Sunday, 27 March 2016

Off-Road Use Only (or Silly Car Drivers)

So I had my e-bike modified at an undisclosed location.

A bit of background about e-bikes:  There are 2 main modes of motor action. 1) throttle (No pedalling required.I don't like those, fat people ride those; pretty much just an electric wheelchair with 2 wheels) and 2) Pedelec, where you HAVE to pedal and the motor assists your pedalling.

I have no idea what the speed restrictions are on a throttle-type e-bike, but I'm sure bored legislators have come up with some numbers. But I know these numbers for Pedelecs.  

If you buy your Pedelec in Europe, the motor stops helping at 25 km/h. If you want to go faster, it's time to pedal really hard.

If you buy your Pedelec n North America, that limit is set at 20 miles/hour, which roughly equals 32 km./h. 

This is actually a big difference. If you pedal a European bike next to a North American bike, the North American bike will leave the European bike behind, not because it's a better bike, but simply because the motor assist threshold is set higher.

So the Europeans came up with S Pedelecs, in which the motor cut-off threshold is set to 45 km/h. And they produce conversion kits for the slower Pedelecs.  That conversion kit is simply an electronic circuit that fools the existing motor control into thinking that it's going slower than it actually is.

The result? Exhilaration!  I can't actually tell you what this does to a bike in city traffic. Because, being an extremely law-abiding I of course comply with the fact that the bike with the modification is not legal to operate off public streets, eh?

But I keep having strange visions of puzzled car drivers: "What the hell was that green thing that just passed me?" 

Watch for it this June

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Missing Monks

I'm in a parking garage with a rental car to buy bread buns for Grandma.  Got the buns, paid the garage, now I just have to get out of the underground. Cars are moving towards the exit gate from two directions; usually the zipper system is the solution for this.  An expensive woman in an expensive car disagrees when she catapults her car's nose in front of mine.

A line from The 5th Element:  Evil begets Evil !
Her face is disfigured by unbridled HATE.  I don't have to be a lip reader to see that the snapping of her chin and the movements of her mouth are exactly those that I would see if she was shouting FUCK OFF at me at the top of her lungs.  I actually start laughing.  Of course she avoids eye contact after her outburst, something Vancouverites are experts at. Better to look at that mysterious object in your rear-view mirror than at the bus driver who is almost bursting a coronary because you cut him off and half his passengers are barely standing after the harsh braking.  Being rude and inconsiderate is one thing. Not even having the spine to apologize for that is another.    

Rot in Hell, Rude Retards.  

he's got it figured out

And it's her loss that she doesn't look.  Once I cut off a woman in a car by accident.  I then saw her coming around in the rear view mirror with anger in her face.  When she was right next to me I gave her a Namaste and an apologetic face and she couldn't help but SMILE.  It's not that difficult.

A day later I have to pick up my bike at the other end of town. Time is scarce, so I ask the hotel receptionist to call me a taxi. She does and I go out to the parking lot to smoke. A rather unsympathetic greasy big-bellied guy that had been waiting in the reception area follows me and keeps staring at me. 
At least it didn't lead to this
I try to ignore him but every time I check, he's still staring at me with a facial expression that is hard to interpret, but could be worn by an ax-murderer eyeing his next victim (I could be wrong; to my knowledge I have never met an ax murderer). This goes on for about 7 to 10 minutes. Then a taxi arrives. I turn towards it, when Mr. Ax shouts at me in a hissing tone "That's my cab!".  OMFG.  A simple sentence 10 minutes ago informing me that he had already ordered one and that the first taxi would be his would have sufficed and spared him the staring and the hissing. What is wrong with people?

Today I cycle along a path that in parts is pedestrians only. The route I take to it doesn't have any signs to that effect ;-) I being I, I slow down and make room every time I see a pedestrian. That's what I do for the guy who then shouts "This trail is a no-bikes trail!  But You don't give a shit, do you?"  I am speechless for a moment, and only manage to reply in a demure tone "At least I'm friendly!".

Then (also today) there is this woman taking selfies of herself right in the middle of the bike/pedestrian lane on Lions Gate Bridge.  She is turning her back against the oncoming bike traffic and must be playing LOUD music through the headphones she is wearing because she is deaf to my rather loud bell. When I pass her with ample space between us, she jumps away from me and emits a horrible high-pitched squealing noise. Next time you're admiring your appearance in your cell phone, hon, please don't switch off your brain. I'm sure her friends will hear that a rude cyclist almost ran her off the bridge and only a miracle saved her from the deadly fall.

Learning that my friend Alan is on his way to Hong Kong doesn't help. Hong Kong is less than 3 hours flight from Phnom Penh, a city where people have little but what they have is their smiles and their dignity. And all the money in Vancouver can't make Vancouverites smile without antidepressants and expensive clothes and cars do not convey dignity.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Those tiny little decisions that can make or break lives

Anyone who has ever looked at this blog knows I don't like what Vancouver has become. Once in a while I had doubts whether I maybe was exaggerating and that maybe Vancouver isn't as bad as the picture I paint of it.  
Yes, all that exhaust gas forms the air we breathe

These doubts vanished on Friday night around 9 pm close to mid-span of Lions Gate Bridge.

Propelled by lithium (in my battery instead of as a prescription ;-) I barrel up the slight incline towards the bridge's mid-span when I see someone sitting on the railing. I brake hard and come to a stop right in front of the guy, maybe a meter away from him. 

He looks at me, I look at him. I think the first words spoken were mine "Hi. You weren't.....Were you?"  The look on his face is all the answer I need.   "Could you do me a huge favour and come down from there?"  I'm not actually thinking. Police negotiators would be horrified.  It's just the automatic thing to say. And I blurt out "How weird, I just read that yesterday: 'Life isn't actually that bad, it's just the way we look at it'. Let's go for a drink! ".  Is there a punishment for people talking weird shit to a potential jumper if the jumper jumps after hearing it?

I don't know.  Because he comes off the railing my way. It all seems so surreal two days later.  I can't remember whether I extended my hand and said "I'm Chris" when he was still on the railing or when he had come down already. But he takes my hand and says "I'm X".  

The spot seen on the ride back
Then there is a guy sprinting on foot from the other end of the bridge. He and his friend had seen X on the OUTSIDE of the railing, shouted something at him, and parked their car at the end of the bridge.  Long story short. One of the two calls the police (more to get our potential jumper the medical head-care he probably needs than calling law and order).  We are slowly walking towards Stanley Park with X, exchanging names and engaged in light chatter, when four (4) squad cars with flashing lights arrive and close one lane of the bridge. In the minds of the 3 people accompanying X on the walk off the bridge, the drama is over.  Not quite so. The cops shoulder-block us away from X, and a woman cop faces us close-up and says "Thank you for your help. Go home now". They always do that. Our unison reply is "We don't think so!".  Against our protestations, X is handcuffed right there on the spot.  My comment of "He needs someone to talk to, NOT handcuffs" is noticed but ignored.  I know that it was noticed when I push a cigarette between X's lips later and my comment of "Handcuffs are really an issue for smokers" results in one of the cops storming towards me, stopping with his shoulder a few inches from my chin and shouting at the top of his lungs "YOU HAVE TO STOP SAYING THAT".  Doesn't Vancouver Police have a psychological evaluation for people applying for the job???

But the police are not all bad.  When I reply to the lunatic cop with "I realize that it is protocol to put on handcuffs, but I can tell you as often as I like that I think it doesn't make sense. And I certainly do NOT appreciate your attitude" his partner nods very lightly. And when I ask one of the female officers whether she is not going to give me a ticket for not wearing a bicycle helmet she can't help but laugh out loud.

Frustrating Vancouver: Being rained on all day and only seeing the sun set in the evening

After a few hugs for X, we all go our separate ways, leaving him in the care of the VPD to convey him to the psychological ward of some hospital.

A day later or so, this thought enters my head: What if he had gone the other way?  Never mind the thought of watching someone disappear right in front of you.  The thought that sent terror in my soul is that for the rest of my life I would have been wondering what exactly it was I did wrong in that split-second before his mind gave his legs the command to push off.   Sitting on a railing on a bridge is one of those things in life.  There are only 2 ways to go.  That simple decision didn't only save his life.  It saved mine!  

It's odd. The cops thanked me for what I did.   I didn't actually do anything.  It was him who with a very simple decision saved TWO  lives.

Vancouver's bridges are being equipped with high metal barriers on their side.  They are neither nice to look at nor are they cheap.  But hey, whatever the cost, it's a small price to pay to save human lives.  Right?  Or maybe not?  Is that really the reason those barriers are there?  Or are they just another expression of what Vancouver does best, namely hide its misery out of public sight?  Or are they put there to reduce the effect of potential jumpers on traffic?  Whatever the reason, it points to one thing.  The suicide rate in Vancouver is HUGE!

Maybe something should be done to address that problem?  And NO, I don't mean building more fences on bridges; I'm talking trying to turn this city back into a humane and livable place.

P.S.: 4 days after the original event, X is doing much better and will again focus on the task he is good at: researching and exposing misery caused by government decisions in small First Nations communities in Canada. 

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Back in Soggytown (TM)

The weather forecast called for very light rain in the evening yesterday.  So I took the bicycle to East Vancouver, but to be on the  safe side I had Goretex pants in my was wearing gloves and a jacket of the same material (not for the rain but to fend of the 6 degree Celsius freezer chill).

Vancouver weather forecast seem to have the habit of painting the forecast in overly optimistic colours (I start to suspect that they are on the pay list of Tourism Vancouver or a conglomerate of real-estate developers ;-), so suffice to say that I was riding the bicycle home for 40 minutes in a DOWNPOUR.  I stayed mostly dry, except for my my feet, which were taking a cold sloshy bath in the puddles that had accumulated in my Cons.

I look for a brief respite from the deluge by stopping under a pedestrian ramp of Cambie Bridge.  My cigarettes are still dry. I light one. A pedestrian approaches me and looks at me.  I have to move my hoodie away from my ear to hear what he says."I'd like to offer you 5 dollars if you quit smoking for one day."  It actually takes me a second to comprehend what he is suggesting. With a big smile I reply "No thank you, but I appreciate your efforts". Now if the same legislative and individual effort was expended to combat homelessness, air pollution, or social injustice in this city, we could live in a paradise.  But smokers are not the scapegoats of the day because someone wants to save our health or keep the air clean. Reducing traffic volume by 10% would serve both those objectives much better. No, a scapegoat serves to distract from the real problems, which all can be blamed on that scapegoat.  Simple thinking: Get rid of the scapegoat, and the problems will disappear with it.  Trump Thinking ;-) 

I was cursing the city, its weather, and its weather forecasters all the way back to my motel.  To the receptionist the soggy hooded figure finally entering a warm dry spot could only hiss "HATE is a word that no longer suffices to express my feelings about this city and its weather".  

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Final Days (Bidding farewell to a Beach)

Yes, there are mosques in America
I check out of my hotel in Culver City at 10:30. Time to head back to Venice Beach.
I head back, past last night's motel, because Best Buy had a camera ( a display model) on sale very cheap. After I find someone to charge the camera battery (amazing how difficult this can be ;-) to open the lens cover, I discover that the  lens is already decorated by several finger prints and one scratch.  What is wrong with people? Since I already donated the exact same camera with a scratched lens to a 9 year old, I let Best Buy keep their damaged goods.  But I buy more groceries (& vino ;-) at Ralph's  ( I left olive oil and balsamic vinegar at the hotel) so it's going to be tomato salad again for dinner ;-)

I cycle back (AGAIN), make the tomato salad, put it in the fridge to marinate, and head for the beach.

On the way back, I head into Peter Demian again, who today is playing by himself, and happy on SOME substance (in his words: "It's hard to stay serious if you're on so many psychedelics") and he screeches out loud in joy at seeing me wearing the Street Smart button.  

I told a friend about my impression that the people that reside permanently in Venice beach fall in 3 categories:  The Rich, the Gym Bunnies, and the Homeless. My friend knew right away who I would socialize with if I did.   

Do seagulls feel more comfortable close to the homeless?

Drumming for world peace. Drum LOUDER!
The bike is not due back until 7, so I go for another ride; South this time.  But as soon as i cross Washington Blvd, the neighbourhoods quickly get boring and sterile. BMWs, skinny blonde women carrying tiny white poodles, same old same old. I could see that in Vancouver in the unlikely even that I ever wanted to, so I turn around.
Seagull admiring human ignance in the construction of this anti-bird device

How Venice got its name

Return the bike, back to the studio, type some.

6 pm. Time to say good bye to the beach. It almost seems as if the play and reflection of the waves is especially gorgeous tonight.

The alarm clock was set for 5:45 am but I'm awake at 5. Lots  to do; it's a travel day.
Dishes are done, I'm showered and packed at 7:30 am and I start walking to Rose & Lincoln to catch a bus to the airport. That's part of the appeal of this holiday. Take a vehicle with internal combustion engine only 2 times in 6 days, and both times it's a public transit bus ;-)  The planet is dying quickly enough as it is; no need to contribute more to it.

No point waiting for 7:30 to leave if I'm done at 7. The bus comes 2 minutes after I have walked to Lincoln & Rose.  At LAX parking lot C, the bus depot, I discover that there are shuttle buses to the terminal. I could have saved myself the long walk when I arrived.

Checking in is easy, but the computer tells me that my flight is delayed by one hour. Darned, so much for my meticulous time scheduling. Security is THOROUGH. and then it's time to kill 2 hours.

At 10:42 I have my FIRST Facebook friend. But only  because I called a REAL friend and told her to be my FB friend OR ELSE!!!

I don't think Facebook and I  will get along ;-(

My flight is further delayed until 11:46 am.  Then I'm informed that it just left San Diego.  What the H is it doing there?  

I'm slowly being driven to boiling point by constant security messages, yet another general passport control. It's like the Chinese Water Torture, it's the never-ending repetition that hurts.

I have more than enough time to admire the general aviation insanity. Duty free stores are now run by one company worldwide, DFS Galleria. You can't get a small bottle of Minute Maid juice for under $3.59 at LAX. Are you people INSANE. I go thirsty for a while until I find a vending machine with Aquafina Fake Water (actually it's filtered tap water) for $2.00. Still outrageous, but it's the cheapest available in this airport .  The whole airport feels like the city of Vancouver.  Very SAFE and REGULATED but mind-numblngly BORING.

The  take off route lets us admire the sun-drenched beaches of LA for a last time. Glorious sunshine and colours everywhere. 2.5 hours later I am shocked at the dreary wet darkness of Vancouver skies and the 6 degree Celsius chill of its street.  People actually LIVE here???  Or is it just surviving instead of living?

Noon on Tuesday.  7 degree Celsius that feel like 3 degrees says the weather forecast. It's not wind chill as there is no wind to dilute the exhaust dome.   Is it the bone-chilling ugliness of this town that produces the felt temperature drop then?

Sunday, 13 March 2016

A 48 hour bike hiatus in Culver City (Beach, The Getty, Beach)

I am packed and checked out.  I have the bike. Time to go!

I haven't really had breakfast yet today (except leftover Unagi Don from last night), so by the time I arrive at East Wind (11:10 am), I am starving. Let's try the Duck Curry today ;-)

Not bad, but not memorable either

The clouds which just one hour ago were only a dark band on the distant horizon now loom almost directly overhead and it FEELS like rain.

Having arrived at noon at Half Moon Motel (it sounds fancier than it is), I am told that the room is not ready yet and that check-in won't happen until 1 pm. At least he didn't say 2 pm !

The hour is easily spent by cycling to Best Buy to buy a new wireless mouse (the old one died with its USB dongle) and buying wine and groceries at Ralphs.  When it comes to paying, I find out that there posted prices are the prices you pay with a Ralph Card (how unpleasant does that sound?) but the cashier gives me the 'Canadian Discount' and the bill tumbles from $36 to below $20.  WTF?

The room at the motel is semi-depressing, but $300 for 2 nights costs half of what the next best alternative would have cost. It's the weekend and everyone and their dog wants to be at LA's beaches! Little did they know that the rain has started when they decided on their weekend get away.  But tomorrow is supposed to be all sunny again and I have a bicycle to easily travel the 6 km to the beach.  I am semi-glad that I get a rain break, because I could sleep more and should catch up on some paper/computer work, not to mention about 10 incomplete blog posts.

After about 20 minutes writing accompanied by a glass of wine, I step outside for a cigarette.  OMG. It's POURING !   Good Timing is with me these days ;-)

I wake up at 4:30 pm, head over to reception to grab a machine coffee (drinkable and for the price of $0.25) and stare disbelievingly at the wet ground and the BLUE sky without a single cloud.  I LOVE it.  The weather forecast was dead accurate, didn't even cheat a bit, and the threatening rain is history within 3 hours.

I go for a walk around the LOONG block, and I notice the difference to the beach area. No homeless, no music, no ever present sound of crashing waves.  It's cars and the sirens of emergency vehicles instead.  The same shit as in Vancouver, where I live no more than 1 km from the ocean.. The mostlife-ruining invention ever?  It wasn't the nuclear bomb or the television, or even the small plastic water bottle. It was the automobile with internal combustion engine.

Back in the hotel, I try to upload today's pictures from the camera to the laptop.  While the new mouse works fabulously in the 1 USB socket, it now refuses to recognize the camera.  OK, that's it. This ASUS device has given me enough headaches and fits of rage. It's time to replace it.  There is a Best Buy a few blocks away and Lenovo takes orders on its website.  The issue is temporarily resolved by using a different USB cable, but the underlying problems are still the same.

After eating at a Thai place RIGHT NEXT to the hotel (very good food), and calling Grandma (still not a single word of Thanks but accusations and even threats instead), I fall asleep by 9 pm.

No wonder I'm wide awake at 4 am. And what else is there to do at 5:30  am than take a 6 km bike ride to a beach for sunrise ? ;-)

EMPTY LA streets

bike in the pre-dawn hotel lot

Halfway along the distance I think about turning around.  I'm wearing shorts and sandals without socks. The outside temperature is 9 degrees. Smart and effing cold !  But then I cross Lincoln and know that I'm not far now. 

And once I get there, I'm glad I submitted myself to this mini torture (although I would wear socks if I ever did this again). I have reached the beach a long time before sunrise but it was dawning already when I was still pedaling. Great timing again ;-)

I get to admire the long Pacific swells from Venice Pier.

 Watching vertical walls of 2 or 3 meters height collapse from a viewpoint maybe 5 meters above them is something special.

 I think about how modern cities with their high buildings that obstruct the horizon and the daily sunrises and sunsets have put (wo)man out of touch with reality. Seeing the sun rise and set gives me a more pronounced sense of time passing and my own mortality.

During my second room breakfast, the sliced cheese seems frozen.  I turn the room fridge to a more mellow temperature.  Only after noticing that the white wine is not entirely liquid anymore, do I realize how cold that fridge really was.

I sleep more and awake at 9 am to amazing warming sunshine outside. And I've discovered an activity for today that won't involve a beach ! sends out these travel guides if you book through them. Usually I ignore them; don't want to see Rodeo Drive or Downtown LA.  But this one mentions The Getty. Only an 8 mile bike ride one way with a gain in elevation of 656 feet. I eat a lot down here, so that would be an excellent calorie burner and mind expander ;-) 

The Getty has Van Gogh's Irises on permanent display ...

 and their present special exhibition involves Tapestries of Luis XIV.

That all fits well together on a sunny day, me thinks. After all, I did the beach already!

About halfway through the  ride, I see a watch store. A REAL one. 

A new battery for the Fossil watch of 2 dead men plus moving some native watch ends from a watch that stopped working to the Fossil costs me $17.50. The watchmaker warns me that the pins might come out because the ends are not a perfect fit (I don't believe him), but I refrain from wearing the watch on the bike but will put it on in The Getty.

It's not even my style of watch but the second dead man was very very dear to me.  And he got the watch after brightening the last days of the original owner.  This watch has a history, which is as it should be. 

Buying a brand-new watch in a store gets you nothing more than a consumer product. It's the watches with previous owners that have acquired character.

Birds of Paradise growing wild. So, this is paradise then ?

NOT quite

Before I have even seen the first part of art (aside from the architecture), I am in awe.  The place has its own tram  that leads from the 7 story mostly below ground parking complex (mine is the ONLY bicycle, of course), to the museum complex.

It's 11:25 am. The art is not running away and I haven't had a real breakfast yet.  The restaurant has a view but is not cheap and most importantly NOT OPEN yet (probably opens in 5 minutes)

Be that as it may, I visit the cafe right below, with only a semi-horizon view but with a bowl of pork Ramen and some white wine on my table.

I find a corner to smoke and - not seeing the tapestry section right away - enter the paintings building. One of the first pictures I see is the Van Gogh.  But right next to it are Renoirs, Manets, Monets, and the list keeps going.  
To stand a foot in front of The Irises with the paint surface not even protected by glass is at  the same time surreal and awe-inspiring.

I keep wandering around the display, in AWE at the FREE exhibits, pop out here and there to admire the VIEW, and generally enjoy the occasion.

time to scroll for the next picture:

It's all about posture and the woman in the painting has it

The accountant of Louix XV. Darned if he doesn't look like my accountant

 No cameras are allowed in the tapestry exhibit. The tapestries are HUGE and it is hard for me to accept that they're not paintings but woven wall hangings.

An exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe photographs starts on the 15th, one day after I leave ;-(   Do I have to come back? ;-)   I'm sure I will be back here some day, so I cut the day up here short and take the tram back down to the parking complex.

silly car drivers; I'm going faster than the cars on the freeway
 If you're in LA, DO VISIT THE GETTY!  And look up the Paul Gettys on Wikipedia. An  abducted grandson with a cut-off ear being delivered in the mail ( 3 weeks late because of an Italian postal strike AND is it any wonder the Getty collection includes a Van Gogh?), drug addicted sons and grandsons.  Money does NOT buy happiness ;-)

Back in the hotel. It's SUNNY. Must not linger long. I can sleep tonight!  So I point the bike towards Venice Beach and start pedaling.  A quick lunch special (lunch special ends at 4 pm) at East Wind, and then I'm at the beach by 4:15.

Silly car drivers again: Not going anywhere and nowhere to park anyway

I buy more fridge magnets and get more buttons from Peter Demian.  He's just back from passing his hat through the early dinner crowd and the pickings are slim.  And  they  had him playing right in front of him while dining.  "The only free ride is DOWN" !

Glorious Beach, Glorious Boardwalk,  Glorious People. And no Kardashians among them ;-)

I manage to stay up until 7:30 pm and then all that fresh air and all that biking take their toll.

I finally get p at 6:30 and remember to reset my watch.  It's 7:30 already ! I send my first ever Friend Request on Facebook.  What am I doing on Facebook?  It's a deep dark secret ;-) 12 hours later I will be deeply darkly disappointed with Facebook. How come people have virtual friends and I can't even get my REAL friends to acknowledge that I exist in cyberspace? I'm too old for this!

8:30. Only 2.5 hours until check-out and 3.5 hours until bike return time. No time for another nap, even though I feel like it.

I have lunch (breakfast actually) at 11 am (10 actually) at East Wind.  After the bike rental is extended (12:15), I check in to the hotel.  Great confusion between the two receptionists H & F. My cash discount evaporates for the second stay but at least they find my deposit.  But it's all worth it to stay here. And the way H get's through the day,  I might learn the art of relaxing yet. But maybe he's just stoned out of his mind?