Listening for a song, and the quiet
is so hard to find.
The song would seep from my DNA
like an enzyme,
or fall from the stars like dew.
The song would settle like dust
on my bookshelf,
or form like a painful scab
on my skin.
It would be about everything,
and nothing at all,
heroism and trivia,
rage and lust,
entropy and boredom —
Listening for a song.
- July 7, 2014 –
An old man with one arm, African–American, sat on the bench in front of Days Espresso. He was bumming cigarettes, but I didn’t have any, having quit in January. He said, "Hello" to me but nothing more. I said, "How are you doing?" but he didn’t answer. He didn’t ask me for anything — a relief – but just his presence made me feel guilty. I wanted to fix his devastated life, but I couldn’t. I tied up my shiny bike; the price of it would feed the old man two months, but that wasn’t going to happen. I went inside and got a coffee. The old man finally walked away. I hope he had somewhere to go.
I had an intervention with myself and faced the fact that I am a bicycle junkie. I’m an addict. I don’t feel really right until I get out on my bike and ride. I received a particularly upsetting telephone call two nights ago. I thought about it for a couple of minutes and then I put on my helmet and reflective gear, turned on the lights and rode my bike until I got my feelings in order about what I had heard. The bike has become my drug.
The bicycle is actually a bunch of drugs for me. It’s my psychotropic anti-depressant. It’s my blood sugar reducing diabetes drug. It’s my cholesterol-reducing Crestor replacement. It’s my stiff-joint, NSAID, anti-inflammatory. It’s my blood pressure reducing anti-hypertension high blood pressure drug. It’s my diet and sleeping pill.
I have hypertension (high blood pressure) and due to the drugs I take for that, I need to have regular blood tests. A couple of years ago, I began showing very high blood sugar in the tests. My doctor said that I could go on another drug or get some aerobic exercise every day. I opted for the exercise and got really serious about getting some significant bicycle time every day. I’m averaging seventy miles a week on my bike and my blood sugar has been reduced by 60%.
The bike is my “non-steroidal-anti-inflammatory” drug. Once upon a time, just climbing the stairs in my home would have my knees screaming. Today, I climb them like a sixteen-year-old – no pain.
The bicycle is my diet pill. When I committed to riding my bike every day, I weighed 212 pounds and wore a snug 38” waist pants. Today, I weigh 178 and wear a loose 34” waist paints – in a bit more than a year and a half. My significant other totally loves the transformation. I feel fit and sexy rather than old and overweight.
I still have to take my high blood pressure meds. While I am getting better readings, I still have times when the blood pressure is too high. The bicycle is helping, and there may come a day when I can quit taking the meds, but it’s not here yet.
The bicycle is my sleeping pill. I have always been one who fights sleep. I will stay awake all night under the right circumstances, but that is unpleasant. It is hard for me to fall asleep at night, but when I have ridden 16 miles in a day, I care barely stay awake until midnight. It is well known that better sleep improves your overall health, including weight, skin, healing and mental acuity.
And yes, I suppose the bike is my cannabis. If you accept the traditional characterization that cannabis is a “euphoric” drug, then I’m getting my euphoria these days on the bicycle. After an epic ride, I really do feel euphoric, even if I’m tired and the muscles ache. I’ve smoked some pot in days past, and favor its legalization if for no other reason than to stop screwing up the lives of millions of young people who get arrested for it, but for me personally, the magic weed doesn’t do much for me these days. The bike is a different matter. A good ride will definitely produce a euphoric feeling, and I often wish that I could just keep on riding.
The bicycle simply makes me feel and look better. Even a fairly short ride will give me a warm glowy feeling. I suppose it results from the increased oxygen levels and the release of endorphins. Endorphins are described as “endogenous morphine” which is “released during exercise, excitement, pain, spicy food consumption, love, and orgasm.” After a good ride, I feel like I have taken some wonderful, perfect tranquilizer, but without any drug overhead. I have the proverbial “sense of well-being” while being acutely aware of my muscles and body. I have lost so much weight that I had to have my suits taken in. In the past couple of months, I have had several people, including doctors, tell me that I look “great” and it has been some time since I last heard those words. That’s great for the self-image. The bike is good for the body and the mind.
Yet, there is a downside to this rosy scenario. There are a few days when I cannot ride. Either the weather is just too foul (I don’t ride on ice or in thunderstorms which threaten hail), or I have business or social commitments which preclude a bike ride. On these days I go into serious bicycle withdrawal. Even on these dark days, I don’t despair because I know the clouds will go away; the ice will melt and my faithful two-wheeled medicine cabinet will be waiting for me in the garage, eager for another adventure and another chance to make me healthier.
We have been adopted by a big black cat. I named her “Gabby” because she talks a lot and is always ready to express her opinion on anything. As to breed, she is what I learned to call a “Persian” although she does not have the flat face of the current crop of over-bred Persian cats. She is a beautiful animal and very affectionate. I don’t really know where Gabby came from. She began hanging around our house, but she was very wary of us and would seldom come up to us. We began to put a bowl of water on the porch because she seemed to be hanging out around our front porch a lot. One night in the fall of 2013 I invited her to come into the house because the weather was really foul. She came in for a while, but it was obvious that she was nervous in our house. I guessed that she could smell traces of our dogs who used to live here. Months went by and she began to come around more. One evening I let her in and she stayed the night. The next day Marian bought her a cat box and some cans of food.
For a couple of months Gabby would come and stay a couple of days with us and then disappear for a couple of days. I didn’t really like that, but I didn’t really want a full time pet either. I had done fifteen years with the dogs and I was tired of being responsible for animals. If she wanted to visit, I would feed her, but if she wanted to leave, that was OK too. I didn’t want to be tied down to a pet. Eventually, it became clear that Gabby wanted to stay with us. I don’t know if her original human moved away or what, but our home had become her home. At the same time, I began to think of her more as being “my cat” even though my attitude about a full time pet hadn’t changed. She’s a prowler. No matter how much I feed her, she still wants to go out and prowl the alley. When the weather gets stormy, I worry about her being out and getting cold and wet. I worry about her being hit by a car crossing the street or prowling the alley. I worry about her catching a mouse that’s already been poisoned. I lost a couple of cats that way a long time ago. I wish she would just stay in the house where I could take care of her and keep her safe from all of the perils of the alley. That’s not who she is. She will stay in for hours but the time comes when she needs to go out to hunt birds and mice. Trying to keep her inside just doesn’t work. She’s miserable. I have to accept that about her. She came to us as a free agent and that’s the deal; I can’t change the rules.
We had a dog that shared a lot of Gabby’s karma, Thor. He appeared on our front porch one frigid January night, injured and dirty. Boss Dog, Lucky, accepted him and he became a part of our family. Thor was a beautiful German Shepherd who grew to 120 lbs. He was wonderful around people, but around other dogs, except Boss Dog, he was Murder, Inc. I paid some vet bills before it sunk into me that Thor could never be off a leash, ever. We tried to train him to behave better, but it didn’t work and he spent his life tightly controlled because he just couldn’t be trusted around other dogs. He would fight and he always won. We adjusted because we loved him, and Lucky, also a GSD, loved him as if he were Lucky’s own puppy.
Experience has taught me that acceptance is one of life’s great lessons. Whether it is cats, dogs or people, we have to learn to accept people as they are. This was a hard one for me. When I was young, I knew how everybody ought to be living their lives and who they needed to be. I still spend a portion of each Sunday morning telling people how they ought to act. I guess old habits die hard. The difference for me is that I have learned to accept people, dogs, and cats as they are. If I can help them live their lives, that’s great, but I don’t waste time trying to make them live up to my expectations. With our buddy, Thor, we loved him so we accepted the way he was and made adjustments. We didn’t approve of everything he did, but we loved him and figured out ways to make it work.
Love is the secret sauce. We never really live up to each other’s expectations, but when we love, we can accept and receive acceptance. That brings a lot of peace to our lives. And who knows? If this acceptance thing really catches on, one of these days I might even get around to accepting myself.
I had a particular mission in mind when I went shopping for a new bike. It needed to have fenders for bad weather operation because I ride all through the year. It needed to have swept back handlebars and some padding in the saddle for an upright riding position and comfort because my road bike was giving me inflammation in my shoulders, elbows and lower back due to some of the rough roads and alleys that I travel. It needed to have fairly wide tires for both the lousy weather and the rough roads mentioned above. It needed to have cargo capacity because I run as many errands as I can on my bike. Also, it needed to look good and have quality construction. Additionally, local factory certified support is important to me. I needed a high quality commuter bike that ran well, did the job, looked good and was comfortable. I did a lot of shopping and comparing. I went to every shop in town and looked at models and prices. There was one bike of the many I saw that captured my imagination: The Trek Allant.
The Allant is an elegant European styled commuter. The color is a dark gray with a brown leather saddle. The logos, decorative decals and other markings are tastefully understated. There isn’t a screaming 600-point manufacturer banner ad on the down tube. Trek puts their logo on the frame on the forward area of the top tube so it doesn’t feel as if one is riding a sandwich board advertisement. The frame of the Allant is made of Trek’s “Alpha Silver Aluminum Alloy.” I don’t have a clue as to what that is, but it is light without being excessively rigid. The front fork is chrome molybdenum steel which provides a bit of flex to the frame to smooth out the bumps. I have often heard it said that aluminum frames are rigid and transfer more road shock to the rider than steel frames do. Perhaps it is the alloy that Trek uses for the Allant, but I don’t notice the Trek feeling any rougher than my steel bike.
The drive train is the ubiquitous Shimano 21-speed indexed shifting transmission. I could live without it, but it seems to be what everyone wants these days. It is geared low so it climbs well and deals with poor surface conditions well. The tires are medium wide Bontrager H2 Hard-Case Lite, reflective, 700x35c. Other niceties include the Bontrager Satellite Elite lock-on ergonomic grips which are really comfortable, Bontrager Interchange rear rack, full-coverage color-matched fenders, and alloy kickstand.
I have read the criticism of this bike that it is not “fast.” To this critique I have some advice and comment: put it in high gear and pedal faster. You will find that it is fairly quick, but it isn’t as fast as my old 12-speed road bike. If you’re planning to enter the local triathlon, don’t buy this bike. Anyone who buys this bike for speed has been poorly served by their advisors. Buy this bike if you want a comfortable, high quality commuter that looks great and carries a really attractive price tag.
This is a lifestyle bike. It is designed for a person who will spend a lot of time on the bike. I have become seriously engaged with the idea of doing as much on my bike and as little in my car as I can do. I don’t want a single dinosaur to die for my sins. I do believe that automobile culture is reaching a breaking point. There are too many cars and they cost too much to buy and operate. Already, there seems to be more cars than the streets and highways can comfortably handle. There is a finite amount of space available for streets and highways, and we are already finding the limits of that capacity, especially in the urban areas. Alternative forms of transportation of which the bicycle is one, can help to relieve the overcrowding of our streets and highways.
Utility is part of the mission description for this bike. The rule is that all errands get run on the bike as long as time and weather make it possible. There are situations for me when I have to take the car due to time constraints and weather conditions. I’m not crazy. When I need to use the car, I use it, but when a particular trip or errand is possible on the bike, I do it on the bike. This rule makes me healthier, happier, richer, and saner. I have Bongo Bros. grocery bags that clip to the cargo rack and I do as much grocery shopping as possible on the bike. I also have a clip-on briefcase carrier for my laptop so I can hang it onto the bike and drive to a coffee shop to work in a different atmosphere if I desire it. I have found that this can stimulate creativity at times.
Part of the charm of this bike is that, with its fenders, great saddle and swept back handlebars, it is the “super bike” that I always wanted as a kid. Of course, it didn’t exist then. The aluminum alloy frame and space-age Shimano 21-speed shifters waited many years in the future when I was twelve. Still, the look and feel of the bike has a way of transporting me back to that younger me who sailed the streets of my childhood on a two-wheeler. I love that feeling. It has been said many times before, going back to Susan B. Anthony, but the bicycle has an almost magical capacity to impart a sense of freedom to its riders.
The price of this bike deserves a mention. In a day when “entry level” bicycles are running $1200 and up, my total cost with taxes and couple of accessories was just under $650. Bicycles have become really expensive and I suppose that value is in the eye of the buyer, but paying $4K or so for a bicycle just hits me the wrong way. Part of the charm of the Allant is that it is a really top quality bicycle for a really reasonable price. Perhaps it is the style – it doesn’t look like a bike that will run the Tour De France – but the bike is a terrific value.
Does it accomplish the mission? Yesterday I did 12 miles on it and today I did 14 miles and these 60-year-old arms, legs and back feel great. I love this bike. I am finding that I can do more miles on this bike than I ever could on my old road bike. It is more comfortable and less tiring. When I finish a long ride, I don’t hurt. The old road bike, as much as I loved it, was giving me inflammation and pain in my elbows and shoulders. The Trek Allant has made all of that pain and inflammation go away. I can report that I am averaging twice as many miles per week on the new bike than I could do on the old road bike. The pain in my elbows and shoulders is a distant memory. I am doing almost all of my grocery shopping on the bike due to its cargo rack and the Bongo Bros. Grocery Bags I bought to go with it. It took a few weeks to get used to the indexed shifters, but I have now, and I use them. So, to the mission question, the answer is yes, it is the bike that I wanted and it fulfills my expectations. I would buy it again.
Endless band practice
made thunder on dank bricks
in somebody’s basement,
in old warehouses, in garages.
The right note makes
medicine with the night air,
cools the fever for a time.
of desolation concealed
an enormous prank played
on the sleepy universe.
poured from speaker cones
the unconscious deluge.
These pictures have soft
focus and deep gray.
The shutter slowed way down
to soak up available light.