July 1st, 2019


Regatta adventures

I went down to Philadelphia for the weekend for the Independence Day Regatta, and it was an adventure.

1. What is up with the insane divided freeways and divided roadways in and around New York, through New Jersey, and in Pennsylvania?? I'm mostly just extremely curious about the history behind the decisions made to set up roadways like that. Something I've never seen before. I can kind of understand the logic behind separating out the truck traffic from the car traffic...but the massive divided 6-lane roads separated into pairs of 3-lane roads with limited cross-merging opportunities give me pause. It would be so much better to take the train and bring down a bike next time instead. The lanes and lanes and lanes of traffic just seem so gratuitous.

2. My 1x race was a mess. I think I've determined that I don't get to drink coffee on regatta mornings. The problem is that the caffeine wears off and then I'm crazily shaky, and that's no fun. So that will be my experiment for next time: good breakfast but no coffee, see if I feel more stable for midmorning racing. I mean, the 1x wasn't wretchedly bad, but it would be nice to feel more of a sense of accomplishment on occasion. I would say that volatile water conditions didn't help...but I've raced in worse, too.

3. Our 2x race is the main one worth blogging about, but will take a bit more background to fully explain. First, the lead-up. At our previous regatta, Derby, we wound up coming in second place behind a 2x from Riverside (now Fiercest Rivals), by 0.6 seconds (!!). My teammate H scrutinized the entries for this regatta and noticed that we were going to be up against the same Fiercest Rivals again. Okay, time to go for it!

Also, a bit more about this regatta: the Independence Day Regatta is a 3-day event, with racing for junior rowers, open rowers, and masters rowers. Junior and open rowers typically race a distance of 2000 meters (i.e. 2 km). Masters rowers are slackers and typically race a distance of just 1000 meters. So whenever a regatta has events that are both 2000m and 1000m, the organizers have to figure out how to toggle back and forth between the two distances. Typically, that means clustering many of the longer events together and many of the shorter events together. At IDR, the shorter events make use of the second half of the 2k course, and have a floating start. But if there have recently been some 2k races, the boats warming up for 1k races have to keep clear of the full 2k course, and the Schuylkill River is pretty narrow, so there's lots of maneuvering involved.

There are enough regattas held on the Schuylkill that the regatta organizers have the traffic patterns all pretty well figured out: boats launch from certain docks, land at certain other docks, and get marshaled around different parts of the river depending on the races at hand.

So, our 2x race was in one of those transitional periods, right after a series of 2k races. We were able to make our way down along the edge of the river past the stakeboats for the 2k start, to do some circles in the small warmup basin. As the time drew near for our event, organizers started to encourage us to move up past the stakeboats on the course into the first portion of the racecourse, to get lined up for the floating start at the 1000-m mark.

Here's where we had some warning signs: another boat from our race first clashed oars with us while floating around and waiting, then it managed to get stuck broadside on one of the stakeboats.

This Trouble Double did manage to get up to the starting line just fine, so all four boats in our event got aligned and then we were off. As we got underway, I saw one white referee flag (referees use a white flag to direct crews to stay in their lane). Then, moments later, I noticed that the Trouble Double had completely stopped rowing, and saw a referee showing a RED flag. A red flag means, "Stop racing," usually due to a false start, so I told my boatmate we needed to stop racing (always a little disconcerting) and we did. Eventually the officials got the other two boats to stop, and as we got sorted out I finally figured out the cause of the stoppage: Trouble Double had managed to run into part of a tree, yikes! Okay, that was a legitimate reason to stop the race even though we had already reached the outer edge of the Breakage Zone (first 250m of the race).

We cleared off the course, and tried to stick close to the other boats in our event, and then finally got instructions from a referee to row back up and around to get restarted a couple of events later.

But when we got the go-ahead...I noticed that our Fiercest Rivals were back on the dock, not out floating with us. I shouted to them that it was time to row back up to the starting line, and learned that they wouldn't be able to re-row because they had to hotseat* their boat.

That took some of the pressure off for us, but was also disappointing because I'd been looking forward to a good dogfight. With our Fiercest Rivals out of contention, we managed to win, but now we need to stay on our toes in case they show up again at the next regatta.

4. After spending most of the day outside and with two sunscreen applications, I manged to only get a little bit sunburned on my shoulders. Maybe I should make a little cotton shoulder cover-up that I can take with me in the boat.

*Basically, their boat was scheduled for another race shortly after our originally scheduled race, so the idea is to hustle the boat back to the dock for the next set of rowers.

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Weird contemporary trends in dining

One other thing about the Philadelphia trip: We had dinner at one of these products of weird contemporary trends in the American dining industry.*

Specifically, this was a place where all the cashiering work is turned over to the patron: toggle through a bunch of menus to come up with a combination of ingredients and sauces, apply money, then wait until the order comes up. In this process, although you never have to talk to a human being at all, you nonetheless are given the opportunity to closely scrutinize the people preparing your combination as they work to quickly fill orders in the open kitchen.

Sure, it's cooked with fresher ingredients than fast food, and you have more ingredient combination options than you'd get at a supermarket deli counter. But there's no recourse for feedback. So it's no surprise that the food combinations I selected were a disheartening heap of disintegrated tofu and vegetable fragments underneath a stingy pile of uninspired noodles.

Benefits of this business model: Fresh ingredients can be provided more cheaply to patrons, so there's a small sliver of hope that some sector of the population will thereby manage to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables (fingers crossed). The health halo effect in full force.

Personally, in the future I'd rather just go to the grocery store to buy my own damn ingredients rather than sit in that kind of depressing, anonymous space. Part of the pleasure of eating is in the preparation and anticipation.

*I believe Chipotle still gets credit for kicking off some of these trends. I mean, I would eat food from Chipotle before eating food from McDonald's or Burger King, but still, let's not pretend it's something other than a well-commodified taco stand chain.

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Some contemporary conversations (prison, transportation, labor, monopolies)

I read this whole article so now I can tell you that you don't have to, to grasp the gist of it, about what a certain "ridesharing" company is and isn't. It is something worth spending some time thinking about because it's a public transportation issue inasmuch as most all people seek to move around their environments. I'll just say...I will continue to support and advocate for public transportation plus riding my bicycle. And hope that the fallout from this isn't too catastrophic. https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2019/05/ubers-path-of-destruction/

Some thinking about the nature of prison labor - some of the ideas here have some connections to points made in the previous link, interestingly: https://siderea.dreamwidth.org/1521965.html

By now, this has probably recirculated extensively, but in case it hasn't, I found this article useful for drawing a distinction between concentration camps and extermination camps, for the sake of thinking about involuntary detainment in contemporary times: https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2019/06/21/some-suburb-of-hell-americas-new-concentration-camp-system

Now, compared to the prior articles, this next one feels a bit...watered down. But maybe it holds a little bit of hope for change in terms of the role of Big Business in contemporary life? IDK. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/20/technology/tech-giants-antitrust-law.html

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