I’ve been waging a war lately with my teenage daughter.
Lovely girl that she is, she tends to overuse the word “amazing.”
She’ll insist she had an amazing hamburger for lunch, which she washed down with an amazing milk. After an amazing time at chorale practice, she’ll log on to the amazing Internet and listen to the latest amazing number from amazing Adele.
I try to convince her that words are precious and that she should save such superlatives for actual superlatives, but she’s amazed I’d even question her word choice. Ah, teenagers.
I guess there are worse words she could be bandying about.
That said, I had a rather amazing experience the other morning.
Riding home after another less-than-amazing night on the sports desk, I was spinning up the one semi-significant hill on my usual commute home, lost in my thoughts and the silence of the early morning. I glanced up at the moon — just a day past full — and was stunned to see it encircled by a halo of light.
The halo was thin, but it sported at least a partial — and faint — Roy G. Biv spectrum of G through V, pale green through barely discernible violet. The halo bisected my favorite constellation (doesn’t everyone have one?), Orion, to the east. Just outside the halo to the west, Jupiter blazed away.
It was, in a word, amazing.
Wanting to share the scene with my kids despite the ungodly hour (at least it was a nonschool night), I picked up the pedalling pace. I’ve seen other celestial wonders from the saddle before, but some can be fleeting. I saw the aurora borealis on one ride home, but the gorgeous curtains of light were too faint to see by the time I made it home.
So I pedalled and craned my neck, pedalled and craned, all the while thinking I finally was witnessing my first moonbow.
It’s worth noting here that my son has a thing for moonbows, ever since I describe the phenomenon to him. I think his first three words, in order, were “mama,” “dada,” and “moonbow.” He desperately wants to see a moonbow, despite their rarity. A couple of months ago, we went outside during a full moon and sprayed water from the hose in an attempt to make a synthetic moonbow at his insistence. Reviews of the man-made moonbow were mixed.
As I pedalled home, all I could think was the joy he’d feel when he finally witnessed his beloved first moonbow.
I made it home, rushed inside, quietly crept upstairs and roused the kids, all the while trying (not so successfully) to keep from disturbing the wife.
I led the kids on the back deck and pointed up. Knuckling their eyes, both let out little gasps (maybe it was the cool night air), and drank in the sight. They admired it for a few minutes, then shuffled back off to bed.
Afterward, I learned it was not, in fact, a moonbow but a more-common 22-degree halo.
Whatever the name, it was nonetheless amazing.
And I’m certain I never would have seen it from behind the wheel of my car.
Whether it’s my inner (OK, mostly outer) child, my inside-and-out hobgoblin or simply my insatiable sweet tooth, I love Halloween.
But I have to admit, riding my bike on All Hallow’s Eve is a bit of a mixed bag.
I’m certain the drunk-to-sober-driver ratio around 2 a.m. is higher on Halloween than just about any other night of the year, except maybe Arbor Day. And there seems to be something about hiding behind a mask that brings out the nasty in lots of folks.
But I love weaving through the cute kids downtown in the early evening and the cute college kids after the witching hour has past. (As an aside, if Oct. 31 is Halloween, aka All Hallow’s Eve, does that make my early-morning commute, technically on Nov. 1, All Hallow’s Morn? Or Halloworn? And what the Hall’s a Hallow?)
Once I had a group of kids throw candy toward me as they sing-songed “Trick or treat, biker dude.” Perhaps I should say they threw candy AT me, for the most part, though I was able to snag a bit for a quick energy boost on the rest of the ride home.
Every year about this time, I ponder my options for on-bike costumes.
I won’t wear a costume at work, nor will I be That Guy who dresses up to A) take his kids trick-or-treating (as if I could catch up to the one who sprints door-to-door, or could dare to dream to be seen with the other, who wants to be in my vicinity in public about as much as a leper) or, worse, B) sit around the house and hand out goodies.
But I do fantasize about dressing up for the ride to and from work, because, really, I think fantasy is the key to a healthy work life.
Lately, I’ve considered a knight in shining armor or, perhaps, Don Quixote. Some fake platemail and a lance protruding from the handlebars should get me a bit of breathing room on the road.
I’ve considered borrowing a cruiser and dressing up as Pee-Wee Herman in his eponymous “Big Adventure,” though I’d steer clear of any movie theaters along the way.
Or maybe slap on some chaps — of course I have several pair just lying around — and a football helmet and go as an “Easy Rider.”
Better still, perhaps I’ll don a red hoodie, lash a milk crate to the ’bars, slap a stuffed animal in it, cover it with a blanket and — presto! — Elliott, from “E.T.”
Then again, if I could swing it, I think nothing would beat borrowing a gorilla suit and wearing that for my commute. I can’t imagine the looks I’d get pulling alongside some drunken car-bound partygoer in the wee hours of Halloworn.
This is a blog about rubber.
You’ll notice there’s no “s” on the end, though I thought it ironic or at least coincidental that the night I sat down to wax eloquent on the topic of rubber I rode to work and rolled over an empty industrial-sized box of condoms. It was in the middle of the street immediately in front of one of the few downtown bars, prompting me to wonder just what, uh, went down inside that would make someone think it prudent to premeditatedly pack prophylactics in such prodigious proportions. (I also wondered why I was thinking so awesomely alliteratively, but that’s another blog.)
I really must get out more.
Anyway … the other day, I was going through some old magazines. I have a tendency to horde them, then just as they pose the most significant fire threat, recycle them in great numbers. As I thumb through my mags, I like to fold over corners of pages that contain things I want to investigate further later on. I was going through the old ones, longingly checking the folded corners for gems I might have overlooked. Most of the magazines were bike-related, and an alarming number of the folded corners were to designate my interest in, of all things, bike tires.
I never really figured myself for a rubber fetishist, but the proof was there.
I thought back to one day a couple of weeks ago when I read every word of a six-page spread of reviews on tires for commuter bikes.
OK, I’m a gear junkie. I like bikes. But commuting is about the dullest form of cycling possible, and tires are about the least interesting part of any bike. Yet I read every word of a six-page spread dedicated to bike-commute rubber. Every word! Couldn’t put it down!
Flipping through one of the soon-to-be-recycled magazines, I happened upon an ad for a new line of Continental bike tires. My eyes were drawn to one in particular, a hot little number with a slick center and pronounced knobbies down the side. And it had puncture protection! I couldn’t help but think, “Man, that’s one sexy tire.”
I think I might need professional help.
Or at least a new set of tires.
I read an interesting article the other day.
A three-year British study found that more people would commute by bike if only it didn’t lead to the dreaded helmet hair. They also cited fear of reporting for duty dripping in sweat and the considerably less specific fear of being considered “weird” or a “bit odd” by co-workers.
But helmet hair, it seems, is the biggest deterrent.
“The helmet is a problem for me, because I just think it would make my hair a little squashed,” said one survey respondent, Lara.
Not to bag on the Brits, but … bloody hell!
These folks are missing the point. Helmet hair isn’t a problem. It’s an opportunity.
First, a disclaimer. I’m not big on what most people call “hair styles.” I haven’t used a blow dryer on my hair since, well, I first sprouted. I don’t use “product,” whatever that is, though I tend to overuse “quotes.” I don’t consider myself an unhygienic slob (and who does, really?). I prefer casually unkempt.
My usual daily grooming routine involves showering just before slapping on my helmet and heading out the door. The still-wet hair gets sucked out the vents in my brainbucket and — voila — stunning helmet hair. I consider it a badge of honor.
In fact, I’m on the lookout for a helmet with a vent down the middle so I can show up at work sporting a wicked fauxhawk. Or interspersed holes so I can pretend to be Pinhead. Gimme a couple of different helmets with different vent patterns, and I can have a ’do a day.
Heck, I figure folks pay lots of money for perms (they still do perms, don’t they?) to get the kind of wave I get just by riding to work a little wet behind the ears.
Embrace the wave, I say. If that makes me a weird or a bit odd, yeah, I can live with that.
I’m going to go ahead and call it: It’s going to be a long, cold winter.
I’m not basing this brash prediction on my intensive study of NexRad Radar or my knowledge of El Niño or La Niña or even my slavish devotion to The Weather Channel. No, I’m calling for a brutal winter because … the squirrels told me so.
OK, they didn’t really tell me. I’ll admit I talk from time to time to the furry tree rats, but they never actually talk back. Well, there was that one time, but I was in college and, um, experimenting, and it wasn’t so much a squirrel that talked to me as my roommate who just so happened to look like a giant squirrel at the time … but I digress.
The squirrels have spoken not through their plaintive barks and cries but through their actions. The furry beasties are thick this fall and as busy as their aquatic, tree-munching cousins.
I can’t swing a dead acorn without nearly hitting a squirrel these days. I know it’s prime time to stock up for winter, but, man, there are rodents everywhere.
They run across the road in front of me. They run BETWEEN my tires. They run alongside me, their little squirrelly claws scraping the blacktop.
And here’s the thing: Nail one in a car, and it makes a satisfying thud; nail one with a skinny bike tire, and YOU make a satisfying thud (and like the commercial a few years ago, I’m sure the rest of the squirrel clan chatters and high-fives in celebration as you scrape yourself off the pavement).
It dawned on me, though, that I’m basing my weather prediction on what has to be one of the stupidest creatures on the planet.
The other day, I was riding along, and a squirrel bolted in front of me. He sprinted ahead, looking over his furry shoulder as I slowed, expecting him to cut left or right at any minute to escape to the relative safety of, oh, I don’t know, a nearby tree, where he’d have a huge natural advantage. Instead, the mental midget kept running straight ahead, like the cartoon character trying to run away from a falling tree. I finally stopped to give the little fella an easy out before he collapsed.
Then a few days later, I approached an intersection where a squirrel was dig-dig-digging close to the curb. He saw me approach, dug some more, looked up, dug … look, dig, look, dig. At the last minute, he bolted — and ran, with a clang, headfirst into a street sign. (As an aside, I don’t know what kind of bling he was wearing to create a clang; I’d think a clunk or chunk or even thump more appropriate, but clang?) That had to hurt.
I swear it’s not just me. My father thinks squirrels are out to get him, but this nut has fallen far from that tree. I don’t think squirrels bear me any ill-will.
I am, however, haunted by one.
On my regular ride to work, there is a dead squirrel lying, face up, in the gutter. There is no apparent sign of foul play. I reckon squirrels occasionally die of natural causes and just … fall … into the street. It seems that’s what happened to this little fella.
For nearly a week, he has languished there, unmolested, his eyes accusingly wide-open and his little squirrelly claws clinched into little squirrelly fists, as if beseeching the heavens (or at least the Goodyear that did him in).
The other day, as I rolled by, I slowed down to give the little cadaver a closer look.
I swear the little bugger was giving me the bird.
I’m all the time inventing cool stuff.
Once, when I was a sophomore in college, I was tossing a football around with a roommate. We took a break so he could smoke a cigarette, and he lamented his nicotine addiction. He explained he wanted to quit, but he couldn’t. He went on a rather lengthy explanation about how tobacco wasn’t terribly bad for a person. It was, he said, the tar and carcinogens ingested from the smoke that did a body bad.
I thought it over and recalled reading about how it was possible to use patches on the skin as a medicine-delivery system.
“What about a nicotine patch?” I asked my Marlboro-Man friend.
He took a drag, considered it ... then insisted there’d be no market for it, because he really smoked because he thought it made him cool (it didn’t; trust me).
Though I had no trouble with the molecular biology that would have gone into such an undertaking and had a handle on the patent law, I didn’t want that to detract from my schooling, so I shelved the idea.
A few years later, a fellow by the name of Murray Jarvik stole the idea and, I’m sure, became a multi-millionaire with my brilliant idea.
It’s not just the nicotine patch.
The Slap-Chop. The Ronco Pocket Fisherman. The incandescent bulb. Yep, all me.
Well, OK, not the Pocket Fisherman, though I coveted that little gem throughout my childhood.
The other day, I was riding my bike after dark and realized I had on a dark shirt. I usually try to dress in light colors at night because, well, I like life.
I pondered as I pedaled.
I remembered seeing a line of bike clothes called Illuminite. This innovative reflective apparel (their words) incorporated tiny disks, like satellite dishes, imbedded in the cloth. The disks reflected light back at the source — think headlights — to illuminate the fellow wearing the threads. I’ve seen photos of this effect, and I have to say, if ever I saw a headless, handless, footless apparition like that gliding down the road, I’d either run like heck to get away, or steer my vehicle toward it in hopes of saving civilization. Visible? Yes. Creepy as heck? Oh, yeah.
What if, I asked myself (as all us truly great inventors tend to do), I could somehow sew a thread of 3M Scotchlight reflective material (and, yes, I do ponder in trademarked terms) into my clothes. In normal light, I’d look my usual stylish self. But on the road in the dark, I’d blaze with the brilliance of a thousand suns.
I don’t know much about textiles — though I did make the valances in my kitchen, but, shhh! Don’t tell, lest I blow my manly cover — but I realized a loose aftermarket thread would snag. It would have to be woven in.
I shelved that idea …until I happened upon a shirt made by The North Face. The Hayes Flare Shirt incorporates 3M Scotchlight reflective nylon yarns (sound familiar?!?) to increase night visibility. By day: fashion plate. By night: Man on Fire.
It’s a subtle effect, sure. In fact, I hadn’t actually seen myself glow until the other day.
I was at church, of all places, and my gaze wandered down. I wasn’t napping. I swear. That’d be sacrilege. I was just … uh … reflecting. Yeah.
The lighting was just right, and a beam came down from above — nothing divine, mind you, just an incandescent bulb; hey, that’s one of mine! — catching my shirt just right. Sure enough, I subtly — but unquestionably — beamed. I’m pretty sure the effect was localized. After all, I’m certain if the speaker at the time had seen someone in his congregation blazing away, he might have invited the bright fellow up on stage to see if maybe he had something to add.
But he didn’t, and I didn’t, but I did bask in the inner glow of knowing just how successful my latest invention proved to be.
You’re welcome, North Face. I suppose my royalties check is in the mail.
For all of about the first dozen hours of my life, I was Brian.
Then my mom changed her mind, my dad returned to work and explained his bouncing baby-boy Brian really was Andrew, the nurses brushed the Wite-Out over my birth certificate, and “Andrew” lasted until it came time to write my name in grade school and, ever the lazy sort, I became “Andy.”
That lasted until high school, when Sophisticated Mature Me thought “Andy” too juvenile, and “Andrew” returned.
So “Andrew” it was until I started working at the Journal-World, and a co-worker declared me “Drew,” and that has stuck the past two-plus decades.
Said co-worker has a real knack for nicknames. Some other gems of his, for folks we encounter in the business: The Mortician. The King. And The Dumb.
One of his other sobriquets for me didn’t stick: Mr. Confrontational.
See, this co-worker is a bit of a shrinking violet. Whenever we were faced with an upset caller or coach or parent, he’d run for cover and make me deal with the issue. I didn’t exactly shy from the showdown, hence Mr. Confrontational.
I thought of that not-so-apt nickname lately as I’ve had some cycling encounters with other road users.
As my son and I rode to his school the other morning, a driver cut me off in a traffic-calming device. Close enough to touch him, had I so chosen, I instead barked out a brusque, “HEY!” The driver hesitated, then mumbled a quick, “Sorry,” before accelerating away.
Earlier, another car passed me on the left, then started to turn right across my path — the dreaded right-hook maneuver — before the driver realized he wouldn’t make it without hitting me. So, of course, he slammed on the brakes so he could come to a complete stop right in front of me. I didn’t have time to do much except snake between his fender and the curb, shoot him a glance and a quick, “Really? Really?!?” He responded with half a peace sign.
And then there was the guy the other night/early morning. His was the second in a line of two cars coming toward me on a narrow road when he decided to pull alongside the front vehicle — in my lane, coming right for me, awfully fast. Hemmed in by a curb and oncoming metal mass, I swerved into the gutter, clobbered the curb and almost went down as he sped past, missing me by inches. I believe my response was biblical/scatological in nature. I realized he was lost, so he thought it prudent to ask directions of the driver of the other vehicle at speed after crossing the center line. Never mind the nice cyclist in his way.
Which brings us to Mr. Confrontational.
I usually let most infractions go, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with calling attention to the most egregious ones.
I have toned down my responses, ever since unleashing a double-barreled bird-flipping, punctuated by an expletive tapestry directed at the driver of a daycare van that nearly clipped me with its rearview mirror. I didn’t realize at the time it was full of cute little wide-eyed tykes.
But I’m not above asking, “I’m sorry, did you not see me?” Or, “Pardon me. Was I going too fast for you?” Or even, “I believe I might possibly have had right-of-way in this particularly instance.”
Mr. Confrontational would be so ashamed.
I tend to do some of my best thinking when I’m mowing the lawn, which, now that I think about it, means I’m exercising my mental midgetry only once every week or so in the growing season, and far less often ever since a long, hot summer made the Sahara look lush by comparison.
But something about the mindlessness of pushing a whirling dervish of a machine lends itself to deep thoughts, until I realize I’ve wandered off as far physically as mentally and my nice, straight mow rows veer and converge as if I took part in my post-mow beers pre-mow.
Anyway, I was mowing over the weekend when I was struck by a disconcerting thought —other than, “Geez, it’s 147 degrees with 214-percent humidity, and I’m mowing brown grass in the heat of the day.” The thought: I’ve barely been cycling with my dad this year.
I’ve spent a lot of saddle time with my parental unit. We participated in the Wheel to Weston charity ride for umpteen years, until organizers woefully moved it from its lovely, scenic route from Kansas City, Mo., to Weston, to … wait for it … Kansas Speedway. Yep, they traded the rolling, tobacco-covered hills for Kansas City, Kan., pavement, so Dad and I politely passed the past couple of years.
We’ve ridden the Kansas River levee trails — on the nice, smooth levee and the mountain-bike trails — and the rail-trail south of Ottawa. We’ve done Octoginta, and the defunct Headquarters ride. We’ve just ridden. We make sort of a cycling Odd Couple, with Dad kicking back on his recumbent and me on my fixie.
This year so far, the only ride we’ve done together was the Lenexa Midnight Bike Ride, and, nice as it was, I had to share Dad with the rest of my family, my brother and niece … and a few hundred other strange folks.
I sorta miss the one-on-one time, and I feel some urgency in riding with pops.
Neither of us is getting younger, though I’m not worried about Dad. I reckon he’ll ride to my funeral — pulling me, if I asked ahead of time, in a casket he carved by hand from a single chunk of wood from a tree he grew from seed, on a trailer he made from ore he dug out of the ground himself, then smelted (and I can recall as a youngster making myself scarce anytime Dad was smelting) and welded into a design of his own engineering.
No, I’m the only one of the two of us who seems to be getting older, and though I’m nearly three decades his junior, I have more gray hair. No fair.
Dad did invite me to partake in the Tour of Shawnee, which was Sunday, but I didn’t look into it soon enough, and I’ve regretted it since.
Oh, well. The weather’s turning, but there’s still plenty of time.
So, what do you say, Dad? Shall we ride?
As a year-round cyclist, I tend to view seasons a bit differently than most folks.
I still acknowledge the recognized four, but I like to break each into smaller sub-seasons.
Invariably, bugs somehow play a part. Early spring is the start of mosquito season. Early summer: lightning-bug season. Mid-summer: keep-your-mouth-closed-lest-you-get-a-gulp-of-unexpected-protein season.
With a pang of sadness, I realized the other night we had all but reached the end of cicada season.
I know they did a Job on that dude in the Bible, and, if I were a farmer facing a plague of ’em flash-mobbing my crop, I might not be so inclined to turn a blind, multi-faceted eye to their destruction, but I really can’t carry a grudge where cicadas are concerned.
I can’t help but feel a bit of nostalgia whenever the vocal beasties crawl out of whatever cocoon keeps them alive every year. I rather enjoy cycling along in the middle of the night with their din as background, and though I do not think they’ll sing to me, I like to imagine they’re lining the road, cheering me up some alpine climb. Their song reminds me of summers past, the carefree days of my youth. Or something.
They do, however, create their own, unique challenges for two-wheeled travelers.
Cicadas are — and I hope not to offend any that might be perusing the Intertubes — rather clumsy. I consider them the dogs of the insect world: bumbling, kinda lovable, mostly harmless. The only difference is, I’ve seen many a good-looking hound, but never a cicada I’d call attractive.
I’ve had several fly up the legs of my shorts, or down my shirt, and it’s quite an experience. Those buggers are LOUD, and it’s less than enjoyable to have one buzzing and rattling around in your drawers.
I also had one get caught in the vents in my helmet, as I cycled down a relatively busy Lawrence thoroughfare.
It’s not an experience I recommend.
That said, I rolled up to an intersection the other night and was drawn to a glimmer of iridescence on the pavement. There I saw a cicada that had been crushed by the wheels of a passing car, and it made me surprisingly sad.
If that’s not a fitting image for the end of summer, I don’t know what is.
I have a bad case of rabies on the brain.
Maybe I should rephrase that. A sentence like that is bound to get me quarantined. But for the past couple of weeks thoughts of the foam-at-the-mouth doggy disease have jumped into my head frequently, and almost always when I’m on my bike.
The other night, I was riding to work after dinner, through an area where I’ve seen lots (gaggles? flocks? vats?) of bats dancing in the sky, and I was surprised to see a mouse-with-wings flying parallel to me. It was beelining right down the middle of the sidewalk.
Now, I’m no expert, but most bats I’ve seen tend to … flit. I don’t recall ever seeing one fly a straight line like this one. And it was zipping along, matching my exact speed, about shoulder height.
I don’t know how well a bat’s echolocation (how do I remember these things?) works to the side, but I figured it was blind to my presence. One quick flit to the left, and bat and boy would meet.
Then it hit me. The thought, that is. Not the bat.
What if said beastie has rabies?
On the same street but the opposite side a few weeks earlier, I was grinding away up a long hill at a speed that best could be described as something between glacial and geological, and I spied a fox crossing the road. Why, I don’t know.
But he disappeared in a yard, and as I approached, I suddenly envisioned Mr. Fox darting out, giving my exposed ankle a nasty nip, then returning to hiding.
Again: What if Foxy had rabies?
And then just the other night, I was a couple of blocks closer to home when a massive coyote crossed my path and gave me a look over its shoulder before bolting away.
Wile E. was big enough — we’re talking timberwolf-massive here — he could have knocked me off the bike and swallowed me whole. Or he could have given me a little chomp and … yep, more rabies.
Then I remembered weeks ago reading a story about a guy who became entangled with a bat while taking out his trash (again, the guy, not the bat). Sure enough, bat was rabid, and the trashman earned a nice, solitary sabbatical and injection regimen.
I read that just before riding home one night, and it must have stuck in my subconscious.
Similarly, a few years back, I read a story about the Smiley Face Killer, a serial killer who allegedly was killing young men. Smiley faces were found near where the victims were thought to have disappeared, and there was some link to a beater white van in each case.
Not long after reading that, I rode home one night and — sure enough — found myself with a white van on my tail. It followed me, slowly, for a couple of blocks, pulled up alongside, then quickly accelerated away.
I thought the behavior odd enough that I made note of the license-plate number and actually put it on a slip of paper in a conspicuous spot at home.
That way, I figured if I disappeared, the cops would come around, see the license-plate number, track the bad guy and, though I’d be dead, at least I could bask in the glow of posthumous vindication.
Similarly, if I start foaming at the mouth, tell the cops to look for a bat that flies straight.