Super Spreader Saturday/Roxbury Ride

The first home football game of the season. 80,000 maskless and screaming fans packed together. It’s foggy, so little airflow. What you exhale, I inhale. Once the air gets hot enough, it will rise out of the stadium. Since the air is already saturated with moisture, the droplets will be left behind. The good news is that 90% of the university community has been vaccinated. The bad news is that the university community makes up less than ½ of the audience.

These were my thoughts as I headed out of town, sort of fulfilling a long-term fantasy. As I ride to work, I fantasize continuing on out of town instead of stopping. Today I did that. I was on the road at 9:30 AM, nearly 4 hours later than if I were riding to work on a Saturday morning. I had the day off for the holiday weekend – one of the perks of working every Saturday for 20+ years is that I get a three day weekend when holidays roll around. Of course, so does everyone else, except that they have to work one holiday weekend/year and I don’t. The sidewalks were packed. Traffic through campus was bumper-to-bumper. It was good to get out.

I rode to the once-iconic Roxbury Tavern. Tom had taken over an old roadhouse and decided he wanted a new clientele – people who would sit and eat and talk, with drinking incidental to that. He got rid of the TVs, the video games, the pool table, and the piano. He instituted nightly specials – not the usual bar food, but a Cuban night and (on Wednesdays when we stopped in after rides) an Italian night among them. Spaghetti with Italian sausage and garlic bread was on the menu. Victor was more prone to the mushroom burger and homemade fries, which came with Tom’s own garlic or jalapeño ketchup. Homemade pickles were on the table as an appetizer. The beers were from a small brewery just down the road. Tom was a curmudgeon, and I mean that in the best way. On the other hand, on Paul’s birthday, he serenaded him with “Happy Birthday” on trumpet, guitar, kazoo, and nose flute. I probably told that story here before, but it seemed worth repeating.

Tom retired and there were hints of small changes with the new ownership. Perusing the menu, it looks like a typical roadhouse with the bar food usual suspects. I haven’t been inside. They do have a couple of goats living in the backyard, so it isn’t totally a typical roadhouse.

I stopped to say hello to the goats and have a snack. The bar wasn’t open yet. The goats had less to say than the sheep a few miles down the road. The cattle tend to just watch, sometimes with what seems like idle curiosity, and sometimes looking like they wonder about those humans sometimes. While I anthropomorphize, do they bovimorphize? The town roads were quiet. The fog slowly lifted and the grey was just a little higher off the ground. I had in mind 70 or more miles, but at about 50 the clouds started leaking. Rather than wash off the fresh wax-based chain lube from this morning, I cut the ride short, ending at 61 miles. I froze some cherries earlier this year, so Sunday I baked a Labor Day cherry pie in lieu of riding.

Breaking news! I just learned that the early discount for Cycle America‘s coast-to-coast tour in 2022 has been extended to September 18! Now’s your chance if you want to see the continent the way it was meant to be seen – by bike!

A great Vuelta a España comes to an end. Primož Roglič gave up the red jersey for the middle stages when he didn’t need the pressure. When the chips were down, he answered every challenge. He won the final time trial for his 4th stage win, to go with his Olympic Gold Medal in the same event. It was his third consecutive victory in the Spanish tour. For those who need people from the US in order to feel a connection, Sepp Kuss of Colorado rode brilliantly in support of Roglič, frequently setting the pace in the mountains to narrow the field to the elite climbers, and finishing 8th overall. Lawson Craddock of Texas rode well in support of his teammate Magnus Cort Nielsen, who won three stages. Joe Dombrowski of Virginia finished 39th overall. Thanks to NBC for great coverage, beautiful shots of the scenery, and daily updates on YouTube for those of us who don’t pay their subscription fee.

The Euskaltel -Euskadi team from the Basque region of Spain was invited to the tour. The bikes they ride come from Orbea, a worker-owned co-operative in Mallabia, Spain. In my youth, we dreamed of a co-operative commonwealth; a world in which the production and distribution of goods were owned by the people – not by the government in the name of the people, but by co-operatives owned by the people they served. We worked to build such a system, with co-ops providing food, books, bikes, housing, taxi service, engineering, banking, health care, and car repair; but we fell short of the yogurt production facility we wanted to start. Not all of those co-ops survived, and the association was loose. We discovered that the co-operative commonwealth exists in Mondragón. Mondragón is a network of 96 co-ops employing 81,000 people and divided into four sectors: finance, industry, retail, and knowledge. Orbea is one of those co-ops, owned by the workers who build the bikes.

Why I’m not a farmer

I received these two photos from my CSA (Community-supported Agriculture) farm in the last two weeks. (Photos courtesy of Tipi Produce.)

On the left is a strawberry plant in bloom, coated in ice. On the right is a fresh strawberry from the same patch. On the night of May 29-30, they irrigated the strawberry field to protect it from frost. (For those unfamiliar with this, in the process of changing state from a liquid to a solid, water gives up a lot of heat. This heat is transferred to the plants and protects them from freezing. In the morning, when the sun comes up and the temperature rises, they irrigate to melt the ice.)

A week later they irrigated the same strawberries to protect them from 90 degree (32 Celsius) heat. And, by the way, we are in the midst of a drought and a week plus of 90 degree heat.

For all of that work we got a handful of strawberries this week, though more should be coming in the next week or two. If my rhubarb hangs on, we could have strawberry-rhubarb pie next week. The only thing better than rhubarb pie is strawberry-rhubarb pie. And the only thing better than strawberry-rhubarb pie is strawberry-rhubarb pie with vanilla ice cream.

I have been with this farm since they began their CSA adventure. That’s not the whole truth. I have been with this farm since 1975 when I was the produce buyer for the Willy St Co-op, a member-owned grocery store (now three stores) since 1974. (We opened in the fall of ’74, after the growing season.) Back then, there was no organic certification system. We collected affidavits from farmers, in which they would attest to their growing methods. And I would pay surprise visits to farms to verify this.

But back to why I am not a farmer. Besides the fact that the hours are long and the pay is low, there is the chance that that irrigation trick would have failed, and there would be no 2021 strawberry crop. How many crops can one lose before one loses the farm? I’ll take a paycheck.

If a little frost isn’t bad enough, consider the summer of 2018, when fields were underwater. Or the year before that, when corn leaves looked like spears. It was so dry that the plants adapted to try to cut their evaporative losses. As consumers, we want our food. We don’t care about the weather. And we don’t want to hear any excuses when the price goes up due to weather.

For those unfamiliar with CSA, the concept is that a group of member/consumers invest in a farm at the beginning of the season. Our investment helps the farmer to buy seed and meet other preparation expenses during the time of year when there is no income. In turn, we get a share of the crop when it comes in. If there are no strawberries, we get no strawberries. If there are a ton of peppers (as there were last year) we get a ton of peppers. Right now I am seeing a lot of greens, including the biggest head of red leaf lettuce I have ever seen. It is a way for city slickers to feel some involvement – a sense of ownership and responsibility – a connection to the land and an understanding of the food system beyond the notion that food simply appears: whether on the table if you’re young enough, in the refrigerator if you’re a little older, or in the store if you do the shopping.

We take our food for granted. We get mad if it doesn’t look perfect and then we expect it to be grown without pesticides or fertilizer and still look perfect. We expect a food to appear any time of year, even if it is only ripe in another hemisphere at the time. Somehow the notion of “carbon neutral” goes out the window. If I want peaches in January (in North America), by golly, I’m gonna get peaches in January, even if they come from Chile or Argentina.

And we are obsessed with “bigger is better”. I find the need to put quotation marks around the word strawberry when I refer to berries imported from California. The strawberry is not meant to have a long shelf life. It is not supposed to survive shipping thousands of miles. A strawberry is not supposed to be too big to fit in your mouth, and it is certainly not supposed to be hollow if you slice through it. (The berry in the picture above is on the large end of the spectrum, if you ask me.) A strawberry is meant to be eaten now, or chilled quickly and eaten soon. A strawberry should melt in your mouth, not crunch when you bite into it, like an apple.

Now that’s a strawberry!
And it demands to be eaten now.
It lasted a few seconds after the picture.

Friends

…and I don’t mean the TV show and I don’t mean Quakers.

A blogger I follow recently referred to me as a friend (and I agree). That got me to thinking. That, and a visit out of the blue last night.

My daughter has “Internet friends” all over the world; people they have never met in the flesh, but many they have met face-to-face via FaceTime, so we know they are who they say they are (as much as we know that about anybody, but that’s another story).

That reality had always been foreign to me until I started blogging. Now I have people all over the country whom I would call friends, or at least friendly acquaintances, though we have never been face-to-face even on FaceTime.

My best friend R from my ten years in California appeared out of the blue last night. I got a FaceTime request from an unknown number. I declined it and said “Who are you?” He was an hour and a half away and passing through. We had a great walk and talk in the park a few blocks from my house. We stayed several feet apart. He got back in the RV and disappeared. I walked home for dinner.

Three of us (R and F and I) used to get in hot water together regularly in the Bay Area. I mean that literally. We would go to a hot tub place, sit in the tub together and talk, then continue the talk over dinner. (Truth be told, I’m more of a sauna guy, but hey, this was California;) We asked each other the kinds of questions that made us think and feel and know each other and ourselves more deeply than usual.

R and I once drove 50 miles to a jazz concert. We argued economics (or discussed passionately) for most of the drive and part of dinner. We heard and saw a great concert, then continued the discussion on the drive home and sitting parked in front of my house for too long. As I walked into the house I realized I had just learned something about love. I had spent my formative years (18 to 30) in a close-knit community, where we agreed on most things and our disagreements were, in the grand scheme of things, pretty small. Now I was having a disagreement that was pretty big; but I realized that I could disagree about an idea and love the person speaking it.

This is a friend to whom, when I am gone, I think I may be invisible. We have had no contact in over ten years. But when we are together, he is here 100%. He is fully present – so I don’t begrudge him the fact that he is fully present somewhere else with someone else when I am 2000 miles away.

Those years from 18-30 were present in our talk. The park contains a memorial to an old friend. We had a community of interlocking organizations and friendships. (See previous post and reference to the New Nation – building a new society in the shell of the old.) I initially knew Orly through an organization I worked for, People’s Office. We were a community center providing some of the services that the internet provides now. If you needed someone to fix your plumbing, Orly was the guy, and we had his number at our fingertips. Need to get bailed out of jail? Find out what’s happening in town tonight? Need to get your car fixed at the Co-op Garage? Having a bad acid trip? We could help you. If you had a problem we hadn’t run across before, we’d find a way to help you. Several organizations got their start that way.

Later Orly apprenticed to the electrician who wired the co-op when we got a new building. That electrician happened to have a PhD, but he’d put himself through school as an electrician and liked it. It was only years later that he worked as a psychotherapist, using that degree. Working at the neighborhood grocery co-op, I knew pretty much everybody (and what they ate), and they knew me. S liked to work Sunday mornings so she could see who came in together to pick up bagels and the New York Times. She thus knew the neighborhood gossip first. It was that kind of town.

Moving back after ten years in California, my re-introduction to the community was Orly’s funeral. He died during a heat wave just after I moved back. We had a canoe funeral procession down the river. His flower-filled canoe was towed between two others. We rounded the bend out of the river and into the lake, pulled up on shore at the park, and had a big potluck. It seems that everyone I knew was there. I was home. Orly and the canoe are memorialized on a plaque on a park bench right where the river flows into the lake (where we took the walk back at the beginning of this post). That park is also home to the Marquette Waterfront Festival, with which we welcome each summer (the weekend that school gets out).

So there are that kind of friends, too. Those whose lives weave in and out of our own for years. Those we may never know well, but who make our lives richer anyway. Those we have a deep connection with somewhere along the way, but not forever, but they are still part of that fabric. Then there are friends like the half-fast cycling club, folks I’ve ridden with for 10-45 years. Sometimes a bike ride is the best place to talk.

A song from the Women’s Movement of the 1970s. I couldn’t find a recording by the writer, Ginni Clemmens (without buying the whole album). She was a Chicago folksinger in the 60s and a stalwart of women’s music in the 70s. She died in 2003 on Maui.

You may have noticed that I refer to living people only by an initial and dead people by name. I guess dead people can’t defend themselves and living people may not want to be identified here, so I don’t name them without consent, and I don’t tend to contact them to ask for consent.

Bare Necessities

Growing up, I was taught that the necessities of life were food, clothing, and shelter. Going to work, I found those definitions changing. This is another story alluded to in an old post – “a story for another time”. Here we are, in another time.

So what are the bare necessities in my book, and how did I find them? My first full time job was in a restaurant – preparing food for people. My first “career” was in a grocery co-operative – providing basic food via the Willy Street Co-op. I was pretty sure food counted as a basic need.

After 10 years I left the co-op and moved to Northern California, where I was Maintenance Director (then Financial Manager and General Manager) of the Twin Pines Co-operative Community, a community of 79 families that jointly owned an 80-unit low-income housing co-operative (the 80th unit was a rental reserved for an employee and I was the sole renter for part of my time there). I learned that the Silicon Valley was not filled with Yuppies. Before it became the Silicon Valley, the Santa Clara Valley was The Valley of Heart’s Delight, a vast area of fruit orchards. Now I knew why the supply of apricots had dried up back when I was in the grocery biz – the orchards were being ripped out for factories, office buildings, and housing. (The apricot supply has since recovered somewhat.) There were people who worked in those factories and were the secretaries in those offices and who fixed the fancy cars of those over-priced engineers. They were the people I worked for, and they needed a place to live. Yup, housing made my list.

I’d always had a side job or two. While at Willy Street I was a volunteer programmer at WORT-FM, a listener-sponsored community radio station. I was a patient advocate at the Near East Side Community Health Center, and I was the local representative of FLOC (the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, a farmworkers union started in the tomato fields of Ohio – they later merged with the UFW). In California my side job involved co-operative housing in Nicaragua.

In Nicaragua I found that the Matagalpa River (where we cleaned up after a work day) was also where everyone did their laundry and drew their drinking water, as well as where towns discharged their raw sewage. We found a mountain spring, had the water tested, built a dam and a pipeline, and supplied pure water to the houses we were building. (Fred Colgan deserves the lion’s share of the credit for that.) While we weren’t big enough to set up a sewage treatment program, we dug outhouses so sewage from our little community would not go straight to the river.

When my second visa expired I moved to San Francisco and became a plumber (after a side trip for the Mole Poblano tour, o quiere decir La Vuelta de Mole Poblano). It was pretty clear that clean water and sewage treatment made the list of bare necessities, so I made my living doing that. I mostly did residential service work, but also some remodeling and work in bars and restaurants. I used to tell people that my job involved hanging out in gay bars at 9 o’clock in the morning.

Life being what it is (and a story that I probably won’t bother telling here unless shelter in place lasts a really long time), my plumbing career came to an end. I became a college student and then an occupational therapist. Before I became a patient, I had never heard of occupational therapy. My sister (a Speech and Language Pathologist) defined occupational therapists as the people who come up with a simple commonsense solution to a problem; a solution that seems obvious in retrospect. Then she’d realize that she hadn’t though of it. When people ask me what the difference between a physical and an occupational therapist is, I sometimes say the PT’s job is to make sure you can move around, and my job is to make sure you can do all the things you want to move around for. It is a job that varies widely depending on the setting you are working in; and the lines between what I do and what my PT partner does are sometimes pretty blurry. (If you really want to know the gritty details, I have a 13 hour online course for you. Someday I may be able to do it live again.)

I saw firsthand how much access to healthcare depends on money, and how the US, unlike most industrialized countries, lacks a healthcare system. (I work in a hospital that provides care to all regardless of ability to pay – but that doesn’t mean they don’t get billed later, and it clearly affects the care they get after discharge.) Other countries have a healthcare system. We have an insurance system. Healthcare was now clearly on my list of bare necessities.

A common thread running through these, and made clear by our shelter at home situation, is community. I realized I had found my personal definition of the bare necessities: food, housing, water and sewer, healthcare, and community. I hope my list is complete because I’m closer to 70 than to 60 and I probably don’t want to start another career now. I’d like to pretend I had the forethought 50 years ago to build a life based on the necessities and pretend that my life and career trajectory was planned. Never mind, I don’t even want to pretend that. This was a case of going where life led me, then looking back and seeing what the path looks like. Or, as Robert Hunter said:

There is a road, no simple highway, between the dawn and the dark of night…

Le Tour de France/La Vuelta a España/Il Giro d’Italia

The French tour has been postponed and is now scheduled from 29 August to 20 September. The Spanish tour is still scheduled from 14 August to 6 September, but there is talk of moving it to the fall. The Italian tour is being run in a virtual format and the real version may be moved to late fall. The World Championship is also scheduled in the same timeframe as the rescheduled tours.

I think the only answer to scheduling anything right now is “Who knows?” I know of one cycling event scheduled for June that is still scheduled and another in July that has already been canceled.

Stay safe out there…ride alone and enjoy the scenery.