Youth on the E train

Youth on the E train from Cortlandt street to Penn Station is much, much different. I sat, mesmerized, on the bench yesterday afternoon as three high-school kids in immaculate, head-to-toe basketball uniforms twisted their fingers into configurations that I’ve never seen before. And I watched a lot of Zoom! as a kid.

The teenager on the bench across from me was the master, and the two next to me were his apprentices. He started by making “crab hands”: twisting each set of fingers together, then making claws, holding out a set of cross-hatched fingers that looked like every bone had been broken. It was cool, but I know how to do that. Next, though, he made an alligator head. Not a shadow-puppet alligator head, an actual alligator head, in three dimensions, with slanty pupils rolling in hooded eye sockets and a long, antediluvian mouth that opens and closes. That got my attention, all right. I tried to see how he did it, but the process involved not only twisting fingers together, but some kind of quick wrist snap to get the ring fingers crossed over the back of the opposite hand, and the pinky finger curled around to the front. I spent three weeks in eighth grade learning how to snap my finger on a smokeless-tobacco tin lid; compared to what I was seeing on the train now, I might have well been learning to point, or slaving away to try to make an “okay!” sign.

It didn’t stop there, though. The kids were signing to each other, back and forth, making sigils that had poems accompanying them. “Do the one about the mom!” said the boy to my left, and the teenaged girl held up a complicated unit that looked like a backwards “3”, pointer fingers quivering in opposite directions. “I’m gonna… tell on you!” she chanted “I’m gonna keep my finger like this… all… day! I’m gonna … tell on you!”

The other kids nodded and laughed politely. Clearly, they knew this one already.

Finally, the kid on the bench across the way pursed his lips in concentration and hunched over with his hands clamped into his stomach. I glanced around the car; I couldn’t believe I was the only one amazed by this. The pair next to me waited silently, not wanting to interrupt the adept at his work.

He sat up triumphantly, each arm twisted in a different direction. Held next to his shirt, fingers clenched and pointing every which way, was a CURSIVE WORD. Let me repeat that: A WORD IN CURSIVE. I have no idea what it was; it was like reading sanskrit. But both teens next to me sighed appreciatively. “You see the ‘G’, right?” “Yeah, I see it. That’s dope.”

Youth on the E train

The fall semester has started

The fall semester has started at West Chester University, and Youth is walking the streets of the town. Youth is holding hands with her new boyfriend in the bagel shop, telling him in a loud voice about the older man she dated over the summer. Youth is sprawled across a shabby sofa on fraternity house lawn, watching traffic go by through a pair of new Oakley sunglasses and a carefully composed louche expression. Youth is wearing a sweater set and a single strand of pearls, carefully steering a hand-me-down Mercedes through the tricky right turn at the intersection of High and Price. Youth has not yet homogenized itself; everyone is wearing the signifiers of their summer clique. This will change by early October.

Youth is jogging in packs up and down every sidewalk, all the senior men shirtless, all the women in midriff tops. Youth is pumping 50 Cent in their Honda Accord at the stoplight, making the tall bolt-on spoiler vibrate with every beat.

Youth is watching very carefully out of the corner of their eye to see if anyone is noticing them.

Youth has eschewed “WWJD” key lanyards in favor of terrycloth hot shorts that say “PRINCESS” or “NASTY” across the butt. Youth has a bad habit of wearing cheap, unoriginal T-shirts from Abercrombie and Fitch and American Eagle.

Youth has taken your parking spot and packed all the inexpensive restaurants. Youth has a bad habit of pulling up at the rental house across the street and honking her horn repeatedly to let those inside know that their ride has arrived. This is probably Youth’s perogative, but it’s still an adjustment.

The fall semester has started

About the Iron Butt

About the Iron Butt Rally

The Iron Butt Motorcycle Rally is an eleven-day, eleven THOUSAND mile endurance ride. That’s a thousand miles a day, on average. That might not be so daunting on a car, but on a bike it’s grueling. Think of this — if you want to get just four hours of sleep a night, you must AVERAGE fifty miles an hour for the other twenty hours of the day. That average has to figure in meals, gas stops, traffic, construction, and extra bonus sidetrips that can add points to your score and hundreds of miles to your odometer.

As the Iron Butt website explains it, the concept is fairly simple: “The rally consists of five checkpoints located around the perimeter of the United States. In order to be considered a finisher of the event, riders must be present at each of these checkpoints within a two hour window.”

The checkpoints are located at the four corners of the country. 2003’s rally, which ended several days ago, routed riders from Missoula, Montana, to Nevada, then to Florida, to Maine, and back to Missola. With optional bonus trips to places like Labrador, over 550 miles of dirt road and back again. And that’s a SIDE trip.

Ouch. In a nice Douglas Adams touch, riders are each issued a towel with their rally number on it, and validate their bonus trips by draping the towel over the landmark in question and having their photo taken with it. Very hoopy.

Having finished a nice, leisurely ride to Maine and back, I’ve been reading with admiration the harrowing stories of the 2003 Iron Butt Rally. Warning: don’t click the link without an hour to spend reading!

About the Iron Butt

We’re back from our

We’re back from our bike trip to Maine and back again. It was a great, great trip. We started from West Chester, defeated mechanical trouble, and rode north to Kingston, NY, where we diverted to Mohonk to sit out the Great Blackout of 2003 wearing tuxedos and sipping iced drinks. When the blackout fizzled the next morning, we rode north through the Catskills and the Adirondacks, then cut over to Bennington, Vermont, up to St. Johnsbury, then over to Bar Harbor.

After attending Kate’s cousin Brian’s wedding at the Bar Harbor Inn (which was beautiful), we rode to Belfast, Maine, to visit my mom and Robin and drop off the Tower of Power. Next was Deer Isle, Maine, where a friend of Kate’s mom had lent her a rental house for the week. I spent three days working via dialup modem on the back porch, looking at pine trees, and generally enjoying the hell out of myself.

Finally, we set out on Thursday morning, rode up to Bangor, headed west to New Hampshire on Route 2, then turned south at the Mount Washington Auto Road. After earning our stickers there, we continued south and west through the Kankamangus parkway (at the suggestion of several New England Airheads.) That was a goshamighty beautiful trip, if somewhat slow through North Conway, New Hampshire. Though I did get to see the original EMS store. After that, up to Burlington, Vermont, a night in a motel, then across Lake Champlain on a ferry, and through the Adirondack Park on routes 9 and 30. The weather was threatening at this point, and the high altitudes were very misty and solemn.

We got our rainsuits on in the nick of time, were hammered by one fierce thunderstorm just south of Binghamton, NY, then rode the rest of the way on the PA Turnpike Northeast Extension back home.

Total Mileage: Just over 2,000
Tower of Power Objective: Achieved

Lessons Learned: Do not wear backless “cruiser” gloves in an effort to stay cool. I bought a pair in New Jersey to switch for my hot black elk-hide gauntlets, and now have a deeply tanned patch on the back of each hand, plus sunburned knuckles. They’re called “Harley hands”, and they’re pretty embarassing.

We’re back from our

When life imitates Infocom While

When life imitates Infocom

While on the first leg of our motorcycle trip from Philly to Maine last week, Bob’s bike developed a leaky gasket that required some teflon tape to fix. We stopped in rural Pennsylvania, and suddenly everything around me took on a familiar text-adventure tone:

Country Junction, near the fireworks stand

You are in Country Junction, a hardware store amalgamated with a grocery store, a hardware store, a halloween costume shop, and a scented candle emporium. There are animatronic mannequins placed in hayseed vignettes all over the store. Each character is picking the banjo, blowing a jug, or playing another folksy instrument and talking about the wonders of Country Junction. “Howdy, partner!” says one shabby steer head on the wall next to you. “There’s fireworks in them thar hills!”

There is a Tower of Power here.

>>Look at Tower of Power

It seems to be a perfectly ordinary Tower of Power.

>>Examine Tower of Power

The Tower of Power is a big, black, waxy, cylinder, hexagonal in cross-section, about five inches across and a foot long. It is painted with pictures of scaly, fire-breathing dragons and medieval castles with lightning bolts attacking the battlements. A fuse protrudes from one end. The Tower of Power is sitting on the top shelf of the fireworks stand, dwarfing the sparklers, snakes and cherry bombs. The Tower of Power weighs about three pounds. You can’t figure out what the Tower of Power does, exactly, but you’re fairly sure that it’s very illegal in Maine, where you are headed and where you have ten-year-old cousins.

>>Purchase Tower of Power


When life imitates Infocom While

Pictures I took one-handed while

Pictures I took one-handed while riding my motorcycle up the Mount Washington Auto Road today, so that I could brag that I wasn’t clutching the handlebars the whole time:

…of course, the scariest part was going down. At some points, we’d round a corner of an unpaved section (no guardrails anywhere along the road) and see clouds sailing by UNDERNEATH OUR WHEELS. (shudder.)

I have a “this bike climbed Mount Washington” bumper sticker now! It’s awesome!

Pictures I took one-handed while

Is this the excuse I’ve been waiting to attach giant rubber shoulderpads to my motorcycle jacket?

Bob Smith and I were sitting in a nondescript diner just off of I-84 in Kingston, NY, when the lights started to flicker and go dark. “Ha!” joked the russian owner behind the cash register. “You see? I didn’t pay my electricity bill!” The lights kept flickering, then gradually died out, and the diner became very quiet when the salad bar stopped humming.

We finished our lunch as the diner got steadily warmer, then went outside and tried the internet. “Reuters: 8 minutes ago: Blackouts are affecting New York, Toronto, and Detroit, witnesses say. It’s currently unknown if the events are related.” Geez, that’s eerily doomsday-y.

I tried to refresh once or twice, waiting for the reports that aliens have landed in rural New Jersey, but the connection was dead. So we took stock. We each had about 100 miles of range on our motorcycles; not enough to get home. With power out, apparently, across the east coast, there’s no way to buy more gas. And, with the approach of night, it seemed likely that flesh-eating zombies would arise from the sewers, unleashing their unclean hunger on a panicky and well-marbled populace.

The solution, as always in catastrophe situations, was clear: immediately find a luxury resort enclave with its own generator system, a staff prepared to handle unusual situations, and a team of sharpshooters with high-powered rifles to keep the flesh-eating zombies at bay.

Fortunately, there was one such place at hand.

So, I’m writing this in the computer room of the Mohonk Mountain House, a Victorian castle resort enclave high in the Shawangunk mountains built by a Quaker family in 1869. With a diesel generator plant, gourmet chefs, a glacial lake for swimming, and a notable lack of creepy zombie manholes. Which is good, because Quakers believe only in non-violent zombie discouragement tactics. Though they may have experience dealing with the uncanny: Mohonk Mountain House, a fifth of a mile long after numerous additions, is the building that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining (even though he decided to set it out West.)

Our plan is to leave at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning, after recharging my laptop and our cellphones with precious, precious Quaker luxury electricity. As we roll through a post-apocalyptic landscape filled with burning taxis and feral youths carrying sharp-edged boomerangs, we will relive the worst thing that happened to us during this blackout:

Mohonk’s kitchen is out of lime peel!

Is this the excuse I’ve been waiting to attach giant rubber shoulderpads to my motorcycle jacket?