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Archive for December, 2010

A big thanks to all for your readership, kind comments and support over the past year. I’m looking forward to bringing you more exciting stories in 2011.

Have a Happy, Peaceful New Year!

Let's hope for an early spring in 2011

“The Human Stain” by Philip Roth

I’ve never read any of the twenty plus books written by Philip Roth, and if this one is an indication of his writing style, human insight and philosophy on life, I’m hooked.

Roth attacks and exposes the evils of built-in prejudices such as racism, sexism and general hate and bigotry that many of us have but refuse to admit or face. The story, narrated by fictional author Nathan Zuckerman for a book titled ‘Spooks’ based on Coleman Silk’s life, is the third in an “American” trilogy written by Roth’s invented author. It revolves around Silk, a classics professor at an unreal college in Massachusetts called Athena.

Professor Silk is the first and only Jew ever to serve at Athena as dean of faculty. But, is he really a Jew, or has he been living with a secret past since his early 20’s? At that time he disowned his family and began a new life, far removed from the New Jersey neighborhood where he grew up.

Silk was forced into retirement for using the word “spooks” in one of his classes when referring to two students that had never attended class. “Do they exist or are the spooks?” he asked one day? Unfortunately, the two students happened to be African-American. The remark was taken as a racial slur, and a complaint was brought against him. In Silk’s mind, the word meant ghosts or phantoms and he refused to apologize, becoming more furious over the uproar. Because of that off-the-cuff remark; specifically the word “spook” that many deemed racist, his resignation was inevitable.

He was subsequently removed from his esteemed position. Shortly after leaving the University, his wife died. Silk blames her death on the stress related to his dismissal and alienates himself from his friends, colleagues and grown children. I interpret this isolation as a metaphor of the life he’s been living throughout his adult years.

Eventually the 72-year-old Silk starts an affair with Faunia Farley, a 34-year-old, hardened, illiterate janitor at the College with a sordid past. She was once married to a violent, unstable, Vietnam War veteran who continues to stalk her, and eventually Silk. During this affair, Silk receives a mysterious, ominous letter stating that “everyone knows of his affair,” adding to his already scandalous past. The letter, we later learn, has been sent by the new power-hungry, well-schooled young chair of Silk’s previous department, Delphine Roux. This is a person Silk hired and has been in constant conflict with ever since. Come to find out, she too is hiding a secret.

Set in the late 1980’s, an era of big secrets and lies (think Clinton/Lewinsky), I thought this book offered keen insight into what drives people to succeed and what they will do in order to keep their dignity or pride, no matter the consequences. I found the book engaging, well written and ironic in its story line. The characters were realistic and in some cases heartbreaking. There were many ironies found throughout the story such as Professor Silk’s affair with an illiterate janitor, the book Zuckerman is writing about Silk’s life entitled ‘Spooks’ and the actual book title ’The Human Stain’ that relates directly to our skin colors and how they’re perceived by others.  Highly recommended!

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Happy Holidays

Best wishes for a happy, healthy and safe holiday season.

Merry Christmas!

 


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Buying a Bike

Are you buying a bike as a gift to yourself or others this holiday season? With so many types of bicycles on the market today, be sure you are purchasing the right bike.

The key to comfortable, fun riding is having a good bike, and there are plenty on the market. But before you head to your local mass retailer and pick something out based on a “bargain” price, you may wish to do a little homework. Ask yourself, “What kind of riding will I or the person I’m buying for be doing?  Will it be street riding or trail riding or will it be a combination?”

Once you have defined your riding needs, it’s time for a little research. Basically, there are four bike types available:

  • Road Bikes – These are lightweight bikes with skinny tires (less road resistance), with “ram horn” handlebars. Great for speed and long distance riding on smooth paved streets or large parks like Detroit’s Belle Isle.

Road Bike

  • Mountain Bikes – This bike is tougher and heavier than a typical road bike. Designed for heavy off-road use they have thick knobby treaded, wide tires (more resistance on pavement), and a strong frame that can take a lot of punishment. Not as fast as road bikes, but they’re sturdy, flexible and offer a comfortable upright riding position.

Mountain Bike

  • Hybrid – This popular bike combines the best of both road and mountain bikes. Durable and speedy, they’re great in the city and perfect for light trail riding. They have skinnier, smooth tires similar to road bikes, but with a little more meat to them. Seats are generally a little larger, comfortable and the handlebars are positioned upright, creating less stress on your back. Perfect for rough, chuck-holed laden streets, urban exploring, and investigating out-of-the-way places.

Hybrid Bike

  • Cruisers – A basic, well-built, rugged bike for those wanting comfort over speed. Best on flat, smooth surfaces, they are easy to maintain, usually have one gear, wide tires and comfortable seats.  Commonly found on Mackinaw Island and other places renting bicycles. Great city bike.

Cruiser

Once you’ve decided on the type of bike that best fits your riding style, shop around. Visit a few bicycle retailers to get their advice on what’s best for your needs. They’re knowledgeable and a great source of cycling information.

Whatever bike you decide on, get the best you can afford.

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Detroit Firefighters

Detroit firefighters are the best! I see them everywhere while riding across this vast city. I’ve spotted them dousing burning cars and have seen them putting out grass fires in open fields. I have watched in awe as one of them climbed a ladder truck’s ladder forty or fifty feet into the air to spray water into a burning building. I’ve seen them in 90-degree weather strap on gas masks, oxygen tanks and slip into heavy fireproof clothing, and walk blindly into the smoking fringes of the long abandoned Packard Plant on Detroit’s Eastside…a place, I’m quite sure, where they’ve battled many fires that seem to pop-up regularly. They are a remarkable bunch!

The Packard Plant burns once again.

 

Unfortunately, Detroit has an abundance of vacant homes, factories and other abandoned structures. Because of them, there is no shortage of fires. While bicycling throughout the city it’s not uncommon to spot black smoke in the distance filling a cloudless sky or to hear the distinct sound of a fire truck’s siren and deep-toned blast from its air horn as it makes its way to a fire. If I’m reasonably close, I’ll usually pedal over there to check it out.

I once followed bellowing smoke to a two-story abandoned home that was being swallowed up by flames and arrived just as the fire trucks rolled up. I watched in amazement as firefighters effortlessly rolled out their high-pressure water hoses, connected them from their pump truck to a fire hydrant and started blasting water at the fire. At the same time, other fighters were making final adjustments to their gear and equipment before cautiously entering the smoke-filled, burning building to tackle the fire head-on. They never missed a step. It was calm precision at its finest.

Having poked around a few trash-strewn abandoned buildings (some with rickety stairways and questionable flooring) I couldn’t image going into them with flames and smoke coming from every direction. Each step must feel like eternity, especially at night or in the middle of winter when the water being sprayed turns to ice.

These guys are good!

Imaging entering this place with smoke and fire everywhere?

Reminder – Click on any photo to view them larger.

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Road Hazards

This past Sunday was sunny and pleasantly cool, so I decided it would be a good day for a quick bike ride to Belle Isle.  Unfortunately it didn’t work out, because as I soon discovered, I had two flat tires. Plus, over the past few weeks I noticed some unusual flex in my bike’s front forks and handlebars that needed investigation. Since I had to remove both wheels to patch the flats – the eight and ninth of the year by the way – I decided to pop off the handlebars and check out the flex problem.

The first thing I looked at was the mounting bracket. It’s something I had welded earlier in the season because it had cracked due to stress and fatigue. That looked fine. Next idea, the fork bearings must be worn, loose or need replacement. I loosened the handlebar stem bolt and slid out the stem. Much to my surprise, the stem was broken off close to the bottom and barely held in place. Not good. Having a 15-plus year old bike, my first thought was, “No longer available, I’ll need to buy a whole new fork assembly. Big bucks!”

So off to the local bike shop I went, prepared for the worst. Lucky the stem was still available and they had both a new and used one in stock. The used stem looked as good as new, and it was only $10.00!  I gladly paid the man and headed home to put my bike back together and to hopefully get a few miles in. Unfortunately, by the time I replaced the stem and fixed both flats, the sun was setting in the west.

Okay, reading this, you’re probably thinking, as I would, “Who cares about your flat tires and bike repairs?”  That question leads me to the main reason for so many flats and miscellaneous broken parts over the summer – Detroit road hazards!

Keeping to the left doesn't work well here.

Instant flat coming your way.

Detroit has no shortage of stuff in the streets that can be quite hazardous to unsuspecting and seasoned urban bicyclists alike. Cycling across Detroit’s large footprint, I’ve come across the obvious; broken bottles and shattered glass from car windows, 3” to 6” deep chuck holes that will cause havoc to your bike’s suspension and spokes, open manholes (ouch), illegally dumped tires and other dangerous objects that can cause unjust harm to both bike and body.

Manhole covers can be dicey.

Bone breaking dangerous!

A dumped tire can be a plus.

Glass is the winner when it comes to flat tires. Nearly all of mine have been caused by slivers of glass that I don’t even see while riding.  I’ve also pulled tiny metal shards, finer than hypodermic needles, from my tires. Even small twigs or thorns can be problematic when it comes to biking. A thorn I picked up while riding through the inner woodland trails on Belle Isle caused one recent flat.

Not all things on the streets are harmful to bikers, (in a riding sense). Some are just plain disgusting.  I’ve ridden past and around rotting dead animals; I’ve dodged fly covered soiled diapers, ridden across chicken and rib bones from someone’s lunch or dinner and I’ve seen shattered vials of blood and other sickening things people have tossed from cars. Nasty!

  There is no excuse for throwing fast food trash in the street! I hate it!

Some items found on the street are not hazardous to bicycling. I’ve come across a few interesting street-level gems on my travels as well. Take a look.

 

This says it all...

Along the Belle Isle Bridge.

Geese can leave certain, slippery road hazards.

Quite a variety of brews!

This is a good thing for the streets of Detroit.

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