Friday, April 16, 2010

Who makes cyclists look bad? Cyclists, that's who.

One week ago I was riding home from work, enjoying a beautiful day when I heard someone call out to me:

Hey, your lane position is terrible, especially at intersections. You're too far to the right.
I turned around and saw a fellow cyclist puffing his way up to the traffic signal I was stopped at. The light was about to change to green, and I wasn't in the mood, so I just said, "Thanks for the tip," and turned back to waiting for the light to change.
No, I'm a certified cycling safety instructor. This isn't just a tip. I know what I'm talking about.
As he said that, the light changed and we both rode off. He rode down the center of the lane of traffic while I ducked up onto the sidewalk. Yes, I really do ride on the sidewalk during certain portions of my commute, despite being an advocate of cyclists riding on roads.

See, at this particular intersection, there are several factors in play that make me consider riding in the lane of traffic unsafe:
  • On the far side of the intersection, the lane narrows for about the first block.
  • Just past the intersection, there are cars merging in from the right.
  • The intersection is at the top of a long steep hill and drivers coming across it can't see the traffic ahead of them until they've fully crested the hill.
  • The speed limit is 35 mph.
  • It's rush hour, and everyone's trying to get home as fast as possible.
  • The road is a major bus route, and the buses barely have enough room to stay in their lane in the first block.
In addition, I know that I've just slogged up a long hill and that I don't have the speed in my legs to accelerate as fast as the cars can. At the end of the first block, however, if there's a gap between cars that I can sync up with, I get back onto the street. By that time, traffic has generally backed up from the next signal and slowed down and I've gotten up to speed, so now I'm moving at least as fast as the cars are, making my presence safer for all.

Although I don't write about it as much, I do also drive a car, so I know how irritating traffic obstructions are. My favorite example is the protesters who closed off lanes of the Key Bridge during rush hour. Look, I don't give a crap what your cause is, don't F-up traffic in Georgetown any more than it already is, and definitely don't get between me and my baby when I'm on my way home.

They could have been supporting year-long sabbaticals on tropical islands for all fathers, and I still would have been enraged at them. "You ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao," you know what I mean, brother?

So it was with some frustration that I watched this jackhole ride down the center of the lane at at top speed of about 10 mph while everyone behind him was trying to get through at 35 mph. I kept thinking, "Someone's going to get killed here, pal, and it's not me...and it's as likely to be the result of gunfire as it is to be the result of an accident."

Soon enough I was back on the road and overtook him, moved into the fast lane and made my left turn, as I do every day without incident.

As I rode off, I thought, "You may be a certified cycling safety instructor, but let me give you some advice: riding up and immediately criticizing a fellow cyclist without finding out who he is, what he's about and perhaps that he's been riding on roads safely for over 30 years isn't a good way to teach a lesson. And that's not just a tip--I'm a certified jackass. I know what I'm talking about."


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Monday, April 12, 2010

Trippin'

We're finally all back home, and we've no plans to fly anywhere for at least another few hours. Seriously, I think we may actually make it through the summer without traveling. Of course, directly after summer, we'll be taking a tour of the east coast from the northern tip of Maine to the south of Virginia, with multiple 100+ mile bike rides scattered along our route.

But that's months away, right? Why worry about it now?

What's important now is that we're all back home. Mama, Jewel and Grammy had a great time in London. Jewel loved touring the city, sitting bolt upright on the edge of her stroller, watching it all go by. Apparently she was quite disappointed when a cyclist in a bright yellow jacket like I wear rode up to her stroller, then rode right past on his merry way. She was delighted and excited as he approached, then crestfallen when he rode past with out even a fare-thee-well.

Then again, when she finally saw me this morning, I think she'd quite forgotten who I was.

3B is still recovering from a week of nothing but playgrounds, playgrounds, playgrounds. He didn't get to bed until after 9 last night, and then slept until about 11 this morning. In California he was just as tired as that, likely from spending three to four hours each morning at a playground. The fatigue didn't serve him as well here, where there was no backyard to dig in and no kitchen set to cook at, so he ended up in time out a few times today.

That's to be expected in transition after a long trip, but he was really the perfect traveler and a wonderful companion for our whole week together, both here and during our trip to California. Other than not wanting to--but being willing to--put his lovie through the x-ray machine, he's better at getting through airport security than most adults. He loves his aunts and uncles--particularly Uncle M, who shared his instruments with 3B.

No offense to Mama, but it was hard to tell which 3B missed more: her or his guitars, drums, tambourines, saxophone, trumpet, marimba...you get the picture. So, when Uncle M let 3B play his beautiful mandolin one day then brought his djembe the next day, and on both days spent time showing 3B how to play them...it was a little slice of home for 3B that made his absence from it easier to bear.

Thankfully, Mama was also pretty easy to talk to in London, thanks to cheap calls through Skype, so we were able to keep the homesickness at bay until the last day, when it came crashing down for an hour or so. But then, suddenly, there was digging to do, playgrounds to play at, Uncle Funk Daddie to play with and all was well.

Oh...and thinking of Uncle Funk Daddie, that reminds me that in three short weeks' time, 3B and I will be on our way to NYC for the premiere of Iron Man 2, with Uncle D. Well, 3B will sleep through the premiere whilst the Uncles--my two best friends--and I will go to the premiere. But, the next few days, us boys will spend playing together in the big, big city.

But then, after that, no more trips until...oh wait, I just remembered...


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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Covered in crap...but a good day

On the patio of the coffee shop, holding crap-covered pairs of pants and socks, facing 3B who was similarly coated from the waist down except where his socks had been, I thought, "This has been a long day."

Perhaps it seemed long because our day actually had been longer than one day.

It started the previous evening, at about 5:30 p.m. I'd just gotten off my final work call for the day and our babysitter, who had been watching 3B while I worked, was finishing feeding him his dinner. He abruptly started crying, grabbed his left ear and sobbed, "My ear hurts inside."

Immediately, two facts flashed across my mind:

  • in all his prior ear infections, including his dual full-blown infections with a raging fever, 3B had never complained of any discomfort in his ears
  • we were flying to California the next morning at 7:30 a.m.
I felt his forehead, took his temperature--normal--and got some Motrin down his throat in five minutes. Then I got on the phone to the doctor, said, "ear infection, morning flight" and got an appointment two hours later. I called the airline and found that they would charge the change fee if we needed to reschedule, but then waive it if I faxed in a note from his doctor.

Because the appointment was after the time I had hoped to have him in bed before our early morning flight, I got 3B into the bath and into his pajamas before getting him into the car. Along the way I found that I'm going to have to be more clever in my white lies when he asked, "Daddy, why does the doctor need me to take a bath and get into my pajamas for my appointment?"

Uh...yeah...er...because...

I took the high road and changed the topic to what books he was looking forward to reading at the doctor's office. This caused a minor breakdown when the book he wanted to read wasn't in the waiting room, but the doctor nicely explained how books move around the office, from the waiting room to examining rooms.

She also diagnosed a full-blown infection in 3B's right ear and a nascent infection in his left. No idea, then, why he grabbed his left, but grateful that he had, triggering this appointment before we went winging across the sky. She agreed with me that it came from allergies draining out of his nose down his Eustachian tubes while he slept, which made me feel like an awesome horrible parent--I had observed his morning coughing since Mama, Jewel and Grammy had left, but hadn't put him on anything to dry it out.

Bad dad, no biscuit.

Turns out she could confirm allergies because a cold turns the inside of the nose red, allergies turn it white, and 3B's was white. We discussed decongestants and antibiotics and then I asked her about our flight the next day. I waited until she was done with the diagnosis and prognosis because I didn't want our trip to color her opinions and suggestions. She said, even after a few skeptical questions from me, that it was fine to fly with him. It wouldn't do any damage to 3B's ears...but it may hurt some.

Some? Could you quantify that? Will he be squirming a little or trying to tear his ears off his head and punch me in the face at the same time?

Based on her diagnosis, my knowledge that 3B generally doesn't feel discomfort during ear infections, my possession of several bottles of Motrin and my complete disregard for my fellow passengers, I decided to go ahead and fly the next day. We raced to fill his prescription and pick up some decongestant--which do you think he picked out...the liquid version the doctor recommended or the chewable grape tablets that look like Sweet Tarts?

By the time this was all over, 3B had only seven hours to sleep before we had to leave for the airport. He usually sleeps for 12 hours. As for me, I still had to do all the things that I had planned on doing during the time we went to the doctor's and pharmacy, so I ended up getting about two hours of sleep...you know, just to ensure that I was in fine shape to deal with whatever came up on the flight.

During that time is when I remembered that even though we were on VirginAmerica, our flight out to California wasn't nonstop. We were flying to L.A., then shuttling up to San Francisco. Awesome--four ear pressure changes instead of two. Planning for the worst case scenario, I tucked a car rental voucher in my wallet in case we got to LAX and 3B refused to get on another plane due to the pain from the first flight. It wouldn't be much fun, but we could make the six hour drive north if needed.

After all that buildup, I hate to say it, but the flight went well. Actually, "well" isn't the right word. 3B was f'ing spectacular. Then again, so was VirginAmerica.

When we pulled up to check our bag, the man working the desk said, "I have a nonstop to San Francisco, would you prefer that?"

Uh, hm, let me think about that for half a nanosecond: Yes!

I was so stunned that I forgot to check our car seat, which I didn't even realize until I saw that it wouldn't fit through the x-ray machine. It wasn't that bad to schlep it through the airport, given how bright my mood had become--we were not only going to make it to California in one flight, we were going to get there three hours earlier than we'd originally planned. That meant that 3B might even take a nap that day.

You know, provided he didn't erupt in a demonic rage from the stabbing pain in his ears while we descended.

We did have to hustle through the airport, along the way changing a diaper, buying lunch, filling water bottles and texting family to let them know we'd arrive three hours early. As we got on board, I started to relax a bit, knowing that if there was going to be pain, it would likely come on the descent, so I had a few hours of reading to and playing movies for 3B. Before takeoff, I dosed him again with Motrin and Benadryl to not only keep him pain free and decongested, but also to keep him on schedule to get more of both just before we began descending.

On the way up, he did mention that he didn't like "this stuff coming out of my ears," which was likely the fluid weeping through his eardrum to help balance the pressure, as the doctor said it might do--after which the pain should stop, she said, although 3B never reported any pain. Across the country, he was great, if impatient for the flight to end...but hey, who wasn't?

He appreciated having Nickolodeon on the seatback TV directly in front of him, and watched that for awhile before switching to movies on my laptop, which he could watch for the whole flight since I could plug into the AC outlet under my seat. Again, thanks VirginAmerica.

On the way down, he didn't mention any pain, although when we did land he said...or rather, screamed, "I can't hear what you're saying, Daddy." Then he lay down on the floor under our row and tried to take a nap. I was hoping that the underwater sensation didn't last in him for long, and it did seem to clear up a few hours later.

And we did get to the house and take a nice nap--both of us, as it turned out, since he required supervision to get to sleep before he got into trouble. Then it was off to a friend's bluegrass jam session. Our friend brings a 3/4 size guitar for 3B to play, which is nice, because 3B does break down crying from time to time, missing his instruments at home. Seriously, what other three-year-old needs a hug because he misses his guitar? Ukulele? Drum? Xylophone?

Like the previous one, the jam session was wonderful. On some tunes, 3B even sat in. (You can hear our friend take the mandolin solo in the video.)

It did go late, but thanks to his nap, 3B was able to make it through pretty well to the end. As we were leaving, however, the antibiotics and the half bag of dried fruit he ate on the plane did catch up to him, and so there I was on the patio of the coffee shop, holding crap-covered pairs of pants and socks, facing 3B who was similarly coated from the waist down except where his socks had been, I thought, "This has been a long day."

But a good day.



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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Where am I taking your money?

Are you wondering where I took your money? I took it across state lines and gave it to some kids I've never met.

Actually, not just some kids--some special kids. Like Declan.

I'm not sure how I first heard about Declan. It might have been from MetroDad, or maybe I just like to blame him for the good things I find online. Whoever first tipped me off about Declan's story, I've been following it ever since through the blog of his dad, Vampdaddy.

His story resonates with me on several levels:

  • my dad had a brain tumor
  • my son is similar to Declan in age
What moves me more than either of those, however, is the difference between their stories: Declan has survived.

This is due in large part to the work of the staff at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. His care was delivered as part of a study they were performing--the kind of study you can help fund to support kids like Declan, and parents like his.

So far you, my six loyal readers, have contributed over $750 to support the work of Dana Farber, but it's going to take more than that for us to succeed in making cancer history. For me to ride my bike over 190 miles to fund studies like those that saved Declan, I need to raise $4,000, so please support me.

And, to be able to ride those 190 miles, I'll be training from now until August. Because I'm a parent of two, with a wife who works two full time jobs--consultant and parent--I'll be doing this primarily by bike commuting.

You can track my progress by following me on twitter, so you can see exactly where I'm taking your money every day, right up until I take it to Massachusetts and deliver it to Declan, who I'm planning to meet during the ride, along with Vampdaddy.

Now you know where your money is and where it's going, please consider asking a friend to help support my ride.

And, if you're the one of my six loyal readers who hasn't yet made a donation, please consider giving in to peer pressure and donating--c'mon, everybody's doing it.


I'm working to make cancer history. Will you help me?
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Celebrating freedom with a memory of enslavement

He's the last surviving rabbi who led a congregation during the Holocaust, and this week he once again celebrated Passover, marking the anniversary of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. Without this event, there would be neither Judaism nor Christianity as we know them today.

While it's a time for celebration, his is tempered by his knowledge that in every generation, there is an existential threat to Judaism. That's really a threat to us all.

Whatever your faith--in a religion, a philosophy, a person or in nothing--I hope we can all agree on the sentiments this rabbi closes with:

This year there are many people who are enslaved and impoverished. Next year may all human beings be free.

Listen to his whole story:


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Friday, April 02, 2010

Holding on and letting go

Now that she's mastered grasping objects, one of Jewel's favorite games is Pick Up-Hold-Drop-Repeat. Mama and I are responsible for the first and last steps, while Jewel handles the middle two. This week, she also taught herself how to shake things, first with her left hand and now with her right, although that's still more like a waving rather than shaking motion.

These skills, combined with her preferred position--sitting bolt upright on the floor--have made it easier for her to amuse herself, thereby making it easier for us to get things done around her. She is happier if she can see someone, so we'll often set her down in an entrance to the kitchen while we're cooking or on our bed while we're in our room. But these last few weeks that hasn't been necessary, since we've had multiple house guests who are all too happy to entertain Jewel.

First our niece arrived, then her mom and brother arrived. Coincidentally, her mom is also my sister, CaliforniaGirl. After a few days with all of them here, our niece had to leave, which broke a little piece off of 3B's heart...and off of my niece's too, I believe. But his aunt and nephew were still here. His aunt did things like carry him through Arlington National Cemetery--not a flat place to carry 40 pounds of squirming boy--while his cousin did things like play Lego Star Wars on our Wii, play swords, and generally be a boy.

So, when they left this morning, another piece of 3B's heart broke off, which is likely why he was in such a mood this morning. Every time Mama or I moved for the door, he broke down crying. Finally, before I left, he asked me to put him down for quiet time--what we do now instead of naps--before 10 a.m. The last time he asked us to do that, he had dual ear infections and a screaming fever.

It hasn't been easy on us grownups either. We really loved having the familia CaliforniaGirl here with us. It wasn't at all like having guests, it was like our family just grew three sizes for a week or two. And now that they're gone, we're all feeling the loss, but 3B, not having Prometheus's gift, has been hit particularly hard because it means nothing to him that in six days we'll see Aunt CaliforniaGirl again, along with Uncle MrJumbo and Aunt Herd Happenings.

It ain't easy being three.

As soon as he gets into a T.V. show it ends. Same with movies. His favorite books all end too soon. When he's having fun in the bath, it's always time to get out. Because it's always time to move on, any time he picks something up, we're telling him to put it down. To his sister that's still a fun game--as it used to be for 3B--but his toys have changed and now Mama and I can't just pick them up and hand them back to him. Sometimes there's nothing else to do but say, "goodbye," which hurts--apparently as much as dual ear infections.

I trust that someday he'll master departures, as he has every other challenge that has come his way, although his challenges are becoming more abstract, less tangible, more difficult--as are the solutions. I've had 38 years more experience than 3B with goodbyes, and it still lingers with me, leaving him this morning in his bed saying, "Daddy, please don't go. I love you."

We all have something to learn from Jewel who, when her dropped toy doesn't return to her, doesn't start crying, but rather starts looking for the next toy. Now that her hands are empty, she's able to pick up some new fun.


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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Where the hell's my money?

It's the question everyone's been asking since the first taxes were levied, since cable companies were allowed to become monopolies and since Mojo Nixon.

Recently some of you may have been asking that question about your donations--or donations you're going to make...and yes, I'm looking at you--to my ride to make cancer history, the Pan-Mass Challenge.

For those of you who have donated hard goods, it's easy to tell you where they went--the gear went straight onto my bike and has been helping me with my training ever since. The Clif bars have been going straight into my belly every time I ride, making my rides easier, my recovery faster and my training more effective.

For those of you who give--or who are about to give--money, it might seem a bit more opaque where that money goes, who it benefits and how. But let me tell you, it goes directly to aid people struggling with cancer. People like Cindy Hale, whose story begins like this

In May 2000, I was bald, skinny, and spent most days in the "mash unit," otherwise known as the Dana 1 infusion area, where they administered my cancer drugs. One day, a group of healthy, athletic-looking people walked through the infusion unit, trying not to stare at us. I longed to look like those folks. They reminded me of the old me.

Read Cindy's whole story.
To those of you who have already given so generously, thanks. And to those of you are about to donate--what are you waiting for?

Don't make me send Skid Roper over there with his washboard... donate today.


I'm working to make cancer history. Will you help me?

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