Wednesday, October 31, 2012

in which i remember that i'm still a little sad

Tuesday night I came home from my day of soggy, rainy cargo-biking; took a shower, had dinner and watched the news with Sweetie -- and spent a good part of the evening feeling unsettled and increasingly anxious. And for about an hour I couldn't put my finger on exactly why.

So I talked with Sweetie about what I was feeling. And in the course of talking, it came out in a rush.

I missed being a bicycle mechanic.

I didn't miss all the non-mechanical things that were part of my work at Citybikes -- the head games, passive-aggressive behavior and interpersonal politics; the co-worker who regularly came to work late, hung over and bragging about how much he'd had to drink the night before; the other co-worker who regularly scheduled days off in advance without bothering to arrange for a substitute mechanic; and above all, the endless and increasingly unproductive meetings populated by fewer and fewer workers.

What I missed was handling wrenches and help customers to get back on the road. I missed the heft of a really fine box wrench in my hand; the tactile knowledge of mechanics' feel, developed over eighteen years of turning wrenches; the sound of a pump head leaving the tire valve with a decisive, short phsst! when correct pressure had been reached; and the odd ability to dribble a bicycle wheel on its inflated tire across the floor even though I couldn't do the same with a basketball.

I walked over to a bag in the entryway of our house, and dug around in the bottom of the bag until I found the thing I'd tossed in there back on September 24. I dug it out, brought it back to the sofa, unfolded it in my lap -- and burst into tears.

It was my shop apron.

Made of heavy cotton canvas, now stained from chemicals and greasy with oil, small hand tools still clunking around in the pockets where I'd left them. I remembered grabbing my apron off the hook in back and, in one continuous motion, stuffing it angrily into my bag as one of the last things I'd done before I walked out the door of Citybikes for good. I felt the grease that had been worked into the heavy fabric, and remembered how stiff the apron had felt when it was new; would I ever work enough to get rid of the stiffness? I did. It took about ten years.

So tonight, I sat in my living room and looked at the greasy, work-worn apron in my lap, held it close to me, and cried. Not for hours or anything, just for a little while. I cried in recognition of the fact that, while I had planned to gently and gradually phase myself out of the bicycle industry, my exit from Citybikes had been sudden, harsh and unplanned. It had robbed me of the happy ending I'd wanted, and had broken a piece of my heart. I'd been so busy trying to mostly move forward that, until I'd made some time the other day to putter at home and work on a bike, I hadn't really give much thought to the reality of no longer being a professional bike mechanic.

I feel better now, much calmer. But still sad. My apron sits folded up on my desk, within reach.
Occasionally as I type, I reach out and touch it, feeling the heavy fabric under my fingertips and savoring the odd, sweet familiarity of bearing grease and chain oil that have worn into the fibers.
Tomorrow I will empty its pockets, wash it, and hang it on the hook in the shed.
Then I will go back to writing my lesson plans.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2012 # 7: Velo Cult, NE 42nd & Tillamook

Today was mostly a day off -- now that I am tutoring Hebrew students privately I don't always have two full days "off" each week, so I have to squeeze these things in when I can. Thankfully, my Hebrew student met with me early in the day so I could ride around afterwards and get my errands done.

I set out on a balmy, wet day (highs in the mid-60s, steady rain most of the day) clad in full rain regalia and prepared to get soaked. The fall colors were still in evidence in many places, making everything gold and orange and really beautiful; so I didn't mind.

First up: a trip to Crank Bike Shop ( to pick up a frame I'd arranged to have shipped there. (I scored this frame just before I'd found the Sekai a couple of weeks back, and it finally arrived over the weekend.) Crank runs a hot pot with coffee but I wouldn't consider it a full-on coffee stop. Still, I enjoyed unwrapping my cool, new frame (a 1986 StumpJumper that I may build into a singlespeed -- but let me finish the Sekai first!), hefting Justin's new cyclocross wheel (weighed something like 12 ounces -- stupid light) and chatting with the fellas.

I continued on through Northeast, riding up to NE 39th and crossing over the freeway into the Hollywood District for another planned stop at Velo Cult (1969 NE 42nd Avenue -- This is a bike shop AND a community cultural space which hosts films, presidential debates, and live music on a very cool drop-down stage made from a miniature castle door.

As I am playing a show here next week (, I thought it would be a good idea to come by and scope things out -- check out where I want to put seating, set up a space to sell CDs, etc.

The store is really pretty unassuming from the street, except for a couple of bikes on display in the heavily-barred windows. But inside it is delightfully comfortable for a bike shop. A long table made from recycled bowling lanes dominates the room, with benches for folks to sit at while they eat and drink and sometimes wait for their bikes to be repaired.

Velo Cult does not serve food (they'd need a license for that and they're unlikely to be approved in the same room inhabited by rubber and oil), but you can bring your own. They do offer a great selection of microbrews on tap, wine and bottled pop, and even a rootbeer tap for the kids.

The shop is almost cavernous, with lots of open space and a high ceiling -- big enough that, on a quiet day, I can bring my cargo bike into the shop and park it alongside the large communal table.

I hung my wet togs up to partially dry and had lunch, read magazines, and checked my email on my semi-ancient-style mobile phone. I am surprised that I can check my mail and even my Facebook messages on a phone this old-style, but I can.

I can also take medicore pictures that are good enough for documentation purposes.

While I ate and drank and relaxed, a mechanic was at work on a customer's bike.  He kindly stopped what he was doing to wash his hands and brew me a cup of coffee.

I also picked up a couple of inner tubes for my Sekai project. It felt weird to buy tubes and pay full pop at a bike shop, after being able to buy stuff at cost-plus-ten for so many years. But it's okay. My work-life has moved on, and this is part of the new trip.

The Ethiopian coffee was so tasty that it did not need milk or sugar, a rarity for someone used to adding a little of both.  I will order it again.
Finally, when it was time to go home and do some lesson-planning for my classes, I suited up -- my rain gear was only damp now -- said my goodbyes, and took a long, scenic route towards home in a light, steady, almost pleasant rain.

Total distance: 12.8 miles.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2012 # 6: Starbucks, NE Ainsworth & MLK

I had spent the morning off puttering on a bike project and lost track of time. So between that and carving out time to rehearse for an upcoming gig ( I had to really dash to squeeze in a Coffee trip.
I decided to try again for the Starbucks at NE Ainsworth and MLK.  ( Turns out that last week my cyclometer's battery had fizzled and my mileage was off by half a mile. So in fact, the Starbucks is at least a mile from home. Barely.

Mister Guitar Dude hangs out in front of this Starbucks all day long, alternating between strumming his Stratocaster copy and thumbing a worn Bible. He glowered at me while I locked up my bike. (He often does that, too. I have learned not to attempt to disarm him by saying hello.)

I raced home with time to spare for the afternoon's rehearsal. Total mileage: 2.2 miles.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2012 # 5: Peet's, NE 15th & Broadway

Once again I am compelled to edit the rules of this quirky contest to suit the unconventional trajectory of my life.
Sometimes I work as much as six days a week, part time each day. This just became one of those weeks. As a result, I had to combine a coffee run with a work-related meeting at a central location.
So I chose Peet's Coffee at NE 15th & Broadway (, where I had an excellent cup of hot, fresh Major Dickason's Blend and a raspberry scone while I and a colleague hammered out a lesson plan for an upcoming school-wide event.

I locked up to a crochet-bombed bike rack -- these (and knit-bombed signposts and water fountains) have become the rage in Portland and they pop up all over town:


After my meeting, I took a scenic route home through the Irvington and Sabin neighborhoods, soaking up the fall sunshne and occasionally stopping to admire foliage and history:


The ring is from the horse-and-buggy days of Portland. These were sunk into curbs over 100 years ago so folks could tie up their horses. A few hundred can still be found all over the inner eastside and in downtown; removal of one is subject to a stiff fine (upwards of $500!) for "tampering with a historical landmark".

Along the way, I passed several historically African-American churches, some of which have been standing since the early 1900's. Many have become empty as inner-eastside neighborhoods become gentrified and housing is rendered much more costly; many African-American families have moved further east into mid-[Multnomah] County and even as far east as Gresham, where housing is more affordable.
This historic church on NE Rodney Street is now for sale.


I finally got home in time for some rehearsal and lesson-planning, before heading off to my teaching job this afternoon. Total mileage for ride: 7.4 miles.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2012 # 4: northeast portland as coffee desert

With my in-laws in town and my work schedule being so odd these days, I tried to get in a quick, brisk ride today for coffee. I learned that, after 4 pm, much of my part of Northeast Portland becomes a virtual coffee desert. In an effort to follow the rules, I rode my bike briskly to the grocery store, contemplated hitting the Starbucks across the street (but if I'd ridden there straightaway then it wouldn't have been the minimum one-mile distance and at this point I was still all for following the rules), and then kept riding in a big loop to Peninsula Park.

Then I rode around to AJ Cafe on the corner of NE Rosa Parks and Albina - and it had closed at 3 pm. I looped over and headed east on Rosa Parks and checked at Cafe Eleven, corner of Rosa Parks and 6th Avenue. It had also closed at 3 pm. Finally, I turned north and rode down the short hill to NE Dekum Street and pulled up in front of Woodlawn Coffee (NE Dekum and 9th) -- which had closed at 4 pm -- fifteen minutes before I'd pulled up.

Screw it. I tried, and nothing was open. Welcome to the part of North/Northeast Portland where trendy coffee houses are still trying to gain a cultural toehold, or something like that. Anyway, I'd already drunk my fill of coffee earlier in the day and didn't really need anymore. Technically, I have no more days off until Saturday -- and that's Shabbat, so I'd prefer not to spend my time looking for coffee shops on my bike. Plus, the contest assumes only two days off (I think because it's being run by someone who has a more typical job and work scheduled than I do. Fair enough) and I've shot my wad for the week.

Total mileage: 3.5 miles.

I'll assume that this doesn't count for the contest, but -- ..::shrug::.. -- whatever.
I was still glad to get outside and shake off the morning's lethargy, and I got home just seconds ahead of a beautiful fall cloudburst; so I call it a win.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2012 # 3: Arbor Lodge Coffee, N Rosa Parks Way

Sweetie's folks are visiting this week, but did not mind that I needed to get in a quick bike ride on a cold, rainy day while they read and napped. So I made a quick loop of it.

The Arbor Lodge ( serves local coffee and has been in business for about a year at the intersection of N Rosa ParksWay and Interstate Ave.

By 2:30 in the afternoon I'd had enough coffee for the day, so I ordered a hazelnut steamer that turned out to be the perfect drink for the moment. I was tempted by the baked goods but decided that by the time I got back it would be too close to getting ready to cook dinner. Had a nice chat with the barista, enjoyed my steamer and was on my way as a swirling, changeable sky threatened rain.

I was taking the opportunity to also test a new product from Rivendell Bicycle Works -- their MUSA Rain ShinShields ( Combined with my Rainlegs demi-chaps, they seemed to work pretty well in light, blustery rain. I'm not sure they'd work as well in a stiff downpour -- even combined with the MUSA Splats ( they lack coverage between the top of the foot and the ankle. However, I've learned that most of the rain gear Rivendell sells is not really made for the kind of rain we get up here, so either I give up on the stuff or use it on appropriate days.

I understand they're intended for use with a rain cape (poncho). I recently scored a Jackson & Gibbens rain cape and after I've seam-sealed it I'll try it with the shinguards and splats and see what I think.

It is definitely rainy season in Oregon, so on went the ugly, heavy and strangely perfect saddle cover.

It will probably stay there until next May.

Returned home after a brisk loop through North Portland, my brain refreshed and calm. Total 6.6 miles.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

i'd miss my youthful idealism if i'd had more of it to begin with

Upon news of George McGovern's death earlier today, this was one of many comments made at the local online info-watering-hole:

"First campaign I ever worked on. My idealism hasn't abated. As I learned of his death, my ballot arrived in the mail. Now I can do what I was too young to do then -- speak with a vote."

What a lovely thought. The man who wrote this is an acquaintance, someone only a few years older than me. And once upon a time I would have envied him his idealism.

When it came my turn to be interested in politics and I was old enough to almost taste the right to vote, it was November 1980 and I was seventeen. My father and I had followed the campaign all summer, hanging onto the speeches and arguing the issues with each other (he was voting for Reagan because he was a strong fiscal conservative, and still over a year away from coming out of the closet as a gay man). We studied the electoral maps when they were published in the newspaper to see where the biggest battles for "hearts and minds" might take place.
On election night I stayed up late with Dad to watch the returns, wishing that I was old enough to vote and make my own little difference. But my eighteenth birthday would not come for another three months, so I sat and stewed and waited and watched until my father finally insisted I turn in at midnight (after all, it was still a school night).

The next morning, the front page of the Oregonian bleated out the news in 60-point type: Ronald Reagan had won by a landslide. When I realized that, I instantly understood that if I had been old enough to cast a vote, it would not have mattered in the presidential election of 1980. And I also realized that, because we entrust the real presidential vote to a glorified committee known as the Electoral College, my father's vote hadn't mattered, either.
In that instant, my youthful idealism -- about electoral politics, at least -- packed up and lit out for parts unknown. I haven't seen it since.

Blame it on the year of my birth. Blame it on my having come of age during the excessive, corrupt eighties. Blame it on my learning perhaps a little too young that no matter what a player's best intentions might be, the house almost always wins -- especially in presidential politics. This was a lesson I would watch being played out again and again -- when Clinton courted the queer vote and then handed us "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", and later on when George W. Bush basically stole bought the election from Al Gore.

My acquaintance earned his sentiments the same way I earned mine, through personal experience and, in no small part, the filter of whatever effect those electoral outcomes have or haven't had on our respective families. I just don't share his idealism, that's all. And that's why, when I stare at the ballot which has arrived in the mail and now sits on my dining room table, I feel next to nothing. I'll cast my vote for president, but I know better than to stake very much on its meaning.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2012 # 2: Fuel Cafe, NE Alberta

Today was another day off, so I combined my need for coffee with a cross-town errand.

Fuel Cafe, which is just over a mile from my house (1.06 miles to be exact) at 1452 NE Alberta St., is a simple, unpretentious coffee shop that offers good, fresh coffee and baked goods right away, and a few small savory items if you can wait longer. I got a very tasty chocolate chip cookie and helped myself to a few squirts from a hot-pot filled with freshly-brewed Columbian. My total spent was less than the single cup of coffee I'd had the previous day at Extracto -- and tasted like it. I'm not being fussy -- I expect to pay more for "serious" coffee than I do for quick, merely good coffee. Each kind of coffee has its uses and I'm glad to be able to have choices.

I had my trailer with me because my errand was responding to a craigslist posting about an old mountain bike for sale at an unbelievably good price. The seller was clear across town, so I figured that two ten-plus mile rides in a row would give me a day (tomorrow) to recover a bit before I had to begin riding for work Wednesday through Friday.

I had considered taking the Surly but the more I contemplate it, the more using a trailer is making sense to me. (It may be a phase and so I am hanging out with the idea for now and not doing anything really rash.)

After "fueling" myself a bit, I rode through a blustery, rainy landscape into southeast Portland. The temps were warm and I didn't mind the downpours as they moved across the road. (My 8-year-old Burley rain jacket, however, is showing its age. By the time I'd gotten halfway to my destination the jacket front had leaked through and my shirt underneath was nearly soaked. I may need to research a newer jacket, finally. Or find a vintage Burley Rain Rider in good shape.)

The bike was everything I'd hoped for, and we negotiated a fair price.
I loaded the bike into the trailer...

...and rode back across town. 

By now the rain had let up a bit; I found myself between passing systems and the sky lightened a little as I headed north again. I stopped to marvel at some beautiful fall colors still hanging on the trees -- many leaves had been blown off or had fallen by now. 

While stopped at an intersection, I looked up and noted nervously that I'd stopped under a large branch that was showing an enormous crack at its base. One really strong gust could bring it crashing down on me, and the wind was picking up again. So I carefully and quickly got out from under the tree and pedaled home.

Total distance: 11.3 miles.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2012 #1: Extracto, NE Prescott

So my pal Michael R. told me about this really fun little thing called the Coffeeneuring challenge, begun last year by a randonneur rider up in Seattle. The rules are pretty simple:

1. During the dates of the challege, you must ride your bike to a coffeeshop that is at least a mile from home. You can only do this on the two weekend days (if you work weekends, pick two other days that you usually have off.) Only one coffee shop visit will count per weekend day, for a maximum of two per weekend.
2. While there, you must drink coffee or tea.
3. Document your visit with photos proving you were there. Apparently you're also supposed to take a photo of your beverage but I think that's rather over-the-top; and could be disturbing to other patrons if you can't do it discreetly.
4. Submit your photos and a short write-up (including where you went, what you drank, and your total mileage ridden) to the guy running the event.

Since I don't have any other cycling goals these days, I figured, why not? -- and counted today's meeting with Michael as coffee shop visit Number One.

Coffee Shop: Extracto (NE 14th and Prescott, Portland)
Ordered: Cinnamon roll and large mug of fresh-brewed Sumatran coffee.
Overall raiting: 8.5 out of 10 stars. Atmosphere and service were lovely (and the coffee tastes, well, downright serious); but the music was too loud and too up-tempo for 9 am on a Sunday morning. (Call me cranky. Or maybe just older.)

I normally teach on Sundays -- today was a rare Sunday off -- so perhaps I won't be able to use another Sunday. Or maybe I will, perhaps with a short stop on my way to my job. Between the mellow vibe of the rules and my changable work schedule (I occasionally don't have the same days off each week and there's not much I can do about that), I think the guy running the event won't squabble much. In any case, I have until November 16 to hit the requisite minimum of 7 coffee shops between now and then. It shouldn't be too much trouble; I like coffee. A lot.

Photos from my first qualifying ride follow.

1. First stop: Extracto Coffee (NE 14th and Prescott streets -- there is a second location on NE Killingsworth where they actually roast the beans, and which I will visit later in the time period as another coffee shop stop:


2. Next stop: Apple stand (NE 32nd and Thompson, near Grant High School). This is a small family business based out in Hood River. Two weekends a year they have the homeowner's permission to set up stands in his front yard and sell their stuff. I bought three crisp Pippin apples and a tiny jar of fresh, unfiltered honey for a whopping total of a buck-fifty.

3. Next stop: Velo Cult, where I stopped in to share the apples and honey and to scope out the place for an upcoming show I'm playing there.

4. Rode home in a roundabout and lovely sort of way.

Arriving home, I beat the rain. Total mileage: 10.7 miles. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

seasonal wardrobe disorder

The rainy season has finally begun in Portland -- after a record eighty days without any noticable precipitation. For the next few weeks I will have a tough time knowing how to dress.

Do I overdress for the initial cold and shed layers as I go through the morning?
Do I bring extra clothes in my bag "just in case"?
Do I dress for the majority of my day, and suck it up for the first, coldest part of the ride?

It's a quandry. Now that I am hauling piles of big books to and from my teaching gig, there's less room in a single pannier for extra clothing. And now that I am making more of my living from singing in shul I have to be careful about covering my head and throat when I go out, so I don't get sick. (The first piece of cold-weather gear I pull out each fall is my wool neck gaiter.)

About the only sure thing for now is knowing what my leather saddle ought to wear. The rain cover went back on this weekend and I expect it to mostly stay there through the fall and winter.
If only dressing myself were as simple.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

If a house of cards falls in the forest, and there's no one to hear it...

Lance Armstrong's US Postal posse have all fessed up, chief among them Saint George:

How lovely. How heroic. Never mind that Hincapie retired before making any public statement. Never mind that he released this statement today, only after being included on the USADA's publicized list of riders who are all now facing 6-month suspensions from racing. That some of the riders named are now retired (or banned for life, same difference anymore) means nothing.
How convenient that most of the remaining riders still racing are receiving partially retroactive suspensions (effective September 1) and that most of these riders will have their suspensions shortened because "they helped with the investigation".  All of them should be cleared to race in time for the spring classics next April. Meanwhile, there seems to be a fair amount of chest-thumping as the mea culpas come pouring out of the mouths of George, Levi, Tyler and the rest.


This is all going down this way for the same reason that the UCI has been so reluctant to even investigate Lance Armstrong: These guys make money for the sponsors, who also pour a fair amount of money into the coffers of the UCI. Best not to rock the boat, right?

Having these guys "come clean" now and then allowing them back into the sport within weeks or months basically banks on the short memories of the overwhelming majority of cycling fans who would rather see dirty racing than no racing at all -- and who would happily buy the souvenirs emblazoned with sponsor names of their favorite teams.

(Mustn't interrupt the revenue stream for too long.)

As far as I'm concerned, professional bicycle racing became irrelevant some time ago.
This latest news just makes it official.

I think I'll go for a bike ride and not buy anything.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

i still love 'cross, but i don't miss racing it

Today the Cyclocross Crusade series began here in Portland. I have no idea how many participants there were but I assume the number smashed all previous records. The weather was beautiful -- perhaps a little too warm for proper cyclocross conditions -- and most of my teammates from Team Slow went out to play. Initial reports indicate that they found the course to be challenging and the racing satisfying.
I was thrilled for them, sorry I could not go and watch -- and completely content to not be racing cyclocross this year.

I would like to race short-track again next summer if time and money permit. Short-track is much more fun than 'cross, because it's warmer, drier (usually) and the courses are way more technical and not slog-fests the way most 'cross courses are. But short-track is another animal altogether; an Portland remains a serious cyclocross town.

I will probably try to go out to Hillsboro in November to watch my friends race, on the only Sunday I'm not teaching this fall. Otherwise, I am content to work a new set of muscles this fall as the great transition kicks into some wacky kind of high gear. I have work, I am building new directions and networking like mad to figure out where I will be next summer. Today someone paid me to play live music for an hour. They even provided the sound system, so all I had to do was show up, plug in, and perform. When it was over they handed me a hundred bucks.  I could handle more gigs like that.

Tomorrow will be another beautiful day. I hope to catch a bike ride sometime in the afternoon.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

what to say? and why?

I am lately torn between wanting to figure out a way to publicly tell my story (about why I no longer work in the bicycle industry, or at Citybikes in particular), and remaining silent. However, there are two issues at work:

1. Timeliness. It seems that the latest buzz has already begun to die down over at One the one hand, this would be a good thing for the co-op; on the other hand it would also be good for the former co-worker who lied to me and whose political activities and associations are at the center of the controversy. Not being under the immediate glare of a large magnifying glass will give everyone more breathing room, whether they deserve it or not.

(A secondary consideration for me is that the majority of the commenters seem to be in favor of free speech all the time, no matter whom is hurt by it. I am beginning to wonder if it matters whom is being hurt. Modern liberal society in a ferociously blue place like Portland tends to protest more loudly when only certain groups are perceived as somehow being "under fire",  even figuratively; other groups get short shrift in both peoples' thinking and in public discourse. But I digress.)

2. The risk of speaking out publicly and getting drawn into an ongoing pissing contest of "he said, she said" is something that would not serve me well emotionally or practically.

It is highly possible that the window of opportunity is closing rapidly, after which anything I say won't matter. I don't know how I feel about this, and I don't know why I feel a need to speak now.

Ultimately, how important is one little bike cooperative, and a highly dysfunctional one at that? And how important is it for me to speak up now? I may never come up with a satisfactory answer.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

it gets ugly and sad

An article was posted to today about the growing troubles at Citybikes Workers' Cooperative:

Details of the swirl of activity around the business are laid out. By reading the article, I learn that at least one other person has resigned since I left. Since this person spoke on condition of anonymity, I don't know who it is.

Readers' responses lean heavily in favor of the free speech and free assembly rights of the co-owner at the heart of the turmoil. I don't know what to make of this, though a few readers interpret the bias in any number of ways. One reader spelled it out clearly and succinctly:

If the majority of CityBikes worker-owners tacitly support Calvert's racist organizing, or if CityBikes' democratic processes are so broken that those most affected by Calvert's organizing are forced to leave, CityBikes is not worthy of our support.

I think that speaks volumes. 

It remains to be seen where this will head now that a slightly more legitimate news source has picked up the story.