Sunday, June 28, 2020

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2020 Tour of Sweden Stage 4


Introduction

Well, it’s been a long time since I got to watch a bike race, what with the Covid-19 pandemic. Virtually the entire pro racing season has been canceled, though the Tour de France has been tentatively scheduled to start in late August. The first road race of note this year was the Slovenian National Championship, which quietly took place last weekend (as Slovenia, months ago, was the first country in Europe to declare they’ve eradicated the coronavirus). Because the Slovenian Championship lacked an international field, there was no TV coverage of the event.

But suddenly Sweden, the only European country not to have any shelter-in-place restrictions whatsoever, decided to revive their five-day Tour of Sweden stage race, formerly known as the Postgirot Open, which hasn’t been held in over 18 years. They found an eager sponsor, the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi, makers of hydroxychloroquine. (If this seems cynical, ponder for a moment the fact of Amgen, makers of EPO, sponsoring the Tour of California.) At long last, I was able to tune in this morning to watch Stage 4, the queen and penultimate stage.

(Why do I call this a “biased” blow-by-blow report? Well, I don’t have to bite my tongue when I think a rider is doped, a dope, or just being dopey. Or sneezy.)


Sanofi Tour of Sweden Stage 4 – Skövde to Huskvarna

As I join the action, Tao Geoghegan Hart (Team Ineos) has accidently rolled off the front of the peloton on the third of six categorized climbs. He doesn’t look very excited. That’s kind of the way this team rolls; sometimes the riders are so lubed they don’t know their own strength. Consider how Froome has so often accidently dropped everybody, and then, when alerted to his position, he’d kind of shrug and either solo to victory or hang back for a bit to keep up appearances. 

Based on Geoghegan Hart’s faint suntan, I’d guess he’s actually made it outside for some training this year, which of course gives him a leg up on some of his competitors (such as the Spaniards and Italians who were forbidden to ride outdoors).


It’s a long climb and the peloton isn’t doing much about this accidental attack, so I’ll take a moment to fill you in on what’s happened in this Tour of Sweden so far. The two favorites going in, at least from my perspective, were Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), because not only do they have actual road racing miles in their legs, they finished first and second, respectively, in the Slovenian National Championship a week ago. Not to mention they’ve been ascendant in the sport anyway, with Roglic winning last year’s Vuelta a Espana and Pogacor taking three stages.

Back in the race, Geoghegan Hart has stretched out his lead. Marc Soler (Movistar Team) is giving chase but he’s not gaining significant ground. I’m not getting much info from the announcers, who are lame. Eurosport’s best commentator, the Irish champ Sean Kelly, gave up on the sport this spring with so many cancelled races, and (as described in this great article) has gone back home to Ireland to work full time on his family’s dairy farm.

So who’s not here at the Tour of Sweden? Notably, Team Ineos is missing all their heavy hitters. Geraint Thomas, Egan Bernal, and Richard Carapaz, along with six others initially slated for the race, have all been quarantined after Carapaz visited his home in Ecuador and subsequently showed Covid-19 symptoms. Following a team time trial practice, others developed fevers and the whole team had to sit this race out.

Now Miguel Angelo Lopez (aka “Superman”), of Astana Team, has attacked the peloton! Lopez is having a great Tour of Sweden, having won a stage and picked up the white point’s leader jersey.

Getting back to my discussion of who is at this race, Team Arkéa–Samsic failed to register in time and isn’t fielding a team, so their leader Nairo Quintana isn’t here. Movistar Team decided their star, Alejandro Valverde, is just too old to risk sharing a cramped peloton with so many other athletes from so many parts of Europe. Many French riders, including Thibault Pinot, Julian Alaphilippe, and Romain Bardet simply declined to participate, citing their lack of real training. Perhaps the most bizarre exclusion from the race is Tom Dumoulin, who was all set to lead Team Sunweb but was suddenly sidelined with a persistent and advanced case of dandruff.

Wow, Superman already has over a minute and a half on the GC group! Not sure how far ahead Soler is … I’m surprised he hasn’t been caught already.


Surely by now you know why Chris Froome isn’t in this race, but in case you’ve been hiding under a rock, I’ll tell you: in early May, while being interviewed by an American journalist (for this article), he was suddenly struck by lightning. The story, a puff piece about how Froome and his Sky/Ineos team never doped, ended with Froome explaining their unprecedented and uncanny success: “The sport is now a hundred times cleaner, but we climb faster than [the dopers] did at the time. The best way to explain that is that we have evolved a lot in the areas of technology, nutrition, and training. We are better as athletes.” At this moment the lightning bolt struck the cheating, lying scumbag right through the head. Oddly, the so-called journalist didn’t mention this in his article. Odder still, when mentioning Froome’s positive test for salbutamol, the journalist breezily recounted how Froome “was later cleared of doping” without mentioning what a complete travesty that was, with absolutely no explanation given for the charges being unexpectedly dropped.

And now Lopez has caught Soler, who looks pretty beat.


Sure enough, Lopez motors right on by. I think Soler has given up.

Roglic attacks! He started off this race very well, handily winning the individual time trial and taking the leader’s green jersey in the process. He faded in yesterday’s stage, though, losing enough time to Pogacar to fall to second on GC. He needs at least 30 seconds to move back into the lead, and can’t afford to lose more than 18 seconds to Lopez.


Roglic doesn’t look nearly as strong now as he had in last year’s Vuelta, and I’m reminded of how he cracked in last year’s Giro d’Italia after winning both time trials. Ah, and here it appears he’s getting caught. Wow, he’s really going backwards. The GC group is hauling ass now, seeming to have been awakened by Roglic’s attack! It’s all coming apart!

A teammate gives Roglic his wheel, but it’s no use. Roglic just cannot hang. The teammate looks over his shoulder. He’s saying something … probably encouragement.


Pogacar sits comfortably in the group. This kid is pretty amazing … he almost always looks fresh as a daisy. Huh, it looks like the pace settled back down. I think this race caught a lot of these guys off guard … there’s only so much training you can do by yourself, some of it indoors, and no races to motivate you. There aren’t very many spectators either, and nobody looks that excited. In fact, check this gal out. She doesn’t look happy at all. Or is she sneezing into her elbow like we’ve all been taught?


The GC group is growing as more riders catch back on. Sunweb takes to the front and picks up the pace. Honestly, I don’t even know whom they’re working for … without Dumoulin, I don’t even know if this team has any stage racers.


There’s an attack from the bunch! It’s Pierre LaTour (AG2R La Mondiale), attempting to bridge up to Lopez!


The racers are on the lumpy section heading toward the fourth of six summits today. As the field hits a flat stretch, Team Ineos takes to the front and starts loafing, obviously hampering the chase so Geoghegan Hart can stay off. Toward the back of this group, Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R La Mondiale) sits up and … what’s he doing? Texting? Ah, I just got a tweet from him. “Pierre’s off the front, my work here is done lol” he’s quipped. They really shouldn’t let riders tweet during races. It’s dangerous.


As they hit the next uphill, the field starts to speed up again. Oddly, it’s Astana on the front, drilling it. What about Lopez? Did he get caught?

Farther up the road, LaTour is still looking great. I don’t think this spectator is six feet away, though. Fricking Sweden. Five times the death rate of the rest of Scandinavia (click here for details), and they’re still pretending everything is okay.


Speak of the devil: Eurosport is showing footage of Huskvarna, a town near the stage finish. Look at all these weekenders, all crowded together with not a mask among them!


See the big sign there? Google translates the second sentence as “But now we need to keep our distance.” Not a very obedient populace, eh?

On the penultimate descent, Astana continues to drill it for Superman, who I assume is in there somewhere.


Ah, there’s Lopez. As this ever-growing GC group starts the monster Berg av Kleideniden, Superman is tucked neatly into his Astana train. Geoghegan Hart still has almost two minutes but it’s a long climb. You can see Pogacar, in his green leader’s jersey, behind a teammate on the right.


Up ahead, Geoghegan Hart’s lead is starting to erode. Now we’re back looking at LaTour who is visibly struggling. The peloton, still lead by Astana, is hauling ass and starting to break up again. And whoa, what’s this?


That’s like the third Sanofi ad since I started watching. Pretty cheeky … clearly the suggestion is that this race can proceed because Plaquenil, their brand of hydroxychloroquine, is so effective against Covid-19. Totally absurd. But hey, I guess if they’re paying for the ad, who am I to protest. It couldn’t be any less effective than, say, McDonald’s.

The GC group has caught LaTour.

It’s a long slog up this Category 1 climb, the dreaded Berg av Kleideniden, rising to over 1,900 meters (6,000 feet), the highest summit of the stage. Now, one by one, the Astana train starts to falter and pretty soon there’s not a single one of them at the front. Either that or they’re being told to stand down because Lopez is hurting so bad. Superman, indeed! At this rate it’s only a matter of time before the attacks start.

Whoa, did I call it or what? Pogacar decides he’s had enough sitting around and totally attacks!


This is really pretty crazy. With Geoghegan Hart’s lead dwindling all the time, all Pogacar really needs to worry about is Roglic, who has been yo-yo’ing off the back all day … and yet Pogacar attacks, due to sheer youthful exuberance I guess. It’s tempting to assume he’s just testing the waters but I’ve never seen him do that. And sure enough, he’s taking time out of the group with every pedal stroke.

And now he’s got Geoghegan Hart! The tall Englishman grabs Pogacar’s wheel and hangs on for dear life. It's just as well because I was getting sick of typing “Geoghegan Hart” which is the keyboard equivalent of a tongue-twister.


Geoghegan Hart cannot hang. Pogacar solos over the summit of the Kleideniden and starts the final descent toward the short, Cat 3 climb to the summit finish. He’s demonstrated before that he can fly on the descents. I just hope he doesn’t hit a bump and rack his nuts!


With 1K to go to the summit, the chase group begins to splinter! Superman falters! Geoghegan Hart has been caught and now struggles to keep up! Roglic is nowhere to be seen!


Pogacar is in the final stretch, having knocked out the final Cat 3 climb like it was nothing!


Pogacar takes the stage, extending his GC lead needlessly! He’s got the Tour of Sweden in the bag!


It’s a fairly modest victory salute for somebody who has just schooled the entire peloton.


The chase group having completely exploded, a few lone riders cross the line. I don’t know who they are but it scarcely matters at this point.


Unbelievable … another ad for Sanofi.


Pogacar stands alone on the podium. The announcer is saying they're not allowing more than one rider at a time on the podium, and no podium girls or other dignitaries, but at least Pogacar doesn’t have to wear a mask.


Pogacar is being interviewed. “I wasn’t that worried about Roglic. At the start line he said he was having a bad race and wasn't used to going so hard day after day. I was mostly worried about Superman but as we went along I couldn’t figure out how he got that nickname. I feel bad for his team, they all looked stronger but were so loyal to him. Hey, wait a second ... I think I hear my mom calling me. She was worried sick about me racing here and drove all the way up here, 2,000 kilometers in her crappy little Renault, to be close by. She is so nervous, she wanted me to race in a mask! Yes, that is my mom calling. I gotta go!”


Damn, I just sat through like my fifth Sanofi ad and now they just keep showing helicopter footage of the Kleideniden, high above the little lakeside town of Huskvarna. I’m waiting to see the leaderboard for the stage and the new GC.

What the hell? Suddenly the footage vanishes and I’m plunged into some other program altogether, some weird sporting event already well underway. What the hell is it?


What are all those people carrying? It’s bizarre. And they’re really not maintaining any social distance to speak of. Oh, I get it—those are maps. I’ve stumbled onto an orienteering event. These are apparently quite popular in Sweden. But I can’t handle the sight of all those people clustered together … I’m out of here. By the way, tomorrow’s final stage of the Tour of Sweden is a flat circuit race favoring the sprinters, so the final GC will clearly go to Pogacar. Nothing more to see, folks … move along, move along.

Postscript

I guess I should point out, since a few people have apparently not realized it, that this entire report is pure fiction. There has not been a Tour of Sweden since 2002.

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Sunday, June 21, 2020

World’s Second-Best Dad!

Introduction

Today, obviously, is Father’s Day. My day, really. With my own dad having passed away, this has become one of those rare holidays (my birthday being the other salient example) when I can just relax and bask in … well, in the hope, at least, that I’ll be remembered. My wife always remembers, of course, because she’s an adult. The kids are touch-and-go. Today, they rose to the occasion, but perhaps not all the way up. Metaphorically speaking they propped themselves on an elbow. But I got an unexpected bonus as well. Read on, because albertnet features some special guest stars today!

The card from Secunda

When my wife and I needed a code name for each of our kids, we went with Prima and Secunda for a short while until the kids figured it out. Well, Secunda was the first kid to give me a Father’s Day card, and since she didn’t actually sign it, I have to wonder if she’s willing to be held accountable. Thrilling to the idea that any member of her generation still values privacy, I’ll honor it. Here is the card Secunda gave to me:


My first reaction was, wait, what does age have to do with Father’s Day? But then, it seems almost impossible for my kids to even think of me without automatically cringing at how fricking old (and thus largely irrelevant) I have gotten.

Opening the card, I see that my daughter was apparently thinking ahead to my birthday (in just a few days) so the ageing theme actually makes sense. Fortunately she hadn’t gotten very far on that card—and I can’t blame her, it’s really hard to think of what to write inside—so she pivoted and repurposed it for Father’s Day. Here, you can read the whole thing:


Because her handwriting is so poor, here in legible text is what she wrote:
Hey Dana,
Thanks for making the moola all these years. Every time I buy overpriced crap I think of you, sort of. I like your Mickey Mouse pancakes. I would say they might be the second best Mickey Mouse pancakes I’ve ever had (but you don’t make them anymore). Being 2nd best at anything is pretty meh, good enough though. World’s #2 Dad! I’d buy you a mug but I don’t think they make them like that. Silver medals suit you, they match your hair. Thanks for trying your hardest!
From,
your favorite daughter

Wow. Ouch. You like how she calls me “Dana”? She’s been doing that for a couple months now. She says it in a somewhat pejorative voice, with just a touch of a sneer. I love the smiley face with $ eyes. You can see the kind of values I’ve instilled, or rather failed to instill.

Now, I have to confess, I had forgotten about the Mickey Mouse pancakes. I used to make those when the kids were very little, especially when we were camping. I’d make the batter a bit runny, and do multiple connected cakes to form a Mickey Mouse head. The kids were enchanted. Looking back, I really miss having the ability to enchant my kids. So why did I stop making these pancakes? Because the kids outgrew them? I’d like to claim that, but clearly my kid remembers them still whereas I forgot. Surely there’s at least one dad out there who still enchants his kids, so I guess I can’t protest having to settle for World’s #2 Dad. It’d be a sweeter sentiment without the dig at my hair, of course. I guess she couldn’t resist.

Speaking of silver, there really is a silver lining to my daughter razzing me like that. My brothers and I never had enough rapport with our dad to tease him, even lightly. He was always dead earnest and could not laugh at himself. There were so many opportunities, such as most nights at the dinner table when he would hold forth at length about science, engineering, and so forth … usually whatever he was doing at work. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say we heard several dozen lectures about the interferometer he was building. It would have been so cathartic at some point to say, “You know what, Dad? None of us has understood a word you’ve said for the last twenty dinners. We don’t even have the slightest idea what an interferometer even does or why anybody would pay you to build one. Everything you say goes right over our heads.” But we wouldn’t dare.

The closest I came was when I took my kids to the Exploratorium science museum in San Francisco. They had an interferometer exhibit and I begged my younger daughter to go pose with it. I posted this photo to the album that I shared with my family, adding the caption, “Lindsay went straight for the interferometer and we could scarcely peel her away...”


I was worried this might be too much of a gibe, and that my dad would realize he was the butt of a joke, but he was clueless. He responded with a comment something like, “It’s impressive the interferometer exhibit was clever enough to engage such a young audience so effectively.” To which I replied, “Yeah … unlike you.” (No, of course I didn’t say that.)

I guess it kind of stings, to be honest, that my daughter signed off with “From” instead of “Love.” But then, affection of any sort, even verbal, seems to strike my children as tasteless.

The card from Prima

Moving on, here’s the card from Prima:


Okay, what is up with that smear? I’ll confess, given how well both my kids can draw, I was a bit less than impressed that the first card was clearly store-bought and rather uninspired, but at least it was clean. What, is that chocolate? Or did the cat throw up on it? I guess I’ll give Prima the benefit of the doubt … maybe she did the card (if you could call it that) many days ago and it floated around the house for a while. Even still, you can tell she didn’t put her heart and soul into this. Probably she was prompted: “You better have a card for your dad.” Perhaps she resented being required to produce one. Anyway, here’s what she wrote:


Now, some people just have better handwriting than others. To a large extent it’s generational—my mom, for example, has beautiful penmanship—and I could forgive a kid, even when her college classes have ended, for not taking a lot of time to painstakingly write out her card as prettily as possible. But then, this kid does calligraphy for fun, so I can’t say I’m completely blown away here. To spare you trying to decipher her accidental encryption, here’s what she wrote: 
Dad—
You’re pretty good all things considered but I think there is room for improvement. Hope you take constructive criticism.
1. Your bald spot is gross
2. You snore way too loud
3. You have weird sunglasses
4. You think listening to Eminem makes you cool (it doesn’t)
5. You drive a Volvo you dweeb
6. You have weird veins
7. You keep getting injured (stop)
8. You have a weird beard
9. You keep getting old
10. Yeah
Love,
Your better daughter
Wow. And ouch. That’s not really a greeting card, it’s a roast! And yeah, I like having solid rapport with my kids, but this might just be a little over the top. On a day when I’m supposed to kick back in the hammock, ponder with satisfaction what fatherhood means to me, and bask in the glow of a doting family, I feel blindsided … I mean, is it just me, or is this kid straight up rinsing the piss out of me?

Look, I know I have a bald spot, and it’s one of life’s disappointments since when I was growing up my mom explained that, based on the genes in my two family lines, I would have a full head of hair my whole life, which I clearly don’t. It’s like my hairline and my bald spot are racing toward each other until I only have hair left on the sides, like a clown. Suddenly the reassurances I’ve heard on this matter—for example, that I’m tall enough that not too many people can even see the bald spot—are just attempts to be nice. Attempts, I should add, that are no longer being made.

As far snoring, that’s not exactly fair. My wife tells me, perhaps honestly, that I’ve only been snoring lately, because I’m forced to sleep on my back since my arm is in a sling due to a broken collarbone. But okay, fine, I’ll own it. I snore. Sue me.

It’s number three, “You have weird sunglasses,” that really kind of stings, because I really put a lot of thought into choosing my sunglasses. They’re prescription, and cost a bundle, so I wanted to make sure I chose the frames carefully. In fact, I even dragged my wife with me to the optometrist’s, so she could weigh in. While I modeled them, I asked her to take a photo because I can never see much in those tiny little mirrors the sunglasses display cases have. Well, my wife snapped the photo and started laughing. I started to get a little annoyed—like, if they’re that bad, why am I wasting my time trying them on?—until she showed me the photo. My wife doesn’t have a smartphone, and struggles with the soft-key interface, as you can see:


She had no idea how the cartoon enhancements were made, and I don’t either. Once we figured out how to turn off the silly effect, I got a good look, and we agreed these are the cool shades. I was, I’m a little embarrassed to say, kind of proud of them. But now my daughter has weighed in, speaking of course for her entire generation, the new generation, the only generation that matters, and has pronounced them “weird.” Here, you might as well mock them too:


Moving on to #4, do I think listening to Eminem makes me cool? No, I know 50-somethings can’t be cool. This is truly a musical choice based entirely on my appreciation of Eminem’s music … but to my daughter, it’s just a pose.

And driving a Volvo makes me a dweeb? I thought I deserved credit for recognizing myself as a family man and owning it, vs. buying a big dumb SUV just to show the world how “rugged” and “sporty” and “outdoorsy” I am. And I could have done worse, style-wise, than a Volvo. What if I had a Nissan Cube, or a PT Cruiser, or a Scion XB? (Oh, wait, I do have a Scion XB.) Okay, fine, I give up. I have a dweeb-y car. Two dweeb-y cars.

On to #6, “You have weird veins.” I feel like I’m under a microscope or something. Who knew kids even noticed this kind of stuff? And to be honest, I’ve historically thought my veins were kind of cool, showing off my low body fat etc. In fact, I even mentioned in these pages how, when I donate blood, the technicians praise my for my easy-to-find veins:


But of course I’ve been living in a fool’s paradise. Nobody likes prominent veins. They’re … weird.

I guess I can’t really defend myself against the next criticism, that I keep getting injured. I could argue that statistically I’ve got a pretty good track record, as I’ve ridden my bike over 200,000 miles in my lifetime, and competed in over 250 races, with only three significant injuries. Alas, all three injuries have been in my kid’s lifetime (a separated shoulder, a broken leg, and now this collarbone), so I’ll have to face the music here.

Now, this weird beard, which you can see in the sunglasses photo above, isn’t really by choice. It’s my right collarbone that’s broken, and I’m right-handed, so I think I should get points for at least shaving my neck left-handed. Yeah, I get that my beard is turning grey, particularly this little patch near the corner of my mouth so it looks like stray toothpaste. I know if my colleagues saw this graying beard, I’d probably be laid off from my job since I work in tech. So it’s kind of a race: will my shoulder heal by the time my employer reopens their offices?

On to number nine … I “keep getting old.” Well, what am I supposed to do? I guess over in Marin County, and certainly in southern California, all the 50-something men are getting testosterone shots and taking human growth hormone, and maybe they have time to meditate and be mindful, and they’re getting hair plugs, all positive steps in the war on ageing, while I’m just out injuring myself. Forgive me for living!

I asked about #10, “Yeah…” and my daughter said, “You should be grateful I ran out of things to complain about!”

Bonus card – the trifecta!

Imagine my surprise and delight when my smartphone chirped to alert me to a third Father’s Day card, this one from my brother, known to my kids as Evil Uncle Max:


This card pretty much speaks for itself. Man, what a work of art! If I’m not mistaken, this was created without the use of Photoshop. In case you’re wondering, yes—that is my mom holding me in her arms. That isn’t a baby photo of me, but it’s at least from the first half of my life, when I still had a full head of hair. Here’s what Max wrote inside:


Kind an “A for effort” sentiment, walking that fine line between showing me the love and damning me with faint praise. “Totally reasonable” indeed! I particularly appreciate “So take yourself out to dinner or something,” the subtext being, “No point waiting for anybody else to take you.” Clearly, he knows my family well!

Well, there it is, another year of fatherhood done and dusted. Some say our kids won’t fully appreciate us until they’re parents themselves. Caveats being “if and when,” I guess. But you know what? I’m going to look on the bright side … I seem to have excellent rapport with my kids. At least they know I can laugh at myself.

But wait, there’s more!

To my surprise and delight, my kids produced bonus Father’s Day cards just a bit ago, after I had written most of this post. These second cards were done with much more care than the gag ones above. Prima even wrote me this nice limerick: 
There once was a weirdo from Boulder
Who constantly messed up his shoulder.
He is always in pain   
But he’ll do it again
As he keeps getting older and older.
Okay, not that nice … I guess she couldn’t help herself!

Further albertnet reading on this topic:


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Sunday, June 14, 2020

From the Archives - Portrait of the Young Cyclist: Part 3


Introduction

This post continues the tale, from my archives, of how I became a bike racer. In Part 1 and Part 2, I described how my early infatuation with the sport led to actually participating, and the disastrous results of that doomed effort. In this post (and its companion vlog) I go into what changed when I actually learned about training.


By the way, it appears that not a single photo was snapped of me cycling in 1982. My brothers didn’t race the Red Zinger Mini Classic that year, and my dad wasn’t about to go watch. I mean why would he, when I obviously sucked? My brothers and/or mom might have watched a stage or two, but none among them owned a camera. Since I try to include a photo with every post, here is one from around that time. I’m wearing my “Super Dad” pajama top. Why did it say “Super Dad”? I don’t know. Perhaps my mom got a deal on it because it was obviously too small for any actual dad, and not too many kids are real keen on the “Super Dad” graphic. Incidentally, this pajama met a bitter end when it somehow melted in the dryer. It had puddled up and then hardened into a stiff sheet, kind of like fruit leather.


Update! I found a bike race photo from 1982. I am number 62 in the below shot.


Portrait of the Cyclist as a Young Man – Part Three: The Curse Continues (written in February 2003)

Of all the decisions I’ve made in my life, the decision to keep on bike racing, despite mortifying and utter failure in my first year, on top of my ceaseless failure in all other sports I’d tried, is perhaps the hardest to explain. What could I have been thinking? Given the information I had in front of me, there was simply no reason to go on. It wasn’t like by this point I’d learned a valuable lesson about determination, and commitment, and all those other “values” that would have made for a really good ABC After School Special. I was just a stupid kid, and clung to my bike racer outcast identity despite the fact that any boy of my age plucked at random from any setting could easily have beaten me in any cycling event. Maybe this self identity was too much of a habit to drop. Or maybe I figured my body would catch up somehow, with or without training. (There was some reason to believe this; I was a short, small, frail child, after all.)

There were other reasons I stayed in love with the sport. I got a new bike, having completely outgrown the 24-inch-wheeled Fuji Junior. My mom gave me a Miyata catalog on my birthday, and I was shown the model that my family could afford to buy me at some later date. It was the middle-of-the line 310, with the coveted 1-1/8” wide tires, 27” wheels, working gears, and a really smooth ride. Thrilled as I was at the prospect of one day owning that bike, I was even more enthralled by the bikes we couldn’t afford: the Pro and Team Miyatas, and the 912. I still remember the description of the 310: “Offers the looks and the handling ease of the 912, with a price to fit most budgets.” The 912 was their “entry-level racer,” so the fact that the 310 could share a sentence with “912” suggested my new bike’s raceability. It was a great bike, actually. $265. Light blue, not unlike the Team Miyata, though lacking the flagship’s beautiful golden panels on the head, seat, and down tubes. I loved the 310 even before test riding it at the High Wheeler (aka Thigh Feeler), our favorite shop in town (where all four brothers would go on to work in later years).

I suppose it was a few days after the test ride, though it seemed like months later, that I picked up the bike. Mom wasn’t around that day to drive me, so I rode double on the back of Max’s Univega. It was about six miles, and his seat was just plastic on steel, no padding or even fabric, and I thought my butt would be too sore to actually ride home. We rode back at race pace, and as we sped through the college campus we passed some student who must have felt insulted to be one-upped by little kids, because he jumped on our train. He did pretty well until he failed to negotiate the sharp turn down by Fiske Planetarium, hit the concrete median, and wiped out big time. We stopped to see if he was okay, and this was the first time I saw real road rash up close. I was a bit worried the guy would pummel Max and me, and he was pretty pissed, but he let us go and we completed our glorious ride.

Nine days later I rode my new Miyata to the Morgul Bismark stage of the Coors Classic. By this time, my brothers and I were even further along than we’d been the year before in our appreciation of the sport. The hottest talk about this race concerned the dominant Russian team, famous for their Olympic success. At age 12 I could not only pronounce, but probably spell (though not in Cyrillic), “Sergey Sukhorutchenkov”. Sukho was the leader of the Russian team that dominated the Coors that year. Somehow it didn’t matter to us that Greg LeMond actually won the overall stage race. What we remember was that three or four of the Soviets, in their badass plain red Lycra jerseys (well, one guy in the blue KOM jersey), took LeMond out that day and worked him over, had him on the turnbuckles for the whole day.



I didn’t understand that by failing to drop him, they actually lost the bigger race. All I grasped was that a strapping Russian guy, Yuri Barinov I believe, won the stage in style, arms in the air but bent 90 degrees at the elbow, kind of a constrained victory salute, with his vaguely sinister grin, and I remember LeMond looking beaten and downcast as he rolled over the line. Okay, maybe these weren’t Europeans per se (and my knowledge of geography, it must be pointed out, was crummy), but the point was, this just wasn’t an American sport, and Americans even lost (or seemed to lose) on home soil. And this seemed right and good to me, appealing perhaps to my backlash against anything normal and upright, such as patriotism.


The other thing I remember about that July day in 1981 was that my new bike got stolen. I wanted to die. I was so upset I didn’t go to the North Boulder Park criterium, the final Coors Classic stage, the next day. My brothers and their friend Thaine did, though, and managed to recover my bike. The thief, a fourteen-year-old, was arrested. It’s a long but not that interesting story. (At one point I told a fanciful version involving a police raid, replete with K9 dogs, on the guy’s house, but the real events were doubtless much more boring and squalid.)

I think I would have ended up never improving at cycling except that in fall or winter of 1981, my best friend J—, who was a nerd like me but did pretty well in the longer Track & Field events at school, decided to become a bike racer. He got a bike identical to mine and started getting me to go out for training rides. I never would have trained otherwise. Even if I had understood the link between training and getting strong, it would have been for naught because I was incredibly lazy. Even when I was made to swim for years and years, dragged to practice every single day, I never worked hard. I guess it was a defect of some kind. As soon as my mom let me quit swimming, I quit that and virtually all other activity. I think I started watching TV at that time. Cartoons, Star Trek, even game shows. I wasn’t a complete nothing, I guess; I read, too, and for a period read for several hours a day. But athletically I was a non-entity.

Cycling was a particularly poor choice of sport for me given its lack of coaching and structure. J— saved me from a childhood of physical sloth. It may be that the first ride I did with him was the first bona fide training ride of my life. I remember the phone call. He was absurdly enthusiastic: “Hey, you wanna ride out to Eldorado Springs with me?” It sounded terribly far away. I’d never been there. I asked my mom if I could go, hoping that she’d say no. But of course she said yes. What could I do? I was supposed to be the big shot racer, after all. So we rode.

I don’t remember the ride all that well; most likely I tried to assume the role of wily old veteran, coaching J— the whole way, but if he didn’t figure it out on that ride, he must have realized within a few more that I had nothing on him. He was probably out-climbing me right off the bat. His willingness to train was not the main reason behind his superiority: he was also very talented. But he dragged me out day after day, and for the first time in my life I gradually became fit. Before long we were riding the Morgul Bismark circuit, which is hard enough that to this day the thought of riding it fills me with a kind of dread. The first few times we rode, we got kind of a late start because he lived a 15- or 20-minute walk from school. So to expedite things, we adopted a system whereby we’d walk to my house together, get my bike, and ride double over to his house to get his. I think this became such a routine we never even discussed whether we’d ride or not. After school we just went. When a big snow came, we kept to our routine but did cross-country skiing to stay in shape. He had the skis, boots, and poles; my contribution was a ceramic jug we’d fill with Celestial Seasonings tea.

The following spring, my junior high school, Baseline, had a program called BLAST, which stood for Base Line Activities Students Teachers. Every Wednesday for a month, the students and teachers would get a half-day, and would do a specific chosen activity instead of classes. These activities ranged from bowling to Hebrew language lessons to restaurant touring, and of course I chose cycling. By this time I was pretty strong, one of the strongest in the group. The strongest was D—, a really nice guy with a kind of crappy but very Euro bike, a Gitane I believe. He was a couple years older. There was another kid, skinny like me, but not as fair skinned and with black hair, by the name of N—. He was only a year ahead of me. He had a nice red SR Semi-Pro, with Campy shifters (a popular and affordable, if pointless, upgrade). He was a newcomer to the sport, though, I could tell: he wore full-finger gloves despite the 80-degree heat. I don’t think he knew how to draft, which I’d learned recently from my brother Geoff. (Geoff and I went on rides together and he’d make me stay just an inch off his wheel; to remind me how close I needed to be he would hold his hand back behind him, fingers held an inch apart, and if I didn’t do it right he’d drop me.)

The first time I rode with the BLAST group, I stayed on D—’s wheel and we dropped N—. The second time, one week later, N— kept up. The next time, he and D— dropped me. Probably by the last BLAST ride, N— was dropping D—. I don’t know: I was too far off the back to see what they were up to. This, after what happened with J—, began a pattern I would see for years and years: I’d meet somebody, get him excited about cycling, and then he’d pass me up on the way to greater things.

That year I came to the Mini Zinger much better prepared. I must have grown a bunch, because I fit my much larger bike pretty well. Of course the main difference was that I was physically fit, and knew how to draft, and could shift properly, and even had some basic suffering skills. The first event was the Boulder Mall Criterium; it was a qualifying race a week or two before the Mini Zinger proper, to determine which of the two divisions each rider would be put in. There was a good crowd, and a photo finish camera, and I was completely amped up.

From the gun I went straight to the front, just like my brother Max had done the year before, but instead of having a suspicious mechanical problem after a few laps, I was able to keep up the speed, lap after lap. For about five laps in a row I was on fire, feeling like God, leading the race. I was right at the very front, every lap. And I knew what was going on! It was absurdly simple: nobody was ahead of me, and everybody was behind me. If anybody wasn’t close behind me, that person didn’t matter, just like I hadn’t mattered the year before. All I had to do was hold this position, and I would win the whole race!

Of course it dawned on me, eventually, that I couldn’t stay at the front forever, and that every single guy behind me was benefitting from my draft, and that I would need somebody else to take the lead. But I couldn’t get anybody to do it. I’d move to one side, and the rest of the pack moved right along with me. So finally I slowed up just a bit . . . the horror! A huge long line of racers went streaming by. I felt like Wile E Coyote when he looks down and realizes he’s walked off the edge of a cliff and is standing on thin air. The pack had simply used me, taken advantage of a strong but dumb guy, and now it was all I could do to find a place in the pack. I finished somewhere between tenth and fifteenth—a huge improvement over the previous year, but the guys I trained with, N— and J—, finished first and second, respectively. I rode home by myself, bound and determined that I would never attempt anything again, ever.

There was more to embitter me that year, too. I’d assembled a great team for the race, consisting of N—, J—, myself, and a kid named G—, who’d finished second the year before. (Was there a fifth rider? I can’t remember.) I even lined up our sponsor, Fiske Planetarium, where my brothers’ friend’s dad was the director. We were to be called the Fiske Flyers, and would be in contention for the overall team title. It hadn’t been easy figuring out who our fourth guy should be, and it took all the assertiveness I could muster to approach G—, a complete stranger. Everything was perfect, until the race directors, led by Eric Sandvold, decided after the preliminary races that our team was too good, and so he split us up. He kept J—, G,— and me together, but put N— on a different team. I was pretty mad about that, but at least I was still paired with my best friend.

But almost right away, J— and N— had a private conversation following which N—, right in front of me, phoned the race promoter, Eric Sandvold (a teenager himself) and negotiated a change so that he and J— could be on the same team. It bugged me how syrupy sweet and glib he was on the phone, and it bugged me even more how utterly confident he was, like he and Eric went way back (though they didn’t) or like N—  was a made man with no chance of being turned down. It seemed like he did the phone call in my presence just to show off, and perhaps to rub my nose in it.

So I lost both of my best teammates, and endured a major smack in the face: because N— was faster, J— preferred to be on his team, even though J— had been my best friend for years, and though I’d started him in the sport and put the whole team together in the first place. I was left with only G—, who was plenty strong but crashed in about half the stages. The team with N— and J— on it won the overall, and my team wasn’t even in contention. I ended up finishing eleventh overall, and endured a lecture from my brothers about how I lost due to my own stupidity.

Later that year, we all got USCF licenses and N— and J— were recruited to the Flatirons Velo Club and got cool jerseys and bikes at cost, and went on to win many races. I continued to lose, and my only consolation was one race when J— crashed out and cried in front of his mom afterward. She was visibly embarrassed, and told him it wasn’t that big a deal, that there would be other races. He sobbed that it wasn’t the loss of the race that was making him cry, but that he was in pain. I knew this was a load of BS. He was crying because he couldn’t stand to be out of the limelight even for an afternoon. But what about me? I was training plenty, on my own, now, but it seemed I would never see the limelight at all. So even the pleasure of seeing J— getting peroxide in his wounds and bawling in front of his mom was short-lived. For me, bike racing was still largely a depressing thing.

To be continued

Check back in a month or so for the next installment: how I learned the ropes, endured another tragedy, hurled in a race, and suffered other indignities.

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Sunday, June 7, 2020

What Are Hospitals Like During the Covid-19 Pandemic?


Introduction

Today’s topic: what’s it like to visit an urgent care clinic right now, during the pandemic? What are things like at a hospital? And what’s it like to get a Covid-19 test? Unfortunately, I’m now in a position to report on all three.

I’m unable to type right now so I did something different: I recorded a vlog without having a script, and then transcribed the audio track using my phone. Please excuse whatever transcription errors I missed here.

Here’s the vlog version if you prefer that:


And now, with no further ado, the Q&A.

Why would anybody want to go near a hospital right now?

In my case, I had a pretty bad accident. I put off treatment for a couple days until it became clear that I needed it. Before I started making appointments I asked a buddy of mine who’s an MD, “Is this a really bad time to go to the hospital?” (Obviously he does this every day for work, and then goes home to his family.) He said, “You know, hospitals are really well-run: they’re kept very clean and they have protocols in place. It’s probably safer than a grocery store.” I agreed, and my wife made me an appointment at an urgent care clinic in Oakland.

Is it hard to get an appointment?

Of course this depends where you are, but in the Bay Area the hospitals etc. are really not doing much, as so many people avoiding these places. Getting an appointment was really easy.

Is the traffic lighter getting there, and is the parking easy?

Yes! Our drive to Oakland was done in record time. I don’t know about parking because my wife dropped me off—they aren’t letting visitors inside, you have to leave your patients at the curb. When we went to San Francisco for the second appointment (more on this later) it was even weirder because the Bay Bridge, which is normally, any time of the day, totally clogged up, was just smooth sailing. It’s kind of weird to see a city like San Francisco completely empty. I mean, normally there are horns honking, cars everywhere, people flagging taxis … in a more suburban area like Albany, where I live, it’s not that different from normal—you get more people walking but that’s about it. To see a major city seemingly abandoned like that is pretty eerie.

Is there a rigorous Covid-19 screening protocol before I can enter the building?

The first place I went to, I was able to go through the lobby and up the elevator on my own though they had a big thing of hand sanitizer as soon as you hit the lobby. At the entrance to the clinic on the second floor there was a guy with a table and he took my temperature and made me use hand sanitizer so he could make sure I’d done it, and he made sure I wasn’t obviously symptomatic before allowing me to proceed.

Will the person doing the screening make corny jokes to try to put me at ease?

Well, that’s going to vary but in my case the guy did. After taking my temperature he said, “Okay, 97.3 on your FM dial!” I wonder if he makes that joke with everyone. Actually though, it was pretty useful because if he said something like, “The New Alt: 105.3” or “107.7: The Bone” then I’d know I had a high fever, probably had Covid-19, and would be sent packing.

Do I bring my own mask or will they provide them?

I had heard they were going to give me my own mask but it’s kind of a Catch-22: until they hand you a mask you have to be wearing one. But after it’s been in the hospital I don’t really want the mask anymore, so I wore my skuzziest, dirtiest mask. At the urgent care Center in Oakland the guy had me switch it out and got me one of those cool rectangular blue ones that hooks behind your ears. I kind of wish I’d kept it but I pitched it with my old one. At the second place, the hospital, they were offering masks but I totally forgot to switch, so again I was wearing like my skuzziest mask, the one I’d dropped in the dirt, and wore it the whole time so I must have looked like some sort of derelict.

What social distancing measures will the doctors and nurses take? What kind of PPE?

Most of the time there was only one person in the room with me. Briefly there were two nurses in there but that was all right. The risk of infection, as I read recently here, depends on three things: your proximity; whether indoors or outdoors; and, how much time you’re in that proximity. If you’re closer than 6 feet from somebody, outside, on a trail, for like one second, you’re not going to give that guy Covid. So when I pass someone ten feet away on some trail and I’m not wearing a mask, and he looks over and scowls like I just sacked his ancestral village, I get a little testy. Two nurses in the room with me for two minutes at the same time, everybody wearing a mask … I’m not worried about it.

As far as PPE, the doctor wore a Plexiglas face shield, kind of like what a what a riot cop would wear but not quite as burley. It reminded me of the sneeze guard on a salad bar. So between that, and surgical gloves, and a mask, the doctor was well protected.

It’s actually kind of funny because my hand is pretty bandaged up and the doctor needed to check out my wounds, so she was trying to take Band-Aids off while wearing rubber gloves and she just couldn’t get anywhere. I was like here, let me help you out. How often do you get to help a doctor like that?

What’s the closest you had to get to anybody?

Obviously the doctor was right in there, dabbing with this very cool goop called MediHoney, which has some kind enzymes in it that kind of eat up the bacteria that might be growing the cuts. Kind of like putting maggots in your wound except smaller. So she was kind of close, but I not for very long. The most uncomfortable part was when I went across the hall to radiology. The X-ray tech had to position me with the backdrop and everything, and I say uncomfortable not because I thought he was going to give me Covid-19 but because he was asking me to put my bad arm over my head and all these other horrible things. That took a while too, but it was a giant room and he’d frequently scurry behind the control console to not get radiated, obviously.

How come every single member of the medical profession (except for the doctors) has tattoos now?

I don’t know why, but they all did, like, to a person, and one of the nurses had like this really cool tat on her forearm that looked like a face but it was like really well done. It was kind of distracting because I kind of wanted to say, “Wait, can you hold still for a moment, because I want to peer into the eyes of this person staring out from your arm.” But of course I didn’t want to waste her time or anything. Maybe this is just a value-add, you know … giving you something interesting to look at during your treatment.

Do you feel like you’re taking medical resources away from Covid-19 patients or people injured during protests?

Short answer: no. Again, there’s nobody in there, no one is scheduling elective surgeries right now. It’s just starting to get a little closer to normal but there were more staff than patients by a huge ratio. It was totally dead in there, just going through the empty hallways, like a ghost town. It’s almost like when you’re trying to support your small business so they don’t go under ... I’m giving this hospital some business. (Not that I would have chosen to, honestly.)

Do you think it’s in good taste to use terms like “dead” and “ghost town” under the circumstances?

Aw, lighten up!

Is the service really quick now, since you’re practically the only patient in there?

Oddly, no. I thought this X-ray thing was going to be pretty quick but I was there for hours. It was like usual: you’re seen by the nurses, then they leave, then the doctor comes in, leaves, comes back, then they’re ready for you down at X-ray, then you wait for those results to get sent to the doctor, then the shift changes and whatever and you get a new doctor, so I was sitting around for quite a while. I’m not sure why that is … maybe they’d sent too many of their staff  home.

Do they still give you a ridiculous orders like taking your shirt off well in advance of the doctor showing up so you have to sit there in an over-air-conditioned room for like 45 minutes shivering with no shirt on for no good reason?

Yes.

Is there any consequence whatsoever in completely ignoring the instruction to remove your shirt well in advance of the doctor actually showing up?

None whatsoever … I sat there with my shirt on. I’d planned ahead and wore a shirt with snaps down the front so when the doctor showed up, I popped down all the snaps in a row and whipped the shirt off in a jiffy. It’s important for patients to advocate for themselves.

Did everybody you talked to in both medical facilities ask you if you smoke or if you have ever smoked?

Answer is yes: all of them did. I got this question constantly, just as I did last time I was in the hospital for a broken femur.

Why do they ask this?

I’m glad you asked because I’ve posed this question too. The answer is, smokers just don’t heal very well from this kind of thing. Smoking doesn’t just wreck your lungs and your respiratory system—it stresses your entire body and puts it on the back foot no matter what it’s trying to recover from.  So don’t smoke!

Is it hard to schedule a surgery right now?
                                                                      
Hopefully you’ve never had to schedule a surgery but normally it’s a bit of a hassle, this little dance you do over several phone calls with the surgery scheduler whose full-time job is figuring out this puzzle with surgeon’s time so tight. But this was a piece of cake. The orthopedist recommended surgery, I agreed (I’m not going to second-guess the person who went to medical school) and he’s like, all right well, how about Tuesday?

Do they make you get a Covid-19 test before you can have an operation?

Yes, they actually will operate on you in a part of the hospital where there’s nobody with Covid-19, to limit any chance of exposure. So you have to get a test.

Is it hard to get an appointment for a Covid-19 test for an upcoming surgery?

Nope! Again, a piece of cake. They put in the order on Thursday and I got an appointment for Friday. So if you’re looking to get a Covid-19 test and you’re not getting any luck, just go get in a bad accident and injure yourself, and Bob’s your uncle!

Do you have to go to the same tent where all the symptomatic people are to get your test?

That’s a great question, because obviously you don’t want to be exposing yourself to the virus. Fortunately, they have a whole tent setup for asymptomatic people, which is pretty cool of them.

Do they really have a drive-thru Covid-19 test, and will they really serve you microbrews on tap there?

Two-part answer: yes, they really do have a drive-thru Covid-19 test, but no, they don’t serve microbrews on tap, at least not here. Maybe in Texas they’re doing that, or maybe in Oregon, but not in California.

That question about microbrews ... is that kind of a sore subject?

Yeah, it actually is and I wish you wouldn’t bring it up. Right now, in the days before the surgery, I can’t have Advil (as it thins the blood) so I have to take Tylenol, and I can’t have any alcohol with that because I care about my liver. So even though a lot of people are advising me to treat my symptoms with beer, I can’t, and I had to I had to give up a 32-ounce growler of Fieldwork IPA because it was going to go bad in my fridge. So that hurt, I think that hurt even more than my injury.


Don’t worry, the beer found a good home. The pal I gave it to later Beck’sted it from his patio.


Do they allow you to bring a pet in your car for the drive-thru Covid-19 test?

This is actually on my paperwork for the test: they specifically forbid you to bring a pet. If you have a pet in your car, they will turn you away, which kind of makes sense, right? Because if Rover is in the in the car with you and someone takes like this q-tip that’s like a foot long and sticks it so far up your nose you’re reminded of a sword swallower, Rover’s probably going to take action. Rover’s like, “Okay, that person’s killing my master—this is my finest hour, I’m going to save the day!”

Did you want to bring your pet to the Covid-19 test?

I have a cat. Needless to say a cat has never protected its owner so there’s no risk there. I probably could have filed the paperwork to have the cat registered as an emotional support animal, but only if they never met this cat. She’s useless. I’ve been laid up since Saturday and this cat will not get on my lap, will not even come around. It’s like I’m damaged goods, the cat is avoiding me like the plague. So no, I was not even tempted to bring her, not even to punish her, because she can’t change her stripes.

What was it like getting the Covid-19 test?

I was in the backseat of the car (I can’t drive right now) and somehow I’d been led to believe the person was going to get into the car but I think I must have been a little bit of a little bit confused. Instead the tester had me roll down the window and then she leaned in and first swabbed all over my mouth so needless to say I was not wearing a mask for this but obviously the tester was wearing a face mask, shield, the whole thing. Then she said, “I’m going to go up your nose.” And she sticks this thing up in there, gets it like an inch up my left nostril, and she’s like, “That one’s a little tight, I’m going to go through the other nostril.” I’m thinking great, what if this other one’s tight too … then what?

But the other nostril was apparently okay so she said, “This is going to last for 10 seconds,” and I’m really glad she gave me the countdown because it was weird, I mean it was like way in there, and I don’t know if you’ve ever had this happen where you’re eating pasta or rice so fast that you get a piece that goes way up in there so it’s stuck like halfway between your nose and your mouth and it just sits in there and kind of hurts, like when you hit a raw nerve with a drill when having a cavity filled without Novocain (which is how you should do it because it doesn’t hurt that bad) so it’s annoying and you’re thinking like “Oh god, I got pasta up my nose!” and then you get a Kleenex and you just blow your nose like super hard and then you feel the noodle bit flying out of your nose, when you look down you’re like, “There it is!” and it is just such a relief. So if you’ve ever had that happen, that’s kind of like what it’s like getting this Covid-19 test. They put the swab so far in there and kind of wiggle around and I’m kind of going “Uuuugh! uuuugh!” (but silently) and she’s counting, “All right, I got 5 more seconds” so I’m thinking “I can handle this!” and then it’s over. So, all told, we got there and sat around for a couple minutes while they did whatever and then from the time like the swab came out till I was done was like two minutes and then we hit the road.

How quickly did you get back the test results?

It was about 15 hours—pretty quick! They called me the next morning and let me know.

Do you have Covid-19?

No, I don’t. At least, I’ve tested negative.

Did they give you the antibody test so you can see if you’ve ever had Covid-19?

I asked about this and they said the antibody test gives so many false negatives (or was it false positives?), its accuracy rate is about 50%, so it’s just completely useless and they wouldn’t bother getting me that one.

If you test positive for Covid-19 do they still go ahead with the surgery?

I thought the answer to this would be no, they’d have to reschedule, but actually, given the severity of my injury, and since it’s not considered elective, they would move forward with the surgery even if I have Covid-19. They just would send me to a different facility where they have a “negative pressure” operating room where they can basically make it safer. I was kind of surprised about this and asked my doctor friend, who said, “Yeah, they should just operate, like why should they be so worried? They’ve got their PPE and this is the environment they work in; what’s the big deal?” I was kind of surprised … I was thinking it would be the patient at risk in that case. But I guess if you’re not showing any symptoms, it’s full steam ahead.

Would now be a good time to finally get a surgery for that chronic dandruff?

You know, as disgusting as my dandruff is—and it’s really bad, I’ll admit, it’s just a disgrace—I think I’ll wait until the pandemic is over before I go in for that scalp transplant.

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