Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bike to Work...Duh...

Launching out of the driveway Thursday morning, my body lacking coffee, I immediately notice something askew. Lots of bicyclists. Not the spandex kind either, but regular, jeans and jacket folks riding around, presumably to school, work, the unemployment office, or other popular destinations. Moms, kids, teens, all on bikes. Woo-hoo! I think, "there's hope yet!" It isn't until I hit bike traffic going over the San Lorenzo Train Trestle and have to wedge past other riders that it finally dawns on me - oh yeah, today's Bike To Work Day, duh! Did I mention I hadn't had any coffee?

Years ago I used to make an effort, to, you know, promote ridership. I put up posters, and tried to spread the word in conversations with co-workers barely able to conceal their indifference. But somewhere along the way, between this nation's perpetual wars for oil in IraqAfghaniPakiYemestan, and the Gulf Oil Spill on Earth Day, I got, how would I put it? Jaded.

Yeah, jaded cuz' the public discourse over the need to be more sustainable in terms of energy policy remains an absurd duality between "Drill Baby Drill" and "Hybrid/electric cars are going to save us all." *Yawn* How nice it would be to hear some politician come out publicly and say, "Candles are underrated, let's make more," or "Ice boxes don't take any electricity and hey, a lot of the crap in your fridge doesn't need to be refrigerated in the first place." At least it would be something different...

I change my usual route, head towards Pacific Ave and get my free cup of coffee.

Lying on my back, staring up at lovely Maple trees, a Bike to Work Day volunteer gives me a massages. It is nice, the endorphins almost drown out the sound of cars and buses rolling past not more than 50 feet away. I've often tried to picture what the volume levels of small town life were like in the early 19th century, and draw a blank. I muse to the masseuse how it would be sweet if the powers that be could organize a bike to work day every month - if only this were Sweden, or Denmark, or some place with some semblance of social democracy.

Massage over, I get up and mingle with the fellow riders. It's the usual crowd though I don't see any anarchistas. Bummer. I like them. They're the only ardent bicyclists who don't harbor any illusions that their actions are going to save the planet from Industrial Capitalism and usher in a liberated tomorrow. Riding a bike is enjoyable, and that's enough for them.

The day passes uneventfully. 5pm rolls around. The bicycles that were so prevalent in the morning seem to be eclipsed by the throngs of cars, bumper to bumper, heading south on Soquel, or Murray St. It's a sobering reminder. Of what? You already know.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Stuck In Traffic

Sitting on a bus, bike on rack, the traffic from Water to Soquel going south on a Tuesday afternoon is a disaster. They call it rush hour, cuz' everyone's rushing to get the fuck away from their horrible jobs, so they can get home, nuke dinner, and watch TV till' sleepy time, but poetically enough, no one's going anywhere. At least I get to read a book rather than worry about putting my foot on the gas every few seconds to move a few inches forward. It's times like these I recall the perpetual nightmare that is the Los Angeles freeway system and the blood pressure squeezing AM talk radio shows my dad used to subject me to.

All the route 71s are running late today. It's always this way the bus driver says to someone who inquires what the fuck is the holdup all about. The bus driver then adds, "Single driver in a single car makes traffic."

How ugly and true. It's something I don't witness in its totality too often as I'm usually zipping past cars on Soquel or Murray St. But on a bus, it's painful to watch. The lines of rectangular metal objects, inside: little humanoids, outside: concrete - all of it stretching into the horizon. It's even more painful if you recognize that with exception to the few hybrids on the road, every engine is just running idly, spewing toxic particulates into the air for no reason other than there are simply too many other particulate spewing combustible engines on the road.

Even as we pass over the freeway on Soquel Ave, near Dominican Hospital, Highway 1 going South is as hopeless as the side streets we're stuck on. I glance at my watch and then glance again - I could just get off and ride to my destination in Aptos, and bypass all this bullshit but it would take a lot out of me, and heavy riding = heavy eating and unfortunately, I don't have a lot of food.

I weigh my options, I look outside at all the bloody cars. Endgame. That's what I think - we've reached the logical conclusion of individualism. The technophile society thinks there are no limits to the natural world, but they are completely wrong. The problem is, the system refuses to acknowledge they're wrong and have made a colossal mistake. Is there a way out? I don't know. I decide to stay on the bus for the rest of the ride, and read my book.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

And Again!


As far as I'm concerned, this is getting weird.

It's true, I don't get out of dodge very much and I also don't order pizza so maybe this is common in other places or universes outside Santa Cruz but...

I've just never noticed this many "luxury" cars in town moonlighting as pizza delivery vehicles. Seriously. It's unnerving...and funny. Yesterday, I'm riding down Bay towards the Boardwalk, I hang a left and I shit you not, a blue BMW zooms by with a Pizza My Heart sign on top.


Okay, true, this doesn't really compare with the Mercedes' I've seen around town with Dominoes and Woodstock Pizza signs, and true, the drivers have all been young men obviously borrowing mom n' dad's vehicle...or more likely, it was a hand me down car (for what it's worth, I got the family 87' Honda when I turned 22 and quickly run it into the ground). But still, with 1 in 6 people out of work in this country, and expensive ass cars being used as pizza delivery vehicles, I'm just saying, we could very well be on the brink of apocalypse. : |

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It Happened Again

Last Friday, walking through the parking lot of the downtown Trader Joe's/CVS/FedEx Kinkos, I saw a white Mercedes Benz with a Woodstock Pizza delivery sign on top. Whoah. It was only about a month ago that I saw a black Mercedes with a Dominoes sign on top - I actually saw this car twice in Capitola. The last time, the kid driving it was blasting Gun n' Roses. It was kinda surreal...

But a Woodstock Pizza sign on a white Mercedes. Wow. It all sounds like a bad joke, "you know we're in a Depression when..."

For some reason, I can't help but picture one of the opening scenes in Borat, where his car is being towed by a donkey. Now, that'll be a sure sign of the apolacypse in America: donkey delivered pizza. mmmmm.....delicious.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Economic Downturn, Rotten Eggs

When it comes to reporting on the so-called Economic Downturn, a.k.a. Great Depression "The Sequel", the papers will often post stories citing a bunch of statistics about unemployment percentages and whatnot, and then quote some economic analyst in a big city who'll talk about what was predicted and what actually happened. yada yada yada. But the real story comes through when you hear it as experienced by people close to you.

Such is the case this past weekend, as related by a friend who calls me up with the following story: Uncle So n' So lives the American Dream - suburban home with a mortgage, 2 kids, dog, cat, pool, smokin' hot wife. Problem is, Uncle So n' So doesn't know how to live within his means. Went through some financial trouble about a decade ago, lost the house, but got back up on his feet - Alas, with the help of his retired father. Thing is, Uncle So n' So got in deep this year, and unbeknownst to retired father, ran up retired father's credit card bill into the thousands. How much? Let's just say it's a little less than what I make in a year.

Retired father finds out and goes ballistic but Uncle So n' So refuses to field Retired Father's calls. Nothing nastier than a family fighting over money. The situation is compounded by the fact that my friend has limited sympathy for her uncle as on one hand, yeah, the industry he works for is directly related to the housing market, which we all know has imploded, so work is slow and sporadic, but on the other hand, the dude drives a high end sports car, also owns a truck, wife owns a convertible, and a big ass luxury SUV.

You know, isht like that could never happen in my family cuz' a) my dad would never put me on his credit card; and b) you could be damn sure if I ever owned a luxury car, I'd trade it in for a less expensive model in a heartbeat and use the money for you know, shit of actual value rather than status...like, food.

But that's the issue before Americans now - We're so used to living like rock stars, and have such a grandiose sense of entitlement, it's hard to accept the fact that we're broke. Though I don't watch TV, I occasionally get a glimpse of it and the crap corporate America is feeding us vis a vis advertising doesn't reflect our economic reality in any shape or form. Which is all to say, the cognitive dissonance we're experiencing has the potential to create some very violent outcomes. Just look at the fascist-larva that is the Tea Party and all the brouhaha over an Islamic Community Center in Manhattan.

Back at home, the salmonella tainted egg scandal couldn't have come at a better time for me. You see, the chickens I brought home via bike in March have recently started laying eggs. They've also been quite loud, and the thought of my neighbors snitching to the pigs every time they hear a "BUCKAW!" makes me cringe. Cuz' you know how suburban middle class Americans tend to think - they'll accept the sound of a leaf blower or gas powered lawn mower on a Sunday morning, but chickens are just a reminder of a life they thought they'd left back in 1934.

Needless to say, I've taken to showing up at my neighbor's doorsteps with a half dozen "Salmonella free" eggs. They smile and sometimes give me tomatoes or squash from their back yards.

"Hi! Yes, I'm that dude who doesn't own a car in the neighborhood. Yes, I got chickens, here are some eggs. No salmonella I assure you. Anti-captialist? I don't know what you're talking about. Lost your job? Damn, times are rough. We definitely gotta stick together these days. Peak Oil, Global Warming activist? Nah, I'm just uh, not big on cars...self reliance is a good thing, que no? We gotta learn to live within our means, right? By the way, I don't suppose you got an expensive sports car we could sell for some food? Just kidding. Yeah, no worries. I'll ask again next year..."

Friday, July 23, 2010

You know the economy is doing bad when...

...You ride past a black Mercedes Benz sporting a Dominoes Pizza delivery sign on top. So help me, but this really happened. Heading south on Soquel Dr past Frederick St a few days ago - did you see it too? I even tried to chase it down and take a pic but it got away. From what I could tell, it was a kid driving, so I'm assuming the car was a hand me down from the parentals. But still, damn, the middle class in this country is going down faster than an offshore oil rig - and practically for the same reasons. This encounter goes right up there with the homeless guy I brought breakfast to a few weeks ago, who then, told me to put it in his Volvo. Whatever the future holds, no one can say these don't make for interesting times...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Burning Up

Sunday. Dad calls up to talk bicycle talk. Me, I'm a commuter, recreational, radical rider. Drink and howl at the moon. Him, he's a weekend warrior - 30 miles minimum on a Saturday or Sunday morning - gotta git er' done before it gets too hot. It's true, L.A. heat is miserable. I've been living in SC for over a decade but I've never forgotten all the hazards of L.A. summers - vinyl car seat burns, melted gum on the sidewalks, the smell of evaporating urine and tar fumes. It doesn't help that there's all that damn concrete either. It absorbs sun by day and emanates it from the ground on up at night. I can't remind Dad about this though, he did after all cut down most of the trees on our lot years ago and then paved it for car space - same car that carries his primo ride to the designated L.A. bike paths, so I can't say much.

Me, I rode up Highway 9 on Saturday - taking advantage of the road closer. Man oh man, it was gorgeous up there - redwoods, quiet roads, cool air, sunny skies. I rode to Henry Cowell and pitched a lunch spot on the river. Mergansers and duck families. Too sweet for words. Here, it's easy to forget about man-induced climate catastrophe's, it all seems so far away - hurricanes in the South, heat waves in the East, idiot judges calling for more offshore oil drilling.

Dad inadvertently brings it all back into focus. Says Saturday's heat was so bad there wasn't any relief at night. No air conditioning so he had to leave the front door open and sleep on the floor. Only he couldn't get no rest. I remember nights like that - just a mattress on the ground, waking up sweaty, the sound of helicopters overhead, trains shaking the ground. The blistering heat. It worries me you know, dad's a tough bird, but he's also pushing 60. I wanna tell him Global warming is real, and it's only going to get worse. Prepare yourself I wanna say. Instead, I say he should plant some trees. He says trees need water. So do lawns I say. We leave it at that.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Picking up flowers

Riding down Murray Street this morning, i passed by a knocked down Scabiosa (a.k.a. old ladies pin cushion). Normally, I restrain myself from picking any of these sweet flowers just out of principle - e.g. don't want to be greedy and disrupt the natural beauty of wild flowers pushing through the pavement and sidewalks, but this time i turn around.

who knocked ya down little ones? dog? car? drunken Seabright tourist? i roll up on the toppled plant - some of the flowers already have a kink in their stem. i harvest five, thinking hot damn this is good fortune. i mean, sure, the word "Scabiosa" sounds a lot like a venereal disease. i'd rather call them velveteen pin cushions, but whatever. i ride away with some free flowers, it's a good day already.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

re: Live Oak father shot at while retrieving son's stolen bike

From this morning's Santa Cruz Sentinel...thoughts?

LIVE OAK -- A father trying to get back his son's stolen bicycle was shot at near the Live Oak Library on Tuesday night, the Sheriff's Office reported. He was not hurt and the single-speed bike was recovered, but no arrests were made, according to Sgt. Dan Campos.

The father, who lives in Live Oak, was driving home from the Capitola Mall with his wife and younger son around 9:15 p.m. when he saw a man riding what he believed was his older son's bike on Portola Drive. The father turned his vehicle around to chase the bike thief south on Portola toward 41st Avenue, Campos said.

When he confronted the bike thief, the man dropped the bike and ran away. The father started riding the bike home but a truck pulled up alongside him, words were exchanged and someone in the truck fired three shots from what the father believed was a small-caliber gun, Campos said.

The father wasn't hit. He rushed to a nearby house seeking help and, when the resident turned him down, he hid the bike in the bushes, ran home and called 911, Campos said.

Deputies recovered the bike, which apparently had been taken from the family's front porch, but did not find the pickup or the suspects in the theft and shooting, according to Campos.

Three men were in the pickup. Campos declined to release descriptions of them or say what the two sides yelled at one another. He said detectives are investigating the case.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Economic Downturns

A summary of how the slow economic collapse of the united states is affecting me and people around me, from the trivial and absurd to the profound and tragic:

Newly Homeless
Last Thursday, bought a homeless guy breakfast. It was a lot more money than I intended to spend (ten bucks!) but I figured it's karmically worth it. He's old, recently suffered a stroke (needs a walker to get around), and down on his luck. I realize he's also a former member of the middle class when he asks me to put the food I bring him into his car. Which car is it? I ask. He hands me his keys and points to the Volvo. I shake off the mild indignation I feel once I open the door and see he's been living in it for who knows how long.

Back to the Ghetto
Friend IM's me Friday asking if I still have that extra bike I'd lent him a few years back. It was a Cannondale mountain bike way past it's prime, a hand-me-down at that, and I'd given it away on Freecycle at least a year and a half ago. Well, mi amigo needs it now as he's moving to the flats with his girlfriend and has always had bad luck w/ cars. I apologize and tell him the Cannondale is no longer in my possession. He changes the subject and jokes how people are teasing him for moving into the flats as they're supposedly the "ghetto" of SC, but people here don't know what ghetto is (he's from Fresno). Anyone got an extra bike for a tall Mexicano?

No more rock n' roll
Coworker and I love the band MGMT. MGMT are playing the Santa Cruz Civic this weekend. Coworker and I can't afford the $30 + "convenience fee" tickets. Coworker and I used to go to concerts all the time back in the day. But now, we's broke. No more eating out. No more weekends at the movie theatre. College student friend has the audacity to ask me if I've gone to any good shows lately. Fuck you dude.

Laid off
Coworker, married with children, husband got laid off last week. She fights back tears while relating the story. She's a strong, positive person, but things are really stressful right now. Keeps saying "everything is gonna be alright" over and over, like a prayer and I think that's exactly what it is. She talks about how her family was ready to move in with another close friend but even that's not working out - all relationships are strained. The rose colored 3D glasses don't seem to be working anymore, cuz' everything is looking pretty bad.

Stocks take a dumpster dive
This morning, coworker mentions google and apple stocks are down. "You own a share in google?!" I say, he says no, he's a poor bastard. But a friend of his does. I say it's all good, cuz' you're in good company with the rest of us poor bastards. He replies yeh, but it's crowded here at the bottom. I respond with, "yeah, and getting more crowded every year."

Post-May Day Community Forum
I find myself attending one of these meetings sponsored by the Hub. It's held in a circle and in true touchy-feely Non-Violent Communication fashion, every person gets to talk about their feelings about the spike in violence in Santa Cruz, including the gang killings and the May Day riots. The May Day riots get the most attention - one dude says he can't possibly understand what would bring someone to break the windows of a jewelry store or any of the corporate chains that got hit and i think, uh-huh, what planet is this guy living on?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A hungry feelin', came o'er me stealin'

Riding around downtown an hour before sunset, leftovers in my backpack. It's heavy and I'm having no luck finding the right moment to offer it up to any of the homeless folks who stubbornly occupy the little niches that capital allows. They all seem too scared to talk to anyone like me or in their own little worlds. I ride on near Trader Joe's and see a rainbow in the distance - how beautiful this land remains, even after all the damage the pale faces have done to it. I hear drums. Refugees from the Farmer's Market drum circle no doubt. I ride on over. It's a motley crew of free spirits, down n' outs, unemployed, people with unapproved habits.

I pull out the small tupperware container with the turkey and beef tortilla wraps salvaged from my union meeting. "Take some with you," they said, so I did, feeling bad I couldn't carry more on my bike. But only a minute ago, it felt like I was gonna strike out and toss it all in the garbage. Too much hassle to carry home and there's no way I can eat all of it myself I was thinking. But I heard the drums. It's horribly off beat and soulless as always - I think to myself that in poorer countries, the outcasts still retain their rhythm and soul but here, they've been deprived of everything.

I lean my ride against a pole and walk up to one dude sitting down indian style. As I get closer, I see his eyes are closed and he's either meditating or high but either way doesn't want to be disturbed. I turn to another guy on drums and offer up the food, he shakes his head no. I don't blame him, would you take tupperware leftovers from a stranger?

Then a young woman approaches. She can't be more than 23, and is affable. She takes a piece and pops it in her mouth. I ask her to take more and she does, thanking me. I ask if there's anyone else here who might be interested, and she points to an older dude who could be her dad, laying down on a rolled up sleeping bag. I look around at the 20 or so oddballs and feel a strange weight lifting off my shoulders. The sun is setting like a symphony of colors and nobody here really has to be any place in particular, and they're surrounded by lots of people, all in the same boat. What freedom! Only, they pay a very high price for it, what with the politicians and police who hate them the way all petty tyrants hate those who refuse to submit.

The older dude takes a few pieces. At this point, folks are beginning to notice me and approach with caution. I'm able to feed only two before the food is all gone. I kick myself for not bringing more. I make my way back to my bike, realizing I didn't lock it up, and feeling ever thankful that it's still there. The girl waves goodbye to me, her boyfriend hugs her and they smile. A hungry feeling washes over me as I ride home.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Post Amgen, Post May Day

Riding past the remnants of the finish line yesterday afternoon, I noticed a humongous V8 engine powered SUV with the words "Amgen Tour Manager" written in bold letters on the side. I guess this says as much about all the hype over the Amgen Tour de California coming through our little town as anything.

Me not being a propertied downtown business owner or 3rd rate wonkish newspaper desperate for higher circulation, I got other things on my mind - Like chickens taking turds in my sandals while I'm at work, and once again, breaking into the garden and eating the kale.

It's like this week is simply a repeat of last week - Turd in sandal on Monday, garden raiding party Tuesday, and oil gushing somewhere far away round the clock. The Surly headset isn't tight enough, and I'm not sure if I have the right tools to fix it which means I'd need to go back to the Bike Church.

Then there's the especially nasty post-May Day backlash against anything DIY in Santa Cruz - The Farmer's Market Drum Circle squashed last Wednesday, the Guerilla Drive In raided on Friday - All because pissant politicians like Ryan Coonerty and the hopelessly naive proto-vigilante group Take Back Santa Cruz equate a couple of kids smashing windows with free movies under a bridge. In many ways, TBSC is a local version of the Tea Party, complete with their own strain of incoherent, unsophisticated "throw em' all in jail" political analysis, and willingness to cast a wider and wider net on anything they feel threatening by. I suppose it's fitting then, that yet another short-sighted prick politician named Rand Paul would be running his mouth off this morning about how Obama attending last year's Copenhagen conference puts him in bed with Hugo Chavez simply by virtue of being there. Nevermind the fact that the United States effectively sabotaged Copenhagen, Paul is using the most specious of reasoning to attack a political rival just as Ryan Coonerty is using the May Day Riots as an excuse to eliminate all things bohemian in Santa Cruz.

I'm sincerely hoping all this b.s. will blow over like the Amgen Tour - here one day, gone the next. The city can't afford to offer free movies under a bridge at night, and the Guerilla Drive In crew has effectively reclaimed the space and made it more safe by doing so. By demanding folks take out permits to offer something for free is absurd and borders on extortion, and it's a damn shame Coonerty, the cops, and TBSC would be so obtuse to think otherwise.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bike to Work Week 2010

At the beginning of this week I thought I'd do a day to day report on how this year's Bike to Work Week was shaping up. But I'm lazy. So here's a recap of the last 3 days, today, and prediction for tomorrow...

Monday: Looks like rain, find chicken shit on my sandals, bastards! Sprinkly sky = Ride townie w/ fenders, no hassle ese. Morning car carnage report - one dead cat, one dead squirrel, and no one's cleaned up the poor skunk who got killed on Saturday...

After work, take expensive new Surly Cross-Check to Bike Church in evening, cut off fork stem with hack saw. Attach stem to handle bars, still needs work/quality inspection. Never owned a new bike before - no dents, no rust, everything is so shiny! Don't know if I'll even feel comfortable riding it. Oh yeah, Pachamama (Mother Earth) is hemorrhaging oil from her veins deep down in the Gulf of Mexico...

Tuesday: Ride Bridgestone, intend to work on Surly headset as soon as I get home. Get home, chickens have broken into the garden and eaten' the kale. Bastards! Spend 45 minutes making makeshift barrier wall to protect what's left of plants, friends arrive, send chickens to bed early with no supper. Friends leave, spend another hour fixing a flat on Trek and adjusting rack, don't get around to Surly. Pachama still bleeding and BP and other oil corporate swinefucks are pointing fingers...

Wednesday: Ride Bridgestone, the number of bikes on the bike rack at work don't seem to have increased despite all the publicity. Reminds me that no matter how much we cajole, offer free breakfasts, massages, or eco-pretentiousness, the majority of people are never, ever, going to voluntarily give up driving. Pass a stack of wooden boards during ride home, don't realize at the time that this is foreshadowing. Get home, chickens have gotten past the "security wall" again and polished off the kale. Bastards! Hitch up trailer and go back and pick up wooden boards to beef up "security wall." Drink two beers and ponder cooking chickens. Surly sits in garage looking at me. Pachama is still bleeding.

Thursday: Official Bike to Work Day, woo hoo! Ride Bridgestone, get free massage, coffee is bad, bagels are gone, schmoozy white collar professional bicyclists are annoying. Hug n' kiss anarchist amigos instead. Will get home, chickens will have eaten trees and grass. Out of beer, must cook dinner, Surly will get neglected for some reason or another. Oil still gushing. Earth still warming.

Friday: Ride to work like I do everyday. Sun will be out, birds will be chirping. I will rot and smolder inside a box. Will get home, chickens will have eaten house, dogs and cats, and all the cars, and the entire neighborhood, and then run amuck downtown, pecking out the corporate logos and bourgeois boutiques, they'll eat the BP execs, and Monsanto and Goldman Sachs execs just for good measure. They'll eat all the debt and all the currency and all the logic that makes this silly industrial machine run, and finally, I'll have some time to get the Surly up and running, and by then, I won't even have to ride to work.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Rambling Through Santa Cruz

the day ended with me being cat-called by a woman who looked like a lesbian but i smiled nonetheless as i was hauling a trailer uphill and sweaty. "Yeah, slap that ass!" she yelled from the shotgun side of a jeep and left me with a "wooooo!" i've had worse things said to me from people in cars.

the day began with me freeing a damselfly from a cobweb, the spider was taking too long and i guess i felt like saving a damselfly in distress.

in the afternoon i had a nasty exchange with one of the downtown hall monitor snitches, a.k.a. Santa Cruz "hospitality hosts" - she was nice about telling me to not sit on the planter the way people with authority and the full violent power of the state can be; this was after i'd picked up a card table from a friend, stashed it in my trailer, and was taking a break to watch a jug punk band play outside Borders. I told in her so many ways to fuck off and felt bad about it later but then didn't so much.

i rode past a friend on a bike who yelled out "May 1st! May 1st!" A reference to May Day or Beltane or both. I imagine most SC folks will more likely be celebrating 4/20 next week. pity.

i pulled that trailer and table and box of books south on Soquel, saw a friend jogging, pulled over. we chatted about books. she was sweaty, it was nice.

i pulled over to talk to a homeless girl i'd seen at an intersection for a few weeks now. i guess she caught my attention cause' she's young and looks pretty together and i couldn't help but wonder what's her story. between the scream of cars, we chatted briefly, she was upbeat about life though she admitted it was hard out here - people yell shit at her and one person spit on her. only car drivers i tell ya. the cops had already come by and told her to move but she had to come back, this was her spot. i told her about my encounter w/ the "hospitality hosts" of downtown and she laughed. oh, the things other human beings do to each other.

but the cool thing was she said overall lots of folks have been supportive and that the experience gave her hope and a different outlook on humanity. i gave her a dollar, asked if she needed anything, she patted me on the shoulder and said no. i got back on the bike with the trailer and the table and the books and all that bullshit weight of authoritarian assholes in uniforms and callous people in cars and those who are destitute and without power on the margins of society, those margins always seem to be getting smaller, and i hauled it home. it wasn't even 6pm yet...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bike Riding in Post-Racial Amerika

Portland friend calls me up all flustered. Apparently, he got called the N-word by a dude in a car. The way he tells it, he'd been riding behind some delivery truck in a residential area, the truck came to a stop sign and my friend was gonna hang a left so he pulls to the left of the truck but stays behind to wait for the truck to continue. But the truck don't move.

The truck driver apparently expects mi amigo to pull up ahead and make the turn and so he waits and waits and then starts yelling. Amigo doesn't know what's going on, but the dude in the truck is swearing up a storm, like, "What? you gonna f#$kin' hit me with your bike lock?!!"

Amigo is like, "Um...are you talking to me?"

Truck driver, "Yeah I'm talking to you! GO ALREADY! GO!"

At this point, amigo (who's usually the person to do the fight picking) is nonplussed for as he puts it, "The guy could have put it in reverse and backed over me." So amigo starts moving away from the truck. Truck driver is way agitated now and people are starting to look and gesture to move as it's just a stop sign - That's when yells out, "YOU F@#KIN N*GGER!" and screeches away.

Amigo is like, whoah as he relates this to me over the phone.

I'm like whoah, dude, did he realize you're white?

Amigo: I believe so. I do have a beard now though, I kinda look like Jesus.

Me: I mean, I know you grew up in Peedro so you got soul, but you do also look like a Confederate general when you had your lambchops...

Amigo: I do have a black brother in law...but yeah, the whole thing was weird. The guy was freakin' crazy.

Me: You sure he didn't call you cracka?

Amigo: Nah, I mean, I guess he thought it was the worse thing he could call me. Cracka doesn't have the same gravity.

Me: True dat you cracka ass cracka.

Amigo: Shut yo' Mexican ass up.

* * *

Friday, March 19, 2010

50 Cents Richer

Last night I found myself stitching up my sketchers and trying to clean poo off one of the chickies behinds. The shoes are the main pair I wear with shorts and since it's almost shorts-wearin' season again I gotta patch these puppies up one more time - I swear it feels like I'm living in the corporate equivalent of East Berlin circa 1965, the way these damn shoes keep falling apart, the way everything produced in the world these days seems to break down quickly. Like, the infrared heat lamp I bought for the chickies brooder burned out after a week. *sigh* Maybe I'm just getting poorer...

Anyway, I'm failing at getting the poo off my chicky but it's cool cuz' the vent is technically still clear and she's really not enjoying the bide treatment. The water heater also broke so I got no hot water which means after approximately 2 cumulative hours worth of riding yesterday, I couldn't take a shower. And the $20 bike I bought from the Bike Church at the beginning of this month got sold cuz' I left it there for a week without working on it; and my wool gloves have a gaping hole in the middle finger that I also gotta patch up lest I become a full time hobo; and the Surly cross-check in black I ordered and plan to pay for via a Bike Loan is out of stock, so I'm stuck riding clunkers; but check this out:

Last night while riding back from the pet store w/ another infrared light bulb, I found a quarter - Rhode Island, "the ocean state." Score! Then again this morning, between trying to pull slack wool over my bare middle finger with my teeth, another quarter! This time Colorado - former Cheyenne country. It's been a rough week, but hey, I now got 50 cents more than I had 24 hours ago, I'm reee-atch!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Arana Gulch

Rode out to Arana Gulch late last night to watch the stars and say goodbye. See, it's one of the few places in town within easy riding distance and not a ton of light pollution. At the entrance there was a big sign by the Friends of the Arana Gulch making one last ditch effort to stop the city's plan to pave a bike path through it. The Coastal Commission had met earlier that day and I was all but sure, they'd give the green light for the "development" which was cause for my visit.

And ah, how wonderfully the stars shine! Orion and Leo and Canis Major, vast, epic constellations - The same ones that watched over all those who have come before us. How capricious, how arrogant the street lights seem by comparison. Bah, the ground is muddy and not great for riding but I'm okay with that. I get off my bike and walk, listening to the night birds, watching for shooting stars and the skunk people. I like wild places. I'm okay with sacrificing a little bit of my own convenience for the sake of total freedom.

Arana Gulch, the good folks of People Power want a paved bike path through you. One with little street lights and easy access for pigs to chase me down. I don't know if this is a good thing. Won't the rail trail accomplish the same goal? And yeah, I'm a bicyclist, and I guess I'm suppose to support any bike-oriented development but I just don't, cuz' I can't say riding a bike is the only thing that defines me. I could be wrong though, I could be wrong...

On that note, this morning, the headline from the Sentinel reads: California Coastal Commission delays Arana Gulch vote, asks city to study other option http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_14661492

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chicken Ride

I've hauled a lot of strange things with my bike trailers - lawn chairs, wine barrels (for gardening), and a conga but I think yesterday took the cake. In retrospect, I probably could have used the basket on the Townie for the little peeping box containing 4 baby chickens but you know, new parents are always real protective. So, I clipped on the Burley and made my way to the post-office.

The line is long and I'm annoyed as the postal service drones initially said the package would be delivered to my address but then said I needed to come pick them up. They also had called me from Watsonville and told me a truck wouldn't be out to SC until 2:30 but then I got another call at 1pm saying my package had arrived in SC - WTF? *sigh* Thankfully a mail clerk picked me out of the line, had me sign a slip, and I gently carried my new babies to the Burley and strapped them in. Had I taken streets with less auto traffic (i.e. less noise), I would have been a sight with a baby trailer behind me cheep cheep cheeping.

At home, I search for a proper brooder set up. The heat lamp can't be left on cardboard and I need something as a buffer. (I've also been told baby chicks can fly pretty high so putting a lid on their cage is a good idea). I rummage through the garage, try a myriad of methods, and finally find something that works.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Bike Advocacy Groups Weigh In on Cell Phone Laws

From sfstreetblog.org

"A bill introduced last month by State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), who has been a steady advocate for reducing the dangers of distracted driving, would increase first-time and repeat fines for drivers who text while driving or who don’t use hands-free devices, and would extend the prohibition of cell phone use to cyclists. This last move has cycling advocates baffled and on the defensive."

My initial thoughts after reading this piece are it's good to see mainstream bicycle advocates like the California Bicycle Coalition and SF Bicycle Coalition being more than a tad skeptical over Joe Simitian's silly law, even if they use nice measured terms like "premature" and "theoretical risks" versus "actual risks." Why not "excessive" or "superfluous" or "fucking stupid"?

But yeah, it's good to know I'm not completely insane for calling bullshit on Joe Simitian in the first place. I suspect the CBC may get behind this proposal if it gets watered down enough, like, they'll be okay with lesser fines for bicyclists riding w/ cell phones or texting. Hell, they may be fine w/ putting points on one's driving record too.

In which case, I suspect the legal precedent for licensing bicycles will be set. And with it, all the other parasitic industries that follow - insurance companies, dmv registration (though, they'll have to call it the "Department of Motorized and Non-Motorized Vehicles"), and tons of lobbyists. ugh.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I bought a bike.

It would seem fitting that the first and only bicycle I've purchased in my adult life would be a twenty dolla' clunky-ass beach cruiser from the Bike Church. Everything else I own has been a hand-me-down or donation, all of which, were in better shape when I received them than the one I just purchased. It's faded red, with a step through top tube, the tires are cracking, the wheels need truing, the chain isn't too rusty but the chain wheel scrapes the chain stay like grinding teeth. It needs work like a contestant on extreme makeover (this reference is further proof you don't need to watch television to know what's on television...mainly cuz' most americans only talk about what's on television).

Now, you're probably wondering - why buy a crappy slow bike when you already have a bunch of crappy fast ones? Well, it's like this, the crappy fast bikes serve various commuting purposes. The townie has fenders and a basket while the Bridgestone is faster but lacks a rack or fenders (i.e. I have to ride w/ a backback...ugh). And the Trek is for the occasional low-intensity off-roading-get-me-to-the-base-of-a-hiking-trail. But the cruiser, once I bring it up to speed (no pun intended), will be reserved for Burning Man.

For those reading this from the Bay Area, no explanation is needed. If you took UC Davis and wiped out the buildings and all the pavement, erected tents and giant art sculptures, and turned up the heat and music, you'd have Black Rock City, a.k.a. Burning Man - the only "city" in the United States that explicitly states no automobiles allowed on the "streets" - bikes and pedestrians only. Think about that - A place dedicated to moving people via their own body energy (and yeah, I know there are exceptions for the "mutant vehicles" but humor me). If that doesn't say a lot about this fading republic, the fact that Black Rock City only exists for a week out of the year surely does.

And so, the crusty red cruiser will be brought to Black Rock City as a sacrificial lamb. For as the rumors go, the climate there is particularly harsh on a bicycle...as in the dust gets into every orifice and is practically impossible to get out. Well, I got a low-income ticket, and now I have a low-income bicycle. Now I just gotta find a low-income way to get there...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Cell Phones, Bicycles, Unemployment

Thursday evening I find myself at the Bike Church, looking for a run down beach cruiser. As usual, I end up spending as much time shooting the isht w/ the bike mechanics as I do testing out rides and of course we get to talking about bike issues, life and the like.

One amigo knocks out the high Santa Cruz rent by piecing together old bicycles and selling them to friends or other folks w/ the financial means. It helps too that he lives with a lot of people and scrounges free food the big corporate grocery stores throw away. Obviously he ain't rich but he's damn good at fixing up bikes.

My other amigo also has many skills but as he points out, unemployment in Santa Cruz is like 13%, in SF it's 9% (don't quote me on these numbers....even if I'm quoting him) and he may be skipping town as early as next month as he can't find a job. It's a crappy situation and I end up steering the conversation to something not as pressing, at least not yet: Penalizing bicyclists for using cell phones.

Both amigos have ambivalence about state senator Joe Simitian's proposal to start penalizing bicyclists for using cell phones while riding...then again, neither of them have read the newspaper report about it (I've taken the liberty of printing out a copy and posting it at the Bike Church).

Homie #1 points out that it's hard to ride a bike and talk on a cell phone in the first place, and most of the time, folks are going super slow, like dragging one foot on the ground slow. They also unfortunately tend to weave around when doing so and he would rather fellow riders put the phone down and focus on the road. I totally agree I say but ask if this merits declaring the behavior illegal when there are so many other ways to discourage it? I mean, you aren't required to wear a helmet (if you're over 18 that is) but that doesn't mean helmet use can't be encouraged and statistically increased via public safety campaigns, as most bicycle advocacy groups already do.

Homie #2 says people are going to do stupid things no matter what the laws state and that you can never get everyone to comply. Bicyclists should be accountable to the same standards as cars. I counter that traffic laws should be proportional to the type of vehicle being used - Bicyclists aren't allowed on freeways for obvious reasons, so what we're talking about here is really parity - Bicyclists on cell phones don't kill anyone, cars do. Yes, but they can still cause accidents he says. I agree, and say this doesn't mean we need to give the police another excuse to pull us over and fuck with us. Public safety campaigns can be just as effective and certainly not as punitive as fines. Homie #2 says, okay, fine, you won me over. He then admits he does ride and talk on his cell on occasion. I laugh.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bicylists Against Superfluous Traffic Laws

My initial reaction to reading about a career politician seeking to criminalize the relatively benign act of talking on a cell phone while riding a bike was,"this is f**king stupid." Then I took a deep breath, went outside, stood in the rain to cool off, came back inside, reassessed my feelings and...no, they're still the same, this is totally f-ing stupid.

As reported in today's Santa Cruz Sentinel (or as us local folks call it, the "Senile"), www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci_14452791 state senator Joe Simitian thinks it would be groovy to increase the fines for drivers who get caught using a cell phone and then apply the very same law to bicyclists, for as we all know, there is an epidemic of us out there riding, talking, and running into one-legged old ladies and handicapped children. And as usual, many fellow riders I talk to are either indifferent or think this would be a good idea.

Well, I've never been known for taking popular stands so here goes nothing...

The idea that traffic penalties designed for cars should be applied to bicycles is based on the underlying but seldom articulated premise that technologies are neutral and don't carry an inherent bias. This premise cuts across political and class lines as our society is at heart a technophile society, which is to say, if you ask a republican or democrat if technology is the key to progress for humanity, 9 times out of 10 they'll say yes.

The way this plays out in the real world is that a bicyclist can be pulled over and given a ticket for running a stop sign in an empty intersection, for under the eyes of the legal system, we are the same as cars....even if we all know this to be untrue. The fact that there's indeed a difference between a motorized vehicle and a non-motorized vehicle doesn't factor in to a legal system that is blind to the built in bias that comes with any given technology.

Ask yourself this: Does a bicyclist talking on a cell phone pose an equal or greater risk as a driver doing the same? If not, does the risk merit additional laws that can start at a fine but escalate to jail time if they are not paid? Should riding a bicycle require a type of driver's license for that matter?

These are important questions that I suspect will not be addressed by proponents of the legislation at hand.

Instead, the debate over this issue (if there is even going to be one) will falsely focus on safety - not personal discretion, individual autonomy or freedom. And as stated earlier, bikes are inherently safer than cars, cell phone or not - to argue that there's a major problem on our hands that must be solved by declaring certain behavior illegal and punishable by fines and whatnot is simply absurd.

Well, I for one, do not support criminalizing something as benign and unprevalent as riding a bike and using a cell phone. (And this is coming from someone who doesn't even like cell phones). Silly legislation such as this deserves a silly acronym for those against it - I propose we create BASTL: Bicyclists Against Superfluous Traffic Laws. If you wanna join this up and coming "special interest group," the first thing I encourage you to do is get on your cell phone or email account, call or write any of the following people and tell em' you ride a bike and you don't support another superfluous law. okay, go!

Senator Joe Simitian's Santa Cruz Office 831.425.0401 or http://www.senatorsimitian.com/contact

People Power 831.425.0665 or info@peoplepowersc.org

Santa Cruz Senile http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/submitletters

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Remembering To Wave

I don't care much for traffic laws. At least as they currently stand when it comes to bicycles, and, particularly when it comes to stop signs and red lights. Still, I recognize the importance of communicating clearly with drivers, especially when blowing a stop sign, and especially when the car has reached it a few seconds before me. Imagine then, my chagrin while riding shotgun in a sports car two days ago, when a spandex clad Lance Armstrong-looking dude rolls through a 4-way intersection up on the Westside without so much as a nod or wave.

The driver sitting next to me knows I'm an ardent bicyclist and does her best to cover up her annoyance and put a positive spin on what just transpired.

"See how I let that rider go through even though it was my turn?"

I try not to say anything as for some reason I've just become the spokesperson for every bicyclist who's ever broken a traffic law. I mean, I could honestly give a shit less that we came to a full stop a few seconds before Armstrong arrived at the intersection. And yeah, technically he was in the "wrong" but considering we were at the top of a hill, for a bicyclist, losing momentum at this point would really hurt, plus, Armstrong was no doubt clipped into his pedals - coming to a full stop was simply not an option.

Still, I can't get away from the fact that he didn't nod and signal his intentions to us. I mention this to the driver in an attempt to assuage any perceived insult.

"I always wave," I say, which is true - that, plus some direct eye contact and 95% of the time, I never have a problem running a stop sign. You'd be amazed how much people will oblige you if you wave.

My friend sneers and guns the engine. It's not what she wanted to hear. I add, "It was very nice of you to let him pass." The mild amount of tension dissipates. She drives on.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Baby Not On Board

I won't go into the details on how I came to be hauling a Burley kid's bike trailer early last week, suffice to say, there wasn't a kid in it. But as I pulled away from the Westside and headed downtown, I figured, why not take advantage of the situation? I mean, cars occasionally still sport those "Baby On Board" signs, what if I forwent the King St bike detour (oops, I mean, "bike boulevard") and simply took the whole right lane down Mission St?

I mean, the signs Caltrans installed in the wake of 2 dead bicyclists a few years ago don't clearly state bicyclists may use the entire lane, even though legally we can. This basically translates to people like me risking the occasional horn or middle finger when exercising this right of way on Mission Street.

But what if it appears that I'm hauling a kid behind me? Would the minor harassment stop? Perhaps the trailer would have a calming effect on drivers, like a magical "don't honk, think of the children!" force shield or something...I decide to test this theory out.

Brain: From Fair Ave to Almar, so far so good. But from here on out, it's gonna get hairy...

The light turns green. I brace myself. I hold my ground and do my best to haul ass and keep up w/ the cars but it's a lost cause. I pass CVS/Longs, I reach a red at Bay, everyone's chill.

Brain: What if a semi gets stuck behind you? What if some assbag in a Sequoia crunches the Burley and pulls you under? What if....The light turns green.

I keep my pace steady this time. Any second I expect someone to quickly pull around on my left and yell something that'll make my ears burn. I pass the gas station on Walnut that seems to be kaput (I think, good, screw em'), I pass Union Street, a bike lane begins, I breath a sigh of relief. Amazing, I think, no hassle, no car drama. Maude Flanders "Think of the children!" factor. I look back at the Burley behind me, it's still intact, the Bridgestone is still intact, I'm still intact. I think, oh baby, I'm definitely on board.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Nevermind the red light, I'm on a bicycle

The other day, in the intersection of Ocean and Soquel, I saw a bicycle riding crossing guard (off duty or on her way to another street) stop at a red light, look both ways, then pedal through.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

A morning ride w/ a friend

This morning I spot a fellow rider/activist friend carrying her bike over the train tracks. See, the path leading through the SC Harbor to Murray St is a bike commuter's dream come true - quiet, no auto traffic, and you pass docked boats, seagulls and pelicans - very serene. That is, until you reach the Murray St bridge and the path collides with rocks, dirt, and railroad tracks. Sure, if you're headed for the beach, you can just go under the bridge but if you got business to attend to....Then it's get off your bike, pick up your bike, carry your bike over the tracks, set your bike down in the bike lane of busy busy busy Murray St, and then very carefully start to ride.

I slow down and let her catch up...

"You know, I hear someday, in our lifetime, the rail trail thing is actually gonna happen," I say, half jokingly. (For those outside of Santa Cruz, the Rail Trail plan would pave a bike path adjacent to the railroad that traverses Santa Cruz County and save all of us the trouble of riding alongside cars...or carrying our bikes over the tracks for that matter. http://www.santacruztrail.org/)

"I'll believe it when I see it," she says or something to that effect.

we keep riding, careful to not edge too much outside the bike lane and risk car horns, death or worse, being regulated to driving a car; but also careful not to edge too close to the curb as there are branches, sewer gates, weeds, and other miscellaneous storm-related debris. (It would seem that when it comes to road conditions, bicyclists get the "separate but equal" digs, which is to say, the crappiest part of the road).

we pass a guy with a leaf blower. my riding partner comments why can't he use a push broom? I agree but point out labor wise, it's cheaper to use a gas-powered leaf-blower. She counters that it's not cost effective if you add in the true cost in terms of damage done to the environment - the oil used to manufacture the noisy contraption, the oil necessary to make it run, and the labor short-changed by the contraption, not to mention the general unpleasantness of anyone within earshot (not that cars have to deal with this).

I agree, I totally agree, I adore this woman's comprehension of the big picture and snarky sense of injustice. But, inevitably, the conversation steers toward the same area of disagreement that liberals and anarchists find themselves in when it comes to envisioning solutions (or foreseeable outcomes)...

"The problem is, the value of clean air, pristine wild forests is unquantifiable. if we started factoring in the true cost of industrial production and consumption, there's no way we could afford it, the entire system would collapse."

"Yes but we're in charge of this system. We can change it."

"I guess that's where we disagree. I mean, you and I are not in charge of this system. We never see the folks in charge, and besides, this system is a self-perpetuating product of technology, backed up by a huge hierarchical corporate state apparatus..."

"If enough of us got together, we could shout loudly enough for those above to hear us. They'd have to act."

I shake my head. I realize the precise moment in this conversation where our philosophies went their separate ways. If only she'd said, "the entire system collapsing might not be such a bad thing," then I would have said, "Yes!" But no, I try to find a happy middle ground and say, "thankfully, gas-powered leaf-blowers won't be around much longer." I'm referring to peak oil but I'm not sure she knows it, and honestly, I'm not sure if what I'm predicting will come true...Instead, she changes the subject and we keep riding.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Marry me San Francisco

Spent a few hours up in the city test riding potential new bicycles this past weekend and let me just say this: i love San Francisco, love it. I love it the way flowers love water and fire loves wind. I mean, yes, in principle cities are destructive places that have their tentacles strangling everything around them and American cities in particular are fucking depressing places that thankfully won't exist thousands of years from now; but even so, San Francisco presently remains one of the sweetest cities to ride a bike in (2nd only to Portland as far as I'm concerned).

I could and have spent hours just wandering from Coit Tower to Little Italy, then to SFMOMA, then Golden Gate Park - enjoying the architecture, the bike paths (thank you SF bike map!), the foxy looking people. Speaking of Golden Gate Park, after test riding some Surlys, I took the Bridgestone for a short spin by the tennis courts, past the playground/carousel, through a little duck pond, and finally to De Young. Along the way I passed folks playing ultimate frisbee, chanting/singing drummers, drug dealers (bummer i didn't bring any cash), fellow latinos doing a photo shoot for a quincenera, and a homeless guy offering food to a squirrel. Ventured into the De Young gift shop for a minute (didn't have time for anything else), poked around, and headed back to SC.

San Francisco - will you marry me?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Corporate personhood, natural disasters, a bad joke

Dude 1: Hey, did you hear the one about the corporation that became self-aware after the Supreme Court declared it to be a person?

Dude 2: Um, no.

Dude 1: It took a giant shit on Haiti.

All bad joking aside, it's good to know the year is starting off on the right foot - The collapse of Haiti, the end to Democratic control of the Senate (way to waste a whole year guys!), and the Supreme Court affirming their position as this country's highest group of fools. Yeah guys - If corporations are indeed people, then they ought to be treated with the same level of respect we afford sociopaths and child molesters, which is to say, none whatsoever.

But to paraphrase Utah Phillips, "It's too easy to get down about how things are at the global level. If you look at what's happening at the local level, there's a lot of amazing things going on."

And it's true - Here in Santa Cruz, the good folks at People Power are raising funds to sue the pants off Caltrans for being a bunch of myopically minded motherfuckers, specifically ones who hold on to the outdated notion that you can keep widening a highway and decrease auto congestion. I'm still pissed at Caltrans for refusing to put in bike lanes on Mission St, which resulted in at least two bicycle deaths a few years ago.

The Wednesday night Saturn Cafe fundraiser already passed but there's still next Tuesday, Jan.26th at Gabriella Cafe. Click here for details: http://peoplepowersc.org

As for me, I'm keeping my New Year's Bicycle Resolutions simple - Find a way to get a decent commuter ride with 32" tires and room for panniers; lobby downtown Trader Joe's to install a bike coral; and spend at least one day running around screaming, "Peak Oil is coming! Peak Oil is coming!"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The rain, the bus, the rain

the good thing about riding the bus instead of a bike is i get to catch up on my reading. And since the list of books i intend to read this year also has to compete with the books i didn't get around to last year and the year before that (and before that), the rain is definitely a good thing.

at least, this is what i tell myself in light of not being able to ride due to the minor monsoon blessing Santa Cruz these past few days. The Townie pulled a flat that I couldn't fix cuz' the tires are older than me and now aren't fully staying on the rim; and my attempts to fit the Bridgestone with fenders has yielded about as much success as the Copenhagen climate talks; and honestly, i'm not crazy enough to take on these storms.

so i'm on the bus, it is pouring outside. we reach a stop by the boardwalk and a man steps inside, he starts to try to explain to the driver that he doesn't have any money but...well, but what are you gonna say dude? the driver simply gestures for him to leave. it is a sad sight as he says thanks, turns around, mumbles something bitterly and goes back out into the heavy rain.

did i mention the man looked like your standard bro/possible methhead? i say that because when it comes to men in their twenties in Santa Cruz, there are two types - the UCSC college transplants (often called "trannies" by the "locals") and the east side homegrown "local" bros (i call them cream of wheat cracka-ass crackas but that phrase hasn't caught on) - both tend to be white, but the former are more middle-class while the latter are more of the blue-collar persuasion.

so i'm on the bus, next day, same driver, and it's pouring outside. we reach a stop with a lot of UCSC students, one dude gets on - whiteboy w/ dreads, very student-looking, he says something to the driver which appears to be something like, "i forgot my bus pass..." (UCSC students all have bus passes) the driver gestures for him to sit down.

maybe it was just my imagination.

i am after all at the back of the bus and can't hear exactly what's being said, nor did i actually see him with or without a bus pass - i am only surmising from the body language between the student and the driver. but at least half of communication is body language and tone of voice and it really appeared like the student just got a free ride, so to speak.

truth is, i see shit like this all the time - the coeds w/ the perky tits rarely have a problem hitching a ride or giving the "oops, i forgot my pass" line to drivers. this is not to say they're lying and shouldn't be allowed on, nor is it to say women get more breaks than men, it's just instructive to witness the effects of a class-based hierarchical culture in action.

in Santa Cruz, the homeless, elderly, immigrant working class moms, disabled and occasional addicts will forever be regulated to the bus system while the students who ride are simply putting in their 4 years before returning to the iron-cocoons from whence they came. and yes, i know it's more complicated than that - but only by a few degrees.

i recall that one time where a ucsc student attempting to get on the bus was short on change but had the wherewithal to quickly turn to the other riders and hustle it up just before the driver threatened to kick him off. the bro on the other hand didn't stand a chance, his body language was one of defeat as he got on; would we have fronted him the money if he'd asked? we'll never know.

i think of this as i sit in a bus, and the rain pours all over Santa Cruz. i put my head down and keep reading.

Friday, January 15, 2010

the old man and the cars

"Sir I'm gonna call the police if you don't move."

How long the old man had been standing there, blocking the auto from entering the staff of life parking lot, i couldn't say. He looked frail but resolute. The woman in the car looked frazzled and ready to make good on her threat.

It wasn't my fight, I could have just rode by cuz' you know, a pedestrian can't block a bike and do I really care if car traffic gets hampered? Then again, she might very well run the old dude over or worse, call the pigs.

"Excuse me, are you okay?"

He turns to me slowly, says, "Are you a cop?"


"Well mind your own business. These people are trying to take my parking space!"

I gesture that I can't hear him (I can), he hesitates and then walks over to me. I gesture to the woman to pass, she hesitates, then drives in. Grandpa realizes he's been duped and starts telling me off.

"You oughta mind your own business. These people took my parking space, and I'm not gonna let em' in. They can't just do that."

"I'm sorry," I say, keeping the conversation chill - grandpa ain't gonna throw any punches. "I was just concerned. You were standing in front of a car and the lady was mad."

At that, he repeats himself and goes right back into the center of the entrance, just as another car is trying to pull in. The driver isn't sure what to do, but the car that tries to pull in behind her does.


There are now two cars being blocked by grandpa - one halfway in the driveway, and another big-ass SUV in the middle of the street.


Two more cars ride up and stop in front of the SUV, another car stops behind it. I move to the other side of the entrance.

"Sir!" I say, "Are you sure you're okay?"

The lady directly in front of him starts yelling for him to move, and the SUV dipshit behind her is only escalating things with her horn, a crowd is beginning to gather. I try to coax grandpa over so we can talk. He looks bewildered and frustrated, he steps aside and the lady passes, yelling, "What the hell is wrong with you?! You could have caused an accident!"

In turn, he starts yelling at me. "Why can't you mind your own business? These people are trying to take my parking space!"

"Look, I don't like the police," I say, "But there's a lot of people here who won't hesitate to call them on you."

"I don't give a shit! That's a night of free room and board. Fuck em."

"Do you need a place to stay? Are you homeless?" (He doesn't look homeless, but he doesn't look rich either)

"No, no, my car's over there. But they're trying to take all the parking spaces."

I look over to where his car is supposedly parked. There are plenty of open parking spaces. I think he's gonna have a stroke, that or senile.

"Which one?" I ask. He points to one not more than 10 feet away. "Are you sure you're alright?"

"I'm really not sure," he says. But at least he's out of the line of fire, as the autos are now passing both of us status quo. I'm already running late, so I apologize again, wish him well, and continue about my business.

At a distance, the staff of life manager and employees are watching, people have been complaining. I ride over and explain what I think happened. Later, the manager says the old man's son came out shortly thereafter, said, "Come on dad, let's go," and took off in the car he'd told me was his.

I reflect on the incident. The women in the cars being blocked refused to step out and engage grandpa and just kept yelling at him from their windows. Maybe they were scared of him, though he didn't look very threatening to me. Had no other pedestrian or bicyclist interfered, the drivers surely would have called the cops, and the cops surely would have just physically shoved him out of the way and then probably given him a stern lecture - all disrespectful behavior towards an elder as far as I'm concerned. And how easily car traffic can pile up! In a matter of seconds really. Like a bunch of fat cows, all unable to maneuver more than a few inches before their massive bodies and so very noisy. Sometimes it feels like drivers are hostages to their vehicles, and other times it feels like we're all hostages to their world.

i hope grandpa made it home alright.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Blessed with rain

wow, you're hardcore she says
i am a radioactive wet rat
bright yellow rain slicker
black rain pants
helmet and blinky lights
damp face
it only looks bad when you're in a car i say
yeah, cuz you hit the water faster she adds
yup, it's actually pretty nice
being sprinkled with cool sweet water while you exercise
yeah she says
i get off my bike
she locks her car

Monday, January 11, 2010

Virtual Economic Disaster or...

"The Unemployed Avatar"

In January 2010, the virtual unemployment rate in virtual America remained over 10%. Virtual people were getting virtually desperate, hungry, angry. The problem was, none of the unemployed virtual people knew of the other unemployed virtual people around them.

The more radical leaning virtually unemployed believed they might be able to wrest control and redistribute the wealth from the virtual rich, if only they could get organized. But the virtual rich had already beaten them to the punch - for decades ago, virtual super highways had been constructed to make movement without virtual money difficult, and former virtual farmland had been turned into virtual housing pods, complete w/ virtual 2 car garages in virtual cul-de-sacs.

The virtual people with virtual jobs lived in these virtual neighborhoods, watching virtual "reality" TV shows night after night and ingesting tons upon tons of virtual advertising. They virtually knew nothing of the growing number of virtual people in need right outside their doors. The former moved from place to place inside virtual steel cages called cars, while the latter hid out in abandoned spaces and were rarely seen. The situation was such that a huge numbers of virtual people were virtually invisible.

It was almost as if they did not exist.

* * *
To be continued.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Things you won't see in a car...

this morning near capitola i pass a blockbuster membership card on the road, no biggie, i see all kinds of miscellaneous trash while riding, so i keep riding. then i notice a few other scattered plastic cards, i keep riding...then i spot a driver's license, i pull over. i feel like hanzel minus gretel as i pick up the trail of plastic cards and one wallet, careful not to get tagged by oncoming auto traffic.

turns out the drivers license belongs to a capitola man who's car got broken into this morning. he'd already canceled his credit cards by the time i called but luckily, hadn't ordered a new license.

his wallet had gotten pretty chewed up by the road, as i'm presuming the cars that rode by didn't see it and more likely than not, drove right over it. that's a sad thing if you think about it - so much gets missed in a car; on a bike i regularly pick up loose change (37 cents this morning), and today, someone's wallet. Add to that the pleasant smell of solstice trees (christmas trees to everyone else, i just ain't no christian) being hauled away this morning, and i'm very, very glad i ride a bike.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I need a new bike - dilemma part I

i have a friend who once said whenever he gets a new car, he immediately kicks a dent or puts a nick in it. just to get it over with.

i totally know how he feels.

about 48 hours have passed since i started asking around for advice on a decent commuter ride. and the answers have been pretty consistent - Surly, Salsa, and maybe Bianci. No one has recommended modern Schwinns and I know better than to even bother with ugly ass Giants.

Thing is, i'm used to not worrying about where i lock up. i mean, i know dudes who commute and never park outside but bring their prized rides into their office/cube space instead. that ain't me. if i have to fret about the paint getting nicked or some meth head jacking my wheels, seat, or whatever, it ain't worth the trouble.

then there's the issue of licensing your ride w/ the state - yes, it's only a few bucks but ugh, more government bureaucracy. one of the best things about riding is the simplicity of bicycle technology (er...lack of motor) and how this requires very little parasitic off-shoot industries (i.e. no pinche auto-insurance dickwads, driver's ed classes, etc).

but...damn the Surly Pacer is a sweet ride. now, why the f- doesn't it have mounts for a rack on the seat stay?!!!!


is it worth going into debt over? won't i have to get a little matching cap to wear w/ it? will i have to replace my pocket knife w/ a switchblade and be ready to cut some sucka-ass-punk who tries to mess with it?

i can picture it now:

"nice ride, now hand it over."

"piss off."

"I said hand the bike over!"

"death first!"

*glock glock*


Monday, January 4, 2010

I need a new bike

it is a new year and i need a new bike.

there's just no way around it. Of the 5 hand-me-down bikes i've been in possession of over the last decade, all of them have something askew.

The blue Trek is pretty much thrashed, I got the front changer hooked up to a shifter that looks like a charred finger, and I cannot stand riding the streets on 26" wheels. The lavender Schwinn Townie is a delight to ride but heavy, squeaky (I refuse to change the saddle as it is an original part, which I'm guessing goes back at least 25 years), and isn't equipped to hold panniers (though, I really do love the front basket). The Benotto frame was stripped over a year ago to outfit the Bridgestone, because the Bridgestone has rear mounts for a rack and the Benotto doesn't.

But as I've come to painfully discover - The Bridgestone frame is simply too small for me to have panniers on. That is to say, despite switching out 2 difference racks, and two different kinds of panniers, my heels keep hitting the latter no matter which way i put it together. So I need to get a new bike.

The problem is, i actually don't know that much about bikes. I just love riding them. I have a benotto, bridgestone, trek, and schwinn, and know that i don't like cannondales. But other than that, I'm pretty much at a loss when it comes to shopping for a new ride. I mean, clearly a more classic road frame with rear mounts and 700 wheels is what I'd prefer, maybe with townie handle bars, but what's a reliable and affordable make/model? I don't wanna read a book on the subject and Craigslist is overwhelming. Ugh. Dear internet-universe, what do you recommend?