Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tour de Georgia: Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

Now and then of late, particularly when I haven't been riding enough, I've wallowed a bit too much in angst and self-pity over the fact that one of every six people in my division at work will become unemployed three weeks before Christmas and I could be one of them.

But looking for a job in the midst of what politicians with contempt for history call "the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression" isn't the most depressing way to pass the time. No, the most depressing way to pass time in "the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression" is probably trying to raise money to keep some intriguing but almost terminally marginal enterprise afloat.

I thought about this as I listened this afternoon to WCPN, but our local NPR affiliate's tedious pledge drive isn't the subject here. Sure, the station has a tough row to hoe, asking for financial support during interruptions of the insufferable "Diane Rehm Show" in the morning and an even-more-somnolent BBC program called "The Forum" in midafternoon.

Yet the intriguing but terminally marginal enterprise I was referring to is the Tour de Georgia.

But this week's WCPN beg-a-thon has been grating, so now that I mention it, I'll sidetrack.

I usually ride my bike to work, so I don't need a radio. I get to listen to arguments and phone conversations in the cars around me at stoplights. But this week I needed a car for three days (so far) at work. What a bad week to need a car.

Usually, the public-radio stations are semi-listenable (particularly on the way home, when "Marketplace" is on). Even 20 minutes of catatonic midmorning yap-host Dan Malthroup's "Reporters' Roundtable" snoozefests and his giggly smitten-schoolgirl softball questions for famous guests are better than 20 minutes of station-flipping. That just brings carpal tunnel and, even worse, an assortment of putrid "music" and loudmouth right-wing jackass windbags with 10th-grade education and fifth-grade potty humor. Yeah, CPN is a drone of self-important boredom between the time "Morning Edition" ends and "All Things Considered" begins. But commercial radio is chainsaws cutting through steel drums while one neighbor's baby cries and another's dog won't stop barking and your smoke detector and a car alarm across the street are both going off at once. And the phone is ringing.

That relative grace of NPR, however, fades during pledge week. Pledge Week is Public Square at lunchtime -- a relentless gauntlet of begging and shameless attempts at guilt-tripping, which assault you in the brief and gloomy moments of exposure as you rush between two safe-haven places.

Both versions of Les Miserables -- the ones who work in radio, and the ones who receive radio signals from the CIA via a chip in their heads -- are up against some mighty tough times, and even though I tune them all out, I give them some bit of sympathy.

And some credit. They persevere and survive, somehow.

Which seems to be more than we can say for the Tour de Georgia.

Predictions of its demise are pretty much an annual affair, especially since Lance retired and took the big crowds with him. This time, that's probably for real: Its former managers are pouring all of their money and effort into the two other races they run -- the Tour of California and the socialized Tour of Missouri. Georgia economic-development pitchmen are left to try to resurrect the cadaver of a race that, six months after it ended, still has an ad on its website for Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Georgia, one of its biggest 2008 sponsors, with the sponsor's Web address spelled wrong! (How would you like to be a BC-BS exec who spent a small fortune propping up the TdG, only to see your company's Web address -- -- listed as on the tour's main avenue of exposure? That's some B.S.)

The TdG fellas' twanged pitch is about as authentic and persuasive as the one that comes from the dudes who coincidentally get "stranded" every night at the BP at 26th and Superior and greet every customer there with some variant of, "Can you spare some change? I just need bus fare to get to my job/my dying kid/my car that's out of gas ..."

Put yourself in the promoters' sorry shoes. "Look, Company X: For an investment of $8 million of your extra cash on hand, you become a foundation partner in the third-greatest race in the most racing-ambivalent nation in the developed world. You will give literally hundreds of Georgians a chance to see, up close and personal, cyclists who look remarkably like the ones they curse at, door and throw shit at on weekends. Except these ones will mostly all be foreign.

"Imagine having your company's brand identified with the second team of a second-tier continental racing squad, a few other teams tainted by this week's doping scandal and Michael Ball's Dope'n'Tattoo Freak Show. It's a marketing dream!

"Oh, and did I mention you'll get a tent stocked with ... boiled peanuts and Natural Light? And you'll get your web address on our web site."

Now THAT is depressing.

Around 6:30 p.m. one evening, I saw quitting time for a poor, crippled beggar. The Lord must've passed by a minute earlier, because I watched her rise like Lazarus, fold up her walker and chair and walk half a block to her man's station wagon. She yelled at and hit her kid, then threw the props in the back of the car and speed off. I wondered how she could live with herself.

Maybe she can become the Tour de Georgia's promoter. After all, she'd have this as her patter: "No, this ain't no act! Lance said he's comin' back in 2009 and racin' here!"

Or maybe the Good Lord will descend upon Brasstown Bald.

We can all pray.

- JN

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