Free At Last, Free At Last

I can’t even remember what the Massachusetts drinking age was when I “came of age.” I didn’t drink, so I never went through the crazy night of initiation in some bar with friends, or the queasy ritual in the family kitchen, reluctantly gulping the strange, unpalatable-because-unfamiliar can of Schlitz. Research reveals that the age was 18 years way back in my youth, in a simpler and perhaps saner age when the argument that if you’re old enough to die for your country you’re old enough to kill a few of your own brain cells with a ‘Gansett had some legs.

Not that alcohol never passed my lips in college days. I still didn’t drink, but I remember clearly that when I was a new pledge some of the senior brothers of my fraternity (including Dick Cole, as I recall) tried to get me drunk on Scotch a couple of times. I astounded them with my ability to hold my liquor, and so some pretty good whisky trickled down my gullet now and then. I’m still pretty good at holding my liquor, it seems, but having those first drinks was not a coming-of-age ritual, just a gradual transition to adulthood sidetracked briefly by the red herring of teetotaling fundamentalist social ethics (the Bible is full of wine, perhaps most notably the wedding at Cana, when Jesus finally broke out the really good stuff).

But last Saturday it was different. The official Transportation Security Administration website reports the policy that travelers age 75 and older can “leave on shoes and light jackets through security checkpoints.” Now if there’s one thing I hate, somewhat irrationally, about airport security it is the modified striptease they require of all those who won’t pay the government $150 for special security screening and preferred treatment in the TSA line. One must remove not only shoes, but the upper outer garment layer (Sweater over shirt—remove the sweater. Jacket over sweater over shirt—remove the jacket, not the sweater. How dumb is that?), the belt, and all pocket contents.

But the shoes are the worst. They’re the most clumsy, the most awkward, and the hardest to get back on. The shoe regulation came about after some dope unsuccessfully tried to blow up a plane with an explosive device in his shoe, thereby reviving the old observation that we’d be in a lot more trouble if most criminals were a lot smarter than they are. At the time, I observed that it’s lucky nobody ever tried to hide a bomb in their undies, or the TSA would be asking us to take those off too. Then somebody did, but the TSA didn’t.

But now I just don’t care any more, because on Saturday, August 23, I turned 75. Suddenly, some seven hours west of the Greenwich Meridian, a mere flip of a calendar page rendered me incapable, in the eyes of the TSA, of committing a terrorist attack by means of a device concealed, in whole or part, in my footwear. I’m now just a helpless, slightly disoriented, old guy who can dodder through the checkpoint fully shod. And I love it! I got to traipse, Rockports and all, into the gate area at SeaTac Airport. Meanwhile all those younger wretches were wrestling with laces and Velcro, but not me, boy! Sheer elation and release. Everything I missed as a lad of 18 in the Bay State.

Winnie b'day

Winnie rocks the flapper look on her eighth birthday.

Meanwhile last Friday, a day before my birthday, my lively granddaughter Winnie turned 8. I was at her party, along with most of her loving family, and we all had a great time honoring her and celebrating her continuing transmogrification from preschooler into full-fledged childhood. Next morning at her Dad’s house we were getting ready to run a couple of errands, and I was pulling the car seat out of the closet. Her Dad, though, remembered something and checked a website. And guess what? At the age of 8, children in Oregon don’t have to ride in car seats any more. So in the back seat of a Budget Rent-a-car Chevy Impala, Winnie took her very first ride as an adult. She was proud and happy. Another step toward maturity!

Mom and Marion

Winnie’s great-grandmother, Winifred E. DeYoung, at age 8, with older sister Marion.

Of course, Winnie’s series of “firsts” are all upgrades. A new level in school, shiny shoes with heels, sliding into a car seat like grownups do. Mine are mostly downgrades, recognizing that I am less capable, less strong, less dangerous. Becoming old and irrelevant; in a way I miss being a potential terrorist in the TSA’s eyes. But Winnie and I have in common that every change is somehow liberating, lifting a burden, ridding a nuisance. She and I can join in the hallowed chorus: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!”






© Arnold J. Bradford, 2014



Signs of seasonal change are all around us. When I launch out on a bike ride shortly after 9:00 a.m. the shadows are still very long, since the sun is rising later and is lower in the sky. At 5:30 these days it’s still dark out, whereas it would have been late predawn six weeks ago. Nevertheless, the route I ride is more heavily shaded until later in the morning in late spring and early summer, because the sun rises farther to the north and casts shadows almost straight across the trail until midmorning. Now it’s inching southward, and by midmorning its rays are coming almost into line with the prevailing trail direction.

Along the trail for the last week, dry leaves have fallen when the wind is gusty—and it has been unusually gusty this summer. The weather has not been dry; we’ve gotten average rain. So these leaves are just the early harbingers of the avalanche to come in eight or ten more weeks. When I arrived home from a ride last week I noticed a “fairy ring” of mushrooms in the side yard. They flourish therein the humidity of late summer and early fall. This was quite a good-sized ring, and encompassed an arch of about 270°.

wolly bear

Wooly Bear caterpillar

But the clincher was the outlier Wooly Bear caterpillar I saw a full two weeks ago, back in July. It was headed straight across the trail, as they usually are, and its reddish-brown middle band was definitely (or as a tragic portion of my students write, “defiantly”) wide. According to folklore these critters, the larval stage of the Isabella tiger moth, predict the severity of the coming winter. So not to worry, the upcoming hibernal season will surely be mild, at least here in Northern Virginia. Plenty of chances to ride outdoors without fearing the fate of the Scott party.

Meanwhile, we’ll savor these late summer days. The local average high temperature has already come off its mid-July zenith, and in the current month will fall by four more degrees, before it really plummets a further ten in September. So I’ll be reveling in “summertime, when the riding is easy,” as Israel (Ira) Gershwin almost put it.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2014.

Marianne Vos: Woman Cycling Champ at La Course

There’s a short cycling video out that really grabs me. It’s taken on a video camera attached to the bicycle of Marianne Vos, a Dutch cyclist, who was competing in a race called La Course, a one-day, 13-circuit around the finishing loop for the Tour de France in Paris. The action happened on July 27, the same day that the Tour finished there. The women raced earlier in the afternoon.

Vos with medal

Marianne Vos with her 2012 Road Champion gold medal

Vos isn’t just any racer. Born and raised in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands (also the home town of that enigmatically powerful Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch), at age 27 she is one of the very best, if not the best, woman racing cyclist. She’s held both the World and Dutch National titles in both cyclo-cross and road racing multiple times, has won three of the last 4 Giro d’Italia Femminile GC titles (along with the points classification all 4 years), and is defending Olympic Gold Medalist in the women’s road race, as well as defending champion of the World Road Race and World Road Cup titles. No wonder they say her nickname is “The Cannibal,” in honor of a dominance similar to that of Belgian Eddie “The Cannibal” Merckx in his heyday.

You can tell that Vos is a confident racer just because she let them put the camera on her bike in an important race. In an age of cycling when every gram is weighed and analyzed, this was no small concession. What the camera shows is the last couple of kilometers of the race. From the viewpoint of the bike’s head tube, where the camera is attached well below eye level, the somewhat fish-eye lens gives a less-than flattering view of the rear end of the rider whom Vos is following most of the time, but it’s interesting to see how close the riders are. You can hear the rumble of the cobble-paved streets, and the sudden hush when they hit the asphalt sections. You can sense very clearly the incredible speeds at which they are traveling, the precise closeness in which they group themselves, the clear reality that one second of hesitation, one wrong “read,” one bad move, and you’re out of it. There’s a pretty big bunch that resolves itself in the last few hundred meters to four. This happens primarily when Vos finds a space right next to the barriers and goes to the front; you could swear she’s going to hit the stanchions a la Dave Zabriskie a few Tours ago.

In the finishing straight there are three bikes ahead of Vos, then as she really starts her sprint the image sways rhythmically from side to side, faster and faster. Then there are only two ahead of her, then one, then none as the finishing line looms up. You hear an off-camera scream of joy, the swaying stops, the shot fades to black, “The Cannibal” wins again. Well worth the two minutes of viewing.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2014.

W&OD Rule #7

On the W&OD Trail website, under the tab “Safety,” there is a list of “Rules and Guidelines” for the safety of all users of this multi-use trail. The seventh item in the unnumbered list reads “Move off the trail when stopped.”

I was riding on the W&OD yesterday morning, going basically downhill toward S. Shirlington Road, where I turn around and go back as far as Bon Air Park, at which point I underpass I-66, follow side streets to Patrick Henry Drive, ride a loop through North Arlington, rejoin the bike trail at Little Falls Road, and head out to home.

Somewhere this side of Columbia Pike, cruising along at 18 mph or so, I approached a guy stopped astride his bike in the trail, blocking the entire lane on my side. He was on his phone, chatting away. Middle aged, red and black kit (as I recall), red hybrid (straight bar, fat wheel) bike. As I approached, a jogger was coming towards me in the other lane. I had just enough time to get by the stopped cyclist without risking an encounter with the jogger, and as I said “Passing on the left” I also added emphatically “Get off the trail,” thereby advising him of Rule #7. True, I did not say “please, good sir, in the future could you possibly consider parking your velocipede on the greensward whilst conversing on your device,” but at nearly 20 mph the message has to be delivered quickly, assertively, in monosyllables. I proudly invite the reader to observe that none of my additional monosyllables were four letters long.

The guy caught up with me at the long light at Columbia Pike, and he was livid. I was taken aback by his passion, having gotten a minor peeve off my chest in four words, and forgotten the incident by the time he arrived. He began with “If you can’t get around a stationary object on a wide open trail, you’re a pretty lame bike handler.” I tried to tell him there was a jogger coming up on me, but when he said “shut up” and went on it was clear that he had a monologue to deliver, and was not interested in dialogue. (I thought of pleading that my bike handling was probably no better then Chris Froome’s or Alberto Contador’s, but he likely wouldn’t have thought that was credible.) He went on to say that the bike trail is a place where people ought to be able to go to have fun and get away from tension, the words coming out of a face flushed and distorted with tension, betraying no sense of fun. My inner smart aleck felt like saying “that doesn’t seem to be working out so well for you this morning,” but I only said that if the jogger had been ten feet closer I would have had to stop, because he was blocking the lane. His reply was “t[oo] s[orry] if you did have to stop.” That confirmed to me that he was entirely self-absorbed, willing to regard the W&OD as his own private 40-mile-long asphalt open-air phone booth despite others’ possible inconvenience, while disregarding the Trail safety rules.

When he finished his piece the light still had not changed, so he got back on his phone (!). This time, though, he pulled off the trail to his right, so I figured my message had made some impact. Admittedly, had I added the single monosyllable “please” to my message I might have mitigated his reaction, but rightly or wrongly I judged the situation as requiring the imperative mood. The rest of my ride was safe, enjoyable, and tension-free.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2014.