Friday, November 23, 2012

Dead Indian Memorial Thanksgiving Ride

NOTE:  This post is rated PG-13 for mild strong language and coarse humor.


It’s the day after Thanksgiving and I’m not sprawled out like a beached whale.  The feast is tonight instead.  While the womenfolk prepare it, I’ll recount my gorge-free day of pure gratitude—well, okay, cycling and gratitude—which was yesterday.  But don’t worry, this won’t be a Normal Rockwell or Thomas Kincade  style preciousness-fest.  It’ll be a snarky, snooty … no it won’t.  In between.  A frigid ride described through the prism of grudging gratitude.  C’mon, it’ll be fun.  There's even some photos.


Really, I kind of don’t see the point of Thanksgiving.  That doesn’t mean I don’t see the point of giving thanks.  I just don’t like the idea of compressing all your gratitude into one day, so that everybody is going around the table trying to outdo each other with innovative, comprehensive outpourings.  It’s like a bunch of Academy Awards speeches and meanwhile our food is getting cold.  My kids haven’t asked me to explain this holiday; perhaps they instinctively know I’d ruin everything by saying, “Well, early colonists would have starved but the Native Americans saved them, so the next year they threw a big celebration feast, and then ran the Native Americans off onto reservations, which were tracts of land that weren’t of much use until somebody had the brilliant idea of running casinos on them so the white man could exploit a lucrative gambling loophole and blame it on the Native Americans.

I prefer to thank as I go, year-round.  My wife and I make the kids do it, too.  “What are you grateful for today?” is a standard dinner table conversation starter (or killer, let’s be honest), along with “Everybody recount the most embarrassing thing you did today.”

Ride prep

The first thing I’m grateful for is that I got to ride at all.  First thing in the morning my wife started speaking to me in hushed tones.  This usually means she’s hatching a plan for a family outing and doesn’t want the kids to weigh in.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a bad person, but I don’t always want to spend my day off doing boring things with my kids.  (Okay, maybe I am a bad person.)  Now, a good hike isn’t boring, and I’d normally be up for it, but one of Ashland’s main attractions is Lithia Park, where teenagers go to smoke pot, and which has a playground for little kids and their bored parents.  I had a feeling the playground would suck us in.

I don’t mind watching my kids play on a playground.  Actually, that’s not true.  I do mind it.  For me, quality time can take a variety of forms and that’s not one of them.  I’d much rather read to my kids, or just sit next to them on the couch, each of us with a book.  I was doing this with Lindsay in the morning, all cozy and everything, and suddenly she fled to the far end of the couch.  I asked what was up.  “You committed flatulence!” she accused.  I denied it (honestly, I hadn’t done it).  I said she had done it.  “No, I know it wasn’t me because mine are very loud,” she said.  “Yours are more … solemn.”

Ah!  The insight of a child.  Suddenly I had a brainstorm about the craft of writing.  I read a Stephen King book about writing recently, and he exhorted the budding writer to avoid adverbs.  His position is that if your description is good enough, the nature of the action should be obvious. Well, what exactly about my (alleged) flatulence had struck Lindsay as solemn?  What body language had conveyed this surprising notion?  And how might this mystery inflect my own writing? 
They drove along the winding road, stereo off, taking in the full range of autumn colors.  The trees just don’t do this in San Diego.  He looked over at Claire, trying to gauge her mood.  She’d been quiet for some time:  was this a sign of irritation, or had the scenery cast a pleasant spell?  He noted a certain set of her jaw, slightly disrupting the tranquility of her face.  Was she even enjoying the drive?  Or was she distracted by a memory of her former life, when she’d lived here?  Probably he was over-thinking things, as usual.  He gave his head a tiny shake as he acknowledged, not for the first time, the inscrutability of others.  Perhaps it was enough to just enjoy the drive and not try to know everything.  Yes, perhaps this smooth, asphalt road and the brilliant hues of the leaves would have to be enough.  He farted solemnly.
Getting back to the family plan, I was relieved to learn that my wife’s idea was to head to Lithia Park, let the kids play, and then take them hiking while I did a bike ride.  For this plan I felt much gratitude.

While filling my water bottles, asked my wife, “Hey, did you ever check out that link I sent you to the Hater’s Guide to the Williams Sonoma Catalog?”  She said she hadn’t, that she hadn’t had time, but not to take it personally.  “Take it personally?” I protested.  “Why would I do that?  It’s not like I wrote the thing.”  I reflected sexistly that only a female would take such a thing personally.  I reminded her:  “I’m a guy.  I don’t take anything personally.  If you told me my breath stunk, I’d say, ‘Oh yeah?!  You should take a look in the mirror!  You probably have something really stinky lodged in one of your nostrils!”  So I guess in this realm I am glad I’m a guy, and also glad that I can pretend to be sexist without angering my wife.

(Do you think Stephen King would have minded that adverb, “sexistly”?  If so, on what grounds:  that it’s an adverb, or that it’s not even a real word?)

The next thing I was grateful for was that I managed to overcome a mechanical problem with my bike.  One of the inner tubes wouldn’t hold air due to a bad valve.  It’s touch and go.  The leak isn’t obvious unless you (well, I) apply some saliva and then check, with your (okay, my) tongue for that buzzing, bubbling sensation that indicates a leak.  Oddly, my wife didn’t seem curious about why I was French-kissing my French valve.  I finally had an “aha!” moment and put a bit of cold vulcanizing fluid on there before screwing on the valve cap, figuring when it set up it might help form a seal.  Sounds absurd but it seemed to work.  I was really proud of myself and was dying to describe the solution to my wife.  I said, “I’m trying really hard to resist describing my innovative bike repair to you.”  She replied, “Well you’re not trying hard enough.”  I’m grateful that instead of silently suffering my bike-mania, she stops me cold.  This dynamic is probably the backbone of our marriage.  (By the way, I never normally use valve caps.  I was grateful to have brought one, having thankfully noticed the flaky valve before we left home.)

The ride

We parked at Lithia Park, I checked my bike tire (still holding!), and I said goodbye to the family and headed out.  I was grateful for the ingenious helmet liner that I was trying out for the first time, that kept my head from feeling like it had been stabbed through the vents and then had ice cubes thrust into the open wounds.  I was grateful for my extra-thick leg warmers and my stretched-out old cycling shoes that accommodated thick Smartwool socks.  And I was grateful for the dry climate of this area.  Not only did that make the cold air less harsh, but the crotch of my shorts had dried out after my post-urinal drip.  I don’t know why I sometimes drip but I think every guy sometimes does.  (A sonnet I once wrote on this topic ended, “For urine flow can never really stop/ Until your undies drink the final drop.”)  You might say this is much ado about nothing—how much could have dripped, anyway?  Well, imagine the amount of moisture that might condense on a telescope lens.  Now picture the Hubble Space Telescope.

I headed for Dead Indian Memorial Road, a solid 9-mile climb up to about 5,000 feet (similar to Mount Diablo in the Bay Area).  It’s my go-to ride when I visit my mom.  The road used to be called “Dead Indian Road”—it had been called that since the olden days—but the Native Americans eventually protested.  The modern name is a compromise that I’m not sure the Native Americans should have accepted.  It’s a tricky thing.  “Dead Native American Memorial Road” is too long, and “Native American Memorial Road” suggests an entire race was wiped out.  “Dead Injun Road” has obvious problems; though it does allude to this name having been assigned long, long ago (which is perhaps slightly less offensive than if the road had been named recently), it’s far too harsh.

I didn’t feel so hot, and thus felt grateful I didn’t have to try to keep up with anyone.  I once did a group ride on this climb, on Thanksgiving Day years ago, and one sprightly novice overcooked it and ended up vomiting.  I can still picture the pool of vomit in the road.

I saw a bald eagle.  I’m not a birdwatcher (or “birder” as they call themselves) but I’ve seen some pretty awesome birds during bike rides.  This was probably the highlight.  I felt grateful that my wife and older daughter, though both self-identifying as birders, don’t wear hats with long bills like so many birders do (a subconscious, or even conscious, effort to look like birds themselves?) or throw around cool-birder terms like “mo-doe” for mourning dove or “sharpie” for sharp-shinned hawk.  And they don’t go around making bird-calls like “pwish-pwish-pwish” as if they could actually attract birds.  I felt grateful for all of this.

I gave thanks to the skies for not dumping rain or snow on me.  I even enjoyed periods of sun.  I remembered several rides up this road when I wasn’t so lucky.  One time, it started snowing hard and the wind picked up and I’d have aborted the ride except I couldn’t face the frigid descent.  So I kept climbing, just to stay warm, fully aware that I was just prolonging the eventual agony of the trip back down.  On that occasion I’d been surprised to see, off the side of the road, some cool teens hanging out.  (From my thirties on, all teens had begun to seem cool to me.)  They were trying to do flips in mid-air, which made me think of the hoods in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.  Was that the inspiration for these kids?  Or were they being tough-balletic, like the Jets in West Side Story?  Reflecting that West Side Story surely influenced The Outsiders, and that West Side Story was itself based on The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, I wondered if these teens’ behavior was the natural result of growing up in the shadow of Ashland’s famous Shakespearean theater.  Suddenly I realized one of the teens was looking back at me, and he gave me a dramatic thumbs-up.  I was thrilled to be noticed—validated, even—by a real teenager.  For a moment, I felt cool.  Looking back on that incident, I felt grateful all over again that occasionally I can have moments of not being a totally lame old person in the eyes of youth.  (Then it dawned on me that the kid may well have meant the gesture sarcastically.)

There was a pretty dusting of snow on the trees as I reached the higher elevations.

The view was pretty spectacular from up there.  You can see Mount Ashland in the distance (with the ski runs).

Plenty of snow up top and that made things a lot colder.  I snapped a photo to show my kids the snow (living where we do, it’s something of a novelty).  I questioned whether it was narcissistic of me to be in the photo.  I thought of photographing just the snow but it seemed like the photo would be terribly boring.  I remembered the part in Lance Armstrong’s autobiography (I suppose we should call it a novel at this point) when, demoralized by a poor showing in the spring races, Lance heads back to the states, and then does some brutal training ride in terrible weather and his entourage gets all stoked and then at the top they start to put his bike in the car and he says, “No, I’m going to ride down.”  His coach and manservant look at each other with delight, as if to say “Lance is back!”  Given that Lance obviously noted their appreciation (having documented it), and that this was a turning point in his great comeback, we can read this episode as a triumph of narcissism over self-doubt.  As regards my photo, I decided to err on the side of self-doubt and only keep the photo if I looked old and tired in it.  I felt grateful to have enough sense to look inward and worry that I’m narcissistic.  Here’s the photo.  I think I look old and tired enough.

The descent was mighty cold.  I stopped to get this shot, knowing my hands soon wouldn’t work well enough to do any more photography.


By the time I reached the car I was too cold even to sigh and didn’t want to be on my bike anymore.  As we drove back to my mom’s, Erin saw a truck lose a hubcap.  We tried to drive up next to the driver and signal to roll down his window.  (As Ellen DeGeneres has pointed out, the pantomime of cranking a window down by a handle doesn’t mean much anymore, but it’s impossible to pantomime pushing the window-down button.)  We stopped at a stoplight and tooted the horn, but just then the guy turned right and drove off.  A homeless guy, maybe around twenty, with a backpack and a couple of dogs and a handwritten sign, trotted over to the car, looking hopeful.  “Oh, sorry, we were trying to talk to that driver,” I said.  He went back to his dogs and we drove off.  He’d been looking for someone to take him in for Thanksgiving dinner. 

I felt grateful I wasn’t he; sheepish that I was willing to help a motorist with his lost hubcap but not a lonely kid with nowhere to go; grateful that the thing had all unfolded too quickly for me to really agonize over whether to help him out and/or discuss it with my wife; and above all grateful that we hadn’t picked him up only to tell him we weren’t having a special feast at all, and that maybe she should try for something better out on the road if it wasn’t too late.  Above all I was grateful that my life isn’t too full of terribly awkward situations—“Larry David moments,” I call them, after the TV show “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”  And finally, I was grateful that like me, my mom doesn’t have TV, and nobody was going to try to watch a football game on Thanksgiving Day.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

How to Succeed at Blogging

In this post I provide five rules for successful blogging.  This is not a post about how to be a wildly popular blogger, or a successful writer.  I don’t know how to do those things.

Rule #1 – Define success carefully

Consider the following Motivational Poster.

When’s the last time you encountered an unsuccessful housecat?  And if you decide a housecat is unsuccessful, you think that cat cares?  Have you ever encountered a depressed housecat?  Of course not.  (“Wait,” you may protest.  “My cat sleeps all the time—isn’t that a sign of depression?”  No, your cat is not sleeping because she’s depressed.  She’s sleeping because she’s a cat.)

My definition of a successful blog is one that shows up for work:  that is, a blog that’s updated regularly.  This might sound easy, but it’s obviously not.  My Blogger dashboard is like the damn obituaries.  To paraphrase Woody Allen, a blog is like a shark:  it has to move forward constantly or it’ll die … and what we got here is a lot of dead sharks.  Here’s a list of how long it’s been, for five of the blogs I follow, since the last post:  1 year ago, 9 months ago, 1 year ago, 10 months ago, 1 year ago.  Unfulfilled good intentions might not be the saddest thing on Earth, but it’s on the list.

Using this definition of success, my best advice is to set a goal for number of posts in a month, and commit to it.  No matter how much you have to reach for that next post, get it done and your blog won’t wither on the vine.  Of course, this is no easy feat, which is where the other rules come in.

Rule #2 – Know what you want

I’m guessing that most moribund blogs are the result of their creators getting discouraged.  I can’t blame them.  It can feel like you’re blogging into a void.  People don’t comment very often; about half of my 179 posts haven’t received a single comment.  But lack of comments doesn’t mean nobody is reading your stuff.  Lots of people are shy, and lots more struggle with typing in the unreadable codes that Blogger challenges them to type in (which is to keep robot spammers from taking over).  I get half of one percent as many comments as pageviews, and not all the comments are positive.  (One commenter wrote, below my Cowboy Sam post, “You have ruined all my wonderful childhood memories. Thanks.”  This may have been tongue-in-cheek, but the next comment, voicing agreement, certainly wasn’t.)

My point is this:  you shouldn’t look for any encouragement from your readers, if you even have any.  Who do you think you are, a writer?  Of course not.  If you were a writer, you wouldn’t be a blogger.

Okay, now I’ve hurt some feelings.  I didn’t mean to.  Let’s take a moment to define what a writer is, vs. a blogger, and situate you properly.  That might really help when it comes to fighting off discouragement.

A writer, for the purposes of this discussion, is somebody who writes for a living.  For him, writing is not just a hobby; it literally pays the bills (unless he has some crappy minimal job that lets him write all night and/or gives him material).  By definition, a writer is willing to make sacrifices.  He will tolerate poverty; will forego time with his family (or having one at all); will face the fear of total failure of his dream and his livelihood; and will humbly make changes to his stories or articles to please his editor or his market.  (Yes, I’m aware many writers are women.  I tried to do “he or she” and “his or her” but that became even more cumbersome than this parenthetical aside.)

A blogger, in this context, is somebody who wants to write but isn’t trying to make a career of it, and is unwilling to make the sacrifices a writer will make.  (I guess there are paid bloggers too but as I see it, they’re basically writers.)

Consider this schematic:

I believe that covers everybody:  all of humanity falls into category A, B, C, or D above.  Here are the categories:

A – Great writer and/or miserable failure
B – Hack or failed hack
C – Person who doesn’t write and is completely fine with that
D – Blogger

You might be surprised by my assertion that category B exists.  Isn’t somebody who wants to be a writer also somebody who wants to write?  By definition?

Well, not my definition.  I hold the sacred act of writing to a higher standard.  To me, wanting to write means writing well, which means reading constantly and widely, studying how great writers write, reading like a writer, loving language, working really hard to get the words just right, and always striving to satisfy that burning desire to produce the most honest rendition of your idea you can. 

It’s not hard to find examples of fairly successful writers who have no use for reading widely, writing well, and/or pursuing truth.  Within these pages I’ve criticized three such writers:  herehere, and here.  I disagree not just with what these three have written, but with how they approach their work.  They’re being sensational and shocking, without seeking the greater truth that, they may well realize, might tamp down their articles and make them seem less bold.

The above poster doesn’t reflect deep searching and the greatest heights of the craft of writing.  In fact, it’s pretty sensational.  But it was penned by my daughter when she was only five.  Let’s cut her some slack.

Moving on to category D:  yes, it is true that although I want to write, I don’t want to be a writer.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to be a writer, if somebody came to me and said, “I’d like to pay you big money to write whatever you want, and I’ll make sure it gets widely promoted, and if things go well you’ll soon have your own staff of gofers and cooks and geishas.”  But when push comes to shove, I’m just not willing to make the sacrifices real writers make.  So I blog.

Because blogging doesn’t pay anything, we bloggers are the literary equivalent of street mimes or graffiti artists.  Except that we don’t disturb the peace.  Imagine if a big city set aside certain small quiet neighborhoods for these mimes and graffitists to discreetly do their thing.  Well, that’s the blogosphere.  It’s a place to do our work, taking advantage of the infinite Internet.  Sure, we don’t have a huge subscriber base, but the flip side of this obscurity is that we don’t have to force-fit our big square posts into the tiny round holes that an editor and a market would give us.

(I guess there’s a related category: people who don’t want to write, and yet want to reach an audience.  They do Facebook and/or send off-the-cuff tweets like “Check out this TwitPic of me sitting here tweeting!” and “Just got off the toilet … am reminded of @FatBastard when he says, ‘Wait!  I didn’t eat any corn!’”)

Perhaps if you see your blogging in this context, and have modest goals like getting more practice writing, and having a free offsite server on which to store backups of your work, you’ll more easily accept the fact you’re not famous yet, and won’t be as liable to ask, “What the hell’s the point, anyway?”  Go easy on yourself, and hang in there!

(That poster has confused some people.  It’s a photo I shot by accident while crashing my bike.  The point of the picture is that, despite the fact that my bike is pointing at the sky, I’m still holding on to the bars with the non-camera hand as if I could save it.  No, I didn’t manage to, but it wasn’t a bad crash.  I was climbing a 14-percent grade, at walking speed, when it happened.)

Rule #3:  Know your audience

One of the great things about being a blogger is not having to answer to anybody (see above), and not having to “deliver an audience” (i.e., write something that will please a target group selected by advertisers).  The downside of this is that is that you get no guidance, and have no idea who is reading your blog, and what he or she thinks of it.

That’s where friends come in.  Advice from friends has given me my blogging manta:  screw the reader.  For once I think it makes sense to only listen to what you want to hear.  (Remember, we’re trying not to get discouraged.)  In my case, input of the non-praise variety usually takes the form of an apology:  “I tried to read your post but it was too long.”  To the last guy who said that, I replied, “You might try Ritalin for that.”  There’s this idea that the Internet reader has a shorter attention span than traditional readers.  Well, that may be, but I’m not going to cater to such intellectual frailty.

I once got even more pointed advice, when a writers’ group, comprising journalists and recovering journalists, let me attend one of their meetings.  At least one or two of them didn’t manage to have anything written for the meeting.  Most of them didn’t read my submission to the end; it was about four pages, single-spaced.  One of the writers ostentatiously waved my printout in my face and said, “Don’t give us this”—here he ripped the last two pages off and dropped them to the floor—“give us this!”  I didn’t know what to say.  I was stunned, thinking, “Who are you?  What are you?”

I was reminded of when I submitted the first installment of my senior thesis to my college advisor.  We met in his office to discuss it.  He waved the pages in my face and said, “Look, you’ve got a good close reading of the text.  Don’t ruin it with this.”  Did I blow him off, too?  Of course not—my grade was on the line.  If he’d told me to write about Maxine Hong Kingston (with whom he was having a feud) instead of Vladimir Nabokov, I’d have done it.  If he told me to change my topic to “Why Ms. Kingston is the self-appointed pope of PC and her paycheck is rightfully mine,” I’d have obeyed, even if the resulting paper went completely against my own beliefs.  But that was college.  As a blogger, I don’t have to take that kind of “advice.”

That said, I can’t blame those professional writers for finding my work self-indulgent and verbose.  Expanding on my previous analogy, I was like a street mime crashing an aerobics class.  Journalistic training teaches you to get to the point in the first few sentences, and keep everything nice and short.  That’s fine if the main purpose of your piece is to inform rather than enlighten.  (I might not have this exactly right; I suspect the main purpose is actually to create a body of print that can be stuffed with ads.)

I think you should consider your blog’s audience to be the kind of person who reads what you want to write.  If you love really short stuff, write it.  If you love fiction, write that.  If you like a lot of pictures, include them.  Look, you can’t bend over backwards for a reader you’ll never meet, so you might as well please yourself. 

I’ve written things I didn’t expect a living soul to read, such as How to Write a Sonnet.  That post had a completely over-the-top 500-word introduction which I thought about shortening, before deciding that the long intro wouldn’t put off the kind of nerd who might actually have the patience to learn how to write in iambic pentameter.  I didn’t let it bother me that this hypothetical audience might consist of somewhere between zero and five people.  And as it turned out, it’s become my second most popular post ever, and (despite being over two years old) got more hits last week than any other post.

One caveat to this “audience of you” principle:  don’t pull a reverse-Woody.  I’m coining a term here based on the Woody Allen quip, “The good thing about being bisexual is that it doubles your chance of a date on a Saturday night.”  A reverse-Woody is when you alienate half your potential audience by being overtly political, or sexist, or otherwise bigoted.

Rule #4 – Develop a system for your writing

Getting back to the main characteristic of a successful blog—consistency—let’s spend a moment on how to ensure you’ll make the time to write.  To some degree this is just a matter of priorities—after all, people seem to find plenty of time for TV.  But I think part of the struggle is that unlike simpler forms of expression like Facebook, texting, and tweeting, real writing requires large chunks of time, without distractions.

I can’t recommend a specific system because everybody’s life is different.  But I’ll describe my technique as an example.  I try to brainstorm ideas all the time, whenever I have unoccupied moments, by pondering things.  (Obviously it helps if you’re not always pitching yourself face-first into TV, smartphone games, “Us” magazine, crosswords, or Sudokus.)  Once I have an idea, I do a lot of pre-writing work by popping a No-Doz and going for a good hard bike ride with lots of steep climbs I can zone out on.  Between the adrenaline, endorphins, increased circulation, and caffeine, I get a whole lot of ideas for the essay.  No idea, under these expansive circumstances, seems weak or stupid or lame; the overactive critic in my writer brain can’t get a word in edgewise.  Meanwhile, I have zero distractions (other than the descents, when I repurpose my brain for the matter at hand).

But I don’t start writing once I get home.  It’s not a great idea to write while jacked up on caffeine (or adrenaline).  (I refer you to the study of spiders on caffeine:  their spinning output was great but their webs sucked.)  Of the ideas that seemed great during the ride, at least half look pretty stupid to the calm, sober mind and have to be jettisoned.  But the other ideas, which often include a basic outline and even some fully formed sentences, can be put to use.

Exactly when to carve out time to actually write the post is a more complicated matter.  Staying up late, skipping a weekend bike ride, or skipping an episode of “Modern Family” (actually, skipping the whole series, and all other shows) also helps.  A final strategy:  I don’t ask anybody to critique the essay before I post it.  That would surely improve it, but just takes too much time.  Similarly, I don’t slave to perfect my posts; at some point I have to decide they’re good enough.  It’s just a blog, after all.

Rule #5 – Let’s be careful out there

No matter how well-maintained a blog is, it’s not a success if it violates anybody’s privacy (including the blogger’s own), embarrasses an innocent party, or in any way causes the blogger to regret what he’s posted.  (Needless to say, it’s impossible to completely remove a post; anything put on the Internet is like a tattoo.)

Here are some good questions to ask yourself before posting:  is there anybody on the planet I wouldn’t want to see this?  Could my career be affected by my boss reading this?  Could my mom be offended by it?  Have I committed any reverse-Woodies?  If I ever ran for public office, would anything on my blog lend itself to compelling attack ads by political opponents?

This doesn’t mean your post needs to be defanged—you should just be aware of what you’re getting into.  Consider my post on Doping Journalists, and “Un-Boosting,” in which I suggest that the writer Andrew Tillin is an out-of-touch, self-absorbed jerk.  When I sent a link to that post to a friend of mine, who is well-connected in journalistic circles, he replied, “I sent that to Tillin!!”  Whether he was joking or not (I suspect he wasn’t), I didn’t gasp in horror.  I’d already considered the prospect of Tillin googling himself and finding my article, and if I hadn’t accepted the idea of going toe-to-toe with him I’d have toned down the piece before posting it.

Don’t want to blog?

Fine, don’t.  There are plenty of us out here already, and besides, all the best writing is found in books anyway.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Glutted by Campaign Signs


I think a lot of people are relieved to have the election over. Personally, I won’t miss all the campaign signs stuck in people’s yards. I’m not exactly against this practice—in fact, I had a sign in my own yard this year—but I’m not exactly for it, either.

Why campaign signs are a problem

First of all, I never quite understood the point of these signs. How, exactly, do they promote the candidate or ballot proposition? My kids asked me this question and I had trouble answering. (When I can’t explain something to my kids, that’s often a sign that it doesn’t actually make sense.)

Sure, there’s name recognition. But how principled is that? I remember seeing Chevy’s win “Best Mexican restaurant in SF” in a local newspaper, which shows only that a lot of voters who don’t eat Mexican food just wrote down whatever name popped into their heads. Is this really how we want to elect candidates for local office? Shouldn’t we be voting based on ideology and competence, not mere recognition?

I can’t very well tell my kids that the signs work the same way Coca-Cola billboards do, because then my kids would challenge me on the sign in our own yard. I’ve taught my kids, by example and through lectures, to boycott any product that advertises heavily. Why? Well, I hate ads. I find them obtrusive, and worse. When I drink a Coke, I think about how little the product costs to make, and yet how much the Coca-Cola company spends on advertising (close to $3 billion a year). That means that most of what I spent on my Coke is going toward ads to sell more of it, not just to skinny cyclists like me who need it, but also to sedentary kids who don’t. So I’m helping pay for a public health problem.

Getting back to campaign signs: my wife has pointed out that the willingness of homeowners to put these signs out shows that the candidate is well-connected and well-regarded in the community. A fair point. On the other hand, signs cost money, so the rampant signage in local campaigns starts to look like the greater arms race of the national elections, where the best-financed candidates often have an unfair advantage.

Some of the signs have slogans or very, very brief arguments on them. This makes some sense; the phrase “Endorsed by Sierra Club” does, I think, say something meaningful about a candidate. But other times these brief arguments are just blather. It’s hard to be articulate on a sign people see only in passing. It’s the same way with t-shirts and bumper stickers. “Obama 2012” is a simple enough message on a bumper sticker (though it’s a bit redundant when stuck on a Prius in Albany). Similarly, “I’m With Stupid” is easy to read on a person’s t-shirt, but we often miss the longer message on her husband’s shirt (usually something like, “The statement on my wife’s shirt is meant ironically, as a subtle dig at the hackneyed and vapid messaging of tourist trap souvenir merchandise. She actually respects my intelligence”).

Another problem I have with campaign signs is that they might influence voters in ways the candidate didn’t expect. What if the house and yard, not to mention the homeowners themselves, unknowingly reflect badly on the candidate? For example, my lawn is dead, and has three jack-o-lanterns rotting in it. Is that what my candidate would have chosen for a backdrop?

It’s not just the lawn either. My car, parked right out front, is a big gas-guzzler by Albany standards, and is usually covered with guano splotches from the birds roosting in our trees. Worst of all, I often play loud music while working on my bike in the driveway. What does it say about a candidate when you walk by his supporter’s house, see the candidate’s name on the sign out front, and then hear some rocker yelling “Love is a four-letter word never spoken here!”? I doubt my candidate knows about, or would approve, this message.

You might think I’m just joking around, and of course I am, but I’m also serious. What if a candidate gets a sign in somebody’s yard, and then that somebody also posts a sign supporting a ballot proposition which the candidate opposes? (An example would be a candidate endorsed by the Sierra Club whose sign shares a lawn with a sign supporting Proposition A1, which the Sierra Club didn’t support and, some say, should have actively opposed.) Such a juxtaposition could get awkward if the candidate notices it, or detrimental to his cause if he doesn’t.

My final issue with campaign signs is that they tend to beget more signs. No sooner did our candidate’s sign go up then two other candidates, one of whom I’d never met, asked if they, too, could put signs in our yard. Well, given that they’re running against my candidate, might not this cause a conflict in some cases? Sure, voters get to choose three candidates for City Council, but what if two, or all three, of these candidates disagree with one another? How many messaging collisions can one lawn stand?

Meanwhile, the more signs one candidate has, the more the others have to have, and pretty soon there are signs everywhere. Not just on the main streets, but throughout the neighborhoods. On Election Day I went out for a bike ride and was hoping to put worldly cares behind me, but there were dozens of signs at the Marin Circle fountain, signs on Spruce Street, signs on Wildcat Canyon Road, and—I kid you not—a guy biking up Claremont Ave with a big campaign sign attached to his bike frame. (Was the sign on his bike full time, or did he attach it and hit the road to try to capture the elusive but important cyclist vote?)

It seemed I couldn’t escape. When I passed Marin Circle again on my way home, a dozen or so volunteers were standing there waving signs around. A harmless spectacle, but a bit over the top. I thought of telling them, “If you were dressed up like alligators or bears or something, I’d vote for your candidate.” To me, the election itself is very important but all these signs are just a distraction.

The alternative to campaign signs

I can begin to understand the difficulty of trying to campaign for local office. I don’t think these candidates get any TV time (though I can’t confirm this, lacking TV service in my home). The candidates do have highly informative websites, and our local online newspaper did a few features on the candidates’ positions (like this one). But realistically, we’re Californians—we almost don’t have time for instant gratification—and we can’t be expected to do any research. I think we can be counted on to read the brief statement in the voter guide, but that’s really too little, too late.

I guess that’s why signs are so popular: voters don’t have to seek them out, and they match our attention spans. But as I’ve said, they don’t tell us nearly enough. So what’s the solution?

Believe it or not, I have one, and I think it’ll work. My proposal is a simple matter of retooling the template for the voter guide statement, to give these statements the extra oomph they need.

I got my idea from the statements of support and opposition for the ballot propositions. It’s a nice debate, in literary form. I love the idea of a campaign hinging on the quality of the prose that the candidate can create. (Actually, in a perfect world, these statements would be in sonnet form, with copious footnotes, to showcase the candidate’s intellectual mettle.) You get one shot at convincing the voters … don’t blow it.

So, instead of a general paragraph from the candidate that simply states what kinds of issues he or she is interested in and what he or she supports, the first section of the candidate statement would be an essay answering a basic question: what is your dream legislation? In other words, if you could push through any new law you wanted, what would it be? The answer to this question would get to the core of each candidate’s values.

Here’s an example:  “My dream legislation would be this:  automakers selling to this market would be required to install special switches in car horns that would cause the airbag to deploy if the horn is held down for more than two seconds.”

Here’s another:  “I would push through an annual ‘Composting Holiday.’  One day a year, residents would be allowed to throw their compost in the garbage pail like they used to, guilt-free.  This would raise awareness for composting while giving everybody a much-needed break.”

And:  “To make bicycling safer for everyone, riding with headphones would be against the law, punishable by having the police officer smash your MP3 player with his nightstick while you watch.”

A final example:  “I would introduce a ‘Teen Texting Tariff.’  Cell-provider accounting relays would count every cell phone text message sent by every teenager.  Each text would ‘cost’ one minute of community service.  Twice per year, teenagers would report for their work detail, which would consist of something like cleaning up a park or building a community garden.  These would be phone-free events where teens could commiserate, non-virtually, while giving back to the community they have so abused by being rude, pithed, glazed-over phone-zombies 24x7.”

The other change to the voter guide statements would be the introduction of formalized attacks, like the attack ads that are so successful in the national elections.  I know this sounds a bit nutty, but consider for a moment that an attack ad says as much about the attacker as it does about his target. 

For example, during the very first election I was old enough to vote in, I remember George H.W. Bush calling Michael Dukakis a “tax-and-spend liberal.”  I was puzzled, thinking, “That’s so weird.  Bush says that like it’s a bad thing.”

Attack ads might be tricky for Albany city council candidates, since their ideologies don’t actually vary that much. It’s not like in this last go-round we had a candidate saying, “I just moved here from Houston, where things are done right, and I’m gonna turn this backwards town around!” But I’m sure there are ways for our best and brightest to find fault. Since I don’t have any dirt on our actual candidates from this last election, I’ll provide examples of how they might have attacked me, had I been running against them.

For starters: “Albert can’t even get his kids to school on time. I often see him racing down the sidewalk with his daughter on his bike, after the bell has rung, and she’s begging him to go faster. If he can’t manage this simple task on his own kid’s behalf, how is he going to be effective in government?”

Or: “Sources close to Albert have told me that he often flips through his wife’s ‘Victoria’s Secret’ and ‘Anthropologie’ catalogs, even though there’s nothing in them that he could possibly buy. I think we all know what he’s looking at, and it’s not the sizing charts!”

Perhaps: “Sources close to Albert have told me he sometimes throws used tea bags right into the trash can. And yet he claims to support composting!”

A final example: “Albert is completely out of touch with this community. While everybody else was celebrating the Giants’ victory in the World Series, he was barely aware of it. I mentioned it to him and he said, ‘Um, yeah, that was great. We beat the Houston Oilers, right?’”

So there you have it. If I had to sum up my strategy in a blurb that would fit on a campaign sign, I guess I’d put it this way: “The pen is mightier than the sign.” But you won’t find that message in anybody’s yard in 2014.
For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Book Review - "The Secret Race"

NOTE: This post is rated R for mild strong language.


In this post I review The Secret Race —  Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France:  Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs, by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle.  I describe why I didn’t like the idea of buying this book; why this book is important and admirable; a general assessment of its readability and what it has to offer besides sordid doping tales; and the importance of the footnotes Coyle provides.  At the end I’ll address the obvious question of whether or not you should read this book.

Why I didn’t buy this book

I got this book at the library.  Of course I’ll pay good money for good writing, but I didn’t want to further enrich somebody who has made enough money already by cheating at sport.  If Tyler hadn’t doped, his career would have likely been short and/or mediocre and he’d have made tens of thousands instead of many hundreds of thousands of dollars, and wouldn’t have a book to his credit.  (As Coyle described in his forward, Tyler had approached him in 2004 about writing a book, similar to Lance Armstrong’s War, but about Tyler.  Coyle wasn’t interested:  “I liked Hamilton, and his feats on the bike were amazing and inspiring, but when it came to being the subject of a book, he was fatally flawed:  he was simply too boring.”)

If Tyler had pledged to donate all the profits from this book to, say, a junior development program for cyclists, I’d have bought a dozen copies and given them as gifts.  (I have no problem with a solid co-author like Coyle keeping his profits; after all, he never cheated.)  By donating his profits Tyler could have given back to sport he stole from, while also defusing the predictable argument that Lance’s legal team made—that Tyler was making up all kinds of lies just to make money selling books.

Why this book is important and admirable

We shouldn’t be too hard on Tyler for doping—obviously he wasn’t alone.  Indeed, one of the main points of the book is that practically nobody in that era could have made good money riding clean.  Whether or not that position is entirely true, it must be said that prior to this book, only one of the positive tests and rider suspensions of the last dozen years had yet led to a satisfying confession (and if Floyd Landis wrote a book, I might check it out too).  This sport has long lacked a complete picture not only of the shame and repercussions of getting caught doping, but of the trials and terrors of doping successfully.  Because of this lack, a rider of Tyler’s era could be forgiven for having taken the wrong message from rider suspensions—that you just better not get caught.

As mentioned a couple years ago in a blog post comparing Lance Armstrong to Eminem, I’ve long wished a rider found guilty of doping would come all the way clean, as Eminem has about his own drug problems.  Where are the tales, I wondered, of how scary it is getting a blood transfusion in a motel room; where’s the lurid life story, equivalent to Eminem’s, to scare our junior cyclists away from doping?  Where Eminem is brutally honest, doping cyclists—even convicted ones—have so often continued being as secretive as possible.

Well, I got my wish—this book gives plenty of gory details.  For example, Tyler describes a routine visit he made to Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes to have blood taken out of his body, to be transfused later:  “When the bag was full, I hopped to my feet.  I usually held my arm over my head for a few minutes, applying pressure with a cotton ball—but I had no time for protocol.  I taped on a cotton ball … and headed for the exit.  Then I was outside, on the streets of Madrid, racing down the street toward a cab, dragging my roller bag across the cobblestones, hoping I wouldn’t be late [for my flight home].  I was maybe two blocks from his office when I felt a strange wetness in my hand.  I looked down.  My hand was dripping with blood.  My sleeve was soaked.  I looked like I’d just murdered someone.”

Even more disturbingly, Tyler describes a botched transfusion of previously frozen blood he received in a hotel room during the 2004 Tour:  “[Fuentes] wasn’t there, so the Phonak doctors handled the transfusion; it went smoothly.  I went back to my hotel room to wait for Haven and Tugs to show up.  But a few minutes after I got there, I started feeling bad.  I got a headache, and felt my forehead:  I was burning up.  I had to piss, badly.  I looked down, expecting to see the usual slight discoloration from the [blood bag].  But when I looked down, I was pissing blood.  Dark, dark red, almost black.  It kept coming and coming, filling the toilet like a horror movie….  My fever kept rising.  My headache got worse.  Then I got up to piss again.  I didn’t want to look down.  Then I did.  Pure red.  Then I knew I was in trouble.  The bag was bad….  My body felt toxic.”

Beyond the service he performs in scaring the crap out of anybody who might think about blood doping, I admire Tyler for having the cojones to be so frank about Lance.  Obviously a vast amount has been written about Lance’s doping, but not as much about him being a bully, being insecure, and being a leader—probably the leader—in the doping culture of the last decade.  There is some very damning stuff in this book about Lance’s character, including something truly illuminating:  the notion that Lance was actually proud of his doping—of how clever he was at it.  For example, he came up with a plan to have EPO brought to his Postal team by motorcycle during the ’99 Tour de France.  One of his assistants, whom they called Motoman, would carry the EPO in a thermos and use his motorcycle to zip through the traffic and crowds.  Tyler writes, “Lance practically glowed when he told me about the plan—he loved this kind of MacGyver secret-agent stuff.”

Sure, the USADA testimonies of many other riders also portray Lance as a bully, but not in such detail, and it must be remembered that this book came before there was so much momentum to the story.  And of all the people in this world whom Lance hates—there must be many hundreds by this point—I can’t imagine a greater target for his wrath than Tyler has made himself by writing such a detailed account.

(It’s hard to imagine being literally afraid of any bike racer, but Lance is different.  He is the only athlete I’ve personally ever felt scared of.  I encountered him at the 2003 T-Mobile Classic in San Francisco, after he’d dropped out of the race, changed into street clothes, and given an interview.  He walked right by me, and I noticed his expensive leather jacket had a big pile of bird shit on it.  I almost tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Lance, man, some bird crapped on your jacket!”  But suddenly I had this feeling that if I laid a finger on him I’d be clobbered by his bodyguards.  (What kind of bike racer has bodyguards?)  Years later, because of Lance’s legendary vindictiveness, I was almost afraid to post, to this blog, an unkind spoof I wrote about his defense team.  Instead, I sent it as an e-mail to friends, claiming I came across the story in “Ladies’ Home Journal.”  A friend convinced me that a garage door wouldn’t fall on my head if I put it on albertnet, and so far he’s been right.  In contrast, I wrote a similarly brazen humor piece for dailypeloton about Floyd Landis, without ever worrying that he’d sic anybody on me.  I think if Floyd read that he’d probably just shrug, or maybe even laugh.)

Above all, Tyler’s book has helped the public understand how widespread doping was in that era, and he has brought to light the corruption above the riders’ heads that allowed doping to go on for so long.  I’m tired of reading about younger riders complaining that they’re bearing the brunt of all these confessions by the previous generation.  That’s a really narrow view.  All the Lance-era Americans who have recently confessed are helping to create a sport in which the younger dudes can be competitive without doping.  That’s a lot better career prospect than the “dope or quit” choice Tyler’s cohort was faced with.  Sure, many of the USADA witnesses have gotten a pretty sweet deal—only a six-month suspension, and they get to keep the big money they made during their dark past—but we can’t hold that good deal against them.  (What are they going to do—ask for a longer suspension?)  And in coming clean they still have to suffer the shame of confessing, and the hit to their reputation.  If the sport is actually cleaning up, the next generation will never have to go through all that.

How’s the read?

The Secret Race is a good read—depressing, but certainly engaging and well-written.  In this review I won’t dwell on the combination of fascination and depression I felt when reading about the doping itself.  Anybody who has read the rider affidavits on the USADA website already knows what I’m talking about.  Suffice to say, these guys did a tremendous amount of doping—more than I ever would have expected.

The prose in this book isn’t as razor-sharp as Coyle’s in Lance Armstrong’s War.  In a sense, I think that’s a testament to how well Coyle has allowed Tyler’s own voice to come through.  I get the sense that these really are Tyler’s words, and that Coyle’s main contributions are asking the right questions, drawing Tyler out effectively, and organizing vast amounts of anecdotes into a coherent narrative.  The book rings a lot more true than Lance’s autobiography, It’s Not About the Bike, which had a strong whiff of ghost-writer embellishment about it.  (Not that I didn’t enjoy that book, in my naïve rubber-bracelet days.)

Beyond the doping, there’s a lot of interesting day-in-the-life bike racer stuff in this book.  For example, there are anecdotes about diet.  Tyler describes having a meal in the presence of Doctor Ferrari, who was obsessed with the weight and body fat of the riders he coached.  “Eating meals with Ferrari was a nightmare,” Tyler writes.  “He’d eagle-eye each bite that went into your mouth; a cookie or piece of cake would bring a raise of the eyebrow, and a disappointed look.”  He also describes how Lance’s own discipline once let him down and he ate three pieces of cake:  “The other Postal riders watched him eat with a sinking feeling:  they know what was going to happen.  The next day in training was supposed to be an easy day.  But the cake changed that.  Instead, Lance had the team do a brutal five-hour ride, to burn off the cake only he had eaten.”  After Tyler left Postal, he continued to run up against the weight/diet obsession; his team manager Bjarne Riis advised him to “come home from a training ride, chug a big bottle of fizzy water, and take two or three sleeping pills.  By the time you woke up, it would be dinner, or, if you were lucky, breakfast.”

There are also some funny tales in the book.  Tyler describes the boredom of being at a training camp in Tenerife with new teammates who didn’t speak much English.  “We stayed in a big empty hotel on the top of a volcano; I roomed with Roberto Heras, and for almost two weeks we did nothing but ride, sleep, and eat….  We ate in the empty dining room.  We wandered the halls.  Roberto would try to say, ‘I am so fucking bored’ but since his English wasn’t great, he would say, ‘I am so fucking boring.’  That became our motto for the trip.  I am so fucking boring.”  

Another funny anecdote concerns the crappy camper that Postal had during the ’99 Tour, before they made it big.  It belonged to the team’s head mechanic, Julien deVriese.  “We called it Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, because everything shook when you drove; the cabinet doors tended to fly open on the gentlest curve; every hinge squeaked frantically; it was so loud that, when under way, you could barely talk over the din.  Julien had one rule:  No shitting in the camper.  He was very clear on this rule.  We could tell because every time we saw him, he would point his big finger at us and say, ‘No shitting in the campa!’ in a husky voice.  We informed Julien that shitting in the camper was likely to improve it.”

Of course Lance looms large throughout the book.  Tyler describes how, during the 2000 Dauphiné Libéré, Lance had an off-day on Mount Ventoux, and Tyler—with Johan Bruyneel’s blessing—soloed to victory.  After the race, Bruyneel went straight to the team bus, thinking only of Lance.  “’This was no big deal, man,’ Johan told Lance.  ‘It was probably the altitude.  Perhaps you have been training too hard, no?  We will talk to Michele [Ferrari]….’  After a few minutes of this, Johan asked, ‘Who won?’  Without looking up, Lance pointed at me…  That night at dinner, when everybody was toasting my victory, [Lance] would barely make eye contact.  It was like he was having an uncontrollable reaction, like an allergy:  my success in the race—which was good for Postal and therefore good for him—drove him bananas.”

Tyler describes how his ongoing improvement, and particularly a stress test he did with Ferrari in which he beat Lance’s record for a certain climb, began to make Lance feel threatened.  As a result, in the 2001 Tour, Tyler wasn’t given any EPO or blood transfusions, and thus struggled just to keep up, eventually finishing 94th.  In one stage, he struggled to make pace on the front:  “I felt a hand grab my jersey by the neck and pull me back, hard.  Lance’s voice, yelling in my ear at the top of my lungs.  ‘What the FUCK are you doing, Tyler?’ …  After that stage, Johan asked me to apologize to the entire team for my poor performance.”

Perhaps most illuminating of all is the very clear depiction of how the doping culture at Postal worked.  Nobody pushed the drugs on the riders.  Quite the opposite:  a rider wasn’t even offered them unless he made it into Lance’s inner circle.  Tyler describes the white lunch bags that these riders were given by soigneurs after a race:  “They were given only to the stronger riders on the team—Hincapie, Ekimov, Baffi, Robin.  The guys I thought of as the A team.  That’s when I felt a sinking realization:  I was on the B team.”

So when Pedro, the team doctor, finally offered Tyler a capsule of synthetic testosterone—a “red egg”—Tyler didn’t hesitate to accept it, and (at the time) felt no shame.  Quite the opposite, actually:   “The red egg was a badge of honor, a sign that Pedro and the team saw my potential.  I felt like this was a small step toward making the A team.”

Coyle’s footnotes

The Secret Race is a memoir, not an exhaustive journalistic exposé, but Coyle provides copious footnotes in which he elaborates on certain points, often citing other sources to validate Tyler’s claims. A good example is how Coyle describes the Catenay-Malabry doping-detection lab study that found EPO in six of Lance’s fifteen urine samples from the ’99 Tour.  The study itself isn’t news, but Coyle lines it up with Hamilton’s claim that that Motoman, the guy who delivered EPO to the Postal team, became exhausted and went home after stage 14.  “All samples taken after stage 14 tested negative,”  Coyle points out. 

While he’s at it, Coyle completely torpedoes the tired old “level playing field” argument that enables many diehard Lance supporters to ignore the importance of his doping:  “Perhaps more interestingly, it looks as though Lance was in the minority [of Tour de France EPO users] in 1999.  Of the eighty-one urine samples taken during the 1999 Tour that were not Armstrong’s, only seven tested positive for EPO, or 8.6 percent.”  Probably at least one or two of those positives were from Lance’s teammates.  In other words, Postal won the ’99 Tour largely because they were using EPO and most of the others weren’t.  Perhaps the others had been scared straight by the Festina scandal in 1998.  After the ’99 edition, noting what EPO could do for a former Tour also-ran (Lance had one 36th-place plus three DNFs), the other riders may well have decided it was “game on,” and went right back to doping.

(The notion that Postal’s EPO use in ’99 was the exception rather than the rule, and the notion that Lance pressured his teammates by claiming everybody else was doing it, is corroborated outside of this book by an instant-messaging transcript cited by cyclingnews between Jonathan Vaughters and Frankie Andreu.  The transcript—available on USADA’s website—was evidence in the SCA lawsuit of that year.  In the chat, Vaughters tells Andreu that Credit Agricole, the team he rode for after Postal, didn’t dope:  “So that’s when I realized Lance was full of shit when he’d say everyone was doing it.  As crazy as it sounds - [team leader] Moreau was on nothing.  His Hct [hematocrit] was 39.”)

Coyle’s notes are helpful when it comes to the matter of Tyler’s own impression of the risks he took, which may not be the same as Coyle’s impression.  To my mind, Tyler doesn’t always seem to grasp just how dangerous his doping truly was.  He lists cycling injuries he’s had—“elbow, shoulder, collarbone (twice), back, hip, fingers (multiple), ribs, wrist, nose”—and concludes, “When it comes to the risks of EPO, they tend to feel pretty small.”  He doesn’t seem to acknowledge the categorical difference between a relatively simple bone injury and the very complicated matter of blood chemistry.  I find it odd that he would compare the risk of crashing to the risk of doping even after the botched blood transfusion he describes, where he was pissing blood and running a high fever and had nobody to turn to for medical help. 

Coyle writes more frankly about the danger of blood doping than Tyler does when it comes to Tyler’s positive test.  Tyler doesn’t seem to have thought too hard about how he managed to have somebody else’s blood in his body.  He describes his defense, which was based on the test equipment or protocol being faulty, and seems to still doubt the veracity of the test. 

While Tyler doesn’t dwell on the question, Coyle does, in an extensive footnote:  “Presuming the blood test was accurate, how did someone else’s blood get inside Hamilton’s body?”  He cites Dr. Michael Ashenden’s analysis of the situation:  “Freezing blood is a multi-step procedure that includes several transfers and mixings with progressively stronger concentrations of glycol…  Because the cells are alive, you have to babysit this machine for hours at a time, and keep everything straight.  In a situation where Fuentes and his assistant, Jose Maria Batres (aka Nick), were handling the blood of dozens of riders, it would be possible to envision a scenario where Hamilton’s and another racer’s blood were accidentally mislabeled and/or mixed.  In addition, according to Spanish newspaper reports in 2010, Batres was suffering from dementia.”  I am struck by how lucky Tyler really was:  if the foreign blood he got hadn’t happened to be compatible with his, he’d be dead.

Should you read this book?

If you haven’t been glutted by all the rider testimonies against Lance; if you have been glutted but just can’t get enough of this guilty pleasure; if you’d like to get the perspective of a doping cyclist and an answer to the question “Why would you ever do that in the first place?”; if you’re looking for a way to find compassion for an entire generation of doping cyclists; if you’d like to get a feel for what it’s like, day-to-day, to be a world class pro rider; if you don’t mind reading something as depressing as it is gripping—then I think you should read this book.  But I’m not saying you should buy it.