Dear Curtis

I was thinking about the last time I saw you. You pulled up in front of my hotel in Santa Monica with the Merlin and the Bike Friday in the car. We rode down to Manhattan Beach, then back up to Santa Monica, where we froze while eating at a sidewalk cafe. Los Angelenos have this thing about hanging out outside, even being in a desert where it’s freezing as soon as the sun goes down. Not to mention that we were in sweaty bike clothes. Neither of us knew you would die before we ever saw each other again. It was a good last visit. I remember the ride, but not what we ate.

I was in town for a workshop led by Dr. Roy Meals (see “About Bone” in “blogroll”.) I’m back in touch with him and he makes me remember you. By the way, while I enjoyed the chance to ride the Bike Friday, the Merlin was one of my dream bikes and I secretly wanted to ride it.

I was living in San Francisco during the last great plague. I lost my boss and my job to that one. It was hard to see Jim wasting away. The last time I saw him, he was blotchy with Kaposi’s Sarcoma and barely clinging to life.

So now we have another plague. This one kills a lot faster, but kills a lot fewer of its victims. When the 1980s plague hit, we weren’t sure how it spread and people tended to avoid each other (or at least certain others) until we knew. This one requires that we avoid each other because it spreads so easily. But like that other one, we’re still learning. We were first told it spread only through droplets and not aerosols. Oops, turns out that was wrong and it can hang in the air longer than we thought. Turns out the virus can live on surfaces long after the droplets have dried.

When you got a cellphone and started calling me on Mondays, we stopped writing letters. I missed that. Since I don’t have your phone number in the afterlife (nor do I know that there is an afterlife), I’m back to writing letters to you. In the children’s book “The Mole Family’s Christmas” (by Lillian and Russell Hoban), Delver Mole decides to write a letter to Santa. He doesn’t know where to reach him, but knows that Santa comes from up, so he decides to send the letter up. In the same vein, I don’t know where to send this, so it’s going to the internet, the 2020 version of up. If you want to hear the story, I recorded it on a CD for my nieces, since they were blind and unable to read. (My kids also got copies, even though I could read to them in real life.) I could maybe send it to you via the internet. The CD also contains my all-time favorite read-aloud story, “Little Tricker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear” by Ken Kesey (yes, that Ken Kesey).

This plague has gone viral. It spread worldwide in less than three months. As of April 2, there were only 18 countries not yet reporting confirmed cases. Does that mean they don’t have the disease? Or that they don’t have testing? “Confirmed cases” is an interesting concept. Since we can’t test everybody, and it is cold and flu season as well as allergy season, we don’t know who has this disease. Some people have suspicious symptoms and don’t get tested. Some people have suspicious symptoms and tested negative (but the false negative rate has been reported as increasing with each day after onset, and ~30% on day ten for nasal swabs per Wikramaratna, et al [worse for throat swabs].) Dr Gary Procop of the Cleveland Clinic calls false positives extremely unlikely. We could talk about Sensitivity and Specificity and Odds Ratios and the like, but overall we lack data to draw any strong conclusions about the tests we have.

There is some reluctance to test, as that would show more people with the disease and possibly lead to greater panic. Criteria for testing vary – my PCP said I didn’t meet criteria, my Employee Health Department said I did. So we don’t know a lot. When people die during the pandemic, but have not been tested, they are not identified as having died from COVID-19. We don’t use up test kits on the dead. If people are getting better, we don’t test them. If people are surviving at home we don’t test them, as bringing them in to testing centers risks spreading the disease.

So every day we see charts with logarithmic curves of the increase in cases; and those curves surely underestimate the numbers. We see daily numbers, not rounded, which makes us think there is a level of precision which is not actually there. Despite that, we’ve crossed the ½ million threshold in the US and are approaching the 2 million mark worldwide. We’re over 100,000 deaths. All of these numbers will be higher by the time you see this.

We’ve lost famous people and unknown people. I’ve already written about John Prine and embedded several of his songs. I read this tribute today and it made me cry again. It contains a link to Roger Ebert’s review of Prine from 1970.

Much of the world is in some level of quarantine. We don’t like to use that word, so here it is called “Safer at Home”. Only “essential” businesses are open. That means I go to work (hospitals are essential). Grocery stores are essential; though I used to go to the corner store almost daily and I’ve been there once this month. When I go to the co-op, I drop >$150 at a time so I can minimize the number of shopping trips. Restaurants are not essential, but can sell take out. Most of them have “no contact” pick up methods. They set the food outside and you pick it up. Pizza places have “no contact” delivery. They call to tell you when they are leaving it on your doorstep and you pick it up after they leave – same with Meals on Wheels. In some states, gun shops are considered essential. I don’t even want to comment on that. It is like living in a Twilight Zone episode.

Our only president likes to call this the “Chinese Virus” (and he has this weird way of saying “China” – it almost sounds like he wants to say “vagina”, like Austin Powers talking about his character “Alotta Fagina” (itself a parody of a James Bond character name).

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Were you still around and not sheltering in place, you would get to see American racism first hand again. Folks would blame you for this disease, even though you were born and raised in L.A.

I don’t remember if I’ve told you about the president. He inherited a real estate fortune and frittered it away. He may be the only person who managed to lose money running a casino. He has declared bankruptcy for more businesses than most business owners will ever own. He was the star of a reality TV show with the catchphrase “You’re fired!” He likes that phrase so much that he regularly fires cabinet members, press secretaries, and other senior officials. He uses Twitter to do it. Almost all in his administration have the word “Acting” in front of their titles. You can’t make this shit up.

By the way, the rest of you can read this. Curtis was a friend in LA; the last person with whom I kept up a snail mail correspondence. Since he’s not around to read my letters, that falls to the rest of you. Since he’s no longer on earth, I’ve explained a few things that may be obvious to the living. Another letter to him can be found here.

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!

The Last Roundup (Blue Spoon to Little Village)

“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)

And so we met at the Blue Spoon Cafe in Prairie du Sac, WI.  Breakfast (for me) was cakes bluespoonand eggs with coffee. It was about 35 degrees, no wind, a bright sun low in the sky. By the time we finished our breakfast and were ready to hit the road, it was over 40; still pretty crisp, but with a promise of warmth to come.

We (the stalwarts of the Half-fast Cycling Club) headed out, crossing the Wisconsin River and making our way to the Merrimac Ferry.ferry (For Cycle America folks, the morning route was more or less the route from the July 26 posting “I will never wear shoes“, only in reverse.) We wound our way up the switchbacks of Devil’s Lake State Park and on to lunch at the Little Village Cafe in Baraboo, home of the Circus World Museum (and former home of the Ringling Brothers). Lunch was a grilled chicken sandwich with pesto accompanied by an Argentine Malbec, followed by bourbon pumpkin cheesecake and espresso. No pictures of food. I’m not that kind of guy.

Leaving Baraboo the temperature was over 60 degrees. The wind began to pick up, out of the west, meaning we’d have a headwind early but a tailwind to push us home. The afternoon is the hillier part of the ride, so it was a good thing we were well-fueled. We headed up Happy Hill (and were happy), Freedom Road (where we felt free) and Swiss Valley (where we saw Brown Swiss cattle).  Rollie and I waited for the others by an old stone barn foundation with a silo in the middle. Since I’m used to seeing silos outside of the barn, I decided it’s really the top of an ancient and long-buried castle.

You can see the slits for the archers to shoot through at the top of the parapet, and the lookout tower above. After crossing a busy highway (with only a few feet of milled pavement – see the August 6 post “Back in the US, back in the US, back…”) we crossed onto a bike path for the last few miles. We saw a bald eagle perched above the river, which looked much better through the viewing scope than in the accompanying photo.eagle

Back to the Blue Spoon for drinks and hors d’oeuvre on the patio overlooking the river (just upstream from the eagle) and then it was back home for dinner, driving into the rising and nearly-full moon. Today was probably the most beautiful day of the month, a perfect day for what may be the last ride of the year that is just for fun and not to get somewhere. We’ll see how many of the Half-fast Club are up for the New Year’s Day ride.