Paralleling the Dinosaurs or How To Be The Biggest Small Publisher You’ve Never Heard Of

As Microcosm enters our 19th year, we hear nothing but doom and gloom about the publishing industry, but 2013 was our best year since 2006. Through business savvy and hard work, we paid off our old debts, re-instituted raises and a year-end bonus for our staff, published twenty new titles, and moved into a new, larger office that we are working towards owning. And we did all of this without a single book selling over 5,000 copies.

Publishing is like gambling. And just the same there are things you can do for a better bet. But in the end it’s still a gamble. In the past we’ve relied upon a single title to sell over 10,000 each year and if one does not emerge, we can be sunk. Having a positive relationship with the right printer, 350 books that each give us a steady trickle year after year, constantly re-checking the math on our spreadsheets, keeping track of who is buying our work and what kinds of things they like best, working with great self-promoters, building relationships with blogs, and putting attention into production, design, and all of the little details has allowed us to be successful on our own terms while having the privilege of avoiding Amazon’s creepy influence on books. Because our background goes back to a seventeen-year-old punk rocker in a bedroom, we have chosen to stay independent of outside financial pressure and influence for over eighteen years and continue to publish twelve to twenty new titles per year.

While some people love to argue with us over whether this is possible or not, we can print each book for between 40 cents and $2, with the vast majority costing 70 cents each. I believe most publishers are looking at the wrong number: The total of the printing invoice rather than the cost per book. This is done through printing between 2,000 and 10,000 copies per printing. Sometimes it’s a careful balance of calculating how many copies of something we could reasonable sell to avoid over printing. But when we do need to reprint, that’s an awesome success!

 

More like Dischord or Lookout Records than even Soft Skull Press or Seal Press, we have always operated in parallel to the publishing industry. In 2011, a confused Calvin Reid from Publisher’s Weekly exclaimed “Why have I never heard of you?” when we were signing with Independent Publisher’s Group. We had gone fifteen years without a proper trade distributor, because we didn’t need one. Instead, we’ve built our ground game, doing tours through small towns where we set up a pop-up bookstore, having fans pass out our catalogs in far-away cities, appearing at events where we have the only books on site, and building a movement of people who believe in the work and subjects that we promote, like self-empowerment, gender, punk rock, and bicycling.

We still focus 95% of our efforts on print because it is more environmentally responsible, gives us much more freedom in where we are sending our money, and because books like ours just don’t sell in electronic formats. In 2011 they represented 8% of the total market and that shrunk to only 6% of sales in 2012. Despite the hype about this being the future, we’ve been raised to see these as having little or no value and most people are not willing to pay more than $2.99 for an eBook, unless it’s something they’d be embarrassed to read on the bus—“romance,” thriller, murder mystery, throwaway science fiction, or serialized fantasy novel. You could wax philosophy all day about the tangible nature of books, but let’s face it, it’s much harder to build a movement digitally, where you are reliant upon artificially underpriced data flows and major corporations.

While more and more publishers rely upon Amazon or bemoan it’s market dominance, it has little effect on us because we exist in parallel to the industry, rather than inside of it or in opposition to it. People buy our books because of their practical content and value, frequently motivating the reader into action. Because of all of this and our talented pool of authors, we still feel like a little fish, but together we just might be able to make it work!

Read more about Microcosm and the publishing industry in Joe Biel’s book, A People’s Guide to Publishing.

Financial Report for 2013

In the name of fiscal transparency, like a 501(c)3 nonprofit, we publish our financial reports each year. You can also read them from 2012, 20112010, and 2009! We’ve worked very hard this year, one of our hardest ever, and we have a lot to show for it. We were able to re-institute a year end bonus for all employees while giving raises and paying off all of our old debts. We feel that we have reached a place of stability with a certain future through the recession and the evolving publishing industry. We moved into a newer, larger building last month that we own. Thanks for all of your support and for sticking with us through our 18th year. All future finances beyond operating expenses will go into upgrading computers, providing raises, and re-instating staff healthcare. If you want to help, the best thing you can do for us is to sign up for a BFF subscription or purchase anything from the site!  

2013 Income $304,272.05 (a 15.1% increase)

 

Expenses

=========

Printing Bills $130,305.69 (54.4% increase, 43.1% of budget)

Total staff wages $67,014.43 (49.3% increase, 22.2% of budget)

 

Shipping $30,900.62 (21.1% decrease, 10.2% of budget)

Paid to publishers and distributors $23,472.60 (27.3% decrease, 7.8% of budget)

 

Utilities, insurance, phone, office supplies, etc $16,261.20 (39.1% decrease, 5.4% of budget)

Royalties to authors $15,564.39 (57% increase, 5.2% of budget)

Rent $8,784 (18.4% decrease, 2.9% of budget)

Advertising $5,282.75 (3.2% decrease, 1.7% of budget)

Catalog Printing $2,314.62 (12.3% decrease, .8% of budget)

 

Travel $2,147 (71.6% increase, .7% of budget)

Staff Healthcare $0 (0% of budget)

Donations $15,325 (1.1% increase)

=================

Total Expenses $302,047.30


Total $2,224.75 (profit)

We used this profit to pay off last year’s losses of $-967.87 and establish a bit of a safety net for the future. 

2013 – Top Things Made of Words

I’m generally not one for year end lists.  Usually I’m late to the party. Often times I’m not invited to the party. Sometimes I get lost on my way to the party and end up at a different party, but still have a really good time.  With that in mind, this is my list of 2013’s “Top Things Made of Words.” These days format is less relevant than ever, so for this list, everything qualifies. Whether it’s an old book I didn’t read until last month, a blog, a zine, or the post-it that was stuck to my shoe, it all has a chance.

If you’re here, you probably already know the things we publish.  And although I’m endlessly excited about each of them, I’ll try to leave them off of here. But no guarantees. 

And now, in no particular order…

 

1. Scott McClanahan

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Scott McClanahan is probably my favorite writer that I discovered in 2013. I’m not the only one, as his most recent book Hill William has been everywhere I look lately. Rightfully so.  Scott is from one of those places you forget exist outside of the movies, and are glad you’re not from. He was raised in a collapsed coal town in West Virginia and it serves as the basis of most of his writing. I picked up a short story collection of his, The Collected Works Vol. 1, mostly based on reputation, but partly just because of the cover image. I was sucked in by his perspective as a somewhat sensitive writer and storyteller among anachronistic coal miners, hard working hillbillies, and directionless drunks.  Immediately after, I picked up Crapalachia and tore through the tales of his family and childhood friends. Hill William is waiting for me at home and it will be the next book I open.

2. Corner Store #1 & #2 by Corey Plagiarist

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I’ve said a few times in my life that I like movies and books where nothing really happens. A not so eloquent way of expressing appreciation for things that document a specific place or a moment in life. A record of things that don’t belong in the history books and will never be a blockbuster, but capture pieces of culture and emotion. Corner Store does this at its most basic level and it is somehow totally engrossing.

A handful of friends cruise around Milwaukee with one goal and a few basic rules.  With a limited amount of money and a few government subsidies, they visit as many neighborhood corner stores as they can find. Not chains, not stores in the middle of the block, and not free standing markets. Just corner stores. They describe the places, poke around the inventory, mention anything of interest, and buy some malt liquor or a pack of peanuts or one of those 99 cent tall cans of sugar juice.  Some people like to read books about WWII, or the rise and fall of kingdoms. I like to read about the chip selection of corner stores I’ll probably never visit.

From what I can tell, #2 was actually published sometime in 2012. #1 gives pretty much no indication of date.  Both are seemingly hard to find in stock on the internet, but we actually have a couple copies of each in the store if you are dying for one.

3. Rontel by Sam Pink

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Rontel is the pretty little kitty pictured above. Sam Pink is pretty in his own way.  He’s also one of the most uniquely voiced and styled writers I’ve read in a long time. His books are generally short collections of poems, stories, phrases, and outbursts. Most of them can be taken in in a single sitting, and I’ve done that with every one of them that I could get my hands on. Rontel, like Corner Store, is also a record of a brief place in time as the author does his best to live and exist in Chicago.  Actually, that’s wrong. He’s not doing his best at all. The problem is, he has no idea what his best is.  So instead, he wanders aimlessly, half-awake, and a little bit dead, finding the absurdity in his own bleak existence. And he’s really damn good at that.

3 1/2. Lazy Fascist Press

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Lazy Fascist Press published Rontel. They also published Scott McClanahan’s Collected Works.  When it comes down to it, pretty much everything they do is weird and wonderful and unique in the world of fiction. Just go read anything you can find that has their little mustache logo on the spine. That’s what I do.

4. Mount Ennui (@mountennui) / ornery island (@nolanallan)

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Is 2013 the year “weird twitter” became a thing? Or is that just another party I’m a little late to?  Either way, it the year I found the thriving community of writers and weirdos that make Twitter a place for more than just links to articles. Mount Ennui and ornery island are two people (or at least I assume they are) that transcend the running jokes and bad puns of other “weird” accounts and enter a different dimension of single line poetry, interconnected thoughts, and allusions to things you didn’t realize you’ve experienced. 140 character reminders that we all share this spaceship. And that it’s forever sinking.

5. Raw Deal #13 by Joey Alone

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Raw Deal #13 is both one of my favorite zines I’ve recently read, but also one of those most frustrating.  Favorite because it’s a dirty (like under your fingernails, not sexy), passionate (same) collection of trains, botany, graffiti, and art through the lens of a punk mindset. From saving rare trees by breeding them in abandoned Oakland lots, to going from trainhopper to legitimate brake man, Joey Alone inspires in all the right ways.  Why frustrating? Because this is the only piece of writing by him that I can find.  It was formerly called Loitering is Good and I’m assuming there’s 12 other issues out there somewhere, but I’ve never encountered a single one of them.  Somebody help!

6. Fancy Notions

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Fancy Notions is the blog of a friend of mine. But regardless of that, it is filled with wonders of lesser traveled highways, old superstitions, liquor store artwork, and creepy childhood memories. Always worth reading.

7. Dream River by Bill Callahan

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In this case, we’ll ignore the music, but you should never actually do that.  Bill Callahan, formerly Smog, has spent decades releasing one great album after another. Of the large chunk of his output that I’ve spent serious time with, I can’t think of a dud. Dream River is his most recent release and continues his style of extremely personal, but concise narratives. My favorite songwriter will probably forever be John Darnielle, but where Darnielle crams a devastating paragraph into a single measure of music, Callahan achieves the same emotional resonance by slurring a single syllable out over a few beats. His words hit you in that corner of the brain that makes your eyes glaze over and hands tense, as you relive your own version of the scene he’s spelling out.

8. Radon by Aaron Cometbus and Travis Fristoe

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A friend of mine may have said it best when, after I made him read this, he said something along the lines of “This completely convinced me that Radon is my new favorite band before I had ever heard their music.”  And it’s true. Fristoe and Cometbus tag team the story of a DIY punk band from Florida that never quite got the attention they deserved. A portrait of a scene, a punk field guide, and just some damn good writing. If you’ve ever felt passionately about a band, you’ll be able to relate. 

9. The Florida Room’s marquee

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The Florida Room is a bar–good bloody marys, cheap tater tots, and just around the corner from my house. All good reasons to go hang out.  But the reason it fits into this list, is the marquee. Like a lot of bars with signs or chalkboards, there’s plenty of silly jokes and advertising, and sometimes it’s amusing to see the dirtier ones in big letters on a fairly busy street.  However, it’s also the only bar marquee to ever make me tear up a little. Nobody likes to lose a friend (or even just an acquaintance in my case), but it’s nice to see their name up in lights one last time.

Looking forward, I’m not sure which party I’ll wander into this year, but I’m sure it’ll be something just as engrossing as the 2013 has been.  And as for things around here, there’s a whole host of things I’m looking forward to reading.  The top of the list right now (which is always changing) is Aftermath of Forever, the next issue of Railroad Semantics, and the newest from Joshua Ploeg, This Ain’t No Picnic. But most of all, thank you for supporting all that we do! It would all be useless without you.

-Tim

Our New Office Digs

December was a busy month for us! Between trips to Chicago, Oklahoma City, Houston, and Fort Worth, we’ve also been moving into our new location! Our store/office/warehouse/life/nucleus of activity is now at 2752 N Williams Ave. Portland, OR 97227!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Newness News!

books!

Just so you know, we’ve got a lot of super great new titles! Who’s excited about Railroad Semantics #2!!?

RRS#2

If not that, how bout the new edition of Mostly True!

MostlyTrue

Raleigh Briggs even released her sequel to Make Your Place, the much-anticipated Make It Last!

MakeItLast

Beyond The Music is Joe Biel’s new book, a really great one for anyone interested in the Punk “Scene” or the DIY ethics it brings with it.

BeyondTheMusic

And of course, we can’t forget about Everyday Bicycling, Elly Blue’s know-it-all book about cycling in any and every situation, a super great guide to get someone who might just be getting into bicycling, or even the bicycling fanatics! 🙂

EverydayBicycling

Holy Cow! As I was typing this we just got another one in! The People’s Apocalypse! This one looks super interesting!

PeoplesApocalypse

If your into that whole Thanksgiving thing, these are all things to be thankful for!
If your into that whole Christmas thing, any one of these would make great gifts!
Or, you could gift one to someone on Nov. 13th for World Kindness Day.
You’ll also have to stock up on books to read for Stay At Home Because You Are Well Day at the end of the month. Book Lover’s Day doesn’t have to end on Nov. 4th, it can last all year!

I can’t even keep up around here. I’m going to have to start reading faster…

-Jeff

Microcosm Publishing, Microcosm Distribution, and Pioneers Press…

 

Hey Folks,

Although some of you may not know, Microcosm Publishing was effectively split into two separate companies on August 1, 2012. This was done for a number of personal, financial, and geographic reasons, and led to the formation of Microcosm Distribution (which has since become Pioneers Press).

 

Unfortunately, splitting a company in two that has been in existence for over 15 years comes with an endless list of complications. Like a lot of the publishing world, and the world at large, this happened during times that were extremely hard for us. Prior to the split, Microcosm Publishing had amassed nearly $37,000 in debt—an amount that seemed nearly insurmountable for those involved.

 

As part of the agreement, which was drafted with the input of both parties and executed prior to the split, we agreed to each keep half of the organization’s property and split the debt 50/50. The settling of the debt would be done by Microcosm Distribution making monthly payments to Microcosm Publishing on their half of the debt until it was resolved.

 

However, despite the agreement, these payments were never made. Microcosm Distribution claimed that they are not responsible for any of the debt amassed while they were a part of the company and its management. We understand that it’s difficult to even survive in the publishing world in its current state, but that does not justify leaving one half of the company with the entirety of the debt.

 

After 15 months Microcosm Publishing has still not received any of the agreed upon contributions. Thankfully, through new endeavors and pinching paychecks, we’ve managed to scrape together the money to stay in business. At this point, we feel we have no chance at making progress with this issue without the help of professional counsel, and have filed suit against Pioneers Press as a last resort attempt at receiving their fair share of the debt payments.

 

It’s an unfortunate, and wholly foreign to us, way to go about this, but we can find no other solution. We are simply asking that the signed agreement be honored.

 

Although personal problems and past relationships can cause issues within business, Microcosm Publishing is an active and growing publisher with a small, full-time staff who are dedicated to creating the books we want to see in the world. And we would love to continue doing just that.

 

<3

 

Tim Wheeler

Microcosm Publishing

 

Behind a Wall of Books

Anybody ever watch that old movie Night Train to Munich? For some reason every time I get on a tr Alt textain I expect spies and espionage. The night train from Portland to San Francisco, lovingly called, “The Coast Starlight” has a time schedule based on approximations at best, and aside from the uncouth and suggestive remarks from the café car over the loudspeaker, little to no excitement is what you can expect. But for anyone tenured to the ways of rail transit, I’m sure you could amalgamate a fine story, riddled with excitement from all your Amtrak adventures.

Last week I journeyed by way of the “Starlight” to the Bay area for the great Alternative Press Expo (APE). I was to be joined by Corbett Redford of the nefarious satirical duo, Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNugget’s, for a two day tabeling event behind a wall of Microcosm! The event took place at the Concourse; this place was, to my guess about the size of two football fields, that’s approximately 116,000 square feet of comics, books, fans, and various collected art from all facets and corners of the imagination.

 

I arrived a few days early to pound the sidewalks and disseminate the volumes of Microcosm’s gamut to the eager public. Most of this I accomplished on foot, however my friend DJ Freshstep occasioned to scoot me about the city on the back of his Vespa. This was the one, quasi euro transit attack I managed.

 

Corbett, harnessing his impressive clout, succeeded in shepherding me, during one of my afternoons, though the  backdoors of some of the great legendary record and comic shops of the city. The two Amoeba’s,  Rasputin, and 1-2-3-4  Go, gave us the royal welcome and what seemed like every comic shop in the city was well enthused to shake the hand of an affiliate of Henry & Glenn. 

  Last gasp

A who’s who mixer at the opulent office of Last Gasp prefaced the two days of the APE. If you’ve ever wondered what it’d be like to walk around in a Robert Crumb drawing, while glancing through old photographs of William Burroughs gripping his iconic pistol, Last Gasp wont disappoint. It was like a museum but more along the lines of the home of your parent’s awesome hippy friends. Think of the Barthes collection, but superimpose all the bizarreness of the 1960’s drug culture.

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The two days of the APE, Corbett and I huddled, side-by-side behind the great wall of Microcosm titles I created for our display. Corbett was mostly occupied preaching the good word from his newly debuted Microcosm release(s), The Bobby Joe Ebola Song Book, and Meal Deal With the Devil; Signatures were given and reluctantly received! No time to sit and a near 19 hours of collected alternative press left us dizzy and hyper-conscious of the mistake of building a wall, behind which there can be no sitting, less you leave the books to speak for themselves. 

 

APE, see you next year!

Analog Media Party

Alt textWe had a really stellar first meeting for the Analog Media Party this month after Wordstock!

It’s a publisher’s meetup group with the goals of forming both a regional publisher’s association and organizing an annual bookselling event!

 
We identified some things we are interested in last time: networking, brainstorming, cover review, helping each other grow, developing the business end, meeting each other, venting/kveching (a new word for me), creating a supported industry, sharing resources, and eventually developing some clout.
We envision a one day bookselling event partnered with a one day trade show with programming for publishers in Dec 2014

We’ll be having our second meeting at the Lucky Lab on 9th/Hawthorne on Nov 3 at 4 PM.

 

 

While other local festivals are extreme micro or focus on author services and promising big dreams with big publishers, the Analog Media Party is Portland’s newest mid-sized publishing festival focused on programming and networking for publishers with a bookfair for the public to sell your books!

Why Not? Minot Festival

Why Not? Festival 2011 from Cantankerous Titles on Vimeo.

There aren’t many events that we go to every single year for Microcosm, so when we make repeated appearances it’s either a matter of three different things: Getting to catch up with very special friends who live there, consistently awesome support for what we are doing, or a truly amazing and inspiring event. Somehow Why Not? Minot Fest offers all three.

You wouldn’t exactly think of Minot as a cultural epicenter or even associate it with art, necessarily. Which is why it surprised me so much when I made my first trip back in 2006, after seven years away, to discover a vibrant music scene at The Red Carpet, a DIY venue on the outskirts of the city. 

I was confused for Joshua Ploeg, who I was on tour with, and had apparently delivered a memorable performance in 1994. We sold literally every piece of merch we had with us that night, which admittedly was only a few boxes, as we were traveling on Amtrak.

You see, Minot knows that when you support the people on tour they will come back. And they’ve also got heart. Talking on the phone with Why Not? Fest co-founder Billy Luetzen, he expressed how disillusioned he was going on tour with his band The Father, Son, and Holy Smokes where the shows were not always well organized or promoted at all. It gave him further resolve to do the best job possible in Minot.

And the best job possible became the order of the city. 

So when I got the phone call that our presence was requested at the first Why Not? Fest in 2010, I felt like I owed it to Minot. So we booked our tour around it and I’m fairly sure we left  as much merch in Minot as we did on the rest of the tour combined. 

Not content to rest on their laurels, the scene got together and created a new DIY venue, after the collapse of The Red Carpet, called Pangea House. It was the hard work of Luetzen, his buddies Jake, Daniel, Jazmine Wolfe, and no less than sixteen people named Chris. Whenever any of them are asked who is responsible for doing the work, they will all endlessly point to each other in the most charming manner. 

And not content to limit themselves to music, Why Not? Fest has featured belly dancing, improv comedy, theatre, films, an old amusement park, a dunk tank, a short shorts competition (for men), readings, a worst mac and cheese cookoff, and most notably, after the Souris River flooded in 2011, destroying much of Minot and straining an already tight housing market, the fest organized attendees to do free cleanup of people’s homes. 

And if you’re thinking, “All of this sounds great and all but is the music any good?” Well, that’s the best part. I have since come to believe The Future of Music Coalition that local and regional scenes operate best when left alone from the trappings of the music industry or other barometers of commercial “success.” Bands like Mr Dad, Chapstick, Victor Shores, Kids with Beards, Acoustic Sparkle Additive, Idaho Green, and Johnny Unicorn are all innovative songwriters and performers in a way that is captivating for even myself, who is absolutely burnt out after going to shows for twenty years. The fact that you’ve likely never heard of any of these bands—even if you’re a devout music fan—and that most of them don’t even have a website is, I believe, the reason they have been so successful at being great bands and creating a great festival. And the reason why we’ll be there every year that Why Not? Fest continues to happen!

Dinner & Bikes Tour Reflections

DINNER + BIKES '011 from Cantankerous Titles on Vimeo.

It’s been over a month since we returned home from the now-annual Dinner & Bikes Tour but it remains the kind of activism that I think about daily.

For those unfamiliar, it involves Elly Blue, Joshua Ploeg, and I (joined this year by roadie Aaron Cynic) renting a car for a month, hitting up a different region of the U.S., and leaving as much food and bike love (and Microcosm goodies) in our wake as we can.

Joshua and I had toured together for four years before the three of us founded Dinner + Bikes, but the concepts used to be a bit unclear. What was our tour about? Who were we? What were we trying to accomplish? The basic journalistic questions were increasingly hard to decipher from our posters and most people seemed to show up not knowing what to expect.

So we talked it over, tightened it up, and created a platform. Joshua would serve a seven course meal that he’d cook onsite from ingredients purchased locally. Elly would present her current fascinations on Bikenomics, bicycle equity (Bikequity?), and “The Gender Gap in Bicycling.” I’d show various curations of short films I’d made about bicycling, bicycle activism, and bicycle culture, most recently showing an excerpt of Aftermass.

But secretly, the event has nothing to do with us. We are only necessary to bring people together and for the first five minutes or so to get people talking, though arguably, Joshua’s activities in the hours before the event makes everyone much happier come dinner time. 

So we drive around the country for a month so people who live in the same town as each other have a means and a reason to come together, meet each other, and talk about improving their city, no matter where they are in the continuum.

Not to toot our own horn, but our events attract people from all across the spectrum, from bloggers and journalists to city planners to activists to city staff to bike project volunteers to ride organizers to elected officials to roadies and racers to bike clubs to advocacy organizations with proper offices or even those who volunteer from their home to make their city a more pleasant place to ride a bicycle. In most cases, if these people have ever met before, it’s rarely been on equal footing or they haven’t had the opportunity to have a proper sit down conversation. And the results have blown my mind.

We’ve been able to play matchmaker to numerous new couples who either met at our events, went on their first date to see us, or were able to find romance through Dinner + Bikes in a capacity that isn’t PG-rated. Or, in many cases, our events simply turn weekend warriors into everyday commuters.

But that’s just the beginning. We’ve been able to watch as action brews in our wake and people write blog posts or send us emails about how learning about Portland’s history or what activism is working elsewhere has propelled them into action. They are engaging city officials about how bicycling is an economic stimulator or learning how to be politically effective in asking for the changes they want to see and having the confidence to do so. In Reno, NV we watched an entire new advocacy organization form after we left town, employing the tactics they’d learned from our video about Active Right of Way in Portland.

Sometimes we are shocked to learn what has been going on in places like Spokane or St. Louis where monthly rides can attract over one hundred people year round, despite weather, darkness, and lack of infrastructure.

In Detroit, we were very lucky enough to end up performing at the Handy Jam, formerly the sound stage for Jam Handy Productions, which anyone who downloads expired copyright films knows of as one of the most prolific pre-Hollywood era propaganda filmmakers. At our event there we met the coolest “competition” Dinner + Bikes could have in the form of Detroit Brunch & Bike, a group of young people who ride their bikes to various local restaurants once per week and throw hundreds of dollars into their local economy. Inspiration, match and serve!

In my hometown of Cleveland, an elected official told us that we were not living in the “real world, where people want to drive to grocery stores and the mall.” A minister confirmed our suspicions that there is a special place in Hell for bike thieves. A latecomer who missed the parking portion of the presentation mansplained about the importance of talking about the costs of car parking. And despite no one suggesting it, a public employee explained that he couldn’t ride the 28 miles from his house to his office. And it was, of course, the advocates who told the room just how dangerous and complicated bicycling is. Numerous people complained that they didn’t relate with the Portland experience. But somehow, after all that, Elly was able to save the day by putting them into their midwestern competitive spirit, telling them that their football rivals, Pittsburgh, were doing more for bicycling than Cleveland, despite teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

Sometimes the greatest joy is seeing that Memphis and Houston are rapidly developing their bikeway systems and riderships, even though it’s not being reported much in national media or even on the internet. So we leave our computers and meet the people in real life, like Amy Murphy in Mobile, Alabama who told us after we left, “Since you’ve gone, not a day has gone by that we haven’t ridden our bikes everywhere we’ve gone and even embraced taking the lane a few times (in admittedly low traffic). This afternoon we’re headed to Fairhope to see how their newly restriped areas of town are doing and so we can write their mayor and city council to thank them for it and let them know it brought us to their town to spend some money. Anyway, all that to say that we’ve taken on even more of a role as bike advocates here in town, thanks in large part to your visit, and we’d love to stay in touch. I just read your entry on my hometown of Baton Rouge and am amazed that anyone can bike in that city, though I did notice the prevalence of sharrows in my sister’s area of town starting a few visits ago… I would be terrified to try them out with all of the surrounding aggressive drivers, in all honesty, but each time I go I’ve noticed more and more cyclists and it seems a lot less intimidating.”

The biggest reward is watching people who work a typical day job during the day, but see the need and take up the challenge, becoming superheroes—whether that means routinely poking elected officials to keep their promises, spraypainting guerilla bike lanes in the middle of the night (that sometimes become permanent), or organizing petitions with businesses to improve neighborhoods for better living conditions.

On this most recent tour, we went to cities like Detroit, DC, Buffalo, Lafayette, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and East Lansing where bicycling is one of many concerns in a crippled economy where basic needs are not being met. Despite this, we found huge riderships almost everywhere we went and even where road or cultural conditions were not ideal, it didn’t ever seem to take the smiles off people’s faces.

This year I set out to take one good photo every day of tour and while I failed to some degree, I feel that, in the same way, certain events exceeded expectations by such a wide margin that they were much more photogenic and deserve half a dozen photos.