Saturday, November 30, 2013

From the Archives - My First Thanksgiving as a College Kid


Here’s something from my archives. It’s twenty-five years old so maybe it’ll remind you of your teenager days, or prove that teenagers have always been this bad, or otherwise gratify you somehow.

My First Thanksgiving as a College Kid - November 28, 1988

I never much liked the phrase “Turkey Day.” I think we’re supposed to be thankful for more than just the dinner. I like to think I can relate to those early pilgrims. As I understand it, they were basically social outcasts who left England in exile, and then were so incompetent they almost starved to death. But instead of denying all this, they made a big point of showing gratitude to the Native Americans who saved them.

At least, that’s the story I was able to glean from the “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” special and various picture books I read as a child. More recently I read an Art Buchwald article in the “L.A. Times” that made it all seem a lot more complicated. The article described how, after the USA worked the Native Americans over for a while and condemned them to reservations, we had to subtly shift the concept of the holiday to encompass thanks in general, for all kinds of things, not just escaping starvation.

I guess the main thing I’m thankful for is that I must have it pretty good, because it’s easier for me to figure out what other people should be thankful for. For example, there was this hapless guy I saw out on the highway the other day during my bike ride. He was also on a bike ride, though you couldn’t call him a cyclist. I don’t actually know what he thought he was doing out there on southbound 101. What he was doing was trying to fix a flat without any idea how this is done. He was trying to replace the tube without removing his wheel from the bike; I have no idea how he planned to get the tube around the frame. But even if, through some miracle, he achieved that feat, he never would have been able to inflate the sucker because he had a presta valve and a schrader pump. In true holiday spirit, I did the entire repair. It was easy for me to imagine how thankful he felt for my help. It’s a little harder for me to feel thankful about this whole affair since I didn’t really get anything out of it. I guess I can be thankful I’m not that ignorant.

Now, even though I don’t like the phrase “Turkey Day,” I do like turkey and do see fit to do more on this holiday than sit around feeling thankful. Thanksgiving is a celebration of food and family, too. So I went up to San Luis Obispo to share the holiday with my brother Geoff and our fond ex‑ roommate. We went to this fellow’s parents’ house, as they’re the closest thing to family we have on the central coast, besides each other. [After moving away from home, I lived with Geoff in San Luis Obispo until September 1988, when I moved to Isla Vista, further down the coast of California, to attend UCSB.]

The original plan called for me to ride my trusty Team Miyata [racing bike] up to San Luis Obispo on Thursday, recover while basking in the friendly companionship and male bonding of my friends in SLO, and then ride back down on Sunday. Unfortunately, nature and the customs of others conspired against me to stifle the original plan. The first heavy rain of the winter hit Isla Vista hard on Wednesday, drenching me completely during my 15‑mile (each way) commute to work at Bike ‘n’ Hike. That dampened my enthusiasm for a five-hour rainy slog the next day. In addition, our friend’s household begins Thanksgiving dinner early in the afternoon, which would dictate a 4:00 am departure time, which clashed with my better judgment. So instead, our friend came down in his parents’ new Mazda sports sedan, which has so many electric gadgets and gizmos I can envision a science fiction movie about the gizmos embarking on a hostile takeover of the innocent motorists.

An extra benefit of being picked up and driven to SLO is that I didn’t really know the way up there anyway. I’m not the greatest traveler, truth be told. But at least I was smart enough to pack light for this trip. All I brought was my bike, my biking gear, and the clothes on my back, which I figured I’d leave at Geoff’s apartment for the next time I rode up there.

Thanksgiving was fine. A good time was had by all (assuming, of course, that Geoff and I didn’t ruin the evening for anybody by leveling the buffet‑style spread, leaving our hosts precious little in the way of leftovers). After a long weekend of hanging out I was well fueled for my ride back to UCSB.

I’d guessed the day would start out cool and I wasn’t wrong, so I wore my Chillys Thermax tights. I bought these using my employee discount when I worked at the factory in SLO that makes Hot Chillys. Thermax is this new miracle fabric. Through some fancy technology, it insulates perfectly and don’t react with bodily juices to produce an offensive odor. The only drawback of these tights is that the crotch is designed with old men in mind. Old men fall into two categories: those who like the crotch of their clothing to sag around their knees, and those who like to pull their tights up to their armpits. The Hot Chillys accommodate both styles perfectly with a more-than-ample crotch. I pull them up to my armpits, but somehow they almost always end up sagging, too. I have a recurring nightmare in which the crotch gets caught on the nose of my saddle and I totally crash.

With great ceremony and deliberation, I filled my jersey pockets. In the left went two bananas and two Power Bars. In case you haven’t heard of Power Bars, they are a scientifically blended food bar fortified with all the nutrients, vitamins, and mineral replacements necessary to sustain an athlete during intense competition. In lay terms, a Power Bar is a block of highly compressed Tender Vittles cat food, but chocolate-flavored. They aren’t as tasty as a King Size Snickers Bar, but they do the trick out on the road. In the middle pocket, I put my keys and my pocketknife, and in the right pocket went the wallet, map, and Lou Reed tape (which I’d inadvertently brought up to SLO and had to bring back down). At this point, the pockets seemed full, but not stuffed. It’s a good thing they’re such stretchy Lycra because as the temperatures rise, the clothing gets shed, which always creates a storage problem.

The owner of our favorite bike shop did me a favor and mapped out the perfect route to Isla Vista. This route follows Highway 101 most of the way, taking various detours to remain legal. Cyclists are required by law to take a detour through every town they reach. I originally figured this bizarre legislation was conceived by area merchants, who see cyclists as a source of possible revenue. But actually, I reckon it was concocted with insane drivers in mind. In California, a motorist can only see the exit he wants from the far left lane, and has to do the notorious “L.A. Lane Dive”, a maneuver in which he cuts across several lanes and dives into a 15‑mph exit at 80 mph. A cyclist, of course, would be flattened in such a scenario if he weren’t already clinging to the farthest-right edge of the exit himself.

I had to dig through the local paper for the weather forecast. No little summary on the front page, no sir. The front page of the “San Luis Obispo Telegram Tribune” is reserved for important news events, such as the local high school’s basketball game, or a fascinating human interest story like the Jones’ garden growing a two‑foot pumpkin or two girls walking home from school. The weather report read, “Possible clear skies; otherwise, cloudy. Warm temperatures; otherwise, cool. Highs in the low 50’s to mid 70’s, lows in the mid 40’s to low 50’s. Fair weekend forecast; otherwise, poor.” Maybe it wasn’t quite as wishy-washy as this, but it was close.

The ride itself was fairly uneventful. As the weather warmed up, the jersey pockets filled up. Soon the bananas were mashed against the Power Bars and my Hot Chillys top, and then the jacket was forced to make room in the middle pocket for the tights. As the map became curdled (a result of repeated panic navigation checks) it seemed to grow, threatening to shove my sunglasses case out of the right pocket to its death. By the time I reached Buellton, I probably had the equivalent of half my body weight pushing down on my lower back.

Reaching Buellton was a major relief, as I finally knew I wasn’t lost. The Power Bars had hit the spot; I only bought a small Snickers bar and a Coke at my favorite food store. No, the world‑famous Andersen’s pea soup would have to wait yet again. But a harsh realization accompanied my arrival here: I had to go to the bathroom. That would mean finding a bathroom, leaving my bike unattended, removing my sunglasses, my helmet, and the overstuffed jersey, finding a place to put them, and then reassembling the whole mess. I seriously doubted this was possible, remembering the axiom that once you have opened a can of worms, there is no way to put all the worms back into the can. I elected to stick it out and do the last 35 miles on a full bladder. This led to a really fast pace and intense ache that began in the crotch and radiated outward, shoving my stomach into my rib cage and making every pedal stroke really unpleasant during the last few miles.

Here are the statistics of the journey:

Cost: $4.00 (food)
Distance: 100.3 miles (including loop around the La Loma parking lot to break the 100‑mile barrier)
Time: 4:51:58 (not including breaks); 5:05:30 (total elapsed time)
Average Speed: 20.6 mph (personal record)
Score: 10.0, 10.0, 9.5, 9.5, and 7.5 (from the Romanian judge).
Critical acclaim:
—”Two thumbs up!” (Siskel & Ebert).
—”The most important ride of the holiday season!” (Me).

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