Lost Pet

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Berkeley’s full of lost pet posters, mostly homemade jobs stapled to telephone poles. A year or two ago, a family that had recently moved to the neighborhood hired a pet detective agency to post very professional flyers calling attention to their missing cat, Gracie. The posters offered a large reward. Several weeks after the announcements appeared on 15 or 20 blocks near us, a house nearby had a handwritten note posted on a gate: Gracie had turned up at a house nearby and had been returned home. That instance sticks out, but for the most part, you stop noticing the flyers or paying much attention to them.

This one’s different. Kate called my attention to it. It’s lost pet announcement as social and environmental commentary (I think I mentioned recently that Berkeley seems to be teeming with wildlife). Entertaining.

[The text: Our tiny, precious kitty, Tinkerbell, is LOST. Can you help us find her? She purrs, chirps, eats kitty grass, loves to be stroked, and if she really likes you, she will sit in your lap — all 120 pounds of her (she’s SUCH a tiny kitty). She has been with us ever since the bambi dears started overpopulating. warbuddy@earthlink.net]

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Like a Spider, Like an Angel

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The found poetry — I didn’t say good poetry — in today’s Tour de France Stage 9 race call by Phil Liggett. Someone has actually put together a book of Liggett found poetry, but I think the genre was actually created with the publication of “O Holy Cow,” a book that captures some of the Homer-meets-James Joyce flights of Yankee Hall of Fame shortstop and former broadcaster Phil Rizzuto. But that’s baseball. Let’s get back to the bicycle race.

The recap: It was a tough mountain stage, the last day in the Alps for this year’s tour. A five-man breakaway, driven largely by Discovery’s Yaroslav Popovych, led over the early climbs and stayed a couple minutes ahead of the group including yellow jersey Michael Rasmussen heading onto the lower slopes of the Col du Galibier, a brutal 18-kilometer climb that tops out at about 8,000 feet above sea level. Between the leaders and the Rasmussen group was a single rider, Mauricio Soler, of Colombia. If you heard of him before today, you’re either his mother or father, his coach, or you’ve read the Tour de France guidebook cover to cover. Soler — Liggett lisps his first name, More-RITH-ee-oh — caught the breakaways on the 8 or 9 percent slope of the Galibier and blew by them. Only Popovych and his teammate, Alberto Contador, were able to respond, but Soler shot across the pass more than a minute ahead of them. He stayed away all the way to the end, a beautiful solo effort that concluded with a sharp climb on the race’s final kilometer.

Now, let’s turn it over to Phil:

As Soler caught the breakaway: “These guys must be saying, ‘Who is this man with the long, thin legs?’ ”

As Soler pulled away from Popovych: “Look at this boy now! He’s itching to get on with the race and he’s only 24 years of age.”

As Soler neared the top of the col: “He climbs like a spider, but he also climbs like an angel as he races up this climb.”

As Soler neared the final descent and climb in the finishing town: “These are desperate moments. We are into Briançon. It is dangerous now. These corners duck and dive and they switch back; they descend very steeply, and then it’s a horrible sight when they come ’round a corner and the road just goes up to the heavens to the finishing line.”

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Gone Riding

My apologies to you noble few who visit every once in a while for my neglect the past few days. Explanation: I was out riding my bike over the weekend and absorbed in planning for that when I wasn’t actually in the saddle.

The brief details: Two days, 317 miles. From Berkeley, on the bay shore, to Chico, on the eastern edge of the upper Sacramento Valley; and then from Chico to Davis to catch a train home. It was hot — temperatures mostly 95 or a little below but up to 98 at a couple points and with plenty of extra heat coming off the roads. Rode with my friend Bruce and another Paris-Brest-Paris-bound cyclist, Keith, and Kate met us a couple times along the way Saturday to make sure we weren’t suffering from anything more serious than cycling-related dementia. Saw an abundance of big, striking birds as we rode past the rice fields planted along the general course of the Sacramento: great egrets, snowy egrets, great blue herons, hawks of all descriptions, a (possible) juvenile bald eagle and a new one for me, the black-necked stilt.

More later. Really!

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‘Beauty and Cruelty’

If Thursday’s Tour de France stage is remembered after this year’s race is over, it will be recalled as the day the great Kazakh rider Alexandre Vinokourov crashed hard and lost his chance to win the yellow jersey. All we know for now, though, is that he crashed; whether he’s able to get on his bike and mount the sort of reckless, slashing attacks he’s known for remains to be seen.

It’s always interesting to see how Tour television covers crashes, which are as much a staple of the Tour as they are of the NASCAR experience. With notable exceptions, the on-the-road cameras, carried by photographers on the back of motorcycles, are rarely present when a crash occurs. But they’re always there for the immediate aftermath: a rider sprawled on the road, on a traffic island, or in a ditch, tangled up in his bicycle or thrown across the road from it. How he got that way is almost always a mystery. And so it was today with Vinokourov: When the camera caught up to him, he was already on his feet; a teammate was pulling his bicycle from the center of the road; and Vino, as he’s familiarly known, was in obvious pain. He’d hit hard on his right side; his shorts were shredded, exposing an expanse of raw, abraded buttock.

Still: He had 26 kilometers to go to the finish line. He’s the leader of his team, Astana (Astana is the capital of Kazakhstan and actually sponsors the team) and until the moment he hit the pavement he was considered one of the riders with a better than even chance of winning the 2007 Tour. So there was nothing for him to do but get on his bike and try to catch up to the main field, which had sped into the distance as he stood by the side of the road.

His team manager ordered all the nearby Astana riders — six of the eight members, not including Vinokourov — to stop and form a chase group for their leader. In short, their job was to ride in front of him, as hard and as long as they could, to try to get him close to the stage leaders. Today was a tough stage, and soon the Astana squad started to overtake riders who had already been dropped. One, a sprinter for Robbie McEwen’s Lotto team, appeared not to believe his luck as the Vinokourov rescue team passed him. He sped up and got on Vinokourov’s wheel to get a free ride as far as he could. The pace was so high that soon the Astana domestiques, the riders whose job it is to sacrifice their own chances for the team leader, began to fall away. In just a few kilometers, Vinokourov was riding all by himself. Eventually, he caught and passed a group long discarded by the lead bunch; the exhausted riders, who included sprint leader Tom Boonen of Belgium, fell in behind their bruised and bloody opponent and let him set the pace up the day’s last climb.

It was a stirring charge, and a courageous one. Most people — people who think of bicycles as a form of recreation and who have something like normal thresholds for unbearable pain — would have been in the emergency room. In the end, though, Vinokourov couldn’t catch up; he lost more than a minute to his rivals, and did, in fact, wind up in the hospital. He’s a tough guy — it would be a shock if he isn’t at the starting line tomorrow.

Astana’s team manager summed up the situation after the stage simply and eloquently:

“We gave [Vinokourov] six riders and they did an extraordinary job and went full-gas for kilometers to try to bring him back. Then Vino’ was left on his own. What do you want me to say? It’s the beauty and cruelty of this sport. We must not overdramatize the situation. If we don’t win the Tour – there’s 2008. We haven’t given up hope … if Vino’ is in good health and he wants to win the Tour, we have no choice but to attack.”

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The Sprint Finish

Today’s Liggett/Sherwen call of the final 1,000 meters of today’s fourth stage in the Tour de France:

Liggett: Here comes the run by [team] Lampre now! As they try to bring Napolitano through! This is the first big sprint at the Tour and it is a free-for-all!

Sherwen: Julian Dean is there in the black and white and you can be certain that right on his wheel will be Thor Hushovd, one thousand meters to go, there is the flamme rouge, Quick Step [team] have got control now, they’re on the front but where is Tom Boonen? He’s not on the wheel of his teammates, there’s a line of [team] Milram, they’re looking after Zabel, there’s a lot of pink jerseys in there for T-Mobile, there’s a little bit of a switch, they’re going to start lining up for the finish line, they’re looking now at about 550 meters to go, Gerolsteiner [team] pulls off, still Quick Step in control. …

Liggett: Well, watch out for this little switch at 250 meters, it might disrupt the move here now, and still Robbie McEwen has not got through. I can see Robbie Hunter trying to get through, but they’re still not going to make a big sprint. And Julian Dean’s on the front now! Dean has found his man Thor Hushovd! Dean the champion of New Zealand! Hunter coming on Dean’s wheel! Hushovd opens the sprint in the center now! Förster trying to get through on the right here as now Thor Hushovd hits the line at last.

Sherwen: Thor Hushovd was perfectly set up for the win by Julian Dean, I just saw the black and white jersey, the Kiwi national champion was right in the right place, he sacrificed himself completely. You need a sprinter to lead out a sprinter. Big Thor has not been superb over the last couple of days but at the end of the day when you’re set up like that by Julian Dean you have to say thanks very much, mate, and you have to finish it off.

Comment: My reaction to these guys’ work usually ranges from mild annoyance to outright disgust — yeah, I ought to just chill; this is just a bike race on TV — but I’ll say something nice here. The end of a sprint stage is beyond hectic. The racers accelerate from 35 to 45 mph, there’s a mass of bodies flying around, and everyone’s madly jockeying for position. What impressed me here is that Sherwen picked Julian Dean out of the crowd a kilometer before the finish line; he knows the players well enough that he correctly predicted that Thor Hushovd would be on Dean’s wheel. That turned out to be the crucial moment in the sprint. To exit slack-cutting mode, though: Both Sherwen and Liggett missed the real drama of the last 100 meters, when Hunter, the South African sprinter, jumped from Dean’s wheel to Hushovd’s in a desperate attempt for the stage win. He timed his finishing charge about a half-second too late and lost by half a wheel. Hunter crossed the line shaking his head and fist in frustration.

Anyway: The point is that the Versus Boys do this part of the race pretty well. Things are moving at light speed compared to the normal baseball, football, or soccer game, and somehow they manage to keep up with it.

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‘Suitcase of Courage’

A classic Paul Sherwenism in the closing miles of today’s Stage Four: “They’ll really have to dig into their suitcase of courage to pull this man back into the fold.” How do they carry the suitcase when they’re riding their bikes?



Phil Liggett: “… First of all the peloton still has to catch up with the leaders, and they’re still pulling it out, a minute five seconds now by the boys who simply refuse to say ‘never say die.’ ” So … they do say die?

And finally: A wonderful sprint finish to today’s stage. Thor Hushovd, a Norwegian sprinter, edged Robbie Hunter, a South African rider who managed to get onto his wheel over the last 100 meters or so. I’ll post the transcript of the Liggett-Sherwen race call for the final 1,000 meters a little later — it was actually something to hear.

(And in the meantime, I’m participating in a little guest-blogging week at CrabAppleLane. I did a little Tour commentary there yesterday.)

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The Tour, on Xanax

Something’s up with the Tour this morning. The live telecast shows 188 cyclists who look like they’re out on a recreational ride. They’re actually going, well, slow. But there’s no explanation for it. The Versus Boys have noted the casualness of the day’s race; however, they’re only offering guesses about the cause: the pace has been dialed down because of a massive crash yesterday that left many riders battered, bruised and abraded; or maybe it’s the length of today’s stage, nearly 150 miles. Those reasons don’t quite wash, though: The one constant about the Tour for years, especially during the first week, is the furious pace no matter what the circumstances. (One more interesting observation about today’s pace, by way of journalist Martin Dugard’s blog: “But for some reason this morning, the riders displayed unusual reluctance to begin the roll-out, as the initial phase of riding is known. They lingered in the village, sipping water and coffee right up to the last minute. And then when it came time to begin, they clipped in and began pedaling casually, seemingly oblivious to the fact that this was an actual bike race.”)

My theory: This is a protest of some kind. After the crash yesterday, a couple kilometers from the finish in Ghent (Belgium), some riders complained about how narrow and dangerous they found the final portion of the course. Today’s stage features an alarmingly hazardous finish: within 2,000 meters of the finish, when the sprinters’ teams are usually driving at a high if not frantic pace, the field will be forced to negotiate two 90-degree bends in rapid succession. Then, just as they raise their speed again on the finishing straight, they’ll hit a section of bad cobblestones (pavé), followed by a couple hundred meters of what I see described elsewhere as “lumpy” asphalt. So maybe the message behind the lazy pace today is enough is enough — if you want us to put on a show at the finish line, don’t force us to risk life and limb to do it.

That’s today’s Berkeley-based Tour speculation … (and as I write, the pace in today’s stage has jumped as one rider makes a dash to try to grab the King of the Mountains jersey on the day’s lone climb. It’ll still be interesting to see how the finish develops, though.)

[Update: From the Tour’s daily race coverage: “17:53 – Well Behind Schedule: This is one of the slowest stages in the last 10 years of the Tour. The average after five hours was just 33.5km/h. It will be the first time that a stage has finished after 6.00pm since the neutralized stage to Aix-les-Bains in 1998.”]

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The Tour: The Versus Boys Are Back

We’re having our traditional Tour de France first stage party this morning: Usually we get up when the live broadcast starts (5 a.m. here in PDT), have a few neighbors over, and watch the peloton race toward the usual sprint finish. Today we overslept, so the festivities didn’t begin until after 7.

Phil Liggett, MBE, is doing his usual charmingly hackneyed, loopy race call. Just now he said, “The peloton are being led by the boys in blue.” It’s always “the boys.” His best moments today:

“The Tour’s Yellow Peril.” Referring to prologue winner and race leader Fabian Cancellara, who of course is wearing the yellow jersey (and using yellow pedals and a yellow helmet as long as he’s Number One). Yellow Peril: I’m sure that one popped into his head without any idea of its origin.

“The sprinters have their bird teeth out.” Bird teeth? It’s a mystery what he meant, and my early online research is no help. If you come across this and know what the heck he’s talking about, please help interpret Phil for me. [Hmmm: The insightful Kate speculates that Phil meant “egg teeth,” which embryonic birds use to break through their shells.”

The team domestiques are out of the kitchen and working hard.

And from Phil’s “analyst” partner, Paul Sherwen, on Robbie McEwen, who rode from the back of the pack to win: “He never panicked. He kept his calm like a magical poker player.”

TV Local News Editorial Outrage Cam

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The TV Local News Editorial Outrage Cam captured a couple of gems during a tough night for the KTVU (Channel 2) news tonight. They speak for themselves, but I think the example from the sports department above will probably make this year’s Newsroom Gaffe Olympics for finding so many ways to mangle something so simple.

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Seed Spitting

As noted in previous years, the Fourth of July party here on Holly Street in beautiful, mostly unperturbed North Berkeley features a watermelon-seed spitting contest, complete with trophy. The contest features several different divisions — for “pros,” kids, novices, and seniors — and categories — distance, accuracy and “trick spitting.” The judges award colorful home-made ribbons to each participant.

Some time back there in the early ’90s, Kate and I did a trick spit that involved us pretending to spit seeds to each other in the midst of some faux acrobatics. And then we did theme spits; for instance, one honoring the soccer World Cup (spitting a seed into a goal and celebrating), another for the X Games (spitting while skateboarding), another for the Summer Olympics (synchronized spitting). The prize ribbon would be awarded based on audience applause, and we’d win handily. Then our neighbors, the Martinuccis, started to compete with trick spits based on musicals or movies: “West Seed Story”; “The Phantom Melon” (a la “Star Wars”); “Titanic”; “Harry Potter and the Spittoon of Merlin.” Seriously daunting competition. (Though Kate has expanded her contest repertoire with a song, “You’re a Grand Old Seed,” that’s become the event anthem, and debuted a new number, cabaret style, this year: “The Street Where We Spit.”)

Anyway, eventually our performances exceeded my natural EQ (embarrassment quotient) and I faded out from the contest. The Martinuccis’ extended family became less of a factor, too. So then, Kate and our neighbor Jill would take the lead in cooperative dramatic efforts. This year’s may have been the best ever. Untitled, it was topical: It combined a nod to the recent finale of “The Sopranos” with the latest ugly brouhaha from Bush’s Washington: the Scooter Libby pardon. Yeah, it’s hard to imagine, right? But it was brief, brilliantly conceived, and full of watermelon-specific puns. The script starts below (and continues after the jump). Jill played Tony; Kate played Lewis “Spitter” Libby; Nico played Pasquale, the guard; and Ellen (Jill’s sister-in-law) played the Narrator.

Narrator: For all of you who don’t have HBO, and for those of you who do and are still wondering what happened to Tony Soprano – here is how the Sopranos might have ended, and how the two most anticlimactic melondramas of the summer could have been resolved.

Scene: Tony is sitting alone in a café, eating watermelon. He spits out the seeds periodically. There is an empty chair across from him.

Guy 1: Hey Tony, there you are. I’ve got a rind to pick with you!

Tony: Yeah? Go talk to Pasquale over here. (Snaps his finger at bodyguard. Guy 1 is escorted off stage by guard, who returns)

Guy 2 : Hey “T”, I hear you’re looking for seed money for that new casino.

Tony: Yeah. We’ll talk. Call me next week.

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