The Rant: Empty Ashtrays and Bluebird Hearts

With my apologizes to Bukowski.

Life continues to surprize me, and frustrate me, and bring moments of unmitigated joy.

I quit smoking almost 12 years ago. It was cold turkey, and it wasn’t fun. I fell off the wagon a few times, including a few months of stress smoking involving hand rolled cigarettes and a bad mental space I’d like to never return to. And I will admit to bumming a smoke this summer from an Irish guy in a basement pub in Prague after drinking a lot of wine in a bar named after a cockroach. I can deal with one a year but after the first two puffs, I didn’t want it anymore anyway. I can be a fickle drunk.

Smoking is on my mind, although not because I was wanting one. Rather, I realized how happy I am to not have the cravings anymore, which persisted for years after no longer making daily runs to the corner store for smokes. A recent excursion through some of my former regular drinking establishments had me somewhat dumbfounded that I spent so much time in places that smelled so bad, and how some of the same bartenders were still serving me so many years later. All that secondhand smoke, all those years. It is shameful that Pittsburgh can’t pass a no smoking ordinance like the rest of the civilized world.

What does any of this have to do with bikes? I’m not sure yet, but the ride has started, let’s see where it goes.

bike reflections
Credit: Katherine Fuller

Cigarettes used to be a tool for celebrating happy times, soothing a stressful mind, fighting boredom, suppressing hunger or easing social situations. The bike does these all in a much healthier way. Except hunger suppression. Bike rides suck for that.

According to an online calculator, I’m over $20,000 richer for quitting smoking. I’m not sure where that money went, but I’m sure it didn’t go into the camper van fund. Which is a shame. With a bigger van budget I’d be looking at less rusty E-150s.

This [was written for] the last issue of Dirt Rag for [2015]. And the last issue for our long-tenured art director, who moved on to help art direct the shit out of a bike company in Salt Lake City. And the first issue for a new web editor. And I’m rolling up on my tenth year at the magazine. And, fall has settled into the city with a soft, cool hand on the cheeks.

It is making me all kinds of reflective and introspective and contemplative. Life continues to surprize me, and frustrate me, and bring moments of unmitigated joy. I’m glad they are almost never interrupted by cigarette cravings.

Punkbike Enduro, 2009. Credit: Karl Rosengarth
Punk Bike Enduro, 2009. Credit: Karl Rosengarth

Fall also makes me miss the Punk Bike Enduro. Long before the current enduro craze was even a twinkle in the eyes above Mark Weir’s mustache, Pittsburgh had a true moto-style mountain bike enduro, including mass starts, uphill and downhill stages, costumes, kegs. No waivers, no entry fee and no questions were asked or answered. And more cigarettes smoked than your average bike gathering. I miss that event.

But enough of the the navel gazing. Forward into 2016! Tobacco-free, bad attitude intact, missing some things, glad to be rid of others. I’m always thankful for all the places bikes have taken me and I’m looking forward to where they take me in the future. Thanks for reading. I’m lucky to do what I do and can’t do it without the eyeballs on this page and the subscription checks in the mail. Sláinte mhaith!