Nov 18, 2012

Creation Stories

After a long hiatus on this blog, I am back. 

It's been a heck of a year - aging parent's on both sides of the family, moves to accommodate said aging parents, funerals, and trying to settle into a new, stable orbit free of the gravitational pull of my Corporate overlords, etc., etc. It's unclear whether or not equilibrium has been established, but the wobbles seem to be slowing.

What's brought me back is the notion of "creation stories". Not the tedious creationist vs. science debate, but our our personal creation stories.

Of course there are a host of conventional creation stories - whether it's The Six Days that Changed Everything (rest on the 7th), Ymir and the Frost Ogres, or the Big Bang, every culture has a way to explain how we came to be. Lately, those old saws don't interest me as much as our personal creation stories, though.

We all tell personal creation stories whether we realize it or not - these "how we came to be where we are" explanations are the stuff of job interviews and holiday party conversations. I told one of my own here. All of these tales draw on indisputable fact (the day we were born, graduated, got married, had kids, got laid off, etc.) but the threads that tie these facts together are dyed in a bath of personal perception, emotion and rationalizations. The result is not a simple telling of history, but a tale that gives greater explanation and meaning to the whole mess that is our existence - the "why" behind the "what", if you like.

I have been confronted with one such creation story a lot these days - my Mom's explanation of how she came to her current living situation (something I was intimately involved in every step of the way). From my outside perspective, it's pretty straight forward and needed to happen. From her perspective, she moved to assisted living for others, and although she likes certain aspects of it, she makes it clear that this would not have been her choice, but that she is getting used to it. The little detail that her life has changed and the old way was not possible never makes it into the telling.

This used to dry me absolutely ape shit - I was always tempted to want to "correct" certain aspects of the story. The fact of the matter is that I can't correct her story with anymore success than if she were to arm-chair quarterback the trajectory of my life.

While I am not a fan of revisionist history, I am coming to see that although people may have widely different explanations of shared events, that does not mean somebody is wrong. The winds of cause and effect will inevitably blow narratives in as many directions as there are tellers. I think it's better to recognize our personal creation stories for what they are and learn from the teller's version because only that way can we really understand the meaning of major event in other people's lives.

Aug 7, 2012

The Secret to Doing Favors and Moving On

Last week my neighbor-through-the-alley mentioned that she wanted to get her grandson a 20-inch bike to ride around when he came to visit her. She didn't want to spend a lot, but she was willing to spend something. She asked me for some ideas on where to look.

After a short Craig's List search and one phone call, I had lined up a virtually new Novara boys bike listed for $40. We stopped and looked at the bike on the way back from an in-law birthday party; the bike was in almost show-room condition (in fact, the tires still had the whiskers on the side-walls). With no further delay, $40 USD changed hands and the bike came home with us, less than 24 hours after the alley conversation with my neighbor.

The kid now has the bike (and loves it), I got my $40 plus a tip back (with a nice hand-made thank-you card to boot). What's more, the neighbor has told me repeatedly how much she appreciated the help.

Yea for me, I guess.

I mean, it's great to be appreciated and all, but honestly, this was really no big deal. To put this into my cynical perspective, I browse Craig's List regularly, anyway. I know bike brands, so it was very simple to find a decent bike, look at the price, and decide wether or not it was worth chasing. Frankly, all this effusive gratitude kind of left me kind of perplexed.

While I may not be bright, I have finally figured out that confusion is often a hint that there is a lesson to be learned, so I did some ponderin' on this...

Here's the deal:

To my neighbor this was no simple task. She doesn't know bikes and probably is not CL-savvy, so therefore she didn't even know where to begin, except that she didn't want to go to a bike shop and ask questions, which would have helped.

To me this was a lay-up.

People of Earth, this is the best possible situation for doing a favor. The gratitude and benefit will always, always be significantly greater than the effort. Here's why...

Tapping into ANY special skills or knowledge you have, and targeting a beneficiary that could really use the help is powerful; it enables a person to essentially "fall off a log" and have the same positive impact as "moving a mountain" with a lot less pain and suffering.

File that away or discard it as internet trash from a posuer if you prefer.

On an unrelated note, I ditched my MPLS Bike Love account and have seceded from so-called "bike culture" effective this past weekend.

That bold statement doesn't really mean anything. I'll still ride my bike and organize rides. I'll do bike favors and admin Bikebyshooting on Flickr, etc., etc. What's changed is that I no longer have a screen name on that "best of the Twin Cities" website and I won't be yapping about stuff on the forums.

MBL was very helpful when I moved back to MPLS from Los Anchorage and through the difficult times at work, and I am still grateful to Jeremy and the others for making that happen. That said, I've been growing away from that scene for awhile now and it became clear this weekend that the image-consciousness and drama of that scene is a waste of time for me at this point.

If you want me, i'll be here or on the road.

Jun 26, 2012

Rolling Again

Troll Fence
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
True to my word, I am back on the bike, giving riding in circles the old college-try.

Today took me to St. Paul, that fair sister city where the down town is quaint and everyone is home reading the Pioneer Press by 8:00pm. In spite of what anyone may say about St. Paul, I really like that town. They have excellent coffee coolers, don't knock down the old buildings as fast and generally understand what makes a city work (at least as far as I can tell from my saddle).

Conscientious readers will note that the Surly Nice Rack has now been removed from the front end of the LHT. The weight of the rack was too much for the little use it got. Although it looked really bad ass, that rack is now hanging in the garage until needed.

The Ortlieb handlebar bag is much more sensible addition for the style of riding I am doing these days. "Tools, rain gear and other things I "might maybe possibly need but hopefully not" go in the bag at the rear bag, but must-haves like the cell phone, sun glasses and other junk ride up front in the Ortlieb these days. A much more practical set-up for your truly.

Tomorrow promises to be a scorcher, so the plan of operation calls for an early ride to the west with a stop or two to pick up a few photo tags. That way I can check the ride off the to-do list and be home in time to enjoy the oppressive heat and humidity from home rather than the saddle.

In other news, despite our participation in some PedalMN installations, my new gig didn't get much mention in the press on the roll-out (no pun intended). Many thanks to Cycle Twin Cities for the post today to note our involvement in that project.

Stay cool tomorrow and as always, stay frosty.

Jun 24, 2012

Brompton Responds

I got a very polite "thanks but no thanks" from Brompton re: my open letter concerning the attire expected at Brompton races.
Hi Joe,
Thank you for your feedback. The 'English Attire' at our races is a bit of a tradition now and overall very popular. While we do not encourage people to dress up in fancy dress (that is their choice I assure you), we like the idea of everybody racing in a jacket and tie. 
We will take you feedback into consideration for future years and hope to see you at one of our races in future.
Kind regards
Truthfully, I kind of expected either 1.) no response at all, or 2.) this exact response. I certainly didn't expect them to say "gosh, you're right". Occasionally I just seem to find it cathartic to shout into the wind or bark at the moon, depending on the weather and time of day. Of course, it's their event and they can do as they please. I just don't see wearing a coat and tie on a windy, 90 degree day to race a bike.

To each there own and on our merry way we go.

Speaking of going on our merry way, I've not been doing much of that lately. I need to find my camera, hit a few trails and do some two-wheeled explorations. Not having a destination to ride to each day has put a hitch in my riding and I need to figure that out. I've never been to ride in circles - more of a point-a-to-point-b guy, I guess. Nevertheless, I'll be rectifying that situation with the more clement weather we are expecting in the coming week.

In other news, disappointingly, I've had to turn on "comment moderation" because of a spam storm that's been raging over the past few days and doesn't seem to be letting up. Too bad; I don't get a lot of comments, but I don't want to delay any comments that do come in, either.

Jun 6, 2012

Get Together: June 14 at Sea Salt

The bike bloggers of MPLS will be gathering at Sea Salt on Thursday, June 14 around about happy hour to share stories, get reacquainted and talk about those that don't show up.

If you blog for BikeMN, MPLS Bike Alliance, Cycle TC or some other fringe independent blog (like me at the moment) you are warmly invited to join us. Just look for bikey-looking people and we'll make you feel welcome. The pass word is "beers for bloggers".

Thanks Wheeldancer for the nudge on this.

An Open Letter to Brompton

Dear Brompton -

Your bikes are engineering genius!  I love them. They work so well for commuters and regular people who want to ride a bike but don't have room to store a bike.

Why, why, why do you encourage "English attire" in your Brompton championship events? Wouldn't it make more sense to have people show up in their every-day clothes and race it out?  Honestly, the whole costume-cycling thing leaves me cold and I am not participating in the MPLS Brompton event because of the dress code.

Seriously - consider encouraging people to ride in whatever they want to. That's what most Brompton people do. It would be just as much fun, I promise.

Hugs and kisses,

- Joe


I am back from yet another trip to the Ancestral Homeland to conduct some business on behalf of my Mom with carpet purveyors, handymen, attorneys and other such advisors and craftsmen. That all went well enough but I am glad to be home again.

I now have the drive to (and from) the Ancestral Homeland down to a science. I know exactly how long it will take, where to stop for the best coffee, where not to eat, etc. In fact, I predicted my arrival time in MPLS within 3 minutes of the actual arrival time today. Also, the new wheels are giving me almost 31 miles per gallon and the CD changer can power through 6 Cd's which makes books-on-CD a breeze. These are all big improvements over the Mighty Tundra (RIP, old friend).

One of the advantages (and disadvantage)s of driving the same route repeatedly is the that you get really familiar with all the landmarks. The St. Croix River crossing, the big bend in the freeway at Eau Claire, Wisconsin Dells, the Blew Inn, etc. are by now well-worn prayer beads on a string that mark my journeys back and forth. The possibility of a surprise discovery is lost, but the route becomes familiar and knowable.

By far the spookiest landmark on this pilgrimage is a small road-side grave sandwiched between Highway 16 and  railroad tracks between Portage, WI and Wisconsin Dells. I have driven by here many, many times. There is no sign or marker of any sort, other than the fence and two trees, so I am left to speculate on what's going on here. On this particular drive, I have a lot of time to speculate...

My imagination, informed by many, many 60 mile-per-hour visits, leads me to suppose that an old farming couple is buried there. I imagine that the patriarch died first, followed about 10 years later by his spouse. Why tuck them between the highway and the railroad? The family buried them on their original homestead site, which has long since been displaced by eminent domain and razed to make way for highways, railroads and progress. As a toe-hold against the march of time, he family planted a tree over each grave in remembrance, and fenced the site to keep brush mowers away from this sacred site.

Despite the overgrown vegetation, the fence is always freshly painted and well-maintained. This spectacle never fails to haunt me for the rest of the drive.

May 25, 2012

Current Events

Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and as we turn the corner from Spring into summer, I am turning a corner of sorts as well.

After leaving the working world on July 1, 2011 for destinations unknown, I have new business cards on order as I write this...

I am happy to report that I am now "the sales guy" at Bike Fixtation right here in Minnenoplace. It's seemingly the perfect gig. It's the bicycle industry, the position is solutions-oriented, I work with smart creative people, I work from home, and I have flexible hours. We do business all over the place, including countries where English is not the first language. What's not to like?

I was drawn to this position because I like the business concept. We design, build and distribute public bicycle workstands, high security hand pumps and air compressors, and vending machines specific to bicycle emergency needs (inner tubes, patch kits, tire levers, etc.). The business and the position is creative and entrepreneurial, and each inquiry I handle is unique. The products are cost-effective, secure and durable, empowering, "green" and very high quality, so it's easy to sell. The time is right for this concept, too.

After nearly a year, I still have no desire whatsoever to go back to consulting on What I Used To Do. Despite the pay, professional recognition, prestige and the scope of the projects. I am just so burned out on that scene that I can't even contemplate wanting to get back in the business (and yes, I still have a little over a year on my non-compete/non-solicit agreement, Mr. Nameless-Attorney-That-Monitors-My-Activities).

In the meantime, I am going to ride the waves that are coming in and be the best customer service guy in the bike biz. And I plan to have A LOT of fun doing it.

For sure.

May 14, 2012

Project Homeless Connect 2012

I spent the better part of the day today outside the convention center, helping to repair bikes for homeless people. Project Homeless Connect aggregates medical and social service providers a few times per year to  make it easier for people needing these services to get them.

A significant number of homeless and transitional people rely on bicycles for transportation, and they often ride marginally safe bikes, so appending a bike-repair effort on to Homeless Connect is a good idea. I got involved with this last year because a friend organized the bike repair effort and found herself swamped with demand for these services.

This year we were able to apply a lot of lessons learned and it went much better. Upgrades to our set-up this year  included getting about 9 mechanics (including 3 from The Hub Bike Co-Op), more parts and supplies (brake pads, cables, housing, inner tubes, tires, etc.), awnings to provide shade, lunch and a much better in-take process. Kudos to Nickel for figuring this all out and making it happen.

Some of the repairs I did today were truly horrifying. Brake pads worn all the way down to the metal bracket, bikes with no working brakes what-so-ever, tires that should have been taken out of service years ago...

In two instances, I just could not make bikes safe to ride and talked to owners about getting a better ride at Bikes for Change or MMRB, but for the most-part, we got these things much safer and ready to ride. I don't have an official count, but I bet we repaired at least 50 bikes today. This is a really under-served area and more volunteer bike repairs would be a good thing in any city.

The Homeless Connect organizers seemed to really appreciate that we were there, too, which is always nice.

May 4, 2012

Farewell, Advocacy

After lots of effort, considerable thought and reflection, admittedly some frustration, and futther deliberation, I am throwing in the towel on bike advocacy. At least in any kind of leadership capacity - I might still get in on a protest ride or badger some store for better parking, but otherwise I am hanging it up.

Calling it quits.

Cashing it in.

I've been actively engaged in a number of efforts, including

  • Comments and criticism of the Marq2 Project; 
  • Early formative meetings of the group that became the Minneapolis Bike Coalition; 
  • Planning of the RiverLake Greenway; 
  • Planning of the Southern Connector bike boulevard; 
  • Bike parking at 48th and Chicago, and;
  • Probably a few other things that I am forgetting.
None of these have been particularly rewarding but there are some results to report: 
  • Marq2 was a F'ing Gong Show and a real loss for cyclists (that project should be added to the list of URS projects [I-35W Bridge and Sabo Bridge] that screwed Minneapolis). We lost north-south bike lanes in the heart of the MPLS Central Business District while The City was congratulating itself on how "bike friendly" they were. 
  • The Minneapolis Bike Coalition is doing some good things but not in the direction or fashion I was thinking; 
  • RiverLake is in and successful, which is great;
  • The Southern Connector looks like it's going to be built, so that's potentially one for the good guys, and;
  •  Bike parking at 48th and Chicago is a cluster fuck and has been an exercise in wasted time - all of the businesses are for it (as long as it's entirely free, delivered to them effortlessly and in no way compromises existing automobile parking capacity).
Additionally, I've tried to get into a few other areas but never gotten traction. These include:
  • Bike Alliance of Minnesota advocacy committee;
  • Minneapolis Bike Coalition, and;
  • Minneapolis Bike Advisory Committee

My outsider's perception is that BAM is pretty ossified and those seats are... established. The MPLS Bike Advisory Committee had "openings", but they weren't actually all that open - I applied for a ward position, but lost out to a person that has been on this committee for a long time and means to stay that way. The MBC is actively looking for volunteers but the organizational/leadership structure doesn't work for me and I don't see much growth there. That being said, I firmly believe that MBC does good work and I support them in word and deed. I just don't want to be part of their scene.

Here's what I have concluded.

Living in a really strong Bike City is great for a lot of reasons - we have a lot of good bike amenities (which benefit local residents and pedestrians - not just cyclists), we have a lot of very talented and dedicated people that are working to improve those amenities as well. Additionally, we have  base of motivated people willing to volunteer a little time and effort to move things along for those organizations.

What that means, though, is that this particular pond is pretty crowded. It's like trying to get into Science Club at MIT or something. Good luck, Chuck.

Therefore, if one wants to make a difference, it would be economically rational to focus on some other under-served area and not pile-on with the over-served issues (such as bike advocacy). I'll still support MBC projects that make sense, keep active with cycling education by exercising my LCI credential and make a stink with the City when it matters, but otherwise the general cycling advocacy is getting shoved to the back-burning for the foreseeable future.