The other day around the one year anniversary of 9-11 MKA is channel surfing and on comes Chris Berman and Joe Morgan to tell me that "Baseball is America," that it's "the bedrock of our culture" and "it's more than just a national pastime -- it's a national treasure." MKA starts feeling guilty and perhaps a little seditious about not getting that same reverential, tingly sensation normally reserved for rock stars, saints and strippers. So as luck would have it Hoffy calls a few seconds later with free tickets and that night I'm off to watch the Angels and A's transact serious business in Anaheim.
We arrive about one minute early and Hoffy's never early so this must really be important. MKA pays the $8 parking fee and tries very hard not to calculate how much of that goes to a fat guy in the Angel bullpen who throws 1.2 balls per game for approximately $6 million per year. After all, I'm still ahead because the tickets for the Bucky Bear and I, at $19 per, were free. We sit down but soon notice we're at a baseball game without big tall frothy mugs of lukewarm brew in our hands so MKA is off on a beer run. The first kiosk is selling premium grog for $7.75 a pour and MKA figures there's got to be a better deal out near the cheap seats but soon discovers that $7.75 is the going rate. Having no bargaining power, no choice and dead set against drinking a Pepsi (with all that wicked sugar and the evil marketing machinations it embodies), I shell out the $15.50, don't even fake like I'm leaving a tip, and walk back to the seats happy that at least I've got a $14.50 cushion before I dip into the red ink.
My elation is short lived because now it's dinner time at the old ball game and the growing boys must have their trans-fatties and HDLs so again MKA is off to the concessions to load up on nitrates, lard and other heavily televised staples. Suffice to say the extraordinary prices force me to make a detour to the ATM where the machine extorts $6 bucks from me before I get my cash. A few dogs, fries, cokes and burgers later and I'm hemmoraghing cash like a dot com mutual fund loaded with WorldCom, Global Crossing and Firstflail. Ferchrist I got to auction off my Pings, Rolexes, Faberges and Renoirs when I get home. To ease the pain MKA again bellies up to the beer man whose supporting six dust-eaters in Tijuana on $5 an hour selling pints of "premium" swill aged for exactly 3 days in a giant metal tank along the Houston Ship Channel and I really don't feel bad surrendering all my rights to economic justice since I'm going to torture the Mexican whose just lucky to have a job by again refusing to leave him a $.50 tip, because money is power and by not letting him have all of my money I'm sending a message to corporate America.
And then it occurs to me: baseball may or may not be the national pastime, whatever that means, but gouging certainly is. What good honest capitalist doesn't dream of driving out all of his competition so he can corner the market and charge outlandish prices that the consumer has no choice but to pay? It's perfect. We're told by our sincere and most eloquent President that patronizing a ball game is more American than going to Yosemite or Yellowstone so we shouldn't feel robbed about getting cheated because by helping baseball owners and players fleece us naked we're somehow, yes, you got it, helping to stimulate the ekonomy and fight the war on terrorism.
MKA grew up in Hurricane Alley 30 clicks north of Galveston and after every disaster some genius was out hawking gallon jugs of tap water for $5 -- consumer televangelist Marvin Zindler with the smoky shades, the silver coif and the diamond rings was always outraged at the blatant gouging but come to think today at the old ball game I'm forking over $3 for a pint of boiled water which translates to $24 a gallon. Fold in inflation and what counted as shameful gouging 20 years ago is today called charging what the market will bear. No two ways, between the Flags, the around the clock television coverage and America's No. 1 Fan in the Oval Office all but giving tax breaks for season ticket holders, they have us over a barrel -- yes, MKA could’ve simply sipped from the public fountain, but the conspirators know that Americans would rather pay than get something for free if it carries the risk of being publicly branded a cheapskate. Besides we can't trust the safety of our local water supply -- it's not privatized, yet, and Wall Street wouldn’t sell water if the stuff that came out of the tap was any good.
But what has this to do with bike racing? Everything. Bike racers invest much money in their sport. And they risk death. We pay for the privilege of skirting death every time we round a downhill corner at 35 mph. We don't know if the course is safe, and we don't care. We don't know if the racer next to us is just born, on LSD, epileptic or partially blind, and we don't care. We put it all on the line, and for this, the fans pay nothing, and get much, unlike in baseball, where the fans pay much and get, in my view, nothing -- no risk of death, no raw emotion, no pile ups and, ultimately, no action (unless you call the 4 minutes 12 seconds cumulative total of time the ball is actually in play "action'", which translates as an electrifying 1 to 46 action/tedious nutscratching inaction ratio).
It also has to do, in these days of puffy patriotism, with the burning question, posed ages ago by the man behind the Blue Mask: what becomes a legend most? Why do we worship baseball players? Why do we at least pretend to worship firefighters and meatwagon ops? Doesn't hero status have to be earned anymore?
These questions struck me like a whiff of rotten monkfish at the downtown San Raffaflail criterium last week. MKA has just finished screwing the pooch in the Masters race -- more on that monumental flail later -- and is in search of small animals to kill when he looks up the backstretch in the 12k Dream criterium to see in the fat midsection of the angry snake a rider's front wheel hit a puddle of dark green scum in the gutter. The front wheel goes left, and the rider falls like he was sucked hard into the pavement. Another rider - a Mercury man-o-steel -- goes over the top, several others scatter like a bomb going off in a West Bank cafe and we've got a heaving pile of bleeding, broken humanity. I kid you not somehow a water battle jettisoned out of that melee as if shot from a gun --nice arc like a foul ball and everything -- and a kid on the sidewalk reached up and claimed it much to his mother's pride and it was all very nostalgic.
MKA gives up the squirrel hunt and rushes over to fill the void as the rubberneckers don't seem to want to dirty themselves with the grim reality of human flesh smacking asphalt at 35 per and besides in this country we defer to the fire department on matters of crisis management. The divebomber is sitting up on the pavement, his bike mangled, clutching his right elbow. His eyes have that searching, doleful look of a child who has just dropped his ice cream cone. He's trying not to move as if quiet stillness will undo the pain that is beginning to shoot from his right arm, along with a trickle of blood that is starting to pool in a crevice that has just been created by the reconfiguration of his palmaris longus, flexor carpi radiculis and brachioradialis muscles. His arm looks like an overstretched rubber band that has just collapsed on itself, creating a twisty, gnarly, carbuncular mess with multiple overhangs, sumps and nodules. In short, order in his little world has been blown to hell and now would be a good time for big shot of morphine.
But our boy (his name is Eric) from Zombie's, shows no fear. He's subdued, almost apologetic for all the mess he's created. MKA breaks out the cell phone and dials 911. Meanwhile the pack continues to shave us on each pass and one hard-boiled hard guy even tried to attack between our Fallen Star and the curb. MKA yells “Dipshit!” and flips him the bird to which the hardcharger responds by threatening to get off his bike which opens up too many layers of infantile idiocy to analyze in a serious piece as this.
We finally hoist Fallen Star and accompany him to some shade. He's quiet, but his eyes are bulging, sort of like a collapsed and gutshot deer just before the cold steel of the Bowie severs his windpipe. The Fire Department arrives with the obligatory Old Glory flapping off a flagpole fastened to the trailer hitch. Naturally everybody breathes a sigh of relief since Fire Fighters are ipso facto American Heroes and now our Fallen Star has a chance to live again, maybe even get back in the race.
MKA too is about to vacate in deference to the swarthy life-restoring experts, but the blood from our Fallen Star's face is starting to retreat and he looks like he could use a pep talk. MKA starts babbling about fresh mountain meadows, waterfalls and unicorns but lacks both the poetry and the rhythm to keep the momentum so switches to a light shoulder massage while chanting "Pound..Flail..Pound.." in my best Enya-esque whisper. By now the firefighters have been standing around for 15 minutes and the crash happened 30 minutes ago. Turns out the promoters have not released the ambulance to come cart off our Fallen Star to the hospital. As the seconds tick away and the patient's face grows paler, the Men in Uniforms decide to overcome the forces of inertia.
Fireman: The victim's got internal bleeding, he's shocky and he's all F'd up. We got to get him out of here, stat.
Private Ambulance Pro (PAP): We can't do that.
Fireman: Why can't we do that?
PAP: We can only use the Ambulance when the crash happens on the home stretch.
Fireman: But the Injured is hurt badly.
PAP: Yes, I know that he's hurt badly, but if we used our ambulance now, and a bad crash occurred on the homestretch, and we needed to transfer the wounded to the ER, we'd look pretty amateurish in front of all those people without a transport. Besides, nobody's here besides that touchy-feely homeopathic pretendo with the irritating voice.
Fireman: What if we carted the perp I mean injured down to the homestretch where the ambulance is and let people think he crashed there?
PAP: Let me check with my super on that, who'll have to check with legal, in the meantime, I need to get back to my station; the sundialers are warming up on rollers near the start-finish and anything can happen.
Thankfully, Turbo intervened and volunteered to ferry Fallen Star to the hospital in his team's converted meatwagon, since he was headed there with Adam S. Ebay who cracked his scap and jacked his clack. Turbo handled the situation like the grisled combat sergeant that he is, not wasting a second on bureaucratic trifles, turf wars or triplicates. His man was down, but functional, and as any battle-tested soldier knows sometimes out in the bush you can't let organization be the enemy of pragmatism. I'm sure Fallen Star would''ve accepted the lift but at that point, 45 minutes after the crash, the Crisis Managers put their rubber boots down and a converted AMC Gremlin with a flashing yellow roof light showed.
I don't know what became of Fallen Star. Don’t even know his last name, and I’m in the business. Nobody asked why there was scum in the gutter for the 12k Dream race that wasn't there an hour ago. Nobody mopped it up. Nobody left flowers, beads or candles. No rush of reporters, no phalanx of cameramen, no maudlin public wrenching of blood spilled in the heat of battle. Like it never happened -- the violent impact, the freakish pile up, the grotesque disfigurement, the square jawed firemen. It never happened because it wasn’t on network television. It wasn’t on television because the networks only give us what we want and we want to know all about David Dual’s chipshot that bunkered while Tiger birdied another bogie, or just how far Lou Pinnella tossed that dogone first bagger, or why the Cornhuskers are spitting mad that the Horn’s 2002 Football media packet is 13 pages bigger than theirs. We don’t want to watch nimnidiots risking all for nothing in a sport so fringe that instead of gouging fans it generally has to entice them with free Cliff bars. Or nose band-aids.
If MKA is ranting it’s because he doesn’t listen. Years ago Hiptler snuffed out MKA’s optimism for the sport’s future when he categorically dismissed same as a “stoopid sport.” MKA has spent many years and words trying to prove the Master wrong but it’s futile. The key is to try not to care, to humbly accept our sport’s status as a fourth rate spectacle on par with saber swallowing and cannonball catching -- of course you’re dead! You tried to stop a cannonball at close range with your belly! Of course you crashed on gutter scum and nearly bled out while rent-a-numbskulls fiddled over the fine print -- you’re a 12k dream-weaving, no insurance, no job, no skills, live-for-the-moment bike junkie.
It’s far easier however to rail against than walk away. Who among us doesnt harbor unspoken admiration for the racer who has hung it up? Who’s free? Look at the Master. Oh yes -- “stoopid sport” -- spoken like the sage who warns his disciples of the dangers of obsession. “Cultivate the flowers, as a gift to God and affirmation of his Glory, but not out of pride. Beware the temptation of idolatry; only God is worthy of worship.” Fine, and all, but why then is our Master, Der Hiptler, blowing off the 35 plus races in favor of the 12k dream races? The passionate and lifelong pursuit of the 12k Dream trumps knowledge of it’s folly everytime.
For some nims, maybe, but not this one. Look, dreams are the whips that spur us forward. The 12k wet dream is no worse or better than the 1.2k masters dry dream: it’s just a matter of scale. Yes, the 12k load is bigger, but we old farts can still thrive with less. So it was without any reservation that MKA entered the San Raffy $1.2k Masters Race only, while Der Hitpler entered both.
The $1.2k Masters Race offered my fellow clipboards a chance to avenge Labor's full body slam last year in Irvine. All the clipboards present and accounted for: Turbo and Horseteef from Liquid Hot Metal, Demonseed from Boat People, Diesel and Winky from Postal Pretties, and myriad other screamers and dreamers, including our undead but dying friend, the Vampire, whose either working on a killer tan or has dried out like a chicken wing forgotten on the smoker.
When MKA pulled up with Der Hiptler I pointed to a powerfully built lad who looked like a cross between a Belgian weightlifter and a Sig Ep Frat Daddy and predicted: “He’s going to win.” It was Great Scott! from San Diego who quietly grabbed a podium spot at Senior Elite Natz in the crit. Hiptler of course was offended that I would even speculate that he was beatable in any hairball, crash bang, duck and cover field sprint situation. But he must’ve taken note because later at Starbuck’s I saw him order a triple mocha which is not unusual but this time to increase the volume of supplemented brown cane sugar he nixed the hot milk altogether. So we’re talking about a higly viscous mud like blend of sugar and espresso. Later His Sweetness complained that he didn’t have time to warm up because the barristas took too long looking for a fresh box of sugar packets.
Diesel and Vampire blasted off three laps into the 50 minute crit and that was MKA’s signal to get busy. I latched on and we were off to the races at a clip that forced the quote of the day from one of the parasites hanging on for dear life with about 40 minutes to go, he wheezes“C’mon guys, I won’t sprint.” Ferchrist it’s a little premature to start divvying up the loot. We still got an armada of swashbuckling thieves back there steaming towards us with guns blazing. Faster than you can say Silver Fox Turbo appears and the next 35 minutes was a blur of attacks, counter attacks and righteous suffering.
The race was up the road, so it seemed, but looks were deceiving. MKA scampered up to just about every break, several of which looked promising. It never occurred to me to look back. I figured with Diesel, Vampire, Turbo, Demonseed and a stars n striper with a Gen-X on his jersey (turns out to be Bill Harris of Utah who won the 35 + crit at natz) throwing gas on the fire, a break would just have to rage away. With under ten to go Turbo and MKA are ripping (well, really it’s Turbo driving the train but MKA strategically timed his meager pull for the Start/Finish for optimum publicity) and low and behold up the road I see the tail of the beaver. And who’s on the tail? Labor’s own Stanky Mike and Der Hiptler.
It turns out 16 had lapped the field with about 3 to go. At this point MKA is begging for a little labor hand holding, as admittedly I’m scrubbing speed on the final downhill turn like a zeppelin pulling a parachute. But doggone it if there’s not a tire tube prime which Der Hiptler can’t resist with two to go and my dreams of a power escort to the line are diminishing. With one to go MKA is like a big ball of gas rising from the stomach but runs up against a pork chop lodged in the windpipe. Stanky’s up there, so’s Hiptler, but MKA can’t leap across, over or around the chum and is forced to bob and weave through the asteroid field which must've looked as smooth as Ronald Reagan break dancing. I’m a little out of my element on the backstretch trying to pass speeding bullets but, hey MKA is in the hunt and the chase is the thing.
As we approach turn 3 Turbo’s head is bobbing up and down like a turkey gobbler pecking at corn, Demonseed has rushed from the darkness with fangs baring (by the way, I never saw the Vampire chase down Demonseed or vice versa), Great Scott! is licking his chops and Hiptler’s doing the eenie meanie minie moe which wheel shall I suck? MKA croaks a feeble “I’m on” in Hiptler’s general direction like all he’s got to do now is carry me to the line but why not suspend reality since this is after all a dream I don’t want to wake up from-- the thrill of the danger, the dead legs come alive with newfound energy, the elegance of the heat seeking trajectory into the final turn at maximal speed -- all these add up to a victory of sorts over the lingering demons which always seem to haunt MKA as the lights fade on another long season.
The $1.2k Bored (Highest Glory to Age Factor)
1. Great Scott!, Lipto B3 or B square (squatty sprinter can hide ‘n glide, jump ‘n dump)
2. Turbo Daddy, Mercury Metal Head (saved lives by feeding the speed)
3. Billy Harris, Utah Starz n Barz (silent but deadly)
4. Demonseed, Boat People (and unofficial bandana/soul patch showguy)
5. Mark Kneppler, Rocknocks (blew by MKA around final bend)
6. MKA, Labor Promo (after careful review of post race dream replay, the winner)
11. Diesel, Postal (powerful as usual but team blew)
16. Vampire, Zombies (enjoys packsprints like garlic-draped mirror at high noon)
17. Der Hiptler, Labor Dream Keeper (finished the pro race, happy about tire prime).