of the time, having a second life as either a fixed gear or a commuter machine.

I used to wince when I saw people converting beautiful 1980's Italian steel racing frames into fixed gear machines. Now, not so much. Guys/gals who still ride these beasts understand and appreciate them for their capabilities and their classic beauty. When I've gone out on my early 1990's specialized Allez I've been able to keep up and in some cases smoke guys using much newer bikes. The fixed gear guys probably realize that those old steel frames can still fly like a bat out of hell.

Can't wait to take my baby shit blue 1987 Cannondale road bike, flat bar the sucker, and turn it into a commuter beast.

They ought to do a show here in SF, call it Pimp My Bike.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Music & Identity

A colleague of mine was telling me a few weeks back how her favorite music was country music. But she added that she didn't consider herself a country music fan because she wasn't "part of the culture."

I suspected at that time she was meant she wasn't of the racial & regional background of a stereotypical country music fan. She being an Asian chick who grew up an Oakland -- as opposed to a White guy/girl from Texas, or even Fresno.

My knee jerk reply to her was that I listened to Gangsta Rap, but I'm hardly a gangsta.

Thinking back about that discussion, it reminded me of how in high school & college we would all listen to music and wear certain types of clothes to blend into a particular clique. Or to flip it around, we'd start listening to certain types of music or wearing certain types of clothing, and the clique would find us.

Even as adults, we never completely escape those cultural identities shaped by our preferences in random things. It also made me think back to some of the stuff I had read on, and read about the Stuff that White People Like blog;

It's a funny blog, and all too accurate in its descriptions of a lot of people I come across living here in the Bay Area and parts of the Northeast.

But both that blog, and the brief discussion with my colleague, made me think about the way in which we unconsciously categorize people based on trivial things. What we see people eat, drink, wear, or like to do, might tell us something about the crew they run with.

But does it really tell us how they will treat us?

And isn't that the most important thing?

Maybe I'm just naive.

San Francisco Bicycle Sub-Culture

Last Friday I went bike shopping for a commuter beast. Did my rounds through Craigslist, came across a listing, and went to the sellers equivalent of an open house. He had several bikes he was showing at the same time to several people.

Showed up at the place. Chatted with a girl who had her bike stolen the week before. That wasn't so remarkable. SF, Berkeley, and Oak-town are notorious for bike theft.

The weird part was how her bike got stolen.

Her bike was stashed in the back of her truck. The thieves picked the lock of the door to her rear compartment (emphasis on picking the lock, no door or window smashing), and took her bike out.

Anywhere else in the country the thieves would have junked the bike and taken the truck!

Funny thing about SF. We love our bikes here.
So much a thief would ignore the bigger and more expensive truck for the cheaper bicycle.

The cops and bicycle advocates say that bike theft is a way of supporting a drug habit. But if you are stealing bikes instead of cars to pay for your junk, you are either a really stupid a junky, or a bike lover with some odd issues.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Foxy's Fall Century

Did Foxy's Fall Century yesterday.

It was the second century I ever did, the first since 2006 when I did Bay in a Day.

It was painful towards the end -- mostly around my crotch. The little training I got during the previous three weeks, hill workouts and spin classes, were just enough for my legs & lungs to get through it. But those workouts can't prepare you for the fire in your crotch from saddle soreness, or the stiffness in the upper back and neck from keeping your neck in the same position for 8 hours.

Still though -- it was gorgeous. Barreling down from Cardiac Hill past Lake Berryessea in Napa -- it was worth it. It was bright and sunny in the low 80's, much warmer than in the immediate Bay Area. I also never get bored by the sight of hundreds of gathering in one place, bikes and gear everywhere.

Moments likes that, similar to gathering up with a crew of wetsuited swimmers before a big bay swim, may you feel that you are part of something bigger. You feel you are part of a kind of sub-culture of weekend athletes.

At the end, me and the three other guys I was with were near dead. My lungs windpipe had a weird pain in it when I breathed, like it was overly exerted. The biggest guy in our crew bonked at midway and grunted the rest of the way -- more than I could have. The two other guys could barely look at the salad & pasta they served us at the end -- the heat and the riding nauseated them.

One of the guys commented on how I seemed so fresh after having done a century with so little training. He had no idea how much my ass and balls hurt at that moment.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sarah Palin's America

Read today about how Sarah Palin's whipping up a storm at campaign events. She gets the audience worked up, and they start wanting blood -- calling Obama a terrorist (or shall I pronounce it in proper heartland English terra-ist), a closet Muslim, saying they want him dead, etc.

She reminds me of why -- during that brief flirtation years ago in DC -- why I couldn't commit myself completely to the Republican cause, and how I've ended up being a more committed Democrat than I ever was in my younger years.

It seems that for many Republicans -- Palin included -- the policy differences between Republicans and Democrats are irrelevant. The issues is a bigger discourse on what it means to be an American, and what kind of country America should be in the world.

For Palin and those who love her -- they seem addicted to this idea of America as the Warrior State, some kind of modern day Sparta. Membership in this America means being a Warrior, or at least worshipping the Warrior Ethos.

In fact, I remember some crotchety ex-Marine who was a Senior Executive in the bureaucracy, venting about the current generation of Americans (me included) being selfish, decadent, and cowardly. He further recommended everyone read that book Gates of Fire, that fictional retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae.

This guy probably forgot the Spartans were flaming homosexuals -- albeit very violent and ascetic ones.

That crowdin the GOP that Palin appeals to doesn't bother to ask the question of who they are actually defending, and why. They just get off on the idea of being able to kill something for the cause.

Its just about God & Country -- plain and simple, right?

That's how we got ourselves into this 4 year fiasco called Iraq. And that's why we are stuck there.

But God forbid you tell them that.

Their hatred of the Obama, the Clintons, Coastal Liberals, seems to be driven by the fact that all these groups seem to represent an America they are not part of, and wish never to join. The idea of a cosmopolitan commercially oriented America is deeply offensive.

-Making money and enjoying your life instead of killing people, unpatriotic.
- Giving people who aren't White equal opportunities and the respect that goes along with their achievents -- blasphemous.

I will bet cash money -- if Obama wins the election in November, we will see a rise in radical right wing terrorism, a modernized version of the militia movements we saw in the 1990's

If we have to contend with that, at the same time as our existing Middle Eastern terrorist problems, I pity the poor slobs making policy in the Obama Administration. This will be an impossible balancing act.

How the Hell am I gonna do this?

A friend at worked persuaded me to do Foxy's Fall Century on the 18th out in Davis.

Did the Metric Century 2 years before. Wasn't bad at all.

But that was 2 years before, when I was a more dedicated athlete. And that was on 66 miles, not 100 miles.

Like the Tiburon Mile, I wanna do this to get back into doing the things that made me feel good about myself. I also haven't done a big bike event in a long time.

The past weekend's riding though, hit home how much my lack of bike riding could cost me.

Saturday went out with the Grizzly Peak guys on their second saturday ride. Wasn't hard, only 30 miles -- but on the toughest and most beautiful of the East Bay hills. Three bears, Pig Farm road, Wildcat Canyon.

When I've done these before it wasn't bad at all. Usually I picked a slower group or went alone. I made the mistake this time of trying to hang with the hammer group. I kept up -- but it chewed me up bad.

On the plus side of it though -- the three bears are such an incredible rush. Sure, mashing it up the hill without a granny gear behind guys stronger than me sucks. But the 3-4 mile long downhill descent at 40 miles hour, wind in my hair, bugs in my teeth, my specialized allez between my thighs...


That's a rush.

My legs were paying for it the rest of the day though. Started getting an odd feeling at different times in my knees. It was the distinct kind of pain that comes from cycling. Running doesn't do that to me.

I probably should get a new training bike with a granny gear. Mashing it up these hills with what I got now probably isn't such a good idea -- given the uneven training schedule I maintain. Can't even conceive parting ways with my specialized allez. Sure it's early 90's tech, and a source of trash talk with my brother. But it's served me well -- can't dismiss that.

Next morning I went out with the Sports Basement crew. Deliberately took the slow group. They took me on a 33 miler up the side of Mt. Tam via Mill Valley that I had never come across before. Lot of switchbacks through a residential area. They were merciful -- the ride leader was not seeking to destroy anyone even though he could of. Had a lot of stops to regroup, probably too many.

Amusingly, the best climber on the crew was this high maintenance woman from either the UK or Australia -- couldn't completely make out her accent. She got mangled on the flats -- from behind you could tell she didn't understand the value of high RPM & cadence. But being scrawny, she was a natural climber -- even as she whined about each of the hills we were knocking off -- she conquered them better than the others in our crew.

It was without a doubt, though, the most beautiful ride I had done in a while. There was one spot we stopped at, about 2/3 of the way of the mountain. It was just a rest area with a pair of outhouses and a bar/inn across the street. It was too tempting to stop there for a beer.

Back to the rest stop.

I swear to God -- it had the most scenic outhouse I've ever been to. You step out the door after doing your business. On your left -- you see the bridget that connecst Marin to Richmond. Ahead, is the Pacific. In between -- the foothills of Marin leading up to Mount Tam.

Also passed by this place which is the Austrian/German clubhouse that I had heard about so many times during the past 3 years. It's the spot where every 3 months they have an open house -- beer, sausages, music, and the lovely view. I guess it reminds them of Bavaria.

Even though I took it easy, the hill climbing still hit me. It was all down hill from Mt Tam down to Mill Valley, and flat as a pancake from Mill Valley to Sausalito. But it was on those flats that I began feeling the fatigue in my legs. It was hard to maintain the fast speeds comfortably. I'm also thinking maybe its not a good idea to get into a bad ass tuck and bombing it downhill. Your legs don't move -- they get stiff. The day before on the East Bay there were even moments during the downhill where I could feel my feet becoming numb from a lack of circulation.

It was worth it though, for the climb, and the view on the way home. Right on the Sausalito waterfront, there was a great view of the Fleet Week airshow. Some of the aerial teams flew in low over Marin after performing -- so I got treated to low flying antique jets in formation coming over me.

Don't know -- it's not very patriotic, but the Blue Angels F/A-18's don't do anything for me. Some of these older jets and foreign jets that the other acrobatic teams fly are cooler as far as I'm concerned. I think one group might have been flying F-86 Shooting Stars -- antiques, but classy in their own way.

Also -- since he loves to show off his ride, the Maltese Falcon owner pulled up to Sausalito's waterfront as well. So going along there -- I got jets, I got the city skylines, and I got a drop dead gorgeous clipper ship.

Maybe blowing out my knees was worth it.

Catching Up on October II

The morning after the pork fest/30th birthday party for our friend, I did the Tiburon Mile Swim.

I really needed this. The past few weeks had been humbling. I remembered that it was the combo of running, swimming, and cycling, that I did during 2005-2006 that gave me pride & energy like I hadn't had in years. So it seemed logical to get back to the roots -- maybe get some of my mojo back so to speak.

Pure open water swims are a mixed bag for me though -- I have to admit. My record of notable open water events;

Escape from the Rock: Yanked out of the water 200 yards from Aquatic Park (damn those kayakers for steering me wrong).

TI2Y: 70 minutes of long slow waterborne misery -- should have listened to the kayakers that time, and aimed straight for the bay bridge instead of the Gap building.

And those were AFTER blowing a big chunk of cash on Total Immersion (that's for another time).

Was told by several veterans of the Tiburon Mile that it was a very fast course. It was only 1.15 miles (1 nautical mile), and you swim with an ebb pushing you. One woman I spoke with told me she was able to do the course in around 35 minutes, despite taking 70 minutes and change for alcatraz. Decided to use that as my benchmark.

It was beautiful though that morning. Me and the better half were running late, and essentially had to run from the parking lot to the assembly area that morning.

But damn was that morning beautiful. That rich guy with a blinged out yacht, the Maltese Falcon, also decided to make an appearance that day, parking his yacht right into Tiburon Harbor. Then everyone loaded the ferries for Angel Island.

Funny -- I've always been very nervous before the big swims. But I've always loved that moment of anticipation. Walking around alone on the big ferry loaded with swimmers -- some in wetsuits, some in bare skin, listening to the conversation, checking the gear, and eyeing the course, there's nothing like it. I love that feeling. Even rough swims like Alcatraz and TI2Y, moments like those make it worth, being part of this strange fraternity/sorority of cold water freaks.

Standing on Ayala Cove, waiting for my wave to start, I looked behind me. The sea wall was lined up with the wetsuit swimmers. The right side was where all the bare skin and elite swimmers were lining up to head out ahead of us. At that moment, I thought of what an old teacher once said to me, that no day at our school was ordinary, that every moment there was unusual, and was to be valued because everything outside was ordinary and boring.

He was full of it.

That morning on Ayala Cove -- that was no ordinary day. I wouldn't trade that moment for anything. There was no class anywhere that could match that moment.

My wave came. Oddly enough, the first 10 minutes were the choppiest part of the swim. Cramming several hundred swimmers into a narrow channel between the yachts anchored in the cove and the shore on the left, the waters of the cove became incredibly rough from all the limbs and bodies flailing. More experienced open water swimmers & triathletes say that being in the pack allows you to draft, that you shouldn't fear all the bodies flailing themselves all around you. I beg to differ -- even if you aren't scared, all that churning, starting and stopping, screws up my rhythm.

After we all got into the open water between Angel Island and Tiburon, everyone spread out. I was for the most part alone. I tried to remember what Coach Pedro told me a few days before -- aim for the slope of the hill to the right of the harbor, then turn left. Did that for most of the swim, and I got my rhythm.

Eventually -- Murphy's Law will always hit. As I got closer to the finish, I got more disoriented -- go figure. I think the direction changes during that 3rd probably cost me some time. I finished in 42 minutes. Slower than I wanted, but faster speed per mile than my previous swims.

The finish, was also, one of those situations you can't help but laugh at. As everyone starts filing into the finish area -- a narrow channel in the small marina at Tiburon -- it gets crowded again. There was a girl just head of me coming up to the finish ramp. I got a little too close to her as we were both heading in -- so the bottom of her foot whacked me right in the chin. Didn't really hurt, but I couldn't help but stop swimming for a second and look at her as she pulled away -- it felt ridiculous.

Honestly though -- for all the difficulties -- I'd do it again. This was my favorite of the big open water bay swims during the past 2 years.

Catching Up on October

Where to start?

I'll make it quick.

The month began with an enormous hunk of pork.

A good friend of ours turned 30 the first weekend of the month. So a big party was thrown. Potluck of course.

My contribution. Arrista a la porcetta. A visit to the Fatted Calf in Napa the previous month exposed me to this porcine delicacy of the Gods. Leave it to the Italians to do the following;

-Take a pork loin;
-Take a whole pork belly, skin and all;
- Slather garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary, lemon zest, all over the interior of the pork belly;
- Roll the pork loin in the pork belly, with the skin on the outside;
- Tie it up;
- Pop it into the oven at 375 degrees for four hours;

What we got -- pork fat goodness. It wasn't as good as the Fatted Calf -- my pork loin was dry, but the side bacon was decadent & delicious. Bit much for the crowd at the party though.

Can't blame them. They didn't grow up in a culture that worships pig fat.