Tuesday, March 14, 2017

the ethics of a guilt-free mortality

Well, it finally happened.
Someone told me to my face, in a cafe, that my mother, with her family history of autoimmune disease (arthritis, Crohn's, colitis) shouldn't have had children at all. 
This acquaintance, whom I barely know except through vague work-related contacts and with whom I was talking about the current healthcare mess, said, "No offense, but you're in your fifties with Crohn's and you can't work full time anymore, but you're not going to die tomorrow either; so that makes you a drain on the rest of us. Why should our tax dollars keep people alive who can't really contribute anymore?" 
Yeah. Really. Someone I barely knew said that to my face over coffee, as casually as if we'd been talking about baseball stats. And when three people at nearby tables quietly nodded in agreement, I knew things had forever changed. 
We have entered a period of history where the lives of elderly, the weak and the sick are no longer sacred. We have entered a terrifying period of neo-Darwinism, and public policy will reflect that more and more. Because now it has been normalized in everyday speech. Once that happens there is no going back. 
I do not expect that there will be Social Security or Medicare by the time I qualify for either. I expect that I will need to live by my wits until I can't anymore, and then I will get sick and die. I have been staring down my mortality for a long time, and last week everything came out in the open and kicked it into high gear.
I thanked my acquaintance for the coffee, told him not to call me again, got up and left. 
I walked outside, and to my surprise, did not collapse into a pool of tears. Instead, I felt cleaner and clearer than i had in weeks.
I have decided to stop telling my story at official web sites.
The people in charge don't want to hear me, and don't care about me.
I am now reconfiguring my personal ethics so I can survive in a world where my elected officials don't give a flying #**k about me. 
And I am actually sleeping a lot better at night since all of this happened. Because I feel so much clearer now that the truth is out on both sides. I will got forward, with the ethics I can afford to have and not a shred of guilt.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

spring, finally

Today I enjoyed the longest bike ride I'd had since last summer. Not terribly ambitious, and I was tired when I got home, but it was still enjoyable.
I filled a couple of bags of bike jerseys and spare parts to trade at the secondhand sporting goods store in SE Portland, loaded up the Bridgestone and headed out. Sunny and warm, with a high near 60F, made my snail's pace a thing to be savored rather than suffered.

Crocuses bloomed all along my route, and the first daffodils -- a bit late but still beautiful -- had opened too. And although my pace was slow and every uphill was an effort, I was glad to be outside, on my bike, after a hard, cold winter that had sapped me of so much emotional and physical energy.
If I can ride like this daily now that things have warmed up, I know I will feel better, happier.
I went ahead and signed up to participate in #thirtydaysofbiking again this year, if only to give myself some motivation to get outside more regularly no matter what.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

if you're trying to make a point, at least make the right one

On the Facebook group for Rivendell owners, someone recently posted a short video of a new bell he'd installed on his Rivendell bike.
It's a lovely bike. And I wouldn't have given the video a second thought, except for the response of another group member, who took great pains to point out, vis-a-vis this article, that the bell in the video is a Chinese copy of a US-made bell.
The US-made original design: $50
The Chinese knock-off: $16

Mister pro-USA, trying to look cool, did a few things wrong in this situation:
a. He overstepped his bounds by criticizing someone else, making assumptions about him, and then telling him how to spend his money. Not everyone who owns and rides a Rivendell bike got it by being the first owner and ordering it custom. Or if they did, the money could have come from someone or somewhere else -- in my case, my Rivendell was paid for by an accident settlement after my previous bicycle, and my hand, were totaled in a collision. You can't know about this stuff, and if you don't, then don't talk out of school.
b. He missed the point entirely, one you won't know about until almost the end of the article: The US-based designers never filed a patent before they launched their crowdfunding campaign. They figured they'd have time to tweak their design before ramping up production. Their mistake: As soon as the bell was made available, a Chinese manufacturer obtained one, dismantled it and proceeded to make a nearly-exact knockoff, and then sell it at a little more than a third of the original bell's price.
If you snooze, you lose.
c. The even bigger point -- and it's a sad one -- is that, in real-world terms, this guy is more than a little late to the ball when it comes to touting more expensive US-made products over cheap Chinese knockoffs. Sorry, but that ship sailed, well, forever ago. And there is no going back until the entire world reaches Peak Oil or something like it. Because we're all used to paying less for everything and now, well, we demand it.
Or, if we'd rather skip the middleman, we scavenge through the growing mountain of cast-offs that too many folks contribute to by constantly upgrading and swapping in ever-nicer, and newer parts in their quest for The Perfect Bike.

If I sound a little like I'm biting the hand that feeds me, perhaps I am (except that it's been awhile since that hand actually fed me, and honestly I just don't care anymore).

Now that the only wrenching I do is on a voluntary basis, fixing up bikes for those in need, I find that my entire perspective on The Perfect Bike has shifted. Yes, I still ride a Rivendell, and I will until it's broken or stolen, or I'm too old to swing my leg over a closed-frame bike anymore. If any of those things happened I'd start again with a cheaper bike, and assuming it fit me well and was comfortable and safe, I'd make do. Because in the end, a bike is a bike as long as it works. And if it doesn't work, I can probably fix it.

Because as time goes by, I suspect that the perfect bike, as long as it fits you and rides comfortably, is probably the one you already have in your basement or garage.

Happy riding!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

we are enough

Dear friends: it's time we had a talk.
It's that time of year, when everyone pulls out their receipts and W-2's/1099's/whatever and starts preparing to Do The Right Thing and pay their taxes.
Whether or not you have someone doing this for you, you still have to gather it all together and get it organized.

And here's what can happen when you do that:

1. You stress out because you cannot find some of the paperwork, and then you berate yourself for being a disorganized person.
2. You lay it all out in front of you and when you add up earnings versus expenses, you beat yourself up again because you think you're someone who (pick one or more):
-- isn't working to their potential (i.e., you're a lazy person);
-- is a poor manager of their personal finances;
-- and therefore, in general you must SUCK as a human being.



STOP right now. Seriously.
Because these harsh things we tell ourselves are mostly not true.
The fact is, if you are truly struggling to make ends meet and you still have a roof over your head and food on the table, you are far from lazy and, I suggest, more financially literate than those who never struggle with such things. You have learned the real value of a dollar, and you have become a master at knowing what really matters in the end and what does not.

And if, like many of us, you cannot work full time because of age, infirmity or a lack of affordable child care, then the problem is not laziness or ignorance. It's INEQUITY.

Our current administration wants us to believe that if we all just work harder and make more sacrifices we can be "successful" and even financially "comfortable".
Last week, a republican Congressman came out in favor of cutting social services and ending Medicare because, to paraphrase, "poor people simply don't WANT to be healthy and productive."
Yeah. Poor people also don't want access to affordable health care, quality public education, and racial equality. Because we LIKE being shit-poor and wouldn't trade our lot for anything, right?

Bite me.

There is NOTHING wrong with you or me. We are fine the way we are. We are enough. We are smart, and strong, and we are capable.

So tell the committee in your head to shut up already, and go ahead and do whatever you need to do about your taxes, knowing that the playing field is not level -- and that it likely won't be anytime soon. Let's all do what we need to do to build each other up, to remind each other of our gifts, and to help each other silence the voices that keep us from believing we are not only good, but worthy of the lives our government would prefer we not pursue.

Because they NEED us to believe we're not good enough.
They NEED us to be distracted from the quest for what really matters.
And I'm not going to give them what they want.

It's tax season in America.
Let's remind ourselves and each other of our beauty, intelligence, cunning and human worth, and Do What We Need To Do.

Buckets of love to you all.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

four and a half years on: no regrets

In September 2012, I walked away from the bicycle industry to pursue my dreams of a career in Jewish education and music. I packed up my tools and apron, loaded up my trailer, and rode home on a sunny day that was also the day before the start of Yom Kippur (the Jewish day of atonement).

Since then, there have been ups and downs, both professionally and personally. And while I missed the steady flow of mechanic work early on, that feeling passed after less than six months because I got too busy with building my new career. And over time, I have grown more certain that my decision -- and my timing -- were spot-on.

Today, while enjoying a ginger brew at a local shop, I spotted a copy of BRAIN: Bicycle Retailer And Industry News on the reading rack. BRAIN is the magazine for industry insiders, never meant to be seen by the public. And yet, here it was sitting out for anyone to see. So I picked it up and flipped through it.

One thing caught my eye immediately: the number of articles discussing the slump in sales of bicycles and accessories across the board. Imports of cheap bikes from Chinese and Taiwanese factories have dropped precipitously. Sales of sporting bikes, road and mountain, have also dropped off. And the public, when they do shop for bikes and parts, is choosing online shopping more and more over a visit to their local brick-and-mortar store.

Those of you who know of my complicated relationship with retail -- with the quest to make and sell more and more things and its impact on the environment and on society -- will not be surprised when I say that I not only got out in time, I won't go back. There is no point in my returning to work in an industry that continues to depend upon a business model so fiscally and ethically outmoded that it will collapse under its own weight.

Nope. Not for me.

Instead, bicycles have become a hobby and a sideline. I find donated bicycles and fix them up for the poor. And I take in tune-up every spring from friends and family as a way to make a little extra grocery money. I charge about half the hourly rate that the local shops charge -- I have virtually no overhead and get most of my parts for almost free by scavenging -- and I enjoy having something completely different to do between music gigs.

But I am all about recycling, repairing and repurposing, so I will not help anyone assemble a brand-new bicycle out of the box (your shop should be doing that for you, not me; and if you bought it online you deserve to build it up yourself). And I don't really think that disc brakes or shocks are bold new technology worth touting -- I admit I'm a retrogrouch -- so I don't deal much with those, either.
I sand old brakes pads to give them new life and another hundred miles of use; I clean old chains and if they're stretched by less than a quarter of a link-length, I reuse them too. I turn chainrings around so the other side of the teeth can be used. And I patch tubes, of course; my own rear tube has about ten patches on it, all still holding fast.

So when I read that the bike industry is doing the cockroach on the corporate floor because sales have slumped sharply, I cannot help but feel a little smug. In the last year, import business fell off by over $250 million, and average value of stock declined by 14 percent. Those are HUGE numbers, and they are not the kind of numbers the industry wants its public to know. (Which is why I always shake my head when a shop leaves its copy of BRAIN out for the public to read.)
People aren't buying new bikes like they used to, for lots of reasons:
--the New Economy;
--falloff of interest in -- and organizational support for -- entry-level racing;
--urban infrastructure has not kept pace with demand for bicycle safety, forcing more people into motor vehicles;
--the preponderance of NEW STUFF around the world, more stuff than we can possibly consume and wear out.
The last good year for the bicycle industry was 2007, when I was still working full-time at Citybikes. And it was a banner year for us; bonuses were huge and we were flush enough that the Board voted to deposit money into IRA accounts for every owner.
That didn't last.
Within three years we were back in the hole again and so was nearly every other shop in town.
By 2010, several smaller shops had closed their doors.
By 2012, I had worked my final season. I left at the end of September.

Earlier this winter, Citybikes closed its Annex location, and condensed its operations into the smaller, original Citybikes location. They've gone down to a skeleton crew and don't plan to hire too many seasonal workers this spring. Last week, I went to a swap meet to pick up some deals on used tools and parts. On good terms with the remaining old-timers, I had a nice time chatting and catching up. But I didn't miss it. I didn't miss the endless meetings, the worry about profits, or the nights staying late to finish up a job for a demanding customer who ultimately wouldn't appreciate my hard work or my expertise as long as their bike was ready on time.

So here I am, building my new career slowly and steadily, and the only backward glances I have given the bicycle industry have been to wonder how long it would be before things began to fall down. I think I am beginning to have my answer. While there may be small recoveries, cycles of growth and contraction, there won't be another great bicycle boom like the ones we've seen in the past, at least not in my lifetime.
Looking ahead, I am laying in a small stock of older parts -- refurbished freewheels and cassette freehubs, patched tubes, buffed brake pads, found nuts and bolts and more -- so I can service the older, drama-free bikes that make their way to my humble little work space. I won't bother with the shiny new stuff anymore, because I don't need to.
I'll keep fixing bicycles as long as I have tools and my hands hold out. But I don't need to buy a bunch of new stuff.
There is PLENTY of old stuff to go around.
Waste not, want not.