Day 58 - The Bony Claw of the Mancini Curse

Donny had strict instructions to arise at 0600 hours so we could pack up, get caffeinated, do our business and eat the made-for-you complimentary Best Western Lompoc morning meal – boastfully “made to order”! The heavy light-eclipsing drapes kept us asleep until my eyes popped open with militaristic expectation at 5:55AM. We slid into our cycling costumes and puce vinyl-covered chairs in the half-buffet/half-made to order breakfast converted conference room. Donny was rather unimpressive in his consumption ordering eggs and an English muffin only, while I scarfed pancakes, a mini-sized treat of Frosted Flakes, and a couple bites of mealy melon and bruised pineapple chunks, in addition to the eggs and toast. Fox news blared. I looked around at our fellow breakfast eaters content to know that this would be the last of breaking the fast with old white conservative guys, at least for a while.

Despite my food-load, I finished before Donny, and instead of drumming my fingers on the table in anticipation, I hopped off to the bathroom to ensure emptiness of viscera. Today, my desire to get going was in part motivated by the fact that this was the “vacation” part of the trip, and we were going to be staying at a hotel on the beach just south of Carpinteria within the bounds of the Ventura County line: the Cliff House Inn, about 75 miles from our current location. The picture on the Cliff House Inn’s website, barely visible on my iPhone, smacked of a coastal Eden. And today was the penultimate day of the trip. It must also be said, in case that hasn’t been obvious from the start, I don't relax well, even when on a non-trek, tropicalized beach holiday. Donny and I have been fortunate to get to Hawaii a few times together, and I’m sure he would make no bones about saying that I superball-bounce off the walls in the hotel room in the morning scratching at the door like a bladder-challenged puppy before I am finally let out to whiz.

Goodbye, Lompoc. We were in the middle of nowhere like five seconds after leaving the Best Western heading onto Highway 1 southbound and sailing downhill for several miles which came to an end at a tunnel and merged with the 101 Freeway which brought us back toward the beach (headwinds, ugh – thought we were done with all that). We rode (in a bike lane, in case that is not obvious) on that freeway for about 20 miles, mostly along the coastline. Strange to be actually on the 101 – which if we continued on would bring us straight to Hollywood. But even with a bike-only lane, cycling on a Southern California freeway is white-knuckle-inducing for sure, with trucks, SUVs and a zillion cars blowing by at 80 compared with the 11 or 12 mph at which we were moving steadily up hill and then down again at 20ish. “I hate this!” Donny yelled about the freeway action. “This is dangerous!” Yes, I can admit that it’s not exactly an invigorating adventuresome feeling one experiences wobbling next to 18-wheelers. In real life, I commute at often as possible to work in Santa Monica which is like nine and a half miles door-to-door. Frequently a chunk of the ride is spent on Olympic Blvd, which does make me grit and bear it. I’m often asked: “Aren’t you afraid of LA drivers? Scared of getting smashed to bits? Of being totally vulnerable?” And my answer is always something to the effect of: “Yes. Yes I am.” But I still do it, and I’ve spent the last almost-two months of being vulnerable every day – not quite as exposed to trucks barreling a few feet away at 80 – but still at-risk of being vehicular manslaughter fodder. So currently I’m a little more inured to it all than Donny, which is expected. I hope I calm him by not making a big deal of it either way, acknowledging that it does suck right now. It does cross my mind several times that if something happened to him, rather than me at this point, I…NEVER MIND. Banish all thoughts like these. (Now that I’m safe at home, I am more willing to share scary freeway cycling paranoia. If I had done that more while actually on the road, some of you - e.g. Ma, Grandma - might have squirmed even more.) I guess if you ever go back within my handlebar confessionals and re-read the entry from Toronto to Larned, Kansas, it’s ok to know now that in those 30mph headwinds on the highway there, with endless semis and pickup trucks veering dangerously close, using their horns unnecessarily, seemingly to fuck with me, visions of my mangled form in a ditch splattered my mind.

But this was not that frightening – how could something bad happen along the cloud-drenched Pacific Coast? Donny managed it well diverted by the beaches of Refugio State Park and El Capitan Beach Park as we neared Santa Barbara. Just a few miles further down the road, while in the SB ‘burb of Goleta, Donny’s back wheel broke a spoke. Oh, for the love of #@*%&! By this time, we were out of the traffic danger zone, actually on a road where we were seeing other cyclists. We pulled off onto the gravel and swore at Delia Darrow’s stupid weak-ass spoke which snapped right near the middle. Of course I had Whitey Jackson’s spare spokes fashioned at I Martin back in LA, but Donny had none. Since Whitey had been such an ideal companion for 58 days with a paucity of issues, I hadn’t progressed too much as a bike mechanical genius. However, one thing I remembered from my overexposure to the cyclo-dudes at I Martin was Matt saying that if a spoke breaks, you can wrap it around its nearest neighbor which will then allow you to ride a short while with some stability, without totally fucking up the wheel alignment. In my memory bubble, whether it’s accurate or not, Matt was saying 10 miles was cool. Luckily, we were already in Goleta which, like all nice beach communities is home to a ton of cyclists and triathletes, and the handy-dandy Adventure Cycling Map boasted two bike shops just in that small town. Donny eyeballed a couple of cyclists up ahead and shot out to catch up with them on Delia’s lame-ass wheel. As my weighed-down Whitey and I approached Donny and the cycling twosome, I could tell by their body language that directions were being given. As it turns out, the spoke breaking was barely an inconvenience as the nearest bike shop was in a strip mall just off the route less than 2 miles ahead.

With most bike shops, you normally can’t just waltz in and ask for something to be fixed right away. Bike mechanics are busy dudes. This phenomenon was proved false at both of the shops I had visited along the way, in Blacksburg VA and Pueblo CO. But these shops weren’t overrun with demanding athletes, at least at the time of my arrival. And without tons of gear and his tan, lean from, Donny appeared to be one of those every-athletes, rather than a traveler in need - so we were afraid we'd have to wait. Before entering the shop, we rehearsed not taking “later” as an answer, and it worked without having to play the dude-come-on-i-just-rode-across-the-country card. The bike-nerd at the front consulted the eye-rolling, expansively-sighing mechanics, and they reluctantly gave us somewhat instantaneous service. Of course we didn’t know the exact size of the spoke, thinking they could just, you know, figure it out themselves. We withstood the barely covert head-shaking emasculation so commonly experienced in these situations (“You mean you don’t know the size of your spoke?” “Aren’t spokes different sizes within the same rim?" I offer, parroting something I thought I heard back at I Martin in April.) Whatever. We slunk next door and ate a sandwich. Gratefully. Whitey, coolly leaning against a post, did not gloat at Delia’s misfortune. Good boy. Almost sympathetic was he, if a bicycle could actually feel.

Thirty-five minutes later, we were on our way hitting 50 miles as we arrived at UC Santa Barbara’s bike path. As seems always the case with bike paths i'm not familiar with, I’m still never quite sure I’m on the correct route. UCSB is nice-ish. It looks like a made-up school where kids on a WB show might attend. The bike path runs through campus and along sandy mini-waterways and marine inlets. It's not a straight ride by any means, curving sharply, and we took care not to run down the coeds though we were vexed by how slow the campus traffic moved. We could see the main road just to the north and wished we were on it. Somewhere past the campus, the route expelled us from the bike path and onto a main road, Arroyo, which took us into Santa Barbara proper. We made a left onto Cabrillo near the marina and the gorgeous and richly named Los BaƱos del Mar non-chlorinated pubic pool where we swam once when visiting Santa Barbara for a wedding. The July gloom had lifted and it was sunny and warm finally. Tourists were everywhere, including some rubbernecking bicyclists gazing at the scenery. Yo! Snap out of it! We know it’s pretty but we got someplace to be! There’s a golden quality about Santa Barbara, I’ve always felt. Maybe it’s the sun warming the pink, orange and white Spanish buildings, glinting off the golf clubs and (oily) waters. Maybe because it’s wealthy and well-manicured.

Speaking of wealthy and well-manicured, have you ever been to Montecito? Extravagant. And I’m sure too dear to do anything there but quietly pass through. As E. Cabrillo ends, the route breezes over a series of passages that are all the same road, but kind of not. The directions i'm trying to follow on my handlebar map are a little complicated – in 200 ft. merge onto this road, ride straight up the hill for 250 ft, cross over the bridge onto the bike path for 0.8 miles, etc. At this point, we are riding alongside of the 101/Highway 1 (which has lovingly become one), first on the beach side, then the other. The beach town of Summerland is just the comeliest, and we again fantasize about the beach bum lifestyle. But this isn’t exactly an area where anyone can afford to be underemployed.

The wind is easing us along the lightly rolling coast and we glide through Carpinteria, which I have heard of before. It’s the place I think our hotel is located, but it’s actually about 5 miles further. Shattering the relative peace of the last several miles, we are forced once again onto a bicycle lane on the 101 Freeway. At rush hour. Now, when I say “rush hour” I’m not referring to LA’s rush hour, during which a cyclist could cruise through the gridlock, even on the freeway (if you were allowed). This rush hour is better described as a lot of people anxious to get home and able to do so at top speed. Again, I’m pretty used to this and am getting by with a modicum of just putting my head down and jaw-clenching. Donny, however, is as before, more worked up. With probably about 2 miles left before our destination, I hear Donny yell my name. Oh, what now. I’m unfairly impatient, I learn. Donny is about 100 yards back with a flat. The Mancini Curse has struck two times in one day. Perhaps you are not aware of the Mancini Curse? Well, anytime something unforeseen and inconvenient, painful or otherwise negative occurs, e.g. a twisted ankle, a fender bender, a canceled flight, and you are a Mancini – or at least Donny, Jinx, Denise or the other Mancini sisters – this is because you are cursed. I’m not sure who hexed the hapless Mancini clan – but it’s somehow interrelated with the neuroses suffered by having a relentlessly harsh Coach Dad, none other than Sonny Mancini, may he rest in peace. Donny has on some occasions when I have a stroke of bad luck indicated that I too now suffer from the Mancini curse, which of course I eschew. The Getzoff Curse is the name itself.

Well, thankfully, the Mancini Curse didn't break anyone's neck at breakneck speed; it just caused my Mancini to burst his tube and nearly veer into roaring sure-death traffic. At that instant, I don’t realize how close I came to dedicating my cross-country trip to Donny’s memory, and I go into problem-solving mode. I have a little shame peering back into my headspace: again?! , reads my thought bubble. I am robot-caveman now; tunnel-vision chip in brain no feel sympathy. Be that as it may, a bit of luck and no shortage of road skills on Donny’s part have prevented me from recounting this episode without unspeakable grief pouring onto my keyboard, now that I have be reprogrammed to understand human relationships.

Unfortunately, my problem-solving mode does not solve the problem at hand. No one, including the instructor at Bicycle Kitchen in Hollywood where we took a basic bike maintenance class a few months before, can give us a good reason why, even with tire levers, a good grip and a ton of aggravated aggression it is practically impossible to remove a tire from Donny’s rims. Despite my desire to save the day and show how super-self-reliant I am now, Donny hops the beach fence and approaches some surfers to get a ride the 5 or so miles back to the bike store we passed in Carpinteria. For the second time of the day being out of hearing range during Donny’s quest for assistance, I am reading body language which communicates that there is a solution. Of course, at that very moment, I manage to pry the tire off the rim.

But Donny isn’t taking chances with my skills and throws the repeatedly infirm Delia Darrow into the back of a surfer’s truck. The surfer is also a doctor which is just so totally California. There’s no way that my bike with all our shit is fitting in anyone’s truck, so Donny and I part ways. I make my way to the Cliff House Inn to check in and wait for him to call from the bike shop back up the road. The hotel has that mildewy beach motel smell which I like a lot. It’s basic all-around, but the rooms are terraced and face the ocean which is only a few rocky yards away. Donny calls; the bike is fixed but he’s reluctant about getting back on the freeway. I try to reassure him, but it’s hard to argue against the Mancini Curse, especially on a day like today. He survives.

That evening we eat at the Cliff House's own Shoals Restaurant outside on the patio, steps away from the beach. There is wine and good bread, fresh fish, even some vegetables. The bed in our room is small, and we like it that way.

I can’t believe I’m saying this: tomorrow I will be home.


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