Monday, September 24, 2007

Dirty Girl

I am a dirty girl again.

My mountain bike of 17 years was stolen in June and I have been off the trails for the whole summer. On Sunday, however, I bought a new-to-me mountain bike and, just for laughs, picked up my first pair of proper cycling shoes. Even though I discovered I have champagne tastes in bike shoes (Sidi), I restrained myself and bought the "just fine" Specialized shoes... the equivalent of a $10 bottle of red (not the cheapest, but nothing fancy).

Spent yesterday figuring out the shoes/cleats/pedals and then took off to try a few trails today. I made the expected number of mistakes -- but it was definitely more giggles than frustration... especially when Adventure Buddy had to help pick the prickers out of my hair and off my back from slow motion crash number two (didn't have enough speed going over a log).
It is easy to see that I will (eventually) be a better rider with my feet attached to the pedals. I'll have to be, you can't just weenie out and put your foot down the way you can with toe clips. I did learn that the best way to not fall over is to PEDAL HARDER... even out of a dead stop. I also learned the oh-so-helpful tree grab as a means of staying upright when you just can't move forward anymore.

The bike... the bike is good. I'm liking the front shocks and the bike in general just feels good. I did manage to bend the chain ring on a log/rock combo, but AB is not only an excellent pricker picker, he is damn handy with all things bikey. A little of this, a little of that and all is well again.
And I'll close with a small bit o' praise for the MMBA folks who built the trails out at Hewen's Creek. There aren't a lot of trails and they cover very flat terrain, but I'm delighted that they are down there in my little corner of Washtenaw County. They are very well built -- some in the woods and some in meadows (lots of wild flowers out now) and fun if you have an hour to blast around or want some beginner trails. Also, Rolling Hills is around the corner and you can tack on a few more miles of fast grass riding over there, if you like.


A group of friends out for a drink after a concert.... It's getting late, folks split off to head for their vehicles... Two women who drove together, leave together. Two men who are parked near each other start down the street with me. But I am parked another block over and turn to head that way. One friend says "We can walk you..." and adds something about not messing with my "feminist cred." My hackles go up -- not because of the feminist crack, per se, but because it is obvious he would walk with me to keep me safe, not so that we would be safe. I blow him off. I go on alone. But as I round the corner onto the the dark street with dark alleys and look up at the parking deck where I have left my car, I am slammed with all the contradictions of being a woman, out alone, at night, in public space.

I regret the cavalier rejection of a companion. I feel stupid for feeling anxious. I feel more stupid for not have acted with appropriate caution. I resent having the offer of accompaniment being tied to feminism -- as if a "real" feminist would never accept an accompaniment -- it's not what he meant (in fact he probably meant just the opposite), but I went all defensive. I despise the uncertainty I have... for all I know about women and public space, for all I have read about what women "should" do and what they "do" do, none of it made that moment on that street any easier. It probably made it more difficult. I am pissed that the reality is that I am an idiot to climb the stairs of the parking structure on my own. I am uncomfortable with my own vulnerability. I am uncomfortable that others around me see it too.

So then I swallow my independence/pride and I call one of the friends... he can't be far away we just parted ways... just a block away, maybe, and on a bike. He could easily swing my way and go with me to my car. But he does not answer... maybe he is already on the bike and doesn't hear the ring... I am annoyed he doesn't pick up but I am relieved he doesn't pick up. I am relieved I don't have to explain. But I still had to climb the stairs and cross the empty floor to my car.

Obviously it turned out fine, but...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The "perfect" food

So I've been searching over the last month or so for the perfect pre-ride food. After an unfortunate choice a while back and a subsequent mild bonk at about mile 26, I decided I needed to pay more attention to what went in my belly before my butt went on the bike.

And here is what I've settled on:

Yep, fancy-schmancy, organic, vegetarian pop tarts -- frosted, of course.

Tested on 50, 40, and 25 milers... yep, they work. Now the only challenge is keeping a ready stash hidden from the kids.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

DC Doings

Well, I am just back from a work week in DC. I drafted several blogs during my travels, but I only once found a free wi-fi connection (and it was in a brew pub!).

Other than the lack of connectivity, I love DC. I love to ride the metro. I love to watch the tourists. I love to wander neighborhoods. I love to eat good ethnic food. And now I can say, after spending 40+ hours there, I love the Library of Congress. The LOC catalogs 7,000 new books a day and has something in excess of 25 million books (and another million "other" items) in the stacks. The setting is gorgeous and the staff leaves you pretty much alone unless you want help. What's not to love?
Okay, the security was a bit intense and the lack of a women's bathroom anywhere near the main reading room was a pain, but still, it is an amazingly place.
I spent most of my time reading etiquette manuals from the mid-19th century up through today. These books were quite the rage in the late 19th c. and early 20th c. and there are probably 10 manuals for every one published post 1950. I was amused to find that some of the oldies were still being published as late as the 1960s.
So how good are you on the etiquette of public space?
1. When ascending and descending stairs, who goes first?
2. If a woman wanted to host a restaurant meal for a man before 1970, how did she actually go about paying the tab without crushing his masculinity?
3. When was a woman in pre-1940s America supposed to wear a hat?
4. Did women need an escort in pre-1960s America in order to feel entitled to traverse urban streets and take advantage of public transportation?
When the etiquette manuals dried up (in the last 40 years), I switched over to reading self-defense manuals directed at women. In terms of advice to women on how to conduct themselves in public space, these seem to be what replaces the etiquette manuals. Not surprisingly, the tone is quite different and they often use the old "do this and never do that" books from earlier generations as the straw man in making their point that women have been conditioned to be helpless in public. The self-defense authors play this out to argue that women have been taught to be victims and they need to "take charge" of their lives by learning karate, carrying mace, and checking the back seats of their cars before driving away from the mall. I'll take the etiquette manuals over these fear mongering rags any day. (oops, did I say that out loud?)
Finally, I checked in on the professional papers published about public comfort stations and rest rooms at the turn of the 20th century. Most major cities started building comfort stations (public toilets) in that period and folks were eager to share their funding strategies and "modern" designs. Not surprisingly, but still markedly counter to the current rage for potty parity, women's facilities were generally significantly smaller (fewer stalls and no urinal-equivalents) than those built for men. They also often included a "rest room" (which was a lounge for women only -- to give them a respite from the "public" of public space) while men's facilities never had such spaces. I'll have lots to say on what all this means later... or certainly by the time I write the book, anyway.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Research: Day 2

…but the second day is a beautiful thing

As I would expect, the second day of research went exceedingly well. I knew exactly where I was going. I developed a system to work with the procedures of the library that ensured that I had both a variety of activities and a constant stream of material – none of that pesky waiting that plagued yesterday. I plowed through about half my list of etiquette manuals (the main purpose of my visit), which means I am on track to have some time to try and track down other material on restrooms, street lighting, and women’s hotels. Yay!

The library staff is lovely and I have been left to my own devices, for the most part. I appreciate that they let researchers copy materials on their own, set up their own hold shelf, etc., etc. My only real complaint is that there are no bathrooms anywhere near the main reading room. An elevator ride and a healthy hike are necessary in order to go pee – if you are a woman. The men’s room is right around the corner. Hmmm….

Okay, tonight is the only night the library closes early so I will take this enforced leisure time and go in search of a good beer and some Indian food.

Monday, September 10, 2007


190 838 622017 1852 613 430 1940

I have a bunch of new numbers in my life, acquired over the last few hours. Most of these numbers are represented on a card… my pocket is stuffed with cards. I have a room at the Marriot downtown (nice, plush, small, centrally located and very anonymous – exactly what I was looking for!) which has a key card, I have a “researcher card” for the Library of Congress, I have a desk in the LOC, I have a claim check for my personal belongings stowed in the LOC cloakroom, I have a copy card, I have Metro card with a few bucks left on it, and I have call slips for the books I’m pulling at the LOC.

Getting to DC, then to my hotel, and finally to this location – a desk in the main reading room of the Library of Congress – took many hours. I am now quite tired and really in dire want of a cup of coffee and a snack. Considering all the stops and checkpoints I had to traverse to get to this desk where I now sit waiting for my first load of books to arrive, I am not sure I am willing to go in search of such delicacies, however.

One (small) conclusion about DC: this is a city of mumblers. I’ve had the hardest time being able to hear/understand the security guards and information station attendants I have had to interact with at restaurants, security scans, and cloakrooms. This pains me. I have never researched here before (except for a discreet and short venture to the manuscript room long ago) and it is a huge place. The LOC is actually three buildings and in order to get to where I am now, I’ve had to visit all three buildings. I dislike not knowing where I am going or how the system works. I read signs carefully so as to have to ask fewer stupid questions, but some things must be asked and to get unintelligible responses is rather frustrating. This has definitely depleted my energy and contributed to my growing headache.

On the up side, I now know where I am going and what I am doing. I will be here at this desk early tomorrow morning and will have the hyper productive day that probably will not happen in the remaining hours of today. Considering that, I think I will go get that cup of coffee – it is in the next building over, but if I use the tunnels, I can get there without having to go through security at building entrances/exits. Besides, my books have still not been pulled… no use sitting around and staring at the dizzingly high and ornate ceilings of the reading room.

Well, it’s a start….

…just not a very auspicious one. I’m sitting in DTW and, I’m embarrassed to confess, I am early. The plane does not take off for an HOUR and I am already at the gate, having checked in, cleared security, gone to the bathroom, and gotten coffee. Yikes! I’m usually a walk up to the gate and get directly on the plane kinda girl. Really.

So while I wait I’m consuming a lukewarm coffee (gack) and a stale scone. I hate Starbucks, but that is what is here and since you can’t bring anything through security, one must deal with what is here. This coffee stand is evidence that Starbucks cares nothing about coffee. I ordered a small non-fat latte (for some reason forgetting to specify “extra hot,” not that that probably would have mattered anyway). After she made the coffee, the barista asked me if I wanted whipped cream on that. “On a latte? No!” I respond. She hands me a coffee that looks bigger than “small,” but I take it and scoot away. And then I taste it… ah, I get it now. It is a mocha, not a latte. While I am not opposed to chocolate, I rarely get it in my coffee as it only cools a drink that I prefer to consume at blazingly hot temps. Ah well. But then, to add further insult, the cinnamon scone turns out to be ancient, crumbly, dry. Sigh. I am in an airport… and the old terminal to boot. Surely things will get better when I get to DC, right?