Sunday, July 13, 2008

Prouty 2008

Yesterday I participated in the Prouty, a 100 miles ride that takes place near the Connecticut river, in New Hampshire and Vermont. It was a great event with tens of people participating. This year Enrique was riding with me and I was kind of happy I was going to ride with a good friend. It was also his birthday. I never biked that long in the States even if I have experienced longer rides during my fourth year of college.
Things did not go quite right. After about 20 miles I realized that I wanted to go my own pace that was not Enrique's pace. The climax of the ride was the Mt. Cube climb. Despite not being an unmatched climb, I wanted to try my best. After all it was not a race but when you ride your bike it is still nice to race against yourself and this was really a nice occasion to do it. So I left Enrique, despite it was his birthday. I hope he will be able to forgive me. I kind of understand now better why my college friend Valentino always left me behind and teased me about my slowness.
After the climb I started drafting behind different groups. It is a perfect way to keep you motivated and concentrated. Although, every time a steep uphill would show up, I could not sustain the pace of the group and so I would have to wait for a new one to come and give me a lift. Overall it was a lot of fun. I stopped at five of the food stands set up for the event and I ate tons of bananas. I also met a math professor at the third stand I stopped in. We had a nice conversation about biking.
In the end I started dragging a lot. It always comes the moment when the forces abandon you and the muscles give up. You can still bike but every small effort becomes a titanic one and what before looked liked a moderate climb now looks like a wall. It was comforting to see other people dragging too. After all, in the end it does not matter how long it takes.
When I arrived at the last stand I took some time to rest, eat and stretch. I really wanted to be done with it but I knew there were still 10 miles left. I smiled at the idea that it was almost over. But I wanted those 10 last miles to be the best. I thought back about how good it was to be there and why, to begin with, my passion for biking started. And then I thought at the people biking with me that last stretch. I wandered what their motivation was, where their energy comes from.
The whole purpose of the event was to raise money for the research against cancer. More than $2 millions have been raised this year. I also made my little contribution. I confess, I was mainly biking for the fun of it. Some people were riding with a yellow ribbon. To honor those that of cancer have died and those that are fighting against it.
It is weird because I admit that I do not believe the fight against cancer makes a lot of sense. Because cancer is a way to die, and death is a natural part of life that cannot be avoided. But somehow, I felt like there is something very noble in it and I felt like I wanted to honor those that believed in the fight. For them is this day most than any other. And that, to my surprise, gave me the motivation to bike those last miles at my best. Light as a leaf in the wind. To honor those that have fought and are fighting.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thursday Night Salsa

As almost every Thursday I went to dance salsa in Collis. I like it a lot, both for the dancing part and the social aspect. Sometimes it is boring, sometimes it is fun. And sometimes you get to know completely new interesting people, something I have not been used to before coming to Dartmouth.
This time I got to know Catie, a girl from the local area. She struck me since she introduced herself as a nerd. Well, it is not common to find girls that are nerds and it is even less common to find nerds that dance salsa. But then again, that is exactly what is cool about Thursday Night Salsa. You always get surprised.
While dancing we talked a little bit. I usually ask many more questions than answers I give. I discovered that she is a biochemist and that after college she went to work for a startup company in the area around Dartmouth. This company is planning to produce cheap antibodies hacking the yeast using a new secret method that has not been patented yet and that therefore she could not tell me about. I could feel the excitement. The company is hoping to get the job done and then get sold to a big pharmaceutical company and that's good since she is being paid with stock options.
You get to read on books that these things happen. Maybe one day when I will go to buy antibodies at the local pharmacy I might be able to tell that I met one of the people that helped inventing them. You get to really understand what makes the United States the country that changes the whole world. Efficiency and entrepreneurship. The country where ideas get transformed into reality because people are more willing to take risks.
It is just such a different feeling to see it with your own eyes.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A tale of two queues

Yesterday, 4th of July, independence day for the American people, I finally flied back to the States. My flight was leaving from Rome. Nice and comfortable since my maternal grandparents live in the eternal city. Although you still need to get to the airport and the only feasible option is to get the train.
My grandpa is always willing to get me to Roma Ostiense, one of the train stations where the train stops. As usual, I head for the vending machines for tickets as I always do since I am allergic to lines. In my opinions lines are the extreme symbol of inefficiency and lack of organization. Although, again, the vending machines are both broken. The information age has been around quite a while. Even in the subway there are plenty of machines to buy tickets but at the Roma Ostiense train station there are only two. And they don't work.
Ok, there is no need to panic, I will buy a ticket as people used to back in the pre-information-age era. The line at the ticket office is not even that long. Only three people. It's 8:24am and the next train leaves at 8:33am so I should manage to get it. But the guy is taking his time. Actually the ticket officer is taking his time too and there is only one. It's 8:28am, 8:31am. I finally decide to drop the idea of buying a ticket and leave for the train but it's too late. Well, no reason to overreact since there is a train every 15 minutes. Too bad the next one is 25 minutes late. I go back to the ticket office and the same guy is still talking while now there are at least 12 people in line, most of them coming from the ticket vending machine. He finally leaves at 8:48am while people behind started to get nervous. I contemplate that I had time to lose another train if it wasn't for the fact that it was late.
I finally get into the 9:03am train, which is pretty full and gets to the airport with some delay. During the trip I am thinking how it is possible that we spend billions of euros to build high speed railroads to save half an hour while the same amount of time can be lost because of technology repeatedly not working in the train stations. I arrive at the airport about 80 minutes earlier than my departure instead of the canonical two hours suggested for international flights. I hurry up and I manage still to get to the gate ten minutes before they start boarding. Although I get placed in seat 39F, the very last one. That means that you can't tilt the seat and that you are going to be the very last to get out of the plane, a critical feature if the plane lands late and you need to make a connection.
After a long flight, during which I ended up watching four movies, 10000 BC, Natural Treasure 2, Hercules and PS I Love You, I land in Philadelphia where I board a smaller flight to Boston. This time my seat is 6C, the second one after the first class seat. That's very good news since getting out first will give me better chances to catch the bus for Hanover, my final destination.
During the flight the captain is happy to inform us that, thanks to tail wind, we are going to land 25 minutes earlier. After that happens and the plane parks in front of the gate and everybody stands up, anxious to get out. But the door doesn't open. The captain first informs us that they are having difficulties with the connecting bridge, then that they are still having mechanical difficulties and that a mobile stair is on her way in case the problems could not be solved. We impatiently wait, seeing that freedom is just a few steps away. Sadly, jumping out of the plane is not an option. Finally, 25 minutes after parking, the captain informs us that the mobile stair arrived but it is going to connect at the back of the plane. It is 6:48pm and the bus starts going around the terminals at 6:55pm. Running would be an option if it wasn't that you have to wait for all of the people in front of you, that means all of them, again, to get out of the plane. The best ones are those that wait until is their turn to start organizing their luggages. Electrocution should be the only outcome for their behavior. After a short run, I manage to collect my luggage and step out of the airport at 6:56pm. The bus arrives just about 5 minutes later making me draw a sigh of relief. Only sad point, they are showing Natural Treasure 2 aboard, again.
Long story short, even here in the United States, the land of efficiency, they manage to have dozens of people lose their time for the most stupid reasons. Maybe my grandpa was right when he said that it was better during the Fascism when trains were never late. Too bad the world is not like Wikipedia, where if something is wrong you can actually fix it instead of cursing the people who are guilty of it. For everything else, I guess the only option is to have a little patience.