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After last Saturday’s ride — 70 miles from San Rafael to Stinson Beach, and back — I felt pretty wiped out.  There had been a lot of climbing (by my standards, at least) and a surly headwind, and my tummy felt messed up starting at about mile 20 — but mostly … it was 70 friggin’ miles!  My coach, The Bumpster, usually says only upbeat and encouraging things during a ride (“You’re lookin’ great!  Lookin’ real strong!”); this time, as she pulled up alongside me around mile 50-something, she said, with audible empathy, “Hey — only one-quarter of the way to go!”  I must have looked miserable, or at least grim.  Certainly, by then both my muscles and my emotions had lost the elasticity they’d had early in the ride.  My basic — nearly my only — thought was, next-next-next-next, as I kept turning the pedals.

Actually, despite the strain and effort, occasionally my thoughts did just go kind of Dada.  Ascending one endless-seeming hill, I suddenly visualized a TV series called Touched by a Rangel.  Based loosely on the old drama Touched by an Angel (which, admittedly, I’ve never seen), this show would feature different folks every week — each of them suffering in some way, and each of them saved somehow by gravelly voiced New York Congressman Charlie Rangel.  That’s as far as I got in my conceiving of this program, as at some point I finally crested that hill and turned my thoughts to not crashing on the way down. …

Oh, someone did crash!  One of my several teammates who is currently enduring cancer treatment — but who, it should go without saying, is a much better and faster cyclist than I — was zipping down a twisty mountain road and didn’t see a dip in the pavement in front of him.  He flew off his bike and landed on the back of his head — which fortunately was protected by a helmet.  I was at the SAG (refreshments) stop at the 35-mile mark at Stinson Beach (just where we were to turn around and go back to San Rafael), with several of my teammates.  We saw a white truck pull up and a Park Ranger got out with the injured guy, who joked that the only thing that hurt was his ego.  The ranger said the guy knew who he was, etc., and so didn’t seem to have suffered a concussion; but, of course, there would be no more riding for him that day.  I noticed that the guy’s hand was shaking, and wondered whether that was from the crash or from his cancer meds.

Really, there’s a level of courage in my “honored teammates” (the term that Team In Training uses for participants who are now, or have been, in cancer treatment) that exceeds anything I could imagine in myself.  And I do think of them as I go forward in the later miles, and of all the kind people who have donated in support of my ride, and of my family and loved ones, and I wish — wish hard; you might even say pray — for their health and happiness.  So that’s another recurring thought that I was having, along with Touched By A Rangel (coming soon from C-SPAN3) and next-next-next-next and When will I be back in my own bathroom, with the latest New York Review of Books? and … and fractions: Okay, I’m one-35th of the way there … I’m four-sevenths of the way there …

But the weird thing is, each week, the moment the ride is over, I’m already recovering — emotionally, at least.  I feel relieved to have made it through the latest challenge, and not to have bonked or crashed or cramped up.  In fact, one curious thing I’ve noticed in our training is how each long ride is itself, in part, a series of recoveries: You strain up the hill, then recover going down.  Actually, it feels even more micro than that: I can get a sense of recovery at the top of a pedal stroke, before having to press down hard again.  Though of course each recovery doesn’t bring me back to the way I felt at the start: it just takes me to somewhere more workable than where I just was.

And the next day — Sunday — wow, that’s another recovery.  A big one.  Last Sunday I woke up feeling like something that a mastodon had just scraped off of the bottom of its foot.  Plus, as in previous Sundays, I had a terrible headache.  It only occurred to me last weekend that maybe, at least in part, the headache was from caffeine withdrawal: nothing that I had consciously done — it’s just that, as the rides have gotten longer and longer, I’ve been going all that time without coffee.  And anyone who knows me knows that I rarely go more than a second or two without coffee!  So for tomorrow’s ride, I’m bringing some goop from the bike store that has caffeine in it.  The young guy at the store told me that the goop would help lower my “level of perceived exertion”; it took me a moment to realize that he was basically saying it would make the ride easier for me.  Which, really, was all I wanted.

Tomorrow’s ride will be the longest of our whole training — 80 miles.  And then, two weeks later, the big event: the Solvang Century.  One of my honored teammates (not the one who crashed last week) had a medical setback and will unable to participate at Solvang — but he assures us that he will go on to do all the various marathons, etc., on his schedule, once he’s better.  His recoveries are achieved through enormous perseverance.  There comes a point, for those who are battling mortal illness, where recovering means surviving, means defeating entropy one more time.  As a result of all their effort and pain, more love is in the universe than there would have been otherwise.  This is a gift to all of us who have yet to reach that point, and who hope that when we do, it will be with at least a small measure of the grace that my honored teammates have displayed.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone who has contributed the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in support of my ride!  The official fundraising deadline has passed — and I’ve surpassed my goal! — but you can still donate, if you want, through April 9, by clicking here.  Thanks, also, to everyone who has bought tickets for my performance of Ben Franklin: Unplugged in Berkeley this coming Monday — all proceeds will benefit the LLS.  (As of this writing there is exactly one ticket remaining on sale!  If it’s still available, it can be purchased here.)

Below is a map of last Saturday’s training ride; you can click on it to get all sorts of statistics, some of them vital.

Video: “You Want It To All Sink to the Bottom”

Shortly after I arrived here in Portland, Ore., for the current run of Ben Franklin: Unplugged at Portland Center Stage (through Nov. 22), I wandered off during a break in search of coffee-making equipment.  (I hadn’t brought my Melitta stuff from Berkeley.)  At the popular Stumptown Coffee Roasters I became entranced with the idea of trying to make coffee with a “French press” — which had always seemed like a cool way to make a very strong brew.  (I imagined burly, caffeine-addicted French people — or maybe even French Canadians — applying enormous amounts of pressure to create super-intense cups, then writing muscular poetry about societal injustices.)

Wanting to get the French-pressing process just right, I asked the young woman who was helping me — Carrie — if she would mind my video-ing her while she made an exemplary brew.  Kindly, she said yes.  The result is one of those gritty, hard-hitting documentaries that blow the lid off of outmoded stereotypes of coffee preparation; needless to say, it is not for the faint of heart — watch at your own risk!

So far, a couple of weeks into this eight-week gig, both the coffee and the audiences have been hearty and complex, with a gratifying finish.  Once my family gets here, next week, I will be completely grooving on the whole Portland experience.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some serious pressing to do. …

Greetings from Portland, Ore.!

Yes, Portland Has a Seal

Yes, Portland Has a Seal

I’m just about to do the second preview performance of Ben Franklin: Unplugged at Portland Center Stage.  I’ve been having a great time: the theater staff is amazingly friendly, helpful, and erudite; the first preview audience, last night, was warm and receptive; and, thrillingly, I’ve been able to hang out a bunch with my theatrical collaborator, director David Dower.  (We used to see each other all the time, but then he moved from the Bay Area to work at Arena Stage in Washington D.C., where he’s been doing incredible things — albeit [*sniff*] 3,000 miles away.)

Some quick highlights from my first week here (mostly spent rehearsing):

  • David and I wandered over to a local gym, and I happened to mention that I really missed my Berkeley-based personal trainer Georgia — who has made my life, previously beset by frequent back ailments, so much better.  Almost as if by magic, a trainer named Von Ray appeared.  Within a short time, somehow David and I had both committed to training with Von Ray while we’re here (seven more weeks for me, a few more days for David).  A moment later, I found myself at Whole Foods with Von Ray helping me choose my exact meals for the next few days.  Von Ray is a force of nature: yesterday was “Terrific Tuesday,” today is “Wonderful Wednesday.”  He’s been working our asses off.  Oh, and one other thing: He doesn’t allow cursing!  I said, “Look, Von Ray, I’m from New York!”  No sympathy.  Every time I curse, I have to do 25 pushups.  Yesterday, I had to do 50.  Today I made myself say things like “Jiminy Crickets!”  It felt weird.  Golly.
  • People at the theater told me I needed to check out Stumptown Roasters.  I did, and their coffee does indeed rock.  (As does their music: last time I was in there, I was delighted to hear them playing one of my all-time favorite albums, Television’s Marquee Moon.)
  • Powell’s Books!!!  In a rapidly digitizing world, it is a sensual thrill to wander through their “City of Books” (just a block from my hotel, and from the theater) and pick up actual, physical volumes.  Heaven.  (Plus, given the horrifyingly slow Internet service at my hotel, rather than Google, it’s often faster just to walk over to Powell’s and look something up.  It might even be faster to walk to Tanzania, actually.)

And in two weeks, my wife and son come to visit me here!  And today is the birthday of my youngest brother, Sam (hero of Citizen Josh)!  And Joni Mitchell is playing on my computer’s tinny speakers (“People’s Parties,” one of my favorites), and she still sounds glorious!

Gosh darn, it’s enough to make you want to cuss for joy — but I don’t think my arm muscles can take anymore pushups today.  So I’ll just sip some more Stumptown coffee, run down to get my laundry from the machines downstairs, and prepare for that second preview.  (The official opening is on Friday.)

If you know Portland, I’d love your suggestions for places I should visit. And if you know people who live around here, please suggest that they come visit me at the theater — that would be way, um, friggin’ cool!

Coffee Party?

Patriot Mug

Patriot Mug

Given my self-documented misadventures in the bowels of the U.S. tax system, it should come as little surprise that I am late in filing even this little blog item about tax stuff. In fact, I’d count it as a victory that I’m posting it so soon after Tax Day.

Back on the 15th, people had those “tea parties” — and yes, they seemed quite silly, and the “protests” looked suspiciously like pre-fab events born in the boardrooms of right-wing think tanks and Fox News (which I guess could count as a right-wing no-think tank). And yes, I was predictably infuriated by this latest salvo from the toxically successful anti-tax movement that — ever since its angry birth in 1978, with the sweeping victory of California’s Proposition 13 — has helped decimate all the public institutions I love (schools, libraries, public transportation, etc.: all those cool public things that Ben Franklin introduced to us). And yes, I heartily agree with every point made so pithily by Robert Reich in the latest entry of his wonderful blog, titled “A Short Citizen’s Guide to Kooks, Demagogues, and Right-Wingers on Tax Day.”

And yet. … And yet I have to admit there’s an element of that resentment — that fury — that, albeit incited by Fox and friends’ faux populism, rings true to me.  In this sense: As passionately as I support Obama’s presidency (I’m writing this on a day when, for example, his administration has recently declared carbon emissions to be harmful and publicly released the previous administration’s unforgivable “torture memos”), a significant part of me also worries about the continuing aggregation of centralized power in the Beltway and (some) corporate suites.  It’s one of the ironies of liberal democracy, I suppose: as someone (who was that?) once said, it’s the worst possible form of government — except for all the other ones.

So of course, it’s silly — and worse — for people to talk of secession because the majority of Americans happened to disagree with them this time.  But in many important ways, “the people” don’t have the power.  After years of living underwater, we’re happy just to be near the shore — with a semblance of the basic functions of government being reasserted.  But many, many people are still drowning — poor, marginalized, sick — and it is not unreasonable for them to be agitated.

Still, those shindigs two days ago weren’t real “tea parties” — not in the revolutionary sense, anyhow — since their ire wasn’t directed at the true source of their monetary and political impoverishment: the actual “elites” (the folks who actually have almost all of the money and power) rather than the fake ones that Rush and co. had conjured for them.  So … how’s about this:  a “coffee party”!  (I sense that “klatch” might come off as too foreign).  There’s already a “fair trade” movement to latch on to, focusing on paying a just amount for people’s labor.  Follow the beans, my friends, and you will follow the money.  Plus, if you cover yourselves with coffee grinds, rather than tea bags, I’m pretty sure your protests will have even more of an edge to them.  And no one from the the 18th century will be tempted to claim trademark infringement.  It’s a win-win, especially if you leave room for cream.