Archive for September, 2009

Cleaning Up A Mess

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

In the most desperate days of my long stretch of unemployment — I mean freelancing — I drove all the way down to Dominguez Hills in the summer of 2007 and applied to be a dependent contractor for DirecTV, installing their satellite TV systems.

In fact, perhaps the only reason I didn’t take the $10-per-hour shit job when they called a couple weeks later and offered it to me is that even though I had gone out of my way on very short notice to wait in line for almost two hours without an appointment to pull my DMV record so that I showed up with it for the application/interview process, the young lady who’d called said the job was mine  as soon as I provided her with a current DMV printout.

“But you have the one I gave you two weeks ago,” I said.

“Yes, but a lot could have happened since then.”

“Are you kidding?”

“Unfortunately, no,” she said.

Well, the thought of waiting around at the DMV for another couple hours and paying for another driving record  just so I could have the privilege of driving around town in a van installing dishes and receivers for $80 a day proved too much for me to bear so I said to the young lady she could take that job and shove it and thus ended any opportunity to be professionally affiliated with that outfit.

This week when DirecTV showed to upgrade us to an HD dish and receiver, the better with which to take advantage of our new TVs high definition capacity, I realized I’d made the right choice. I wouldn’t have lasted a week on the job because I would’ve insisted on quality installations, not quantity.

dishb4When the DirecTV dude showed up, he was on time, affable and knowledgeable and in a few minutes was  at work installing the requisite new dish atop the rear dormer. Between then and a couple hours later I’d put a $20 in my pocket to tip him with, but later when he powered everything up and  we were in the living room admiring the crystal clear picture coming out of our Sony Bravia, my joy at the beautiful image was tempered by the absolute crap job he did laying the cable on the roof.

As a result, the $20 in my pocket wasn’t going anywhere near the guy, and I invited him into the backyard to see what he had to say about the wickedly unappealing display of thick blazing white cables running down the dormer wall and oozing along the roof where he then ridiculously wrapped it around the outside of the rain gutter, as shown at right (click for the bigger picture) before tucking it under the eave and nailing the excess to the wall.

He shrugged somewhat sheepishly.

“If this were your house, would you be happy with that?” I asked.

He said he understood my disappointment and gave me some song and dance about not having enough black cable with him and that with free installations it was pretty much the best he was allowed to do.

IMG_4994The reason I didn’t call bullshit is that I’d already figured out how to make practically all of it invisible and decided to DIY it where DirecTV was unwilling to tread. Sure I could have stomped my foot and demanded to talk to his supervisor and bitched and moaned until things got made right, but I hate doing that almost as much as I hate dealing with people who have to be harassed into doing anything more then the least amount of work, so I thanked him for his marginal efforts, bid him farewell and then suffered the shoddiness until this morning when I got busy undoing his deeds and redoing it right: by drilling a small hole through the wall under the eave, dropping the cables through that vent to the right of the dormer and moving it all under the roof to connect up inside into the crawlspace off the master bedroom. I’m sure you’ll agree the end result (at left, click for the bigger picture) is as it should and could have been in the first place.

In addition, as you are just able to see sticking into the right side of the picture at the roof line, the installer didn’t see it fit to remove our old dish, so I took that down too, along with all the old coaxial cabling that ran down the north side of the house. While I was up there I also removed the dish unseen on the south side of the roof formerly connected to our upstairs tenant’s TV.

Our roof hasn’t been so uncluttered in years.

I Am A Boy Scout

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Ride a bike enough and the out-of-the-ordinary noises they make become readily recognizable, such as the sharp sound that emanated from the front wheel after I’d angled off of La Brea onto Redondo yesterday morning on my way to work. To the ear of the unfamiliar rider it might have sounded and felt like you’d done nothing more than run over the side of some small piece of debris, like a pebble or a locknut. There’s a snap and a slight jarring motion.

But I knew right away: broken spoke. Confirmed by the immediate warped rotation of the rolling tire. And after pulling to the curb I quickly located the damaged support separated from the wheel’s hub.

It used to be that I worried about riding on a wheel in such condition, fearing that with one broken the added stress created would have a domino effect on others. Now, if I don’t have time or inclination to change out a spoke right then and there, I just loosen up the corresponding brake to allow clearance for the wheel’s warp and I proceed on to my destination, in this case the remaining seven or eight miles to my office in Westchester (in the middle of which my semi-disabled 8 Ball and I had this my latest close encounter with a put-the-ass-in-passing motorist).

That’s right, I wrote “…if I don’t have time or inclination to change out a spoke right then and there…” See, in a past life when I was 60 pounds heavier and subjecting my roadbike to both that added mass and looooong grinding rides (like up Highway 126 from Magic Mountain to Ventura and back), I snapped more than the average cyclist’s number of spokes. Enough so that I finally ended up stocking up and carrying them with me, along with the required spoke wrench.

It’s a habit I’ve never broken.

And it came in handy yesterday evening, when after finishing up the day’s work at my office I then sat down with 8-Ball’s front wheel in my hands at about 7:30 p.m. and commenced removing the old and lacing in the new. About 20 minutes later the rim tape, innertube and tire were back on, the wheel was back in 8-Ball’s forks and I was field-correcting the wheel’s warp, tightening up the brakes and ready to get on my way. And I’m not ashamed to say I was so DAMN PROUD of myself, I tweeted a little rhyme:

No joke,
This here bloke,
He broke,
A spoke.

But no cares,
Made repairs,
‘Cuz I dares,
To carry spares.

Bikes will always give you that opportunity to boost your esteem.

If you’re prepared.

Can You See Me Now?

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Don’t lecture me because I understand that I am to blame. Instead of asserting my right to the lane I’m biking in, I have a tendency to ride too far to the right — only a couple-three feet out from the curb, or well within the doorzone. I’ve tried to change that habit, but that’s just how I roll.

So when motorists decide to stay in the same lane as me when they pass, I don’t get mad anymore when they squeeze by me a couple feet or less on my left because I understand it’s my fault. My chosen position in the lane is basically an invitation to roll on through, regardless of the explicit inconsideration and hazards of them doing so. Fortunately the vast majority of motorists who pass me do so by either scooching to the left a bit or making a half or full lane change. But for those that don’t, how can I get angry at them for taking advantage of my accommodating nature when I’m basically encouraging them to do so.

Which is a variation of what I was thinking when I was southbound on La Cienega Boulevard below Jefferson this morning and after the lady on the cellphone in the beat-up Dodge Stratus sedan sped by me with less than a foot between me and her passenger side mirror, no doubt so that she could get to the red light a half-block up at Rodeo that much faster. Keeping my cool instead of defaulting to the apopleptic outrage I’m so good at, I casually rolled up to the driver’s side window and advised her in a calm and nonthreatening manner that she passed me way too close.

Taking the cellphone from the side of her head and putting it into her purse she said “That’s because I didn’t see you,” the typical lame excuse at which I bristled a bit before replying that it might be best for both of us if she used her cellphone less and her eyes more. Of course she then bristled at that because what the hell kind of lowlife on a bike am I to tell her what the hell to do when she’s behind the wheel of her vastly superior mode of transportation!?

“Excuse me!” she yelled. But I wasn’t clear if she was asking for my forgiveness or wanting me to give her the space cushion her admitted blindness had precluded her from giving me so that she could pull closer to the car stopped behind the car stopped behind the car stopped at the red light.

Seeing my confusion, she repeated herself a bit more emphatically, which tilted her tone to the latter. So I pretended it was the former.

“Nope,” I said. “Why should I excuse such behavior that’s not only reckless but also illegal?”

She repeated herself a third time and I pointed out that “because I didn’t see you” is the lamest excuse of all. So then she laid on the horn in protest, but it turned out her car’s horn was as worn out as the car and its feeble tone made me giggle. And that pissed her off even more, forcing her to shove harder and repeatedly on the steering wheel as if that would somehow make the horn louder. Sorry for the bad movie reference but she reminded me of Danny DeVito as the Penguin in that Batman movie as he gets progressively more frantically enraged when the controls of the machine he’s operating start failing.

“I give up,” I laughed. “You win: you’re excused!”

Then I rolled in front of her car, where she finally took her hand off the horn and I took the full lane. After the light turned green and the car in front of the car in front of the car in front of me started moving, so did I — but slooooowly — until I made my right turn onto Rodeo and she continued straight saluting me with her right middle finger.

TV Land

Monday, September 14th, 2009

When flat-panel TVs  became all the rage several years ago, the main thing I raged against were the multi-thousand-dollar pricetags. Just as I vowed never to ever own a car that cost me more than $30,000, I swore I’d never suffer a four-digit pricetag for a boobtube no matter how mind-blowing the picture.

On top of that even as little as a couple years ago (when the prices came down enough for my mom who bought a $1,200 Vizio model from Costco) there wasn’t all that much in the way of high-definition broadcasting. Hooking up my mom’s TV for her and flipping through the channels I was immediately put off by the prevalence of non-HD programming accompanied by the requisite vertical bars bordering a picture that really looked no better than it did on a regular box.

But in keeping with rewarding myself for all the bike commuting I do (last year’s prize was an iPhone), I’d decided early on in this year when digital finally killed the analog star that I was finally going to get the Campbell household some true 1080p flat panel goodness too replace the trusty but tiny 27″ Sanyo we’ve been watching since 2004.

But still I wasn’t in any frenzied impulsed hurry… that is, until a couple weeks ago when a mailer arrived from Costco that alerted me to a website-only offering beginning September 14 for a limited time of a 46″ Sceptre model for $799. I did some online research and for the most part reviews for that model were positive. And so I began counting down the days.

Then, last week, it dawned on me that 46″ is pretty big and I’d better bust out a tape measure and get the dimensions of our TV cabinet, which is a very good thing seeing as how it’s only 39″ wide. Dangit.

Fixated on the 46’er I’d briefly scoped out the ideas of either getting a new cabinet or mounting it on various walls or putting the thing way up high on top of the existing cabinet. Dutifully I pitched the various scenarios to Susan after she saw me eyeballing the wall behind the sofa and wondered what was on my devious mind. She did her best not to laugh out loud at the options, especially since my jonesing for a new tube took her a bit by surprise and she wasn’t as excited about it as I was.

Last but not least, I told her, was the most sensible solution. That instead of buying new furniture or rearranging the entire room to accommodate the TV, we get a TV that actually fit inside the furniture we had. She was all for that one. Gave it her enthusiastic endorsement.

So back to the research drawing board I went on the hunt for TVs that the cabinet could contain. While it seemed that a 37″ model was as big as we could go, I did find a 40″ Sony Bravia, whose 38 7/8ths-inches width meant that I nervously quadruple-quadruple-checked my cabinet measurement to make sure it was indeed 39″, since there was hardly room for error — basically 1/16th-inch on either side.

Then it came to the price. Samy’s had been selling it for $899, but that ended Saturday, gah! Both Costco and Best Buy had it for $1,199, which as previously mentioned was $200 more than I was genetically and morally able/willing to spend. Just when I thought all was postponed, up came Howard’s to the rescue with their advertising insert in the Sunday LA Times: 40″ Sony Bravia, $899.

sony

So Susan and me and the tape measure loaded into the truck and drove out to the Howard’s in San Gabriel where they had one on display and I triple-checked that it was for sure a pinch less than 39″ wide. Even with that proof I was still thinking of going with a 37″ Samsung, but it was only a hundred cheaper and so the Sony Bravia kept calling me back to it.

It’ll fit, I kept saying. To myself. And to Susan. And Alex the salesman.

After mulling a bit more we thanked Alex and split telling him we’d be back, and utilizing our regional proximity to the wonderful San Gabriel Mission and the magnificent L.A. County Arboretum and went and played tourists in our own town at those two landmarks. Then we went and got a bite to eat. Then we went back and bought it and brought it home.

She fit into the cabinet as if they’d been custom made for each other, and the installation was pretty painless. She was up and running in time for us to enjoy the season finale of “True Blood,” on HBO. And if Susan had been previously uninspired at the thought of a new TV, she was on the same page as me as we sat in front of it and took in the big new shiny screen.

But we’re not quite all the way to high definition magic yet since we’ve got a standard satellite receiver box and a standard TiVo DVR. So what we need first up is an HD receiver upgrade from DirecTV (ordered this morning and coming this week), and then down the road we may have to think about an HD DVR.

Far more important than an HD DVR at this point is a Blu-Ray DVD player, of course. But in the meantime, I dropped in a disc to our regular DVD player just to check it and the trailer for “Shutter Island” popped up and looked awesome enough.

For now.

Faux Tuscan

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

When in the planning stages of our remodel, Susan proposed adding a tiny window into the north side of the the rear dormer, I thought it an excellent idea. Little did I know the view it would frame from our masterbath would become one of my favorites that I actively seek out and linger over on  a daily basis because its elements and aspects ever conspire to transport me to a a lush farmhouse in Northern Italy. Of course it’s that much more vibrant in the sunlight, but on this day  that I decided to highlight it, LA’s layered with low clouds. But still, it sings to me (click for the bigger picture).

tuscany

Eight Years Ago Today

Friday, September 11th, 2009

This is how I handled the horror.

For A Cycling Advocate I’m A Lousy Activist

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

A couple years or so ago I had an op-ed piece published in the L.A. Times in which I said that it was OK by me if the city didn’t stripe another inch of bike lane ever.

That didn’t go over very well with some people. Never mind that my alternative was to take the money for the deathless bureaucracy needed to ultimately produce some stretches of paint on the streets and instead use it to attack motorist ignorance and attitude by putting it into increasing and sustaining education and awareness of cyclists rights, some people were flummoxed that I was satisfied with the fractured state of our entirely insufficient bike lane network.

Of course I’m not satisfied with it. It’s heartbreaking and reprehensible. But here’s the thing: in its past, present and future dysfunctional state: I’m on my bike all over this city yesterday, today and tomorrow. If I have the opportunity to get somewhere by bicycle, I find a route and I take it and I make it happen.

And that attitude bothered some people too. They were perturbed at my apparent lack of understanding that there are cyclists out there who don’t have the urban-cycling history and skillset that I do.

Really? Who?

Of course I understand that. I know there are people out there young and old who lack the experience or the familiarity with the street, and for whom the idea of biking across town is a daunting or even terrifying task. Hell, we’re indoctrinated into that fear by our worried parents from the moment we get that first ecstatic taste of two-wheeled freedom: “Stay out of the street!”

But here’s the thing: It doesn’t have to be so frightening. The first time I commuted an extended distance to work by bike 20 years ago this past spring certainly I had my doubts and fears, made even stronger by the prevailing negative stereotype that one didn’t have to ride far to encounter.  Those annoying calls to “Get A Car!” we hear nowadays are almost quaint when compared to the shouts of “Alky” or “Don’t Drink And Drive!” from passing motorists who’d automatically assume I was on a bike not because I wanted to be but because my license was in suspension due to a DUI. Underlying that, if you think our cycling infrastructure is dysfunctional now, you should’ve seen it then. Those meaningless green and white “Bike Route” signs we see around town? That was the very definition of cycling network innovation back then.

But still, I got on my bike and rode it.

And therein lies the simple depth and breadth of my activism: I lead by example. I ride. I take the rotten fruits of Los Angeles’ ever-compromised bike masterplan and make it work for me. Whether biking from Burbank to Tarzana, Encino to Mid-Wilshire or to Pasadena, Sherman Oaks to Griffith Park, or Silver Lake to El Segundo or to Westchester, I don’t let what we don’t have keep me from it. I don’t let the lack of anything make me surrender my rightful and respectful place on the road.

Sometimes, though, I feel that it’s not enough just to be out there pedaling my wares. I knock myself for not being more participatory with projects or on the frontlines fighting the good fights and stepping up to the mics to voice my objections against the levels of disconnect and disinterest found among the various governing bodies and agencies. At times it seems hypocritical of me to be willing to spend taxpayer money on motorist education and awareness while doing so little to increase that awareness myself.

But then again, I’m out there. Roughly 80% of the workdays each of these last two years I’m on my bike on those roads. And over the course of the 20 years I’ve been a bike commuter (some years a much more dedicated one than others) I’d hazard I’ve been seen by hundreds of thousands of motorists. And while the percentages aren’t very efficient or encouraging, if even only a few thousand have looked at me and said “What’s that middle-aged dork trying to prove?” “Maybe I should try that one of these days,” and from that group maybe a few handfuls actually did. well then that’s something. Isn’t it?