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.

"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:

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?