I am in Madison, Wisconsin this week. Four nights ago I learned that my Uncle's Bicycle shop was having their huge spring sale this week. When I lived in Wisconsin during third and fourth grade, we would dust bikes and make popcorn in the rented popcorn machine for his bi-annual sale. Mostly I remember squeezing in "test rides" on tandem bikes and other ridiculous models such as the Electra Hellbilly.
The day I heard of the sale I called my Uncle and invited myself to be his temporary employee.
Yesterday I spent eleven hours assisting "real" employees by organizing bins of bike components and accessories. Did you know there are at least six types of CO2 containers for airing your tires, and more than eleven types of red safety lights that all succeed in making you look like a mutant firerfly?
The store rents several circus tents during the sale to make their products more accessible to customers. I spent today under the white tents, moving bikes and smiling dumbly at customers as they asked me
"do you prefer steel or aluminum frames?"
"how do the gear shifters work?"(why does it matter how their machinery works, just use it)
and my favorite, "I've read that you can attach a component on the post that allows you to do trailing [not sure what all these words mean]. Do you think that would work with this model, or should I get the higher end one?" (from a customer who was an athletic hybrid of a disciple and a Scottish man.)
While not directing customers to "real" salesman, I encouraged fellow employees to watch the snow fall on the bikes parked outside of the tents, while gradually turning into an ice statue.


How did we not know?

I recently watched the reality show, Top Chef, for the first time. The episode involved chefs making food based on the tastes of animals from the Chicago zoo. For example, the chefs assigned to make food based on the tastes of Gorillas baked banana bread. (But nothing on Top Chef is as simple as banana bread. I believe the bread had an assortment of fruits and glazes on top.)

One chef-group made appetizers based on penguin's tastes. They were given a list of food they could use which was mostly varieties of fish.

Several of us were watching the show. The spotlight was on the penguin table and I noticed one of the dishes. The judges were exclaiming over the chef's great job with the anchovies as the camera zoomed disturbingly close to a white rectangle of something topped with a small, silver fish.

"Where are the anchovies?" I asked.

"It's on top," acquaintance 1 told me.

"But that's a little fish on top." I argued.

"That's what anchovies are. fish." Acquaintance 2 explained.

"Isn't it some kind of olive? Y'know, how Garfield the comic cat always says something about anchovies and pizza? And most people don't like olives on pizza..." I stopped talking.

Acquaintance 1 and 2 were incredulous. "You thought anchovies were olives!"

JE looked confused. "I didn't know they were fish."

How did we not know? And why would anyone every put fish on pizza.


Chicago-style spring equinox

The spring equinox is today.

Yesterday's warmth and the combined heat of 10 sleeping bodies and three working radiators in the apartment tricked me into thinking that today would be a weather-nice day.
I walked out of the house wearing thin canvas shoes and no hat, looking forward to my morning walk to the L.
I walked out of the house into snow and was shocked.

A couple houses down the street, a woman bundled in crocheted warmth was sweeping snow from her steps. As I walked by she cheerily called out, "Happy Spring!"

Later, as I walked over the bridge on Michigan Ave., the wind tried to push me into traffic.

This is ridiculous.


The Express

JP, a spring break visitor from New Orleans, and I rode home on the L the other night. We waited for too long next to a lubby-dubby high school couple and their friends until our train arrived. The car was surprisingly full for Monday night, but JP and I got seats in the front, facing the rest of the car.
We looked over the other travelers. She blurted, "I really like how different groups of people are together in restaurants and stores up here. In New Orleans everything is more segregated." Her voice rose to be heard above the voice of the train conducter monotonely speaking over the intercom.
"And there's lots of young people here." We both observe the horde of 20-somethings standing in an assortment of skinny jeans, calmly listening to their i-pods. (different than the pda highschoolers).
At the next stop, the car almost empties, but everyone who exited turned around to faced our train instead of walking toward the stairs.
JP laughed, "look at them. Why are they just standing there? It's like they're waiting for another train."
"Well, maybe they are," I answer unthinkingly.
The train starts moving and we sit back for a forgettable conversation. Looking out the windows, I noticed that we are not slowing down for the next station.
"It's not stopping when it should," I tell JP.
"I don't really know what's going on." Images of train accidents and spiderman's heroic subway rescue race through my head.
The other passengers have noticed that we keep on moving. Some of them seem pertrubed while others slouch down more in their seats, moving from dozing to slumber.
I watch the suited man in front of us talking and gesturing to the woman standing at the door.
By now, JP and I have noticed that the small red light that flashes when the train runs express is flashing.
The standing woman glared angrily at the closed doors as the train whizzes past her station.
The suited man turned around and asks us if we know when the runaway train will stop. "I asked her," he beckoned at the standing woman, "and she said it would stop at the last stop." His attitude toward her is disdainful, and she seems debilitatingly tired, or maybe drunk. She sways with the movement of the train, looking hopelessly sad after missing her stop, and the suited man made a few more unnecessary jabs at her missing her stop.
The train finally stoppped and the suited man and sad woman leave.
"Let's stay and see if it keeps going or it if it stops when it should," I told JP. But mostly I didn't want to be stuck next to the awkwardly rude man, waiting for another train.


UPDATE: I am officially halfway across the sea.

I do not take responsibility for this post and Yan ki hropku is not Romanian:

Faithful readers,

I have now blogged for a week. Or two, perhaps. Also, I am currently reading B. Obama's gripping thriller: Dreams from My Father. It is almost as good as Living Poor, by M. Thomsen. I am quite poor. This book provides many helpful tips on living poor, such as ways to save money. The best way to save money, I have found, is to steal movies and music online. I do this often. I also steal mints, and force them upon my unwitting friends. They pretend to like the mints while I am around, but after I leave the room they spit them out and say mean things about me.

Also: I have met the man of my dreamz (note the "z"). Stephen is his name. I am going to marry him someday soon. Perhaps a day when I do not have to work. Tomorrow, for instance. Or any day next week. Or next month.

Belovedess, I have run out of things to say. Ah! Lo! I forgot about my encounter with an Italian restaurant this evening. I was with my good friend J. E. and the man of my dreamz. I ate several small noodles in a spicy tomato sauce. It was very hard trying to concentrate on the food and sit by the man of my dreamz at the same time. His blazing blue eyes penetrated my salty soul.

That is all. As they say in Romania: "Yan ki hropku!". This means either "Goodbye, dear one" or "I buried it in the vestibule". I am still working on my Romanian.

-R. Johnson (as typed by B. Webster)


the spill

Biking in Chicago is a series of challenges...through red lights, around the idling cab, between the two moving trucks. The biker's road etiquette is a hybrid of pedestrian rights and vehicle laws and the most satisfying experience is biking past 20 cars sitting at a red light.
But this morning my biking euphoria was temporarily assuaged.
I was moderately lost, biking down Dearborn St., knowing I needed to turn left eventually. So I biked through a red light and turned a quick left in a move I'm sure commuters in their awkward, law-abiding cars envy. Except instead of going left, inertia and slick pavement combined forces and somehow my face was in the asphalt.
"Are you OK?" called out kindly pedestrians on all sides.
I jumped to my feet to show I was fine and retain some dignity, then shakily steered my bike off the road. A pock-marked business woman waiting to cross the street pointed out that I had pavement ground into my left cheek, and offered to watch my bike while I went into the corner convenience store to wash it off.
The nice people at the convenience store let me come behind the counter to wash off my face and hands, and my bike was still there when I got outside. The pock-marked business woman nulled Chicago's "meanness" reputation for at least a month.
I am now successfully fulfilling all my receptionist duties, and occasionally touching my chin which feels like a ripe peach.


inner city pressure

Virginia Woolf is very smart.
Idleness is a positive quality which cultivates creativity.
Therefore, Flight of the Conchords must be fairly idle.



I spent the summer in Siloam Springs working with a middle-aged woman whose ideal vacation centered on Branson, Mo and who consistently mispronounced my ‘lunch’ of Cous Cous as Cuss Cuss. She had three children and advised me to live freely while I had the opportunity before irresponsible children and husbands overcame all life’s opportunities.

When I told my fellow temp worker about joining the Peace Corps, she responded, “Do it while you can, girrrl. I wish I could just go off and do something like that. That’s what I should have done when I graduated. Instead I got into HR.”

I was thinking about these comments this evening. In fact, I might depend on them to validate my ‘unencumbered’ lifestyle.

Right now, having no responsibilities means I am unemployed and live primarily on oatmeal, beans and rice. Of course, I have all the time in the world to do whatever I want, provided it does not require monetary funding.

Ideally, my current perspective of desperately wanting a job will continue when I actually have one. Or maybe I’ll become a middle-aged, mid-western woman urging youngsters to ‘live life before the blankity-blank children and no-good husband ruin life.’?

The horror.