Welcome to the future!

I spent much of my life learning about a future that is already here.

It started with 1984. When Richard Nixon said (in 1977), “When the President does it, that means it is not illegal”, we were well on our way.

When Ronald Reagan (in the early-mid 1980s) illegally sold missiles to an enemy and used the proceeds to fund a mercenary army to overthrow the government of another country (The Iran-Contra Affair), we took another giant step. Though the law (the Boland Amendment) explicitly forbade these actions, by the Nixon Doctrine they were not illegal. When GW Bush stood before a banner reading “Mission Accomplished” eight years before the end of US combat operations in Iraq (and after only 3% of US casualties), 1984 had clearly arrived.

Image from The Boston Globe

In the Trump Administration, there are daily examples, too numerous to mention even those of the past weekend.

Would Orwell believe it if we told him we actually pay for surveillance cameras and voluntarily share our video feed with the police? That we install devices in our homes so a major corporation can listen to us and sell us stuff?

Prince told us he was going to “party like it’s 1999”. The turn of a millennium seemed like a big deal. It was feared that computers the world over would crash. The power grid would fail. Banks would fail. Programmers worked overtime to patch the millennium bug. The millennium came and went.

Stanley Kubrick taught us about computers that think for themselves. That was going to happen in 2001, with the HAL-9000.

I asked Siri to open the pod bay doors. She replied tersely, “That’s not my department.” When I asked the next day and said please, she said, “Oh, not again.” This time she sounded exasperated. Someone ask Alexa and let me know in the comments how she replies.

The Firesign Theatre took us to The Future Fair in 1971 – “A fair for all and no fair to anybody!”https://ytcropper.com/cropped/lm5ecd8f03aa906. In this future, Artificial Intelligence-equipped computers could address you by name. https://ytcropper.com/cropped/lm5ecd92ba170fe. We are also introduced to hacking. Ask Siri or Alexa, “Why does the porridge bird lay his egg in the air?” I know what Siri says. Tell me what Alexa says.

Fairgoers are asked what they think about the future. One says, “The future’s not here yet.” Well, now it is.

Unclear on the concept

My local paper quoted a salon owner as saying “It is not a nonessential business. I don’t know why they call it that.” Let’s see…a potential consequence of losing access to food is death. A potential consequence of losing access to a hair salon is…grey roots? long hair? I can buy my groceries without coming into physical contact with the grocer. How do you do that to get your hair dyed or cut? Spray paint? A pole saw? I think I see a difference here.

When the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned the “Safer at Home” order and allowed businesses to reopen without restriction, they did it via videoconference. No face-to-face testimony was accepted.

O frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!

You’ve seen Vermont Church on this site before. Here’s where it used to be.
Sandhill cranes look more normal here than in a hospital parking lot as in a recent post.
This is called “The Driftless Area”. While glaciers scoured much of Wisconsin, they missed this region. Ridges and valleys make for a lot of up and down riding.
Ridgetops bring panoramas like this.

High on Bong Road, to the best of our knowledge

A silver lining in this pandemic is rediscovering the joy of wandering alone. Group rides are fun, but start with the irony of driving to a meeting point; and continue with a rigid route. Today I started from my own driveway, with a half-formed plan and two possible routes in mind. I took the third one.

Being farm country, I rode past the American Breeders Service HQ on ABS Bullevard. I rode through the University Experimental Agricultural Station near Arlington (home of Yellow Jersey, possibly the only bike shop with a drive-thru teller’s window; it being in an old bank. If you’re looking for parts for old bikes, this is the place to go – Andy scours the globe for new old stock parts and sells them via the internet. The website looks like it hasn’t been updated since 1990, but it has. He also keeps a nice stock of bikes on hand if you are in the neighborhood.

I was accompanied several times by redwing blackbirds. Were they shooing me from their nesting areas, or just along for the ride? A pheasant crossed the road just in front of me. I slowed for it but it didn’t stop to pose. It reminded me of a vocal warmup my son taught me and his theatre group about a pleasant mother pheasant plucker.

Bong Road is named for Richard Bong, a WWII flying ace from Superior, WI. He earned the Congressional Medal of Honor and shot down more enemy planes than anyone. It has nothing to do with the smoking device whose name is derived from Thai and has existed much longer than Bong Road. It is, however, the highest hill in the area.

By the way – was it two weeks ago that it snowed? Today it was 85 degrees (30 Celsius). Headwind for the last 30 miles home.

To the best of our knowledge

I remember the first time I heard “Fresh Air”, the Terry Gross interview program from Philadelphia. I was in the car for the first time since moving back from Nicaragua. I heard a fascinating interview and sat in a strip mall parking lot to listen to the end.

Terry has a way of asking the right question and actually listening to the answer. Her guests open up in a way I was not used to in the world of canned interviews. The guests in the early days were an engrossing group from all over, not the usual cast of actors pushing their new movie and writers pushing their new book. It seems to have devolved to that somewhat over the years.

But there is a newer program called “To the best of our knowledge” (or “TT Book”). It seems to have the energy of the early Terry Gross years. I heard an interview with one of the people (Larry Brilliant) most responsible for the end of smallpox; yet they barely got to that topic because he was such an interesting person in other ways. They interviewed a mortician in New Jersey, who normally deals with the victims of gang violence, but talked about the stockpiling of COVID-19 bodies. One morning they just talked of the joys of going for a walk down by the lake, as a way to get out of the house during the pandemic. Simple but powerful.


You know how, sometimes on a bike ride, your mind wanders? Some rides, you’re totally tuned into the world around you – the smells, the sights, the sounds. Wow! Listen to those spring peepers! Who knew such tiny animals could make so much sound? I hear a sandhill crane, but where is it? Wow! Way over there! It’s like the sound totally fills the sky! Look at the delicate green of those maple flowers! Hey, look! Those trees are leafing out and it’s a totally different green! Roadside asparagus! Is that an eagle? Why is that redwing blackbird dive-bombing me? Nest nearby? I smell honeysuckle! Where is it? I love the smell of new-mown grass! Is someone burning off a field? I remember the smell of burning leaves in the fall when I was a child. We don’t do that anymore – now they become mulch or compost.

Some rides, you’re totally tuned into your body and how it feels to ride. I’m one with my bike! We are perfectly matched. My legs could spin like this all day. 100 miles? Let’s go for 200! Something’s not right with my left knee…have I noticed that before? Will it go away? Oh yeah. My knee hurt before. I forgot. Feels fine now. Can I force any more air into my lungs? Are they going to burst before I reach the top of this climb? Can my heart beat any faster?

But on days like today, you just drift. Enough of your brain is tuned into riding that you stay safe, but some of it is elsewhere. I wrote of this before, how all my best ideas came when I was 13 years old, riding my bike in the pre-dawn darkness, tossing papers. Today I noticed all of my thoughts drifting to Cycle America. Don’t tell my boss or my wife any of what follows. I was thinking about the 2018 coast to coast ride. Not just the good parts, but about how the soles of my feet burned on endless days out west. I wanted to scream. (Okay, I did scream – just not when anyone was around.) At water stops I took off my shoes, doused my feet, walked around barefoot, and dreaded getting back on the bike. But I did. And I survived the day. And the ride is over. Was the agony that bad? What happens to agony once you’ve lived through it?

I thought about how I considered a coast to coast ride a once in a lifetime adventure. And that I want to do it again. Greg said he promised a 2020 ride but then might retire. I was going to meet them with a case of beer when they passed near here. The 2020 ride was canceled due to COVID-19 and Greg now promises a 2022 ride – and sent me the schedule. I was going to retire in the summer of 2023, after I turned 70. But other things (which are in a draft of a future post) have me wondering if I’ll make it that long. And this is only a year earlier. I spent 35 miles thinking about the ride – remembering and planning. (What did I bring last time that I wouldn’t bring again? What didn’t I bring that I should have; or what do I have now that I didn’t have then? Will any of the 2018 riders be back? Maybe a who’s who of prior years. Will I blog again, or just go out for a beer with the others after the day’s ride instead of sitting and writing. If I take pictures, will they be totally different? Will I need to buy some iCloud space?… ) At the end of the ride, the miles had flown by, and now I was left to think about what I had just spent the evening thinking about…

They even hang out in town now

And this is the first post in a long time that is going up right away, with no time to edit or think about whether I really want to post it.

In praise of keeping stuff

I spent the afternoon reading multiple issues of Bicycling magazine. Why? As a member of the League of American Bicyclists, a subscription is included. It is a cold and rainy day. They were piling up next to my bed and it was time to clean up the pile. This morning I finished the book I was reading.

What did I learn? You need new stuff. The latest and greatest bike is way better than the bike you ride. Your clothes are outmoded. Short socks are out. Tall socks are in. Mostly I was reminded that magazines aren’t supported by subscriptions as much as by advertisers. Advertisers sell stuff. Therefore, magazines exist mostly to sell more stuff.

Over the years I learned that steel bikes were outmoded and everyone was riding aluminum…then titanium…then carbon fiber…and then I learned that “steel is real” and everyone should go out and buy a steel bike to go along with their fixie, areo bike, climbing bike, cyclocross bike, gravel bike, downhill bike, cross-country bike, trail bike, cargo bike, and e-bike. I’m sure I left out a couple of market segments, especially in the mountain bike world. To make it weirder, they started “Eroica” rides in Europe that require old bikes; old enough to have brake cables that route out the tops of the brake levers so you see a big loop of cable. That ended some time in the mid-1980s. In case you don’t have a bike that old, you can now buy replicas – brand new copies of 1985 technology. (So my bikes are just old, not classic. Just to be clear: the weird part, in my mind, is buying a brand-new replica of a 1985 bike; not riding an old bike.)

I’ll admit that there have been some useful changes in bike technology since I bought my Motobecane in 1974. And some of the new stuff I eschewed when I bought the Davidson in 1990 turned out to be good ideas. More gears are useful. Toe clips and straps with cleated shoes were way better than what came before, but modern pedal and cleat combinations are way better still. While I was skeptical of indexed shifting when it arrived on the scene (I know how to shift), it seems to have stuck around. Maybe electronic shifting will actually be useful (but I know how to shift). I remember the first wireless electronic shifting system. It didn’t last long. I don’t have any trouble reaching my downtube to shift, so those combination brake-and-shift levers seemed like just another way to take my money. But, by golly, I found it really helpful on the coast-to-coast ride to be able to shift without moving my hands. I realized I spent more time in the optimal gear (and it helped to have more of them to choose from). So I’m not a total Luddite, just slow.

I learned from household organizers that you should get rid of any possession that doesn’t bring you joy. Then, I suppose, you’re supposed to buy some new stuff that does. But when you talk about being green, the first step is not to buy the latest “green” product. The first step is to keep using what you have. So buy stuff that will last. Buy stuff that is of high enough quality that you won’t need to throw it away in a few years. To throw your old shit in the landfill and replace it with new “green” shit is not a net gain for the planet; just a net gain for the companies that make and sell stuff.

My dad bristled at the cost of down parkas when he took me shopping (the only time he ever did that) for my 18th birthday. We looked at cheap stuff. At the end of the day (I mean that literally), he bought the North Face parka I wanted. He paid a lot of money, but decided it was worth it. Forty nine years later I still have that parka. The cuffs are a little frayed. Granted, I only wear it when it’s really cold. It also gives me one of the few good memories I have of my dad. I bought a new Sierra Designs down vest last year. I wrote to them to complain that my old vest was leaking down and it was only 40 years old. I told them I expected this vest to last the rest of my life. I just spent too much money on a new jacket. But I bought it from the guy who made my winter bike mittens. They also cost a lot. But when it is -25 degrees, I don’t think about how much they cost. I think about the fact that my hands are warm. I plan to wear them for many more years.

I bought a tent in the 1970s. In the ’80s, the waterproof coating on the floor began to peel. I took it to the factory in Berkeley (yes, such things were made in the US in my lifetime – I’m that old). They told me that shouldn’t happen and gave me a new tent. Several years later a cow got out of its enclosure and trampled the tent, breaking a pole. Being in Nicaragua at the time, I used the repair sleeve to keep the pole together for the next month or so. Returning to the US, I took the pole to the factory to buy a replacement. He asked the circumstances of the breakage, handed me a new pole and a warranty receipt with “Contra cattle” listed as the reason for the free warranty replacement.