My Thoughts on CUNY’s “Recalibration Period for Educational Equity”

CUNY surprised a lot of people—myself included—when I received an SMS alert indicating that CUNY would be observing a “Recalibration Period.” The message, delivered by the same system is used for statewide emergencies and for Notify NYC, reads as follows:

S: CUNYAlert – CUNY has instituted a Recalibration Period for Educational Equity
CUNY has instituted a Recalibration Period for Educational Equity, beginning this Friday, March 27, through Wednesday April 1. Distance learning will resume on Thursday, April 2. The University’s previously scheduled Spring Recess will run from April 8-10. There are numerous exceptions, visit CUNY’s coronavirus page for details, and your college’s website for campus-specific information.

The Recalibration Period for Educational Equity is to allow CUNY colleges to identify and provide computing devices to students who do not have access to computers at home to continue with remote instruction. Many CUNY students live below the poverty line—some are even “food insecure”—and it is important that we ensure every student has access to the necessary technology for continuing their studies.

The “recalibration” period will run from Friday, March 27 through Wednesday, April 1; remote instruction will resume on Thursday, April 2. To make up for the lost instruction days, CUNY cut Spring Break from over a week—April 8–16—to three days—April 8 to 10.

In addition to emergency alert, I also received emails about the “recalibration period” from the following College officers:

When I learned about the recalibration period, I was peeved having to redo the schedule for my courses…again! I was also concerned that my students would confuse my students who are already disillusioned with continuing their students in this stressful time.

A few hours later, I received a message from my department chair regarding the recalibration period. She explained that she had consulted with the Dean of Faculty and decided that we faculty should “ignore” the directives about the recalibration period. This message specifically referenced the chancellor’s and provost’s messages.

The latter message from the Provost is clear about observing this recalibration period: “This recalibration period is not optional. No instruction is to take place during this period: please don’t schedule tests or due-dates for assignments.”

This is conflicting information. What would you do?

After giving it some thought and sleeping on it, I have decided today to observe the recalibration period. Here’s why.

  1. Rank. While I was never in the military, or anything of the sort, I am aware of the pecking order of university and college officials: Chancellor > College President > Provost > Dean > Department Chair. With all due respect, rank dictates that I observe the directives of the higher officials than those of the dean or my department chair.
  2. Equity. A week ago, at the beginning of the remote instructional period, I circulated surveys to my students, asking whether they received my messages about my plans for remote instruction. The survey had another purpose: to test whether students could access course materials remotely. If a student could access the survey, they could access the course materials on Google Classroom. In my Media Criticism class of twenty students, seven have not completed the survey. And in my History of Cinema class of fifty-nine (59) credit-earning (non-auditing) students, eighteen (18) have not completed the survey. In all, almost a third of my students (32%) have not completed the simple task of completing a one-question, online survey in the course of a week. This doesn’t bode well for them to complete other more complex, online assignments. I really hope CUNY and Queens College doesn’t squander this period to identify students who don’t have access to the requisite technology—and to provide them with the necessary tools.
  3. Spring Break. I suspect that a lot of resistance to the recalibration period comes from the shortened spring break. Believe me, I have strong opinions about spring break, including my objection to CUNY’s spring break acting like a moveable feast. But, look, in the Age of the Virus, spring break is over. No one in the New York area should be traveling or getting together during the Easter–Passover breaks… no matter how badly some dimwits would be “raring to go” by then.
  4. “Asynchronicity”. As I described in my earlier post about remote instruction, I mentioned that most of my course activities would be asynchronous. I plan to keep that mode because it allows students more flexibility to participate in the course and to complete assignments.

Even with these reasons, I am conflicted about this recalibration period. I don’t like the idea of interrupting the semester—a second time after last week’s instructional recess—because it is disruptive to teaching and learning. I’m also concerned that the university and the college have not communicated their plans for identifying students-in-need and providing them with the necessary tools for remote learning. The administration could very well squander this recalibration period without addressing the needs of our neediest students.

At the risk of minor insubordination, I’ve updated the syllabi for my Media Criticism and my History of Cinema 2 courses to reflect the revised schedule in the age of recalibration.

Let’s Guess Who This Guy Voted For…

As I wrote earlier on this site, I’m lucky that I can work from home and still earn a paycheck. Of course, others are not so lucky and will either have to risk their health to work—or forgo a paycheck. This pandemic is turning out to be an economic catastrophe, in addition to being a health crisis.

The nonprofit local news site, The City, published a story about workers who cannot work from home. Most of the workers profiled seemed concerned but determined to carry on, but one of them, Fernando Rosario, a 68-year old plumber from The Bronx, is absolutely ignorant.

Photo by Virginia Breen/THE CITY

Writing for The City, Virgina Breen reports:

He watches the news, but doesn’t pay too close attention to swirling media accounts of the virus. “One thing nobody has been able to tell me: Where did this thing come from?” he said. “Like how did it get made?” He has his own method of dealing with the virus threat: “You drink alcohol — vodka — and it gives you protection. It kills everything.”

When Rosario rhetorically asks “how did [the virus] get made,” he’s clearly referencing the crackpot theory, advanced by the president and his ilk, that the virus was “made in China.”

And, no, vodka will give you protection from anything other than good judgement. But that’s clearly obvious.

Remote Online Teaching in The Age of the Virus

The Google wordmark is painted on the pedestrian path of the Pulaski Bridge in New York City but the "O"s have been replaced with surveillance video cameras.
You’re comfortable using Google products, right?

With the spread of COVID-19 into a global pandemic (thanks Trump!), all of my jobs are transitioning to remote instruction. CUNY Queens College remote classes go live on Thursday, March 19, and my classes at Pratt Institute are due to restart online on March 30. At NYU, where I am an hourly, contractor, we’ve been told to work from home until further notice.

As a knowledge worker, I am lucky that I can still work and earn money in this disrupted environment. My 2015 MacBook Pro works as good as it did five years ago, I have fiber-optic Internet at home, and, should I need to travel, my unlimited mobile data plan includes tethering. I also have a good USB mic for recording lectures.

For some techno-utopians, this might seem like the realization of a long-awaited reality: the mass-adoption of telecommuting and of online education. But as I think we’re all learning, transitioning to remote work and to distance learning is incredibly difficult and will certainly be less effective than being at work and at school.

I can’t offer much advice on remote working. I’m literally going through on-the-job training in that department. However, I can offer some advice on online teaching. I’ve taught many iterations of two online courses for years, namely Contemporary Media and Media Technologies during the summer and winter sessions, and here’s what I’m doing for my current classes in the age of the virus.

Just Google It

For years, I’ve been cool to using Google products. But I use Google Classroom and G Suite for assignments for a couple of reasons. First, Google Classroom doesn’t have too many features, and thus it is still pretty easy to use. For example, it’s a lot simpler than the bloatware that is Blackboard. Second, Google’s apps are what my students will encounter in the “real” world. Or, at least, these apps work like the ones other companies uses, such as Office 365. No one is going to use Blackboard or Moodle once they leave school.

Change How You Teach

Was your in-person class a three-hour lecture? Don’t run your online class with you talking to a webcam for three hours! That’s a sure way to have students do something else while you lecture, thus defeating the purpose of having the class in the first place.

You’ll have to deconstruct your class into parts. Some will have to become asynchronous, and some can remain synchronous. Let’s go through the two.

Asynchronous Activities

Asynchronous activities are those that are done on the student’s own timeline, not at a specific date and time. However, in order to keep students on task, you should require students to complete activities by a certain deadline.

Readings

You already assign readings from a textbook, a journal article, or something posted on the Internet. Think of other material that may complement those readings.

For example, as I teach film classes, I will assign one or two more critical essays each week that are available through EBSCO, JSTOR, or whatever databases your university subscribes. There are also some that you can access on a newspaper’s or magazine’s website, and there are other good readings on the open web. It is up to you, of course, to review and validate their value.

Lectures

For years, online teachers have evangelized the idea of the flipped classroom. In this model, you record your lecture ahead of time and have the students watch it on their own. It’s called “flipped” because you do some other activity—group work, discussion sessions, a lab, etc.—during the class time, instead of having the professor lecture at the class. In the age of virus, there won’t be an in-class session for the “other activity.”

My approach to lectures is to record a slideshow with voiceover narration, export it as a video, and post it to YouTube for students to watch. I prefer to post these as unlisted videos on YouTube because students are familiar with how YouTube works.

The most important lesson I’ve learned over the years is to compress the lecture into something much shorter than you normally do in-person. My two-hour lectures, for example, become twenty-minute presentations. Because you’re not interacting with students and checking if they understand you, you can proceed a lot faster. Students can pause and restart the lecture, as well review and rewind as they see fit.

There’s some art to crafting effective slides for this medium. That only comes with practice.

Film Screenings

Three of my four classes this semester are film classes which have screenings. I still want students to watch the films we had planned for the semester, but having them watch them on their own is tricky.

In the old days, we would have students watch films by requesting the titles from the reserve desk at the library. However, since we’re social distancing as much as possible, it would make sense for students to stream the titles online. And that is where things get tricky because each option comes with its own complications.

  1. Pick a streaming service that students can subscribe to, such as The Criterion Channel, and assign films from their collection. Subscriptions for The Criterion Channel, for example, are available on a monthly basis for $10.99 and yearly basis for $99.99.
  2. Point students to titles available for rent or purchase through Amazon, iTunes, or Google Play.
  3. If your institution or local library has a generous license to Kanopy, you can use that option to assign films from this collection.

Some of these options might be unaffordable for many students. After all, I have about six to seven weeks of the semester remaining. That’s a lot of films for students to rent or buy. And in the case of certain institutions, Kanopy might be too expensive. That’s why the New York Public Library did not renew its Kanopy subscription.

Essays

For essays, I’ve posted a Google Classroom assignment with an attached Google Doc that students must use to write their essays. You can configure it so there’s a copy for each student. I wouldn’t call grading essays “easy,” but you can comment on essays and return the work within the Google Docs—Google Classroom environment.

It works only if you require students to use Google Docs. Sometimes, they don’t observe that rule and upload a Microsoft Word document, a PDF, or even an Open Office document. Unfortunately, none of these work for commenting in Google Classroom, and you have to make students resubmit the assignment correctly.

Quizzes

Google Forms allows you to make quizzes. If you do objective questions and provide an answer key, the “robot” will grade the questions for you. Otherwise, you can grade subjective questions manually.

I prefer not to use Google Quiz for subjective questions. Students cannot save their responses to complete their work later. They have to finish it in one sitting.

Take-Home Exams

Because proctoring exams is impossible without creepy surveillance technologies, I assign students take-home exams.

As I mentioned earlier, students can’t save their progress in Google Forms. Instead, I prefer to write questions in Google Docs. Students write their responses below the question. I grade the responses by using commenting feature in Google Docs. Then I add up their points, record the score, and return the assignment.

Google Classroom allows you to use rubrics, but I hate rubrics so I don’t use this feature.

Synchronous Activities

Synchronous activities are those that are done at a specific date and time, either with the entire class, with groups of students, or one-on-one sessions with an individual student.

Discussion Sessions

For the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester, I am scheduling an hourlong discussion section for each of my classes. We are hosting these on Google Meet, which normally allows for 100 simultaneous participants. But in the age of the virus, they increased that limit to 250 participants.

Office Hours

Since 2016, I have been using the self-scheduling appointment slots feature in Google Calendar. I use these so students can sign up for in-person office hours, although they can also schedule remote appointments through Google Meet.

In the age of the virus, all meetings will be remote and held through Google Meet. Students who sign up for an appointment will receive a confirmation email of their appointment. The email—and the entry in the student’s Google Calendar—contains a link to the Video Call and a phone number (with a PIN) to join the call by telephone.

Generally, I only use the audio-only feature of Google Meet, but in case you want to present something to a student, it makes sense to use the desktop web browser or the mobile apps to do this.

Need More Help?

If you’re interesting in learning more about transitioning your course to online, remote instruction, get in touch with me on the Contact page. We can discuss a plan that could work for you.

The above link to Amazon is an affiliate link. If you buy something that link, I will earn a commission fee.

Starve the Beast

Greetings from the Age of the Virus!

First, don’t believe the crazy crackpot theories that the novel coronavirus was manufactured in a Chinese lab. It’s nonsense. But by the way Trump mentions “from China” when talking about the virus, it’s clear he’s one of those crackpots. Fuck that guy!

President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing on coronavirus in the Brady press briefing room at the White House, Saturday, March 14, 2020, in Washington. Listening from left are Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Seema Verma, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Second, of course, health epidemics and natural disasters—unlike wars and financial crises, for example—are not necessarily caused by humans, but it is up to humans to respond to them. Trump and other autocratic world leaders have failed to appropriately respond to this virus.

I’m over forty years old, and I can only remember two times that I’ve felt scared over diseases. The two times I have been scared over disease was, in the 1980s, during the AIDS epidemic and, now, during the spread of the novel cornonavirus and COVID-19.

The AIDS epidemic was the defining public health crisis of the 1980s. As a child of the 1980s, I was terrified of contracting HIV because it almost certainly meant it would become AIDS. And, in the 1980s, AIDS was basically a death sentence. There was no cure and whatever treatments came along weren’t all that effective. It felt like there was nothing we could do to stop it or to treat it.

One reason why HIV exploded into the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s was because then-president Ronald Reagan refused to even publicly utter the word for four years after the disease had been discovered. Republican thinking in the late 1970s and 1980s grew out of a neoliberal approach to dismantling the government, in favor of the Free Market. Think of the many ways that Reagan talked about the government, famously saying that “government is the problem” (not the solution) and that most “terrifying” words an American can hear is “I’m from the government, and I am here to help.

Reagan also embodied the then-novel Republican approach to government: starve the beast.

This is how we “Stave the Beast”

Republicans began dismantling the government by defunding it. Here’s how they did it.

  1. Cut income taxes, especially for the wealthy and corporations.
  2. Use budget deficits as the rationale to cut government spending.
  3. With less money to do their jobs, government agencies would struggle to complete their missions and thus become ineffective.
  4. Repeat the cycle with more tax cuts.

This brings me to 2020. It is becoming clear that Trump’s actions to slash the government spending, including firing the CDC’s pandemic response team in 2018 to cut costs, and to start an ineffective trade war with China has made it impossible for the US to curb the spread of the coronavirus beyond Wuhan, China. John Ferguson, a molecular biologist and an expert in virology, explained that the current crisis was exacerabated by Trump and his cabinet of incompetent apparatchiks (Trump’s unique twist on “Starving the Beast”). Ferguson writes…

If a Democrat were in office – say Hillary, for example, you could be 100% assured that she would be surrounded by competent people. I suspect the virus would have been slowed substantially as compared with our current situation. In fact, if our relationship with China hadn’t been ruined by Trump, it is entirely likely that we would have had CDC personnel on the ground in China helping to contain the virus in China. We certainly would still have a pandemic response team—you know, the one that Trump fired to save a few million.

A generation after the AIDS crisis, the situation with HIV/AIDS is considerably different. Treatments are available, although the for-profit pharmaceutical industry is still gouging the price of life-saving drugs. If you can survive in the Free Market, living with HIV/AIDS is not the death sentence it was in the 1980s. It is essentially a chronic condition, not unlike diabetes. But it took long-delayed government action, by George W. Bush, no less, to finally accomplish that in the 2000s.

In recent years, we’ve had a series of different novel viruses spread. We had SARS, MERS, H1N1, Zika and Ebola. All were severe, and all were contained. As Ferguson further notes:

Do you know why you don’t hear about Zika virus any more? Because it was swiftly handled by a team of competent professionals. There was no panic. It was addressed and then it was largely over. That’s not what’s happening here.

Instead what is happening here is that we have a global pandemic that will likely cause many deaths and ruin the economy for a long time. And let us not speak of the panic. Nothing like this happened with the other recent viral epidemics. But because our federal government was screwed, starved and strangled by decades of Republican rule, culminating in Trump and his band of unfit leaders, all of us are now the ones who are totally screwed.

The Internet “Broke” into the Movies Twenty-Five Years Ago

The proprietors of Screen Slate have curated nifty film series at Anthology Film Archives. Screen Slate is, among other things, a website and daily newsletter of New York City independent, repertory, experimental, and artist-focused film and video screenings and exhibitions.”

The series, 1995: The Year the Internet Broke, brings together mostly-American films about the Internet that were released in 1995. The idea was to look back at Hollywood’s view of the Internet just as it was becoming a mainstream communications platform and “cyberspace” became a trendy buzzword. The series starts today, March 5, and runs through Thursday, March 12.

Some films in the series include Hackers (Iain Softley), Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii), Johnny Mnemonic (Robert Longo), Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow), and The Net (Irwin Winkler). I’m planning on watching Virtuosity (Brett Leonard) on Friday night.

1995: The Year I Became an Internaut

I first went on the real Internet in 1995, and, holy hell, that was 25 years ago!

Back in 1995, my friend Paul was well-versed with computers and introduced me to some early Internet applications beyond email that I could use through my university’s UNIX account. He showed me Usenet newsgroups, anonymous FTP for downloading shareware and freeware programs, and uuencode/uudecode to convert 8-bit binaries to 7-bit ASCII files suitable for transmission through ZMODEM. He also introduced me to the World Wide Web through the Lynx text-based web browser, skipping the menu-based Gopher altogether.

I should note that I accessed these applications through a shell on a university computer; I dialed in to the modem pool to get a terminal. I searched for a graphic to illustrate what this looked like, but I couldn’t find anything. Twenty-five years is a long time ago.

By summer 1995, I had learned how to configure SLIP and later PPP connections so that I could put my computer—a Macintosh Quadra 640—on the Internet. It could run Mac applications for FTP (Fetch), mail (Eudora), and a graphical web browser (Netscape). My life quickly evolved to integrate my computer and these Internet applications. I would say that 1995 marked the end of the Analog Stage of my life.

A lot has changed over the last 25 years. We now access the Internet on pocket and wearable devices, not just on computers. We now use many more Internet applications, including ones that control our light bulbs. And we now have weaponized the Internet for all kinds of nefarious actions, like spreading political propaganda and all kinds of misinformation. We’ve come a long way from hoping it would be a tool for peace, community, and education. Oh well.

And yet, over the last twenty-five years, my only regret is that I couldn’t get the term “Internaut” to catch on. It sounds so much cooler than “users.”

Model Dog

Ben Yakas at Gothamist wrote an amusing story suggesting that the MTA, the parent agency of the New York City Subway, adopt a mascot to improve relations between the agency and its straphanging public. Each of the twelve candidate mascots is illustrated by Matt Lubchansky.

Almost immediately, I was drawn to the dog in the blue IKEA bag, referred to with the tongue-twisting moniker “DAGBOG,” an obvious anagram of “Bag Dog.”


MTA rules dictate that any animal—including any dog—”must be enclosed in a container and carried in a manner which would not annoy other passengers.” Anyone who has lived in New York for a time has seen at least one instance of a person carrying a dog into a subway stations and onto trains by toting them in a blue IKEA bag.

I tried this once with Beagle Sam. It didn’t go well.

Last March, I was sitting Beagle Sam for the weekend, and we were headed to a party that was a thirty-minute walk away. Because it is still cold in March, I thought I would take Sam onto the subway to cut down our travel time—and outdoor exposure—to less than 10 minutes.

I put Sam in a blue IKEA bag, but once we boarded the train, Sam began to pant and tremble. She was clearly nervous about the movement of the train. This concerned me so much that we got off the train at the next station and walked the rest of the way to the party.

Alas, Sam was not cutout to be a “Bag Dog,” but perhaps she can at least model for the DAGBOG mascot.

Their Apizza is So Good, They Don’t Even Need Correct Spelling

 

Within eight hours of landing at JFK Airport after spending a month in Southern California, I was in a car heading up to New Haven, Connecticut for a day trip. The last time I was in New Haven was a bit over five years ago on a bike ride from Greenpoint to New Haven. My experience of New Haven was a bit rushed. I had ridden with a group from the New York Cycle Club, and we had split up into two groups. By the time my group had arrived in New Haven, there was only one other person with me, and the two of us headed to BAR on Crown Street. Many locals insist that BAR is one of best pizza places in New Haven.

Oh, and about New Haven pizza: they refer to it as apizza, which they pronounce as “ah-beets.”

I have a bad joke about this: “I hear the pizza is so good, they don’t even need correct spelling.”


On yesterday’s trip to New Haven, we went the tourist route. Wooster Street in New Haven’s Little Italy has two of the oldest apizza places in town. Unlike BAR, which has a very contemporary decor, Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and Sally’s Apizza, both on Wooster Street, predate World War II. Frank Pepe’s, for example, opened in 1925, and Sally’s, started by Frank’s nephew Sal, opened in 1938. Even Modern Apizza, on State Street, opened way back in 1934. BAR is by comparison an infant, having opened in 1991.

As is common with these touristy places, there’s going to be a wait. Fortunately, we arrived just before noon on Sunday, less than a half-hour after Sally’s opened and that queue appeared pretty short. As we drove by, I jumped out of the car to wait in line while my friends found a place to park the car.

A queue forms outside of Sally's Apizza

We waited about thirty minutes in line, which may seem like a long time, but we lucked out in a couple of ways. First, it was a mild and sunny January day. The sun was shining on us while we waited so we weren’t shivering from the cold, as one would this time of year. Second, the party of eleven that was immediately in front us in line abandoned their place in line. I suspect they went to Frank Pepe’s instead, but no matter the reason, our party of four was seated promptly after they left.

Once inside, we debated what to order. The ringleader of the group wanted to recreate the clam pie from Frank Pepe’s, but as none of us had been to Sally’s we figured it would be best to get a classic pie and a specialty pie.

The classic pie was a fresh tomato pie.

A fresh tomato pie from Sally's Apizza

This is the prototypical New Haven apizza. It is a charred crust topped only with tomato sauce, some herbs, and a bit of cheese—likely Parmesan. We requested that half the pie be topped with sausage and onions.

The specialty pie was something very novel for us accustomed to New York-style pizza: a white potato pie.

A white potato pie from Sally's Apizza

This was absolutely delicious. The potatoes were thinly sliced and baked in a cream sauce. It was like having potato-au-gratin on a pizza.

Last year, I made a sweet potato–au-gratin dish using Stephanie Izzard’s recipe that has been a hit every time I’ve brought it to a dinner party. I am tempted to experiment making a pizza pie using this recipe.

LA Famous on Plant-Based Instagram

Let’s face it. “Plant-based” is trendy.

Multiple people, who never would dared called themselves vegan, have recently been echoing the talking points of the 2019 Netflix documentary The Game Changers. In this trending doc, a UFC fighter dispels the idea that you need meat to be a body builder. You can be an aggro, muscly bro on a plant-based diet, too.

Also, in 2018, the New York Times‘s Kim Severson anticipated that plant-based foods would be big in 2019. At the time, she foresaw:

substantial vegetable entrées will become a fixture on restaurant menus, in the way that alternatives to dairy creamers became standard at coffee bars a few years ago. Many diners have started to eat less red meat or abandon animal protein altogether, whether for health, environmental or ethical reasons.

Severson also predicted that plant-based diets would integrate with the other fashionable low-carb diets of the day to create an army of plant-based paleos—or pegans—on the eve of the 2020s.

The prediction about the plant-based food being trendy seems to have borne out, and yesterday, as part of spending time with my friend Jennifer, we visited what she called the “lettuce food truck.” When we arrived at the Lettuce Feast LA food truck, parked on the Fairfax District’s namesake thoroughfare, I was surprise to learn that they didn’t just serve lettuce.

Instead, the “Lettuce food truck” serves plant-based chick’n sandwiches, with an emphasis on a Nashville-style hot chick’n offering.

While I did initially scratch my head about the existence and viability of a food truck serving only leafy greens, I also would not have been surprised either. I vaguely remembered that, in the same 2018 report about 2019 food trends, Severson predicted that new kinds of lettuce would be on-trend. She writes, “expect to see little-known varieties showing up on menus, and an explosion in lettuces grown hydroponically, many of them in urban container farms.”

Apparently, lettuce is too 2019 for the plant-based connoisseurs at Lettuce Feast.

I posted an Instagram story summarizing my surprise that the Lettuce food truck actually serves chick’n sandwiches.

Because I tagged them in the story, they responded and mentioned my post in their story, sarcastically adding, “who knew? 🤣🤣🤣.”

I mentioned their story in a subsequent story of mine—a small Instastory vortex—labeling it “That time @lettucefeastla made fun of me for not knowing they sold chick’n sammies.”

About an hour later, a guy I know IRL messaged me to tell me, “you’re LA famous now, my dude! I saw their post before I saw yours hahahaha.”

Not just “LA famous,” I replied, but LA famous on plant-based Instagram.

Because their post was an Instagram story, it disappeared within a day. In the digital age, things move fast. My fifteen nanoseconds of fame were over.

Kicking off 2020 with a Century Ride

Kickoff Century Ride, New Year's Day 2020

Like I did on New Year’s Day 2016, I rode a century ride with the LA Wheelmen. Well, saying I rode with them is a bit untrue. I arrived at the start point in Malibu at 7:00 AM, but after about ten minutes they got so far ahead of me that I never saw them for the rest of the day.

As anyone who has spent any time with me over the past half year knows, I am not a happy person. I spent New Year’s Eve having a mild panic attack from the anxiety of a new year. Since about New Year’s Eve 2013, I have dreaded the new year because each one has turned out worse than the previous. This sullen feeling only gets compounded by knowing that seemingly everyone else was having fun looking forward to a bright future. I was not.

One of the few pure joys I have is bicycling. Again, it’s not a perfect relationship, but we get by. First, I am not that good at it. I am slow on the bike and, in my advancing age, I am cautious in traffic so I don’t take risks that younger, speedier cyclists take. Second, all my gear is from a different age. At first, it didn’t bother me having such old gear, but now I feel like a dinosaur riding a 9-speed bike with rim brakes and cable shifting. I think I realized that group riding might not be my thing, although there’s no way I’m doing something silly like getting a Peloton.

Yesterday, the Pacific Coast Highway was my peloton.

Kickoff Century Ride, New Year's Day 2020

However, the greatest benefit of cycling has been able to spend hours burning away my nervous energy focusing on something other than my stress and anxieties. And yesterday, on New Year’s Day, I was able to do just that.


Kickoff Century Ride, New Year's Day 2020

I don’t have a lot to say about this ride to distinguish this ride from my 2016 effort. In both cases, the weather was chilly at the beginning, but there was a lot of sunshine in the afternoon and the temperature reached the upper 60s.

Kickoff Century Ride, New Year's Day 2020

The scenery was absolutely stunning. I think Foothill Road in Ventura has become one of my favorite stretches of road out here. There’s rolling hills and a nice summit with plenty of pretty scenery—including the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

Kickoff Century Ride, New Year's Day 2020

I was also enamored with the view on the way back. Riding south on the seaside of PCH provided multiple photo opportunities.

Kickoff Century Ride, New Year's Day 2020

But aside from that, my performance on this ride was not as great as the first time I did it. Here are some numbers:

Year20162020
Mileage100.8 mi.100.0 mi.
Total Time9:27:449:04:45
Moving Time7:12:367:14:49
Average Speed14.0 MPH13.8 MPH

One thing that sticks out is that I was faster four years ago than I was this year. I rode the full century at an average speed of 14.0 MPH in 2016, but this year, I dropped to 13.8 MPH. Don’t get me wrong: that is still a respectable speed for a rider like me. I would immediately attribute that to the fact that my last ride of over 50 miles was over four months ago, back in August. Also, as one of the LA Wheelmen riders remarked before he sprinted away from me on PCH, “we all were in better shape four years ago.” Also, 2015 was my best cycling year ever. I rode a long-distance ride just about every weekend between March and August that year. Although I ride a bike just about every day, I simply don’t have the base miles.

However, I’m never one to obsess about PRs, and on this ride, I had a different goal. Because there’s not a lot of daylight this time of year, my principal concern was finishing before the 4:30 PM sunset. And that I did.

My lasting impression of this ride from 2016 was how hard the last twenty-five miles were due to the hills and the traffic. This year I sought to mitigate those challenges.

That first time, I didn’t expect the hills to be so challenging on PCH, and I didn’t gear down enough to give myself a chance. By the end of the ride, I was wiped out. For 2020, I made an effort to “respect” the hills. I geared down early and often, and I believe that made a difference. I wasn’t exhausted at the end of the ride.

As for the traffic, it was bad. The southbound side of PCH runs next to the oceanside of the roadway. Many beachgoers park in the shoulder, which is where I ride for most of the way. Also, many cars don’t move to the left to give me a bit of space; they just whizz past me at 50 MPH with inches to spare. After that happening once or twice, I started to take the lane when the shoulder was unavailable.