I did a thing, and it was hard; or, a healthier sort of middle-aged cray

In which I answer the hypothetical question “how was your weekend?”

“Oh, the usual. Drove to Wichita Falls. Drank a bunch of beer. Rode 100 miles. Couple other things.”

Wichita Falls? A Hundred miles? WAT?

Yeah, it’s a thing. The event is the Hotter’n Hell Hundred up in Wichita Falls, Texas. It’s the largest organized century ride in the country. People come from all over — I rode with folks from Missouri, Colorado, etc. It’s a Big Deal in the cycling world, with at least some bragging rights associated & whatnot.

In which I explain, in part, how this came to be.

Turns out, I have a really, really great cycling team (Karbach Brewing), and a group of them were going and — more to the point — knew how to do this right. There were rented RVs, plenty of pop-up shade tents, and (crucially) folks to ride with. We ended up with maybe 26 or 28 folks there.

All I had to do was register, show up, and pay my share of the RV rental.

Oh, and train for the other two events AND the century.

In which the “Triple Threat” is explained

2016 08 28 11 42 48 Smaller I figured “hey, if I’m going all the way to Wichita Falls, may as well go full monty.” And the Full Monty at Hotter’n Hell is something called the Triple Threat.

  1. On Friday, you do a 13 mile mountain bike race. For me, this was my 5th or 6th time ever on a mountain bike.
  2. On Saturday, you have the eponymous Hotter’n Hell Hundred.
  3. On Sunday, for good measure, run a half marathon on the mountain bike trail.

Complete the Triple Threat, and you get one hell of a trophy. I wanted that trophy. See pic.

At least I didn’t go middle-aged crazy and buy a sports car or something.

Um.

This explains where you’ve been all summer

Right. I ride about 100 miles a week anyway, but I had to fold in some mountain biking AND enough running/jogging to complete the half. This made for a busy summer.

Dept. of Credit Where Credit Is Due

I never would have gotten this done without three big factors.

  1. Number one, as always, is Erin. She’s been an incredible support to me in this. She’s done half marathons, and so in addition to logistical, emotional, and spiritual help she also had words of encouragement, training tips, and even route advice.

  2. The Karbach team. I wasn’t doing this alone; I had literally two dozen friends also ramping up to this.

  3. Longtime readers may recall a slight medical adventure from 652 days ago (not that I’m counting). I hate running, but completing the Triple Threat seemed like an excellent way to say “Fuck you, broken hip!”

Comfort on the Frontier

It didn’t hurt that our camp/compound included air-conditioned RVs, a huge covered area, a pool, and an inflatable movie screen.

Oh, and free beer.

In which we disclose what noises Ryan makes when he leans on the wrong side of the inflatable pool

“Ohshitohshitohshitohshit!”

What’d that look like?

This (artist’s conception):

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Important Lessons Re: Inflatable Pools

“Do not store important items downhill from the inflatable pool.”

Key fact re: enormous amounts of previously-in-the-pool water in Wichita Falls

Unlike in Houston, where the water would set up housekeeping and create a new wetland complete with Zika-laden mosquitos, crawfish, and possibly alligators, up there the water just DISAPPEARS. It’s witchcraft, I tell you.

(This will be important later.)

In which OU fans are adorable

One day, the pool water turned red. No idea why; we assumed it was something to do with the chlorine tablet. Only later did we discover that some, um, less observant OU fans camped nearby had seen ONE guy in a UT hat, assumed we were all UT/Austin people, and dumped food coloring in the pool. The joke was COMPLETELY lost on this Houston-based, diversely-educated crowd until the OU folks came by to try and figure out why their joke had gone flat. Oh, Sooners; you’re adorable.

In which we encounter terrible food on Thursday, Pt 1

At lunch, we were faced with the following question: What terrible sequence of life choices could result in being a Wendy’s loyalty card holder?

In which we encounter terrible food on Thursday, Pt 2

That the Tex-Mex restaurant we ate at on Thursday night did not have margaritas, but did serve both frito pie and chicken fried steak, is pretty much all the evidence required to prove that, at least morally, Wichita Falls is best understood as part of Oklahoma.

In which we are able to support the previous assertion with maps

The route on the Hundred did in fact take us perilously close to Oklahoma:

Screen Shot 2016 09 01 at 10 20 53 AM

More proof of fundamental hellscape nature of Wichita Falls

Said Tex-Mex joint proudly displayed its local awards for “best chips and salsa” from three consecutive and recent years. The chips were clearly Tostitos, and the salsa was obviously Pace.

Hotter’n Hell, y’all.

Possible tourism slogans available to the greater Wichita Falls metroplex

“What happens in Wichita Falls stays in Wichita Falls.”

The Dean Miller Theory of RV-based Instant Oatmeal Preparation

It is, apparently, impossible. But it takes half an hour to explain why.

Confidential to certain parties regarding RV selection in the middle of the night

It is possible that “has a grill” is not a sufficiently unique key.

I forget the answer, but this is a fine question to overhear while drinking beer.

“Hey Dean, where’d you dive with all them barracudas?”

To Hell With Context, Pt. 1

“I got the meat sweats, Pop!”

In which we re-assert findings first published this summer

Mountain bike racing is hard, yo.

Was it made harder by folks who will not get out of your way, and thus force you to walk up berms you’re pretty sure you could ride up otherwise?

Yes.

How I feel about being passed by a girl who started 6 minutes later

Absolutely fine, since she is a cat 3 road racer young enough to be my daughter.

Would I do the MTB race again?

Oh yes.

And now, a word on Day 2

Shockingly, I found the HTH to be easily the least miserable century I’ve ever ridden.

So was it, in fact, Hotter’n Hell?

If you’re from Colorado, I’m sure mid-90s to 100s in Wichita Falls is trouble for you.

I am from Houston. The general lack of humidity made the temps much, much more managable vs. the weather we train in down here. Drink enough water and you’re fine.

Also, of course, we were kinda sandbagging given the Looming Awfulness of Sunday’s task.

What sucked more than heat

CHIPSEAL ROADS. Holy crap, that stuff will shake you to pieces, and the vibration makes the ride much more fatiguing. Fortunately, no more than 85-90 miles of the century were on chipseal.

A brief digression about bicycle design as relates to crappy roads

There’s no reason for you to know this, but the model of bike I ride is a Specialized Roubaix. It’s named “Roubaix” after a particularly grueling race (the Paris-Roubaix) that is ridden on streets made of cobblestones. Cobblestones are awful to ride on — treacherous, yes, but also bumpy as hell. Super-stiff race bikes make it worse, so Specialized developed a bike designed to be quick and compliant while also providing a bit of insulation from bad road conditions.

That I was unhappy even on this bike should give you some idea how delightful my colleagues on racier, stiffer bikes found the roads.

Remember that thing about disappearing water?

In Houston, when you ride in the heat, you just get sweaty, and the sweat doesn’t go anywhere. It just sits in your clothes like an ambulatory lukewarm bath.

In Wichita Falls, when you ride in the heat, you still sweat, but the sweat evaporates, and thereby provides evaporative cooling. I am told that scientists believe this is the reason we sweat, but as a lifelong swamp dweller I am unable to confirm this hypothesis.

I can tell you, however, that it’s damn strange to get back on your bike after fixing a flat and discover that the resulting wind, sweat, and evaporation combination is making you cold despite an ambient air temp of 95+.

Would I do the Hundred again?

Oh, sure. I know it sounds bananas, but riding 100 miles is something I know I can do. I’ve done it lots, and the conditions in Wichita Falls aren’t bad if you factor out the chipseal.

Evidence of our Rock-and-Roll Cycling Lifestyle

After the century, pretty much everyone in the camp was asleep by 8:30PM.

To Hell With Context, Pt. 2

“When I say house wine, I mean Jaeger.”

Thoughts on rising early to run a damn half marathon

“I have fallen in with a bad crowd, and they are making me do dumb things.”

Click to embiggen

(l to r: Other-Erin, Kevin, Scottie, David, Dub, Jared, Alfred, the author, No-Oatmeal Dean, Dylan, JRod, Tall Colin, Not Tall Chad, Grant, Fearless Leader LeSage, Seth, Ruthless, Chad, Eric, Theoretical Podcasting Partner Mike, Random Dean, Ryan, Long Lost Jack Soto)

But you did it anyway, right?

You’re damned skippy.

A fun thing to note that is, nevertheless, statistically questionable

“This was may fastest half marathon EVER!”

A sad note regarding our podcast empire

“Chet and Mike’s Nature Hike Spectacular” turned out to be an idea better honored in creation than execution.

HOWTO make Chet very happy and then mildly disappointed but still happy

Hand him a can of his favorite beer as he crosses the finish line, but make sure there’s no more than an inch of beer left in it.

(j/k)

All that said, I think I’ll retire the shorts.

Can you blame me?

2016 08 28 11 13 39 Smaller

XXX

A year ago, my life was pretty much the same. I was walking and riding and doing pretty much everything I do now. It was a welcome change from the previous winter and spring and the medical adventures they held.

Two years ago, I didn’t know it, but I was only 3 months from the start of that little adventure.

Five years ago, life was only a little different. I wasn’t riding yet. I was actually in a play, believe it or not. But I had the same job, and the same friends, more or less. A month later, I’d visit my niece for her fourth birthday in Jackson; she’ll be NINE next month.

Ten years ago, I’d been married for only a year. It remains the best thing ever. It was also the summer of Speeding Motorcycle, which is hard to even grasp today.

Twenty years ago, I’d only lived in Houston a hot minute — ok, 2 years — but I was still finding my feet here. I was months away from the best job ever and the friends I’d make there, but I knew that Houston was fast becoming home.

Twenty five years ago, I was in Tuscaloosa, freshly 21, living in a terrible duplex with a great friend, on the runway to “real life” and about to take off. I just wasn’t sure in which direction (but it turned out to be “west”).

Thirty years ago — the same year as the Challenger and Chernobyl — this very day, my life changed in a way that nearly everyone’s does at some point: my father died.

His cancer wasn’t as quick as the one that took my stepfather last year, but it wasn’t too slow, either: he had about 18 months from diagnosis to funeral. I was 16; my brother had just turned 11. Loss at that age becomes foundational, a key attribute to one’s character and development. It winds its way through me in ways I’m sure I’ll never really understand. Even though I rarely think of him now — perhaps a harsh thing to admit, but it’s true — I know the hole it left in my early life is still there. And it’s not just because I’m still not used to paying veterinary bills.

I’m 46 now. I’ve mentioned before that, after the delightful milestones we all enjoy in our twenties (graduations, weddings) and thirties (children), the menu for midlife milestones seems to tilt increasingly towards trauma. Divorces happen sometimes, but parental loss looms much larger and more universally. In your mid-40s, your parents are almost certainly into a realm of statistical danger. And, sure enough, I’ve been to parental funerals, so it’s increasingly normal that my brother and I are missing one, too.

What will never be normal is that we got there 30 years ahead.

Cheers, Dad. The list of things you’ve missed is enormous and ever-growing, and now I’m older than you ever got to be. You’ve been gone for two thirds of my life, and nearly 80% of Frank’s, and those numbers will just get bigger. I have no insight or conclusion, but maybe that’s just as well.

Pictured: The author (l) and subject, ca. 1971 or 1972. He’s no more than 32.

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Ancestry.com is a spammer.

That’s what I’m forced to conclude after realizing, months after cancelling my subscription, that they were still emailing me.

I clicked the “manage email” link at the bottom of their latest message, even though I was pretty sure I’d already unsubscribed and turned all the emails off. There, I discovered this — note the part I’ve boxed in red:

Screen Shot 2016 07 12 at 12 07 20 PM

Sure, I unchecked all those boxes weeks ago, but that wasn’t enough to stop the email. For that, you have to CALL.

Ancestry’s plan is to make it hard to get off their spam list; most people won’t bother with the phone, so Ancestry can disingenuously believe they still want to get their babble. It makes you wonder how many folks just gave up and set up filters in Gmail or whatever to automatically delete anything from their domain!

That’s shady as fuck. I cancelled my subscription with them when I realized I just didn’t have time to use it — and at $30 a month, I wasn’t going to just let it ride. I had intended to back, but now I really don’t think I want to do business with these people.

So, I did a thing again.

In cycling, we talk about the “century” ride, which is 100 miles. The first day of the MS150 has three starting points, so you can choose your own level of difficulty. If you start in Waller, you do 75 miles. If you start in Katy, it’s 85. And if you start at Tully Stadium on the west side of Houston proper, your first day is a century.

When I did my first MS150 in 2013, that’s where I started, and on that day I notched my first century since the Reagan administration. I rode from there in 2014, too, on my second MS; here’s the summary of that ride:

Screen Shot 2016 04 17 at 12 45 51 PM

My time two years ago was better than my time in 2013, but not substantially so. After that ride, I got much more serious about cycling. I started going to regular rides with people who’d kick my ass, and I got strong enough to hang with them. I lost more weight. I even bought a fancy new bicycle to facilitate go-fast behavior. I averaged in excess of 100 miles per week for most of the year.

Then, of course, there was the crash. In November of 2014, I had a little mishap that resulted in pretty serious broken bone, surgery, two hospital stays, and the inability to walk for three months. I was off the bike for six months, and I was weak as hell when I got back on it.

But I kept at it.

And here we are. Yesterday, I rode my first century since day one of the 2014 MS150.

Screen Shot 2016 04 17 at 12 46 08 PM

I’m still not a speed demon, but I’m pretty damn happy about turning in a post-injury time over an hour faster than my 2014 effort. I’m not super excited about yesterday’s performance; I didn’t feel particularly strong, and felt like I was capable of better — maybe it was nutrition, or a failure to taper properly; I dunno. But I’m happy about the trendline. And I couldn’t possibly be more thankful for the people who helped me get here: Erin, first and foremost; my team at Karbach Brewing; and my friends from my Tuesday/Thursday rides.

Now: when’s the next ride?

(PS: If you’d like, it’s still possible to donate to the 2016 MS150; this is my fundraising link — I’d be much obliged!)

Mississippi, Goddamn.

I grew up in Mississippi. It’s not a secret; most people know this about me. It’s also not a secret that I left as soon as I was able. I always knew that I would. I attended college out of state, and have made my home in Texas since soon after college. Mississippi was never an option for me.

I cannot say their governor’s enthusiastic adoption of a discrimination bill surprises me at all; that ship has sailed. Once the issue was raised, there was never any doubt in my mind that Mississippi would lead the pack rushing to adopt such a measure. Sure, other states did it, too, but the Magnolia State was right in the thick of it.

Then some interesting things happened. In Georgia, the governor — realizing just exactly what a shitstorm their bill would produce in terms of litigation costs and lost revenue — vetoed the measure, and reasonable people in that state breathed a sigh of relief.

Not so in North Carolina, where the aggressively retrograde governor beat Mississippi to the punch by approving a law perhaps even worse than Mississippi’s. As anyone with two brain cells could predict, the reactions were swift and furious. The law will absolutely not survive challenge on Constitutional grounds, but they’re already losing millions in tax revenue. PayPal cancelled a planned office there. Film and television productions are relocating. More costs will follow. Eventually, those costs, together with the growing litigation bill, will force the law in North Carolina off the books — perhaps even sooner than later, and perhaps even without a Federal court ruling. There are enough people there who will stand against bigotry. There are enough business interests who realize that hate isn’t a good business plan.

This is exactly why I find the Mississippi development more horrifying than the North Carolina one: North Carolina will reap the whirlwind and likely correct course. Mississippi will not, because they have very little to lose.

They do HAVE some industrial investment — Nissan has a factory north of Jackson, for example — but the kinds of investments that the tarheels are now losing really don’t consider Mississippi very often, and the ones that do aren’t the PayPals of the world because there’s no tech corridor to join.

With no immediate and obvious financial repercussions, it’ll stay on the books until it’s litigated away, which will take years (and millions that state doesn’t have). And when that inevitable happens and the law is struck down, the bigots there will moan and cry about “activist judges” or some shit, and the whole aggrieved idiot class will count themselves martyrs, and in the meantime more and more companies will have investigated Mississippi — land IS cheap, and cost of living IS low — and then passed them over because of the law, the workforce available, the lack of amenities in the metro areas, the more appealing locations in Alabama or Georgia or whatever, etc.

I’ve wondered, ever since I left, what it would take for Mississippi to make a real and substantive recovery, and leave the bottom of every list that matters. I even had hope about it at one point. Not any more, though; the leadership there is aggressively telling every smart kid with options that it is not the place for them, especially if they’re gay or trans or even a little weird. (I mean, good CHRIST I was a white, straight, upper-middle class preppy kid BORN THERE, and I never felt especially welcome 30 years ago. And it’s worse now.)

The Mississippi GOP has decided bigotry is a hill they’re willing to die on — they’re keeping the Treason Flag, and they want EVERYBODY to know how much they hate the queers, and that it’s legally okay to do so. I have no fucking idea how they pull out of this. I really, really don’t. It looks like a death spiral, which breaks my heart because I have family there, many of whom cannot leave for various reasons.

In which Erin is Awesome

So, last week we took a cruise, which was awesome.

On of the guests this year was fantasy author and awesome human N. K. Jemisin.

Erin and I attended her reading last Wednesday, which was a port day. During the reading, the crew had a drill that involved overhead announcements — which, unfortunately, also cut off the mic Ms Jemisin was using, interrupting the reading.

Over and over. It got comical, really, but Ms Jemisin persevered and finished the reading.

Well, Erin being Erin, she decided that Ms Jemisin should be rewarded for her grit here, and set about making some sort of trophy for her using materials she could find on the boat. That was somewhat limiting, but since one of the bits of swag for the cruise was a stuffed dolphin in a fez, and extras were available, an amusing and on-topic base was quickly identified. Erin festooned it with shiny things from the gaming room, and we gave it to her after dinner the next night. She was very pleased.

And, as it turns out, remains pleased about it now.

This time, I’m gonna make it to Austin

(tl;dr? Here’s the link. Thanks.)

Here comes the 2016 MS150 Pitch!

Here we go again! It’s time for Chet to ride to Austin — well, almost; it’s in 90 days or so (4/16-17). And that means it’s time for me to hassle you about fundraising again. Many of you have been extremely generous for this cause in the prior three years, and I hope that you’ll feel similarly generous this year.

What the hell are you on about, Heathen?

The MS150 is one of the largest — if not THE largest — charity rides in the country. Come April, something more than 15,000 riders will take off from Houston in a two-day marathon ride to Austin, some 165 miles away. I’ll cover 100 miles on day one, spend the night in La Grange, and then either 65 or 75 on day two, depending on which route I choose.

And when I say big, I mean big: last year, there were 13,000 riders, and we raised over $20 million. Yeah, it’s like that.

Wait. You’re doing this again?

Yep. Here’s why:

I’m sure you all recall that late 2014 and early 2015 kinda sucked here at the Farmer household. I had a bad crash last November, resulting in the dramatic-looking x-ray above, followed by a long period of healing and rehab. I was confined to a walker from November 20 until late February; I used a cane for months after that. And, obviously, I missed the 150 last year.

(Well, let’s be clear: with your help, I actually DID do the most important part of the 150: fundraising. We — all of you plus me — took first place in fundraising on the Karbach Brewing team, and that’s something we should all be proud of. But I didn’t get to ride.)

You’ll be really slow this time, right?

After spending all that time off the bike, I took my first short ride in late March. I was slow and tentative, and had no endurance, and that sucked out loud. I joke that I lost 40 pounds riding bikes and drinking beer, and that’s the truth, but part of that was riding hard and often. I went from a 250 pound guy who could barely get to 18 miles an hour to a 210 pound guy who cruised with the hot rod pack at 28 or 30 down Washington Avenue. Coming back and being slow was hard.

But I did it anyway, and I kept doing it, and by July I was finally able to notch 100 miles a week again, and I’ve never looked back. (Well, except to check for traffic.) All told, I rode nearly 2800 miles in 2015, which I think isn’t too bad for a guy who spent the first quarter unable to walk. I didn’t do it by myself, obviously — I had lots of help and encouragement, and a huge part of that was from my teammates at Karbach.

Now, in January of 2016, I’m a stronger rider now than I was last November. I’m excited about that. After sitting out last year, making it to Austin this time around will be especially meaningful to me.

That’s cool and all, but it’s not the point. This is the point.

I’ve written to you before about MS, and about how it can sneak up on its victims in pernicious and devastating ways, but to be completely honest I don’t think I really appreciated what that could be like until I spent some time with my mobility compromised. My experience wasn’t a perfect analog — I had great care in one of the best medical centers in the world; there was never any real doubt that I’d make a full recovery barring serious complications — but understanding that intellectually is a long way from internalizing it, especially when you can’t do the things you love, or climb the stairs in your house, or help your spouse with the housework, or even walk.

I got better. (Better, stronger, faster…) My life today is more or less just as it was before the accident. I’m lucky. Some MS patients see remission, but some don’t — and even those in remission live with the knowledge that their personal demon could re-emerge and re-imprison them at almost any time.

I said I did this to drink beer and lose weight, and I think in the first couple years that was more true than not. The fundraising part of the event was a minor part. After all, I didn’t know anyone with MS, and had no real understanding of what it could be like. The 150 is just a thing lots of Houston riders do.

Then, in 2013, friends asked me to ride for their sister, or friend, or cousin, or coworker. That makes it more real in a big hurry, but not as real as spending a few months on a walker.

The ride is secondary. I’ll put in the miles anyway, because I love riding, because it’s good for me, and most of all because I know what it’s like not to be able to. The MS150 is about MS, about raising money for MS research, and about helping those people affected by it. Chet riding to Austin is a sideshow; what we do here, with the link above and below, is the main event — and it’s the part I need you for.

Be on my team.

Please give. If you’re able, please increase your gift from last year. We are all of us very, very fortunate — maybe none of as as much as I.

The direct donation link is http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/chetfarmer.

Also, in the past, folks have given me names of those close to them who suffer from MS; I write them on my race bib, and find them particularly inspiring after 50 or 60 miles. If you’d like to add a name to the list, just let me know. I’d be proud to.

“Look up here / I’m in Heaven”

David Bowie has died. He had turned 69 on Friday.

Chris Onstad wrote this when Michael Jackson died. It’s as on point today as it was then:

“He was your Elvis, and when your Elvis dies, so does the private lie that someday you will be young once again, and feel at capricious intervals the weightlessness of a joy that is unchecked by the injuries of experience and failure.

“Welcome to the only game in town.”

It hardly needs to be said, but in the pantheon of musical influence in the last half century, Bowie has few peers. For me, it’s probably the hardest musical loss since Lou Reed. It might get loud in the office today. I suggest you go and do likewise.

Here’s a start, from 1978. “Heroes” has always been a favorite of mine, even though for the last 13 it reminds me of a wake (Steve Barnett’s, 13 years ago this month). That seems appropriate today.

Karma?, or, The Small Business Trifecta

Last night, I noticed my bike’s saddle was broken. It probably got cracked in a paceline pile-up on a ride back in late August, but didn’t actually fail until my ride Sunday or last night. Either way, its supports are totally broken on one side, so it’s unusable for the Ride to the River this weekend.

Well, hell.

So I load up my bike to take it over to West End, and noticed the first bit of good luck today: my MS150 fundraising gift certificate finally showed up. I figured it for (part of) a new helmet, but under the circumstances it seemed clear I was about to turn it into a saddle instead and put off the helmet upgrade.

At the shop, my day improved again when they told me “We’ll just warranty that saddle. Go get another one of the wall.” Yeah, the saddle that came on my bike when I bought it LAST OCTOBER. Score one for using a local shop for sure.

While they installed the new saddle, I looked at helmets. I picked one that cost a little more than the gift cert covered, happy to supplement with cash to get a nicer lid. Well, never mind that; West End took the GC as full payment even though it only covered 75% of the cost. Score #2!

I rolled out of the shop having spent no actual cash, and headed to lunch at Hubcap. Ricky was there, and was excited to tell me all about the goings-on for his Galveston place. If you’ve run into him before, you know his excitement is contagious, so that was super fun. It got even MORE fun when my order mysteriously appeared on my table (vs. the window) well before I had any right to expect it. My suspicions were confirmed when they called the next number, which was still 7 tickets lower than the one I was holding.

My working theory is that I must’ve done something right I don’t remember doing.

Dept of Positive Changes

This:

Screen Shot 2015 09 20 at 2 00 15 PM

is the graph of my cycling miles per week over time, as supplied by Strava.

I dislike the long, barren spot in the middle, but I love the trendline happening on the right. (I will also note how hacked off I am about the empty week there, in which every single ride that week was either rained out or logistically impossible. Grrrr.)

Oh, and 115.5 miles last week.

I’ve been furious all damn morning.

By now you’ve seen the #IStandWithAhmed hashtags, and know the basic story of a gifted young 14-year-old in Irving who made a clock to take to school and show his engineering teacher. (By the way, the presence of the phrase “engineering teacher” should tip you off that this is a relatively well-to-do part of Dallas.)

Some other teacher saw it, and decided that anything with a circuitboard and wires and a display must be a bomb, and so sent him to the principal’s office, despite Ahmed’s apparently incredulous and constant assertions that it was a clock.

The principal — some fuckwit named Dan Cummings, who should be hounded from education forever if there’s any justice in the world — could have taken one look at the electronics hobby project and realized the English teacher was an idiot, but instead decided that, he, too, needed to board the Racist Jackhole Express and involve the Irving police department.

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If we lived in a world where calling the police is always a good idea, we might have hoped for at least one of THEM to realize what idiots the MacArthur teacher and principal were. In that world, Officer NotAnAsshole would have laughed in Danny’s face and sent Ahmed back to class.

This is, of course, not the world we live in. So OF COURSE the cops immediately arrested young Ahmed on one count of Making While Brown and one count of Being Smarter Than Us. And then frogmarched him off campus in handcuffs, I shit you not. Ahmed was eventually booked, fingerprinted, taken to juvenile detention, and suspended for three days, despite not actually having committed any legitimate infraction at all.

The cops, for their part, did eventually state that there would be no charges, which sounds magnanimous unless you’ve been paying attention at all. Expect a giant fucking lawsuit, but the real shame is that pitiful-excuse-for-educator Dan Cummings will pay no price, nor will the English teacher, nor will the just-doin’-my-job cops involved.

Popehat really nails it down here, where he begins

American lives are controlled by the thuggishly mediocre. The best measure of their control is this: when called out on their mediocre thuggery, they can comfortably double down.

Ahmed Mohamed, a bright and curious ninth-grader in Irving, Texas, learned that to his regret this week.

Double down is, of course, exactly what the thuggishly mediocre shitheels at Irving ISD have done, in a letter circulated to parents that emphasizes how heroic they were in having a nerdy freshman arrested for the crime of “making shit”.

Popehat continues:

My mother was a school administrator, and there are many decent and concerned school administrators. **But to be blunt, school administrators were generally not the kid who built his or her own clock at 14. (Cops were generally the kid who beat up the kid who built the clock.) ** (Emphasis added.)

Fuck those people.

Fortunately, a positive aspect of our world in 2015 is that the condemnation of this jackassery in Irving has been swift, broad, and nearly instantaneous, and includes high-profile participants from MIT, JPL, the Mythbusters, and a dude who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania. I hope the global shaming continues. I’d like to see someone with both a brain and a spine replace Cummings at Ahmed’s high school, but that seems like way too much to hope for. What we will get, I expect, is pro bono legal help in their inevitable suit, plus no end of scholarship and other offers from folks with similar backgrounds (either nerdy, foreign, or both) who want to help this kid out. So there’s that. And, in the absence of seeing Dan Cummings and his ilk forever consigned to pushing a broom in a Dallas reform school, it’s probably all we can really hope for.

There’s more here, and at BoingBoing.

A partial list of things of which our cat Wiggins does not approve.

  1. Being moved when sleeping perpendicular to the approved Plane Of Sleep in the bed, thereby crowding both humans and, sometimes, the other cat.

  2. Construction noises across the street, including but not limited to hammering (manual or nailgun); power tools; large equipment back-up beeps; large equipment in general; loud music.

  3. Awareness of, but not sight of, neighborhood cats just outside the front door. (Cats visible in the backyard are unremarkable.)

  4. Rain. Which is weird, because she lives in Houston, but her formative years were drought years.

  5. The absence of Mrs Heathen beginning at about 5pm each day.

  6. Being alone in a part of the house where there are no people, unless that room is the bedroom.

  7. Being with people in the wrong part of the house.

  8. Not being in your lap, sometimes.

  9. Being in your lap, sometimes.

  10. Having her nails trimmed.

  11. The other cat having her nails trimmed.

Disapproval in all cases is registered verbally, and, in some cases (e.g. #10), with vigorous squirming. Violence is never on the menu.

How you should feeding your cat

This guy did something pretty great:

So instead of feeding my cat, I hide these balls around the house…

This all started after I read an explanation of why cats go about repeatedly exploring the same areas: it’s partly to establish and survey their territory, but they’re also practicing ‘mobile’ hunting: moving about, being curious, and poking their noses around in the hopes of upsetting potential prey and finding a meal.

So what if my cat, while out on patrol, actually found its prey? Surely this would bring him one step closer towards a more fulfilled and self-actualized indoor kitty existence.

I imagined hiding little bowls of food around the house… then I imagined me actually refilling these bowls. Then I imagined having to move them around to different hiding spots, spilling, forgetting, and every so often, perhaps only after following a trail of ants, finding one undiscovered and rancid. Hmmm, maybe there’s a way to hide something else, a way to hide something other than food, a way to make something not-food = food…

Click through. It’s brilliant.

There, and Back Again

So the last year has, for me, been kind of up and down.

Last summer I got very serious about cycling for the first time, really in response to having entered MS150 training season out of shape despite the gains of the previous year. I decided that wouldn’t happen again, so I kept riding — an average of 100 miles per week from just before the 150 until the third week in November. It’s higher if I grant myself weather or travel related mulligans, even.

Then, of course, that came to a grinding halt when I broke my hip in November. That was a pretty discouraging turn of events, to say the least. The medical saga that followed was a serious pain in the ass; I don’t want to make too much of it, since so many other folks have so much worse tales of woe, but spending 10 days in the hospital sucks for anybody. Needing PICC line to quash a post-op infection sucks for anybody. And obviously not being able to put any weight on your leg for three months sucks OUT LOUD for anybody.

The infection got its ass kicked, though. My wounds healed. I got cleared for weight and PT again in February, right on schedule. I started riding again a month later, slow and tentative at first, but regularly.

I got faster, again. I got stronger, again. Part of this was frustrating, because I could remember how strong I had been in the fall, but the other side of starting over is that you get to re-do the part with the most dramatic gains.

I’m still not quite what I was in every way, but I can see it from here.

So here is this, now: the point of this post, in two pictures.

Exhibit A, or, Chet Has Internal Jewelry Now:

Chet has hardware

Exhibit B, or, How Chet Spent His Sunday:

Screen Shot 2015 07 20 at 8 30 33 AM

I did this same ride last summer — The Katy Flatland Century — as I was approaching Peak (pre-wreck) Chet. I was very slightly faster yesterday than I was last summer.

The other punchline is this: I rode 109.2 miles in the week ending yesterday. That’s my first hundred mile week since November 9.

If I’m honest, I admit that two factors actually erase the speed difference, or even put yesterday behind my achievement last year.

  • First, I rode with part of my team yesterday, in a paceline, taking turns at the front; last summer, I was alone.

  • Second, last year I was riding my 30 pound Surly; this time, I was on 18 pounds of carbon designed for go-fast behavior.

It’s not just about the number, though. It’s about going through something and coming out on the other side, just about 8 months later. It’s about regaining this level of fitness, even if it’s not where I was at my peak (yet!). It’s about getting here not on your own, because that’s impossible; it’s about getting here with the support of your friends, your family, and the professionals who put me back together and showed me how to get strong again.

And most of all it’s about being married to my best friend, without whom absolutely none of this would have happened.

My assumption is that Lee was cast in some celestial thriller, and needed Coleman for the soundtrack

I saw this morning that Christopher Lee, an actor whose 93-year-run included (as pointed out by Scalzi) “stabbing Nazis, making movies, and releasing heavy metal albums in [his] 90s”, has died.

That’s pretty awful in a passage-of-titans sense, but to have it followed by the news of Ornette Coleman also shuffling off this mortal coil (at an entirely respectable 85) makes for a shitty morning, my friends.

What’s in YOUR wallet?

A couple years ago, when United ruined Continental and ended the carrier’s relationship with Amex, I picked up a fancy United-branded Chase Visa in order to retain some status with United. I don’t fly much anymore, and when I do I prefer Southwest, but carrying the card gets me into the club if I need it, and just having it makes me the equivalent of their lowest elite flier tier (which is something my Amex Platinum didn’t do).

Anyway, so, fancy Visa. When I got it, I was stunned at how oddly heavy it was. I assumed they used some denser plastic for it and didn’t really give it any thought beyond that. And since I mostly just have the card for travel, I don’t pull it out of my wallet much, and so the oddness was mostly forgotten.

Yesterday I got a replacement card in the mail, as the initial one had expired (without me noticing, actually). The new one is just as heavy, which renewed my curiosity a little — but not nearly as much as what came next.

I pulled out the heavy scissors to destroy the old card, as you do, and found the card basically un-cuttable. The scissors had no shot at all. In retrospect, I’m super glad I wasn’t downstairs in my office, where I would have blithely dropped the old card into my shredder and probably ruined it in the process. I didn’t really even get very far doing the bend-it-back-and-forth thing.

What did Chase use to make this demon card? Well, the scissors WERE game enough to scratch it deeply, and this is what I found when I pulled on the top layer:

IMG 7273

The damn thing is heavy because it’s made of metal with a thin layer of plastic on either side. WTF?

Tomorrow should be a holiday

I’ve long considered celebrating anything about the Confederacy to be morally questionable if not outright obnoxious, but I could make an exception for this: Make the Confederacy’s Defeat a National Holiday.

There’s no escaping that those who fought for the South were committing treason at every turn — and were doing so in defense of slavery. They didn’t want to be part of a country where all men were created equal, and so they took up arms to attempt to force the issue. They failed. And we should celebrate their failure.

Tomorrow marks 150 years since Lee’s defeat at Appomattox. Raise a drink to the Union.

Thanks, John.

This is a good man.

IMG 2904

He was only my stepfather for something just over 19 years, but I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know him. It was a smallish town. He and his family lived around the corner, and his youngest was one of my brother’s earliest and best friends. We all went to the same country club on Saturdays, and the same church on Sundays. In season, we hunted the same dove fields. Dad took care of the Green animals, and Doc took care of the Farmer eyes.

Eventually, everyone got divorced, because it was the 70s and such things were mandatory. (My parents liked it so much they did it again, even.) Eventually, though, everyone was single. And then, at some point — I can’t recall exactly when — mother and John began dating. I don’t know if it was before my father died or not, but it didn’t become a serious Thing until fairly late in high school for me. They took their time with it, for sure. I think, by the time they married in 1996, they’d been dating for over a decade. The six kids all sort of assumed they’d do it as soon as the youngest two left home, but Frank and Mary Beth matriculated at their respective schools in the fall of 1993, and they waited another 2+ years. Old people, man.

John was, without a doubt, the best thing to ever happen to my mother. Frank and I were grown and gone by the time they married and combined households, so he was always more “our mother’s husband” than “father figure,” but that didn’t stop him from treating us as his own in every way. And we loved him for it, and especially for how he treated our mother.

Our mom is tough and solid and no-nonsense, because she had to be as single mother in the 70s and 80s. She was a single mom twice, really, first because of the divorce, and then in a much more serious way after dad died in 1986. She was due some easier years, and some time being taken care of, and John gave her both. He doted on her, cared for her, and made her happier than I ever remember seeing her. They traveled together — big, fancy trips! — and they loved it, but I’m not sure they didn’t love spending time on John’s tree farm more. It’s quiet there, and peaceful, and serves as a fantastic antidote to loud, chattery modern life. They knew what they wanted in a marriage, and how to do it and take care of each other. In that, they have been especially inspiring.

John turned 80 this fall — he’s a bit older than Mother. I guess we all knew that, well, 80 is getting up there. Something might claim him. On the other hand, he’s traditionally been hearty, hale, and healthy kind of guy — he split his own firewood until fairly recently, and was fond of long hikes in his woods, so even as we knew he was 80, I don’t think any of us quite accepted that he was, like all of us, a fragile human.

Last October, just before his birthday, he was diagnosed with inoperable metastatic cancer. Given the particulars, he refused any but palliative care, figuring that for him and for his family, getting the most GOOD days beat out simply living longer in a medical haze.

We had a wonderful birthday party for him the next month — there are pictures. The holidays were as rich and delighful as I ever remember them being in Mississippi. Erin and I got to spend a lot of time there, just being with him and with mother and with our shared, extended family. There are pictures of that, too.

After the holidays, he began to dwindle. Hospice care began.

This morning, about an hour ago, mother called me. John Green, one of my favorite people ever, has passed away. He was 80. We will miss him terribly.

IMG 6671

45 & a small, good thing

It’s my birthday. I’m 45.

This year has had some really good things in it — another MS150, a great summer and fall of cycling, a great cruise, wonderful visits with friends and family, and Erin got a new job! — but some pretty serious rough spots, too. Obviously, I broke my hip in November, and that’s been a long haul, but around the same time my stepfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

I had thought, years ago, that this year would be one I threw a big party. 45 is a big number, and it’s one of those rare years when my birthday falls, as it did in 1970, on a Friday. Widespread uncertainty about my leg kept us from planning anything — we didn’t get the “yup, fracture’s healed & gone” report until Wednesday — so it’s turned out to be a low-key year instead, for that and lots of reasons. I’m a little bummed about that, but not a lot.

But there’s one more than that puts me in a good mood about it today, and it’s an example of a kind of enduring friendship we probably don’t give enough credit to. In elementary and middle school, one of my best friends was a guy named Paul. Paul and I were in the same scout troop, took the same smart-kid classes, and lived reasonably close to each other. In high school, we moved in somewhat different directions, but we’ve always been friends. I remember, on a whirlwind trek from Tuscaloosa to UVa one weekend in 1990 (to help a buddy see a girl), I dropped in on him to say hi. And that may be the last time I saw him in the flesh, which makes the rest of this even more remarkable.

Paul’s not on Facebook or any social media I’m aware of. We don’t email, or really communicate outside the following. But for the last 7 or 8 years, Paul has called me on my birthday every year, without fail. He’s a busy guy — so am I — and we live very different lives now. Paul’s a cardiologist, recently moved from New Orleans to Nashville, and is the father of quadruplets. Obviously Heathen Central is a nerd lair of the first order, and features cats, not kids. But he remembers, and calls, just to wish me a happy birthday.

It’s a nice thing, and it’s the sort of thing that reminds me to be grateful for the life I have, bumps and all, because it has so much joy and happiness in it even when things seem tough.

Happy birthday to me. Cheers. Know that I am insanely grateful for you all.

Seen at physical therapy: March 11

  1. A Rolls Royce. There are plenty of super fancy cars in Houston, but seeing an actual Rolls is still pretty rare. I’ve seen more Lambos than Rollses. Very shiny. Possibly related to items 2 or 4 below (or, well, 3 for all I know):

  2. Josh Hamilton. I had no idea who he was. He stopped to talk to my therapist Chris — who is, apparently, also his therapist — and they looked briefly at some footage of him batting in a cage as part of his rehab program. The hits sounded solid; I said so after he’d walked away. Chris, realizing I had no idea who he was, enlightened me once Hamilton was out of earshot.

  3. A likely Holocaust survivor. Well, either that, or a very, very old man of obvious European extraction who just randomly had a number tattooed on his forearm.

  4. Seattle Seahawk Earl Thomas, whom I also didn’t recognize. Chris pointed him out after telling me who Hamilton was.

Here’s something I wonder.

This weekend marks 50 years since Selma.

I know lots of folks from Mississippi and Alabama who are 70 or older. Every time an anniversary like this comes up, I wonder “what were YOU doing then, when these folks were beaten on the bridge?”

History is judging the anti-civil-rights crowd very harshly, but don’t those who sat it out bear some responsibility, too, for not helping? To what degree is “I was in school” or “I was busy” an excuse?

And then I wonder: what am I sitting out, or not noticing, or not helping with today, that my nieces and nephew will wonder about in 20 or 30 years?

In the interest of efficient news-spreading

  1. Yes, I’m in the hospital. I’ll probably go home tomorrow (Monday).

  2. I took an unfeasibly hard fall on my bike on Thursday night.

  3. Riding in a group, the person in front of me lost control. In an effort to avoid hitting her, I went down myself. In efforts to avoid hitting me and the first person, several other people also went down.

  4. I took the full force of the fall on my hip joint, which was apparently enough to break it. No one else, to my knowledge, required medical help, but I was a bit out of it at the time from the pain (I didn’t hit my head at all, though).

  5. Yes, this is precisely as unpleasant as it sounds.

  6. Yes, the bike is fine.

  7. In this one event, I started down a path wherein I achieved many personal firsts: first bike fall, first broken bone ever, first ambulance ride, first oxygen cannula, first IV, first experience with opiods, first actual hospital stay, first CAT scan, etc.

  8. Oh, and first surgery. You can’t just put a cast on this, so they patched me up with a plate and some pins.

  9. No, it is not clear if I’m going to be setting off metal detectors going forward. I should probably ask about that. My bet is yes.

  10. All things considered, I’m doing fine. Despite the pain of the initial injury, there’s nothing like being in the ER around people with actually no-shit life threatening problems to put your plight in perspective. Plus, most of you people are on Facebook and have been commenting and messaging me with all manner of support, so I’ll repeat what I said there: I’m a lucky, lucky man to have you all in my corner.

Top Nine Awesome Nines

9. Revolution 9, because if it’s not included some superannuated Beatlemania holdout somewhere will bitch about it.

8. 9mm, that most democratic of calibers.

7. The 9 Rings of Power given to men, and their bearers the Nazgul.

6. The number of times Ferris Bueller was absent, which should be a lesson to us all.

5. The number of planets there REALLY are, at least for old folks like me, dammit.

4. Beethoven’s Ninth, which we all know by heart.

3. The best of the appeals courts, the Ninth.

2. i, the first person pronoun, square root of negative one, and NINTH LETTER.

1. NINE YEARS WITH MRS HEATHEN. Best nine of all, ever. I love you, Erin.