30 June 2010

i smell another mark kozelek week coming on.

Oh man. Sun Kil Moon's new album should be shipping any day now and I am just dying.  Excuse this moment of fangirl excess.  To hold me over, I downloaded Ocean Beaches, Mark Kozelek's first solo album.  He wrote it when he was with the Red House Painters, at the beach.  Some of the songs are perfect and appropriately beachy.  Others are rougher and less charming but nonetheless channel the wrought sincerity of a lovelorn man in his early twenties, a genre of human being that makes me kind of sentimental.  Here's some of the beachy ones.

26 June 2010

cute overload: $177 folding bikes.

My mom, a servicewoman stationed in northern Japan, is talking about getting one of these Chinese-made folding bikes. She's been biking to work lately on a little blue folding bike, but COTGB is all about bicycle fleet building.  Aren't they adorable? Let's peer pressure her into getting one. The slogan on the chain guard appeals to my highest aspirations as a cyclist.

a visit to DBC in boston: test-riding the 'swift'.

It's taken me a month to get to this post.  On one hand, it's about sloth-- here and there I've been busy, but for the most part I've settled into a state of mild but ambivalent productivity that is appropriate to my status as an underemployed summering graduate student.  On the other hand, however, this is about my inability to explain things that move me in a certain way, moments of pure joy and freedom.  Like when I played in the Pacific Ocean last summer in San Diego-- the bliss was inexplicable and vast, hard to put my finger on. So I don't really talk about it, because it feels kind of sacred.

Ok, now that we've established that, you can be aghast:
"You felt that way test-riding a bike?!?!"

I know, I know.  It's a little superlative.  

When I visited my best friend in Boston last month-- every Philadelphian should have a cleaner city nearby to escape to from time to time-- I found myself with a morning to myself while she worked.  In the interests of "doing things right" and "getting some blog material" and also, duh, "my interests," I looked to see if there were any Dutch bike shops in Boston.  When I go to Boston, I actually spend most of my time in Cambridge, and let me tell you something-- Cambridge bicycle culture is the jam.  People tend to ride functional, sometimes beautiful bikes with helmets and lights; the bike lanes are plentiful, and (by MIT) sometimes even separate from traffic; there are oodles of folding bikes.  To a spectator- it's orderly, pragmatic, pleasant, plain clothes.  Riding in Boston, I hear, is a bit more aggressive, but let's not get too far away from my impressions of Boston as bike paradise.

So all of this in mind, I made my way out to Somerville, sort-of near Tufts, to City Bikes (lest they be confused with other Dutch Bicycle Companies, though I think they go by DBC).  All I knew going in was that they were Dutch bike dealers building their own bikes.  I expected a traditional bicycle showroom, but it's a little more casual than that-- which I think gets at the practical sensibility at the heart of the City Bikes program.

City Bikes started out with the desire to solve some of the problems of the Dutch bicycle-- the incredible weight, the sometimes wobbly steering, the increasingly cheap components used on bikes for American import.  They recruited an army of MIT engineers (ok, maybe not that many) to come up with a host of frame designs that looked just right, to get a geometry that felt just right, to make a bike ideally suited to the rigors and challenges of American urban riding.  Anywhere they could've cut corners, they didn't-- they used American materials (like Pennsylvania steel!), rebuilt headlights, and selected the very best components.  What they got surprised them: they hadn't expected it to be so perfect.

If you're surprised that you haven't yet heard of City Bikes, that's kind of on purpose-- they are doing everything they can to meet demand as it is.  We all know the demand that's faced other custom builders, like Sweetpea or Vanilla.  When I visited, the only City Bike in the showroom was the men's prototype and an unbuilt women's frame.  
ladies frame

As it is, you can order a bike to fit your measurements with the paint job you want for ~$2400.  For Boston residents, City Bikes is offering lifetime maintenance because they believe in the quality of their bikes.  For people living within 2 hours, they're offering an installment payment plan.  

What can I say about test-riding the Swift?  It's a bike-riders' bike.  It's responsive, easy to recover when you pitch yourself sideways.  The posturing is perfect, the bike is not heavy, it's elegant.  The time I spent on that bike may have been some of the best ten minutes of my summer-- they were lucky I left my purse in the office, I might not have come back.  Riding this bike-- it was my playing in the ocean moment. I can't really explain it. It was how riding bikes ought to be. You could have never ridden a bike before and get on this bike and think it's nice, but I think it might take someone a little more seasoned to appreciate what's going on here in terms of craftsmanship and deliberate design choices.  If I could afford one, I would buy one.

Obviously, if you find yourself in Boston, a City Bikes visit is mandatory.  Dan and Maria are gracious bike enthusiasts who you'll want to spend some time with.  I can't do justice to how excited I was when I left.  Make sure you bring an extra couple grand when you visit-- you'll want to buy one of these beautiful bikes before everybody else finds out about them.  

Dan and Maria, if you see this-- please feel free to make any corrections in the comments!

This video is found on their website- it includes a teensy portion of what I learned during my visit:

21 June 2010

lgrab summer games, learning experiences, part 1.

I found this part of the Summer Games a bit easier to complete- I tend towards more functional, lone-wolf cycling
 rather than social cycling.  Here's a roundup of some of the things I've been up to lately...

Carry a load on your bike — groceries, etc.

This is somewhat standard procedure for me. For sake of the challenge, I took the Old Dutch Treat to Ikea and Target.  It's a little over 6 miles each way-- about as far as I ever get from my house in Philly.  It's kind of grueling with a load on such a heavy bike, but fortunately there are bike lanes the whole way.  I made a loop around the city, starting with a long cruise along the Delaware river and ending on the Schuylkill River, where there's a lovely bike trail by the Art Museum and Fairmount Waterworks.

Today I went to the Post Office to pick up a GLORIOUS package that my mom sent me from Japan. I liked that it also functioned as a seat back.  The thing I like best about hauling a load like this is that it's an excuse to ride really, really slow. 

Decorate your bike

While in the big box retailer area where Ikea is located, I hit up a dollar store and bought a lei.  It makes me smile every time I look at it.  All my non-bikey friends have complemented me on its charms. Cheap thrills!

Perform a maintenance task — big or small!

You can see from the pictures above that I'm missing a skirt guard.  The clip that holds the guard to the rack came off a while ago, and eventually the skirt guard went rogue and came off too.  Today I used one of my favorite office supplies- the binder clip- and some dental floss to help anchor the skirt guard to the rack. We'll see how long that lasts.  

Next up... a very belated post about a bicycle test ride.

20 June 2010

subletter salad.

My roommate went away to do research for the summer.  This has opened up a great culinary hole in my life, as there was nobody in my home doing interesting things with harissa or to share my delight in the creation of a stunning dessert tour de force.  His room was let to a sweet couple of visiting researchers.  They were the perfect room renters—gracious and tidy and quiet.  They really won me over when they shared this salad with me during a week that we had five days of 90 degree weather. As we have another week of that ahead, I think you'll find this salad it just the ticket.

I love it because you could serve it alone or over leafy greens, plain or dressed in a balsamic vinaigrette.  On more than one occasion, I've mixed it in with my standard caprese. This salad is fresh and light and even has a little bit of protein- completely perfect for days when it’s too hot for eating.

Subletter salad

Canned butter beans
Artichoke hearts
Corn (best cut off the cobb)
Red bell pepper

12 June 2010

the ghosts of graduations past: a lesson in comparative graduations.

My cousin is graduating from high school today and I am overcome with sentimentality.  Was it eight years ago that I sat in my white gown hopefully eating contraband M&M’s with my best friends in the Tacoma Dome?  Was it just four years ago that I again trod the floor of the Tacoma Dome, this time in black, and with a greater sense of terror about where my life was going?  Or a year ago even that I was hooded in the Huntsman Center, finally graduating with a life plan? 

I thought it would be fun to dig through my paper archives and share with you some blurbs from the exceptionally fair weathered days of graduations past:

“It’s crazy though, because the next five years will probably determine my whole life.  No pressure or anything! …. Lots of cool options, when it comes to careers and what to study in college.  The whole world is in front of me! Weeeeee! I can do anything I want with my life! Ha! I can do whatever I want.  If I wanted I could go find some dweeby singles ward guy and get married.  I could go to college and become a teacher, a translator, a counselor- anything! … I can do anything I want!  The world is my pancake and I’m ready for breakfast!!!!!”
-June 10, 2002

This is obviously the first time I had thought about my future.  I’m glad that, after a few close calls,  I didn’t follow through with the “dweeby singles ward guy” option.  

“It seemed like the day would never come soon enough, and without really giving a care as to what happens after, well, it came.  Suddenly it would seem—barring [sic] all classes are passed- that I am to be an adult, an educated person, some sort or worker.  I can’t say that I’m particularly prepared for the finality of my educational pursuits but alas, the unpreparedness is my reality…
I cannot say that the post-graduate lifestyle will be without its struggles.  The need for full-time employment is imminent.  Greater independence must be obtained, as must a more fuel-efficient car.  The blessings of love and family will bring their own set of stressors; still, well, the potential of life inspires too much hope to feel overwhelmed.  Sure, Monday will come and I may feel some despair but that does not change the infinite possibilities for my future.”
-May 21, 2006

If a student wrote this, I would spend a lot of time debating about whether I'd give her an A- for being reasonably articulate or a B+ for being inflated and obnoxious, containing tense confusion and misusing words.  She would probably get the A- as like, four times elsewhere in the entry she talks about how graduation made her really want to go to graduate school.

Bonus points because my life plan was to become “some sort of worker."

“I am nearly 25 and I feel like I haven’t done anything yet.  I know I have to let go of that, take a deep breath, (<-- grad school made me put that comma there, so not me) & somehow I must believe that I can do what I said I would do…. I suppose that’s it.  I have no deep thoughts about life right now, just a lot of peace about my choices.”

      -May 16, 2009

 I think by the time I got my MA, I had finally floated down to earth and found some real goals.  Clearly after graduating so many times, its momentousness is lost on me.  I now struggle to buy people sincere graduation cards because I’m like, “Really?  I’ve graduated like a gazillion times. Do it a couple more times and then we'll talk.”

And so, class of 2010, I present you with the same wry card I presented myself with last year:

card available through Sycamore Street Press on Etsy.  Check it out- they run a mean letterpress. 
Photo links to the card as this is their sales photo. 

04 June 2010

lgrab summer games, social cycling challenge.

I'm a little late to the Let's Go Ride A Bike Summer Games-- but this is my official contribution: 
I had a lovely chat with a lovely lady cyclist on May 26th.  It was about 12:45pm and we were headed southbound at 12th and Spring Garden (kind of a wackjob intersection with a long light and the end of the bike lane in a spot that really needs the bike lane to continue).  She was helmet-less, dressed in a gauzy dress with dark hair and elegant tattoos-- a regular cycling apparition, the kind of person that I saw and thought, "Yes, she is one of us!"  She was riding a shiny emerald green bike-- and lo, she is herself from the Emerald City! We both agreed that Philly is divine for being car-free and riding bikes with just a few gears.  Lesson learned: I need to roll up to people and say, "I love your bike!" more often. Solidarity, sisters!

Ok, but here's the kicker to all this cycling sociality-- somebody left me a note on the Old Dutch Treat yesterday.  The preface to this is that usually I lock my helmet up with my bike so I don't have to be the girl in the bar / grocery store / restaurant / school slinging around an unweildy noggin-protector as I go about my business.  Anyways, it's been a while since somebody left me a bike note, so I was pretty excited to find this little note sitting in my helmet when I came out of Bob and Barbara's last night.

The outside read:

And then I opened it up:

I laughed out loud. I'm not sure whether it was a threat or a prophecy, but to me, it's classic Philly.  It definitely made me feel like, "Oh Philadelphia, social cycling is ON." Watch out folks!

The note proved useful though (beyond eliciting continuous smiles), as it was written on a flyer for a new used bookstore that I've heard good things about but had forgotten to check out.  Ride on...