The Irrigator

Idly perusing job listings at California newspapers — don’t draw any inferences from that activity — I came across an ad from the Patterson Irrigator. I don’t remember what position they’re trying to fill — checking the paper’s site online, it looks like a pretty good little rag — but the name attracted me. The Irrigator. It fits Patterson, which is on the western edge of the San Joaquin Valley, a little south of Altamont Pass; it’s a farm town, and there’s in California that means irrigation’s a big deal.

Made me think of other favorite newspaper names:

–The (Bloomington, Illinois) Pantagraph (until tonight I puzzled over the origin of the name, knowing only that one meaning of pantagraph (or pantograph) is an accordion-like metal device on the top of a train car that transmits power from overhead electrical lines (or alternately,a metal frame used for reproduction in drafting. But neither of these have anything to do with the newspaper’s name, which is explained here.

–The New Orleans Times-Picayune

–The Daily Breeze in Southern California.

–The Laramie Boomerang.

–The Berkeley Daily Planet. A hometown entry, just for the Perry White conceit.

–The Warren Sheaf. Back into farm country; a weekly from Marshall County, Minnesota, my dad’s birthplace.

OK. That’s a baker’s half-dozen in all. Enough for tonight.

Spam Poem

I got a great email the other day from Brandi Talbot. The name alone says she wants to make me big or rich (or both) or hook me up with potent but dirt cheap pharmaceuticals or give me loads of no-interest credit. I never opened her message, but her subject line was pure randomly generated art:

“Of sing on punic whir.”

I can almost hear those words coming out of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s mouth:

“I dreamt I dreamed

Hannibal in the Alps without elephants

Blood running Roman down Tiber and plain

The empire bled white centurions dismounted

Of sing on punic whir.”

Well, maybe not Ferlinghetti. Someone.

Flying Home


Airline travel has become endlessly irritating and uncomfortable most of the time. The snack boxes they used to give away as consolation that those bad hot meals weren’t served anymore? Now you have to pay five bucks for one, and various combinations of chips, jerky, whizzed cheese, pretzels and cookies have been given cute names like QuickPick, JumpStart, Biafra, and Moe. But now I’m wandering.
I always take a window seat if one’s available. I can deal with the confinement as long as I have a chance to look out the window. I’ve always found the view of the world outside and below full of a beauty so singular and surprising I don’t feel fit to express it. So, Monday evening on United Flight 863 from O’Hare to San Francisco: Somewhere over Iowa we flew past this wall of storm clouds growing into the summer sky to the north. Even though I was pretty sure a picture would only hint at the play of light and texture and shadow, I pulled out my little digital camera and took a couple of shots. Glad I did.

Gone Cycling, and Back

I flew to Chicago over the weekend to ride in a 600-kilometer (375-mile) event I needed to qualify for next month’s Gold Rush Randonee here in California. The ride actually started in Wisconsin, from the little town of Delavan (a little northeast of Rockford, Illinois) and wandered around several of the state’s southern and central counties.

Beautiful riding, but cutting to the chase: I didn’t manage to finish. The first half of the ride went just fine, I was on pace to finish the first 400k in about 20 hours, get a couple of hours of sleep, and head back out to finish before the heat of the following day. I really had no doubts I would make it. Just at that point, though, a big storm hit and I got held up for several hours at a gas station in a little town called New Glarus. The ride never got back on track for me after that, though I had a memorable ride through a rainy night across some hilly and seemingly deserted back roads. After finishing the 400, I felt completely used up and wound up quitting the ride. There’s a little more to it than that, and I’ll write more later, because most of the part I did was exceptionally fun and challenging and the country beautiful. But that’s the bottom line.

The Kid’s Back Home

I talked to Eamon — let’s see: Monday night Berkeley time; Tuesday afternoon in Tokyo. He was back home from the hospital and sounding great; it was such a relief to hear his voice. He told me all about what it’s like to have a collapsed lung (he thought he was having a heart attack). When he saw his chest X-ray at the hospital, his right lung was big and expanded and normal. On the other side was something that he said looked “like a spike.” It was his left lung, which the doctors said had collapsed to something like one-quarter its usual size.

So, after the surgery and the fever and the convalescence (and dealing with hospital personnel who thought, incorrectly, that he didn’t know what they were saying when they spoke Japanese) and the lack of a bedside telephone, for heaven’s sake, he’s back in his now very-comfortable-seeming apartment in Sato, just outside Tokyo.

Like I said: I am relieved.

Solstice Ride

The summer solstice occurred at 11:46 p.m. last night, the 20th. I didn’t go out and fire off my handgun, because I forgot to buy one and I don’t have any ammo.

So today: The first full day of summer. The days are just about as long as they’re going to get. I spent the day in my office at the law school, and didn’t think much about the season. But when I got home, I decided to try to fight past my usual evening inertia and go out for a ride.

I didn’t get started till nearly 8 (7:54, actually), but figured I had enough time to make it to the highest point of Grizzly Peak Boulevard in the Berkeley Hills to see the sun go down (according to the online and newspaper almanacs I’ve found, sunset was at 8:35 p.m.).

I made it up to the little pullout where people go to look down on the city and watch the evening come on when the weather’s clear (there are plenty of evenings when the fog cuts visibility to 100 feet or less up in the hills, and I’ve been riding up there then, too). I made it without about three minutes to spare and watched the sun disappear behind a mountain peak somewhere in northwestern Marin County. Then I got on my bike and started to ride away when someone said, “Dan!”

It was my neighbor Piero, with his son Niko. We’d been standing about 10 yards apart, I’d guess. But all of us were so focused on watching this first day of summer close that we never saw each other. They drove back down, and I finished my ride.

Modest Proposal: Cycling Edition

I belong to a bike club here in Berkeley. That is, I pay my dues, subscribe to the email list, and once in a very long while go on a club ride (my riding habit is usually solitary, an effect of taking a long time to get going on weekend mornings).

The club’s email list is mostly informative and entertaining, but sometimes given to extended pissing matches over who knows how much about some arcane (or perfectly ordinary) facet of cycling. The latest example: Member One posted at random about his love of a certain brand of tires for riding in the rain. It’s not the first time he’s touted the brand; I don’t know whether he’s getting a kickback or what. Member Two quickly chimed in, as he did once before, to observe that the tires in question go on the rim very easily — too easily, in fact, because he had one blow off his rim during a ride once. Member Two would never use that brand of tire.

The exchange inspired me. Quoting myself, here’s my contribution to the discussion:

I’ve been experimenting this year with doing away with tires altogether and just riding on some bare old rims that have been lying around the house for years. Straight-away traction, let alone cornering, is a bit tricky until you have a few miles on the unadorned rims. That’s all it takes for the local pavements to roughen the metal surface and give you a secure grip on terra firma. Talk about getting a good feel for the road! But for the lack of a tire, it’s practically like riding sew-ups.

Old steel rims are particularly fun to ride after dark; as a paramedic I met after one ride said, the chro-mo wheels create "quite a light show" as you career down the macadam. And if that’s not enough to persuade you of the virtues of rubber-less riding — shut your ears to the nay-sayers who complain about the slight increase in noise — just think about the weight savings: Since you don’t need to worry about flats (or tires blowing off) anymore, you don’t need spare tubes, patch kit, tire levers, or pump, either (but just as you would on a pneumatically cushioned jaunt, remember to  bring your medical and dental insurance cards with you when you ride rubber-less).

With all these advantages, word on "the street" is that Trek has hooked up with Bridgestone, the Japanese tire and bicycle maker, to develop a more durable "naked" rim for both both road and off-road riding. I’ve also heard that Rivendell is considering offering a new model — tentatively named the "Orc" — equipped with tireless rims and featuring no brakes.

I’ll admit I won’t be satisfied unless at least one club member takes this seriously.

News from Japan

I realize that I’ve left the situation with Eamon, his collapsed lung, and his recovery as a bit of a cliffhanger. That’s mostly because it has been hard to keep up with what’s going on as it happens. But here’s the summary:

The surgical procedure to repair whatever needed to be repaired to prevent a recurrence of the spontaneous pneumothorax went fine from what we’ve heard. But after the surgery, Eamon developed a rather serious-sounding infection: He was running a high fever and for a couple days, anyway, had no appetite and couldn’t keep food down. My word for that news is “worrisome,” and in fact we were pretty concerned.

The latest from Sakura, in an email she sent this morning, is that Eamon is feeling much better , his appetite is coming back, and he really, really wants to get out of the hospital. Apparently the doctors plan to do some tests on Monday, Japan time; if everything is clear, they’ll turn him loose.

I can’t wait to talk to him.

The Day After Graduation Day

It happened: Thom graduated from high school. That’s not the shocker. This is: When you hear people say things like, “Gee, it seems like just last week that we were taking him to the first day of pre-school,” believe them. It’s true. I saw our neighbor Asa today — he lived next door when we moved in in April 1988, and he’s still there. He and one of his roommates once baby-sat for Tom (then without the H). Their big adventure while Kate and I were out for the evening was changing his diaper. I know it happened a long time ago. But not that long ago, and now that kid is getting ready to pack up his stuff and move on. It’s what’s supposed to happen among us middle-class Americans and what does happen when all your hopes and work and planning and luck fit together right. Two boys out the door to next adventures. I can’t believe how quickly it all happened.

That’s all for now, I guess, except to say that for the most part I liked the event. It was crowded and wild. The Greek Theatre has an official capacity of 8,500, and the place looked like it was packed. It was as close to a true community celebration as Berkeley has — all the kids in public school go to Berkeley High (if they haven’t managed to get themselves sent to the “alternative” campus a few blocks away), and it seemed like all the families with seniors showed up. The crowd was raucous. The kids were often unruly. Most of the student speakers — and there were many — were sadly forgettable. In an exercise of hyper-democracy or gesture of anti-elitism, the program didn’t explain how any of the kids earned the distinction of a speech or say whether they were chosen by lottery. Still, I loved seeing so many of the kids I’ve known or heard about over the years going through the graduation line; and it was a great moment when the ceremony ended and the 680-some kids in the class just moshed together for about 15 or 20 minutes. It was one group of very happy-looking kids.