Thursday, September 26, 2013

Mad-keen cyclists

Apparently “mad-keen” is Australian for very enthusiastic. I learned this on a MassBike supported ride across Massachusetts with my friend Larry Reed and almost a hundred other riders. One rider came from Australia and described her parents as mad-keen cyclists. As a result of their affliction, they had lots of excellent spare parts around home, which they put together on a spiffy carbon frame and gave Courtney a fine bicycle to bring to America.

We also met a fellow named Rashah. Well, that’s not really his name. He got the nickname after a year of backpacking around Europe. When he finally settled down and got a job in England, his boss declared that he was so skinny that he looked like a rasher of bacon. That was my second foreign word of the trip. I’d read of rashers of bacon, and always thought a rasher must be some English unit of measure. However, my Merriam-Webster dictionary says it’s ”a thin slice of bacon or ham broiled or fried; also: a portion (as of bacon) consisting of several slices «eggs with a rasher of bacon».” But our guy is a New Englander, so he threw away the final r and became Rashah. He sports a wide moustache that curls up at the ends and wears stylish one-of-a-kind bicycle pants.

Since I’ve already started singling out characters from our ride, I must conclude with Erika, who went from running a vegan restaurant to opening a meat market. She’s into food, and she’s happy to prepare whatever people want to buy. She’s also a strong cyclist, an avid fund-raiser for charity, and a brilliant conversationalist.

I’m happy to describe all three of those people as mad-keen cyclists. Larry and I are pleased to describe ourselves that way too. We rode hard, ate and slept well, and repeated. We enjoyed the ride and the roads we traveled, and we had a great time chatting with the extremely diverse group of people who came together for this trip. I wasn’t sure, when I saw folks gathering, that I’d have much in common with many of them. It turns out, of course, that we found a great deal in common and the commonality went far, far beyond bicycles. I enjoy meeting new people even more than I enjoy riding my bike, which means that I couldn’t help but have a great time.

Climbing Sugarloaf

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Gun violence

Here in the USA we’ve just had a couple more instances of gun violence. It seems to be a part of our culture now, and I don’t like it. I wonder how foreigners think about it. Well, actually I know how at least some foreigners think about it. My friends think it’s weird and a little scary. I wonder if this will dampen their desire to visit the USA if it keeps up.

I do have a potential solution to the tourism problem. We need to turn the concern into an advantage. Think about how Americans everywhere are “weaponing up,” buying new and better guns before good handguns and assault weapons become less accessible. If everybody here has a gun, folks unable to buy guns in their home countries will feel disadvantaged when they come to visit. What we need is gun rental kiosks at all international airports. Even if we pass new laws requiring background checks for gun owners, visitors can obtain guns without purchase and avoid the slow and inconvenient process of becoming owners.

It could really boost our tourist industry. Not only does easy availability of rental guns remove a deterrent to travel, for some visitors it will be an incentive to come. Unable to enjoy the pleasure of firing a handgun at home, gun tourists would begin traveling to America for the opportunity to carry a gun and fire it at rats, tin cans, and other appropriate targets. Hotels in remote areas would see a surge in business, and could even supplement their income by selling bullets in lobby convenience stores. And imagine the letters our new tourists will send home to their friends, building a virtuous cycle supporting a new field of travel.

I suppose the only reason we don’t have gun rental kiosks already is that nobody has solved the liability problem. If somebody rents a gun to a tourist who uses it inappropriately, perhaps the victims will try to sue him for arming a psychopath. If insurance companies can’t come up with a good way around this problem, then it’s time for new legislation. If every American is required to carry gun liability insurance, then the costs will be sufficiently diluted that it shouldn’t be a concern to gun-rental entrepreneurs. Our gun problem can be solved, and approaching it in this way is much more likely to get legislative approval than those limiting “solutions” that never go anywhere.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tree surgery

As I passed through the Boston Public Garden this morning, I noticed a guy pruning a big tree. He had a gleaming truck with a very long double-articulated hoist which he controlled from inside his bucket. When he saw me taking pictures, he swung his bucket over to me and came down so I’d get a good picture.

The whole situation caught my attention because it differed so greatly from tree surgery in my other home town of Minsk. In Minsk, the tree-pruning teams arrive in old Soviet trucks that leak oil when parked and billow black smoke when running. According to someone in a position to know, nobody on the job, and possibly nobody in the home office, has any special training in tree surgery. And as far as I can tell from the ground, the guy doing the cutting gets positioned by a confederate sitting on the back of the truck, and he can’t position himself. The two guys drive the truck up to the tree however it’s convenient for them and then hack away until they declare themselves finished.

The Boston guy’s truck was parked on wheel mats which protected the lawn from his truck’s tires, and the clean truck proclaimed the presence of a certified arborist. His confederates were far away, grinding up the branches he’d removed from another tree. The Boston guy could go almost anywhere with his double-articulated lift with telescoping extension. The Minsk guys have to jockey around in their trucks to get in a convenient position for the simpler arm (like a human arm with one elbow) that lifts the woodsman.

The arborist in Boston suggests to me a difference in the relative wealth of the two cities, though it may represent simply a difference in priorities. Perhaps I wouldn’t have stopped to marvel at the gleaming truck in the Public Garden if I didn’t have a point of comparison, but today I’m impressed.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

More cousins and a snake

I have a tradition with the cousins on my mom’s side to get together on Labor Day weekend. We meet in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at the place where we played together as children. In fact, our parents spent lots of time there before us, and my cousins’ children play there too. It started out as a tiny cabin in the woods, but by now the family has spread out a bit and we still have enough space for our bigger family.

It’s a good thing we all get along, however, because we pack ourselves pretty close together. Most of us prefer to sleep outdoors, so we don’t mind the fact that there aren’t enough beds inside for all of us. We take turns in an outdoor shower, trying to save water for the next person. And we take turns in an almost-indoor toilet added onto the back of a bedroom. And, of course, we’re most comfortable eating our meals outdoors. It would be hard to fit all of us indoors at once. I love these people, and I love being with them. We walk, talk, play games, swim, goof around and treasure the opportunity to be together.

Yesterday some of us decided to hike up to “Lake George.” It’s not a real lake, but George is a real person. He was a guest many years ago, and he scrambled up Alder Creek farther than any of us had gone before, finding a beautiful place to go fishing. Unfortunately, he slipped and fell onto some rocks, breaking his ankle. It must have been extremely hard to get him out of there, because it’s plain hard to get in and out of there uninjured.

This was my second trip to Lake George, though I know the first part of the trip quite well. First we walk out the top of a big water pipe alongside the creek until we get to a remote dam. We’ve all been frequently to the dam, but it’s so hard to get above the pool enclosed by the dam that I never tried it until the previous cousins’ weekend. This time would be the first trip for little Keira. I don’t know how old she is, but somewhere between 8 and 10 years old. She may be small, but she’s fearless and capable so she’s a great companion. We let her pick the route over the rocks and boulders much of the way up, and she did an amazing job.

On the way back, Keira’s cousin Reed and I were in front, hustling down the pipe and thinking about the food waiting for us at the cabin. All of a sudden we heard a loud buzzing sound and Reed stopped immediately. I stopped behind him and followed his eyes down to a huge rattlesnake in the grass almost beside us. We backed up. The snake rattled his tail and watched us intently. We didn’t feel so much threatened as warned, and we gave him a very respectable distance. Only Janet had any kind of a camera with her, an iPhone. She took some pictures from afar and then we all walked around the snake on the other side of the pipe. I thought it was interesting that nobody spoke of hurting the snake, because that would have been the standard response when I was a kid. He wasn’t, in our minds, threatening anybody and we had ventured into his territory. So we didn’t threaten him either.

Altogether, we enjoyed a very non-threatening weekend, but here's a video of our final adventure.