Saturday, May 17, 2014

Behold the Riders! (A Conditioned Response to the California Amgen Tour)

February 19th, 2009, Visalia, CA
2:45 pm, 48 degrees

Advanced students of psychology labored sullenly with an impossible amount of work, smart enough to know that what they didn't finish would be their homework.
"We don't have time for bike races.  What if you all flunk the AP test in May? What am I going to tell your parents after they've wasted $85 on the test fees?"
Thirty-two sets of eyes bent down to the busy work, many of them subvocalizing curses, all directed toward their teacher (me).

I checked the clock out of the corner of my eye, not the only one in the room doing so.  Twenty minutes to go.  Lance Armstrong (then clean we thought, strong and heroic) would pass swift as a stealth fighter, right beyond our classroom door.

Ten minutes later I interrupted them.
"Does the air seem cold in here?  I think the heater's broken down again.  Probably warmer if we went out in the sunshine. Anybody have a problem with going out to the curb?

There was a weak but wary cheer--Psych teachers are notorious for staging some mind trick to emphasize a lesson.  Cautious glances prevailed as we walked. The whole school it seemed, had silently assembled on the sidewalk just twenty yards away from my classroom.

Someone said, "No way, Lance?"

Others didn't know who he was or what sport he represented.  Many knew what to expect, had cell phones ready, with arms already stretched high to catch the moment, that magical second when the pack rounded the corner of Acequia and Center, the northeast corner of humble Redwood High.

A  girl asked, "The guy who wrote a book about coming back after beating cancer... Seriously?"  
Skepticism crept into their comments.
We waited until I began to have doubts as well.

Then powerful as a straining heart and about to burst, the front runners came on surging, pumping, and furiously seeking advantage where they could, all the while miraculously avoiding collisions.

In a breathless instant they were gone, fleeting as youth itself.

Students followed me, uncharacteristically silent, on our way back to the classroom.  Once assembled and backpacks collected, I announced that all of today's work was to be turned in now, credit to be awarded on effort but not necessarily on completion.  No homework tonight (generating a few sighs of relief), and tomorrow we would review the section on sports psychology. Be ready to share any personal experiences.
(In other words, "See Ya")

May 15th, south of Pico Creek Bridge, 
3:14 pm, 96 degrees

Standing in wheat-like nettles, avoiding poison oak that threatened from all sides, I held my low-tech, cheap but reliable camera high, ready to capture the moment.
My wife and friends behind me were relaxing in the shade of the two Monterey Cyprus pines across from the San Simeon Lodge.  I encouraged them to follow me to "The Best Race Shot of the Amgen tour of California".  No takers.  Well, a prophet is never recognized in his home town.

And perhaps because I had minored in psychology--but more probably because I can sometimes be a jerk--I mounted a stump and yelled fervently, "The riders!"  Seven people around me instantly clicked their superior cameras, and seeing nothing in their viewfinders, swung back at me with stink-eyes.  I shrugged my irresponsible shoulders.

More cruisers, with increasingly vivid red and blue lights.

Four minutes later...

"Look!  The riders!"
Seven camera laden individuals raised their instruments hesitantly hoping to take that penultimate photo, but seeing nothing lowered them and glanced in my direction while muttering under their breaths.

Clearly, all had lost faith in their self-appointed prophet.

Before long a low bass rumbled from somewhere, seemingly from everywhere, but I suspected the car of  bored teenagers I had seen trapped in San Simeon by the traffic block.

Now to play the gambit, 
timing essential in a conditioned response:
"Behold the riders!" 
Nobody raised their cameras--except me...

Across the bridge they rose,
floating upon a heat mirage:
multitudes of vengeful angels
speeding toward their prey.


A blissful moment that could only be better if accompanied by Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries," flashbulb memories for a generation privileged to watch first runs of Apocalypse Now."

My camera click once, twice, tree times, photos far superior to those of my distracted companions, way more likely to be featured in "Professional Bicycle-Watching Non-Athletic Nerds Quarterly".
I felt sorry for my slow camera companions.  It was over.

They should have paid less attention to me and more to the ideas of Pavlov, classical conditioning and subsequent breakthroughs in behavioral modification--especially the concept of extinction.

Well, no friends made today.  Too bad, so sad.  
I trudged home, hugging my camera with its prize winning photos.  
I was thirsty. 

Wait, did I just hear a bell?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Letters Gone Bad: A Sinking Feeling

Overused letters, I'm so tired of them!  
Particularly "D" and "W".

Now, "D" stands for DROUGHT, got that. 
And "W" stands for WELLS the ones that everyone tells us will soon go dry if this temporary climate anomaly continues.

So I shower shorter (the "C" word, CONSERVE) and try not to worry about the

 unrinsed soap in my arm pits.

I also try to ignore people telling me I ought to be drinking bottled water. Yes, I've heard that sodium levels have reached 800 milligrams in San Simeon, a person's total salt allowance if you drink your prescribed four glasses of water.  Not good for we high-blood pressured elderlies.

Well, I came up with a solution for this hazardous health issue.
Drink less water--or stop altogether! 
After all, many liquids are much more fun...

But lately I've noticed that my drinks, whether soft or hard, taste vaguely like broken sewer pipes smell.

So, I did an experiment. I threw out all the stored ice cubes in my fridge--on the off chance that they were tainting my beverages-- and dumped them all into a sink.
Woke up this morning, tried to figure out why my sink looks like this: 

Ugly stuff but no problem, right?
Minerals are good for you, salt is essential.

Still, I might henceforth avoid anything "on the rocks".
And that's a hardship for someone who still enjoys collecting them.