Damp Sunday route on Saturday

I took the touring bicycle out this Saturday because it rained overnight, and that bike has fenders. Plus it proved its mettle in the wet during my Iowa ride. However, climbing up through Westwood Heights on my way to the Forest Hill Extension, I realized the derailleur on the big ring wasn’t working. I didn’t want to stop and figure it out there and just stood on the pedals during the step part of the ascent.

My next surprise came as I wound down to the pedestrian flyover on Portola street. There are immutable laws of physics we learn one way or another; placing glasses of wine on imaginary shelves always succumbs to gravity, bodies in motion tend stay in motion especially if they are linked to a General Electric locomotive at speed and heat transfer does readily occur with ceramic plates parked on a hot stove.

So it also is with wet pine needles on pavement, and despite treaded tires on my bicycle, the rear end washed out at low speed as I turned from the sidewalk to the flyover. I didn’t fall, but the entrance and exit to the ramp is shaded by pine trees, and even the slightest turn of the handlebars telegraphed lack of traction.

This route is all up and down. There are two flat sections between Golden Gate Park and my house- in total they amount to perhaps 300 yards. It crosses mostly residential neighborhoods, the only commercial portion being the Inner Sunset. After a turn in the park, I exited to Arguello Avenue which flies arrow-straight into the Presidio of San Francisco.

The Washington Avenue road through the Presidio is popular with every exerciser of any abilities. I pass casual bikers, spandex speeders, stroller-pushing joggers, hikers of a deliberate pace. What awaits where the road meets the ocean is this:

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Looking south at the Sea Cliff neighborhood. The tiny bit of strand is Baker Beach. The trail is part of a system that runs from Ocean Beach on the western edge of the City to the Golden Gate Bridge and Crissy Field on the north, and even out to Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embarcadero on the east.

WashOverlookNorth

Turning to the north from the same position. The bridge is closer than it looks.

If you are visiting in a car with a mix of walkers and non walkers, your special half-day starts by dropping the walkers at Baker Beach and having them follow the trail along the road to Vista Point on the San Francisco side of Golden Gate Bridge.The walk is 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how many time you stop to look around. The drive is just five minutes, but the wait for parking at the other end can easily be a half hour. A gravel overflow lot is just a short way past Vista Point, and will be on your left. There is a cafe and curio shop at the point, as well as bathrooms. Here you can also walk out onto the sidewalk of the Bridge itself.

My ride back was uneventful except for the few cars driven by distracted drivers. Word of caution: if you aren’t sure of where you are going, pull over and orient yourself.

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Going to Mordor

The art of travel involves many things. Chief among them is a desire for adventure and a lack of fear of getting lost. Before Frodo set out on his journey from the Shire, he already had a taste for adventure. By the time his journey became a Quest, he had his cloak on and was standing in the portal before asking for directions.

I left Mission Terrace on my Koga bicycle this morning under clear skies and a bright sun, already committed to the southern route down to Lake Merced and Ocean Beach. But lurking in the back of my mind was finding the passage to Mill Valley. I’d crossed the Bridge before and ridden to Tiburon a few times. But that route is easy to track as long you keep the water to your right going in. Finding Mill Valley is a little more difficult, though maybe not so hard as say Bolinas.

I knew I’d have to leave the bicycle path that parallels Highway 101 just past Sausalito and find the road winding through the redwoods into the heart of town. I’d seen solitary bicycles on that route and guessed that was where they were headed. There is no bike lane, the two-lane road is very narrow and the sunlight stabbing through the trees plays havoc with one’s vision. But the trip would be worth it, for me. The town square at Mill Valley is the starting point for the Dipsea Race, a foot race that makes its way up 673 steps over the shoulders of Mount Tam and through streams, forests and grasslands down to Stinson Beach. It was my favorite race for some years though it absolutely kicked my ass.

A road traveled by bicycle looks different by car. It take a few passes to appreciate it, but you look for sewer grates, pavement cracks and gutter debris that you would hardly notice in a car. Sometimes the prudent thing to do is choose a different route than you know by four wheels. That was the case today. But it was fun, detours and all. I wore my Giants baseball cycling jersey and coupled with last night’s marathon playoff win over the Washington Nationals, I made friends every 20 minutes.

So I rode. I wandered. I found the town square and a nice sidewalk coffee stand with seating and an awesome music playlist. I could stay here until my battery died, but I’d have no music for the ride home. And there is a big hill to climb out of here getting back to the bridge. But as I coasted in, I saw a solitary cyclist coming out on a road I’ve never used before. I will have to look for it on my return trip.

Bridgeway

Taken on Bridgeway Drive in Sausalito, looking back at San Francisco obscured by a finger of fog.

Update: The route back was a “short cut” through old Fort Baker. This former military installation is not part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. In the day it was a training post and the site of the Coast Guard lifeboat installation, those hardy men and women who go out to the bay and sea to aid and rescue people who get themselves in over their head on the water. Lucky for us, they are still there. So is Cavallo Point, a five-star resort nestled into a pocket of the Marin headland. If you have enough money to hire people to sail your  boat, you stay here when you visit Marin.

Anyhow. the route out and up is steep but much shorter than climbing out on Alexander Avenue from Bridgeway. And y0u are spared the insult climb on Conzelman Road to get back to the parking lot and access to the sidewalk of the Golden Gate Bridge. To find it just keep the water to your left as you approach the bridge.

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Replicator rescue

I’ve been away for a while and other posts touching on that travel are pending, but I need to take a moment to wallow in a little self-indulgent geekery. It’s not even that geeky really, but it is deeply satisfying at a level I know I won’t be able to get across on screen.

It starts way back in the early oughts with the purchase of my fixer-upper house and its fixing-upping with IKEA. One room in the house received a pair of GIR light fixtures to replace a couple of bare bulbs jammed into 1960’s-era utility brackets. I really hate naked bulbs in any light fixture. Skip ahead a few years and I’m building an addition to the house. For green and sentimental reasons I kept one fixture to illuminate a small passageway to the backyard. The  fixture was installed but amid all the hustle and bustle of construction the small plastic clips holding the glass covers were lost.

If you know IKEA you know some products disappear without warning and so it was with the GIR fixture. The clips were not available unless I bought what looked like the GIR’s successor, the PULT. As inexpensive as it was, it went against the grain to buy a whole light fixture just to get these tiny parts. And I did not, so a bare bulb once again was in the house.

Skip ahead to the current decade and the rise of the 3D printer. This past summer I made the happy discovery of a IKEA hacker site. It was just a short search from there to a guy who found himself in the same position with the fixture. He also had a 3D printer and created a replacement clip. Replacement? It was a facsimile, a replicant, a functional and physical copy. As I prepared for a trip to the Midwest I wondered if I could persuade him to create a set for me.

While I was in Chicago I found a  solution in the pages of USA Today while breakfasting at Sunny Side Up. A company called Shapeways accepted made-to-order plans.  A payment, a few emails and a few days later, a box was tossed over the gate to my front door.

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This is a company focused on design. I like the company’s clean name and icon on the box. I also like how the simple blue star icon is repeated on the small plastic parts bag. To me this speaks to the planning and presentation of their product.

 

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Here’s my ceiling fixture reunited with its glass cover, after seven years.

Like I said, I can’t really convey why this is such a big deal for me, but it is a very satisfying end to a piece of unfinished business.

P.S. Lest you think Inter-IKEA Systems B.V. is in trouble because of the rise of the 3D printer, they actually encourage such hacks. They do not, however, encourage the use of the name ikeahackers.

 

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I want to ride my biSICKul

(re-edited September 2014)

If you don’t get the title then listen to some early Queen. Or not.

I know it has been a long time between posts. Much has happened and with each passing event I thought it best to let things percolate before setting finger to keyboard. In reality, events happened in such rapid-fire sequence there has barely been time to process them, much less relate them.

The best stories are told by those have created their own. Everything else is pretty much instructions on how to do something. But talk is cheap and time is not. “If you knew Time as well as I do” said the Mad Hatter, ” . . . you wouldn’t talk about wasting it. It’s him.”

Of course, there are always exceptions. My point is, get your stories from people who have been there and done that.  You’ll get useful instructions and more often than not good entertainment.

I’m not applying that to me, because a) I am the worst damn storyteller on the face of the planet and b) I pretty much do read the fine manual in most situations and then get righteously pissed when those instructions are incorrect or missing a piece of information.  I have no patience for bad documentation.

One thing I do know: if you want to create a good story but can’t figure a way to do it, ask someone to figure it out for you and then follow through.  Your truly great stories all usually start with an impetuous act. For instance, the brother who, while enjoying a leisurely lunch with his family, issued a loud challenge across the room to a Klingon character actor at a Star Trek exhibit in Las Vegas – in Klingon. The response was also in character – but I digress. I said I was not a good storyteller.

My next series of posts will be from an experience in which I talked a friend into joining the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa – RAGBRAI. The current limitations of this medium mean the story will be here and the pictures mostly on Flickr. The pics will be public, so you should not miss any of the seven stages that made up this event.

Edgewood

Did we miss anything?

Everything you may have heard about RAGBRAI is true. What you may not have heard is the people who organize it and those who support the riders along the way know how to take care of people. You just need to show up ready to ride. And camp. And eat.

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Crystal Springs Reservoir

Taking my last long ride before RAGBRAI Left Mission Terrace with no clear route in mind, and found myself climbing out though Ocean Avenue past the Balboa Park BART station just because I’d never taken that before. That area is a unique and complex mashup that all the transit, highway, bicycle, pedestrian and neighborhood organizations desperately want to change. In just three huge blocks are six interstate on and off-ramps, a light rail maintenance and storage facility which is also the terminus for three light rail lines, BART, three MUNI bus lines and the busy commercial corridors of Ocean and Geneva Avenues. Add the adjacent presence of three schools and massive Balboa Park (tennis and basketball courts, four baseball fields, a dedicated soccer stadium, an indoor pool, dog park, children’s play area, etc.) and you have a lot of moving parts that need to play nicely together, but don’t always.

After that miasma of congestion I wanted more open spaces. I took Ocean down to Sunset, then around Lake Merced to Highway 35. I followed that out to Sawyer Camp Trail and am now about to drop down into San Mateo and come back by the Bay route.

The picture is looking north across the reservoir. The wet fog was constant until I got onto the trail.

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The Gaggle Grows

My friend the Glassmaker is in town for a while having reconstruction fun performed on her knee, again. The first time she was out here for such surgery the country was still reeling from the financial crisis and San Francisco in particular was still experiencing fallout from the dot-bomb. On this trip she observed that somehow the people on the street seem both younger and taller – and there are more of them.

And I will add that more of them are on bicycles. A little more than a year ago my 6:30 AM morning ride was a pretty solitary exercise from the ‘hood to the FiDi. This morning a rider sailed by as I was rigging my bike on my quiet street, a sight I see at least three times a week now. Another rider was on San Jose Avenue and there were four by 26th Street and Valencia.

At Market and 8th I was riding with at least seven others and the cyclo-counter on the sidewalk adjacent to Twitter read 210. It’s the highest total I think I’ve seen at that hour on a morning that was not an official bike-to-work day.

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About 370,000 riders passed this pylon so far this year on this busy stretch of Market Street.

 

This pic was taken later that same day, about six o’clock. The evening commute was more like a peloton than a gaggle. I left later than usual to satisfy a last-minute request from my manager, placing me squarely in the middle of the evening commute. In such a situation   there is safety in numbers, as a group diverting around a traffic-choked intersection is far more visible than a solo cyclist.

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Future tense

On the wall of my cubicle are nameplates that once belonged to people I’ve worked with. Names of men who had been sailing along in the normal course of their lives, by which I mean doing pretty much the same job for some years, and whom suddenly took a hard left, veering off on a path they would not retrace.  I’ve closed bars with these men and had barbecues at their home and mine. We’ve attended conferences and criticized our managers. I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane in flight with one of them and learned to read music with another.

But one by one, circumstances called for them to take that radical turn. In ragged succession they left the company we all worked for. When it was certain they were not coming back, through resolute will or corporate intransigence, I cleaned out their desk, collected what they left behind in boxes, and pulled their nameplate off the wall.

Each of them left of their own volition. Each had a compelling reason to go. That in itself is not so unusual, but leaving a full-time job with salary and benefits when you are not in tech nor a twenty- or thirty-something is taking a leap. And leap they did, into a future tense with knowns and unknowns, with some resources they could rely on and all the rest relying on chance. The one thing linking them together other than our workplace was their realization that they had to make a change which included leaving that place. Their outcomes post-decision varied wildly. There are no guarantees such moves will lead to improved situations, even when one feels that such a decision is the best thing to do.

The heart of the artist would embrace such changes. The heart of the pragmatist shuns them. In between lies the adventurer, charting a course through unknown territory using his skills and tools to navigate to another shore.

And yet, when is one an adventurer longing to find spark in life, or just a Balthasarian pawn trying to escape it?

The pool at Filoli Gardens.

The pool at Filoli Gardens.

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Ghosts of restaurants past

Every city, if not every town, has a place to eat enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. The more notorious ones are off the beaten track. Personalities like Guy Fieri have made a living out of discovering and promoting these. The notoriety is typically due to cuisine, decor and sometimes history.

And sometimes all three combine with locale to provide an extra punch. Such was the case of the Cadillac Bar and Grill, a Mexican restaurant that might have been worthy of Obi Wan’s description of the cantina at Mos Eisley spaceport. The Cadillac occupied the entire space of a former warehouse, with the only room divisions being the kitchen and food prep in what was probably the former managing and bookkeeping space. Podiums and kiosks made up the host table and wait stations. The bar was a massive arc of wood and brass rail, over which was suspended a ginormous chandelier made of inverted clear Corona and green Dos Equis bottles, held in place by massive chains probably once used to restrain the Kraken.

The place could get loud. Not just “hey I can’t hear you” loud but “my God the wall just collapsed between us and the Bessemer-process steel foundry next door” loud. Occasionally management brought in the only thing known to Man that was louder and not poised on Cape Canaveral: a five-piece mariachi band. They roamed from table to table moving on only after an ear ransom was paid. Sometimes patrons with a few margaritas inside their belt would get up and dance. This had the effect of making adjacent tables pay the ransom.

The Cadillac had the best escape routes in the City. The main and side entrances were both in alleys. A huge parking garage ran the length of one alley.  A parking lot and office building with a public lobby framed the other. The public lobby featured a stairway to a subterranean parking garage. The main entrance was in the foot of an L-shaped closed-end street with the innocuous name of Holland Court. A quarter block away was Moscone Center, the city’s main convention venue. What made out-of-towners wander up the alley is beyond me, but those that did returned again and again. The Cadillac was a favorite for the local lunch crowd and evening diners. Location was far from being the only draw; the menu was original, the dishes superb and the service outstanding. The bar offered every kind of tequila and mezcal known to magueys, and in generous portions. The Cadillac was a destination.

About ten years into its existence, the chain known as Chevy’s took over a ground level retail space in the adjacent office building. Situated on the corner, the restaurant featured floor to ceiling windows, outdoor seating and was clearly visible to conventioneers  at Moscone. Worse, they took over the stairway to the underground parking lot and validated parking for diners. On the week it opened, the Cadillac pulled an old Chevrolet into the alley, provided a couple of hefty sledgehammers and for a small fee allowed people to whack away at it. It was fairly unrecognizable by the end of the night.

Despite the competition the Cadillac continued to thrive and was in existence for 15 years. Its demise came about in the name of Progress. The City decided to expand the convention facilities by building Moscone West, and used eminent domain to take over the entire half block. The eight-story glass and steel office building, the 500-space parking lot, the underground garage, the Cadillac, Chevy’s and Holland Court itself all disappeared in 1999. In a very real sense, the Millennium Bug had wrought destructive havoc.

cadillacBut the Cadillac is coming back, ironically in the home of the Millennials: a retail space in the home of Twitter, on Ninth and Market in San Francisco. You must pay a visit, and keep money at hand for the ransom.

http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/blog/2013/10/market-square-twitter-building.html?page=all

 

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Destruction in the Desert

The American Southwest is a big place. One of my traveling companions said even though we live on the West Coast, we don’t live in the West. The other, who hails from Wisconsin, said we are Barbary Coast.  That fits me.

The point is, distances here are vast. It takes a long time to reach a place, and so planning a trip involved roping in as many points of interest as possible within a geographic area. A missed turn on Day Two took us  inadvertently to Shiprock, in the far northwest corner of New Mexico, when we meant to visit Los Alamos and Bandolier National Monument, sites where two different types of civilization came to an end. We visited instead on Day Three.

The facility known as the Los Alamos National Laboratory, or LANL, is still in operation. The Manhattan Project, which gave the world nuclear weapons, is now a name given to a restaurant in the town which still bears the name of Los Alamos. The (Norris) Bradbury Museum tells the story of Little Boy and Fat Man, the creation of LANL and the people who worked there. There is more information at the museum too, including the history of computing, the space race and nuclear weapon delivery systems – planes and subs. All in all a fascinating place and well worth the half-day you should spend to really take it all in. It is feature-rich as they say, with movies, interpretive exhibits, displays, and first-person stories from the men and women who worked there, at all levels.

And of course, there are full-size replicas of the bombs.

Little Boy was named for Theodore Roosevelt.

According to the display at this site, Little Boy was named for Harry Truman.

 

The exhibit says Fat Man was named for Winston Churchill. If true, that seems terribly undiplomatic.

The exhibit says Fat Man was named for Winston Churchill. If true, that seems terribly undiplomatic.

The story of when and why the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima is told here as well. I won’t repeat it – the place is worth going out of your way to visit, if you have any interest in science or history at all.

Los Alamos is also fairly well to-do in contrast to the surrounding communities. My friend from Wisconsin made the observation several times, surveying the communities along the road between there and Taos. These communities were mostly Indian reservations, the homes and other buildings telling the story of which were thriving and which were struggling.

We left to visit Bandolier, an area where ancestral Pueblo people lived in the cliffs high above a valley with a stream running through it. The land provided sustenance and shelter for thousands of years before they abandoned it for reasons still largely unknown, though the Pueblo people still inhabit other parts of the region.

Yet the land can also turn against them. The National Park Service took over the site after WWII, including the built-up valley floor. The folly of this became evident when a flash flood in 2011 crashed down the valley wiping out the day-use infrastructure. It all stands now in mute testimony to the destructive power of water.

 

A clutch of debris fetched up between two trees. It's a wonder they remained standing in the flow.

A clutch of debris fetched up between two trees. It’s a wonder they remained standing in the flow.

 

This water fountain was impaled by branches and sticks, and possible moved off its foundation.

This water fountain was impaled by branches and sticks, and possibly moved off its foundation.

 

 

 

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Azure skies

In a previous life I lived in and worked for Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Thousands of people visited Big Sur every month during the summer, but I think most of them didn’t know why they were visiting. They have heard that they should go to Big Sur if they are ever in the area, and off they go. I was in the entrance station one day when a car pulled up, a man leaned out the window and asked “What is there to see around here?” Different rangers have different responses to this question, most of which boil down to “Nothing.” On this day, I said “Just the redwoods and the coastline.” The man nodded and then pointed at one of the towering sequoia sempervirens alongside the road leading to the little kiosk. “Is that a redwood?” he asked.

All this is to set the stage for this post from Taos, New Mexico. Taos is a Big Sur, a Carmel, a Todos Santos, a Monhegan Island. A place with an interesting name, some big-time celebrity homes, and beautiful scenery. Artists settle into these places because the natural beauty of the places draws them there. They produce wonderful works, some become well-known, and a few have showings in New York or London. A chef who can both correctly spell and make bouillabaisse opens a cafe. The celeb is photographed having a meal and there goes the neighborhood.

Home sweet home

Home sweet home

This small adobe house is a private residence on Ledoux Street, home to the Harwood and Blumenschein museums. There’s no telling who was here first, but the sign on the gate makes it clear this house is not for touring.

Do not get me wrong. Taos is a beautiful place. Just be sure to leave your preconceptions in Albuquerque.

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