Archive for January, 2010

Well after a quiet start to these first few weeks of 2010, I made up for lost flats last night. Got three — count ’em: three! — on the ride home from work. Silly me: Earlier in the day I’d actually dared to consider that I might get through the first month of the new year without one. Jinx!

But before anyone gets all preachy about a flat’s occurrence being in direct proportion to the cheapness of the tire involved,  understand that I finally took that sage advice and instead of my usual $14.99 brand I have been rolling on a pair of $40-each Continental Gatorskins since the latter third of December.

I’m no stranger to flats. Over the course of the 6,741 miles I rode in 2009 I had to fix 31 of the suckers — and a lot of them had to do with the crappy tires I used.

But with last night’s first two flats even the touted Gatorskins were helpless to prevent them. Witness my assailant, newly developed on Centinela just west of Sepulveda thanks to last week’s rains (click for the bigger picture):


Sure, you’d think something this gargantuan as this freaking crater of doom could be avoided by a cyclist even half as alert as I usually am, but the problem began with a broken patch of roadway just out of frame to the left that I’d dodged to the right.  Coming past that hazard I came left to get out of the debris-filled gutter and with no room for oversteering I ended up zigging a little too far back into the lane and the next thing before me was this monstrous black hole looming. At about 15 mph all I could do was roll through it. And pray.

Dropping in the trench was no problem. But coming out the other end over what amounted to a sheer continental shelf? Problematic. It was like trying to climb over a sword’s edge. I felt and heard the clang as the  front tire compressed and the pothole’s edge came into contact with the wheel’s rim. Then came the inevitable POP!-sssshhhhhhhhhhh.

Little did I realize that when my rear tire followed the front over the sharp edge of asphalt it couldn’t help but do the same thing. And since it popped only a micro-second apart from the front I didn’t know I’d double-flatted until I came to rim-riding stop about 100 yards down the street.

Wow! My first-ever double flat. Never in my long history as bicycler had I experienced such a predicament. Had it happened in front of a bar I might’ve gone inside to celebrate the milestone, but instead in that desolate and dark no-man’s land I just grumbled, turned the bike wheels-up and got busy swapping out the popped tubes with the two spares I’m never without.

Thirty minutes later 8Ball was mobility-enabled again, and after returning to the scene of the crime to snap the above shot of the culprit, I got the hell on my way.

Not more than three miles later, on the Ballona Creek Bikeway approaching Overland Avenue, I feel my rear tire going flat, and as I slowed cursing, my first thought is that the existing patch on the replacement tube, which had been salvaged from a previous flat, had failed. So I pulled over, and called Susan to alert her as to why I would be home much later than I’d hoped.

She graciously asked if I wanted her to come pick me and the bike up, but I was game to do one more flat fix, and while on the phone with my hand spinning over the rear wheel, I chanced upon a protrusion from the allegedly bullet-proof tread of the Gatorskin. Telling her I’d take her up on her kind offer if I had a fourth flat, I soon extracted the organic little demon pictured below, partially pissed that the 1/8th-inch bastard had breached the tire’s touted defense system… and partially relieved  that it wasn’t the previous patch that had failed (click  for the bigger picture):


In short order I’d applied a glueless patch to the puncture, and after immortalizing the pointy thing that caused it got on with the rest of the ride home — flat free.

UPDATE (10:38 a.m.): As expected, I found the rear tire flat this morning. Glueless patches should never be considered anything more than a temporary fix. Even if the tire was still full this morning I would have deflated it and replaced it with a far more durable glued patch.

Coming home east along Venice Boulevard I spotted a black coupe a half block up poking out from a side street fully across the bike lane waiting for motor traffic to clear so the driver could make a right. I slowed hoping he’d get his chance but the flow of cars was too thick and I ended up having to merge in with it to get around him. Silly me: I dared give him a disapproving look in passing and in return he deemed it wholly appropriate to give me the finger.

I’m still doing pretty good at not getting goaded by such idiocy, but I couldn’t help stopping and turning  and shrugging an incredulous WTF at his display. He then responds by gunning into his turn, making sure as he comes out of it to angle a bit toward me as he zooms past — a shortsighted maneuver because the light at Cattaraugus was red and he then had to come to a quick stop behind the line of cars in front of him. When I arrived beside him and looked into the cabin at the trapped dickbag suddenly he wasn’t so bold. Sucker just stared straight ahead with something of a wide-eyed cross between defiance and embarrassment for the 10 seconds I examined him, which was just as well. If he’d given me even the slightest excuse I think I would have lost my senses of peace and humor. Insetad I just shook my head, crossed Cattaraugus and left him behind to consider what might have been had I been a bigger Francis than him.

When I found out Modern Warfare 2 was available for the Playstation3 platform I wasted no time getting a copy… that I then let sit around unplayed for more than a month.

Why? Well, part of it was because I knew it was the kind of game that I could end up playing for hours and hours and hours, and I just haven’t really had that kind of free time lately. And part of it is that it’s a shoot-’em-up that Susan would no doubt enjoy for about 30 seconds  before leaving me to be a big kid while she goes back to acting like an adult and wishing for games that weren’t so violent and loud.

But there was something else. Frankly I was a bit apprehensive of it. This after reading a review in which the writer didn’t hold back the horror he felt upon discovering a nightmarish mission early on in the game. His rational side couched the episode as being a bold and risky move for the games makers to take, but his gamer side was pretty totally freaked out by it.

Well, I finally got around to giving the disc a spin, and yeah it’s freaking awesome. The first couple missions are standard Good Guys v. Bad Guys and you’re tasked with killing anything and everything that’s trying to kill you — first in some Middle Eastern urban hot spot, and next in a frozen military base in Afghanistan. The action’s intense, the graphics are stellar.

Next up, you’re given an undercover operation and your commander cryptically says something like “You don’t want to know what it cost to get you in this close, but it’s a small price to pay with what we can ultimately accomplish blah blah blah.”

I’m all: whatever. Bring. It!

Next thing you know the screen is black and there’s just audio of weapons being loaded and movement of some sort and such for a few seconds, and when the scene fades in you find your character in an elevator with several other men all dressed alike. At first, you’re thinking these are fellow soldiers. Cool, good guys. Then the elevator stops, the doors open and all of you walk almost casually out of it into a Russian airport terminal jam-packed with people waiting in lines to check-in.

Some of the would-be passengers and an airport police officer look over at you almost disinterested as you enter, and for a second you’re wondering what’s going to happen next. And then it happens. The carnage. And the panic. Without warning your fellow gun-toters open up on the innocent civilians. When they’ve mowed everyone down there they proceed through the building killing more. They even slay people who stand with their hands up in surrender. One guy caps a wounded man dragging himself across the floor.

Once pretty much everyone inside is dead or dying, the squad heads outside and confronts an army of Russian law enforcement. You advance through them just as bloodily and violently until the end of the level is reached in the form of an escape vehicle.

My first time through, I just watched, gape-mouthed and in total wide-eyed chilling shock from the first shot and the first scream. I didn’t fire a shot until I finally got angry and tried to kill the killers. The first time you wing one you’re warned rather ironically to watch your fire. The next time you hit one of them he turns, yells out “Traitor!” and kills you.

So the next time through I clench my jaw and fire a lot of rounds, but I aim at everything but moving targets. The idea of killing innocent people was sickening to me — even if those innocents were just essentially cartoon characters in a fictional game scenario. Once outside, I let the real bad guys do most of the dirty work while doing the same wild firing, while trying to avoid getting shot by the cops firing back with much greater accuracy. Unfortunately I had to kill a few who got too close for my survival, but at least they were armed.

Eventually all five of us arrived at the escape vehicle, and for a fleeting moment I think I’m free and clear until the leader climbs inside and turns around suddenly — having apparently known all along I was an infiltrator — to put a bullet in my head.

In short, it’s a game you can’t win.

I heard the news via an unlikely source on January 28, 1986. I was in my Mazda GLC going from my apartment in Van Nuys to my job in the small business complex behind the gas station Barham Boulevard deadends into in the Cahuenga Pass. I was traveling on the gridlocked southbound 170 Freeway approaching the 134 interchange it passes under to become the 101. I was probably late.

I was listening to Rick Dees on KIIS-FM as I usually did, and coming back from a commercial break instead of launching into more of his usual shenanigans he spoke in a tone that was part solemn and part disbelieving in telling his listeners that the Challenger space shuttle had apparently exploded shortly after lift-off a few minutes earlier, reportedly killing all seven astronauts on-board.

To this day I’m not sure why the news hit me so hard, but I felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach by it. Overcome with sorrow I burst into tears, and sobbed as I crept my car along with the slow flow of vehicles while Dees and his on-air cohorts discussed what they knew and what they didn’t.

Eventually they ran out of things to say and put on a melancholy, reflective song that was a hit back then. It was “Life In A Northern Town,” by The Dream Academy. And just as my waterworks started to dry up, the song got to the last stanza of lyrics that close like this:

And though he never would wave goodbye,
You could see it written in his eyes,
As the train rolled out of sight,

I didn’t know who or what the song had been written about. All I knew was that those last few lines spoke of someone’s death, and for me from that point on they became about the Challenger crew never getting a chance to wave goodbye, of the space shuttle rolling out of sight and the sad and slow byyyyyyyyyyyyye byyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyye reflecting mine and the country’s heartbreak and loss.

I can hear this song today without so much as choking up, but it never fails to transport me back to that moment of profound tragedy.

Later that evening President Ronald Reagan was to give his State of the Union address, but postponed it and instead spoke to the nation about the disaster, closing with:

“We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of Earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.'”

They were: Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik.

It is in the interest of fairness and balance that I post these two slow-mo clips from this morning’s ride. Submitted for your perusal, the following bits of video are a demonstration not only that I can recognize and applaud the good behavior I encounter on the road, but also that I’m not afraid to call bullshit on the bad behavior cyclists perpetrate as well.

Exhibit A: I am particularly impressed at how the cyclist you’ll see can’t even wait until the cross traffic has passed and instead has to shamelessly inch out into lanes before the southbound motorist clears the intersection, thus elevating my disdain and enthusiastically reinforcing the belief that cyclists are self-entitled scofflaws. PS. The light turned green about 30 seconds later.

Exhibit B: Only a few blocks west of the redrunner shown above, I approached a two-way-stop intersection in which the right of way was mine. After stopping, the driver of the red minivan that you’ll see starts to proceed north, but upon seeing me decides against gunning it across (which there was ample room to do), and instead to considerately wait for me to pass. PS. I waved my appreciation as I crossed.

Best way to honor JD Salinger is to pay no attention to his demise. He would’ve wanted it that way.

ballona(click for the bigger picture)

The long afternoon’s worth of rain had passed before nightfall, and when I left work near 7 p.m. I was eager to see what increase there might be to Ballona Creek’s water level.  The good news is it wasn’t enough to warrant the locking of the bikeway entrance gates. The bad news is it wasn’t enough to warrant the locking of the bikeway entrance gates. But the creek was still up and moving with a swift intensity, and that was enough to warrant me stopping in fascination just to listen to and watch the rushing water, and get the above 15-second exposure.

You have to understand, as a native of Los Angeles with its channelized river no one talked about much less paid attention to unless a dead body turned up in it, I grew up in absolute awe of moving water wherever I could find it. During or after a rain I would often occupy my afternoon hours in the gutters on the streets I lived on, either just watching the water or launching paper boats I’d made and chasing them downstream until they either got snagged on debris or got too close for comfort to the sewer entrance waiting to swallow them up.

The first time I saw a real river, I was 7, staying with my aunt and uncle and cousins for the summer. It was the Tennessee as it curves through Chattanooga. It was full and flowing through the city and entirely blew my tiny mind.

I remember one time, maybe I was 8 or 9. It was a Saturday and it had been raining hard all Friday. So my friend Danny Lindell and I spent the better part of the morning hammering and glueing together these ridiculous flat-bottomed boats out of some junked wood pieces that we found in a nearby alley with the intent of sailing them along the small rivulet of a creek that used to run through the park behind LACMA, only a few blocks east from where we lived on Tower Drive south of Wilshire on the literal eastern edge of the slums of Beverly Hills. The 90212.

Once we were finished we marched over there, thrilled to find the tiny waterway much more full thanks to the storm. Of course, our boats were way too big and heavy to float — and on top of that being so close to the La Brea Tar Pits there was tar everywhere that Danny and I succeeded in getting all over our hands and shoes and clothes. And the boats, which we threw in the trash.

Was the excursion a failure? As shipbuilders, totally. And boy did our moms think so when we got home soaked and tar-caoted. But to me, not at all. Because of the water. The moving water.

So that’s why, 40 years later I still seek it out when I can. I still stop alongside it. I close my eyes and listen to it. I’m fascinated by it. I get out my camera and try to balance it still on fence posts in attempts to capture it. Because in LA it’ll be gone tomorrow and who knows when it’ll be back.