Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Life - What Got Me Started Racing

This was a thread response that I wrote sort of stream of conscious like just now. I just added pictures for the post.

***

I grew up in Holland. Ironically I don't remember ever seeing a drop bar bike there. Never saw a race, a cross race, nothing. Saw rally cross (race cars - there was a track in our town), watched some rally racing coverage on the very limited TV. In Holland a the time it was 2 channels, noon-11 PM or so, that was all that was broadcast, and weekends were pretty dead. We didn't watch a lot of TV.

Moved back to the US. Saw a guy on a road bike going around a corner. I later learned the guy was a strong Cat 2 (Scott Donovan). I couldn't believe how skinny the tires were on his bike. Started looking for books about cycling in the library. The only pro racing picture I saw was one of Eddy Merckx. He became legendary because of the 6 or 7 books, he was the only racer mentioned.

I decided I wasn't the big thighed racer the Bicycling guy kept describing. I forget the guy's name but he always wrote about touring and his search for the perfect drivetrain for a bike (half step + granny). I was dreaming about a 14-28 and 52/48/24.

I was 13.

Bought a road bike (Schwinn Traveler III, red) when I could finally ride one. Short legs, 19" frame was a bit big. Wrote the gear chart (52/40, 14-28) and taped it to my stem. Practiced double shifting. Got toe clips.

Second bike, Dawes Lightning, dark/light green fade. Changed gearing to what I thought was ideal, 48/34, 14-21 or 14-23 (for either "flat rides" or "hilly rides"). Eight usable gears out of ten. Got 700c wheels. Learned that a kid (Ken Bowler) in a bunch of my classes was an actual bike racer. Peppered him with questions 4 of 7 classes for a fall and winter.

I was 14.

He told me that in a race he'd have climbed Wolfpit (Wilton, CT) in a 53x15. That's basically the same as my max gear 48x14, and that blew my mind. I asked him repeatedly to make sure he wasn't telling me he'd descend down Wolfpit, not climb the thing. He kept insisting that he was referring to going uphill.

I tried it in the spring, going up the hill in a 48x19 or 21 first and working my way up. I got to a 48x15 but all the efforts made my legs fold in the 48x14 and I had to pull a u-turn halfway up the hill to avoid falling over. A kid Kurt in our school, who got a pro triathlon contract ($16k back in 1983?), got clocked and ticketed for going 50 mph down the thing. It's steep.

Shortly after my Wolfpit experience I went riding with Ken and his dad. I was absolutely shocked at how fast they went on the flats. Appalled, really. I thought the flats were the easy part when I rode, but the reality was that climbing was always hard and the flat stuff was ultra fast. Fortunately his dad got stung by a bee and required medical attention, else I'd have been dragging them down for 80 out of the 100 km ride we'd started. I think I still have the badge from that ride, the Bloomin Metric.

That winter I used all my current savings, my birthday present, my Christmas present, and some extra earned stuff, and ordered a Basso with Campy and Excel Rino on it. $550, $585 with tax. Campy NR derailleurs and shifters, Modolo brakes. And Excel Rino? Excel Rino had to be good, Lon Haldeman won the RAAM on it.

I was 15.

Basso in action, 1984.

Excel Rino was horrible, it was cast aluminum with the density of styrofoam.

But the bike was built by a mechanic who got 2nd in the Jr State RR. He asked if I wanted to join his team. He built my bike with Junior gears, laced over GP4s, put Clement Futurox tubulars on, and I raced that bike for two or three years.

I rode to escape all those teenage angst things. Lots of long rides deep in the boonies, roads I'd never seen before. All my friends through high school were my cycling friends and teammates. There were a couple Juniors (including high school classmate AgilisMerlin) but most of my friends were in their 20s and 30s.

My favorite days to ride are the gloomy 45-55 degree overcast possibly raining days. I guess that's sort of Holland weather. For some reason it really calls to me. Just pounding the pedals, rolling, feeling the tires dance over the pavement. I also hate riding in that weather, it's tough, it can get unpleasant, and it's always a bit iffy if it's wet or sandy.

Back in the day taking a picture cost money.
I wanted these pictures so bad I was willing to pay for them.
It's because I went for a ride in wet, gritty, gloomy weather, and I loved it.

Now it's a bit different. I train indoors most of the time. But my last ride was in 50 degree, rainy-at-first weather. We were on flat roads next to fields lined with trees, wind blowing hard, rain falling sort of sideways. My head was pounding from the cold, I could feel the wind piercing my long sleeve jersey just past the wind vest. It really was just like Holland. Horrible. I loved it.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Training - Blues Ranger

To continue an unlikely trend, I rode outside again, on November 6.

This time it was with two old time ex-teammates, riders that I hung out with mainly in the 90s. One bought the bike from my one and only "pursue and recover" incident, where I chased a thief for a bit and got back a bike he'd stolen from the shop. I'll call him Ranger.

The other guy is a musician first. He's since moved about 4.5 hours away, and, yes, he made the drive just to do this ride. I'll call him Blues.

Ranger, to my delight and astonishment, showed up with the theft recovery bike. I quickly snapped a picture of it in all its glory. It's virtually unchanged since back in the day.

The bike I recovered from a would-be-thief in a different life.
Other than a change in tires I think the bike is pretty much original.

While we got ready it was raining a bit, a cold, windy, damp, grim, grey, day.

A perfect day for a Belgian style ride.

What's interesting, and we all commented on it after the ride, is that none of us ever suggested just skipping the ride and catching up over coffee at the local breakfast place, a favorite in the area which Junior refers to as "The Waffle Place". Instead we set about dressing for what seemed to be a pretty grim ride on the bike, each of us putting on differing amount of gear.

With the temperature just about 50 degrees, a chilly wind, and the drizzle, I had on knickers, booties, a short sleeve jersey, a thick long sleeve jersey, a wind vest, and my winter gloves and hat. My helmet of course, and shoes.

My bike, this time with a saddle bag, rear light, a pump in my pocket, bottles.

Blues had on everything, tights to jacket, and looked to be the most prepared of the trio.

Ranger, true to his hard man style, opted for shorts and just two t-shirts. With his toe clips and straps, sneakers, and non-lycra gear, he was by far the least pretentious of the group.

Start

Our motley crew headed out. It was so cold I started getting a massive headache because of the cold and a slightly tight helmet (I loosened it later when I realized it was too tight). I could feel the wind blowing through my jersey arms, my shoulders and upper arms feeling the piercing chill. My glasses got wet from the misty rain, the tires looked slick as ice, and I found myself wondering how long I could keep this up.

I figured both Blues and Ranger had driven quite a bit to ride with me. Blues had initially arranged to meet up by me so I could take a short break from looking after my dad. Since my dad passed that wasn't a concern anymore but still, they made the drive here. At any rate I figured they both had too much vested into the ride to quit after 15 or 20 minutes.

I had to keep going.

So I plodded along, trying to shift my helmet around to get my cold-induced headache to a minimum.

Then, as we moved along, the clouds started breaking up, the sun peeked through, and things got a bit better.

We tried not to go too fast so our pace heading out was, shall we say, "conservative".

Along the path

Let me go on a tangent here for a bit.

Along the Canals

In the book "The Dog In The Hat" that spoke to my core in some absolute and indescribable way, Joe Parkin talks about how a lot of riders train by riding along canal bike paths. These paths are meant just for bikes, they don't have motorized traffic on them, and it allowed a group of riders to pound out the hours without getting too distracted by cars and such.

I realized that here, along this "Multi Use Path" (MUP), we were riding along our version of the "canal paths". In a different life, perhaps a future one, I thought it possible that I'd be rolling along these paths, maybe in the off hours, doing base work.

For now though, it was just for fun.

Turn Around

We generally stayed together although Blues went ahead when someone passed us. Even on easy ride it's easy to get pulled into little informal competitions. However, after about an hour, with Blues ahead maybe 20 or 30 seconds ahead, Range admitted he was done. Blues was still in sight over these flat and straight trails. I told Ranger to turn around (it was an out-and-back ride) and that I'd catch Blues and we'd turn around and catch up.

I did a little effort to bridge the gap and quickly realized I was blowing up. I looked down and saw 26.7 mph.

Yeah. Not very impressive.

I eased because, um, there were some people walking a dog. That's it, people walking on the trail. Actually, there were people walking, I eased to pass them without scaring them (smiles and waves all around), and then, with 20 seconds of recovery, quickly bridged the remaining bit to Blues. I told him Ranger had turned around and that we'd catch up to him.

We looped around, passed the people walking (more smiles and waves), and then I started pushing a bit. Normally I think going sort of fast on these trails is really bad, but that's in the summer with lots of people and such. When there's no one around, in dreary conditions, 20-22 mph seems pretty reasonable.

The Chase

I was leading much of the time as Blues was on an off day. At the beginning of one of the many long straights I realized that Ranger was totally out of sight. Like absolutely totally out of sight.

"I think Ranger dropped the hammer when he turned around."
"No, he was hammered already."
"Well, he's pretty far ahead."

We went on for another 15 minutes, not a glimpse of him. Finally, at the end of a really, really long straight, I spotted him just disappearing out of sight. After a minute or two along the straight, the end of said straight still off in the distance, Blues admitted that, wow, Ranger had a big gap on us.

I started making calculations. We'd been chasing "hard" for about 15-17 minutes and he was at least 4-5 minutes ahead of us. I couldn't go much faster and we might have closed a minute on him, based on previous straights. At this rate it'd be an hour before we caught him, meaning we'd only see him back at the cars.

I started pushing as hard as I dared, Blues clinging to my wheel.

Unbeknownst to us Ranger had pushed super hard until the end of that exact straight and then blew sky high. Just 7 or 8 minutes later we caught him. He had a big grin on his face. He'd tried to pull one on us but had shattered himself in the process.

We slowed down a bit then, with the three of us sort of working together, we upped the pace slightly.

The only incident of note happened when we were clearing yet another set of gates meant to keep cars and trucks off the path. Blues clipped the gate with his bars, got flung to the side, and basically karate chopped through two of the three poles of a wood fence. He was fine though, as the wood was totally rotted.

He got up and we got going again. Our little incident blocked the path for a minute or two, holding up a few riders. I saw them, called it, and we got into line. I was pleasantly surprised by our ragtag group's fluency. Everyone got in line, we were in tight formation, all that, no fuss, no muss. I pulled at a reasonable pace for a bit, I asked if the riders were still back there, and Ranger and Blues replied that they were gone.

We got back okay and then headed to the Waffle House (aka Harvest Cafe) for lunch. We, meaning the family and myself, hadn't been there after 8 AM for a number of years, so I went in thinking they just served breakfast all day Sunday. When the manager (a funny character) walked by I asked him if they were serving lunch because the lunch menu was in our breakfast menus.

"Yeah, we serve lunch. Why?"
"I thought you only served breakfast on Sundays."
"Well that changed, I don't know, like TWO years ago," he grinned.
"Oh. I guess we haven't been here for lunch in forever."

I realized later that we hadn't been there for lunch since long before Junior was born, so a solid 4-5 years ago.

After

I got home and felt absolutely wiped out. I realized that riding outside, especially when it was chilly out, made the riding a lot more fatiguing. Probably burned more calories also.

My epiphany that the MUP was sort of like the local version of the "canal paths" also came as pleasant surprise. I could see myself going out there and doing some steady work, maybe even on my mountain bike. I need more than anything else to do some uninterrupted, high-steady work, and the MUPs are perfect for that, a semi-long effort separating the road crossings. If I rode them at night, or maybe early in the morning, I imagine there'd be little or no traffic.

And finally...  When I drove by the broken fence the other day I noticed that the remaining log in the fence was moved to the middle spot, which makes sense. High enough to keep people from spilling out onto the road, low enough to keep kids and dogs from breezing through the posts.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Training - Riding Outside

So the other day (Nov 2... it's been a while) I went for a ride, the first normal training ride (where I started from and finished at the house) I've done in something like 22 months.

22 months.

The last regular outside training ride I did was back on December 27, 2014 (2014!), part of a three day ride fest when the weather ended up unseasonably warm. The winter really hit hard after that, with a ton of snow and stuff. I ended up not posting very much at all because things were absolutely crazy with holding the 2015 Series.

I wasn't planning on riding but it was November 2, it was 70 degrees outside, and the Missus came home early. At first she said she wanted to go for a run but then she thought about it, looked at me, and asked if I wanted to go ride.

I hadn't even thought of it.

What's weird is that in the last few years I've basically trained myself to not ride outside. I know there were a few days where I was walking with my dad and thinking and saying out loud (my dad wasn't interactive so all my talking was to myself), "It's a nice day out, what a perfect day for a walk." Or, before my dad was here, I'd think, "What a great day! It'll be perfect for the playground!" and I'd bring Junior to the playground. In fact, when I picked Junior up from pre-K earlier that afternoon, we ran around outside for a good 30-40 minutes, it was just so nice outside.

So when the Missus asked if I wanted to ride my brain sort of missed a shift. I couldn't answer for a second as I worked to assimilate this new thought, this new world.

Training outside?

After what seemed like an eternity I said yes. And I started scrambling to put together a riding kit. Shorts? Jersey? I wanted a long sleeve, just in case, but not winter weight. Only thing I had quick at hand was the 2010 Bethel Spring Series Leader's Jersey so I grabbed that. It's yellow and therefore visible, but it also is both an ego boost and a memory trophy so there's that. I grabbed a pair of matching shorts because, you know, matching.

Shoes, socks. I couldn't find my oversocks in 15 seconds so I decided to skip them.

I couldn't find my long finger summer weight gloves but they popped up somewhere, I don't remember where.

I grabbed my helmet, my main helmet cam on there. It hadn't been charged in forever, since August, so I knew it would be done quickly. I debated switching batteries but, really, none of my helmet cams had been charged recently so I knew I'd get 5 minutes of coverage before the dreaded double-beep and the shutdown.

I grabbed the tail light off the helmet I used when I rode to the local garage to pick up the Expedition.

Waterbottles? No.

Tube? Pump? No.

"I'm not carrying anything so if I flat I'll need to call you."
"Okay."

And with that I was off.

I tightened up the brakes - they are set for the race wheels, about 5mm of clearance from the pad to the rim. It took a lot of turns on the brakes' barrel adjusters, more than the 5 turns I normally do for the clinchers. I think the pads have worn a bit since my last ride on clinchers which was sometime in mid-2015, over a year ago.

A note on our driveway - over the summer I went to measure the slope using a level and a ruler. I was sorely disappointed that it only dropped 7" over 32 level inches. It didn't seem that radical and the driveway feels radically steep. Then I did the math.

22%

Our driveway, at the steep bit, is 22%.

No wonder I've slipped and fallen there. No wonder the Missus had to crawl up the driveway once (it'd snowed, the driveway wasn't plowed yet).

Knowing I had to stop at the bottom of a 22% slope had prompted me to check my brakes before rolling down the thing. Brakes good I rolled down our driveway. 

I turned onto the road and did what I always do when I first get on a bike outside. I got out of the saddle and waggled the bike a bit.

There's something magical about riding a bike out of the saddle, saddle wagging back and forth. It's what I've tried to capture with my homemade rocking trainer mod, and it's what I miss most about riding outside. Racing, yes, but doing a massive acceleration on the bike... that's basically what I live for when I ride.

I did my standard loop, the one I call the Quarry Road Loop. I'd love to be able to say that I smashed all sorts of PRs and stuff but the reality was that I just trundled along. I got out of the saddle when I could, blew up way too quickly when I made any kind of effort, and generally did what I normally do on training rides.

One change was that I completely misjudged one fast right turn. I briefly wondered if I was going to lay down the bike. Apparently my cornering gets rusty when I ride inside, not that it's great to begin with. No bike laying down so it was just a little hiccup in an otherwise good ride.

No one buzzed me really close. A couple cars were a bit close, but they were hovering over the white line anyway.

When I got fitted back in 2015 one of the thoughts that came up was that I'd be a good person to ask if driving has gotten much worse since, say, 2014, because the last time I rode outside in the area was 2104. So here's my n=1 survey result: I have to say that between Dec 2014 and Nov 2016 it seems that the drivers were about the same. No worse, no better.

Bike as I rode it.
ISM saddle is an absolute must for me now.

When I got back I was a bit out of breath, a bit warm, and I felt energized. I took a picture of the bike inside for posterity's sake. Thanked the Missus for the chance to get out there. I realized that maybe riding outside has some merits.

I also realized that I had a little reunion ride with a couple former teammates in a few days. This ride outside was a great little reintroduction to the outdoors, before I joined others on a ride.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Life - My Dad

My dad passed Wednesday, October 19.

He'd been struggling for a while, and, now, finally, he's at peace.

Walking back in April.
I'm to the left, he's to the right.
Although he could walk on his own I didn't want him falling so I held his hand while walking.
We walked a little less than a mile in 21 minutes that day.

For those that don't know my dad has been at my house since the beginning of 2016. He's been unable to care for himself for a while so, after many years of one of my brothers looking after him, I accepted the "care baton". We had no idea how much time he had left. Initially I thought maybe a year, but that was just some random guess/feel thing. After a month or two, with my dad totally stable in his abilities, I thought that he could stay stable for years.

Of course that wasn't the case. Every month or so I'd notice a decline somewhere, and, cumulatively, it was more than he could bear.

Hospice

I initiated hospice care the Saturday before which was October 15. I didn't really "start" it, it was really like "signing up" for it. Actual care really started on Tuesday when the first person showed up, and, I suppose, it really started Wednesday when his regular nurse arrived for her first, and, unexpectedly, her last visit.

For the uninitiated hospice care is basically "end of life" care. The expectation is that the family would initiate hospice care up to 6 months before death, with government coverage designed to handle at most 6 months of hospice.

The thing is that I didn't think he needed hospice just yet. Maybe a few weeks ago I got him up in the afternoon. Junior had just fallen asleep for his afternoon nap so it was a perfect time, I could pay attention to my dad and not worry about Junior getting tangled up in our feet or asking me about dinosaurs or whatever. I showered and dressed my dad then walked with him out of his room.

I meant to walk him to the kitchen table (the only eating table in the house) to feed him. Instead he veered off intentionally, heading directly to the steps leading upstairs. We'd gated the stairs off when he first moved here because he immediately started going up and down the stairs (with us spotting him). We were worried he'd fall down if he got up them on his own. Recently, though, we removed the gates since we always walked with him due to his somewhat unsteady walk.

That morning, at the first step of the ungated stairs, he paused and looked at me.

Then he looked up, lifted his foot, and started up the stairs with a purpose.

Although a bit wary I let him climb the stairs, one step at a time. If he wants to go up the stairs then he should go up the stairs. He wobbled a bit as expected but I never had to really support him, just spot him, and he made it up to the top of the stairs. Then he walked directly into Junior's room, walked around his bed (the bed has walls on three sides), and stood at the open side looking down at the napping Junior.

Junior's bed. The doorway is in the background, Bella is hanging out.
You can see how walking around the bed would give a better view of the bed.

After watching Junior sleep for maybe a "moment of silence" amount of time he turned and walked out the room, to the stop of the stairs. I quickly got past him at the top of the stairs to spot him from the front. Although this time I had to catch him a few times he made it down pretty well. Then, after visiting the front door and the kitchen he finally walked to his chair at the table and waited for me to help him sit down.

This didn't seem very "end of life" to me.

He did weaken significantly in the next couple weeks but still, this was something I remember pretty vividly.

We got this in late September.
We borrowed a wheelchair from a local medical closet and took my dad to the Big E.
We figured he'd like more trips like that.

Nonetheless we started talking about hospice, eventually resulting in me asking for a meeting with the hospice care providers for a meeting. I figured I should at least figure out what I need to do when he was closer to "end of life". That prompted the Saturday visit by a nurse. She did a preliminary assessment, declared him relatively fit but at the same time definitely meeting the criteria for hospice care. These include the person being not ambulatory on his own, not intaking much, not talking, losing significant weight, and being incontinent. My dad was all of them; at that point he weighed about 109 lbs, down from the 130 lbs in January, and his normal 160 lbs or so.

That Saturday, October 15, we made appointments for various people to visit the next week. The nurse wanted to have a health care aide 5-7 days a week. I initially declined because, you know, I can do all that stuff myself, but then we compromised and decided maybe 2-3 days would be good. The first visit from the aide would be Tuesday. As standard protocol the nurse had a counselor schedule a visit, as much for the family as for him. That was scheduled for Wednesday. Then of course his assigned nurse would come in, do a more detailed assessment, and bring me up to speed on what I'd need to do to care for my dad. After some negotiation we decided that the nurse would be at the house Wednesday as well.

Keep in mind that at this time I didn't think he really needed hospice care. I did know that things were changing, but to me it seemed hospice might be a few weeks away.

Once initiated the hospice program gets a lot of things rolling. Before hospice I was sort of struggling to learn things as it became necessary to learn them. It wasn't like I had to learn all sorts of complicated things, but it was still stuff that I'd discover the hard way, either asking my brother for tips, Googling things myself, or realizing I needed to do this or that otherwise my dad would do that or this. Although perhaps just one small thing at a time, it was a constant "learning and adjusting" thing.

In contrast, after hospice kicked in, I felt like I suddenly became part of a well oiled machine, all the parts humming along. Everyone had a task, they were good at it, and they took the newbie (me) in like I was a new teammate in a cohesive team. I learned a lot of little tricks in the two days hospice care people visited the house. Even the admitting nurse taught me some tips that Saturday.

A significant thing is that they knew the drill. They knew what to expect, what was normal. For me every change was sort of like "omg what do I do now?!" For them it was just another normal, expected thing.

My dad made it four days from that Saturday, one visit per person. I guess if nothing else my dad was super efficient. No wasted resources there. For anyone that knew him it was completely appropriate.

Family

My dad and me, 2007.
I know, he must be so proud, right?
Photo by Matthew Wagner

My dad existed for his family, living his life as a duty to provide for his wife and his kids. By "provide" he felt the duty to support his wife until her death and support his kids until they were married. Apparently this was his definition of "leaving the nest". I was the last of the kids to get married, in 2007, and at that time he told us: "My wife is dead, my kids are married, I've fulfilled my duty, I am ready to die now."

That statement notwithstanding he cared for the earlier grandkids, the first of which arrived just a week and change after my mom passed. He helped out around the house as much as he could. But slowly, inexorably, he deteriorated.

In the end it's how he arranged his things that says a lot about how he and our mom raised us.

Before his facilities diminished too much my dad gave each of us four siblings equal and complete power of attorney over everything in his life. No checks or balances, just 100% outright power in each of the siblings. The lawyer writing all this up was pretty surprised at this, even questioning us to make sure that the law firm wasn't misunderstanding anything, or perhaps my dad wasn't aware of the implications.

He was.

This meant that any one of us could have, say, changed his will. Any one of us could have absconded with all of my dad's assets, legally, without telling anyone else. Even though none of us did that stuff, at the very least there might have been arguing about who should do what. Instead we all agreed on everything, together, without hesitation. To me this is a reflection of how our parents raised us, taught us.

A related thing is that we felt it necessary to look after our dad at one of our homes. This wasn't a specific wish of his, but it's something we felt necessary. We put some of our own lives aside in order to do this; one brother really took the brunt of it, and when he finally started cracking my other brother and myself both stepped up. Because of various logistical reasons we all decided that having my dad come to my house made the most sense. He moved in with us the last day of 2015, I think we finished getting him settled in a little before 11 PM on Dec 31st, New Year's Eve, 2015.

I can't begin to describe how much time, energy, and stress caring for an elderly person can put on a family. I've spoken to a lot of people who have gone through the same thing. It's not anything super intense, like say dealing with a fire or a flood, nor is it super complex, like neurosurgery, but it's just relentless. I can sort of relate to the never ending stream of, say, mail, and the whole "going postal" thing. The continuous demands of caring for a family member can be very draining psychologically, which affects you at every level.

It got to the point where, a couple months in, I was privately wondering if our marriage would survive, it was that bad. The stress ended up tempering my relationship with the Missus instead of breaking it, making it stronger, but like the initial stages of heat treating or welding, it didn't look very good for a while.

The End

Although we went through this end of life thing with my mom I seemed to have forgotten a lot of details in the 13 years that have passed. The hospice nurse explained to me some things, like if he was breathing a bit quicker it meant he was distressed. We'd treat him for discomfort (pain and anxiety) per his wishes.

The hospice nurse made her first visit on Wednesday, October 19. I had a weird night going into it, meaning on Tuesday, October 18. Normally I don't drink alcohol but for some reason I decided I needed a drink sort of late on Tuesday night. Usually when I have a drink it's because someone offers at a special occasion, but for me to initiate wanting a drink is pretty abnormal. Out of the blue, before I really realized what I was saying, I announced to the Missus that I wanted a drink. She was surprised but, perhaps, in some way, it wasn't too outlandish, given the situation. After all the whole year had just been one thing after another.

I got some tequila out to make a margarita. We keep the alcohol in a cabinet up high so I was standing on a stool to retrieve the bottle. I bent down and started pouring myself a bit into a cup below me on the counter. I couldn't tell how I'd poured because I was looking at the cup from above, not from the side. Also I'm no bartender so I don't instinctively stop at an ounce or whatever. The Missus watched me pour.

"That's a lot of tequila!" the Missus exclaimed.

I quickly stopped pouring.

When I climbed down I realized that I'd probably poured myself two shots worth of tequila. I put in a lot of mix, took a sip, and started coughing. The Missus couldn't help but giggle a bit. Although I didn't look up through my watering eyes and state through my coughs that "wow, that's pretty smooth", I think that's the only thing that was missing from the picture.

The Missus got me a couple ice cubes, I waited for it to dilute just a bit, then I drank it. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I went to sleep.

About 4 or 5 hours later I snapped awake. My first thought was the only reason I'd wake up like this was because of my dad so I hurried downstairs to check on him. He was breathing very heavily, normal cadence but it sounded labored. I wasn't sure what to do so I watched for a while, he seemed to be stable and asleep, so I headed back upstairs.

For me the operative term was "stable". "Stable" implies no changes so it's a good thing.

I woke up again and after some breakfast waited for the nurse. She arrived, watched him for all of, I don't know, 15 seconds, and started getting busy. She did all sorts of stuff, arranging him on the bed, raising and lowering bed stuff, asking for blankets and pillows and putting them here and there, and giving medication to clear my dad's mouth and make him feel less distressed. I noted what she did and basically my dad seemed a lot more comfortable. He was laying on his side, curled up like Junior taking a nap.

At some point she said that we were in the "days or weeks" time frame, not the "hours or minutes". That's one of those things you want to ask but you're not sure when it's appropriate. You don't want to blurt out, "So how long, nurse?", but at the same time you really want to get some kind of a time frame. It was good she mentioned it on her own. I figure it must be protocol.

Somewhere about that time I decided to call my siblings, I think while the nurse took care of some tasks like cleaning up my dad and such. My two brothers could drive from work immediately. One had probably 4 hours to get here, the other maybe 7. Unfortunately my sister couldn't make it that day because she had to fly across the country and that isn't a "right now" kind of thing - it would be tomorrow night before she could arrive.

A few hours into her visit his breathing was a bit fast, about 30 breaths per minute. Normal is a bit slower, 15-20 or so. We gave my dad some medicine but it generally takes a bit of time for it to kick in, especially since he stopped swallowing anything in the last day or so. For practice the nurse had me give him the last dosage of everything he'd gotten so I felt okay taking care of him. The nurse double checked that I was okay with the medicine procedure, I told her yes, we reviewed my tasks, and she left.

I checked my dad often. I remember being sick as a kid, laying in bed with a fever, and my mom and dad coming in to check on me. They'd wipe my forehead with a towel dipped in a water and rubbing alcohol solution, the alcohol evaporating quicker to cool me down better. I don't know if that was a known thing back in the day or if it was something my chemical engineer dad would have done.

We knew it was serious if they then had us take an aspirin, an orange flavored chewable, I think they were St John's or St Joseph's or something like that. After they finished with whatever they'd wrap me up, tucking in the blanket under our sides. My mom was a bit softer, the blanket wasn't as far underneath me, and of course it would loosen after a bit. My dad would tuck the blanket in more; when he tucked in the blanket you knew it. It felt like you were a snug little burrito. It'd still be snug when you woke up an hour or two later.

I didn't snug up the blanket around my dad but I made sure he was all covered. His torso felt really warm although his extremities were a bit less so. I made sure his face was clear so he could breathe okay.

I was expecting his breathing to slow down once the meds kicked in. Problem was that his breathing actually sped up. I called the nurse and reported that his breathing wasn't slowing at all and in fact it was up to about 60 breaths a minute, one a second. If you try breathing that fast (I tried it while I was counting) you'll realize that it's very, very fast for someone that's super weak and laying in bed. The nurse told me to give him the various "use in case of emergency" doses of medications as he was clearly distressed.

She also told me that my dad was deteriorating even quicker than she anticipated and were were now in the "minute and hours" range. This was a big change from the more relaxed "days and weeks" statement just a few hours before.

I hoped my brothers could make it here quickly.

I gave my dad the various medications (something to clear phlegm and two other things). I waited for a half hour, rolling his wheelchair up to the bed so I could sit in it while I watched him. His breathing didn't change much at all. At some point I went and moved one of the cars out of the driveway so one of my brothers could park next to the house - he'd be arriving shortly, like in 45 minutes; the other I expected in a few hours.

When I came back in my dad was breathing extremely slowly, like a breath every 10 to 15 seconds. I called the nurse again. At her request I timed his breathing. Three breaths in 32 seconds, 5 or 6 breaths a minute. Obviously this was a significant change from panting at 60 breaths a minute. After a brief discussion she let me go after making me promise to call her as things changed. Now that I know a bit more I have a feeling that she knew what was happening and she wanted me to be present with my dad for his last minutes here, not be talking on the phone.

I hit the Off button on the home phone. I sat there in the wheelchair, next to my dad on the hospital bed. I had my stopwatch (an app on my smartphone) in my right hand, the home phone in the left. I was counting breaths, which, at that point, was more like counting how many seconds between breaths.

I reset the stopwatch and waited for him to take a breath.

He took a breath so I hit the start button. The timer started racing along, counting off the seconds until the next breath. In a bike race, when I'm timing a break's gap, time crawls by so slowly. I figure the break has to have 20 seconds and it's really 12. Here it raced by; I was hoping for 10 seconds and it was already, whatever, 15 seconds.

My dad looked as comfortable as he could be, curled up in bed, wrapped in a blanket. His hands were up across his chest and neck, his legs bent a bit and his knees up a bit. His eyes were mostly closed so he looked completely at ease, curled up like maybe Junior when Junior's asleep.

I resisted the temptation to tuck in the blankets firmly around him.

My dad took a breath, a big one.

I glanced down. The stopwatch showed 32 seconds. 32 seconds. That was a long interval. I let the stopwatch run. My mind wasn't really processing things. I wanted to make sure I didn't miss the time when he took his next breath. Otherwise there were no changes, no movements or anything.

Stable is good, right?

At some point, out of the corner of my eye, I saw 32 flash by again. By the time I focused on the stopwatch it showed 1:35, a minute 35, numbers racing by even as the 32 registered in my head.

It meant that over a minute had passed and my dad hadn't taken a breath.

That got my attention.

I looked closer at him. He didn't look any different, still curled up like he was taking a nap. I got up and crouched over him. His fingertips were cool, but they were before. His toes were cool, but they were before. His head was cool up top, warmer toward his chin, like before. His chest was warm.

Like before. That was stable, right?

I held his wrist.

I thought to myself that I hadn't taken his pulse recently so I wasn't sure how it would feel. I couldn't feel anything but I was starting to get a bit agitated and I couldn't calm myself down to feel for a feeble pulse. I checked his neck for a pulse also, but, again, I wasn't able to do it. I didn't know what his heart rate was when the nurse checked in the morning so I had no point of reference. I did notice one thing.

His chest wasn't moving at all.

At some point, I don't know when but I think after about 2 minutes, I realized that he still hadn't taken a breath.

I straightened up.

I walked out of the room and down the hallway, the one my dad walked through over and over just a few months ago when he'd do laps around the first floor of the house. I remember it was a bit dim, I don't know if the light was on or not, or maybe I wasn't seeing quite right.

The Missus was standing there.

"I think my dad just died."

After

We had a very simple gathering for him. We knew he wouldn't want anything for himself but I think it was for all of us to pay our respects to him. I think of it now and it felt like a celebration of his life, which was perfect.

As a bonus we learned all sorts of stuff about him. It's unfortunate that the stories come out after the fact, but, still, now at least we can enjoy them. I learned a lot about his professional career, just how significant it was to those of us in the modern world. I am thinking about putting something together something on that for later, but I'm not sure what I feel comfortable posting. We'll see.

I also got to see him as more of a peer, at least in the grand scheme of things. To me my dad was always "my dad". We called him Daddy, even now; my updates to my siblings were titled "Daddy update". To me he was one of the two adults of the family and I was always one of the kids. But to his peers he was a peer. He was the guy they met when he got hit by a car and declined getting x-rays because he was "fine", or the guy that taught them how to be the best engineer possible, or the guy that unexpectedly cracked jokes at work, or whatever.

As my mom deteriorated back in 2003 she realized that the Nutmeg State Games were coming up. She asked me if I was going to go defend my fortuitous 2002 Nutmeg State Games gold medal. I told her no, I'd do that "after". I also told her I'd win the Bethel Spring Series for her. She knew what I meant by "after" and she was okay with it. I didn't tell anyone else about my promises because, really, how could I possibly tell someone I was going to accomplish those two things? Plus, at the time, I weighed something like 210 pounds, and, yeah, I could barely ride a bike. In fact I had to size up because I couldn't pedal the bike without kneeing myself in the gut.

Nevertheless, after some intense races (and losing a lot of weight), in 2005 I won the Series in a super tight finish. In 2006 I got the Gold at Nutmeg State Games.

2005 Bethel Spring Series

I didn't commit myself this time to doing anything, even privately. The end came so quickly I ended up wrapped up in the details of things instead of thinking of bigger broader. Whatever I do, though, I hope to do honor by my dad.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Life - The Thought

As you might have guessed I've experienced, and am experiencing, among other things, a sort of young adult renaissance. Back in my late teens and early 20s, basically my high school and college years, I went through a period of musical exploration. Although I started listening to classic rock (the only station that our super primitive radio would pull in), I quickly turned to what because "alternative music" or "new wave".

I still enjoy that music.

Which I think is normal, I don't think we keep exploring music genres, do we? I can't stand certain music, never could, and other types of music I've always enjoyed.

When I was a kid we upgraded our house stereo to something with multiple speakers in each speaker box. Per my mom it lived in the kitchen so we could hear music all the time, for our own intonation/etc, because we all played musical instruments. I'd commandeer it when I could and listen to WXCI, the West CONN station. It was the only alternative rock station in a huge area. There was one on Long Island for a bit (at 92.7), but WXCI was it for a bit. I'm sure they played stuff other than alternative rock but I don't remember it.

Back then we couldn't just Google a song or listen to clips on YouTube or whatnot. You had to hear the song, ID the band and the song (hopefully the DJ would actually say the band and song after it played, instead of before), then get to a record store and search it for said band and song. David Bowie alluded to this in a 1999 interview I only saw after he died. This whole process was pretty involved and required a pretty good amount of commitment. As he says, rock and roll had a "call to arms kind of feeling to it".

For us "record store" meant Johnny's in Darien, CT, the only place that offered non-mainstream albums. They sold t-shirts, albums (and later CDs), pins, Vans sneakers, everything. You'd know you were there when you saw the checkered VW Bug parked across the street. Honestly, though, we rarely bought stuff, we mainly looked to see what we might be able to buy.

In the meantime the only way to collect music was to record songs off the radio.

In order to capture songs I'd set up something like a butterfly trap, or, if you will, a shotgun. I'd put in long tapes, 120 minute ones, and just record whatever played on the radio for the next two hours. Then I'd review it, see if there were any good songs, copy them off onto another tape, then record over the 120 minute tape with another 2 hours of whatever.

I also spent a lot of time hitting "Record" just as one song ended, hoping to catch all of the next song. If I didn't want the song (I had it already, I didn't like it, etc) then I'd stop and carefully rewind the tape with my finger to get it "just right".

A well done tape was a work of art.

If the 120 minute tapes were a shotgun approach, the "Sit and Record" method was more like a sniper. I'd sit by the radio and record targeted songs, whether they were songs already announced ("and after the break the new Adam Ant song!") or I was doing the "hit record as the last song ended" thing).

The "Sit and Record" method resulted in higher quality recordings. This was because I recorded over just a short portion of tape (the beginning of songs, if I didn't want to keep it I'd rewind and record over it) but otherwise the recordings were on virgin material. Therefore I used better tapes for my sniper sessions. Typically the best quality tapes were available only up to 90 minutes long instead of the 120 minute long junk tapes.

Gathering songs from the motley assortment of tapes, I'd create mix tapes.

As technology advanced I started taping off of albums, and, as CDs started making their appearance, off of CDs. Most of this was so I could play the music in the car because us poor bike racers generally had just cassette players for them. Although CD adapters were neat, portable CD players skipped regularly when you hit a bump and such. If you were lucky enough to carpool with someone you could assign that someone to hold the CD player up in the air, their arms acting as suspension. If they got tired and the CD player hit something and skipped you'd shoot them a dirty look. The arm would go back up and you'd keep going.

Or you could place the CD player on a folded up jacket or something. Problem was if you took an exit fast or did some other higher-G maneuver. The CD player would end up on the floor on the passenger side or, worse, between the passenger seat and the door. Then you'd have to go to radio or see if you really did get all the tapes out of the glovebox.

Jeepers. The things we used to do.

Through the last few weeks one thing popped up in my personal radar - this one song I had on tape. It was on one of my scrap tapes, a 15 minute long tape originally meant for saving computer files off of our TRS-80 Model III.

Our TRS-80.
Hard to take a picture of it in the basement so poor quality but it's there.
I should try and boot it up. I don't even know if I need a floppy disc to do that.

You see, back then, there were really no hard drives for computers, and the ultra slow/simple TRS-80 was a solid $2000-3000. There were reel to reel tapes for computers and, if you were super advanced, there were these things called "floppy discs". The cheap version of a reel to reel was the cassette tape, whether for music or for data, and therefore those ubiquitous cassette tapes got recruited for computer use.

Our TRS-80 Model III came with a cassette player "storage solution". We had two tapes for it, a 15 minute tape and an 8 minute tape.

When we upgraded to floppy drives it freed up the cassette player and two near-useless tapes. 15 minutes? It would barely hold a few songs. The 8 minute tape I think got tossed.

The 15 minute tape (it was green, the 8 minute was orange or something) became my scrap tape, where I'd hold songs temporarily to record onto another tape. The 120 minute tapes were also scrap tapes. Generally speaking the 120s were so thin and so long that they'd regularly jam in the tape deck. The idea was to use them to gather stuff then transfer the good songs to a more durable tape.

The good tapes were 90 minutes long, durable enough for car play, reliable, not prone to tangling up inside a tape player. Typically they had upgraded material, either High Bias tape or Metal Bias tape. They were the carbon and titanium of the tape world. High Bias was good but Metal was the schnizzle, one step below CDs.

Sort of.

I recorded the best stuff on Metal, and we had two tape decks that were Metal compatible (and had Dolby noise reduction, which is what Dolby did before whatever they do now, like doing the sound for the new Star Wars movie).

One song I had on my 15 minute scrap tape was one that had lyrics that included stuff like:
Shalala sing a simple song
But in my mind everything is wrong
I (wish?) the words just to feel at ease
But tension builds to be released... 
I'm looking in my mirror now
See the face I have to shave 
There was something super compelling about the song. Yeah, it had some of the normal elements of new wave music, with synth drum stuff, a Euro accent (but not English… the accent really drew me in), bass stuff…

The problem was I had no idea who performed the song or what it was called.

I first recorded the song about 30 years ago, maybe a year or two beyond that. I listened to that 15 minute tape regularly throughout college, and I transferred the song onto some of my mix tapes. The cheap, 15 minute, originally-meant-for-computer, not High Bias, not Metal Bias tape became my master tape for this song. Poor quality recording dubbed onto other tapes. It's like a copy of a fax of a copy of a fax, if you know what I mean.

Fast forward about 15-20 years.

Now there was something called the internet. MP3s. You can buy music online without buying anything physical. Yada yada yada.

Every now and then I'd Google some of the lyrics of the song. No success. When my SoCal host told me about Shazam (an app that identifies music - just hold your phone up to the music and let Shazam listen to it for a bit) I downloaded the app specifically to check this song.

To get the tape to play I had to have a tape player and something to push sound to speakers (amp or receiver which contains an amp). I had a tape deck but my stereo/amp was dead. I put a cable into the tape deck headset jack ("out") and the other end into a laptop mic jack ("in") and recorded onto the laptop.

Problem was I had no way of hearing what I was recording.

I was limited to 60 seconds because after that I had to pay for whatever application.

With no idea of output level, no idea of input level, the recording sounded horrible. When I played it for Shazam the app told me, predictably, that it couldn't identify the song. Of course not, it was a horrible recording.

I liked the song so much I'd regularly listen to those 60 distorted seconds while on the trainer.

Fast forward another few years.

With Facebook a FB friend that rides happens to have been a WXCI DJ back in the day, and a few times he offered to ID the song (anything from the 80s). I never got around to putting anything up, and, recently, sitting at my laptop, I just videotaped the keyboard while I played that 60 second recording of the song and posted it for him.

He ID'ed the song immediately.

The Thought. "Every Single Day".

He even linked to the YouTube clip below. I clicked, listened, and I was in shock. It was the song.

It took 30-odd years but I finally knew who did the "See the face I have to shave" song.

I realized why I like the accent - it's a Dutch band and I have some affinity to the Dutch accent after spending much of my childhood in Holland. I associate Dutch accents with women, not men, so that sort of put a twist on that, it's probably why I didn't recognize the accent.


I've mentioned before how music really tugs at me. What I didn't realize was that even music I didn't know I was missing would tug at me.

I listened to a slew of The Thought songs in one sitting and I had this weird feeling that many of them sounded familiar. Slowly I realized that I'd heard and liked many of these songs but never captured them on my 120 minute shotgun tapes or my sniper "sit by the stereo and hit record+play when the song ends" sessions.

The Thought, "Rise and Fall", has a drum intro that reminded me of Powell and Perralta's Bones Brigades 2 "Future Primitive" bridge song as I thought of it (go to 34:45 of the video). I remember thinking the two were similar, but I didn't know the "other" song. It was The Thought.

"Secrets of the Heart". I had no idea they did this song, and, honestly, I forgot about this song until I heard it.

"Eight Miles High". Did I hear their version or some other cover? I don't know.

"Out of Oblivion". I don't know what to call them, the harmonics? Another one that resonated with me, and it still does.

The songs remind me of XTC, which is maybe why I liked XTC.

Finally, the tie in to cycling.

"Tension builds to be released."

Sounds like one thing, of course, but for me it perfectly describes a sprinter's race. The tension builds until it's just unbearable in the bell lap, then, finally, the sprinter launches his sprint.

Glorious.

Anyway, if you're in the area and you drop by, chances are that you'll hear The Thought playing.

Epilogue

I had lunch with an old friend recently. A familiar song came on, something I hadn't heard for years and years. I couldn't place it, neither could she. So she pulled out her phone and said, "Let me Shazam it."

I immediately thought of the only song I'd Shazam'ed. I wondered how this would go.

It came back with XTC. "Mayor of Simplteton".

And so it was.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Life - Life's Rich Pageant

So I'm getting old.

Seriously.

I never thought of myself as someone getting old. I talked with someone about this a while back. I don't remember who because, you know, I'm getting old. Anyway...

 In the old days, like 50 years ago, people went to high school, maybe they went to college, then they got married, had kids, worked for 30 or whatever years, and retired.

When you put ages to those steps, you basically got married well before you were 30, and by 30 you'd defined your life path. At 40 you had kids in middle or high school, if not already out of the house. If you started in certain professions, like being a firefighter or a law enforcement officer, you might be retired and starting a second career.

You were "middle aged".

At 50 you could look back at your "defined at 30" path and see how you did. If you worked for an older kind of company you might retire early.

When you were 60, if you were a firefighter or something, you could very well be twice retired. Not just once, twice. Two pensions, because that's how they did things back then. And really, at that point, no cares in the world.

Now it's a bit different.

Let's take 40.

I wasn't even married at 40. Kids? That started about half a decade later.

I was in a relationship (with the future Missus, so it wasn't like it was just any relationship) but I spent my summers focused on racing bikes, the springs on promoting races, and my routine, for the prior 25 years, was to start doing longer rides in the fall, "for next year", train in the winter, the spring series in the spring, then race the summer and fall. I'd work on my cars or do yard or housework in there somewhere.

At 40 years old I was living, in my dad's days, a 20 year old's life. Or maybe a 17 year old's life.

Heck, I was blogging. That says a lot right there.

Okay, fine, I'd owned my own house, and I'd learned about grown-up home stuff slowly, agonizingly. I didn't realize that thermostats didn't go below 55 degrees because no sane person would lower their heat below that. I was trying to save money and I got upset when I realized that the coldest I could set the temperature to was 54 degrees. One of my roommates, someone I'd known since 8th grade, with incredible optimism and support, told me that it was nice to wear sweaters inside the house.

A short time later she bought an electric blanket.

I'd owned my own business. It didn't make it, and, based on stuff I've since learned about business and myself, that's not super surprising to me. I tried hard but my efforts were probably a bit misdirected. Ultimately I started to crumble under the stress and my productivity dropped dramatically as I relied more and more on my friends/coworkers - my coworkers were my friends. I know now a bit more and I shake my head when I think of some of the things I did, or the things I spent my time on.

During that time I struggled through a succession of not-ideal cars, a couple handed down from my parents, others bought unwisely.

The Capri in Salt Lake City, UT.
Note the distinctive orange rims (ASC McLaren stuff), with matching body accents.
I'm pretty sure my car got shredded into scrap metal.

My brother and I were talking very recently about stuff and somehow we ended up talking about my Capri. On paper it rocked. 17.5 psi boost (about 10 psi over stock), SVO block with low compression pistons for big boost, big exhaust, McLaren 15" rims (not the metric TRX things fitted to other Capris from that era), SVO 5 speed transmission, subframe braces, flared fenders, factory McLaren "kit", (non-functional) hood scoop, yada yada yada. I bought it and drove it around the country, about 10,000 miles of driving in a month.

The sad reality was that the car was barely able to move under its own power. It had a pull-through turbo, so the turbo pulled directly through the carburetor. How that didn't blow up I have no idea, but it was impossible to start when if you stopped for a few minutes and then tried to start it again. Then, on top of that, I was on almost bald tires in snow (Winter Park CO at one point), the thing got 10 mpg under boost (boost required to go over 55-60 mph), and it had a tiny 11 gallon tank. Also during the trip I had to replace the clutch slave cylinder (San Luis Obispo to Santa Monica without a clutch), get the carb rebuilt (turbo heat - it glowed a dark orange after a hot run and you could see it if it was dark out and you popped the hood - and the carb probably wasn't great for rubber gaskets and such), and put about 20 things of "aluminum dust that keeps your cooling system from leaking" to get home. Plus I had an engine compartment fire the first day of the trip, which was my fault so I'll leave it at that. It wasn't that bad since I had three fire extinguishers in the car and didn't even use up one entire can.

I got home, the poor thing struggling like mad, and I managed to drive it another 100 or 200 miles before the engine finally gave up. Probably due to the aluminum dust stuff in the cooling system, no doubt aided by the time the radiator fell backward into the front of the engine shortly after getting home.

Yeah. The radiator fell back into the engine, while I was going 35 or 40 mph.

So we start talking about the car and my brother's face just lit up.

"The Capri? That's a Mercury, right? Yeah, that was a perfect 20 year old's car!"

There wasn't a really different way to put it, except at the time I was 25.

I was already falling behind the curve.

Anyway, during that trip I had a pretty big (for me) sound system in the car that I'd installed myself. I had some stupid amp, 300w or something, a big equalizer (12 band?), and I'd made a "custom" subwoofer box for the back of the Capri. It housed two 15" woofers as well as some midrange speakers and a pair of tweeters.

Because, you know, on a cross country trip, it's important to have tunes even if, say, the engine wasn't running well, or the tires were about as slick as a race car's, or... well you get the idea.

I had a tape deck in the car that overheated or something after a while so I could play tapes for an hour or two then I'd have to listen to the radio while whatever tape thing cooled off. Then I could play tapes again. In areas where my weak antenna didn't pick up stations, or I didn't feel like listening to the traffic report. To wit: "A pickup truck went off the road at such and such place. There were no serious injuries. A pickup truck went off the road at a different such and such place. There were no serious injuries." Seriously, that was the traffic report. The business news was hog and grain prices.

I had a hacked CB radio that a coworker modded for me so I'd have a bit more broadcast power. I didn't use it but it was handy for getting a feel for the area. When a weigh station opened it was a big, big deal, the airwaves went crazy for a bit. Otherwise I used that and a radar detector to keep myself sane. Or not, because driving across Kansas at night with nothing but some fuzzy CB radio and a very quiet radar detector was probably like, oh, I don't know, flying a ground attack plane for 4 or 5 hours before even getting to enemy territory (I'm thinking the F-111s that flew around Europe from the UK to attack Libya, for example). Things were supposed to be calm but all hell could break loose any second also.

Of course I brought along my suitcase of tapes. It's a little briefcase of tapes. Come to think of it, I still have it, and it's still full of tapes.

My tape box. I even labeled it with my name.
And a bike sticker.

Tapes still inside. Stickers are like the ones on my bike.
I have no working tape decks so that's sort of a pity.
It'd be nice to listen to them while on the trainer.

I had a few mixes of songs, but I had a number of straight up albums.

Most of them were REM.

One of them was Life's Rich Pageant.

It was absolutely the album that defined my life for a couple of years.

Once I'd gotten the inspiration to put "Actual Size" on my bike, through a Laurie Anderson flick I'd seen on campus, I realized that a huge part of my life was listening to music. It pulled me through abject uncertainty, intense crushes, exploring life, and, of course, listening to music on the way to races. After that Actual Size on the downtube I started adding more decals, spelling out stuff significant to me.

"Begin the Begin", from Life's Rich Pageant.
This was, intentionally, one of the first phrases I put on the bike.
Note the similar types of letter stickers as the ones on the tapes.

When I hear some of these songs it brings back memories of emotions. It's not memories per se, because I don't think of, say, a particular incident or moment. Instead it's more of a feeling, an emotional state. It's remembering how I felt in the spring when I was going to one of the early season races, or how I felt when I was driving in unbearably hot weather through some painfully monotonous highway on the way back from the crits in NJ in May.

Or humming the song to myself, somewhat desperately, as I tried to pour my soul into the pedals on some training ride.

In the end I traded the not-really-running Capri for some subwoofers, and, honestly, at that point in my life, I came out on the better side of the deal. The recipient? One of my coworker/friends from the shop, one of my groomsmen when I got married. I sort of wish I could have put all the good stuff from that car into another (Fox-model) body, like my old Fairmont, but the reality is that for me it would never happen.

The Fairmont and the Capri shared the same "Fox body" chassis.
My dream was to put the Capri stuff into the Fairmont.
Because combining two decrepit cars would make one good one, right?

And, after helping yet another engine meet an early demise (I managed to turn a VR6 into a VR2), I finally had the money to buy a new car, one with a warranty. My mom told me I needed to get a car that I could rely on, one that started when I turned the key, stopped when I pushed the brake pedal, and turned when I turned the steering wheel, and if that stuff didn't happen someone would work on it "under warranty".

I bought my first new car with that advice in mind.

With that, here's Life's Rich Pageant, "Begin The Begin", which I desperately hummed while trying not to falter on my training rides at the time, and an album that I basically burnt out on during my 10,000 mile drive around the country. I had a hard time listening to most of the music for about 10 years but now I'm starting to revisit it.

The rest of the album follows "Begin the Begin".

Life's Rich Pageant, by REM

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Life - Honesty

I worked at a McDonalds when I was in college, 2 weeks a year for two years, during Christmas break. I did it to make some pizza money, to buy bike parts, and because I didn't know what else to do for four weeks in a cold, dark January Connecticut.

I interviewed with the McDonalds that I'd first visited when I was maybe 4 years old. I remember it was a rare treat for me to actually go there but I'd always look at it when we drove by. It was one of my many landmarks that I kept in my 4 year old head.

We moved away from that area for a good 6 or 7 years, visiting it annually. And, for whatever reason, we'd always drive by that McDonalds. One thing that impressed me was just how many hamburgers that little place served. I didn't realize the number on the sign, so many millions served (now it's in the billions), was the total of all the McDonalds in the world, not just that one place. I didn't see that sign elsewhere so I figured they were counting just their own sales.

So when I went looking for a job for a few weeks I decided to look at places where there wasn't a lot of skill, there was probably high turn over, and I could qualify for the job without having a college degree.

The new Burger King wasn't hiring so I went and filled out an application form at that really busy McDonalds that sold 100 million burgers or whatever.

I got an immediate interview with the manager, a guy named Alan. He was pretty laid back. He knew what needed to get done and he also understood that being a jerk about it wasn't going to help.

He asked me what I thought I'd be doing.

"I dunno, flipping burgers or making fries or something."
"Why's that?"
"Because I can only work for a few weeks and if it takes a week or two to train me to do something else then I wouldn't be productive."
"Have you worked with money?"
"Yeah, at the bike shop."
"Well, if you want to work, I'm going to put you in the drive-thru."

I took the job.

I didn't think much of it, honestly. I'd applied for three jobs and gotten them all, most of them with a pretty informal interview like the one I just had sitting at a table at the McDonalds.

I went for my first day of work and Alan gave me a uniform. Shirt, pants, and the hat thing. The shirt was fine - they all were because I was so skinny - but the pants were sort of a problem. They were way too long because I have really short legs, and they fit way too tight around the thighs because I'm a bike racer (hahahaha! Actually I'm sort of serious about that, the thighs were really tight).

I preferred to wear my own jeans, which happened to be black. Alan, as laid back as he was, told me no.

I asked why I had to wear the McDonald's pants. Not only were they uncomfortable but they had no pockets so it was impossible for me to carry my wallet and keys. He explained that in the drive thru (this before credit cards at McDs) there was a high risk of theft. He carefully explained that if a drive thru teller like myself shorted each customer a dime, at 50 or 60 cars an hour the teller could more than double their hourly wage. Since we got about $5.75/hour at the time for the late shift (substantially less for day shift), another $5-6 per hour was no laughing matter. Most customers would miss quarters but not dimes, so, as Alan explained it, the teller had to short dimes or nickels. Then if the customer stopped and complained the teller could apologize and just give them another dime or whatever.

You know the bit about drive thrus in Lethal Weapon, right? (warning: link has language)

He explained that pants with pockets would only encourage that kind of action because it would allow the teller to put that shorted change somewhere.

The way he explained it was so precise, so detailed, that in a book the author would be obliged to obscure some of the details and explain that in another book some thieves actually implemented his writing and stole millions of dollars are artwork (which one author does, I can't remember which one). But this was verbal and he was basically telling me how to steal money from customers.

Then, I think my second day there, he let me wear my regular pants instead of the McDs ones.

Now I look back and it seems pretty clear that part of the game was that the drive thru was sort of a good spot for shorting change and if I was that kind of person, as long as I kept out of trouble, he'd leave me alone. I'd be hung out to dry if I got caught though.

At the same time the less cynical would say that, okay, Alan checked on me, did an honesty check, then let me work comfortably in a spot where he couldn't trust any of his other employees.

I'd like to think it was the latter.

I think I passed the honesty test when, I think on the first day of work, I reported to him in a worried manner that we might be getting set up to be robbed. He jumped and asked why. I told him that the cameras were all pointing at the registers, not at the customers, so we wouldn't be able to identify any robbers.

He looked at me for a long moment and then relaxed and grinned.

He patiently explained to me that the cameras were pointed at the registers for a reason, not at the customers, and left it at that. I couldn't understand what he meant until I told the story to someone and that someone pointed out that generally speaking the biggest thief in a place like that are the employees.

Then it sort of dawned on me about the regular pants versus the McDonalds pants and the significance of Alan letting me wear my regular pants.

I never took anything, to be clear, although I suppose if I did I wouldn't be writing about it either. The crew did discretely over produce some stuff at the end of a shift so we had to "throw it out" (into bags which the employees took home), which, based on what I've heard from other McD's people, seems to be pretty normal. I had a lot of hamburgers that January.

The following year I went back there. Alan was still there, and in fact I was apparently still an employee because he couldn't hire someone for just two weeks. Therefore he hired me and then put me on "leave of absence for school". He said that he had a 6 month and 1 year pin for me. He took me off the leave of absence list and let me work whatever days I wanted.

I quickly realized it was a totally different crew. They seemed much more hardened, much more serious. I was admiring a car in the parking lot, a Camaro (I know, I know), IROC-Z. One of the guys asked me if I wanted to buy it. Well, of course, but it's $8000 or something, way out of my league.

"I'll sell it to you for $500."
"What?"
"Then you just slip this guy at DMV $50 and he'll give you a new VIN number."

I told Alan I couldn't work there anymore.

Junior Racing

Junior 15-17 start line at New Britain (going reverse how we go now, due to a massive Junior crash in 1986 or so).
I'm looking down, blue/pink/white kit, about 5 from the right side of the picture.
I think Charlie Issendorf posted this picture elsewhere.

I bring all this up because I saw a post on the internet about Junior gears. One Junior asked why he couldn't just race his bike the way it was and then adjust the gears or change the wheel to pass rollout. I think it was an innocent question because he didn't realize the significance of the gear limit rule.

I saw an unrelated post about how Junior gear limits are a nice way of capping performance. It's easy to check, everyone gets checked, and there's no question if you fail roll out - you get DQ'ed. I know there are officials that have examples of Juniors (or rather their parents) who think that their kid should have won even though they were in a 53x11, but that's getting onto a tangent.

Same era, different race, very left of the picture. 
This is New Britain again, a spring series race since there are Seniors in here and not many leaves.
Different kit, same bike, probably earlier the same year.
Again, reverse direction compared to nowadays.

What if the officials accidentally tell you that you can run a bigger gear?

One year, at the Andy Raymond Firecracker 500 in Middletown, CT, the official/s checking rollout at registration used incorrect marks to check rollout. At the time the gear limit for Juniors 17-18 was equal to a 53x15 with an average 21-22mm tire (7.47 meters, like the plane, 747). However, at the registration roll out check, it was pretty clear that a much, much bigger gear would pass the official marks. Someone found that a 53x12 would "pass rollout" and the word spread like wildfire in the parking lots.

My teammate fitted such a gear. Us older Juniors had Senior gear freewheels because in Senior races we weren't gear restricted like Juniors are nowadays. He went back to registration and duly passed rollout.

I looked at my bike. 53x15. The sprint was off a downhill stretch, and anyone running a 53x12 would absolutely wallop someone using a 53x15.

I didn't have a Senior wheel yet so I really didn't have any way of implementing the 53x12 gear thing. Then one of my Senior teammates offered me a wheel. Because, you know, every Junior was doing it.

I hemmed and hawed but finally declined. I'd race my wheels, legally, and whatever came of it would be my race.

For once in a Junior race I didn't get shelled right away, and in fact I made it to the sprint. As a Junior I wasn't very strong relative to the others (they were all Cat 1s and 2s) so to even make it to the finish was astonishing. I was not really in contention for anything - I vaguely remember being maybe 20th going into the last turn but that probably means I was more like 30th or 40th. I fantasized about a top 6 finish, points toward an upgrade (only top 6 got points toward upgrading regardless of field size, and it was a huge field).

I do remember what happened after the final turn though.

Gobs and gobs of riders sprinted past me, like I was standing still. My teammate was one of them.

After about 15 or 20 riders passed me I sat up. I imagined most of them were running a 12 or a 13, and with the ultrafast downhill into the last turn I couldn't accelerate at all in my 15. I felt like I was sprinting in my 42T chainring.

I went back to the car, a bit disappointed in myself. I was so far back I didn't even bother going to rollout because back then they didn't pick all the spots, they only hand picked the first six or ten.

I wished in a way that I'd taken that bigger geared wheel.

Then my teammate, one of those who passed me in the sprint, came over to the cars. He'd gotten 7th or something in the sprint. He didn't look very happy.

"I got DQ'ed."
"What?!"
"They fixed the roll out marks and everyone is getting disqualified. Everyone was running 12s and 13s in the back."

I couldn't help but laugh a bit.

I'd disqualified myself simply by not going to rollout, but imagine if I'd gone? I might have placed top 6 after crossing the line 50th or 80th place. I have no idea how they worked out the placings because we left without bothering to find out.

McDonalds

The year after the Camaro conversation I went back to Alan's McDonalds, during my winter break. He was still there, asked if I wanted to work. I told him no, not this year, I was working elsewhere. He didn't seem surprised. He said that he'd be moving to a different McDonald's soon, one that had even more customers per hour. A good move for him but in that location there was no way I'd be able to drop by and say hi.

Then it got busy so he had to go, but before I got out the door he called out.

"Hey! I forgot to tell you! I have a 2 year pin for you and I still have your 6 month and 1 year pins!"

I grinned and waved.

I never got those pins.