Monday, July 11, 2005

For those of you who don’t know, all summer long Dan has been doing a funky bike rebuilding thing in his spare time (just for the hell of it). Around the first week of summer vaca he saw a bike on the side of the road (this kid finds more gold off of the side of the road than anyone I’ve ever met. I was convinced no one threw away anything anymore. E-bay is basically the garbage disposal system of the millennium) and picked it up. It was rusted through and through, it needed new tires, new brakes, new pedals, a paint job, and more detailing than I know of. I don’t remember all the nitpicks that went into refinishing the bike, but I do know that I saw the completed product (less than two weeks after he got it), and it was really amazing. He did a really impressive job on something I would have labeled as ‘junk’ and wouldn’t have ever picked up. The only drawback is that he didn’t take a before & after picture.

I went out to visit him over Memorial Day weekend, and found a really retro 1960-something Schwinn. I absolutely fell in love with this bike the second I saw it. It’s green, rusted beyond belief (from the salt; the seller said it was used down at the shore), and the tires were completely rotted. Dan’s remodeling it for me. (Updates on that; it’s sanded, painted Cheyenne red, new brakes, new tires. It’s [hopefully] going to be finished within two weeks and brought out to the ‘Burgh the last weekend in July.)

Anyway, onward to the real point of this post. Since so much time and effort is going into the bikes, we’ve been doing some trail researching. I have always liked biking, but I’ve never seriously considered doing an extensive trip. Dan and I did an easy 14-mile trip around his town in NJ this summer, and we did a nice two-and-a-half (ish) hour ride around the city one other time. Pretty amateur, but we still had a really good time doing it.

So now we’re sort of considering trying to build up stamina over the year to be able to do a longer trip. There’s a 400-mile trail that runs through Ohiopyle (which is gorgeous, to say the least) and has crossovers to D.C., there’s easier trails from Harrisburg through Gettysburg, and there’s trails all along the eastern coastline. Some of those ventures are really unrealistic for the near future, but could easily be long-term goals. We’re just considering options and it seems like something really appealing. Any tips on this idea (or even helpful websites) would be appreciated.

Oh, and, the best part about my bike (so vintage!), was its price. Five dollas. Dig that or what? Remodeling fees, however…

Pictures of the Youghiogheny Trail (a western-PA option)

Picture of the point that Dan took on our bike around the city

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Not So-Fascinating Fact: I am craving some pepperoni right now.

Semi-Fascinating Fact: I'm off of work today, and I am going to be ridiculously lazy.

Regardless, the following was in an e-mail that I got. It's a fantastic article that I'm posting because it's a point that is repeatedly stated over and over again, but said very clearly by Ben Stein. It was written almost a year ago, but I'm just seeing it now. Check it out.

Ben Stein's Last Column.
For many years Ben Stein has written a biweekly column called "Monday Night At Morton's." (Morton's is a famous chain of Steakhouses known to be frequented by movie stars and famous people from around the globe.) Now, Ben is terminating the column to move on to other things in his life. Reading his final column is worth a few minutes of your time.

August 9, 2004

How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today's World?

As I begin to write this, I "slug" it, as we writers say, which means I put a heading on top of the document to identify it. This heading is "eonlineFINAL," and it gives me a shiver to write it. I have been doing this column for so long that I cannot even recall when I started. I loved writing this column so much for so long I came to believe it would never end.

It worked well for a long time, but gradually, my changing as a person and the world's change have overtaken it. On a small scale, Morton's, while better than ever, no longer attracts as many stars as it used to. It still brings in the rich people in droves and definitely some stars. I saw Samuel L. Jackson there a few days ago, and we had a nice visit, and right before that, I saw and had a splendid talk with Warren Beatty in an elevator, in which we agreed that Splendor in the Grass was a super movie. But Morton's is not the star galaxy it once was, though it probably will be again.

Beyond that, a bigger change has happened. I no longer think Hollywood stars are terribly important. They are uniformly pleasant, friendly people, and they treat me better than I deserve to be treated. But a man or woman who makes a huge wage for memorizing lines and reciting them in front of a camera is no longer my idea of a shining star we should all look up to.

How can a man or woman who makes an eight-figure wage and lives in insane luxury really be a star in today's world, if by a "star" we mean someone bright and powerful and attractive as a role model? Real stars are not riding around in the backs of limousines or in Porsches or getting trained in yoga or Pilates and eating only raw fruit while they have Vietnamese girls do their nails.

They can be interesting, nice people, but they are not heroes to me any longer. A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who poked his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit, Iraq. He could have been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets. Instead, he faced an abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all of the decent people of the world.

A real star is the U.S. soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to a road north of Baghdad. He approached it, and the bomb went off and killed him.

A real star, the kind who haunts my memory night and day, is the U.S. soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance on a street near where he was guarding a station. He pushed her aside and threw himself on it just as it exploded. He left a family desolate in California and a little girl alive in Baghdad.

The stars who deserve media attention are not the ones who have lavish weddings on TV but the ones who patrol the streets of Mosul even after two of their buddies were murdered and their bodies battered and stripped for the sin of trying to protect Iraqis from terrorists.

We put couples with incomes of $100 million a year on the covers of our magazines. The noncoms and officers who barely scrape by on military pay but stand on guard in Afghanistan and Iraq and on ships and in submarines and near the Arctic Circle are anonymous as they live and die.

I am no longer comfortable being a part of the system that has such poor values, and I do not want to perpetuate those values by pretending that who is eating at Morton's is a big subject.

There are plenty of other stars in the American firmament...the policemen and women who go off on patrol in South Central and have no idea if they will return alive; the orderlies and paramedics who bring in people who have been in terrible accidents and prepare them for surgery; the teachers and nurses who throw their whole spirits into caring for autistic children; the kind men and women who work in hospices and in cancer wards.

Think of each and every fireman who was running up the stairs at the World Trade Center as the towers began to collapse. Now you have my idea of a real hero.

We are not responsible for the operation of the universe, and what happens to us is not terribly important. God is real, not a fiction; and when we turn over our lives to Him, He takes far better care of us than we could ever do for ourselves. In a word, we make ourselves sane when we fire ourselves as the directors of the movie of our lives and turn the power over to Him.

I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters. This is my highest and best use as a human. I can put it another way. Years ago, I realized I could never be as great an actor as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve Martin...or Martin Mull or Fred Willard--or as good an economist as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a writer as Fitzgerald. Or even remotely close to any of them.

But I could be a devoted father to my son, husband to my wife and, above all, a good son to the parents who had done so much for me. This came to be my main task in life. I did it moderately well with my son, pretty well with my wife and well indeed with my parents (with my sister's help). I cared for and paid attention to them in their declining years. I stayed with my father as he got sick, went into extremis and then into a coma and then entered immortality with my sister and me reading him the Psalms.

This was the only point at which my life touched the lives of the soldiers in Iraq or the firefighters in New York. I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that it is my duty, in return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me, to help others He has placed in my path. This is my highest and best use as a human.

Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that God will.

By Ben Stein