Friday, May 09, 2008

Ghetto Bike Racing

Recently I was queried by two founding members of the ‘Ghetto Bike Racer’ school of thought as to some of the rules for Ghetto Bike racing. This spurred a deep period of meditation and associated trip through my psyche and into my deep memory. In other words I went all ‘ohm-and-shit’ for a good two-and-a-half minutes. Ghetto Bike racing was more than an activity; ghetto bike racing was a philosophically derived praxis—the perfect Hursurlian marriage of the phenomenological ‘to do’ and ‘to be,’ that amongst other things involved over-intellectualizing the day to day with clever phrasing and complex pseudo-social scientism in order to pass the many long hours spent on the windswept hills of Kansas. Ghetto bike racing was, and is, a life style. The rules are unimportant here, though, I imagine Adam Mills ( or click on the link to the right) will indeed discuss them at some point. But, the philosophy remains an intriguing avenue for epistemological introspection and interrogation of what it means to be (ghetto) and be hard, the later a subject of intense debate and an even more intensive pseudo-scientific ranking system for the measurement and analysis of hardness that often resulted in conversations following a feat of stupidity such as ‘Uh, I’m hard’ to which was invariably met with ‘No Rob! You’re not hard; you’re a big pink pussy! (BPP),’ a condition that resulted in its own pseudo-scientific ranking system so that at the end of the year, all of one’s BPP points could be added together and subtracted from the sum of one’s yearly hard point tally to yield a gross hardness metric. This metric could be further normalized (that means divide by 100) into a percentage score, and then a team (or groups) scores could be collated resulting in the derivation of an entire set of statistical measures of hardness: pseudo-social science at its very best.

The thing about all philosophies, and sub-cultures formed around such philosophies, is that eventually schisms develop over the true meaning of the philosophy—these are the classic epistemology/ontology debates that mark most great paradigmatic turns so that there were both old and new schools that each claimed penultimate status of the one truth. In other words, we all got girlfriends (who weren’t shared groupies) and then disagreed as to who maintained the ghetto-ness and who began to pose in its representative form. Many years on, the opinion of this writer maintains that the shift away from ghetto, though mediated by extenuating outside pressures, was really caused by inevitable sociographic (and in one main respect geographic) shifts predicated on growing up and growing out of a tired collegiate existence.

I digress. The ethos of ghetto bike racing, summed around these key rules, with the added perspective that safety indeed sucked, was that nothing except the race mattered. And, life evolved around the race—which, in those days, oddly enough, Steve always had to win. Whether it was on the road in the race, through dinner, or even the line to ice-cream, life was all about racing, and Steve was all about winning the race—whatever it took. The greatness of such a simplistic seeming lifestyle cum philosophy is the level of competition this type of existence garnered and by extension the speed at which one is forced to cope—metaphorically in the As You Like It sense—and also through the literal—all acts were done at top speed: racing, training, driving, eating, drinking, the goal was always to be first to the finish line—even when there was no obvious competition, there was always competition: be it cars echeloned across the highway to maximize drafting in the cross winds, maintaining a steady ‘nine-over’ in conditions that would make the post-man blush, hyrdro-planing (sp?) on the way to good weather, driving through a car wash at 100, or a foot race to find the car at 2am in a torrential rainstorm whilst drunk only to decide upon failure (to find the car) that perhaps driving is not such a good idea, to two person automobile operation (one steers the other works the pedal) (the person in the back scans for five-oh). All of these were (and may still be) modes of adapting and coping with the speed that the lifestyle mandates (ed). But, like most physio-metaphorical evocations of ‘speed’ these too often ended abruptly with the carbon snapping, aluminium scraping carnage of a bunch of Masters Cat 5’s in a damp corner. It’s like when I got my first real six-string in the summer of ’69, having a band and trying real hard. Jimmy has to quit, and Joey, inevitably gets married. Getting band back together can only look like the Pixies reunion tour—a little balder, a little greyer yet a little less desperate for cash than before—and desperation for cash is a powerful motivator when one signs on to a race with a bad check. If the Pixies look and sound this bad, what about Brian Adams?

Strange memories blasting through the time fog on this muggy morning in London. Has it been that long? 3 years, 4, 5? I set out this morning to meditate on ghetto bike racing and now find myself in a post-ghetto turn—a paradigm for the aging. And, it is to the post-ghetto that I now focus my argument. After the initial query I have been periodically considering ghetto in relation to the post-ghetto. And, I found myself deep in contemplation last night over dinner where it hit me like the Newtonian apple: pork. The chief difference between the ghetto and the post-ghetto focuses on the purchase and later consumption of pork and pork products. Allow me to elaborate. Myself and my partner were tucking into a stew constructed primarily from butternut squash, a mire-poix and potatoes, that had been slowly braised in a cochon-de vin (that’s pork legs in wine). Though, being ghetto, this meal was built from leftovers and was comprised mainly of the afore veggies and some broth that had been spiced up by added sautéed chorizo. The ghetto factor is important because this is the third meal from the same pot—a truly post-nouvelle style of economical cooking of the post-ghetto lifestyle. The change between the ghetto and the post-ghetto, by this point, should be obvious—the old ghetto lifestyle is present but with the addition of pork. In all my time as a ghetto-bike racer I can remember consuming pork once, in bacon form at the KU-KState pre-pre-pre-party (where a keg was tapped at 7:45 to beat the AM rush). I remember once, in addition, a furtive conversation where it was revealed that one of us broke down and ‘indulged in the swine.’

Ultimately, if the post-ghetto has anything in common with other ‘post’-movements, conclusions at this stage are irrelevant because they are still evolving. It will take a post-post-ghetto turn before the bets are cleared and reason can resolve these earlier tensions.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Horseshit, utter horseshit

There are very few things more exciting, more exhilarating and exponentially cool than a spring day: except a spring day in London. The sky is clear and blue, and there is only a hint of breeze to keep the smog at bay (breeze + Base Wind Factor (BWF) = -6). And, the only way to celebrate such a spring day in London, besides cocktails, which by my watch are still some hours off, is a bike ride into work. Now, for those of you who do not know London, I mean intimately, like a cyclist would, probably do not realize how urbanized it is. Granted, my friend Arnaud—a Frenchman—argues that London is actually quite sub-urban, but that is a topic for after cocktail hour, so for the sake of argument, we will just call the City urban. This of course means that it has all of the facets of an urban, mostly modern city: electricity, running water, sewers, tall buildings (sort of, but not like Manhattan), a number of cars, roads, sidewalks, infinite numbers of speed bumps, and even bike lanes painted green, which are extra fun when it rain, like it never does in London. So, when I rounded a corner on my way in this morning, near a Taxi driving training facility where, amongst other things, the teach The Knowledge, and near a decidedly urban junction near a big international train station, I nearly ploughed into a giant, steaming pile of horse shit. Fortunately my bike hopping skills are well tuned, and I was able to avoid the mess; the Mini-Cooper behind me was not so lucky, but drivers of those are twats anyway. What intrigues me about this whole incident, however, is that here, in London, on a Wednesday, there could be a steaming pile of horseshit in the street. My experiences with shit in the city are fairly mundane and centre around dogs mainly. Though recently, I did spy a spent diaper on the sidewalk near my house. However, horseshit is somewhat rare in a city where horses are not the normal mode of transportation. I know for policing purposes that horses are common, especially in riot situations, like when Arsenal plays Manchester, but I would assume that those horses are indeed wearing diapers when they shit, else there would be horseshit on the pavement. So why, here in almost Central London, where there are no football grounds, would there be an enormous pile of steaming horseshit? My only guess is that it comes from a real life inspired game of Cowboys and Indians that a come a whooping and a’hollering through Kings Cross all before Mungo arrives...
Only slightly more bizarre than this image is that there is a place where the Knowledge can be taught, and that, once having been taught the knowledge, one could say that they have the Knowledge. The concept of the Knowledge is intriguing. The be a cab driver in London, one has to pass a ‘basic’ test of their knowledge of London’s intricate geography. Only this small test takes about 26 months to learn, there are dedicated training centres so that the test can be studied for and presumably passed at some later date, once the Knowledge is learned. Now I’m not one to advocate extra testing, but when it comes to cabs in a big city, absolutely should there be a test on not only the core competencies of driving a cab, but also a test to ensure that the driver knows where the hell he or she is going. Take this example. I was in San Francisco last year trying to find a particular bar on a particular street in the city. I hopped in a cab, told the driver the name of the bar and the street, which was something like 115th. The cabbie looks at me and says ‘so where’s that?’ ‘It’s on 115th street.’ ‘Where’s that?’ How the fuck do I know? You’re the cab driver; it’s probably after 114th and before 116th.’ Needless to say, after guiding him to the bar, with the help of a mobile phone sat nav (not the driver’s), the subject of the bill came up. ‘That’ll be $21’ ‘Excuse me?’ ‘$21’ ‘But all you did was operate a car, which, according to a Clint Eastwood movie, any monkey can do. I’m not giving you $21 dollars when I supplied most of the information to get me to where I needed to go. I’ll you $6 for gas.’ ‘Fuck you. You give me $21!’ ‘For what? You did not do your job, so why should I pay you for what you didn’t do? How about I give you $21 dollars and you give me $100 for my time because as a highly qualified professional in a geographically related field, I’m worth about $100 an hour as a consultant, which is precisely the amount of time it took for me to figure out how to tell you how the fuck to get to the bar that I was going to even though you, the cab driver, were hired to provide me that service. Fuck you here’s $5!.’ A few words on the street later, I was merrily drinking in said bar, an hour late, relishing a nearly free cab ride.
But, I digressed from my point. Having drivers know the city they are to be drivers in is an important quality to the qualifications for being a ‘driver.’ And now, you may ask, how comprehensive is the Knowledge. A friend of mine’s dad is a London cabbie which makes him able to do at least two things very, very well. Quote from the Daily Mail, and drive a cab in London. We were out one night on foot trying to find a bar, and in lost desperation, Pete calls his dad. His dad asked where we were going, i.e. the name of the bar, where we were at the time and preceded to direct us to take ‘two immediate lefts, a right, walk about 40ft, take the next left up an alley and veer right past the news agent. It’ll be on the left across the road.’ And, low and behold, after two lefts, a right, a 40ft walk, a left in an alley and veering right at the news agent, the bar was across the street. The Knowledge. Though, if I were to ask him about the horseshit in the street, he’d blame the former mayor, Ken. (‘Fahcking Ken!’)