Sunday, June 23, 2019

Epic NorCal Road Ride - Day 1


Every couple of years, my friend Peter and I get together for an epic road ride, usually in the Boulder, Colorado area. We’ll never live up to the best ride we did, which was 200 miles long and so far back I can’t remember the year, but we try to get as close as possible. Our last would-be epic ride, in 2016, kicked our asses so bad we had to cut it short and relegate it to “quasi-epic” status.

This year we’re both turning fifty so we decided we needed to redeem ourselves. Pete contrived a pair of brutal routes, this time on my turf. So we hit Sonoma County last Friday, and Napa on Saturday. They both hit back—hard. If you’ve always disliked me, read on for your first dose of Schadenfreude: Epic NorCal Ride - Day One.

Executive summary

The route packed a big surprise that damaged our bikes. The mileage, the climbing, and our own foolish refusal to act our age caused us much suffering. In other words, the ride was a rousing success.

Short version

Pete and I trained hard for this ride, for upwards of, well, four weeks. Up until mid-May, my longest ride of the year was 31 miles. Pete didn’t do much better. That didn’t stop him from downloading a challenging 106-mile route from Strava that was based on the Levi’s Granfondo route from 2012. I’d done that ride all the way back in 2009 (click here for my report) and had fond memories (get it—fond?). Without any support, and too few miles in our legs, we would have our work cut out for us.

With that in mind, we hit upon the ingenious strategy of carbo-loading the night before on nothing but greasy happy-hour snacks at a Santa Rosa brewery. We had giant onion rings, small but tasty “Asian chicken bites,” a Reuben slider, hella fries with mayonnaise, and deep-fried calamari. Our rationale for this unorthodox preparation was fiscal efficiency. I mean, the very same onion rings that normally go for $9 were only $3 during happy hour. Who could resist? Then we found an ice cream joint where I had the “homemade Oreo” flavor and I learned, to my surprise, that this place actually makes their own Oreos to put in the ice cream. They charged me $1 extra for a cone, but I didn’t care because a) it was one of those highly groovy waffle cones, and b) the creamista stuffed the whole damn cone with ice cream. Good times!

Our pre-ride breakfast was bagels and coffee at a local place. Being a notorious cheap bastard, I suggested we get one bagel with cream cheese and one without, because they always give you too much cream cheese so you can transfer half of it to the plain bagel and save a buck or two. Well, they must have heard us scheming, or maybe they’re just stingy, but the donor bagel was the most under-cheesed I’ve ever encountered. Curses!

During the Day One ride we enjoyed spectacular scenery, tough climbs, a breathtaking coastal descent, and Hostess fruit pies at a little grocery. I chased my pie with a Klondike ice cream bar. The ride got tougher from there because the road we’d chosen was closed due to, well, having utterly gone missing due to all the rains here. So what started as a road ride became a mountain bike ride.

That night we put on the dog at LoCoco’s Cucina Rustica: lots of French (i.e., white) bread with this garlicky tapenade; a Caesar salad with anchovies; deep-fried calamari; tortellini in a heavy cream sauce; and a Lagunitas IPA to dissolve all the fat. As much food as that was, I could have eaten a second meal just like it. Great restaurant, by the way, though we almost had to kill this loud douchebag hanging out near the bar where we were sitting. He must have been drunk and/or thought he was funny.

Full report

Peter is a medical doctor, which is great news for me. It means I can look a waiter right in the eye and say, “My doctor has advised me to eat more saturated fats … is the cream sauce good and rich?” It also means Pete goes into these rides even more tired than I do, giving me a leg up which I desperately need. (He was a pro racer and has always been way stronger than I, in fitness, stamina, and character.) I think he’d worked some overnights in the ICU before this trip because almost as soon as we got to our motel, he demanded we turn the lights out. It was like 9 freakin’ p.m.! I figured we could at least talk for a bit, so I told him this great joke: 
Jean Paul Sartre goes into a little Parisian coffee shop and tells the waiter, “Bring me a coffee with sugar but no cream.” The waiter heads to the kitchen, only to return a couple minutes later to announce, “I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Sartre, we’re all out of cream. Can I bring you a coffee with no milk?”
This didn’t elicit so much as a chuckle, which didn’t surprise me too much because when I tried this joke on my wife and daughter I got nothing but blank stares. I told Pete, “Perhaps this joke requires some basic knowledge of existential philosophy,” but still he didn’t utter a sound. I realized then that this albeit brief joke had actually put him to sleep.

Here we are at the start of Day One.

Pretty mediocre motel, but I’ve stayed in much worse … at least it was non-smoking. As for local amenities, you couldn’t do much better than this junk-built obelisk just a few blocks away:

Look closely—it’s made (well, adorned) largely of (with) bike parts. How fitting!

The first climb of the day wasn’t very hard, and the weather was still cool, especially with all these trees breathing on us.

The only problem was that my saddle—which had been creaking and clicking increasingly over the past few months—started making more and more racket until it sounded like a Geiger counter with the volume turned up. I dismounted to investigate and dislodged a little curl of metal that had been part of either the saddle rail or the post. Well aware of the dangers of stripping something, I tightened the main bolt as much as I dared, and then—hallelujah!—the saddle shut right up.

As if Murphy wouldn’t tolerate his law being broken, on the first descent Pete hit a cattle guard wrong and put a giant dent and flat spot in his front rim. It was so bad we had to lower one of his brake pads so it wouldn’t hit his tire. That kind of put a damper on the descents, with his braking super grabby, but of course at our age we can’t be bombing the downhills anyway.

Here we’re stopped for a bit of a rest under the redwoods.

We cruised past the Cazadero Music Camp and stopped at Raymond’s Bakery for water. The front door was open, but the bakery wasn’t. The gal there seemed inordinately apologetic and happily filled our bottles for us, and even served us bread and butter on the house. NOOICE!

As we made our way up the first major climb, the lush tree cover eventually dwindled until we reached a more sparse but very scenic vista.

It was a steep, scabby road with very little traffic, just perfect for tiring our legs.

We descended for a while, and I guess we tackled the second big climb of the day, but oddly enough I don’t remember a single thing about it. (Perhaps my brain still hasn’t recovered from being simmered in its own juices on Day Two—but I see I’m getting ahead of myself.)

After some descending we reached the coast. I told Pete this was Lake Tahoe but I’m pretty sure he didn’t believe me.

I spent some time admiring this well rusted barbed wire. This is because I once wrote a research paper for history class on the topic of barbed wire. (Or was I just stalling?)

The ride just kept getting more beautiful.

Highway One gives some famously breathtaking views of the coast.

I decided to take a selfie just to prove that I was actually on this ride, and that Pete wasn’t just accompanied by a professional photographer, the paparazzi, or a drone.

The best parts of the descent down the coast, of course, aren’t recorded because I had both hands on the bars. The temperature was perfect, the road (mostly) smooth, the curves nice and sweeping, and there was even this hawk flying along above and ahead of me, dipping and soaring and doing all kinds of unnecessary maneuvers, just for the sheer fun of it, and I realized suddenly that I was having my Spalding Grey “perfect moment.”

As if things couldn’t get any better, we stopped at the Jenner C Store for some refined sugars. (There’s a point in any veteran cyclist’s epic ride when energy bars just don’t cut it anymore.) The Hostess fruit pie is the all-time junk food champion, packing almost 500 calories into its wallet-sized shell. Just for good measure I combed through the store’s freezer for their most highly caloric ice cream bar, which ends up being a Klondike bar at 300 calories.

It was only when we turned inland that things started to get tricky. First off, the road was closed. Worse, as we continued on beyond the barrier, we came to a section that Caltrans (or somebody) had apparently toyed with the idea of rebuilding. They’d dumped there a bed of very small rocks that, with the aid of a steamroller, might have created a usable surface. It was just barely rideable, and the occasional clanking of a stone against my rim gave me the willies. I kept a light touch on the handlebars and tried to float my bike along. Fortunately, the stones gradually dissipated and we found more and more smooth places to aim our bikes.

Finally the pavement ended altogether which was a real treat … it felt like carpet compared to the busted-up road.

We came across a giant fallen trunk and Pete tried to jump it. He almost made it but his bike got snagged.

Okay, I confess, I made that up. The photo above was staged (but not Photoshopped). Things got a bit easier from there, for a bit.

The only really hard part now was that we had our third major climb to tackle. It wouldn’t have been so bad except for the traction, particularly in sections where water was still flowing over the trail. I couldn’t climb out of the saddle and there were pitches of more than 10%. We were relieved when we reached the second road closure gate, indicating we’d have actual asphalt again. Here’s the view back toward where we’d ridden.

By this point, 80 miles in, this ride was already the longest of the year for both of us. We were good and fried after close to 9,000 feet of climbing and almost seven hours in (and out of) the saddle. We looked forward to an uneventful and relaxing mostly-downhill cruise back to Santa Rosa.

Ha! Of course that didn’t happen. We were coasting down this smooth and (thankfully) straight road when—BLAM!—my rear tire blew out. Motherfrockle! I checked it out, and discovered that my sidewall, which had looked oddly dried-out and a bit hairy before the ride, now looked totally chowdered. I guess it was all the stones it had been grazing against during the off-road-action segment of our tour. Sure enough, a sidewall gash had broken all the way through, so I had to put a boot in there. (For a full dissertation on tire boots, click here.)

Now I had this big lump in my tire, probably worse than a boot usually causes because the whole tire casing was totally knackered and closer to a wonton wrapper than a sidewall. My bike rode like a mule with a gimpy leg, the tire lump giving me the highly unpleasant feedback of lub-lub-lub-lub. This made our final 20 miles or so a bit unnerving. But it was a great route along an endless walking/biking path near a river. We even saw some cute downy ducklings following along behind their momma duck (or maybe just the sitter).

We finally made it back to the motel, and following strict orders from my doctor I indulged in a recovery beer. Here is the official Beck’st:

After a long ride like this, it’s tempting to look down at your legs and think you got a suntan.

Of course this is an illusion; the “suntan” washes right off in the shower. It’s really just road grime clinging to the sunscreen.

Considering the difficulty of what we’d just done, we felt pretty good. But then, Day One isn’t about utterly destroying ourselves; it’s about totally depleting ourselves so that Day Two can properly finish us off. I won’t kid you, I was good and fried … but well knew the real beating was still to come. Watch albertnet for my Day Two report, coming soon!

Ride stats

Here are the stats based on my old-fashioned bike computer, with the stats from Pete’s Strava file in parenthesis. (Which is more accurate? Beats me … why not go with the more impressive number on a stat-by-stat basis?)
  • 106.9 miles (104.3)
  • 6:18:40 ride time
  • 14.7 mph average speed (14.5)
  • 8,239 feet cumulative elevation gain (8,947)
  • 29.6 miles total climbing
  • 34.3 miles total descending

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

A Father’s Day Poem


This is a poem I wrote for my father, but it could apply to many a father—which is more than I can say for all those stupid Father’s Day cards featuring clichés like the hammock, the necktie, the golf clubs, or the fishing gear. Those tropes seem outdated and twee. If the greeting card industrial complex is trying to guess accurately about fathers’ behaviors they should show a dad in a dingy t-shirt in a La-Z-Boy armchair watching sports on TV.

My dad was the rare kind who didn’t watch any sports. But he also didn’t lie in a hammock, wear a necktie, play golf, or fish. The only card I ever found that would have been totally appropriate is this one, which I could never bring myself to actually send:

So I’d pick some generic nature-themed card, but that only solved half the problem, the other half being what to write inside. After all, beyond “Happy Father’s Day,” what more is there to say? In my case, I couldn’t say “You were always there for me” or “Best Dad ever!” without seeming a bit disingenuous. So that’s how this poem came to be: it nicely solved the blank card problem. (In my case perhaps I had the sneaky ulterior motive of rubbing my dad’s nose in my choice of English as a major, when he was a passionate STEM proponent well ahead of all the Johnny-come-lately STEM-pushers who are terrorizing the current crop of teenagers.)

I guess you’re free to steal this poem for your own card. But if you do, and your dad doesn’t know you to be a competent poet, he’ll surely see right through your plagiarism. And if you are a competent poet, well, write your own ode!

The Poem

To Dad - June 19, 2016

A father, residing in Boulder
Was young once, and then he got older.                2
He looks quite distinguished
And though he’s no linguist                                     4
He knows the right way to say “solder.”

This father, though lacking a daughter,                6
Was odd once, and maybe got odder.
He’s quite good with language—                            8
Can easily manage
To get the right rhyme out of “solder.”                10

Footnotes & Commentary


I know, “To Dad” seems really generic but you have to remember “Dad” in this context is a proper noun so this is actually very personal and special. We fathers know this viscerally. Particularly when my kids were younger, when I was in a crowd of people and would hear a young girl yell, “Dad!” I would look around in a panic for a second before realizing some unrelated kid needed her dad.

Line 1 – a father

Given all the stuff I just said about “Dad” being personal, now I go off and start the poem with “A father”? Like, just any father? Of course I knew this would be jarring, but good poetry is supposed to be. If I wanted treacle, I’d go buy a Hallmark card. And no harm done: I knew by the time my dad got to the end of the line he’d realize this was a limerick, and I was just following the convention (e.g., “There once was a man from Nantucket”).

Line 2 – was young once … got older

This is an allusion to the Simon & Garfunkel song “The Boxer”—the extended version they performed at their concert in Central Park:

Now the years are rolling by me,
They are rockin’ evenly.
I am older than I once was
But younger than I’ll be.
That’s not unusual.

Would my dad catch this reference? Nope. He didn’t listen to much music. He had some records but they were all even older than Simon & Garfunkel. He never played the radio unless it was the classical station, as background music. Missed allusion aside, I figured my dad would enjoy knowing that somebody remembered the fact of his once being young. (My own kids won’t shut up about how old I am.)

Line 3 – looks quite distinguished

I kind of had to say something nice after reminding my dad how old he was (even though he prided himself on his agedness, his favorite self-referential term being “geezer”). Besides, he was distinguished and he knew it, so this was a compliment that wouldn’t come off as disingenuous.

Pretty respectable looking chap, eh? I must admit that I feel a bit odd forming your opinion based on such an old photo of him … I guess I’m sensitive to the rampant, unbridled deception taking place all over Instagram and other self-celebration platforms with people posting ideally unrepresentative photos. So here’s another shot of my dad, taken mere months before I wrote this poem.

If you look closely there’s a hard set to his mouth, and a strain shows around his eyes, and the eyes themselves are looking a bit blank and distant. That’s because when this photo was snapped, my dad already knew that he had cancer and likely wouldn’t be long for this world. Still, I think he was a very handsome guy well into old age (or as he’d put it “geezerdom”).

Line 4 – no linguist

This was perhaps a bit harsh, because even though my dad was a scientist and engineer through-and-through, he prided himself on having perfect grammar. Still, there’s no shame in not being a linguist. In fact, if I had become a professional linguist, my dad probably would have been a bit disappointed, even if I rose through the ranks and had a team of linguists working under me.

Line 5 – the right way to say solder

This line is a trap! Instinctively, the reader—or at least an astute reader like my dad—would be expecting the last word of the line to rhyme with “Boulder” and “older” in keeping with the limerick form, and then this word would look like it would rhyme, but of course it doesn’t. My dad would know the proper pronunciation, being the kind of guy who loved soldering things. He would have been really honored had I also learned how to solder. (If I could have found a Father’s Day card with a soldering iron on it, I’d have bought it in a heartbeat.)

So at this point in reading the poem my dad had to be perplexed. Surely, he’d muse, his own son couldn’t think “solder” rhymes with “older”—could he? Dad would mull this over for a bit. My level of intelligence wasn’t something he was totally confident about. He knew full well I wasn’t as smart as he was (his IQ having been measured at 180, with this result unwisely disclosed to him). A long-standing and still unresolved family argument concerns whether, back in 1983, my dad did or did not say to me at the dinner table, “You’re not very bright, are you.” (For the record, I don’t believe he actually said this to me, but the fact that we could imagine it does say something.)

It’s not like my dad considered me a dumbass—after all, I did manage to get a degree from his own alma mater—but to somebody as smart as he, everyone must have seemed a little dense. So I imagine he wondered for a moment if I’d just had the pronunciation wrong, before thinking, “Wait—he’s specifically talking about the right way to pronounce this word, so of course he knows.”

My dad’s relief would quickly pass, though, because until he fully appreciated the joke, he would be a bit prickled by my audacity in deliberately spurning the rhyme scheme of the limerick form by using a non-rhyming word here. This might strike you as an unfair accusation of extreme pedanticism, but I assure you this is a realistic consideration. For my dad, using “real” as an adverb was tantamount to cussing. He once challenged me about using the phrase “that’s me” on this blog because “that’s I” is, strictly speaking, the correct grammar. Also, he was once scandalized because, when emailing a large group where all the recipients were blind-copied, for the main “To” address I used “” which obviously isn’t legit. My dad took me to task for this, and when I replied that this was a victimless crime, he drew my attention to the mail servers on the Internet that would waste valuable computing cycles searching in vain for that address. O, the humanity!

So yeah, that line ending in “solder” was me having a bit of illicit fun, being a literary bad boy, if you will.

Line 6 – lacking a daughter

This phrase is clearly the weakest part of the poem. You could quite reasonably accuse me of using the word “daughter” just because it rhymes with “odder” on the next line. In that sense, I’ve stooped to the level of that abysmal Hall & Oates song, “Your kiss is on my list.” (Have you ever thought about that? This guy makes a list: “Get up, shower, make coffee, empty the cat box, kiss Marcia, drop off dry cleaning…”)

The better line would be: “This dad, though not liable to dodder.” This would work very nicely with the ageing theme I’d already developed, and there’s a nice alliteration with the Ds in “dad” and “dodder.” But of course it wouldn’t be very nice, even though I’m technically saying he doesn’t dodder. We English majors love to ponder how you can’t say something without also implying its opposite, and this is a great example. (If you’re looking for another, consider how you’d feel if the big boss started his or her next staff meeting by saying, “Okay, I want to be clear here: nobody is talking about layoffs!”)

Meanwhile, I think it’s pretty much impossible to use the word “dodder” without summoning the phrase “doddering old fool.” So even if my dad was reassured that I’m clearly stating he doesn’t dodder, that phrase would be lurking nearby, casting a shadow over his poem-reading experience. I just couldn’t do that to the guy … I mean, the card and poem are supposed to be a tribute, right?

It also happens to be that “lacking a daughter” was totally apropos, and in my dad’s case the most powerful phrase in the whole poem. Family legend has it that he always wanted a daughter. My mom refutes this, but I think she’s just trying to keep me from feeling like the very first thing I did upon being born was to disappoint my father. I like to joke that my parents were hoping so hard for a girl, they chose a girl’s name, and when I ended up a boy, they saddled me with it anyway.

Line 7 – odd  … odder

Was this line mean-spirited? I’d say it was pushing the edge of the envelope. I owed that to myself after decades of pathetically obsequious letters to my father, trying to win his approval. I figured if I was being nice enough now to write him a poem, I could playfully tweak him a bit at the same time, to shore up my own self respect. (And you thought this was a simple limerick!)

All this being said, “odd” and “odder” wouldn’t have particularly irked my dad because he had to know he was odd. He didn’t exactly strive to fit in, and sometimes wore his eccentricity on his sleeve. For example, he ditched the hubcaps on his (already odd) Scion XB and painted the rims bright blue. During his last years he wore, almost exclusively, this pair of bright cranberry-relish colored trousers that he liked to boast were significantly discounted at L.L. Bean due to their unpopular color.

Did Dad get odder over time? Absolutely. He eschewed the normal methods of running a household; for example, he would board up his windows during winter with custom-cut forms of silver-surfaced Styrofoam, to improve insulation, and he took to storing his underwear and undershirts in a filing cabinet instead of a standard dresser. (What benefit he saw in that is beyond me.)

Would having a daughter have kept my dad from becoming odder? Possibly. My brothers and I didn’t tend to challenge our dad, because he didn’t seem comfortable with that kind of thing. Where males were concerned he was pretty competitive, in a way he wasn’t with females. A daughter would have had an easier rapport with him and could probably have said, “Lose the berry-colored pants, dude! You look like a doddering old fool!”

Line 8 – quite good with language

Even if my dad wouldn’t mind being called odd, I knew I was close to the line so a bit of praise couldn’t hurt. Besides, it’s true: he was very good with language. When I hear the rampant errors committed by modern engineer-types (e.g., “between you and I”), I tend to cringe; after all, my dad proved that respect for language and for STEM aren’t mutually exclusive.

Line 10 – get the right rhyme

This line deliberately conflates the reader with the poet, as though my dad himself could have written this poem. I think with the right motivation and some effort, he could have. As evidence, I draw your attention to a couplet he casually tossed off at the dinner table one night when protesting my mom’s choice of side vegetable:

It takes more than a muscled lout
To make me eat a Brussels sprout.

It occurs to me (only now, alas) that it would have been fun to challenge my dad to try his hand at a limerick or a sonnet. So you know what? I’m going to do some poetry with my mom and my brothers the next time I see them.

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

From the Archives - This Is a Short Story—NOT!


When I’ve lately searched my archives for an old essay worth posting, it’s felt like I’m down to the absolute dregs. One thing I’m resolute about sparing you are the short stories I wrote during high school, which are painful to read. The following essay, which I wrote in college, examines the difficulty I had with fiction, while sharing some personal history I hope you’ll find amusing.

This Is a Short Story - October 21, 1989

This is a short story.

Actually, it’s not. It’s just another ... well, whatever you want to call it. Essay, report, letter: whatever it is, it ain’t fiction. A family member reported recently getting shivers when reading about my life, and wishing it was fiction. Hey, if my memoirs make you uneasy, you should read my short stories! Or maybe you shouldn’t.

See, I’ve always had problems with fiction. A few years back, I could write it pretty readily—but it was really, really bad. My characters were either boring, unbelievable, or undeveloped. The situations were worse. Real life provides all this for me; I just have to write it all down. The only trouble is, I have to patiently wait for characters to show up and situations to happen, which takes too long … unless I delve into my past.

I’m probably the only 20-year-old alive who’s ready to write his autobiography. I could write a new volume every twenty years until I’m dead. So instead of the story I was going to try to write this evening, here are some reminisces.

 At my high school, most students hung out in packs (I’d say “cliques” but that’s such a stupid word). Within these groups, everybody tried to look like everybody else, so most of my peers in high school could be easily categorized: jock, egghead, stoner, hic, punker, cheerleader, reject, etc. I always had a strange fascination, almost an admiration, for those who took great pains to distinguish themselves and stand aloof from everyone. Take this guy in my Russian class, Timofey. That’s not really his name, but it’s the English phonetic spelling for his Russian name. Outside of class, he probably went by “Tim” which doesn’t fit him nearly as well. Who knows, maybe he adopted “Timofey” beyond the classroom … I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

Timofey made punk rockers look like Eddie Haskell. He wore this black leather jacket with a painting on the back of a pit bull with an arm sticking out of its mouth. Big block letters spelled out, “Pit bull for sale: loves children.” As you read that, it sounds stupid. And it was. But the fact that he wore that thing, without copping any kind of rebellious attitude, was unique. Unlike punkers, he was friendly and outgoing. His hair was even wilder than his jacket: a kind of square shaped, white ‘do with little vertical curls set in epoxy. I’m not kidding, epoxy—I asked. He was really funny not just to talk to, but to look at. He might have been smart; I couldn’t tell (though it was said that he was the first Russian language student in 20 years to fail the class). 

I guess the real reason I kind of respected the guy was that he wasn’t trying to relate to the punkers—in fact, they wouldn’t go near him. Where you would expect them to look at him with awe, their expressions seemed to say something like, “Gawd, that guy’s WEIRD!” He singlehandedly made their own poses look pretty weak; after all, most of these rote punkers would have cleaned up just fine and could be installed in a church service pretty readily. But not Timofey. I mean, how do you get hardened epoxy out of a kid’s hair?

When I started high school I was as judgmental and easily shocked as the next rank-and-file member of the nerdy wannabe-elite. Having Timofey in class, and finding him harmless, helped me let my guard down. I was also led toward greater acceptance of the unusual by this punk rocker chick named (in Russian) Masha. She had this way of looking at you with a half-smile, curling her lip like Billy Idol, as though she was kind of inwardly laughing at you, except you knew she wasn’t even paying attention to you, so she must have been laughing at everyone, at this class, at this whole stupid high school scene. I had a sizeable crush on Masha, even if her bleached, gelled, and shocked-up hair wasn’t set in epoxy. My only issue with her is that she almost never came to class.

So, yeah, exchanging pleasantries with Timofey and Masha (yes, they’d actually talk to me!) really expanded my worldview, to the point that when my brothers’ friend DT began an eerie metamorphosis into an unrecognizable hybrid of comic book villain and standup comedian, I rolled with it. He stopped wearing bike race t-shirts in favor of a big long overcoat, which accentuated his 6’4” 200-pound frame (which was itself a recent thing—he seemed to suddenly grow giant overnight). DT dyed his hair red—but not a realistic redhead red, but a lustrous dark black-cherry-red right out of a color comic book. Then he wore the old-school Steve Dallas sunglasses, let a good three days of razor stubble build up on his face, and clenched a cigar in his teeth. Maybe you never saw him like that, and if not it’s probably a good thing. You would’ve hated it, probably, because this was DT, a guy we all knew, a guy we didn’t want to laugh at like a strange exhibit from the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum. How are you supposed to hang out with a guy who looks like that?

To engage with DT and his new look took some adjustment. After all, he didn’t create that image so he could blend into the woodwork. He wanted to be noticed, to call attention to himself, just like the young rebel teen punk who sports a foot high blue mohawk and a studded collar and says things like “I just wanna be left alone!” To give DT a hard time for his carefully arranged look would be no fun, as would pretending you didn’t notice. I think he wanted us, or at least me, to play along with his transformation. One time he dropped by my locker after school, even though he had graduated years before. This stands out in my high school memories as one of the finest, having been charged with real (well, fictitious) menace.

First of all, DT was obviously not a Fairview student—way too old. He came swaggering up the ramp towards the student center, this huge, creepy looking thug made even bigger by his massive overcoat, with that stubble and cigar, clearing a path of high schoolers as he went. They must’ve thought he was some kind of lunatic … they gave him plenty of space and then stood there gawking. About thirty feet from me, he called out, “Yo, DANA! Hold it!” I acted real nervous and looked around as if for an escape route, and when he reached me he said, “Tell your friend David if he calls me Mike again, he’ll wake up dead!” All the people around my locker sort of cleared out at this point, and gathered at a safe distance to see what was going on. DT looked around, and sort of put his arm around me like he was going to inflict some kind of pain if I acted up. He whispered, “Hey, Dana, what’s up? You wanna come look at that bike?” but we both knew people assumed he was saying, “It’s too late to back out now. I’ll go easy on you but you miss this next score and you’re dead meat.” I stammered out something like, “Hey, man, I don’t want any trouble.”

Then DT escorted me down the ramp towards the exit, his arm around my shoulders like we were friends but with the suggestion that this could become a headlock very suddenly. Once we were out of sight, we broke out laughing. To my delight, the next day I got some nervous questions from the guys in my honors classes, and I replied in a suitably evasive fashion. I felt like I’d made some important transition from standard nerd to somebody slightly more complicated. (Yes, it has dawned on me that my pose was about as ridiculous as DT’s, but no matter.)

So, I think I’ve known some pretty interesting people, who could be given code names and assigned roles in some totally fictitious story. Like, maybe Timofey and DT meet at a U2 concert and decide to sneak backstage or something. Except that’s dumb, they wouldn’t hit it off at all. Timofey probably wouldn’t be caught dead at U2, he’d be at a Fear concert or something, and DT would be too busy hitting on some girl in the t-shirt line to even think of sneaking backstage. And even if they did, they’d just get chucked out by security, and where’s the story in that? It’d be a really amazing memory if it actually happened to you, but stories have to be way more exciting than that, at least if they’re the type that could make me famous so I could go on “Donahue.”

So, I guess what I’m saying is, though I’d love to be a famous fiction writer, I really don’t know how, and to try to fake it makes about as much sense as changing my hair and outfit and hoping that’ll make me into an exciting, unique person. But faking it at fiction would actually be worse, because you’d read my stories and think, “This just sucks,” whereas Timofey’s hair, Masha’s tongue-in-cheek sneer, and DT’s costume were at least entertaining. So I’ll just keep reporting on that sort of thing, and hope you like it.

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Friday, May 31, 2019

Ask an English Major

Dear English Major,

Why don’t they call it Literature Major? I mean, it’s not like you’re learning to speak the language or something.

Brandy F, Phoenix, AZ

Dear Brandy,

That seems like a fair question. Of course, “literature” could be in any language, so at least “English” makes it clear. “English literature” was probably the full name of the major and was it eventually shortened. If it had been shortened to “literature,” people would further shorten it to “lit,” and there would be terrible puns around drunkenness. But the truth is, I just don’t know. The origin of “English” as the name of the major isn’t something they taught us in the major.

Dear English Major,

I have this uppity English-major friend who insists the name of the Lolita author is pronounced Nuh-BOH-kov, but we all know from the Police song that it’s NAH-bah-kov. Is my friend just putting on airs?

Jack H, Buffalo, NY

Dear Jack,

I hate to break it to you, but your friend is right. The author himself, when asked in an interview, explained that the accent falls in the middle, and says of the English pronunciation, with the accent on the first syllable, “The awful ‘Na-bah-kov’ is a despicable gutterism.” When I get the Police song in my head, I can’t resist changing it from “It’s no use/ He sees her/ He starts to shake and cough/ Just like the/ Old man in/ That book by Nabokov” to “It’s no use/ He sees her/ He’s really acting queer/ Just like the / Old man in/ That book by Vladimir.” Of course, the only works with the English pronunciation of “Vladimir.” Nabokov says it should rhyme with “redeemer.”

Dear English Major,

Why are you always correcting people’s grammar? It’s really annoying.

Lisa M, Seattle, WA

Dear Lisa,

Why do I always get accused of that? I never correct people’s grammar. People seem to lay that on me for no good reason. Maybe they’re afraid that I will correct them, because they know I could. But I don’t, and I don’t think many English majors do. Truth be told, we aren’t taught much, if any, grammar in this major. I happen to have impeccable grammar because I care about it, but that was true before I went to college.

Dear English Major,

How do you hide your smugness and air of intellectual superiority when thrown in with a bunch of Business majors?

Paul B, Iowa City, IA

Dear Paul,

I sense that your question is either sarcastic, or some kind of trap. Let’s talk about this face to face over a beer sometime.

Dear English Major,

I was a panelist at a workshop recently on building executive function in teenagers. During the meet-and-greet I introduced myself as John Morse, and then the next panelist glared at me and introduced himself as “Joe Blow, he/him/his.” What the hell was that all about?

John Morse, Oakland, CA

Dear John,

Joe Blow was surely using a shorthand for the more complete introduction, “My name is Joe Blow and my gender pronouns are he/him/his.” He was conveying his Preferred Gender Pronouns (PGPs) as described here. It is becoming more common, particularly in progressive communities, to provide these in advance so nobody needs to worry about offending you by getting your pronouns wrong due to an automatic assumption about your chosen gender identity.

I have no problem with the embrace of PGPs in language, as it’s a movement that means well, but I do think it rude of Joe Blow to glare at you. Setting somebody up to guess wrong about your chosen gender identity seems like a victimless crime to me, since it’s still statistically unlikely this panelist would need to employ a pronoun at all when referring to you. I mean, how long does the panel discussion last? Couldn’t he just say “I think John’s point is that…” rather than “I think his point is that…”? Also, is it the end of the world if he guesses wrong about your pronoun and you have to gently correct him?

Personally, I’m tempted to say, next time I’m introducing myself, “My name is Dana and my personal pronouns are she/him/their.” But of course I wouldn’t actually do this. I’d hate to offend anybody.

Dear English Major,

A degree in English? What are you going to do with that?

Ken S, Broomfield, CO

Dear Ken,

Your question would be much more appropriate if I were still in college and my future were a great unknown. But actually, I graduated long ago, but still use the label “English major.” To say “English graduate” just sounds weird, doesn’t it? Funny, isn’t it, how a law student graduates and becomes a lawyer, and a medical student graduates and becomes a doctor, but an English major graduates and doesn’t really get to call himself anything? I guess that’s kind of your point.

Anyway, I fielded this question a lot back in college, and it’s a pity the movie “Napoleon Dynamite” hadn’t come out yet because then I could have answered, “Whatever I feel like. Gosh!” Anyway, you need to learn not to ask English majors this question, because you’ll probably work for one of us someday. Myself, I own a home and drive a pretty cool car. So lay off.

Dear English Major,

What do you do when somebody corrects your grammar?

Kathleen Templeton, NYC

Dear Kathleen,

I don’t know, because that has never happened. Some advice columnists seem to enjoy falling on their swords as a show of humility, but that strikes me as irresponsible. I don’t get corrected because I don’t make mistakes. That’s why I get to dispense advice.

That being said, I have been put on the defensive by someone claiming I’ve made an error when I actually haven’t. For example, my dad was once emailing a friend of his about my blog, explaining that he (my dad) didn’t tend to read it because my posts are too long. (He reckoned that the post I was running that week would, if printed, comprise 29.3 pages.) In his email he pointed out something he construed as an error on my blog: “It would be fun to tease [Dana] about ‘That’s me’ as opposed to the grammatically correct ‘That’s I’ [in the sentence ‘That’s me with my friend Dan.’]”

Right off the bat, I have to question my dad’s use of the hypothetical subjunctive—“It would be fun”—when in fact he clearly was teasing me by copying me on this email. But my main issue was his simpleminded assumption that punctiliously correct grammar is always appropriate when communicating informally with a specific audience. I replied as follows: “Rest assured that what you took for a grammatical error was a conscious stylistic decision to use the colloquial ‘that’s me.’ I figured that particular post would get a lot of pageviews from dumb jocks, who would not realize that ‘That’s I’ is actually correct, and would be distracted by the correct construction. If you look at some of the comments readers posted, you'll see I likely guessed right.” I went on to correct my dad’s math about the length of the post. It actually ran only 6½ printed pages, not the 29.3 he erroneously calculated. Take that, Dad!

Dear English Major,

With all this emphasis on STEM, I don’t think there’s any way to convince my kid to pursue a Liberal Arts degree. When people, particularly the STEM types, ask you why you majored in English, what do you tell them?

Monique R, Portland, OR

Dear Monique,

Honestly, when faced with this question, my stock reply is, “Well, frankly, I knew it would be an easy major for me. You see, I grew up speaking English at home.”

I know this isn’t that funny, and it’s certainly evasive, but I just don’t think the STEM types can be easily convinced. You either grasp the value of the Liberal Arts, or you don’t. I feel bad for those who head for these dependably lucrative fields because they’re afraid of ending up poor and miserable. To me this indicates a pitiable lack of swagger.

If pressed on this topic, I’ll sometimes quote from the commencement address delivered by a former professor of mine, the bestselling writer Maxine Hong Kingston. (Because I went through the ceremony in May, but actually finished up that December, I was able to get a copy of the speech from Maxine herself—with her own handwritten notes in the margin.) When hassled by others for her choice of English as a major, she said something to the effect of, “Look, I didn’t treat college like a vocational school. I got the degree of an aristocrat.” (I don’t have the transcript handy so I can’t quote her directly, but you get the idea.)

I won’t deny that there are people who truly love math, engineering, or writing software. My brother was one of them, and he dove headfirst into programming because he just loved it. This was in junior high when he surely wasn’t thinking whatsoever about his future. But you’d never have had a conversation with him about STEM vs. English; he would have been too busy coding. But for those who don’t truly love math and science, to pursue a “practical” major that will “set them up to thrive in the new information economy” etc. seems like a recipe for frustration and unhappiness.

Dear English Major,

Can you recommend ten great novels for me?

Sarah Winslow, Minneapolis, MN

Dear Sarah,

I’m flattered you would ask me that, when the Internet is replete with recommended reading lists. But this is a tough request because I don’t even know you, so it’s hard to guess at what you’d enjoy. My wife, who is (well, was) also an English major, loves a lot of the same books I do, but would also hate a number of my favorites. For example, I love the relaxed pace and meandering style of T.R. Pearson’s Off for the Sweet Hereafter, but I know it would try my wife’s patience.

So, with that lengthy caveat, I will try to cobble together a list, knowing that as soon as this goes to press I’ll think of ten more books that are more deserving. I see that I already gave you one title, so here are nine others in no particular order. 
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  • Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov
  • A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov
  • My Antonia by Willa Cather
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  • Kim by Rudyard Kipling
It seems ridiculous not to include Anna Karenina in that list, but it’s almost 900 pages long. Are you really going to read anything that thick?

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Truth About Elite College Admissions


About a year ago in these pages, I posed the question, “Is it harder to get into a top college now?” The answer I gave was essentially “No.” I cited a study by the New York Times, based on the applications of 800,000 students, which found that a well-qualified student has an 80% chance of getting into at least one of her top choices. I (rhetorically) demanded an apology from everybody who stressed out my daughter and her friends by painting a totally inaccurate doom-and-gloom picture.

Well, a year on, with my daughter’s application process complete, what was her outcome? Does my conclusion hold up empirically? In this post I share the shocking tale of how it played out. I was literally shocked. It turns out I’d been asking the wrong question all along.

The outcome, in a nutshell

In my last essay I predicted that all the Sturm und Drang would end up being unwarranted, as things would come out just fine. So was I right? Here’s how my daughter and her friends ended up faring.

My daughter’s friend N— applied to Cornell, the Naval Academy, West Point, MIT, and Berkeley. She was accepted by Cornell and Berkeley, turned down by MIT, and waitlisted and ultimately rejected by West Point. She was initially accepted by the Naval Academy, who subsequently revoked her acceptance based on a health problem closer in severity to a hangnail than an amputation.

My daughter’s friend C— was accepted by Oxford. I don’t remember who else accepted her, nor whether anybody rejected her, because it couldn’t possibly matter. I mean: Oxford.

My daughter’s friend M— applied to Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley. She was accepted by MIT and by Berkeley (who offered her a full scholarship). She was waitlisted and ultimately rejected by Harvard, who declared that her nose wasn’t cute enough. (Okay, I made up that last bit. Who knows why they turned her down.)

My daughter, a mostly-A student, applied to Cornell, Vassar, Brown, Berkeley, UCLA, Johns Hopkins, and Northwestern, along with a bunch of safety schools. Her first choice was Northwestern, to which she applied early decision to improve her odds. Northwestern deferred her, which (according to her extensive research) gave her about a 50/50 chance of later being accepted. While waiting for their final verdict, she was rejected by Brown, UCLA, and Berkeley. She was waitlisted by Johns Hopkins (and as I write this, my daughter still doesn’t have their verdict.) Over time, she was accepted at all her safety schools, rejected by Northwestern, and rejected by Cornell, but—yes!—accepted by Vassar.

Pretty good outcome across these kids, eh? It certainly supports the Times study that predicted an 80% chance of a qualified student getting at least one of her top choices. I wish my essay could end here, but I haven’t gotten to the shocking part yet.

The real truth about college admissions

For a day or two, my daughter was on cloud nine about going to Vassar. She told all her friends, drooled over all the gorgeous campus photos on their website (“Look, Dad, every dorm has a grand piano in its common area!”), and read the student reviews (which weren’t actually as glowing as I’d expected, the main two complaints being some version of “everybody is too liberal” and “everybody is too spoiled”). We were a bit nervous about the cost, but my daughter had done her research on that. Vassar is famously generous with financial aid, she said, with the average student getting like $50K a year. Vassar was even singled out in a Malcolm Gladwell podcast as a school that makes good decisions with its endowment. My daughter was really confident we’d be able to afford her tuition.

Then we got an email from Vassar saying, essentially, “Great news: you don’t need any financial aid! You will be able to afford to attend without any help … so you’re not getting any.” That’s right, not a cent.

I thought there must be some mistake. The Bay Area where we live is notoriously expensive, and my family has only one income. Vassar costs $73,000 a year, not including books, supplies, personal expenses, or transportation. I seriously entertained the notion that a simple bureaucratic mistake had been made. I consulted the financial aid page of their website. (The first sentence reads, “You do not have to be wealthy or even well off to attend Vassar.” The boldface is theirs.) I checked out their Net Price Calculator and plugged in a bunch of numbers, including my non-spectacular salary.

Well, their email was no fluke. The calculator spat out the same financial aid number: $0.00. It turns out that when Vassar says they are “committed to meeting 100% of the demonstrated financial need” of students, what they mean is, if you absolutely don’t have any savings or significant income, they’ll give you money. But if you are anything like middle class, you’ll have plenty of fiscal resources to exhaust, so you don’t qualify for financial aid. Do you own a home? Good—get a second mortgage on it. Got a rental property? Sell it. Happily married? Get a divorce. Got a 401(k)? Cash it in: your desire to have a pleasant retirement one day is an extravagant luxury you can’t afford. To Vassar, “financial need” means you completely lack any resources to draw down.

Suddenly, I felt completely naïve. When a college can choose from thousands of qualified applicants, why wouldn’t they pick the ones whose parents are willing to foot the bill themselves? Certainly there are families out there so terrified of their kids washing up that they’ll make this sacrifice … surely more than enough such families to fill Vassars’ student ranks.

So it turns out my daughter was agonizing over the wrong question. Instead of worrying about what colleges would accept her, she should have been worrying about which ones we could afford. Or better yet, not worrying at all, as we live in California, which has world class public universities.

The aftermath

I had innocently believed that, once my daughter had finally heard back from all these places, we could finally move on—that the agony would be over. But this outcome was even worse than if she’d simply been rejected by all her “reach” schools. Now she had proven she deserved a top college, but wouldn’t get to go. Instead of faulting Vassar for rejecting her, my daughter turned her disappointment on her mom and me. She didn’t say anything mean or angry—she mainly asked versions of “Are you sure you can’t afford this?”—but she might as well have. The closest she came to a direct accusation of parental incompetence was, “Didn’t you guys do a 529 college savings plan?” I felt like replying, “No, it never occurred to us that you might need money for college one day. I guess we’re not very good parents.” (My actual reply was, “To answer your direct question, no. But it’s not because we didn’t plan ahead. It’s because the 529 is a stupid plan. We did save money for your college. But we didn’t sock away $300,000.”)

It dawned on me that it was no accident Vassar delivered the acceptance ahead of the financial aid notification. It was a terrorist tactic, no different than Kellogg’s hawking sugary cereal during Saturday morning cartoons. Vassar fills these kids’ heads with dreams of this elite college experience and then when they drop the bomb about zero financial aid, the parents become the problem.

I had my daughter write a nice letter appealing Vassar’s decision, citing our family’s single income, the cost of living in the Bay Area, and the second kid we’ll need to put through college. We sent it certified mail. Vassar never responded. They did, however, continue sending us glossy brochures of their beautiful campus.

So you know what? Fuck Vassar’s grand pianos. Fuck their reputation for generous aid. And fuck the conventional wisdom of “You just worry about getting in, we’ll take care of the cost.” That’s not practical … it’s a fantasy.

Now that I’ve seen the light, I really doubt other private universities would be more generous. I went ahead and tried out the Net Price Calculator for Northwestern, and of the $85,000 per year they charge, my daughter is eligible for financial aid in the amount of (you guessed it) $0.00. Thank God she didn’t get in.

My daughter will be enrolling at a UC campus that has great weather, gorgeous beaches, and is ranked top ten in the nation among public schools. If she hadn’t been accepted by Vassar, she’d probably be really excited.

The irony

It’s ironic that the essential unaffordability, for our family, of a private university caught my daughter off guard, given the exhaustive amount of research she did into the application process. I recently lamented here how the Internet gives us vastly more information than we need, and too much of the time we’re unable to resist devouring it. I griped specifically about how the trove of college-related websites hijacked my daughter’s attention: 
My daughter started her college application process like a year in advance. She combed the Internet for every scrap of information pertaining to every college she considered applying to. She maintained a master spreadsheet tracking them. She could quote massive amounts of statistics about each one: acceptance rate, average weighted GPA of students accepted, average SAT scores, national ranking, self-reported student satisfaction levels, lifestyle ratings, you name it. Tracking all this info was like a part time job.
With so much information available, it’s a pity my daughter missed the important step of researching affordability. If she’d started there, just think of all the hours she wouldn’t have spent writing personal essays or trawling college websites. Think of all that dread, all that anxiety, and ultimately all that heartache that she’d have avoided. As for myself, I didn’t need another reason to be cynical about big business in America, but I sure got one.

Chalk this up to a lesson learned the hard way. As Henry James pointed out, “We pay more for some kinds of knowledge than those particular kinds are worth.”

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Friday, May 17, 2019

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2019 Tour of California Stage 6


Sportscasters covering professional cycling have a massive challenge: how to describe the action while continuously biting their tongues. They’re not allowed to bag on dopers, so they have to pretend that it’s exciting to watch a totally lubed rider destroy everybody. The Tour of California, however, runs concurrently with the much more prestigious Giro d’Italia, where the heavy hitters are. The TofCA is bound to be a cleaner race, so the announcers have got that going for them. Which is good.

So yeah, you could watch the coverage live, using the Amgen Tour of California Tour Tracker which really is the greatest streaming video platform ever. I’m so stoked on it, I feel like supporting Amgen by buying a bunch of their EPO. But even with this great tracker, the coverage is in the middle of your workday, so you don’t have time, and if you try to watch the highlights later, they’re going to give the outcome away in the first five seconds for some reason. You don’t want that.

Besides, maybe you’re a bit disgruntled by the sport, like I am, so you like my snotty remarks. Of course you do … you wouldn’t be here otherwise. So read on for my biased blow-by-blow report of the all-important, GC-deciding Tour of CA Stage 6, which finishes atop Mount Baldy in southern California (motto: “Don’t you dare walk here, we’ll ticket your ass!”).

2019 Tour of California Stage 6 – Ontario to Mount Baldy

I join the action way, way late. I took the whole day off work, went for a bike ride, went too slow, got home late, and then had a nice lunch at a Tibetan restaurant were the service was so slow, I almost wonder if they hired the cook after taking our order. Only 14 kilometers remain in the whole race, so I’m going to have to really rush here, which means typing “km” instead of “kilometers” from here on out, and not taking time to change kms to miles for you. Also, if I need to talk about the weather, I may express the temperature in Kelvin.

There’s a breakaway. Behind, some Bora-Hansgrohe guy has attacked the peloton. He’s trying to bridge up to the break, which only has like 30 seconds on them. That’s not a lot when at least half the remaining distance is uphill. The Bora guy is Felix somebody. With a first name like that, you don’t actually need a last name … “Felix” is distinct enough. I have a pal named John and I told him his name is useless. He agreed: “It’s a fcuking disaster.”

Okay, Felix’s last name is Großschartner. I admit I was stalling just a second ago, because that’s a really hard name to type. had it as Grossschartner which I knew couldn’t be right. I mean, three Ss in a row? Nobody would have such a name. You couldn’t say it without hissing. Everyone would hate you.

Felix has a teammate in the breakaway, Maximilian Schachmann. So if Felix bridges up successfully, he’ll be able to help Schachmann win, obviously. I don’t know if there are time bonuses in this race because I was barely aware it was even happening until two days ago. Someone mentioned it was going on this week, so I looked for the Tour Tracker and happened to check out the final 10 km of the Morro Bay stage, which had apparently been super boring until the last 8 km. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Felix is on the short descent to the base of Mount Baldy. The top ten riders are all within like 30 seconds of each other in the general classification and there’s no time trial in this race, so this climb will be absolutely decisive.

The breakaway is Schachmann, Hugo Houle (Astana Pro Team), Matteo Fabbro (Katusha Alpecin), Pawel Bernas (CCC), Lennard Hofstede (Jumbo-Visma), and one other guy whom I’ll call John because hey, why not.

Schachmann is only 22 seconds off the GC lead, so this break is probably doomed. Tejay’s EF Education First team will surely reel them in, and even if they don’t, the race officials will bend the rules until Tejay comes out on top. They did that already in the Morro Bay stage, where Tejay crashed, then took a wrong turn, then blatantly drafted a support car for a really long way, and then only caught up to part of the peloton—specifically, the riders who were on the ground due to another crash—and because this was inside the final 3 km the officials gave Tejay the same time as the entire peloton: that is, as the part of the peloton that hadn’t crashed and was way, way ahead of Tejay. Meanwhile, this was actually 3.2 km from the finish, but the officials didn’t really care. I think they want a known rider, and an American one, to win the race because it looks better. I mean, if Hugo Houle won, what would that do for the sport? Everyone would remember it as “a foreigner called Huge Hole won,” and they’d shrug and go back to NASCAR. At least, that must be the thinking of the commissaires. As if this sport weren’t a big enough joke already.

Lawson Craddock is leading the chase for Tejay. He’s a great ungodly godlike domestique. I wish I could get him to work for me. Not in my races, of course, because those are few and far between. I could really use him for some light filing, maybe going through my mail and throwing out all the junk. Running errands. Things like that. I wonder of Craddock does that for Tejay during the off-season.

Wow, Schachmann has dropped the break and is trying to solo! He’s only got like 6 km to go, but also 2,000 vertical feet. And it’ll be hard to pedal effectively with such big balls crowding the crotch of his shorts. He looks like he’s pretty cool and calm, but that could just be a poker face.

Okay, the announcers just said there’s a 10-second time bonus for the win. But is that really going to happen? Tejay is really fast, obviously, and I think his teammate Rigoberto Uran Uran is in that field with him, and on a good day Uran is almost matchless on the climbs so he should pace Tejay quite effectively. (I guess I should hedge a bit though and point out that I haven’t watched a road race since last year’s Tour de France, where Uran crashed out, so for all I know he’s gotten too old to go fast.)

This stage is such a great one to watch, because there are plenty of GC hopefuls who haven’t had much opportunity to do anything in this largely flat stage race and have put all their hopes on this climb. Another rider to watch is Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), who had so many not-normal performances with Team Sky that the only thing holding him back today would be not being able to find a fresh vein to inject himself in. I guess maybe his new team is clean though. Maybe he’s a really good guy and Team Sky was just a bad influence.

Speaking of Team Ineos (née Sky), its leader Gianni Moscon, wearing bib #1, is going out the back! So I guess the peloton is already going pretty damn fast. That being said, Schachmann has increased his lead to 35 seconds with only 5 km to go.

Tejay looks pretty comfortable. That yellow jersey looks so much better than the pink ones EF riders wear. In this one instance, I wouldn’t fault Tejay for wearing a yellow helmet to match the leader’s jersey. But a black helmet would be even better.

Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) is now leading the peloton. He would be wearing the leader’s jersey today were it not for the clowns officiating this race (as described above). He must be impatient with the EF team or something, or maybe he’s trying to crack them in Merckx style instead of attacking. That worked pretty well for Merckx … everyone since him, not so much.

Shirtless idiots have arrived to run alongside the riders. I hope one of them gets smacked. Not hard or anything. Just a smack.

Whoooooah, Tejay is cracking! Dude is just getting shelled, with his own teammates ahead of him! Who’d have thought! I guess he’s getting old or something. It happens to the best of us. Heck, even Chris Horner kind of sucked toward the end, not that I blame him. I feel so old myself now, talking about riders who have retired. I confess I kind of lost track of this sport after Chris Froome was exonerated and I could no longer bear to watch.

Wow, Asgreen has been dropped! He looked so good earlier.

Now George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) makes a dig and gets a bit of a gap before anyone can react. He’s being joined now by Tejay’s teammate Sergio Higuita, and not far behind it looks like Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates). I think that’s Porte struggling along behind them.

Higuita attacks!

Higuita is hauling ass and there’s no poker-face here, he’s just drilling it, his face a pitcher of pansies. You didn’t think I was gonna say “picture of pain” did you? I would never do that. His face is a pitcher. A patchwork. A bun. A bane. And more.

Porte is having bike problems. Good.

It’s only 1.6 km to go! Higuita is still really motoring. It’s hard to tell how far behind he is from Schachmann. Do I care who wins? Not much, though I don’t like Higuita’s neon green shoes. His Pepto-Bismol-pink jersey is ugly enough without introducing neon green to the outfit. Behind Higuita, Pogacar and Bennett keep up the chase, Porte having been totally distanced.

The break has completely dissolved, every man in it for himself. Like all the rest of us. Except moms. They’re in it for their kids. But I digress.

It looks like Pogacar is catching Higuita. He looks really smooth, and started the day only 16 seconds behind Tejay on GC.

Pogacar and Higuita are together now and look like they’re kind of crawling. The camera makes these grades look way flatter than they are. It must be insanely steep. I’m so glad I’m just sitting in this armchair typing, not out biking with these fools.

OMG, there’s 100 meters to go and still no sign of Schachmann, which means they must have passed him at some point. I’ve been thinking he was up the road this whole time! Maybe he was abducted by aliens or something. Crazier things have happened in this sport, like Froome getting off the hook after testing positive.

It’s the final sprint, and Bennett is coming back! And now Higuita overcooks the final curve, taking it too wide!

Pogacar comes blasting through! He’s freakin’ flying! He’s got proper black shoes and he’s blowing Higuita out of the water!

Pogacar’s got the wine! I mean win! He’s got the win! He’ll get the wine later. See how these typos work?

And now we wait to see how far back Tejay finishes. Wow, it’s not good. He’s clearly lost the GC. And he’s so tired, his arms are all crooked.

Gosh, Pogacar is super young. He looks like he’s about 15 years old. I think he cools himself the way dogs do. Maybe all the young humans are being made this way now. Okay, they’re saying he’s actually 20 years old. Too young to buy booze, which is surely why he had that extra edge today. I love to drink beer and look how slow I am. (No, you can’t actually look. Nobody is filming me. Thank God.)

Tejay’s daughter is too young to realize just how badly her dad fcuked this up today. She still loves him. That’ll change. When she’s a teenager she’ll read this blog (like all the cool teens will), and then she’ll be like, “Dad, the beginning of the end was Mount Baldy. Speaking of which, how’d you get so bald? You’re, like, a living fossil! And your chain of auto dealerships is failing.”

So, Pogacar not only has the yellow jersey, but rumor has it he’s going to get a video game made in his honor. Here he is getting his yellow jersey. Note that the podium girl doesn’t kiss him. Maybe she’s afraid she’ll get in trouble. Or maybe they’re not doing that anymore.

Man, Pogacar is so fricking young, some thoughtful race official got him a teddy bear! That is so fitting! They’ll have cookies and milk waiting for him later. I love the thought of him snuggling with that teddy bear tonight, maybe wearing his medal over his Star Wars pajamas.

They’re interviewing him now. “I was really strong and that made me go fast. Strong means fast, I have noticed. Higuita took the turn too wide. This black stuff you see at the corners of my mouth is Oreo. I just ate like five of them really fast. In Slovenia we have no Oreos. Also I have won very many bike races back home but nobody ever gave me a bear. I love America.”

Note: as you probably already figured out, I totally made all that up. He did say something about going fast and being strong, but after that it got really boring. “Thanks to my team blah blah blah.” It’s possible that my freestyling got us closer to the real truth. Though you must not quote me on the Oreo thing. I just did some light fact-checking and discovered this blog post, all about Oreos in Slovenia. I did not make that up. Click the link.

Now they’re doing the team podium. Here are the top three teams:

Wait, how did that get in there? That’s not just the wrong race, that’s the wrong sport! What you see above is the Albany High Cougars mountain bike team celebrating their victory in the team overall for the season. How that photo made it into this report is beyond me … probably some kind of online tampering. I’m going to leave it though, because they’re even younger and more fresh-faced than Pogacar. And that’s saying a lot.

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