Friday, June 27, 2008

Bastard of the Day

Fifteen years ago, it happened to my best friend's dad. Ten years ago, it happened to my wife's dad. On Tuesday, it happened to mine.

Here's your reward for 35 years of loyal service: pack up your things. You're fired.

Anybody in the western suburbs looking for a warehouse manager?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I Called It

For anyone curious how long I will milk a lame joke, here's a news item:

Laws injured in training

British rider Sharon Laws, tipped to join team-mate Nicole Cooke in the Great Britain women's road race team in Beijing, is to see a specialist to assess the implications of an ankle injury sustained this week after a heavy fall while training with her Halfords-Bikehut team near Abergavenny in Wales.

"Breaking Ms. Laws, breaking Ms. Laws..."

Friday, June 20, 2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bicycle Funeral

I had a dream last night. My mom took me to a bicyclist's funeral Mass. It wasn't anyone I knew personally, but that didn't matter. Several men in suits wheeled a riderless bike covered with white flowers down the aisle of the church to the altar. The priest gave some sort of blessing over the bicycle and said a few words about the cyclist. Then the men solemnly wheeled the bike back up the aisle and out of the church. I cried through the whole thing.

Afterward, we went back to, um, somewhere -- it wasn't my house, and it wasn't my parents' house. Then Jennifer came over to mourn with me (though we have never met face-to-face). I recounted the Mass I had attended in vivid detail and began sobbing again. By the end of my description, Jennifer was crying with me.

Then Gracie jumped on the bed and barked in my ear, so I woke up.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Oh, Crap! I&M Canal Trail Damage

A visitor to Dave's Bicycling Pages recently asked me for tire advice for Illinois' two historic canal trails, the Hennepin and the Illinois & Michigan. He rode those trails on May 28-29. Although he enjoyed the Hennepin, the I&M was a bit too damp. Worst of all, he encountered this just east of Utica:

With all the flood damage in the region and Illinois short of money, who knows when IDNR will get this repaired? According to their Web site, the Tunnel Hill State Trail still isn't completely open, and that damage dates back to mid-March 2008.

Bastard of the Day

This goes to Mayor Daley's 33 sycophants on the Chicago City Council who voted today to desecrate Grant Park with the new Chicago Children's Museum. Score another victory for clout and another defeat for the citizens of Chicago. As the Chicago Tribune made abundantly clear, there are plenty of other locations in the city that would benefit more from a museum development than the already overcrowded downtown area and particularly Grant Park.

On the other hand, thank you very much to Gene Schulter, my alderman, for opposing the museum location. He recently e-mailed constituents asking for opinions about this controversial topic (he must have read my response!). I wonder how many of the 33 "yes" voters bothered to do the same.

UPDATE 06/12/2008 - Here's what a Trib editorial said about a perpetual bastard:
Ald. Bernard Stone (50th) said it would be wrong to survey Chicagoans about this hugely unpopular move. Why not take a poll? Because, Stone suggested, citizens oppose this taking of Grant Park only because they've been "brainwashed by the media."
If he believes it's okay to override the local alderman's wishes, then why didn't he put the North Shore Channel bicycle bridge up for a vote before the City Council? I don't live in Rogers Park, but I may have to volunteer for whoever runs against that bastard next time. He just pisses me off too often.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Jerry Springer's Favorite Cyclist

Just about any well-informed "all-time top ten" list of cyclists would have to include Jacques Anquetil. He was the first to win the Tour de France five times, and he was one of only four men to win every three-week Grand Tour (France, Italy, Spain) at least once. He even led the 1961 Tour de France and the 1963 Vuelta a Espana from the first stage to the finish.

Anquetil was controversially frank about doping:
"If you want to accuse me of having doped, it's not difficult. All you have to to do is look at my thighs and buttocks – they're veritable pin cushions. You have to be an imbecile or a hypocrite to imagine that a professional cyclist who races 235 days a year in all weather can keep going without stimulants," Anquetil said bluntly.
But the Frenchman's love life is what would interest Jerry Springer. He met his doctor's wife, Jeanine, they had an affair, and she left the doctor to marry Anquetil in 1958. Things became much more interesting after Anquetil's retirement in 1969:

His greatest desire was to father a child. He had two stepchildren, Jeanine's son and daughter from her first marriage, and she could have no more... A surrogate mother was needed, and one was found: his 18 year-old stepdaughter, Annie. The result was daughter Sophie. Anquetil stayed together with his wife, stepdaughter and daughter in one household for some 12 years. There was, as might be expected, much friction in the house, and matters weren't improved in 1977, when his stepson Alain brought his new wife Dominique home. By 1983, things came to a head. Annie moved out, to be followed by Jeanine, when Anquetil and Dominique became lovers. They eventually had a son, Christopher, in April 1986.
Alas, Anquetil died in 1987, four years before Springer made such twisted liaisons seem commonplace.

To learn more about Anquetil's achievements on the road and in the velodrome, plus his colorful personal life, check out Sex, Lies And Handlebar Tape by Paul Howard, due to be released in the United States on November 1, 2008.

Bastard of the Day

Today's prize goes to the bushy-white-haired bastard down the block. I was walking Rosco alone (my wife took Gracie to the horse stables to play with another insane puppy), and he squatted to do his thing. As I whipped out a grocery bag and started dutifully scooping it up, the old man came up to me and asked, "Did you get it all?"

Dog walkers recognize this as code for I don't trust you to pick up after your dog. As a responsible dog owner who has lived here for ten years, I don't deserve that. Bite me, you dumb, old bastard. Congratulations, you've just made yourself a new enemy for what remains of your rotten life. Next time, maybe I'll be the one squatting in your yard. Or on your porch.

Here's the kicker. This bastard's house is the eyesore of the block. The stucco is deteriorating by the minute. There is exposed wood on the front where the stucco is gone completely. The west wall has been covered in Tyvek sheeting for at least five years. And he's worried about a stray chunk of dog crap on his precious lawn? Fix up your damned house and then f*** yourself.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Congratulations to a Great Champion

Alberto Contador's overall victory in the Giro d'Italia, sealed with a good performance in today's final time trial, harks back to the cycling champions of the past.

In the modern peloton, particularly since Lance Armstrong began his seven-year Tour de France winning streak in 1999, cyclists follow complex training schedules designed to peak for certain races. In fact, Armstrong's training was so carefully tailored that he didn't just peak for the Tour de France; his peak coincided specifically with the toughest few days of that three-week tour. On top of that, Armstrong and several teammates rode the hardest mountain stages months in advance so they would know exactly what to expect. Many fans criticized Armstrong for this focused approach, saying that his specialized preparation made him a one-trick pony, especially since he tended to take August and September off while others continued racing. In fact, once he started winning the Tour, Armstrong never rode the Giro or the Vuelta a Espana, the sport's other grand tours.

In contrast, Contador's Astana team wasn't even invited to the Giro d'Italia until a week before the race began.* The grateful team sent its three best stage racers, but none had planned or trained for the race. Contador and American Levi Leipheimer were on vacation when they learned they would be racing three hard weeks in Italy. Andreas Klöden was designated as the team leader on the strength of his victory in the week-long Tour de Romandie, which ended on the same day Astana was invited to the Giro. While his form was good, he was no more prepared for the Giro than the rest of his team.

In the end, Leipheimer finished 18th, about as well as one might expect under his circumstances, and Klöden dropped out after getting sick during the race. But Contador had shockingly good form and became the team's sole leader. Although he didn't brutally crush his opponents like Armstrong did in the Tour de France, he defeated men who trained for the Giro, talented riders (particularly Italians) for whom this was the race of the year. To do it without specific training to peak for the race is an awesome achievement. As far as I'm concerned, this proves without a doubt that Contador is not only the best stage racer in the world, but head and shoulders above the rest. Oh, and I forgot to mention that he fractured his elbow in a crash before the Giro's halfway point and still outclassed the rest of the field. What a champion!

* Despite being the team of Tour de France winner Contador and third-place Leipheimer, Astana was excluded from the Giro and the Tour as part of a political struggle between race organizers and pro cycling's governing body. The Giro organizer decided to drop another team, which opened up a slot for Astana, but Contador most likely won't get to defend his title in France this July.

An Abt Description

After hearing about the place for many years, I went to Abt Electronics in Glenview for the first time on Thursday. Although I could have ordered the same stuff online, it was worth driving out there once to experience the place. I'm not really a technology freak -- yet another reason I didn't fit into the IT world -- but damn! Abt makes Best Buy look like a 7-11. Beyond the rows upon rows of TVs and appliances, there is a spacious indoor courtyard with a fountain. The courtyard is surrounded by specialty "shops" (actually, just different rooms in one big store) for featured brands like Bang & Olufsen. Somehow I missed the 7,500-gallon aquarium -- so big that a diver in a wetsuit cleans it! I wish I could say more, but I was so overwhelmed that I went directly to the things I wanted to buy instead of exploring the place.

I'm always curious to see how "mom & pop" retailers manage to compete with the ubiquitous chains in the 21st century. The store was founded in Chicago in 1936, but it moved to Glenview where space was cheaper. Today, Abt has a 350,000 square-foot showroom, covers 37 acres, and features a fleet of 200 trucks and vans providing delivery, installation, and repair service. Still family-owned, the company employs 1,100 people whose hometowns appear on their black uniform vests below their names.

Service was very efficient. A salesperson punched my order into the computer, a cashier processed my credit card, and my stuff was waiting for me when I walked directly to the pick-up area. I was a little disappointed with the salespeople, however. When I said, "I think I want this one," while pointing to an item, I expected the salesman to talk a bit about what made that one better or worse than similar models. I thought I'd get more expertise at Abt than at Best Buy, but I just got an order-taker. I don't know -- maybe I sounded too sure of myself (after all, I had researched this purchase ahead of time) so the salesman didn't think I wanted his input.

Overall, Abt is a place that every electronics geek should visit at least once. Their selection is huge, their prices are competitive, and the building is a temple of technology. On the other hand, a customer doing his/her own research would be just as well served by using their Web site since delivery and shipping are free in Chicagoland.

UPDATE 06/03/2008 - Someone called from Abt this morning at 8:20 to let me know my appliance will be delivered "sometime between ten and four." Sheesh, that's a six-hour range! Why bother calling me at all? The salesman could have said, "Just plan to be home all day Tuesday for whenever our truck shows up." Heck, even the freaking utilities can usually narrow it down to a three-hour window. Is six hours really the best Abt can do?