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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

I have returned from Japan

  iPhone photo of dry garden at Zuiho-en in the Daitokuji temple complex, Kyoto, Japan
...and am still feeling the effects of the 17 hour time difference. Well, that and the three drinks I had this evening with my co-workers. Ahem.

[Photo: dry garden at Zuiho-en in the Daitokuji temple complex, Kyoto, Japan.]

Everything smells different here. Waaaay different.

My first 150 or so iPhone photos from Japan are up at You can work backward in time from the splash page (in sets of 6 medium images), or you can visit the November archive to see the bulk of the photos on one very long page: the trip photos start on November 17th.

I have a just few more phone photos to post. (I learned a lot about the sort of high volume activities that distress Blogger, which was useful, though periodically frustrating.)

It was a remarkable trip.

I kept extensive notes (especially about food), and took a vast number of "real" digital camera photos which I haven't even downloaded from the memory cards yet. I haven't even unpacked anything but my dirty laundry, so I could wash it before it got any ideas about functioning independently. I'll post an illustrated travelogue when I actually believe that I am in this time zone, which should happen in a week or so.

I have also posted Kyoto Bikes, a Facebook photo album of the bicycle infrastructure and activities I observed during the trip.

At "night" in this time zone, I dream that I am still in Japan, and see neon signs written in Hiragana...

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:21 PM

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Halloween Redux, part one

  Halloween Critical Mass, San Francisco, 2008So many rainstorms! Waves of rain are rolling in even now, soaking the garden. You can nearly hear the plants sighing happily. The storms posed quite a threat for Halloween - they put quite a damper on people's plans (ha ha - ouch! Sorry!). But there was a big, strangely warm and still break between storms, and it lasted just long enough in San Francisco for Halloween revelers to enjoy the gorgeous night for a few, relatively dry hours.

Halloween group of Antarctic researchers with local penguinsI had been working on a very warm, soft costume for a while, and managed to come up with an extraordinarily simple design which I was able to hand-sew in just two evenings. To coincide with a silly story I'm telling in the office (about my new space being as isolated as Antarctica), I decorated my office to look, well, Antarctic, and encouraged my colleagues to wear appropriate parkas. I came as a gentoo penguin. (I'll post more about the costume design some other time, if only so I can use the same principles in future costumes.)

Yes, I did write BART as a penguin. (Playing the commute straight while in costume is one of the more subversive joys in life.) Yes, I did walk to BART as a penguin. Yes, the group of school children waiting for their school bus did let me know that my costume was easy to figure out, especially the little boy who followed me half way down the block on the other side of the street, singing a song I didn't recognize and shouting "ba da da da da da da - PENGUIN!!!" with his fist in the air.

I was also impressed with the costumed turnout at work - much higher than I had feared - and the overall excellence of holiday-themed desserts that were entered into our office competition. (Your office didn't have a Halloween dessert competition? Well, it sucks to be you, doesn't it?)

While my train ride to the east bay had been devoid of decorå†ed adults, the BART ride back into the City was filled with costumed adults, many of whom were heading toward Critical Mass. Which I was also heading for.
Steven Pitsenbarger as Robot, San Francisco, Halloween 2008, photo by A.E. GravesI had gone out of my way to design a costume that was bike-friendly so I could ride in Critical Mass. I did this because of the clarity of the design that came to me, and not merely in rejection of the 'couples costume' which had been proposed to me by my partner: namely, that I be a large, cartoony hammer with a mean face, and that he be a nail with a sad/frightened face. [Insert your interpretations of our relationship here.] Once I made it clear that I was not going to participate in his suggestion, he was maniacally inspired to come up with a remarkable, nearly all metal robot costume. It took many days of looking for parts, and many more of assembling and testing. But his robot costume is a wild success. A stellar photo of Steven's Robot is featured here on, and made it onto the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle today.

We had a lovely time milling around and seeing all of the Massers in costume (and yes, I longed to ride); went on a long, gorgeous walk around the Ferry Building and Embarcadero; met up with Peter for dinner; waited for Alex, flying in from Okinawa, to escape the airport and catch up with us; hung out at Peter's place; scoped out some of the costumes in Peter's neighborhood... May I say here that any costume that can be described as "Sexy __________" or "Slutty __________" is painfully, painfully conformist and boring? I'm not saying it's not hot; I'm just saying it is BORING. For those of us who are not 'into' women especially. DULL. Please.

San Francisco Ferry Building and Skyline at night, Halloween 2008It was an absolutely gorgeous evening - everything was wet, reflective and shiny; people were merry; the air was fresh; the City lights were gorgeous; and it was possible for me to be comfortable in my very plush costume, but also warm enough for the folks in skimpy wear to avoid goosebumps as they rolled through town with their blinkies on "fast."

We skipped one party, failed to reach the host of another to be buzzed in, and headed home to be met by enthusiastic rainclouds. They had held off just long enough!

Special thanks to Peter, who provided us with refreshments, his restroom, a chance to freshen up, and space to engage in minor robot repair.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)5:50 PM

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Bicycle Film Festival

cyclists and bikes waiting outside the Victoria Theater, San Francisco[Image: Bicycles and cyclists line Capp Street while waiting for the final program of the Bicycle Film Festival.]

The fabulous Bicycle Film Festival ( returned to San Francisco this week as part of its 17 city world tour, and brought us an excuse to hang out with other cyclists INDOORS on warm nights. I went to events on three nights: the bike-art show, Program 2, and Program 7 of films.


The art show was at the Bottle Capp Gallery at 180 Capp Street, an exotic space that went all the way through to Mission Street, with access for the full depth of the building on the higher floors. It was difficult to tell what the space has been originally built for. (I asked the artist staffing the front desk/booming-microphone, and he said that the building had a long history as, among other things, a sweatshop and a place for growing pot.)

We waited in a pleasantly lit bar/speakeasy area overlooking Mission Street while waiting for the gallery to open. I was a bit concerned, since none of the art in the bar area was bike-related at all... but then the gallery facing Capp Street opened up, and I overcame my shock at how long the building is again to enjoy the art.
bar gallery, Bottle Capp Gallery, San Francisco
bike art at the Bottle Capp Gallery, San Francisco

Photography was the favored medium, but there were also charming drawings, several sculptures, and some sewn pieces: the promotional poster's graphic features layers of stitched bicycles in 3-D-like red and green. [I can hear Steven scolding me again for not providing any bike art for consideration for this year's Winterfest... I'll get to it, really I will... Maybe.]


Brendt Barbur, the festival's organizer, often gives excellent, highly informal tidbits of inspiration. Last year, he spoke of how we will look back on these early days of the worldwide bicycle movement with pride, because it is going to evolve into something highly important for a wider part of society. This year, he entertained us with words about how the festival differs in different countries: in Italy (Milan), the festival features a five course meal prepared entirely by volunteers; in Japan (Tokyo), the volunteers staffing the festival wear uniforms, form a line, and bow to the attendees as they arrive...

Ines Brunn at the Bicycle Film Festival, San FranciscoThe live highlight of the festival was Ines Brunn (, a phenomenal acrobat who appeared to defy gravity and physics to perform some TRULY REMARKABLE FIXED GEAR BIKE TRICKS. We were amazed. Go to her website and watch the video that is on the very front page - watch it all the way through. This will give you some idea, though the video has been edited to leave out the amazing transitions she makes from one trick to another, all of which are worth watching. Actually, that was what made them real - watching her get the bike up to speed and then do these completely improbable, dangerous stunts on the stage... Really. Go watch the video. Watch it NOW!!! She is awesome.


Ines DOMINATED Program 2, which contained 13 short films. The next highlight was a music video called "What's a Girl to Do" by Bat for Lashes (on, which was primarily entertaining because it made no sense at all. A girl is singing about her love going cold, while biking down a nighttime highway with men on bikes around her wearing animal heads and performing bike tricks. It is funny, in a vaguely surreal way. This is what YouTube is for, right?

There were also brief glimpses of cyclists participating in a/the Tour of Africa, and interviews with New Yorkers about the bike movement there.

Program 7's 15 films had a sort of common theme. If I had to sum it up, it would be: "Boys like to film themselves doing stunts." Last year's program (especially the one I referred to as 'the children's program') had plenty of this, but there was a sort of... prettiness to it? Elegance? Variety? It seemed like some of the riding was about grace, and not just about imitating skateboarding tricks on a fixie.

This year, it was more about imitating skateboarding tricks on a fixie. It was as if many of the boys were saying, I can go up a wall forward and then slide down it in reverse! Over and over! Wheee! To quote the woman a few seats away, "Didn't we just see this? Like, eight times?"

Problem: Ines Brunn had just done all of the tricks these boys were doing and more before Program 2 , LIVE, and waaaaaay better. It was damn near impossible to be impressed with the simple end of the fashionable tricks after seeing her riding her fixie as a unicycle, with no hands, with the handlebars as a seat, riding backwards at high speed... Did I mention that Ines is a badass?

There were highlights of Program 7 that went beyond masturbatory self-promotion by fashionable urban males playing in traffic and doing skateboardy stunts: "BELLE EPOCH," a compilation of found footage directed and edited by Robert Chynoweth shows Italian cyclist Giuliano Calore cycling up improbable alpine roads while playing musical instruments, riding without handlebars or brakes, and generally being wacky in a hard-core mountain cyclist way; and "Waffle Bike," a narrated, faux-European-mockumentary directed by the Neistat Brothers ( and Tom Sachs about a bike/waffle cart equipped with a refrigerator, Honda generator, shotguns, a machete, chicken cages, an obnoxious sound system... It is a deadpan riot. The diagrams rock! (The Neistat brothers were also the authors of one of my favorite previous BFF entries, Yogurt versus Gasoline, in which a cyclist in flip flops races against one of the world's fastest production motorcycles in New York City.)

The Bicycle Film Festival is a great time, as always, and the glimpses of bike culture around the world are excellent. To balance out the program, I really need to get together with a bunch of women outside of northern hemispheric cities and make some films that aren't all about how cool we look doing fixie tricks or racing in alley cats on multi-thousand dollar bikes, to help make the view more world-wide.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:32 PM

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Leaving the house now and then.

I have been out eating and drinking entirely too much lately, and it is beginning to show in the way my pants (fail to) fit. I would whine and carry on about how cruel life is... but good food is not exactly a curse, so it's not like I will earn your sympathy.


My efforts to reclaim my nightlife have been reasonably successful, especially with regard to live music. The first week of July I was able to enjoy the Charlie Hunter Trio ( at the Great American Music Hall ( It has been a few years since I've been able to see CH, and his show was excellent. I was wary at the beginning of the first set for no particular reason, but as the set became more intense, I remembered how fabulous a musician he is...

The first set, strangely enough, featured an arrangement of Blondie's Heart of Glass, which was done so cleverly that it took a while to identify itself, since it came through as pure jazz... And the second set was even better than the first.


The following week was the stellar Black Francis show, which I wrote about previously.


The Definite Articles at the Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco, July 17, 2008This past week brought me back to the Rickshaw Stop for The Definite Articles (who have a new song!), the Brass Liberation Orchestra (who gave themselves a longer-than-scheduled set, from what I understand), and Mucca Pazza (, who were fun fun fun fun fun.

Mucca Pazza at the Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco, July 17, 2008Who can I compare Mucca Pazza to? ("Your band is like a summer's day...")

They are like... The Extra Action Marching Band, except they all keep their clothes on!

They are like... The Infernal Noise Brigade, except they are still together and they wear mismatched costumes!

They are like... people I might have hung out with in school, if I had actually signed up for band/orchestra, which I did not, but those of you who were in band/orchestra who I do hang out with could have turned out to be these people if you had been... significantly less sedate and more inclined to grow facial hair?? Maybe?

MP is extremely fun. Talented musicians! Energetic peformers! They dominated the Rickshaw Stop. The show was enthralling, and audience bounced out merrily into the streets at the end of the encore.

Mucca Pazza at the Tour de Fat, San Francisco, July 19, 2008Little did I know that I would be able to enjoy Mucca Pazza live TWICE in the same week, for they were also the headliners at the Tour de Fat ( The Tour de Fat is New Belgium Brewing's fabulous summer festival series dedicated to raising money for biking and open-space causes in the localities where they put up their tents. Which means that people can come out for a day of free entertainment, show off their fancy custom bikes, and buy delicious, 16 ounce New Beligum beers with all of the proceeds going to organizations I love dearly, especially the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

The weather was terrible for an outdoor festival, but the festival was a blast, and I was there from 8:30 until it shut down.

Have I mentioned that I love bike people? I love bike people.

Visit the bands' websites to hear their great stuff.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:37 PM

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Bicycle Film Festival in San Francisco This Week!!! I am so excited!!

poster for the Bicycle Film Festival 2008

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:03 PM

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Another Fabulous Bike To Work Day!

Bike To Work Day 2008 logo from the San Francisco Bicycle CoalitionThis year, Bike To Work Day fell on May 15th, the anniversary of my spectacular bike wreck and emergency room visit. Last year, I had been rather humiliated to break my arm so very thoroughly during Bike To Work Week (of all weeks!), and had to have Steven call the coalition up to explain that I wouldn't be able to staff my shift at City College because, um, well, I was in the hospital. Man, that was embarrassing. But now, on the exact anniversary of my harsh encounter with streetcar tracks and pavement, I finally got to staff a gloriously sunny and fun BTWD Energizer Station on the City College Campus.

Bike people are awesome. And the weather was... exotically hot.

According to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's website (
There were twice as many bicycles as cars headed downtown on Market Street for Thursday's Bike to Work Day morning. City counts showed that bicyclists made up 64% of the eastbound traffic, while motorists comprised 32% — a nearly 31% increase in bikes over last year's Bike to Work Day counts.
green fixie with white rims at City College[Inset image: The Most Attractive Bike award goes to this fixie, which was brought by the City College Energizer Station. Yes, the chain does have white face plates on it, and the bike is immaculate, but its proud owner really did ride it there.]

Added bonus: the Bike Away From Work party at the Rickshaw Stop. I spoke with so many other volunteers that I know (about the things weekday SF cyclists have in common; how the cycling community has so many friendly, familiar, like-minded faces in it (Jared said it's like a big family, and he meant that in the best possible way); environmentalism, paradigm shifts, veganism, and other relevant topics; etc.) had a few good drinks, watched the sometimes painful scenes of Mash SF, and made my cousin think that I was working a reception line. (The secret to making your cousin think you're popular: volunteer at an organization for more than a decade, and then call your cousin somewhere between the club and the valet bike parking lot.)

I chatted with a fellow Green, and we considered going up to the Castro to join in any celebrations in honor of the California Supreme Court issuing a decision in favor of marriage for everyone equally, but I got tired and went home to bed. It was just too hot to remain upright.

Summary: it was fun, and bike people rock.

[This entry is actually being posted on May 18th. My apologies if this messes up your newsfeeds.]

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:21 PM

Monday, October 08, 2007


Mt. Diablo Challenge.

Arlene biking up Mt. Diablo, photograph © Doorstep Photography
Photo of me biking up Mt. Diablo, taken at Devil's Elbow by Doorstep Photography (, who sold me a lovely print. More of Doorstep's images from this event can be found here.

My employer was a major sponsor of the Mt. Diablo Challenge, a timed bike ride to the top of Mt. Diablo in the East Bay. Organized by Save Mount Diablo (, it is described thusly:
The Mount Diablo Challenge is a 10.8 mile timed bike ride, starting at Athenian School in Danville and climbing up Southgate Road 3,249 feet to the summit of Mount Diablo.
Somehow, my colleagues persuaded me that attending this event would be a good idea, even though I'd done so little riding since breaking my arm in May. When they persuaded me to sign up, I don't think I had done ANY riding, but October seemed like such a long way off...

I hadn't read about Bicycling magazine claiming it was one of the toughest bike ascents in the country. (Though I wouldn't have believed it. I mean, there are entire states like Colorado which are likely more difficult... Though perhaps they mean rides that people actually do?) I hadn't realized how few riders complete the event in under an hour, and how big a deal that is. I mean, it was obvious it was hard. But... it is HARD. (Duh.) I had signed up thinking it would be a social ride, and that we'd have half the day to complete it. Then someone took me aside and explained that people are SERIOUS about it.

That bled all of the 'fun' I'd been hoping for right out of it, and I began to dread it.

I did what any sensible gal who was recovering from a serious bike-wreck-surgery trauma would do: I rode my bike a little more. Just a little more. As in, the Mt. Diablo challenge was my 12th bike ride since I got back into the saddle post-surgery. It was only my third time on my road bike. (As a concession to the concept of training, I had taken my precious road bike on a single loop around the City, which I detailed for you with Gmap Pedometer in an earlier entry.) But that was it. I mean, biking remains kind of scary. One of life's greatest pleasures, but... also scary.

So off we went on the morning of October 7th, in the car (long before BART started running, ruining our chances of participating via transit), as the mountain got larger, and larger, and larger... I put a timing chip on my ankle, and instead of feeling excitement over participating in my first-ever timed athletic event, I felt something like a tagged bear.

Up. Up. Up. A little down - wheee! Up. Up. Up... I was determined to maintain a steady pace of around 6.5 miles per hour, and did so easily for the first six miles or so of the ride... And then the hill became very steep, and my nice plan fell apart.

But the views were lovely. Really lovely: rolling hills in all directions, with the view expanding farther and farther out with every turn in the road... And the other riders were friendly. Despite the competitive atmosphere, several riders gave me very cheerful words of encouragement.

At the beginning of mile 7, I pulled up to a woman who was biking with her daughter on a tag-along. I praised them for their strong pedaling, good form, and respectable pacing. The mother beamed at me and said, "Thank you." And after a pause, she added, "We're so lucky!"

It was an amazing thing to say while working so hard to bike up a mountain, but it was completely true. We are healthy enough to TRY biking up the mountain! The weather was beautiful! We were making good progress! We were there with friends and loved ones... And I was biking. With a functioning elbow (with a cool scar). On an arm that I can straighten out completely when I want to, something that had been in doubt for many months.

I said, "We ARE lucky," and kept on pedaling. (And pedaling. And pedaling.)

Despite my lack of preparation, I made it to the top. It took me 2 hours and 10 minutes. If I hadn't stopped at the water stops and taken a couple of stretching breaks, I could have worked that down by a few minutes, but not by much at my current, casual-cyclist fitness level. While other people were being very competitive about their time, or about beating their colleagues, or other such stuff, I was standing around, stretching my calves and thinking, I am so lucky to be alive! It's amazing that my elbow surgery went so well! It's amazing, considering my newly developed falling phobias, that I am able to ride today at all! And I made it to the top!

And then I hauled my falling phobia back down the hill on my road bike at 18 mph, riding my brakes hard all the way.


I am so happy! I am especially happy that the ride is OVER.

Steven, who participated (and came in at a very respectable time), suggested that I find a new job between now and this time next year, so that we're not obligated to participate again. :-)


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:18 PM

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