Subaru nation

Posted in Society at 17:04 by RjZ

Nobody told me when I bought my car that it was the state car of the Republic of Boulder.

My first car, at least the first car that I selected after the one I bought from my parents came to a halt in the middle of the street, was an ‘81 Honda Civic wagon. It was a great car. Silver with red interior, the tiny wagon was positively sporty. It didn’t have enough gumption to go much more than the speed limit, but had enough room to sleep in the back, diagonally at least. I drove that car up the California coast one year, all alone, for of the most beautiful trips I’ve ever been on.

I’ve been quite a few places since then, but Pacific Coast Highway from San Luis Obispo (SLO) on up just keeps getting more scenic the farther north you continue. I remember Spike’s Original in SLO where they had over 100 beers on tap. I remember the missions and Pismo beach. I remember giant banana slugs on the campus of U.C. Santa Cruz. School was out at the time so I parked my car in the forest that the lucky students call their campus and spent the night. I remember San Francisco and Sacramento.

One of my most vivid memories, though, is from one evening, while racing the sunset and driving along rocky cliffs with sea-side views, a squall had come off the ocean, darkening the sky and dropping a smattering of heavy drops. I stopped the car along the rode to snap a picture of the rainbow and of my trusty Honda with an old mountain bike strapped to its back and a sprinkling of raindrops decorating the windshield. The golden sunlight lit everything with a vivid glow and I still remember the smile that spread across my face from just enjoying how lovely everything looked.

It was pretty, but aside from that, there really was nothing special about that part of the drive. Still, that smile remained plastered on my face for a couple of hours as I pressed on towards San Francisco. While I wasn’t aware of it then, it’s one of the first times I was truly able to appreciate, well, nothing at all. Appreciating nothing is a satisfying skill that has grown to be a valuable asset in my travels, and I recommend practicing it to everyone.

When I was returning from Europe, I had to do something that I never really done—buy new a car. I drove a car in Europe (several different ones, actually) but I didn’t really choose them all on my own. They were company cars and when I left, the cars stayed. I remembered reading a Consumer Reports magazine back when I still had my Civic and there was only one car in its class that rated higher: the Subaru Wagon! Well that’s it then! So, even before I returned the states, I had already decided to look at a Subaru. Really, I had already decided that’d be my car, but I wanted to give the other cars a fair shake so I didn’t admit that.

What do you know? There were Subaru dealers right here in Boulder! (and in Longmont, Denver, and really anywhere in Colorado—hey there weren’t any in Holland!) I looked at a few cars but, indeed, settled on the Outback Wagon. It was bigger than my original Honda and now the outside was red instead of the inside, but it seemed natural.

Honestly, I didn’t even notice at first. Subarus are absolutley everywhere in Boulder. They’re practically a symbol of Boulder. Subaru owners play games like counting how many stoplights you can come to where you’re the only Subaru. (Answer: not many.) When I rode over a rock in the mountains and mine was making strange noises, lo and behold, there was a dealer right there in the mountains (in Nederland, thanks for the simple fix on a Saturday afternoon, sir.) I usually don’t like bumper stickers much, but I have them on my car just so I can find it in a parking lot; I think Whole Foods must double as a used Subaru lot because there are so many. I’ve never memorized my license plate before, but I have to know mine now. It got embarrassing at some point to put my key in a car exactly like mine and try to figure out why nothing was working.

Subarus in a row

Now, I’ve grown accustomed to it. I developed a certain camraderie with other cities that are invaded by these cars. Portland had plenty of them; Cincinnati did not. I hear Vermont is over-run by them; I rarely saw them in southern California. Whereever there are loads of Subarus, it seams, there will be nice people and microbreweries. I should probably do a study. Mmmm, microbrewed beer.

That’s why a line of four of them all in row parked along west Pearl Street on this beautiful fall afternoon put such a smile on my face. It’s just such a typical Boulder scene, and with the trees turning bright yellow and the sky so blue, while the weather is still mild, with only the slightest, but delicious, smell of Fall in the air, the smile just plopped on my face and didn’t feel like going anywhere. Of course, it wasn’t any of those things that made me smile. It wasn’t anything at all, really. Like I said, it’s a great skill to learn how to smile at nothing.

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Hello world, again.

Posted in at 9:14 by RjZ

I started this blog a year ago today with a traveling story about chatting on a train. I rather liked that story and certainly hoped that all the posts on my new blog would be as good. I doubt I can say that they all are, but there is no question it’s been great fun to blog this whole year.

Looks like it’s time to cut and paste from all those previous posts and make one of those sitcom-flashback episodes. Something about bringing a few books to India and starting a libertarian country powered by a nuclear power plant.

I started writing for no real audience, but with hopes, at least, to improve my writing. I’ve succeeded instead in embarrassing myself. I promise you, I really do know the difference between it’s and its. I really do know the difference between to and too, and they’re and there. It absolutely amazes me that I constantly type the wrong ones. Faithful readers point these mistakes out to me in polite, private, e-mails and I cringe each time. How the heck does this happen? Come on, what makes me write like that in the first place? I just can’t say why, but let me apologize for all the ridiculous grammar mistakes, misspellings, wrong words, missing words and awkward sentences. By the way, I am equally amazed that people keep reading this stuff even with all those mistakes and, more shockingly, keeping quiet about it. I would barely have the patience for this flagrant degradation of the English language if I were a regular reader, but it’s obvious I don’t actually read and proof this stuff.

I also started writing in an effort to create community. As you can read here, I like to see the world and learn a bit along the way. Friends I already have often share this view and friends I’d like to make have either already been to places I haven’t been or are on there way their soon. I am pleased to say that there are a few of us starting that community. Regular readers and posters who keep coming back to see what was written here, and what others have to say about it, are what keep me coming back. I believe that commenting and sharing your opinions and experiences is really what makes this. There have been comments longer than my posts, and those pieces are often the most entertaining. If you’ve been lurking in the background, it’s time to speak up! You can hardly embarrass yourself more than I have already, so let’s hear what you’ve got to say!

There is one problem though. I’m starting to run out of stories! Looks like I better get my backpack and get on a plane soon! I hope you’ll join me when I write about it!

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Look fast

Posted in Society at 15:05 by RjZ

In case it wasn’t obvious from the this post, the evidence points to me getting older. I don’t look all that old or feel it very often, but it’s still an unmistakable fact and you only need to do the math in the last post to see that I am no kid anymore.

That’s why I bought a road bike. I decided that running wasn’t doing my spine any good and the constant pounding would surely take a toll on my knees at some point. Riding a bike isn’t necessarily a picnic for backs and joints, but the lack of impact seemed like a plus. Any way, some good friends ride road bikes, so maybe I’ll be cool enough, some day, to be able to keep up with them.

I wasn’t sure I wanted a road bike though. I’ve seen the form fitting shorts with pads in unflattering places. Who could miss the ridiculous bike jerseys or hasn’t grinned at the uneasy click-clack-click of riders gingerly walking on their clip-less pedals to get a coffee? I wasn’t so sure that was a club I wanted to join.

I found my bicycle on craigslist and living in the Boulder area it wasn’t hard to find an incredibly good deal on a high-end bike. With so many elite riders around, there is a glut of racing bikes with all manner of unusual materials and components. The bike I found is an Eddy Merckx Racing. I know it’s a Merckx because it says so on every single tube of the bike frame at least once and more often twice or three times. I think I’ve counted the Merckxxkssxkks (or however it’s spelled) logo on there thirteen times.

Eddy Merckx is probably the greatest cyclist to ever live. I know, Lance Armstrong (the amazing mutant with a heart the size of my head) won the Tour de France, what is it? seventeen times? But Lance only ever raced the Tour. Merckx won the tour over and over again and also raced in dozens of other races each year and held the record for distance covered in one hour for years and years. When he finally retired he started making bikes to his specifications and putting his name on them over a dozen times. He’s entitled.

My job now, is just to live up to the bike. I’ve ridden a few times and I can just about hear it muttering under its breath underneath me. It’s saying “what’s going on? Why isn’t he going faster? Surely he knows I am named after Eddy Merckx. He can’t have missed that can he? Oh, I know, he’s just warming up, he’ll start cranking soon.” About that time I’m done with my short training ride and the poor bike just has to sit there puzzled and wondering about its fate and dreaming someone will steal it and go really fast.

I bet I’ll be doing a service to the other riders as well. I’ll be climbing up some mountain road, praying for a lower gear and somebody will spot the elite looking bike up ahead. They’ll mount an attack and, strangely, almost effortlessly, these experienced riders will ride right passed me. Smugly they’ll think “Ha! Loser! Bought that expensive ride and I just blew right passed on my Specialized. More dollars than legs I suppose.” Huffing and puffing, I can watch him climbing up ahead of me and think how I’ve just made another person happy with so little effort. It’s the least I can do.

I’ve always thought the crazy costumes that road bikers wear were a turn off. Sure I get the whole “be seen by cars” thing, but that really didn’t explain how ridiculous they look to me. All the same, there comes a point when resisting a style or custom sticks out more than just joining in. Like nuns who dress in full habit because tradition was to be as conservative as possible compared to renaissance dress. Today the same nun’s habit sticks out like sunflower in a wheat field.

I gave in. I chose the most sedate looking bike clothes (which means they’re actually rather flashy and silly) I could find and now, while riding and people pass me, we raise a finger to wave at each other and acknowledge how serious about cycling we must be, since we’re both wearing the traditional uniform of this vast club. I get it. Nice bike, good gear, and not only are you more comfortable riding far and fast, you can recognize which other serious bikers. Turns out, I don’t feel so silly about the jerseys and lycra pants after all. Who predicted that?

Most importantly, though, between the polyester jersey, funny shoes, modern helmet and the elitist bike, I sure do look fast. That’s gotta count for something doesn’t it?

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Old skool

Posted in Society at 13:53 by RjZ

The first music I really listened to as a kid was punk. Old skool, Los Angeles punk. I grew up in Orange County, California which definitely was not cool at the time, and didn’t have the nickname “the O.C.”, even if there is a television show about it now. It was where a lot of punk bands came from. Adolescents, Agent Orange, Social Distortion and others all started there. Not too far away Black Flag, The Vandals, Circle Jerks and TSOL and the legendary X played to small crowds for the first time. Great times.

I listened to punk, I went to punk shows, I hung out with other punk kids, but I was not a punk. I never donned the costume and I was a tiny kid who avoided fights for fear of being stomped into oblivion. I watched my friends do drugs and get drunk and beat themselves silly in the mosh pit (then known as the slam pit; when did this change?) and I was the designated driver for it all. Actually, I didn’t even drive, but I think they valued me as the only one who’d stay sane and sober while they did such stupid things. Well, except for an episode with a newly drained pool and a skateboard, I mostly was the sane one, too—boring, I know. But hey, other skaters would dive off the edge into the pool, surely we could do it too. Damn, concrete is painful.

Seeing these bands at back-yard parties and bowling alleys, I could hardly imagine that they would become history. Often the music was terrible and the sound was even worse. Bands would form even if no one knew how to play instruments. “Tight” is not a word you’d apply to many punk bands of the late 70s and early 80s. They’d stop in the middle of the performance and yell at each other that the drummer or the bassist was playing the wrong song. They’d speed up and slow down and drop stuff and trip and fall down, but now matter what, they’d play with unmistakable energy.

I didn’t venture into the “mosh pit” much. According to Wikipedia, moshing and slamdancing were invented around this time and at these shows, but I didn’t know it was something new. Jumping up and down and bouncing off of people in a throbbing mass was just a way for people to channel all that energy and feed it back to the band.

Moshing is crazy and silly. Jumping around, flailing your arms, shaking your head and smashing into all those sweaty people is an odd way to spend your time and it’s also an incredibly aerobic workout. There’s a surprising amount of etiquette too, for an activity that basically amounts to smashing into fellow moshers. You can get elbows in the ribs and crack heads together, but people will quickly pick you up and push you right back in if you lose your footing.

Moshing has many different moods too. Hardcore punk and metal seem more about mock fighting than anything that could reasonably be called dancing. When I finally saw Nine Inch Nails in concert after many years of being a fan and missing shows, I finally understood what the real point of ultra high energy songs, like Wish, is. When I saw giant frenzy rev up to frightening proportions after the first few bars of the song I could see that these songs weren’t just fast and loud; they were there to make the crowd go wild! I was down on the floor when the song began and it was as if the first few seconds stretched out just so that I would have enough time to realized what was about to happen. The whole place was going to go through the roof. Instead of reveling in the music, I wondered if my insurance was going to cover the likely injuries I was about to incur as I got swepped up by the crowd. The real realization though, was that I am pretty sure that’s what you call “getting old.”

Last night at the Queers concert at the Bluebird in Denver, I had a chance to redeem myself. The show wasn’t very full and the modest mosh pit was tame enough. The three piece band was cranking lighthearted punk anthems like “Like a Parasite” and “Punk Rock Girls.” My friend and I looked at each other and didn’t take long too decide that punk isn’t a spectator sport! For the rest of the evening I was lost in the panting, banging, sweating, bouncing, and exhaustion that only a good mosh pit can bring.

Moshing is a way to jump around with people. Really with them. Everyone can just let go and bang into each other without offending anyone. Lose yourself in the mosh and they’ll push you back in. You don’t have to think about it at all. Experience the comraderie of a group sharing the unbridled energy of the show.

It was great fun to remember all those shows from {gasp} twenty years ago but when I woke up today with sore neck, bruises and scrapes as souvenirs of the experience, I couldn’t help but wonder what the heck I was thinking.

I am pretty sure that’s what you call “getting old.”

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Even millionaires deserve a break-when they’re paying for it

Posted in Society at 15:20 by RjZ

The [Denver] City Council voted 10-1 to add the early-childhood-education plan to the November election. [Initiative 1A] would collect $12 million a year [in sales tax revenue].” The proposal would “give parents of 4-year-olds tuition for the preschool of their choice based on the parents’ income and the quality of the provider. Providers also would get funds.” What it wouldn’t do is restrict anyone, even millionaires, from getting some of that money. And that’s where the opponents object.

Proponents point to studies showing that young students who attended pre-school perform better than other students. They continue that this isn’t a social program, but rather an investment in better education and increased graduation levels. If the state is going to fund education at all (and that’s a question many libertarians pose), then it certainly makes sense to get the most for our education dollars.

Oponents don’t address success in school at all. They tell us that constituents are complaining about roads, not schools. And detractors tell us about millionaires getting money. On local public radio this morning, one even claimed that millionairs would be able to send their children to school with tax dollars collected from poor people.

I fail to see the problem with that. After all, the poor folks will also be able to send their children to school with money collected from millionaires. More importantly, the plan is to fund this expansion the government with sales tax; the most regressive tax there is. Rich people have more money to spend and they spend, and get taxed more in equal amounts. Food and other necessities are excluded from sales tax, leaving poor people with the majority of their incomes in tact.

I am not sure I agree with expanding government’s role in education or not. That will have to wait for a different blog entry. What’s clear, however, is that it makes sense to invest in the success of young students and that sales tax is a very fair way to do this, particularly, and perhaps only, when millionairs may also take part in the program they help, disproportionately, to fund.

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