Monthly Archives: July 2015

In the way

Fred Lonas, taking stock of his supplies, before a long ride.

Fred Lonas, taking stock of his supplies, before a long ride.

“The Tour de France is very popular in Europe,” David Milburn said, “but here in the United States a biker pedaling alongside the road is considered ‘a nuisance.’”

Too many get mad at bicyclists, ride up on the biker’s rear wheel, flash lights, hit the steering wheel, and honk, furious that the biker is “in the way.”

Frederick Lonas lived in Purcellville, and rode his bike all over the area. Then he moved with his wife to Grants Pass, Oregon. But he still rode his bike every day. It kept him fit. No question it was energy efficient.

“In his early 70s, Fred rode his bike back from Grants Pass to Virginia to visit family and friends,” said David.

“Fred said the part of his cross-country trip that concerned him,” according to David, “was those mid-west logging trucks; it’s because they don’t give a shit. That’s what Fred said.”

What does it take for a car or truck to watch out, and go slow for 40 seconds, to give a three foot berth, before speeding off? Too few appreciate that life has a speed limit.

“Fred was in the insurance industry, at Mutual of Omaha, and studied risk,” said David, “and when he lived here in Purcellville, I’d often see him on the bike trail. He’d always have on his orange yellow vest. He wore flip flops with socks over them, as his bike shoes. He kept a steady pace, about 10 miles an hour, slower than mine, but, when I saw him at Starbuck’s, I’d always say, so everyone could hear, how he passed me. Fred enjoyed my kind obeisance.”

“We’d sit around at Starbuck’s, Fred wearing his riding shorts, one leg over the arm of the chair,” said David, “and he’d hold forth on all manner of issues, discussing everything you could imagine with Mark Levit, myself, and whomever came over. Then, coffee and conversation done, Fred would ride back from Leesburg to Purcellville on his bike.”

“Fred was last here a few weeks ago, he was 75 this trip,” said David, “he was getting ready to ride back to Grants Pass in Oregon from Leesburg. That’s a ride of more than 2,500 miles.”

Before he set out for Oregon, Fred said, “I’m so proud that my granddaughter painted my nails. I’m keeping them just as they are until I get back to Oregon, to show ‘grandma.’”

“Fred would stop along the way, observe the sights, stay at hostels,” said David, “so some days he’d make 50 miles, other days about 100.”

But on July 11, 2015, driving through Stutsman County, North Dakota, having biked about 1,500 miles, and traveling West on N.D. Highway 46, 10 miles short of US Highway 281, at about 6:35 pm, Fred was overlooked.

A 2007 400 horsepower Freightliner, weighing about 18,000 pounds, with a Reinauer flatbed trailer, struck Fred riding his bike on the far right of the westbound lane.

Fred was thrown into a ditch. The impact had to be bone crushing, instantaneous and unimaginable pain. Fred was likely dead before he hit the dirt. He was wearing a helmet, and his brightly colored vest, but that Freightliner driver didn’t give a shit.

Mark found the clipping in the Jamestown Sun, walked up to people in Starbuck’s who knew Fred, and asked, “Did you hear?” No one had.

“He was an amazing guy,” David said.

Drivers around here begrudge bikers that fraction of a minute delay they “endure” to pass a biker “in the way.”

Well, Fred’s no longer “in the way” because another driver didn’t care enough.

Drone on

droneAs a kid, I was really taken by Sputnik, a shiny Soviet satellite that circled the earth, and then I was captivated by anything having to do with the American astronauts, crossing the airless dark void, leaving earth behind, to walk on the moon.

I was equally fascinated, however, by the lower stratospheric aerodynamic marvels of Igor Sikorsky who made the most amazing helicopters – the most massive heavier-than-air machines that hovered like humming birds.

In May, on my birthday, I became the proud owner of a remote control quadcopter, the Phantom, more popularly known as “a drone,” of course, quite smaller than the tiniest Sikorsky helicopter, but amazing in its own way, hovering at eye level right in front of you, brushing your hair back with the surprising force of its spinning rotors, carrying a photographic payload that takes high-def pictures, when the drone shoots straight up at impressive speeds to a 1,000 feet and higher.

Once you’ve assembled this flying machine, requiring that you have actually read the instructions, it soon becomes clear that the average drone is light enough by weight that you have to become adroit at yaw (think rudder control or angular velocity), roll (left-right) and pitch (front/back) to surf the slightest wind pressing against your light weight drone. (You can study my early efforts on YouTube – 1st –, and 2nd – ).

In January of this year, there was a big flap about how the White House radar, intended to detect flying objects like planes and missiles, missed entirely a drone like my own that crashed into a tree on the South Lawn about 3 AM. What I find entirely credible is that the owner of the drone said he lost control of it – and lost control of his privacy in the bargain. For good reason, the tyro drone operator was not charged with any crime. Continue reading

To save a mocking bird!

mockingbirdAtticus Finch was the champion of a black man’s rights in Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a story instructing one and all to be tolerant and have courage in the face of racial discrimination; it was later made into an academy award winning blockbuster with the renowned actor, Gregory Peck, playing the young lawyer, Atticus.

Harper Lee wrote another book about Atticus Finch, as an elder, when he’s 72, called. “Go Set a Watchman,” and the novel has been kept secret since the 1950s.

Only now is it being released.

I’m very clear, after seeing the book reviews, that I’m not ever “gonna” read the new version of the elder Atticus in “Watchman.”

In this new version, Atticus is a confessed racist who attended KKK rallies.

I know enough about that kind of unreconstructed southern segregationist – as I presume is fictionalized in Lee’s “Watchman” – that I don’t need to read it.

After all, the significance of the title, “to kill a mocking bird,” is that it means to kill innocence, and to denigrate Atticus in this successor novel is the same thing.

While Atticus may have been a conflated creation of Harper Lee’s imagination, I know that there really did exist men and women like the Atticus of “Mockingbird,” who showed courage in the face of racial intolerance.

The nation needs such vision now, a standard, an uplifting idea, to focus the scattered energy of our people, by which we may measure how and whether we are moving forward.

The nation is hurting but there have been southern winds of reform that are significant and encouraging because they represent change.

Aristotle taught that “spoken words” are symbols of “affections in the soul.”

There are of course many other means of expression that are symbols revelatory of the soul.

We live in a symbol system in the South of flags, place names, statues, and more that are inherent in the regional culture that reflect grave disaffection in a collective soul and perpetuate the wrongly learned values of rebellion, intolerance, segregation, slavery and hate.

This ante-bellum “arrangement” may well suit those in an enduring “rebellion” but not those who are the objects of intolerance. Continue reading

The Fourth of July

flagfourthThe Fourth of July is a pageant celebrating our independence from an Imperial nation that denied us self-rule, dignity and freedom.

It’s a time of marching bands, waving flags, gathering family and friends close, eating and drinking all kinds of delights, laughing, talking, hugging, sharing pleasant thoughts, and capping it all with cloud-brushing, soaring multicolored flashes of fireworks, lighting the night sky with the oohs and aahs of crowds across the nation.

It’s a holiday from work in a ritual that celebrates our best qualities as a people.

It evokes the language of the declaration hammered out in a hot Philadelphia Hall, striking and revising the words of Thomas Jefferson with phrases refined to define who we were and what we were undertaking.

We should reflect upon the sentiments of this grand occasion, and how we may fulfill them today – in our day and time.

We declared that “all men are created equal,” and we’ve struggled to perfect that sentiment ever since, and we’ve made great strides, but like all great and historic undertakings, there remains more to be done – and now is the time to do it. Continue reading