Archive for July, 2011

Health and Death on Two Wheels

July 3rd, 2011

We frequent, year-round cyclists speak glibly of possible road death. We prefer to wax expansively on seeing more, feeling better, and all that environmental righteousness.

When we get hit by a driver or someone we know or know of gets killed, we pause. Yesterday it was the sister-in-law of Alan Dershowitz’, Marilyn Dershowitz, herself a big shot lawyer and recently retired Manhattan Supreme Court Special Referee.

She died in NYC, not Boston, but the circumstances seemed too familiar. She and her husband, Nathan, were tooling along by bike on West 29th Street. He got through a light and waited for her. She was between a car and a USPS truck who went through the light and according to witnesses, the truck hit and ran her down…and kept going. The police apparently figure the truck driver did not know what he’d done and he may not face even red-light charges. She’s still dead.

The incongruities abound predictably. She’d retired to enjoy her grandchildren. She and her husband had tickets for a Hudson River boat to see the 4th fireworks. They had been riding on the nearby bike path before heading home.

This smacks of the mundane. There’d certainly be more cinematic and ignominious causes, say a garbage truck instead of mail transfer. Yet, as someone hit three times by inattentive drivers, I cringe. My own were 1) a serious concussion and broken bones when a young mom driving while looking at her baby beside her T-boned me on a left turn, 2) a broken wrist when a gigantic pickup’s driver jumped a red light, anticipating the green, and 3) a hit-and-run from the left side when I was in the bike lane/shoulder, with another concussion resulting.

My wife thus continues to think that safe cycling is sidewalk cycling. Set aside that it pretty much goes nowhere and shows you nothing. It’s often illegal in MA. It also won’t get or keep you aerobically fit.

The two bike czarinas of Boston and Cambridge earnestly believe that as we get enough bikes on the streets, drivers will get it. That is, they will accommodate cyclists, even if they don’t notice that there are fewer cars competing for road space, thus making their lives easier and giving a reason to be grateful, not resentful.

That may well be true. We see that in many European and Asian cities. It can’t come soon enough.

Several friends from high school and college have died recently. Those have been by disease or infections, and not bike or car wrecks. Plus, pancreatic cancer seems determined to destroy the entire boomer generation.

Given my history, I kind of figure I’ll have go to by being hit by some careless driver. I hope it’s not a Port-O-Let truck that gets me.

Of Ink and Options

July 2nd, 2011

penrackWithout a doubt, the meanest teacher I ever had I associate with cursive writing. This came to mind today with yet another tale of a school system dropping penmanship. This time it is Indiana’s…and statewide.

Instead, they want kids to learn keyboard skills. It’s not that any one of them has the digital strength to operate a manual or even an electric typewriter. They almost certainly won’t have to. Squishy brains with vague knowledge shards can push low-resistance computer keys though.

For the gaggle who think “I wasn’t even born then” is any excuse for ignorance and incompetence, not  being able  to write cursive, connected characters easily must certainly seem trivial. Both because of poor manners as well as inability, many may well have never written a thank-you note, even to Granny. If they have to add to a grocery list or put their names on a pop quiz, they can use puerile block letters.

Now instead of feeling like the replacement to my mother’s generation, I could move it farther back. My wife’s grandmother spoke of growing up before electricity, before hardly anyone owned an automobile, before radio and on and on.

While I don’t go back to quill and inkwell, I do span an impressive writing-technology history.

  • I started with fat pencils and crayons suited for holding in fists.
  • Stick pens, like BIC ones, had not been created. Instead, we used fountain pens with tubes of ink.
  • Mechanical pencils were new and fairly expensive, treats to those of us who loved school.
  • As all college-bound students, I had to take a year split between typing and shorthand. The former was on a manual typewriter, as electric models were also rare and very expensive, new technology. There were no computers, much less PCs.

In second grade, I started on the Palmer Method of cursive writing — cruelly boring stretches of sitting bolt upright, while the wicked Mrs. Carnes patrolled the room, hair in a tight bun, mouth in a tight purse, and ruler ever overlaying a forearm ready to strike. A moment’s inattention to the rows of circles on paper and WHACK!

She got me once. We sat alphabetically then and as a B, I was in the left row next to the windows. On a spring morning, a songbird sat on the maple next to our room. Distracted and pleased by its warble, I looked up, only to first hear and then feel the sudden and rough wooden slap on my hand. What an ass Mrs. Carnes was.

I don’t know whether it was some form of reaction to in inanity of drill or the nastiness of the teacher or just my bent and motor skills. I have never had a beautiful hand.

My mother and my paternal grandmother did. I have letters from each and admire the flowing, artistic words and individual characters. My grandmother even developed a non-Palmer lower-case f that doubled back on itself like some plump legume.

Now as an old guy, I’ve gone from time-sharing on mainframes to noisy, slow PCs to graphic workstations to time on minicomputers and on to laptops, fast desktops, and delightful toys like iPads. I’ve been through a variety of programming languages, punch cards, paper tape, ATEX type setting, a numbing range of pre-GUI operating systems, the internet before there was a web (and thus command-line gibberish to connect to distant servers), and both Windows and Mac-based PCs, both of which constantly crashed.

I’ve had all the old experiences and used the old skills. By necessity, I’ve had to learn how thing work, how to fix them, and how to be the alpha-geek both at work and for friends.

I Don’t Do My Phones’ Bidding

Yet, I have my set of fountain pens that I still use (five shown at top). I enjoy both the fluidity of writing with them and the beautiful output. Of my range of writing options, I tend to think  of it like more modes. I certainly did not stop walking when I learned to ride a bike or drive a car. I just have more options.

That vestigial range of experience may be why I have such disdain for those controlled by their electronics. So many do as bidden. The smartphone buzzes and they look at the screen and answer the call, regardless of who is there, what they are doing, seeing or hearing, or whether they should be watching the road. Pathetic.

In my house, when phones ring during dinner, they ring. My phone work for me, not the other way around. I carry my cellphone with me when I leave the house and have taught people to call the nominal land line (part of a bundle) first. That was hard for my cell-only sister.

I like having communication options, not requirements and limitations. I have no doubt many Americans and others will live and die without knowing how to write in cursive. They’ll feel comfortable and likely never consider writing connected letters as any sort of useful or necessary skill.

I think how they have limited themselves, lessened themselves, turned themselves old long before necessary. We become old when we stop learning and do not add to our skills.