Thursday, August 20, 2009

My Take: A Review of "A Dog In A Hat"

"I did tell Joe Parkin to go to Belgium. I did not, however, tell him to stay" (ix). After reading that, I knew this was going to be an interesting read.

In the spring of 1986, Joe packs two bags (one holding his bike, the other holding everything else) and flies to Belgium rather than stick around to race regionally. And when Joe arrives in Belgium, he doesn't know the language, or really what he's doing; he's just one more amateur hoping to catch the eye of a team director and a pro contract.

The chapters are more or less laid out chronologically and are a selection of stories of Joe's five year pro career in Belgium. The stories are told with plain, spare language that makes it easy to imagine the slick roads, crazy riders, and crazier, fair-weather cycling fans that Joe encounters.

These stories are told with an insider's view. I mean that, while Joe is an American, he comes across quite European in the way he deals with quirky teammates, insulting team directors, hard riding conditions, and the overall suffering of being a professional bike racer.

Parkin doesn't gloss over the hard stuff, either. The way he and others dealt with drugs, doping, cheating, and deal-making are all confronted with the same frank 'this is the way it was' style (I found it refreshing). "It wasn't always pretty, but that's what happened," is the author's tone through these parts of the book.

Overall, I'd have to give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars. And I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in delving deeper into cycling culture and the history of the sport.

A note on the title: "I had heard a lot of the old Belgians use the expression 'een hond met een hoed op,' which means 'A dog with a hat on'. In the context in which I heard it, I took it to mean that you see a dog in a hat when a normal situation changes, when something looks out of place" (102).

Monday, August 10, 2009

Scattered Thoughts On Balance

I went into the coffee shop where I work to cover part of someone's shift this morning. Since it was only two-and-one-half hours, I decided a trip to the library was in order afterwards.

As I was hunting through the stacks, it occured to me that I hadn't really done this since college, that is hunt randomly through stacks of books for anything that struck my fancy. I had complete freedom to choose any book regarding any subject that I wanted. To have that kind of freedom is exhilerating.

So, why talk about reading, writing, and libraries in a blog usually dedicated to cycling? Because I believe that life is best when it's in balance. Part of the reason I haven't been here in a few weeks is that I couldn't articulate my thoughts about the bike, but I had plenty to say about other subjects. When I was in college, we used to have long discussions at the dinner table in the cafeteria and in the classroom (Recreation major) about balance between work and play.

Using my brain in this way balances out my activities on the bike. Lately, I've felt like I'd rather re-read Joe Parkin's Dog In A Hat, than ride a few extra miles. Perhaps, it's because I've focused so much of my leisure time on riding this summer that I've neglected the other parts of my life that are important. Like reading, listening to live music, going to festivals, and hanging out with friends.

While I'm in great physical shape, my life has been a bit out of balance.

Where's this scattered, long-winded rant going? While I'm going to try to focus this blog on my thoughts on anything I can think of cycling-related, don't be surprised if you see a book or film review posted, either.

Cool? Oh, good. So glad you agree.

By the way, I can now ride no-handed. It only took all summer to learn. *huge grin*

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.