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Lessons I Have Learned So Far As A Bike Guy


Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we’re talking about Tom Brady, haircuts, college, and more.

Your letters:

Zane:

Now that you’re probably past that grinning-like-an-idiot phase of rediscovering the joy of cycling to becoming a Cyclist of Considerable Renown, what behaviours have you adopted that you previously wanted to mow cyclists down for?

Not done grinning! Not by the hairs of my grinny grin grin! I’m still batshit crazy for my daily ride. It counts as my workout for the day, but I don’t bother restraining myself to five days a week or 45 minutes a session anymore, the way I always have with elliptical trainers and what not. I just go. I don’t listen to music when I’m riding. I don’t bring my phone with me. I try to stick to paths because biking on roads is less relaxing and reminds me too much of driving. The longer I ride, the better I feel when I get home. I think my record distance is like 25 miles right now, but I can beat that shit. Physically speaking, I feel better than I have in decades, all because of bike. There are very few, legitimate moments of self-discovery to be had in middle age, and they usually come in the form of I am an alcoholic or I think I want a divorce. I never expected to become a bike guy. But holy shit, am I ever glad I did.

I should shut up now and answer Zane’s question. I indeed used to hate bike guys when I was behind the wheel of my car, or even when I was out for a long walk. But I’ve definitely incorporated some of their habits, the bell being chief among them. A bike bell is so passive-aggressive in both its sound and its use that I now believe all of them are manufactured in Minnesota. I use the shit out of mine, which almost counts as proof of that theory. I ring my bell before I go around a blind curve. I ring it when I see pedestrians or slower bikers ahead. I think I even rung my bell at a car once, as if that driver was gonna hear it.

Before I got back on the bike again, I would get extremely pissed off at bikers behind me who waited to ring their bell until they were already parked in my fucking ear. I was just strolling along without a care in the world until DING DING! and a curt “on your left” and I was like Hey fuck you, Bike Guy. Now I’m the one with the bell and the on your lefts. I have become the enemy. But I’ve tried to keep my time as a noncyclist in the front of my mind whenever I alert walkers, etc. I ring the bell when I’m still a good distance away. I only throw out an “on your left” if I really do need the room and the people in front of me are still far away enough that they have time to step aside. Then I make sure to say thank you as I pass by, and to not say it like a prick.

You can conduct a whole sociology experiment with just a bike and a bell. Some people become deer in headlights and move to their left, and then I say, “or on your right” and correct my own course. Some people are morons talking on speakerphone. Some people clear the path out right away, with one guy who even thanked me for warning him. Some people have Airpods in and can’t hear a fucking thing. Some people are just old and confused, in which case I’ve accepted that they are obstacles I must circumnavigate, like an oil slick. And then other people hear me but don’t give a fuck. The entire human interactive experience, all from a single bell ring. I used to add a few bell rings and let out a more exasperated “on your left” with these last two groupings, but then I remembered I’m riding a bike and can simply ride around them.

On the flipside, I’ve come to understand how impatient and dickish I was as both a motorist AND a walker. I didn’t mind taking up the whole path while walking. I sometimes looked at my phone while walking. As a walker, I was the innocent fawn. You could only do me wrong; I could not do the opposite. But “share the road” really does mean that everyone ought to share it, regardless of their mode of transport. I’m still a work in progress when it comes to that sharing, but I really do wanna be conscientious about this shit, because it doesn’t take a ton of effort. If I fuck up manners-wise, I note it and make sure not to repeat the mistake. And then I think about sex.

Time to note a few other bike guy things I now do. I now own a sports bottle, betraying all of my core values. I occasionally jayride with my bike, which I ALWAYS end up regretting. I blow through stop signs if no one else is there. And I now have a pair of designated biking sneakers, although they’re just sneakers and not those clip-in thingies. I do NOT own a racing singlet yet. That’s a rubicon that neither you nor I want me to cross.

Mark:

College rankings are a load of horseshit. Right?

Oh of course. You can read any number of newsers and op-eds that make this point and offering ample evidence to support it. Does that stop me from looking up my alma mater (Colby) every year to see how they rank? Fuck and no, it doesn’t. Can’t believe we’re only No. 24 this year. You’re telling me Vassar is ahead of us? Fuck outta here with that, U.S. News.

I’m like a lot of people in this way. I know that the college rankings are based on flawed criteria, and that a college is only as good as you make it while you’re there. But I still ooh and ahh over the rankings because, as an American, I crave all things ranked. Have since I was a wee child. Also, if everyone else in the country perceives these rankings as important, then they actually are. You apply for some job at a jeans-sharing startup and the CEO is like, “Oh wow, this gal went to Vassar? The 13th best liberal arts school in America? Let’s fast-track her for a VP position here at DENM.”

When I graduated, I was one of those morons entering the workforce who padded his resume so thoroughly that I was like, “Well it won’t fit on just one page, but people will be impressed that it can’t!” I must have milked a dozen supporting bullet points out of a single table-running gig I had one summer. Meanwhile, the HR person vetting that resume scanned around for the name of my college and ignored all the rest. You go to college for the education, but also for the cachet. Hell, I used to drop the name of my college in BARS, to wow girls with my college pedigree, and also because this was the Upper East Side, so they probably either went to my school or another one in the NESCAC/Ivy/Patriot League Axis of Evil. This is called networking, baby. My wife went to Colgate. No sports book in the world would have offered you longer than even odds of that happening.

My daughter is a junior this year, which means that it’s time for to her get serious (parents always want you to get serious about things) about which colleges to look at and where to apply. I have gone out of my way to not micromanage this process. Even though those rankings have essentially been the same for half a goddamn century now, the application processes, along with education itself, have changed a lot since I was a student back in prehistoric, analog times. I’m the guy who’s still confused by the advent of number lines in grade school math. “THEY’RE TEACHING IT ALL WRONG!” I cry as my children test out a Mars probe rocket that they engineered themselves.

The only subtle nudge I gave my daughter was asking her to look at California schools so that I have an excuse to go hang out in California a couple of times a year. Otherwise, my wife and I have tried to let her decide which schools are best for her and to figure out the best means of getting into them, short of me greasing palms I have little interest in greasing. I just want her to be happy. But if she’s like, “I really wanna go to Arizona State!” then my Rankings Brain will be unable to contain itself. I’ll be nudgier. I want a little of that reputational sheen. I’m not alone. Did Andre Agassi not teach us that image is everything? I believe he did.

(She doesn’t wanna go to Arizona State.)

Josh:

While watching Bills-Rams and getting heavy doses of Darrell Henderson on my screen, I started thinking: Wouldn’t it be neat to have a fantasy expert chime in from time to time during the broadcast with observations about guys who were wildly overperforming or underperforming expectations, or who were listed as questionable all week and were now clearly be used as decoys? 

It would be the opposite of neat. I play fantasy football, I love fantasy football, and I’m not above watching/reading fantasy football analysis. But I know exactly what kind of people networks would hire for that gig. Matthew Berry is already part of NBC’s Sunday Night ensemble, man. The less I see of Matthew Berry’s face, the longer my lifespan will be. And joints like ESPN already have fantasy segments populated with a similar collection of puds, morons, and friendly sleazes. Jimmy the Greek isn’t coming to rescue any of it. So we’re all better off if in-game fantasy analysis is relegated to the crawl on the bottom of the screen and nowhere else.

There is a bit of middle ground here. Right now, color guys talk about fantasy football as if it had been invented four days ago. “Tell you what Joe, this game Terry McLaurin might be having a good night for your fantasy football team, but I think the Commanders would rather take home a win instead.” No analyst has a working brain when it comes to fantasy, analytics, or domestic violence charges. We can fix that through brute force. There’s no reason a place like CBS can’t take their current crop of analysts aside and say to their crews, “We’re paying you assholes a fucking fortune to be dumb on TV, and you can’t even do it right. We’re gonna make you sit through a week of offseason training in fantasy and analytics and if you say no to us, then we’ll just replace your sorry ass with a McCown to be named later.” That might get their attention.

Thomas:

My wife and I are getting ready to go on vacation this weekend and I need a haircut. When I casually mention this to my wife, she suggested that I get a haircut on vacation. This is only something an insane person would do, right? Anyway, I might be getting a haircut in Bar Harbor.

Customers of any Dry Bar and/or any local barbershop in the Bronx would strongly disagree with you that getting a haircut is not a certified leisure activity. I’m like Thomas here in that I treat getting a haircut as a chore. My wife asks me if I want her to cut my hair—she’s been doing it for 20 years and is very good at it—and I’m always like, “Ugh, TODAY? Fine, I guess.” I hated getting my hair cut as a child, and that mild phobia appears to have stretched into my adulthood. Meanwhile, tens of millions of other people use a haircut as a chance to hang out with friends, drink shitty white wine, engage in Normal Gossip, and get their hair washed and scalps massaged by another person. All of them almost certainly know something I don’t. So it’s okay to get a haircut in Bar Harbor. The police aren’t gonna throw you in the paddy wagon for it.

Also, this summer was the first time I went on a functional, healthy vacation. I kept counting calories and didn’t overeat. I didn’t drink. I biked 10 miles a day. I helped my family do big jigsaw puzzles. I used to think of all this as tight-ass shit to do on vacation. As far as I was concerned, my job on vacation was to eat 5,000 calories and take no more than 100 steps a day. But I came back from this vacation feeling like a superstar. Turns out it feels good to be healthy. I never would have guessed that. Maybe I should have gotten a haircut while I was away, too.

HALFTIME!

Kevin:

What is the likelihood that Tom Brady plays to age 50? I hate to put that shit into the universe, but it feels like an arbitrary goal of his at this point.

Brady’s stated goal was to play until he was at least 45, but I always assumed he had much longer in mind, and I had no reason to doubt he could pull it off given that he was the league’s leading passer last year. I don’t care how many artificial hormones are coursing through Brady’s system at age 44 last season, that’s still an accomplishment I that truly can’t comprehend. I’m only a year older than Brady. If I jogged out onto an NFL field right now, I’d be dead within a minute. Meanwhile he was still as spry as a goddamn monkey cruising along the treetops. If he was that good at 44, why couldn’t he play until he was 50? 55? 70? Why doubt his freakishness had any limit when there was still no proof that such a limit existed?

I don’t feel as a confident in that assessment presently. This is mostly because Brady’s marriage is falling apart. But also, he’s played some pretty ordinary football over the past two weeks. Brady has been slow out of the gate in past seasons, and Lord knows we here at Defector have reaped the karmic whirlwind by busting out the Crud Meter too soon for him. But given the state of Brady’s life at the moment (not to mention the state of Tampa’s receiving corps), I think it’s OK to say that this isn’t going to be an easy season for him, even if he does end up doing typical Brady shit by the end of it.

Also, I saw Tiger Woods’s quest for the Majors record destroyed by the end of his marriage, so who says Brady is exempt from a similar fate? If Tommy’s sexts to Joslyn James ever become public, he’s FINISHED, I tell you. I bet his game is even weaker than Tiger’s was.

Colin:

With the death of Queen Elizabeth, it set me to thinking: who would be a good ceremonial Head of State for the U.S.? Someone who is, in modern democratic gov’t, utterly unnecessary but would serve a national warm-fuzzy-blanket figurehead. I think the closest we have is Dwayne Johnson. Am I way off?

Like I said last week, Americans have awful taste in our personal monarchs. The next time I see some random famous person called a legend by a circle of puds online, it’ll be the 50,000th time that day. The only difference is that we give our celebrity figureheads ACTUAL power, which is even worse than what the English do. The Rock—who now exists as a living stand-in for any brand that wants to come across as helpful but also super strong—has already hinted at a presidential run by insisting that he doesn’t want to run for president. He’d be an awful president, and as much as I like him, he’d probably be an equally lousy King Dwayne.

At best, The Rock would waste public money by flying around in a private jet to attend the openings of various restaurant chains, auto factories, and prisons for the deaf. At worst, he’d turn out to be a diddler. Happens to every star that gets put on a pedestal. Louis CK was the people’s hero like seven years ago. There’s no guarantee that The Rock, or Chris Evans, or Jennifer Lawrence don’t have similar snakes waiting to pop out of the can. So while I find British royalty to be an amusing train wreck, I don’t want there to be an American equivalent that I have to help pay for. We have enough pointless, expensive shit here already.

Bailey:

I have been happily watching The Sopranos with my girlfriend since early July. I am aware that this show is 20 years old, but I was a year old when it premiered. Fast forward to today, when I flipped on She Hulk for just for something light hearted. When they showed Wong watching The Sopranos I thought it was a cute Easter egg, but quickly became mortified when they spoiled not one but two very major events in the one show I’ve been invested in this year. Am I stupid for assuming I could make it through such an old and culturally important show spoiler-free, or did She Hulk violate an unwritten rule of TV?

It’s entirely on you, and you have to accept that. I’m not pro-spoilers, mind you. If a new movie comes out and some prick friend of yours is like ZOMG I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY KILLED OFF R2D2 the morning after the premiere, you have the right to brain that friend with a hammer. But there’s an obvious statute of limitations, even if the duration of that statute is a touch ambiguous. For example: I did not see Endgame in theaters, the way everyone else did. I cheaped out and waited to watch it at home. But meanwhile, I stayed on my Twitter feed and silently fumed when people there were like “#RIP TONY” weeks and weeks after its initial release. I had no right to fume. I chose to put that movie off, and I chose to be online where everything gets spoiled all the time. All of that was on me … except that I dislike blaming myself for things, so I just got pissy at everyone else instead. Then I finally saw Endgame, watched Iron Man bite the dust, and was like oh this movie is still really good.

By the way, I’m mildly intrigued that The Sopranos (spoiler alert) turns up in a random episode of She-Hulk. That’s probably the edgiest thing any Marvel joint has ever done.

Carl:

How far back in time would you have to go before you’re afraid to eat the food? My wife and I both say the 1950s, but I feel like we’re being very conservative. 

I could go back way farther than that. Send my ass to 1500s England and serve me the worst footy scran that The Globe theater has to offer: fish bone salad, mushy squips, brain pie, etc. Lord knows I’ve eaten at enough questionable establishments in my lifetime: dirty pizzerias, Chinese restaurants that got closed down by the health inspector, Taco Bell, Australia … you name it. My stomach was hardy enough to make it through those meals alive (with the exception of a fateful trip to Pizzeria Uno, which I’ll never go to again), so a platter of boiled horse hooves from 1237 isn’t gonna scare me off. I’ve probably given myself food poisoning more often than anyone else has.

Besides, how many high-end restaurants out there exist because the chef/owner found a recipe box of Deep South recipes from 1790 that they wanted to recreate? I bet Grant Achatz would pay $50,000 to hop in a time machine to stroll around an open-air turd farmer’s market in ancient Prussia. I’d be more than happy to go back and sample foods that I have no chance of finding in the present day. Even if that piece of Renaissance pot roast gives me shitworms, I still wouldn’t regret it.

(I’d regret it a little.)

Matt:

Are there brands that you are strangely loyal to because they manufacture their products in your hometown or state? I feel a dumb sense of local pride when I buy a certain brand of windshield wiper blades.

I used to get all hyped up for any Australian product, since I was born there. Remember Aussie shampoo? With jojoba oil?! I used that shit. Made me feel like Paul Hogan. Otherwise, I have no local brand loyalties because I grew up fairly itinerant. The jingle for Schmidt Beer, which is “Honest to Minnesota,” still rattles around in my head on occasion. Otherwise, I’m just your standard yuppie asshole who grabs two cans of Old Bay from the store instead of one and then goes, “I’m supporting local business!” Old Bay is owned by McCormick. McCormick’s current market cap is $21 billion.

Mike:

Anyone who says Seahawks fans shouldn’t boo Russell Wilson tonight should be forced to go through gum graft surgery without sedation right??!??

I thought it was dumb to boo him, given that he was the best QB that Seattle has ever had. Then again he’s Russell Wilson. So I do understand the impulse.

Aaron:

A lot of the time when I travel for work I’m much more likely to order a pizza and a six-pack and relax in my hotel room than I am to go out to dinner with coworkers. Nothing wrong with my coworkers but I already spent the entire day with you, leave me alone!! The problem is I usually have around three leftover beers and can’t take them home with me. Most of the time I leave them in the mini fridge as a gift to hotel staff or maybe the next lucky business person to stay in the room. But my partner pointed out that those beers might end up in someone’s hands that I didn’t intend… A child, someone in recovery, rowdy teens, etc. What should I do about these beers? Pouring them out just feels wrong. 

Oh just leave them in the fridge. Don’t be a Karen about it. If a toddler wants to get wasted, let them get wasted.

Email of the week!

Mike:

Can we take a moment and remember what a terrible movie King Ralph was?

Oh sure. I saw King Ralph and can’t remember a single line of it. I bet there was a scene where a prim English butler had to address him as King Ralph and did so while gritting through his teeth. This was back in the ’90s where if an actor got some heat, they were aggressively typecast into the same movie over and over again. For John Goodman, Hollywood was like, “Hey he’s a fat guy! Let’s make him a fat king, and Babe Ruth, and Fred Flintstone!” For Joe Pesci, Hollywood was like, “Hey he’s a psycho Italian dwarf! Let’s stick him in 8 Heads In A Duffel Bag!” When people tell you Hollywood is out of ideas, don’t ever be fooled into thinking that’s a new problem.



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