Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Life - Ah, Life

So tonight we have the windows open, the sliding door to the porch open, and fans blowing air around the house. Okay, I have the fans blowing air around, part of my secret "I want to be a fluids dynamics engineer" thing in me. It's a solid 70 degrees outside, a perfect temperature, nice and cool, dry also, and quiet.

In the old days I'd have kitted up in my favorite set up - shorts, long sleeve jersey, long finger gloves. There's something about training with covered arms and bare legs that does it for me. It's even better if it's a bit cooler and I have to wear booties. I'd be rolling around on the bike, practicing bike throws, trackstanding at red lights with no one else at the intersection, sprinting for town signs all by myself.

I imagine it's different now, ten years later, but back then I'd probably have headed down to Summer Street in Stamford, CT to do some Summer Street Sprints. I liked this loop because it was all one way or medianed streets. There'd be no oncoming traffic unless a drunk turned the wrong way. Which was entirely possible based on what time of day I rode but I digress. The one way street and median streets gave me a fighting chance. At the time you could buy very good blinkie tail lights but headlights... they left something to be desired. So traffic from behind was okay, oncoming traffic, especially cars turning left, not okay.

Route is on gmap-pedometer here.
The "dot" in the lower right is the finish line.
Heading south is fair game. West, north, and east are neutral/easy.
If practicing leadouts you alternate, or, ideally, have three riders and one just sits on a given lap.

I discovered the loop sort of by accident. I'd just started managing the bike shop nearby but I had no idea how all the roads connected to one another. I remember learning to drive here four or five years prior and being so focused on other cars and shifting and stuff that I ran two red lights in a row through major, major intersections, they never even registered in my consciousness. I can't believe my mom didn't have a heart attack (or I didn't get ticketed or killed or whatever) but she didn't and I didn't and I eventually figured out how to not hit other cars and still look at the traffic lights.

At any rate the best way to learn an area is to walk or run it. I didn't do either much, plus it's sort of a big area to learn on foot, so I rode around, after the shop closed for the evening. Most of the streets were lit, the ones that weren't I could hop onto the sidewalk to stay away from cars, and the people seemed friendly enough. This was back in the crack cocaine days, where people were shooting each other at least weekly only a couple miles from where I lived. Therefore to feel "okay" riding around was a good thing.

Or naive, maybe. I got propositioned regularly by women of the night (scantily clad women calling out "Hey baby, want to party?" to me on a bike in lycra) and by men as well (rough looking men murmuring "What's crackin' man!" while making a smoking kind of gesture). But I made it out alive so I'll call it a good thing.

It was about an 11 mile ride to get to Summer Street if I rode from my house, just under an hour of pedaling at my "saving my legs for sprints" pace. Sometimes I arrived so fresh I had to warm up before I sprinted. Other times, when pressed for time, I'd arrive absolutely cooked, do a sprint, call it a day, and head back home, kicking myself all the way home for not driving over and doing more than one pathetic sprint.

I often drove to the loop to save my legs, parking on the side of the road, or if it was going to be dark. Then I could do a couple hours of sprints without worrying about the ride home; I didn't like riding home in the dark because Route One wasn't a great road to ride on without a good headlight. I'd still do a couple hours of sprints even if I rode there but that usually meant crawling home. I never thought of it as "a couple hours of sprints". Instead I'd do a sprint, think about how to make it better, then try again. Then after about 10 or 15 sprints I'd be really tired, look at the time, and think, "Oh, it's a couple hours, maybe I should go home."

When the shop was at the top of the loop it was simple - I just rode out of the shop. At the end of the ride I'd roll back into the shop, change, and head home.


I remember one of my teammates Sean, who lived a block over from Summer Street, showing up one night. He was driving by, saw me on the bike, knew I was doing the sprint loop, found my car, and parked next to it.

He had a WRX, a blue one. I had a blue 350Z. When he was thinking about what color car to buy I told him in no uncertain terms he had to get blue.

He wasn't super keen on it at first:
"Why blue?"
"It's a WRX. A W-R-X. It has to be blue. Think about Playstation! Rallying! WRXs are blue! BLUE! It's not a WRX if it's not blue."
"I was really thinking silver."

I almost had a heart attack.

Then later:
"I got the car."
"What color?"

Then when I got my car I got blue. Because I liked the blue - a few of the magazines had blue ones - but also because I had to stand by my conversation with Sean. If I got a silver or copper one he'd have been like WTF?? So a blue 350Z for me.

When I saw a blue WRX parked next to my Z I knew it had to be Sean.

I was sort of at that point where my legs were dying so when I saw him I turned around and rolled back to the car (on the sidewalk because one way streets). He had a huge grin on his face and he obviously couldn't wait to tell me something.

My then-not-really-my-girlfriend-although-Sean-knew-better happened to drive by also and she stopped to chat as well. What's funny is that when she bought her Civic I convinced her that blue was absolutely the color, because blue. So now there were three blue cars parked next to one another, and not really any other cars around.

I had met my girlfriend through Sean - they were formerly housemates in a large apartment. One day after a ride Sean and I went out for food. He stopped by his apartment to take a quick shower and that's when I met my future girlfriend. I helped her with a crossword puzzle for a bit and then Sean and I headed out for food.

At any rate just before my girlfriend showed up that's when Sean let me know the news - he was going to ask his girlfriend to marry him. He showed me the ring, it was very exciting, and I couldn't help but blurt out the news to my girlfriend.

The conversation quickly degenerated into "Oh my God!" and "I can't believe it" and "That's so awesome!" and stuff like that. I was facing south on Summer Street, toward the Dairy Queen (which is usually where you jumped for the crosswalk sprint line), when I saw a dark Pathfinder come flying out of a side street about 50 feet away. He had a red light for sure.

The pale blue Chevy Malibu heading into the intersection didn't have a chance.


The Pathfinder t-boned the Malibu, sending it spinning off to the side.

And we ran over. I was the first one to call in so I gave some details, then we hung around for a bit for the police to show up. They're everywhere in that area at night, one of the reasons I liked riding there, and so it wasn't a long wait. Fortunately no one was killed, which was amazing because the side of the Malibu was caved in. The Pathfinder hit head on so it was in reasonable shape. The side impact on the Malibu, jeepers.

The driver of the Malibu was an elderly woman and she was stunned. I had this moment of clarity where I realized that old people, with fragile hips and stuff, were totally different than, say, me at the time. I fall at a bike race and I get up and try to continue. If she fell off a bike it wouldn't be like that. For her to be okay said a lot for the design and build of the car.


Another time I had just started riding and another teammate, Bill, pulled up next to me. It was about 11 PM, I think on a Thursday (I usually went Thursdays) and I was amped and wired, probably had a Twinkie and a Coke just before, the shop favorite for a pick-me-up after a long day.

I got on the bike with the plan of doing sprints until 1 AM, when the bars closed, then when the streets cleared a half hour later I'd head home. I didn't feel threatened by the drunks - they were generally super supportive of my sprinting. I almost always got cheered on when I was making efforts and I rode off their energy. When the bars closed the energy dissipated, both from the streets as well as from me.

Bill rolled up to me and leaned out the window of his car.

"Been riding long?"
"Just started, I got on the bike a couple blocks back."
"You just started? When are you riding till?"
"I think one or so, after the bars close I'll stop."
"You're nuts, you know that?"

He paused.

"You know, next time you do this, give me a call."

I did a lot of laps on Summer Street, a lot of them. And I did a lot of them in the fall and winter. There was a practical reason for this. Once the sun set the temperature dropped but then stayed pretty steady. 11 PM, 1 AM, it was about the same. I found it tough dressing for rides where the sun is setting. That's when it's warm in the sun and bone-chilling cold in the shade.

Eliminate the sun and there's no major temperature variations.

This was especially key in the winter, when risking a bit in the late afternoon meant frozen knees just 30 minutes later. Instead I could get on the bike confident that the temperature wouldn't vary more than a degree or two for the whole ride.

GMF and Julie

One chillier night I went out with two good friends. I told the story here so I'll leave it at that.

Before they moved out west they lived two houses down from the corner where the Pathfinder came blasting out of the side road.


So what's that got to do with tonight's 70 degree weather?

Well, for one thing I'm not out doing sprints on Summer Street. Heck, I'm not even on a bike.


There's a four year old upstairs who I'll check on shortly because I promised I'd do so before I went to bed. A few hours ago I read him stories for 30 or 40 minutes, something I never thought I'd be able to do, never mind want to do. Reading to kids was agonizing for me, just agonizing. I suffered through it when I read to friends' kids (they didn't know so don't feel bad, I wanted to be a good friend and good babysitter so I read to them even though it was pure agony for me at the time).


With Junior I look forward to reading him stories, even if I'm so tired that I have to reboot my brain every few pages to be able to see the words. He knows the books anyway so when I mentally blank out he'll correct me, looking at me with a bit of concern while he "reads" the sentence the way it's actually written.

Then at some point he'll roll over, pulling his blanket over him. It's the sign he's just about to pass out. I don't stop reading though because he'll pop back up if I do. He'll pop back out if I fuzz out and have to reboot again as well. I know he's done when he doesn't pop out or if his arm relaxes and I can see his sleeping face.

Tonight, like usual, I passed out for a bit after I finished reading him stories. I came to sort of slowly, the Missus tapping my shoulder gently. I know not to move quickly because Junior moves around a lot and I don't want to boot him off his bed or elbow him in the neck. This time he was by up by my shoulders so it was okay. Other times he'll be down on top of my feet.

I got up and came downstairs.


My Pops is in another room, the third bedroom here. He's a bit older than Junior, of course. I put him to bed just a little while ago, after feeding him and stuff. His stares have been less blank the last couple days but I'm pretty sure he didn't know who I was today. He might have yesterday but it's been a few months since I've seen any recognition in his face. He hasn't been able to talk in many years. He really can't do anything for himself except for walk very slowly so I do everything for him. He's slipping away, slowly but surely.

But he's my dad. And because it can be so, it is, and he's here.


The Missus is upstairs. She has to wake up early, she needs her sleep, and I do my dad's stuff so there's an hour or two where I just have to do that, separate from her. I suppose it's like going on a training ride or something, it's just that in this case I'm taking care of my dad.

The other night we were cleaning up after a meal or maybe we were working together to get some food ready for my dad. Whatever we were doing, we were doing "grown up stuff". There is no dread or agony or whatever in these tasks. They're what needs to be done so you just get them done.

At some point I straightened my aching back, pausing whatever I was doing.

"You know, youth is special. You can never go back."
"I think about what I did when I was younger. Summer Street Sprints. Drive around the country for four weeks. Tour de Michigan. I'll never be able to do that stuff again. And, in a way, I don't think I want to. I'm glad I did it but it's just not part of what's possible now."

Tonight we worked together, bounced our energy between us. I read to Junior but after she took him to the playground. Before that Junior hung out with me while I cooked some food on the grill. We ate together, the three of us (with my dad I learned the hard way it's a bit risky to have him eat at the table so I feed him separately). We worked together on presenting Junior with an unambiguous set of expectations for certain things that weren't super clear before.

We got stuff done.

It's been a long time since the Missus and I were standing on the side of Summer Street, chatting with our friend Sean, before that Pathfinder obliterated the Malibu.

I can't imagine now being back there, back then. And back then I certainly could not have imagined where I'd be now, not at all.

No comments: