Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Some of the ways motorcycles are better than cars

  1. No cupholders (...except on Airheads)
  2. No CD player
  3. No cellphone
  4. You can't put your feet on the engine block in a car.
  5. You can't gas up your car from the driver's seat.
  6. You can't steer your car with your butt.

Our new baby

Our new baby. This is not schaved Schroeder with the top of his head taken off. This is Carrie, soon to be the newest member of our household. A retired professional athlete, Carrie likes sitting in front of the fire, sitting on the couch, taking long moonlit strolls on the beach, and can do zero-to-sixty in less time than it takes to order a drink at Starbucks.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

That's why I want to be a journalist:

Headline from the Washington Post, Sunday October 23, 2005:

"Spanish Newspaper to Fold"

Ah, October

I love October. There's no doubt summer has relinquished it's grip, fall is here for real and winter is racing up behind us.

I left class last night while there was still some twilight in the sky. It was in the forties, and it was starting to sprinkle earnestly—not enough rain to make me put on my raingear, but a steady, modest, regular sprinkling. In short order it coated both the inside and outside of my windshield, visor and glasses with fine droplets (a total of six beaded-up surfaces) making the world in front of me something of an educated guess.

The best thing you can do in a situation like that is simply reduce the number of surfaces that catch rain. So off come the glasses, stuffed hurriedly in the first available pocket at the next red light. But the problem is that still leaves four surfaces—the inside and outside of the windshield and the visor. Well, the windshield is cut so low that I don't really see through it much anyway. If I'm lucky, I can use some of the high-speed air spilling over its upper edge to sweep rain off the visor.

But unfortunately, I need to see straight ahead clearly and that means the visor must be almost completely open.

So here I am on the interstate in the cold rainy twilight, tiny little ice-cold bullets smacking me in the eyes again and again. No matter how hard I try, I can't both see the road ahead and keep the rain out of my eyes.

Once the droplets sting you, they roll around the back of your eyesocket behind your eyeball and drip down the course of your optic nerve until the very backmost part of your skull (you know, where your occipital lobes are stuck) is filled up with 40-degree water.

Fortunately, you are going fast; momentum and inertia and the wind-blast keeps the cold water pooled in the back of your skull. If it didn't, or if you were to slow down too quickly without first shaking your head to fling the cold water out your ears, you might drown when it sloshed down around your brainstem and shocked you into unconciousness.

Despite this needle-y torture, it is a pleasure to be on the road. The cold doesn't bother me; I am dressed for it. The dampness doesn't bother me—I'm not made of sugar and I know I don't have far to go. It's exhilarating and makes me look forward to the coming months.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

That'll look good on the resume...

Newly tattooed Phil is working this weekend—parking bikes and providing security for Biketoberfest in D.B. So what are you gonna do if things get hairy—rationalize them into submission? Whip out Occam's razor and slice off their fallacy? Obfuscate them with your explanation of the significance of the first 47 digits of pi?

Too cool. But to do it properly, he needs to shave his head, get wraparound shades, and shave Schroeder, too.

Schroeder would make a bad-ass junkyard dog, unless the object of having a junkyard dog would be to protect the junkyard...


If I am fortunate enough to make it to old man-hood, and I am in the dwindling days of my stay on this mortal coil, I'll be damned if I'm gonna waste one @#$%^&*#$%" MINUTE of my time arguing with a checkout clerk about whether something is on sale or not.

If that ever happens, shoot me—on the spot. I'll carry a little card in my wallet, authorizing it.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Go Figure!

Well, I have to consider it simply a colossal failure of imagination on my part; maybe I can attribute it to my slowly advancing years or something.

In any case, I would never in my wildest imaginings have though that when my two children decided (on a wild, un-parentally-supervised Daytona Beach weekend, what with them being adults and all) to get tattooed, that I would not only end up approving of the idea, but be impressed by the results and prouder than ever of those two knuckleheads.

This apparently started out a long time ago as Madeline's idea. And what do you think a graduate of one of Virginia's most prestigious "Governor's Schools," the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, would have tattooed on her?

For his part, Philip crafted the design using the family's ancient Remington Manual typewriter. He worked up the original, which was then enlarged to create the template for the tattooist.

So now, in a band encircling the thickest part of Madeline's left forearm, and the thickest part of Philip's right bicep, is tattooed...

...the first forty-seven digits of pi.

Not the name of a girlfriend or boyfriend, or a fighting slogan, or a meaningless symbol, or a symbol misappropriated from another culture without regard to its meaning. A universal constant, a mathematical expression—in a circle, no less. An expression of constancy, of unity, of closure, of connection. Shared by a brother and sister. Now come on, what could make a parent happier?

And supposedly, if you carry pi out to forty-seven digits, you can calculate the diameter of a circle the size of the known universe with a margin of error less than the width of a single proton. How do we know this? We know this because somebody told us. We're too busy to check it out, but it sounds really, really, impressive.

In addition, both kids donated blood immediately prior to getting inked (since now they won't be allowed to donate for 12 months) and Phil even got some of the guys at school to donate for the first time. Madeline, for her part, has lined up something like two dozen potential first-time donors at school to cover for her downtime.

When they get the time, they're both going to go back and have the remaining digits added.

And all four of us are taking a good, hard look at phi. Hmmm...

Hierarchy (ca. 1992)

The first defense is judgment.
When judgment fails, depend on skill.
When skill fails, depend on instinct.
When instinct fails, depend on the grace of others.
When others fail, depend on preparation.
When preparation fails, depend on chance.
Chance defies control.
Failure of judgment is the road to disaster.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Still got it

You will be relieved to know that after a hiatus of over two-and-a-half years, I started throwing boomerangs again and within my first six throws of the big birds, I got one successful return to my feet, a double throw with both returning to within ten feet and one bonafide catch—which I can still feel across the fingers of my left hand.

I had also forgotten exactly how invisible boomerangs can be at twilight when you are watching them against the western sky. That gave me one ‘squealing-like-a-little-girl’ moment when I completely lost sight of both incoming 'rangs. At a time like that, you don't really know what to cover up, so running in circles seems like a good idea. Fortunately for me, they both stalled out and dropped a safe distance away.

But I had forgotten how much fun the goddam things are. I'm frustrated because today is a beautiful fall day, but way too windy for boomerangs. Maybe at twilight...

The Twin Mountain

It's been two months since Madeline and I did our traditional ride to mark the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. What was once an event held every four years is now a quadrennial tradition. We really need to do it annually, but have consistently been "overtaken by events" at that key transition.

Well, of course, one of the events we were overtaken by was our memory of just how fricking uncomfortable the last ride was. Campaigner has a saddle like two cinder blocks covered with roll roofing, and with two long-legged folks on board, there's about one option for where to sit. Strike that; there's about one-and-a-half options but they're divided between the two of you, so that's really three quarters of an option per person.

By the time we reached our apogee, we were both miserable and the most salient memory we both have of the return is coaxing Campaigner to hyperlegal speeds and watching the mileposts tick past as we headed home. I don't think I was ever so happy to get off a bike...okay, there was another time...but that'll be another post.

One of the main attractions for blasting out to the mountains that time of year is grabbing the last of the local peaches before Labor Day draws down the curtain on peach season. We stopped at one of the ancient dusty stands lining the old road, so left behind by the superslab and by people's changing tastes, a lonesome avatar of another era when traveling meant something.

The stand is scabbed together from salvaged lumber and tarpaper, string of bare-bulb droplights casting shadows across the wooden baskets of produce, yellowjackets inspecting and sampling the wares with insouciant impugnity. Prices are tacked up on misspelled signs written on paper bags with magic marker. Full names are rarely used; instead, you can buy cukes and lopes, zukes and maters. We bought a sack of softball-sized peaches: sweet, soft, fragrant and covered in downy fuzz. We each ate one on the spot, drenching ourselves in sticky golden juice, then packed the rest in Campaigner's tankbag.

Of course, a hundred miles rattling around on top of a motorcycle's gas tank is not the best place for a sack of peaches. By the time we unfolded our aching selves at home, the peaches had turned to mush, a soggy, sticky mess melded with fuzz and the pulp of the paper bag, plastered all over the inside of the tankbag. We picked through the ruins and hosed the balance out.

This year's ride was similar in many respects: early blue-plate special breakfast at our favorite diner; chilly to start out but warming up rapidly as the day goes on. But we rode right past the fruit stand we had frequented without realizing it was closed and gone forever. We doubled back just to make sure, and realized how many places that we took for granted were gone, not just in the last four years but in the last few months.

I should also mention this time we were on Beast instead of Campaigner, which makes a whole world of difference. More power, better handling, but mainly a whole lot more comfortable and...more fun. We crossed the Blue Ridge in a serpentine fury, and rolled through the broad valley amid a herd of S2000 enthusiasts. It seemed like we all spoke the same language for a few miles, though in different dialects; at least we were all having similar kinds of fun on the open divided highway with its hundred-mile vistas.

But the highway has limited appeal to accompany its limited access. We slowed abruptly, and leaned into the sharp turn taking us off the beaten path. The backroad northward leaves the upland valley and descends to follow the course of the river for a few miles; then it rises again to skirt the east flank of the mountain, before cutting west, rising gently at first then bolting in a straight line to the ridge with nothing but rocks on the left and air on the right.

This stretch of road, with its unimpeded sightline dead ahead and limited chance of the unexpected inspires me to stand up on the pegs, stretch my legs and open the throttle as wide as I can bear (at least when I don't have a passenger on board). Winding my way up the mountain with the wind surrounding me and flowing over me, I imagine I am as close to flying as I will ever get. The view eastward is spectacular, but the ride itself is the payoff.

We stop briefly at the summit to take in the view, then descend west to the next valley, racing steeply downward and noting the other road deep in the woods directly below us—parallel to the road we are on, but oddly dropping away in the opposite direction. It takes a moment to realize it is our road; where we are and where we are going connected by an unforgiving and nerve-wracking 5-mile-an-hour hairpin turn, strewn with gravel and debris from shoulder to shoulder.

We turn north again on the two-lane road that snakes through this valley. As we lose elevation, the air becomes oppressively hot and still, even as we cleave it at seventy miles an hour. We are ready for a break, and stop briefly for lemonade and conversation at the lone country store on the road. As we continue northward, the broad valley closes in until we have steep wooded hillsides rising up on both sides, and the rocky creek is directly beside the roadway. We round a bend and enter a deep shady grove of hemlocks; the hillsides beneath these trees are rock-strewn talus, with no undergrowth to speak of. It is a dramatic change from the farm fields and deciduous forests we have been riding through up to now.

The cool shade is welcoming. I park Beast on the narrow shoulder, leaving our helmets perched on either mirror. We pick our way from the roadside down the banks of the creek, so evidently scarred by flooding—detritus clinging to tree branches above our heads, ground scoured and fresh trash wedged in unlikely spots.

The creek moves with languor through the smoothed rocks; it is not the pristine crystalline waters of melting snowpack, but the clear tea-colored waters of eastern forests, stained by its passage through leaf litter. The rocks constrict its passage into a deep pool just downstream of where we stand, like a faucet into a bath. The choice is obvious.

Madeline and I both take off our heavy riding gear and pile it on the rocks. Trusting the creek, I wade barefoot over slick polished rocks, and sink into the flowing waters, a self-baptism into a momentary state of grace. The creek supports me, and begins to ever so slowly carry me towards the sea. But I am blocked by the rocky barrier at the outfall of this pool, and remain motionless in place except for the gentle rippling of the water—staring up through the interlaced hemlocks at the cloudless sky framed by the mountains.

We linger in the cool waters until warm sounds good again. Then, dripping wet, we suit up for the return trip. The dampness beneath our riding suits keeps us comfortable for the ride home, and in what seemed like no time, we are back in the world again. The return trip was enough to supplant our recollection of the previous painful sprint homeward, though in all honesty, it's always kind of nice to get out of the saddle after a couple of hundred miles.

We need to not wait four years to do this again—things change too fast. Same time next year?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Rules of the RoadRunner

In case you didn't know, just like Noh and Kabuki, Perry Mason and Law & Order, Roadrunner cartoons have their own rules:

1. The coyote never catches the road runner;

2. The road runner never actively interferes with the coyote's plans;

3. The road runner must stick to the road;

4. Whenever possible, gravity is the coyote's biggest enemy.

From Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist by Chuck Jones (1994).
(By way of The Straight Dope)

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Foggy Dew

As down the glen one Easter morn to a city fair rode I
There Armed lines of marching men in squadrons passed me by
No fife did hum nor battle drum did sound it's dread tatoo
But the Angelus bell o'er the Liffey swell rang out through the foggy dew
Right proudly high over Dublin Town they hung out the flag of war
'Twas better to die 'neath an Irish sky than at Sulva or Sud El Bar
And from the plains of Royal Meath strong men came hurrying through
While Britannia's Huns, with their long range guns sailed in through the foggy dew

'Twas Britannia bade our Wild Geese go that small nations might be free
But their lonely graves are by Sulva's waves or the shore of the Great North Sea
Oh, had they died by Pearse's side or fought with Cathal Brugha
Their names we will keep where the fenians sleep 'neath the shroud of the foggy dew
But the bravest fell, and the requiem bell rang mournfully and clear
For those who died that Eastertide in the springing of the year
And the world did gaze, in deep amaze, at those fearless men, but few
Who bore the fight that freedom's light might shine through the foggy dew

Ah, back through the glen I rode again and my heart with grief was sore
For I parted then with valiant men whom I never shall see more
But to and fro in my dreams I go and I'd kneel and pray for you,
For slavery fled, O glorious dead, when you fell in the foggy dew.

Charles O'Neill, "The Foggy Dew"(c. 1919)
For those of you who might not know, this song comemmorates the Irish Easter Uprising of 1916. I've been listening to a stunning version of it by a local celtic/bluegrass group called Trasna, which despite my best intentions, brings tears to my eyes.
It annoys me that I am so moved by it, because it's songs like this that keep people killing each other long beyond any recollection of original cause or insult. On the other hand, I'm pretty much a dead-on sucker for appeals to Irish emotionalism. This ranks right up there with "Thousands Are Sailing" in my book for helping explain why the Irish are so goddam...Irish.
This for sure will be all over the pubs, come next St. Patrick's Day.

Report from the Hinterlands

I will note, for the record, that at the Regional HOG shindig (that's Harley Owner's Group) the only people dancing at the Octoberfest dinner were the two BMW owners present.

Now, I know that brats come from Milwaukee, and of course beer, but I guess you need the whole germanic bloodline thing to really get into the spirit.

The best part of the evening was the one-man band, who closed his set with—I kid you not—

"How Great Thou Art"
"Amazing Grace"
"Black Magic Woman" and
"Evil Ways"

At least two of those you can dance to.