Monday, April 29, 2013

Mr. Duncan's 55 Gallon Drum

I'm a pretty excited and happy vegetarian.  Today I worked in the garden, or should I say on the yard.  Actually, I didn’t as much work on the yard or in the garden as much as I worked on yard and garden tools.  Recently, motivated by all things healthy, we built a pretty good sized raised veggie garden in the backyard.  To be honest I have, as long as I can remember, wanted to try and grow some vegetables.  In today’s economy (augh!….I sound like an old guy) and with an ever growing distrust in the way “big business” handles the genetic delicacies of our marketable produce, it seemed like as good a time as any. 

We had a prime location in the back yard for the new planter.  When I first moved in I had made it the storage area for an antique sailboat I had restored.  I later sold that boat and turned the area into a small vineyard.  The vineyard produced wine grapes that were a joint project between me and my step father.  It was a dismal failure and I wondered if I would ever be able to grow anything.  I employed the mighty Ford Bronco easily pulling the vineyard out with a long chain, and returned the area to its flat and unused state. 

When Eileen and Neal moved in, the need for fresh wholesome veggies arose again.  This time, with Neal involved in FFA at his school, the project fit perfectly for one of his class grades, thus killing the proverbial “two birds” with one 10’x24’ raised vegetable planter.

I never do anything small, and this project was no exception.  Wood sided, posted, gopher-proofed, automatic watering system, plastic lined inner walls and weed barrier all went up before the dirt was delivered.  Nine yards of planters mix is a pretty big pile of dirt to shovel, but between Neal and I, we got all in the box and ready for veggies.   That’s only half the story.  Corn, bell, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, kale, lettuce, watermelon, onions and strawberries, with other herbs and even some wildflowers now grow in the planter.  Talk of a compost pile soon followed.  I remember having a compost pile as a kid, in my parent’s yard, not far from the back corner fence.  It wasn’t much of anything really, just a pile on which we dumped everything from grass clippings to banana peels.  I don’t remember ever using the compost on anything.

Last night at Lowes Home Improvement store I was looking at a small garden trailer to tow behind the riding mower.  I managed to luck out and got a roughly $300 cart for $84 on clearance.  I was pretty stoked and could not wait to get it home and assemble it (which is often more fun than having the damn thing).  Once assembled, I realized pretty quickly that it would be a better cart if I lined the inside with plywood, making it more rigid and usable.  I also started thinking about that compost pile.  A short search on and I was drawing plans for a 55 gallon elevated rotating drum, with hatch, aerator holes  and mixing tangs.  I wanted to be able to manage the compost in a way that would be clean and nowhere near as ugly as the smelly pile in the corner of my parent’s yard. 

There is this great old guy in my town, Mr. Duncan, who sells steel drums, railroad ties and landscaping stuff on the cheap.  The barrels are food grade, clean and rust free.  Mr. Duncan is also a talented leather carver and loves to show off his latest tooling.  It’s fun to go there just to see his handiwork and listen to his stories, which are as numerous and as varied as the steel barrels scattered around his property.  He ambles about his yard in an electric “zippy cart” and mixes stories of his past with prostrations of why the government is out to get us.  Almost never a short visit, Mr. Duncan will eventually breathe in long enough to take your money and send you out the gate.  Just $25 and 30 minutes later, I was halfway to an awesome compost barrel.   I have converted other barrels from Mr. Duncan’s business to barbeques, a burn barrel, and even an outboard motor test platform.   Another $30 back at Lowes for cement, lumber and the odd nut and bolt and I was happily cutting and welding away before it was lunch time.

Today I completely built and installed my compost barrel, lined my new garden cart with wood, finished a sprinkler repair project and planted some wild flower seeds in the planter along the back deck.  It was nearly one hundred degrees outside but I barely noticed.  I again employed the mighty Bronco to pull out some “out of control” rose bushes that hid poorly between massive boxwoods, loaded them in the new cart and hauled them down the orchard row to the burn pile at the back of the property.  Very cool!  Everything worked great. 

Tonight after a shower and a late meeting, I stopped in at Sprouts for some fresh veggies.  (Our garden is still growing).  I wanted to try out the crock pot I bought years ago and have never used.  After peeling potatoes, yams, bell peppers, onions and other stuff for a veggie stew, I very nearly threw out the waist when I suddenly realized…”Hey, wait a minute…what the hell am I doing?  I have a compost tumbler!”  Happily I headed out back, unlatched the newly welded latch and open the hatch.  I dumped the container of scraps into the vast, cold steel chasm and closed the latch.  I know it was silly, and unnecessary, but the kid in me could not go back inside until I had rolled the barrel around by the crank handle at least once!  Mission accomplished.

Just like in another of my previous blogs, you may ask yourself what this all has to do with cycling.  It’s really pretty obvious.  Without the bicycle, I would never have lost all this weight.  Without the weight loss, I would never have been able to weld, dig post holes, cement, fabricate, saw, build, visit with Mr. Duncan and think my way through today as easily as I did.  Working most of the day beside our new vegetable planter gave me a sense of connection and completion I haven’t really felt in a very long time.  The day’s projects were heavy, and dirty, but splendidly simple.  I had a really great day.  Now I’m excited in a rather circular way.  I can grow veggies, prepare them in the kitchen, (really Eileen is the cook…I have no business in the kitchen) eat the food,  take the waste and leftovers to the compost tumbler, make compost, and turn it back in to the very same soil that grew the produce in the first place.  It’s beyond cool.  It’s kind of special.  I like it!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Running on Nyquil

I have this recurring dream….

 I'm standing next to a lone tree on a grassy green hill.  Behind me, miles of open, undulating grass covered mounds fall away into nothingness.  Before me rolling and dark green pastures of heavy, ancient earth, damp with a settling blanket of white mist seem to surge toward a rocky escarpment of black, brown and gray.  The air is thick and wet with the memory of things known long before I was born, and my presence there feels like an “arrival.”  In this place I am alone, save only the wind and the cold to keep me company.  Behind me, familiar but forgotten music pushes between my shoulder blades and nudges me gently toward the sharply eroded, craggy formation that hides between where my vision ends and my imagination begins.  

Somehow, in my dream, I know that I am in Wales.  I know that I am dreaming, and I am aware of a powerful sense that I should know this place.   I am also aware that I don’t belong there.  The sounds I hear are an almost perfect balance between the harrowed reeds of ancient Celtic song and the wind.  I wear the cold and wet like an old woolen sea coat, but my feet are dry and my knees are strong.  My gaze is ever upon the old craggy hill in front of me.  I know in my head that the answers to everything lay buried there under the weathered stones and dangerous pyres, but I am satisfied to leave them buried.  It seems right, during my dream that I stay where I am.  The rocky, mist covered mountain seems more like a bank vault, safe and secure, guarded, and to be left alone….

I’ve had this little dream as long as I can remember.  I do not age in the dream, but I am older now than the “me” in the dream.  According to the little bit of research I’ve done on recurring dreams, they are mostly born of stress or a traumatic event.  I don’t feel that way when I have this dream. In fact, about twice a year I wake up feeling rested, refreshed and reconnected.    I can trace my family history back to Wales, according to my father, just a few generations ago.  My last name (Edwards) is anchored well in history and time, but I don’t really know much more.  At times of great stress in my life, I can hear a faint echo of the same music I hear in my dream.  How I wish I could capture it in my head long enough and loud enough to remember it.  I have tried many times in my studio to reproduce it, but every effort is rewarded only in quick failure.  It’s not as much a melody that I hear, but more of drone, like the rhythmic waves of the didgeridoo. 

It’s all rather connected, you see.  The rolling green hills, the ocean like movement of the quiet Celtic sound-scape, the wind at my back and the blackish mount before me…all so familiar yet, at the same time, so very far away, behind me and ahead of me at the same time.   Like the tree that stands beside me, I am rooted in earth, in water and in song.  It sings to me that I am a collection of many parts of every Edwards that has come before, from the Iron Age and Medieval Celts of long ago, to the Victorian Area Australians, to my father before me. 

Unlike my father, however, I am the last.  I'm not the last Edwards on the planet, but I am the last of this particular lineage.  As my 48th birthday approaches, I am more aware of the man inside than I have ever been.  While taking care of the “outside” me, I have somehow become more aware of the importance of focusing on “who” I have become as much as “what” I have become.   It’s strange, and perhaps even poetically correct, that the two main tools available to me in my quest to live a healthier and happier life have not really changed at all since my proto-brothers millennia ago first stood in the fog on those dark green, heather covered hills.  Diet and exercise, to this day are really still the best remedy for what we have made ourselves into. 

As I write this, I have lost my voice.  I don’t feel the best either, but that’s not the worst of it.  I'm not a happy sick person.  I can’t stand it.  I am by nature outrageously and asshole-ishly impatient (again those who know me will laugh and say that this is a massive understatement) and being sick enough to have to stop whatever I had planned, and rest, is not much different for me than sticking a railroad spike in my eyeball.  Everything I want to do or planned to do swirls around and sticks to the inside of my skull like a washing machine on spin cycle, and the sensation of doing nothing while I feel like crap is very nearly unbearable.  One of life’s little quandaries is the notion that, when busy, we wish for rest, and when resting, we seek to be busy.  Perhaps it’s my sense that it’s an unfair ‘waste of time to rest when sick’ that has me “nutted” up.  Earlier today I walked past my bicycle, which hangs on the wall in the TV room.  I felt a pang of guilt as I passed it by and actually said out loud, “sorry buddy.”  The notion of riding with a headache, sore throat and all is too much, and to be honest, my legs could probably use a day or two off.  Still I long to get out and ride, and hope for a quick passage through this seasons version of the flu. 

I know that one day I will visit Wales and stand upon the grounds of my ancestors.  I don’t know what I expect to feel, and perhaps will feel nothing other than the gratitude and contentment of travel.  I know full well that my dream is just a dream.  It’s more than likely an amalgam of this life’s memories and experiences, played out in the theater house of wishful thinking.  However, I’d like to think that the music which lives inside me, that I write and create, is rooted in my DNA and is really my one true inheritance, passed on down though the ages to my finger tips.  This life is my chance to imprint onto others that which I am good at…good at because like so very many of us, our gifts really do live inside us.  If there was ever a better definition of “sin,” it is to bottle up and intentionally stifle the legacy of talent we so naturally possess. 

I get the feeling that when I read back through this Nyquil fueled blog I may not recognize the author.  Still, I feel at least that I did something today.  It may only be that I did a few errands, went to Walmart for said Nyquil, drank a bunch out of sheer frustration and boredom, and then sat down at the computer to write.  If you see me on Monday, not only will I be feeling much better (thank you), but I will be 48!  Don’t forget to wish me a happy birthday!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Embrace Only Love

This month I celebrate a birthday.  Like the Paul Simon song says, “I’m older than I once was, and younger than I’ll be…that’s not unusual.”  For tens of thousands of years, folks just like me have been getting older minute by minute, day by day and year by year.  I remember when I thought forty eight was not just old, but truly well advanced, seasoned…even sage and wizened.  Not so long ago this was true.   A caveman in his twenties was already an old caveman.  Just a hundred years ago (there are a few people from that period still around) the average expected life span of an adult male was forty two years of age.  By 2010 that number had doubled.  While there are many contributing factors, the Center for Disease Control in the USA credits the fact that we, as a society, tend to strive toward less activity that has a directly adverse affect on our health, and tend to focus more on mental stimulation and well being.  It wasn’t too very long ago when we sweated and sacrificed our lungs to the coal mines, broke our backs on the unrelenting steel of the industrial revolution or suffered the criminal indignity of slavery.

It’s ironic then, maybe, that in the year 399BC, Socrates who was age seventy when he died, did not die of old age but was instead executed.  In twenty four centuries we are only just learning that which the Ancient Greeks already knew. 

Also sharing a sense of irony is the notion that folks like you and me now work very hard to find the time and resources to buy fancy, shiny equipment to “flog” ourselves into shape, in the hopes that we may arrive at a time in our not too distant future when, if we manage to get there mostly unscathed and intact, we can retire with enough health and wealth in the retirement silo to enjoy ourselves, our partners and the rewards of our labor.

Admittedly, I haven’t been all that kind to my body.  I suffered from the very same delusion as just about every boy of my generation; the belief that I was as indestructible as the cartoon hero’s of black and white television.  Howard (my childhood friend) and I worked our weekends and summers at his dad’s limestone and dolomite mine.  We made a game of everything, from throwing massive dirt clods and rocks at each other to sneaking up and striking each other with the flat steel backs of our shovels.  We were strangers to fear, and never cowered from pain.  Our toughness, as it grew, became part of our identity, and we apart of it.  As time has passed I have often ignored injury, sometimes as serious as broken bones, reset my own dislocations, sewed my own stitches and often chose a beer and a meal at a Mexican restaurant when a trip to the emergency room may in fact have been much more prudent.  WD40 has always been a great substitute for Bactine or a tetanus shot, and  electrical tape has held parts on when perhaps, had I known better, it would not have worked as well as it did. 

Once, the afternoon before a concert at our local State Theater in which I was to perform on guitar, I cut the tip of my finger off with a table saw.  I was in a rush to finish a project so that I could get ready for the evening.  As a temporary repair, I used wax to make a negative mold of the missing piece of flesh, and then filled the mold with J.B. Weld (a two part epoxy).  When the new piece was set, I super-glued the new piece onto the damaged digit (to the absolute horror of those around).  It worked like a champ.  I played the full concert and enjoyed the evening.  Only the constant throbbing and pain was any reminder of what had happened earlier in the day.

Before anyone assumes that I am bragging…I am not.  Oh…how times have changed.  You know…it turns out that I am not made of steel after all.  I'm a little pissed off about that.  I don’t heal like I used to, and the aches and pains I so readily ignored in my youth have come back to haunt me like the ghost of a civil war veteran wandering his still smoking battlefield. 

Likewise,  the garbage I stuffed in my unhappy and miserably lonely face has also been an injury I have ignored for much too long.  Like the shovel blows I so foolishly enjoyed as a teen, every “lovin’ spoonful” has taken a slow and regretful toll.  However, as fat falls from body like the miles behind my beloved bicycle, so to every pedal stroke rushes toward a healthier me.  I have said to a couple of friends that if I had known how many thousands of miles I would have to ride to get back into shape, I would never have eaten half of the hurtful and dangerous packaged food stuffs I so greedily inhaled over the years….but I don’t think it’s really true.  It sounds cliché, but a healthy body is just another obscene display of self centeredness without a healthy mind to go along with it. 

My yoga teacher likes to read from something she has saved on her phone as the rest of us hold or try to relax into a restorative “asana” or yoga pose.  The passages she reads from focus on the specific pose, its purpose and desired intent, but almost always finish with the phrase…”and embrace only love.”  I don’t think it’s unimportant or coincidental that “embrace only love” should be the direction we want to tune our inward intention toward.  Embracing, and to be embraced by, who we love has always been the greatest reward no matter how hard we have worked or what we have earned.  Embracing what we love is less about ones internal self, but is much more about sharing with those close to us that which truly makes us happier and healthier.

If it wasn’t for Eileen, and her ability to “embrace” my musical, mechanical, extroverted yet deeply internal, creative and often contradictory self, I would still be 260 pounds of “wishing like hell I felt better.”  Her love is something I treasure.  I now “really know” what it is to value something over everything I own, instead of just the romantic idea I have written so often about it my own poetry and music.   In “embracing only love…” I am happier, healthier and more secure than I have ever been.  A lifetime of “10%” in an offertory plate could not purchase that which has been given to my so freely. 

In a few more days, I’ll be “officially” a little older.  It’s hard to admit that it’s taken me this long to learn a few simple life truths.  I am in a great place in my life to be learning, however, I still have a long, long way to go.  In my life with Eileen, we are both truly on a path to reach our personal goals, together, in support of each other.  In yoga, every time I’m instructed to “clear my mind and think of nothing…” I immediately think of Ice-cream.  I don’t know why…It’s like a switch…  I'm working on it though...  In cycling, well, I still have a long way to go, but I just can’t seem to get the damn smile off my face!!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


As a child I received my primary education at our local neighborhood school.  Lugarno Public School, still standing, is located in an outlying suburb of Sydney.  In the late sixties and early seventies, my attitude and behavior were monitored closely by a traditional headmaster and headmistress, included corporal punishment (being struck across the hands, fingers and/or legs with a yardstick made of solid cane), and stoic teachers who pointed at the blackboard (chalkboard) with a ruler, spoke clearly and concisely, and never repeated themselves.  Disobedience was tolerated only for as long as it took to meter out swift and immediate punishment.  My school uniform included long pants and a tie, and disrespect of the institution’s dress code was also corrected without threat or warning, often in front of piers, and if not, then before the school assembly. 

This type of discipline, strict though it may have been, served several benefits.  First, there was never any doubt as to what was expected of me.  I always knew what the limits were and what the consequences of a boundary trespass would bring.  Unfortunately, knowledge does not automatically or necessarily preclude one from playing the fool.  Once, during an all school assembly, myself and three other mates (closest friends) decided to have a bit of fun.  It was the tradition at all assemblies to first sing together Australia’s national anthem, “Advance Australia Fair,” followed by a chorus or two of perhaps my homelands most beloved and sacred song, Banjo Patterson’s Waltzing Matilda.  We had, somewhere and somehow, recently learned a rather dirty version of the song.   As the rest of the school sang to the rhythm of the headmistress’s waving arm, we four belted out our filthy substitution, flailing our own arms about with great exaggeration, much to the horror and/or amusement of our classmates.
We did not go undetected by the eagle eye of the school’s main disciplinarian, Mrs. Burly.   Mrs. Burly was in fact put together from the ground up, just as her name suggested, and she had the ability to intimidate with a simple look.  She pulled me and the other three Pythonesque vocalists quickly out of line, her somehow superhuman grip corralling us all.  Discipline and punishment (both separate things when I was a kid) soon followed. 

A second, although unintended by-product of all this behavior training was the installation of a sometimes overwhelming desire to bend or break the rules, even in the face of a certain and severe caning.  At Lugarno Public School there was a play area we dubbed, “The Green Patch.”  It wasn’t green.  There were some gum trees (eucalyptus) and some paper bark or ghost gum trees, dirt and not much else.  It was, however, located in one corner of the school grounds and shared a boarder with the street, separated only by a shoulder high fence.  It was rather easy to keep an eye out for teachers or tattle tales.  Somehow, somewhere, one of us had learned a new game and decided to share it.  The game was called, “Hello Dickhead.”  It was a simple game.  We would stand as a group very near the shoulder high fence and wait for someone to walk by on the sidewalk, outside the school grounds.  (Back then people used to walk places).  As someone approached we would pretend to be deep in conversation, and then just as our victim was passing, one of us would loudly say, “Hello, Dickhead!”  Until you have heard “Hello Dickhead” in a long drawn out belligerent Aussie accent, you just haven’t lived.  “Hello,” sounds more like, “Hah..looooh,” with the last word pronounced in a sharp, clipped, sing-song manner.  We would all immediately pretend to act as though we had not heard anything save our own conversation.   As our target moved out of range, we would collapse with laughter over the confusion or reactions we could get.

Of course, it not last did long, and we were nowhere near as funny or as clever as we presumed.  Sometime later, several days after we had begun our new favorite recess and lunch hour pastime, the four of us were summoned to the headmaster’s office right out of class.  As we walked into his office we were met by the headmaster, a woman who had been one of our latest victims and Mrs. Burly…lightly tapping her yard stick cane against her black leather shoe.

What does this have to do with cycling, you may ask?  I would answer, “nothing much,” except that yesterday, while out on a ride, someone in a car cut me off… not once, but twice within the distance of a city block.  The first time, they tried to speed past and make a right hand turn into a drive way.  It’s a common problem and one I am forever on guard for.  (People don’t always realize that a cyclist can often keep up with the flow of traffic in town.  They don’t realize, or don’t perceive the speed a cyclist may be traveling  and make critical errors, sometimes with tragic results).  I yelled loudly enough to get his attention, upon which he abandoned his illegal and dangerous maneuver and whipped back into the lane.  A short minute later, he tried the same thing, again speeding up to pass me to attempt to enter a driveway.  I yelled again, and he swerved sharply back into our lane.  We arrived together at a stoplight, and he rolled down his passenger window and leaned over in my direction.  I half bent toward him but had already decided I wasn’t going to be intimidated. 

“Hello Dickhead…,” left my lips before I even knew it was lined up and ready for departure.  It even sounded Australian in tone (my Aussie accent having been warn away and replaced with an American one decades ago) and had a sarcastic flavor that tasted good as it floated through my front teeth… and into his open passenger window.  The words hung in the air between us we both waited for the lights to change.  He had not responded, but I could tell by his shifting gaze at the stop light just what he intended.  I hunkered down over the handlebars like I was already in a downhill race.  He crept forward toward the line in his car as I tightened every muscle in anticipation for the green.  Tension built between us the lights turned yellow in the other direction and we waited like warriors for our turn.   As soon as the traffic beacon signaled our lane to go, the driver stabbed at his accelerator.  At the very last second, as he lurched of the line, I once again yelled into his open passenger window.  “Goodbye Dickhead!” 
While he angrily screeched across the intersection in a cloud of tire smoke, I casually mounted up and turned right, having already been at my destination the entire time.

I don’t really miss my youth at all, and there are many who might say that I never left it behind….which is OK with me.  Had I not had any discipline training as a child, I may well have lived a very different life.  Perhaps I may even have become the kind of dickhead who knows no better than to drive like a moron and challenge cyclists to drag races.  Sometimes I wish old Mrs. Burly was here with me now.  How great it would be just to look in her direction for that disapproving glare, or that all knowing, barely perceptible nod of approval in times of decision or strife.  Somehow, at the intersection with my “friend”  I think she would have approved of my solution. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Time Travel

Lately, well….not really lately…but let’s just say lately….I’ve been thinking about a particular person that really hurt me, many years ago.  It’s not a burden that I carry around every day, and honestly I kind of forgot about it, but ………good ole friggin’ Facebook.

There I was sitting in my office looking at status updates and memes and all kinds of fun stuff, when all of a sudden a familiar name and face popped up.  It was by totally chance that he was “tagged” in a group of people at an automotive event that I was looking at.  I was stunned at first, but there was no denying it.  Nearly thirty years have passed since I interacted with this guy, but still, through the years, the face, the eyes, his carriage were displayed in a current version weathered and fattened by three passing decades.  My pointer hung over the “Friend” button and seemed to be waiting instruction from me.  I considered it, but instead considered the complications of a possible interaction.
This character, while I won’t go into details, really abused a position of authority, and when it suited him, stabbed me squarely in the spine.  His manipulation of me was in no way physical or sexual, but was abusive none the less.  In the first year or two that passed, I admit I had vengeful fantasies, but the current of my life soon washed those feelings away, my anger and the memory with it.  It’s not like I would have handed the guy a solid smack-down, but I did want to let him know just what a piece of shit he was.  When the incident happened, I was not in a position to be able to do so without further repercussions, and so held my tongue.  It’s probably just that more than anything.  Few things cause me more stress than not being able to serve up someone a nice hot dish of “go-f^%$-yourself” when I really need to.  In reality his behavior did me a tremendous service.  I grew up a little.  I realized that people might possibly not be who they pretended to be.  I learned that people will lie from the highest podium, pulpit, rostrum or lecturn without fear or concern.  I didn’t know it at the time.  I was just a kid who was already having trouble reconciling the actions of others and was desperately looking for a role model.  I needed reinforcement, not betrayal.  Even those folks in authority over this guy were ready and willing to look the other way.  I quietly took the pain, endured the stress, shouldered the load so to speak and moved on. 
So there I was, sitting at my desk, the mouse still hanging over the friend button.  He looked old and broken.  I felt a bit glad about it.  It was evident, at least by his Facebook page, that his life had not turned out like he had hoped, and I dared to sip a little juice from the red solo cup of justice.  For a few minutes, I considered contacting him at his home or place of work,  (turns out he lives and works within easy driving distance from me) just to slam my fists into this desk and tell him what his actions had cost me, in humiliation, confusion and straight out money.  I wanted him to own a taste or even just experience a small measure of the pain he had caused me.
Facebook can be a great portal for traveling back in time.  In his pictures, I could see so very easily see the arrogance of a man who once seemed to have it all. In his eyes I could see the emptiness that one earns by possibly making a lifetime career out of treating others as he had treated me.    He was, and is, a fabrication of bravado and ego, and I suddenly realized that he held no power over me.  The footing, on which we now both stand, is no longer stacked in his favor.  It really wasn’t all those years ago either, but I just didn’t know it then. 
That which I had wanted to pound out with my fists, years ago, time had done for me instead.  I'm sure he’s forgotten me.  Our interaction was just selfish entertainment for him, of that I'm sure.  Whatever value he placed on his own fortune of self importance has long been squandered.  It has cost him far more than it did me.  Far more…and I'm ok with it.  Now, If I were to pass him on the street, and happened to notice out of the corner of my eye that he was on fire, I would have to stop and think for a minute to decide if I felt like pissing in his direction…at least that’s what I'm saying here so I can look all tough, like I don’t care…but…of course it isn’t true.  If we were to meet on the street I hope he would not hesitate to apologize, which is really all it takes with me to restore that initial level of trust that new friendships openly enjoy, but to be honest… I doubt it.

I cannot think of a good reason to make contact, save the small nagging feeling in the back of my skull that someone “got one over” on me.  It’s my own pride talking.  It’s been kicked and beaten and bruised so many damn times that I’m honestly amazed it’s still working at all.  Based on my journey through time on the Facebook Express, I have been able to put that little episode to bed and return to the present unharmed.  He was a “noisy gong” of a man.  Sadly, it appears that he stuck to an ancient, archaic and really immoral code of ethics and conduct.  There is no room in my life for that.   

Monday, April 1, 2013

Danger on Two Wheels

I want to be very careful not to turn this blog, or the purpose of it, into a soapbox for me to complain online about the things that piss me off.  The idea behind these little epistles of mine is to put to “paper” the things that I think about, inspire me, motivate or otherwise occupy my thoughts while riding my bicycle.  The reason partly is that in my own experience of exercise, half the battle is of course overcoming the physical fatigue from doing  similar repetitions over and over again, but the other two thirds (hehe) is the mental aspect. Treadmills or stationary bikes have never worked for me, even the groovy ones with the Televisions on the wall, because the mental torture of waiting out the time interval has always been too overwhelming.  Doing all that work, just to quit in the same place you were when you started seems at best an insult. At worst, screwing around on gym cardio equipment in front of all those other people just sucks on many levels.  It’s like paying a monthly fee to go nowhere, in fact, when I see this first hand, the Beatles tune “Nowhere Man” plays out on my inner jukebox.

Remember the old TV show, “Get Smart?”  Whenever Agent 86 wanted to converse privately with the “Chief” he would insist on lowering the “Cones of Silence” down from the ceiling.  The long glass tubes sat over each character as they tried, hilariously, to communicate with each other, unsuccessfully, until someone stepped underneath and yelled out!

At the gym, today’s version of the “Cones of Silence” is the headphones.  You can block out the entire world with a set of headphones on, connected to your Zune, or that other “I-thingy,” then rigorously sweat in the middle of a room full of other folks and essentially become invisible.  The only tether to reality used to be the headphone cord, but now Bluetooth has replaced that necessity.  You can cocoon yourself snuggly into your own world with your headphones, like the swivel lock on a port-a-potty, signaling to the rest of us that you are internally “Occupied.”

Today I had to hook up the trailer and take it with me to help a friend who is in the final stages of moving.  My job was to go to the “old” address and pick up some junk destined for the dump, like the other half of my load.  As it turned out, there wasn’t as much as I had thought and it did not fill the trailer, so I elected to tow it back home and wait a little longer until it was worth the time and money to go to the dump.  On the freeway, on the way, a big rig, unhappy with my observation of the trailer towing speed limit, clipped the back corner of the trailer, sending it into a violent side-to-side swing.  The force of it all managed to sheer off or dislodge the tilt pin (not sure cause I never found it) which upended the trailer.  I hit the brakes and managed to get toward the side of the road, but not before the now unbalanced load rolled over, separating from the tow hitch and safety chain.  I am relieved and glad that the trailer didn’t hit anyone else, but it did roll and spill its contents all over the place, bending the tongue backwards to the rear, and twisting the frame considerably out of square.

I know that accidents happen, and since the big rig didn’t stop I can only wonder if he even knew he hit me.  What really got my knickers in a twist was, while I collected the debris from the roadway, physically lifting the trailer and righting it onto the wheels, loading it back up with all the spilled and scattered trash, including some that I’m sure was on the roadside long before I arrived, and then making the necessary makeshift repairs on the side of the road to safely tow it off the freeway…..absolutely no one stopped to help. 

Lots of people slowed down and stared causing even more chaos, and several belligerent assholes even honked at me, but not one single individual had the common courtesy to pull over and lend a hand.  People marveled at the long gouge in the grass when the upside down trailer slid to a stop….you know, like the one Superman’s capsule left in the field in Smallville when he first arrived!  One guy even yelled “damn dude” as I hefted the twisted wreckage over on one edge, and then to its wheels. (I’m gonna be paying for that tomorrow….).  I was, unhappily, on my own.  

In countless similar situations, I have stopped.  I have pushed more out-of-gas cars up a filling station driveway than I’ve had breakfast.  I have even rescued more than a few folks in life threatening situations.  Last week myself and another guy got out of our vehicles at an intersection to help push another stranded pickup into a parking lot.  The pickup was sitting half on/half off the driveway with its bed blocking traffic and wouldn’t budge.  Looking through the back window, I could see the car was in park…(I know…..) so I approached the driver’s window to tell the girl to put it in neutral and release the brake.  She looked at me and in a rather “pissed off” tone and growled…..”Um…excuse me….I’m on the phone!”

We are, so many of us, stuck in our own “Cone of Silence.”  In our quest to never be alone, and to fill our ears and minds with constant entertainment and noise, we have managed to cut ourselves off from what’s going on around us.  We have successfully replaced our sense of compassion and community with cowardess and carelessness toward each other, our families and strangers. 

A Highway Patrol did stop, after about an hour.  He sat in his car for some time before approaching me, so I continued to work.  After a while he asked what happened.  Immediately it occurred to me to tell him that I did not think there was enough trash on the freeway, so I thought I would just dump mine here with the rest, but instead I smiled and explained what happened as he nodded politely.  He then advised me to be careful picking up debris, and not to step out into the oncoming freeway traffic.  My insides knotted up, but I did not show it.  I had not considered stepping out into traffic until his helpful suggestion.  I did momentarily consider leaving everything on the side of the road, trailer and all… 

I have, admittedly, got into the habit of wearing my own Bluetooth headphones while cycling.  I recently discovered the joy of podcasts and look forward to listening, thinking and pedaling.   I don’t play them loud at all and can hear everything around me.  Quite often, lost in my own thoughts I “tune out” the podcast or music and forget it’s even there.

I think that’s what happens to us in a bigger sense.  Distracted by our own background noise, we “tune-out” everything and everyone.  We don’t see the need for assistance, the need for kindness or even the simplest  want that is always right in front of us.  We no longer have to avert our gaze from the plight of the hungry or broken because we no longer even look in that direction.  Even the homeless intersection “attendants” whose cardboard sign has become the international symbol for the tin cup, are no longer satisfied to simply sit and wait for the generous.  Now they wave and move around in an attempt to get our attention.  It’s just matter of time until the Pizza sign spinners and the homeless share technology and employ a spinning “will work for food” sign.

What will it take to get our attention?  In my case, I am very fortunate that I had all I needed to get my own self mobile again, trailer and all.  It could have been worse, and should I have rolled my truck or struck another motorist, I wonder if I would have had to wait an hour, bleeding and hurt on the side of the road for help to stop by.   Let’s open our eyes.   With the exception of the one silly twit, cell phone glued to her ear, too busy to accept the kindness and concern of strangers, I have never been refused when offering help.  I have never in my life arrived upon the scene of some desperate situation only to be told that my help was not needed.  Your help is needed….all around….everywhere….

As a cyclist, it really makes me acutely aware that I spend a good deal of time “on the side of the road.”  I am legally allowed to use a traffic lane, but along with almost every other single cyclist on Morgan Freemans green planet, we chose to share and keep our skinny assess and tires over to the side.  Look for us.  We are there.