Break it up

February 20, 2019 § 4 Comments

If you want to get the most out of your #fake #profamateur cycling career, you need to take breaks from time to time, as there are things that tend to get you down. For example, the other day I got caught and dropped by a guy who is pushing 70. Totally normal.

And then I get e-shouted at a lot. In law, people love to e-shout. When you meet them in person, they are more like kittens, but behind the email wall they can be super shoutypants, which gets tiresome and decreases your fitness on the bike.

For my cycling break I rented an apartment in Vienna during February, you know, Central Europe in the middle of winter, a garden spot of sorts where all the plants are dead. The apartment has a cozy couch but the last person who stayed here had a legit case of B.O.

The couch and blanket and pillows all have this really intense dude B.O. smell, so when you snuggle down into the cushions it feels like you are jamming your nose up into a hairy, unwashed armpit. But when the alternative is being cold, you sort of accept the man-smell and hope that by going for a few days without a shower your man-smell will out-duel and eventually conquer his.

I think it’s working because the seat next to me on the subway is always open no matter how crowded the car.

You can also break things up by eating. Cycling too much makes you over-worry about being a fat slob, but when you go somewhere wintry you can put on tons of clothes and no one can really tell what you’re like underneath, which means lots of butter.

And, when you run away from your bike you DGAF about overeating. Instead, you think things like, “I’m going to be dead for a hundred billion trillion years to the ten billionth power times infinity. What difference does it make if I have those two dozen cream-filled donuts?”

Vienna’s best food break is Joseph Brot, the bakery, where you can order a loaf of the best rye bread on earth. It is so sweet. And the texture is perfect. And you can go to the Lidl supermarket and get a pound of coffee for ten bucks, coffee that is so incredibly good …

One thing that cyclists need a break from is getting ripped off. A pound of delicious coffee for ten bucks reminds you that there is economic justice in the world. Everything isn’t overpriced carbon or $300 for a pair of plastic pants.

Napping? Good travel requires bizarre sleep schedules. For example, today I got up at three, went to bed at one, got back up at five, and am going out to have dinner at eight, will come back around ten, go to sleep at midnight, and etcetera, as Billy Stone would say, may he rest in peace, and if not in peace, at least in sarcasm.

You should see old friends when you take a break, like my friends at the razor shop. Okay, they don’t know me, but I know them, which is the best kind of friendship anyway.

If you are working on an impossible vanity project, such as memorizing all 744 lines of The Miller’s Tale, taking a break will allow you the freedom to walk down the street mumbling to yourself like an insane person, and in Vienna you will fit right in, but don’t make eye contact because people will think you’re about to ask them for money.

After taking your well-deserved break, expect to return to cycling slower, heavier, less motivated, and possibly a lot smellier. But the payback is amazing: When the totally clean, pure-as-the-driven snow septuagenarian rides you off his wheel you won’t care … at all.

__________________

END

Proper Travel, Part 2

July 20, 2018 § 5 Comments

Okay, you know when I said I’d post some tips on how not to be a tourist? The bad news is that the only way not to be a tourist is to be an immigrant. The good news is that being a tourist is like being a #fake #bikeracer. With the right amount of preparation, delusion, and funny clothing, it can actually be fun.

Language tourism

This is the first time I’ve ever gone somewhere and enrolled in a language course as my primary travel activity. In this case I signed up for a 2-week intensive course at the Goethe Insitut, Germany’s global propaganda arm that spreads Germanic culture through language instruction and without panzer divisions.

The classes have various levels, A1 is the lowest and C2 is the highest. Before you leave home they ask you to take an online placement test which covers reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. It is a really hard exam; I only got 69% of the questions right, but that was still good enough to place me in the advanced C1 class. After day one it became clear that I belonged in a lower class, as my classmates are all phenomenal.

I’ll post a review of the Goethe Institut’s classes later, but so far they have been great. The classes are small, our teacher is cheerful and good, and the students have this in common: They want to be there. Think about language classes you’ve taken in the past where there were two students who were “into it” and everyone else was not, with NOT all in caps.

Language tourism has a lot of benefits. The only real down side is that you get locked into a schedule; more about that later. The advantages? Read on. (I can’t believe I just wrote “read on.”)

Reading on

Since tourism revolves around food, drink, and motion, these three problems must be re-solved multiple times every day, and doing so is expensive. This is why tourists find a place they like and tend to go there multiple times. Restaurants are expensive and since food is so important, who wants to pay top dollar for a shitty meal when you can pay top dollar for a mediocre one?

The same thing goes for getting out and doing things. There’s a reason that a city like Vienna or Bratislava has all of its tourism activities clustered in one small area, and the reason is cost and perceived convenience. Tourists are horribly lazy, insecure, cheap, and suspicious, so keeping them corralled where they can be bled dry of their teuros makes sense.

Signing up for a language course has an obvious up-front cost, but once you pay for the class, you automatically resolve most of the rest of the problems that confound tourists. Since the classes run from the same time, you don’t have to wonder every day where you’re going to grab breakfast and lunch: You’ll grab it every single day from the cheapest place that is close to the school. Moreover, the teachers and staff will tell you where to go and it will never be an overpriced shit shack filled with Usonians.

In my case, breakfast has daily involved great supermarket bread with butter and jam, and a stiff cup of home-brewed coffee. Total cost? Maybe one teuro, less than the cost of a cup of coffee at a cafe.

Another great thing about having a cheap breakfast routine is that it takes the emphasis off of food. I’m not opposed to food and in fact consume it on a more or less daily basis, but the fanatical obsession with what you eat while touring is weird. You should eat great all the time at home such that shitty food on the road is meaningless, but actually most people eat shit at home and therefore have unrealistic expectations about culinary experiences abroad.

The language program, with its set time and location, will quickly get you onto a schedule of eating what’s cheap and good and filling, and leaving the Yelp critiques for a different life.

Perpetual motion

Tourism is by definition perpetual motion, even if it only be shuffling from the bar to the beach to the hotel room and REPEAT.

My language program solved that, too, and in the most awesome of ways. Language programs know that you are there to study the language and to kill time, and they know that you want to kill the time in the target language. Voila, you have the pre-fab cultural itinerary. Mine is so awesome as to defy description, so I will simply post a photo of it here. Recall that this course costs 800 teuros, which seems like a lot until you look at all of the tourism activities that it includes. Were you to do this on your own, a) you couldn’t and b) it would cost way more and c) you’d run out of time trying to organize even a fraction of it.

IMG_7052

The activities are a menu; unlike classwork you can attend or not as you have the time or interest. Since they’re included in the cost of the course, with a couple of exceptions, you don’t feel like you have to go unless it’s convenient.

I’ve gone to most of the morning tours since my class doesn’t start until 2:00 PM. It’s really cool to walk around Vienna with experts and learn about the city in German. This has to be one of the best things about language tourism. You study something that you like, and then you get to apply it immediately. I think you also remember things better when you have to concentrate fully on trying to understand what’s being said.

Yesterday, for example, we went to the Vienna Museum of WTF, my name for it, not theirs, and heard a fascinating lecture about WTF art and its history in the city. It’s not every day that you get to see a painting of a man with a vulva hanging next to a photo montage of a woman with a knitted gag being spanked in a park next to an installation of a giant orange tree wedged in between videos of people shaving their armpits.

Back to school

But by far and away the best part of being in school is being in school. If you are an old, brokedown, worn out shoe like me, there is something strangely comforting about being in a language class with people who are thirty years younger or more, and who continually reaffirm that a) I am a worn out shoe, and b) youth is wasted on the young.

I don’t care what anyone says, there is something truly awesome about slumming around Vienna with a little shoulder bag stuffed with a textbook, pen, notebook, and city map, feeling like a real student even though, at least in my case, it’s #fakestudent #allthetime.

My class has eleven students: Mathilda from Poland, Sara from Barcelona, Antoine from Switzerland, Mika from Finland, Anne from Strasbourg, Leone from Italy, Paula from Italy, Paula from Scotland, Vera from Switzerland, and Vasily from Greece. Vasily and Antoine are old dudes like me, although not as old, and everyone else is either a lot younger or way the fuck younger.

It’s astonishing to see how quickly people learn and how slowly I pick up even the most basic things. It’s also challenging in the most fundamental of ways in that everyone is there to improve, everyone constantly evaluates everyone else, and there is an iron standard of “mastering German” that none of us will reach, at least not in two weeks’ time, or in my case, ever.

Like any class, there are coalitions and synchronicities, but everyone gets along, everyone is polite, and everyone is there with a purpose. Compare that to your last trip … anywhere.

In that regard, language tourism is incredibly intense and in some basic sense, it is hard. At the end of the day my brain is completely drained, and it’s only the next morning that I feel like I made some incremental progress. A residue of learning and a sharpened appetite to return aren’t bad measures for travel.

Better, at any rate, than a hangover.

END

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Travel ready

July 7, 2018 § 13 Comments

I’m a fan of de-thinging. The fewer things you have the easier your life is. Nowhere is that truer than when it comes to travel. Pack light; it’s a lot easier to outrun security that way.

But what constitutes light?

For my upcoming three-week trip, I have to be able to do three things:

  1. Cycle
  2. Work
  3. Wander around clothed

Oh, and everything has to fit into a single, medium-sized knapsack. So here’s the list:

  • Passport
  • CDL
  • Credit cards
  • Headphones and charger
  • Phone and charger
  • Laptop
  • Laptop charger
  • Mouse
  • Euro adapter
  • Cash
  • Maps
  • Novel
  • Notebook
  • Pens
  • Watch
  • Sunscreen
  • Underwear x 2
  • Shorts
  • T-shirt x 2
  • Socks x 2
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Razor
  • Floss
  • Hex keys
  • Spare tube
  • Tire lever
  • Shorts x 2
  • Jerseys x 2
  • Socks x 4
  • Helmet
  • Lights
  • Giro shoes
  • Rain jacket
  • Big O kit for Damir
  • Gift South Bay Cycling socks
  • Ride gloves
  • Ride glasses
  • Ride wallet

To get

  • Razor blades
  • Otto Maria Graf books
  • Karl Kraus books
  • Baking book
  • Slovak books
  • Napkins

END

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Sunbeams in winter

March 13, 2018 § 5 Comments

It’s easy to get bummed out about the various obstacles life throws in our way. Even when it comes to riding a bike, an activity/lifestyle that’s supposed to be an antidote to the blues, sometimes it seems like everything’s conspiring against you. The weather, a sore tendon, a creaky back, and of course inadequate quantities of things that are 100% carbon and made of full carbon, exclusively carbon, that is.

I was kind of falling into that funk a couple of weeks ago. It was 5:00 AM and I was standing on the subway platform in Vienna, angsting about the flight that was going to be a very close call, dreading the all-day travel back home, the cramped economy seat, the jet lag, the crappy food, the bad coffee, the drooling seatmate, you know, the hard things in life.

It was subzero Fahrenheit even underground, and I’d had all I could take of the brutal Central European winter, all seven days of it. In a handful of days it had cracked me like a windshield behind a gravel truck.

Unusually, I’d overpacked and was schlepping back a couple of things that had served no purpose at all. One of those things was a super thin knit cap that had proven worse than useless against the bitter temperatures and blowing winds. I’d replaced it with a thick ski cap and was wearing it pulled as far down over my ears as it would go. My ears still stung.

The platform was mostly empty except for a handful of equally cold riders waiting for the train and a beggar in a wheelchair. He rolled from person to person, about half of whom reached into their pockets and handed him a couple of coins. Each time they doled out a 20-cent or 50-cent piece, he smiled broadly and said thank you.

Eventually he made his way over to me. “Sorry, man, I don’t have any small change,” I said, but before he rolled away I realized that I did in fact have a couple of small bills left. “Hang on a sec,” I said, fishing out my wallet. The smallest bill was five euros, about seven bucks. I handed him the blue note.

He looked up at me from down in his wheelchair as he took the money. “That’s incredibly generous of you,” he said. He was a young guy in his late 20’s. His teeth were brown, broken, and missing, and his face looked weathered, which, in this weather, was easy to understand. His legs were about twelve inches long each, shriveled little stubs.

“No problem,” I said. “Where are you going?”

“I’m down here early begging a bit. Thanks so much for the fiver; I’m good for a solid pack of smokes now. Maybe even head home, thanks to you.”

“You live near here?”

He laughed. “Not too far, about thirty minutes by train, then I have to roll for another ten minutes. Where are you from?”

“USA,” I said.

“Ah, yeah, right, I’d love to visit there someday. Whereabouts?”

“California.”

“Oh, that’s cool. That’s the coolest! What do you do?”

“I’m a lawyer.”

“Too cool!” he said. “You look like an ordinary guy with that shopping bag you’re carrying, but you must be a rich American lawyer, handing out fivers like that.”

“I am pretty rich, just not in money.”

“Oh, I know all about that,” he said. “Money can’t buy most things. But it can buy smokes!” Then he added, “Of all the places I’d like to go, I’d like to go to California most. Los Angeles, palm trees, beaches, pretty girls. It must be the coolest.”

He was dressed warmly, with thick pants, a heavy jacket, and a hood that covered his head. “It’s nice there,” I agreed, “but it’s nice here, too. Hey, you want a knit cap? It’s a surfer brand, not much use here in winter but maybe okay in spring or fall.” I dug into my shopping bag and pulled out the light green cap that my buddy Michael had given me a couple of years ago.

“Super cool!” he said, pushing back his hood and stretching the cap over his skull. “Do I look like a surfer now?” He was laughing.

“Yeah, about as much as I do.” He sat there for a minute, very satisfied, in no rush to go anywhere, and there was a comfortable silence between us. Finally I broke it. “What happened to your legs?” I asked.

“I got a cyst on my spine when I was tiny and when they cut it out my legs quit growing.”

“Man, that is tough,” I said.

He looked up at me and threw his sunbeam of a broken-toothed smile onto that cold Sunday morning train platform. “It’s not too bad,” he said. “There are so many people in this world who have it so much worse. I love Austria,” he said. “I think it’s the best country in the world.” Then he paused and looked at me, satisfied. “I consider myself a pretty lucky guy.”

END

———————–

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Sunbeams in winter

March 13, 2018 § 5 Comments

It’s easy to get bummed out about the various obstacles life throws in our way. Even when it comes to riding a bike, an activity/lifestyle that’s supposed to be an antidote to the blues, sometimes it seems like everything’s conspiring against you. The weather, a sore tendon, a creaky back, and of course inadequate quantities of things that are 100% carbon and made of full carbon, exclusively carbon, that is.

I was kind of falling into that funk a couple of weeks ago. It was 5:00 AM and I was standing on the subway platform in Vienna, angsting about the flight that was going to be a very close call, dreading the all-day travel back home, the cramped economy seat, the jet lag, the crappy food, the bad coffee, the drooling seatmate, you know, the hard things in life.

It was subzero Fahrenheit even underground, and I’d had all I could take of the brutal Central European winter, all seven days of it. In a handful of days it had cracked me like a windshield behind a gravel truck.

Unusually, I’d overpacked and was schlepping back a couple of things that had served no purpose at all. One of those things was a super thin knit cap that had proven worse than useless against the bitter temperatures and blowing winds. I’d replaced it with a thick ski cap and was wearing it pulled as far down over my ears as it would go. My ears still stung.

The platform was mostly empty except for a handful of equally cold riders waiting for the train and a beggar in a wheelchair. He rolled from person to person, about half of whom reached into their pockets and handed him a couple of coins. Each time they doled out a 20-cent or 50-cent piece, he smiled broadly and said thank you.

Eventually he made his way over to me. “Sorry, man, I don’t have any small change,” I said, but before he rolled away I realized that I did in fact have a couple of small bills left. “Hang on a sec,” I said, fishing out my wallet. The smallest bill was five euros, about seven bucks. I handed him the blue note.

He looked up at me from down in his wheelchair as he took the money. “That’s incredibly generous of you,” he said. He was a young guy in his late 20’s. His teeth were brown, broken, and missing, and his face looked weathered, which, in this weather, was easy to understand. His legs were about twelve inches long each, shriveled little stubs.

“No problem,” I said. “Where are you going?”

“I’m down here early begging a bit. Thanks so much for the fiver; I’m good for a solid pack of smokes now. Maybe even head home, thanks to you.”

“You live near here?”

He laughed. “Not too far, about thirty minutes by train, then I have to roll for another ten minutes. Where are you from?”

“USA,” I said.

“Ah, yeah, right, I’d love to visit there someday. Whereabouts?”

“California.”

“Oh, that’s cool. That’s the coolest! What do you do?”

“I’m a lawyer.”

“Too cool!” he said. “You look like an ordinary guy with that shopping bag you’re carrying, but you must be a rich American lawyer, handing out fivers like that.”

“I am pretty rich, just not in money.”

“Oh, I know all about that,” he said. “Money can’t buy most things. But it can buy smokes!” Then he added, “Of all the places I’d like to go, I’d like to go to California most. Los Angeles, palm trees, beaches, pretty girls. It must be the coolest.”

He was dressed warmly, with thick pants, a heavy jacket, and a hood that covered his head. “It’s nice there,” I agreed, “but it’s nice here, too. Hey, you want a knit cap? It’s a surfer brand, not much use here in winter but maybe okay in spring or fall.” I dug into my shopping bag and pulled out the light green cap that my buddy Michael had given me a couple of years ago.

“Super cool!” he said, pushing back his hood and stretching the cap over his skull. “Do I look like a surfer now?” He was laughing.

“Yeah, about as much as I do.” He sat there for a minute, very satisfied, in no rush to go anywhere, and there was a comfortable silence between us. Finally I broke it. “What happened to your legs?” I asked.

“I got a cyst on my spine when I was tiny and when they cut it out my legs quit growing.”

“Man, that is tough,” I said.

He looked up at me and threw his sunbeam of a broken-toothed smile onto that cold Sunday morning train platform. “It’s not too bad,” he said. “There are so many people in this world who have it so much worse. I love Austria,” he said. “I think it’s the best country in the world.” Then he paused and looked at me, satisfied. “I consider myself a pretty lucky guy.”

END

———————–

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Adventures w/o #socmed

November 2, 2017 Comments Off on Adventures w/o #socmed

I once came up with a saying that was halfway clever, and it goes like this: “The difference between an adventure and a tragedy is the ending.”

For years now I’ve traveled with #socmed and have used it to “enhance” my travel, kind of like RuggedMaxxII. But now that I’m traveling #socmed-free there won’t be any more Yelp-checking and TravelAdvisor-checking and Strava scouting and Facebag-friend hunting to get the inside dope.

When I touch down in Austria tomorrow, I’ll instead be armed with this amazingly innovative wayfinder called a m-app. It is an app made of paper (?!?) that folds up so you can put it in your pocket just like an iPhone, except it doesn’t need a charger. You don’t have to provide the app developer with your credit card info, your SSN, or even be exposed to in-app advertisements. It’s super environmentally friendly, being made only of laminated carbon, and it doesn’t have any other metals in it or things that are hard to degrade.

The EULA for my m-app is really simple, too, and consists of a © mark and one line that says “All rights reserved.” You don’t have to sign the EULA before booting up the m-app, and your purchase doesn’t register you for those intrusive automatic updates. In fact, I don’t think it can be updated except through an add-on called an “edition.” Navigation is very straightforward. Instead of pinching with your fingers and swiping and scrolling, you simply point your eyes at the area of the m-app that you’re interested in, and that’s pretty much it, you’re there. It’s very intuitive. However, I haven’t figured out if there’s a way to increase or reduce the font size. Powering down the m-app is also a cinch. You fold it twice and it automatically shuts down. Downside: It doesn’t work at all in the dark unless you apply an external lighting source.

The m-app has a lot of built-in data/privacy protection features. For example, if someone steals it, they can’t use it to access your bank account. Also, there is no data portability for the m-app. Any notes or comments that you have written on it cannot be copied or pasted or hacked by viruses, phishing, or Trojan horses. It maintains this awesome level of total security without even requiring a login or password. Believe it or not, you can open the m-app and use it in plain view at a Starbucks and it is impervious to people lurking on the free wi-fi trying to steal all your data. The wi-fi isn’t compatible with the m-app, for some reason. Pickpockets, however, can steal it pretty easily, although, as I said, it won’t give them access to anything except maybe your scribbled attempts to convert meters to yards.

The last time I was in Vienna I was at the mercy of #socmed and spent a lot of time stumbling around, lost and annoyed. This time I’ll be at the mercy of my m-app, still stumbling around but not cursing about all the data I’m burning or wondering when my m-app battery is going to die or praying for a cafe that has free wireless.

It’s going to be fun to learn the city and its environs with nothing but my bike and my m-app. It might even be an adventure. I’ll keep you posted.

END

———————–

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Adventures w/o #socmed

November 2, 2017 Comments Off on Adventures w/o #socmed

I once came up with a saying that was halfway clever, and it goes like this: “The difference between an adventure and a tragedy is the ending.”

For years now I’ve traveled with #socmed and have used it to “enhance” my travel, kind of like RuggedMaxxII. But now that I’m traveling #socmed-free there won’t be any more Yelp-checking and TravelAdvisor-checking and Strava scouting and Facebag-friend hunting to get the inside dope.

When I touch down in Austria tomorrow, I’ll instead be armed with this amazingly innovative wayfinder called a m-app. It is an app made of paper (?!?) that folds up so you can put it in your pocket just like an iPhone, except it doesn’t need a charger. You don’t have to provide the app developer with your credit card info, your SSN, or even be exposed to in-app advertisements. It’s super environmentally friendly, being made only of laminated carbon, and it doesn’t have any other metals in it or things that are hard to degrade.

The EULA for my m-app is really simple, too, and consists of a © mark and one line that says “All rights reserved.” You don’t have to sign the EULA before booting up the m-app, and your purchase doesn’t register you for those intrusive automatic updates. In fact, I don’t think it can be updated except through an add-on called an “edition.” Navigation is very straightforward. Instead of pinching with your fingers and swiping and scrolling, you simply point your eyes at the area of the m-app that you’re interested in, and that’s pretty much it, you’re there. It’s very intuitive. However, I haven’t figured out if there’s a way to increase or reduce the font size. Powering down the m-app is also a cinch. You fold it twice and it automatically shuts down. Downside: It doesn’t work at all in the dark unless you apply an external lighting source.

The m-app has a lot of built-in data/privacy protection features. For example, if someone steals it, they can’t use it to access your bank account. Also, there is no data portability for the m-app. Any notes or comments that you have written on it cannot be copied or pasted or hacked by viruses, phishing, or Trojan horses. It maintains this awesome level of total security without even requiring a login or password. Believe it or not, you can open the m-app and use it in plain view at a Starbucks and it is impervious to people lurking on the free wi-fi trying to steal all your data. The wi-fi isn’t compatible with the m-app, for some reason. Pickpockets, however, can steal it pretty easily, although, as I said, it won’t give them access to anything except maybe your scribbled attempts to convert meters to yards.

The last time I was in Vienna I was at the mercy of #socmed and spent a lot of time stumbling around, lost and annoyed. This time I’ll be at the mercy of my m-app, still stumbling around but not cursing about all the data I’m burning or wondering when my m-app battery is going to die or praying for a cafe that has free wireless.

It’s going to be fun to learn the city and its environs with nothing but my bike and my m-app. It might even be an adventure. I’ll keep you posted.

END

———————–

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