Thursday, February 26, 2009

Controversial 'bike rights' bill in Iowa

The 'controversy' exists mainly in the minds of the all too predictable commenters. Iowa adopted a 5 foot passing law and (gasp!) wouldn't provide an exemption for large trucks and farm equipment. Apparently one legislator wanted all bicycle equipped with 6 foot tall 'safety' flags as well. Big clown car horns would be nice, too.

Excerpts from the DesMoines Register follow:

Cars emerging from a private road or a driveway, or entering or crossing a highway, must yield to bicycle and vehicle traffic on the road, the bill proposes.

...And it would prohibit local laws that force cyclists off the streets and onto the sidewalks...

On the proposal that vehicles must give bikes five feet of clearance when passing, there were concerns that it wouldn’t be practical for farm equipment and large trucks. But Democratic lawmakers wanted the law to apply them, too.

...Several Republican senators’ amendments were shot down. One Republican wanted to require bikes to have a 6-foot-tall red flag on roads. Another would have shielded local governments from liability during touring events such as RAGBRAI.

Labels: , ,

Louise Brown

This is what I wrote for Mom's funeral. I'll be back to cycling-related posts in a few days.

I'm Mary's husband, Louise Brown's son-in-law. I stumbled into this family by accident. When I first met Mary, we sat in my kitchen and talked for hours. She was late getting home to make dinner and Mom was worried. When Mary explained, Mom said, “You don't know him! He could be a psycho!" Whenever I had the chance, I reminded her of that. I'd call on the telephone and say, "Hi mom! It's the psycho!" She always laughed.

Mom and Dad visited us in Oklahoma a few times. She always straightened up our kitchen and sometimes it was weeks before we found everything again. When I complained, she just laughed.

My daughter Lyndsay always called her “Silly Goober Head.” It was their private joke and it made them giggle like schoolgirls. And that's how I want to remember her - laughing. She wasn't happy all the time, of course, none of us are. But her eyes lit up and her voice bubbled. You can see that in some of the photos. I believe that joy sprang from an almost boundless love. We're told to love one another. Mom took this into her heart. She gave to her church, her friends and her family with selflessness, love, and joy. When Jesus said, “Feed my sheep,” she listened. She fed many of us both spiritually and in a more physical sense. No one ever left her table hungry. Those big family dinners were built on a solid foundation of love.

Another verse came to mind as I wrote this, and that is “My kingdom is not of this world.” Mom wasn't interested in politics, world events, or the news. Some might think that was foolish. But her focus was on family and friends, spirituality, and her church. The hubbub of daily events just wasn't important. No, mom had her sights fixed on different goals, ones not of this earth.

Mary told me the two of them were driving back from Grove City after picking up Mary's wedding dress. Mom was driving and she stopped to pick up a hitchhiker. Once he was settled in the car, she spent the rest of the drive telling him all about that dress. The guy was probably relieved to escape from two such obviously crazy ladies. But even that stranger benefited from that foundation of love. (Editing note: the hitchhiker was known to them - a detail that Mary omitted when she first told me the story. She added it after reading this.)

I've been to that valley out by Hendersonville where she grew up. She talked about walking up through the woods to meet the school bus. It was still dark and there were bears in the woods. I think that showed a kind of inner toughness that stayed with her throughout all her life. Even chronic illness couldn't stop her. She had difficulty breathing and needed supplemental oxygen, but she still helped family and friends. She was one very tough woman and we'll not meet another like her anytime soon. She never quit. She never gave up.

When her husband Jim died, I stood up and said a few words about him. I said I was honored to call him Dad. With Louise Brown, it's with my most humble gratitude that I could call her Mom.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Louise Brown, my mother-in-law, died last Saturday. I've been out of town and out of touch since then, staying with relatives in rural Pennsylvania. No internet service. Marginal cellular phone service - provided there wasn't snow or rain. Either of those blocked the signal completely.

As you may imagine, it hasn't been a good time for writing comedy or anything related to cycling. I wrote pages about much of the last week, and I'll share some of that with all of you in the coming days and weeks. My Moleskine has been a constant companion and a refuge through a difficult time.

I just returned to Oklahoma today. There is much to do, so writing may take a lower priority for a time. But know this - my mother-in-law was a truly wonderful person. She will be greatly missed.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Broken Elbow Bicycle Emporium...

(Image from Accidental Hedonist on Flickr.)

In a piece titled "Blogger Fantasy Bike Shops", Fritz penned this over on Cycle-licious:

"Cycle Dog's Bicycle Emporium in Oklahoma features fresh roasted coffee and an all you can eat Italian food buffet with autographed photos of Eddie Merckx, Fausto Coppi, and Greg LeMond lining the walls. You can't actually get your bike serviced there because the Cycle Dog spends all of his time building bikes for charity causes, and his service manager, Wally Crankset, is a nincompoop. The food and coffee, however, are excellent."

It's true. The service is spotty because we're often involved in other projects not directly related to repairing bikes. Wally and I tend to wander off on tangents. His usually involve any attractive women nearby, while mine revolve around good food and drink. It's the difference between single and married guys, I guess.

But Fritz got it slightly wrong about the food. It's not always Italian. In fact, tomorrow's fare will be crepes stuffed with chicken and broccoli covered in a cheese sauce, garden salad, and a nice white wine. As always, there's freshly baked bread, real butter, and various fruits and yogurts for dessert, followed by coffee. For special customers, we have both Corona Light and Iron City beer, and for those with a taste for it, some unpronounceable German beer with a name composed entirely of consonants. The latter is served in specially reinforced glass mugs because it's 'heavy' beer. Those who obsess about gaining weight should avoid it.

Every now and then, we open a bottle of Irish whiskey. By happy coincidence, this always happens when Mort, the guy from the Oklahoma Tax Commission shows up. As it turns out, he's a big fan of Jameson's, and after a couple of drinks, we found he's a big fan of a local exotic dancer named "Cherry." Wally is one of those maudlin, weepy drunks who regrets (loudly) every mistake he's ever made. Mort and I tried to cheer him up and keep him away from the telephone. One thing lead to another, and whaddaya know, we all met Cherry that night at a local bar. Wally wasn't quite as drunk as he let on, and he managed to take some interesting photos that have helped us out of some difficult tax situations.

As for the shop, well, what can I say? It looks like intellectually challenged terrorists practiced with explosives inside an old thrift store. The 'newest' bike is from 1996 and the oldest may be pre-war, as in pre-Spanish-American war. Or it would be if I could find it. The storage room has stratified layers that only an archaeologist could love.

The one area that's spotlessly organized - besides the food, of course - is the workroom and its tools. We learned a hard lesson about food safety after that unfortunate incident with food poisoning and a shortage of toilet paper, an incident that will not be repeated. I dimly remember Wally moaning, "If I could stand on my head, I'd change my name to Vesuvius."

One last thing - Fritz called Wally an nincompoop, something that Wally found highly offensive. He wanted to fly out to California to kick his ass until I pointed out that he's still a fugitive from the California justice system. He calmed down after that. Now, I've known Wally for many years, and while it's true that he has a few faults (Mary was reading over my shoulder. She snorted and rolled her eyes at this.) Wally has a good heart and he means well. However, he's easily distracted and he readily wanders off on tangents unrelated to the work at hand. Simple tasks mutate into complex ones requiring engineering expertise, personal courage in the face of imminent loss of life and limb, and occasional forays through the court system. (More snorting and eye rolling behind me.) But it takes a special kind of man, one with tenacity, courage, and unfailing reason to run for Vice President of the United States, and what's more, be a staunch ally in bicycling advocacy and education, be highly inventive, and face a class of freshmen dolts every fall. Wally is just that special kind of man, not an ordinary idiot.

Wally took the comment hard, however, and I think he's out back right now honing some particularly vicious bike haiku.


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Drugs and sports doping

I'm going to set aside my usual snarky attitude and speak seriously for a moment.

Right at the outset, believe me when I say that using performance enhancing drugs to gain a competitive edge is wrong. Those who cheat richly deserve the punishment when they're caught.

Now consider Olympic medalist Michael Phelps and a photo of a bong hit. In a strictly legalistic sense, there's no real evidence of drug use because there's no knowing what the bong contained. Yet he's lost income as a result of the photo. And honestly, folks, is anyone trying to claim that marijuana is a performance enhancing drug? It may be if you're engaged in competitive eating, but other than that probably not.

Our society has taken an almost schizophrenic approach to drug enforcement when it comes to marijuana. Our draconian laws forbid even using it for medical research. So there may be legitimate uses for marijuana, but we'll never know.

Consider the common analgesic - aspirin - which came originally from willow bark. It has obvious benefits, yet if we'd choked off all chemical investigations of willow bark, we wouldn't have aspirin.

Ultimately, Phelps is paying the price for our society's goofy attitude toward illegal drugs. We use all sorts of legal drugs meant to calm us down, make us sleep, give us better attention spans, or provide long lasting stiffies. Yet the illegal ones - whose effects may have genuine benefits rivaling those legal drugs - bring out hypocritical outrage when some high profile person uses them. It's time we set aside the hype and political posturing, and do some unbiased clinical investigation of marijuana use.

Performance benefit? Only if you're eating handfuls of Cheetos and drowning in Pepsi.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

My stolen bike story...

(Image from Yewenyi on Flickr)

It was like a Monty Python sketch, only more surreal.

I said to the security guard, "What happened to my bike?"

"Two kids came along and said it was theirs," he replied.

"They cut the lock off right in front of you!"

"They said it was theirs."

"You saw me lock it up here this morning and every morning this week!"

"They said it was theirs."

So much for the dubious intellectual skills of security guards.

I'd purchased the bike, an all-steel Kalkhoff, a little more than a year earlier. It was my daily transportation during my last year in college, and it continued in that role after I landed my first job working in a Catholic teaching hospital. Faced with the prospect of living with my parents in the suburbs or living near work so I could use public transportation, walk, or ride my bike, I chose to live in the city. I made enough money for an apartment or a car, not both.

The hospital had no bicycle parking, so I naively assumed the bike would be safe locked to a fence next to the security guard's post. Granted, the cable lock wasn't the best security, but it was adequate for a small town college. I made another bad assumption thinking it would be OK for use in Pittsburgh as well.

The bike came from the budget end of the shop. I really wanted a Schwinn Continental or Super Sport, but even the Varsity, the ubiquitious Norway rat of bicycles, was out of my price range. The Kalkhoff came with steel rims, Weinmann center pull brakes, a steel cottered crank, and plastic Simplex derailleurs. The saddle was an unpadded plastic abomination designed by the Marquis de Sade.

If looks could kill, the security guard would have been drawn and quartered. His head would have been on a pike outside the hospital gate. This kind of thing is generally discouraged these days. Still, it made for a satisfying fantasy as I trudged off to the police station to report the theft. Naturally, it was in the opposite direction from my apartment. It would be a very long walk home.

A few days later, I received a telephone call from the desk sergeant at the station. They recovered my bike! After work, I fairly bounced along the sidewalk. I identified myself at the front desk, and an officer escorted me to a storeroom. My bike and several others were leaning against the wall. When I asked where they found it, the officer laughed and said, "Oh, we didn't have to find it. The two boys who took it brought it into the station. As they were taking it from the hospital, their priest saw them with the bike, caught up to them, and told them if they didn't turn it in he'd read their names out in church."

I didn't realize it then, but this was a big deal. The boys faced not only the wrath of their priest and their parents, but the theft threatened to bring shame on their families as well. Knowing the neighborhood, there probably wasn't much chance of merely getting off with a stern talking-to. They'd likely take a beating or two and get blamed for every stolen or missing article for a long time. Once lost, trust is hard to regain.

But that's not the end of the story.

I bought another lock and a much heavier, case-hardened chain. And I started bringing my bike inside the building, thinking that would be more secure. Another character enters the story here, Mr. Berman, the hospital administrator in charge of my wing. I brought the bike up in the elevator a few times until he heard of it and informed the elevator operators that my bike was not to be transported. (This was an old building with manually-operated elevators.)

This began a cat-and-mouse tale that ran for a few months. I locked up the bike in an interior courtyard. Berman found it and ordered it removed. I locked it inside the projection booth in the auditorium. He found it. I hid the bike inside the basement laundry room. He phoned my supervisor and I had to take it out. I put it in a cubby hole in the sub-basement next to the morgue. Surely, no one there would complain. Berman found it. Finally, his frustration boiled over and he told me that the bike could not be brought into the building - anywhere - anytime.

I'd actually enjoyed finding new hiding places and I didn't want to leave the bike outside again, subject to the avarice of passersby and the dutiful inattention of so-called security guards. So I went to talk to Sister Adele, the hospital's executive director.

This was a Catholic teaching hospital, as I said before, and each department had a nun as its overseer. I didn't know many of their names since they traveled in much loftier circles than I, so I thought of them according to their jobs. We had Sister Mary Medical Records, Sister Mary Pharmacy, and even Sister Mary X-Ray. But Sister Adele was the Capo de Capos, the head of them all. She was a tiny little woman with a constant smile. Every Sunday morning, she walked the floors, never missing one as she inspected 'her' hospital.

I made an appointment and went to her office. I explained the bike problem and described what I'd done to avoid any further thefts. Sister Adele listened patiently, then said, "Let me see if I can get the city to install a bike rack in the new parking garage." The city had just finished construction a week or two earlier. I thanked her and left, figuring that I'd never hear about it again.

She called me an hour later. "The city agreed to put a bike rack in the garage," she said sweetly. "Will that take care of the problem?"

"Yes, sister," I stammered. "Thank you. When will they do it?"

"Oh, tomorrow morning. There isn't time to get it done today."

That's when I realized this tiny, sweet woman weilded some truly awesome authority. She had tremendous horsepower. Whenever I worked Sunday mornings, I greeted her with a cheery "Good morning, Sister!" It was best to stay on her good side.


Sunday, February 01, 2009

Sunday morning coffee

Tulsa Tough photos on Google

I posted over 60 photos from last year's Tulsa Tough on my Google account. Most of these images are from the Kid's Challenge events and include both the 'classroom' sessions and the skills workshop. There are some photos of the bicycle assembly party and the Saturday and Sunday tour.

Sunday morning coffee

Back in December, I purchased an oriental coffee maker from the Nam-Hai Market in Tulsa. This is a tiny coffee maker constructed almost like a French Press. There's a similar plunger-type device inside, but I don't think it's meant to operate like a French press. The whole device sits atop a coffee cup, in this instance, an espresso cup. Ground coffee is added to the urn and hot water is poured in on top of it. But I think the plunger is meant to go in BEFORE the coffee so it controls the brew time. There are similar coffee makers that have a screwed-in plunger, and in those devices, the coffee goes in first, then the plunger mechanism is screwed down on top of it.

I wanted to learn to make Thai coffee similar to that served in my favorite Thai restaurant, Thai Siam in Tulsa.

And yes, that's my favorite coffee cup. Imagine that!

Those darn French! Look what they've got me into now!

Boogie woogie music

There's a wonderful voice intro by Long John Baldry called "Conditional Discharge" describing how he was nicked for "contravening a breach of the peace." The policeman's pronunciation of 'boogie woogie' has stuck with me over the years. Just follow the link to hear it.

My favorite ear candy consists of Sci-Fi, comedy, and blues podcasts. I've mentioned Mur Lafferty before, so today I'll stick to music.

The Roadhouse - a mix of current and old recordings, spanning the genre from blues rock to the twangy 'roots' music of the Mississippi delta.

Texas Blues Cafe
- blues rock with a modern sound.

And a new one, to me anyway, Raven n Blues from the UK.

All of this gets loaded onto my MP3 player and it really helps me get through those days doing long, tedious computer modifications. I've performed over a hundred of them so far. The family can usually tell when I've spent the day on mods because I arrive home a teeny bit grumpy.

Five of them are waiting for me on the bench this week. I'll need music...and coffee.