Sep 18

The sun can set in any direction when you’re gassed

It is funny how you can have different emotional responses to the same thing. It doesn’t even take much to change things, either. I got home Monday, ready to ride my bike. Had to ride my bicycle. Couldn’t get out of the door again fast enough.

I didn’t ride yesterday because I couldn’t drag myself away from the pillow early enough. I was in the studio until dark, so that wiped out that day, which is fine.

But that meant an evening ride tonight! Which was great! I was happy to do it, and I had a nice ride after my legs started moving. But it didn’t have the same level of zeal as two days before. I did the same roads and same kind of roads. The weather was warm and grand on both days. So what makes the difference?

Anyway, this was me when I set out for a quick evening ride:

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‪Let's go ride bikes!‬ ‪#TheMilesAhead‬

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We’ve been doing a lot of small ring workouts lately, because you can always improve cardio, they say. (This is a terrible thing to say, for several reasons.)

Not pictured was about eight miles in when a guy on a bike came screaming by and tossed two syllables at me, his air at a premium. (He should do more cardio.) I said something almost as intelligible, ground mostly in the problem that I had no idea what he was trying to tell me. And then I looked over my shoulder and there was a whole angry pack of young riders. Fit, young, in their big rings, going fast. And suddenly I was swallowed up. And they pretty quickly spit me out the back.

So there I was, all alone, enjoying the sun and shade and little hills and quiet of an almost-country road, reminded that I really much prefer small or solo rides to big group efforts. There’s just not enough courtesy or regard for safety in packs.

If I’d been in the right gearing, though, I could have stayed in the group and hated it for a few more seconds, of that I’m sure. But, instead, I got 43 kilometers of good cardio work this evening.

(I’m supposed to use km, I know, when it comes to riding, but I haven’t memorized the conversions or the formula and it sounds awfully pretentious. Though the numbers are always higher … It was 27 miles and change tonight, and my top speed would have been 47 km/hour. So maybe it isn’t that pretentious.)

On the way back to the house:

Do you know how many times you have to see that before you realize the perfect shot will always be perfect right there? Three. At least three times I’ve been through there and thought, Oh, what a great place for a sunset shot. I should get one of those one day before I can’t. And then I finally realized it was an east-west road and that should be a fairly predictable photograph.

I blame the cardio training for lack of directional cognition and thought processing.

So, that covers my bike ride and today’s Instagram offerings. If you haven’t been on Twitter, there’s a bunch more there today. A lot of sports, somehow, in fact. Please do give me a visit there as well. Thanks for stopping in, and come back tomorrow for another adorable picture of the black cat and probably another thing or two of passing interest. It’ll be the regular iffy Thursday smorgasbord, and you’re always invited.

Sep 18

What’s the last (non-grocery) thing you bought in a store?

Sometimes I’m sure I do my best writing in email. I wrote this as a part of one email this evening.

I went to Macy’s yesterday, just to see if they are still open. It is tacked on to the back of the mall here and we drive around it some days in the pursuit of tiny little errands. Every time the Macy’s lot is just about deserted. Closed Kmart deserted.

Both Kmart stores and the Sears have disappeared since we got here. This is not the first town that’s happened in. We are like the Fifth Horseman of Sears closings. (This would be a great gag, not just Four Horsemen, but a lot of them, and each successive one is less fearsome.) I went in, and it feels like Blockbuster and Circuit City during their last painful retail heaves. Over the death rattle you could hear me think: Who is paying $80 for a shirt? People doing that surely aren’t doing that at Macy’s.

The mall is also physically lashed onto the Target, which is the appropriate amount of brick-and-mortar successful. I haven’t seen the data, but I bet that Target and the adjacent Chick-fil-A keep the whole mall afloat. Eat mor chikin. Buy mor stuf.

That all sounds desperately condescending in that way that feels most natural to my Mallrats generation. (An association I wish I could shake, while also keep most of my mall experiences intact.)

I spent 14 seconds peering into a few shelves and racks, though, listening to the few employees on the floor giggling about whatever, though, without feeling like doing a web 2.0 dance. There’s no happiness in retail going under, just a loss of more jobs and more empty real estate. One Kmart here is right now some sort of auto mechanic holding pattern, but will become that early 21st century commercial development “multiuse.” The city is trying to figure out what to do with the second one. They are soliciting ideas. The Sears became a grocery store, sort of.

I’m a culprit here. Most of my shopping is now online. I’m having a difficult time thinking up the last thing I bought that wasn’t a food or a drink in a store. Probably it was lumber.

I will go out and see those Going Out Of Business Sales. I hit both of the Kmart stores here. The nearest one stocked up the house once or twice. The other was just a way to avoid traffic for a while. The last time I did that at a Sears the prices were still ridiculous. We bought a dryer, but maybe only because it was easier to borrow a friend’s pickup than to get Amazon to ship that Prime.

At Macy’s though, I looked at the shirts and thought, even at the sale price, and after that promised 20 percent off when you sign up for The Credit Card of Poorly Informed Mistakes, that’s still more than I paid for the last shirt I got online. The economics are all screwy. And when I got home there were two new pieces of cycling kit in the mailbox, which I purchased at a fraction of the retail price.

I’m not saying anything new there, but just imagine what the subsequent Horsemen would be. Granted, the drop off from Death to Closer of Past Their Prime Retailers is a steep one. A few more down the line and you get Phantom Nose Itch or Disturber of Daydreams.

We had barbecue last night, and a homemade stir fry tonight. Ask me about those stories sometime. Both dishes were good, at least one of the stories is mildly entertaining. I also put together a bunch of slides on lead writing, and thought more about op-ed pieces than anyone ever should, really, and did that in two separate sittings. But that’s where we are in the world today. The op-ed-related horseman being 45th or so.

No, the last thing I bought in a store was buttons. I had to sew on a new cuff button for a Brooks Brothers shirt. I purchased that online sometime last year.

More on Instagram and please check me out on Twitter as well.

May 18

We went flying over the Tuscan countryside

We woke up so early this morning that I actually demonstrated how upset I was. On any other day, this would be strange. But this was a vacation day, of course, and so there’s a layer. And I’m terrible at time zone adjustments, so there’s another layer. And it was obscenely earlier, friends. Had it been any regular day, then, this would be the thing that was remembered, the bit that was etched into family lore, the part of the tale never untold.

But, we did this, and this is a way better story:

Now, I don’t know about you, but occasionally I see a hot air balloon and I think, “Oh, how neat.” But it has never really occurred to me to be a thing I should pursue. I’ve always thought I’d enjoy it. But it always seemed like it belonged in a different world than mine, maybe. I’ll just blame all of the places I saw it on television as a child. It was always an extravagance, or an incredibly low-speed getaway. Well, no one chases me, thankfully, and I’m not an extravagant person, so the hot air balloon ride was someone else’s achievement, some other person’s signal.

And to do it in Italy? Well, friend, that just seems right out, doesn’t it?

But, of course, if you’re going to enjoy a hot air balloon ride — and how we did enjoy it! — you probably ought to start in Tuscany. So we did. And there it is. So much fun, so beautiful it all was, that I really struggled cutting this footage down. But if you’re going to glide over Tuscany, you want to record a lot of it. And you may as well show it off, so people can see, and you can remember.

And if you’re going to glide over Tuscany in a hot air balloon, make sure you get the pilot that struggles coordinating the landing zone with the proper speed and gas variables, so your flight is longer.

These things are very weather-dependent, as you might imagine. We shared our balloon with a very fidgety couple down from Rome. They’d been trying to take this trip for some time and had their flights canceled four times because of one kind of weather or another. They both worked the overnight shift at the da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport and had come down at the last minute to finally get this in. We were fortunate to get our balloon ride on our first try, despite unseasonably gray skies.

And after you do that, make sure you stand around in a Tuscan field and eat meats and cheeses and drink heavy drinks because it is barely 9 a.m. and you’re on vacation and you were just up there, using physics and the wind and basic aeronautical design that started carrying people more than 300 years ago. Also, you’re in Italy and it’s beautiful and wonderful and perfect.

Then you go back to your 17th century farmhouse and take a nap, because this is going to be a beautiful and wonderful and perfect trip — it already is … — but you need your rest.

When you wake up, your rental bikes have arrived. And so we’ll spend a week going up and down the hills of Tuscany on a pair of nice, 10-year-old-or-so Motobecanes. We took our first ride this afternoon, a simple shake out ride, but I didn’t take my phone because it looked gray and rainy and I was too tired to remember it anyway. We road up and down the Via di Botanaccio, a perfectly unremarkable country road suitable for bicycles. Except we’re in Tuscany and there’s vineyards over there and olive groves over here and that’s just everything. Oh, and there are two 15-degree ascent climbs on the road. We’re going to be trying to get over the top of those a lot in the next few days, too.

Tomorrow, we’re going into Siena.

May 18

What’s your super power?

I think we all have super powers. They vary, and some are more useful than others. I have two super powers. One has no practical benefit. The other is that I can always determine the right container for leftovers. It’s a small thing, this super power, but it’s useful.

But it occurs to me that a great super power would be able to see, in the smallest moment that this little moment is special.

I don’t have that one. I’d like it, but instead I just look back on a moment many hours later and realize there was a sweet little perfection today.

The Yankee and I went out for lunch. We walked down two blocks to the local fast food fake burrito shop and then we walked back up toward our building on campus. Just across the street we stopped at that flowerbed and I took a few pictures and a little sliver of video and this was a delightful moment to be with someone important. I’d like to be able to more often realize that sort of thing during, rather than after.

Everybody has one, or two or more. Everyone should have that one, I think. What’s your super power?

Apr 18

We are conferencing (on religion in media) on campus

I saw this in the student union. It is two parts of the same piece of furniture. But, unlike most of the items they have on display, there’s no signage to note its origin or donors or anything else. These three panels are on one piece:

And the other part was equally beautiful:

That’s the back piece, and I believe it is all some sort of elaborate chair or storage furniture or both. Let’s say chifforobe. Anyway, I was in that building to check on the conference, so maybe the imagery carved into the wood was the right choice for that part of the building. There were several sessions nearby this morning. There were two more panels in our studio this afternoon. It looked like this:

So settle in and enjoy, we certainly did.

Meanwhile, after dinner:

There are two more sessions of this conference tomorrow. Both streamed, so I’ll put them here. Until then …