Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Bike Cycles

When I was a kid I had a bike. Well, I had a few bikes throughout my childhood, really. It seems like every bicycle I owned was either "borrowed" or taken from me by my older brother who had a tendency to either attempt BMX stunts or just flat-out destroy them by various other means. After a number of thrift store and yard sale bikes meeting the same brother-induced fate of broken chains and warped wheels, one I lost in the desert after getting a flat tire and leaving it behind, and one almost brand new bike that I never came back for after moving from Lancaster the last time (which was dumb on my part because I really liked it), I ended up without a bike. After growing up riding and fixing bikes (whether it was because they were old and needed fine tuning or my brother got a hold of them and they needed complete overhauls) I found myself either just driving or walking wherever I needed to go. It didn't faze me really, but the thought of coasting around on two wheels came to mind every so often.

One day a few years ago I was walking around with my brother on his and his wife's property, and I saw something off in some overgrowth; an 80s-era Schwinn Traveler road bike, sprockets rusting, tires rotting, spiderwebs creeping out from under the seat, grass growing between the links of the chain, paint faded from years of sun bleaching and weather, and of course I fell in love with it. I asked my brother if I could take it, he gave the OK, and I ended up taking it and keeping it in the back of my Jeep before I got my apartment. I swapped out the tires and inner tubes, oiled up the moving parts, and have used it ever since.

I intend to put a lot more work into it, especially after riding it a lot more in recent weeks. While the feeling of the warped back wheel wobbling while riding at high speeds adds a degree of excitement, it's a kind of thrill I could do without. Even though the brakes still work, they don't work all that well. There's still a lot of rust on the non-chrome parts, and the paint is still faded or gone, so it isn't a pretty hunk of steel and aluminum to ride around on. Regardless of the work that needs to be done to my 30-something-year-old touring bike, I've been riding it all over for awhile now in an attempt to get in slightly better shape (and to prepare myself for a 5 or 10k foot race race eventually), so I think I'll start putting in a little more work into my retro road pounder.

The thing that surprises me about this bike, though, is the fact that my brother gave it to me. After years of demolishing every one I've ever had, whether it was a mountain bike, BMX bike, racing bike, or some Frankenstein's Monster of spokes and sprockets, he gave me a bike. After so long of having him take them away from me the bicycle cycle had come full circle with him. The fact that I'm using a bike that would otherwise be scrapped is recycling, in a way, which furthers the bicycle recycle cycle.

There's a lot of consonance going on here.

My point is this; my rickety old 1980s Schwinn Traveler has been something I've enjoyed playing around with, and I'm stoked to continue fixing it up more.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I'm A Hotel Clerk

I'm a hotel clerk. I make room reservations, check-in guests, attend to rooms, and maintain things as needed in both the facility and in concierge services. One perk about this job, though, is the people-watching and interactions I get. I meet a lot of people every day, especially in the busy months at the hotel, and it's easy to forget how much there is to the people-watching aspect of standing at the desk.

I talk to people from all over the world. Since I work as a desk clerk in a hotel that sits between Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Yosemite, Tahoe, and basically every place to see in California and Nevada, I'm constantly talking to people from all over Europe, Asia, South America, and Oceania. This week I talked to a few guys from Serbia, helped out a Taiwanese couple book a room, gave some French tourists directions, and worked around language and cultural barriers like I do ever day of the work week. I like to think that adds a degree of uniqueness to my job; that, in the middle of nowhere, there's a melting pot of nationalities, all stopping for the night during their tour of the American West.

Every walk of life comes through, too; young families moving across the state, old retired couples vacationing from the East Coast, affluent yuppies with money to spare, poor folks looking for a cheap place to crash for the night, all kinds from all over talk to me on a regular basis. I hear ideas and opinions from people every day, some progressive and interesting, other ill-informed and occasionally racist. Some folks are kind. Others are mean. Most are indifferent. Everyone is generally pretty tired.

It's a funny job, being the guy who gets total strangers to pay for places to crash for the night, but I credit working here to me actually being able to be social and a little more comfortable with myself. Thanks to being in front of so many people from so many backgrounds for so long I've managed to come out of my shell. Thanks to tourists from all over the planet I've learned how to determine where some accents are from. Thanks to catering to everyone I've learned how to accept-- or, at the very least, tolerate-- pretty much everyone.

Being at the front desk eight hours a day and five days a week makes my job a fairly big part of my life. I actually don't know if I'd be the kind of person I am now if it weren't for being inundated with social interaction and personalities while at work, so I'm pretty grateful to have become the person I am now while meeting so many interesting people along the way.

And I'm glad to get paid for people-watching.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Early in junior high school I wasn't interested in playing sports at all. I'd given flag football a shot and had done alright even thought I didn't care for it, had been in Little League like every other stereotypical red-blooded American boy but I wasn't really into it, and never had much interest in basketball, but I still felt I needed to do something active and extracurricular. Because I've always been a skinny, long-legged guy who doesn't care much for team sports, I decided that running track might be a good idea. After all, I could run, I enjoyed running, and it's more of an independent sort of sport than the others were, so I thought to give it a try. Unfortunately, there wasn't a track program in junior high, so I decided to do a 5 mile run the town of Bridgeport, California, held on the Fourth of July.

I got second!

Second to last out of every other runner, sure, but still not quite last.

That didn't discourage me much, though. I knew as soon as I got into high school, had appropriate coaching and actual training, I would be able to run a lot better, further, and faster than my literal trial run. When I moved back to Independence, my old home town, I was really excited to get into the track and field team. A family friend was the coach, the team itself did really well, and I was really excited to test my body and my will with distance running.

But they cut track and field by the time I got into high school.

I got a bit lazy in school for awhile after that. I didn't do well in my classes, didn't try to do anything beyond the absolute minimum, and I was essentially just a lazy jackass teenager until I took up writing speeches and essays. I went into speech contests, essay contests, and did alright enough with my ability to string words together that I didn't have to deal with football or basketball. As a matter of fact, I'd spend most PE periods writing instead of doing anything regarding physical fitness (as was shown on my report cards), and I carried that ability of essay, speech, and paper writing all the way to my short lived college career, where I took up smoking and blogging as hobbies.

Of course they started up the track program at my high school after I graduated, but that's beside the point.

I've done my fair share of walking and hiking since my five mile failure, but thought of running never really came about again until this last weekend. Some friends and I went on a good, long bike ride, and the feeling of pushing myself again was pretty intriguing. My old Schwinn Traveler, thanks to its shoddy brakes and its warped back wheel, gave my legs a hell of a time on my several-mile cruise, especially after a few months of not doing much more than occasionally walking around and a lot of sitting around. The little endorphin kick that came with the little workout got me thinking about my almost nonexistent athletic career and how lazy I've been. I'm not in the indestructible shape I'd like to be in; it shouldn't be so rare to feel a good workout, and it shouldn't be such a kick in the ass hiking to the places I want to go.

I decided, while sitting at the narrowing part of Tuttle Creek Road next to my bike after huffing and puffing up the grade, to give a run another shot. There's a 5K in Independence during the Fourth of July, so if I can manage to not be so exceptionally lazy and out of shape I'd like to see if I can redeem myself of second-to-last place in running. Even if I don't place in the run-- and even if I don't participate in it at all-- I still want to be in better shape and feel that sore and exhausted kind of happiness that comes from kicking your own ass. This whole "not being a lazy ass" thing seems to work out for a lot of people, and after spending my time working a desk job for the last five years it might be nice to use my body for more than a place to store my brain.

If nothing else, working toward an Independence Day 5K or 10K might keep me from being bored, and something to do is always nice.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Retiring of Old Red

I currently drive a 1996 Jeep Cherokee. It was my first car, bought from my neighbor back when I was in high school, and I loved it the moment I sat behind the wheel. My little red 4X4 took me all over the state, down dirt roads outside of my hometown, and helped move me and my stuff down south when I left for college. Considering it was a decade old when I bought it-- and young men with 4-wheel-drive vehicles typically don't treat them so gently-- it's come to have some issues. The engine had to be rebuilt after I met a puddle that was actually a pond, the interior is a little worse for wear after years of hauling wood and debris, a line to the transmission was kinked after the radiator was replaced, and the suspension is pretty much shot after years of hitting rutted dirt roads and what I had assumed to be dirt roads, so I don't trust its rumbling rattles and obnoxious little quirks as much as I had before. The years and I have not been too kind to my eighteen year old SUV, so I've decided to cut my losses and enter the market for a new car.

I've only ever owned one other vehicle; a 2000 Nissan Frontier. I liked it well enough, except I'd bought it from some shady people in LA County who demanded cash and only realized after the fact that it was a salvaged title and not necessarily what I'd bargained for. I only had it for maybe a year at most before taking up my old red Cherokee again. For all the issues the Jeep had, the Frontier matched them and then some, so it was the best decision at the time to go back to my first car. Now that the Frontier belongs to someone else and the Jeep is no longer a reliable option for a ride, I'm back in the dreaded auto market again.

This last weekend I rode down to Bakersfield with my father to go to the Auto Mall. There are closer car dealerships, sure, but he was familiar with the dealerships down there and he needed to visit his sister anyway, so we made a day of it. I intended to only look at compact cars and sedans; better gas mileage, cheaper to insure, something that wouldn't tempt me to go off-road but still get me to places I want to go. Aside from sales associates swooping down on me like birds of prey on mice things went smoothly and I left Bakersfield with a good idea of what I was looking at to pay and what I could get for my money. After driving the same car for close to a decade and never venturing into the scary world of loans and financing I've come to find a little Kia that suits my needs and sits within my budget.

Now I have the task of getting the down together and factoring the car payments into my budget, which isn't so hard as it is annoying, and I have the task of parting with the old red Jeep. It's kind of a sad thought, thinking about how long I've spent driving it, standing next to it waiting for tow trucks, folding the back seats down for a night of sleep, yelling at it and cooing at it. I guess part of me got a little emotionally attached to the mass of steel and fiberglass after all these years. I'm sure it'll go to a good home where it'll be decked out with a lift kit and extensive work so it can mob through the desert again, but it's kind of sad to know it'll be retired soon for something totally different. It doesn't feel safe to drive in. It gets poor mileage. If it's not leaking one fluid it's leaking another. It's beyond my help and ability to maintain now, though I did my best.

I get the feeling there will be a lot more things to experience once I get an honestly reliable, fuel efficient vehicle. It'll pick up where the old red deathtrap left off.