Virtually Identical

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Jun 292012

I know enough about suspension systems to understand how unbearable life must be for engineers sometimes. Bikerumor posted this info about the new Merida suspension system–the “VPP, er, uh, VPK” yesterday. Some of you will no doubt realize just from the photo above that this thing’s only similarity to a Santa Cruz VPP bike in that it has a couple short links and two wheels. Other than that, it’s sort of the opposite, which Santa Cruz engineer and dude who makes thinking cool, Joe Graney, took the time to clarify with this comment:

Merida’s VPK suspension uses two short links that rotate in the same direction. This is a similar configuration to DW Link, Maestro, CVT and others. VPP suspension patents and the mechanisms are based on links that rotate in opposite directions. This is the key differentiator that gives VPP the ability to tune shock rates and pedaling behavior independently.

While Merida may have designed a bike that descends with aplomb, their design is not based on VPP, but their marketing angle for their (recently renamed VPK from VPP which is trademarked internationally by Santa Cruz) most definitely is.”

I’ve always found–with no exceptions whatsoever–that reading things written by People Who Know Something tends to always be way more entertaining than reading things written by people who just write. I’m not sure if Joe’s response above is hilarious to everyone, or if a few bike nerd-gencia snorted milk out of our noses at it, but I can tell you that if he’d put “aplomb” in quotation marks, I would literally have spit coffee all over my monitor.

Joe’s a gentleman, though, to have only pointed out the marketing thing. There’s a lot more about this situation that he wisely choose not to get into. I’m neither tactful nor wise, though.

For starters, the marketing thing is offensively bad. You can’t really blame Bikerumor for inferring a connection between a frame that literally has “VPP” stickers on it, and some kind of Santa Cruz connection, if not an actual licensing deal.

I have no idea what the hell Merida was thinking with such a blatant copyright violation. They’re a huge company–is there no one on the payroll in charge of preventing obviously stupid shit from happening? At least they’ve since come up with their own horrible acronym: “Virtual Pivot Kinematics.” That combines the flagrant rip-off of Santa Cruz with an added bullshit word currently enjoying some popularity. Brilliant.

But the copyright issue seems the least of their problems. If this new “VPK” doesn’t infringe on at least one of Dave Weagle’s patents, it’s not for lack of trying. This is, in fact, the same off-the-rack Taiwan suspension system that’s been showing up at Interbike every few years, and finally ended up on a Look full-suspension bike, which might manage to stay off DW’s lawn only because the pivot seems to have been pushed so far back as to lose the benefits of a DW-link entirely.

My salty bitching really comes down to this, though: there’s nothing new or interesting going on here. What we have is a design that was being used for Look (I’d not be shocked to find out Merida builds the Look frames), that Merida re-tooled just enough to make worse. How so? By stranding the upper link’s lower pivot in the middle of nowhere, they’ve forced a whole extra chunk of metal to be added to this thing, just to support that. They’ve also figured out a way to position the shock in the worst of all locations–the one that gives you no water bottle options and requires a stronger, heavier downtube that’s capable of handling the stress of a shock nearly t-boning it.

On paper anyway, that bike is a mess. Which brings me back to my point.

If you’ve turned yourself inside out to engineer a really different suspension system–one that tries to do very specific things–and you see something like “Virtual Pivot Kinematics,” you die a little inside.

Maybe the Merida rides OK. The company certainly supports athletes and wins races in Europe, and more power to them, but to compare the time and energy that went into the Merida suspension system shown there with something like a Santa Cruz just doesn’t seem fair, because I promise their development cycles were completely different.

New Directions

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Jun 282012

It’s pretty hard to write about bicycles while Colorado is on fire. The photos that have surfaced so far are horrifying, and we can only hope for a break in the weather and continued safety for everyone in harm’s way–especially the people fighting the fire. Red Bull athletes aren’t too shabby, but the men and women on the front line of that shit are brave.

Speaking of horrifying photos, have you seen Pinarello’s mountain bike? While I’d hate to be the person in charge of warranty service there, I have to give them credit. In a world of “me-too” cookie cutter carbon fiber 29ers, it takes some serious orgoglio to say, “Screw that, let’s overlap the seatstays and see what happens.”

And why the hell not? I mean other than killing off your demographic, which I’m pretty sure is a marketing mistake. At any rate, they’ll die doing what they loved: riding a $10k mountain bike around on bike paths.

In better news, it looks like Aston Martin is continuing the trend we first saw with Audi’s insane electric bike, and releasing an Aston Martin bicycle that isn’t just another hybrid with a decimal out of place in the price tag.

Don’t get me wrong. They forgot the decimal point entirely in the rumored $40k Aston Martin/Factor One-77 collaboration bike, but at least it’s sufficiently bizarre to warrant a freakish price. I’d thought this was the same Factor chassis Steve Domahidy helped design, but apparently this predates that, so now I’m all confused by Factor. Even their name is a mathematical thing. Intimidating.

I like the bikes, though, and they’re a legitimately different animal, but this isn’t surprising. Aston Martin actually has a bit of a history of getting custom bike collaborations a little closer to “right” than, say, Porsche or Chrysler. They’d previously chosen to work with small frame builders instead of slapping their badge on just anything picked out of a catalog–and they were able to articulate why they made that decision.

Taken together, I think the One-77 and Pinarello Dogma 29er are really positive signs. Sure, the Pinarello scares me to death with seat stays anchored with a stem faceplate badge, but both bikes are legitimately something different, and we need more of that.

Jun 272012

Forget 650b. If you’ve seen the Czech flying bicycle, you know he future of bicycles is all about air travel. Sure, this thing is a catastrophe, but also an enigma. What, for instance, is the Surly connection here? Check out the video and see if you can figure out why this thing has fat bike tires?

Landing gear, I guess.

In other gadget news, Google is officially scaring the hell out of me now. Self-driving cars and googly eyes were one thing, but Lolcat-loving artificial intelligence and electronic brains are just a bit much. Fast Company is reporting that Google has created an artificial brain.

Google’s brain, more or less undirected through a process of repetition, developed a ‘concept’ of human faces and the different parts of a human body from these images, and also a concept of cats. ‘Concept’ here means a fuzzy ill-understood pattern that it could use to categorize a new image it had not seen before, based on its previous learning. The cats concept was a surprise to the researchers, but given the fact that YouTube is a skewed data set, and that we humans do love Lolcats and their like, perhaps it was inevitable.”

Not scared yourself, yet? Check out the human face “concept” of Google’s fake brain.

Starting to look like zombie apocalypse could be our best case scenario.

Carrying a Torch

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Jun 262012

I have no idea what that picture means (I found it on a blog called, but I wish Jesus would teach me to weld. If Evel Knievel’s regret was that he never killed anybody (certainly not for lack of trying, if suicide counts), my great regret is that I never learned to weld. Also, that I don’t have my own CNC machines. Not that I have a lot of free time, but if I did, I would love to be a complete menace to the entire neighborhood with Tesla-grade mad scientist hardware in the garage. If I’d learned to weld and machine, at least some version of Project Danzig would already be done.

I was thinking about this over the weekend, when I thought I’d lost my trusty Pivot 429, a frame I’ve had almost as long as I’d been working on my own frame. I love it, but a part of me hoped I’d have a prototype of my own frame by now. For one terrifying moment, I thought I’d lost the 429, and a bunch of years have gone by without a prototype.

I’d run into Wal-Mart to drop off a Redbox movie this weekend–we have no TV right now, so we’re watching recent Nicolas Cage movies and seeing who cracks first. I hadn’t planned on stopping, so my Pivot 429 is on the back of the car, unlocked.

Off I scramble toward the Redbox kiosk inside the store, constantly looking over my shoulder. Still there. Still there. Still there. And then I’m inside the store, at the Redbox machine. I click “Return.” Nothing. Unresponsive. Again. Again nothing. The Redbox machine does not want Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance back, which I understand completely. Still, as the person who paid to watch a Nicolas Cage movie, I feel a Redbox representative should’ve already come to my house to pick it up and apologize. In fact, I’m thinking Nicolas Cage should be personally traveling across the country to check this movie out of every Redbox in America permanently, and Stan Lee should probably be driving the dumptruck.

This is what’s going through my mind when the machine finally, grudgingly, accepts Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance back into its bowels.

And I’m off. Boom, out the Wal-Mart doors and moving across the parking lot toward my unlocked Pivot, which is no longer on the back of my car.



Temporarily, I’m not sure if one continues walking toward the car in this case, turns around, or starts hopping up and down, hands on cheeks, screaming. I go with walking toward the car. And then I notice my car, and my bike. In just the time it took me to return the movie, another white Subaru Outback pulled in only a car away from mine. In the Northwest, only VW vans outnumber Subaru Outbacks.

I’m not good at interpreting dreams–particularly when they happen in broad daylight in a Wal-Mart parking lot and aren’t dreams–but I think I need to find a way to build myself a prototype. So many things are still going on with the patent license, but more than anything, I just want to ride one of these bikes.

All Ears

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Jun 252012

There’s a great article over at Fast Company describing the new “social media command centers” some companies are using to “capture, monitor, and utilize social media conversations.” Certainly sounds cool, but I can’t help but think all this talk of “response strategies,” “feedback internalization,” and “two-way conversations” is just the latest version of “this call may be monitored for training purposes”?

Dell, for instance, is cited as a specific example in the article:

Dell’s ground control center tracks around 22,000 daily posts about the company across a wide range of social media, and enables Dell to participate in online dialogue about their brand and use social media insights to improve their products and marketing.”

But everyone knows what sucks so bad about Dell. They subsidize the cost of everything by filling your computer with bloatware programs that make it run like ass. They also skin their vendors alive on pricing until the hardware in your PC makes the back aisles at RadioShack look pretty advanced. Will hearing that change their business model? Of course not.

Oddly, it seems like a lot of the companies investing so heavily in monitoring social media would be much better to allocate funds toward simply not being dicks. According to Manish Mehta, Dell’s VP of social media and community,”Ground Control is about tracking the largest number of possible conversations across the web and making sure we ‘internalize’ that feedback, good or bad . . . . It’s also about tracking what you might call the ‘long tail’–those smaller matters that might not bubble to the surface today, but are out there, and deserve to be heard.”


When it comes to large corporations, social media is all about pretending to give a shit, but the upside is that it requires actual human beings not just to give that shit, but even to pretend to give it. That’s the social media trap many companies are finding themselves in these days: they thought they could bullshit their way through it like they have so many other things involving customers, but the whole idea that social media is a two-way conversation ruins the whole automated bone-tossing bit. You have to engage with people.

The monstrous industry that’s evolved to support circumventing direct communication with people is certainly impressive. Effective, though? Difficult to say. Other than some game theory time-wasting, it’s tough to say what consumers actually get out of the new communication channels, clogged as they are with “command center” specialists listening and reacting, while still insulating the actual corporate decision-makers. Dell, I’m afraid to reveal, does not actually love you and want to have coffee with you. Even Apple thinks you’re kind of a pain in the ass, frankly.

A few bicycle frame manufacturers, in contrast are in touch with their consumers. Why, because they engage in the same activity as the consumers. That’s why the sight of something like this Kirklee Bikerumor posted recently makes many people who ride bicycles happy.

If you ride a bike, you stand a better chance of understanding what people who ride bikes want. That way, you don’t even have “like” them in order to make the products they want.

Jun 222012

Rick Vosper has published a really interesting post over at Based on fresh data from the Gluskin-Townley group’s National Bicycle Dealer Association (NBDA) report, Vosper seems to pretty effectively dispel the myth of a “Big Three” stranglehold on independent bike dealers.

Except that maybe he doesn’t. As Vosper puts it:

Turns out there’s a total of 143 bike brands active in the US market (down from 150 last year). Moreover, in terms of which brands are tops in which shops and/or markets, it’s not Trek, Giant, or Specialized that leads the pack. Not Raleigh or Cannondale or Haro or Diamondback or Schwinn, or any of the top brands we’d all expect.

On a purely representative basis, the leading brand in the country is . . . ‘Other.’ And it has been for years.”

The suggestion is that smaller companies are, in aggregate, a serious force in the U.S. bicycle industry.

As much as I’d like to believe that, I just can’t. In the past, I did quite well with niche brands, and I wish others could too, but empirical data derived from something I call “walking into any bike shop in the U.S.” suggests neither Specialized nor Trek need fear any smaller companies.

A part of the disconnect might be the method used for gathering the data. According to Jay Townley, whose group conducted the research, the data was gathered “based on a survey of more than 300 independent bike shops,” where “the basic question” . . . “was to write in their bestselling bicycle brands, not numbers, but bestselling brands based on unit volume.”

Um, OK.

So the questioning was maybe a little subjective. Could that affect things? Poor Trek and Specialized tend to suffer from what I like to call the “Nickleback Syndrome”: they make shit-tons of money even while shop rats sometimes think it’s not cool to be a “Trek shop” or “Specialized shop.” That’s just the “freedom” twitch, wherein a dealer or shop rat doesn’t want to believe he’s bought and sold based on the whims of his vendor. No one admits to liking Nickleback. Yet they still come to your city and get suck all over it. Go figure.

But how accurate was the data? That’s the question. It’s possible the official Gluskin-Townley report describes how rigorously the data was checked against inventory management systems, etc. but, given my experience in bicycle retail, “rigorous” just isn’t a term that comes up all that often (come to think of it, “inventory management” doesn’t even come up very often).

I’m also not entirely clear how to square the notion that Specialized, Trek and Giant still likely dominate “in terms of total unit sales,” without being a “bestselling” brand. To me, then, this report raises more questions than it answers. Sure, we have Redline, Fuji and the QBP brands chipping away at market share, but if they’re effectively doing that, then how could it not be reflected in sales? As much as I want to believe in this report, taken at face value, it seems to suggest dealers are primarily flooring bike brands that don’t make them money.

What’s more, they’re flooring bikes that don’t make them money despite the pressures from their Big Three overlords to knock that shit off.

Seems wrong.

It’s possible the data is just skewed. We know “more than 300 independent bike shops” were used for this analysis. In the absence of hard data, we have to assume “more than 300” effectively means like “302.” If there are roughly 5000 IBDs in the U.S. that’d be about 6% of them that were polled. If we figure we’re down to 4500 IBDs and sort of put a thumb on the good news scale here, probably the most we can get is about 7-7.5% of dealers surveyed in this sample. Statistically, this should still be enough to give us a pretty accurate reading (low margin of error), but there tends to be wide variance between IDBs, meaning I could find 300 shops in the U.S. that don’t carry Trek or Specialized. Usually every larger town has one of those “also ran” shops that can’t get one of the Big Three (and may well be a better shop than those that can). This matters.

So I’m questioning how reliable this data can be–or even if it has any intrinsic value whatsoever. If you don’t sell Trek, you don’t represent them on your floor. If you polled 7% of the shops in the U.S., how many of those shops were selling Trek or Specialized? Wouldn’t that affect the results? When you can’t get the big brands, you represent the smaller brands. Call 300 shops that don’t sell Trek or Specialized, and you get a snap shot of what life is like at the bottom of the retail food chain, not how healthy the Big Three’s grip is around the neck of the U.S. bike dealer.

In other words, “representation” is a bullshit made-up term. More usable data would seem to be what revenue each brand is generating for that representative sample of retailers across the country. Ask each shop: what are your top ten bike lines, in terms of revenue? If your shop is filled with Raleighs because you can’t get Trek or Specialized, then way to go for you and Raleigh, but good luck breaking the $1.5M sales mark. What really matters is this: are you able to compete with the shop that has Trek or Specialized? That’s the real question. The report suggests an interesting variation based on total sales revenue: “At $300,000 or less, Trek is #7; Redline is #1. At $3000-5000, Trek is #2,Raleighis [sic] #1. Where Trek has its hold is in the million-plus-dollar retailers. Trek is not #1 in all regions of the country, nor are they #1 in all size stores. It varies.”

Well, yeah. Your store’s revenue varies based on whether or not you sell Specialized, Trek or Giant. If you can’t get those lines, good fucking luck making more than $300k a year. Wouldn’t that seem to be the opposite of Vosper’s point? To suggest this is evidence of some kind of “representational” pattern, I submit to you, is the worst kind of tail wagging dog argument. “Where Trek has its hold is in the million-plus-dollar retailers.” Yes, the ones making money.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Vosper has written a fascinating article, I love what he’s clearly wishing and hoping for here (even if I can’t believe in it), and I have a great deal of respect for what the Gluskin-Townley group tries to do (gathering data in this industry is like bailing out a leaking canoe with a spork), but don’t let’s get to dreaming up scenarios where the little guys can compete based on some mystical “representation” number. Vosper’s evocation of the Long-tail theory is apt here, but maybe not for the reasons he suggests. The vast majority of small shops cater to a smaller and more eclectic segment of the industry because that’s the only brand real estate left to them. Those smaller shops aren’t successful because they don’t have any of the Big Three brands–they’re successful despite not having them. It’s a testament to how hard most of those shops work to take care of customers.


 Bikes  Comments Off on Dopey
Jun 212012

Over the past year, I’ve dealt with some life-alteringly bad bullshit, but the view from my new back porch does a lot to make up for it.

Now I just need to some time on a bike. Between living in hotels and eating garbage for months now, my normal “awful” fitness level has deteriorated into “super awful” range. Having just unpacked my moving truck to find the moving crew we’re hired to help hadn’t put so much as a napkin between my daughter’s Santa Cruz Juliana and my Co-Motion was just that extra little kick in the nards I absolutely did not need today.

Unable to ride bikes right now, I find myself thinking about them a lot, and it’s impossible to miss the current Lance Armstrong saga. Because I still have a lot of boxes to unpack and need to sketch a brief bike company business plan (it’s a long story), I’ll keep this short: something like six years ago my friend, Jeremy, made an interesting point when it comes to Armstrong and doping allegations. “Why are all these ex-U.S.Postal guys getting nabbed for doping only after they leave Armstrong’s former team?”

Think about it. I wouldn’t trust Floyd Landis as far as Barry Bonds could throw him, but are we really supposed to believe all of these ex-Postal riders started doping only after leaving the team? While I tend to be in the camp of people who believe Armstrong’s transcended sport and become a kind of positive force for good in the world, I’m also practical enough to realize many revolutionaries and great leaders are often assholes with decidedly checkered pasts. Mentally, I think most of us are prepared for the worst. All that really matters at this point is that any Armstrong blowback doesn’t hurt the bicycle industry as much as we’re all afraid it might.

The Strava Defense and Some Help for a Friend

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Jun 202012

You know you’re tired when you’ve just moved into a very nice home and this is what’s making you happy:

  1. a carabiner works as a bottle opener
  2. the couch you bought from the previous owners is big enough for you to sleep on

In fact, I’d like to sleep for a few days straight, but the unloading starts bright and early tomorrow. Have to say this place feels like home, though. If there was any doubt I’d picked the perfect place to live, the guy detailing his Saab while dressed like Elvis at the local Safeway here today put it all to rest. In Laughlintown, all the Elvis impersonators drive Fords. This is the Promised Land.

In the meantime, I just received an email from Strava about some updated terms and conditions they have. Whatever could that be all about? As much as I sympathize with the family of the cyclist killed trying to set a new Strava record, blaming Strava for pushing yourself on a bicycle makes about as much sense as suing Lance Armstrong because your heart exploded trying to match his time up Alpe d’Huez. For Armstrong, no doubt, such a lawsuit would be the best legal news he’ll receive this year, but the point is you can’t hold Strava accountable for shit you do on a bicycle.

Here’s an excerpt from the “don’t sue us” wording on their new Terms and Conditions page:



That’s one hell of a “don’t look at us” statement, but it’s pretty clear that every bit of it should’ve been in there from the start (and maybe it was–nobody reads those things until something goes horribly wrong anyway). Are more people out there pushing themselves to set records because of Strava? Absolutely. It’s the social meets competitive element that’s distinguished Strava from the countless other mapping apps out there, but that’s what’s burning them here. We still live in a society saws need stickers to warn you they’re sharp, and the “Strava made me do it” argument may not be brushed off as easily as you’d think.

If things somehow don’t go Strava’s way with this, we can expect all hell to break loose among litigious types who didn’t realize some really dangerous shit they were doing was really dangerous. That includes riding a bicycle. They say you can drown in an inch of water, and sometimes all it takes to shuffle off this mortal coil is three beers and a skateboard, so I’m pulling for Strava here. I’m pretty sure their app drains most of the fun out of riding, but I support their right to let some people live in a perpetual state of one-upmanship if they choose to.

Mat Barton

I rarely have a “more serious note” in these posts, but my friend and co-worker Mat Barton was seriously injured in a short track race on June 11th here in Portland, and the current prognosis is that Mat will be permanently paralyzed from the chest down. If any of you are fortunate enough to have met Mat even briefly, he’s no doubt left an impression for his genuine enthusiasm–he’s a positive guy, and not in that cheesy self-help bullshit positive way common to people who secretly loathe themselves. Mat’s just an extremely nice guy, and he and his wife, Jessica, are hurting right now.

Mat’s a responsible guy and a gifted and successful graphic designer (most of what you’ll see on is the direct result of his work), but nothing prepares you for the changes Mat and Jessica are having to face right now. If you can at all spare even a small donation to help a fellow bike rider and his family, friends have created a PayPal donation site for Mat.

Thanks for reading. Time to go search the truck for a few more basic essentials. Plenty more bike news afoot right (including that sausage attack in Massachusetts), but it’ll have to wait until I get this move finished up entirely.

Badlands and Satan-proof Children

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Jun 192012

Having been without TV for the past three months, I’ve been completely out of touch with important world events. Miller Lite has some dumbass new can with a sort of breather hole to “improve pouring,” for instance. Clearly beer can technology has made strides while I was away. Still, why can no piss-beer company realize that what we really want is a can with both a breather hole and coldness indicator? Good to see bullshit marketing is still alive and well, though. I guess can technology makes as much sense as anything, though I still like Coors and Miller should just intentionally make their beer taste worse to go after the “ironic” market Pabst has cornered.

I spent last night in Pendleton, Oregon. After 2500 or so miles (only 250 or so to go). My arrival in Pendleton coincided, as it always seems to, with some sort of “toddler and tiaras” contest, which apparently draws people from across the nation. Also in town is what I believe to be a rodeo for people over the age of 70. At any rate, I was lucky to find a hotel room, even if the geriatric cowboy next door is snoring loud enough to vibrate the entire wall.

It’s a stark contrast to the domestic violence wake-up call I had in Joliet, Illinois. Here a dude negotiates with the police after he and his girlfriend decided to wake up the first floor of a Super 8 (and probably part of the second).

I’ve never understood why slamming a door more than once would ever be required. Either you’re leaving him/her or not. If you forgot your smokes, you can’t go back. It undermines the whole thing. To slam the hotel room door four or five times frankly suggests your heart’s just not in the breakup. Still, I’m far less afraid of this guy than I am a six-year-old wearing eye-shadow and a Snow White outfit.

Nebraska, meanwhile, looks like a painting of itself. It’s perfectly still and so uneventful you begin to wonder what’s wrong.

Periodically, though, Nebraska has its moments.

When the Romneys go MX racing, they always take their cat, Windburn.

Whereas Nebraska always tries to put me to sleep, Wyoming genuinely tried to kill me this time around. I have no idea how truckers survive crossing this state regularly. Since the domestication of the horse, let alone the invention of bicycles and automobiles, I can’t even understand how someone comes to live in southern Wyoming. Constant 50mph winds and a landscape that makes Mars look like a miniature golf course just seems uniquely inhospitable to me, but what do I know. I’ve lived in Pittsburgh, Chicago and even Atlanta. I have no room to talk.

Last night was spent at a Super 8 in Ogden, Utah, where the combination convenience store/inconvenient Denny’s restaurant included this display of books capable of “enriching my life.”

I came pretty close to purchasing, Satan, You Can’t Have My Children, but decided instead to one day publish the collected shit my kids say in a volume entitled Satan, You Can’t Handle My Children. Here’s the first entry. Happened the day before I starting my drive across the country.

Six year-old #1: (Apropos of nothing) Is “Friends” from France?

Six year-old #2: What friends? What do you mean?

Six year-old #1: You know, “Friends.”

Twelve year-old: Like the TV show?

Six year-old #1: (Relaxing in booster seat, eyes closed.) Yeah.

Dad: How do you know about “Friends”?

Six year-old #1: (Eyes still closed.) I watch it sometimes.

Twelve year-old: When have you ever watched “Friends”?

Six year-old: (Eyes still closed, but grinning.) I watch it with my friends.

Whatever’s so wrong with my kids, I have to admit I approve.


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Jun 182012

Still traveling. I survived half of Nebraska, all of Wyoming and a little Utah yesterday. Waiting for a fully loaded twenty-six foot Penske rental truck to chug slowly one barren Wyoming pass after another offered ample time for reflection. For me, the road has never held that sense of Kerouacian wonder. While I don’t mind traveling, I tend to find a lot less magic out there, and a lot more bullshit.

The problem with driving across the country is that you don’t see the country. What you see is a kind of uninspired, public restroom version of the United States, complete with faded Ted Nugent ads on diesel pumps, endless combinations of rest stop Kentucky Taco Huts, and a general lack of basic human decency.

Few things crush the soul like those torx bolts they use to build toilet stalls in public restrooms, for example–the ones with the extra little metal bit right in the middle.

As commentaries on our society go, this one says, “We tried switching to a more unusual torx bolt, but too many people still dismantled the walls while taking a dump.”

More than anything, what gets me about travel is all the meaningless visual debris you can’t help but soak in on a trip like this. That image at the top of this post, for instance: why are there skiers on the paper towel dispensers on gas pump islands at rest stops in Indiana? If you’re somebody who can’t help but try to find meaning in things, a trip across the country isn’t easy. The sheer volume of words and images completely removed from any meaning or even significance can be pretty overwhelming. After a while, you start to think the same Snapple bottles are following you from one convenience store cooler to the next.