Unfortunately I had to stay home this Thanksgiving rather than go spend it with family as I’ve done the past couple of years, since my deadline on Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures (or STEROTFACOF, I guess) looms near and I simply don’t have the luxury to take a trip. But staying here had its advantages, because it was a very nice day today, getting to an unseasonably high upper sixties. I went out for a walk this afternoon to do some thinking about the scene I had to write today, and as I saw how empty the streets were, I realized it would’ve been a perfect day to ride my bike over to campus. Unfortunately, I’ve gotten too much out of the habit of bike riding lately, and my tires are no doubt completely flat by now. Also, since I’m so out of practice at it, I feared that if I did go back, get my bike, walk it to the bike shop, fill the tires, and then ride around campus for a while, I’d be too worn out to write when I got back. Still, it would’ve been nice. I should really try to get back into riding again — I need to get back into better shape. It’s just that the streets around here aren’t very good for it. And the university’s only a good place to ride on Sundays or holidays when it isn’t crowded.
Still, I did at least walk over to campus, and took advantage of the near-total emptiness of the place to get some good thinking done. I revisited a place that used to be my favorite spot when I was in college, something I always thought of as “the Alcove,” though I knew that wasn’t the right word for it. I suppose it’s more properly a small courtyard. It’s a place that used to be a sort of a porch outside the eastern side door of the Old Chemistry building — I know because there’s a porch with the same architecture on the opposite side — but that was walled in when Brodie Plaza was built next to it decades ago, with the plaza level being a story above the porch level. So what was a porch became a sunken area, and what had been the steps down from the porch were walled off and turned into a planter, with a bench of thick wooden planks built across the gap where the steps were, and another bench along the side at right angles — plus a stairway going up to the plaza level. I always found it a nice place to sit or pace around and do some thinking by myself, or occasionally to hang out with a friend. I don’t get back there very often these days, but sometimes I like to go there when I need to do some thinking.
When I got there today, though, I was a bit saddened to discover that the benches were gone. I’m not sure when, but I’d say it wasn’t too long ago, since there still seemed to be a pattern of moss or residue or something on the top of the low stone wall that one of the benches was built around/over, conforming to the shape of its slats. And I’m not sure why they were taken out, but I’m hoping it’s just because the wood was rotting or something and they wanted to replace them. I certainly hope it’s not the first step in something more drastic. “The Alcove” has been a favorite spot of mine for over a quarter-century now, and I’d hate to lose it — even if I’ve only been there a few times in the past decade.
Anyway, I felt I came up with some promising ideas for how to resolve a key scientific/technical plot point in the novel, but realized that it would help me to do some more research, so I headed back home so I could use the computer. But on the way home, I questioned one of the assumptions I’d been making in my outline about how this subplot would play out, and I realized that the plot point I was trying to work out how to do — which involved figuring out how to use concept A as an analogy that would inspire a character to solve a problem with concept B — was actually unnecessary and even kind of hokey. And once I was free of the need to connect A and B, I realized there was a much simpler and less contrived way to resolve the problem with B. So by the time I got home, I had, in fact, solved my story issue by realizing I didn’t need it at all. Which saves me some work, and makes the story a bit better.
My makeshift Thanksgiving dinner was one I got the fixings for a few days ago at the store — the same 90-second turkey-and-stuffing microwave entree that’s one of my staples these days, but with a single-serve cup of microwave mashed potatoes and an ear of corn that I steamed in the husk — followed a couple of hours later by a bowl of Graeter’s pumpkin ice cream in lieu of pumpkin pie. Fairly simple, but good.
And now I’m sleepy.
When I went for a quick walk in the park this morning, I noticed that the street was very empty, the neighborhood very quiet, since most everyone was indoors or away for Christmas. Plus it was relatively warm, in the upper 40s — no white Christmas this year. So I figured it would be a perfect opportunity to take my bicycle out for my first ride since the seat was repaired (I forgot to bring my helmet to the bike shop, since I didn’t realize they could do the repairs in a few minutes, so I had to walk the bike home). Not only would the traffic be light, so I could ride in the streets without worrying much about dodging cars, but the university campus would be empty, so I could ride around there without worrying about dodging students.
So this afternoon — once it had even topped 50 degrees F — I went out for my ride. And no sooner did I get into the street that I had to deal with three approaching cars in quick succession. Oh, great. But after that, the road stayed mostly empty. I even got the unprecedented experience of riding on an almost totally empty Calhoun Street — something I’d never have the courage to do under normal circumstances, since it’s generally a pretty busy street (although the sidewalk on the university side is usually quite crowded too). I’ve never had such an easy time riding from home to campus. And the campus was indeed empty enough that I could ride around the various plazas and pavilions, doing multiple loops around the various crisscrossing sidewalks. It would’ve been roomier to go down to the Campus Green at the northeast corner, or even across to Burnet Woods, but coming back from either of those places would require a lot of uphill riding and I wasn’t sure I was up to that. I wanted a fun ride that gave me a reasonable amount of exercise, not something where I really had to strain myself. And actually, now that I take a look at the satellite view in Google Maps and compare the two, the areas where I did my riding add up to almost the same area as the Green. Since they’re closer than the Green, the total distance I rode was less, but my total round-trip distance was probably something like two and a half miles — enough to leave me tired in a way that feels good and relaxed, like I accomplished something, rather than sore and exhausted. All in all, a nice present for myself.
I’ve gotten out of the habit of bike-riding the past few months, ever since a close call with a car kinda scared me off of riding, at least in my neighborhood, which is just not a safe or enjoyable enough place for riding due to the heavy traffic and steep hills. I’m sure a more experienced cyclist could handle it, but I just don’t like riding in the streets unless they’re very empty.
But as I mentioned before, I took my bike with me to the family Thanksgiving get-together in Maryland last week, and I participated in a lengthy bike ride there. It got me to thinking I really should try to get back into riding at least a little; the streets may not be great, but there are some halfway decent places to ride on the nearby university campus (at least at times when it isn’t too crowded). So I decided today to take a ride over to UC and get some much-needed exercise before the weather got any colder.
And that went well enough, and I made it all the way to the park-ish area where I kinda like to ride, and then I made it all the way back (mostly uphill, and with a couple of stops to rest) to the edge of campus. Then I got off the bike to walk it across the street — and the seat swivelled under me. It had popped loose or something and was spinning freely, and I couldn’t push it back down into place. Luckily, I was just a couple of blocks from the local bike shop where I bought it, so I walked it over there, and the guy told me the seat had broken. He didn’t have the part to fix it on hand, and it’d be a bit pricey to order a new one at this point.
Now, if I were still riding regularly, it’d be an easy decision. But I’m not sure how much more bike-riding I’m going to do at all. Well, I really should do the campus thing every so often, weather permitting, or maybe find some nice, safe, reasonably flat bike trail I can drive to (though I don’t enjoy the hassle of taking off my front tire and putting the bike in the trunk). But I doubt I’d do much riding in the near future, with winter coming on. So I decided just to walk my bike home and mull over the decision, and maybe just put off getting a new seat until next year, or at least until the fellow at the shop finds a discounted seat for me. (I could just go for a rigid seat support instead of a suspension seat like the one that broke, but it would be rougher on my anatomy, probably.)
Well, at least I got the one ride in before the seat broke. I can’t really say I enjoyed it, because I’m too out of shape for that and it was too crowded and too chilly. But I did need the exercise.
I was driving home from a bit of shopping when I saw a very strange bicycle approaching, one that was twice as tall as a regular bike, with the rider seated way up high above traffic. Just now I did some web searching and apparently this is an actual thing that people make. The Wikipedia article says it’s considered safer in traffic because of the high visibility and “wow” factor, but I was concerned that the “What the hell is that?” factor could make traffic accidents more likely. As for myself, since it was a narrow street, I just pulled over to the side to give him room to get past and stared in bewilderment at the contraption. And somehow it seems to me as I write this that a double-decker bicycle is more worthy of the word “contraption” than most things would be.