Sunday, May 31, 2009

The People's Bike

Huh? What? The blog thing? Oh yea.

Not much going on really. Oh! I know. I bought my sister a bike. Yep. Her birthday isn't until July so it's an early b-day present. See, she has a really short commute to her job as a teacher (only 3 miles. Damn, I'd love to have a commute like that again. I haven't had one that short since I lived in Somerville over 10 years ago). She hasn't ridden a bike in almost 30 years (and yes, she probably would have beaten me on the 5 Boro Bike ride) and she'd NEVER ridden a bike that had gears before. She knows that I'm a big bike nerd so she had asked me to take her to some bike shops to test some out.

We looked at a few bikes and honestly I just wasn't seeing what I thought would suit her needs. She didn't need something that was too complicated and hard to maintain. She really needed something that would be simple and comfortable to ride and have some equipment that would help her. What does that mean? Well, she needed fenders, a chain guard (to paraphrase Patty, "I don't want to have to have one of those doohickeys to keep my pants from getting greasy") and a rack to carry her stuff. It needed to be utilitarian yet fun. Does that even exist? Sure it does. Check it:

This is the men's version. The one she has has a sloped top bar instead of that straight one.

Since we didn't see anything the day we went to the shop, I decided to do some research online to see if I could find something. I did the usual Craigslist thing hoping that something would come up but for the most part that was a bust. I did some good ol' fashioned Googling and came across some positive reviews of the KHS Manhattan Green. It's a 3 speed bike with a coaster brake in the back with a hand brake in the front (Patty wasn't dealing well with the idea of hand brakes to begin with so having a coaster brake is ideal for her). As you can see in the picture, it has a rack, fenders and fully enclosed chainguard. Plus, it has a Dutch lock and it comes with a bell. Perfect.

The Wiff and I drove over to Patty's place on Friday and gave her her present. She was thrilled! I hope that it serves her well and she gets years of use out of it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tech Fail

My MP3 player doohickey shit the bed last night. I dunno what happened. I had been added some more stuff onto it (including the song "Red Skies" by The's been embedded in my brain for a good week now so I figured that this might help me purge myself of such luck as of this writing) earlier in the evening and everything was working fine. I went downstairs to play a song I wanted The Wiff to hear (Daft Punk's "Robot Rock") and while I was scrolling through the songs to find it, the player just went kaput. I stared at it for a couple of minutes while I kept pushing the on/off button several hundred times and mumbling "Oh no you don't, not on my watch! You will LIVE DAMMIT!".

I ignored Amy's questions about what was wrong and quickly went into the kitchen to see if I could get it to work (my logic is impeccable you will agree. When some high-tech thingamabob doesn't work, just move it to another room and try it again. Sound advice). I could not. I admitted defeat to myself and reluctantly pressed the tiny "reset" button on the bottom in hopes that maybe that'll do the trick. It sort of did in that I got the thing to fire up but not before getting this message emblazoned across the screen "After recovering from an error, the operating system will reboot after erasing all media. Continue?" Sigh.

After wiping the entire hard drive it did actually get its act together and reboot. I plugged into the laptop to start the reloading process thinking that at least now I have an opportunity to put stuff on it that I'll actually listen to. Ah, but the stupid fucking thing wouldn't let me add anything would it? Nope. It just stared blankly back at me with the "busy" symbol on a continuous loop. The urge to smash it against the wall was tremendous. I opted to drop it on the floor lightly (somewhat lightly) and ignore it. I then used the interwebs to research newer shinier MP3 players. Fuck you Toshiba Gigabeat with your craptastic battery life and clunky interface, you shall be forever banished to my attic.

So I'm now in the market for a new toy. Stupid jerky technology got me all addicted and stuff. Hmph.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Nerd Out

The Wiff and I went to see the new Star Trek movie last night and it was really fun. I'm not a huge Sci Fi guy and although my dad was a fan of the Star Trek TV series, I wasn't. I liked it, but I could take it or leave it (I liked the Next Generation much better, that sounds exactly how I thought it would). My dad was a big fan of science fiction books, TV shows and movies so our house always had some kind of Sci Fi thing going on. I mean, he even liked Space 1999 fer cryin' out loud.

The Star Trek movie was a large, shiny, loud and well-made good time. I'm not going to review it further than that cuz there are much better people with way more talent for reviews out there on the ol' interweb tubes. Just take my word for it, it's worth seeing. And this is from a guy who hates going to the actual theater to see a movie. There's like all those people and stuff there. Ugh. We went to the Revere cinemas and since we had about an hour to kill before the movie started we decided to go have a drinky-poo and some food at the little bar they have there (it's called "Chatters". No, I'm not kidding).

It being Revere, there are...interesting characters there. The ones that caught my eye were this trio of 2 spray-tanned muscle-bound dudes (one shockingly-blonde & thinning up top and the other dude had jet black, slicked back hair and a fruity little pony-tail) in their early 40's with their holy-shit-that-is-awfully-tight-on-you Ed Hardy-esque bedazzled t-shirts and what I can only describe as a "Revere Girl". Look, I'm from Malden so I usually can't pass judgement but I'm doing it now. Wow. She had Lee Press-On everything I think. Let's just say I think she's start to melt before she'd burn is all. They were all sprawled out on a corner of the bar so we grabbed a little table off to the side. I wanted to be close enough so that I could listen in on their conversation (this is Chatters after all right?). Any guess what the subject was? If you said their workout routines and their brief stint in amateur wrestling then you win the prize my friend. Revere Girl contributed a lot of giggling and "wow"s. They also discussed how much Bret Michaels had sold out since the first season of Rock of Love. Go on and read that sentence again please. It was people watching bliss.

Unfortunately we had stupidly already paid for the movie so we couldn't just sit there and soak up the atmosphere. We settled up our tab and headed out to the theater. We'd paid to see the movie in the "Director's Hall" at the Revere cinemas. It's a little more expensive but you have assigned seating with wait service for the usual fair of movie goodies. Oh, and holy crap that shit is expensive. $4.50 for a "regular" popcorn? Goddamn son, that's crazy talk. I got a popcorn to share with the Wiff and a large diet Pepsi (that way the buttered popcorn and the diet beverage would cancel each other out you see...I'm always thinking) and the Wiff got a bottled water. Total cost was $14. I nearly shit. But I paid up and sat back to enjoy the movie.

About 3/4 of the way through the previews a stray popcorn kernel shell adhered itself to the back of my esophagus and I started choking. Awesome. So now I'm coughing and hacking while trying to decide if I need someone to actually intervene (for what would have been my THIRD Heimlich maneuver in my lifetime by the way...) when the shell in question came rocketing out of my mouth and landed on the seat in front of me. I was kinda disappointed that no one was sitting there because it was such a beautiful arc the thing took. My eyes were streaming with tears and my throat was killing me. Ok, no more popcorn for me for the rest of the evening. Crap. Stupid hair trigger choke reflex.

Without giving anything away about the movie itself, there are issues that I have with what movies in general think the human body can withstand. There's a scene where someone (not saying who so stop yer whining) jumps from a very high place onto a walkway and just barely makes it. He slams into the landing with his torso and grabs onto it with his arms. I know it's a movie and all but all I could think about was the amount of broken ribs he'd have if that actually happened. And this guy just gets right up and starts fighting some more. Hmph. Is it nit picking on my part and they are leaving these details out in name of moving the story along? I dunno but it certainly bugs me. I'm going to notice stuff like that and it can on occassion make me distracted enough to impact how I regard the film/movie/what-have-you. With regard to injuries that a character has sustained, if you've been in a big ol' brawl and yer mug gets all busted up and then a couple of scenes later you get into ANOTHER brawl (um, with a character that's supposed to be waaaaay stronger than you) and your injuries don't seem to get any worse, then that's going to distract me. No broken nose? No loose or missing teefs? Really? Have you ever been hit repeatedly in the face? It's not fun. Things rip and come apart. And they don't heal in a couple of minutes either. Not adhering to time passing pisses me off as well. I'm not the only one that this bugs either. I like continuity.

This not just a Sci Fi movie thing, it happens in a lot in media. At least in a Sci Fi flick they can maybe explain injury "issues" away with the "advanced medical treatment" b.s. or something. But that brings up another bone to pick that I had with the most recent Battlestar Galactica series. There were plenty of things that I loved about the series but one thing that stood out (among others surely but let me try to stay focused for a second here) was the seeming LACK of advanced medical treatments. Now in this case maybe they can explain it away by saying that there WAS advanced medical treatments available back on the planet that got all blowed up but since they were running bare-bones out in the middle of nowhere they didn't have access to any of it. But I'd like to think that by the time we are flying at light speed through galaxies and crap that we'd maybe have a cure for cancer. Or at least have a better way of treating a gun shot wound. Nit picking again, I know, I know.

I'm no fun to be with when watching these shows on TV either by the way. Especially if it's at home and I have the remote. The Wiff'll tell you all about TV viewing with yours truly. Here's a typical excerpt: [pauses DVR] "How come they haven't developed better armor for the soldiers by now? A simple bullet can get through that shit they're wearing but the spaceship has crazy advanced force fields or whatever?" [pushes glasses up on nose and takes a sip of scotch] "Also, how come when the Chief wanted 40 seconds to save 8 people of his crew before they were jettisoned into space Tigh said it was too long to wait? Then later on they spend fucking DAYS looking for ONE PERSON who is most likely dead?!" [Wiff rolls eyes and sighs]. I'm quite the prize, she's a lucky, lucky woman.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Skip You

I had a conversation last week with Lisi about music on ye olde MP3 player doohickey. He was asking me if when I'm listening on shuffle, was there a song or songs that every time they come up, I'll skip them. The answer is a resounding "Yes". It's not like I hate these particular songs but it seems like every time they come up I'm just not in the mood to listen to them. I think part of the problem is the use of the "shuffle" feature itself. Some of the albums I have on my toy are meant to be listened to from start to finish. Quadrophenia for instance. I left a party once because somebody had put their CD of Pink Floyd's The Wall on shuffle (plus the keg had dried up). I'm not saying that those songs can't stand on their own (I mean some of them were even released as singles). Oh no, but what I am saying is that if you have only one goddamn CD in your crappy-ass player (as it was in this case) and that CD is The Wall, don't hit "random". Just let the fucker play out all natural-like.

Here are some of the songs, albums and/or entire groups that I find myself skipping more often than letting them play:

  1. Most anything on The Who's Quadrophenia: I dunno what it is but I'd say more than 90% of the time when a song from this record comes on, I'm prolly gonna skip that mofo.
  2. The Hold Steady: Honestly, I need to delete this offa my toy. I liked one song and figured that I'd try the whole album. Then I stupidly bought the newer one too. Every time I hear that guy's voice I skip it. He sounds like a nouveau-hipster version of Randy Newman to me. Randy Newman in an ironic T-shirt and $200 custom hoodie. That's not a compliment by the way.
  3. Flogging Molly: The band itself. I've got 5 of their albums on this thing and it goes to them fairly frequently. And lately, I've just not been feeling it.
  4. Foo Fighters: Yep. I think I'm completely burnt out on them...maybe it's just a temporary scalding? Not sure yet but I do know that I haven't allowed a Foo Fighters song to play all the way through in months. And I only have the first 3 albums on this thing. I don't have the more radio-friendly stuff they've been pumping out lately.
  5. Soundgarden: Another one that surprises me. This is a band that was a top ten favorite of mine back in the early to mid-90's. I think the problems stemmed from the massive over exposure they got later on in their career (and good for them honestly. it was, in my opinion, long overdue and well deserved). It's just that I heard that goddamn "Black Hole Sun" song 65,000 times too many and it kinda soured me. Then Chris Cornell had to release that shitty solo record and as if that wasn't enough, ruin what was left of Rage Against the Machine with whatever the fuck Audioslave was. So now I even skip Louder Than Love songs. Thanks for that Cornell, you schmuck.

What I should do is go through this MP3 player and update it. I haven't added or removed anything in a few months and I tend to get bored with the selections I have on there. I should also go bum some tunes off of my friends to get some new stuff into my library. My attention span with a lot of music is fleeting. There are of course bands that I never skip but that's a different story (The Ramones for instance. Even if I don't particularly dig the song in question, why skip it when it'll be over in 2.5 minutes?).

As far as skipping songs goes, when you're by yourself the sky is the limit. You can skip song after song if you so desire. But what if there's someone else listening as well? What if it's their MP3 player? What if you're in a car with them every day to and from work? What is the etiquette? Clearly we need rules and regulations to make this a less contentious scenario. Luckily, Lisi and his car-pooling cohort have come up with just such a standard. I don't think it had an official name or anything (The Skip Rule maybe? I forget...Lisi talks a lot and I tend to tune out. Plus, I'm sure if I fuck up explaining the rules here, he'll make some comment or whatever) but here are the rules as I remember them:

All persons must abide by the rules in order for this thing to work properly. Any "free will" or other such nonsense will ruin the strict regulated fun that this game cultivates. Each person gets 3 skips per trip so on a daily commute situation that's 3 skips on the way to work and 3 skips on the way back. Now, if you do not use all 3 of your skips on the way in, you then get a bonus 4th skip on the way back. This can be advantageous if you find yourself in a "skip war" but we'll discuss that later. Ultimately, the maximum number of skips allotted to each person is 6 per day. It's up to the player to decide how to use them. Unused skips do not roll over to the next day. Use 'em or lose 'em.

There are different scenarios where a skip can be used. The obvious one is to skip forward (one song skipped equals one "skip"...that seems pretty self-explanatory but I just wanted to clarify the value of a skip cuz I'm a huge loser). You can also skip backwards. This is where having the upper hand skip-wise can work to your advantage. Let's say a song comes on that you like but the other person does not like. They use a skip to move forward to the next song. You then can skip back to that song if you want. Now, this could provoke the "skip war" I mentioned earlier. If you and your fellow player are prone to fucking with each other (and would you even be doing this if you weren't?), he/she could then skip that song forward again. Ultimately the person who has the most skips will win this battle. This is an argument for not using all 3 of your skips on the trip in so that you will have 4 on the way home. Winning a skip war can have consequences. If you use up your remaining skips to defeat your fellow player, what happens when a song comes on that you truely cannot stand? You will sit there and listen to that song, that's what'll happen mister. You should have thought of that before you acted like a douche.

There are other things that come up that could cause a person to lose their skip. For instance: you cannot balk. If you pretend your going to skip a song but don't actually skip it (read "fucking with each other"), that's considered balking and you forfeit a skip. It's a rookie mistake really. There are wild cards in this game too. Lisi has "The Banana Splits" on his iPod (not just the theme song either, I'm talking about the entire record) and if any of these songs come on, you CANNOT skip it. All players must sit through the Banana Split song. I don't know what I have on my toy that would elicit such a rule but I'm sure I could find something (hmm, maybe The Hold Steady have found a purpose in my life if nothing else than to act as a punishment).

Another way one could lose a skip is refusing to skip a song for someone who cannot reach the MP3 player/iPod-doo-dad (sitting in the backseat for instance). The person (typically whomever is riding shotgun) who refused to skip the song loses one skip and the person who requested the skip does not lose a skip. This is true even if the driver intervenes and skips the song for that person. This thing is organic and ever-changing so I'm sure that there will be new rules and and crap. Plus, I probably forgot a couple of the small nuance ones.

Essentially what this idea does is serve a couple of purposes. 1) to keep some civility on a daily commute (I know that my friends and I would have an endless skip war if there was no limit. We'd prolly end up breaking the player itself) and 2) to fuck with your fellow commuter. Sounds good to me.

UPDATE: Lisi made a giant comment below that goes into more detail about this wonderful game (as predicted). I had left out the ways to get "bonus skips" and the "free for all" description. Take a look if you have even more time to kill...which you clearly do. Are you still reading this?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

3 Boro Bike Failure

Hi. Remember when I said that I was going to do the TD Bank 5 Boro Bike Ride? Yea, apparently I lied. What I did was the 3 Boro Bike, Walk a Little, Take a Train While it Rains All Over You Ride. God, what a failure. Let's get into in shall we?

Ok, so I stupidly did zero training leading up to this ride. I haven't ridden my bike in ... let's just say it's been a while. And it, um, showed. Solh and I got to Dave's place on Saturday and after playing some video games and generally goofing off with Dave's fambly (hey there Brenda! Thanks for letting us stay in your house, eat your food and disrupt your household. Aren't you glad you don't have Solh stretching in your doorways anymore and me snoring so loud your dogs were afraid? Big hello to Ethan and Eva too [the little ones]! Sorry I don't know how to talk to kids...), we all went to sleep relatively early since we had to get up at butt-stupid 3 goddamn 30 on a Sunday morning. That's just not natural.

The next morning we drove down to the tip of Manhattan and parked Dave's truck over near the Brooklyn Bridge on Front St. After hooking up with the other peeps in our little group (Dave's brother Paul, his Uncle Bill, cousin Patty and friends Kerry and Michael) we made our way over to the start of the ride. We wanted to start just ahead of the bulk of the riders since I understand it's a bit of a clusterfuck at the official start in Battery Park. It was raining a little at this point, not terribly hard, just a light drizzle but it was chilly. Then all of a sudden we see the police motorcycles coming and we're off! Hooray! This is gonna be awesome.

this is our group waiting for the ride to begin. That's Paul pretending
to be "special".

And it was...for a while. The rain was annoying but tolerable, the Keystone Cops aspect of all those bikes was crazy and (at times) dangerous but we're here in New York riding in the middle of the street with no cars around! How cool is that? I was trying to pace myself because I knew that if I didn't, there was little chance of me having enough for the end of the ride. We had sort of agreed that if the rain continued we'd bail on the last portion of the ride and just take the Brooklyn Bridge back over to Manhattan and call it a day. That shortcut would chop off about 8 miles from the ride but it was still 27+ miles from where we started. Did I mention that I hadn't ridden a bike, any bike, in quite a while? Yea, I thought I had.

The first sign that things were not going to go as planned for me was in Central Park. There's a little hill in the park that kicked me squarely in the nuts. I'm not talking about a San Francisco style hill either. This hill is just slightly steeper than your average driveway but it made me get off my bike and start walking. I was so disappointed in myself that I could NOT get up this tiny grade. This is where Dave, Solh and I (they very nicely pulled over to wait for me) lost the rest of our group. We wouldn't see them again on the ride but I'm getting ahead of myself. This is also where the running joke of "The New Low" started out. Here I am walking my bike up this bunny slope of a hill and this tiny woman with daises sticking out of her helmet on a single speed, bright pink beach cruiser with tassels and a basket passed me by effortlessly. "A New Low!" I yelled over to Solh who immediately pointed out the 3 other women with similar bikes who were with the first woman. Sigh....stupid belly.

Our reduced group made our way along the route stopping periodically to get water and to allow my legs to stop cramping up. I had developed a small cramp in my left calf muscle but I worked through it and although I was tired, wet, and really, really slow (I was totally holding Solh and Dave back but they very nicely stayed with me), I was still enjoying the fact that I was out riding bikes with all these people and my friends in the NYC. It was totally cool. Then the 8-year-old kid on the BMX bike doing wheelies zipped past me. A New Low.

And then we hit the first real big bridge. The motherfucking Queensboro Bridge. We had been riding down FDR Drive (which is surreal) when the riders all came to a bottleneck at the entrance to the bridge. This gives you time to notice just how frickin' high up it is. I wish I had recorded this scene. We're standing on FDR looking up at the bridge and all you can see is a river of bikes going over it. It was pretty cool. But goddamn people, that bridge broke me. I started out ok once we got past the bottleneck part but then there was just a steady uphill bit. I got a major cramp in my right quad that just sapped all energy and power out of my leg. It turned into jelly and I could barely walk my bike up that bridge. The whole time I'm walking this thing up, Dave and Solh stuck right there with me. I know I'm a cranky bastard and stuff like that but goddamn I appreciated those guys. They're really great.

Once I got near the center span of the bridge I got back on the bike and took full advantage of my ability to use gravity. I just coasted down the other side of the bridge and into Queens. This was the 15th mile of what was supposed to be a reduced 27+ mile ride. I realized that I wasn't going to make it. My calf was sore and my right quad was on fire. Plus, bike butt. Holy crap bike butt. All that rain was making the bike butt worse...I'll let you figure out the details. I was totally unprepared for rain. Especially this much rain. By this point it had given up the charade of drizzle and mist and had gone completely over to a steady, cold rain. Solh was the only one of us who had real bike-ready rain gear. I had to make a decision and I had to make it quick. Was I going to push through the next 11+ miles to the Brooklyn Bridge shortcut (and then UP and OVER the bridge itself by the way. That in of itself was not a fun thought) or was I going to throw in the towel early? My stupid pride was telling me to push on...but then the guy on the unicycle passed me and I had my newest "New Low".

We cruised into Astoria Park in Queens for a pee break and while sitting on a soaking wet bench under the Triborough Bridge I came to the decision that I cannot go any further. I told the guys that I had to quit the ride and I'll tell ya something...they so could have made this a big thing where I have to apologize a hundred times and they berate me with insults or whatever but they didn't. They just said "Ok" and that was that. We just stopped the ride. Fortunately I had bailed on the ride at a really convenient place. Astoria Park is not that far from a train station so after getting directions from one of the marshalls, we made our way over to the train station a few blocks away.

ok, so they gave me a little grief about quitting..

I was so torn at this point. Once I had admitted that I could not finish even the shortened ride I felt this huge relief (especially since the guys didn't give me a hard time about it) but I also felt like I had let everybody down. Those guys could have easily finished the ride if I hadn't bailed. Ah well. We got on the train and before long we were right at the Brooklyn Bridge. All we had to do was ride a few blocks over to where the truck was parked and that was the end of it. I was so relieved. We got to the truck, crammed the bikes into the back and then walked over to Jeremy's Ale House on Front St. where we got some beers and food while we waited for the rest of our extended group to show up.

Now Dave's uncle Bill is a tri-athlete and an ex-New York State Police Captain. His brother Paul is in great shape himself (he'd completed this ride with Uncle Bill last year) as well as his cousin Patty. Kerry, it turns out had done this 4 times previously. Oh, and although Michael hadn't ridden a bike in almost 5 years, he's a firefighter in Yonkers. So, yeah, I was a bit outclassed. When we got to the bar, Dave sent a text message to his brother taunting him that we had finished the ride already and were enjoying a beer. Now, this was technically the truth but it did lend itself to interpretation. Paul must have assumed that we not only finished the ride as scheduled but had blasted past the rest of them without anyone noticing us. Silly Paul.

Kerry and Michael were the first ones to show up at the bar and our fake story lasted approximately 5 minutes before we confessed that we had failed to complete the ride. Kerry and Michael convinced us to try to keep the story going and make the rest of them believe that we had finished the whole ride. However, it was not long after Uncle Bill gave me the "atta boy" punch on the arm that Dave spilled that we had quit the ride early. Everyone laughed and we had a great time telling stories from the day (Uncle Bill had shredded a tire on the route and this had greatly delayed them so that's why they thought that maybe we had passed them by without noticing).

So, what did I learn? Hmm. Well, I learned that sitting around for extended periods of time does not help you complete a 42 mile bike ride...rain or no rain. I learned that this kind of event deserves some respect. It is not just a leisurely ride on a Sunday morning. Would I do it again? I'm not sure. My butt is still too sore for me to answer that question accurately. And I learned that my friends are really great guys who will stand behind me and help me out when I need it. They will make fun of me ONLY when they know that I'm not actually going to die. How sweet of them. Thanks guys.