A System of Concepts Worked Out In Steel

“That’s all the motorcycle is, a system of concepts worked out in steel. There’s no part in it, no shape in it, that is not out of someone’s mind […] I’ve noticed that people who have never worked with steel have trouble seeing this—that the motorcycle is primarily a mental phenomenon. They associate metal with given shapes—pipes, rods, girders, tools, parts—all of them fixed and inviolable., and think of it as primarily physical. But a person who does machining or foundry work or forger work or welding sees “steel” as having no shape at all. Steel can be any shape you want if you are skilled enough, and any shape but the one you want if you are not. Shapes, like this tappet, are what you arrive at, what you give to the steel. Steel has no more shape than this old pile of dirt on the engine here. These shapes are all of someone’s mind. That’s important to see. The steel? Hell, even the steel is out of someone’s mind. There’s no steel in nature. Anyone from the Bronze Age could have told you that. All nature has is a potential for steel. There’s nothing else there.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Downtown Decatur, Texas

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But Tonight We’ll Be Free

Well, I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk
And my car’s out back if you’re ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The door’s open but the ride ain’t free
And I know you’re lonely for words that I ain’t spoken
But tonight we’ll be free, all the promises’ll be broken
—-Bruce Springsteen, Thunder Road

McKinney, Texas

Take Me Down Little Susie

Take me down little Susie, take me down
I know you think you’re the queen of the underground
And you can send me dead flowers every morning
Send me dead flowers by the mail
Send me dead flowers to my wedding
And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave
—-Rolling Stones, Dead Flowers

McKinney, Texas

Organized Lightning

“Electricity is really just organized lightning”
― George Carlin

Beltline Road and the Glenville Bicycle Trail, Richardson, Texas

Along my drive to work there is, as there always is, a line of giant electrical distribution towers. Over the past few months, I have watched them replace the towers with even larger and higher towers. Twice a day I was treated with a show of technology while this operation proceeded step by step.

They did this without disturbing the wires. First they poured huge round foundations near the old towers. Jutting out of the concrete were rings of heavy bolts. The new towers went in – placed in multiple sections lifted by a crane. Modern crane operators cans sling these massive cylinders of galvanized steel around like they were chopsticks.

Once the new towers were in place, the wires from the old ones were moved over. I didn’t see this – it happened while I was at work. I assume the transfer was done hot – with untold thousands of volts coursing through the conductors. Think about that – a miracle taking place above your head while you only gripe about the traffic delay caused by a closed lane keeping you away from the danger.

Only then were the old towers sliced with a torch and removed.

The stubs are still there – I’ll keep an eye out for how they disappear.

Racing a Rat

“Likewise—now don’t laugh—cars and trucks should view the bike lanes as if they are sacrosanct. A driver would never think of riding up on a sidewalk. Most drivers, anyway. Hell, there are strollers and little old ladies up there! It would be unthinkable, except in action movies. A driver would get a serious fine or maybe even get locked up. Everyone around would wonder who that asshole was. Well, bike lanes should be treated the same way. You wouldn’t park your car or pull over for a stop on the sidewalk, would you? Well then, don’t park in the bike lanes either—that forces cyclists into traffic where poor little meat puppets don’t stand a chance.”
― David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries

My 1986 Cannondale road bike at Trammell Crow Park. From an early part of the October Full Moon Ride.

The other night I had trouble getting to sleep.

I have learned to keep a bike (one of them, at least) down from the storage rack in the garage, tires pumped up, batteries for the running lights charged, and a helmet hanging from a handlebar. Better yet, keep it pointed towards the garage door.

The moon rising over the Dallas skyline and the pond at Trammell Crow Park. From the October Full Moon Ride.

That way, if the mood strikes, I can open the garage door, hop on the bike, and go for a short, quick ride. There is something about riding at night, going nowhere, at any speed, and for an unknown (and uncared about) distance. It is so stress free… it’s like flying.

The moon rising over cyclists and the Dallas skyline. From the October Full Moon Ride. Click to enlarge.

So I found myself on the trail that runs behind my house on up to Huffhines Park, with its lakes shining in the full moonlight. I veered to the right, went around the softball diamonds, and back to the lakes. As I entered the parking lot, I saw movement.

Riding a bike at night, you see a lot of critters. This is the Duck Creek neighborhood, and there are, of course, a lot of ducks. Second most common are the rabbits. Also coyotes, possums, armadillos, stray pets, and even an occasional beaver on a bridge over the creek.

This time, though, it was a rat. One of the sleek, grey, tree rats, caught on the ground. He and I had a little race across the parking lot – I caught him near the north end and we ran side by side, me riding off his left shoulder, his little legs a blur in the dimness. At the end of the lot he veered to the right into a drainage opening and I turned to the left to get back on the trail.

I rode home, gone only a few minutes and far fewer miles, but I felt better and was able to collapse into sleep.

Choose Which Poison

“You’re going to pay a price for every bloody thing you do and everything you don’t do. You don’t get to choose to not pay a price. You get to choose which poison you’re going to take. That’s it.”
Jordan B. Peterson

Bolivar Peninsula, Texas

I am working on a list of “Bill’s Rules” – hopefully coming up with a list of useful, yet pithy, statements that I, more or less, came up with on my own. I’m up to four, but have serious doubts about the fourth – probably goin’ to give that one up.

At any rate, Numero Uno:

The key to creativity and innovation is to embrace failure

This seems obvious at first – of course if you are to be creative and innovative you have to be willing to fail. What I’m saying goes beyond that – you have to embrace failure. You have to crave failure. You have to have failure as your primary goal.

To illustrate, I’ll give an example from that white-hot furnace meant to burn away all and any trace of creativity and innovation (and joy, and human-ess, and anything else worthwhile) – the world of the modern giant corporation. It is a world of metrics, and goals, and people scurrying like ants to meet those metrics… and the world be dammed. Not meeting goal, having that dreaded red box on the monthly PowerPoint metric presentation – projected on that screen in that sterile conference room – , is the worse thing in the world and a source of executive shame.

And they don’t understand why other companies (usually very small) always come up with the new ideas.

Here’s my idea – everyone should have on their annual review goal list – “I will initiate at least six major projects in the coming year that will fail… preferably fail in a spectacular and embarrassing manner.”

That would spur some creativity and innovation. And what happens if your projects all succeed in wild and unpredictable ways? Well, you weren’t innovative and creative enough – if you manage to hold on to your job you better try harder next year.

The Emptiness Below Us

“Anyone whose goal is ‘something higher’ must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Crystal Beach, Bolivar Peninsula, Texas

Now, here is is, the first day of a spanking new year. And I have these goals for 2018 – I’ve worked hard on these… and the main three are:

  • Read 100 books
  • Write 50 Short Stories
  • Ride 3000 miles on my bike.

Since this is only the beginning, I didn’t want to get behind right at the start. So I cheated on the reading a hundred books – and jumped the gun by starting two weeks early. I’m up to six so far… which is good. I’ve already written one short story – so I’m OK there.

But I am stuck in a beach house with no bicycle and freezing cold… incredible wind… what we used to call a blue norther. I had planned on a little flexibility on my goal – knowing that I get sick over the winter and need other means to keep up with my goal.

At home, I have two exercise bikes – so I decided that riding one of those is worth ten miles for each hour riding. That way I can keep up if I’m forced inside.

At the beach house I thought about it and decided that, in a pinch, I can walk to make up the goal. Only in emergency situations, like now – the first day. After some thought and internet research, I decided on a three mile walk, at a brisk pace, would equal ten miles of riding. I walk at about three miles per hour, so that’s about an hour – which corresponds with riding or stationary. Also, that’s in addition to whatever I walk on a normal basis – the usual strutting around doesn’t count.

So at the end of the day, I layered on as much as I could (the temperature was below freezing and the wind was… really strong. I walked out to the beach and watched the kids fire off the last of their fireworks, then headed out down the beach. There is a little creek that emerges from the dunes and blocks off the rest of the beach from where we were and I knew that to that creek and back would get me to the three miles I needed.

I started out into the wind, pulling my hood closed so I was looking out a tiny circle at the water on the right and the dunes on the left. The moon was full, so there was plenty of light. It was very cold. But I started walking.

And it put me into the thought of all the other times over my life that I had walked on the beach, especially at night. From Panama to Nicaragua, to South Padre Island over spring break (That was a long drive from Lawrence, Kansas) to this very beach over the years with my kids growing larger and larger.

There is a rhythm of walking on the beach, in the wet sand between the surf and the loose part (in Texas it is generally allowed to drive on the beach, so, especially at night, you want to stay close to the surf), as the time and the miles go by all those old memories become telescoped in to the present day, the experience of being and moving along a border between two worlds.

It was a lot easier to walk back with the wind behind me. So now I have the equivalent of ten miles of bike riding on the first day of January. Still on track – so good, so far.