Driving yesterday, I had the thought: “Someone has replaced New Mexico with an exact duplicate, except without orange barrels on I-25.”
I thought I’d celebrate the day with a link to an article about Cristopher Columbus over at defector.com: Christopher Columbus And The Replacement-Level Historical Figure. If you’re not a sports fan, you might not have seen the phrase “Replacement Level” that is used in the title. In sports, as statistics become ever-more sophisticated, you come across the question “how much better (or worse) is this athlete compared to a completely average person doing the same job?”
Patrick Wyman likes to ask that same question, but not about athletes, but about political and historical figures. Was Henry VIII exceptional, or was he just another Wealthy Asshole doing Wealthy Asshole stuff? What Wyman has discovered is that it is much more informative to look at the class of person who did something big, rather than to dwell on the name of the particular member of that class who actually did it. If it wasn’t them, it would have been someone else.
Back in the 1480’s, there were dozens of Christopher Columbuses sailing around. The one we remember might have been a little dumber than most of his peers (just about everyone else was correctly certain his estimate for he size of planet Earth was way off the mark), and maybe a bit more consumed with social climbing, but in every significant way he was a perfectly ordinary sociopath getting rich off the suffering and subjugation of others.
He would hang out with other, now forgotten sea captains, trading tips on how to most efficiently destroy civilization in Africa and how best to suck up to the various navies deployed to protect their evil trade.
Chris was just dumb enough to try something his peers hadn’t yet, but it was only a matter of time.
Would anything have been different if another captain had made the voyage? About the only difference is that other captain would have been smart enough to realize he had stumbled on an unknown continent and named it after himself, and the natives in this land would not be called “Indians”.
Other than that, the replacement-level sea captain would have still have been a genocidal racist, willing to kill thousands of people if it meant he could sell dozens. He would have used disease, intimidation, and rape to get what he wanted. Back home, he wold tell outrageous lies.
Yet we have a day in this country named after one slightly-below-average member of this club. We learned in school that he was a hero, now we are learning something closer to the truth. But both these narratives make Columbus someone special. He was not. There was a swarm of flies, and he just happened to be the first fly to land on the new world.
There is a homeless camp near the Children’s Museum. I ride through it on my trips that start to the North. The camp is growing, as are all the tent cities along the river. We can all take credit for that.
The city does what it can to limit the harm, providing portable toilets and looking the other way when a chain of extension cords or even a hose reaches from the museum to the camp. In one of the most expensive towns in the world, it doesn’t take much to knock a family out of their home. At least some here are more concerned with protecting people and environment rather than assigning blame.
You see some pretty nice cars in the camps these days, reminders of where these people were before they lost everything. Tricked out rice rockets, European luxo-mobiles, big-ass SUV’s. The cars are memories now, tires going flat. Time, poverty, and desperation inevitably overcome all things, especially cars; decay is accelerated. The minivan parked by the tracks one day is a burned-out hulk the next.
In the camp by the children’s museum, there was a car on a trailer. I am not an expert on antique automobiles. My first guess was a 1950’s MG, but looking at pictures now, this car lacks the signature fender->running board line of the MG’s.
But it is a classic roadster of that form, and at first it was on a trailer. The trailer is gone now.
It is a negotiation I think I understand. Job is gone, home is gone, but there is one thing you hold on to. But even being homeless is expensive, especially if you want to escape it. Fees on everything. Do you keep your phone account or do you eat? The trailer is sacrificed to keep the idea alive that this is just temporary. That on the other side will be a life where the classic car means something again.
I wonder that someone down on their luck can’t find a friend with a garage to hold their car until things get better. But although this car is more conspicuous, as I said above there are many nice automobiles in this place, and the number is growing. And friends are hard to find when you have nothing.
I dread the day I ride past and the accelerated entropy has overcome this vehicle. It’s just a thing, metal and rubber and whatnot, and its only value is what we assign it. But it’s also a dream. It’s hope. It’s a lifeline someone is clinging to. I just wish I shared that hope.
Today I rode Stevens Creek Trail for the first time, and it’s pretty cool: a tiny jungle wedged between a freeway and suburbs, with lots of engineering to overcome highways and the occasional railroad. As I approached the south end of the bay I passed Moffet field and the NASA Ames Research center. Just past that there was a pair of fancy new buildings going up.
“Huh.” I thought to myself, “I’d have thought that NASA people would know better than to create grand new structures at sea level.”
The hue of the image is due to smoke; this is the “new normal”, as the kids say. So – two big buildings with Major Architecture going up (only one pictured here), on land that is almost certain to be under water within the intended lifespan of the buildings.
I wondered how NASA could be so short-sighted, but it turns out they’ve worked a pretty good scam. After I got home I did some research.
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to one of Google’s new flagship sites. I imagine the NASA people who leased Google the land are cackling at the prospect of getting anything at all for that doomed real estate. And maybe if Google is there, they will spend their billions to protect their investment, constructing dikes and pumping stations that not only will prolong the agony for Google but also give NASA a few more years in their own facilities next door.
The people who paid for that new fancy building must know that the ocean will soon be taking ownership of that land, right? They must know that clever geothermal piles (which sound pretty cool) will not alter the simple fact that the ocean is rising, and cares not how many dollars you have sunk into your new building.
I have many unflattering things to say about Google, but stupid was not one of them. But if the shoe fits…
My local bike shop published a nice intro to indoor bike trainers today, breaking down the different types and the pros and cons of each. There was one section of the article addressing why one might want an indoor trainer, that included this:
You can get a great ride in regardless of rain, wind, smoke, or snow.
Smoke. A new weather condition driving us indoors. One we created all by ourselves.
When writing I used to listen to music much of the time, but not so much anymore. But for some reason tonight I was inspired to put the pods in my ears and fire up some Stiff Little Fingers, starting with Suspect Device, one of the best Punk songs ever, then through Alternative Ulster and Can’t Say Crap on the Radio.
For a band with such an incendiary start, they have stayed together for a long time, and they produced memorable music for a couple of decades (it seems they are still making music together, which gladdens my heart). But those earliest, raw anthems that sing about “them” are my favorites. Stiff Little Fingers are punk, but the musicianship is there, always twisting, sometimes surprising, never dull.
Like all true punk bands, they were political. As a band in Belfast during the Time of Troubles, they were playing in a war zone. Those early concerts must have been damn near riots. I wish now I could have been at one, but I probably would have shit myself.
I haven’t got much writing done tonight, but I’m not sorry. It’s been a long time since I performed Suspect Device at Punk Rock karaoke down in San Diego (Yeah, I fronted a band with Greg Hetson (Circle Jerks) and Eric Melvin (NOFX) for one awesome and really loud three minutes. I’d like to believe Jennifer Finch (L7) was there too, but things are fuzzy), and it’s time to get back in touch.
Punk still lives today, but it’s not white guys with guitars who are making punk, it’s hip-hop and the countless variations I am not qualified to enumerate that carry that political torch of protest and disruption. But I like the guitars.
CODA: As I make my way through their catalog, I am reminded what pioneers that band could be on occasion. “This sounds like what <insert band here> did, only… [checks date] before them.”
In general, I enjoy the NHL games played outdoors. I might argue that they are turning to that gimmick a touch too often these days, robbing the event of its inherent specialness, but I’m still on board for at least one outdoor game each year. It’s different and fun and the players just seem a little happier.
Most years, it’s also a chance to have a hockey game in a giant arena that holds tens of thousands more fans than fit into a traditional hockey venue. After a couple of dicey years, the NHL developed a mighty mobile refrigeration unit that could maintain a good sheet of ice just about anywhere.
Just about. Today’s outdoor game in South Lake Tahoe was a disaster. The sun shone down and any ice over painted areas, like the logo in the center of the rink or the red dots, turned to slush. After the first period it was decided to postpone the rest of the game until long after nightfall. Luckily no one was hurt before that decision was made.
When you schedule an outdoor game, the weather will always be a risk. It seemed smart at first blush to put a game where there was no need to accommodate fans in a beautiful wintry setting. So the NHL decided to play a couple of games in Tahoe, setting up the rink on a golf course next to the lake. Lovely.
The thing is, when you don’t have to accommodate fans, you don’t have to build a rink. There are thousands (probably) of outdoor rinks on this continent that could have hosted this game — and imagine all the extra hometown color that could have enhanced the story.
I have been skating plenty of times — as ai kid I hit the ice fairly regularly in the winter — but I’ve never skated indoors. Not once. The little rink in my hometown was nestled in a deep canyon and shaded by ponderosas and long banners of fabric hanging from wires overhead to thwart the Northern New Mexico sun. At 7200 feet altitude, the air was cold and dry. Good for ice.
For the cost of building a rink on a golf course and then destroying TV ratings by moving most of the game until after most hockey fans were asleep, the NHL could have installed glass at our little rink and played the game in the most nostalgic setting imaginable — a little rink in a little town (high enough up that even the Avalanche might have been short of breath), and the players could have got their hot chocolate in little plastic cups just like the rest of us do. It could have been fuckin’ magical.
Addendum: I went looking for a picture of the ol’ rink, and apparently it has glass now. In fact: “Built in 1936, the Ice Rink is the only refrigerated, NHL regulation, outdoor Ice Rink in New Mexico.” Those who know the history of Los Alamos realize that in 1936 the town didn’t exist; the rink was part of the Ranch for Boys that occupied the land before the Manhattan Project. Maybe there’s an old photo somewhere of Colgate and Pond in hockey garb. All more fascinating material for the TV yakkers to gush over.
The rink in this picture looks WAY swankier than it did was when I was a kid. Maybe not so good for nostalgia, but that ice is just waiting for the NHL to figure out how to get a no-audience outdoor game right. And with the glass they won’t have to send someone up the slope into the woods to find the puck quite so often.