Bicycle Diaries: June 2006

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Chicago critical mass this friday!

Chicago Critical Mass bike ride starts from Daley Plaza, Dearborn & Washington at 5:30 pm, regardless of season or weather. If you can't be there until after work, don't stress. It usually sets off around 6ish.

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I ride

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On the move...

Yikes! I've been too long off the blog. I feel bad since I've started getting comments and contributions. Timothé, a friend in Brussels, sent me this. Cool, huh? It's not that there has been nothing to report. There actually has been too much! A brief snapshot of my last two weeks:

1. Started working part-time at O'Hare for YFU, an NGO that arranges year-long student exchanges between high schools in the US and overseas. Essentially, I make sure that the foreign students flying home from O'Hare get to their flights on time. If you're familiar with the phrase "herding cats", then you have a pretty good idea of what I do;

2. Interviewed for another part-time job with a for-profit education outfit that provides afterschool tutoring (funded by No Child Left Behind) for Chicago Public Schools. The position went to someone else but they offered me another one and then "fired" me because I only get around the city by bike. That really pissed me off. But I'm trying to emulate the patience of the Buddha;

3. Facilitated the first steps in a potential partnership between Ecto Prep, a for-profit, and Iearn, an NGO. The former provides web-based education platforms for student-teacher collaborative learning. The latter organizes education projects between classrooms in the US and overseas;

4. Joined the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation. I've been volunteering at citywide events where the CBF has presence like the Intonation Music Festival and the Gay Pride Parade. It's been great. I've met these really fascinating people like a muralist who's doing the wall at a new tequilla bar on the east side of Lincoln below Belmont.

5. Kept churning out bike-related graphics with my pirated edition Photoshop 5.5. All the graphics here, except for the photo and the Ecto jpeg, are my own. Now I'm thinking of going into the t-shirt business. I'm amazed how many of my friends here in Chicago have other friends who are in the business. Hopefully something will come from all these contacts;

6. and in between all this, I've been rereading Bruce Chatwin's Songlines. It's a wonderful novel exploring the idea that the wandering life of nomads is the natural state of humnaity. I'm applying it to my thinking on biking as a way of life.

My schedule is finally settling down. I hope to get back to regular posts starting tomorrow. So thanks for your patience %)

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Why books? or the six habits of the passionate book-lover

I just found a great, albeit conservative article, on learning to love books by Byron Borger at Comment. It inspired me to modify his five habits of the passionate book-lover. My additions are in orange. I hope he won't take offense especially since I included this jpeg of what is obviously a VERY passionate book-lover. And I hope you, my readers, won't take offense either. I am feeling rather mischievous today%)
  1. Make a schedule. Don't postpone your reading to the end of the day when you are most tired. Serious reading takes some serious commitments. Use the library or another favorite, quiet spot. Of course, they don't let you drink or smoke in libraries. And there's no opportunity to stop reading for awhile to talk with the regulars.

  2. Carry a book with you almost all the time. You can dip in during 'down time' or during unexpected free time. You needn't be anti-social or a show-off about your bookwormish habits. Still, you'd be surprised how much reading you can do on the run. All true except that a good number of folks who see you reading will interupt you to ask what the book is about. If your reading is ecclectic be prepared to get a blank look in response to your answer, "20th Century Eskimo Dictators."

  3. Talk to people you trust about what they most enjoy and what they are reading. Talk about books with people you admire. Find a book-buying mentor and a bookseller who cares about you and your literacy and intellectual development. Read book reviews from a variety of sources. The New York Review of Books is a good start since they cover everything imaginable with articles that are so much more than mere reviews. And avoid book clubs like the plague. I've found that the members have rarely read the book they're discussing. They'd prefer to gossip about the other members who missed the meeting or bitch about the great unwashed who just don't get the life of the mind.

  4. Read in an interdisciplinary way. Wisely chosen novels can obviously enhance your non-fiction course work in pleasurable ways. Some good books come through serendipity and whim, but it may be helpful to have a plan, at least a list. Egads, don't you have to make enough lists for work? Just read a damn book and when you're done, read another damn book.

  5. Stretch yourself occasionally by reading the more serious books. Perhaps, explore a new and unexpected topic for a year, reading several similar books or books by the same author. But don't read exclusively arcane and heavy stuff. Light fare and sweets can enhance any diet. Seriously, I don't give a damn what you read. I read Da Vinci Code: hated it. I read Harry Potter: loved it. I do give a damn about people who bitch about the poor reading tastes of everyone else. For g-d's sake, don't become a book snob.
6. All you really need to do to prove your passion is

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Why bikes? A fox's attempt at part II

Blogs are surprising things. Unlike writing a book or an essay there isn't any predetermined structure. Like an old school diary you start out with one thought or goal and end up writing about something else altogether. Try as I might, I have yet to post an entry in which my initial intentions match the finished product. This is why I think blogs are the perfect vehicles for us foxes who know a lot of little things.

Take today's entry for example. I originally intended to write about the more personal journey of how I got into biking in the first place and then relate it to xerocracy. It's a term I heard at the Chicago Critical Mass two weeks ago. I did some googling to find out what it means. Essentially, it refers to anarchistic communities in which there are no leaders. All voices are welcome. All responsibilities are mutually shared. A number of websites also claim it is the (dis)organizing principle for Critical Mass.

It reminded me of mutual aid, the anarchist concept promoted by 19th Century Russian intellectual, Peter Kropotkin. I think it could do a lot for fleshing out how xerocracy actually works in the critical mass world. So I started googling mutual aid and Kropotkin. That took me to Wikipedia. It quotes Kropotkin's definition of mutual aid as
... a system of economics based on mutual exchanges made in a system of voluntary cooperation.
But like the fox I am, I haven't quite connected my own reasons for biking with xerocracy. I need some time to noodle it around in my head. It will, nevertheless, most definitely happen with the help of Kropotkin and mutual aid.

So let me tell you how I got into biking. I was a professor at a small liberal arts college in northeastern Wisconsin. Me and my wife, also a professor there, lived close to a fairly rural, small town campus. Riding up over the bridge everyday seemed just the thing. In fact, I had delusions of grandeur imagining myself living a 1990s version of the movie, Goodby, Mr. Chips.

One small problem: I didn’t have a bike, didn’t know much about bikes, and wasn’t too enthusiastic about shelling out the big bucks for a fancy new bike. Luckily, another old college buddy, also named Dave, was visiting from Ohio with his wife and two boys. He’d been working on bikes for years in an old barn on what’s left of his family’s farm. Before they came up, Dave's wife had lovingly given him an ultimatum: "Get rid of some of the bikes, so at least we can get into the barn!"

That's why Dave brought a Roadmaster to give to me. He’d done a wonderful restoration job. The thing was huge, blue, and heavy as hell. I got the jpeg of this one off Ebay. Best of all – it was free. I rode the blue beast to my college office almost every day. After work and on the weekends, I rode down to a bike path along the Fox River and back. Then I started branching out to the north towards Green Bay and to the south towards Appleton. I eventually had to mothball it when a mechanic discovered that my increasingly frequent flats were due to shot rims.

At the same time, about six years ago, my marriage started going south. I bought a new hybrid mountain bike are started seriously racking up the miles. Needless to say, I no longer have that bike or a wife. Therein, as the saying goes, lies a tale.

This fox, however, is stopping here to go read Kropotkin's Appeal to the Young. Follow the link while I noodle the connections between biking, xerocracy, mutual aid, and me!

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Sundry updates

I’ve been incredibly busy since my last posting. I've downloaded all the bike related traffic signs used here in the US to noodle around with them using Adobe Photohop 5.5. Needless to say, it's slow going since i don't actually know hoe to use it. That's ok, your typical fox would learns by experiement even if it chews up your day.

Also, I’ve reestablished contact with the WWII veterans’ group that gave me the info on my Uncle Bob’s. After posting Ghosts at the Dinner Table, I contacted the webmaster of my uncle's fighter group, the 506th, and squadron, the 457th. He wrote me that the son of one of the vet's sent this:
My dad's flight log has the following listing for Black Friday [when my uncle went missing] - "Three groups aborted due to weather, my wing man Robert Klippel is missing along with four other in 457th."
The 506th Fighter Group historian also got in touch. He provided me names and contact info of the last four surviving members of his squadron. So I’m planning to get in touch with them to see if they remember him. I know it's not much. But it's a lot for me - my mother has never given me many details and I was too young to ask the right questions of my grandmother.

Then at the beginning of this week I was out in DeKalb consulting at Northern Illinois University. The International Training Office there is hosting a group of 12 Muslim leaders from the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao in the Philippines. They’re here for 3 weeks to learn about US majority-minority relations in order to strengthen their own democratic institutions in Mindanao. I’ll be going back the beginning of next week to finish up my consulting on dialogue and peacebuilding.

I’ve also been doing a hell of a lot of biking with my college buddy, Dave, who lives in my building. We rode in the monthly Critical Mass in Chicago, the last Friday of every month, and Evanston, the first Friday of every month. He’s becoming quite the bike mechanic. He’s got three beater bikes and a relatively new hybrid that he’s been tooling with on the back deck of his apartment. He's even been showing me how to tool up my Raleigh Gazelle. It’s amazing just how easy is actually is especially when I realize that I’ve been paying bike mechanics to do really simple things like change a tire for $20.

The only thing that neither of us has tackled is the Sturmey-Archer Three Speed Hub. Dave downloaded the specs from the web. It’s easily the most challenging piece of machinery on any three speed bike. A highly complicated set of nested bearing rings looks like a highly engineered model of the solar system. If you have trouble with it most mechanics won’t open it up. Instead they’ll tell you just to get a replacement. But the trouble is definitely worth it. These hubs are virtually indestructable since everything, being internal, is protected from the environment. Besides, who needs more than three speeds for the flat streets of Chicago?

He’s now working on bikes for other folks in the building as well as some of his friends as well. His back deck has quickly become beater bike central for the neighborhood. And about every other week, we go down to the Working Bikes Co-operative in the 900 block of south Western Ave to get parts and drool over the 20,000+ bikes they have collected from around the city. It basically offers cheap bikes and parts for folks on the south and west sides, then uses the money to bring cheap bikes to developing countries in Central America and West Africa. Working Bikes is so successful that folks are setting up similar bike co-operatives in Evanston and the other ‘burbs around Chicago.

Finally, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I’ve become such a bike booster. I expect that will be the topic of my next posting. In the meantime, check out my amateur attempts at artistry using Adobe Photoshop 5.5 I hope you get the message %)

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Why bikes?

Ode to bicycles

I was walking
a sizzling road:
the sun popped like
a field of blazing maize,
was hot,
an infinite circle
with an empty
blue sky overhead.
A few bicycles
me by,
the only
that dry
moment of summer,
barely stirred
the air.

Workers and girls
were riding to their
their eyes
to summer,
their heads to the sky,
sitting on the
beetle backs
of the whirling
that whirred
as they rode by
bridges, rosebushes, brambles
and midday.

I thought about evening when
the boys
wash up,
sing, eat, raise
a cup
of wine
in honor
of love
and life,
and waiting
at the door,
the bicycle,
only moving
does it have a soul,
and fallen there
it isn't
a translucent insect
through summer
a cold
that will return to
when it's needed,
when it's light,
that is,
of each day.

Pablo Neruda

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