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Another Return to St. Charles 28 December 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Self, Travel.
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I’ve wandered beyond Colorado for a little bit, so you’re getting a short post, and one unrelated to skiing or a Colorado ski town.

I’ve returned to St. Charles for the holidays,but the ski updates will soon enough, I’m sure.  For now, this marks a time to once again reflect on coming home. Since the end of college, these periods spent away have continued to expand, and the moments at home have become just that, moments. It’s a natural progression, I suppose, for anyone who leaves “homes” and starts a life elsewhere, but it’s one I’m just now exploring, with so many twenty somethings around to explore it with me. Nearly three in four college graduates moves at some point in his life according to the the Pew Research Center. I imagine that move most often comes right after college itself.

In the Midwest, though, nearly half of Americans never leave their hometowns.   And I’m from the Midwest. I return to see family and friends. Those who have moved return for the same reason. Thanksgiving and Christmas have become as much about reunion as about eating and gift-giving. I’m okay with that.

I’m giving you some photos with this post–not great ones–but I’d rather you reflect on why it is you go home. What’s there? Why do you return? And perhaps most importantly: why did you move?

Here’s wishing you a happy and safe holiday season, wherever you’re spending it.

St. Charles Bike Ban Dies a Quiet Death 1 October 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Cycling.
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After so much uproar earlier this summer–really, nationwide uproar–over county councilman Joe Brazil’s proposed biking ban in St. Charles County, MO, you’d think more fanfare would surround its death, inevitable though that demise may have been. At any rate, the ban’s been voted down. Unanimously, I might add, which means that the bill’s sponsor himself, Joe Brazil, decided that maybe he’d made a mistake. His ban did go against state law, after all. So it seems road biking will continue on the narrow highways through the rolling hills, and if things remain as they always were, no one will get hurt.

Still, a couple other bills remain.

The first would require cyclists to ride single file, with a mirror, fewer than 20 inches from the white line. Those requirements would exist on only a few roads throughout the county, presumably the same ones up for the biking ban in the original ban bill. Although in theory, such requirements sound reasonable, I can’t imagine how to educate cyclists on exactly where they must be followed, especially for folks out of town who might not even know what the requirements were given that no they mirror nothing else in the US. And, as the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation points out, they even contradict Missouri bike laws while ignoring standard practice like head and tail light requirements. Silly Missouri.

The second, on the other hand, requires cyclists to request permit with the county if they plan to ride in groups of twenty or more on any road. This makes sense. Even at 25mph, a mini-peloton can clog country roads because they stretch several car lengths and prevent easy passing. Working with the county, group ride organizers can likely find ways to accommodate routes each week, so long as the permit process isn’t an attempt to create a de facto ban. A permit process does need to result in approvals from time to time.

Anyway, kudos to the St. Charles County Council for voting down a silly bill. Now comes the time to pass the right one.

(Joe) Brazil’s Biking Ban 19 July 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Cycling, Uncategorized.
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I’m sitting in cycling shorts as I begin writing this. It is, as you might imagine, fairly uncomfortable. Yet before you start snickering about the idea of men in spandex, let me tell you that nothing feels less delightful on long ride than the chafing associated with wearing athletic shorts. Fashion sense always takes a back seat to chafing prevention, stopping short of an anti-chafe dress anyway.

Just the same, allow me to change.

There. Better.

So anyway, cycling’s shown up in the news back home (Missouri) recently, drawing a head-scratching complaint from motorists: too many bikes on the roads. Too many, of course, meaning you actually notice cyclists in the same way you might notice that, oh, the folks a block down repainted their house. You might make an offhand mention at the dinner table, “I saw some road bikers off Highway D today. Funny pants, those guys” or “Did you know the Wilkinsons painted their house? It’s green. Or maybe brown. Were they the ones whose daughter pooped in the lawn a while back?”

I don’t really know what too many cars would look like. I-70 toward the Rockies on a Saturday morning? Nothing newsworthy in that, though. In Missouri, it appears bikes caused more of a headache than all the traffic. “I get more complaints about this single issue [cyclists] than any other issue,” said Councilman Joe Brazil as he introduced a bill to ban bikes in the rolling hills of southwestern St. Charles County. If you’re not of a midwestern persuasion, that means he wants to ban cycling in one of the few scenic in the entire metro area. Here, for instance.

His rationale? Bike is slow. And cars is fast. Oh, and also, the state spent a bunch of money building a bike path that doesn’t go anywhere, so cyclists should use that all the time.

Nevermind that the county can’t actually regulate this sort of thing on state roads. Nevermind this bit of legislation comes from the same Joe Brazil who’s opposed urban sprawl for as long as he’s been on the council. Nevermind that the corn towering over the floodplains makes those highways equally unsettling.

No, nevermind all that, because it’s clear that Joe Brazil has never ridden a bike on a road before. Oh, sure, I bet he had a Huffy as a kid and tore up the sidewalks and so forth. But no, like so many other lost souls the poor man just doesn’t understand. He’s like the guy lounging on newspaper web forums (and hanging out the side of an F-250) addressing  anyone who wears a jersey and spandex on the road as “Lance.” As in, “Hey, Lance, maybe you should get off the road and stop trying to win the Tour de France out there. Real people have places to be.” See? That’s just hard to take seriously. I don’t go around yelling at guys tossing a football when I want to play ultimate. “Yo, Elway, don’t see a Superbowl in your future, so get off the field.” How silly. Maybe it’s because you can throw a football while wearing a Big Dog T-shirt.

I bet Brazil’s more a baseball kinda guy, though, being a St. Louisan and all. “Hey, Wainwright…” Anyway,he says that cyclists should take the Katy Trail instead of clogging the roads. The Katy Trail is nice. It’s one of the Rails to Trails projects that converts abandoned rail lines into multi-use paths, and as I understand it, the trail’s 225 crushed-limestone miles have won it praise from folks who praise that sort of thing. But you can’t ride a road bike on it. You can’t ride a road bike on a gravel path. Imagine driving on snow with bad tires. Except that mailboxes and guardrails look much more frightening as you slide toward them on top of 20 lbs. of aluminum. No, convertibles and motorcyclists cannot be the only ones allowed to enjoy the pastoral beauty of St. Charles wine country.

I cringe to suggest that Brazil might find it more effective to support driver awareness because it carries that “Share the road!” surly biker image, but anecdote at least suggests that drivers more familiar with cyclists also seem to find them less of an inconvenience. In Colorado, a state much friendlier to two-wheelers on the whole, cyclists move in and out of traffic with ease around town. In my daily commute, other drivers treat me like a car. And on mountain roads where it seems that half the cars going by carry bikes on a roof rack, the usual practice is to swing well away. By contrast, and I’m still speaking from anecdote here, Missouri drivers would rather play chicken with me. Not the fun kind, though, because they’ll always win.

So before trying a silly ban–and let’s remember the state already said it won’t fly–maybe take a look at making sure drivers are more comfortable with bikes on the road. Yes, cyclists present one other variable to consider at any given moment, but just as drivers might drive differently in the rain, they can equally drive to anticipate cyclists. Or, you know, Brazil, you could get on a bike to see what it’s like. You might like it.

City Life 20 June 2010

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Sunday Night: Jazz in the Park

It’s been three weeks since arriving in Denver and already it seems like so much more time has elapsed. I’ve read that change and novelty tend to deepen memories, making tumultuous days, months or years so much longer. Like childhood: every year took forever—and then they speed up, a sprint to the finish line.

For now, though, the change is in the adjustment to city life and new, more challenging employment. Capitol Hill‘s not a sardine-tin neighborhood where folks pay $1300 a month for a closet, of course, but for Denver this constitutes the most “urban” spot around: the highest population densities, the greatest income diversity, the shops and restaurants right around the corner from my apartment, and–this being Denver–a Whole Foods as well.

Anecdotal or actual, the most recent population trend on the tips of demographers’ tongues has been a return to urban living among middle class and affluent whites. White flight had a certain ring to it, but I’ve yet to hear anything remotely quotable about white… return. An urban renaissance perhaps? Generation X and the millenials are coming back to cities regardless of what you call their move, and it takes little effort to surmise that the suburban boom reached its peak just a couple years back, right before reality pricked the housing bubble. Half completed subdivisions sit empty along the Denver fringe. This city’s not alone in that phenomenon.

But why should they return? What is it about city living that’s fueling an urban renaissance? Why should the 19th century mansion next door have remained vacant for years, unable to attract tenants, while developers built house after house in Highlands Ranch and Broomfield? Three years back, convinced that I’d someday become an urban planner, I studied the growth of metropolitan areas, trying to understand the rationale behind what environmentalists and big-city advocates denounced as “sprawl.”

Myriad reasons emerged: the interstate highway system that carved up central cities and shortened commutes; the mortgage interest tax deduction that made home ownership more attractive than renting, albeit at a cost (in lost tax dollars) more than twice that of welfare; low gas prices that bred a “drive everywhere” culture; a failure to internalize all the costs of new development that instead shared the expense of new water mains and new schools with existing residents. Good explanations all, but they painted suburban Americans as the victims of policy choices, herded into the suburbs without a clue as to why. Rarely does the anti-sprawl crowd admit that suburbanites enjoy(ed) large homes at low cost, big yards, and the safety of their securely upper-middle class enclaves.

At the same time, suburbia lost its sense of place. Who could tell the difference between Shimmering Oaks on the Knoll and Windsor Manor at Babbling Brook? For instance, tell where this is without looking at the location stamp. Subdivisions and neighborhoods ceased to hold any meaning in an ever-rising tide of gabled roofs and two-car garages. It was all suburbia. But a city is not all a city. (Same game: guess this location. Or, harder, this one.) Washington Park differs from Capitol Hill not only in its architecture but in its demographics. Back in St. Louis, you’d be hard pressed to describe meaningful distinctions among St. Peters, O’Fallon and Chesterfield. Point being, big city cores develop at different times and under different circumstances, but the suburban boom took place more or less at once, and a highway exit strip looks essentially the same everywhere. So does vinyl siding.

The role models of generation, the characters in our sit-coms and movies, made urban life look more glamorous. The cast of Friends met at the same coffee shop and dropped by each others’ apartments. Sex and the City made New York its sixth character. The baby boomers, on the other hand saw a sanguine picture of suburban life exemplified by the Cleavers, the Flintstones and the Jetsons. The car commute remained much the same from the stone age to the distant future. Only the 60s could support a show called My Mother the Car.

Living here, I anecdotally point to a vitality missing in the suburbs, a feeling my cul-de-sac lacked. Here I interact with folks on the porches of my street. There’s a street culture, a movement, a buzz. And if airy language isn’t enough, there’s the practicality: I can bike to work in 10 minutes, my grocery store is across the street, and I never drive to a bar. If suburbanites worry about safety, they should check their own streets for drunk drivers coming home from a night out.

The other day, in the middle of making a pasta, I realized I’d forgotten to get mushrooms. Leaving the stove on and the door unlocked, I walked over to Whole Foods—a five minute round trip.

City life is good.

New Year 31 December 2009

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I’d been hunting for photos from new years past at work today and couldn’t come up with anything convincing. A shot of me in a black and white tie… Adriana with a noisemaker — that kind of thing, but nothing that really screamed New Year’s Party. Thinking about it, though, that makes sense. Over the course of the last several years, that holiday has passed without any real fanfare, a step away from the high school parties that spilled out on the street and found me at highway hotels with people I barely knew. This may be in some way tied to “growing up.” But I don’t know.

This year we’ve booked the hotel room in advance, our precaution against any idiotic ideas that might cross our minds while in Breckenridge. It won’t be an evening of wine and board games with Mike, Ben, Brian, Colleen (and was it Julie?), however, and for what it’s worth I’m not sure whether to call this year’s plans an improvement or a slide toward those high school shenanigans. Probably a bit of both. We’ve even made a ridiculous — really, it deserve ridicule — list identifying point totals for a variety of holiday encounters: negative points for ending the night in a cop car.

So that’s how things stand in the mountains. The tourists will no doubt pass out early, doped on a combination of alcohol and altitude. Or else they’ll find themselves drunker, faster, and that might allow for a bar brawl! What fun! And if it spills out onto the streets, I may earn the chance to accomplish two goals at once: participation in a bar brawl and a riot. But Breck’s too upscale, so there’s little possibility of breaking the windows to the liquor store and stealing all the Cuervo. Maybe another year.

Anyway, I’m rambling, so I’ll cut this short. Here’s hoping that you make the most of your night and your year. All the best to those of you in St. Charles, D.C. and points elsewhere.