Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dog Day Morning

OK, so I’m sitting on the Max engrossed in my book, only remotely aware of the stopping and starting of the train at the various stations. Suddenly a man’s voice calls out “DOG ON BOARD!” and I see this flash of fur to my right.

And I’m thinking What fresh hell is this? Somebody’s therapy dog escaped, or what? I look to the right in time to see this gigantic german shepherd head insert itself fully into my open-top lunch tote, and I yell, “Hey!”
I look up at the human who is seemingly in pursuit of the dog and I see that the human is not in pursuit at all, but just sort of standing there watching and beaming, as if “Aint that a great animal?”
And I’m thinking both he and the dog and the identically dressed man behind him are completely nuts, all three of them.
“What’s he doing?” I demand indignantly.
“Just checkin you out,” says the first man, smiling.
“But WHY?” I ask, totally confused. This total stranger animal is going way too far into my personal space and I can’t figure out why this seems PERFECTLY OK to its owner, who continues to act like this is an unremarkable event.
“That’s just what they do,” he answers. And they both dart back out the closing train doors with the dog, just as fast as they’d darted in, the word POLICE now legible in large while letters across the backs of their shirts. I knew they were something, with their matching outfits and all, I just wasn’t sure. I don’t think they had the usual ton of equipment hanging from their belts. The whole thing took about five seconds.

I asked a couple of people sitting nearby if they’d ever seen that before and they nodded knowingly. No wonder no one else was batting an eye. So wow, I guess that’s normal life now. Am I hopelessly out of it, or is that as weird as I think it is? In spite of the fact that I have nothing to hide, and apart from the fact that I’m not keen on dogs in the first place, I didn’t like how that felt. Am I being too picky? When did this start? And how come I’ve never heard of it?

Still Life with Cig Butts

Well…. I got my answer about the furniture.
Did I say "inviting"? Ask me if I'm changing my mind.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A View with a Room

Out to Gresham again today. At the station where I get off there’s this outdoor living room set up. At first I though someone had dumped some unwanted furniture at the site and that people waiting for their rides had grouped it around to make the best of it. But on looking more carefully I see that this is somebody’s art installation. There’s a tiled area of pavement in the middle of the lawn where it’s displayed, and a swirl of black & white painted onto the screen of the old TV, and a floor lamp. What an inviting scene! Unlike the platform alongside the train tracks, where for some reason there are very few benches. The two or three that are there are usually occupied by someone super tired-looking with a lot of bundles who seems so hunkered in that you hesitate to assume you’d be welcome to share the other end.

Only once have I seen someone sitting in this cozy spot, though, which seems weird, given the dearth of seating on the platform. The living room is located across a small bus lane from the actual train tracks, maybe that’s why. I haven’t sat there either – I’m new to the train and I’m afraid I’ll miss it if I’m not standing right there. Which is silly because there’s plenty of time to walk across to it when it arrives.

Does anyone know the story? Like who did it and how long it will be there? What I really want to know, though – forgive my shallow practicality – is what happens when it rains? We had some serious, though brief, showers on Monday, for the first time in weeks. Today I’ll go see if the living room is moldy yet. Maybe someone has the job of covering it up with tarps if it rains? I doubt it.

You can ignore the rain if you’re an Oregonian, but if you’re a sofa it’s not recommended. (Unlike people being rained on in other parts of the world, Oregonians can often be seen walking around hatless in a downpour, not even wincing or hurrying their step, or withdrawing their heads down into their shoulders, but just strolling normally as if they weren’t getting wet at all. You try that in Italy or Eastern Europe and you’ll be swept right off to the loonie bin.)

Generally, people won’t mold, but furniture will. And a moldy couch or easy-chair does not cry out to be sat upon. So it’ll be interesting to see how the outdoor living room is doing in a damp state.

Our friend the plastic bag -- good but bad

Plastic bags. If you claim you could live without them, I'll tell you your pants are on fire. We all try to re-use them as many times as possible. But what happens when a bag meets its ultimate demise? When it’s deemed too icky or raggedy to be used even to keep the rain off your bike seat?

If you had trouble sleeping last night, it could’ve been because you were worried about whether your plastic bag disposal methods were environmentally sound. I’ve lost sleep over it myself. Finally, I could stand it no more and drove (yes, in a car) clear out to Hillsburrito to visit the sorting facilities where the local garbage haulers take the curbside recycling for the Portland metropolitan area. And – whew! – did I find out some stuff I didn’t know! You can read about it here.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Another day of public transportation.

What you get on public transportation is: The Public. The real public, the full range. Which is a good thing to be exposed to, because you wouldn’t want to go along your merry way thinking the world was primarily made up of a bunch of people with all their ducks in a row. That would be inaccurate. A lot of people in the world don’t even have any two ducks in the same pond. Or all their marbles in the same cranial cavity, for that matter.

Yesterday one such person, or perhaps group of persons, concluded that at least for the day, their purpose in life was to defile the ticket dispensers with a brown sticky substance that could’ve been a melted, dried up carmel bar. I’d rather not let my imagination go further with it. The one consoling feature was that it did not have a discernible odor. Anyway it was a feat of dextral agility to extract my ticket from behind the little swinging plastic shield in the ticket slot without touching it.

Once on board the Max I discovered that some of the substance had ended up on one of my fingernails. For the duration of my ride I felt a burning compulsion to amputate my hand.

In the last two weeks I’ve ridden the Max out to Gresham and back six times. On three of those times I have been asked to show my ticket. So apparently rumors that you don’t really have to pay to ride the Max have been greatly exaggerated.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Hope for the Chicken Cyclist

Someone is paying attention. If you are a cyclist but NO WAY are you going to share the road with Moving Metal Deathtraps, someone -- who evidently recognizes you as being a lot smarter than the everyone else -- is doing a study on you. The person doing the study assumes you have better ideas about where to ride, and wants to implant a GPS system into your brain (or, alternatively, onto your bike) and track your movements around Portland.

I would sign up myself because I experience a high degree of chicken-ness toward riding on the major arteries (even when there is a thin white line separating me from the hurtling Deathtraps), BUT I still do it on some stretches of my routes. Plus the vast quantity of time I spend riding (totaling over an hour a day) disqualifies me from the study.

So if you want to star in a document called The Secret Habits of Timid Cyclists, now's your chance. Lindi's going to do it, if she can track down the contact information not provided in the article.

Coming soon: apparent shooting near hidey-hole.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Honing Plan B

OK, it’s tomorrow now, at least by yesterday’s standards, so here’s the promised continuation.

The only problem with Plan B was not actually a problem with Plan B at all, but with the executor of Plan B. (That would be moi.) Plan B includes, at the destination end of the train ride, a walk of a half mile in the shape of an L. A half a mile walk in no way constitutes an impediment for me. Neither, for most people, would a walk in the shape of an L.

I however, not being most people, managed to get lost on the way back to the train in the evening. By that time, I’d traveled the route three times already – twice by bike on the preceding day, and once on foot, that morning. Although I’d gotten lost on two of those other occasions as well, I’d been able to re-orient myself by implementing the detailed map provided by Lindi -- color-coded, with arrows drawn in and written instructions added. But by this point I felt unwilling to accept that I still needed the map and refused to pull it out. Consequently I walked around in a series of concentric trapezoids until I chanced upon some train tracks and followed along them on an uneven bed of giant gravel until I came to the platform I had set out from earlier in the day.

By then I was exhausted from carrying my stuff for half an hour on cement when I was pooped to begin with, and on top of that, of course I had missed the train and had to wait an extra half hour for the next one. Had you met me for the first time at that moment, you'd have been left with the impression that I was a surly malcontent of a person.

Please do not be tempted to write in and ask the popular foolish question of where I went wrong. If I knew that, I wouldn’t have done it, would I? The only possible clue I can give you is that sometimes street patterns flip over in my mind like a fried egg, causing everything to seem the reverse of what it was before. For example, numbered streets decrease in the direction I was sure they should increase.

The next comment that comes to the mind of the foolish and insensitive is that I must be dyslexic. Nothing could be further from the truth, which I can prove by my ability to correctly spell any word that I have seen once. In addition, I can project words and whole phrases and sentences onto an invisible billboard in front of me if I need to edit or discuss them. Dyslexic people cannot begin to do those things.

Lindi has the capacity to hold a map of the entire metropolitan area of Portland in her head at once. I am able to hold several smaller maps of parts of Portland in my head simultaneously, but if I were to press the print button the resulting map sections would not match up at the edges.

Plan B will work splendidly once I master the part of it that doesn’t follow a track or a white line drawn on the road.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The effect of potential citizen involvement on crime

Plan B was largely successful: Saturday I left my bike at the Max station where I boarded, in front of a monstrous “24-hour Fitness” – so monstrous that I would be afraid to enter it. That’s the new 24-hour Fitness they recently built to replace the perfectly adequate, normal-sized one that was there before. I heard that their original plan was to leave that wall completely blank, but the city intervened and made them put windows there instead. Even though it remains an unattractive building, it isn’t as unattractive as their facility downtown, which is so ugly, being nothing but a large granite box, that they should be fined daily for defacing the city.

Anyway, the fact that there are windows overlooking this bike rack, behind which numerous people are operating hamster equipment, made me feel like my bike was relatively safe. No doubt the feeling was somewhat illusory, but I did park my bike there for a full day and it was still there when I came back.

But think about it: Dozens of people have come to this gym so they can exercise on pretend bikes, conveyor belt sidewalks, ski machines, and faux rowboats behind a thick multi-layered plate glass wall that protects them from the glorious, most-perfect-in-the-nation weather we’re having. Raise your hand if you think that any of these good citizens, upon seeing someone attempting to steal my bike, is going to sabotage their target-heart-rate goals to jump off their machine, locate a building exit, and run out and apprehend the villain. This is unlikely to happen – you know it and I know it, but we hope that the villain does not know it.

In any case I think I’ll be able to continue to implement Plan B with a few minor adjustments. When I started this post with “Plan B was largely successful,” you probably wondered what I meant by “largely.” More on that tomorrow.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Commute to the ninth circle of suburbia

Got some work in Gresham. Yes, Gresham, the place I made fun of horribly when I got sent out there for jury duty last year. See what happens?

I rode my bike to the Max station at nine A.M. and biked to my destination when I got to the end of the line. Hardly anyone was on the train, which was great. No, I did not hang my bike on the hook. I didn’t feel up to it, and it wasn’t necessary. I stood it there on its kickstand with nothing else holding it up, and sat down and read a book. It wiggled around but there was no danger of it falling over.

The way back at six PM was a different story. Tons more people. Stood my bike there in the bike area. By then I felt even less like lifting it up to the hook, but none of the other passengers with bikes felt like it either, and they were doing the same thing. Besides the fact that my bike is a tank, I’d have to unload a bunch of stuff from it, and put it someplace where I could keep an eye on it while I performed this herculean feat.

Had I hung it up, I could’ve sat down, but certainly could not have engrossed myself in a book without worrying that one of the many riders might pop it off its hook and make off with it. And leaving it standing there by itself as I had in the morning would have made it even easier to roll out the door. With so many people boarding and unboarding, it was out of the question. So I stood there with it for the duration of the 40 minute ride. Nothing more exhausting than standing in one spot, especially if the spot is (1) a hard surface like metal, and (2) wiggling. Far more tiring than all the work I did that day put together.

I’ll be traveling out there with some regularity, so I have to find a way to make it not miserable. Tomorrow I’ll try plan B: Bike to my neighborhood Max station like I did today, but leave my bike there. When I get to the end of the line, I’ll just walk to where I have to go. It’ll take longer, but it’ll be more exercise. Then on my way home I can sit down and relax without worrying about my bike. I just hope no one steals it while it's parked at the Max station all day.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

blog post categories

I've discovered a new trick. I'm in the process of putting label words at the bottom of each blog post. Clicking on these will bring up all other posts related to that topic. It's taking a while. I've only done 75 of them so far, so if you click on the label words now, you won't be seeing all there is on that topic.
I probably won't have time to finish them until Monday or Tuesday. When I've finished you'll be able to pull up all the previous mentions of any topic. That'll be good for tracing back the threads you're most interested in -- in the unlikely event that you're not consumed with passion about every topic I write on.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Demons crowd in to fill gap in excercising

My daily bike riding has been far from daily over the last two or three weeks. Family visits and other discombobulating events have interfered. Uncooperative relatives visiting from out of town refuse to be transported around on the back of a bicycle, and local family members live far enough apart to require bicycling for hours each day if I were to stick to my no-car plan. In short, most of my daily routine went to hell in a hand basket, with my body following right behind it.

For the 100th time I have to conclude that I’m just barely held together by exercise, because whenever I stop, the array of ailments that sally forth astounds me. One thing hurts, this other part is making creaking noises, this other thing doesn’t work, joints threaten to roll out of their sockets, I’m compelled to nap, I feel lousy, etc etc, -- none of which utter a peep when my daily transportation around town adds up to a minimum of sixty minutes of bicycling.

I read somewhere that “ninety percent of the time, the body heals itself.” I wish I knew who I was quoting, but I do believe we’re each just a big walking immune system, hacking through the jungle of attacking illnesses as we go about our day. The minute you stand still, they win. Got to keep the machete honed so you can keep hacking away.

You know what I’ve noticed? On the few occasions when I’ve indulged in going to the doctor about some vague thing, they rarely ask how much exercise I'm getting. Nor do they ask how much sleep I'm getting or how much water I'm drinking. Not even what kind of food I eat. They just start with a symptom and try to fix that – but it could have any of a thousand causes, and they really don’t know. So they start trying this and that to see if something alleviates the symptom, and you become a human laboratory until something works. But you could be on a diet of Coke and Fritos with four hours of sleep a night and no water and there are some doctors who wouldn't figure that out.

You might argue that the mechanic doesn't ask you if you pour Koolaid into your gas tank. But people are smarter about cars than they are about their bodies. Besides, there are no ads that tell you it's ok to put other stuff in your gas tank, whereas there are zillions of ads that tell you it's ok to put all kinds of weird things into your body. There 's a lot of perfectly legal misinformation about what's ok for your body.

I think western medicine is good for when you’re already way into the problem – like when your ____ needs to be replaced. Now that your ______ has completely ceased to function, they can see that. Or when you’ve been in an accident and you need to be actually put back together, as in Humpty Dumpty.

Aren’t I horrible? I know there are a lot of good doctors in the world. But I’m going to do everything I can to stay away from them, all the same. The thought of a doctor visit is all it takes to motivate me.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Return of the Disappeared Blogger

Hi. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Bet you’re wondering where the hell. As you know, I’ve never, ever missed more than a weekend at a time – except once, when I went on an announced sabbatical for a week.

This time, it was just that my brain kicked into refusal mode. I haven’t even been checking my sitemeter, and that’s saying a lot for a long time sitemeter addict. (For you non-bloggers, the sitemeter is the thing that tells you how many hits your blog is getting.)

I have an important question to ask you: Would you still love me if I put ads on my blog? Or would you leave me in disgust, stomp off in a huff, and never look back? I mean seriously, would you still read me? Or would that be too obnoxious to bear? Keep in mind that you wouldn’t have to actually read the ads. You could skip them. Ignore them completely. And of course I’d be pretty darn picky about which ads I’d allow. For example no car ads, obviously.

Please think about this, and weigh in below. This is an actual poll – you are the readers and I need you to help me decide whether this would be blog suicide.