Dec 30, 2009

You'll Never Ride It V: The Elusive Bank-to-Steam-Engine.

Railway snow plows. I had no idea. But of course.

Here are a couple dozen photos from various corners of the internet. Riding-wise, the outdoor museum pieces could probably be located and sessioned with minimal detective work and a cheater-board (Ten bucks paypalled to anyone with photo or video documentation), though that's not really so important.

Just some amazing images to contemplate.

Happy New Year. Click to go big.

Dec 27, 2009

Sounds vs Soundtrack, Revisited.

"A video with no music whatsoever"? Hat tip to InTheGnar for Brandon Westgate's music-less part from the Zoo York video State of Mind:

Except it's not his video part at all, just the leftover clips. Hence the title "Extras." But thanks to my ignorance, that's how I watched it, foolishly thinking that the editor consciously, intentionally crafted this strangely epic thing, and I hope I kind of tricked you into watching it the same way, and I hope you enjoyed it as thoroughly as I did.

I mean, isn't it absolutely riveting?

For comparison, here's the actual video in its entirety. Westgate's part starts at 1:30. It's quite good, I guess, but seriously: I find the hushed patter of urethane wheels on brick infinitely more foreboding than the squonky cliched guitar riffs of Magic Man.

Dec 8, 2009

New Piff Blogs Worth a Click.

Blogball: Ben is slowly documenting all the vintage Toyotas he has owned over the past few years. I believe he is now driving Corolla number seven.

And on a related topic: Old Parked Cars, my new photoblog, with contributions from Ben and Dad.

Oct 14, 2009

On Antelope Street.

The wide, winding industrial corridor that runs along the St Louis riverfront is pocked with dozens of odd little isolated residential spaces. A typical micro-hood might consist of just a single block of run-down domestic structures, flanked on all horizons by cyclone fencing, smokestacks, and grandfather zoning clauses.

During last summer's visit, Dad and I were on just such an urban sightseeing outing, when we happened upon what appeared to be a freight train cutting past a row of homes, directly through their tiny front yards.

We found it a baffling, inconceivable sight, and the rest of our day was infused with a sober feeling of wonder. Back at Mom and Dad's, I googled away furiously but could find absolutely no reference to front yard train tracks, in St Louis or anywhere.

So, a few days later I returned to photograph the scene and talk to residents, and I wrote up a little article, which I submitted to the RFT. But I didn't have an existing freelancer's agreement with them, or the seasonal time peg was getting tight... For whatever reason, suffice it to say, I didn't hear back, and the piece never ran.

But it's a unique story, and a piece of St Louis history that I'm proud to have documented. Here it is.


On Antelope Street
It could probably be said that the shotgun homes on Antelope Street were never intended to last a hundred years. The Baden neighborhood houses were built for railroad and factory workers in an era when plumbing and insulated walls were regarded as luxuries, but over the past century, residents have maintained and improved the structures, adding on bathrooms, installing ductwork for heating and central air, and covering peeling lead paint with vinyl siding. The trees have grown up tall and sturdy. Perhaps the only things that have not changed are the railroad tracks cutting squarely across their front lawns, and the freight trains that rumble through their yards every day.

Homeowner Amber McClain, 25, stands barefoot in the leafy shade, hands on hips. She says, nodding toward the tracks, “People come over, they ask, 'Are those active?' Yeah, they're active!”

Husband Dan, 26, crouches to assist their one-year-old, Vance, toddling in the grass. “Sometimes,” he says, “a train comes through at thirty miles an hour, and I'm like Slow the eff down!” The tracks bend smoothly into view from the North, thread through the front yards for two blocks, and then abruptly whip South again. Dan continues, “They gotta slam on their brakes right there, 'cause it's such a sharp turn.”

The only space for cars is beyond the tracks and across the street. Amber recalls a recent time that she was unloading groceries with her mother-in-law, when they heard the train approaching. The conductor saw them frantically hurrying, and he politely brought the train to a stop. Says Amber, “He was like, 'Go ahead, finish what you're doin'.'”

Says Dan, “Usually if it's a regular one, he'll toot the horn, we'll wave.”

Loud Mouth honks his horn all the way down, Ding Dong just rings his bell,” jokes Dolly Osborne, 75, recalling some of the regulars.

Osborne's daughter Phyllis adds with a chuckle, “Sneaky Snake doesn't blow his horn or ring his bell.”

A train rolling through at proper speed might take twenty minutes to pass; other times, trains will freeze on the tracks for hours at a time. “You gotta crawl over or under them,” says Erin Thurber, 42, shrugging her shoulders. For what it's worth, she says she tries to be careful. Thurber has never been late fork work.

“They sit there and park for hours,” chimes in Erin's boyfriend John Skilker, 45, gesturing with his blue-kozied Busch Light. “What if there was an emergency? We can't make the railroad do a damn thing.”

Dan McClain points out the fire hydrants, all located beyond the tracks and across the street. “There's nothing emergency vehicles could do,” he says.

According to Dolly Osborne, who has lived here since the 1970's (and who at one time owned as many as three of the homes on Antelope), there remains an unfulfilled commitment from the railroad to relocate the tracks. “They're supposed to be fifty feet,” she says. “That ain't no fifty feet.” From front door to tracks looks about half that distance.

John Spilker dismisses the notion. “I doubt the railroad's gonna do a damn thing,” he says.

In the late nineties, Antelope residents had the privilege of witnessing a full derailment in their front yards. Ron Fry, 43, a longtime Antelope resident now living in Sparta, Tennessee, was with his son in the living room when it began. “We heard this real bad noise, a grinding and banging. Then I saw [through the windows] that the train was off the track, and it was moving fast. I told my little boy 'Run, run to the back of the house!'” The cars piled up on both sides of the track in a scene of utter chaos. Ron describes freight cars driven into the ground, “embedded” and “buried” in the dirt.

The Railroad acted quickly, sending out an expert crew with specialized heavy equipment. “They took up all the track, all the ties, replaced the whole thing,” says Fry. “Worked all night long. Next day they had the train up and running.”

A lamppost was knocked down, and the street had to be repaved, but no one was injured in the accident. Fry claims to remember a local boy losing both legs to a train sometime in the 1950's, and another man who was killed, (“My grandfather had to shovel him off the tracks,” he says) but recalls no human injury in recent decades.

A deep groove cut into the ties by a broken axle is visible today, running the entire length of the block--a reminder of the statistical inevitability of mechanical failure.

Residents do criticize the railroad companies constantly, but at times it's clear they regard living with the tracks as a sort of privilege.

“I actually kind of like it a little bit,” Spilker says thoughtfully, smiling as he puffs a menthol cigarette. He quips, “Had that earthquake a while back, just figured it was a train!”

“I enjoy it,” says Amber McClain. “We don't care till the whistle blows at 1 am... Only thing that concerns me is when the boxcars come by--I worry that some hobo is gonna' jump off the train and steal my baby.” She laughs and then mentions the time two train-hopping stowaways happened to disembark on Antelope. Dolly Osborne invited them in and hosted the young travelers for two weeks.

“They didn't have anywhere to go, and Dolly will take anything in. She's the type to take in strays,” says Erin Thurber.

Osborne explains, “They was running away from home, but they was alright. Everybody got along good... They had a little puppy... I think they just needed to get away.” Osborne and her daughter managed to get in touch with the girl's parents. “We took 'em back to Chicago,” she says, “and their parents came down from Michigan and got 'em.”

Erin Thurber tells of a time another unusual train came through. “We heard a funny horn and came out.” Passing by was the Barnum & Bailey Circus. “It was a special yellow train, and it had all their equipment. We were waving and one guy flipped us off. You could smell the animals.”

Oct 5, 2009

You'll Never Ride It IV: Epic Spot Sniped by Fixies & Sk8-Lugers.

You probably saw the fantastic pics of this gigantic hydroelectric reservoir posted on that Slovenian fixie blog back in June. For the record, I'm not so much annoyed by the fixed gear gnar-dog antics , as I am jealous of their amazing spot. (Though I confess that I did chuckle at the bmx bullies tearing up the comments section.)

With nothing original to add, I refrained from blogging about it.

Yesterday, however, I saw the spot again, featured in a YouTube video on the Skate & Annoy blog, and decided to make a quick post.

Suffice it to say, if you dislike William Spencer, you're going to hate Almir Jusovic. (I adore them both.)

I don't think there's anything intended as ironic in here. Truly, seriously, unfashionably original. Lots of wonderful sketchy spots; reservoir roll-in is the ender-ender.

Related: You'll Never Ride It I, II, and III.

Sep 30, 2009

Sacred Morning Ritual.

Even though they were out riding until midnight the night before, Ben and Caleb still showed up for Friday's 7:15am Breakfast on the Bridges.

Caleb was, as usual, all smiles, despite having torn his kneecap open just seven hours earlier. Ben was a little grumpy.

Love these guys.

Sep 19, 2009

Stranger than...

"Excuse me," this fellow says, approaching me on the city sidewalk this morning. "Could I ask you a favor? Take my picture and email it to me, so I can update my resume?"

I thought he might have been homeless--sweaty but clean, lugging all his worldly possessions in a huge duffel bag and fanny pack. His forced smile seemed troubled and harried; perhaps sleep-deprived.

I pondered the randomness for a second and then obliged.

"Okay," I replied. "Sure." Since I had my camera in my jeans pocket (as I pretty much always do), it was a convenient request.

"Oh man, thank you," he said. "Maybe a close up, then a full length body shot, then one without the bags?"

"Yeah, no problem."

He added, "How bout a profile shot?"

The stranger reviewed the pics, expressed his approval, and then wrote down his email address. When I asked his name, he simply added the initials M.A.

I told him I would send them off in a half hour. And I did. A quick google search for his email address turned up this expired Portland Craigslist ad, still lingering in the search engine cache:

Date: 2009-07-18, 5:29PM PDT Reply to: I'm looking for a driving job, something that takes me out of the portland metro ...

Feels like a true, sad mystery. Glad I didn't blow him off.

Hope the photos help him.

Sep 16, 2009

A new Thursday flyer from DBZ.

(It's a reference to this.)

Come ride bikes.

Sep 14, 2009


These dorky little bikes are unbelievably fun and even somewhat practical.
When Jaime (my wife), in search of a simple bike with upright riding position, purchased this black folder a few years ago, I became immediately obsessed with it. The tall handlebars, high center of gravity (almost directly over the rear axle), twenty inch wheels, and narrow wheelbase create a geometry that is addictively nimble and comically twitchy. Carving and swerving produce wonderfully pronounced g-force sensations; because you're sitting straight up, the full force is transmitted squarely through the seat, not the leg or arm muscles.

It is bliss.

Minimal: just a front brake cable and coaster brake.
Fenders, rack, kick stand.

But scarcely a week had passed before Jaime wisely forbade me from riding her bike. (She caught me practicing front brake endos in her mother's driveway.) I would have to get my own.

The red bike was cherrypicked from the cluttered yard of a rural junk sculptor, who was delighted to get twenty bucks for it. The handling is even more squirrelly and thrilling than Jaime's bike, for one major reason: sixteen-inch wheels.

The fundamental circus bear ridiculousness is further enhanced by the bike's generally rickety condition; the complicated folding mechanism, with its countless pivots and connections, is incredibly creaky. You can clearly feel the frame flexing beneath you as you pedal. On two occasions, I've accidentally folded the bike in half while riding.

(Note the black bike's single, sturdy hinge.)
The final reason the red bike is so great is its utterly practical three-speed hub. (Jaime's bike has a one-speed coaster brake.) After a little research, I got the shifting dialed in, and the thing climbs mountains like a ski-lift.

Post-Script: A Little Story:

My teenage brother-in-law Trey and I have been systematically exploring Portland's nether regions late at night. The foldies are so easy that we basically just pick an interesting spot on the map and ride.
Trey on the left.

One recent evening, we were exploring the sprawling, paved, industrial peninsula on the Willamette River's East bank called Swan Island, hoping for a closer view of the massive cargo cranes looming in the distance. At the dead end of a winding road, we came upon a bewildering construction site. I stood on a bike rack and propped my camera on the fence, trying for a stable shot down the gaping maw of a strange, alien war vessel.

As I hopped down, security approached. "Taking pictures of anything in particular?" he asked.

"Just trying to get a decent shot of that crazy ship," I answered.

"That's a navy ship," he responded. "You definitely can't be photographing that. I'm supposed to take your camera from you now..."

But he was overpowered by our wholesome, innocent faces. "Aww, I guess it's alright," he said. "Have a good night."

We pedaled away, glowing with victory and a sudden ravenous hunger. Hit up the Voodoo Doughnut maple-bacons on our way home.
Immediately googled "FSF 1" and read all about it. The thing is awesome.

I feel pretty comfortable posting these pictures up, since it's not, in fact, classified...