Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

15 January 2017

A Quick Ride, The Race And A Race To The Bottom

Today I had breakfast with my mother and a friend of hers who's of a generation that didn't, and still doesn't, do brunch.  Later, I went to see La-La Land (nothing deep, but not bad)and went out to dinner with my mother and father.

In between breakfast and the movie, I squeezed in a bike ride. I just made enough turns to ride in circles (and sometimes squares and triangles and other geometric figures) that brought me back to where I started.  

Along the way, I visited an old friend:

Well, OK, I first encountered "The Race" two years ago.  Its creator, Wes Cackler, actually seemed to understand cycling.  Perhaps he is a cyclist?

Unfortunately, nobody in the city or county seems to understand that pubilc sculptures require maintenance as much as buildings or other structures do.  Well, to be precise, while there was grant money (apparently from outside sources) for the sculpture, no money was budgeted for its upkeep.  To be fair, the city's and county's arts budget is all but non-existent.

Enough about politics and philistinism.  The ride was pleasant, with early afternoon weather much like yesterday's.  I did something, however, that I regret--at least a little:  I stopped at "Wally World".

It was the same branch of Walmart in which I bought a tire and two tubes during a visit here a few years ago because I flatted, it was Easter Sunday and no place else was open.  Today, I had no such excuse.

You see, we don't have a Walmart anywhere in New York City and, to my knowledge, the nearest one is at least 100 km away.  The only department stores in the Big Apple that rival Wally's in size are those of Macy's.  But Macy's, shall we say, caters to a different clientele, and doesn't offer building tools and supplies or sporting goods, among other things.  And the other department stores, such as Kohl's or Target, can fit into one or two floors of Macy's.

The day I bought the tire and tubes, I took a quick glance at what was offered in the bicycle section and was neither pleased nor surprised.  Today, I wasn't looking for anything bike-related, but I decided to check out their bike section anyway.  

Now, it was sad enough to see brands I once respected, such as Schwinn, Mongoose, affixed to bikes that were, frankly, junk.  And it was rather disheartening to see Bell--the creators of the first bike helmet that offered both protection and performance--on generic bike parts and accessories to make them seem, well, less generic, as well as useless plastic "baskets" for the handlebars of toddlers' trikes.

Today, though, one of the mighty really had fallen, at least in my estimation.  A company that has a long history in cycling, and whose products I've used for almost the entire time I've been a serious cyclist, are now embossed on emissions from Chinese factories:

I can't believe the company that made the first really good frame pump for clincher tires--as well as other fine accessories--in France, for decades, is now on the shelves of stores owned by a company that has done more than most to enable child labor and other kinds of worker exploitation in developing countries.

I doubt that Walmart has ever sold anything made in France (except perhaps for some cheese) or any other European country, or the British Isles.  I don't think much, or perhaps anything, at all the store sells today was produced in Japan.  None of that, however, is as galling as the fact that the company continues to label merchandise "Made in USA" when, in fact, it is made in China  or other low-wage companies, or is made from components manufactured in those countries and assembled or merely finished in the 'States.

Zefal products, made in China, on Walmart shelves:  How the mighty have fallen!

14 January 2017

Sunshine, Waves And Coquina Stone

I've waited on some long lines.  And I've seen people take some extreme measures to keep their place in line.  

As I've mentioned in other posts, it's much easier to acquire a gun in the Sunshine State than it is in the Empire State, or almost any other north of the Potomac River.  And, five years ago, this state gained fame or infamy, depending on one's views, for its "stand your ground" law--or, more precisely, the way it was used.

I could have told that guy that the place would be open for another five hours, which would be plenty of time to make the $10 admission price worthwhile.  But I didn't, not because I was afraid of his weapon, but because I knew he wasn't going to use it.  If he did, as the saying goes, he'll never work in this town again.

What town is that?  St. Augustine, Florida.  I rode there today, on the beach cruiser, from my parents' house a couple of counties away.  According to my calculations, I pedaled 65 miles,  a little more than a metric century.  And I did it the "ideal" way:  I pedaled into the wind to get there and allowed it to blow me back.  I don't know exactly how strong the wind was, but it took me a little more than half an hour less to get back than it did for me to ride into St. Augustine.

It was one of those days everyone hopes to have, weather-wise, when coming to Florida at this time of year:  The temperature rose to 75F (24C) and, after a brief but intense rain this morning, the sun shone brightly.  I haven't used as much sunscreen--and still gotten as much sunburn--in the past three months as I did today.

Sunshine and warmth and the ocean:  Those are the reasons (besides visiting family members) one comes to Florida, right?  And, in my case, to do some bike-riding.  But there are, believe it or not, other things to see and do here.

One thing about being rich:  You can have whatever you want wherever you want it.  Of course, if you're really rich, you can go to wherever your favorite buildings, foods or whatever any time the mood strikes you.  To be fair, however, it wasn't so easy to do such things a century ago when, no matter how rich you were, it took days or weeks to cross oceans or continents.

Franklin Smith could have been just another Boston millionaire (Hmm...I never thought I'd write a phrase like that!) who took a trip to Europe had it not been for this:

He was so impressed by the Alhambra Palace in Grenada, Spain, that he--an amateur architect--decided to model his new home after it.  More precisely, he built a 1/10 scale replica of a wing of the palace.  He used a then-new construction technique: poured concrete reinforced with crushed coquina stone, which abundant in Florida.  Some of the finishing materials, on the other hand, were imported from Spain.

Coquina stone has been used for centuries, particularly here in Florida, because of its unusual qualities.  It's actually soft when it first comes out of the ground, which makes it easy to quarry.  Even so, it is very strong when it is built, and can withstand the elements of the Florida climate.  Most important--at least in the view of the early Spanish settlers who built Fort San Marcos from it--walls built from it can absorb cannon balls fired into it in much the same way that jabbing a knife or other tool into styrofoam will make a hole in, but not break, it.

Across the street from Smith's house, known as Villa Zorayda or Zorayda Castle, is the main building of Flagler College.  Its namesake built it, but not as a college buildings.  Rather, it was one of the first luxury resorts on the Florida coast:  the Hotel Ponce de Leon.

Henry Flagler, for whom the county in which my parents live is named, was a Gilded Age entrepreneur who also built the Florida East Coast Railway and partnered with John D. Rockefeller to start Standard Oil. 

The Hotel Ponce de Leon has windows designed by Louis Tiffany and was one of the nation's first electrified buildings.  It was designed by two architects who had just graduated college:  John Carrere and Thomas Hastings.  If their names are familiar to you, it's because you've read about this nation's architectural history--or read a lot of plaques on buildings.  Their later works included the New York Public Library (the one guarded by Patience and Fortitude) and the House and Senate office bulidings adjacent to the Capitol in Washington, DC.

I had a great ride today--and, if you'll indulge me in a cliche, a bit of a journey.  And Mom's cooking.

13 January 2017

Friday The 13th.

Today is Friday the 13th.  

I am not superstitious about that, or much else. The only reason why I am thinking about the fact that it's Friday the 13th is something that happened the last time Friday the 13th came in January.

The year was 2012:  five years ago.  I was pedaling home from work when, all of a sudden, I burst into tears.  I was crying so hard that I could barely see in front of me or control my bike.  I stopped in an ATM vestibule and let it all out.  Or so I thought.  I got back on my bike, but only for a couple of blocks before I saw a cat in a store window.   Then the tears streamed out even more and I could barely stand, let alone pedal.

I am almost entirely sure that some time during my crying fits, Charlie died.  When I got home, I found him lying stiff on the floor, his hind legs crossed.  

Max and Marlee, the cats who currently reside with me, are sweet and loving.  In fact, I adopted Marlee just a few weeks after I lost Charlie.  But I will never forget Charlie:  He came into my life as I was undergoing fundamental and sometimes dramatic (and traumatic!) changes.  He was with me through some very happy and very intense times, including my gender reassignment.  And, of course, he was reading over my shoulder (!) as I typed the early entries of this blog.

When anyone, human or otherwise, shows you nothing but love of the kind that renders you incapable of feeling anything but love for him or her, you don't "get over" losing him or her.  And you shouldn't:  That love becomes a part of you, along with all sorts of memories.  It becomes, perhaps paradoxically, why you find new friends or companions after such a loss:  They are a testament to what you have shared with the one who has departed.

Max and Marlee greet me when I come back from a bike ride.  So did Charlie.  So does he.

P.S.  The "Charlie" to whom I am referring was the second cat I lived with who was named Charlie.  So in earlier posts, I referred to him as Charlie II and the first as Charlie I.