Monday, May 18, 2020

Seedlings, Cycling, Blood, and Heels: A #MyNonprofits Update

Before you read this post: renew or start a membership for the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. Do it now. I'll wait. 

Join #MyNonprofits: donate to a different nonprofit a day, every day for seven days or more, share why you love them, and nominate someone to do the same. 

Now that you've become a member of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, I want to tell you about a fun thing I did on May 9 with the hopes you agree to do it on May 23.   

What I did was volunteer to bring seedlings from one of #MyNonprofits, Valley Verde in San Jose to families in need. As I noted in my last post: Valley Verde was supposed to hold their seedling fair but COVID-19 put a stop to that. What they decided they wanted to give the seedlings away, and they enlisted the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition to handle the logistics and gathering volunteers to deliver the seedlings. It was a successful event that was covered by NBC Bay Area and The San Jose Mercury News

Signing up to do it made me happy. Putting it on my calendar made me happy. Heading there with my City Bike towing the seven year-old bike trailer made with an IKEA tub and Bike Friday trailer frame made me happy. 

I showed up, and even though we were set at an acceptable physical distance and all wore masks, I was still able to recognize some friends. That made me happy, too. 

Like the other riders, I showed at my pre-determined time slot and chose my rides - two deliveries about eight miles away. I rode out, I delivered the seedlings, I rode back.

And Valley Verde and Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition are doing it again on Saturday, May 23. If you've lost your job recently or struggling financially due to COVID-19 visit by May 19th and follow the instructions to see if you qualify.

If you were among the scores of people who signed up to help deliver the seedlings by bike and were turned away because there were too many volunteers sign up to deliver seeds here. And if you get to Valley Verde before your appointment time, pop into iJava to get something to drink. 

View from iJava Cafe on Auzerais

I have some other Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition news: I am going to be on a panel on Wednesday at noon called How to Haul Anything By Bike. It's the last Bike Month webinar co-produced by the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition and - Register for the Zoom webinar here.  

I have a couple of other things to update you about with a couple of #MyNonprofits.


Veggielution just had their Eastside Connect event online. They had Sal Pizarro of The San Jose Mercury News as the emcee, author Cecilia Tsu as the keynote, and a variety of special guests. Watch it here and make a donation to Veggielution.

Good Karma Bikes

Good Karma Bikes is on 460 Lincoln Avenue in San Jose and is open for repairs and sales as long as you wear a mask and engage in physical distancing. Prior to the pandemic they'd hold mobile blood drives on site with a Bloodmobile from Stanford Blood Center - and they correctly understand the need for blood donors hasn't gone away during Shelter in Place. The next Good Karma Bikes blood drive is on May 28th. Make an appointment to give blood here.  

YWCA Silicon Valley (Walk a Mile in her Shoes) 

YWCA Silicon Valley is going forward with Walk a Mile again this year - but instead of men walking in heels in a huge group in Santana Row to raise money to help fight domestic violence, they're doing a virtual walk to raise money to help fight domestic violence. I'm doing it for the third year in a row (I saved my size 12 wedges I used last year, as you can see) and this time I'm recruiting mates at my office to do it with me. I hope you register for Walk a Mile in Her Shoes and encourage others to do that too. 

That's all I've got for now: remember to keep washing your hands and taking care of yourself. I know all of us are experiencing some unruly cocktail of grief/shock/loss, but you still have your job and your health please start thinking of the nonprofits that matter to you and show them some support. As I write this I am supposed to be flying to Italy so I could eat and bike my way around Umbria. But I'm slowly letting go of where I'm supposed to be and thinking about where I am - and what I can do. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Morgan Hill, California. May 17, 2020

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

#MyNonprofits Update: Deliver Seedlings by Bike on May 9 in San Jose

I have a calendar by my desk as I work from home. Because of COVID-19, there isn't anything on it - just two yellow sticky notes. One has the word TODAY written on it that I move from one day to the next. For quite a while, it has felt like there is no tomorrow - just another version of today. 

Speaking of today: San Jose Spotlight's coronavirus blog just reported the County of Santa Clara is extending their Shelter in Place order is going through May 31. So the other yellow sticky on my calendar - the one that reads 'lockdown ends' just moved up to the end of next month. Other than that, my calendar has seen no action.

But if you live near downtown San Jose, have either a bike with big panniers, a bike trailer or a cargo bike, you're going to mark your calendar with a blunt-point Sharpie: On Saturday, May 9th, Valley Verde needs your help to deliver seedlings by bike to area families.

Let me back up a second.

Valley Verde is, as of last night, one of #MyNonprofits. For those of you who don't know: #MyNonprofits is a campaign when you make a financial donation* to a different nonprofit every day for seven days or more, encourage others to donate, and nominate one friend or more each day to take the #MyNonprofits challenge. I started this because I was supposed to fly to Italy for vacation in May, and of course that was cancelled, so I reasoned that if I can't enrich my life abroad, I was going to take the money that would be used on the trip and help nonprofits that enrich other people's lives - including mine. 

I first visited Valley Verde last year - my wife and I rode our tandem on the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition's garden ride, and Valley Verde was one of the stops. Neither of us had heard of it before but we ended up taking an eggplant in the seatpost bag which survived the rest of the journey and later gave us an eggplant.

Like Veggielution (another one of #MyNonprofits) Valley Verde is a farm in San Jose that specializes in giving education and other programs to low-income families - as well as edible gardens. They teach how to grow their own food - like, real food**sold seedlings at their annual seedling fair, but like my vacation in Italy, that was cancelled which is a big loss for them and the families who use the seedlings. 

What Valley Verde is doing instead is giving the seedlings away to low income families. Let's skip ahead of their incredibly nice gesture and get to the rub: limited public transportation, no options for child care and other factors means a lot of people want seedlings but can't physically go get them. 

So the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition is trying to get volunteers to help bring seedlings to families on Saturday, May 9. It is not an organized ride - it is a socially distanced one. This means you can't just show up with a cargo bike or a bike trailer or big panniers and take plants. What you need to do is click here to make an appointment to give away seedlings by bike and choose how many miles you wish to ride to deliver zucchini, peppers or other plants. 

The plants themselves are in containers - the size is about 6' x 10" by 10" -  so if you have a trailer or a cargo bike, you can carry a lot more plants and help a lot more people in one go. You drop the plants off at the addresses they give you - so it is 100% social distanced all the way.

So what I ask you today, the readers, is to make a donation to Valley Verde. I personally know the feeling that comes when a big fundraising event doesn't take place for a nonprofit and it is not a good feeling. So make a donation to Valley Verde, then share the Valley Verde donation page online. 

Next - if you have a bike that can carry plants that you can ride safely, live close enough to ride to Valley Verde, are free on May 9, then sign up to deliver seedlings. If you want to read something better written - and with more detail and fewer spelling errors - here's the Valley Verde post by Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition executive director Shiloh Ballard. 

That's all for now. Please check out the list of the nonprofits I have on #MyNonprofit list and take the #MyNonprofits challenge: give a little money to one nonprofit a day, ever day for seven days or more, and each time nominate a friend to do the same. COVID-19 is taking away a lot from us now but let's make sure it doesn't take even more from the less fortunate among ourselves later. Thanks for reading, thanks for riding (alone), and thanks for taking the #MyNonprofits challenge. 

*if it is the American Red Cross - blood if you prefer. Make an appointment to give blood online here.  

**I swear, every time I am in the grocery store I notice what someone is carrying in their baskets or trolleys and think "If the coronavirus doesn't kill you, that junk you plan to eat will." Don't get me started on the people who pull down their masks when they get outside to smoke a cigarette.

Monday, April 6, 2020

#MyNonprofits and Other Ways to Live Through a Pandemic

I was supposed to get together with a friend for coffee. I was supposed to take a train and use a folding bike to get to work. I was supposed to watch the San Jose artist Cellista tweet joyously about her March 27th concert in LA. 

I was supposed to go to yoga class. I was supposed to get a tart at Pastelaria with a colleague. I was supposed to fly to Italy in May with my Bike Friday in checked luggage. 

The coronavirus has taken a lot from us - much more than I just listed here.

I'm still better off than most. Way better. I can do my job from home. I'm not furloughed. I don't have a greedy landlord to contend with or rent increases to worry about. I also don't have a stack of paper coffee filters on the back of my toilet - not yet, anyway.  

What I do have is a bike - well, a couple, actually - and ride it regularly and alone - like I did in the time before. Only now cars that I once had to beg for three feet of space are suddenly giving me six - and frames from the opening sequence of 'I am Legend' sneak into my ride from time to time. This was Friday afternoon in San Jose. 

On the same ride I headed toward Be the Change Yoga and Wellness. The doors were shut, the place was dark. But there was a sign on the door letting patrons know that they were offering classes on Zoom. I've taken some. They were some of the first people I met when I moved to San Jose five years ago and yoga helped me through a very difficult adjustment period to California. It's helping me again, right now. 

You already know I'm going to tell you how much biking is helping - and it is. It's also a bit of a spirit-lifter that bike shops are deemed 'essential' business. Remember Vera - the great mechanic at the mobile bike shop Velofix? She's still at work, and you can book her. 

Like anyone else who is still working out of the house - be kind, be patient and tip generously.

Latest downtown San Jose mural by Bay Area artist Lila Gemellos 
Let me offer something more concrete than a few abstracts - here today I am giving you an activity. Something to keep you occupied, feeling empowered and encouraged. It's called #MyNonprofits.

Here's how it works: every day, for seven days or more, donate to a different nonprofit that has touched your life in some way, and share the donation link on social media and encourage your friends to not only donate, but join in on #MyNonprofits too.

Donate any amount - it's up to you. 

That's it. That's the post. That's what I want you to do. Eight years or so of entertaining you for free on DIYBIKING.COM and I want you to pass the time by donating to and talking about nonprofits every day for seven days. 

It is easy. Each day under shelter in place, after all, feels like it goes by in a blur but every week feels a month. Now is the time to introduce good habits. So take a little time to think and start donating to seven nonprofits in seven days. 

Here are mine. 

Be the Change Yoga and Wellness

2016 was easily the worst year of my life and finding time for a class at Be the Change Yoga & Wellness, no matter how chaotic, lonely, or unhappy I felt, was always time well spent.  As I said, they are offering classes online with Zoom so in chaotic, lonely and unhappy times it's a good way to feel connected and feel healthy.  

Donate to Be the Change Yoga & Wellness here 

Good Karma Bikes

Within weeks of arriving in San Jose in 2015, I was doing part-time freelancing  for faraway clients so I began some part-time volunteering for Good Karma Bikes as a mechanic and a little social media managing. They take bikes in as donations, fix them, and gift some bikes and free repairs to the homeless and have other programs - including Women's Night (run by Vera!).They had to scale back their operations a lot in the wake of COVID-19 and could use some help. 

Donate to Good Karma Bikes here

Second Harvest of Silicon Valley

Second Harvest of Silicon Valley helps an incredible number of people in the Bay Area each year - food created 30 million meals just last year. Traditional food drives, like the ones done by Cranksgiving San Jose, are cancelled right now but you can still do a virtual food drive. However, due to the blood-curdling number of layoffs the work Second Harvest of Silicon Valley does has grown more important than ever. 

Donate to Second Harvest of Silicon Valley here

YWCA Silicon Valley

Quick backstory: a long time ago I helped a friend move out of the house of a domestic abuser. Just a few years ago I did a freelance assignment for a talented friend who hired me to make a series of charts about the impact of domestic violence in one U.S. state. It was incredibly grim work but it made me realize how horrifying and massive this problem is, so I started doing Walk a Mile with YWCA Silicon Valley I kept the size twelve wedges I wore last year thinking I'd use them again this year (and try to get the guys i my own workplace to participate too) but at this point who knows if and when registration for Walk a Mile will open. Eliminating racism and helping women leave domestic violence can't wait. 

Donate to YWCA Silicon Valley here 

San Jose Spotlight

San Jose Spotlight is just over a year old and they are the reason I knew where to take two unopened boxes of five N-95 masks so nurses could have them instead of my garage. That's one small reason they're important.

My career has been shaped by journalism - my first job was reporting for an industry newsletter and my third career was about being a book publishing expert at Simba Information where I was interviewed by journalists a couple hundred times and learned the importance of journalists who are experts in their beats. Even before COVID-19 journalists and journalism has been subject to the wrath of vulture capitalism and just plain neglect. Reporters who are still in the game and genuinely trying to do what's best for their communities deserve praise and the publications they work for deserve money. If you live in the Bay Area, you'll want to follow San Jose Spotlight on Twitter and get to know their reporters. 

Donate to San Jose Spotlight here

Lick Observatory

A year ago next week, I decided, on a whim and a 21 year old Bike Friday, to ride up to Lick Observatory. It was a 62 mile trip that impaired my ability to walk, stand, or sit comfortably for days but it was ultimately spiritual and uplifting. I wrote about that trip here. Due to COVID-19, Lick Observatory only has the robotic telescopes in operation and the technical labs on UC Santa Cruz campus are closed - which is a shame, because with fewer cars on the road air is clearer (imagine that). You can help the staff and help the science today.

Donate to Lick Observatory Here 

Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition

In April of 2015, when I was still flying back and forth between CA and CT, I went on a group ride the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition organized through Willow Glen. I felt like the new kid on their first day of school introducing myself, but I had a lot of fun on the ride, and quickly learned the SVBC does a lot more than that. Advocacy, education and outreach - not to mention the fact that if there is an intersection in the Bay Area that is suddenly safer for bicycles than it was before, chances are excellent the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition had something to do with it. 

They just postponed Bike to Work Day to September 24th but they are keeping up with ways to have us pedal together even as we have to ride apart - the hashtag campaign they rolled our recently is #JoyRideSV where you post photos of different solo rides you've done under the SIP order.

Donate to the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition here


Veggielution is a working farm on the east side of San Jose - tucked under the 101 and 280/680 interchange. Growing vegetables in the shade of a maze of overpasses is a great use of the land. The last time I was there I bought tomatoes and peppers, which I made into a homemade sauce I ate over pasta. But this place is more than a location to buy good food - they have a lot of education and community programs, including serving food on site (the tacos are amazing) and provide a place to meet and make friends.

Donate to Veggielution here 

Highways Performing Arts Center 

Highway Performance Space is a performing arts center in Los Angeles. I know nothing whatsover about them other than that is where Cellista was supposed to perform Transfigurations on March 27th. Even though my track record of being in the same area code as Cellista when she does do a show has been terrible, I am looking forward to this concert being rescheduled. Hope you, as you come up with your #MyNonprofits list, remember performing arts centers during this time of social distancing - even though the arts are essential. 

Donate to Highways here 

Bike New York

While living in Connecticut, I knew what day the first Sunday in May was: the Five Boro Bike Tour: a ride of over 30,000 people in car-free New York City streets organized by the nonprofit Bike New York, which teaches people how to ride and does advocacy and education work. The last FBBT I did was in 2014 - and at the time I had no idea I would be moving from Connecticut to California during the 2015 event. The 2020 Five Boro Bike Tour is cancelled and event cancellations for nonprofits are hard - let's help them out. 

Donate to Bike New York here 

Me on my recumbent at the 2007 Five Boro Bike Tour (photo by Brightroom)

Community Cycles of California

Community Cycles of California is a young bike-based nonprofit in San Jose (if you look really closely you can see me at the ribbon-cutting of their headquarters and shop last year). They take donated bikes and refurbish, administer repair centers in affordable housing developments and are getting a vocational training program started. They just opened a new retail location on Santa Clara Street - and on the day of the Measure E rally on Leap Day I rode my cargo bike to downtown to attend the rally and 'panic bought' a folding bike at Community Cycles on my way back. 

Their shop closed two weeks later due to the COVID-19 SIP order - but just today Community Cycles announced a few changes in operations so they can still help people safely during the pandemic. 

Donate to Community Cycles of California here

Silicon Valley Community Foundation / Silicon Valley Strong Fund

The Silicon Valley Strong Fund was created a few days into the Shelter in Place order when it was clear a lot of people in the Bay Area would need financial help. The fund launched with $11 million and several individuals and organizations made donations. Even still, the fund had over 4,400 applicants in three days and the waiting list for aid just keeps growing. On Saturday, NBC Bay Area ran a telethon for aid and received over $250,000 in donations. The number of government, business and nonprofit entities that are giving time, money and infrastructure are numerous, and if you want to help give money, time or both you can visit Visit it a lot, and I am convinced if we ask ourselves 'what can I do to help?' enough times, our minds will give the answer.  

Donate to the Silicon Valley Strong Fund here

That's what I've got - and now that I look at this list, I see more than seven and I see reason to add more. For instance, the Stanford Blood Center needs donations and if I, a needle-fearing child trapped in an adult's body, can visit the Stanford Blood Center and make an appointment to give blood, you can too.  

I hope you give to these and take the #MyNonprofits hashtag and support any nonprofits who have touched your life in some way. I mentioned earlier how much the coronavirus has taken from us but please remember: it isn't done taking. The antidote to taking is to give. And to paraphrase a line from Ed Harris in Apollo 13: as we all grieve the things we are supposed to do but can't: It's not about what we are supposed to do, it's about what we can do.

Thanks for reading about #MyNonprofits and for telling the world about yours. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Biking and Homelessness in San Jose

San Jose looks different when you ride a bike through it. For starters, you're moving a lot slower. Both hands are occupied on your handlebars so you're not looking at a phone like a lot of drivers are. 

You feel the temperature changes on your skin. Climate control consists of pulling the zipper on your jacket higher or lower - or even removing it entirely. 

You can hear different things than you can in a car since - with the exception of those who rudely carry a bluetooth speaker for all to hear on non Bike Party occassions - you're not carrying a seven-speaker stereo with a subwoofer under the dashboard. The rusty drivetrain of the slow beach cruiser with the bent rear wheel will make you wince. The roar of tires from a truck better suited for a Fury Road sequel than the streets of the 10th largest city in the country will make you frown.

The slow speed and open visibility of a bicycle - and the fact you're not in a small, wheeled living room going 50 miles an hour - means you get to see parts of the city others miss. 

Sometimes on Monterrey Road there are homeless tents set between the street and the train tracks. Last October I saw a network of tents taped together. In front there were pieces of plywood sticking out of the ground and a mannequin's leg coming out of a mound of dirt in front.

They had decorated for Halloween.

On a bike path that runs underneath the maze of freeway interchanges encampments are always visible. One of the tents I've seen the last couple of months bears a striking resemblance to the huge, green one my family I and would use when camping when I was a kid. Now it's someone's home. 

It won't last. Sometimes the encampments - we're talking twenty or so tents - will vanish only to reappear elsewhere. Often that elsewhere is somewhere else along a bike path. I can't imagine they'd get away with setting up a tent on a residential street - you know, where cars go. 

I've smelled food cooking on these rides by the encampments. I stood completely still watching someone on one side of a trail hit a golf ball and someone on the other side pushing a grimy bicycle through some bushes. 

Early one morning, while silently pedaling, I saw a young woman get out of a tent while folding something in her arms. As I got closer I realized it was a barista's apron and she was on her way to work. 

That tip jar at the coffee shop isn't there for show. Use it.

A few summers ago I did a free yoga class in St. James Park. I'd see a chatty and friendly woman there sometimes. I guessed her age at about fifty. Once I noticed a strange scar on her forearm and asked her how she got it. She matter-of-factly told me she had been bitten by a rat while sleeping in her tent by the Coyote Creek Trail. 

Later, when a friend at Be the Change Yoga & Wellness told me this woman's bike had been stolen, I donated a replacement. I got her cell phone number and told her I wanted to give her a bike. When I asked her where I could bring it, she gave me a very specific window of time since, as she told me, she needed to take a shower at a shelter and there was only a certain time she had time to take a shower. 

I was thinking about her again this very morning. I rode my bike to the light rail station to head toward downtown San Jose. I sometimes run into a homeless woman from Gilroy by the train's bike racks. She was a bit down and was complaining that while she had the previous week off from the San Jose school where she works she didn't get to do any of the things on her "to do" list.

"Like what?" I asked.

"Take a shower," she answered, sadly.

A region that can invent an app that allows you to turn up your thermostat while you're still in bed shouldn't also have people who can't take a shower whenever they want.

Yet here we are.

An affordable housing bond measure in San Jose failed almost a year and a half ago. For two years running, SB50, the bill that would have made it easier to build homes near transit, failed. 

In 2017, a report came out that said half of millennials wanted to leave Silicon Valley because of the cost of housing and the time spent in traffic. I pointed out - correctly - that housing and traffic are not separate issues. Today a report came out that said even more residents want to leave than to stay in San Jose . Homelessness, which spiked 42% last year, was cited as a reason. 

Homelessness is a complicated problem that needs a lot of solutions - some of which involve funding. The question I have for those opposed to Measure E - the ballot measure that would help decrease homelessness and build housing in San Jose - is the following: do you think this is all just happening on TV? Did you think years of telling people to build-more-homes-just-not-here was a winning, long term strategy for a thriving city? How long do you think it will be before conventions worth millions of dollars stop coming here because the city has picked up a label nobody is comfortable with? Before businesses stop relocating here? Before jobs move elsewhere? 

I won't get into the weeds of what Measure E is - I'll leave it to the experts but I can tell you it is a tax of 2% or less that comes from the sale of houses that sell for $2 million or more. 

Resistance to Measure E takes two forms: one is the 1980s battle cry of "No new taxes!" I'd be happy to sit with anyone making that claim - I'm guessing it is mostly those who pay half as much in property taxes than I do for a house worth twice as much as mine - which happens a lot in California. You want to talk fairness or tell me 'enough is enough' with taxation? 

The other response is the money goes into the general fund and we can't control what a future city council might do with the money. I'm much more worried about the money my city (and yours) is paying for car infrastructure that can't afford to be maintained than I am about that. 

The city can't be afraid of imaginary problems that might happen in the future. It has to deal with the real problems of today. Decades of NIMBYism and car-based city planning got us where we are. Measure E is step in the right direction, and it is a step we can take on March 3 in San Jose if we vote yes.  

That's all I feel about writing now. Please vote Yes on Measure E in San Jose. If you want to look into the eyes of a homeless person and tell them they should keep sleeping in a tent so you can feel a tiny bit better about your personal worth, let me know - I can help make that happen. In the meantime, drive slower and bike more. You might notice the city you live in. Thanks for reading and thanks for voting. 

Friday, February 14, 2020

Velofix in Silicon Valley: The Bike Shop That Comes to You

Vera Arais, working in a Velofix van 

Most of what I learned about bicycles is by taking apart old ones bolt by bolt - a practice I began in Stamford, Connecticut over ten years ago. I learned when I made my own mountain bike in 2011, a California Cargo Bike in 2016 and, most recently, a Back to the Future themed road bike in 2019. I've written about what I've gotten right (and wrong) here on this blog. 

But I hit a wall with my learning - and you never want to do that when you're passionate about something. I knew there was more to know but I just wasn't sure what any of it was. 

So I did something smart: I asked Velofix to come to my house and work on my Back to the Future bike.

Now you're probably thinking to yourself: "Isn't that Vera, the leader of Women's Night at Good Karma Bikes?" and I am thinking "Yes, it is Vera, and while she now works full time at Velofix she still runs Women's Night for Good Karma Bikes."

I had never heard of Velofix before she began working there - possibly because I don't watch Dragon's Tank or Shark's Den or one of those other reality-based funding shows on TV. The short story is: the Velofix people must have put on a good show, because they got some funding for their concept: a bike shop that comes to you. 

The premise does have a solid foundation. Driving - especially in the Bay Area - is annoying and outdated zoning rules put businesses far from homes. What if you don't want to lash your bike to your car, drive somewhere, park the car, wheel the bike inside, explain what's wrong, leave, and drive back again another day?

Velofix services range from about $65 to the neighborhood of a 'spa day' like treatment for your ride of about $500 - even more if you order a la mode* or your bike is laden with the latest gear and tech. Since my Back to the Future bike was cobbled together with mostly older parts I had picked up over the years, I knew I wouldn't max out my Visa card with a 'Silver' package purchase. 

The first thing, though, was I got to go inside the van that Vera parked in front of my house. It was a rare moment of pure workshop envy.

Velofix should charge money just to tour the van. Everything that should go in a shop six or seven times the size was found in this van - and it was put away in such a way that it just...worked. 

Magnets above the workbench, a Park Tool workstand mounted on one wall, led lights. And foam in the drawers so each was like a horizontal tool board made out of Nerf.

It was just an amazing place that radiated confidence and wrench skill. If Vera herself was a bike shop, this is the form she would take. 

She had read my post about building my Back to the Future bike and was familiar with a few of the, ahem, design quirks which include brake and derailleur cables that run the length of the frame so as to look more like the Delorean. She set the bike on the Park Tool workstand and went at it. 

Clients of Velofix can watch the mechanic work. Vera even offered me a cup of coffee because there is a coffee machine right there in the van. 

Yes. A coffee machine. I don't even have a coffee machine in my shop. Why had that not occurred to me? I was learning more already. 

There's also a well-curated supply of items for sale in the van - either just to buy or to add to your bike if a certain component was broken. 

I've been friends with Vera for a while and always knew she was a much better wrench than me but this was my first time being with her when she's in Work Mode - and I genuinely saw what an effective teacher she is. It made me glad she could not only allow clients to watch her while she worked - including, of course, little kids who will benefit from having bikes demystified right in front of their eyes - but also that she was still teaching Women's Night at Good Karma Bikes

It's also an important thing that separates bikes from cars - knowing the service you are getting and having it deconstructed right in front of you. After all, we have all been there with our motor vehicles: dropping it off for a service and getting the dreaded I-Have-Some-Bad-News/I-Am-Holding-Your-Car-Hostage phone calls in the middle of the day from the mechanic asking you to greenlight the installation and/or removal of a part you never heard of (I relayed a true story of trying to fix "The Noise" on my car a few years ago).

But back to the Velofix van: while Vera was finishing up tuning the rear derailleur, she asked if I had built the bike with all SRAM or all Shimano components. I admitted I was stumped, and it was then she casually imparted some wisdom that felt like a cartoon light bulb went on just over my head. 

When you build a bike, it is best to build with either all SRAM or all Shimano components. 

This was one of those it's-so-simple-it's-brilliant breakthroughs. I had been Wall-E-ing builds for years - taking anything out of metal recycling bins or other items I could scrounge and afford and it never occurred to me that there could be a difference in how everything works together. A shifter with the little clicky things** carries the derailleur cable only so far, and the gears on the cassette may be imperceptibly closer or further apart than others. 

I went into my shop and looked at my California Cargo Bike and the Bike Friday Tandem that I restored last year for a ride in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Both hadn't given me a lot of grief in terms of how well they shifted and I realized that might have something to do with the fact I just happened to cobble both together with all Shimano components. 

It's like when you make a list of all of your favorite X-files episodes and discover that they were all written by the same writer.*** I returned to the van to attempt to soak up some more wisdom.

Vera wrapped up her work and relinquished my Back to the Future bike. The next morning I rode it to Morgan Hill and back - managing just over 23 miles in an hour and a half - which is apparently pretty good for me.

Sorry: I'm still kinda new at this Strava thing. 

I've booked additional appointments with Velofix since - but the only thing I didn't like is there isn't a way to definitively ask for a Velofix mechanic by name. Right now, if you book Velofix in Silicon Valley, Vera will probably be the person who shows up even though someone from Velofix's corporate office assured me that every mechanic is equally talented.  That may be true but the thing is - and I'm relatively sure I'm not alone on this - relationships with good bike mechanics are like relationships with a good hairdresser or barber. 

Other than that, I have no quarrel. My Back to the Future themed road bike works better than ever and if you're ever stumped on a build or a fix, visit Velofix and have a bike shop come to you. If it's Vera who knocks on your door, be nice to her and listen - you'll definitely learn something. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

* I meant 'a la carte' but wanted to make sure you were paying attention. 

** I still have a dreadful cycling vocabulary. 

*** yeah, it's Vince Gilligan (who went on to create 'Breaking Bad'

Saturday, December 28, 2019

San Jose, 2031

Detective Mercer shoved the door of the apartment open. It swung wide before a magnetic catch on the wall held it in place. The overhead lights went on automatically.
Her partner, Steven Summers, peered inside with his hand on his hip beside his pistol. 
“Mr. Benner. San Jose police. Are you home?”
No answer.
Mercer turned over her right shoulder to the building supervisor - an older man in his sixties who was standing unnecessarily close to her. 
“You can go now, thanks,” she said. “We’ll lock the door when we leave.”
“You need the key to lock it,” he said.
Mercer turned and took the key from the super’s hand - seeming to surprise him with her aggressiveness. 
“Thanks. We’ll bring it by when we’re done here. You can go.”
Her hardened look - practiced since graduating from the city’s police academy fifteen years earlier - told the super it was non-negotiable. He nodded uneasily and slunk away down the hall. 
“Mr. Benner,” she said again, stepping inside the apartment. “Are you home?”
Summers followed her inside, keeping his hand by his hip. The apartment was still, quiet, and clean.
“How long did you say he was missing?” Mercer asked.
“A week.” Summers replied.
Mercer pulled her phone out of her pocket and looked at a bookmarked page on the apartment’s app. “It’s only one bedroom and one bath,” she said, nodding toward the closed door that was closest to Summers. He stepped toward it and pushed it open. 
A spotless bathroom.
“You don’t think he’s dead in there, do you?” Summers asked.
“If he were, we’d have smelled him out here.”
She pushed the bedroom door open. The bedroom was empty, and the huge, made bed stood in the middle of the room. The side closest to them had the sheets and comforter rumpled and tossed to one side, while the other was empty. He was definitely living alone, Mercer thought. 
“And, nothing.” Summers said. 
“Closet,” said Mercer.
Mercer turned as her young partner opened the closet door. Inside was a life-sized mannequin - a trim blond woman dressed in a maid’s outfit. 
“Welcome home, Robert,” a female voice said huskily. “Tell me what you want me to do.”
Summers slammed the closet door. Mercer smirked. 
“As far as sex dolls go, that’s one of the better ones I’ve seen,” she said. “Probably the most valuable thing the guy owns.”
“Should we interrogate it?” Summers asked.
She just stared at him. “No.”
Summers changed the subject. “Well, uh, this backs up what the people at his office said. He lived alone. Didn’t have a partner.”
“What else did they say about him?” she asked, looking at some of the assorted items on Mr. Benner’s dresser.
“Quiet. Hard worker. Favored the Mexican place across the street. Got to work at 8:00 on the dot every day and left at 5:15 every night.”
“That’s specific.”
“Well most of the cars there are on the D-Hive system, so they leave the office in shifts to try to mitigate traffic. It doesn’t really work, but that’s what it is.”
“What is D-Hive?” she asked, thankful her younger partner was at least more plugged in to the Silicon Valley tech scene than herself.
“It’s mostly for self-driving car parking,” Summers said. “It helps put as many cars into one place as possible. The car would drop you off at a certain time, and then the empty car scoots over to a parking space, and it would get blocked in by every car that came in after it. Then the cars would leave the packed garage in shifts and pick each person up. That would allow -”
“Wait a minute,” Mercer asked, holding her hand up. “That programmer guy, he said he’d leave the office each day at 5:15?”
“How long does it take to drive from Menlo Park to San Jose? In rush hour traffic?”
“An hour, usually. Why?”
Mercer looked at her watch. It was ten minutes past six.
“Come on.”
She led Summers from the apartment and closed the door behind her. The super was still in the hall about twenty feet away, watching them.
Mercer walked toward him with loud steps. “Hey, where’s tenant parking?”
“In the garage in the basement.”
“Do the tenants have assigned spaces?”
“Yeah, but his car wasn’t there.  I told you his car wasn’t…”
“Take us to the garage, now.” She said, striding down the hall with Summers in tow. 
A moment later the three were in an elevator. The super’s thumbprint unlocked the floor with the parking garage, and in a few seconds they were in the dimly lit garage that was packed with cars.
“Mr. Benner’s space is over here,” the super said. “He paid extra for an automatic charging station.”
“What space?”
“604. Same number as his apartment. But like I told you, he’s not here.”
The three moved through the garage as Mercer looked at the cars. All were parked within just a few inches of each other.
“Are you on the D-Hive system or whatever its called?”
“Of course. Our tenants expect it.”
Before long they made it to the far wall of the garage. Sleek electric cars - all attached to a charging cord - were parked in a perfect row save for a missing space with ‘604’ stenciled in flaking paint on the asphalt. 
“I told you, he isn’t here,” the super said, while Mercer stood in the parking space to look around. A Porsche stood on one side and a beat-up Tesla sat on the other. It didn’t seem possible another car would fit between them.
“What kind of car does Mr. Bennet own?”
The super turned his eyes up as if searching a memory. “Uh...I think its a Series 5 Sybertruck. It’s…”
“Dark silver?” Mercer asked.
“Yeah. How did you know?”
Mercer pointed as she stepped out of the parking space. A large truck was rolling toward them with  headlights illuminating the garage. It was a dark silver Sybertruck, moving in complete silence. 
Standing back, the super, Summers and Mercer watched as the pickup glided by them. In the glare of the side windows they could make out someone sitting in the driver’s seat. Standing further from the space, in a group, they watched the truck turn, stop, and slowly back up into the tiny parking space - missing the Porsche and the old Tesla by inches - before the headlights snapped off.
A gentle whirring sound was heard as the motorized charging cable snaked out of a port on the wall and plugged automatically into the electric pickup. A pulsing blue light on the vehicle’s dashboard showed the truck was ‘asleep’ while it was charging.
Mercer approached the truck and pointed a tiny but bright flashlight at the windshield. The beam cut across a bloated, rotting face belonging to the body that was sitting in the driver’s seat.
“Ah, jeez!” moaned Summers as the super put a hand over his mouth.
Mercer got closer and leaned her tall frame over the hood as much as she could. The body was an adult male, wearing a maroon dress shirt and dark slacks. He was wearing a seatbelt. Beside him, on the passenger seat, was a black briefcase and a white bag.
“Summers,” Mercer said. “Where did Benner’s co-workers say they had catered for lunch that day?”
“Mo-le,” Summers said. “There was too much food so everyone was asked to, uh, take some home.”
The beam of Mercer’s flashlight found the logo for Mo-le on the white paper bag. “Alright.”
“Get back.”
An electronic voice from the car rang out. Mercer looked down.
“Get back. You are too close.”
A mild electric shock hit her shin through her pantleg. 
“The hell?” She backed away.
“Must have a sentry mode,” Summers said. 
“Well, that’s Mr. Benner,” Mercer said. “No blood, no signs of trauma, no visible weapons and no sign of the vehicle being hit by a bullet . Probably died of natural causes on the way home from work.”
Summers nodded uncomfortably. He had noticed death by natural causes had a strange way of striking people in their forties and thirties quite a lot over the last few years.
“We need to get him out of there,” said Mercer to the super. “Do you have the key to the truck?”
“No. We have a parking compliance policy tied with eviction. People know better than to break any of the rules or risk losing their place.”
Mercer tightened her jaw. “Alright. “I’m going to have to get a tow truck down here and move that thing.”
“You can’t do that,” the super said. “There isn’t enough room for a tow truck to manuever in here.”
“Sir, this man died on the way back home from work last Thursday. Looks like a heart attack. The truck doesn’t know he’s dead, so it has been driving to and from an office in Menlo Park for eight days. Eight days with a rotting corpse in the driver’s seat. Eight days of people in their own cars sharing the road with a dead man and not noticing. We need to get him out of there. I suggest you contact all of the tenants whose cars are parked in this row and tell them to move them. Now.”
She used the same tone with him that she had in the hall of the apartment. Looking as though he was trying to hold back on using the word “harumph!” the super walked away from Summers and Mercer, pointing a green laser at the row of cars from his cell phone. As it passed each one, contact and profile info of every vehicle’s owner came to his screen
Summers stared. “Has he really been sitting there, dead, for eight days? And the truck has been driving him to work and driving him back, every day for a week and nobody has noticed?”
“Mmm-hmm. It happens. Self driving cars aren’t programmed to do anything if the occupants have any distress,” she said. “Once, I had a kid from Stanford punch his parent’s address in the car - they live in Portland, Oregon - and he blew his brains out on the way out of the parking lot. It was caught on the security camera. Twelve hours later, his autonomous car is in his parent’s driveway. He was getting back at them for something, it seemed. Also the big Marin Fire last year had these things drive through a cloud of toxic gas. When the fire department arrived, they found a fleet electric cars with dead bodies in them trying to drive on melted tires. Nothing to do but wait for the batteries to die.”
The super returned. “Sorry, but six of the car owners aren’t going to give up their spaces.”
“Come again?” Mercer asked, incredulously.
“Well, we let some of the tenants rent out their parking spaces on SpaseNow, that app that helps you find parking?” the super said, “they got no place to move them to, so they’re stuck, I’m afraid.”
“A man has died, contact them again and make it happen.”
The super again attempted to use his phone as Mercer turned to Summer. “You have one of these things,” she said, referring to the autonomous vehicle. “How do we get it out of here?”
“It’s not easy,” Summers said. “Most of the manufacturers make electric cars as safe as possible for the people who ride in them, and it’s nearly impossible to get an AV to open without permission from the driver. And since the driver is, well, dead…”
“...the driver can’t give permission,” Mercer finished.
“That’s right, but that’s not what I was going to say,” said Summers. “The newer cars, when they think the driver is inside, basically turn into cages to keep anyone from breaking in. So because the owner is in it, and the truck thinks you want to break in, it will keep you or anyone from getting to it. Hence, the sentry mode.”
“The super returned a second time. “No can do. They won’t move them.”
“Can you unplug the truck so it won’t take a charge at least?”
“No, it’ll throw off the whole building.”
Mercer’s phone chirped. She recognized the tone and looked intently at the screen. 
“Look, we have to get him out of there. Do you know a locksmith?”
“You’re kidding, right?”
Mercer pocketed her phone. “Summers, we’re going. We have a triple homicide in Evergreen. Fresh case.”
“What? We’re just going to let this guy sit there?”
“We were brought in on missing persons,” she said. “We found the missing person. Beyond that, we have nothing to discuss. We’ll call the coroner and explain. Hopefully, he’ll have time to figure out how to get the body out of the truck, but as far as I’m concerned the guy can just stay there.”
Summers was incredulous as he followed his partner out of the garage - not bothering to say goodbye to the super. “Look, at least let me call the manufacturer. They can find…”
“That truck probably will drive that guy back and forth from work for several more days. Maybe even weeks or months. And I don’t care. Autonomous vehicles aren’t a crime. Three murdered people are. Let’s go.”
Summers followed.