Bless your own damn bike.

This Sunday should be The Blessing of the Bikes at Vermont Lutheran Church. The minister is supposed to bless our bikes and we’re supposed to eat a pancake breakfast that can’t be beat, with the first taste of this year’s maple syrup, and mediocre church basement coffee.

Vermont Church

But there are no group rides, and there are no church basement breakfasts, and there are no crowds of bicyclists having their bikes blessed whether they believe in such things or not, because it’s a beautiful day for a bike ride and the road up to the church is great and the minister is a funny guy and the church members lay out a great spread.

And tonight should have been the first Wednesday Night Potluck of the season, which means Dave should have made his famous asparagus and I should have baked the first rhubarb pie of the season and we should have sat by the stone wall, sipping a beer and watching the sun set over my favorite stretch of road as we watch the last riders struggle up the hill on County F, our adopted highway.

But instead it was a solo ride, and I climbed that hill into a 20 mph wind with no leaves yet to block the wind or mar the view of the barren fields. And I got home just ahead of the rain and I drank wine with takeout Laotian food instead of beer at a picnic.

And it’s all because of this damn virus. And our State Supreme Court, in its Infinite Wisdom (and infinite is no different from nothing), has decided that the Safer at Home order is null and void, that the Director of Health and Human Services has no authority, and the state and all of its businesses are henceforth allowed to return to their pre-COVID state effective immediately, and we can gather in crowds as big as we want, and share that virus freely, because we are Americans and we are Free, and they trust business owners to Do the Right Thing because we know that business has our Best Interests at heart because what’s good for General Motors is what’s good for America and the god of quarterly profits must be appeased by human sacrifice and Give Me Liberty or Give Me a Virus that doesn’t really cause any symptoms and we only have 15 cases and that’ll be down to zero in a few days and when spring comes it will miraculously disappear and what’s a hundred thousand or so deaths among friends and we don’t need no stinkin’ rules.

The court ruled that the order wasn’t an order, it was a rule, and an unconstitutional rule at that; because this is Wisconsin and out constitution says we are “endowed with certain inalienable rights, and among those rights are the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of drunkenness in a crowded bar.” So folks bellied up to the bar in large numbers within hours and you can’t drink beer with a mask on so of course no one wore masks. I shouldn’t complain because crossing county lines to get drunk in bars is what makes my livelihood. I should be in those bars, making sure everybody has their keys and that they understand that the faster they drive the less their chances of getting caught by the cops for drunk driving. The trauma unit has been quiet the past two months.

But the county I live in decided to pass its own rule within hours, so we still have safeguards here. They just end at the county line, so like in the old movies where the bad guy just has to cross the county line to escape the cops, this virus just has to escape this county and is then free to wreak havoc but that’s okay because it’s all China’s fault so it doesn’t matter if we’re irresponsible because it’s all China’s fault.

Crackpot conspiracy theory

“Crackpot conspiracy theory” is not a redundancy. Granted, we have been exposed to a lot of crackpot conspiracy theories lately, but that does not mean that all conspiracy theories are crackpot.

It is clear that COINTELPRO was a conspiracy to undermine and discredit the left in general and African-American movements in particular. It is no mere theory that the FBI and the Chicago police, at the very least, conspired to murder Fred Hampton in December of 1968.

The recent spate of right-wing conspiracy theories is egregiously crackpot on its face. By definition the ruling class is conservative. Conserving its power and preserving the status quo are what it does. As Mayor Richard Dailey famously told us in 1968: “The police aren’t here to create disorder; the police are here to preserve disorder.” To think there is a Deep State conspiracy to foment radical change is nonsensical. (I also find it humorous that the “Deep State” players seem to be the dedicated public servants who work long-term in government jobs for worse wages than in the private sector. Those opposed to the “Deep State” are the opportunist political appointees who take short-term jobs in order to consolidate their power and return or advance to lucrative private-sector positions.)

So sit back, relax, and enjoy this crackpot conspiracy theory. Since the appearance of COVID-19, among the first drastic actions was to close down a lot of small, locally owned businesses – those with the least accumulated capital and the least ability to weather an economic storm. Business moved from Main Street to the internet even more than it already had. Now, even some internet businesses are shutting down (Sierra Trading Post among them), citing the need for deep cleaning of their warehouses and fear of spreading the disease among their workers. Who is still open for business? Amazon.

Where is one of the largest accumulations of capital in the world? Amazon. Who has been in the forefront of automating warehouse operations? Amazon. What if COVID-19 were a covert plan to consolidate business even further and to move toward full warehouse automation? Amazon can afford the capital expenditure for full automation. It could eliminate jobs under the guise of protecting warehouse workers and saving the economy from collapse. What about delivery? What if we were to fast-track approval of autonomous delivery vehicles? Amazon could bypass the normal shipping chain, with its unionized workforce, and deliver via self-driving vehicles and drones -again to save the economy from collapse. We would be left with a company owned by a multi-billionaire, the largest retailer (and one of the largest companies, period) in the world, employing almost no one after driving out of business countless other companies employing many.

I just made this all up on a bike ride. The trouble with crackpot conspiracy theories is when they sound believable.

Heigh Ho

Ironically, I have been called back to work on the same day that the Governor issued a stay-at-home (“safer at home”) order. I shocked everyone at work by showing up in scrubs. I had to field more questions about that than about the fact that I was out sick for >2 weeks for the first time ever. I have never before worn scrubs to work. After wearing a uniform as a plumber, I wanted to wear my own clothes for this career. That just changed. I will have a “clean” and a “dirty” zip close plastic bag to carry clothes to and from work. I’ll change there every day and have a separate laundry load for work clothes – just like the old days! We all look like space creatures with face shields over masks. To preserve masks (which can’t be cleaned) we cover them with a plastic face shield (which can).

Our pharmacy is now making and packaging hand sanitizer due to the shortage of the commercial product. A local distillery is selling a special 140 proof vodka as a hand sanitizer. More businesses closed today. The good news is that, among essential allowed activities, is outdoor exercise. (Photo by Jason Rice/WMTV)

Words to live by

From Dane County (WI) Executive Joe Parisi: “(A)s long as we’re looking out for one another, we will all have someone looking out for us.”

From Miami Herald writer Leonard Pitts: “the GOP is a hate group – and Trump its Grand Wizard.”

And, of course, this exchange (in case the previous statement needed clarifying):
Peter Alexander, White House correspondent at NBC News: “What do you say to Americans, who are watching you right now, who are scared?”
Donald Trump: “I say that you’re a terrible reporter. That’s what I say. I think it’s a very nasty question and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people.”
He could have appeared as the calm father figure, here to reassure us. He could have said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He could have lied and told us he had the situation well in hand. (There are many video compilations of his various statements over the past two months to make that falsehood obvious.) But no, true to form, he lashed out and attacked the questioner. He attacked the question itself, and he chose not to answer.

McDonald’s spoke out in favor of new proposed federal legislation mandating paid sick leave during the pandemic. Interestingly, the bill applies only to those who employ between 50 and 500 people. Yes, your neighborhood restaurant might be required to provide paid sick leave, but McDonald’s will not. WordPress is acting up tonight and the embedded YouTube video above may or may not work. (It was working yesterday). If it is flashing and making you dizzy (as it is as I do this final edit), try this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oPbpE5EIgc&t=13s

“After food and shelter, there is no greater need or necessity than the ability to protect oneself and one’s loved ones,” the Keystone Shooting Center wrote. Gun stores are being allowed to remain open in several states that have ordered all “non-essential” businesses to close. It seems that being able to guard one’s stash of toilet paper is essential. My source is not the Onion, but the Washington Examiner and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Adopt-a-Highway

It was a slow start for the first few hundred meters, with nothing much but cigarette butts. Business started to pick up and Bud Light made a strong initial showing before being overtaken by Busch Light to hold on to its overall championship. To be fair, both are Anheuser-Busch products, so they retain the title of the most popular brand among litterbugs. Hard seltzer products made a strong showing. Tobacco products showed gains, with snuff tins, empty cigarette packs, and a vaping device in addition to the numerous butts.

Folks made a strong effort to sully a roadside stream, with an unprecedented number of beer cans clearing the guardrails on both sides and reaching the stream banks. The day set records for weight and volume, with a lot of cardboard in the mix. We picked up 25 pounds of trash, filling two large bags to overflowing. Radical social distancing, walking alone on a rural highway with almost no traffic. We saw one family out for a walk and one person shooting hoops in his driveway.

Paying your way

I often see the argument that bicyclists use the streets for free, while motorists pay for them. The Department of Transportation of Madison, WI just published a report with a few pertinent facts.

Perception that “bicyclists don’t pay their way”

  • Most bicycling takes place on local streets and roads that are primarily paid for through property taxes and other general local taxes. [ed note: i.e. not gasoline taxes]
  • Bicycling inflicts virtually no damage on roads and streets compared with automobiles and trucks.
  • A 200-pound bicyclist with a 50-pound bike will impose approximately 1/65,000th the roadway damage of a 4,000 pound car.
    * Information from “Who Pays for Roads?” Published by U.S. PIRG Education Fund (2015)
  • Motor vehicle use imposes costs on the environment and public health in the form of air pollution, noise, injuries and damage from crashes, and a host of other rarely quantified costs. These costs are borne by all of society. [Ed note: One of those non-quantified costs could be the public health cost of chronic conditions exacerbated by a lack of exercise.]
  • A 2009 analysis by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute estimated that the external cost of a mile of bicycling was less than a penny, while the cost imposed by a mile of walking was 0.2 cents—compared with external costs of driving of more than 29 cents per mile.
    * Entire bulleted list from https://madison.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=8153596&GUID=D5225649-E313-4285-B94F-85E1D72066D3

I’ve also seen the justification that, since many bicyclists also drive cars, we are already paying our way by paying gas taxes when we drive. I guess one could argue that every mile we ride is “stealing” because we aren’t paying gas tax for those miles. One could argue that, but one would be wrong. See the list above.

What I haven’t seen in print before is an examination of toll roads. The state to the south of here has many highways on which vehicle tolls are collected. Here there has been fierce opposition to the notion of toll roads. I have not seen fierce opposition to the bike trails that require a toll, either in the form of a day use fee or an annual permit. Around here, some of those are trails used heavily for commuting, not just recreation. Are those not toll roads? Are toll roads okay for bikes but not for cars and trucks?

Speaking of paying your way…

Where does your money go? Do you pay annual dues to AAA? Do you think of it as a form of insurance for emergency road service? It may be that, but it also pays for advocacy on behalf of cars and drivers. If you ride a bike, you may want to match that/offset that with a membership to the League of American Bicyclists. If you have a state organization, like the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, toss a little more their way. Do you ride with a local club but don’t bother to pay dues because you don’t think you ride with them enough? Pay your dues. You may have a local or regional advocacy organization, or one that advocates for the kind of riding you do. If you want to advocate for bicycling, spend at least as much money there as you spend for cars.

You can also help pay your way via Adopt-a-Highway programs, in which you clean up roadside trash tossed there by other vehicle users. When spring arrives, we’ll be announcing our next cleanup near Brigham Park. Other bike groups also have programs (including the folks behind the Horribly Hilly Hundreds and the Death Ride). You can probably find (or start) one near you.

McCoy Tyner 1938-2020

I can’t end this post without a shoutout to one of the greats – pianist MyCoy Tyner, who played in the seminal early 1960s quartet of John Coltrane (during the time he recorded “A Love Supreme” and “My Favorite Things”), fronted his own bands, and worked with many of the other greats of the last 60 years. When looking for one of his solo works from the early 70s, I came across this instead:

Tyner died on March 6, 2020.

Epic Ride

I missed a turn at Uranus and ended up in Deep Space. To get to Deep Space, I think I went down four levels of escalators. Worse yet, I also went Through the Looking Glass.

I don’t often ride 35 miles for lunch, but this was a special occasion; a tour of Epic Systems and lunch with my son. Deep Space is the 11,000 seat auditorium that they use for staff meetings and trainings. It looks like a small mound in a prairie from the surface. It is deep underground.

The campus is whimsically arranged in thematic areas. One building contains a tiny room with equally tiny furniture, but a large bottle that says “Drink Me”. Another building is protected by a moat, guarded by a three-headed serpent. There are upside-down staircases, and furniture on the ceilings. As far as I could tell, none of the staircases move when you’re on them, taking you somewhere else.

Despite there being about 10,000 people working there, you see no cars. Almost all of the parking is underground. Plantings cover the parking garages. Footpaths get you around. There is a fleet of bikes if you have a long way to go. A now-closed local restaurant had a carousel out front. That carousel has been reassembled at Epic.

We saw the film The War at Home on the 40th anniversary of its world premiere (which we also saw). Co-director Glenn Silber spoke at the showing, as he did 40 years ago. He hasn’t changed a bit (though he had a baseball cap on – maybe there’s no hair under that cap). The film chronicles the effects of the Vietnam War in one US city. It has been newly restored and released on DVD. See it if you can.

Speaking of homecomings, we also saw Tracy Nelson along with Corky Siegel (formerly of the Siegel-Schwall Band), a string quartet, and a tabla player. But here she is with another Nelson (no relation, though similar in that she left San Francisco for Nashville and he left Nashville for Austin – both risky career moves). After 50 years, her voice still gives us chills.

We cleaned our adopted highway Sunday.


Total Haul: 11 pounds
Category Winner: light beers
Brand Winner: Anheuser Busch
Product Winner: Busch Light
Nostalgia Winner: Lucky Strike cigarette pack
Road kill: One deer, one pheasant (we left those behind)
Category, brand, and product were all repeat winners. If this keeps up, we may have to retire those categories. On a ride in another county the next day, we noticed a lot of Busch Light cans. This may be the favorite of litterers throughout the area.


Half-fast Fall Classic

We had our end-of-season Blue Spoon to Little Village ride today. For those of you who insist on data: breakfast was pancakes with maple syrup, two eggs over easy, and coffee. One rider was late, so we added a morning bun with a second cup of coffee so he didn’t have to eat alone. Selfless, aren’t we? Lunch was a grilled chicken sandwich (with Swiss, bacon, and Dijon mayo) with chips and pico de gallo, accompanied by an Australian Shiraz. We were too full for the bourbon pumpkin cheesecake, so had an espresso. Post-ride was a nitrogen-infused smoked Scottish Ale with a flatbread pizza (pesto, heirloom tomatoes, pine nuts, fresh mozzarella, with a Balsamic vinegar drizzle). Blue Spoon is no longer open after 3 PM, so we had to move down the road to Vintage Brewing for post-ride refreshments.

Oh yeah, we also rode. We rode fast enough to not fall over and slow enough to obey speed limits. It stayed chilly (33-50 degrees F, or 0-10 C) but the sun shone all day. Traditionally, this is our last group ride of the season. After this, it’s mostly commuting and errands until the New Year ride.

“It was a fine fall morning; early and cold and sweet as cider. It was one of the prettiest times of year at one of the  prettiest times of the day…” (Ken Kesey, Little Tricker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear)

One of our members is in Portugal and sent a few pictures:

I bet he’s sorry he missed the ride!