I first learned about this creature from pro racer and all-round good guy Brian McCulloch, who learned about it from his brother, a combat veteran. “The bad idea fairy,” Brian told me, “comes to you at night and instead of giving you money for a tooth, she gives you a really bad idea, which, the next day, you get up and try to execute. The top guy in a combat platoon spends a lot of time trying to chase those bad ideas away.”
I don’t know how often I’ve been visited by the BIF, but I do know that the staircase in my apartment building is narrow, twisting, and steep, and I do know that the complex itself is built into the side of a very steep hill. I call it the Escher Staircase. I also know that the average American finds walking an astonishing challenge.
I know this because piece by piece I’ve been selling off my furniture on Craigslist. Not that I had a lot of it, but you know, I did have the basics: Couch, bed, dresser, chest of drawers, dining table … Judging from my survey of people who’ve come to get the furniture, the single hardest thing they’ve done recently is walk up the hill and then climb the staircase.
We bicycle riders tend to judge our fitness by how fast we ride or by how many miles we go or by how many trinkets we get and etcetera, but we really are a breed apart. The average American judges itself by how many yards it can walk before gushing a Niagara Falls from ‘neath the armpits. I haven’t heard so much puffing, grunting, groaning, and labored breathing since my first child was born with Lamaze.
But back to the bad idea fairy.
It didn’t make the front page of the Los Angeles Times, but when Joe Yule packed up the trailer and moved back to Colorado, part of the South Bay died. He didn’t have a good-bye party, or if he did, the organizers had sense enough not to invite me. He certainly didn’t send out a good-bye message or a so long, it’s been good to know ya. By the time he left, I’d have to guess that the great majority of cyclists in the South Bay didn’t even know who he was, much less that he had gone.
I, however, did. Joe did a lot of things during his brief reign as King of the South Bay. Honorable mention was his years-long stint as chief designer for what started as the Garmin pro team, later morphing into a variety of other names but always starring the designs of Joe. It’s no exaggeration to say that his design sense, with its clean lines and remarkable beauty, infected the entire peloton in one way or another.
More impressive, though, was the way he killed the demon baby of ugly bicycle clothing and helped re-set the standard that had once ruled when bike clothes were woolen and not subject to the plastic and infinite design of lycra and Illustrator. Classic bike team and jersey designs from the 60s and 70s were pretty because everything had to be embroidered. It was expensive, it was slow, and because of the wool thread you couldn’t put thirty sponsors on a jersey pocket, much less a fish head on a top tube next to a steaming cup of coffee and a cute slogan that said, “Farts on Bikes.”
Joe was the first lycra designer who rejected the idea that more is better, or as he said it, “My mission is simple. I want to beautify the roadways.”
And he did. Using artistic skills honed in the pre-computer days with a pencil and a brush, Joe gradually showed people that although you would always look silly in lycra, you didn’t have to look like a circus clown.
None of that mattered to me, though. I was drawn to Joe because of his biting humor and his utter contempt of compromise. Anyone who ever worked with Joe quickly learned that their opinions about how a thing looked were secondary, if they were lucky. They also learned that time deadlines were relative, relative to Joe’s moods or his passion for the project.
Most of all, they learned to STFU when he sent them a “draft” design, because Joe didn’t do “drafts.” He didn’t crank something out and get it over to you as the first leg of a multi-step, iterative process. He thought long and hard and worked his ass off to get you a design, and if you didn’t like it pretty much as it was, you were a fucking idiot.
This business plan sat poorly with many, but for those of us who knew we had a real, live genius on our hands, two fucks gave we not. We asked, we patiently waited, and we took what we were given. I believe that the countless times Joe graced me with his work, the only corrections I ever made were spelling, and those I even made timidly. In return, Joe gave me the same thing he gave everyone: His best.
Embedded in his art, which is to say his mind, was a keen, wry, biting sense of humor that was every bit as funny as Mark Twain. He had a wit that was second to none, and this I appreciated most of all. His jokes and his humor were so rich and so hilarious that the laughter reawakened every time you saw it. For example, on a small jersey pocket for the Donut Ride, he included the immortal phrase, “Officer Knox Foundation.”
Knox, of course, was the South Bay sheriff’s deputy famed for citing, cuffing, and stuffing cyclists who failed to ride as far to the right as practicable.
About this time last year, Joe, who, like me, appeared to suffer frequent visitations of the Bad Idea Fairy, got the bad idea to take his dog off for a hike from the Canadian border down to Mexico on the Pacific Crest Trail. Many a friend advised him that a late summer start was impossible for such an undertaking.
Others wailed at his lack of training, preparation, and fitness that such a hike, which is foremost a logistical operation, required. Others bewailed the mortal dangers awaiting him at first snowfall in October or late September. Some few remarked that his dog, well accustomed to the fair weather and yummy treats of domestic life, would fare poorly on the rugged slopes of the Sierras. If any of this made an impression on Joe, it was not noticeable, other than in the way that catalyst in surfboard resin hardens the mix.
He packed his shit, hitched various rides to Washington, made his way to the border, and trekked for a few weeks before abandoning the whole enterprise and accepting a ride home from a concerned buddy. He had made his point, though, as he always did, and he made it without the edits, corrections, revisions, and design suggestions of others.
The point? Fuck y’all, I’m going.
Who is left in the South Bay like that? Better put, who in the South Bay ever was?
So the other day, after watching a lady and her husband lug a moderately heavy chest of drawers out the door the night before, I woke up with two little pin pricks on my neck. “Aw hell,” I thought. “I’ve been bitten by the bad idea fairy again.”
And indeed I had been, because the first thing I did that morning was send Boozy P. a text message: “Can you fit my ‘cross bike with a rack that will hold panniers?”
He immediately texted back. “Send a photo of the seat post and seat stays.”
“Yeah,” he said, “should be no problem.”
Bad Ideaville, here I come.
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