Archive for the ‘Bicycling’ Category

Stretch Limo

July 5, 2013

A few days ago while out on my bike I got stuck in traffic behind a stretch limousine and was reminded me of a vignette that happened some 20 years ago.

I had a neighbor who was an interior designer. She specialized in restaurants. Her designs were not chichi; they were attractively funky. She used recycled materials in an imaginative way. I liked her work. She’d just finished a particularly lucrative job, a motel/restaurant complex, and she invited some of her neighbors to join her at the grand opening. The place was a good distance away, but she said she could give me a ride there and back. When I got to the meeting point I found out that the ride was in a stretch limo. I was deeply embarrassed. I didn’t want to get into the thing. But I didn’t want to make a scene either. So, I went along, but hid my face the entire ride, worried that someone I knew might see me. She’d hired the limo for the entire party and told us that if anybody wanted to go home early, we should tell the driver and he’d take care of us. I did end up wanting to go home early. I snuck past the driver who was sitting out in front and took the bus. It felt a lot better.

Notes on the Empire

June 19, 2013

One of the big delusions that Americans operate under is that we live in a democratic republic. We don’t. We live in an empire. Republics and empires cannot coincide. While I wouldn’t say that the republican function has disappeared entirely, it’s clear that it has been steadily eroding over the years. One reason it hasn’t vanished entirely is that the U.S. is hampered by its self-image as a fighter for democracy and freedom. It prevents us from being nakedly imperial. We have to be more subtle than, say, the British were. I don’t think this is some kind of weird conspiracy theory. The people on the inside know it’s an empire. Here’s an excerpt from a magazine article written in 2004 for the New York Times by journalist Ron Susskind.

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

A remarkably hubristic statement. I think this explains in good part what happened to Obama. His supporters, myself included, thought naively that we were working to elect someone who would return the country to its democratic roots. But empires don’t give up the ghost without an immense struggle or internal collapse. They are utterly ruthless. It’s the only way to become one. In a sense, Obama had no choice other than to go along. He would have been eliminated if he hadn’t cooperated. Still, I don’t think that’s what happened exactly. Like all of them, he was dazzled by the immense power of his position and wanted to be successful in it.

All empires collapse, and I believe that’s what we’re seeing now. We live in a period of growing decadence. You can see it in the indifference toward what’s happening to the environment, the obsession with gadgetry, the fawning over celebrities, the constant wars, the desire for ever more wealth. Because this particular empire has became a global venture, the effects are going to be more far-reaching than any previous collapse.

Last weekend I rode my bike to Mill Valley, a wealthy town in wealthy Marin County, which is just north of San Francisco. I stopped to take a break and watch the scene around me. It was warm and sunny and there were a lot of people hanging out in the outdoor cafés, eating, drinking, talking on their cell phones, laughing — having a party. I remember seeing a young guy and his girlfriend cruise by in a sports car with the top down. They looked sinister to me. I loathed what I was seeing. While so much of the rest of the world suffers—the people who make their clothing, for example—these beneficiaries of the empire continue to party and, as George Bush Sr. said, “to recreate.” Meanwhile, in the background, the insanity continues to build. Those people have no idea of the storm that’s on its way. I can’t say that I do either—not exactly. But I’m convinced that we’re living in the beginning of historical times.

A note on Edward Snowden: I don’t consider him a hero. I don’t know enough about him, and, for all I know, he has issues that, in my view, would diminish him. But I have no problem whatsoever with anything that he’s done. He is not a traitor. You cannot betray an empire.

Socialized Medicine

September 2, 2009

Today I went to a downtown rally in support of changes in the health care system. Just a few minutes before leaving for the rally, I learned that a friend, a new friend, was seriously injured in a bicycle accident a few days ago. She’s in a coma and currently her prognosis doesn’t look good at all. The way it should work is, if you have an accident or a health issue like this, you should simply be taken care of. That’s all. There should be no other consideration. It shouldn’t bankrupt you or put you out on the street or anything. If that’s socialized medicine, then I favor socialized medicine—enthusiastically.

While Judy and I were at the rally, there were cars passing by, and the drivers were generally either supportive or apathetic. There were a few who opposed us, though, and those who did had looks of intense hatred on their faces. I could say—conventionally—that I was shocked by the vehemence of that hatred, but it wouldn’t be true. I grew up in this country—grew up among those very people. I know who they are and where they’re coming from. Any one of them could end up in the same situation as my friend and quite possibly either be ignored by or have their lives ruined by the current medical system. I doubt that it occurs to them, though. They are not introspective. They don’t believe in thinking about their lives.

Shop Talk

July 22, 2009

A friend of mine, who is not particularly into bicycles, has been wanting to buy a bike in order to “get around”—of all things. I’ve been keeping my eye out for a good used one for him, but he finally found the bike himself. When I asked him what kind it was, he told me, “A green one.” Yes!

Ego, I think; not testosterone

July 20, 2009

Yesterday I went for a bike ride up Mount Tamalpais. It was hot, 87 degrees. About 3/4 of the way up, I was suffering, so I stopped to take a break at a place where many riders stop to rest—Pan Toll Station. There are toilets, water, and shade. While I was recovering, a group of five mountain bikers came in and sat down next to me. I used to go for mountain bike rides, but I won’t do it anymore. I don’t think bikes belong out in the wilderness—not even on fire roads. It should be a place where you can get away from machines. I knew the fire roads they were discussing. They’d ridden a long way on some difficult routes, so I knew they were accomplished riders. As I was sitting there listening to them talk—I had no choice, they were annoyingly loud—they started remembering how they’d “scared the shit” out of some hikers by riding too close to them as they passed from behind. They all thought that was pretty funny. They talked like teenage boys. The strange thing is that they were all at least in their fifties—possibly their late fifties. They had expensive superbikes and elaborate gear, so they probably had good jobs, responsible positions, and all that. But they had never grown up.

No Hurry, No Goal

June 17, 2009

I used to be a bicycling fanatic, but that passed years ago, and I’ve never quite gotten the spirit back. Yesterday, I decided to ride up Mt. Tamalpais. I’ve already been up the mountain once this year, but yesterday I was feeling sluggish right from the start. Just one of those days. I wasn’t enjoying the ride, and I decided that the only way I could make it bearable was to adopt the mantra of “There is no hurry and there is no goal.” I rode at a relaxed, slow pace and even stopped to look at the sights (something I don’t often do when I’m “working out”).  My rule was if at any point I felt like turning back, even if I was only 100 yards from the summit, then, by golly, that’s what I’d do. Whenever I found myself wondering if I could make it to the top, I’d remind myself of my mantra and return to riding easy. And it worked; I was enjoying the ride.

At a rest stop, I saw a mileage sign and realized that I was closer to the summit than I thought. It was starting to get a little late, so when I got back on the bike I decided to go for it. I put my head down and increased my speed. But a half mile later I felt like complete crap. I remembered my rule then, turned around, and coasted back to the bottom. No regrets, Coyote!

Affliction #1

March 28, 2009

A few days ago, I was bicycling along the waterfront—Marina Green, for those who know San Francisco—when I suddenly remembered something that happened to me the day after the 1989 earthquake—the “Kind of Big One,” as some people here call it. I was riding my bike through the hardest hit section of the city, the Marina, checking out the damage, when I saw ahead of me a stooped, white-haired man. He was around 100 yards away, and from that distance I couldn’t make out his face, but somehow I knew instantly that it was Joe Dimaggio. When I got close, I saw that it was indeed him. I’m not even a sports fan. That reminded me of a day ten years earlier when shortly after entering the Stockton tunnel I saw, from the same distance or greater, a large group of walkers coming toward me. The tunnel was loud with passing cars, so I couldn’t hear them talking, but the moment I saw them I had the instantaneous thought, “Germans.”  And it turned out that it was, indeed, a group of Germans.

We live in a time where many people insist that the only mind that’s real and trustworthy is the rational intellect. But that’s wrong. I find the intuitive mind more fundamental and of greater value than the dry, crusty intellect. More entertaining, too. We need the rational mind to make sure that we don’t go overboard, but our denial and suppression of intuition is killing the spirit. It’s one of the three great afflictions of Western Civilization.

A Political Disagreement

February 21, 2009

Today Judy and I went for a bike ride, and along the way we made a pit stop. Judy went inside a store, while I remained outside to watch over the bikes. I was sitting on a bench next to a young black man who had just finished work and was waiting for a ride home. We got into a conversation—first about the weather, then about the economy. We agreed that both situation look grave—drought and depression. I said that at least the economy was in the hands of a good man. He expressed the hope that people would give Obama enough time to turn things around. I voiced my honest opinion that Obama is the smartest president of recent times. And there, we had our disagreement. He thought John Kennedy was the smartest. I simply couldn’t buy that. Yet we both maintained our civility, and we parted on amicable terms.