My Darling B woke up totally knackered this morning. Or, if she wasn’t completely tired out the minute she woke up, she felt like it just moments after finishing her shower and settling onto the sofa with her morning cuppa joe. After spending close to seven hours working her garden Sunday, and maybe six or seven on Saturday, she couldn’t feel any other way, not after spending all winter inside watching movies, reading books and surfing the internet.

But when the skies cleared and the sun shone and the temperatures climbed into the sixties all weekend long she could hardly be expected to do anything but start turning over clods in her garden with a great big fork and sticking seeds in the ground, and that’s just what she did. At least she had the good sense not to grind herself down completely to a little worn-out nub. She took a kitchen timer to the garden with her, set it for sixty minutes each time she went and, when it rang, came in to sit on the sofa for ten or fifteen minutes, however long it took to suck down a couple big glasses of cold water.

It didn’t keep her from feeling the burn, though. When she got up after dinner she was hobbled by stiff muscles in her legs, back arms, you name it. “Did you know you have muscles right here?” she asked me, pointing at the bony back of my wrist. “Well, you do.”

To generate some sympathy pain for her, I rode my bike to work this morning. It’s about three or four miles away, easily doable in a half-hour even with the flabby winter muscles I have. Took me forty minutes and my butt was sore enough to force me to walk funny. Luckily I only had to walk as far as my desk, where I could sit down for a couple hours and let the feeling come back to my legs.


image of jack o' lanterns

The weather’s been so absolutely gorgeous that I hopped on my bike to take a ride through town today because soon enough we’ll be hunkered down against the winter winds so long I won’t even remember what a bike ride under a warm autumn sun feels like.

I haven’t been on a complete circuit of the lake in I don’t know how many weeks … lots and lots, I’m pretty sure. And as of today I still haven’t gone all the way around because riding through the neighborhoods along Atwood Avenue and Willy Street was way too enjoyable to just blow through it and keep on going. Sometimes the John Nolan causeway is sort of a letdown, you know? So when I got as far as Blair Street, where I stopped to have a good look around at the hyperexpensive two-wheelers in the aisles at Machinery Row Bicycles (a guy can dream, can’t he?) I turned around and headed back home on Jenifer Street, where golden leaves fell down on me like rain the whole way.

Lazy Sunday

In wine there is wisdom; in beer there is freedom; in water there is bacteria

Here it is, my last day before I start my new day job and how do I spend it? I cut up a bunch of lumber, because that’s what guys do.

Not sure how much is enough to qualify as a bunch. I cut up a few odds and ends to make some doodads and gadgets I’ve had on to-do list for a while: A rotating caddy to hold my growing collection of little bottles of paint, and a two-pronged fork to hang My Darling B’s bicycle from the rafters of the garage.

I don’t collect little bottles of paint, not the way some people collect match books or crazy ladies collect cats. They’re paints made for plastic models and they come in one-ounce bottles. Once you’ve bought enough to paint a model, they kind of clutter up the top of your work bench, making it a lot harder to actually build a model, so sooner or later you have to work out some system of putting them away. I don’t have any drawers in my work bench, so I chopped up some boards and made a little stair-step thing that’ll hold the bottles so I can see them. It also spins on a lazy suzan base.

And that’s how I ended up building it today in the first place: I was cleaning off my work bench so I could start using it again now that the cold weather is setting in, and I found the lazy suzan thing I bought last winter. Hey, I thought, I bet I could knock that out today. So I did.

When we’re not riding our bikes, I hang them from the rafters in the garage. Years ago I worked out a quick and dirty way to do that, and always meant to get back to redesigning the thing that hooks on to the bicycle, but never got around to thinking it through until today. B’s bike now has the new, improved cross brace, with my patent-pending Big Wooden Fork design, that holds her bike up without damaging the seat, which the metal hooks were prone to do.

But it wasn’t all about chopping wood. I also rode into town with My Darling B, where we took a walk up Willy Street to see what was going on at the annual Willy Street Fair. I expected it to be a little rowdier than it was. Mostly it was a string of booths where people sold artsy-craftsy stuff liike tie-die shirts and hand-made jewelry. There were quite a few food carts, too, and I think there were three different music stages, almost all of it much quieter than what you’d hear at any festival on cap square, thank goodness. After walking up and back down the street we returned to Our Humble O’Bode to catch a quick nap before Tim showed up for our Sunday Night Cook-Out.

Morning Bike Ride

image of Pac Man ghost

Was I supposed to do anything today? I couldn’t remember, so I made up an answer: No. Then, I rolled my bike out of the garage and went for a little ride.

First, I rode a route from my house straight up Monona Drive and Atwood Avenue to Walter Street, where I could catch the Capital City Trail into town. I don’t like riding in the road, for lots of very good reasons. For instance: Monona Drive is in about the worst shape of any city road, including the ones that are dug up. There are potholes and pothole patches all along the right-hand side of the road, and I end up hitting almost every one of them because they’re either too big to miss or I’m crowded over there by traffic.

Or, for instance: I can ride pretty fast, but not so fast that the rest of the traffic doesn’t seem to be rocketing past me. It makes me a little twitchy when they do that, especially now that almost every vehicle on the road is a pickup truck big enough to make a county snow plow look cute and cuddly. Most drivers are surprisingly accommodating when it comes to making room for me on the road, but there are still people out there weaving all over their lane, the lane next to theirs and the lane of oncoming traffic while they’re texting. Hence the twitchiness.

But, as it turned out, riding straight up Monona Drive was the quickest way to get to the trail. For safety’s sake I’ve tried riding up the sidewalk, scofflaw that I am, but the sidewalk is in even worse shape than the road is so I can’t ride very fast. Also, I try to avoid hitting pedestrians. That adds a lot of time to the trip, too. And I’ve tried finding a route along the back roads, but that takes me on such a roundabout route no matter how I do it that it almost doubles the amount of time to get to the trail. So straight up Monona Drive it was.

Once on the Capital City Trail it was a quick and easy ride up to the Yahara River trail, which goes literally right past the back door of the building where I’ll start work a week from Monday. I tried to bike the trip as fast as I could today without cranking so hard that I made it uncomfortable – I don’t want to get to work all sweaty or totally crapped out. Elapsed time from door to door: thirty minutes. When I go slow, it takes forty-five. Now I’ve just got to make myself do it.

After the dry run I wended my way back to Willy Street to stop at Saint Vinnie’s thrift shop to see what goodies were lying around, waiting to be adopted and taken back to a good home. I found a Smith-Corona Coronet electric typewriter that would have made an interesting addition to my collection, if only my collection weren’t already too damned big, or I owned a pole barn along the highway where I could start a typewriter museum. There would have also been the problem of getting it home, since it didn’t fit in my backpack. I left this fantastic bargain for someone else to snap up.

image of pharmacy

Since there wasn’t anything else I felt a need to take home from St Vinnie’s I saddled up and headed down the street to take a few photos. My first target: the pharmacy across the street from St Vinnies that used to be Schaeffer’s. It’s just reopened in the last two or three weeks under new management and the sign over the door indicates it’s now a pharmacy and costume shop … because nothing says Halloween like prescription medicine, right?

Then there were the Pac Man ghosts. I don’t know if they have some special significance, or if someone working in a local print shop had a little extra time on their hands and they were just feeling playful. Either way, Blinky the Ghost first appeared on the boarded-up door of a house on the south end of Willy Street and, shortly after that, on the wall of Mother Fool’s coffee shop. That’s it. Nothing else I wanted to point out. Just wanted to snap the photos and blog about them, because it didn’t happen if you don’t blog about it.

I made just one more stop at Batch Bakehouse, because it was on the way home and I was getting hungry. I knew they baked deliciously fluffy baguettes, because we pick them up at the co-op all the time, but I didn’t know they also baked yummy muffins, rolls and other pastries. “Is that a blueberry muffin?” I asked, pointing at a fat, sugar-encrusted gut bomb in the display case.

“Blueberry and lemon,” the smiling young lady behind the counter answered. My tongue dropped from my mouth and I covered the countertop in drool. She correctly interpreted my response and sent me home with one.

Employable after all

image of blue skies

Yesterday I got the phone call I’ve been hoping for: A manager at the Department of Regulation and Licensing called to offer me the job I applied for in her section. When I interviewed for it a week and a half ago she told me they’d make a decision some time this week, so I’ve sitting on tenterhooks since Monday. I told her I’d be happy to take it. I start on September 27th.

That’s a load off my mind. I haven’t been looking for a job nearly as long as some people, but it’s been nine weeks since my position was eliminated, and when I listen to the news it’s mostly bad: unemployment claims are up, jobs are down and the economy gets worse each day. On top of that, I’m nearly fifty years old and my professional skill set is geared toward office work. I can type eighty words a minute, I’m pretty good at ginning up a spread sheet and I can sift columns of data for eight hours without going blind. Trouble is, the office environment is glutted with college grads looking for work. Confident as I am in my abilities, the trick was to get potential employers to feel confident about hiring a fifty year old geezer instead of a freshly-minted twenty-one year old.

And somehow I managed to do it. Yay, me.

For my next trick, I’ll have to figure out how to get to work. My new day job starts at seven forty-five in the morning, same time My Darling B puts her nose to the grindstone, and, as it turns out, quitting time will be the same for both of us as well. To do that, one of us will have to get to work at least twenty minutes early, then look for something more stimulating that picking his or her nose for twenty minutes while waiting for a ride home.

Buying another car to get around this little kink would be a waste of money, as far as I’m concerned, unless I can convince somebody to part with his Volkswagen Beetle for a thousand bucks or less. I managed to do that once before in my life, and I used up a lot of my charm convincing my new employer to hire me, so it’s hard to imagine haggling a Beetle owner down to practically nothing again. But you never know until you try. Winter has typically been the hardest season in which to sell a Volkswagen, and the snow’s going to start flying in just a few weeks around here. Perhaps I still have a little haggle left in me after all.

Just for giggles, I rode my bike from Our Humble O’Bode to the offices of the Department of Regulation and Licensing, just to see how long it would take me and how hard the route was. The good news: The route’s easy, and it takes only forty minutes even in my decrepit state of physical fitness. The bad news: Remember what I wrote a paragraph before about snow? There are quite a few commuters around her hearty enough to bicycle to work on the bleakest sub-zero days. I’ve seen them pedaling to work when temps dip as low as twenty below zero. I’ve never tried that, but I feel I can say without benefit of experience that I’m not made of that kind of stuff. I might ride my bike to work for a little while yet this year, but by the end of November or the beginning of December I’ll have to find another way to get there, no question.

The only other thing I really need to know about finally accepting a new job is, do I get to keep on receiving unemployment benefits from now until September 27th? What I can find on the state’s web site is that I have to look for work, which seems redundant now that I’ve found a job. I called the state office that handles unemployment benefits claims but, after navigating the phone tree options, a recorded voice informs me that they’re getting more calls than their automated system can handle. Then the line goes dead. No help there today; I’ll have to try again tomorrow.

Pizza on a Bike Seat

image of pizza on bicycle seat

Pizza on a bike seat. Just in case you were hungry.

We’ve seen plenty of oddities on the way to the farmer’s market, but every so often we see something just a notch above the usual weirdness that we have to stop, look and think about it for just a few moments longer than we normally would. This was one of those times.

This slice of pizza was still waiting on the bicycle seat when we walked back to our car forty-five minutes later, so it wasn’t something the owner set down for just a sec while he ducked into the nearby Gotham New York Bagels store (Shameless plug: try the sausage & egg bagel!) for a cold soft drink to go with his early-morning snack.

We had to assume it had been left there quite some time earlier, perhaps even the night before, although now that I think about it the squirrels probably would have gotten to it by morning, so forget I even suggested that. But it had clearly been forgotten. There was no one around, and it was there for at least an hour.

I really wanted to grab it, take a bite and put it back on the seat, just to see what would happen. Would the owner pop out from his hiding place to ask me what the hell I thought I was doing? Would a passer-by flip open his cell phone to report me to the police for erroneous consumption in the first degree? Would the pizza turn out to be made of rubber, and I’d end up in a YouTube video compilation of dozens of random dopes just like me biting into a slice of left-behind stale pizza?

It was a momentary impulse that passed rather quickly. I’m thinking the only reaction I’d get would be a violent case of food poisoning, and I didn’t want that very much, so I contented myself with snapping the photo and continuing on to the farmer’s marked with My Darling B.

Morning Ride

image of jungle bicycle

I hit the pavement for a bike ride early this morning, before the sun had a chance to get burning hot enough to melt me like butter, and pedaled my way slowly around Lake Monona so I wouldn’t be sweating and gasping my way to the finish.

I keep my bike in our garage where it’s safe from the ravages of the encroaching jungle, which most people in Wisconsin aren’t concerned with or even aware of. I snapped this photo of a bicycle left chained to a post too long on Jenifer Street. The owner has made good progress cutting back the vines and undergrowth but still has some work to do to free it from the last grasp of the wilderness. Then, of course, there’ll be a trip to the local bicycle shop where the skill and devotion of trained mechanics may be able to save the noble beast. It’ll be an uphill battle all the way, but it can be won. Don’t let this happen to your bicycle. Make room in your garage to give it the shelter it needs. You’ll thank yourself for it while others are still hacking a path through the elephant grass to get at their bikes.

image of Yahara Place Park

The best part of my ride around Lake Monona is threading my way along Yahara Place road past the lakeside park there. A stretch of the lakeside about a thousand feet long was set aside for this eye-poppingly beautiful park and for my money it’s one of the gems of Madison, not that my money would be enough to get me into this neighborhood. The usual row of pricey-looking lakefront houses lines the opposite side of Yahara Place but, thankfully, most of them are not oversized, flat-faced trophy homes. The street has the feel of a cozy neighborhood, serene, picturesque and all sorts of other pretty words that would normally pass your lips only if you were reciting a poem by Wordsworth or Longfellow. Every time I ride through this neighborhood I sigh and wish the city of Monona, where I live, had once had the foresight to set aside a few thousand feet of their miles of lakefront so we had a park like this one right down the road, instead of miles of flat-faced, overpriced trophy homes crowded shoulder to shoulder, blocking the view to the lake.

image of lion with beer glass

I could only guess what this guy’s story is. He’s standing at the top of a obelisk at the south end of the park. The obelisk sits on a pedestal surrounded by benches and some decorative bushes that could easily be a party hangout for the neighborhood kids … who drink from beer glasses instead of straight from the can. And pack out the cans. And leave the beer glasses. Well, I said it was only a guess.