So it's been the week from hell and after watching various things blow up around the country, the media reporting it in a brain-meltingly incompetent manner and the clown show in Washington, D.C., continuing on as usual, I don't feel like being funny.

So it's been the week from hell and after watching various things blow up around the country, the media reporting it in a brain-meltingly incompetent manner and the clown show in Washington, D.C., continuing on as usual, I don't feel like being funny.

However, funny is my default mode, so it's not like it takes much effort. Lucky for you, otherwise this column would be 24 inches of sentimental schlock about how in times like these everyone needs to meet in the streets and hug and sing some song in unison like the Whos of Whoville at the end of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

Amidst all this chaos, life continues here in the Rogue Valley, with my readers chiming in over the past few weeks with some interesting observations.

I'm fortunate to have this job for several reasons, one of which is that I've always been enamored of the idea of pen pals, but I'm too lazy to actually seek them out, and if I did, I'm certainly too much of an ass-dragger to compose letters on a regular basis.

Writing on my own time? Pshaw.

But opening my inbox each Saturday and seeing reader reaction serves as a poor man's pen-pal situation. It does the heart and mind good.

I started a draft a few weeks ago on the passing of the late, great movie and cultural critic Roger Ebert. It didn't go anywhere because obituaries are hard and ones about people you've never met are even harder.

Ron from Medford, though, must have sensed my intention and shot me this missive:

"As someone from Illinois, I know you must have come of age reading Roger Ebert? Being from the Chicago area ourselves, my wife and I were terribly saddened by his death. Any thoughts on Mr. Ebert? We get the sense he is one of your influences, but you've never mentioned him."

I was sitting at this very desk deep in the heart of Mail Tribune HQ when word of Ebert's death dropped on me like a load of concrete and rebar. You're right, Ron, I did grow up reading Ebert's stuff in the Chicago Sun-Times suburban editions, and then online at his well-done website that launched several years ago.

Most of the Internet chatter following his death on April 4 focused on his late-career Renaissance, in which he moved from film criticism to tackling all sorts of cultural and political sideshows. All good stuff, and if you haven't read his blog, then head to his website and sift through the archives. Hours of eloquent and pointed reading await.

My favorite memory of Ebert, though, was his nastiness when he felt a movie insulted his and the audience's intelligence. Check out his review of Rob Reiner's disaster "North" for a glimpse into Ebert's gritty side.

He talks about writing his review, when all of a sudden his fingers take on a life of their own and he can't stop typing the word "hate" in each sentence describing his feelings for the pile of llama crap that is "North."

As someone who has covered a fair amount of local government for the Trib, I've had to fight this urge several times as I pound out 15 inches of story on deadline.

I got several good responses over my bicycle conversion column a week ago. Bicycles are very, very popular in these parts, it seems. Here's a few words from Nathan Broom, Rogue Valley Transportation District transportation options planner:

"It was fun and a bit unexpected to read about your foray into getting around by bike. I wanted to make sure you heard about the upcoming Go by Bike Week, May 13-19. We're just getting the details worked out, but there will be some good activities like breakfast stations, happy hours, and prize drawings."

Breakfast? Biking? Happy hour? What's not to like?

Although, biking and beer are not the best mixture. I rode out to Southern Oregon Brewing a couple of weeks ago for a couple pints and some pretzels and found that a bumpy part of the bike path on the way back home made for some gastric torture. There ended up being some walking of the bike about halfway home.

So far, adopting the bicycle lifestyle has worked out well for me. I estimate that I've saved around $260 in gas money and my moob (man boobs) size has dropped from a B to a high A cup in the past month. Nothing wrong with that.

The other thing I've found is Medford is a solid town in which to ride. Some killer hills out east and lots of winding neighborhood lanes in the west.

My smug Ashland friends warned me that I was most likely going to die by taking the lane in Medford because drivers here are apparently bike vigilantes by trade. So far, the coasting has been clear. In fact, I've found that Medford drivers sometimes give me too wide a berth by jumping far in the other lane to pass. No need. Just a foot or two to my left is enough, drivers.

Anyway, send me some ideas for good rides in the area. I hear Roxy Ann is a butt-kicker, but I'm game.

Keep the correspondence coming. And be sure to turn off the news for the weekend and spend time with your family and friends. Preferably with bikes and beers.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email