There was a lot of controversy about eliminating Saturday mail, the elimination of which would not have bothered me at all. Once my younger one is off to the college of her choice, we'll receive just about no mail every day. The annoyance of junk mail has been replaced almost entirely by the annoyance of junk e-mail and spam. I may go days without opening my personal email inbox, and rarely miss anything. What I learned from my email inbox today:
Alert! Someone has written about the videogame character that shares my name! A lot. And someone else with my name died. It's sad.
There are many discussions on LinkedIn. Not one of them has ever led to anything productive.
Funds were left yesterday with a diplomat. Funds for me. It may involve a will.
I could get a bachelor's degree, or train to be a nurse, in less time than I think.
Someone wants to date me, sight unseen.
Many people want photographs from many local cemeteries. This is a thing I do sometimes, but it is really hard to find a particular headstone in a cemetery, so many people's wants will go unmet.
I could get an extended vehicle warranty at a significant reduction! I'm sure they're dying to cover two vehicles with 125,000 miles each.
I could become a Mystery Shopper!
General ADAMS PETERSON would like me to kindly reply urgently.
My email doppelganger, someone local who listed my email address as her own, has been shopping at Kmart again. I get her receipts. They depress me.
Need to actually get ahold of me? Better tweet me.
It's that time of year again, when it is finally warm, the body is finally working, and it's time to get some serious miles under my wheels. And because I often have to be in downtown Albany on certain afternoons and weekends, it makes sense to just take off on the bike path for the first few kilometers of my ride -- there's convenient parking, a porta-potty and a flat path out of town. Which is great in the off-season, but by this time of year, the path is simply overrun with people, and trying to bike on it in good weather is just an exercise in frustration. This is meant less as a complaint than an explanation. People often ask if I ride the bike path, and I say that I try to avoid it whenever possible. I'm not being snobbish, I'm just trying to have a good fast ride, and that's hard to come by on the bike path. Here's why:
The people I'm coming up behind are generally oblivious and/or unable to hear. They've got headphones or cell phones, or they're just tuning out. Calling out "on your left" is useless. Ringing my bell (yes, there's a bell on my commuter, as required by law) is similarly useless. Or worse than useless, as 90% of the population doesn't appear to know which side is its left, or thinks that I'm commanding them to make a sudden jump to the left, and directly into my path.
People take as much space as is available. Two people or twelve, they will spread out as wide as possible, pay no attention to whether anyone is coming from ahead or behind, and often act indignant or surprised when they need to move aside.
Dogs. I love dogs, and in fact most of the dogs I come across on the path are under good control. But my greatest fear on the path is hurting someone's dog, so if I come up on one that is unleashed and not under control, I've got to slow way down to make sure we're not going to have a bad interaction.
Kids. People say kids are unpredictable. That's crazy. I predict that every single one of them will put himself or herself right where you don't want them to be, and I'm right 90% of the time. It's not their fault -- they're kids. Most parents try to get them in line on the path, but they're slippery little devils.
There are some sections of bike path around here that are unavoidable, often because it's vastly safer than the nearby road alternative (such as much of Rosendale Road in Niskayuna). And the newly paved section running from Aqueduct to downtown Schenectady is a delight, and no longer feels dangerous and abandoned (imagine that: they made something nice and nice people started using it). But in general, once the paths are clogged up with people doing things other than biking, you'll see me on the road.
In some parts of the country there is acknowledgement that paths with a lot of use really need to separate the cyclists from the rest of the multi-users. Maybe someday that attitude will have some effect here, but in a region where money spent on something other than the automobile is generally derided as pure waste, I don't hold out a lot of hope. The $18 million that was spent on the Fuller Road debacle sure could have paved a lot of bike paths for a very long time.
I've come to think of routine as a tremendous aid in every day life. While you want to avoid getting into a rut, some routines just make life easier. I get up at pretty much the same time every day. I eat the same breakfast almost every day. I buy the same soaps and shampoos. There's great efficiency in not having to work through those problems every time.
But there is one area of my life where I have never been able to abide routine: moving from Point A to Point B. From the earliest age at which I was getting myself from one place to another on my own, I was seeking out alternate routes. Although I lived a block and a half from my elementary school, I would sometimes go around the school's block, just to see different scenery. Going to junior high, I found as many different ways to get there as possible. In high school, I'd rarely go up the same streets two days in a row. Once I was driving back and forth to college, this hyperlocal wanderlust extended to long-distance travel; I couldn't abide always taking the Thruway between Schenectady and Syracuse, and was instead always getting onto Route 5, or 5S, or even 20 for at least part of the way to break up the terrible monotony of the highway.
This especially extends to bicycling. Some people are able to settle into a circuit or two that they do every day, and that's a good thing. They get to build power and speed and judge themselves against a known course. But if I had to do that I'd go out of my mind, or at least get off my bike. I can't even stand to do circuits; the second time around just bores me stiff. And the chance that I'd ride the same route twice in a week is slim indeed.
Once we get further into the season, I can stand a little repetition in my rides. For the sake of going farther and faster I have to use some common roads just to get out of my neighborhood, and I get okay with that. And there are definitely some favorite country roads around here that I enjoy riding a couple of times a month; whenever my daughters want to visit a school friend who lives out in the boonies, they're sure to hear me say that I bike past that house all the time.
But at this time of year, I tend to stick to the cities (at least in part for the flatness), and use my hatred of geographical routine to discover parts of the Capital District that I've never seen despite having lived here for so many decades. Just last week I ventured into a section of Albany I'd never seen before, and found new side streets that somehow I'd never been down, and some passable alternatives to Washington and Western. I've been finding hidden pieces of Troy (it seems as if there are a lot of them), and trying to ride most streets in Watervliet.
The upside is that I'm never bored. The downside is that whenever we're going somewhere by car, my family has to put up with my cries of, "But wait! There's a better way!"
When it comes to St. Patrick's Day, I'm a bit of a humbug. Partly, that's because I don't drink and view most of the festivities as focused on amateur drunkenness and hooliganism. Partly it's because my daughter was born on that day, and without any Irish heritage, she views the holiday as a major intrusion on her ability to go out for dinner on her birthday, ever. (This is, of course, her fault. She could have been born on the 15th, but nooooo.) There's also an element of resenting the feeling that it's not a safe day to be out on a bicycle because of all the drunk drivers, when for me it's always a date by which I like to be out doing spring rides.
Saturday (when our cities observed the festivities, paradewise), I found myself with the challenge of having to pick up a daughter from her dance class, one block from ground zero of Albany Irishness, where the vomitorium had already been erected out front, right at the time things would really be getting underway. The only sensible option was to park nearby when I dropped her off and get on my bike for a ride; then when it was time to go, I could drive around the craziness, rather than having to drive through it to get to her.
So I got on my bike and enjoyed a pleasant, sunny ride along the river to Troy. When I got there, there was a duo called "Emerald Dawn" playing Irish music at one corner of Monument Square, entertaining a very small crowd. I wheeled around the block to get a cup of coffee, then came back to swell the ranks and enjoy the sun and music for a few minutes before heading back.
As the musicians played, a woman who likely lives in the public housing at the end of the square wandered up. She was carrying a framed jigsaw puzzle in the shape of a shamrock, with an Irish pastoral scene depicted, thatched hut and all. She danced a bit to the music and then offered to show everyone a real Irish picture. Everyone looked at it admiringly for her as the music played on. When the musicians announced they were almost done, she asked if they could play "Danny Boy," saying that it had been her mother's favorite. The duo obliged with a slow, sweet version, and she stood there with her eyes closed, mouthing the words, transfixed. And there, with just a song, they gifted her with a moment of grace on that chilly winter morning. It was such a beautiful thing that I even thought it might get me over my distaste for St. Patrick's Day.
And so I rode back to Albany in the sun, and even the proliferation of drunken hooligans that were already making travel less than pleasant wasn't enough to spoil the day.
Getting back on a nice, sleek road bike after months and months of riding a laden-down, upright commuter festooned with mirrors, bells, lights and cargo bags is like getting into a race car after months of driving a minivan.
My commuter shoes clip in way, way easier than my road shoes. Not sure why that is.
I get a swig of salt and sand with every drink of water. Free!
My new Garmin vest is sweet, and timely, because I'm not sure wearing a Postal vest is considered correct any more.
Almost-spring sun and 50 degrees feels really, really good.
That's not surprisingly good form, you idiot. It's a tailwind. As you'll find out when you turn around.
Another sign I'm not of this culture? I have never owned a video camera. There are not endless hours of video of my kids making sand angels and mud forts. There ARE plenty of photographs, though, and if later in life they feel deprived of a motion picture record of their youth, perhaps they can string the frames together into a GIF. Sorry, best I can do.
(That said, I have actually taken video in the past year with an iPad, and my new D7000 has some video capabilities. But that doesn't mean that video isn't the devil's medium, because it is.)
The past few weeks have been filled with cultural events that often make me think I'm not of this culture:
I have never seen a single "Star Wars" movie. Considering how much the fans say they hate most of them, I can't understand why anyone would. I've seen enough snippets of the first one, and all of "Spaceballs," to know I don't need to see any more.
Other movies I have never seen: The Godfather, Titanic, The Sound of Music, any Rocky movie. I know what happens in them. I wouldn't enjoy them.
I don't watch awards shows. I don't even understand why anyone would. Is there some chance that the Grammys are suddenly going to recognize good music? That might be worth watching. It will not happen, however. Am I going to receive an award? Also unlikely.
I love Superbowl Sunday only because it means the grocery store is absolutely empty (of both people and potato chips). Football's not my thing, but I get why some people are into it. What I don't get is why tens of millions more people are into it for one game, the Superbowl, or how this has become some kind of cultural event.
I bike to work. I haven't always, and it's a huge pain in the ass, but it's still less of a huge pain in the ass than driving to work, circling for parking spots, waiting in lines to get out of garages, wondering where you've left your car, having to gas up before you go. Biking to work, even though I have to deal with traffic, never produces that anxiety, that rushed feeling that leads to so much road rage. But biking to work often gets reactions normally reserved in our culture for the homeless and/or the insane.
I don't drink. There's a lot of history, genetic and otherwise, that goes into that decision. It is wearying trying to raise kids in a culture that sometimes seems to be about nothing other than drinking, and in a city where every new business is strictly about making and imbibing alcohol. I'd blame the Dutch, but it seems wider-spread than that.
I think tattoos are ridiculous defacements of the human body. All of them, no matter how innocuous or personally meaningful. Scars tell a much more interesting story.
A very random line from a post over at Indie Moines set me off on something that has been weighing on my mind for some time now: who is the recording artist who has gone from doing the most good to doing the most harm? I mean good and harm not just to his or her own reputation, but to the culture as whole. There are singers and bands who are great, and who are mediocre, and who are terrible, but there are very few well-known artists who occupy both ends of the spectrum.
Early on, one of my prime candidates for this distinction was The Standells. Best remembered for "Dirty Water" and "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear Black," their debut album was almost proto-punk, raw garage music that was lucky enough to catch the public fancy while so many others would have to wait for "Nuggets" and "Back From The Grave" to receive any recognition. It was a great debut. And their second album was more of the same, except for the songs that took a weird left turn into the very pabulum that it seemed like their sound was rejecting, including some very Dean Martinesque crooning. And then there was their execrable live album, which made them appear to be the worst frathouse-ready Searchers tribute band ever. Even discovering their music years after its release, I found their arc phenomenally disappointing. How could you go from the crazy rave-up of "Rari" to "Peppermint Beatle" (you don't want to know). But they did, and it was awful. However, the damage was limited, because other than their one hit single and a bizarre appearance on "The Munsters," who had ever heard of The Standells?
So instead let's talk about the Jefferson Airplane, from ground zero of the '60s San Francisco psychedelic jam band movement. A string of incredible hits, running the gamut from angry to soulful, and tremendous live performances from a band that could really rock. A few changes and they became Jefferson Starship, with a much more middle-of-the-road approach that of course their hardcore fans had to resent, but which still wasn't quite bad music. More changes, and they were just Starship, and they committed one of the greatest cultural crimes of our time: "We Built This City." On rock 'n' roll, if you didn't know. We can't lay all the blame at Starship's feet, as Elton John's lyricist Bernie Taupin had a hand in writing this monstrosity. How could any of the same people who made "It's No Secret" and "3/5 of a Mile in Ten Seconds" even learn to play a song like this? It's unfathomable, and I'd argue that if the output of the early Jefferson Airplane weren't so phenomenal, it would have been swamped by the wave of awful that was the output of Starship.
But at the absolute top of the "more harm than good" category: Rod Stewart. If you have any love for '70s rock at all, then Faces have got to hold a special place in your heart. The digital age has gifted us with songs and performances we never got here in the States, reinforcing early impressions that here was a truly great rock 'n' roll band. Songs like "Cindy Incidentally," "Stay with Me," and "Ooh La La" deliver everything that brand of rock had to offer, without dipping into the self-indulgence that would soon weigh it all down. Rough, energetic, inventive, and with those awesome raggedy vocals of Rod Stewart out front - he knew when to growl, where to howl, and he pulled off glam with cheeky panache. Rod's solo career (with many of the same backers) started off with brilliance like "You Wear It Well" and "Maggie May." But then came "Hot Legs." And then came "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" And then came stuff that, worse than awful, was forgotten as soon as the record stopped playing. Somehow Rod stayed around anyway, and remade himself as a singer of standards. And now Christmas music. Perhaps he'll venture into klezmer next, or Britney Spears covers. It really doesn't matter. It's enough that I've had to take him off my Sirius alerts, because nine times out of ten it will be a song I seriously do not want to hear.
There is a difference between reinventing yourself over time and just bouncing from pole to pole.