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Posts tagged ‘Cycling’

Just because they are awesome: MTN-Qhubeka

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MTN-Qhubeka’s distinctive yellow bikes. (Photo credit: acme59)

We got our son his first bike when he was two. It was a Strider balance bike, a tiny little thing with two wheels and no pedals. It let him get a running start, lift up his feet, and start coasting, fully balanced by momentum, no training wheels needed. I remember taking him out on the Strider on the boardwalk in Long Beach, Long Island. It was winter and all you could see of him as he whizzed past was his big blue coat and flame-streaked helmet. “Is that baby riding a two-wheeler?” Power-walkers scooting by turned their heads.

I have never liked riding bikes myself. I didn’t have the necessary freedom to roam in my neighborhood as a kid; a block or two in every direction there was a major road, Sunrise Highway or Long Beach Road, so I could only ride round and round the block, on the sidewalk, as my grandmother watched nervously from the window. Maybe it was because of these limits I still find the action of cycling difficult;  how do you just let go, let momentum keep you upright on two skinny wheels? How do you find the faith to travel at high speeds without touching the ground?

Nevertheless, I have come to love professional cycling over the years. At first, I found TV broadcasts of the Tour de France soothing, watching the bright colors of the peloton, brazen, jostling, and blazing past staggering mountain slopes, small towns, ancient cobbles, all the way to the Champs Elysees. But the more I watched to see the scenery, the more I got to understand, and enjoy, the sport. Because cyclists have to have complete confidence in themselves, and in their teammates, to get up on two wheels and just go, holding absolutely nothing back.

There is too much to admire in cycling to dismiss it because of its demons, whom I will let lie. For instance: have you ever heard of the professional team MTN-Qhubeka? You should. If you’ve read this far into a post about cycling, you probably have.

MTN-Qhubeka is the first African team to compete at the highest level of cycling, and on Saint Patrick’s Day, they were on the start line of Milan-Sanremo, one of the monument races of the sport, along with all of the European powerhouse teams. Just being at the race was a triumph. And then, they won. Their sprinter and captain, Gerald Ciolek, beat out the world’s best in a thrilling sprint finish. Behind him was a team that was a mix of European veterans and African newcomers, like Songezo Jim (read his blog about racing Milan-Sanremo here).

Songezo Jim @ Milan-Sanremo

Songezo Jim @ Milan-Sanremo (Photo credit: Glory Cycles)

Cycling is not much of a priority on American sports networks, like fishing and cheerleading are. So I found a way to watch Milan-Sanremo online, standing at my computer on the kitchen counter while my kids ran around and my husband, who actually does ride a bike, finished a well-deserved shamrock shake.

Milan-Sanremo is called “La Primavera,” the spring race, and careens over mountains and valleys from Milan to Sanremo on the Italian Riviera, and usually finishes with a blistering dash to the finish, with the sport’s top sprinters playing a game of cat and mouse until that final burst of speed makes one of them the winner. It is a dramatic enough race even on the brightest, green-and-pinkest Italian early spring day.

But while Boston was relatively spring-like that Sunday, the Italian Riviera was being pelted with snow and ice, prompting officials to cancel a mountain climb in the middle of the route and send the ice-covered racers further along the course by bus, like that lady who ran the New York Marathon years ago by subway.

It was pretty nuts, to put it plainly. Dozens of racers, including veterans and stars of the sport, dropped out midway, unable to or not willing to tolerate the intensely harsh conditions. Those who stayed in could barely grip their handlebars, or see through the frozen air that came at them along the way, and struggled to keep upright on the whitening, slickening roads.

But in a way, and I can say this because I watched, hot coffee in hand, from thousands of miles away, as problematic as it was, it was a race represented to me what’s pure about cycling: it’s you, and the elements, come as they may. It’s toughness above all. Any winner would have been deserving of heaps of praise and admiration. But it was extra sweet that the win went to a team that is trying to make it on the world stage, representing a corner of the world where cycling is not quite so in the blood, as it is in the chilly north of Europe.

The Qhubeka in MTN-Qhubeka is a foundation, that provides children across Africa with bicycles in return for service to their communities. According to their website, they have handed over more than 40,000 bikes since they started in 2004. And I know I usually write about whiny toddlers, temper tantrums, and the everyday guff of motherhood in the USA, but I just had to write, that I think this is an amazing thing. These bicycles mean freedom, they mean education, they mean independence. And by winning, and racing, and moving forward, their team, MTN-Qhubeka, is only calling more attention to their important mission, not only by their jersey colors but by the way they race.

In our home here, we are lucky enough to get our kids on bikes, walk them down the road to school, ready with everything they need. We take it for granted. Qhubeka knows that no one should. And school and mobility should not be a luxury, but a right. From their website:

Most of Africa’s rural population have no access to transport and people have to walk long distances to access opportunity, education, healthcare, shops and community services. Rural schoolchildren are particularly badly affected by lack of mobility. In South Africa, of the 16 million school going children, 12 million walk to school. Of these, 500,000 walk more than two hours each way, spending four hours getting to and back from school each day. Bicycles are the most effective and economical method of quickly addressing this problem.

Cycling is a great sport because no matter the context, competitive or not, alone, or in teams, in rural Africa or Western cities, it moves people forward [Qhubeka: an Nguni (Zulu, Xhosa) word that means “to carry on”, “to progress”, “to move forward”]. So I want to congratulate MTN-Qhubeka on their success in Milan-Sanremo, and all the other races they enter on the world stage, on moving the sport forward in Africa, on getting young people onto bikes.

They can do it, and my son can do it, and maybe so can I: this spring, now that the snow is receding, I will also get my own bike out of the basement, brush off the cobwebs, and trust myself to find my balance, and lift my feet off the ground.

My bike; the old Robin Hood.

My bike; the old Robin Hood.

Top five reasons why a new blog post is so very long overdue

It’s been well over a week since I have posted on my blog, and I tell you, it eats at me. I just haven’t found [see blog title]. But really, I have some legitimate excuses, uh, reasons, for not posting in a while. Here are the few of things that have eaten up all of my [see blog title].

Hurricane Sandy (2012): 60 km Wind Area Forecast

Hurricane Sandy (2012): 60 km Wind Area Forecast (Photo credit: Canadian Pacific)

1) Worrying about Hurricane Sandy. I type this faster and more anxiously as the wind whips up outside, and even though here in Boston we are well away from the center of the storm, school has been cancelled and the T has been shut down, so we are all four at home today. Read: no me time. Just lots and lots of we time. Which is great, great, great, of course. So instead of finishing my next post, which has been sitting in my draft folder for some time now half-finished, I have been drawing Bubble Guppies for T:

And I didn’t win the Art Award in sixth grade because why? No, I’m not bitter.

Daddy is taking charge of C’s homework (brought to you by the letters S and U, cut from magazines), so I have a few minutes on the computer. I’m typing fast. And when the time for the heaviest winds arrives, I’ll close the laptop and start pacing back and forth in front of the TV as Pete Bouchard tries to conceal his excitement about storm surges and gust MPHs and astronomical high tides. These meteorologist guys live for this, don’t they? They rub their hands in glee while we worriers wear pasta pots on our head waiting for the trees to come crashing down upon us.

English: The 2003 Tour de France on Alpe d'Hue...

The 2003 Tour de France on Alpe d’Huez, with Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, Ivan Basso, Haimar Zubeldia, Roberto Laiseka and Joseba Beloki. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2) Everyone else is blaming Lance Armstrong, so why can’t I? As a cycling fan, I have been completely consumed by the stunning revelations about Armstrong’s alleged doping. Of course, when T was asleep and C was at school, I dropped all important chores and tasks to read the 200-page “reasoned decision” published by USADA, as well as the Tyler Hamilton book. I have had Cyclingnews constantly open in my browser. And like many others, I have been dismayed at charges too hard to ignore, and at watching elder statemen of the sport fall one by one. Another day brings another admission of guilt, another tarnished record, another achievement that was too good to be true. I’m not an expert, so I don’t feel qualified to say much about it. So I will leave it to known Mod and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins to say it best:

“It’s a sport I love and have always loved. It’s a shame that cycling is being dragged through this again. It’s not a shame he’s been caught. As you get older, you start to realise that Father Christmas doesn’t exist. And that was always the case with Lance.”

Bradley Wiggins racing to Gold in London 2012 ...

Wiggins wins the gold in the time trial, London 2012. (Photo credit: EEPaul)

You have to love this guy. I choose to believe Wiggins has never doped, because that’s what he says, but who’s to know for sure? Who can we trust? Ever? It’s sad that I wish Cyclingnews would publish a list of definitively clean riders, so we could have something to hold onto while the sport goes through this wrenching, scorched earth period that it must endure to restore its integrity.

3) Oh yeah, there’s that election. And Halloween.

C’s “master plan” for Halloween. Or the election???

4) We took a trip to NYC to visit my family and take C to see the Space Shuttle Enterprise at the Intrepid. Out on the flight deck of the old aircraft carrier, we passed rows of fighter planes with teeth painted on them and helicopters just wide enough for one person; I imagined them flying like whirring envelopes. And there’s the Captain’s bridge where you climb narrow stairs to talk to WWII veterans who were stationed on the Intrepid, and see an officer’s cabin where there’s a calendar from the year the ship was decommissioned (1974) still on the wall.

Beyond all of that, a temporary bubble houses the shuttle. Inside, the Enterprise floats above our heads in a cloud of blue, like that model of a huge, blue whale at the American Museum of Natural History. Just as hushed, just as commanding of respect. I wonder how the Enterprise will fare during the storm? It’s been through much more, I suppose.

The glowing ship.

5) Sorry, I had to watch Downton Abbey again. It just had to be done.

Obviously.

There are a million things to do, and there always will be, and they are calling me now. But it still makes me glad to know the blog is there, and I will get back to it in the next few days. But as I write this, the house is shaking; there is a big gust. My heart is beating faster. T will wake up soon. I’ve drawn the shades but I know the branches are bending and leaves are streaking by. I’ll need to start pacing soon, and pottering around, putting Legos back in bins, making meatballs, reading stories, vacuuming up crumbs, doing all the things I do to put the fear and worry at the back of my mind.

I hope everyone stays safe!

Skip the closing ceremonies, and just read this: The Greenspan Awards

Olympic Park London 2012

Good night, London. (Photo credit: williamsdb)

My mind has already moved off the Olympics, to other concerns of summer (The beach! Eastern Equine Encephalitis! The fast approach of kindergarten!), but, as threatened, I am pleased to quickly throw together The Greenspan Awards! Named for the late Bud Greenspan’s documentary series of very zeniths of Olympics past, these awards will add to the firmament of athletic honor my favorite people and moments from the 2012 London Olympics.

So let’s get right to it. Actually not, there’s going to be a bit of a wind-up. Usually I look forward to swimming more than any other summer Olympic sport, but I must say, while I enjoyed the events, most of the athletes left me cold. They were all great, they broke records and hit personal bests, but I did not end the week becoming a true mega-fan of any of them. And then there was Ryan Lochte’s diamond grill. Um, no. Great athlete, but, no Greenspan for you.

English: Photo of Ryan Lochte during 2008 Olym...

You could have just kept that peeing in the pool thing to yourself. Ryan Lochte during 2008 Olympic Trials in Omaha. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Feeling as cold as a diver who has naught but a tiny towel to wrap themselves in as they climb out of an unforgiving pool, I turned to the track. There, I found all the Olympic heat and glory I needed. So – OK, here comes the first Greenspan! I’m just going to give the first Greenspan to Oscar Pistorius of South Africa. Really, he wins them all. Not even going to bother explaining why. He just wins.

Polski: Oscar Pistorius pozdrawia kibiców po b...

You win. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The track in London was actually full of gallantry, great sportsmanship, and thrilling events this year. Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, David Rudisha, Allyson Felix, just to name a few. They all get Greenspans. Also receiving a Greenspan: Kirani James of Grenada, who won the gold medal in Pistorius’s event, the 400 meters, and immediately after winning his heat, traded bibs with Pistorius. A great moment.

I know this might make me seem like I am jumping on a bandwagon, but if the Paralympics, which begin in London on August 29, are televised, I will be watching them. I’ll jump away. Call it the Pistorius Effect, but I’m all for it if it brings such a courageous side of the Olympic movement, often overlooked, to light. [While we're at it, I've succumbed to the Wiggins Effect too, and got a bicycle (not sideburns). Well, it's more up to coincidence than Wiggo: my commuter-biking husband has been pestering me to get a bike for years so that we can cycle as a family. I told him I thought the whole point of family cycling is that you can take the boys and do it without me. But here I am. I wanted a low-riding bike with a banana seat because I am afraid of falling off (the model I wanted had "Hot Rod" painted down the side), but we ended up going to some hipster antique market in Cambridge and getting a 1950's English bike called a Robin Hood. Which doesn't embarrass him, apparently. I'll let you know if I fall off.]

My new ride. Don’t be jealous, Brad.

OK, I’ve mentioned my two favorite Olympians, Wiggo (obvs a Greenspan winner) and Pistorius, so there’s not much more I can say.

No wait, there are a few more things.

  • I want to give an honorary Greenspan to the fleet of manicurists and waxers that are no doubt on call in the Olympic Village. Because there has not been a body hair or a patriotically-painted nail out of place among the athletes. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, even had a go:

I actually kind of love this guy.

  • Can’t do a wrap-up without mentioning my own local Olympian, gymnastics gold-medalist Aly Raisman of Needham, MA. Although I can’t figure out why everyone thought her parents were acting so strangely as they watched her up in the stands – that’s how we all act in Massachusetts. We are all that “hilariously awkward”:

It’s funny, I’ve been watching the Olympics since I was nine, but this is the first year, when I daydream of myself at the Olympics, I am no longer the one on the podium in an awesome Team USA track suit getting a medal (usually in Speed Skating). Instead I’m in the stands, watching one of my boys getting a medal. And afterwards, of course, he runs straight over to me to give me his bouquet. He gives it to me. Not some hussy.

  • Finally, even though I have ragged on Bob Costas and NBC’s broadcasting choices, watching the Olympics would not be nearly as fun without the network’s trusty crew of color commentators, all experts in their fields. I can’t imagine watching swimming without Rowdy Gaines going bananas, gymnastics without Elfi Schlegel and Tim Daggett having canaries; cycling without Paul Sherwen’s erudite wig-outs, or diving without Cynthia Potter’s subtle southern tsk-tsks. And Ato Boldon’s knowledgable rants have made a track fan out of me. Well, his rants and Oscar Pistorius’s…Pistoriusness.

Well, the rest of summer calls, and it’s time to get outside and stop watching sports on TV in the air conditioning (until the USA Pro Cycling Challenge! Andy Schleck returns! Actually, no he doesn’t!). There’s still the Closing Ceremonies to get through. Any chance of a reunion of Morrissey and Marr? No? Then I think we’re done here…

This should just about cover it: my rant on NBC’s Olympic coverage

English: Usain Bolt at the World Championship ...

Usain Bolt in Berlin, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we enjoy the second, and final, week of the Olympics, I thought I’d get a jump on my wrap-up. Frankly, my enthusiasm for the Olympics is beginning to wane. Why? Before I get to my planned Olympic tribute: The Greenspan Awards: Candidates for Future Segments for Bud Greenspan’s Firmament of Olympic Glory (which I may or may not get to, let’s be real here), here’s one long, slightly unhinged rant on NBC’s Olympic coverage.

It’s Sunday night. Clearly I don’t have tickets for the Olympics. Husband and I are at home, stateside, listening to the static coming from two baby monitors. We’re in primetime Olympic coverage. It’s nine o’clock. We all know Usain Bolt is running the 100 Meters tonight, probably because my Olympics iPhone apps have been dinging in my ear all day. I have nine apps. I thought all of a sudden I was really popular and getting tons of texts, but no. Usain Bolt!

So never mind that these apps (and NPR!) spoiled me for the result several times over. As they did for Bradley Wiggins’ Time Trial win. (Do I learn? No.) AND never mind I am holding off on watching Breaking Bad for this. I want to watch Bolt win. I am ready. We know it’s already happened, so obviously NBC is going to show it as the centerpiece of the evening’s coverage, right? They can show it whenever they want. Nine o’clock passes…

YET MORE beach volleyball. How much of this sport am I going to have to fast-forward before the end of the Olympics? It’s not even a final, or semi-final. It’s one of about – as far as I can tell, I can’t be bothered to check my app(s) to find out – a hundred million qualifying rounds May/Walsh have played. I feel like I’ve seen about nineteen Olympics worth of THEM ALONE playing beach volleyball, and they keep getting the primest of the primetime spots. Meanwhile, Usain Bolt, running probably the signature event of the entire games, is relegated to the eleven-o’clock hour – that’s practically late night! Why? Is it because Misty and Kristy, or whatever they are called, are American, and he is not? Because there is certainly a bias toward only showing events that the USA is contesting. I was shocked yesterday to tune into a Track Cycling final between France and Team GB (and that’s another thing, addressed to my DVR: if you say you’ve recorded Track Cycling, SHOW THAT. Not more volleyball!). Again, why? Don’t say it’s about the bikinis, because a) insulting and b) too cold for bikinis in London.

To sum up, even with all of the options that NBC claims are available to us for watching any Olympic event, I am pretty much bound to watch whatever they decide to prioritize in primetime. Because really, I don’t have all day and night to watch the Olympics, bouncing back and forth from the computer, to the phone, to the iPad, to whatever live coverage they can show. I really can just pick and choose a few things from the daytime coverage, and hope the DVR records what the guide proclaims (ahem, Track Cycling). And then watch the primetime coverage. Which has turned out to be all-American, all the time, with a huge bolus of beach volleyball stuck in the middle. And if you are watching primetime TV, they force you to the beach volleyball (men and women’s) by not even showing any alternate events on the NBC Sports Network – they’ve been showing poker in primetime! Poker!!! I thought that was the whole point of having a second network; to double your options. But no, Bob Costas needs us to see his taut face, directing us to hang on for more hyperbolic purple prose after commercial breaks. And by the way, Costas, you can chill with the flights of poetic fancy. You are no Greenspan. You are from Commack, you get me? Islander to Islander?

I appreciate that, by and large, people are going to be watching the Olympics to root for Team USA. But the Olympics is an opportunity to let the world into our homes. To appreciate the human, not just the American, spirit. So, in that spirit, O media gods, please, let me watch Mark Cavendish comment on the Track Cycling! I would be willing to pay for BBC coverage of the Olympics just to see this. And anyway, isn’t me funneling more money into media conglomerates also very much in the spirit of the Games? Let us, in the spirit of international fellowship, break down those firewalls!

So, hopefully, tune in soon for these Greenspan Awards I keep threatening you with, highlighting my favorite moments and people from London 2012. Spoiler Alert: Oscar Pistorius is definitely getting a Greenspan. I mean, come on!

English: Oscar Pistorius during 2011 World cha...

Guess who? during the 2011 World Athletics Championships in Daegu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The world is waiting…for my thoughts on the Olympics so far

London -- View from Tate Modern

London — View from Tate Modern (Photo credit: Nietnagel)

You might have noticed I lit up the internet with some live tweets of the Opening Ceremony. I feel like I should go along with peer pressure and say that it was brilliant and totally out-of-the-box, but I thought it was a bit uneven, and a waste of Kenneth Branagh.

I mean, how did they come to spend so much time, given everything that is great about Great Britain, on “the kids” pretend-Tweeting each other? What is this, From Justin to Kelly? I get that the kids today love social media, but young’uns looking at phones and writing jolly messages has become a very un-dynamic shorthand for reaching out to youth culture. All those incredible songs in the background, wasted, while people walk/dance around in weird costumes. And in the presence of all these amazing young athletes, we’re spending a good quarter of the Opening Ceremony on people and their ubiquitous phones.

And again, the National Health Service section: out of everything Danny Boyle and crew could have chosen to represent Britain, why this? I’m just wondering. I think that health care for children is incredibly important, I really do, but given the big swath of screen and stadium you have to fill, why fill it with children faffing around on beds? Visually, it’s just not that interesting.

I did like the opening film about the course of the river Thames, and the Tube, though that marker at the beginning looked like a gravestone. I also liked the pastoral scene, even though the choreography as it progressed felt like one overly-long set change, rather anything composed to look at. And I obviously loved the Rowan Atkinson/Chariots of Fire bit. That was hilarious, and to me, showcased British wit and personality so well. If it were me, and I am fending off phone calls from Sochi as I write this, I would have maybe used Branagh as a narrator, ala Our Town, throughout the ceremony, bringing him back periodically to spout off some appropriate lines of Shakespeare, as he does so well. I think that would have helped tie everything together, instead of these uneven blocks of action. And here’s my other big idea: I liked how the grass gave way to a floor that looked like city streets. How about running a river, mimicking that distinctive bend in the Thames (cue Eastenders theme song), through the stadium? I think that incredible river is a perfect emblem for London and the Games. OK, Sochi, I’ll do it.

***

Michael Phelps’s sister, you seem very nice. I even stomached that interview with you, the other sister, and your mother with that insufferable Ryan Seacrest because I thought you seemed so nice. But, as a pretend friend, I’m telling you: move on from that necklace you’re always wearing. The big huge red one. (Check out this London 2012 fashion rundown for a photo) I like the necklace in and of itself, but I feel that for the past six million years, every time I’ve seen you cheering for baby bro somewhere, you have been wearing it. It’s a statement necklace: you make the statement, then you get rid of it and make another statement. It’s not a string of pearls. People are going to remember that you keep wearing it. You’re not Kate Middleton; you have nothing to prove by rewearing your looks. Even your mother switches up her chunky jewelry.

So, sis, unless it is some kind of good luck charm and he loses if you don’t wear it (which we now know is not the case), how about you retire it, auction it off for charity or something, and let your fancy brother buy you a new one, like from Erickson Beamon, or J. Crew? Or, f*** it, Chanel? He can afford it.

***

Finally, my favorite win so far? The Great Britain Mens’ Gymnastics Team! I know I am supposed to be rooting for Team USA, but that was a great win, even though the Japanese team killed the buzz a bit at the end there…still, if someone picks up Bud’s mantle and makes a London 2012: Tales of Olympic Delight or somesuch, I smell a Greenspan! A Greenspan being my new term for excellent, documentary segment-suitable stories of Olympic glory. Stay tuned for a complete list of Greenspans (TM) as the Games progress! No, Ryan Seacrest, you are not eligible…

***

And FINALLY finally, one last Allez Wiggo. Click on the link to see the perfect backdrop to cap the end of an inspiring season.

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Some slapdash notes on cycling sideburns and ferry menaces while I have five…you know

“There are 104 days to summer vacation,” Gawd help us, and it’s been harder than usual to fit in time to write, what with all the no school for C and having to take the kids outside to do stuff, rather than just have them watch Phineas and Ferb dream up fun summer activities on TV. Never mind the fact that I’ve been spending any free time I have watching the Tour de France (Allez Jens! Allez Chava!). Hold on, I just need to go and examine some Droids fashioned from Duplo. [...] I’m back. They were nice.

T is sleeping, and C is busy playing “Cowboy Lasso,” a game he “downloaded to his brain” (AKA, is playing using actual, not electronic, toys while running around screaming). Actually, I stand corrected: he tells me it’s actually “Cowboy and Cowgirl Lasso.” Very good. That media training I bought him for his fourth birthday was totally worth it.

I just finished watching Stage 11 of the Tour on my phone whilst tidying up the kitchen, so here are a few notes on that and other things to keep my blog going while I am trying to find time to devise some more thoughtful posts. Which I’m afraid won’t come until camp starts again, and the cycling ends, and before the Olympics begin. So basically never. Priorities.

Tour Coiffures. I am no expert on professional cycling, and while there is a lot to say about this incredible Tour, I hardly feel qualified to say much at all online. But I am qualified to make smart-a*s remarks. So. Bradley Wiggins. Much respect. Allez Wiggo and all that. Every time I’ve seen him mount a bike this season my first thought is, “this guy is not kidding around, is he?” I really admire his intense determination to win; you can see all of the hard graft and careful preparation in his riding, and in Team Sky’s riding. Which brings me to my point. I know Wiggins makes every effort to be as aerodynamic as possible. The right gear, the right bike – every move he makes is calculated to the last detail to ensure he doesn’t lose a millisecond to his rivals. He, I assume, like all of the other riders, shaves his legs, just to get that last extra push through the breeze.

Bradley Wiggins leads the Tour de France

Bradley Wiggins leads the Tour de France, sideburns intact. (Photo credit: robkingcameraman)

So why, Bradley, pray tell, don’t you shave those enormous sideburns you have been rocking. I kid, but not really. If you’re planning to duke it out with Vince Noir for the title of King of the Mods, I respect that. But those things on your face must, somehow, cost you a soupcon of time. Right now you’re doing all right, but as you head up the Pyrenees and into the last Time Trial you might want to rethink those face wings. They don’t help you fly. There, I’m done.

Candy Omaha. Here’s another bone I have to pick. We spent last week on vacation down in the Hamptons, on Long Island, and to get there we take a car ferry from New London, CT, to Orient Point, NY. Where, as we drive off the boat onto my native island, it is my prerogative to play a Billy Joel song as we celebrate my summer homecoming. Usually “The Downeaster Alexa.” That is, if the Spotify works, and it usually doesn’t. There ain’t no Island left for Islanders like me, indeed.

The Cross Sound Ferry runs a tight ship, as it were, and it is always fun to spend part of our journey on a ferry rather than in a car. And our favorite boat in their fleet is the Cape Henlopen. Mainly because it has an arcade where C and T can pretend that they are really awesome at Pac Man and some driving games.

The other reason that I like the Cape Henlopen is that it was built as a World War II landing craft, and participated in the D-Day invasion at Normandy, ferrying GIs to Omaha Beach. And now, in its dotage, it schlepps folks to more peaceful beaches, and Mohegan Sun. It was built for battle, not for the level of comfort of a pleasure cruise. There is some seating inside, and just a limited number of banquettes that seat at least six around a table. They’re big.

So why, lady traveling alone, and there are people like this on every passage, do you need an entire booth to yourself? So you can prop your Reeboked foot on the seat while you listen to your off-brand MP3 player (probably to Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits, I’m just guessing)? So you can stare smugly out the window, avoiding the glares of groups of four (or more) who are trying to eat lunch on chairs opposite you? You didn’t even eat! You weren’t even using the table to prop up your copy of Fifty Shades of Gray! You just looked over my head as I picked PB&J (and T) repeatedly up off the floor.

I know what you might say, lady (or gentleman, similarly accused). You’d say you got there first, so tough luck to me. That you deserve to sit there just as much as anyone else. That there is no rule against taking up seating for six for yourself. And this is the only complaint I have against an otherwise excellently-run ferry service. There should be a rule. Even two people in a booth, I can understand. But one? There were lots of comfortable single seats that could have accomodated her; it was just selfishness. And the downfall of Western Civilization.

And “Piano Man” was probably playing too loudly in her ear to hear my remark, accompanied by a gesture in her general direction, “I hope you’re enjoying your giant booth.” But the lady in the booth behind her did hear me, and she looked up from her little game of Uno she was playing with her husband and grown son. Which seems a perfectly reasonable use for a booth. Sorry, I didn’t mean you. Hope you didn’t fall victim to any Draw Fours.

Toward the end of the trip, the booth next to this woman freed up, and I slid T in so he could stand up against the window and eat this enormous lollipop, the long, twisting, rainbow kind stuck on a wooden dowel. I had saved that pop for this long, last leg of the journey. T had already won every video game, said hello to every human and dog on this ship, and said “bye” to every boat that passed. So I can call it only karma that while this woman was on her phone worrying about her lunch plans at the top of her lungs, T whipped that pop straight at her so hard that it rained down in shards all around her, and her special booth (it didn’t actually hit her, thankfully). It was as if the ghosts of GIs lost to Normandy long ago arose from deep within the ship to let the Cape Henlopen see battle once again, reenacting Omaha Beach in rainbow sugar.

To her credit, she wasn’t mad when I came over to apologize, but when I tried to go into her booth to clean up the wreckage she waved me away, saying, “Leave it, the crew will get it.” Well, la-di-da to you, lady. T just fired a warning shot across your bow; hopefully next time you’ll heed his warning. Draw four.

I can hear T stirring so it’s time to call a cease fire in the war against cyclists’ sideburns and single seat snobs. We’re headed out to the swimming hole. There are still six hours to fill with summer fun before bedtime, a glass of wine, and the Tour recap show.

When watching grown-up TV with your kids goes wrong: the Tour de France

Andy Schleck in Paris - Tour de France 2009

Andy Schleck in Paris – Tour de France 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thought I’d repost my entry on the Tour de France, and update it with a few notes as it heads to Paris. (And if you want to know what I really think of Bradley Wiggins‘ sideburns, see here.) All I can say is that I should have planned our summer better and put C in camp while the Tour was on, because it starts live every day at 8 am, and before we head to the playground or the swimming hole or wherever we go that day, we’re watching, darn it! And if les enfants ask to switch channels, I will pronounce a firm “non” and fob them off with a baguette…

***

I might defend Caillou, but it’s not like I want to watch that bald a****** all the time. Sometimes, I want to enjoy a television program with my child – it can make for the start of an interesting conversation. Plus, why does my four-year-old always have to be in control of the remote? Can’t a mother take a break and watch her own program for five minutes? But sometimes my well-intentioned attempts go awry. Here’s the first in (hopefully) a series of posts about fails in which I’ve encouraged my four-year-old to watch grown-up TV.

The Tour de France: I can’t be bothered to ride a bike myself (unless my sister takes me to SoulCycle and that’s only because I think I’m going to see a celebrity), but I love watching professional cycling. I love everything about it: the arcane terminology (peloton! lanterne rouge! rouleur! domestique! le doping!); the strategy; the soap-opera-level fighting between teams; the beautiful scenery they blaze past, and the European-ness of it all. I think I like that part best of all.

Plus, watching the Tour is a major time commitment – it’s on for about three hours a day for about three weeks in July. And thanks to the excellent coverage on NBC Sports, I want to watch the whole thing. So I need a buy-in from my kid. Come on! It’s a hot day, the baby’s sleeping, take a little break with your mother and watch a little bit of cycling! We’ll have a cold drink. We’ll talk about the beautiful castles and forests they cycle by. I’ll try to explain the strategy. As we watch I will encourage a personal dream I have in which my two boys grow up to become the American Schleck brothers – they’ve already got the elfin, adorable part down! C could be like Frank, the older, quietly tenacious one, and T could be Andy, younger, a charmer. How proud must their mother be: two brothers, riding together to the top of their sport! Mine could do the same – right? And I, as their faithful and doting mother, could tour Europe with them – The Ardennes! Milan-San Remo! The Vuelta a Espana! – traveling with their team, cooking them well-balanced meals, doling out words of encouragement, fighting off the press and those kissy-kissy podium girls.

It started pretty well – C loves to ride his own bike, so he was pretty into it. He loved to hear about the different-colored jerseys, and what they mean, and how the riders work together, and work so hard to achieve their goals yada yada, and then…CRASH

With apologies to poor Johnny Hoogerland, C just wanted to watch this over and over. And in the telecast, crashes get showed over and over – and there are lots of them. So then, that’s all he wanted to watch. But the crashes aren’t part of a dream du maman. So au revoir, maillot jaune. Au revoir, peloton. Au revoir, dream.

[Update: I should add that Andy Schleck himself, my favorite cyclist, fell victim to a crash at the Criterium du Dauphine, in the run-up to the Tour, and broke his a*s, well, his sacrum. And I did tune in to a press conference on a Luxembourgish website to watch him announce that he would not be riding the Tour. Yes, I actually did that. I feel terrible for him (and his mother), and while I am sad I can't watch him take the yellow jersey in the mountains this year, I am looking forward to his return to cycling when he is fully recovered. His brother, Frank, is still in the race and I hope he sticks it to everyone in the Pyrenees.]

[Update #2: I love Phil Liggett, his call of the Tour de France made a cycling fan out of me. But since I can't possibly comment on Frank Schleck's departure from the Tour, except to say it makes me so sad, I thought I'd give good old Phil a few notes.

1 - It's NI-bali, not Ni-BA-li. Forza lo Squalo dello Stretto.

2- It's Nissan ALT-ima, not Al-TI-ma, bless you for not knowing the pronunciation of such a banal automobile.

3 - I know I link to Johnny Hoogerland's infamous crash above, but I have to say, Phil (and Paul Sherwen), I don't think we need to mention that he flew headlong into a barbed-wire fence during last year's Tour EVERY time his name comes up. We already know; he already knows, and I think he'd probably like to be known as something other than the guy who got hit with a flying Flecha, and then (this one is pointed at the people who make those cycling montages for the TV coverage) cried on the podium when he got the Most Combative award later that day. So let's not mention it anymore. Unless it helps his lawsuit. If that's true, go on and mention it whenever you like. Allez Johnny.]

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