Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Art of War v. Christmas Vacation

Ol' Sun Tzu was a clever cat, and his Art of War is the pre-eminent work of military strategy and tactics. Translated by a Jesuit priest in the late 1780's, it has inspired Napoleon, Mao Tse Sung, and the planning of Operation Desert Storm. It works on so many levels--war, business, advertising, etc. Basically; Lay Plans. Wage War. Attack Stragegically. Positioning. Proper use of Energy. Illusions and Reality...and most importantly, the best victory is one that is WON WITHOUT FIGHTING.
Here is the Backstory:
Every year at Thanksgiving we kick off the Christmas Season by watching the movie Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo and the actor who should have won the Academy Award for all time, Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie. Generally we watch it with Connie's sister Cheri & husband Rick, her brother Greg & wife Kelly, and sometimes with my brother Brady and his wife Katherine. The in-law parents sometimes watch, sometimes fall asleep, and the little cousins drift in and out. Every year someone says "we should have a Christmas Vacation contest".... One year there was a half hearted attempt by Greg or Rick to dress up as Clark Griswold, but it was so lame nobody noticed, accept maybe me, so I started laying my plans for 2008. It was the perfect storm: we were all going to meet in Des Moines for Thanksgiving, and "Operation Eddie" was put in place.

First of all, Craigslist is great for Step 1 in art of war "laying plans" . So I started looking for old piece of crap Winnebagos for sale around the Des Moines Area. There are lots. I sent emails to the sellers basically saying, "Here's an idea I expect you to turn down, and I don't want to buy your RV, but I'd like to rent it for a day." Then I'd lay out what I wanted to do-- Out of the 10 emails I sent between October and November three said they would do it. I ended up working with George Garwood who had an RV parked at his shop about 15 minutes from where Rick & Cheri lived. A very gregarious guy who was ready and waiting when we showed up.

Second, Google Images is great to find the picture of what you want. All I needed to get was a white robe (had one, just needed to hem it to a short-short length), a bomber hat (quick trip to Bass Pro Shops and picked one up), then needed to get a cigar (had some) and the hardest two parts were the can of Meister Brau (don't make it anymore--Old Milwaukee had to do), then the rubber hose from Orschlein's in Bethany Missouri and the costume was complete.
The plan was coming together. We met up with my RV guy George Garwood at the Pilot Truck stop less than 1 mile from the Ernzen's house. Connie, Ryan and Sarah had been 'confused' by this great idea, but as we got into the RV and I changed into my costume, it started dawning on them that this idea, while idiotic, just may be epic. Slow sly smiles came onto their faces when they realized that they may actually have fun with this hare-brained idea instead of just making fun of me. We got in the RV and drove over to Rick & Cheri's and pulled up, and our 8 year old Cousin/Nephew Grant was outside looking at us slightly confused as I got out of the RV in my bathrobe, hat, cigar, beer and long rubber hose that I was sticking into their sewer.

Right then my brother in law Rick pulls up in his car, does a double take and starts shaking his head. My father in-law Jim Dice comes outside and looks at me both very confused and somewhat consternated. Two neighbors of Rick & Cheri come out and say to Rick, HEY, YOUR "S#(^^#!$ Full" . Finally my mother in law Delores, sister in law Cheri, brother in law Greg & wife Kelly came outside to look, all speechless for a while, then laughing. Greg finally said the magic words:

"You Win".

All in all, best $103 I ever spent:
$60 for RV Rental, $20 for driving to Cheri's, $20 for driving home, $20 being a great guy.
$29 for the Hat at Bass Pro Shops. (I'll probably take it back)
$14 for the Hose (Don't know what else to do with this...)
Winning the contest? Priceless.

That's it. Game over. It's done. New Contest.

(Sun Tsu is looking down with a smile.)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Cranksgiving 2008

You feel the pressure when you can't decide between "Crunchy" or "Smooth" peanut butter and you know it's costing you time. Welcome to Cranksgiving 2008, an alley-cat bike race/scavenger hunt that fills the pantry of local food kitchens.

Alley Cat? Race? Scavenger hunt? What are you talking about.....?

Here's the deal: about 100+ riders showed up, we were given a manifest of things to purchase and a list of 10 different stores we had to ride to to get the goods. There was no map, no directions, and really only one rule; to win you had to have a receipt showing you purchased at least one item from each store. Items were peanut butter, apple sauce, instant mashed potatoes, corn/green beans, corn bread mix, chicken soup, tuna or chicken and breakfast cereal. All of the foodstuffs were then donated to local food kitchens.
Joining me in the race were co-worker Wade Beck, Dennis Markey--a friend of KOC's that I met once by chance on a Sunday morning bike ride (one that KOC slept in on) , and Kevin O'Connor his-own-self--first ride back after biting it at Octaginta. I rode the Varsity Fixie, I brought my old Trek for Wade to ride since it had a rack/panniers (which I would later regret), KOC and Dennis rode their road bikes--which meant they needed to carry their groceries on their back in a backpack. Easy at the start of the race, heavy as the day wears on.
It was a much different crowd that I am used to riding in. Generally riders fit into red state/blue state categories.

-RSRiders favor carbon bikes, 20 speed w/STI shifters, shaved legs, skinny arms, lycra bib shorts and ride Serrotta's, Specialized or Treks.

-BSRiders favor steel, fixed gears, tattoos, piercings, blue jeans, hemp jerseys, tennis shoes and spoke cards.

It was definately a blue state crowd, and I didn't see any of the road racing teams there. For the record, I rode in blue jeans.....over my bib lycra bib shorts. Everyone was awesome.

As we started, two other guys joined our pack; Nathan who lived off 31st & Oak, riding a nice Cannondale that he got from all the money he saved by quitting smoking cigarettes, and Ken, a guy riding a fixed gear who drove in 6 hours from Oklahoma City to ride in the event. The six of us found all the stores save one in Kansas City Kansas, and bought all of our stuff. I was secretly hoping to have the heaviest load and was loading up on the biggest boxes of cereal, or picking up 2 cans of corn, etc....only to get pipped at the end by Wade. I assumed our loads were about equal until I saw him walk out of the last store with a whole gallon jar of Applesauce. RATS!

After about two and a half hours of riding and 25ish miles, we made it to ACME Bicycles for the check in and after party. Needless to say, we didn't win; the parking lot was pretty full and the food for the food pantry was cornicopia-esquesly overflowing. The previous week, I went to the grocery store and had 27 lbs worth of stuff, I think I had over 30lbs easy by the time you counted all the cans, double peanut butters, applesause, etc.

At the end, our favorite sponsor was there in force, and I must say, I was thankful after a full day of alley-catting. Thank you Acme Bicycle Company. Thank you Boulevard Brewery. Thank you fellow riders. I feel very lucky to be able to participate in a fun event that provides such a great service to those who really need our help....AND earn my first every alley-cat spoke card.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Thoughts from a gig

“I’m starting to wonder if this may be a really bad idea…” That was my inner dialogue 15 minutes before I was scheduled to go onstage for a solo acoustic gig at Raglan Road Irish Pub in the KC Power and Light District. I’d played before crowds before, and I wasn’t nervous as much as I was dead-dog tired.

I played a gig from 9-10:45 on Monday night during our User’s Conference so our attendees would have something to do. It was unofficial, and definitely opt-in, we didn’t force anyone to come. For me the conference started at 10am Sunday morning til almost 11pm, then Monday 7am to 8:45pm almost non stop…and here I was walking thru the bar talking to our customers who had come out to hear me play.

I went into the bathroom to change out of my long sleeve shirt to just wearing my black TouchNet Get Fit shirt, and almost did the Roy Scheider “IT’s SHOWTIME!” scene from the movie All the Jazz” .

However once I got on stage and hammered the first “”DA-DA,shicka-schicka-shick DA DA DA strums of “Love the Rainy Night” by Eddie Rabbit, I was off to the races. Guitar was full and rich, my vocals were strong thru the monitor at my feet, and I figured it didn’t matter if I was any good or not, it had started and I had to finish it.

In the crowd were almost 200 people from our conference. They came out of curiosity, boredom, duty, and maybe a bit of pity, but I really didn’t care their reason. We were all in this together so I had to lead them home to the promise land. Here we are now, entertain us!

After Rainy Night—went right into Jonathon Anderson’s Sunshine, with the favorite lyrics of any salesperson “How Much Does it Cost—I’ll buy it”. From there went PG13+ by playing “Stay with Me by the Faces/Rod Stewart. Then Ham & Egged it for a while playing Maggie Mae, Night Moves, Amie—classic 70’s AM rock staples to good reviews. Then put on the capo and played Sweet Caroline and then dedicated Brown Eyed Girl to our pals from Brown University, which always get everyone involved.

Then transmorgrified to skinny Elvis, playing Blue Suede Shoes, That’s Allright Mama, gaining weight along the way til I got to Suspicious Minds. After Elvis left the building, went into left field and played Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Friends in Low Places and Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding. By this time I had some dancers….which is what every performer hopes for. They were a very good natured happily married couple that I believe would dance to a ringtone if it was played loud enough. I finished the first set with Cover of the Rolling Stone by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. There are probably some other songs in there, but I have blanked them out of my memory.

During the break, the first crop of people slunk out, but after a full day of learning plus a heavy meal with a few stout beers, I would have joined them, but I had Set #2 to play. Then a few late stragglers who had maybe been to other pubs came in to join the party.
After making a lap of the place I rejoined the stage to a crowd that was both smaller, but definitely rowdier. Those who stayed REALLY wanted to be there. Heck, I could have put my phone up to the mic and played my own ringtones and they’d applaud.

2nd Set started with Johnny Cash’s Fulsom Prison Blues, which gets the crowd somewhat active. From there went into the white-bread country classic of The Gambler, then turning somewhat outlaw country playing Greatest Country Song Ever Written/You Never Call Me By My Name, then Redneck Mother. When those 2 songs get played, you know who went to college in the 70’s or early 80’s. They sing along with gusto. Muchito gustito. Of course, they haven’t heard those songs for 25+ years so it brings it all back to the first time they heard it played and sung along at a college party or college bar and were able to out for biscuits and gravy after the bars closed and sleep til noon the next day. Mozart is tranquil and is like a fine wine. David Allen Coe whips people into a distemper like a few (too many) tequila shots.

Then I went softer, playing Margaritaville, Peaceful Easy Feeling, and then turned GEN-X and played Wanted Dead or Alive by Bon Jovi, then Every Rose has it’s Thorn to decent reaction. Throwing in a little Brett Michaels perks people up due to his reality TV show.

Finally got some real crowd participation by playing Summer Lovin and You’re the one that I want from Grease. Heather Fenton bounded up on stage to lead a bunch of Pink Ladies in the girl parts. About 7 other women came up and sang in tune. No other guy/T-Birds came up, Knickie didn’t have Danny’s back that night, but that was what every performer wants—participation.

By this time of the set, I was ready to wrap it up, so I threw in a favorite that people don’t expect, Honky Tonk Women by the Stones. It always goes well. Then for the finale, and you shouldn’t have to ask, is American Pie by Don McLean. That dang song has like 17 verses, and I always get lost, so I improvise and combine verses. Frankly, ain’t nobody really paying attention, except Dean Vermeire who laughed out loud when I had the last slow verse saying “And the lovers loved, and the poets died…..not a word was spoken, the churches were all broken…” American Pie is the best finale song, but turns out was the penultimate song. Mostly people are really glad I’m finished so they can go home, but the remaining crowd was pretty rowdy and I got a log of shouts and yells and ovation to play “Freebird”. It was a joke by some of the people in the crowd, but to quote a Lynnyrd Skynnrd type person, I done-played it. I cut the verses short and finished to another ovation, this time secretly everyone in the bar wanted me to stop.

All in all a great show, but I had sort of an out-of-body experience several times. I would be playing a song and seeing the people in the crowd and my mind would wander to thoughts of I wonder what they ate for dinner, and wow, there are the guys from Notre Dame and I wonder how many song’s I still have to play.

The next day, people commented on how much they enjoyed the show, and in reality, it will improve with age and elapsed time. They won’t remember the gaffes, the misquoted lyrics, the out of tune guitar or the raggedyness of my voice. Like a classic WHO or Stones concert, some of these things are better in memory or even BEST if you didn’t see it in person, just heard about it.

When it was over, I was tired, but it was a good kind of tired.

Johnny Murphini has left the building.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

virtually just shy of Pittsburgh

This year I've been keeping a bike-log on my Treo650, on a program called called Dataviz Sheet to Go. Basically excel for a hand-held. Since this is my blogs, the spreadsheet was the first real practical application I used on a computer back in the visicalc days. Sure I could type & edit on text word processors, but the automatic cypherin, when one number changed all numbers---too cool. Especially when somewhere deep in your brain a faulty anode really likes to track can be a problem. Oh yeah, now I really like crossword puzzles. And I shave my ears. But I digress

As I was saying, I just updated the October ride log when I looked at the total for the year so far:

Total Miles: 2,308
Total Rides: 128
Total Hours: 150.3
Commutes: 32.5* (I had to throw the bike in a pals truck to make it home one time)
Biggest Month: January 2008-295 Miles
Shortest Month: June 2008 with 111 Miles.
Tarmac #'s: 31 rides for 985 Miles
Fixie #'s: 51 rides for 542 Miles
Trek #'s: 17 rides for 311 Miles
I am 617 miles ahead of where I was last year
Other rides include 2 on my MTB, 1 on vacation, various at Spin classes, hotels, etc.

I ride the Tarmac less, but when I ride it, I go much longer
I ride the fixed gear varsity more, but the rides are much shorter.
I'm way ahead of last year, but still could ride a lot more.
I still weigh the's all about what I put in my mouth and peanut butter is my vice. And my dark master.....Saison Brett

I have been keeping track on the map on the wall in my office, starting from Los Angeles and traveling east along Interstate 70, I'm about 370 miles short of New York City. And I'm gonna make it. The goal was 200 miles per month and 2 commutes per month. I'm almost at 60 miles per week average and 3 commutes per month. As a traveling guy, that equates to almost 23% of the days I am available in my office.

This has been a pretty good year riding for me and I hope to put in more winter miles. Am curious to know if anyone else logs miles, and how far are you across the country, or have you already been there and back? Inquiring minds want to know.

And Brady---do as Eddy Mercxx says: ride lots.