Solid States

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Apr 302012

While I’ve been adjusting to a new life in Portland and spending every minute outside of work searching for a new home, some interesting things have been afoot back in the bike industry. Most notably, evidence of what basically amounts to a merger between Shimano and Fox continues to grow. I’d first written about the “unique electricity” between the two companies back on March 2nd, but at this point, they might as well have exchanged class rings.

Regardless of what any of us think of completely and utterly wired bicycles, the intersection of Di2 and Fox’s CTD suspension system should pretty much be considered the point at which the two companies effectively become one–at least as far as competitors are concerned. Given all the suspension patents being held by Shimano and the more recent evidence surfacing on Geoff Kabush’s Scott, the partnership is definitely trying to shake off SRAM. The most interesting part of all of this might now become SRAM’s response. In the past, SRAM has proven particularly effective at using Shimano’s innovations against them, turning the barrel of things like “Dual-control” right back at them and pulling the trigger. For all the grumbling, electronics have been receiving a pretty warm welcome from consumers, while SRAM holds to an emphasis on ultralight mechanical designs and simplicity. Shimano remains the 800lb gorilla of the bike business, but both companies are on pretty solid ground now, and both are capable of innovating.

Given that SRAM seems to prefer to grow by acquisition, if they were to go after electronics, it’s tough to imagine any clear targets, but more unique companies like Factor are certainly doing some interesting and very different things with integrated electronics.

One way or another, it seems like the next few years are going to be pretty interesting to watch.


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Apr 262012

Factor 001 Bike

A Note from Your Author: Looks like my scheduled post for Thursday never posted, which I guess is as good as any way to take a day off, but here it is anyway:

I’m writing this one the night before it posts. By the time you read this, I may be divorced, dead, or even the owner of a new home somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. My wife, sick with a killer head cold, arrives in Portland around 11:00pm Pacific, which is 2:00am Eastern. When healthy, this woman tends to be a “morning person,” waking up at 5:30am every morning, but borderline comatose by 10:00pm each night. So this should be interesting.

Bright and early tomorrow, she’ll go off with one real estate agent while I go to work. Then, after work, as I’ve done twice this week already, I’ll head out with another real estate agent. Possibly later we’ll meet or something. Tough to say.

The plan appears to be spreading out across as much of the Northwest as we can, thereby increasing the number of homes that just won’t work for us exponentially. It’s possible we’re going for some kind of viewing record, though my inability to quit my job(s) to turn professional house hunter will no doubt thwart everything.

You may have noticed I rarely type words like “bike” or “bicycle” these days, but this shouldn’t be construed as an indication that they’re not on my mind. In fact, I’m helping launch one new company while experiencing the onset of “catalog season” at another. So I’m still ass-deep in bikes, as they say (they don’t actually say that, I think), and I’m paying attention to what’s going on out there.

Speaking of which, how ’bout Steve Domahidy’s new project! I knew Steve and Chris from Niner years ago while I was running Speedgoat, and I’ve gotten to know both guys a bit more over the years, and it’s no wonder Niner became the company it’s become. I have a small sense of the time and energy Steve’s put into helping develop that bike, and it’s hard to overstate the kind of focus it takes to pull that stuff off. Making bikes happen is a job, pure and simple. Like any other job, there’s shit you have to put up with, constraints, personalities to work with and around–it’s a job. It looks–at least anyone involved in making bikes prefers it to look–as if these things just spring to life with pixie dust and whimsy and somebody’s trust fund, but in fact there are deadlines, rules and regulations and endless reams of crap to track, and there’s accountability, which is like the opposite of whimsy.

The Factor bikes definitely rub some purists the wrong way, but the funny things is that they’re almost always the same purists who like to bitch about the UCI. And hipsters. And DH guys. Bitching’s easy. I nearly managed to make a career of it. Actually bringing shit into the world is hard. I emailed Steve to congratulate him today, because he definitely deserved it. The designs he’s creating fly in the face of convention, and I really think we should have more people doing that.

And more cheap five bedroom homes in the Portland and Vancouver areas.

Good Neighbors

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Apr 252012

Anyone still reading this might have noticed I’ve been somewhat distracted lately. Basically, I’m taking time off from Canootervalve, but seem to still be writing. Peculiar, that.

Between the two gigs, the occasionally Manic Mechanic piece for Dirt Rag and the suspension system design, dull moments have been few and far between. Add in a house search that commenced 9:00am the morning I hit Portland and has chugged along steadily (second day in a row of going house hunting after work), and at this point I’m just looking for a peaceful and beautiful home where I can finally have that massive heart attack.

We’re committed to Surburbia–sort of intentionally. Bear taking monster dumps in your yard, and constantly having to relocate rattlesnakes is OK when you’re twenty five and have no kids (actually, it’s not even OK then, really), but three kids later, we’re more than ready for the cul de sac. After hearing the wife and kids got hit with fifteen inches of snow back home on the mountain in Pennsylvania this week, this sentiment has only been reinforced.

Still, all these houses I’m seeing sure are close together.

Growing up my life was pretty great when we were one of only a few houses in the neighborhood. Lots of dirt in which to play all day long. Between the lead in the soil, mine shafts that would occasionally open when I used to play, and general radioactivity, it’s somewhat surprising I’m not clutching my Deschutes Black Butte Porter in my handy prehensile tail as I type this.

The search goes on, anyway. I’ll be plenty happy when all if it’s over, and I can once again blame my typos and general incomprehensibility on the fact that I was typing all this while watching The Colbert Report. Until then, I’ll practice getting used to some actual neighbors by wearing pants inside the house. At least during peak hours.

Oregon to Washington Over the I-205

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Apr 242012

One of my goals as a father is to actually be home for one of my daughter’s birthdays. I was stuck in Chicago last April, and this April I’m in Portland. The up-side this time around is that the whole family should be with me here at some point, provided we manage the logistics and all. And that I find a house.

To that end, this past Sunday I decided to follow up on my prior raw pizza visit to Washington State with a bike ride there. I’d heard you could ride right across the I-205 bridge from Portland to Vancouver–and by “right across” I mean bicycles ride right straight down the middle of the interstate. Such an ingenious feat of city transportation engineering I’d never encountered, and frankly, it sounded too good to be true.

Given my pizza experience, I approached the situation with a degree of cautious optimism and checked the route out first on Google Street View. This didn’t really clarify anything, but the route did look even more magical and wondrous, given that habit Street View has of ghosting out sections of road and obscuring obstacles like other cyclists, leaving only their helmets. I was left with many unanswered questions.

Where, for instance, did the road go once you reached the other end of the half-mile long bridge, and how the hell did you get up into the middle of all that traffic in the first place? I sort of imagined a way you could do it (which turned out to be accurate), but as is my nature, I still suited up as if expecting this all to be some kind of hipster Portland trap, wherein some intellectual derelict living under the bridge would ridicule my stupidity at falling for the joke, endlessly poking fun at my naivete while re-purposing my beloved La Cruz into an admittedly attractive garden trellis right before my eyes.

Still, one image from Street View caught my attention. It was this dude clearly riding his bike across the bridge.

Riding Across the I-205 from Portland to Vancouver

My inspiration.

If Guy in White T-shirt can do it, thought I, then I can, too.

So I did.

It’s really great.

Turns out, the route I’d been taking to work goes right up to the I-205 bike path. I’d been turning to head to work literally five feet from the path that led to the 205 ramp (image at the top of the post shows the bike lane as it approaches the 205).

You do, in fact, go under the road and then up a ramp until you appear, kinda wonderfully, right in the middle of a whole bunch of speeding cars and mountain views and Columbia River.

Now that's a bike lane.

While I did make note that deep section rims might not be the best long-term bridge commute option, the ride was nothing by gloriously fun. The north-bound route into Vancouver climbs pretty noticeably, but, being the first 75-degree day we’d had in a while, all the roadies were out letting you know what was what, so I just tried to pick guys in the distance to chase down with my 38mm steel beads and two week diet of Pop-tarts and beer. It wasn’t a bike commute; it was just a good time.

Once over you shoot down a ramp and follow a serious of dedicated bike lanes and extremely peaceful little sub-division routes. I was headed to Camas, only a dozen or so miles from Oregon, and everything about the ride was just great.

I think for the entire trip between states and over a body of water I had to ride on a section of road not clearly labeled as a dedicated bike lane for about 20-yards. Just incredible.

Here the old La Cruz reclines leisurely at a Starbucks along the way. Even the crowded strip malls had some bike lanes, and the dude who served me my coffee asked where he could get a Giro Atmos like mine. What kind of magical place is this, anyway?

I may even develop a taste for uncooked pizza.

My Pacific Northwest Hipster Raw Food Diet

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Apr 232012

There are some people out there who have a blog for legitimate reasons, but I’m not one of those. No, my blog exists because there are still some parts of me unfit for consumption by any of the people who employ me to do exceedingly important and difficult things. Why, for example, has no one come up with a 650b product called the “Jan”? As in Jan Brady, the middle one. I would so call a tire that. One of many reasons I am not, in fact, a licensed and practicing bicycle component manufacturer.

Speaking of being unfit for consumption, a funny thing happened to me over the weekend. Actually, more than one funny thing happened to me, but this one comes first.

I spent Saturday–and I mean from 9:00am Saturday morning until 7:00pm Saturday night–looking at houses all around Portland. If you’ve not done the house search thing, wherein you look at well over a dozen homes in one day, for multiple days, I can tell you that it’s a bit like speed-dating, if each potential date was holding a completely different power tool and felt compelled to use it on whatever parts of you were still generally intact from the last table’s visit. While telling you why they love cats.

For organization’s sake, I divided the homes I saw into two categories, beautiful but won’t work, and horrible and won’t work. I’m not looking for velvet paintings of Liberace in the family room or anything–just really good schools, but by that I mean really good elementary, middle, and high school. All three. Some sort of method of arriving at work without having spent two hours sitting in traffic is also preferred, if not the genuine ability to ride my bike to work every day (which I’m still secretly hoping to find).

Anyway, after a day of home visits that included surprising a house filled with sleeping seventeen-year-old boys, none of whom apparently realized his home was for sale, despite the lockbox and sign outside, and setting off the whole house alarm at another home, I decided to make my first trip into Washington State.

Washington is actually closer to my work than a lot of places in Oregon, and I’ve heard rumors of an ability to actually ride a bicycle across the I-205 bridge that spans the Columbia River between Portland and Vancouver (update: confirmed, more later).

Besides, in Washington, I could fill my car up with gas myself, a habit I’m finding weirdly hard to shake.

In my mentally, physically, and spiritually depleted state and with the sun setting, then, I set out for some places I want to see in Washington.

Fifteen minutes later I’m parked in a strip mall, thinking. By “thinking” I mean, of course, typing shit into my phone. I hadn’t eaten all day, as it turns out, and was realizing now that I was possibly so run down as to be unable to operate my motor vehicle properly (or as properly as I ever do). Trip Advisor, which I still blame for causing me to drive an extra hundred miles after having already pulled twelve hours on the road, finally fell on its own sword and failed to even open without shitting the bed completely and needed force closed, arguably the most thoughtful thing that app has done for me since Illinois. Yelp, on the other hand, had a lot to show me about the locations near me–mostly that they were all pretty expensive. As appealing as a $20 pizza or some sushi sounded, I have a home to purchase, so I’m on a strict diet when it comes to lavish dinners.

What was right near by was a little pizza place–very “greasy take out”-looking. It wasn’t reviewed well, but it was close, which was a heavily weighted factor in its favor. The place was called Papa Murphy’s.

West Coast friends no doubt already see this one coming, but please don’t spoil it for anyone else.

My conversation on the phone went like this:

Mrs. Papa Murphy: “Thank you for calling Papa Murphy’s Something-Whateverville. Would you like to hear our specials?”

Dumbass: “Sure.”

Mrs. Papa Murphy: “We have a large squirrel and passion fruit or whatever for only like fourteen bucks or something.”

Dumbass: “Sounds good. I’ll have that.”

Mrs. Papa Murphy: “OK! When would you like to pick it up?”

Dumbass: “I’m already in the neighborhood, so any time.”

Mrs. Papa Murphy: “Well just give me a few minutes to make it.”

Dumbass: “OK.”

In literature terms, the phrase “a few minutes” up there is what we call “foreshadowing.” So five minutes later I walk into the pizza place, give my name, and tell the guy behind the counter that I think it might not be ready yet. “Oh, it’s ready,” he says, proceeding to remove from a baking tray a neatly cellophaned unbaked pizza.

I have not only never seen such a thing in my life before, but I’ve never even heard of it before. Granted, I live a sheltered life and it was many years before I had even escaped from the monks who’d taught me to be an assassin for God, let alone experienced life, but who the hell sells unbaked freakin’ pizzas? For like fourteen bucks?

Here, then, is a rough approximation of everything that occurred.

Dumbass: “Oh, wow. So you don’t bake them, eh?”

Strappin’ Papa Murphy Dude: “Uh, no. That’s always been how we do it.”

Dumbass: “I’m sure, yeah. It’s just not something I was expecting.”

Strappin’ Papa Murphy Dude: “Well, it’s how we’ve always done it.”

Dumbass: “Yeah, I see. I hadn’t realized that because I’d been living three thousand miles away, and hadn’t encountered this sort of–” here, I regard the uncooked pizza warily–“thing. Before.”

Strappin’ Papa Murphy Dude: “Do you have like an oven where you’re staying.”

To my credit, here I did not try to explain that the whole point to ordering a pizza at 8:00pm alone on a Saturday night is clearly to drive around looking at homes for sale while eating it. My mind was busy doing quick calculations about how long uncooked pizza dough and what appeared to be meat and other things would last before “turning” or whatever the hell it is that uncooked dough does. Here are what those calculations looked like in my mind:


“Yeah,” I said finally, “I’m sure I can come up with something.”

There was a young Korean kid in the store at the time, too, and he was wearing a trucker hat carefully sideways, some sort of enormous glasses–like the kind you see in novelty stores or on celebrities–and he had the tongues of his sneakers unlaced and sticking way up outside his pant legs. He was looking at me like: dumbass. I have no idea if his outfit is still hip or has come back or something, but it’s forever inseparably intertwined with my shame at being an outsider and not realizing how pizzas are sold in the Pacific Northwest, so I stood there for a second, realizing that I will forever associate exposed sneaker tongues with knowledge I do not possess.

How we roll up in here.

Anyway, I drove around the southern parts of Washington, starving, eating toppings off an uncooked pizza, which might be the best way to search for a new home anyway. Something about the added desperation of needing to get to an oven makes every home look pretty nice.

Social Insecurity

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Apr 202012

Somehow I lost my social security card, which, according to the government’s site for such things, I’m allowed to do ten times a year before it gets to be a problem. Regardless of the lenient replacement policy, there are hoops to jump through with this sort of thing, and you definitely don’t want to be without that piece of paper, let alone the number itself. Even a very brief visit to a local Social Security office will introduce you to people who seem to be flickering around the edge of official person-hood, if not off that radar entirely.

Speaking of which, the tiny object in the center of the picture is actually a person in one of those Hoveround motorized mobility things for people who have trouble walking. He or she is being met by the Portland police while begging on the 205 exit ramp.

This was going on as I waiting my turn at Taco Bell, a location as well known for photo-journalistic opportunities as it is meat-shaped food products. While I tend not to believe in magical signs and symbols (except for that one dog’s ass that totally looks like Jesus), watching someone being carried off an exit ramp–a second police car seemed to be necessary to remove the Hoveround–tended to affect my otherwise cheerful “I’m about to enjoy meat-shaped food products” mood.

I’d been thinking about happiness a bit lately. In particular, I’d been trying to cope with liking the work I’m doing these days, even if there is quite a bit of it. I’d joked that yesterday I’d expected a piano to fall on me or something, because things were actually going pretty well for me after a pretty bad patch, and I just can’t seem to trust anything outside my default state of mildly comic gloom. No piano today, though this image certainly had an effect. There but for the grace of a rapidly fading Subaru Outback and some luck on the job front, go I. I worry about these sorts of things, probably more than is healthy. “Maybe my mortal fear of this new kind of happiness is how I’ll be miserable from now on,” I found myself writing in an email to my sister. And that seemed about right.

I think a lot of us are a little on edge these days, a little unsure of where things might be headed next–a kind of end-of-the-world Mayan-xiety or something–and watching someone who can’t walk get removed by the police for begging sums up all of that fear better than almost anything. But really it wasn’t just the scene that got to me.

What seems to have affected me the most was the flag.

If you look very closely, you’ll be able to see it, one of those orange, triangular “please don’t kill me” flags parents sometimes install on first bicycles before sending us out into the streets all knees and elbows, wobbly and unsure. At some point, it had occurred to this individual that his or her–I can’t be certain–personal mobility scooter required one of these flags, and of course enough people for whom walking is difficult are out begging on our off ramps, that Hoveround offers the safety flag as an accessory for only $17.95 (on sale from $19.95 right now). According to Hoveround:

Our wheelchair safety flag is a great accessory for increasing your visibility while using your power wheelchair in busy areas. The bright orange color and extended height of this safety flag gets you noticed and helps to keep you safe. Made from strong vinyl material, our power mobility flag is designed to last for a long time.”

I have to call bullshit on that one, though, because this person’s safety flag had ripped badly, so that instead of being shaped like a triangle, it floated out into two points, more like the flag of a castle. It was the flag that kind of brought it home to me, because I imagined this individual at some point working through the following simple thought process:

I’m probably going to be doing some begging, so I’d better get the flag.

The helpless tend to have the kind of ruthless logic that can’t be questioned, like this note my equally cautious and deliberate six year-old son wrote, and that I took with me on my drive across the country.

Things for Vacation: 1. Food, 2. Water

In the most literal sense, Taco Bell might not have “food,” but it never hurts to ask them for water, even if you just end up giving it to someone else.

Wherein I Experience Something Like Happiness

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Apr 192012

Just a quick note this morning, and not particularly entertaining, if I do say so myself. I was catching up on some important work last night and then staring at thumbnails of possible new homes for my family again into the wee hours. At this point, the house hunt takes on more of that “end of Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed” vibe, wherein I’m just tapping shit on the keyboard all bleery-eyed and staggering from one property to the next. Can’t we just home-school the kids? Do I really need to be able to get into work every day? And most importantly, can’t somebody just pick out a house for me and then tell me where it is? I think I’ve stopping dreaming of owning a great home, and instead started dreaming about just no longer searching for one.

But one positive thing that’s slowly occurring to me is how much I like my work now. All of it. I’m sure just writing this will cause terrible things to happen to me, but I have to say, I’m working with some really wonderful people right now and for some really wonderful companies. “Companies,” yes. I seem to be hyper-employed at present. The way some people go bungee jumping, wrestle crocodiles, or eat at Pizza Hut, my own personal extreme sport seems to be finding as many jobs as possible.

To take a quick inventory, I’m working for an e-commerce company, a bike parts manufacturer, a magazine, and I seem to be operating a bicycle design company, which was sort of an accident born out of liking bikes too much.

But the weird thing is: it’s working. I’m getting quite a bit done on all fronts right now, and have to say, enjoying the hell out of it, too. It’s partly because I love the companies I work for and partly because I like doing stuff, and partly because I’ve been what psychologists call an “entrepreneur” before, and that gig makes my current twelve hour days seem downright easy.

Anyone misguided enough to read my stuff regularly knows the optimism is hard won here. I don’t come by joy or contentment easily–and I still wouldn’t say I’m “content” (whatever that is, exactly), but I’m genuinely enjoying what I do for the first time in a long time.

So there, I said it.

This all but guarantees tomorrow’s post will be pretty spectacular. Tough to say whether an enormous eagle will carry me far up into Washington State and leave me on a cliff wall to die of exposure, or if I’ll just get run over by a garbage truck, but it’ll probably be good.

In the meantime, to take my mind off of house hunting, I’m going to decide on a name for the still mostly imaginary bike design company I actually do need to start, if just to keep my emails better organized. It’s like how the Dead Milkman were an imaginary band before deciding to become real, only I have some pretty good reasons to add yet another job title to the current list.

And I do need to add some more job titles to my resume. LinkedIn sent me some auto-generated botmail this morning to let me know that adding another job title makes me something like 12% more likely to be considered by HR departments, which suggests the more jobs you have, the more likely you are to get even more, and apparently I won’t rest until I have at least a dozen projects going on.

So I’m off into my day to have a piano fall on me and break up this peculiar happiness thing, and I’m wondering if I should call the design company VeloWorkshop or VelocityWorkshop, which are domain names I have around, or just stick with Canootervalve for the company name. I’ll be taking a break from house hunting to ponder this on the ride in to work this morning, and will resume the regular schedule of skewed perspectives and personal mishaps usually found here tomorrow. Any opinions about the name thing, please let me know.

I Will Survive

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Apr 182012

As of last night, I can no longer say I’ve never driven the wrong way down a one-way street in Portland. Thanks, Google Navigation. Can’t wait to see those Google cars that drive themselves.

All I wanted to do last night was go buy a few shirts. This is the sort of thing I’ve heard of people being able to do without much in the way of incidents, but for some reason Google has a weird blind spot when it comes to GPS near my rental in Portland. Maybe it’s airplane interference or something, but my phone’s little screen shows my blue arrow marauding through hapless Portland neighborhood raised flower beds, garage-based food carts, and backyard bicycle frame welding sheds while the robotic nav voice (I call her “Ethel”) prattles on frantically for me to “turn right” or “make a u-turn” or “go north, go north, no west.” It’d be pretty funny, actually, if it weren’t so dangerous.

This only happens when I have to go get supplies. The bike route I have to work is relatively simple and quiet by comparison. But any time I have to break out my poor, road-weary Outback (the official car of Portland, from what I can tell), all hell breaks loose.

Anyway, plenty of people were kind enough to stand on their horns to alert the strange Pennsylvania man with the busted out car window and mangled bike racks all over his roof that he was about to cause a major pileup, but here’s the thing about traveling down a one-way street: you only do it when there really aren’t any cars immediately in the way. One tends not to steer blindly into the grill of an oncoming car, no matter what Google is telling you to do. This is because we are hard-wired, back from our days evading saber-tooth tigers, to avoid doing obviously stupid shit that will get us killed.

So you really don’t have to honk quite that much when you see this sort of thing. In fact, the courteous thing to do, really, is just get out of the way and give the driver a little room to think. Me, I only turned down the street because it was clear, and, frankly, it got me exactly where I needed to go. Ethel is brutally efficient like that.

Once I got to Target, I was dismayed to find that all of their shirts had extra, unnecessary loops and buttons and stuff. I have this policy against wearing anything with purely cosmetic fasteners, second or third neck holes, or extra zippers that don’t really do anything (the ’80s were a tough decade). What I generally prefer to wear are shirts that have buttons in the front in order to facilitate installation and removal of the shirt, and that’s about it for adornments. Rarely do I need buttons and straps on my shoulders to bundle my sleeves and fasten them up. This is because I hardly ever Footloose dance.

This meant I had to find some other large purveyor of bland, strictly functional shirts. I ended up at a mall, which, as you might suspect, is where Puritan villagers would have tied someone like me as a kind of punishment for witchcraft or walking the wrong way down ye olde one way Streete. Malls give me what I believe to be “the willies,” but this particular mall had a JCPenney’s store, which has now been rebranded by a new CEO and an ex-Apple executive as “JCP,” and you could literally feel the new energy of that name change flowing through the aisles of the men’s wear section like great rivers of urine.

So I picked out some bland fat guy shirts in a rainbow of dark colors, attempted to pay for them and was presented with the opportunity to save 20% if I signed up for a “JCP” card.

There are moments in life when I revert to a kind of Woody Alan-esque stammering inability to process surroundings, and shopping in general is one of those moments. To be asked to sign up for a JCP credit card instead of just paying and walking away, it turns out, is one of the worst.

I said I’d do it.

I have no idea if that was the right thing to do, or if already JCP is charging me hundreds of dollars every fifteen minutes, if my name has been added to no-fly lists, or if I’ve somehow purchased five years of Martha Stewart Living magazine. I do know that the process took about an hour instead of the three minutes promised, no doubt complicated by the fact that Pennsylvania seems to have my address wrong on my driver’s license. Something I never noticed until moving to Oregon, where their JCP stores apparently offer far more rigorous identity checks than, say, the government of the State of Pennsylvania.

The sign up process ended up involving my social security number, entered multiple times into a keypad as the sales associate assured me it does not appear on his screen. Then I had to input my birth date three times because the JCP computer was confused by a leading zero in the month of 09. Apparently, the software engineer who designed this system for JCP really only anticipated people born between October and December as potential sign-up candidates, which I guess is understandable.

Finally, I was told that I had to speak to the JCP credit department representative who–and I am not joking about this–gave me a multiple choice quiz on my life.

At which of these addresses did I at one point either live or work? I got that one instantaneously, recognizing faintly the home in which I was raised and lived for eighteen years or so.

At which of these addresses did I live? was the next question, and, diabolically, it was a trick-fucking-question. The list included addresses I’d never heard of. Given that I have an incredibly poor memory and that I’ve lived places as seemingly improbable as Atlanta and Chicago, though, this shook me.

“I don’t recall ever having lived at any of those places,” I stated, boldly into the waiting silence of the receiver, and waiting. “OK,” said the small JCP voice on the line, “I have one more question.”

“Yes!” I told her. “I knew I hadn’t lived any of those places!”

I was doing so incredibly well on this test about myself that I basically forgot all about the shirts or the JCP credit card. I pressed the check-out counter JCP phone firmly against my ear, determined to ace this exam.

In which of these counties did you own property? A tricky one, though one of the answers sounded like a place in Georgia, a place I once lived as an angry young English professor who once told a Georgia State Trooper he should consider pulling over some of the Mercedes Benzes and Lexi I saw going faster than I’d been going on the highway. Who once told a woman in a convenience store that yes, the person for whom I was buying the butterfly band-aids probably did need stitches, then stared at her until she gave me my change. Where my dog once tried to attack a body builder’s pet python and nearly caused me an ass-beating.

I was so punk then.

But I got that question right, too. I had once owned property in Cobb County, Georgia, where my neighbor had told my wife and I that he was glad we didn’t have kids and glad we weren’t black. (We ended up teaching him to expand his list by becoming a foster home for unruly Alaskan Malamutes–something like ten dogs living on our white, childless property at one point, even.)

God. All of this had happened to me.

At the end of the punishing quiz, I was awarded my life, and told I was granted my JCP store card, which earned me thirteen dollars off my purchase. The card would be mailed to my current address in Pennsylvania, where I no longer live, which seemed somehow strangely appropriate.

Goodwill House Hunting

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Apr 172012

It turns out that searching for a house is not nearly as cool as that TV show “House Hunters” makes it out to be. If it’s really true that independently wealthy people just can’t find anything that makes them happy, I’d like to recommend following me around for a while, looking at house after house that’s either priced like a lost Van Gogh, or can’t contain my sprawling brood–twins are the Gift from God that also happens to wreck your financial planning, but you can never figure out which one to blame, so you have to just love both of them.

But that’s not really the bad part. The truly bad part about buying a new home, when you’re not independently wealthy, is that you have to wade through endless houses, each with weird fatal flaws and strange compromises. In contrast to this, the independently wealthy have the ability to live in a state of near constant wonder and enchantment.

Take this eleven million dollar home in Lake Oswego, for instance.

Lake Oswego, Oregon Home

The nice thing about being able to buy a home that’s worth more than the operating budget for the city of Detroit is that you get to be thrilled and delighted, without any of that unseemly disappointment and compromise. Prefer a master bath large enough to let you play slap and giggle tackle football with the trophy wife? Check. Personally, I would find it impossible not to fill this bathtub with gasoline and fly a radio controlled airplane into it, just to see what would happen, but then I say that about every bathtub I see.

His and Hers separate wings are the new dual-vanities.

Whereas everyone I know who’s currently house hunting is primarily concerned with finding good schools for their kids, anyone capable of owning this home could take the obvious further step of just starting a school somewhere within the home.

In fact, I’m pretty sure this home already includes one of those heavily upholstered and woodgrained schools for foppy English mutant children who’re a little frightened and unsure of their laser beam eyes and metallic skin.

In fact, why are there so many tripods in this home? That, in and of itself, seems highly suspicious, and further evidence that the truly wealthy have no idea what they’re supposed to buy.

What, no tripod in the bathroom?

But imagine how happy you’d be to be able to buy a house that had at least the basic stuff you were looking for? You know, like solid schools, a roof that won’t need replaced in the next few years, and a bathroom that doesn’t look like it was used for cooking meth. To find something like that–something that just covered the basics–would probably make the average person much happier than an $11-million home could ever make someone who can afford it.

That’s why I’m starting the Christopher S. Currie Foundation for Meaning in Wealth, an organization designed to help match wealthy but unhappy people with people who can show them how to appreciate stuff. And maybe build a go cart track in the atrium. That would be so rad.

The Oregon Trail(s)

 Bikes  Comments Off on The Oregon Trail(s)
Apr 162012

I took a break from my near perpetual state of panic to go ride a bike yesterday. This meant crawling out of the basement where I’m staying and actually riding a bicycle outside–something I haven’t done since the long drive to Portland.

While my legs didn’t atrophy completely, my steady diet of cookies, Nutella and Deschutes Black Butte Porter (when in Rome) “heightened the sensation” of the initial 1,000 or so foot climb. I think my sense of “big climbs” is going to take some time to recalibrate.

Jason, my unofficial tour guide to Oregon life and the man responsible for getting me back on a bicycle, is shown here, chugging on up the long climb that starts the ride.

Where were we? Hell if I know. Somewhere in the direction of Mount Hood. I’ve made a life of having as little interaction with or knowledge of my surroundings as possible. This way, if I’m ever abducted and held for the ransom that is my bikes (Pivot, Indy and my Parlee Z3 are really the only truly valuable things I own), the kidnappers won’t even need to blindfold me. See how cooperative I am, potential future kidnappers? You’re welcome.

Here, my 429 briefly contemplates its new life in Oregon, deciding eventually that it must have died and gone to 429 heaven. Mt. Hood is centered behind those tree-covered mountains, but it’s obscured by clouds, poor photo technology, and my incompetence as a photographer.

There it is.

It’s tough to describe trails in Oregon without resorting to stupid exaggerations like “best ever” and “changed my life.” They’re really nice. I’d ridden in Southern Oregon before, but have always wanted to ride in the even denser, tighter and trickier Pacific Northwest.

The trails are incredible from top to bottom, and the amount of work local trail crews had in them was evident every inch of the way. What I particularly liked is that the initial climb wasn’t the only climbing you got to do. These trails didn’t just drop in and head straight back down the mountain. There was a fair bit of level and climbing, and that really makes the ride so much better.

Conditions were wet, but not particularly muddy. I discovered that I love the way Oregon mud smells. If you’re going to find out there’s something weird wrong with you, I highly recommend this quirk.

Waterfalls and bridges are pretty common on Oregon trails, and this section was amazingly fun to ride.

There was one rock garden I didn’t clean, which is the East Coaster’s equivalent of being slapped in the face with a white glove, so I’ll need to visit this place again, wherever it was. Big thanks to Jason for getting me off my ass and out into the woods on a bike.