It’s really hard to get away from bicycling, but I was determined.
My youngest son is in the midst of college admissions season, or as I fondly call it, college rejection season, and I am so glad that he will be the last kid of mine to go through this perverse circus of manipulation, extortion, debasement, and fraud.
My oldest kid got rejected from her first choice school, the Tokyo University of Fine Arts, and ended up going to her “back-up” college, Tokyo University. That’s the university that successful Japanese applicants begin studying for in earnest when they enter kindergarten. It’s the university that receives half of the entire national budget for higher education, and from which most leading Japanese politicians and heads of major corporations have graduated from.
It turned out to be a shit school, though. Lots of prestige and a big empty bag of wind with regard to content, education, development, or learning. And since she ended up back in the US where no one had ever heard of it anyway, it was actually a negative. “University of Tokyo?” they’d say. “That’s … interesting.”
My next kid went to an Ivy League school. “Here in the good old USA,” we thought, “he’ll get a fantastic education at the elite academy that is the University of Pennsylvania.”
He may have got that, but what we got was crushing debt. And when push came to shove, he was wholly uninterested in the real benefit that Penn offered, which was first choice of cubicles at Goldman Sachs. Instead, he failed utterly to LEARN THE LESSON OF THE EAST COAST ELITE WHICH IS MONEY, FUCKER and wound up immersed in philosophy, literature, German, teaching, and other things that are good for the soul and make you happy and a better person and an informed citizen but never get a crowd of angry protesters outside your house cursing you and your corporation for buying their home at a foreclosure sale and evicting them onto the street.
I hate to say it, but he could have gotten all of those things right around the corner at CSU Long Beach and the missus and I would now occasionally be able to splurge at The Habit instead of taking all our meals from instant ramen packages.
But now that we as parents had accumulated our Merit Badges of Offspring Higher Education which allowed us to wear sweatshirts that said “Penn” and to use little leather key rings that said “University of Tokyo” as a substitute for a fat 401k, we were ready to ram our third child through the meaningless and humiliating process of college applications, which we unhesitatingly did.
“Just because it sucks and is awful and stupid doesn’t mean it’s bad,” I consoled him.
Only he didn’t want to be rammed and refused to apply to more than a handful of schools. And when he found out that he’d been wait-listed at UCLA and admitted at UCSB, he shrugged. “I don’t want to go to UCSB, so I’ll wait to see if I get into UCLA and if I don’t I’ll go to community college for two years and transfer. You’ll save money and I won’t have to go somewhere I hate.”
“Whoa,” I said. “Hate? How can you hate UCSB? You’ve never even been there.”
“I’ve heard it’s a massive party school.”
“But what’s the down side?”
“I’m going to UCLA.”
“Son,” I said, “UCSB is reportedly overflowing with beautiful women. You are a young man. Do I need to diagram this?”
He looked at me with pity. “Thanks, Dad. But I’m still not interested.”
“Why not? You’ve never even been there! All my friends who’ve graduated from UCSB swear by its, uh, academics. Destroyer went there for dog’s sake.” As soon as I said it I realized that this was not perhaps my strongest card. “Look,” I said. “UCSB is a fine school. Beautiful, uh, location. Beautiful, ah, weather. Really hot, uh, summer days. And gorgeous, er, beaches.”
“I want an education.”
“Damn it, son!” I was so frustrated thinking about all the trips I wouldn’t be getting to take to visit him at UCSB and sit on the benches that I temporarily lost my cool. “Before you make up your mind about whether you’re going to a school that hasn’t even accepted you, we’re going to take a trip to Santa Barbara, which has. You’ll see. It’s awesome.”
“Have you ever been there?”
He rolled his eyes. “Okay, Dad.”
We got up and drove to Santa Barbara. On the way up I told him to check his phone and find out if there were any good places to birdwatch. We had brought our binoculars. He started rattling off places. “Damn,” I said. “That lagoon place sounds good. Where is it?”
“It’s on campus,” he said.
We got to the school and the weather was spectacular. We did a self-guided tour and noticed that the campus was bustling and lively, but kind of quiet. “What is it?” I asked.
We stood and looked around. “No cars,” he said. “There are no cars allowed on campus.”
He was right. There were bike lanes, a bike roundabout, and skateboard lanes, but no cars. After lunch we wandered down to the lagoon, which was brimming with birds. As we thoroughly misidentified most of what we saw, trying to turn ordinary things into birds-that-haven’t-ever-been-recorded-in-the-Western-Hemisphere, a student strolled by.
He glanced at our binoculars. “Are you birders?”
“Yes,” we said.
“Me, too! What have you seen?”
“We can’t figure out that hummingbird,” I said, pointing to a tiny hummer atop a tree branch. I offered him my binoculars to take a look.
“It’s okay,” he said, declining to take them. Then he unzipped his backpack and took out his own. He gazed for a minute. “Looks like an Anna’s to me. Is your son going to go here? If he does, give him my contact info. We have lots of birders here on campus.”
As we got ready to drive back to LA, Mrs. WM wanted to get coffee. “Can you find a good coffee shop in town on your phone?” she asked my son.
He fiddled with his phone. “How about Handlebar Coffee Roasters? It’s got a bike theme of some kind.”
We drove into town and found the place. A tall, tan, very fit looking dude was shoveling beans into the roaster. “Hi,” he said. “Welcome!” He looked at my Giant-Liv gimme cap. “You ride?”
“Yes, when I can. You?”
“Not so much anymore. But I used to ride a lot.”
“Did you race?”
“Yes, professionally for a couple of years.”
“Wow. Who for?”
“Have you ever heard of Telekom or Saunier Duval?”
“No,” I said. “Are they local Santa Barbara clubs?”
He paused, realizing I was a complete idiot. “No.”
“They were actually European teams.”
“Oh, so you weren’t good enough to make the big time here in the U.S.?”
He paused again, kindly. “Well, I did my best. I finished a couple of tours in Italy in 2006 and 2007 but I was never really contending for the win. Rode with a guy named Simoni one year. He was really good and actually won a couple of them.”
“Tours? Yeah, they have those here a lot, kind of for people who aren’t ready for Cat 5 racing yet. Solvang Century and the Central Coast Century are the biggies, I guess. It’s okay for beginners. Did your pal Simoni ever get out of the touring stuff and do actual racing?”
Aaron smiled again. “I think he stuck mostly with the tours.”
“Cool,” I said.
The coffee shop had a mint Eddy Merckx Molteni bike hanging from the ceiling, but more important than the awesome vibe and the bike decor was, you know, the actual coffee. I had a cappuccino that was easily the best cup of coffee I’d ever had, which made sense because Aaron looked like he was checking each individual bean as it roasted, and unlike the bulk beans I buy that look like ragged ball bearings run through a wood chipper, his beans were highest quality, beautiful, and perfectly shaped.
As I got ready to go he forced a t-shirt into my hand. “Thanks for coming by,” he said.
“I really hope,” I said, looking at Woodrow, “that I’ll be back. Because college isn’t just for kids anymore.”
And just like pretty much every other day in my life, this one ended with bicycles, too.
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog or you can NOT subscribe and just hurry out to Handlebar Coffee Roasters and get some of the best coffee you’ve had in a very, very long time. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!