< June 27, 1998 >

Summer Splurge

We didn't get out of work, last night, until well after 8 p.m. because John had so many thing to catch up on and a few things that simply had to be done and it was either stay late or come in over the weekend, and, well, the choice was pretty obvious. Though we got bonuses unexpected from the same decision.

By the time we were headed home it was raining, the sky was as dark as angst, and the rain was falling as softly as it always does up here. The woods were murky wet when we got home and we saw Charlie's car nestled in the blacktopped turning spot. Fezzik was very, very damp when we let him out and he was hobbling a bit from the swamp adventures, still stiff with overused muscles.

I was faint from hunger and lack of blood sugar, unable to make much of a decision about anything. My initial desire for food was for The Keg, which is a steak and other things place that served lots of very good prime rib when I was in the mood for Meat. I was kinda in the mood for Meat, so we went. Charlie laughed at my saying, "Meat!" in what passes for a grunt in my voice. He put on black leather and sunglasses and we piled into the Range Rover and went to The Keg in the rain.

Charlie luxuriated in the rain, said that in Albuquerque, on the high desert they'd only had rain perhaps seven times that year. That it was very nice to get back into nearly English weather, with all the green around. Charlie is 6'10" tall, British, and fey looking, with slanted brown eyes, brown streaked with blond hair with a cowlick and the body build of a scarecrow. So slender you'd think he's snap, but also semi-surprisingly strong, agile and limber in ways that I don't usually think of with tall men.

He also had dozens of drinking stories. Many of which were really funny and which had John and I just laughing pretty hard in amazement. He and John had a beer at the Keg and I had an odd Kiwi syrup and 7 Up thing and we ordered food, that can with a nice Caesar salad. My prime rib was perfectly cooked or uncooked perfectly, depending on how you see a rare prime rib, with plenty of nicely garlicy mashed potatoes on the side. The meat was tender, flavorful, juicy and the fresh grated horseradish had a wonderful bite to it. It was a most excellent meal, and helped my mood tremendously.

We walked out into a steadier rain than the sporadic wind-blown stuff of before. Steady, but not hard or pouring, it wasn't so hard that we had to cover up and run for the car, but steady enough that we were getting thoroughly damp with the walk. I put up my hood and Charlie spread his arms and whirled under the softly streaming sky.

Home again, home again...

We stayed up late taking and watched the English win their game and talked and they drank some of John's beer. The art of conversation is a keen one and we were up until well after 1 a.m..

Waking up was hard to do, so I didn't for a while. Did manage to get up around 11 a.m. and asked Charlie if pancakes were okay, and made a big pile of them for the three of us. John cooked the thick cut bacon, and when the food was done, we sat at the breakfast counter and Fezzik lay just behind my chair and waited for food. Smart dog. I'm the easiest person in the world for him to mooch off of when he eats nicely. I made about eight inch diameter pancakes and we had 'em with real maple syrup and the chewy crisp thick sliced bacon redolent with hickory smoke.

After breakfast, at nearly noon, Charlie wandered off to his wedding, John went off to do errands and I took a good two hours and went through all the exercises I could do at home. I can't do the lunge rope stuff, but there are a whole set of leg weight exercises that I don't do at PT which I do do at home.

Then I wandered up to a bathroom filled with, of all things, sunlight and showered thoroughly. John got home about then and lotioned my back and then the two of us went out to shop.

Cost Plus is a somewhat higher scale imports place that imports things from all over the world, and they have fairly okay prices on most of the things that they get. The store is about a third food, a third household items and a third just strange Stuff from all over the world. Trip gets me apricot brandy cordials from the store near him, and this one just opened up here, but in Bellevue, which is just across Lake Sammamish, but not so far as to be near Seattle, which is across Lake Washington.

Samson's Deli, which we visited when we were in San Diego reminded me that I really ought to find a great deli here in Seattle. There haven't been any Jewish deli's with amazing cheese blintzes in my recollection, but I did know of an Italian deli, DeLaurenti's, which I was fairly sure was very good, but we'd just never managed to be in Bellevue at a time when they were open.

Now, for the past several months, we've been talking about buying me a mountain bike. John had shopped four different bike shops, talked with various people, and went through various tests of bikes and finally settled on Greg's Greenlake as a reputable shop with a long history, plenty of good service and good prices. He bought his there, and we decided it would be silly to buy me a bike when I didn't even have the leg strength to stand on one leg long enough to try out a bike. But now I had the leg strength and a need to work up leg muscle mass, so it made sense. Besides with all the folks around me getting into biking, Kit, Gretchen, Paul, and Ceej (okay, one of 'em I just read about) it seemed a thing to do. Greg's was also having a sale that weekend. They were also in Bellevue.

So we went to Bellevue. And hit all three shops, pretty much in the order listed above. Had a huge haul from Cost Plus, as there were a few bathroom items, a back scrubber and scritcher, lots of Scottish and French bubble bath and many cordials. General food fun, and I also found a little, square candle lamp, which was a tinned box with glass walls, and a round hole in the top for a chimney and a metal hanger. Keeps the wind off the candle but lets the light out. So that was cool.

DiLaurenti's was marvelous. From fresh Italian style breads to Amarettatini, from canned Italian tomatos to frozen pesto, from fresh mozarella to sun dried tomatos, from lovely prosciutto from various provinces to hundreds of pastas and cheeses, it lived up to its reputation; and wasn't nearly as crowded as the branch at the Pike Place Market. So shopping was low-pressure and easy and thorough. Fun. We got enough stuff for dinner, including a loaf of nice chewy textured bread.

Then to the bike shop.

I really wanted to try the cheaper bikes and think that that would be enough. That I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the nicer frames and the worser frames, or any of the equipment. I really wanted to be just cheap, dumb, and insensitive to differences of mass, flexibility and precision on the gearing. It's really odd, after listening to everyone else that has gone bike shopping to actually say that, but, well, there you have it. I was going to be clueless. Yeah. Right.

We got to the on-sale Specialized bikes. Not the Rock Hopper but the next model down, steel frame, no suspension, caliper breaks. It was what Adam, the sales guy, recommended when I said that I was just going to be a casual rider. Said that if that was really what I was going to do with it, then I probably didn't need any more than that. Good sales guy, going directly for the low-cost bike rather than even bothering to push the higher end stuff. Unfortunately the bike needed a shop tune-up before it could be ridden. He gave me paperwork, a borrowed helmet and I gave him ID and credit card as prep. Then while I was waiting around, I asked him if I could try something else while I was waiting.

He shrugged, then nodded and pulled out a Cannondale CAD2 that was on sale, muttering, "Huh, pretty good deal." as he saw the price tag on it to himself. It was black and simple, no suspension and just the caliper breaks instead of linear ones, but when I got on it was like flying. I thought it was just because it's the first time I've been on a bike in years. Actually, I had some problems with it to begin with as the seat post clamp was a bit loose, so when I actually sat on it it fell down. Nasty, hard seat. Then I had to figure out how to use the handlebar gears, which turned out fairly intuitive. But even with all those bad first impressions, it was a fun ride, so I thought it was just the new tech of the gears being on the handlebars. There was a really steep slope just opposite the store on a driveway into the parking lot. I had to be really on the lookout for cars going into it, but it was a perfect comparison to our driveway. Just as steep.

So I bombed on up it, and then back down and around and over speed bumps and up and over curbs and things, just to feel what bigger bumps were like on the mountain bike frame. I thought some of what I was feeling was just because it was a mountain bike. Fat mountain tires and low-down gearing...

I was wrong.

When I got back the Specialized sale bike was ready, and I got on it and... it was entirely different. Slow, clunky, luggy, and the gears never quite really got in line, and the brakes didn't feel right, and even with the seat re-adjusted a few times to be sure I got my leg length right, it never responded nearly as well as the other bike to what I put into it. Going up that small hill was nasty, and I felt like a rock falling when I went down it, rather than that controlled flight feeling I had on the other bike. My weight was a bit too far back, and it didn't feel balanced right. The tires felt harder, less grippy, and were just slightly thinner. The handle bars were above the very padded, fat seat, and the sales guy said that most people liked that for comfort, but, sadly what I didn't find comfortable was the lack of that sense of precise balance I'd had on the Cannondale.

When I rolled back into the front of the store I said, "Dratdratdratdrat..."

Looking mildly alarmed, Adam said, "Uhm. What's wrong?"

I growled, "This is really bad, I can feel the difference."

John just started laughing.

He then was a bit more helpful and asked Adam to find something completely different, just to try something else and compare them and see how they worked. So he found a bike with linear brakes, a suspension system, and a completely different frame, a Trek, I think. So I bombed around the parking lot on that. It did feel squishy odd with the suspension system, and was nice over the speed bumps, but not quite as quick up the hill or on the turns, the balance wasn't quite the same as on the Cannondale.

When we finally set them all side-by-side, it was pretty obvious why I was having such a better time with the Cannondale. Part of it was just the architecture of the frame in that it's supposed to be less flexible than the others, which forms a tradeoff of taking the bumps and letting me feel less of them or giving me all the bumps with extra control and ability to push against the rigidity of the frame. The liveliness of the darned frame was because of its lack of flexibility. When I pushed, it put all my energy into its motion rather than some of it into flexing the frame, first. But most of it was the simple fact that the frame allowed my seat to be able even with my handlebars. Allowed me a complete four-way balance on the bike, and with handlebars that were slightly wider than the Specialized, I had more leverage on the steering.

I learned a lot more about the various frames, and Adam was doing a good job trying to outline the advantages of the Specialized bike. He also noted the linear brakes and the suspension on the Trek as being better than the normal caliper brakes for breaking power and having no suspension on dirt roads, simply for the abuse the arms take. But I also realized that since the Cannondale frame didn't have those on it, I could wait, wear out the caliper brakes if I was going to use it a lot, and experience dirt road riding for a while to see if I really needed a suspension. If I actually rode it enough to wear out the brakes it would easily justify getting better brakes later.

Then I found out the gearing that was on the bike was just one tier down from top racing level gears. Don't remember the manufacturer, but that explained why that gearing was so smooth and easy. Trading off the suspension and the brakes for the frame and the gears seemed an easy decision to make, as the Trek and the Cannondale were exactly the same price. Given that the gearing was not likely to wear out nearly as quickly as the brakes might, it seemed wise to get them at top quality first.

So, yes, we bought the Cannondale. Along with a kick stand, water bottle stuff, a helmet, and John needed new handlebars as the old ones were too low for him. Other random stuff as necessary and we didn't get out the door until after it had already been locked as the shop was closed. Adam was remarkably patient with us, especially since his girlfriend came in when the shop closed and was waiting for him to finish with us and then John went to try and find yet another tire tube for the two of us. As we were checking out Adam mentioned that unlike some of the other bikes in the shop the Cannondale frame had a lifetime warrentee. So it's likely going to be the very last bike I ever buy. Yeah, right, and I'd gone in there thinking that I wasn't going to get a good bike because I couldn't feel the difference.

We finally finished. An amusing thing that happened was that as I was riding around, Adam started commenting on the Stoat, without any clue that it was John's. He was saying that yeah, that was a beautiful machine, that if he was ever going to have an off-road vehicle it would be like that, old, beat up, covered with mud and happy, solid and ready to go through everything. When he was talking about how much he wanted it, John finally laughed and said, "You can't have it."

"It's yours? Wow."

It was kinda funny and kinda cool.

After dropping from shopping, we went home. Charlie had gotten back from his wedding and was aminable to having dinner even after a light reception, so I made enough for three. He had found a person that had gone to a school next door to his, from England, and had marveled over the coincidence and conversation, which consisted mostly of how England had played in that last game. Good thing he'd seen it.

I took three chicken breast halves, defrosted them part way, sliced them in half, then stuffed 'em with a mixture of crushed garlic, grated romano cheese, and finely chopped prosciutto. Just chopped it all fine together and then layered the chicken breast bits with that. Put about a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan and added the chicken carefully, put a lid on it and left it at medium heat. Put on water to boil. Turned the chicken somewhere in there, pleased that the cheese was melting nicely. When the water boiled, dumped garlic-parsley linguini into it and promptly put the chicken breasts on a plate and covered them. Poured out the excess oil, then dropped a third of a bottle of a good white wine into the pan and scraped the bottom to get all the good bits and flavor out of it. Juggled frozen petite peas into the microwave and had Charlie stir them and do another few minutes until they were hot. Crushed dried parsley into the sauce on the stove, waited until it was at about half the original volume, then added a little cornstarch in water and it thickened nicely.

The pasta came out of the boiling water, then, and I put it back into the pot with the DiLaurenti's pesto. Yum. The chicken went on the plates, peas next to them, and the sauce on the chicken, then the pasta in pesto on the side. John cut the fresh bread and we all sat down to eat. Yum.

It turned out really well.

After dinner we took Fezzik out to the Marymoore off-leash area as Charlie had expressed interest. There weren't nearly as many dogs as normal there, but Fezzik, as usual, ran himself ragged happily. There was one part black Lab pup that was zooming around all over the place, enjoying getting chased by Fezzik as Fezzik would figure out the shortest route pretty quickly on a lot of the runs. At one place, Fezzik just stood at a particular point as the other dog charged all the way around the bush and got surprised by Fezzik just waiting for him. Fez is pretty smart a lot of the time.

The other surprising thing was seeing a nine-year-old greyhound waking sedately by the side of its master, and the guy explaining that the greyhound was really sedate because it was so old. Then having Fezzik zoom by at a full out galumphing gallop and having us explain to the man that Fezzik was nearly ten, now and well... uhm... it was funny to see. But I'm thankful, every day, for Fezzik being in as good a shape as he is. It's nice knowing that he's fit and happy and healthy and as active as he is. He very definitely has fun on his romps in the park.

Then we went to Dairy Queen and had sundaes and fed Fezzik two doggie cones and John got complimented on his Jeep, which he returned with, "It's not a Jeep, it's a Land Rover." and got back, "Okay, that's a really hulkin' Land Rover."

We then drove to a construction site at the nearby new Mall and went trundling up onto gravel piles and sat there and watched as a traveling carnival whirled all its colorful lights in the parking lot. Fezzik barked at the shooting gallery for a while until we calmed him down with ice cream. After finishing off the ice cream we drove home.

Charlie and I stayed up until about 2 a.m. what with talking, my giving him a complete backrub and quiet muscle stroking for a while while talking some more. Lots of it was about the science fiction collection that I have right on the wall there in the guest bedroom. Charlie's father-in-law has an SF collection that fills an entire four car garage sized building with bookshelves that are just about another shelf width apart with books. It nearly looks like a used book store. They have nearly everything in that collection.

It was fun trading favorite authors and why they were good, parallels between what he liked and what I'd collected, along with what had impacted him that I didn't have on my shelves. There aren't that many people that sit around and just talk about books in my real life. The Horde has started up a book club kind of thing, and that's cool, but, for me, it's nearly all on-line and not something that's like face to face just talking about all the books that one loves.

Okay, Anita and Jon, maybe I really do have to go see what Vanguard is about.

© 1998 by Liralen Li.

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