2.05.2007

Where I was when: Chafed by the bay, renting a bike in San Francisco

Downward career trajectories: From 1995 - 2000 I had an Internet era boom/bubble job that paid me quite well, was interesting, and was in a congenial location (Burlington). All things must pass, however, and the tail end of this experience involved working at a company (my employer was acquired) that epitomized that period's cash-burning IPO-funded scam companies, which wasn't much fun at all. This company quickly ran out of money and was acquired in turn by Earthlink, and I was finally laid off (with a nice severance check, thankfully) on December 15, 2000. Since then I have had a variety of professional experiences and also spent some time at school as the state of Vermont classified me as a 'displaced technology worker'.

So, in the course of this odyssey of personal and professional trial and tribulation, in February 2002 I was working at a marketing-telecom company. This firm's main market was automobile dealers, and I was delegated to attend the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) convention in San Francisco, CA. All I had to do at this event was to walk the floor for three days, make contacts, take notes, and scope out the booth presence of my then-employer's largest competitor. This was a cushy and rather incongruous assignment for me, as automobiles do not really get me excited... and I am pretty committed to using a bike as transportation whenever possible. I wish I had kept a copy of my trip report because it definitely owed a little something to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the parts where HST crashes a convention of law-enforcement types.... cars are not my thing.

I was flying to San Francisco on the day that the space shuttle Columbia was scheduled to return from orbit. Of course that ended in tragedy and as I was changing planes in O'Hare, the concourses were lined with TVs all tuned to CNN showing images like this:
This would have been sad and depressing under normal circumstances but it was doubly so as I was catching the next flight to continue my trip. I think I am becoming inured to tragedy, there are so many sad things going on in the world.

Once I arrived in San Francisco, however, I enjoyed four days of spectacular weather, cloudless skies and daytime temperatures in the mid-sixties -- quite a change from Vermont in February. The trade show didn't stay open late so I spent the late afternoons exploring the city and dining in restaurants on my expense account. I discovered that it was possible to rent a bike in the Fisherman's Wharf tourist district... which piqued my interest even though I had brought no suitable clothes for bike riding of any kind.

I bought a cheap pair of shorts (not cycling shorts, mind you) at the flagship Old Navy store downtown and headed off to rent a bike one afternoon. I wound up on a pig of a heavy mountain bike with a dorky helmet that tilted down across my eyes and of course I had no cycling shoes with me so I was riding in regular street shoes. It must have been quite a sight because I got this porky bike up to an unsafe speed (I was still a 'bike racer' at this point in my life) and blasted down the path along the bay to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a really spectacular day and I remember how cool it was to ride across the bridge in the late afternoon sun and experience the view and to stop and peer over the low railing down the fatal drop into the cold waters below.

I have ridden a bike tens of thousands of miles in my lifetime and while I never acquired a really flashy expensive road bike I did have OK equipment, and I raced in all the New England states, NY, Quebec, and (briefly) down south (VA, NC, GA)... but it's not the equipment or the event that make the experience. All that's needed is a bike that sort of works and the motivation to ride, a spectacular setting like the Golden Gate Bridge is just a bonus.

The photo at the top was taken with a circa late-90s digicam that was meant to be given away as a marketing premium that I brought with me to this event. Today I'm sure that the average cell phone camera could do a better job, but it does convey the brilliant weather that I experienced on this trip.

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