Friday, December 30, 2005

Happy Friday!!

Chicago Critical Mass meets at Daley Plaza at 5:30, the ride will leave shortly after 6:00. Yippee! Last year’s New Year’s Eve CCM was super-fun.

Now if only my boss would leave the friggin’ office so we could stop pretending to work........

Weekend Sneak-Peak:

Friday: CCM
Saturday: Handlebar NYE Party. I’ll spend Saturday afternoon cooking for the party before returning as a guest.
Kitten.
Sunday: Polar Bear Ride. I’m leading a ride to go jump into Lake Michigan at noon.
Monday: a day off from work. Paul and I are tentatively planning to go for a long ride.

Happy New Year to all!!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Europe: An Essay

The short version:

Frick and I went to the Netherlands and Belgium for vacation. Spoken language barriers rarely existed, because nearly everyone spoke good English in addition to Flemish. Written signs, instructions menus or descriptions were nearly universally in Flemish, so that was sometimes problematic.

Navigating the cities was particularly difficult for me for several reasons: 1) I’m retarded, 2) the grid system wasn’t in place, 3) many streets weren’t labeled (there were not sign posts, but instead the signs were mounted on the corners of the buildings), 4) many street names changed as the street went through the city, 5) narrow passageways that I considered alleys or sidewalks were actually streets, but often unlabeled, and 6) it was too easy to just let Frick figure it out.

Most of the time I just followed Frick around and had no clue where we were, what direction we were headed or where the hostel/train station was from our location. Still there were a few times that I was able to help figure out where we were.

The weather was warmer than I expected – probably mid thirties to low forties. I expected it to drizzle most of the time, but that wasn’t the case at all. Instead, more often there was a clear day with short intense rainfall that turned to hail/sleet and then stopped as quickly as it began. My packing was good for the weather.

We stayed in hostels and carried all of our stuff in backpacks. I showered almost daily and washed my underpants as daily. I didn’t wear a bra at all in Europe, Frick commented that the bralessness explained why I looked even flatter than usual. What a charmer.

I started writing my thoughts and it became a several page essay. I've broken it down for somewhat easier reading -- but the segments are all long and babbling and filled with monotonous sentence structures.

Day 1: The Journey to Europe

Amsterdam Arrival: More Bone than Chicken?

Amsterdam City of Bikes

Torture, War, The Church, Hookers

Belgium

Odds 'n Ends

Return Journey

I don't have any pictures, because Frick has the camera -- when he returns he might post some pictures.

The Return Journey

I was supposed to fly from Amsterdam to London to Chicago. Instead I opted to take a bus from Ghent to London – thinking that I could sleep during the ride and then spend some time in London. Otherwise, I’d spend most of my last day in airports as I journeyed to Amsterdam – airport waiting – flight – London waiting – long flight – ugh.

I opted to take a pretty early train to Ghent, planning to quickly find the bus station and then hang out a bar in the college neighborhood while drinking enough to guarantee my bus sleep. The bus station in Ghent was supposed to be 100 meters from the train station – I looked for more specific information, but didn’t find it. I expected to find signs at the station pointing me in the right direction. Nope. The people at the train station didn’t know either. It wasn’t on the map. So I walked around the station, but it wasn’t in sight. So I hit the streets.

In retrospect, I walked too far in every direction and well surpassed the 100m mark. But I also didn’t know if it was on the main streets, or maybe on side streets, so I traversed the surrounding streets and walked a lot. I was carrying all of my gear, including pounds of chocolate, and was getting pissed at the ridiculous situation. Finally I found the Euroline station. Instead of being open until 10:00pm, like the website said, it was dark and closed. I actually had walked by it several times, because I was looking for an open, lighted storefront. Slightly annoyed, but mostly relieved, I trotted to the building. It had signs posted in the window that read:

New Bus Stop:
Before train station at the Maria (something else) Kiss ‘n Ride.

Once again – no map, no signs. I stamped my foot in frustration because I was livid. I looked on the map and found a street with that name, but walking on that street didn’t reveal any obvious bus loading stop or signs. Grrrrrrr....... I went back into the train station and asked where the kiss ‘n ride was. The man looked at me like I was completely crazy. I asked where people got dropped off and he said everywhere. Great. Finally, I decided that I had a rough idea where the bus would come and I’d just have to keep my eyes open and pace the stretch when the bus was supposed to arrive.

At this point I was walking around between 1.5 – 2 hours looking for the stupid bus station. I didn’t have time, or inclination to leave the neighborhood, so I ducked into the closest restaurant/bar and ordered dinner and a ½ carafe of wine for myself (from the Flemish menu, not the English!). The raw beef sandwich was super yummy and the wine warmed my belly. I tipped the nice waitress the rest of my euro money, which ended up being less than five euros. She thought I paid too much and was in disbelief when I said the excess was for her because she was an excellent waitress and kind to a traveler. Her face lit up so much you’d think she won a lottery. She really was a great waitress – very attentive to her customers and spent the rest of her time diligently washing tables and glassware. I wanted to offer her a job at the Hbar.

When I finished brushing my teeth and washing up in the bathroom it was nearing the time that I should begin my search for the bus. Better early than late, I thought and went outside. The bus was parked right in front of the train station – within sight of where I thought it might arrive, but not on the correct street. Grrrr. I boarded and we left the station five minutes before the bus was scheduled to leave at 11:45pm. It would be ridiculously easy for someone to miss that bus.

The wine did the trick and I basically passed out into a deep sleep – until I was woken two hours later for an ‘immigration check’. All of the passengers piled out and into a building where our passports were checked and we filled out cards to enter the UK. Back on the bus there were restless children and I couldn’t sleep. Then the bus went through a lengthy procedure to drive onto a ferry. We had to leave the bus and go to the waiting area for the duration of the trip across the channel. The waiting area was harshly lit and again I couldn’t fall asleep during the 90 minute ride. Once again we were herded back on the bus.

The children had just settled down when we were told that needed to go through customs – which required grabbing all of our bags from the belly of the bus. I got my bag quickest, because I was the last passenger who boarded the bus (most people I believe got on the bus in Antwerp, instead of Ghent). I flew through customs, but waited for most of the other passengers to put their luggage on the bus, so mine would be on top again in London.

After this third interruption the children were completely awake and cranky. No sleep for me. It wasn’t until a half hour before departure that sleepiness hit me – and hit me hard. I was crashing and bone-tired when I got off of the bus in London at 6:00am. I was so tired that I planned to sleep in the station for a bit. That plan didn’t happen, because the station seemed really sketchy. Who are all of these men, without baggage, who are watching all of the other people so intently? What are they doing at the station at 6:00am? There were also signs posted warning people about luggage thieves, pick-pockets and assault. I opted not to sleep at the bus station. Instead I wandered to the nearby train station, after heading in the wrong direction. Once again I was wandering in the dark, lost in a strange city and fully loaded with my gear. Nothing was open.

At the train station I had a cup of coffee, used the bathroom and felt like I could function, even though I was still tired. I figured out what train I would need to take to the airport and watch the earliest commuters pass through the station. Then I decided to walk and found myself at Buckingham palace. I perched on a statue and watched the city slowly wake up. I anticipated seeing the sun rise, but the sky never colored with fire, but instead only slowly paled to daylight. Still it was great to watch the commuters – bikes, cars and pedestrians.

Unlike the other European cities I visited, London bikers looked more like American commuters. More than half of the bikes were road bikes with drop bars; almost everyone wore helmets; lots of spandex tights; and reflective bike jackets. They rode with traffic – asserting their space, but following the rules and stopping at red lights. I also got to see the guards moving the horses in. I think there were eight riders and sixteen horses. The riders (and one of the horses!) wore florescent yellowish green jackets. The stir-up of the rear horses had red blinkey lights, and the horses wore reflective straps on their ankles. I can’t begin to explain how much this delighted me.

Eventually my solitary perch transformed into its daytime manifestation of a tourist attraction and lost its magic along with the darkness. I slid down and moseyed along the grounds of the park. I saw guards drilling without any fanfare and enjoyed the park. My feet were beginning to hurt along with my back from my pack. Most pressing however was my urge to pee. The bathrooms were still closed and I was seriously considering just dropping trou in the park. Finally a bathroom was available and I didn’t need to chance getting arrested in a foreign country for public urination in a national treasure. I turned out of the park and found the Piccadilly tube station a few blocks away that lead directly to the airport. Yippee!

On the way back to the park, I mailed some post cards and found an internet café and let the load of my pack slide from my shoulders to the floor. After 45 minutes I headed back to the main train station/shopping mall to buy underpants for a party in Chicago and a few last-minute gifts. Most importantly, I took a shower that was available for 3 Euros. I was very happy about being clean when I started my flight home and having a clean pair of underpants to change into at O’Hare.

For some stupid, stubborn reason, I decided to walk to the Piccadilly train station instead of having to transfer tubes. Unfortunately, this also meant I didn’t have time to eat. My morning perch was completely overrun with tourists and I darted out of there as fast as my sore feet could take me. My feet were giving all indication that they were blistering, but still I thought walking would be more fun. Dumbass. By the time I reached the airport I was limping and thoroughly hating my pack.

The flight back to the states was pretty uneventful, but even though I should have been exhausted, I couldn’t really sleep. I watched the comic styled movie “Sky High” twice because it was more entertaining than any other options. As on the return trip, I attained my goal of not using an airplane bathroom.

At O’hare I again limped around as I made my way through immigration and customs. (I had a blister the size of a dime on my pinkie toe). I declared my chocolate and jams – and I think this surprised the customs official. Is it common for people to lie to customs? I couldn’t find my way to the main terminal because of vague signs, just missed the shuttle and started getting angry. At the main terminal I had a hard time finding the CTA train and was in full-out pissed mode. I was detoured to a far-off bathroom and fuming.

In the bathroom I met a woman who was trying to bathe herself as best as possible by the sink. She was miserable because she was bumped from a flight and had spent over 24 hours trying to fly from CA to OH. She even bemoaned that she was reduced to using handsoap to wash her hair. I offered her some of my shampoo and she became super grateful and as she suds her mood lightened. After she rinsed out the suds she had a sopping mass of wet hair and I asked if she had a towel. She said she didn’t but would figure something out. I began digging for my travel towel and when I offered it to her she happily accepted it and announced that she felt almost normal again. She stood up straight for the first time and I noticed that she was quite pregnant and she said that her eight year-old daughter had been puking for the last many hours and that she had been completely overwhelmed by her travel ordeal. I wished her better travels and she again thanked me and expressed amazement by the kindness of a stranger.

My crankiness had disappeared when I offered her my shampoo and I was feeling quite chipper and happy as I left that bathroom. I recognized that every delay and detour that had caused my annoyance had worked to make our paths cross. I was very happy for this chance meeting and the opportunity to help out a weary traveler and mother. My Blue Line ride to my friends’ house flew by and I finished the book I was reading just seconds before my stop.

Katy and Jan, a very cool couple older than my parents, had an “underwear and winter solstice party.” Instead of being the pagan-sex party one might assume, it was actually a party seeking donations for a mental institution. Institutions will accept the donations of used clothing, which is easy to come by – but only take new underwear. Consequently, they are cronically lacking in underwear. So guests were asked to bring new underpants (hence my purchase in London). Over 120 pair of women’s underpants were donated, along with men’s, too.

I brought Belgium chocolates, too and Katy was thrilled that I literally arrived straight from London (and thrilled with the chocolates). I spent far too much of the night answering friends’ questions about my trip. By the time I arrived at the party, it was after 2:00am in Europe, so it was surprising that I wasn’t sleepy. Instead, Paul and I were the last guests to leave – it was a great party.

We walked (I limped) a few blocks towards my house before I caught a bus there. We exchanged gifts and I finally went to sleep sometime between 3 and 4:00am. Paul had to wake up at 6:30 to catch a train home, so this was another night of not much sleep. I got up with him and didn’t get to sleep until much later that evening. Somehow I managed to avoid jet-lag completely and am simply operating fine on far less sleep than I should.

Odds 'n Ends

Illusions of Canada?:

At the Bruge hospital there were nice girls from Canada who were on vacation from there studies in France. Both Frick and I were perpetually assumed to be Canadian. Strangely these girls said they were often confused for Americans. Interesting. Previously, we had thought that since we weren’t being brash, rude Americans we were thought to be Canadian. But these girls didn’t seem like ugly Americans either. Hmmmmm..... We played Euchre with them one night.

The Couple Quandry:

Frick and I were often ignored in hostels when we were together. We were approached quickly when separated, though. I understood this phenomena from when I lived with my brothers. Paired together, we appear to be a couple – and neither dateable nor particularly interesting. Annoying. Most people were surprised that we were brother and sister. “Awwww!” was the most common response, followed by “how sweet.”

I'm Getting Old:

I realized something disturbing on this trip: I am getting old. Frick and I are both too old for the discounts readily available for backpacking youths–nor do we deserve them. We were older than most of the other backpackers in the hostels. This is the first time that I was purely ‘aged out’ of a benefit. Until now, I have reaped more benefits with increased age (age of majority benefits, drinking, car rentals) and the things I lost out of were due to my changed status (student discounts) that correlated with age but wasn’t based on age alone. Very weird. Plus, the snippets of conversation that I heard from many of my young hostel-mates seemed unappealingly silly.

Money Issues:

Several of my friends went to Europe when they were in college for either studies or visits. I couldn’t help but think how completely different our experiences must have been. I was of the opinion that there were very few potential problems that I couldn’t ‘buy my way out of.’ Nor was I at all concerned of the exchange rate or most matters of money. (granted, I was still opting for dormitory-styled hostels – a naturally thrifty person’s lack of concern with money looks very different than a spenders). I didn’t go to swanky bars, restaurants or shops because those don’t interest me, but I did accept that I would hemorrage money when I was there. All told, though, the entire trip – including airfare, pre-trip purchases of my pack, merino items and jackets, and my actual food/transportation/lodging/museum/etc spending was considerably less than what I earned as vacation pay during the trip. I have a pretty sweet life, truth be told. Money issues in my life are basically positive considerations (when will I buy property, will I actually buy all of the cookware that I have lusted for, what will my next bike expense be?) instead of fearful questions. This is truly a luxury that I didn’t use to have and often don’t appreciate – there is also a completely artificial quality to not having to worry about money that concerns me. For basically all of my life I have feared not having enough money – at times this fear was far too real and occupied much of my waking thoughts. Now without this fear, life sometimes feels soft and missing a vital component.

Sleep:

I slept so much in Europe it was appalling (and by appalling, I mean wonderful). All of my boyfriends have been amazed/annoyed at how little sleep I need and my often inability to sleep in late on weekends. I don’t use an alarm clock and haven’t for years. I generally just get up with the sun – I sleep more in the winter than in the summer. Europe is much farther north than Chicago and therefore was dark until later in the morning and earlier in the afternoon. I also didn’t set my ‘internal alarm clock’ because I was on vacation. So I slept a lot more in Europe than in Chicago.

I also consider myself a light sleeper – but this has been proved to be a complete lie. I rarely heard late-comers enter the dorm room (I did wear earplugs most nights, though) and in the morning there were often empty beds whose occupants dressed and left without waking me. Frick was awoken several times in the night. The worst sign that I was sleeping like the dead was told by Frick. Apparently one morning he couldn’t wake me by saying my name, shaking my shoulder or tickling my nose. He went so far as to pinch my nose closed and still I slept until finally rolling over. Somehow I did wake up and groggily lied, “don’t worry – I was awake for quite a while.” Frick started laughing as he told me the events of the last few minutes and I realized that I was definitely not awake for this. Freaky.

Stairways:

Spiral staircases were the norm. To conserve as much floor space as possible the staircases were also as tiny as possible. This somehow caused the steps to be odd compared to what I am used to. The rise/run was not normal. I often couldn’t get into the rhythm of climbing these stairs and had to pay attention as I ascended or descended. Some of the stairs had tiny steps that added to the other weirdness. The Dutch move their furniture by hoisting it up with ropes through windows.

Belgium

On Saturday we took a train to Belgium and stayed at a hostel in Antwerp. It was also a folk music bar – packed with people watching the band. I talked with some of the local young people and tried to dance to the folk music with one of the boys. Fun stuff. We very much liked this hostel.

There were however three fat Irish women who deserved to be slapped for their behavior our first morning. The hostel was packed and there were only one or two showers to use. First the women were extremely loud, even after they realized that there were other people in the room. They each took a half-hour shower and used up the hot water. They dragged heavy luggage around. One continuously coughed while waiting for her friend. Frick and I independently labeled them as the Irish Cows. They were completely unconcerned that there were other people trying to sleep or use the bathroom. Grrr.

In Antwerp we visited an old printing mill in a huge estate. The mill began in the 1500s and was sold to the city as a museum in the mid-1800s. This was a family who relished in conspicuous consumption. Seeing how pages were printed was very interesting. We also went to a maritime museum in a castle. Most of it was cool, but then as ships became more modern I found them less interesting.

For dinner our first night we had a traditional Belgium dish of mussels and frites. The mussels were fine, but I’m not a seafood fan. The owner of the small restaurant was a quirky old woman. We realized that there were cherubs everywhere and started to count them. Our mother has steadily collected more and more cherubs in the last few years and we often count them for giggles. Frick thought mum had more, but I guessed the restaurant. Near the end we noticed the cherub christmas tree ornaments and it became more likely that the woman won the cherub war. As we parted the woman gave us a signed x-mas card & business card (both with cherubs on them) and a cherub x-mas tree ornament. This left little doubt that her cherub collection is more extensive than mum’s.

Twice in Antwerp we had conversations with older couples. First while drinking at the Christmas Market with our hostel-mates, a couple asked where we were from and was excited as they heard the different countries listed. We talked about the weather and other common things. The woman was especially happy and excited about this meeting. From going to law school and then living in the co-op, it is easy to forget that many people only rarely are exposed to people from other countries. Then the following day at dinner an older couple was watching us as we ate. When we stood to leave, they asked our nationality and also seemed pretty excited about speaking with us. Similarly I can imagine my grandma excitedly telling neighbors, “you wouldn’t believe it, but the other day I met a young guy and gal traveling all the way from Belgium, very nice.” Cute.

In Ghent we played at a castle. Fun stuff. Again – the basement, originally was a stable for the horses was later converted to torture chambers. There was also the damp pit where people were locked to slowly die in the filth and cold. Very creepy to recognize that the rings on the wall once had people locked to be tortured and killed.

It was either in Ghent or Bruge where I had my second meal of raw meat. Toast Hannibal. The waiter questioned whether I understood that this was raw beef, and I excitedly nodded my approval. Yum. The open faced sandwich was awesome. So. Yummy. It made my belly happy for the next several hours.

Belgium is filed with chocolate shops – therefore we were filled with chocolate several times. We also visited the Chocolate Museum – which did a good job explaining the process of making chocolate. It did less of a good job explaining the slavery and exploitation behind the early chocolate trade. At the end we were presented with a demonstration of how the chocolates were molded. I might buy some molds and try this technique when I make my yearly batch of truffles as gifts in February.

The Diamond Museum wasn’t very good – it also didn’t really mention the conditions of diamond workers. Antwerp had diamond stores everywhere – apparently it’s the diamond capital of the world. I won’t purchase or wear diamonds.

We also toured a brewery and visited an ice sculpture display in Bruge. I completely bundled up in my snow pants, both jackets and several, several layers of sheep. It was fun – I went down an ice slide.

Later that day we climbed over 300 steps to the top of the Belfry. Damn it must have sucked carrying all of those bricks up all of those steps to construct the tower.

Torture, War, The Church, Hookers

We learned a lot about the history of the area from visiting the Anne Frank House, the Museum of Dutch Resistance (during the Nazi occupation), the Museum of Natural History and the Torture Museum. The WWII era history was fascinating, and I want to learn more. It was also rather startling to realize that this area was a major player in trade and colonization. The Dutch West Indies Company came from this area and caused a tremendous amount of trade and grief through its activities.

A few things were pervasive (although often not at all obvious) during the museums and churches we toured:

The wealthy nobility and merchant class lived unbelievably luxurious lives. These are the lives that were documented – what was rarely mentioned was the majority of the population who surely lived in peasant/serf/slave squalor to make the luxury goods. Conspicuous consumption was glorified and vasts amounts of resources (both raw materials and labor) were used to create the prized paintings, tapestries, jewelry, tableware and figurines of the elite. Likewise the sugar, cocoa and coffee that were consumed by the upper class also consumed the lives of many, many poor individuals. Sickening.

The Church too, was more concerned with luxury than with the lives of the people. Churches were beautiful, huge and ornate. Composed with marble and stained glass and filled with paintings, sculptures, carved wood and expensive ornaments. The Netherlands was a bog – it seems obvious that marble and other expensive stones must have been imported along with gold, silver and jewels. This was back when ships were wood, horsepower came with hooves and machinery was simple and powered by sweat.

It is possible to marvel at these fantastic structures without considering the cost and effort behind it, but I couldn’t keep from wondering about the expense. Why were there so many ornate churches when so many wives of sailors and fisherman were forced to prostitute themselves to feed their families when their husbands were away at sea for months? How could the nobility spend their wealth on trinkets and tapestries when the lives of so many of their workers were wretched?

One museum mentioned that power was derived from the city’s children at the wheel. I didn’t know what this meant, but I assumed that it was children pushing on a horizontal wheel to turn gears, similar to an oxen yoked to spin a mill. Then we saw a large ‘city-scene’ painting that seemed to answer the question. At the dock there was a large ‘hamster wheel’ containing many small children marching forward. The turning of this wheel pulled a rope that lifted pallets off of the ground. The hanging pallet of goods was then pushed by men standing on the dock to a position above a waiting boat and lowered. Frick and I giggled and joked about the children being useful--it was funny but horrible.

Even assuming that the wealthy were protected from too much contact with the lives of the poor, this painting was certainly commissioned by a family with wealth. How could they see the condition of the city’s children and continue to lust after silks and baubles instead of using their resources to remedy the situation.

[Note: I am not at all insinuating that today’s elite are any better. Nor am I implying that I consistently use my money in the best possible way. But I don’t engage in or approve of conspicuous consumption and I wish everyone, including me, thought more about improving our community instead of exclusively improving our own lives. ]

No wonder the Church was seen as corrupt and viewed with distrust. No wonder that it devolved into such horrors as the inquisition. The Church was a sham and just another force oppressing people. Torture kept appearing on the trip. The means and methods of torture were quite horrific and incredible. Very much imagination was used to cause pain and humiliation. Much of this stemmed from the Church, or a combination of Church and government. Seeing these displays demonstrates why religious freedom was so important of an idea to people. The prospect of being tortured to death for heresay (or merely an accusation of heresay) is just one demonstration of the bloody history of Christianity.

War also was often mentioned but never questioned. The history of this land is full of war and conflict. The cities were built to defend against attacks and guard what they had – even as their militaries were conquering other lands and people. What a bunch of bullshit. Again, so many lives and resources wasting destroying other lives and resources.

On a lighter note, we also visited the Red Light District, the Sex Museum and a floating barge filled with stray cats. After walking down the main strip of the RLD, I remarked that I was surprised at how attractive many of the women were. Frick was surprised that they weren’t more attractive. When we walked down to the side streets we saw lots of affirmatively unattractive women: old, fat or just plain ugly. Hard to imagine that they can continue to pay the rent. The sex museum was pretty neat. Seeing really old porn photos from the 1800s was weird because they were so similar to modern porn. Girl on girl action; threesomes; ridiculous poses; and sex with animals or objects were common.

We also had raw ox for dinner one night.

Amsterdam: City of Bikes

The next day was had the ‘breakfast’ offered by the hostel: two slices of bread, a tab of jelly and two hard-boiled eggs. Thrilling.

We took a walking tour of the city. I realized that I don’t walk much in Chicago – my hip flexor felt weird. Plus, my steel-toed boots each weigh almost a pound and don’t necessarily make walking easier.

Most of the streets in Amsterdam and the rest of the Europe cities we visited were laid with bricks, as were the plazas and sidewalks. Instead of a clear delination between street, bikepath, plaza and sidewalk that Americans are used to, these facilities were amorphous and fluid, without curbs in most places to separate them. The best way to identify a sidewalk was by the massive amounts of dirty gum pounded into its surface. Peds, bikers and cars seemed to use each others space as needed – but not in a selfish or aggressive manner.

While in Europe I rarely felt that I was ‘in the way’ of cars when I was riding or on foot. There seemed to be an understanding that we all were entitled to the streets. Cars stopped when they saw pedestrians wishing to cross and rode patiently behind bicycles. We probably heard less than one car horn per day.

Even given this attitude, I never felt completely comfortable riding my bike. There was so much to pay attention to – the masses of other bicyclists, pedestrians (including other confused tourists), cars and the numerous trams (street cars/light rail/electric trains..). The potential for hitting something or getting hit loomed. Frick rides less cautiously than I do, so that also wasn’t particularly fun as he blasted through a vehicle’s right-of-way, but I stopped and waited my turn. It wasn’t a big deal, though.

The bikes that nearly everyone rode were single speed, coaster brake, old cruisers with step through frames. Bikes were omnipresent in Amsterdam. They were locked everywhere in huge rows and parking structures, free-locked on sidewalks, and covering every post or fence. Like barnacles on ships or invasive species without predators, bikes have definitely taken over Amsterdam. It is beautiful, amazing and out-of-control.

These bikes are heavy and meant for commuting: integral generator lights, built in fenders, chain guards, super-strong racks and wheel locks (attached to the frame, a lock that goes through the rear wheel to quickly free-lock a bicycle when parking isn’t available). People ride these bikes in their ‘everyday’ clothes. The morning & evening commutes are awesome to behold as business people of all ages ride to work in their suits and nice clothing. Children are also transported on bikes: on rear child seats, top-tube seats, handlebar seats, backpacks and tag-alongs. It was very common to see a parent biking with a child perched in front and behind them. Every bike store had a large selection of different child-seats.

Parents take their young children to school this way as part of their everyday routine. Older children sit astride the rear rack. Adults do this too. People of all ages eagerly hop on their friends’ rack to catch a lift. It is really quite charming.

People also aren’t shy about carrying large things in their hands; briefcases, groceries, large luggage. Things that looked awkward were biked with easily–even by elderly people. Bikes were definitely equipped to haul packages, too. There were cargo bikes and bikes with front racks. Tons of bikes had waterproof paniers that were left on the bikes. Many bikes also had ‘skirt guards’ to keep skirts and long coats out of the spokes.

A lot of the bikes were ‘art bikes’ and decorated or strangely painted. This actually was more than just whimsy – finding your bike is difficult considering there are so many of them and so many of them were styled the same. The Julep would have been awesome and easy to find with her drop bars, color combination and streamers.

There were two accessories that I was insanely jealous of: reflective tires and spoke reflectors. The sidewalls of all of the new tires were made of hyper-reflective material – very noticeable. Many bikes also had reflectors in the spokes, a few inches from the rim and about a ½" wide that made almost a complete circle – except for a gap above the valve stem. I began fantasizing about jerry-rigging several of these into a spiral for the Julep. She wore similar mylar and crepe paper strips woven through her spokes in a spiral in the summer and it looked awesome. I’d love for her to be super-flashy and visible from side at night.

Alas, the tires don’t come in the 23mm that I wanted and the smallest size they come in is 28mm. Sniff. I foolishly thought that the spoke reflectors would be available everywhere, so I didn’t begin my search until we were leaving Amsterdam. Our bike rental/bike shop didn’t sell them. In Belgium the bike shops informed us that those reflectors weren’t used in Belgium, but where a Netherlands item. Drat and double drat. This discovery has lead to fruitless internet searches and my recognition that I will probably have to make these myself. I also found the 3M product that bonds the Scotchlite to rubber tires – Unfortunately it is applied with high heat. Locating or recreating these awesome accessories will be a nice winter project once my life calms down again.

As much as I know now that putting bike tires in the oven isn't wise, I fear I might be tempted to try. Maybe the next time John goes out of town......

Amsterdam Arrival: More Bone than Chicken?

Frick explained euros to me and we took a train to the main part of the city. He told me that the bikes were out of control. I understood what he meant when we walked to our hostel. Bikes were everywhere, probably outnumbering cars. At red lights the bikes just piled up until it looked like a group ride.

Our hostel was dormitory-styled and the small common area was often littered with stoners and heavy with tobacco and pot smoke. After settling in, Frick and I went for a walk around the city. We had Indian food for dinner and overheard a disturbing, hilarious exchange.

A british man had ordered chicken curry, but wasn’t satisfied with his meal. He called the waiter (owner?) over and began berating him. The brit pounded his knife into his meal to demonstrate that it was mostly bone and questioned the owner loudly in a whining, snobby voice, "don’t you agree that chicken curry shall contain more chicken than bone?" The owner dodged the question and explained that there was supposed to be bone in the meat, because it wasn’t a fillet (they both pronounced it fil-let, instead of fil-ay). This conversation repeated several times as the brit’s voice became louder and more petulant – it filled the entire restaurant and was uncomfortable. At one point the brit became incensed when the Indian server tried explaining the difference between a chicken fillet and bone-in chicken, "Are you trying to correct my English?" he questioned in an incredulous, insulted manner. Finally the customer announced that he would pay for the beer, but not the meal.

Frick and I were both trying to contain giggles and I was also refraining from either upbraiding or slapping the brit. Not once did he treat the server with respect or suggest a resolution. Instead he immediately resorted to arguing and insulting behavior. Plus his disrespect for the other patrons of the restaurant was quite rude. He was an adult throwing the tantrum of a spoiled child. My and Frick’s meals were fine, so I doubt that the meal was purposefully as bad as the brit implied. Plus, he had his meal for a while before he announced that there was more bone than meat. He just seemed like a prick to me.

Day 1: The Journey to Amsterdam

I busted out of work even earlier than I planned, and got on the Blue Line to O’Hare. At work people told me that international flights left from a special terminal reached via shuttle. I began to worry, because I would be highly embarrassed if I missed my flight because I was too retarded to navigate the airport. I guess that would be a strong indication that maybe going to a foreign country isn’t the best idea.

At the airport I found the shuttle to the international terminal easily and calmed down. Once there, I couldn’t figure out where to go or what to do. Everywhere there were large families, with huge mounds of luggage speaking strange languages as they waited. Something about the way they looked gave me the impression that they had been waiting for days and expected the wait to continue for more days. Boredom, impatience and nervousness bundled together with the crying young children to create a tense unpleasant aura.

Finally, after wandering for a while, I simply marched to the first counter without a line and explained to the man, “I don’t know what I am doing.” He looked at my tickets and told me that I was at the wrong terminal and had to take the shuttle back to the main airport....grrrr. Finally I found the spot to board, grabbed something to eat, used the bathroom and waited. There were several young women waiting for the same flight who seemed to be begging for an uncomfortable trip – stiletto shoes, super-tight, super-low jeans. It boggles my mind that anyone would choose these clothes when they will be confined to a seat for the next eight hours. Change into your cute clothes in London!

When I boarded, I had a window seat in the full-to-the-gills plane. On board, I ate some bad airplane food, watched some BBC, inserted my earplugs, put on my eye mask and fell asleep for most of the flight. When I woke up it was light outside, I ate some more airline food and watched the clouds for another hour before we landed in London.

I got lost in the London airport and this time had to ask for help twice from people. Again I just told them that I didn’t know where I should be and they pointed me in the right direction. Very nice, really. I had to walk by the smoking section several times, nas-tee. I didn’t wait long to board and I apparently slept for most of the short flight to Amsterdam.

On the topic of nas-tee, I noticed a smell on the flight to London that my brain strove to identify, but couldn't. It was also at the airport and on the flight to Amsterdam. I realized first that the source of the odor was me, and second what it reminded me of: Hamster Cage. Seriously, I smelled like a friggin' hamster cage: wood chips, pet food, rodent, urine/feces -- somehow my body was emitting smells to mimic this combo. I made showering a top priority when I reached the hostel.

Even though I had to metal-detect, go through customs and get my passport stamped, I didn’t get lost at this airport and found Frick waiting for me.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Europe: A Preview

Good Morning from London!

In a few hours I will head to the airport and return to the USA. Frick is currently in France after we parted ways last night.

Here are some possible topics that I might babble about:

Stoners
Stairways
The red light district
Torture
War
Bicycle (Holland vs. London)
Awesome Bike Accessories
Cobblestone/brick streets/sidewalks
Gum
Oh Canada?
Traveling with brother(s)
Hostels
Art
Conspicous Consumption
The Church

Interestingly, I can't view my own blog from this terminal, because it is categorized as a High Porn Public Site, and therefore filtered.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Ready or Not

I have 45 euros in my pocket, my bag is packed and my passport number is sharpied on my thigh. I'm going to Amsterdam!

Work sucked a lot today -- it was a frantic buzz of getting all of my work finished as one partner continued to expand the assignment. Grrr.....grrr....

I also took public transportation to work for the first time ever. I think I drove a work rental into work once or twice, but besides that I have biked to work everyday since I started my job on 10/4/04. Pretty cool.

Both the train and the bus were really crowded as we stood tucked into each other like sardines. I felt very rude with my huge backpack, but there really wasn't anything I could do about it.

The weekend was a blast -- Critical Mass Happy Hour on Friday night. Farmers' market in the morning and the third annual JAT holiday party with law school friends on Saturday night. Sunday was brunch with friends, packing, pro-bono legal work, laundry and wine.

Now I am free, though. My office is superficially clean as required for vacation (everything is crammed into/under my desk and my trashcan is brimming with old, unneeded documents.

Chances are low that I'll post anything before 12/24, but Happy Holidays to all!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Commando

It’s friggin’ cold outside and I’m sans underpants. Actually, I don’t have firsthand knowledge about the coldness because I haven’t been outside in over 24 hours because I slept in my office last night.

I worked late and planned on getting up early, but knew full well that getting up early for work rarely gets farther than being a good plan in theory. Serendipitously, I also received a shipment of merino wool clothes for Amsterdam from Sierra: shirt, long johns, socks, mittens and even slippers. I was cozy as I worked in yoga pants, slippers and a sweater. Then I laid down to sleep on the floor of my office, but didn’t sleep as well as I expected.

This morning I woke up and took the elevator to the gym to shower and put on my new wool socks, wool shirt, pants left at the office.....but didn’t have any clean underpants. There is something that feels physically gross about being stationary in my office for such a long period of time, and knowing that it would be many hours before I left again, so I was feeling sort of disgusting even after I showered.

Commando seemed to be the best of my two options (or I could have left the building and bought new underpants less than a block away). My pants are old and far too big and it feels really weird being at work like this. I also have been reining in my impulse to share this news with co-workers.

Anyway, I met my goal of finishing and submitting a shitty rough draft of each of the following documents:
Motion to Dismiss
Memorandum in support of motion
D’s 1st set of Interrogatories
D’s 1st request to produce
Appellate brief to ARDC.

So I’m out of here – apparently about three inches of snow has fallen in as many hours, so I get to bike home in some pretty interesting weather. I’m sure the snow and cold will be far more pleasant than the shitstorm I will face tomorrow after the partners review my projects. Oh well – my plane leaves for Amsterdam at 8:00PM on Monday – let them bitch until then.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Two Dogs Fucking

Missing Person poster on the bulletin board at Chicago's Area Three Police Station:

Sex: Male
Race: Native American
Age: 30s
Last seen: WI casino
Wearing: Harley Davidson shirt & wolf/feather headpiece
Name: Two Dogs Fucking


This almost made up for the rest of my day (below).

Oh the Bullshit

Next Monday I leave for Amsterdam – my first trip out of the USA. I’m super excited/nervous/thrilled about this trip. My baby brother Frick flew out to London yesterday and he will meet me at the airport, hopefully. There is a ton of stuff I want to do before I leave, namely:

1. Plan out things to do on the trip and buy/pack everything I need;
2. Finish all of my projects at work due before I leave;
3. Boring stuff like laundry and paying bills; and
3. Fun stuff with friends, including a holiday party Saturday night, farmers’ market, Paul’s party on Friday night.

Guess which one of these things is threatening the others?

Surprise!! It’s #2!

I have two big projects that shouldn’t have been a problem to finish in time. They were front and center on my plate. Then Wednesday of last week I got put on an ‘emergency research assignment’ to help another associate submit his motion on time. This assignment was supposed to only take one day, but it kept getting stretched out and consumed almost three full days last week.

Then today my partner comes into my office and adds onto the biggest project that I am already sweating. Grrrr..... About an hour after that, he comes into my office and gives me a DCFS case because I was the only associate in the office at the time. Why was I the only associate in the office?–because the others were on lunch, but I forewent lunch to try to get a rough draft of my large project finished tonight. So instead of getting to work through lunch, I had to drop my big project to go on the DCFS call.

For those not paying attention, I hate. Hate. HATE. HATE. HATE these assignments under ideal circumstances. Once again the cops gave me a hard time, skeptically demanded to see my attorney ID because they needed proof that I was a lawyer and then took me to my client and (grrrrr!?!?) congratulated my client because, ‘she’s good-looking, if nothing else.’ Dear. Fucking. Lord. To add to their insulting ickiness, I also got to hear the cops joking with each about Halsted St (Chicago’s gay male neighborhood). Swell bunch of guys. Chicago's Finest. Really.

Anyway, aside from the asshole cops fouling my mood, I lost several hours of work today because of this stupid DCFS case. These lost hours, along with the increased assignment forced me to cancel plans tonight and I fear for my weekend. I am going to Amsterdam as scheduled come hell or high water, but I don’t want to either leave things hanging for other people or wreck my whole weekend working on finishing projects that shouldn’t have been a problem completing were it not for these continual interruptions.

Mentally, I am in the mind set of a teenage girl, stomping her feet furiously, but ultimately impotently, at the unfairness of life.

Total. Fucking. Bullshit.

Oh yeah, it was 3 degrees fahrenheit on the way to work today. This cold spell can damn well move on because I’m not in the mood.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

and I want it painted Celeste

Went to the bike shop today and noticed that there were gads of Celeste Green water cages. Funny. I looked around a bit and noticed many other Celeste Green offerings:
  • Tires
  • Bar Tape
  • Clothes
  • Seats
  • Water Bottles
  • Clipless pedals

Seriously, is all of this necessary (especially the clipless pedals)? It just seems a bit much to me. Maybe I'm wrong, but it strikes me as a desperate attempt to advertise that you are riding a Bianchi. The Celeste pedals would be wasted on me anyways, because in short order they would undoubtedly be sporting 'street grime grey' as a topcoat.

A man wheeled a bike into the shop for repair, accompanied by his large, unleashed dog (actually the dog had a leash attached to his collar, but it dragged behind him impotently). It was a big, muscular brown dog. The dog trotted over to every customer to sniff them while its owner paid no attention to the dog. I don't like strange dogs; I don't like unleashed strange dogs; I don't like dog owners who bring their dogs everywhere, and; I especially don't like dog owners who bring their unleashed dogs to inappropriate places and let them run amuk.

I heard a racket when the dog tipped over a row of bicycles that fell like dominos. The owner was trying to hold his bike steady, while at the same time keeping the bikes from completely tipping over. I jumped in to help and stood each bike upright. The owner seemed completely unphased that his stupid dog just knocked over several thousand dollars of inventory. Grrr.

Later I overheard the dog owner explaining what was wrong with his mountain bike -- a flat rear tire. He also wanted air pumped into the front tire. Dear Lord. The dog owner left and agreed to pick his bike up in a little while.

The seat on my Bianchi has been sliding backwards no matter how hard I tighten the bolt. I discovered that a tiny metal plate in the seatpost was twisted sideways and its 'grip line' grooves were mashed out of shape and at an angle. I thought that this was the problem, since its grooves no longer could line up with the grooves on the seatpost to completely secure the seat stays. The mechanic looked at a few other Bianchi seats and quickly determined that the seatpost was assembled incorrectly, and the plate was in the wrong place. D'oh. This backwards-sliding-seat has been giving me grief since I bought the bike -- all because it was assembled wrong. I hope this completely fixes the problem.

As we were leaving, the dog owner returned to pick up his bike. He brought his dog again, with its leash trailing behind them on the ground.

Friday, December 02, 2005

November Weather Stats 2005

2006 Chicago Bike Winter Weather Update
Period: Nov. 1, 2005 - Nov. 30, 2005
------------------------------------
Days in period: 30
Max/Min/Avg Temperature: 70 13 42
Number of days +21F or warmer: 25 (83%)
Number of days temp. rose over +60F: 11 (37%)
Days with 1/10" or more of rain: 7
Total Rainfall (Inches): 2.3
Days with 1" or more of snow: 1
Total Snowfall (Inches): 1.9
Average wind speed (m.p.h.): 11.6
__________________________________

Those of us who live in the Midwest know that these numbers don't fully explain the true November weather. Our first 2 weeks were some of the warmest in history and then the last two weeks have been the coldest in almost 50 years, albeit with some super-warm days peppering the cold. The temperature dropped something like 30 degrees in less than a day to usher in the frigid weather. It has been a crazy month and ended feeling like January.

Web Counter
Site Counter