Monday, August 14, 2017

Unwanted kindness

White supremacists can all go fuck themselves with a stick of dynamite. Their philosophy has no place in the government of this country. Their dream of a monoculture may draw on threads from our country's past, but those should have been stripped out of the weave a long time ago.

As I rode home yesterday, contemplating what I'd seen and heard coming out of Charlottesville, I thought about how I wouldn't mind busting an ax handle upside some neo-Nazi's head. I know we should be trying to set a better example for the hopelessly primitive bastards, but they're immune to reason and have no negotiable points. Many of us are facing economic challenges and a government that has long been corrupted by corporate influence, but white nationalism is its own separate piece of unadulterated shit. You can solve all the problems of government corruption and the glorification of greed, and pathologically white people will still find reasons to be assholes.

Don't think I don't realize that greater acceptance of diversity will lead to its own problems through the weaknesses of human nature in general. But, taking race and ethnicity out of the equation, we will be more free to react to someone positively or negatively just based on whether they're an asshole. It really will be better. It's one baby step closer to discussing issues on their own merits rather than labeling them and assigning them to one side or the other of a polarized political atmosphere.

Giant steps would be better. We may be making baby steps out of the path of an avalanche.

So there I was, thinking my hippie-commie-peace freak thoughts and pedaling my zero-carbon-emissions vehicle down the side of the highway, when a big, black, battered, loud pickup truck came up from behind, with a huge Confederate battle flag waving over the truck bed.

I heard the truck's tires contact the centerline rumble strip, indicating that the driver was giving me as much room as he possibly could with oncoming traffic. His speed was steady. He did not blip the throttle, downshift, cut in on me, yell, or throw anything. As much as the implications of the flag made me want to lob a hand grenade into the truck bed, the driver was being admirably responsible. He did way better than the little old lady with the Jesus fish on the back of her compact car, who had squeezed me to the curb the day before. Not that I trust any religious symbols to guarantee saintliness, but if you saw those two vehicles, which one would you expect more trouble from?

Experienced riders know to expect trouble from all of them.

With the Internet and broadcast news, people can take sides in real time and spread a conflict at least symbolically to every corner of the country, and beyond. Doing nothing does not make you neutral. But conflicts are laid over conflicts laid over conflicts. If I had looked brown from behind, would I have gotten as much room? Or was the flag display a misguided piece of "free speech" by someone young and foolish? Sure, you have every right to interpret a piece of colored cloth any way you like. But it's piss-poor timing if you want to wave that thing around the day after murder and mayhem in the name of racism, and don't want to be lumped in with the racists.

I used to like rainbows. Then those colors in that order became a symbol of a movement. It's one I happen to support, but now every rainbow is suspect. The fucking spectrum has been politicized. We all have to make adjustments in the constant debate over our past, present, and future beliefs. The Nazis were sharp dressers and had some cool hardware. Not every member of the armed forces of the Third Reich was a foaming fascist fanatic. But the gang in charge was rotten to the core, and the cause was unjust. No piece of regalia can be separated from its origins. 

At some point, we have to quit arguing over how wrong the wrong sides were in past conflicts, and in what ways, and declare that from this point forward we will quit being shitty to each other. The parents in the front seat have to tell the kids in the back seat, "I don't care who started it, both of you shut up or I'm pulling this car over right now! Keep your hands to yourself!"

It's either that or ax handles, machetes, firearms, Molotov cocktails, IEDs, and never sitting with your back to a door or a window.

For hours after the incident -- or lack thereof -- I felt the conflict of suspended outrage. As a rider, I want every driver to pass thoughtfully, generously, and smoothly. Before the election, when the odds seemed to favor a different outcome, I wrote about the strangely good behavior of drivers displaying stickers supporting the candidate I hoped would lose. At the time, I hoped that basic humanity would prevail, and that we would get past the eruption of ugly sores that had become a trademark of the campaign. The months following the inauguration have shown that my hope was in vain. We're going from ugly to uglier, en route to ugliest, which could be terminally ugly. It does not have to be, but anyone close to the levers of power seems disinclined to prevent it.

Those of us opposed to racism tell ourselves and each other to confront it at every opportunity. I've done my share, working for years with someone who might, with little provocation, spout sexist, racist, homophobic drivel like some waste product no longer adequately contained by aging sphincters. When it's right there in front of you, you can have the conversation.

Most of the bigots I've known personally are passive aggressive. They would not go to a rally, burn a cross, or even openly discriminate against someone coming into their business. A small business can't afford to lose any sales, even from Satan-worshipping communist lesbian baby-murderering ****ers. Your average bigot, in addition to the truly destructive practice of voting for candidates who turn those beliefs into policies, will just say shit to be annoying. If they know that you don't like their point of view, they'll throw out remarks just to get rise out of the opposition. Because they find your outrage amusing, the best reaction is deadpan.

On the day after the inauguration I wrote about the possibility of escalating violence. We seem to be getting there. I wouldn't ride a bike to a tank battle, so I'm still relieved when the tank gives me a wide berth. But if I plastered my jersey with inflammatory symbols that courtesy would probably evaporate. Not one for pointless sacrifice, I'll separate the rules of the road from the rules of engagement.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Why Mechanics Drink

When I arrived at work yesterday, there were about 15 bikes in the repair queue. We checked in a new one about every 20 minutes for the rest of the day, leaving us more buried at closing time than we were at opening.

Anyone who wants to blurt that it's great to be busy should try being force fed.

Highlights from the past couple of weeks include:

This rider wanted to sit up higher, so he raised his threadless stem and left this gap. Front end noise? What front end noise?
The upper bolt is clearly completely above the top of the steerer tube. Let's go trail riding!

When a roadie complains about funky shifting, the answer is frequently within:
Internal cable routing has turned a routine task into a time-consuming chore. Thanks, Bike Industry!

The new fashion for routing the shift cables under the bar tape has not eliminated the problem of cables fraying inside the shifter.
Shi-no has made access to the mess a little easier, reducing the chances that leftover fragments will jam an expensive mechanism permanently, but I did find pieces of an old cable inside a brifter that I was servicing. They had been in there from a previous break. That explained the intermittent crunching and imprecision.
OEM cables all seem to come with this bullshit coating on them. It quickly scrubs up into lint balls inside the undersized 4mm cable housing that the industry is trying very hard to turn into an inescapable standard. Many high end bikes won't accommodate an upgrade to 5mm.
Here's what came out of this brifter: potential Strands of Death, plus wads of scuffed-up coating. Thanks, Bike Industry!

Someone thought it would be a good idea to shove a stack of cable doughnuts onto the shift wires inside the sleek, black Trek inside of whichI spent close to an hour spelunking. You have to run your guide tubing up the old cable, if it's still there and not too frayed. Otherwise you do a lot of blind fishing to get cables to feed. And hurry up! Someone's waiting to have a flat tire fixed immediately, and six people are renting bikes.
Hire more staff, you say? I'm writing this in stolen minutes before scampering off to work, so I don't have time to explain the particular economy of scale that keeps us from heeding that logical suggestion.

People don't need us until they need us. Then they need us right away. This customer bought this bike on line and assembled it at home. Hey! The left crank arm fell off! Is it supposed to do that? Gosh, between on line sales and You Tube experts, why does anybody need a bike shop anyway?

The forced adoption of disc brakes brings its own time-sucking extra steps. On bikes with adjustable bearings, the rotor bolts almost always block the wrench flats on the inner cone. The mechanic can try wiggling a worn cone wrench in there at a slight angle, or remove the rotor, complete the proper adjustment, and reinstall the rotor. Or, as most likely happens, fudge it in some way and send it down the road.

Yesterday, parts had finally come in for yet another improvised ride that some kid had bought used. The parts, individually, had at one time been decent, but the way in which they had been combined, and some of them mangled, left me zigzagging through the underbrush in search of a path forward that was safe and reasonably priced.
It had obviously been built by someone with only the beginning of an idea how things go together, who pummeled it for a while and then scraped it off on its current owner. Its problems can be summed up nicely by the fact that the crank arms were two different brands and two different lengths.

Looking through the archives for component compatibility information, I found this piece of copy editing I did in 1998 or '99:


The pile awaits. I have to rip out of here and go burrow into it again. Grease be with you.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Gunslinger Fantasy Land

A young man with a bushy chin beard, lots of body ink and a glittering galaxy of facial piercings was examining the display of tires that we offer. I recognized him as someone who had been a regular in the 1990s. Back then he had only started on his personal body decoration project. He was one of those people with pent-up energy that hinted at the possibility of fireworks. He didn't seem angry, but he did seem unhinged.

He must be somewhere either side of 40 now. The energy coming off of him as he stood at the tire display was somewhat cooler. Unfortunately, he is not much more coherent than he was back then.

I'd seen his truck outside. Among the splatter of window stickers was the inevitable Gadsden snake. He is apparently a fan of the young adult fiction of the Tea Party.

When he turned, I saw the handgun stuck in his belt. I thought at first that the gun was naked there, held in only by the webbing. Then I made out the tidy, minimalist holster.

Since New Hampshire did away with the requirement to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, we've had to get used to the sight of armed men in places one would not normally have expected to see that level of combat readiness. As it was explained to me by a police officer, even an open holster constituted concealment, because the weapon could not be seen from every angle. A long gun over your shoulder would be A-OK. And now, with permitless carry, a handgun is a fashion accessory among those who love to be considered armed and dangerous.

At a public meeting in June, I noticed that the self-styled government watchdog who records many meetings on video and posts them on line also sports a handgun to demonstrate just how free he is. It's a thing now.

At its inception, the Second Amendment was symbolically important as a demonstration to authoritarian governments that, in this new Land of the Free, ordinary citizens would have the right to carry weapons and gather to bitch about whoever was in charge. Even so, I can imagine lobbyists from the National Musket Association jostling elbows at the Constitutional Convention and pestering incessantly to make sure that their interests featured prominently.

America was settled at gunpoint. But someone has to put down the weapon and pick up implements for farming and construction, or else you're all just chasing each other around the woods with guns. As a lifestyle, it could work. Sleep in a lean-to made of sticks. Shoot some animal for food. Shoot people with whom you disagree. But someone, somewhere, has to be a gunsmith, to keep all the trigger-pullers equipped.

America eventually relied less on hot lead and more on inventiveness, resource exploitation, and financial acumen. Into this more varied social environment the bicycle was born.

Growing up, I had the naive impression that we were trying to have a society in which people didn't look forward to shooting each other. I know people even now who don't even own guns, much less carry them everywhere. But my Second Amendment supporting friends assure me that I am living a dangerous fantasy and that a bloodbath could happen at any time. Don't you want to be able to return fire? Personally, I could, until my meagre supply of ammunition ran out, but I still don't think it's a good idea. And I never carry either the .25 caliber handgun that I got in the divorce or the shotgun when I go out. I was advised that the handgun is a better paper weight than a weapon. If the shooting starts, I guess I'll just have to elbow-crawl behind available cover and go in search of clean underwear.

Should I be admitting publicly that I'm not packin'? Now everyone will know that I'm no threat. But I could be lying, to fake y'all out.

If I was planning to make trouble, the first person I would take out would be the guy sporting the obvious gun. Do they think about that when they put on their costume in the morning?

Once I knew the gun was there, I could not forget about it. We looked at tires and wheels for a cheap old road bike he's fixing up, but half my mind was imagining circumstances in which one might whip out the gat and start blasting. Not that I expected him to do that right there and then, but that only fueled my swirl of speculation. If not here, where? If not now, when? I go for months at a time without wishing that I had a gun, and when I do, it's probably a good thing that I don't.

A gun is the very definition of dead weight. A hefty chunk to carry, it's only purpose is to kill. Wearily, its devotees remind us that humans are wild animals and not to be trusted. When they walk among us, armed, the point of view is more than theoretical. They've taken their fantasies out of their imaginations and forced the rest of us to take part. We're in their theme park now.