Monday, May 31, 2010


Patriot Guard Riders Flying the Flags on Scottsdale Road

From the Round Earth's Imagined Corners

Phoenix Rising

John Donne
Holy Sonnets

At the round earth's imagined corners blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go,
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you, whose eyes
Shall behold God, and never taste death's woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space,
For, if above all these my sins abound,
'Tis late to ask abundance of Thy grace,
When we are there. Here on this lowly ground,
Teach me how to repent; for that's as good
As if Thou hadst seal'd my pardon with Thy blood. 

 At, From, What's the Difference?

When I saw the title of this work by Nina Solomon and Sue Chenoweth, and tracked down its source, I tried to figure out the connection between a 400 year-old sonnet about Judgment Day (Happy 400th Anniversary, Holy Sonnets), and a community gathering place featuring chairs with animal tiles based on kids' drawings. I have some thoughts. First the art, though. This grouping of chairs is tucked into the side of Phoenix Fire Station #7 in Sunnyslope, just north of the John C. Lincoln hospital. It's in a shady spot with a low wall, which does look inviting enough to pause for a chat and a rest while strolling through the neighborhood.


You walk in and find a collection of different shapes and sizes of chairs, kind of informal-looking, relaxed, and intriguing with their tile animal decorations.

When he wrote the sonnets, Donne was apparently in a time of transition in his life, moving from Catholicism to Anglicanism, and struggling, with apparent emotion and doubt, with the bigger questions. Which is why I'm struggling with the interpretation of the title of this work. It could just be whimsical and expansive, pointing to a broad and open invitation to all, from anywhere, to stop by and have a chat. It's the intensity of the source that undermines that interpretation for me, though. You can't really miss Donne's subject or general thrust in this sonnet, I mean. I don't want to read too much into the substitution of "From" for "At", though it does make a difference: "At" in the sonnet means a specific place which imaginary beings couldn't possibly be; "From" in the title refers to a distant origin that probably feels far away and somewhat imaginary when you're in the actual present, pausing for a neighborhood chat beside Fire Station #7 in Sunnyslope, Arizona, smelling the bacon and pancakes of the firehouse Sunday brunch going on inside.

I can't help but thinking that above all else Donne was elevating himself by pointing out that the person who wrote Revelation 7:1 "After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree," was sadly misinformed of the geometry of our globe. Donne knew better, and we know even better, having seen our blue marble from the photographic perspective of a ship with men on it traveling to the moon. The perspective fostered by the plaque on this gathering place is that the neighborhood is a "safe haven" for people who presumably came from situations in distant places that involved struggle or suffering, including children from 36 countries attending area schools. The thought of kids from danger zones, themselves in transition, studying math and reading, and having a quiet place next to Fire Station #7 to feel welcome, safe, and perhaps to recall some of the pretty animals from home, is uplifting. In laughter, and sunshine, a new beginning. Yes, the trumpets of doom blow. But in this spot, the cactus wren's persistent whirring rack-rack-rack-rack is much louder. I heard him. Sitting in the corner. Get up. Go ride.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Special Not Secret

Found in Street

Some cyclists find tools along the road. Others, dead armadillos. Me? Cash perhaps? A ticket to Hawaii or the Cayman Islands maybe? Nope. Just a badge. The glitter of gold in the sunlight caught my eye. I picked it up and stuffed it in my seat bag, hoping no one observed me absconding with this treasure. And I was thinking, "Wait, a Secret Agent badge? How does that work? It's not very 'Secret' if you show a badge, is it? Perhaps you can't actually show it to anyone, just knowing that you have it in your wallet is enough." Then I got home and cleaned it up, and discovered that it is Special, not Secret. At least I found something special. Better than a dead armadillo, anyway. Tomorrow's post will be about art I rode to see at a fire station. I had my badge ready in case they asked what I was doing hanging around. "It's OK, I'm a secret agent, here to photograph art for my bicycle blog." "Hey wait a minute, that says 'Special', you're no secret agent!" But nothing like that happened. I think they were having Sunday brunch inside the station. It smelled like bacon and pancakes. Really, really good bacon and pancakes, with lots of hot strong coffee and fresh-squeezed juice. I'm thinking they eat pretty great Sunday Brunch in the fire house. I almost banged on the door and yelled "search warrant!". Almost. Get up. Go ride.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

On the Virtues of Being a Predictable Traffic Unit

Moderately Unpredictable Traffic Unit

This is a slow light on a busy road, there's no doubt about it. Cars, bicycles, pedestrians, kids on scooters, yard guys with blowers on their backs, I've seen them all waiting and waiting at this light with growing impatience. As the temperature rises, so does the impatience, I think. Summer in Phoenix: the Season of Impatience. There's probably a linear relationship: i = kt. The detector loops on the west side of the intersection do detect bicycle wheels, but the one on the east doesn't seem to, so I usually end up pushing the crosswalk button on that side while waiting and waiting. So believe me, I can identify with the impatience.

Here's the scene I kept seeing this week while I was riding up to this intersection: five or six cars waiting and waiting at a red light, while some cyclists roll up. Either through familiarity with this particular intersection, or by inference from the number of cars waiting at the light, the cyclists determine that it will take too long to act as predictable traffic units and wait their turn in line, and so they filter through the waiting cars up to the front. Arriving at the front and finding the light still red, they check traffic and cross the intersection and turn left, in plain sight of the waiting cars, against the red.

I'm not a trained psychologist, lawyer, or a traffic expert, but I'm pretty sure about a few observations on this behavior: most of the time it will piss off the waiting drivers who are also subject to i = kt, it's illegal, and it's inherently unsafe for several reasons. I think all three observations are valid and relevant, but it's primarily the last one I am covering in this post: being predictable (or not).

The woman in the photo is a minor but instructive example of unpredictability in action. She probably bent a few laws to get into this position to wait for the light, each step of the way doing things that others could not anticipate. I've done the same things before myself: ride up the wrong side of the street, and/or ride on the sidewalk, and/or get to the light riding on the pavement, then insta-morph into a pedestrian at the light, cross in the crosswalk, wait on the left crosswalk to cross, apparently saving yourself from transiting the intersection as a vehicle in a busy traffic situation. And the whole time, the people actually waiting for the light have nothing else to do except watch you to see what you'll do next. They're bored, they're tense, they're impatient. You're a red light mini-docu-drama to them, and they're watching.

In this case, the light changed, she used the crosswalk to get across most of the street. As I was turning left (last in line) and yielding to her as she was in the half of the crosswalk in front of me, she surprised me (slightly, nothing really surprises me much anymore) and insta-morphed back into a vehicle, exiting the crosswalk and left hooking into the traffic lane. I just gave her plenty of room, stayed in the middle lane, and went on my way. Like I said, she wasn't committing egregious acts by any means, I am just using her actions as an example of unpredictability. Relatively speaking, she was markedly better than the cyclists who filtered forward and jumped the light. 

Here, I'll state it: the only time it's OK to do that at this light is when there's no one else around, you've waited and the light just won't change. In that situation alone, there's no psychological impact on others since no one is around. There's a plausible conversation if a law officer happens to observe your action (sir, I waited but the light didn't seem to be functioning or detecting my bicycle, so I proceeded when safe to do so, which is probably not a definitive legal point but at least is fairly reasonable). And so long as the assessment that no one else is around is actually true, probably a safe thing to do that is also not relevant to predictability since no one is around trying to anticipate your next step. And that's the only time. Any other time, you do it and you're pissing off other people, breaking the law, and being unpredictable.

Case by case, as another user of the road, I'm usually OK with that, as long as I am able to figure out what the heck you actually are doing before I hit you. Libertarian, live and let live, hey dude rock on with your bad self. Hopefully I see you. But as a matter of principle, as a cyclist sharing the road with other vehicles, I do have a problem with it: you're training drivers who don't have much exposure to bicycle riders in these parts to think of us in certain ways which tend to make in more dangerous for all of us out there. You're teaching them that bicyclists flaunt the law, that we are unpredictable, that we should be treated either specially or with contempt when encountered on the road.

If drivers believe they cannot anticipate the behavior of bicyclists in general, or, drivers cannot in fact anticipate the behavior of specific bicyclists because they do things like filter forward through traffic and jump red lights while cars wait, it's worse for all of us.

I do everything I can to try to get drivers to see me and treat me on my bicycle as a predictable traffic unit. Highly chaotic thrill-seekers and rule-breakers will not agree. They will always present challenges to safe users of the streets. I get that. This post is not directed at them. In the long run their legal and physical fate is sealed. They help keep the courts, emergency rooms and physical therapists in business. I can only hope they don't hurt too many bystanders along the way. No, this is directed at borderline or unconsciously unpredictable users of the streets who might be doing it accidentally, or without knowing any better.

So: I find that when I ride predictably, make myself visible and follow the traffic laws, Phoenix drivers are remarkably courteous and well-mannered toward cyclists. When I look and act like a predictable traffic unit, they generally treat me as a predictable traffic unit, and we share the community resource of our streets successfully. If you're not sure what that means, but would like to be able to continue to have access to this community asset without being discouraged by drivers who end up hating or ignoring cyclists due to the actions of a few scofflaws and ne'er-do-wells, or denied access due to new laws enacted in response to same, check out the bicycle-specific sections of your local traffic code (AZ here), and/or a book like Effective Cycling (thanks Steve A of DFW!). I don't want special treatment from automobile drivers; in fact just the opposite: I want to be treated like a cog in the traffic machine, just one more predictable traffic unit.

  Does Not Say: Except for Bicycles

When acting and being treated as just another predictable traffic unit, I particularly do not want special treatment at stop or yield situations. I've mentioned it before and I'll say it again here: please drivers do not stop in the middle of the traffic circle and wave me ahead. I appreciate kindness, courtesy, civility, and human connection in all its forms, I do, but waving me through a circle or intersection when it's not my turn is actually potentially risky: you and I may be in on the conspiracy of kindness, but other drivers around may have missed the communication. Or, I may have misinterpreted you swatting a fly as an invitation to cross the intersection out of turn, and BAMMO! So I'll just wave back but steadfastly refuse your kind invitation. That's not me being a dunderhead, that's me just wanting to be a predictable traffic unit sharing the road. Treating me as such would be the greatest possible courtesy. Get up. Go ride.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Remember, and Consider


Consider the Blank Space Left for the Next One

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Soleri Bridge Project: Envisioning a Completion Date

The Cats Come Out to Play Down by the Canal

Opening Fall/Winter 2010! I have mentioned this project before, for example when they said they were 7% complete, and when there was an Envisioning Device to help evisimaginate the final result. Today I noticed this handsome new poster which includes a rendering, as well as a bold statement of a completion date. I realize "fall/winter" gives them a six month window for success, but still, the project has an endpoint now, plan-wise. They are currently 32% complete, according to this page, which I assume will increment as they go along.

All right, full disclosure time: I'm a sucker, an easy mark, a pushover, for bold, soaring bridges. From my early days crossing the Mississippi on the Iowa-Illinois Memorial Bridge and the I-280 bridge, to the Golden Gate, the Verrazano Narrows, even the Jiefang Bridge in Tianjin, China, steel and/or cables bridging space make me happy. When they finish this bridge, I will lay down on it and take pictures looking up at the sky, guaranteed. Sometime Fall/Winter 2010. Now, I have some experience with projects and dates. OK, mine are not building bridges, but they involve tasks and dates and resources and deadlines, so same difference, right? Sometimes all it takes to get a project in motion, with momentum and purpose, is for someone to set an actual target date. OK, allow me, long list of Soleri Bridge and Plaza team members: I'm not talking ribbon cutting here, I'm saying: JRA lays on his back and takes pictures for the blog of the newly completed bridge. Let's say November 6, 2010, shall we? I am already envisimaginating it! Pictures of thrusting stainless steel bridge pylons against a brilliant blue sky, in this space. 11/6/2010. It's on the calendar. I'm available for weekly project checkpoint meetings if needed to hit the date. Now before you write that idea off, here's my strategy: I would pay embarrassingly large bonuses to teams that hit their deadlines, and assess frightfully painful fees against teams that miss their deadlines. Update the poster with the date, and I'll know that you are all in. Get up. Go ride. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

No More Rule Books

Happy Graduation

Half Day Today

The Basket Will Hold

Have an excellent Summer. Bicycle riding: certified fun. Get up. Go ride.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Metalman Sweats the Small Stuff

Tear, or Sweat? With that view....

I did a lap around Metrocenter on Sunday morning, before the cars arrived. Click that satellite image I linked to for Metrocenter, it will help illustrate the point. This is a place designed for a world of cars, intended to separate money from people as expeditiously as possible, perhaps exceeded in sheer dehumanizing economic extracting despair only by Las Vegas. On Saturday, I swung through Sunnyslope (sounds happy, doesn't it?) because I heard there was some Kevin Berry art in the area. I found the art, and I'll post pics of that in due time, but I also acutely felt the bleakness of some features of urban design, construction, destruction, and decay. You all know it, you all see it: there's a battle going on out there, between those who are at best thoughtless, at worse cynical or manipulative, who think that no one cares how ugly or dehumanizing our cities are, and those on the other side who want to build beautiful things and places, who want to make us smile, or think about other things besides economic necessity. 

 Within View of Metalman: Chainlink, Barbed Wire, Main Street USA

At Metrocenter They Have Need of Fencing, Too

An Architecture that Scowls Back

Details to Draw You Into Your Inadequacies (fix with BOGO sale)

Marcello Piacentini Was Here

After that unrelenting visual crap, riding home along the canal, I felt anonymized, dehumanized, smaller. So I smiled a little wider at people, bid them good morning, waved like neighbor welcoming someone into a small town. And you know what? People reacted. Briefly connected. Saw me smiling, smiled back. Said Hey. Waved. Rode their bicycles side by side with me in this stunning extension of Spring moderation we're feeling--it was cool last night, at the end of May, in Phoenix, I required long sleeves and jeans. And I thought, what fights against the massive blind slabs of reinforced concrete, the acres of parking lots, the barbed wire and chainlink, the megatons of ugly blasting into my head, is the thoughtful details: smiles, waves, sculpture, art, built things which aspire to raise us above mere units of economic activity. Very often these are people-scaled, viewed by slower moving people not locked up inside aircon metal boxes wizzing by from purchase to pay to purchase to pay. Metalman isn't crying. He's sweating the small stuff. He's worried you'll fly by and miss it. Here's some I saw this weekend, below. Get up. Go ride.

Kevin Berry Again. You are awesome. Metrocenter melts before your mighty power.

Sunnyslope Transit Center: One Small Detail

Metalman Smiles Upon You, and Bids You Peace

MetalCowboy Wants You to Laugh

I Think He Digs My Purple Bicycle

Cities with fewer eyesores, please

All Aboard. Everyone Rides Free

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Memories of Nirvana (it seems like only yesterday)

Bacon. Charlie Bacon.

Some people speak of Arizona's cosmic vortexes. When I'm pedaling against the wind, this pulls me in like a massive black hole. I circle until I cross the event horizon, then vanish in a cheap puff of sonora hot dog, or charlie bacon cheeseburger. Don't know what it is. Have to ride back there and check it out. Get up. Go ride.

El Pescador

El Pescador

Saturday, May 22, 2010

What Price Nirvana

A Dollar Ninety-Nine

$1.99 and a 20 mile windy ride on Bip and I am there after a mind-numbing week. Before: rambling thoughts, fatigue, loss of edge, lack of direction.

Om Mani Padme Yum

After: clear thoughts, energy, focus, direction, rhythm and no blues. From a hot dog and a ride!

Hot Dogs: Is It Just Me, or Is That Billboard Ill-placed?

I was the first customer on the first day for the nice guy who took my order here. The Sonoran hot dog was quite excellent with its bacon, jalapeños, and onions. Needed a few more jalapeños, though, not because I am a spicy food fiend, but because they complimented the other flavors and textures very well, and there weren't quite enough of them to stand up to the onslaught of bacon-onion-dog-tomato. I wasn't even going to stop here. I was in the neighborhood snapping photos for a future post on the unrelenting cynical tackiness of strip mall architecture, and was pausing here to capture the signage, when I was pulled in by the clear logical necessity of a $1.99 Sonoran Hot Dog: this is the Sonoran Desert, I have $1.99, it's been too long since I had bacon, I'm hungry, let's eat. This is unusual food for me: I am more of a whole wheat, fresh salad and lean protein type of eater, but when enlightenment beckons, you can't pull away. You need to take off your helmet and gloves, fork over the $1.99, chow down, and see the light. I've seen it now: it's toasty, meaty, bacony and good. Get up. Go ride.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Slow Down, You Friday Speed Demons

Traffic Admonishment, or Spiritual Prod?

First off, to get the slight snarky out of the way, octagon is exclusively a stop sign shape. The shape of SLOW DOWN could be a diamond or a rectangle, and I would be cool with yellow or orange. But a yellow octagon is right out. Unless the sign is actually some kind of Zen koan meant to induce spiritual awakening: STOP(shape) SLOW DOWN(text), especially if you are already going about 10 mph, which most of these drivers (and cyclists) are--should I slow down even further? Stop? If I stop, do I still need to slow down? What is the speed of one stopped bicycle slowing? Should I stop slowingly? Slow stoppingly? Or some kind of nightmarish driver's license test question in the making: a school bus, two bicycles, cars from both directions, and children getting ready to cross in the crosswalk (as pictured). A woman walking by carries a yellow SLOW DOWN sign octagonal in shape within the school zone. A horse and rider approach: who has the right of way? I also wonder if this sign in motion has any sensible application to cars that are also in motion--I know drivers get what is meant in this case, generally, but specifically, what are you supposed to do when you see an octagonal sign moving down the street? Stop, wait, stop, wait, stop, wait....Since one generally stops AT a particular location, I mean. OK, hungry and sleep-deprived now. Time for the weekend. Time for bike. Get up. Go ride.

If This Street

Made for Riding

If this street circumnavigated the globe, with a similar configuration and quality of pavement, and I suppose something like magic teleporters to cross the oceans, with sufficient water, food, rest stops, parks, and places to lay your head every once in a while, and I was pausing in this place looking this direction, on my road bike, with rested legs and a curious spirit, on a brilliant Friday morning, well, it would be hard for me to cut the ride short. Let the pedals turn, the chain run, the tires whisper. If they made it a one-way (EAST only), then what could I do? Next stops: Las Cruces, Austin, New Orleans. OK. I'm going to dip my bandanna in the cool water there and apply to neck and arms. Maybe it's the heat. Or maybe I'm over-thinking this and should just start pedaling. I look down and my feet click in. Have a great Friday. Get up. Go ride.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

100 and Celebrating Life

Clear, Sunny, Hot

Today's font color is in honor of Brian Carlin, age 8, whose funeral was today. My kids attended along with a very large number of other people, many of whom dressed in orange and released orange balloons, because it was his favorite color. The best are taken from us too soon. I know he had a great positive effect on my kids, and we'll all remember him and miss him. Brian, I'm grateful to you today for getting me to focus on the feelings and sensations of life: riding my bike on the first hundred degree day of the year, feeling the breeze and the bright sunshine on my skin, smelling the flowers, and contemplating the simple wonders of life. So long Brian. High five.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

3 To Go

Ride Ride Ride

3 go riding. Lycra, helmets, speed, wind and traffic. I can dig it. Get up. Go ride.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pattern 57

Imagine a path, or system of paths...

Safe enough for kids to explore on their own (or in small groups)

In the book A Pattern Language, Towns, Buildings, Construction by Alexander, Ishikawa, and Silverstein, Pattern 57 is called Children in the City. This chapter begins by suggesting that children need to explore the world independently to learn about it as an essential component of the journey to adulthood, but recognizes that large modern cities are fraught with (real and perceived) dangers which limit this critical, independent exploration. Their approach to addressing this is built on the foundation of Pattern 56, Bike Paths and Racks (a JRA@OSG favorite, of course), and entails developing a subset of paths among the larger system of bike and pedestrian paths which are extra safe, extra fun, and yet offer as full access as possible to the different, key features of the city.  This path in their scheme is a separate bike path, away from cars, and protected from traffic and other threats. An excerpt is in order:

"And most important, the great beauty of this path is that it passes along and even through those functions and parts of a town which are normally out of reach: the place where newspapers are printed, the place where milk arrives from the countryside and is bottled, the pier, the garage where people make doors and windows, the alley behind restaurant row, the cemetery." -A Pattern Language, Pattern 57

I grew up in another time when we did all those things without special paths. I was curious about such things, and also the Farmers' Cooperative, the junkyard, and the College's Chemistry Lab that was being remodeled, but that's another story for another post. I learned volumes of self-directed knowledge while riding my bicycle around as a kid. Here and now, in Phoenix and other cities of similar size, and I gather in many even smaller cities and towns, Pattern 57's problem statement is very accurate, at least in the way that we parents feel that we must protect our children from the threats of the city by disallowing independent exploration. But imagine, if some of the ideas of Pattern 57 were implemented. I think of some of the awesome, child-oriented museums we've taken our kids to--Exploratorium in San Francisco, the Arizona Science Center, the Discovery Center Museum in Rockford, the Staten Island Children's Museum, Liberty Science Center, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago--and imagine educational "exhibits", except experienced in the actual world of the city, stretched out along a trail set up just for that purpose. Beneath an open sky. In the free air. Explored independently, on a bicycle. I don't know of a place where Pattern 57 has actually been implemented. Anyone seen something similar? Pattern 57: a place set aside for kids out bicycling in the world, safely expanding their inner worlds. Imagine. Get up. Go ride.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ride the Happy Path

No Problems, Errors or Typos Up Here

In software development, the Happy Path is a test or process which exercises the software functionality by providing inputs that are valid in format and correct, and looks for all results to be what was expected with good inputs. Think of it as the antithesis of Garbage In, Garbage Out. Although that statement does raise the difficult question: what's the antonym of "garbage"?  Happy Path is the boring part that no one is interested in, since I can attest that what really gets people excited is not the bulk of what a piece of software does 99% of the time perfectly, but rather the interesting little error that results once in a blue moon.

The photo above is from one of the happiest little shortcuts I have run across in a while. The smiley face just put the seventh sigma on the validation results (if you will). I love the gravel surface, deep shade on a warm day, and the whimsical jog to the right. And the best part: almost right behind me in this shot is a bat cave where thousands of Mexican Free-tailed bats roost in the summer. Pix or video of them some time this summer. They emerge at sunset, and skim the canal eating. It's their happy path. Get up. Go ride.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday: The Wind Took Me for a Ride, and Bip Sang Me a Song

Camelback Mountain, from Stanford Drive

Limom posted a picture of what has to be an aerial or satellite survey marker, so I thought I would let Bip take me for a ride and share some of those that I see regularly on Stanford Drive (3X, below).

 Looked for these on a online mapping/satellite service to show you, no joy

And that was going to be the extent of my ride. Then I noticed there was a tail wind, and then 10 miles later realized that a tail wind going out, nice as it may feel from a wind-at-your-back perspective, would mean wind-at-your-front on the way home. But the thing about Bip is, that steel frame sings to me. The more I pedal, the farther I go, the more it sings. When I headed out, the weather service was reporting 99F and 7% humidity, which, with a following wind and enough water to drink, is heaven on a bike, I'm telling you. I also popped over to a street I've been meaning to post a picture of for a while, and today this little side excursion was another reason to let the bike-song go on a little longer. From that perspective, a Sunday late afternoon with the pre-sizzle heat to power a singing steel ride, the week ahead looks promising. Get up. Go ride.

  This Is Not A Street With No Name