27 January 2009

Snow Commute Haiku

Cute, white, wet. You blitz
my face like tiny pin pricks.
Welcome, snow. Now go.

19 January 2009

Viva La Backpack

It was the early Nineties when I first attended college. A lot of kids were slinging their backpacks over one shoulder in those days. Not me. I always afforded the backpack it's proper respect. A strap for every shoulder, plus one that rides like a Breathe Right strip across the chest--barely touching the bottom-most border of the areola. I remember my blue canvas sack with a reinforced leather bottom that I used to smuggle Molson Goldens into a Pearl Jam concert.

Christmas of 1998 my older brother Bryan bought me an REI model that was what I call a triangle pack--not to be confused with a messenger back which was the rage during those days. Rather than a strap over each shoulder, there was one shoulder strap and a side strap that connected to the the main front strap for an ergonomic and fashionable hang. When I was in grad school I would load it up with 3-d modeling textbooks and head down to enjoy the media circus around the Ray Lewis murder trial outside Coca Cola World in downtown Atlanta. I would later be married across the street.

I started my patch collection before I even had the backpack. I think my earliest patch dated back to 1991 and the summer I spent studying in Innsbruck, Austria. I knew I wanted a patch for a backpack or a travelling knapsack of some sort, but wanted to save it for the right one. By the turn of the century this new pack already boasted a wide collection of travel keepsakes--the trip to the Southwest where I got engaged populated the bag with several patches from a variety of National Parks we visited. I'm not sure if I put a Lake Powell patch on that pack, but that's where I popped the question. I'm a big fan of the original Planet of the Apes movie and also the Edward Abbey novel Monkey Wrench Gang, so I kinda killed two birds with one stone on that stop (never realized before both works invoke primates titularly). The night I proposed I got drunk waiting for something magical. There wasn't much to do at the primitive campsite. Earlier in the day we'd set up the tent and went for a meal at the resort restaurant. When we returned the tent was gone. I thought it had been stolen, but noticed some green fabric in a ball some 200 yards away. Turns out there were 80-mile an hour windstorms that ripped the tent out of the ground. Some other campers had been nice enough to track it down and lay some rocks on it. I later thanked them and they admitted they'd only done it because they thought it was their tarp. We still camp in that tent. I haven't repaired the slight rip across the roof it incurred that afternoon.

My wife sewed the patches on my backpack. It was Gortex-lined, so the needleholes degraded the waterproofing. But it was the pack I'd waited years for. There's one on there with a frog from Costa Rica where we spent our honeymoon. Another with a lobster from Boston where I saw the Braves play the Red Sox thanks to a jiggered radio contest the summer before I moved to the Northwest. A few years later the zipper broke on that pack. It sort of rendered it unreliable as a means of transport. I may have even added a few patches after that--where else was I gonna put them? In the interim, I'd received Ortleib Pannier bags one Christmas: 2003, I'm guessing. We pronounce "Pannier" the French way even though Ortleib is a German company.

My wife works for an apparel company, and so I'm the lucky beneficiary of random items, including a similarly styled tri-corner pack. Since the onset of the Ortleib era I haven't had much reason to revert to the pack. I enjoyed that unencumbered feel of having nothing on my back while I ride. Then last week, I left my bike at work over the weekend. We went out for drinks on Friday; it was freezing cold. So I figured I'd just get a ride home. I wound up taking the bus in on Monday morning. I didn't want to carry my Ortleib bag over my shoulder. If you've done it, you know the little hook juts into your back. Not at all ergonomic. So I went back to the new/old backpack. And it's enjoyed something of a renaissance the entire week. It's cold enough that back sweat is not an overriding issue. It just felt right, familiar. If you haven't used a backpack in a while give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised.

18 January 2009

Take, These Broken Wings

Yesterday evening a thing happened to me. At the corner of Houston and Broadway, I was pedaling full speed when my bike splits in two. I land on my feet running between the front and rear wheels, and after 10 yards of this I slow the three of us to a stop. I pick up both ends, still connected by the break cables, and dash for the sidewalk just as the next wave of Sixth Ave traffic begins to whoosh by. This all transpires in less time than it takes to type “Oh my.”

I prop what is now a unicycle tethered to an anchor against the nearest signpost. I swing my head around looking for some explanation. People walking by don’t know what to think of the situation. Two weeks ago I dropped $30 on this bike to get the breaks working. Can I take it to that place and have them weld the frame back together? I refuse to ride the train to work again. Not again, not me. I do have $400 in cash. But I’ve come to love this bike. White, athletic, stripped of the gear-changing apparatus. Born in 1909, cast in molten lead and depleted uranium, christened with a bottle of Night Train. Three cranks and it morphed into a herd of bison. It was a Manhattan bike – the kind that can cooperate with the front of two cabs and the back of a Chevy Tahoe. This bike never had a name. My first commuting bike. The kind of bike that doesn’t get stolen, unless a MOMA curator happens to walk by. How could I have let this happen? Maybe I didn’t. Maybe the bike itself chose to let go at the just right moment to spare my life. You know, Jesus did that.

I chain the two pieces to the post and make my way down Houston. I haven’t absorbed what just happened, but I still have an obligation to roast a chicken tonight. Now I am immersed in five lanes of sheep shuffling east and west through the cryogenic wind tunnel. The same sheep that refuse to look both ways when they step out of a cab. A bike zips by, but there is no epiphany in the spindrift floating in its wake, at least not within reaching distance from this icy sidewalk. I’ve been commuting cross-town for 18 months, five days a week, that’s over 700 rides down Houston. Never mind the Manhattan circumnavigations, the trips to the Bronx, riding the ferry over to Breezy Point. I need a new bike, I tell myself, tough guy that I am.

By the time I get to Whole Foods my spirit has dropped to knee level and I realize I would have been home right now if the bike hadn’t split in two. I snare a plastic bag and start picking through the brown mushroom trough, which neighbors the exotic egg section, but tonight there are no ostrich eggs with the green $29.95 stickers on them. Just quail eggs. I feel as though my own ostrich eggs have been replaced with quail eggs. Let’s call mine pheasant eggs, given the clutch landing.

Then I see her. Mary Kate or Ashley Olsen. Olsen - a Viking hero. Am I spelling it right? God knows. She picks up an onion and her eyes grab hold of mine. The realness is too much. I quickly redirect my gaze to the guy she’s with, who’s wearing sunglasses, even though he’s not a celebrity, and he’s – did he – I think his tongue touched the mouthpiece of his cell phone. Mary Kate or Ashley Olsen, I remember you from Full House, when I lived with my mom and grandmother in a 3-bedroom house, which could be considered a full house, but without Stamos, are you still in touch with him? I take my time selecting Brussel sprouts so I can turn and take another look or two. I’m no star f***er, as Irene would say, but I must be sure. Yes, it’s one of her. I wonder, are they shooting a follow-up to Beyond Thunderdome? In this weather? Olsen is all ragged lace and droopy grey hems: the post-apocalyptic nymph busily foraging through layers of catalytic converters and rusted oil cans when Mad Max enters her auto-graveyard realm. Can she be trusted? She barters a dubious Firebird for Max’s blue heeler. As Max drives away we see her constructing an over-sized hamster wheel in the background. It’s a dispensable scene – still, it will be the scene people miraculously remember when push comes to shove in a heated game of Trivial Pursuit ten years henceforth. I don’t know, maybe she always dresses that way. I’m glad she brought a coat because it’s 10 degrees outside, and we’re a long way from Ayer’s Rock.

We part ways and I’m off to the free-range section. I wonder if the Olsen could see the loss in me. I think about how Alex and I used to play tennis, and whenever the score was 15-15, we’d yell “Olsen!” Mary Kate and Ashley were always 15 to me. But this one didn’t look 15, and that was unsettling. As unsettling as the prospect of bike-shopping. And having to walk back to reclaim my lock, and take this picture…

12 January 2009

Wheels Turnin'

There's a lot of stuff going on in my world. I'm the "Bike Advocate" of my neighborhood association. As such I lobby for various bicycle causes in and outside of the Kerns Neighborhood Board. We decided this year to apply for a Southeast Uplift Leadership grant for a "Bike Safety and Awareness Day". It's a small grant for use promoting the neighborhood association's activities around some such cause. I'm pleased to report that we received the grant and will be branding helmets, lights and bells with the KNA logo as giveways (donations appreciated, of course). The fundraising, we hope, will pay for the larger goal of an installation of a bike corral off 28th across from the DaVinci Arts Elementary School. We have lobbied for a crosswalk at this intersection of the increasingly trafficked "Restaurant Row." So these projects, are interconnecting and feeding on the momentum of one another (as noted in a previous post we've actively lobbied for Metro's Twenties Bikeway proposal along this same avenue). We got a boost for our Kerns Bike Day this week with the potential partnership of PDOT's Sunday Parkways program. Janis McDonald will be speaking about the event at next week's Kerns Association monthly meeting, which, as always, is at 6pm on the third Wednesday of the month at Pacific Crest Community School. All interested parties are welcome to attend. Get there on time for pizza. We'll be looking for volunteer bike mechanics or bike performers for our Kerns Bike Day this summer, so please be in touch if you're interested.

07 January 2009

The Word of the Day is Wind

Happy New Year. Felt like I was doing the "Ride Against the Wind" mime routine this morning...

Saw a gigantic owl under the Marquam Bridge on Monday. Looked like maybe it was injured. There was a guy about ten feet away from it on his cell, so I assume he was calling the Audobon or Humane Society. Looked like a Great Horned Owl.

I'm thinking about returning my x-mas present and getting a helmet cam for my bike. Look for all this and more in 2009.