Friday, December 19, 2014

A mess of unreliable Styrofoam

This morning's park and ride started out promisingly enough. The dirt road had thawed and frozen numerous times, creating such continuous bumps that the video I shot is basically unwatchable. But it was firm and fairly fast.

I figured with heavy snow to end November and a couple of fresheners on top of it that the local snowmobilers would have been up and down the Cotton Valley Trail, packing it to concrete. We've had a lot of warm and wet weather as well, but the snow was so dense and the sun is so weak that the cover is still thick and durable in most places. If past snow seasons were any guide, the motorheads should have been out with the enthusiasm and loud buzzing of the first mosquitoes of springtime.

I figured wrong. The Cotton Valley Trail had one set of ATV tracks on it, making a pair of awkwardly spaced ruts down through the crunchy, collapsible snowpack. The ruts were each too narrow to ride in. Only a little wobble and I would catch the edge. The center wouldn't support my weight,...except when it would. The center was also narrow enough that my waggles as I tried to grunt my way down the unpacked snow would dump me into one of the ruts again.

I dismounted and tried running with the bike for a while, to see if conditions improved. They did not. I turned and ran the bike back to the paved road so I could grind my way back up to the car.

I'm not sure a fat bike would have fared much better. The stiff, crunchy snow would provide plenty of support, but the ATV ruts would be just as much of a nuisance. The fat tires might even make it worse, being more prone to catch the sides. I don't have access to a fat bike to test it, so I have no way to be sure. Because fat bikes have become something of a status symbol, I fear reviews will have at least a bit of bias. I prefer to do my own testing and draw my own conclusion.

I would not commute on anything that did not have lights and fenders. The already bulky fat bike becomes even more cartoonish when you start accessorizing. And then there's the expense, especially for a set of studded tires. It might extend the commuting season considerably, but the big challenge to the park and ride has always been the park more than the ride. If I'm going to ride all the way from home I might as well use one of the bikes I already have.  And I'm not going to ride all the way from home in the dark and the iciness with a bunch of half-hibernating drivers.

The ultimate utility bike would be a fat bike with an alternate set of wheels set up for wide 700c tires. But you'd still have to choose which set to mount that day. You could carry the alternate set along, but that goes way beyond ridiculous.

All the shenanigans on the bike meant that I did not get to work until after the Three Stooges had broken a light fixture in our clothing department and showered more debris down on the workshop as they smashed up a couple of bathtubs with sledgehammers. The rest of the day was pretty quiet.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The aftermath

The workshop looked serene enough after Monday's chaos.

There was this pile of insulation,

This full trash barrel,

This jumble of rental skis, 

The upended rental ski rack, aka the lobster trap,

And the floor looking -- believe it or not -- cleaner than usual.

A faint tinge of a funky brown reek hangs in the air. Much of the wood in this building is more than a century old. The newer stuff has still absorbed grunge for many decades.

The crew from upstairs carried away the pile of insulation and the trash barrel today. They seem thoughtful and chastened.

I'm really glad we don't have gas lines up there. I'm pretty sure we don't, anyway.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Oh man! I always miss the good stuff

A crew has been remodeling the apartment above our shop. My first impression was that I would not want anything constructed by these people, but the units in the building are condos and the owner of that one has made his choice.

Phase one has been demolition. For days we've listened to the sounds of heavy objects being flung, big saws screeching, pounding, prying and heavy boots thumping across the floor. I would swear that they had brought in extra appliances to throw around. The heavy crashes would be accompanied by the light harmony of wire, like oven racks or refrigerator shelves. Maybe they liked the sound, so they threw the same things over and over.

I thought they hit their low point last Wednesday when they dumped over a toilet they were trying to remove, and sent several gallons of water down through the backshop ceiling above one of our fluorescent light fixtures. I leaped for the light switch and bellowed, "Hey! What's DRIPPING!?"

"Sorry! Sorry!" came back through the ceiling, apologetically.

As bad as that seemed, it was a finite amount of water. A couple of carefully placed trash cans caught some of it and we could mop up the rest. As I was checking things out with the stepladder I did discover that the thumping and banging had dislodged a tube in another fixture so it was about to drop to the floor. But the problems had mostly been limited to alarming noise and small bits of dust and debris that would shower down when they got really boisterous.

Last night Big G sent me this email:

"Someone told me looong ago,  there's a calm befooore the storm.
-I know,   its been comin' for sometime."

"I.....wanna knooooow, have you everrrrrr seen it rain?  Comin' down on a sunny day."

The shit storm:

This morning in the backshop I was getting a pair of skis ready for a binding mount when I heard this god awful pounding that shook the building and hurt my ears.  There were clumps of white powdery shit falling everywhere from the rafters.  It sounded like these idiots would be falling on my head real soon.  I grabbed my lunch and jacket and moved them over to the stool in front of your place.  Then I moved to the mail room the see if there were any internet orders.

The flood:
From the mail room I heard the sounds of water dripping on the backshop floor.  Then the sound was more like a hard rain.  And raining it was!  There was a monsoon from wall to bench!  I estimate about 25 gallons!  The "professionals " upstairs managed to cut through a water pipe!  El Capitain was screaming through the ceiling!  -And everybody heard him.  One of the pros came down to us and asked if we knew where the water main was.

It is absolutely amazing how many customers and phone calls there are when shit like this happens!
-I promptly moved my jacket and lunch to the mail room.

El Capitian told the pros that THEY were going to clean up the mess!  -Right after WE make a big pile of rental skis and move the lobster trap.

What IS that fucking stench?:
Is it from all the ladies figure skates with decades of foot sweat and fungus now brought to life after being thoroughly doused?  Is it the saturated insulation now dripping brown fluid?  MY GOD, there IS a fucking bathroom upstairs!  El Capitain and his first mate made it a point to tell me the water was clean.
What IS that fucking stench? 

The pros sent in their grunt equipped with a wet vac.   Their leader, Crazy Woman, told us she called a plumber and he would come over in the morning.  Meanwhile, the entire building has no water.  That's when I posted an "Out of order" sign on our bathroom.

The fix:

Crazy Woman told us SHE capped the pipe.  (Sweat fitting?)  She said it's okay to turn the water back on.  Meanwhile there is more loud pounding and sawing from above.  I removed our sign from the bathroom door.

Flood two:
I heard that heavy rain sound again.  Yep, another twenty gallons.  Vacuum Boy flew out of the back shop and down to the basement.  The fucking pros up above actually cut through a second pipe!  They turned the water off again and I replaced our sign on the bathroom door. 

I figure it's only a question of time when these chimps cut a live wire.  Which reminds me, do you remember were the fire extinguisher is?

This time our agitated leaders demanded the pros call in a plumber at once!

Right now the rental skis are piled over the ski poles.  (I will check the Skiathlons for water in the morning.)  The lobster trap is on end, the desk is piled with boxes of bindings and customer's boots and your bike stand is moved to one side of the floor.  There is a pile of wet insulation in front of the girls skates.

The pros will return tomorrow morning to remove more insulation and clean up.
What IS that fucking stench?

"I.....wanna knooooow, have you everrrrrr seen it rain?  Comin' down on a sunny day."
The crew upstairs has turned our lives into a Three Stooges movie. I never cared for the Stooges, but it sounds like it was more entertaining and less awkward than the carolers.
I also feel a bit like the guy who was on R&R when the rest of his unit got hit. Dammit! I shoulda been there! Oh well. I'll be there tomorrow, and maybe they'll come up with something that will make me wish I wasn't.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Here they come a-wassailing

There you are, going about your normal day's business, when, suddenly, costumed performers troop in through the front door, assume their formation and start singing.

Caroling seems quaint and delightful in the movies, or when it's happening to someone else a comfortable distance away. But when you're staring at the uvula of an enthusiastic performer just a couple of feet in front of you the whole thing starts to seem weird pretty quickly. And it only gets weirder the longer it goes on.

Maybe its just me. I have a real problem being sung at.

Wolfeboro has its own group of Dickens Carolers. Search the Internet and you will find that it's probably a franchise by now. These roving gangs go about in Victorian garb, entering businesses at will to harmonize without warning.

At my usual post in the backshop I can usually bolt into a crevice like a frightened reef dwelling crustacean at the sound of the first note. Today I even found some skates to sharpen back there, so I had a legitimate excuse to put in ear plugs and operate noisy machinery. Cocooned in industrial noise I meticulously put a gleaming edge on two or three pairs of blades.

Big G had been trying to sell snowshoes. He said it was pretty funny trying to explain everything over the noise of loud singing. The Big Cheese had been caught manning the register, so he bore the brunt of expressing our corporate appreciation .

Am I ashamed for cutting and running? Not at all. Next time it could be me out there, pinned down with no cover as incoming merriment bursts all around me.

I vaguely remembered that caroling had at least some of its roots in wassailing, the practice of the lowly going around to sing for their social superiors, hoping to receive food, drink or perhaps a few coins to make them shut up and go away. So the Caroling Defense Kit will consist of a small bag full of scrap metal with a few coins on top. When the singing starts, wing it at the loudest one as hard as you can. Aim for the face or the solar plexus. Canned goods might work well, too. Be sure to wish them good health and holiday cheer as you do this. It helps your plausible deniability if someone complains about the ballistics of your donation.

Then again, since I'm really a peace-loving type, I could go with Plan B, which is simply to scream and run away.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Good advice is good advice

The old tee shirts we get for rags sometimes turn up quirky bits of almost folk art. I liked the lines here, and thought the sentiment applied to bicycling well enough.

Apparently no one else shared my opinion. The scrap of shirt stayed pinned to a wall in an obscure enough location to remain for several years, but I recently found it among the other rags. Fortunately it had not been grunged up.

Other items in the gallery are totally commercial, but hey: Kermit.
And Tweety and Sylvester.
For a while, another mechanic and I had complete collections of every color of foil from Lindt chocolate balls. Collecting the foil and meticulously flattening it is the opposite of peeling the label off your beer bottle in shreds with your fingernails. And if you rip one you need to buy another Lindt ball and try again. Oops.

Sadly, the store downstairs from us, where we got the Lindt balls, has gone out of business. The fancier chocolate place in the building provides excellent specimens to eat, but no multicolored bait for the obsessive compulsive. Probably just as well.

The weather may permit a return to bike commuting before the end of the year. It will be good if things freeze solidly without any more clumpy, wet snow. Get the ground well frozen and then bring us something close to powder.  In New England that may not be very close, but something drier than applesauce would be good.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Off the bike

At least I got some use out of the studded tires before circumstances shut me down for a while.

For Thanksgiving I rode the rails to visit destinations along the Northeast Corridor. Hopped the Downeaster from Dover, NH, to Boston. Picked up the southbound train to Old Saybrook to visit my parents for a couple of days. Continued to Baltimore on Friday to visit the cellist in Maryland.

I considered bringing the Traveler's Check with me, but I did not think I would use it enough to make the awkward load worthwhile.

The train is good for musing. 

A snowstorm chased me out of New Hampshire. The storm dumped about a foot of wet snow on top of warm, moist ground. Power went out. My cat sitter had to burrow her way into the driveway, because I don't use a plow guy. Warm weather after the storm condensed the snow where it had been undisturbed, but plow drifts and shoveled piles turned into concrete.

Deep snow eliminates the parking for my park 'n' ride commute. Even if it hadn't, I came right back to a zoning board hearing after my first day at work. I wouldn't have had time to ride anyway.

Another snowstorm greeted me when I returned to New  Hampshire. It was no 12-incher, but it added two or three. Then another small one tossed on a few more. Drizzle saturated everything, making it sticky, heavy and slow to move. The snowblower would only eject it a few feet at best, a few inches at worst. Packed-down masses under the newly fallen stuff stopped the machine. Some of them I could hack with a metal shovel. Others I had to leave.

I cleared the mouth of the driveway and about a quarter of the total area in about the time it would take to do the entire driveway if I had been able to get rid of the Thanksgiving accumulation when it arrived, rather than a week later.

December's low sun means even a day above freezing doesn't melt a lot of snow. The ground beneath it is not frozen, but the snow is thick enough to preserve itself. It encroaches on the road. Riding becomes impractical, even though this kind of snow doesn't do much for winter alternatives.

Now that I'm back from my brief wander I can figure out the winter's routines. Got no money right now, but I've been there before. I feel pretty rich just to have a warm house, a hot shower, enough food and some interesting beverages.

If I don't get to do something outside I guess I'll have to dust off the rollers and do some other exercisy type stuff. And there's always firewood to split.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fighting for your life in the fun business

A friend and customer is in the fitness business. She's ferociously active, and energetically generous about sharing her knowledge and support with the people who come to her for training.

In a small town the ugly aspects of business competition come to the surface the way rocks gash the hulls of smooth-sailing boats in shallow water. The fitness industry is a busy one. Lots of people try to find an angle and work it. Businesses that attract enough clientele to meet their overhead will survive. In that arena, business owners will pursue any advantage, including propaganda, disinformation and the weaponization of zoning regulations to take down a competitor.

My friend managed to set herself up in a niche with a clientele that seems to like her methods. But it's yet another plucky little crew that can't spare too many members before the implacable forces of finance make survival mathematically impossible.

It's made my friend a little crazy. She goes into a bit of a spiral whenever one of her clients does what customers so often do: they go shop around.

In the bike shop we've been through these waves many times. Each time you wonder if the receding tide will leave you high and dry  forever, your bones to bleach on the parched sea bed. And I watched the cellist go through it with her 15-year effort to establish a steady flow of students through her music studio.

Each business, the fitness center, bike shop and music studio, is offering something that has practical benefits, but which is more publicly categorized as merely fun. The people who work in those businesses depend on them for the practical necessities of life. But in each case the business and the activity it represents competes against many other activities that provide the same benefits in different ways. They also compete against activities that offer completely different attractions.

People will only do things that seem like fun as long as they seem like fun. If it's something clearly not fun, like emptying the garbage, cleaning the cat box, or going through chemotherapy, there's still a perceived benefit. But when the benefit includes fun, you'd better be fun.

There are ways to get away with being a bit of a grouch, but you'd better remain a lovable grouch. Most people don't want to be dragged through the rough by a stern taskmaster for something they consider optional. So whatever frustrations you may feel, you must project a positive outlook. At least be entertaining.

If you have a large population to draw from you might have better luck finding "your people" to join you and support your endeavor. In a small town that number might be too small to sustain life.

From the consumer's point of view it can be as bad. What if the surviving provider of whatever it is you want strikes you as an a-hole? Maybe the locals don't care or a lot of them are a-holes too. In that case you get in and get out as quickly as you can. If an alternative comes up, you check it out.

Even if the local (insert business here) isn't run by jerks, even if you actually like them, an inquiring consumer, advancing in knowlewdge and experience, is liable to explore anyway. They should. And when times are good, even the small business owner will have a bit more equanimity about these walkabouts. In the end, a business can only keep doing what it does best, to the best of the collective ability of its staff.

The game changes. In the 1990s our shop fought it out with competitors here in town as well as shops many miles away. The Internet hadn't brought point and click shopping, but people were willing to travel a long way to check out trails. Going a long way to check out a shop came naturally. In that regard we made out well a lot of the time. Customers might come to us from shops that did not have the advantage of trails right nearby on which to train the sales and repair staff.

Now that mountain biking has shrunk to a small and dedicated subculture, we don't even get the chance to audition. The cool kids, some of whom we used to cheerfully trounce on group rides, mostly go to one shop in a nearby town where the owner represents the religion more to their liking. From his end, he needs the few devotees who are willing to keep investing the money and time to have relatively contemporary mountain bikes in order to meet his survival expenses. It's a good thing he likes to work at his business, because he needs to till that patch for all it's worth. We miss our old clients, but the heart wants what the heart wants.

It's easy to be a motivational speaker and tell people to adapt and change. Motivational speakers have been drawing from the same basic repertoire of bullshit for thousands of years. Of course they're always happy and upbeat. They've figured out how to get by without needing an actual job. That never changes.

Small operators in the fun business usually get into it because they like or love the activity in question. If it's love, and it's unquenchable, you can only follow it and hope it does not lead to misery and ruin. Misery and ruin seem especially cruel if you'd had a good thing going for a while. And they're particularly inconvenient when they're setting in just as you think about kicking back a little, perhaps easing into something resembling retirement.

Love or not, your willing shift to another livelihood may face steep obstacles if you're a little on the old side or lack the funds to pay for retraining.

For now my friend gets by. The shop survives. The cellist, my beloved, is a disembodied voice on the telephone, calling from where she found a toehold on the inhospitable cliff of her profession.

We fight for our lives in the fun business. To all of you out there like us, as alone as you are, you are not alone. We can't really do much for each other except commiserate. But that's something.