Saturday, January 29, 2011

It's so warm, even the fat flies come out

So you wonder what that title is all about? It's pretty simple, just like everything else in my life (and yours), if you look at it from the right angle.

I've been back in the big Hub since yesterday morning, Friday to be exact. Nothing like the "red eye" from LAX to Dallas, especially if you had arrived in DFW about 16 hrs earlier but for the sick sake of miles decided to go for a little California detour. Well, just check my post from January 21, and you'll understand. If you don't, shoot me an e-mail (still, despite retirement and Tech's latest updates to the system) and I'll try to explain to you, patiently, what the word chi-chi means.

But back to the intriguing title—intriguing to most of us, I would think, since there are so many connotations, so many meanings even in a dull person's life, and fortunately none of us belong into that category. Take the title literal: One damn fat fly, let's call him Jake, came out tonight while I was fixing my salmon and trout fillets before they hit the Kamado, chopping my salad yummies while at the same keeping a keen eye on what my potato wedges (olive oil, sea salt, a bit of thyme and marjoram) were doing to each other in 430 degrees of Fahrenheitsian heat. Out of nowhere, doors closed, screens on the open windows: a big-ass fly that had just hatched out of nowhere, waiting to be smooshed. Judy and I commented on these suckers so often.

Judy..... Alas, today it was 4  months to the day that the sun came up at shortly after 8 a.m. (right at about the same time when, today, I talked on the phone with my dad in Berlin) and she slipped away. So, we'd say, where do these SOBs (the flies!) come from, from nil to performing big helicopter-like antics in a split second? I didn't kill Jake. May he live his life in peace.

Lubbock was at about 71 degrees or so today. How wonderful! I hit the club ride and we checked out whether Ropesville had been blessed with a new Wal-Mart, or worse. Not so. I ended up with a nice, round five O on the odometer. That was enough justification not only for a long soak in the hot tub but also to have a beer for Happy Hour and then a  bottle of something white for my great dinner. I looked over to where Judy would have sat, but she didn't show up—even though I am sure she was with me. Oh, how it sucks. Well, not totally: I get the whole bottle to myself. But you now what? I'd gladly trade all of my cellared goodies for another half hour with her. No worries: We always talked about that and I feel no remorse, regrests, or re-whatevers, since we were always aware.

Tomorrow is supposed to be another beautiful day out here in West Texas, so the twin pistons will be called upon once again. Carl won't be around, and Rod already has announced that he won't make Lakeway Liquor any richer, so I guess I'll stay dry, too. (If you're not a local but wonder about this ride, post a comment and I'll not only fill you in but will extend a sincere invitation. That includes you, Magali, ma chère.)

Monday I'll leave for a two-day quickie to the LA area, where I'll meet with the organizers of a UCI race (March) that has been put in my hands. Now folks, this is not only unusual but pretty much unprecedented, as far as I can tell, to have organizers fly you to a venue ahead of time to assure that things are okey-dokey. Big props here for Sott and Ty at Sho-Air.

That's all for this Saturday evening. Enjoy the Sunday, 'cause you never know where (or whether) Monday will find you. Stay tuned for a CA reckoning (or not) and more news from München in less than a fortnight. If you don't love this blog for re-acquainting you with what you thought were long-lost words, you oughta be teaching English!

Ciao for now,


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why Germans like to drink beer

Have you ever wondered where Germans' fascination with beer stems from? Well, wonder no longer. This photo should explain it all:

This cute little guy is Mauricio, the son of my cousin Paddy and his wife, Claudenice. I'm currently staying with them in Cologne, after spending a few days in my old hometown of Schleiden and sampling the beer culture there. My old buddy Tom obviously learned well as a kid, and he knows how to pour a mean mug:

These past few days—first in Aachen, then in Schleiden, now in Cologne—have been absolutely great as I've been reconnecting with old buddies whom I had not seen in ages. The last time I had been in Schleiden was about seven years ago, and that had been just for an overnight stay. Walking around town and seeing the few subtle changes (as well as what has not changed) felt good and right. I had a chance to talk to old neighbors of ours, and I heard about the latest gossip. Still, this was once home but now is only a place to visit.

Panoramic view of Schleiden

Tonight, I am sure, Paddy and I will take care of a few more Kölsch before I'll head back to Frankfurt tomorrow morning via high-speed train and then embark on my roundabout flight back to the hub city—roundabout via LAX.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Das Dreiländereck

Of course, nobody but a German would know what this cryptic title could mean, but I went there yesterday: It's the spot where Germany, Holland, and Belgium have a common border. It's only about a 20-minute walk from Dieter and Marjo's place here in Vaals, just outside of Aachen and just a stone's throw away from the border with the Netherlands.

Train station in Cologne
After an easy flight to Frankfurt I took the train up to Aachen, briefly stopping over in Cologne and changing over from the ICE super-duper 150-mph train to the Regionalbahn. In Aachen, Dieter picked me up from the train station, and after a light lunch we went up to the Dreiländereck where we had a cup of coffee. Even though the place is fairly high above Aachen the view was non-existent, thanks to heavy fog. Actually, the weather is just what I had remembered from this part of the world: right around freezing, foggy, drizzly, and totally uncomfortable. Later it snowed a little, just to add a little flavor.
The Abbey of Val-Dieu in the fog

Good thing that German houses are built well and that they have central heating. That, and a case of beer on the balcony to keep it cold, make for a cozy evening with friends.

Blonde de l'Abbeye Val-Dieu
Today we went for an excursion to the old Dutch city of Maastricht, where the bicycle rules and people sit in outdoor cafes despite the weather. On the way, however, we stopped over at the ancient l'Abbaye du Val-Dieux, which was founded in 1216. Beautiful gardens, pretty church, absolutely fantastic abbey beer! I had a blonde and a bruine, and both were stunning. I could have stayed there all afternoon.

Outdoor cafe in Maastricht
Bikes and umbrellas ...
The city of Maastricht, where I had been before, has pretty little shops and lots of people milling around or, as you can see, hanging out in the outdoor cafes. Nuts, despite some of the infrared heaters. We ran out of time to have another quaff but enjoyed a good pizza later on, in a small Italian restaurant right on the border. Since Dieter and Marjo live just around the corner we were home by 8 p.m., and the rest of the evening was spent talking and nursing a few more good beers. And now it is after 1 p.m., and I better go to bed!


Friday, January 21, 2011

Why I (like to) fly

Once again having been in the air. Once again having hopped over to Europe. Once again feeling fairly refreshed after a short night at 33,000 feet. So, how (and why) do I do it?

Well  folks, I’ve heard this question quite few times: Why don’t you just stay over there if you’re going back in 10 days anyhow? Let me ask you this question: Why don’t you just stay in bed in the morning if you’re going to hit the sack in the evening anyhow?

A lot of people I know dread travel by aeroplane these days. They feel hassled, they feel inconvenienced, they feel all pushed around by the airlines. I don’t. I really like to fly. And I do a lot of it. In the past two years I’ve logged about 250,000 BIS miles—that’s Butt In the Seat. 

Obviously, that’s a lot of flying. So why do I still enjoy it?

The answer is quite simple: Once you fly a certain number of miles—and do it with the same airline—you’re no longer handled like cattle on the way to the market but rather you are treated like an important individual. It starts out with the airport staff in Lubbock, who for the most part know me by sight and name. (There are a
few newcomers, but we’re breaking them in.) On the Eagle to Dallas I sit in the exit row, with all the legroom I can use it; the flight attendant addresses me by name; and my Bloody Mary and almonds do not cost the $10 you would pay but are free. I get to Dallas, and the staff in the Admiral’s Club know me by sight and more often than not by name. I board the flight to Europe ahead of the Kettle family, and I get to stretch out in my business class seat. Food and drink are complimentary, and the flight attendants treat me nicely. When I get to Frankfurt, my bag (for which I never pay a surcharge) comes off the carousel as one of the first because of the special tag. I’ll take a shower in the arrivals lounge before heading by train to my final destination.

AA Flagship Lounge in Chicago
 So why would I not enjoy this? Wouldn’t you?

Of course, the question always is, “What’s the catch?” Or more frequently, “I couldn’t pay for all this.” Well, I can’t either. A Business Class ticket to Europe runs around $5,000, sometimes a bit more, sometimes a little less. I can’t (and don’t) pay that. I don’t have that kind of money to burn. But I do have something that the airlines like: loyalty. I’ve been flying American Airlines for about 27 years almost 100% of the time, and as someone who is a 4-million miler I am being rewarded for the figurative calluses on my butt. Still, to be given all those complimentary domestic upgrades (in two years I have been relegated twice to the Economy section of the plane, in about 100 upgradable flights) and Business Class upgrades on international long-hauls (14 total last year, 12 for 2011) I have to continue to give my business to AA. Frequent fliers are categorized by their level of flying; for example, Gold logs 25,000 miles a year, Platinum 50,000, and Executive Platinum 100,000 miles. I’ve held the black card that comes with the top-tier level for a few years, and I am lifetime Platinum. (There’s no LT status above that—only annual requalification.)

Because of my frequent race-related travel, I fly quite a bit every year, but certainly not enough to qualify for EXPLT. That’s where my personal trips come into play. With my dad and bro in Berlin, I obviously am going to have the occasional flight to TXL. (See, we FF types like the abbreviations.) And suddenly my expected annual flight mileage looks as if it will be somewhere in the 60,000 mile range, with most of it being paid for through my work. So, I invest another few thousand dollars (hey, we all decide where our money goes—I NEVER EVER go out for lunch, for example; this is my vacation money) and book myself into another few hops to Europe, on convoluted schedules, to make sure I re-qualify for top-tier status. When I make my bookings, I look at the cost for the flight on a cents-per-mile basis, not just overall price. For example, my recent trip to Berlin cost less than 6 CPM, which is pretty damn good. And it yielded more than 16,000 qualifying miles (and because of my status, more than FF 32,000 miles , which gets me a free flight to anywhere in the US and Mexico and the Caribbean.) My last three flights in 2010 cost me $80 total in taxes to fly First Class to CA, NV, and Mexico. Not bad, eh?

So that’s why I have several of those European trips scheduled right now. In March, I’ll have three work-related trips that will yield another 10,000+ miles, and then the racing season really starts. I will be traveling in comfort, get fat because I can’t stop the flight attendants (no, Henrietta, they really don’t have stewardesses anymore!) from bringing me Gin & Tonics, and enjoy fancy lounges when I’m not in the air.
I like to say there is reason to the madness. I hope you can understand a little better my reason(s) for traveling the way I do.

PS: I posted this after arriving safely in Frankfurt and taking a quick shower in the Admirals Club before heading for Aachen to see the first of my buddies.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Life is not fair, as we all know. Just ask Susie from down the street, whose huband died in a motorcycle wreck a few days after Judy called it quits. It sucks.

But there are redeeming qualities to our existence, and the most valuable one is that we can have friends. Let me just say that I appreciated all those e-mails, cards, bottles of beer (:)), and warm thoughts today. I know I am not alone, even though I often feel like it.

Nine of us adult denizens plus two adoring little girls had a wonderful evening, with brisket, potato salad, a Jürgen Special pupu platter, beans, fine beverages, and even a birthday cupcake (above pic courtesy of Martha's iPhone), all accessorized with Judy's crinkled napkins, Keith Jarrett, and a fire in the hearth despite today's 73-degree spring weather. I love my friends, just the way they love me. I don't know where I'd be without them.

Thank you all.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

55 miles on the eve of 55

It does feel good to be home. I know, looking at my travel schedule one would think that I have a problem with Lubbock, but that's not so.

The weather has been really fine over these past four days, with freezing temperatures at night but nothing but sun during the day, warming things up so that bike riding is a pleasure. Yesterday, three of us logged 53 miles, and today's Sunday ride ended up being 55 miles long. I know of some folks who like to ride on their birthday the same number of miles as what their new age is, so by that rule I would have pretty much taken care of my birthday tomorrow. I remember when "55" sounded like "almost in the grave," but now it just means "the best years are about to start." How one's perspective changes.

Anyhow, the weather is supposed to be nice again tomorrow; maybe the wind stays rather calm as it has for the past few days and I can do another 35 or 40 miles, or so. In the evening a few friends will come over for a little birthday get-together, and otherwise it's going to be just another day.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

On the way home

So here I am, sitting in AA's Flagship Lounge in LAX, waiting for a few hours for my red-eye flight to DFW and then home to Lubbock. I promise, one of these days I'll explain these convoluted itineraries, but not now.

Berlin is in the past. I left this morning, after a smoky week, much time with family members, a whole bunch of beers in brewpubs memorable and not, and a wonderful reunion with a person who had a significant impact on my making it to Lubbock 33 years ago.

Visiting family is always emotionally charged and carries the risk of disappointment or worse. We've all been there. Seeing my mother's remaining family members yesterday was certainly not what one would call the highlight of a European vacation. But, of course, these trips are never meant to be a vacation.

I'll most likely be back in May, as far as I can tell. I'll have some business to take care of, and it looks as if I have a few weeks without commitments in my calendar. The weather will be better (maybe!), the days longer, there may be more breathable air because the windows can be opened. Sorry, but I have a very hard time with the thick cloud of cigarette smoke in both my father's and my brother's apartments. Tomorrow, everything will be thrown into the washing machine, and the luggage will air out for a day in the sun. Yes, it's that bad.

Meeting up with my old mentor from the University of Trier was a special treat. We hadn't seen each other since I had left for the US back in 1977, and catching up with him was what I really had been looking forward to. If you get a chance to reconnect with an old friend, better do it. I'm grateful Dennis came up from Jena, where he now lives, even though travel is not his thing.

And now I am still half a continent away from home. I'll spend a week going through mail, trying to tidy up the house, riding the bike and losing maybe a pound or even two of my beer-fat, visiting friends, and planning the upcoming trips and races before I travel to Europe again. Without Judy, the house will continue to be empty, but I am getting slowly used to it. There's some bike club stuff that needs to be taken care of, and the first races of the year are coming up fast so I have to send e-mails and make travel arrangements. Before I know it, I'll leave again and be back. My, what a busy life it is. I promise, one of these days I explain why I don't just stay "over there."

For just the heck of it, here are a few more impressions from Berlin—super cheap restaurant food, the dreary Brandenburg Gate, the mascot that Judy always greeted when she arrived in my dad's neighborhood, and a whiff from the past in the form of wall fragments.


Friday, January 7, 2011

A cold, dark, dirty city

I arrived in Berlin after nightfall on Wednesday, and unfortunately darkness is more the norm than daylight, at least this time of the year. Berlin is a beautiful destination in late spring and summer and especially the early fall, but winters are uninviting at best. But then, many large European cities suffer a similar fate.

After weeks of snow and freezing temperatures the thermometer has started to slowly creep upward. Nevertheless, the sidewalks are icy and slick; in many places the trash that's left over from New Year's celebrations still litters the streets; and anonymity and abandonment rule.

I took a long walk to what used to be one of my favorite breweries here in Berlin, the Brauhaus in Rixdorf. Alas, while the Rixdorf is still a pretty and inviting place, the beer no longer is brewed on the premises and has been outsourced. So when I had my first sip of the Helles (and then of the Dunkel) I was bitterly disappointed by the sour, yucky taste of what used to be smooth and quite quoffable. The only bright spot was a half liter of the guest beer of the month, a Weihenstephan Weizen. Can't wait to see my friend Sabine in Munich in a month's time!

If inhaling my dad's second-hand smoke is not going to kill me in the interim, the plan is to spend time with my brother and his family tonight; with my mentor from my university days in Trier on Saturday; and a visit to my aunt and cousin on Monday. This trip to Berlin is about relationships, and everything else is secondary, even the sour beer. Well, maybe. There's always hope as I may walk to the Südstern this afternoon, a brew house where I've had a few good ones before....


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

En route to Berlin

The few days at home went by FAST! This morning, Michael G. picked me up at the ungodly hour of 4:30 a.m., and since then I've been working on the frequent flier miles for 2011.

Right now I am sitting in the flagship Lounge in LAX (yes, that's Los Angeles), waiting for my connection to Chicago and then onward to London. I'll explain the roundabout way when I have more time.So far it's been a great day for flying, without delays, weather, or other problems. Let's hope it stays like that.

Being able to connect to the internet in the various airport lounges is a definite plus, and I have been productive. This lounge here (pic), reserved for One World passengers on an international itinerary only—and they have to be like Mr. Cluny in Up in the Air top-tier travelers—is especially nice as it is very quiet, almost empty, and well stocked with complimentary food and beverages.

Not bad. As I always say, there is reason behind my sometimes-convoluted itineraries.

I'll update when I get a chance. So long,


Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Dungeness Cioppino

Don’t feel too bad if you have no idea what the title of this entry could possibly mean. After all, not all of us have Italian and Portuguese roots, nor do we live in the San Francisco area. “Cioppino” is a tasty, tasty stew that’s sea-food based, and the one that Collin and Kai fixed last Thursday was based on the rather dramatic death of 15 Dungeness crabs.

The Tiura clan has an old house-recipe for what they swear is the best cioppino anywhere in the Bay Area, and I have no reason to doubt them. If you saw the love and affection that go into the preparation of this stew, you’d believe the claim without ever even tasting the meal. The morning had barely dawned when  Kai and his older brother started to line up the ingredients. There were three industrial sized cans of tomato puree and minced tomatoes, there were two bags of chopped onions that came from Costco and that were definitely to be used for institutionalized purposes, and there was that similarly sized bag of peeled garlic cloves. The pot that was going to swallow all this must have been big enough to feed an army of 30. Lovingly Collin added the majority of a gallon jug of Carlo Rossi Burgundy to the mixture, while Kai used a big wooden paddle to stir things up a bit.

There was love in the kitchen!

Of course, the main ingredient of this crab cioppino was still amiss, so we all piled into Collin’s car and took the round-about route to Daly City. Along the way we made sure that the owner of Creekside Smokehouse in Half Moon Bay hadn’t accidentally locked himself in his fish smoker. You know, things do happen…. The brothers had grown up next door, when the Smokehouse was still the post office. I heard some pretty wild tales from the past, and I doubted none.

Kai told me that we were heading for the 99 Market in Daly City since they have the best when it comes to fresh fish. He also told me it’d be quite a culture shock. Affirmative on both counts: I’ve never seen a better selection of marine foodstuffs under a roof than at 99 Market, a Chinese supermarket with the most exotic groceries you want to imagine. Look at those tanks crammed to the gills with Dungeness crabs; there were oyster beds (two dozen for $15); and fresh fish, fish heads, fish balls, fish intestines, fish whatever galore.
The Tiuras came prepared because this was no half-ass job. After all, this was going to be their first family cioppino in quite a while, so—after careful inspection and counting by the Chinese fishmonger—the 15 live crabs were carefully loaded into two ice chests that apparently had seen such service before. The scratching and clawing noises coming from behind the back seat on the way home assured us that those were healthy crabs, all right.

At some point it dawned on me that there was no way that these 15 crabs would fit together with the other ingredients into that puny little pot that was limited to no more than maybe 10 gallons of stew. I shouldn’t have worried: The brothers themselves had already done the math in their heads and scrambled for the BIG pot. Dude, it could have been used for half a battalion! Kai conservatively estimated that it holds about 50 gallons. As I said, these boys don’t do anything half-ass.

So while Kai busied himself with cleaning the oysters for their role as appetizers, Collin gave me a thorough in-service in regard to the fate of the crabs. Still clawing and grabbing at unsuspecting pinkies those suckers needed to be prepared to become the  main ingredient of the cioppino. “They really don’t like this,” Colin told me before he adeptly grabbed the carapace of the first crab and separated it from the rest of the body. No, I wouldn’t like it either if somebody simply tore off my back. So if you’re a dues-paying PETA member, well, you probably wouldn’t have approved. The crabs didn’t either, but sometimes it’s not about approval. And so, one after the other, 15 big ol’ Dungenesses met their fate. Collin showed me how to collect the “crab butter,” some weird yellowish fatty-like substance in the main body of the crab—I tell you, it looked like poop to me. Pretty gross, but apparently an essential part of the cioppino. Well, I wasn’t going to argue this point, either.

Here is a link to an educational video clips that I took of Collin massacring the Dungenesses:

Before long, legs, shells, claws, and the other worldly remains of the crabs were nicely laid out on the outdoor table. Oh, I did mention that all of this work required ample flushing with Sierra Nevada, right? Then all the parts were washed and rinsed in the kitchen sink, and Kai then performed the last rites by meticulously cracking what could be cracked so that we wouldn’t have to deal with that later on at the dinner table. I think at this point he regretted buying 15 crabs and not just a dozen since it was pretty darn cold out there and his fingers were about to freeze off. The video link shows you the clean-up act with some interesting comments by the two bros hovering around the kitchen sink:

The crabs were added to the pot, and out came the big paddle again. Innocently I asked how many guests we were expecting since there was enough food for a very extended family. Later on I counted about 10 of us.
Kai expertly barbecued the two dozen oysters, more Sierra Nevada was consumed, and then four big loaves of French bread were lovingly prepared and put in the oven.

The feasting was about to begin. We switched to Cab and Merlot (thankfully the Carlo Rossi was nowhere to be found), which went perfectly with the cioppino. Man, this was one good meal—but how could it not be after all the labor and love that had gone into it? We ate a lot, I mean a WHOLE lot, but there were enough leftovers so that no serious fights for the spoils ensued. Captain Morgan later helped us to digest properly, and I can only say that I have never had a family meal like this before. Thank you for an unforgettable evening!

Meanwhile I have traveled back home and am just a day away from hopping to Berlin. So, stay tuned. you may get a photo or two of a döner. Don't know what that is? Come back!