Friday, December 15, 2006

Wine, Advocacy, Beer, Affinity...

Four words that pretty much sum up the little holiday shindig the fine folks of WABA put on last Thursday evening in the tight quarters on the third floor of an unassuming office building on Connecticut Avenue, NW.

I biked there—tracing part of my usual commuter route—with an empty stomach and no idea of what kind of people I'd meet. For no valid reason, I had the impression that the place would be packed with NIMBY yuppie types, prefigured by an array of resplendent Litespeeds triple u-locked in the foyer. Shit, I don't know, preconceptions encroach no matter how much you try to guard against them and I guess I just figured that, the historical gravity of unions and solidarity notwithstanding, any alliance of cyclists operating out of Chocolate City had to be a bit on the soft side. Not true.

I arrived close to 7:00 and locked up at one of four WABA-supplied, inverted u-stands sprouting from the pavement just outside the door. The sidewalks were pulsing with people trucking through town, enjoying the abnormally warm temps brought on, no doubt, with the help of that schoolyard bully to the bicycle, examples of which zoomed by indifferently, taillights all aglow with accidental holiday spirit.

I entered the building and hiked up to the third floor, where two adjacent rooms separated by a short hallway were humming with cyclists, some dressed for the part, some not. Saw beer in a few hands, and made out a lone cooler in the corner of one room. Made my way over amid random introductions, past the snack table, grabbed a Wild Goose Winter Ale (tasty!), and proceeded to chat it up on the obvious topic with one of the directors of WABA. Amid the conversation, I took in the new headquarters. Cycling memorabilia everywhere. A couple bikes adorned the walls, bedecked in twinkling lights. One of them was a nice IF fixie that belongs to WABA Executive Director Eric Gilliland, an incongruously young and unassuming guy with an equally incongruous penchant for tobacco, or so it would seem. Beyond the bikes, the open windows gave way to Connecticut Avenue in the front—the city writhing in all directions with traffic—and in the back, to the shadow-soaked roofs and walls of surrounding buildings, where fire escapes slipped away overhead into the cool night sky.

About ten minutes after I arrived, King Blog walked in, unmistakable at well over six feet and sporting a Dirt Rag woolie. Gwadzi quickly worked the crowd, engaging people with the speed and ease of a weathered politician. We hung out in our respective impromptu cliques for about 15 minutes before we ended up introducing ourselves. We talked for a while about bikes and racing and single speeds and fixies, our mutual friends and the whole blog thing. Gwadzilla was hitting the red wine with mean intent; meanwhile I had discovered the cooler of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale in the next room. Beers begat beers and it wasn't long before I was feeling a nice warm buzz taking over, suffusing the road-weary muscles in my legs and generally taking advantage of my otherwise empty stomach. We talked on, mostly about off-road fixed gear riding (Gwadzi thought it odd that anyone other than elite riders—the fast and the skilled—would bother with it), but also about other bike-related topics interjected by partygoers who occasionally entered the conversation.

Later in the evening, I found myself hanging out with S— (ed. note: name removed by request), WABA's Membership and Development Manager, who jokingly summed up her profession by saying “my job is to get money from people.” S— has a Masters in English, so there was a natural affinity there. We talked bikes and books for a good part of the evening—there was mention of Debord in there somewhere, and, of course, Nabokov (the usual plugs when feigning erudition) and, from her, John Berryman and The Dream Songs (wow, two suicides in that tight little list)—hanging out near an open window for a glimpse of late night cyclists brave enough to challenge the nonstop motorized frenzy that is Connecticut Avenue, and doing our part to make sure there were no liquid leftovers come time to leave. In the meantime, Gwadzilla had managed to cadge a pair of WABA socks for each of us from Eric—shwag earned, presumably, for joining WABA two seconds after RVSPing for the party that afternoon. Eric had been kind enough earlier to pedal out for more beer, slipping back in with a six of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale for the degenerates still hanging around for one last cold one. The sounds of Jawbreaker's Boxcar filled the room, and I felt all right.

Time rolled on on skinny tires. More than two hours after the scheduled "end" of the party, we all shuffled out to our bikes to head home. Gwadzilla had departed a little while before, saying he'd already pushed his play time one hour past his self-imposed limit. By my admittedly unreliable accounting, he'd managed to kill enough red wine to glut Bacchus himself. Then again, he's a big dude.

Outside, the night air was brisk, but by no means frigid, especially for this time of year. I unhitched my bike and hooked up my light. Meanwhile, S— saddled up, having agreed to shepherd me to M Street. She took the curb cut down onto Florida Avenue; me, well, I hopped the curb in pursuit, landing a few seconds behind her and a few yards in front of an oncoming car that clearly had the right of way. A blast of the horn, a burst of nervous laughter from me, and we were off, pedaling faster than we had a right to down Connecticut Avenue.

It wasn't long before we arrived at M Street. We said our goodbyes, and a few blocks up M it occurred to me that food wouldn't be a horrible idea, especially since Pizzeria Paradiso was looming up ahead on the left like a godsend. Fifteen minutes before the oven was cued to shut down, I stumbled in and made for the Birreria in the basement. Downstairs, I looked around and recognized no one. No matter, it's late, my stomach's empty, my blood is full, and it's the kind of clean, well-lighted place that would make Hemingway gush in his beer.

I asked about food and was told that there was still time. As I was about to order an Atomica pizza, my eye caught a black tap handle. Unibroue. Chambly Noire. Damn. I assayed the level of alcohol surging through my veins, figured what the hell, and ordered a glass, along with the pizza. One more couldn't hurt, right? The liver is a very forgiving organ.

Nursed the Noire (damn fine!), ate the pie, and was told that it was last call. The bartender offered to buy me another round, and somehow the Ghost of Workday Future appeared and gave me a little lecture on hangovers and sleep loss and the like: for the first time in my life, I turned down good beer. I gathered my stuff, thanked the 'keep, headed up the stairs, and made it out to the bike. Once in the saddle, everything pulled together nicely, and I rolled with the dwindling traffic, catching a rare green light onto Key Bridge. From there it was up through Rosslyn and Clarendon and Ballston, where I paused long enough on Fairfax Drive to snap a shot of what looked like a diminutive enchanted forest, a spectral copse of brilliant cobalt glimmering in the midnight darkness. Once home, I fell into bed and slept like the dead. With only five hours of sleep left on the clock and a ten mile ride into work after that, it was going to be a rough Friday.

4 comments:

gwadzilla said...

ah....

the camera

it was in the bag
but I did not use it

gwadzilla said...

oh

just picked up the TITLE... WABA

Tim Wise said...

Wine,Advocacy, Beer,And a Affinity for???
Ahh Chocolate City. I miss the city life sometimes. Great post, sounds like quite a evening. Why didn't Susanna join ya for pizza?

iconoclasst said...

Tim, yeah, I'm sure you miss the city, but only a wee little bit, with all the great trails you got out there.

As for Susanna, well, didn't ask her. Really, the stop at Paradiso was a sort of drunken afterthought, a literal gut reaction that hit a little later on the ride back. Plus, her Masters degree against my lowly Bachelors scared the hell out of me, ha!

Hey, hope you and your family have a great holiday!