superb friends

Dear 842 Beacon St.,
You and I, we've been through a lot.

Remember back in 2008, when I got my first adult bike built up at your place? We were both kind of rough around the edges back then, and I felt a little left behind when you morphed into a way classier version of yourself a year later. Still, you were my destination of choice when NACCC blew through town, and my Boston go-to spot when I was studying for a miserable mess because of the bar.

Because even when you started collecting really cool friends, who are fashionable to the point of spontaneously triggering insecurities citywide, they are some of the nicest bike friends I made in Boston. I can't think of another bike shop where I could show up in a gold lamé mini skirt, and feel fabulous. Even at my age.

And let's not forget those pretty frames you have now. Those aluminum welds on the Sprint? Pure sex.

Superb, I'm already missing your purple couch and those cartons of pineapple coconut water [which still taste...funny]. Don't change too much until I get back.
oxox, k

cultural ptsd

“We’d like you to introduce yourself first in English, then in Japanese,” came the request.
I was facing three strangers in a room whose defining characteristic was that it simply had none. Stark and barren, manufactured and blank, I sat uncomfortably in a similarly indistinguishable suit, and commenced to distinguish myself by choking spectacularly.
Because while mixing the two languages together comes naturally, when asked to switch – in seconds – from rattling off bar certifications in English to doing something similar entirely in Japanese, I start to sound like a drowning child with Tourette’s. My brain shut down, that time, and I spent an eternally slow second moving my jaw silently, groping for words I knew, deep down, weren’t there (though, I figured, it didn’t hurt to look). All while being stared at by people I had met less than five minutes ago.

It comes as a surprise to many that I am barely literate in Japanese. I cannot read a newspaper or write a coherent paragraph about even the simplest concepts, but can converse enough to deceive people into believing I am a “normal” Japanese person. I lack the accent that my sister has developed after too many years away from Tokyo, as well as any external signs that I am not entirely of this country. This has led to numerous embarrassing episodes in which I am forced to stumble, verbally blind, through simple, daily interactions. Most recently, at my local bank, a teller kindly showed me the characters to copy into the relevant spaces as my hand shook, my face flushed in shame. “Look,” I wanted to say, “I’m not really an idiot. Really. I promise. I just never got around to learning my own language. But I’m not useless in English! No, I mean it. I passed the bar…two bars, actually! That means something, right?” But only able to convey so much, I pushed down the peeking tears of embarrassment, thanked her, and walked out into a street that seemed too bright, too crowded, and too overwhelming for my small words.
This struggle to express myself is – putting aside my lack of a scrotum – the more emasculating and disenfranchising because words are my chosen medium. The ease with which sentences can flow from mind to typing fingers, the catharsis of hitting all the right tropes, the allegories articulated by alliteration…all become mangled or nonexistent when I attempt communication in my alternate language. The pressure builds further as I look as if I should belong here – those freckles I work on all summer fail to suggest foreignness and only inspire pity at my blemished complexion – the façade slowly giving way as furrowed brows press together for simple vocabulary and my grammar disintegrates like dampened rice paper.

“Oh, that’s just culture shock,” some people might say. “Don’t worry, you’ll get over it.” And it’s true that we are all allowed some time to hide under this all-encompassing excuse for our respective inability to adjust appropriately to a different culture. But if they are implying that there is some finite period after which one recovers and emerges with an understanding of what has occurred, my linguistic ball gag is more akin to a full-blown case of PTSD. The frustration slips into my decidedly unilingual thoughts, tripping up thought processes with guilt, and translates into even my writing. My usual rote escape, a week or two has slipped by before a comment from Josh forced my hands back onto the keyboard. But the words are now tinged with a measure of guilt because I cannot do even half of this in Japanese. It brings to mind how I once coyly, lightly quoted Sage Francis – “This ain’t a good impression, but I work better on page/They say words are my profession” – only now, unable to mop up after myself, to feel the heavy irony of those lyrics.
And linguistically muted, there has been a companion stranglehold on any desire to push the pedals, my cluelessness as to ride routes underlining another loss of freedom. Hesitant to ask for yet another guided ride, yearning for the lost ability to swing a leg over my bike and head confidently towards a familiar route, I have chosen to [ironically] spin resolutely in place. It doesn’t do much for my legs, or my lungs, but it gives me a brief hour to dream to a sunrise, before facing the perpetual frowns of unfulfilled expectations.

Back in that sterile room, scrutinized further by the glare of fluorescents, my interviewer asked me what I missed most about the States. For a split second, I was chasing Dave N., Jeremy, and Chris through a typical New England summer, the wind softly teasing the robust greenery around us. I could feel myself squinting up at the sun before standing up in the pedals, realizing I was close to getting dropped. “Nature,” I replied, a little lamely, because there was no way to express the sweet smell of bike rides, friends, and a favorite boy. “Good,” came the reply, as if satisfied with my feigned detachment from my former life. I smiled as I kept the door firmly closed on the threatening flood of homesickness, consciously resisting the pull towards a place other than lonely, and feeling – for the first time in weeks – an intense ache distinct from the blunted, dull sensations of my current day to day.
I kept a cautious hand on that emotional door until we all bowed, said our “thank you”s and finished with our formalities. As I boarded the train, I tried to concentrate instead on the straps of my bag digging uncomfortably into my shoulder, on how tired I was, and how I was out of tissues, so crying wouldn’t really be practical, at least not until I got home.
But I still thought of Boston the entire way back.

frozen slow

There are usually two choices when you're stuck out in the frigid cold on a bicycle in too little gear: 1. go as fast as you can while hoping that the resulting body heat you create will somehow overcome the wind that you've also created, or 2. reduce your speed under the theory that less wind means less cold.
I've tried both, and neither work. The results seem to be about the same: blood refuses to circulate to my feet, fingers, or face. To add to the general discomfort, snot will start pouring out my nose; and to add to my general embarrassment, I can't feel most of it dribbling down until almost too late. At that point, there's nowhere to look but up. At least you're on two wheels and you'll get home. At least you're not walking.
But yesterday, I was walking. And it was about 1F.

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All the pretty snow earlier in the day turned to the kind of weather that has your ears stinging and your face hurting as soon as you get outside. That balmy weather that made rides outside slightly tolerable? That was the equivalent of God releasing a teaser for a movie that won't come out for another 5 months. Thanks for letting us know what we're missing, big G.
So even though I wouldn't have ridden outside this weekend anyway - given my wind allergy, I think it's safe to say that I tend to prefer riding indoors - I still felt indignant about the weather. Temperatures were low enough that I was looking at a weekend of sitting around my apartment, simultaneously feeling lazy and stressed. The kind of weekend where, unless my pantry and fridge were completely bare, and there was nothing left to eat except wood and toilet paper, I wasn't stepping foot outside.

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But then friends down south in the Big Apple decided to put together a party to watch the Cyclocross World Championships taking place in Tabor, Czech Republic, and it would be early enough on Sunday to allow my attendance and still ship back to Boston at a decent hour. I did what any reasonable person would do: I packed a bag, left my helmet at home, and hopped on a bus.
Which resulted in me half jogging down Chrystie Street in inhumane temperatures when I finally got to NYC. To be honest, when I felt the cold air slap my face, I didn't really want to get off the bus. I thought about the rollers in my apartment, felt the guilt of abandoning my bikes there for the weekend. But when friends are involved, there's no shame in slowing down a bit.
And besides, it's way colder up in Boston.
[If you're in the NYC area, come out to the World's party at NYC Velo this Sunday. It'll be fun, I promise!]

back for a bit

"Remind me to invent time travel," was the first thought that popped into my head when I finally landed in Newark last night. It consequently got tweeted a few hours later when I got back to Boston, greasy, hungry, exhausted, and reeking of airplane.
I'm a fairly seasoned traveler, but suffice it to say that flying over 12 hours in one sitting will always pretty much suck. Some things I've learned, though: don't fly out of Logan, Houston has a nice airport, be prepared to get your bag searched twice and patted down before you board, and getting to the airport over two hours before my flight will still have me nearly running to the gate, shoes untied, laptop in one hand, coat, bag, and passport in the other.
All things that help ensure that I am perfectly willing to beat the living shit out of any wannabe terrorist.

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But back to bikes. And Boston.
Anyone who has crossed the international date line a few times can tell you that it’s more than a little surreal to find yourself in another country after 12 or so hours of being crammed in a seat that was made to accommodate children or those without hips. When foreign languages are also involved, things get a little more awkward. Sleep-derived, with patches of dry skin all over my face courtesy of the complete lack of humidity in any airplane cabin, arrival also means stuttering my way into the appropriate language. The total lack of interest in any productive sort of communication means that I have learned how to smile and giggle my way through both immigration and customs. The shame. But hey, it works.
The irony being that that’s one thing I consciously missed while in Tokyo: the ability to verbally masturbate over everything related to bicycles. Mention of Lance Armstrong resulted in blank looks from my parents [“...Lance...who?”], and attempted conversation usually ended in “just be careful on your bicycle.” And who can blame them? My mother - suspicious of my virtual harem of male friends and the possibility that I may be dating one of them - believes “poor” and “cyclist” are synonyms. I imagine that this must terrify her; that believing me to be generally useless, her youngest daughter probably shouldn’t be considering marrying poor. My father has more pressing things to worry about, like the economy. Neither know about cassette, much less this blog.

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So after two weeks in Tokyo that first felt like an eternity, then turned into a whirlwind that ended too soon, I poked my head into my dark apartment last night to catch a glimpse of a gray-black tire that used to be white. I left my suitcase in my alcove and turned on the light to check on the track bike. Things were just as I left them, just as they should be.
I wasn’t talking to anyone yet, and I’m not crazy enough to consider my bikes to have human characteristics. It was comforting, though, to be back. Even if it’s freezing out. Even if I sort of wish I was still back in Tokyo.
Jetlagged but stateside, I’ve unpacked and have a full day ahead of me. Presents to be delivered, a note to be edited, books to be bought [already! ugh!]. As for that verbal masturbation, I’m headed down to yet another city, loaded with goodies for a few friends I haven’t seen in too long. NYC Velo, get excited!

holiday nothings

It wasn't New York, it wasn't Christmas eve, and it didn't end in the drunk tank. But it was as carefree as a "Fairytale of New York."
You know the Pogues song. With those charming lyrics ["you're a bum, you're a punk/you're an old slut on junk"], it's the song that'll run laps around my head during this season. It flittered through my head a few weeks ago, just as it got cold, then vanished as final exams hit and cabin fever settled in. But after the corporate tax exam that was akin to Chernobyl, I was free to live like a normal person. To sleep in when I didn't have class, to ride my rollers endlessly, and even to do nothing at all.
I almost freaked out. I have no idea how to do nothing. It scares me.

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But I had a whole day to myself, before flying off back home to Tokyo for two weeks - where, admittedly, posts might again be sparse as I intend to perfect this whole "doing nothing" thing - and with exams and school done for the semester, I no longer had the "sorry, I'm busy" excuse. To be honest, I probably would have stayed in my apartment, alternating between my bed and my rollers if it hadn't been for Mike and an email telling me about the Downtown Crossing Holiday Market. With clear skies and not-so-unforgiving temperatures, it was worth getting out of my apartment for.
Okay, so I didn't ride down there; Mike didn't bring his bike and we figured having him ride on my bars probably wasn't a good idea. The T actually proved to be relatively painless and crazy-people-free, and warm - something of a novelty when you ride around in Boston winters. Back out on Park Street, anywhere that wasn't soaked in sunlight was bordering on freezing, but the Holiday Market was enclosed in a tent. We slipped inside to find jewelry, baked goods, and even a small farmer's market section. And then we stumbled on perhaps one of the coolest things ever: dessert hummus.

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Coming in different flavors like pumpkin pie, toasted almond, chocolate mousse, maple walnut, caramel apple, and peanut butter, it's made with chickpeas but flavored and sweetened, and completely vegan. We tested a few flavors, then both shelled out for a container of the stuff [Mike got the almond, I wavered between pumpkin pie and peanut butter, then ended up with the latter]. And to fuel our trek through town to Newbury Street and the Pru, Mike grabbed a Berliner/beignet covered in cinnamon-y sugar from Swiss Bakers.

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Then we walked. Yes, walked. Through the Public Garden [across the frozen pond], down Newbury and Boylston. It could have been done faster by bike, I know, and it's insanity that I'll choose to spend the last day I'll be within 10 feet of a bicycle [for the next two weeks] on my feet and not the pedals. There might be something to be said for slowing down though, for trying to spend the day like a normal person might. To stop striving - if it can really be called that - to achieve some elusive cycling goal.
But like the oxymoron that is the recovery ride, I couldn't stay away. Symptoms of bike withdrawal emerged here and there as I pointed at displays and suggested ideas ["Hey, [NYC] Velo should do that..."], between stories of what the guys were up to while I was chained to a desk. I was even already planning my next trip to see my crew after I get back from Tokyo.
Plans which didn't involve taking the bike along; I will be loaded down with presents, after all. But, a long, narrow box came my way, wrapped adorably, and from the kind of present giver you almost don't want presents from because they pick such good ones and then you're like oh shit, now what do I buy them? I peeked inside, my eye bulged, and then I tried to be genuinely exasperated even though it's something I honestly wanted. It's made for women, it's wider than most, and yeah, it's going to look sick on the track bike.

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So it wasn't Christmas eve. And it wasn't New York. But I still got a feeling...this year's for me and [my friends, bikes, all the awesome people who read this, and, of course,] you.
Happy holidays!