Friday, April 24, 2015

I suppose that's progress

In a pretty stark change from last year, I've ridden Wednesday Night Worlds for the last two weeks. While you can make any ride as hard as you want, being able to essentially practice racing is option to have.

This week's group was bigger than last week, and accordingly faster. I could tell early on that it was not nearly as aggressive, though. For one, nobody attacked up on the Trace until it was time to sprint. A big group came down into the last valley.

And after the pit stop in Ft. Calhoun, the group rolled smoothly through the Chute and toward the Surfside climb. The acceleration of the lead group was there, but it wasn't the violent, drop everybody charge we normally see. How do I know? Because I stayed with the lead group.

While I do have decent legs right now ... somehow ... I'm probably not on par with the guys up front. I can only attribute the tempo to the fact that most of them are racing in Iowa City this weekend and don't need to go full gas during the week.

Or maybe I'm ready to race, too? Actually, that's probably not likely. But I did feel good. And it was pretty fun. I was able to anticipate and react to the moves of the group and stay in a good spot. When it was time to stop on it — just that little bit — the go was there.

That works for now, though I doubt I can keep up the work/be a good dad/ride bikes fast/baseball schedule forever. But hey, I'll give it a shot.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

They got me again

Last Friday, the Cubs called up Kris Bryant, noted by most to be the top prospect in all of baseball. He went 0-4 with three strikeouts in his Major League debut. After driving in three runs last night, he's now hitting .428. He appears to be good at baseball.

Additionally, most of the rest of the Cubs are also good at baseball. Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Jorge Soler are all doing the things that they do at the plate (hit lots), and the pitching staff has been solid ... with the exception of the guy they're paying $155 million to be solid. Come on, Jon Lester.

The Cubs are currently in second place with a 7-5 record, and have generally have been playing pretty good baseball. This is exciting. While you were sleeping, it got more exciting: the Cubs are calling up Addison Russell.


He came from Oakland in a trade last summer (a trade in which the Cubs absolutely fleeced the A's) and is merely the No. 5 prospect in all of baseball. He's shown in the past that he is also good at baseball. So the gaping hole at second base is now plugged, making only left field shaky. That's fine, ultimately, because a platoon here or there isn't the worst thing in the world.

The Cubs have had plenty of prospects in the past — Corey Patterson, Felix Pie, Gary Scott, etc. — who promptly blew up when the spotlight shone on them. This situation does not appear possible for Bryant and Russell. The old Cubs called up these guys because they needed help — any kind of help. The new Cubs have taken their time and played awful, awful baseball while letting these guys age.

They're ready now. They're in the lineup. I am no longer wary about this team. They're going to be good. I fell for it again. Great.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Nothing new here

Saturday was Record Store Day. "But every day is record store day!" you might say. I suppose that's possible, but you probably smell like incense or dusty cardboard. Or both!

Anyway, Record Store Day, like it's nerdy cousin — Free Comic Book Day — is actually kinda fun. Lots of special-issue products just for that day, some being deluxe re-issues of older stuff. For example, the White Stripes' Get Behind Me, Satan. You can get the first vinyl release now ... for $40some dollars.

Wait, what?

Yep. And the Springsteen remasters (his first seven albums, all of which are awesome) were out, too. $25 and they're yours. Unfortunately, you probably already own them. And the packaging promised a "faithful reproduction of the original packaging." So other than a shiny jacket and 180-gram vinyl, it's exactly the same? Yep. I found near-mint copies of all of them for about $10.

Also found, for $10: Permanent Waves and Grace Under Pressure, from Rush, and U2's Rattle and Hum. And, because I'm a sucker for this album (and despite pointing out the silliness of the subject just one paragraph ago), a remastered version of Abbey Road. For the most popular albums, like this one, finding a good, clean copy is actually pretty hard — mostly because they end up having the hell played out of them.

That hunt is actually the fun part. Almost Music in Benson had about a dozen good take-home candidates, from Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, AC/DC, Springsteen, U2, etc. Homer's had even more. And thanks to their credit-card processing software going down, I had plenty of time to look. Between new stuff and quality used stuff, it would be easy to leave several hundred dollars lighter.

I'm going to do that someday. Gonna take another promotion before Chris will let me out of the house, though.

Friday, April 17, 2015

All of the emotions

It's been a hell of a week. Like, whiplash-inducing. Let's go from the beginning.

Monday, I found out that the position for which I interviewed at work would be filled by someone else. While I'm disappointed it wasn't me, I was flat-out dismayed by selection. Dismayed to the point of, "Geez, why bother with this place if that's how things go?" Monday wasn't the best day, but we did have baseball that night and that was pretty fun, even if the game ended 0-0 and there were about 40 strikeouts. (This is actually true.)

Tuesday was worse than Monday because, seriously, why bother?

Wednesday was when things turned around. Apparently I needed a couple of days to process things. Also, I jumped into Wednesday Night Worlds for the first time this year — and probably the second time in the last three years — and had a pretty good time. I was in a baaaaad spot when the hardest attack went on the Trace. I had basically no chance of answering that thing. But later in the Chute, I got lucky and stuck to Lucas' wheel when he bridged a gap to Mark, which was out front fighting the wind by himself. We were joined by Paul and rotated until the base of the climb. I knew I was pretty much hosed at that point, since the effort was steep to begin with. But it was good to go blast the legs for a bit.

Thursday was awfully nice. Besides shrugging my shoulders and moving past the Monday decision, I got good news, anyway — a promotion within my current position. That'll do. And that was going to be the back-up plan for what I'd pursue if the new position didn't fall to me. And then I got a bunch of claims settled and closed, and then I rode my bike and bit and we ate supper on the deck and it was a really nice day.

Today is just starting, but it's going to be a good day. More claims to close, plus the Cubs are on later. Maybe some bikes to ride, or maybe not. But mostly it's just Friday. Always a good day.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Tonka: An appreciation

For the past couple of weeks, I've been climbing into my car and driving home to let the dogs out. This is a colossal pain in the ass. It wastes time and gas and money and pretty much guarantees I won't be able to ride my bike to work until summer. Seriously, it sucks.

But our dogs are old. And Tonka, in particular, is having difficulties getting through the day. His back legs have been seriously hobbled for a year or so now, and he spends most of his time sleeping. That said, he's pushing 14 1/2 years old. He's earned it. Also, he's mostly deaf, so his days as a watchdog and protector of our house are pretty much over. His bark is hoarse, his eyesight can't be great and his coat is not looking great. (The picture above is from a couple of years ago.)

Basically, his time is short. It's been a long, slow bummer watching it slide downhill. We know that at some point — probably soon — we're going to have to make a decision that's going to be very, very hard. We've had Tonka since he was 8 or 9 months old.

The good thing about Tonka, though, is that his personality hasn't changed. He still woofs (or tries to) when he feels like he should. He's still afraid of storms, even though he can't hear them. He still ignores you unless he feels it's important. And even if it is important, sometimes he decides that his nap is more important. He's been like that since he was a pup. He operates on his own terms, basically.

So here's to Tonka, while he's still here. He sleeps a lot, drops tufts of hair everywhere and is particularly gassy right now, and really he's kind of a pain sometimes. But he's a good dog.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Revisiting The Joshua Tree

Somehow or another, I discovered music in 1987. I suspect it was because we had MTV then, or because I determined that the cool kids at school listened to KKEZ, one of the rock stations out of Fort Dodge, Iowa. Either way, I started paying attention to such things and never really stopped.

In 1987, you were in one of two camps, assuming you were 10 years old and paid attention to the MTV Top 20 Video Countdown on Friday nights: The U2 camp or the Bon Jovi camp. At the time, I was pretty firmly in the Bon Jovi camp, because Slippery When Wet, released in 1986, was FANTASTIC. (It still is, actually.) It was pretty much loaded with hits, and when researching this post I discovered it's sold 25 million copies. Also, the songs were pretty much perfect for my ears: Lots of guitars, big arrangements and sweet videos.

I mean, seriously, check this out:

U2, meanwhile, was ... umm ... not that. It's The Joshua Tree was released in early 1987 and also contained a big pile of hits. And it also sold more than 25 million copies. But it couldn't be more different than my beloved Bon Jovi. For example:

Yeah, so that's a pretty stark contrast. And in 1987, I wanted none of that second band. I was, of course, 10 years old. That's really the only explanation I can give.

In the height of music clubs like Columbia House and BMG, I picked up a copy of Joshua Tree on CD (along with about a zillion other albums, most of which I still have). I feel fairly certain that I didn't listen to it much, because I really only knew and wanted to hear the first three tracks.

When we were in Minneapolis a few weeks ago, I dragged Chris through a couple of record stores and took way too much time digging through bins of LPs new and old. (She's incredibly patient, by the way.) Anyway, I found a nice, clean copy of The Joshua Tree for $5 and quickly tucked it under my arm. I had, by then, heard it a million times and knew all of the tracks.

In a full listen, with grown-up ears, I was instantly reminded why it's sold so many copies: It's a really, really good album. But in comparison to its 1987 competitor, Slippery When Wet, it doesn't appear to have aged. Like, at all. It's a great album that is not specifically locked to the year in which it was released.

You hear "Livin' On a Prayer," and you can picture the big hair and denim and all of that. Meanwhile, pick a track from The Joshua Tree and you don't get that at all. It could have been released at any point in the last 25 years. Well, not from 1999 to 2002, because music was super-duper messed up then.

After watching the Top 20 Video Countdown, we'd often go to the skating rink and hang out for a few hours. The rink in Algona is long closed, the maple boards likely stripped away and sold (or worse, thrown away). I'm glad to have a copy of this one, though. It's pretty fantastic, and definitely well worth the $5.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Opening Day

I'm sitting on the couch at home right now, coffee by my side and a baseball game on the TV. It's Minnesota at Detroit, by the way.

Today is Opening Day — the point of the season where hope springs eternal, everything is new and you convince yourself that, really, it'll be different this time around. (It might!) This is a point that's especially notable for Cubs fans, because ... well, you know. But it's an apt metaphor for spring itself: the TV is loaded with green grass, bright white home uniforms and a good dose of renewal.

In years past, I've skipped out of class early, gone into work at 5 a.m., so I could leave early and streamed radio broadcasts surreptitiously through an earbud all afternoon. It's basically like a holiday for me. This year, the festivities are possible because our daycare is closed for a couple of days. Chris stayed home on Friday and I got today. Lucky break, I suppose.

So Maddy and I played a little bit in the morning, I got my workout in (actual intervals now, which is painful and dumb), we ate lunch, and now it's nap time. In my dream of being a writer and working from home (or just not working at all), this is how it goes.

I guess today I'm living the dream. Tomorrow I'll put my tie back on.