Friday, April 30, 2021

Tom Swifties


What? You’ve never heard of a Tom Swifty? It’s a very brief kind of joke in which some rando named Tom does something in a certain way, such that the sentence has a pun. For example, “‘I’m not afraid of a little poison oak!’ Tom said rashly.” Typically, the punch line is an adverb, but not always. The first one I ever heard was, “‘I dropped the toothpaste,’ Tom said, crestfallen.” (I can’t decide whether or not to capitalize “Crest” here. In general, these jokes are spoken out loud, spontaneously, so that wouldn’t be a question.)

Where did this rich literary tradition start? Apparently with a series of books about a guy name Tom Swift who has cool sci-fi adventures and speaks in a certain way, usually involving adverbs. I don’t know that the character or author did much with puns, but these books were somehow an inspiration.

I reckon I was turned on to Tom Swifties by Boys’ Life magazine, which often featured a few of these ditties in their “Think and Grin” column. I’m pretty sure that’s where the “crestfallen” one came from.

I am constantly producing Tom Swifties. I don’t know why I do it … probably because I find life too boring to just plod through silently. I average perhaps five or ten of these a week, not that I’ve ever bothered to count. I speak them out loud to anybody in earshot, which usually (especially during the pandemic) means my wife and the one daughter still under my roof. I text them to the other daughter here and there, and my brother Max and I have been exchanging them for years.

My wife seems incredulous that I just throw these (albeit half-assed) jokes out there and let them drift away like mist instead of recording them (though I don’t think she actually likes them, per se). The daughter who gets the brunt of my Swifty fusillade has implored me to drop a bunch of them into a blog post. So here it is.

What makes a good Tom Swifty?

A very young child might miss the point entirely and produce a Tom Swifty like, “‘I am an idiot,’ Tom said stupidly.” While this is charming coming out of a child’s mouth, it lacks a pun and is pointless. When a pun is involved, obviously it’s better, as in, “‘I’m tired of riding a track bike,’ Tom said shiftlessly.” But this isn’t a particularly good one, because there’s nothing all that shiftless about not wanting to ride a track bike. In this sense the adverb seems a bit forced, or tacked on. It would be better to say, “‘I can’t be bothered to ride a track bike,’ Tom said shiftlessly.”

I say you get bonus points for creating the pun via a carefully, cleverly selected verb so that an adverb isn’t necessary; for example, “‘Conifers are the best trees,’ Tom opined.” Yes, this particular example requires that the audience knows what a conifer is. Does this dependence on specialized knowledge weaken the Swifty? Au contraire, I think it strengthens it because those who get it will feel smug. Those who don’t … well, to hell with them anyway.

The best Tom Swifty, I think, presents more than one pun by combining the right verb and the right adverb. This gives me the same satisfaction as skipping a stone multiple times across a lake. If Eminem did Tom Swifties, he’d probably do five or six in one go, but I don’t reckon I’ve ever gotten more than two puns (i.e., a triple-entendre). Here’s a recent example: “‘I’m so hungry I could eat a corvid,’ Tom crowed ravenously.”

Okay, that’s probably enough exposition—let’s get to the one-liners. Note that my own Tom Swifties are shown here in a regular font. The ones generated by my brother Max (or, in a few cases, my daughter) are in italics. I’ll probably add to this list over time, meaning my shortest-ever blog post could evolve into my longest.

Tom Swifties

“But I hate Chianti!” Tom whined.

    “How can I shop when I can’t remember what to buy?” Tom asked listlessly.

“Nice boobs!” Tom tittered.

     “California, Texas and Arkansas,” Tom stated.

“I want to screw it in,” Tom said inscrutably.

    “Those dying embers need more air!” Tom bellowed.

“I’m pretty sure I have COVID,” Tom coughed dryly.

    “Worthless cow’s got no milk,” Tom uttered.

“Lousy dog doesn’t even have a pedigree,” Tom muttered.

    “One day we’ll discover a planet with four suns,” Tom foreshadowed.

 “I’m so bummed, my favorite Swedish car company folded,” Tom sobbed.

    “Mark, it’s great to see you Mark,” Tom remarked.

“I just had a bad accident with the power saw,” Tom said offhandedly.

    “I like other boys!” Tom said gaily.

“Denmark is full of assholes,” Tom said disdainfully.

    “We have to get out there with picket signs!” Tom protested.

“I don’t appreciate being crucified like this,” Tom said crossly.

    “I only sheared three,” Tom admitted sheepishly.

“I bought another catcher’s glove for my collection,” Tom admitted.

    “I know I said I can’t, but I didn’t really mean I can’t,” Tom recanted.

“Food isn’t very enjoyable since they cut my tongue out,” Tom wrote tastelessly.

    “Only criminals can use this elevator,” Tom said condescendingly.

“I’m tired of catching thermals to gain altitude,” Tom said sorely.

    “I am not an ass!” Tom brayed.

“It sucks being a double amputee,” Tom said defeatedly.

    “Another flat!” Tom hissed tiredly.

“I have no use for unmarried women—they’re all whores,” Tom said dismissively.

    “Another New Yorker … I can’t keep up,” Tom sighed weakly.

“B-O-U-N-D,” Tom said, spellbound.

    “Another torte,” Tom retorted.

“I’m not an obsessive fan of any rap star,” Tom said standoffishly.

    “You’re not a real man unless you’ve got corns and bunions,” Tom said callously.

“Be sure to leave a tip,” Tom said gratuitously.

    “I hate the stench of burning hair, especially mine!” Tom fumed.

“I’m trying to create a framework for rehabilitating criminals,” Tom said contemplatively.

    “I made you a friendship bracelet,” Tom said charmingly.

“I prefer Jack to Swiss,” Tom said mildly.

    “I'd like to marry you,” Tom proposed engagingly.

“It’s okay, a good doctor is worth waiting for,” Tom said patiently.

    “I'd literally kill for some Chinese food,” Tom said wantonly. 

“I just lost bladder control!” Tom gushed.

    “I'm not supposed to be in here,” Tom broke in.

“I have tons more hairlike locomotive appendages than you,” Tom said superciliously.

    “It’s good, let me just season it a bit,” Tom added gingerly.

“I am obsessed with this Gregorian music,” Tom said, enchanted.

    “Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve got herpes,” Tom mouthed sorely.

“Forget what I asserted just now!” Tom exclaimed.

    “Pete Pete! Pete Pete!” Tom repeated.

“After all this sun exposure I’m sure to get melanoma,” Tom said darkly.

    “Ring a ding ding!” Tom chimed in.

“You old fogeys know nothing about cloud computing!” Tom sassed.

    “I scratched my throat eating all that hay,” Tom said hoarsely.

“I’m depressed from reading all those German folk tales,” Tom said grimly.

    “The pipe will go here,” Tom said fittingly.

“My respiratory system is completely shutting down,” Tom said breathlessly.

    “Time and Newsweek are essential reading,” Tom editorialized periodically.

“Can I join your singing group?” Tom inquired.

“Oh dear, I can’t get it up,” Tom said softly.

“I won’t eat Ruffles, they’re too hard to chew,” Tom said lazily.

“Silly Brits can’t even say ‘Mom’ right,” Tom mumbled.

Got a Tom Swifty?

If you think of your own such quip, post it as a comment below or email it to me. If I get enough I’ll add a “guest writer” section for them. And check back here, as I hope to add more Tom Swifties to my own compilation … maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon—and for the rest of your (well, my) life.

Email me here. For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Friday, April 23, 2021

How to Avoid Being Bike-Jacked


About a month ago, an email went around my cycling team about a bike-jacking on Wildcat Canyon Road up in the Berkeley hills: two men ran a guy off the road with their car, then stole his bike at knifepoint. (The Nextdoor report is here.) A week later, another report came in, this one from Strava and also reported in Berkeleyside, about two more cyclists being robbed of their bike, this time at gunpoint. Also mentioned were two other tales of cyclists escaping apparent robbery attempts. And just last week I came across yet another report of a cyclist being robbed at gunpoint, this time of his mountain bike.

I have continued to ride throughout this crime spree, and now, as a service to my fellow Bay Area cyclists and anyone anywhere who faces this threat, I offer my strategies for protecting yourself and—more importantly—your bike.

A few details 

I’ve pored over the articles for as much information as possible, but there are a lot of gaps. The first guy, we’re told, “had been run off the road about halfway between El Toyonol [sic] and Inspiration Point, by two men in a grey VW or Toyota sedan – ‘looked like primer’. He surrendered his bike when threatened with a knife. One of the men left with the car and the second rode the bike, both toward Berkeley. He was not clear on the description of the two men saying he was mostly focused on the knife.” Other than his bike being a “Trek Madrone” [sic] there’s not much more info.

Right off the bat, I’m pretty frustrated. I mean, “VW or Toyota”—what the hell is that? Any normal male above the age of ten should be able to tell the make, model, and year (give or take) of just about any car. But this guy? Let’s face it, VWs and Toyotas don’t look very much alike, whereas Toyotas and Hondas are practically identical. Consider the following exhibits:

Obviously, the car could have just as easily been a Honda, and by extension a Lexus or Acura. So all we really know about the vehicle is that it’s not a Prius and not an SUV. Gee, thanks. (Actually, a Prius would be the perfect getaway vehicle around here because it would be so inconspicuous. But an eco-friendly villain? I can’t see it happening.)

Perhaps more annoying than the victim’s poor observational skills is the typical prevalence of stupid comments below the news story. Lots of politically charged stuff in there about “PC politics,” “defunding the police,” etc. One guy wrote, “Race of criminals; suppressed. Type of bikes; secret.” What does he mean “suppressed”? By whom? There’s a difference between neglecting (or failing to notice) this or that detail vs. it being kept from us as though by conspiracy. And really, the type of bike is irrelevant. Am I safer because I ride a Giant, when the criminals are apparently targeting Treks? Uh huh.

I would argue that the thieves’ race (though it was brought up by four commenters in the first Berkeleyside article) is also irrelevant. We cyclists want info that will help us keep an eye out for the perps during our rides. This is why knowing it was, say, a mid-‘80s VW Jetta would be really useful. But suppose, for the sake of argument, the perps were white guys. Does this mean I need to peer into every car I see and try to make sure the driver isn’t white? Pffff.

There’s also the probability that multiple, independent criminals are involved. Copycat thieves, if you will. Which brings me to my perp-agnostic strategies.

Strategy 1 - Choose different routes

The hardest thing to figure out with these reports is whether the victim was riding uphill or down. This makes a big difference. Consider the guy run off the road on Wildcat Canyon. If he was climbing, he’d have been a sitting duck for the thieves; that climb (from San Pablo Dam Road to Inspiration Point) takes me like 13 minutes (and chances are I go faster than a bike-jacking victim plucked at random). But the descent is under six minutes, so a thief would have to be pretty lucky to happen upon me (unless he’s sitting in wait—but his VW or Toyota or whatever the hell it is better be pretty fast to catch up from a dead stop on that twisty road). So I’ve stopped climbing Wildcat (but I’ll still descend it). Instead, I can go up El Toyonal and Lomas Cantadas and then down South Park Drive . (Lomas is closed to through traffic except bikes; South Park is closed to cars during the pandemic.)

Other thefts and attempts were on Grizzly Peak Blvd, most of which isn’t that great a road anyway. The residential section is dangerous because the locals tend to drive poorly; e.g., pulling out of their driveways without looking , or worse. (Click here for a particularly egregious example.) This stupid street is easily avoided if you go up South Park, and if you don’t want that steep a climb but want to reach destinations south, you could ride through Berkeley and go up Tunnel Road to Skyline. So far those roads haven’t been a target.

Bear in mind, I don’t always feel like climbing Lomas, in which case I stay on El Toyonal. The section east of Lomas, which connects to Wildcat Canyon Road, is closed to cars. I do have to then ride up the top half of Wildcat, but I can do that in under six minutes—a risk I’m generally willing to take. More on this later.

(Am I doing a disservice to my fellow cyclists by giving away these secret routes to prospective thieves? No. First of all, there’s nothing they can do about these roads being closed. Second, thieves don’t read this blog. If they did, they wouldn’t be thieves … they’d be procrastinating grad students, retirees, and/or my mom.)

Strategy 2 - Evasive action

If you’re descending and somebody tries to pull alongside to run you off the road, you could try to outmaneuver them. For example, you could take the left lane. The evil driver would have to have balls like King Kong to follow you over there. After all, if you encountered an oncoming car, you could ditch off the left side and probably not crash—but the would-be thief would be out of luck. Of course this technique has the moral flaw of putting an innocent motorist or cyclist (i.e., the one possibly coming the other way) in danger. So I don’t really recommend it.

Now, if you’re climbing, and really paying attention, you could probably stop quickly enough to avoid being run off the road. Then you could pop your feet out of the pedals and roll backward, paddling with your feet, long enough turn your bike around, clip back in, and flee downhill.

When I climb Wildcat from El Toyonal to the summit, I figure that if I do encounter a thief, and can manage to turn around, I could be back at El Toyonal and the safety of its gate in under three minutes, worst case. That’s not so long to hold off a deranged motorist. And the gate really would save me … it’s not like one of those matchstick ones the bad guys plow through on TV.

Strategy 3 - the “human shield”

I’ve only used this technique by accident. I was descending Wildcat and caught up to another cyclist. I didn’t want to pass (because it’s hard to give the guy the requisite six feet of COVID clearance, so passing would be rude). I hung back 100 feet or so, and in the process realized that if a would-be thief were lying in wait ahead, he’d get the guy ahead of me, and I could turn around and flee. (Er, turn around and get help—that’s what I meant.) And if a motorist started trying to catch me from behind, I could just sprint a bit, pass the other cyclist, and let him be the victim. (While I went for help, of course.) Employing this strategy while riding up a hill would require more patience, but could be done. A downside to this scheme is that you’d have to wait at the top or bottom of the climb for a suitable human shield to show up.

A variation on this would be “humans shield” whereby you ride in a large group. (History has shown that two riders isn’t enough.) Of course, everyone in your group would have to be vaccinated first … but we’re getting there.

Strategy 4 - the “I’m-with-Grandma”

This is a variation on the human shield, with the human being in a car. I discovered this by accident too, when I got stuck behind an elderly, slow driver on the way down Wildcat. Again, a thief sitting in wait ahead would rule me out because there wouldn’t be enough space between me and Grandma’s car to move in. And if a thief came from behind, I could sprint around Grandma … the thief probably wouldn’t dare follow.

Strategy 5 - Capitulate

Of course you could just willingly comply and cooperate with the thief. After all, it’s just a bike, right? And isn’t every cyclist always looking for an excuse to buy a new ride? Consider the following exhibit, a chat I had with a friend recently over the absurd price of new chainrings and even replacing a simple bolt:

(Harrison, in this context, is my late father.)

The are problems with this strategy, though. As far as I can tell, homeowners’ and auto insurance don’t cover this kind of theft—and proper racing bikes are expensive. On top of that, I don’t trust criminals to be reasonable just because I’m cooperating. They’re loose cannons, right? Finally, I don’t trust myself to follow through and be docile. When I think of how angry I got when some shitbird stole the handlebars off my commuter bike, I sense I’d be ready for hand-to-hand combat if someone went for my entire bike. As a kid I used to get in a fair number of fistfights, and a weird, crude part of me misses them. Which brings me to the next strategy.

Strategy 6 - the Walt Longmire

I was unarmed—who brings a Colt M1911 on a bike ride?—so I decided to hand over my bike, even though the guy only had a knife. But knowing he’d try to escape on my bike, I opened the rear quick release as I rolled it to him. I’d taken off my helmet to try to draw his eyes away from my tampering, but he didn’t fall for it. “What did you do?” he asked, looking down. I saw my opportunity and swung my helmet as hard as I could up into his face. As he recoiled, I threw my entire bulk at him, pinning him to the ground under the bike. I wrested the knife from his hand and was about to pummel his face when his accomplice yelled, “Think again, asshole!”

I looked over to see the endless, stainless barrel of a Colt .357 pointed at my face… All I could think was that this was the last thing I would see. Time froze then, and it was as if the air had died… Suddenly a giant cyclist came barreling down toward us doing at least thirty, stuck out a knee and an elbow, and nailed the gunman, sending him sprawling across the asphalt. I jumped to my feet, seized the dropped sidearm even before it stopped skittering across the road, and had the perp covered within seconds. Henry Standing Bear downshifted, turned around, and rode back up in time to yank the other thief from the ground and put him in a hammerlock before he could do anything.

The big Indian said calmly, “The thieves clearly did not realize you were riding with a friend. It is a good thing you dropped me before beginning your descent of Wildcat.”

(Note: the italicized text above is taken verbatim from Death Without Company by Craig Johnson, Penguin Books, 2006, page 245. Used without permission.)

Strategy 7 - Ride in the morning

There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you: I don’t rely on clever routes alone to avoid bike-jackers. I also ride bloody early in the morning—as in, before dawn. Why am I confident in this strategy? Well, so far the documented thefts have occurred between 11:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. And think about it: thieves are never morning persons. If they were morning persons, they’d have fricking jobs and wouldn’t have to rob people!

So you may be wondering how this is working out for me. So far, it’s great! For one thing, it’s a lot quieter and more peaceful … just me and the turkeys and an occasional jogger. That photo at the top of this post is the view of Mount Diablo from Wildcat Canyon Road, snapped during one of these morning rides.

On a recent outing, I didn’t encounter my first car until almost half an hour in, when a douchebag in a big Benz blew by me, coming way closer to me than necessary—practically grazing me—and going waaaaay over the speed limit. He wasn’t trying to rob me, though—he turned in to the parking lot at Inspiration Point. Why the rush? I’m guessing he wanted to get to his favorite meadow in time to do his sun salutation just as the sun came up over the horizon. What a git.

(Ironically enough, his unsafe pass occurred within twenty feet of this sign:

So you see, he was a scofflaw; just not a bike thief.)

Minutes later, I encountered another vehicle, suspiciously parked at the side of Wildcat Canyon Road, on the stretch where the first cyclist was robbed. But the vehicle was a Honda Element: way too conspicuous, not to mention nerdy, for thieves … it is beneath their criminal dignity. Meanwhile, the aroma of burning ganja emanating from the vehicle was strong enough to put me at ease. Even if the driver tried to rob me, I’d just have to stall him for a bit and he’d forget what he was doing and wander off.

After that, there were a few cars on San Pablo Dam Road but that’s a major commuter thoroughfare (with the traffic in the opposite direction, happily enough). Next up was El Toyonal, which is a beast of a climb but zero mugging risk … even the most boneheaded thief knows almost nobody rides here. You could wait half a day for a victim to happen along.

Not feeling like tackling Lomas Cantadas, I took the El Toyonal cut-through to Wildcat. It’s as peaceful a road as you could want:

Probably the riskiest part of my ride was heading up the top half of Wildcat towards Inspiration Point. That vulnerable bit of the route is why I ride so early. As it turned out, the only other car that passed me was a Tesla. I wasn’t bothered in the slightest, because Tesla owners are more the type to commit white collar crime.

Note that if you adopt the early morning strategy, it’ll get easier as summer approaches and the days got longer. Here’s a handy chart showing civil twilight times for this area:

This morning, civil twilight started at 5:56 a.m. I was on the road at 6:04, plenty early enough to get 20 miles in and still show up to work (at home, of course) by 8:00.

But what if you want to do a much longer ride, like the 70-mile round trip to the Mount Diablo summit? That brings me to my last anti-mugging strategy.

Strategy 8 - Slip between the horns

The other weekend, I wanted to ride Mount Diablo, but wouldn’t make it back to the Berkeley hills until early afternoon. The obvious solution to this problem would be to ride home over El Toyonal and Lomas Cantadas. But I don’t have nearly the fitness to do that … I missed a lot of riding last year due to injury, and I knew I’d be pretty well shattered by the Diablo summit, over thirty miles from home. The alternative would be crawling home over Wildcat in the afternoon, clearly a risky behavior. As I silently pondered the matter, my wife said, “Hey, how about I go shopping in Walnut Creek and meet you for lunch? You could throw a change of clothes in the car and drive home with me.”

Genius! She had seemingly recognized my false dichotomy (the fallacy that Lomas and Wildcat were my only options) and deftly slipped between the horns of the dilemma. Actually, her plan had nothing to do with the local crime spree, which (thankfully) I don’t reckon she thinks much about. It was just a novel idea of how to spend the afternoon.

It worked out perfectly: I destroyed myself on the mountain, coasted down the other side, found the car, changed, and twenty minutes later I was inhaling yucca fries, a Cuban sandwich, and a pint of IPA, with my bike safely locked up in the back of the car. This became the first point-to-point training ride of the year, with a sprinkling of net elevation gain to boot ... and exactly zero bike thieves. NOOICE!

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Friday, April 16, 2021

COVID wristbands


I’ve had my first COVID vaccination shot, and more and more of my friends and family are getting theirs. It feels like there’s finally an end in sight. It’s so tempting to give in to this or that temptation, such as to finally ditch the mask. Of course I won’t yet, for two reasons. One, with variants etc. it’s still possible for a vaccinated person to spread the coronavirus. Two, from a social perspective I don’t want to scare anyone. That’s what this post is about: signaling to others when we’re no longer a threat. Is there a simple way of doing this?

Mask as token

A face mask prevents the spread of two things: airborne virus-laden droplets, and fear. Much of the time, this second thing is arguably more important. When I go for a walk (whether on a trail in a regional park or just in my neighborhood) and encounter another person, it’s almost comical how much evasive action we both take. If our masks aren’t already on we swiftly apply them in a practiced motion, and then we greatly alter our course so as to put at least ten feet between us, even when it means going out into the middle of the street. Most of the time this is unnecessary. It’s just a social gesture that says, “I respect your right to not get COVID.”

The fact is, three conditions must exist for the virus to spread: close proximity, lack of good air flow, and prolonged exposure. If you’re indoors, maskless, and talking loudly in someone’s face for several minutes or more, sure—that’s dangerous. A five-second encounter on a fire trail isn’t. Nevertheless, I always pull up my mask because not everybody understands this, or believes it, or feels comfortable tempting fate. It’s easy enough to wear a mask and I’m happy to do it.

Still, I get dirty looks. Sometimes I’m a little slow pulling my mask over my face, or somebody appears to resent my practice of only having my mask in place when I encounter others. (These are the folks who wear a mask while driving alone with their car windows rolled up.) One time I was at home and stepped across the sidewalk, unmasked, to get something out of my car and encountered somebody whose stroll brought her unexpectedly into my death zone. She scolded me, “You should always wear a mask when you go to your car because a person might be coming!” I replied, “Oh my god, thank you so much for pointing that out. I never would have put that together.” She smiled smugly and continued on (either oblivious to my deadpan sarcasm, or even deader-pan than I).

Why are safety-minded people so prickly? It’s because as babies they were given all the routine vaccinations against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, etc. and they’re all autistic.

Note: that was a joke, and if you got all excited because you’re an anti-vaxxer, you’re a joke and should go somewhere else for your “news.”

So once I’m fully vaccinated, will I still wear a mask and give everyone a comically wide berth? Sure. After all, that’s preferable to irking people wherever I go. But wouldn’t it be nice if people could be that much more relaxed around me because they could tell, somehow, that in addition to my mask I have all the antibodies I need to keep the virus from turning me into a highly infectious disease-spreading machine?

How about I’ve-been-vaccinated wristbands?

So I got to thinking: what about a rubber (well, silicone) wristband, like those yellow Livestrong bands from the early aughts? A color-colored wristband worn by those lucky folks who have had the COVID vaccine could suddenly become all the rage, and overnight would come a universal symbol for greatly reduced contagiousness. Next time somebody gave me stink-eye for being a little slow on the mask-draw, I could flash my wristband on they ass, and then they’d be like, “No worries, my bad!”

Once I had this idea, I figured I’d write a blog post about it which would immediately go viral, and we’d be well on our way to wristbands being standard for everyone who gets the vaccine. Five seconds later I realized that if I’ve had this idea, of course countless others have as well. Sure enough, a cursory Google search turned up countless heartwarming stories about how “two Seattle techies,” a “Carpenteria man,” an “RIT alum,” a “government contractor,” and a “father and son” came up with this ingenious idea to promote vaccination while reducing social anxiety through been-vaxxed wristbands. All these news stories seem to have been written in a vacuum, taking it on faith that nobody else had thought of this simple social signaling mechanism.

Do these wristbands work?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never actually seen anyone rocking the I’ve-been-vaccinated wristband. For now, it looks like a movement that’s just spinning its wheels. So what’s missing? Well, think about this: why didn’t the Livestrong wristbands come in a variety of colors? It’s because they had to be instantly recognizable in order to convey the message “I support Lance Armstrong’s amazing cancer foundation.”

You can chuckle and roll your eyes all you want now, but the Livestrong Foundation sold 80 million of those wristbands before Lance got popped. They were all the rage and the various knock-offs, like the grey “APATHY” wristband I somehow acquired, never saw significant sales.

I don’t think the current COVID wristbands will ever be adopted because they’re not distinctive enough to mean anything. It’s like if a wedding ring could be made of any material or worn on any finger … how would we know what’s merely decorative vs. declarative?

On top of this, the current crop of COVID vaccination wristbands are pretty ugly and/or cheesy. Let’s look at a few. Here’s a pretty revolting color:

Compared to this awful green, the maillot jaune color of the Livestrong wristbands was like the new black. Now look with these orange-white numbers:

They remind me of Creamsicles. Yuck. Here’s an even grosser color, with an embarrassing label, “I AM A COVID WARRIOR,” into the bargain:

This plain white one is just poorly executed, like the bottom-of-the-barrel swag from a trade show (remember those?):

This one is particularly ugly in color, and “GOT THE SHOT” with the silly coronavirus-shaped Os is just unforgivably tacky:

Now, this fancy bracelet version is particularly problematic: it can’t be read without glasses or myopia; wouldn’t be popular among dudes; and could cause skin problems for those who require 14-karat gold jewelry.

The father/son team wristband, stating “Vaccinated and Proud,” looks like the cheesy toy from a Cracker Jack or cereal box, and is not only unwisely political but kind of arrogant. Proud that you were lucky enough to get a vaccination appointment? Proud of believing in science? Proud of braving that scary needle? Give me a break. Meanwhile, who could read the text from over six feet away … Superman?

On top of these aesthetic concerns, I’m not about to fork out real money for a cheap rubber wristband. Prices look to be in the $1.30 to $5.00 range (or $34 for the bracelet) and you often have to buy a 5-or 10-pack. This seems like a ripoff, particularly if these wristbands don’t become ubiquitous among the vaccinated, so I just look like a random solo douchebag wearing one.

My analysis of the problem here? This is one of those times when the private sector just isn’t up to the job. It’s time for the government to step in.

Hey CDC – you make the wristbands!

The solution is obvious. The CDC needs to develop a totally standardized rubber wristband, embossed with a non-embarrassing label like “C19 VACCINATED.” They should manufacture them by the millions, and ship them to vaccine distributors to give away to everyone who receives a shot. It wouldn’t be an indicator of anyone’s personal style or fashion, but more like a government-issued ID of sorts so it’d simply be a matter of public health to wear one. The color should be something muted but also completely distinctive. I propose Celeste #227, the strange milky blue-green created by Bianchi, the Italian bicycle company. Here’s a swatch:

Understated, distinctive, and utilitarian … so much easier to adopt than the current tacky hodgepodge. Get some major celebrities to sport them, and you’d have a nationwide phenomenon in no time.

So if anyone reading this is close personal buds with Dr. Fauci, or if you’re some kind of big shot Internet influencer, please get this going. My second shot is only a week away…

More reading on the pandemic

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

From the Archives - Punish Me, Young Man!


Today’s post is a story I originally wrote for Daily Peloton. (Their servers crashed a couple years ago and all their content was lost, so I’m gradually re-posting my dp articles here.) Enjoy please enjoy.

Punish Me, Young Man – October 14, 2007

On my ride today I got crushed by a guy whose bike had a front reflector. And yet, it was a glorious ride. (If that grabs your attention, read on, but if you’re looking for pro race results, you won’t find them in this story.)

I got off to a late start on my ride this morning, tired and feeling vaguely demoralized. I’d been caught in the rain on the previous day’s ride and was having that standard existential crisis of “Why do I train so much, and so hard, in October no less, when I don’t even race anymore?” So I was dragging to begin with, and then on my second climb, South Park Road, I really started to bog down. I was not feeling any of those “positive sensations” the pro racers are always talking about. And I kept seeing these squashed newts on the road.

These endangered newts are protected half the year by a road closure, but it doesn’t begin until November and I guess they got a head start on their seasonal migration because of the early rain. It was depressing: I saw like two dozen of them, smashed completely flat. Okay, this really shouldn’t have affected my morale, but that’s the kind of morning I was having. I almost turned around and went home.

Fortunately, the night before I’d watched the violent Western “3:10 to Yuma” and was still feeling the effects of second-hand testosterone on the baser part of my nature—the lizard brain that doesn’t make excuses. I decided to push on, taking the steep, long descent of Claremont Road so I could drag myself back up it. Toward the bottom I saw this guy coming up. He waved, and I gave a little nod before realizing, wait, that was a really big wave, maybe he needs some help. I sat up, looked back, and (being basically at the bottom already) turned around and rode toward him. He slowed down so I could ride up alongside him. “Hi, I’m new here and don’t know any rides,” he said.

Now, before I commit to sharing my ride with a stranger, especially if I’m grumpy, I’ll usually try to figure out what kind of rider he is. You can’t really go by how nice his bike is, at least in the Bay Area, where a newcomer to the sport will happily drop three or four grand on a bike. But you can get clues: how well does the bike fit him? Double or triple crankset? And does his gear look suspiciously new, or well used?

This guy was on a spanking new ride, an Ultegra-equipped LeMond, with not only a triple crankset but a front reflector. I think I first recognized the stigma of a front reflector when I was about eleven. In all the shops I’ve worked at, that was the one reflector we always left off on new bikes, even the cheap ones. Getting the risk-averse shop management to approve this was never hard: front reflectors only serve those who ride on the wrong side of the road at night without a light.

And yet, this guy somehow didn’t seem like a novice. (I used to hear the term “Fred” applied to beginners, but one of our local heroes, Fred Rodriguez, has pretty much put that name to rest.) This guy’s position was good—he didn’t have his handlebars jacked up Mary Poppins style, which seems an epidemic among novice cyclists. And he was lean. He also had this European accent, which I couldn’t place. He was medium height, with very dark skin. His clothing looked great (but of course this is something money can buy). I asked him how long he was looking to go, and he said four hours. Four hours!

I told him I wasn’t going that long, but if he wanted I’d take him up the steepest climb in the area. I’m always trying get my friends to do this climb, called Lomas Cantadas, which gains 1,240 feet in about 2½ miles at an average grade of 11%. My friends’ responses usually range from “Yeah, right” to “I did that once and I’ll never do it again as long as I live.” How refreshing that this guy was so willing. Of course, he not only had no idea where else to ride, but didn’t know what he was getting into.

But first there was Claremont to get over. We began the climb—about 1.5 miles averaging 10%—and he started half-wheeling me right away. That can be annoying, but then I know how instinctive this is when you’re riding with someone you don’t know and want to make a good impression. But man, the harder I went, the faster he went, without ever seeming to strain. “New bike?” I asked him. He told me he was borrowing it from a local shop: he’d just moved here from Austria and would be trying out for the Health Net team on Monday. Had I heard of Health Net? Uh … yeah. Wow. Suddenly I realized that, as ambassador for Bay Area cycling to a serious European racer, I was going to have to dig deep to make sure this ride wasn’t a total waste of his time.

Dang, he was strong. Had this climb gotten steeper? I’m known on my bike club for having the strange (and annoying) ability to chatter away merrily right up to my anaerobic threshold, but here I found myself gasping for breath. I asked him how old he was: twenty. I’d been thinking we were more or less the same age, but only because I always forget how damn old I am. He asked, and I admitted I’m thirty-eight. (Going on fifty, I didn’t add.) I asked what his specialty was, and he said he’s an all-rounder. Yeah, he looked it, but he could sure climb. Toward the top of Claremont, he said, “Hey, you ride good.” He paused, then continued, “For thirty-eight.”

I rested a bit descending to Orinda and along the flat section before the dreaded Lomas Cantadas. As soon as we hit the climb I felt its wrath. (At least there’s no traffic—the narrow road winds around through a sparse residential area that eventually gives way to ranchland at the summit.) Within a quarter mile I was in my lowest gear and bogging down, but the Austrian never slowed. I dug deeper and deeper, looking for some sign that he was feeling anything. No sign. I asked him if he raced pro or amateur. “Professional,” said, and quickly added, “but only on a Continental team.” He pointed at his jersey: this past season he raced for Swiag Pro Cycling Team, and for the Austrian national team. I asked if he got to ride Worlds, and he said that the federation screwed up and didn’t submit their results to the UCI, and ended up only getting to send one rider instead of three. He’d been among the original three, but wasn’t the one guy who got to go.

So here I was, riding with an honest-to-God European pro! I wished I’d had better legs, though the difference between my best and worst day probably wouldn’t have been perceptible to him. Boy did I suffer. Somewhere along the line I hit my highest heart rate of the year, 181. I asked him at one point what his was: 150. 150! When I was his age, I would hit 150 riding to class … he must have really been loafing. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between a local boy and a real pro. He’s basically a different species.

On the hardest part of the climb, a couple miles in, I came completely apart. I was fricking rendered. The center could not hold. The infrastructure was crumbling. The fountains no longer worked in my plazas. Goats grazed in the shell of my capitol building. I weaved, my form was shot, my legs howled (albeit silently) like spoiled children, I wheezed like a leaf stuck in the blower. And yet, it was fun! I was taking on all comers: Man Against Man, Man Against Nature, Man Against Himself. I way dying, yes, but I had that wimp in my brain up against the turnbuckles at last. Oh yeah? Feeling lousy? Feeling weak and worthless? Well, let’s head out with this guy, lets offer him up my skinny legs to snap like twigs, let’s let my male ego trounce the rational mind once and for all, let’s see just how low I can go, how much pain I can pile on. I doubted the pro even noticed what I was going through, as he always stayed half a bike length ahead.

Ages ago, when my brother Geoff was an up-and-coming eighteen-year-old racer, he often rode with a thirty-something ex-racer named Bob, a crusty old veteran who’d been pretty good in his day. One day, as they duked it out on an epic Colorado climb, Geoff tried to keep a poker-face despite terrible, terrible suffering. Finally, he sneaked a glance at his opponent. Bob turned to him, grinned, and said, “Punish me, young man!” Ever since I heard that story, I’ve longed to use that line, and this here was almost the perfect opportunity. But the Austrian pro’s English wasn’t perfect, and I’d hate for the language barrier to distort the joke into something embarrassing. I was sure thinking it, though.

My motor control gone, I fumbled and dropped my water bottle. “Oh, I’ll get it,” the pro said. Normally I’d have tried to impress him by circling back and snatching it up without stopping, but I was in no condition to do it, and welcomed a brief respite. Besides, I wanted to see how long it took him to catch back up. He took his time circling back, stopped, stashed the bottle in his jersey pocket, and then smoothly but unhurriedly cruised back up as I kept myself redlined. I was reminded of the time I watched piranhas hunting goldfish in an aquarium: they’re so much faster than their prey, they simply don’t have to hurry. “No rush, I’ll take out the fish whenever I feel like it … okay—now.”

Finally the awful, beautiful climb was over, and we cruised the rest of my ride (he still had two and a half hours to go), chatting. He told me his name, Robel Tedros, and I figured out how to remember the name of his team, Swiag (“I will get lots of swag”). I gave him the URL of the bike club I’m on, and he said he might look me up. He described his plan: if his audition with Health Net goes well and he gets a good offer, he’ll race in the U.S.; otherwise he’ll move to Italy and race there. (I’m not sure why he’s leaving Austria, though he did mention the weather is lousy there.) I described some other roads he could check out, wished him luck on Monday, and we parted ways. I can’t imagine he won’t shred the Health Net boys, but who am I to say?

When I got home I googled his name and found him all over the race results websites, lots of top twenties. His profile on his team’s website, roughly translated by my browser (I don’t speak a word of German), reads thus: “Successes: winner total valuation of the UNIQA junior Trophy 2006, 6 victories in the junior class 2006, 6 further Top three placements in the junior class 2006, Viennese master in the junior class/road 2006, summoning into the Austrian junior national team 2006, 1 victory in the junior class 2005, 3 further Top three placements in the junior class 2005. Qualities: very good mountain driver, good individual time driver, good Sprinter, very good Allrounder, my nerve strength, openness, tolerance, loyalty, ambition.”

[Here’s a photo of Robel from around the time I encountered him.]

So, next time you see a guy with a front reflector on his bike, don’t jump to any hasty conclusions. He might be one of those mountain drivers!

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