Somebody Had A Bad Day

“After being bombarded endlessly by road-safety propaganda it was almost a relief to find myself in an actual accident.”
― J.G. Ballard, Crash

Scene of a crash. That heavy metal bollard – put in to protect the brick signpost – was bent. Somebody hit the thing hard.

I futzed and dutzed around today and didn’t get out for my daily bike ride until the brutal heat of the afternoon. It wasn’t too bad, though, I took some ice and water and at least on a bike you make your own breeze.

I found the bike trail blocked at Larkspur and Plano roads. Someone had hit a protective bollard, bending it more than a bit, and knocked the stop sign/street sign over. There was broken glass everywhere, though the car(s) involved were long towed away. I cut through a church parking lot and rode some residential streets to avoid the broken glass and bent steel.

More Bicycling, Coffee,  and a Notebook

“Every time I hear a political speech or I read those of our leaders, I am horrified at having, for years, heard nothing which sounded human. It is always the same words telling the same lies. And the fact that men accept this, that the people’s anger has not destroyed these hollow clowns, strikes me as proof that men attribute no importance to the way they are governed; that they gamble—yes, gamble—with a whole part of their life and their so called “vital interest.”
― Albert Camus, Notebooks 1935-1942

Last weekend I made some coffee, grabbed my notebook and pens, and took off on my bicycle to find a place to write up my three pages – I have been scribbling the morning pages from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. This last Saturday, a week later, I wanted to do the same thing. My son wanted to go to this new coffee shop Staycation – here in downtown Richardson and he offered to ride along with me. Sounds like a good idea. Nice morning ride – we left at 7:30 so we would get there before it opened. It turned out to be a hair over three miles – and very pleasant because there is no traffic at that hour of a Saturday and the air was still cool enough.

Staycation is a great coffee shop. The owner, Nichole Gregory, took a 1940’s cottage left in the middle of downtown Richardson and modified it into a very pleasant and comfortable place to grab a cup of Joe. I can’t recommend it higher.

But don’t take my word for it:

Drop In and Stay Awhile at Staycation, a New Coffee Shop in Richardson

New cafe in Richardson opens with acclaimed coffee, pastry, and wine

A true coffee break: Why Staycation in Richardson is D-FW’s coolest coffee shop right now

Staycation Coffee, Richardson, Texas

After we had our coffee, Nick rode home – but I still wanted to put a few more miles in and I still wanted to stop and write (Yes, I could have written in the coffee shop – but I wanted to try something else). So I went up the Central Trail, then down the Collins Bike Lane, to the Duck Creek Extension trail across Arapaho. Thinking about a place to stop and write (there are a lot of benches… but surprisingly few tables), I remembered about a concrete bench that was stuck incongruously in the middle of a traffic circle at American Parkway and Presidential Drive – I ride my bike past there every now and then when trying to build up mileage. It’s a light commercial area – and would be deserted on a Saturday so I decided to go there… and it worked well.

My pens and looseleaf notebook (Morning pages) on the concrete bench in the traffic circle at Presidential and American, Richardson, Texas.

I wrote my pages – packed up and wandered around the ‘hood until I had my ten miles for the day. Made it home before eleven AM – a good start to the day.

Upping My Bicycle Commuting Game – Part Seven – Leg Shield

“I had to ride my bike to and from their god damn plant way up north in the high-chemical crime district, and reachable only by riding on the shoulder of some major freeways. I could feel the years ticking off my life expectancy as the mile markers struggled by.”

― Neal Stephenson, Zodiac

My commuter bike

Winter is upon us – and here in Texas that means the two weeks of nice weather is in the rear-view window and the days of windy/wet/cold have begun. Winter is Texas is best described as mostly uncomfortable.

But it does mean I have to dig out my winter cycling gear which consists of two things: layers and long pants.

When I look at my supply of long pants I notice a couple of things – the cuffs of my right legs are shredded and there are grease stains on those same legs.

My bikes don’t have effective chain guards. I remember in the seventies we had these little metal clips for our right pants legs… they didn’t work well and were easy to lose. I am old enough to remember those times – pre-velcro, believe it or not. Then the metal clips were replaced with little nylon velcro straps – which didn’t work well and were even easier to lose.

As I was thinking about these things I thought to myself that there must be a better way to shield my right pants leg and, after a short web search, I found a solution – Leg Shield.

So, a few clicks, a bit of Amazon Prime magic, and I had a neoprene leg shield on my porch that afternoon.

And it works like a charm. Get one, it’s great.

This is truly the best of all possible worlds.

Swans and Brompton

“His own image; no longer a dark, gray bird, ugly and disagreeable to look at, but a graceful and beautiful swan. To be born in a duck’s nest, in a farmyard, is of no consequence to a bird, if it is hatched from a swan’s egg.”

― Hans Christian Andersen, The Ugly Duckling

Artwork and a mobile sculpture

Brompton Folding Bike

Cedars Open Studio Tour

Bicycle and Coffee

“Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup”
― Gertrude Stein, Selected Writings

My Aeropress at a campsite, Lake Ray Roberts, Texas

As I (we) come out of the pandemic nightmare I (we) still grapple with purposelessness, boredom,and loneliness. I struggle for something to do, anything to do.

I have discovered one thing. I get up before dawn, make a thermos of coffee in my Aeropress, and then ride somewhere on my bicycle. I sip the coffee as the sun comes up, then I read a bit, then I ride home.

Unfortunately, I can only do this on the days when I don’t go into work, so it isn’t very often. If I could, I’d do this every day. I find myself looking at maps of my city and finding places to go… places that may look interesting at dawn, places with a place to sit, places just the right distance away.

I think this weekend I’m going to up my game a bit. I think I’ll ride to the DART station and ride the train somewhere, then ride my bike, then drink coffee. I might even take my grinder, Aeropress Go, and a few beans to make fresh coffee. There is a new park in downtown Dallas I’d like to visit.

Or maybe ride to the train station and get on the next train, no matter which direction it’s going in. Get off where I feel and then look for a place to sit.

It isn’t much… but it’s the best I can do for now.

My coffee thermos.

My Bike on the Bridge

“People will pay any price for motion. They will even work for it. Look at bicycles.”
― William Faulkner, The Reivers

My bike – Vintage 1987 Cannondale ST600 Touring Bike.

On the Margaret McDermott bridge bike/pedestrian path, over the Trinity River, Dallas, Texas

Cannondale 1987 brochure

Short Story Of the Day – Pain of an Injured Child by Bill Chance

“Goodbye, Hari, my love. Remember always–all you did for me.”

-I did nothing for you.”

-You loved me and your love made me–human.”

― Isaac Asimov, Forward the Foundation

 

Bikes and Robots
Hickory Street
Dallas, Texas


 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#73) More than two thirds there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Pain of an Injured Child

Last week, Sammy slid and tumbled off his new bicycle and skidded through the gravel on the road shoulder. He picked himself up and gingerly hopped back on, riding slowly home. The skin was torn and broken with some tiny pieces of stone imbedded in the flesh. He tried to conceal it from his father by giving it a half-hearted washing and gauzing.

That was not enough to fool the old man. He pulled the bandage off and roughly scrubbed the skin under hot soapy water. His father reached up onto the top shelf of the medicine cabinet and pulled down an evil-looking ancient bottle of some awful dark reddish-purple liquid.

MECURICHROME, it said.

His father poured the bottle over the disturbed skin, which sent Sammy into howls of pain.

“That hurts!” he said, “That really hurts… that really burns!”

“That’s how you know it’s working,” said his father. Then he pulled out gauze and tape, wrapping everything tight with experienced, calm hands.

Today, Sammy was trying out his folding knife, whittling sticks he picked up under the trees around the back yard. His father had told him when he opened the knife on his birthday, “Always cut away from you.”

Sammy did not understand why he said that, or exactly what it meant.

Today, cutting on a thick pine branch covered with knots, the knife slipped and he suddenly discovered what it meant and why it was important.

The cut along his forearm was deep and Sammy gulped a deep panic of air when he saw how far the knife had plunged. He stumbled into the house and the arms of his mother. She took one look at the injury and called her husband.

“Take a look at this.” She said, “See what you can do and I’ll call the doctor.”

Sammy’s father led him into the bathroom to clean the wound.

“This looks like it might need stiches,” said his father.

“Oh, no! I don’t want stiches!”

“Can’t be helped.”

Sammy’s father held the arm under the flowing faucet until the water washed most of the fluid away. Pulling on the wound both father and son peered deep into the gash. Around the titanium struts, the maze of fine wires and delicate tubes spiraled by under the skin. It was obvious that the bundles had been disturbed and a few tiny wires coiled upward out of place, cut.

“Stitches aren’t going to be enough, dear,” he called out to his wife. “Better call the electrician.”

Short Story, Flash Fiction, Of the Day, Spaceliner by Bill Chance

This was twenty years before there would be a bicycle shop on every corner, and forty before you could have one delivered the next day from the internet – the only place his father knew of was Sears and Roebuck. They drove to the massive featureless brick rectangle at the edge of an endless parking lot.

—-Bill Chance, Spaceliner

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#3). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

Spaceliner

It took the boy a month of courage collecting and the prodding of his mother to get the nerve to ask his father to buy him a bike. He expected the usual answer, “Christmas will come in only a few months, we will see about it then.”

When his father snuffed out his cigarette, stood up and said, “OK, let’s go,” the boy almost fainted.

This was twenty years before there would be a bicycle shop on every corner, and a half-century before you could have one delivered the next day from the internet – the only place his father knew of was Sears and Roebuck. They drove to the massive featureless brick rectangle at the edge of an endless parking lot.

The boy was jealous of his friends because they all had bicycles they called Spiders. These had huge curved banana seats – with purple plastic metallic sparkling covers. The handlebars rose straight up with a curve on the end – hopelessly unstable, but it looked cool. One friend had a bike with an actual round car-type steering wheel. He was the coolest of all.

But his father marched straight to the Sears Spaceliner model. Chrome and red, gigantic, heavy as a steel boulder – these had streamline art deco style curved tubes and a thick red console behind the handlebars that contained a light, horn and silver plastic control knobs. This was a careful design of an impractical transportation device that looked to a father from the fifties like something a boy from the sixties (on the other side of the vast cultural divide) would like.

“Let’s get one plenty big,” his father said, “So you won’t outgrow it too soon. I don’t want to be back down here in a year buying another one.”

The sales clerk had one already put together and he let the boy try it out in the back parking lot.

He had to push it along until it gained enough speed to roll upright on its own and then climb on to it as if it was a boat without a ladder. The thing was so large – so too big for him – that at the bottom of each stroke the pedal would disappear past his foot. He could not reach them at that point. He’d have to fish around with his foot as the pedal rose to get back on it.

Near the front door of the cavernous Sears was a little stand selling hot nuts. The vendor heated them on a little stove and sold them in paper bags. The odor of roasting peanuts, walnuts, and cashews filled the entrance and spilled out into the parking lot.

“Can we buy some cashews?” the boy asked. He was shocked when his father bought a bag. His father wasn’t one for impulse purchases. But this was a special day.

To this day, the boy, now an old man, loves cashews and splurges on a can every time he goes to the grocery. Sometimes he gets out an old cast-iron skillet out and heats them up before he gobbles them down.

 


This story is, of course, mostly true. It is a little simplified from reality – I didn’t get to test the bike out in the store. It turned out to be very frustrating – it was so big It took me a month to learn to ride it. In the meantime, my brother, who was three years younger than me got a small bike (what we would call a BMX style today) and immediately began scooting around the neighborhood. I thought it was my own incompetence, instead of the size of the machine.

I finally learned by lugging the thing to the top of a long, steep hill, standing on one pedal while the thing picked up speed rolling downhill. Then I would climb on. As you can imagine, this process resulted in a lot of crashes, skinned knees, and thumped heads (no bike helmets then).

If you know me, you might think that this is the origin of my love for cycling. That would be wrong. A few years later, back on a base, I went down to the Post Exchange and spotted a ten speed racing bicycle, what we called at that time an “English Racer.” It was the first time I ever saw a bike with dropped bars. I was addicted to Popular Science Magazine and had read about the new invention “derailleur gears” and amazed to see them in real life.  I was entranced.

Again, I was shocked when my father bought the bike. This one was perfect. I rode that bike everywhere and learned how to work on it (the early derailleur system was crude and needed constant adjusting). That has continued to the present day – 55 years later.

Not too long ago, I saw a Sears Spaceliner for sale at a vintage bicycle show. It was in mint condition – it cost seven hundred dollars. I didn’t buy it.

Sunday Snippet – Degrees of Freedom

There were X-Ray Specs that promised to reveal secrets, even behind a woman’s clothes. There were mysterious living sea monkeys that would live on a shelf in his room and keep him company. There were instructions on how to grow muscles on his skinny twelve-year old frame and defeat the vicious sand-kicking bullies that filled the world.

—- Bill Chance, Degrees of Freedom

Spring Creek, Garland, Texas

I am working on writing fiction on a regular basis again. Every Sunday I’ll try to publish something here on my blog that I wrote, for as long as I can. Here is something for this week. It is a pure first draft – written on my Kindle Fire tablet with an attached mini keyboard. Feel free to get back to me with any comments.

Sunday Snippet

Degrees of Freedom

Lucious pulled his bicycle out from the garage and swung a leg over the bright purple banana seat after admiring how the metallic flakes sparkled in the afternoon sun. He lifted his hand high to grab the almost-vertical handlebars and with a little push rolled down the driveway into the street. The tiny front wheel, upswept bars, and aggressive frame geometry looked really cool to pre-teen eyes but was not very practical nor stable and he wiggled on the verge of losing control until he picked up speed and began to pedal along the road.

It was new comic book day at Smith’s Drugstore and Lucious’ eyes watered both from the wind and the visions of the colorful characters and amazing stories that were soon to be his. Last month had been particularly thick with cliff-hangers and he was desperate to find out how his heroes would escape their dooms.

Doctor Strange was trapped in a twisted dimension, The Fantastic Four were trapped in preternatural ice, and Spiderman was trapped by a new cute redhead at school. His package was already wrapped and waiting for him at the counter at Smith’s. Old man Smith did this to minimize the amount of browsing that Lucious would do – he could monopolize the magazine display for hours. A wad of crumpled, filthy bills along with a carefully counted ringing pile of change dropped onto the counter and Lucious was on the way home with the plastic bag full of adventure hanging from one purple grip.

That night, after feverishly turning the pages and learning of the miraculous escape of all his heroes and then how they inevitably jumped from the frying pan into the fire – leaving even worse horrific dooms for next month – Lucious flipped the pulpy pages to the section at the very back. He was ashamed to admit, even to himself, that this crude part of the publisher’s art was his favorite. He began to pore over the ads.

There were X-Ray Specs that promised to reveal secrets, even behind a woman’s clothes. There were mysterious living sea monkeys that would live on a shelf in his room and keep him company. There were instructions on how to grow muscles on his skinny twelve-year old frame and defeat the vicious sand-kicking bullies that filled the world.

Lucious was very familiar with these ads, had been seeing the same ones every issue for as long as he could remember – which was almost two years.

But there, on the very last page of Doctor Strange, was one he had never seem before. It even seemed fresh – sharp somehow – rather than the blurred text and crude drawings of the other, familiar advertisements.

“LEARN ALL ABOUT YOURSELF,” it read. The text explained that there were five dimensions of human personality and that it was of life and death importance to learn what point you occupied along these axes.

Lucious was twelve and suffered greatly from confusion about what was going on inside his own head. Thoughts swirled around deep mysterious eddies while confused desires and bizarre ideas crept in from the depths of his mind and set up camp in his head, refusing to leave. It was all very disturbing and frightened Lucious to the point that he worried about his future all the time.

And here, in front of his eyes, for the low cost of ninety-nine cents (not even a dollar) someone promised to explain this all to him. The mysteries of his own noggin would be cleared up and the future would open before him like a brightly-lit highway. He knew how disappointing the reality behind the wild promises could be – but this was irresistible.

Lucious carefully cut the little coupon out of the back of the book and filled out his name and address. He dug an envelope out of his middle desk drawer and taped three quarters, two nickels, a dime, and four pennies to a card (to disguise the fact the envelope contained cash and discourage the thieves at the post office). He relished the taste of the paste as he licked the stamps (adding an extra one, because of the weight of the coins).

He dashed out the side door and ran down to the next block to slide the letter into the big public mailbox (he didn’t want to use the clothespin on their own – didn’t want to answer his parents’ pesky probing questions) and watched it disappear forever into the black space beyond the slot. There was an ominous clang as he released the guard and it swung back over the opening. It was done – irretrievable –  there was no going back.

A twelve year old has no patience. Waiting was not one of his abilities. Every minute of every day was excruciating. Finally, after a hundred years (or maybe it was only ten days) a thick packet in a brown envelope arrived for him. He brushed off his parents’ questions and feverishly opened the package on his desk.

Inside was a cheap, mimeographed pamphlet of instructions, a set of computer cards with numbers and ovals, and a prepaid, preaddressed envelope. He was to read the instructions and answer a long set of questions, filling in the proper ovals on the cards that corresponded with the numbered questions and his answers. He was familiar with this drill – they did it every year at school to measure the children’s progress.

Lucious started to work. The questions were difficult – some were confusing, some were subtle, some were embarrassing to even think about, even more so to answer. But he knew that they were designed by professionals and were carefully and scientifically designed to plumb the very depths of his own personality – bring facts to light that even he had no idea about.

Hours later, feverish, sweating, and exhausted, he finished, filling in the last little oval. He packed the whole thing up in the provided envelope (the instructions said it was important to return the instructions themselves – not to let anyone read the questions other than him). It was late and pitch dark but he slipped out while his parents were watching TV and stumbled the two blocks to the same box, and slipped the envelope into the same slot of doom.

This time there was no impatience. He was a little nervous, but satisfied. He had done all he could do, now it was up to the experts on the other end to carefully examine his answers and to give him the self-knowledge that would change his life forever.

His only worry was that after all this work the whole thing was a ripoff. Maybe they were only gauging in some mysterious way the products that he was likely to want and to buy. Would all he get is some sort of a custom catalog full of items that he could not resist?

The days and weeks went by and Lucious mostly stopped thinking of the questions and the cards. He was only slightly haunted by the thought that he had probably wasted ninety-nine cents.

One day he was out riding his bicycle, going nowhere in particular. Suddenly, silently, three huge black cars were around him. One passed and pulled over in front, one behind, and one beside. He was boxed in and had to stop as the three slowed to a halt.

His heart raced and jumped into his throat as the door beside him opened and a huge man, with short dark hair, black business suit, and sunglasses stepped out.

“Lucious Lindale,” he said. It was not a question. “Please get into the car.”

Another man dressed in exactly the same way came out of the car in front, took his bicycle, and placed it in the trunk of the lead car. The trunk opened silently by itself and then closed with the same clunk as the cover on the steel mail box.

Lucious settled in the vast back seat beside the man in the suit. Another man that looked like the other two drove.

“Mr. Lindale, you filled out the multivariable personality assessment and sent it back.”

It took Lucious a minute to realize he was talking about the cards and the questions from the comic book. He nodded, although, again, it didn’t sound like a question.

“Out of the millions of responses, your answers indicate that you are exactly the person we are looking for. You will come with us and be trained This is truly the first day of the rest of your life.”

“But… but I’m only twelve years old.”

“Of course. You will receive very special and specialized training. You will be given unique abilities that a very select few are capable of. You will learn to look at the world in a way very different than everyone else. You will learn to see beyond the possible. For all this to be possible… well, thirteen is too old.”

Lucious looked out the window of the car. They were speeding along the old highway that ran out of town along the river. It had been a rainy spring and the river was up, angry and brown. The three black cars slowed and stopped along the shoulder next to an old railroad bridge. Lucious knew the bridge well, kids often crossed the river on it. It was a thrill not knowing if a train would come along before they could get across.

“Wait,” Lucious said, “I don’t now if I want to do this. I have to think. This is a big deal.”

“Sir,” the man said, very matter-of-fact, “This has already been settled. You have no input into the direction at this point. Did you read the fine print in the packet?”

Lucious had not. Still, it was a thrill to be called “sir.” He was certain no one had ever called him that before.

The two watched as the trunk of the car in front of them popped open. The man came out of that car, walked around and pushed the bicycle under the rear wheel. The car backed over the bike, leaving it a twisted mess of purple tubing. The man picked up the remains of the bicycle and threw it down the bank as if it weighed nothing. It landed half in the water below the railroad tracks on the bridge.

Lucious understood that everyone would assume he had been hit by a train and thrown into the river, never to be found. He turned his head to take one last look at the sun sparkling off the purple metallic plastic seat as the three cars sped away down the old highway to where it joined the Interstate.

We Can Only Scratch Away

“The worse the country, the more tortured it is by water and wind, the more broken and carved, the more it attracts fossil hunters, who depend on the planet to open itself to us. We can only scratch away at what natural forces have brought to the surface.”
Jack Horner, How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn’t Have to Be Forever

Spring Creek, Garland, Texas

The bicycle bones are exposed yet slowly sinking into the muck along the flowing creek. Like a fossil from the recent explosion of eighteen thousand dockless shared rentals the bright yellow steel attests to the (possibly) well-intentioned  insanity that swept suddenly then faded even faster. No mastodon skeleton could be a better representative of the once-swarming extinct than this pile of tattered metal.