Friday, July 31, 2009

Thanks USAir

I can’t recall the last time, or ever, complimenting USAir, but they did right by me. We had a very bad 12 hour period. Our flight was scheduled for 7:50 PM from Pittsburgh to Savannah GA. We left in enough time, but were cutting it a bit close for the 30 minu

te drive to the airport. We also knew there was a Lil’ Wayne concert in the area, but really did not connect the two.

It quickly became apparent that we were in trouble. We entered the highway and were stuck in total gridlock. The normal 10 minute drive downtown

took an hour. We saw a car broken down in the middle of the parkway and figured that was the problem. At this point it was going to be touch and go to get to the airport on time. After the river of vehicles parted around the dead car, we figured that the traffic would flow, but it didn’t. It came to a grinding halt. We were screwed.

Checking the internet from our cell phone we learned that there were no other flights that night to Savannah. We called USAir and were told to go to the airport. There were seats available on the first flight out the next morning. If we booked that flight on the phone it was going to cost us an extra $500, but by going to the airport and going standb

y, since we missed a flight due to traffic they could get us on the flight the next day for no extra charge. We also called our hotel in Savannah and they were kind enough to cancel our room without charge.

As we worked our way through the Fort Pitt Tunnel our flight was boarded and ready to take off. There was an accident in the tunnel. I figured that was the delay, and that things would open up once we got out of the tunnel. Wrong again! Things were bumper to bumper gridlock on the Greentree side as well. We called our daughter who had left a half an hour before us to go to the Little Wayne concert. She was only a few miles in front of us. After observing a couple of more accidents we realized the issue. Lil’ Wayne is a dope smoking fiend. Many of his fans were smoking it up on their way to the show. Reactions were slowed down. Fenders and bumpers were mangled as a result, and traffic came to a standstill.

After 2 ½ hours we finally made it to the airport. Our flight was long gone. We went to the USAir counter. They were actually closed. The employee, already off duty and certainly anxious to get home after a long day at work, reopened for us and got us on the flight for the next day with no extra charge. The bottom line was the schedule was going to work out so we would arrive at our ultimate destination at about the same time as if we stayed on our original flight.

The next task was to find a place to sleep so we could make it to the gate for 6:50 boarding. We decided to pay a bit extra for convenience and stay at the Hyatt attached to the terminal. Sensing we were frazzled by the time we got to the restaurant at almost 10:00, the waitress really took care of us. She arranged for us to have breakfast delivered to our room at 5:30 the next morning so we could have coffee and some food before our flight. We also learned that Lil’ Wayne was booked at the hotel registered under the name of Mr. President. Maybe he should have chosen B. Rack.

The next morning we got up early. Breakfast was delivered as promised at 5:30. When I reached for my wallet to tip the server, it was gone. Panic set in. I looked all over the room. No wallet. This meant no credit card, no money, no ID. That meant “no” at the security, no flight, no trip. Panic morphed into a full scale anxiety attack. I went to the front desk. They didn’t find my wallet. Next I thought that perhaps I left it at home. Did I have enough time to drive home , find my wallet, drive back and get the flight. Unlikely, but what other choice did I have. As I ran to the car, I remembered I did have my wallet when I paid for short term parking and re-parked near the hotel in the extended lot. Sure enough the wallet had fallen out in the car and I found it. Relieved, I return to the hotel and overheard some airline personnel who also stayed at the hotel complaining about the Lil’ Wayne entourage that arrived on their floor at 3 AM and continued their party. I was glad they were not my crew. Who wants a pilot who didn’t get sleep and was engulfed in a cloud of weed smoke from his neighbors.

We boarded on time. The flight was totally full. Had the man at the gate not taken extra time and helped us the night before I would still be sitting at the airport stranded and the word “terminal” would have special meeting. I don’t know the man’s name, so I will just give a big thanks to USAir for kind and excellent service.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

2009 Keystone Country MS 150

This weekend we completed the Keystone Country MS 150. It's really a beautiful event in a lot of senses. The ride is gorgeous. The ride meanders through both sides of the valley between Hollidaysburg and State College PA. This is a little known area of the state that is reminiscent of Vermont. The back roads go along the Juniata River and through little towns. The hills are deep with green trees and roads cut by farms. The ride overnights in State College, a very nice college town.

The event is also beautiful because it brings family and friends together to support a very worthy cause. It also brings strangers together, who otherwise never cross paths. Motorcycle enthusiasts control traffic at the intersections to make sure the riders cross safely and make the right turns. Volunteers in small towns and villages are working rest stops making sure that the riders are nourished with food and drinks. The residents of these small towns stand on their porches and yards cheering the riders as if it was a stage of the Tour d' France.

There were a few challenges:
* The Hampton Inn in Altoona where our team, Lou's Crew, stayed on Friday night failed to give us our wake up calls, making us the last team to start.
* One of our riders fell off his bike after a downhill flat tire, cracked his helmet, got a concussion and overnighted in the Altoona hospital
* A young team member got lost and did a lot of unnecessary first day miles
* One of our teammates was involved in a paceline crash and ran his bike over the the accident

The highlights far exceeded the challenges. I will have lasting memories of the ride. The dinner the first night was highlighted by a presentation from an MS patient who demonstrated his MS guide dog. The dog did amazing things. He kept his owner from falling and could help him up if he was on the ground, she could pick items as small as dime, operate handicap doors, and even use a swipe key so her owner could access the secured work entry. The owner said that if it wasn't for money raised from the event, he wouldn't have his dog.

It was great to see Lou all weekend and share the happiness that the event brought to him. It also was impressive to see what an important figure he is to the MS Society. Also I loved how his family was participating and how his brother-in-law Gregg kept everything working like clockwork. Gregg took care of everything: meals, busses, t-shirts etc, and never asked for any thanks.

43 riders of all levels came together to be part of Lou's Crew for the weekend. A smaller core group gets together every Sunday at Coffee Tree in Squirrel Hill. Some of us were old friends, others had no prior relationship with the other team members. Still others hadn't seen each other in decades and renewed and strengthened friendships. We have all become very close friends because of Lou's Crew. We have fun every Sunday, do something healthy and become better riders. On this weekend we remembered our real purpose for training. One rider in particular really stood out. Beth, not knowing anyone in the group, started riding with us in the Spring. She had never tried anything like riding 150 miles in two days, but she wanted to do it. Every week she became a stronger and more confident rider. Although she was nervous about the event she rode it quickly and easily. I think she actually amazed herself.

I personally had a great time. This is the first time my wife joined me for the weekend. She didn't ride, but she was there to support me and the group. It was really nice to share the experience with her and I appreciated that she took the time to join me. The first day I struggled. I got cramps in both hamstrings and couldn't keep up with my group during the last section. It really didn't matter. The day was beautiful. Other riders in my group had a great day. The second day I felt like bounced back. No cramps and I felt stronger at the end than the beginning.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rage Against The (Pedal) Machine

   Tonight a young guy with an Irish accent asked me if it is safe to ride the jail trail at night.  I told him it's a lot safer than riding the streets any time.  The incidents of road rage against cyclists is just absolutely out of control.

      The picture to the left is of my Motobecane Cyclocross bike.  The picture was taken when I rode it from Pittsburgh to DC on the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal Towpath Trail.  Good times: me and my Motobecane.  The good times ended on Monday evening as I was riding home.  A Ken Zvirman of Plum and owner of Jo-Mar Provisions in the Strip decided to punish me for an unthinkable sin.  As I was riding down a grade on Walnut Street, without any turn signals Zvirman starting backing up toward me, apparently not looking where he was going.  Afraid he was going to run me over with his black Nissan SUV, I yelled "Watch Out!"  Zvirman then launched into a profanity laced tirade at me for yelling "watch out."  Admittedly, I was mad and yelled back at him emphatically explained it was him and not me who was the asshole.
    The next thing I know Ken Zvirman:
1.  Said "I should take my gun and kill you."
2. After I asked him if he really had a gun he said "you should take a gun and kill yourself"
3.   He then got out of his SUV, started puffing his chest out like some type of tropical lizard while saying "what are we going to do about this"
4.   He jumped back into his truck and while I was just inches from the side of his truck while I was trying to mount my bike, he again starts backing up with reckless disregarded of where I was
5.  To get his attention and keep him from hitting me I slapped his fender with my open hand, which worked half way.  I got his attention, but he cut his wheel so the SUV would come straight at me, gunned his engine and ran over my Motobecane.

   When I pointed out that he just ran over my bike, the lovely Mrs. Zvirman said "well you touched our $50k truck."  I pointed out that it is not justified to ruin someone's bike and use a vehicle as a weapon as retribution for getting finger prints on one's fender, but I was actually thinking what kind of idiot spends $50k on a Nissan SUV and brags about it.  Later, when explaining things to the police, Mr. Zvirman indicated that he wanted to make an insurance claim against me because I "got finger prints on his $58k SUV."  After he stopped laughing, the police officer told Mr. Zvirman that he couldn't make an insurance claim for that.  Fortunately I wasn't seriously injured.

   Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident.  Since Monday there have been several other reports of road rage against cyclists on the Bike Pittsburgh website:    

This type of behavior has to stop.  Motorist have to realize that when they lose their tempers and control of their actions their vehicles become deadly weapons.  Is it worth killing someone or subjecting yourself to jail time because a bike is in front of you going slower than you want to go, or a biker yells "watch out" instead of blowing a horn?  Bikers have to take precautions.  They are not surrounded by a ton of sheet metal and airbags.  They have no protection , but they have a right to be on the road.  Please checkout and support the Bike Pittsburgh website and protect cyclists when you drive. 

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Great Escape

   I apologize for a long delay in blogging.  I have not been in a Pittsburgh state of mind for awhile.  Over the last three weeks travels have taken me to South Carolina and Colorado.  Even the Pittsburgh Guy has to admit that both of these areas have treasures that we don't have in Pittsburgh.  Of course they don't have the Penguins or Steelers.
   First I relaxed on the beach in Hilton Head, which is a beautifully planned resort area.  Thought was given to adapting development to the environment as opposed to the opposite.  The island has a beautiful long and wide beach with gentle waves. At low tide the sand is packed enough to ride a bike on it.  The resort is interconnected with bike paths.  Also there are a series of lagoons on which gasoline powered boats are not permitted.  Unlike Florida, the island is not over built, as development is controlled.  I took time for biking and kayaking.  One day I joined a group of riders on the mainland.  They took on a fast paced, flat ride through beautiful sections of the lowland.

    Currently I'm in Colorado Springs, sitting on a balcony overlooking the mountains with a clear but distant view of the Garden of the Gods, where we hiked yesterday.  This treasure is a city park, free to the public.  It is scattered with ominous natural red rock formations jutting out of the landscape.  The hike was through a red rock trail with
 interesting formations and views at every turn, highlighted by the Siamese Twin Formation.   

      Before arriving in Colorado Springs, we spent a few days in suburban Denver.  I rented a bike and went for long rides on the Greater Denver's fantastic network of paved bike trails.  One day I rode to the Chatfield Reservoir Park and then along the Platte River to Confluence Park on the edge of the downtown/LoDo area.  My turnaround spot was Denver's flagship REI store housed in an old warehouse building.  This REI has a Starbuck's in it.  I stopped long enough for a macchiato and headed back.  
     The next day I rode the other way on the 470 trail and hooked up with a couple of local riders.  They were younger, a bit faster and altitude adjusted.  The lead me to the Cherry Creek Reservoir Park and back.  Hats off the Treads Bike Store in Parker.  I was able to rent a Cannondale road bike.  Attention was given to fit me properly and they loaned me a pair of clipless pedals.  
Unfortunately, meeting obligations probably won't allow me to rent a bike in Colorado Springs, which I imagine would be challenging, but sweet riding.  I saw the new Charmichael Training Center,  I would like to stop by and check it out.