Each year for the past four years, I've taken some students to the High Plains Prairie Chicken Festival in Milnesand, New Mexico. We eat good food, rise early to watch the chickens, and then the students do a service project while I teach a workshop in field sketching. This is followed by more good food and a ride home in the van.
This year I got some pretty good photographs of male chickens in their courtship display, using a simple digital camera with a telephoto lens (Canon Powershot). Here is a sampler:
It was non-stop chicken love on the prairie.
And lookit, if seeing the photos of the chickens doesn't inspire you to sign up next year, then you ought to do it just for the green chile stew they serve you the night before.
I've been using my bike, La Chica, as much as I can for everyday errands in order to rack up the mileage on the Bike Garden Challenge, and in doing so, I've learned some interesting stuff:
1) I tote up a lot of mileage this way, which leads me to suspect that when I'm not on my bike, I'm burning a lot of fossil fuel just do some pretty inconsequential stuff*;
2) Safe, non-paint-scratching places to lock your bike are not to be taken for granted.
About this last thing, I'd like to give a shout-out to those merchants in town who have paid heed to the desperate pleas of commuting cyclists. Like this very nice man--let's call him "John" (since that's what it says on his name tag)--a store director at Market Street:
Upon being told by a cyclist (me) that the bike racks were put in too close to the store after their recent renovation (making it impossible to hook a wheel over the rack in order to lock the bike), he promptly had the racks re-set at the proper distance. (Seriously, he had them re-set within a week.) There are two racks at the store, and they were both set too close, and he had them both fixed. This is the way they look now:
Notice that I can loop the front wheel over far enough to put the lock through the frame. And yes, yes, I know that I should really lock the back wheel up as well, and blah, blah, blah. We live in LBB, people, and I was only running inside the store for a few minutes--my point here is that I could do that if I wanted to because the rack is set up properly.
I can imagine that this actually cost Market Street some money, since the racks were set in concrete (as all racks should be). And yet, when a customer explained what the problem was, John took care of it. He didn't say (either out loud, or as far as I know, to himself) "Silly hippy cyclists! There aren't that many of them, anyway. What's the big deal?"
Instead, he took me at my word that it was a problem and fixed it right away.
Every single time I ride my bike to Market Street now and lock up at the rack, I smile. Every single time. I also tell all my friends about it. That's a lot of customer goodwill, my friends.
When I don't shop at Market Street for groceries, I'm just around the corner at our neighborhood store, Lowe's. This shop has been a mainstay in the neighborhood for many, many years, and for just as many of those years, we who rode our bikes to the store had to lock them to posts along the breezeway. Recently the store underwent renovation, however, and when the dust had cleared, here was what we found out front:
Chapeau to you, too, Lowe's.
Finally, though I don't have any pictures to show you, I recently asked the people at my favorite prairie park, Lubbock Lake Landmark, if it would be possible to move the existing bike rack from the parking lot on top of the hill, where it was out of sight, down to a place that was closer to the entrance of the visitors center, where bikes could be more easily monitored. And guess what? The last time I was there, that is exactly what they were in the process of doing. I love those people. Seriously love them.
Compare these examples to a local megabookstore (whom we shall call MBS) and mall (hereafter called SPM). On a few occasions, I've found myself riding to MBS for this or that, only to find that there isn't a bike rack anywhere to be found. This leaves me in the awkward position of having to lock it to the only available structure in the vicinity, which happens to be a handicap parking sign. For a variety of reasons, this makes me squirm, not the least of which is that I think it is actually illegal to do it.
So a couple of times, I've asked the clerks at MBS to ask their management to put in a bike rack, to which they always reply, "Oh, that's the responsibility of the mall owners."**
The last time they told me this, I went looking for the SPM owners, and found their office, hidden in dark, labyrinthian recesses of the mall. I walked in with my helmet and my sack, with the MBS logo stamped prominently on it, and said, "I'm here to put in a request for a bike rack."
The SPM receptionist, who was very, very nice***, took note of the sack and knew immediately just where I wanted that rack to be located. She said, "Oh there used to be one there, but it got removed during construction, and just hasn't been put back in yet."
Yet? Yet? The construction of the new MBS storefront was completed, what, two years ago? I'll tell you what, y'all provide the rack, I'll be down there on Saturday with a couple of friends and an impact drill with a concrete bit, and we'll put that rack in for you. Better yet, I'll get John from Market Street to arrange it.
We'll even paint it Empire Green to match the MBS flagship colors.
The receptionist did point out that there were two bike racks on the mall premises, and she showed me on the map where to find them. I only went looking for one, and here it is:
What is wrong with this picture? Discerning cyclists will know that 1) it is tucked away, at the back of the mall, out of sight (a perfect opportunity for thieves to have their way with your bike, at leisure) and 2) it is too close to the wall. In this situation, one has to turn the bike sideways to get some purchase on the matter (notice that this renders the rack useless to any other cyclists who might want to use the lonely rack):
Also, please notice that I did a little better job of locking up, owing to my worries about the location of the rack.
So to summarize:
1) Market Street, Lowe's, LLL = smiles and good will when I ride up = loyalty.
2) MBS and SPM = not so much.
To be fair, perhaps the People Who Matter at SPM simply are not aware that I'd like a bike rack at MBS. I'm not sure how many people I have to tell it to in order to get to the Top Person In Charge of Putting In Bike Racks. Perhaps I've been spoiled by my experience with Market Street, where I only needed to say to a clerk, "Hey...," and the next thing I knew, an entire store director was listening to my concerns, taking them seriously, and doing something about them.
And in return, I know where I'm doing my shopping.
*Most days, this is around 6 miles, but I've even had some days where I've ridden 15-18 miles, just doing errands.
**Yes, but don't you think that if MBS, which is the really, really, really big 800-pound gorilla on the block, said, "Gee, a bike rack would be nice," that SPM would scramble to put one out there for them?
***Actually, she was very helpful and kind, though I didn't get any sense that any immediate action in re bike-rack-putting-in was going to occur, owing to the fact that whoever was supposed to be in charge of such things was, literally, out to lunch.
I've been reading Tina Fey's memoir, Bossypants, which I find funny stinkin' hilarious, but also uncomfortably familiar in the parts about her awkward childhood. It may come as a surprise to people who know me now*, but I was actually a bit of a geek growing up:
I'd thought I'd forgotten that painful period of my life, but here comes Tina to remind me. It has all come flooding back. I'm going to have to go into therapy to forget this all over again:
The book makes me squirm a lot less when we get to the part about her professional life as a comedy writer. I am not going to give any of it away, though, since I don't want to steal any of her punch lines. All I will say, besides the fact that it is stinkin' hilarious an absolute laff riot, is that it actually has some helpful tips on life, particularly when she talks about what she's learned from Lorne Michaels about being the boss of people, and the proper attitude to take when someone says they don't think you can/should do something because you are female. The book is worth reading for this alone. It's worth reading for the funny bits, too, but I actually feel like I got the price of admission back when I got to those chapters.
Warning for the faint of heart: Fey occasionally uses the sort of language I employ while trying to install a kitchen sink. Also, some of her opinions may rankle you. But you know what? They're her opinions; she's entitled to them.
Before I leave this impromptu book review I am going to give away one teensy part, since I woke up thinking about this bit when she is talking about getting a celebrity photo shoot done. Besides the free coffee bar, the fancy location that is nicer, more glamorous, and swishier than "[wherever it was] you had your wedding," and the people fussing over your hair and face in a manner that is more soothing than eating anything with green chiles and lots of cheese, there is this:
"While this is going on, someone gives you a manicure and a pedicure. At really fancy shoots, a celebrity fecalist will study your bowel movements and adjust your humours."
My own humours have been out of sorts all week, though I'm not sure why. All I know is that I've been feeling wretchedly grumpy and blue, and try as I might, I couldn't seem to shake it. Yesterday, though, one of my classes and I worked on a little service project out at Lubbock Lake Landmark. We were clearing kochia, a non-native and very invasive plant, from an arroyo bank in preparation for re-seeding it with native grasses and wildflowers:
It was hot, dirty, and windy work, and so afterwards, we went to Holly Hop Ice Cream Shoppe to settle the dust:
Though I wouldn't have called any part of it as glamorous as a photo shoot, I think there must have been a celebrity fecalist around somewhere during all this, because when I woke up this morning, I found that my humours had been fully adjusted.
*And yes, this is irony. Or self-delusion. Take your pick.
Hey, LBB peeps, this coming Saturday I will be signing copies of my book, How to Keep a Naturalist's Notebook, at the local Barnes and Noble, South Plains Mall on Slide Road. The book signing is scheduled to start at 1 PM, but I'm not exactly sure when it will end. I'll try to find out in the next day or two and let you know. In any case, I hope you'll come out to see me--we can have tea, and chocolate, and a chat.
Before I get to the big unveiling of La Chica's spring makeover, I'd like to announce that as of yesterday, I've sold all of the first bike jersey order. As a result, I was able to donate $170.11 dollars to the South Plains Food Bank farm this morning; part of that was from the sales of the jerseys themselves, and part was from a little extra kicked in by one of the donors. Brothers and sisters, we are well on our way. Woot!
And now, on to the business at hand.
It's been a while since I reviewed my Casseroll, La Chica, and since my counter service tells me that people frequently come to my blog through a search for this particular Salsa model, I thought I'd provide an update. I built this bike up about two years ago as a city commuter (seen in this post), and during that time, I've tinkered around with different components, trying to find the best combination for how I actually use it. Two years of steady use also has allowed me to think about the Salsa Casseroll frame, too, and how well it is suited for a commuter, so I'm ready to share some thoughts on that.
The Casseroll frame was designed to be nimble, sturdy, and versatile. You can build it up as a fully-kitted randonneur with 35mm tires, or a skinny-tired road bike, or a fixie (though I'm still baffled as to why someone would pass on the chance to use gears), or anything in between. I've been pleased with it except for a couple of things. First, the paint is a little overly-delicate and tends to scratch anytime you lean it against a post or hook it over the top of a cheap bike rack (sorry, sometimes a body just doesn't get a choice in where she locks her bike), or even if you just look at it wrong. But I bought the bike to be a work-horse, not a coddled show piece, so this doesn't actually bother me.
Second, the rear has horizontal dropouts for the wheel.
I think the intent on Salsa's part was to make it easy for people wanting a single speed or fixie to adjust the tension of the chain by simply moving the wheel back and forth. Or something like that. What it creates, though, is a wheel that is difficult to remove when you need to work on it, as well as one that has an annoying tendency to slip sideways on a hard crank unless you tighten the skewer down really, really, really hard. Seriously, I use a rubber mallet to hammer the quick-release closed in order to get enough tension on the skewer. Maybe this is not so bad for people who don't have middle-aged, slightly arthriticky hands, but all I'll say for myself is that then when I need to open the quick-release, I usually have to look around for something to use as a lever. Goodness help me if I'm stuck somewhere on the side of a road with a flat and not a tree limb in sight to use for a lever. I'd have to send Lassie out to tell Timmy I'd fallen down a well. Or something.
Honestly, I've found the horizontal drop out thing so aggravating lately, I'm not sure I'd buy this frame again, had I to do it over.
On the other hand, it is indeed a versatile beast, and that lets me try out various configurations in accordance to my whims, boredom, imagination, need to tinker, and general inability to let well enough alone. I think the desire to bling up my bikes stretches all the way back to my childhood, when I used to spend hours and hours in the garage, decorating my hand-me-down Sears special for the New Mexico State Fair parade:
That's my younger brother standing in front of me with his bike. He didn't get a hand-me-down, because he was the only boy in the family and had to have a boy's bike, whereas I had two older sisters and so had a bike that was someone else's first. I ask you, does he look happy that he has his own bike? No, not at all. But I'm not bitter, and that's what important.