Sunday, May 31, 2009

go big on a bike

After doing domestic-related chores 'round here, I got the crazy idea to hop on my bike and ride out to Vienna. She's dog-sitting, and I thought it'd be a nice ride with some sunny skies overhead.

Everyone else had the same idea. Lucky for me, we were all going the same speed this afternoon. All the weekend warriors had hit the trail and headed home before lunchtime. I didn't have to dodge too many folks, hollering out, "On the left!" as I passed.

Today was test day also for a pair of bike shorts. No, I wasn't rocking spandex as outerwear. This was a pair of padded bike shorts meant to be worn as underwear. I looked normal on my old-school Fuji road bike, padded all the while. Perfect for my type of riding. Weekend warrior style. Not saddle sore yet. We'll see how things feel tomorrow.

The ride was uneventful. I knocked out the 13 1/2 miles one way in a shade over an hour. My legs were tired. We took a nice long break, visited with her brother, niece and sister-in-law, ate dinner, and I headed back with not enough daylight to spare. I found my way to the Metro and hopped on. Haven't gotten off the couch since. Wound up being close to 20 miles.

Climbing forecast tomorrow: unknown, unloved, and undiscovered. Good times, I hope.

Friday, May 29, 2009

the indomitable human spirit

It's been a while since I've blogged about either books or movies. Usually, I'm comparing the book version of something to the film version. This edition will not follow that modus operandi. This one will be a little more like those silly essays we used to write in high school and college, comparing seemingly disparate works to one another. In college, I compared a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story to one by Edgar Allan Poe and then tied that symbolism to Biblical representations of water. It was deep, but quite a stretch. Maybe I'll hunt that down and share it with you this weekend.

Anyhow. On to the analysis. In this corner, wearing Crip blue and throwing up gang signs, we have Stanley Tookie Williams' Blue Rage, Black Redemption. And in the other corner, we have the brilliant Cool Hand Luke, starring Paul Newman.

The mere comparison of these two works must start with a description of the characters. The former, Tookie, is best-known for being a co-founder of the Crips. In his two-part memoir, he rails against his past and what eventually led him to death row. The missteps that led him to prison are many, though until he landed at San Quentin, he had never before been incarcerated. He was a larger than life figure in South Central LA during his lifetime, and that spirit carried over into his life in prison. He refused to submit to the prison culture, maintained his ethics, and turned over a new leaf. He wrote an 8-part children's book series to prevent youth from going down his same stretch of road. His turnaround was so drastic, there was a film made about his prison redemption, and he was repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Prize.

The latter was Luke, a fictitious character, but one with an antiestablishment persona just the same. His refusal to submit to the rules laid out by the sadistic warden at the work camp led to beatings, harder labor, nights spent "in the box"...and earning the respect of all his fellow inmates. He fought the system up until the very end, playing his part with that trademark Newman grin. He wasn't locked up for murder, but his long trial at the work camp tested his mettle just the same.

Tookie & Luke both refused to let their spirits be broken by an inhospitable imprisonment. Tookie stepped into the realm of peacemaker while in prison, refusing to participate as the gang hooligan that took him there. He brokered truces between Bloods & Crips, which few on the streets have even tried, much less succeeded with. All the while, he faced a prison bureaucracy that was out to get him, much like the sadistic warden in Cool Hand Luke. Both spirits of these men were indomitable, unable to be broken. Despite crueler than cruel circumstances, they managed to hold their heads high until the very end.

Queue this movie, check out this book. I don't think you'll be disappointed by either.

Friday, May 22, 2009

middle names

A short one for your Friday enjoyment.

We were starting capital letters in cursive with the capital A & C. I realized soon after the lesson began that few of the students would be able to use either letter to write their names. No matter. Turns out it helped one first name and one last. Then the middle names come into play.

One girl pipes up, "My middle name's Ann. Now I can spell it!"

A look of recognition flashes in another's eyes, as if to say, "Me too!"

I add to the chorus, "My mom's middle name is Ann as well!"

Not to be outdone, one of my quiet boys put the class in stitches, "My middle name's Ann, too!"

About half the class heard him and about died laughing. I didn't repeat it for the ones that missed it; their fault for not paying attention. Good stuff. I'd say better than my bathroom sneaker last year. It's that time of year.

Eighteen left, not that I'm counting...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

fast food nation

Here it is, my short and sweet review of Fast Food Nation. If you're unaware of what the book is, it's an interesting take on the fast food industry and what it has meant to American consumers, even those of us who choose not to eat at such establishments. It has quite a bit of history on it, which was fascinating and disturbing at once. The business acumen and lack of ethics on the part of most of the magnates of the industry brought us what we know today. A McDonald's or 10 in every city, Ronald McDonald being second to Santa Claus in recognition, and the golden arches being one of the most recognizable corporate symbols in the world.

I can't say I'm going to be a vegetarian after reading this book. I don't have the willpower or the nutrition knowledge to make a go at it. Too much of my cooking skill involves grilling or roasting or frying. Pasta wouldn't cut it.

Some odd facts. Ray Kroc bought out the McDonald's brothers for a paltry $3ish million. His empire is clearly worth billions. Most franchisees go into debilitating debt to open a restaurant. There's a reason why immigrants staff the lowest levels of the American workforce; even managers in this industry make chump change and work lawyer-like hours. Ninety percent of children in this country visit a McDonald's every month. Why? Probably because they are the largest private operator of playgrounds in the country. A McDonald's hamburger is healthier than McNuggets.

Someone needs to import In-N-Out Burgers from California to the District. Their food is better quality, they pay their employees living wages, and their management style is ethical. Five Guys wasn't mentioned, but judging by the taste of their food, I bet they're in the same league. So what's this mean for Mr. J? As with all my reading on Wal-Mart, I'm avoiding fast food joints from now on. I haven't set foot in a Wal-Mart in almost two years, and I don't plan on starting.

My fast food corporation boycott!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

a night of amazing

I must expand upon what last night became. The weather up here has been less than perfect. As Tim put it, "We plan to climb or do other things when the weather's supposed to be good, and it's not. When we think the weather's going to be bad, we don't plan anything, and it turns out marvelous."

Or something like that. Anyhow, yesterday was one of those days. Forecasted rain all day long. Ruined my plans to ride my bike around the city and photosafari. Spent the day on a long overdue cleaning of the apartment. I must say, it looks pretty good. By the time I finished, the rain started. Go figure.

I'd wanted to go play with my new(ish) tripod and take some night shots of the monuments. With the rain, I didn't think that was going to be much fun. Turns out, the weather gods allowed me a little more freedom than originally expected.

First off, decided to go to Old Town. For you non-local readers, Old Town is a neighborhood in Alexandria. There's shops and food and bars and lots of people. If you make it as far as the waterfront, there's street performers and sidewalk musicians and boats and sketch artists of all stripes. It's generally a pretty good time in good weather.

So, the camera didn't mount right to the tripod shoe, so I left it in the car. Left me with a little more room for creativity on how to steady the camera for my pictures. I'm going to sort through them shortly. Look for them over on the photo blog this week. Successful shooting evening. I hope.

Amazing number one. I got to tour a pirate ship. Ok, so there wasn't a Jolly Roger flying on it's yard arms, nor was there an eye patch in sight, but I got to talk like a pirate for the rest of the evening. It wasn't even Talk Like a Pirate Day. Good times.

Amazing number two. It started pouring. Not so much fun, but we had to run for cover. A lot more fun in warm weather rain than cold. In the sheltered cove we found, there was a quartet called King Street Bluegrass playing, you guessed it, bluegrass music. Second song in, a little ditty by Old Crow Medicine Show. I take a few pictures of the crowd and the band. The fiddler asked me to email them to him whenever I get through them. Alright then!

Amazing number three & four. There's a little joint at the corner of King St. and Washington called Eamonn's Dublin Chipper. 'Twas a lovely night for a Guinness.

And a deep-fried Milky Way bar rolled in cinnamon sugar. It's a good thing that I don't live close to that place. I'd probably eat those far more often than the Surgeon General would advise. Which is to say more often than once. It was incredible. Kinda like the rest of the night.

Wagon Wheel - Old Crow Medicine Show

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

la nostra famiglia

Trying to learn how to get good shots of people. Here's a few from my NYC weekend earlier this month. Whatcha think?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

roller coasters

Life is a funny roller coaster. Unlike a roller coaster, the dips are less fun and more terrifying because we often can't see where the track levels out. The ride up isn't the exciting part, the opposite of life as well. That's the most excruciatingly boring part, until finally at the precipice, the car speeds up and gives you a shot of adrenaline.

I suppose an optimist would look at life's roller coaster as such, with a better outlook on the overall picture. A pessimist would view the ride more like an actual roller coaster for someone that doesn't like to ride them. On the way up, wondering when the bottom will fall out; back down again, heart racing, terrified of the outcome. The optimist will take it all in stride. Enjoy the ride up, not worried about the top. Look ahead on the way down, knowing it's going to level out eventually so you can catch your breath.

Where does this metaphor come from? Life lately has been a roller coaster ride. From the dizzying heights of my roller coaster ride, I thought life couldn't get much better. Friends at work, new friends to climb with, blissful relationship. Then the stresses piled on and on. Destaffed. Traumatic spondylithiosis. Migraines. Hunting for a new apartment.

Just like that, the cars leveled off at the bottom of the hill, took a barrel roll, and began their climb back up to normal. New job transfer accomplished, apartment settled for next year, climbing to destress, taking time to breathe and snap some photos. Give and take. It's a wonderful ride.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

back in time

She and I show up to the 9:30 Club last night. The email said get there at 6:30. Line's down the block. Doors were at 6:30; show at 7. Free tickets are confusing.

In stark contrast to the last time we went to this venue, we were in the door long before the show started. Good thing, too, since we both realized we were pretty hungry at that point. Decent food was had, an iced coffee to wake me up. As far as unexpected club food went, it was pretty tasty. The coffee was proper brew, not that overly strong Starbucrap.

Back to the music. We wandered upstairs and found a good spot with some swinging room. We were under the impression that there was an opening band; for $30 ticket prices, it only made sense. Nope. The band comes out onstage: generic rock band-looking guitar picker & drummer, Motown-esque backup dancers, and a blind pianist older than Ray Charles. Sharon Jones struts out on stage shortly thereafter and launches into her set.

The music was great. The crowd was into it. The vibe permeated your bones and made you want to dance. We swung and spun, as the mood fit the gospel and soul and funk and amazing music coming from Ms. Jones and her backups The Dap Kings.. The crowd below undulated to the music, much like the waves mimicked by last weekend's dance performance in NYC. The he-done-me-wrong blues songs mixed in also, making for a roller coaster ride of tempos throughout the show.

The problem with an early show at 9:30 Club is they tend to be a little shorter, with no chance for an encore. 'Twas the case last night. After an hour, she thanked us for coming, the house lights came on, and the crew started setting up for Lady Sovereign's later show. Oh well; it was great while it lasted!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

smug factor

I've been kicking this idea around in my brain since I got back from California. She and I rented a Toyota Prius while we were out there. There was a credit for renting one from the San Francisco Airport, and we figured that the difference in price would balance out with the better gas mileage. Total damage for the fuel, about $30. Total mileage, over 600 miles in a week. Two tanks or so in the subcompact we were supposed to get would've surpassed that total. Add the extra pep in the mountains, and it turned into not a bad choice.

I can't quite figure out how the Prius became so trendy. It's not particularly good looking. Its curious construction created blind spots that could hide SUVs. Even when checking blind spots, body panels blocked views. Starting it was a crapshoot, with a very finicky ignition system that required four simultaneous steps to get that electric motor to hum. The only thing I can figure is the smug factor.

Celebrities love them. Toyota charges quite a premium for them. People that drive them love them, despite all these shortcomings. If you're not sure why, check out Matt Stone & Trey Parker's thoughts via South Park's "Smug Alert" episode. It's classic South Park: contrastingly irreverent and poignant with a touch of revulsion garnish on the side.

I'll hold out for a decent looking car that gets better mileage than what I've got now. I've gotten a slight uptick in efficiency and a good cut out of my gas bill this year. Next year, who knows what'll shake out? I need to make friends with a coworker early in the year to carpool. That'll make driving to work fun again. I'm gonna miss you, Casey!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

what i would've done

Were my life circumstances slightly altered, I may have handled the last two weeks entirely differently. Without my leaning post to keep me upright and sunny side up, I might've retreated back into my introverted cave. I might've reverted to old habits. I might've left it all behind again, packed up this time and headed to Colorado or some other point out west. Climbing and snowboarding and dirtbagging sounded pretty good. I'm sure I'd get sick of it pretty quickly. I need to feel grounded. Maybe my wanderlust is fading.

Here's to a new start and putting down roots. I hope the county'll let me stay wherever I land for longer than two years. I don't yet know why my purpose at this school was limited to two years' time. Maybe in several years, it will become more apparent. I hope I can maintain contact with some of these students. This year has been pretty spectacular, and I really feel connected to this class. They know me, and I feel like I know them. It hasn't happened for a few years, that's for sure.

I hope I find it again wherever this traveling teaching show lands next.

Friday, May 1, 2009

the hits just keep on coming

April went out with a bang. April 30 might go down as the most comically awful day I've had in a long while. If I weren't so exhausted by the end of it, I might've been laughing all night.

I walked out of my building yesterday morning. The strap broke on my climbing bag immediately. I should've just turned right around and gone back to bed. The sky had a certain forboding tone to it. It felt like Groundhog Day, minus Bill Murray and "I've Got You Babe" on Punxatawney radio.

The rest of the day went pretty smoothly. Jobs were posted for next year, so I spent the afternoon poring over those, hoping to find a second or third grade position for next year. Hopefully, I can shorten my commute considerably and make this change a little greener!

After a good session at the gym, I punctuated the day with a ridiculous fall onto my head off a V7. I'm making progress; I just need to get it fresh.

Pulling out of the gym, I felt a whap-whap-whap coming from my front passenger tire. Sounded flat. I pulled over and found a huge chunk of steel sticking out of the tread. I hoped for the best and limped on down the road to the gas station. Sure enough, it flew out before I got there and was riding the rim in less than a block.

Flat tire, no big deal, right? I've changed many in my days. First one, new car, no sweat.


One, no tire iron to loosen the lugs. Two, jack rusted to the point of being useless. Three, spare tire flat. Four, when my buddy Rob pulled in to help me out, my car was too low for his jack. We improvised and got it done. It was such an ordeal, I couldn't help but laugh. What else could I do?

Oh yeah, pack for NYC and sleep...