Stan’s Obligatory Blog


I actually had to use my car today

Filed under: — stan @ 11:14 pm

It rained today. This is the tail end of the rainy season here in SoCal, and this winter hasn’t been particularly wet. Today was the first day in over a year that it’s been raining hard enough that I didn’t want to ride my bike to work. I checked my calendar, and the last time I drove to work was January 10, 2005. Every time I drive my car to work, I root for it to rain hard. If the sun comes out I feel like an idiot. But today it rained. Not quite to Biblical levels, but still hard enough that I was glad to not have to ride in it.

Caltech recently started charging for parking, and just last week I found out that as a bike commuter I could get three free parking passes a month. So the timing was good. Still, it was kind of sad to break such a long streak.

And to top it off, I had to buy gas on the way home. On average, I only buy gas about four times a year, and so I’m always a bit shocked at the price. But now my car is back in the garage, and I’m hoping to leaving it there for at least a month.


Around the world by gimpy bike

Filed under: — stan @ 9:02 pm

Route map and photo locations

Today’s ride went all over the world, and we were just riding around L.A.

The first part of the ride was down Huntington Drive and then across Ave 60 to Figueroa. Then we took Figueroa down to the river and into Riverside Dr. Then we went north a couple of miles to Alessandro St and took a left. That brought us to the first sightseeing stop of the day. The Fargo Street Hill Climb.

Fargo Street is reputed to be the steepest street in Los Angeles. In fact, it’s the steepest street I’ve ever seen anywhere. It’s funny, but in real life it looks about twice as steep as it does in the picture. I don’t know why that is. I tried to ride it last year but was defeated. This time I didn’t try. I’d pulled a muscle last week fighting with a stuck gas pipe fitting, and I didn’t think it wise to risk aggravating that further by trying to ride up a 33% grade.

Still, it was an entertaining thing to watch. And while we were there, I ran into an old friend who I know from somewhere else entirely. Lisa is someone I know from tattoo conventions, but it turns out that she has bike-riding friends, and she now lives just a few blocks from Fargo St. So I got to visit with her for a bit, which was fun, even if it was one of those ‘when worlds collide’ kind of things.

Leaving Fargo St, we headed south on Glendale Blvd, and then go on Sunset to head into downtown. At Broadway we passed the dragons that mark the gateway to Chinatown. Then we took a left on Alameda and passed Union Station. At Ord St we took another left and I once again heard that unmistakable “PANG!” sound that meant I’d broken another spoke. My bike went gimpy again, but I was able to make it the last couple blocks into Chinatown. After my experience last week, I had put a spoke wrench in my bag, so I was able to get the wheel straight enough to limp the rest of the ride.

In Chinatown we stopped at a bakery, right by the statue of Sun Yat-sen. Gene was looking around and he pointed out the sign for “Ooga Booga” around the corner. That was definitely worth a photo.

Leaving Chinatown, we went up Main to Daly and then turned south. The street turned into Marengo when we passed Mission and the L.A. County Coroner’s Office. I always say that Los Angeles is a unique place. How many cities have a gift shop at the Coroner?

Heading into East L.A., we came to the Evergreen Cemetery, and then the excavation next to it where they discovered the bones of 108 Chinese who had been buried in a potter’s field dating from the 1800s.

Continuing on, we went deeper into East Los Angeles. Newton is from El Salvador, and he remarked that the houses looked just like the ones he remembered from back home.

Coming out on Whittier Blvd, we came to the Home of Peace cemetery. We went in the gate and followed the streets back to Curly Howard’s grave.

The last part of the ride was north a bit to get to 3rd St, which we took east until it turned into Pomona Ave and then Potrero Grande. We took a left on Del Mar, which brought us all the way back up to San Marino. Then we got on Sierra Madre Blvd and then Altadena Dr for the last bit home.

It was a fun ride.

43 miles.


San Dimas and a Gimpy Bike

Filed under: — stan @ 6:09 pm

Route map and photo locations

Today’s ride was out to San Dimas to see the third stage of the San Dimas Stage Race. This is a three-day affair, and today’s race was a short-course criterium around downtown San Dimas.

We started out from Victory Park and rode out through Arcadia and Irwindale to get to San Dimas. We had hoped to get there in time to see the Masters 45+ race, since they are my age, and some of them are even people I raced against back in my racing days. But when we got there they were running late, so we ended up seeing the finish of the Category 5 race and the beginning of Category 4.

As I usually do when we go to see a race, I’d brought along an extra $20 bill to donate as a prime for one of the races. So I went up to the stand and gave it to them for the Category 4 riders. They did a good sprint for it, but I missed out on getting a picture, since the batteries in my camera decided to go dead right at that moment. But it was a good sprint, and I hope the winning rider got some satisfaction from it.

After that, we rode up to Gladstone and took that back west to go home. While we were riding through Glendora, suddenly I heard that unmistakable “PANG!” sound that meant that I’d broken a spoke. My bike immediately went gimpy, with the back wheel wobbling and rubbing on the frame. Vikki had the presence of mind to grab my camera and take a picture for the Flat Tire Gallery. It’s not technically a flat, but it’s a mechanical failure, so that’s close enough. Fortunately, Makoto had a spoke wrench, and I was able to call upon my old bike-mechanic experience and managed to get the wheel straight enough to limp home. It wasn’t rubbing on the frame, but it still was hitting the brake pads. That meant that I had some extra drag, and that made it impossible to do my usual track stands at the red lights. But my Gimpy Bike and I made it home just the same.

43 miles.



Filed under: — stan @ 10:44 am

So Lucinda had some money from her birthday. At first she wanted to buy two more American Girl dolls, but we pointed out that she hardly plays with the ones she already has. We told her she should think about different things to buy with the money and compare them carefully. We came up with a list of about six or seven things that she wanted. The list included things like the Barbie Power Wheels Jeep, a loft bed, a Playstation, and a few other things. In the end, she decided that she wanted her own phone.

Now, we’re not philosophically opposed to this. But at seven, who are you gonna call? But we’d told her that it was all right, so yesterday after school Mommy and Lucinda went and got it. It’s a Cingular Go Phone on a pay-as-you-go plan. So now she’s all set up. She picked out a ring tone and now she’s just trying to figure out who to call. It’s kind of cute in a weird sort of way.


De-evolution for the tween set

Filed under: — stan @ 8:59 pm

Yesterday, I read that DEVO, one of my most favoritest bands ever, has a new kids’ CD. It’s ten of their classic songs and two new ones played by the original band and voiced by five fresh-faced tween-agers. And it’s put out by Disney. I thought, “this is just wrong on so many levels“, followed immediately by, “I must have it”.

Now I’m sure that this is an idea that Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald V. Casale had had bubbling around in their heads for some time. I remember hearing about them doing some shows back in 1985 with a band called “Visiting Kids”, featuring their own pre-teen kids. And I’m sure that the fact that Disney wanted to do this was just the icing on the proverbial cake. Is this the ultimate sellout, or gaming the system from inside? Stylus magazine wonders

“Are all these questions beside the point because Casale and Mothersbaugh have produced something both funny and unsettling, just like the original Devo?”

Regardless, the kids do a good job. Lucinda likes it, and she’s their target audience. So overall, it’s a Good Thing.

Addendum: Lucinda and I watched the DVD that came with the CD. They have ten videos for the songs. Dancing animated pandas and dinosaurs. Energy domes everywhere. And spuds. Lots of spuds. I was trying to explain to Lucinda just why there were so many potatoes in the cartoon sequences. But she enjoyed it. A lot of the songs have been Disney-fied, so they’ve stripped out pretty much all of the original angst. But that in itself is tremendously funny. Songs like “Beautiful World”, which is very dark and depressing have become bouncy and happy. It’s the happiness of an idiot. And that’s very DEVO. So we’re each enjoying this in our own way.

Also, they have a web site:

More on human nature

Filed under: — stan @ 1:46 pm

This is just something that I marvel at. The human ability to rationalize completely opposite points of view when necessary:

Stories of anti-abortion women who have had abortions

This is something that people do all the time. They will find a way to rationalize the most ridiculous things as long as that means they don’t have to re-examine their core beliefs.

I found this link on Susie Bright’s page today. I recommend going there and reading her complete rant on this subject.


San Dimas on a chilly day

Filed under: — stan @ 1:26 pm

This morning was cold, but it wasn’t raining. The front range of the San Gabriels had a light dusting of snow on the peaks, which made for a nice visual reminder of just how cold it was. I headed down to Victory Park for the regular Sunday club ride. When I got there, I was the only one. So I went riding by myself.

I headed down Sierra Madre to California, then left and on down into Temple City. I took a left on Las Tunas and took that out to Live Oak. Another left got me on Arrow Highway, which I took all the way out to San Dimas. There was a little headwind all the way out, but aside from that and the cold, it wasn’t bad.

At Lone Hill, I took a left. I stopped briefly at the Bagelry, where we might have stopped for a bagel, had there been a group. Then I continued on up to Gladstone and took another left for the trip home.

The stretch of Gladstone through Glendora is where we usually go pretty fast, and today I figured out why. It’s slightly downhill there. Not really enough to see, but just enough that you can ride really fast and feel good doing it. And today I had a tailwind, too. So it was just like old times in my racing days when I could cruise down the street at 23mph and feel good. I thought about how fast I used to ride back then, and how I think I could have beat Lance Armstrong when I was in full racing form. He was only six years old at the time, so I’m pretty sure I could have beaten him. Yeah.

At Cerritos, I took a right and took that up to Foothill. Then I went left and took Foothill across the San Gabriel River and into Duarte. A right on Encanto and a left on Royal Oaks and then I was on the bike path into Monrovia.

When I got into downtown Monrovia, I took a little side trip to see Homer’s Auto Service. This is the repair shop that doubles as the headquarters of the San Gabriel Valley Transit Authority and its police department. This had come out in the news stories following the crash of the Ferrari Enzo in Malibu. So in the spirit of ‘ripped from the headlines’ sightseeing, I had to stop and snap a picture.

From there I took Colorado back into Arcadia, and then Highland Oaks up to Sierra Madre. Then it was straight down Sierra Madre Blvd back home, with just a short detour to get around the annual Wisteria Vine Festival there.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad day for riding. Just a bit chilly. But I had my Bagfoot on, and my feet were toasty the whole way.

42 miles.


Urban Legends

Filed under: — stan @ 11:01 am

Living here in Los Angeles, it’s hard to not encounter the old Urban Legend about how a conspiracy of General Motors, Standard Oil, Firestone Tires, and others destroyed a thriving rail mass-transit system here, forcing people to buy cars and commute on freeways. Something about this story always smelled wrong to me, and I’ve made a minor hobby of debunking it.

I have a page on my web site about this. It’s a short writeup about the sory and why it’s a myth, along with links to longer articles which give more detail about it.

Recently, I got an email from a fellow named Edwin Black, who is an investigative reporter. He wanted to talk to me about this, as he was researching information about General Motors. I sent him my phone number and told him when was a good time to call so we could talk.

When he called, he immediately started into an extended harangue about why I was wrong, and there really was a conspiracy. I’ve heard this harangue before, and I’ve still not seen any actual evidence that the conspiracy story is right. But I talked to him for a while, just to hear what he had to say.

He said a number of rather improbable things. He claimed that the fact that cars today are powered by gasoline rather than electricity was the result of a conspiracy. I’d always thought that it had more to do with the fact that batteries for electric cars just didn’t have the same range as a tank of gas. But he launched into another harangue about how most car trips are short, which is true. But still, human nature being what it is, most people will prefer a car that can go 300 miles between fill-ups, even if most of their trips are much shorter than that. He also claimed that electricity is a ‘clean’ form of energy when compared to internal combustion engines. This may be true at the point of use, but the electricity has to come from somewhere, and the majority of electricity is made by burning coal, which is not exactly a clean thing. Lastly, he claimed that people actually prefer mass transit to commuting by automobile. This doesn’t ring true. While it’s true that commuting by car in Los Angeles often is a slow and frustrating experience, most people are in fact able to use alternatives if they wanted to. But they don’t. Taking the bus or the train is almost always slower and less convenient, so human nature is to take the path of least resistance. To top it off, he claimed that all human use of energy has been the product of conspiracy ’since the time of the Pharoahs’. That’s a pretty sweeping statement, and it seemed to me that he was perhaps someone who is predisposed to seeing conspiracy in any project that’s larger than any one person can do individually.

Another thing he said that sounded fishy to me was that “all the academics who have written about this are wrong”. I contacted one of the professors he mentioned. The professor reported having spoken with him, and said that he was ‘insistent and rude’, as well as someone who does not consider the larger context of the subject.

Hmm. It seems that my initial impression wasn’t that far off.

Now, it’s possible that GM, et al may well have intended to conspire to force people in Los Angeles to give up mass transit and buy cars, but that’s like conspiring to get dogs to eat meat. The simple fact is that the personal automobile is the killer app of modern civilization. People like it. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t use it. It’s just human nature.

Just for the record, I do own a car, which I’ve used six times so far this year. I ride my bicycle to work. I don’t take mass transit because the bike is faster and more convenient than either the bus or the car. I like trains, and I use the trains here in L.A. whenever I can. Anyway, since Mr. Black said he was going to write about me in his book, I thought I’d return the favor here. Even if my soapbox isn’t as big as his.


Toluca Lake and the Last Stooge

Filed under: — stan @ 10:21 pm

Route map and photo locations

Today’s ride was out to Toluca Lake. It was kind of chilly this morning, but it looked like it was going to be a nice day.

We started out going west from Victory Park. We took Orange Grove to Colorado, and then went down the hill into Eagle Rock. We took the ’scenic route’ across Eagle Rock on Eagle Vista Drive, which is a lot quieter than riding on Colorado. Then we took Broadway and Wilson into Glendale, and then got on Glenoaks.

Glenoaks took us all the way across Glendale, and then a left on Sonora brought us into Toluca Lake. We passed the Bette Davis Picnic Area, and then Bob Hope Drive. Then we were into Burbank. Riverside Drive took us through the towers of the Burbank Media Center, and then we got to Priscilla’s in Toluca Lake. We stopped for a snack there. The bagels and fresh-squeezed orange juice there are very good.

After the stop, we decided to take a little side trip. Vikki wanted to know where the Bicycle John’s shop is on Hollywood Way in Burbank. So we rode up there. On the way, we passed the Warner Bros “Ranch“, where they have their big outdoor sets. A few of the big false-front buildings are visible from the gate. When we got to Bicycle John’s, the sign said, “Closed Sunday”, so Vikki could only window-shop.

Since we were all the way up in Burbank, we decided to take one more side trip. We took a left on Chandler and took the very nice bike path there over to Whitnall. Then a right turn brought us up to Clybourn Ave, and then we came out on Victory Blvd at Pierce Bros Valhalla Cemetery. We rode in through the gate and found the grave site of “Curly-Joe” DeRita, “The Last Stooge”.

Leaving the cemetery, we took Victory east to Burbank Blvd, and then followed the signs for “Downtown Burbank” We passed the big Media City mall and then ended up back on Glenoaks again.

We took Glenoaks back across Burbank and then up Verdugo to Hospital Hill. From there, it was all downhill back into Pasadena.

42 miles.

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