Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Day Without Me (Part Two: My Redemption)

It was 10:18am, and the miles were flying past. My windows were down and my iPod was jamming one great song after another. Gin Blossoms, Journey, Live, and other favorites from my 'Soundtrack' playlist were screaming through the Jeep's speakers. I was singing at the top of my lungs, oblivious to the fact I'm tone-deaf. Thank goodness the dog is deaf or this may have been viewed as cruel and unusual punishment. The fog was lifting and the cloud that was following me around all week started to dissipate. The reality is, I wasn't broken hearted. I was hurt. I was falling for someone and had the rug pulled out from under me for circumstances I could do nothing about. All-in-all, the pain was life affirming. I was relieved to find I was still capable of these feelings. Granted it look me losing them to realize I had them, but it was a positive life experience, and for that I found myself feeling a bit grateful. I arrived at the trail-head at a 'local only' entrance to Potawatomi State Park. 1,225 acres of gorgeous north-woods along Sturgeon Bay. I remember riding here every day when I lived here. I'd peel through these wood at daybreak before my shift at restaurant. I still remember the smell of coffee and bacon would fill the heavy fall air as the campers began their days. I got my bike ready to go and checked my water and computer. Today I had brought my carbon fiber hard tail. It would be the first time I'd ever rode this bike here. This bike was made for these kinds of trails. I was ready to begin....and then I saw a sign: "State Park -- Warning -- Hunting in Progress." Hmmmm... It looked as though I was going to get all the adventure that comes with mountain biking, with the added excitement of possibly being shot! "Oh well," I thought to myself. "I didn't come all this way to not ride!" ...and off I went. Surprisingly, I remembered right where the trail met up with the road and I swung off the pavement to tackle the first big hill up to the main trail system. The trails were much better marked than when I was last here. I stopped at the first map and picked which signs I'd follow. I took off and started to find a rhythm. Then, on the way up the next hill...SNAP...my chain broke! I have a tool packed for any relatively minor repair, but fixing a chain is still a huge pain in the butt. Largely because it takes at least three hands. After messing with it for a few minutes, I stood up to stretch my back. I sat back down. I had the link pin in my mouth for safe keeping, I used my left foot to hold the rear derailleur forward to keep the chain slacked so I could hold the two ends together. This time I got it on the first try. I got up, stretched a little, took a long pull from my bottle, and started off again down the trail. This time I fell into my groove. My back went from throbbing to aching to acceptance. My shoulders squared up to allow my elbows and wrists to relax and absorb the ground. My legs pounded out a cadence as if to say, 'no matter what you throw at us today, we're not breaking this pace.' The bike itself ate up the trail. No longer was I fighting to stay on the six-inch wide piece of packed dirt. It was to the point it felt like the ground was reaching up and holding my tire in place. Trees flew past mere inches from me, but it didn't matter. Nothing was slowing me down. Along with the blurry scenery rushing past, my worries also diminished. Suddenly what my boss thought of me was a lot less important to me than not breaking a collarbone on one of these beautiful birch trees. My mind began to wander back to my recent break up. Everything happens for a reason. What would this teach me? PFFFF! My mind snapped back to the task at hand with the interrupting 'cough' of the bike's front shock taking a hit. "Keep your head in the game," I thought to myself. After all, it's all about staying in the moment today. This is my religion. This is where I find the peace I cannot find anywhere else. This is my higher power. Body and mind are one, if only for a moment. I was so in a groove here, that I decided to stay and do another lap rather than pack it in and go further up north to find another trail. Why would I stop? The more I rode, the better I felt physically and emotionally. The songs blaring through my head went from Shinedown's 'The Sound of Madness,' to Marillion's 'Don't Hurt Yourself' to The Eagles' 'Peaceful, Easy Feeling.' Life was simpler like this. I rounded out the ride by coasting down the last hill right to the waterfront. I sit there and bask in it all for a little while. It had been just over ten miles. I had topped out at over 20mph in there. I rode back to the Jeep and stowed my bike shoes and helmet. I let Zooey out and we walked back down along the channel, as I contemplated my next move. I intended to go all the way up to Fish Creek to ride at Peninsula State Park, and cap off the day at my friend Britt's restaurant. But if I decided to do that, I might not get on the road home until after 7pm. That would make for an exhausting drive home. I decided to rather go into Sturgeon Bay and hit Inn at Cedar Crossing' Pub for a burger and cold beverage. After a delicious $13 sandwich and three raspberry lemonades, I got a mocha and walked Z some more through a park along the water before heading home. For you that are still curious about the message on my phone at the end of 'A Day Without Me (Part One)', that caused my day to start late, thanks for staying with the story. If you think it was the girl who I had just split with calling to make up, I'd advise you to stop watching Meg Ryan movies. That's not how the world works. The message was a cross-roads of sorts. It was a message from an online dating site saying someone was trying to contact me. Another great ploy these sites use is this one: After you quit, they leave your information posted. Then maybe someone reaches out to you. But if you want to see who it is or what they want, you have to rejoin. I fell for this once. I signed back up to make contact, only to have nothing materialize. Basically I paid $35 to be rejected. Nothing like adding insult to injury! So here I am staring at my phone. "'MissZ' sent you an email. Click here to subscribe and see what she wrote." Fate staring at me from the three-inch screen of my cell phone. She could be my friend. We could spend hours on a coffee house couch until our butts became numb talking and reading the stories in each other's eyes. She could be my lover. She could be my soulmate. She could be my destiny. But as of today, we will never know.

Friday, May 6, 2016

A Day Without Me (Part One: The Backstory)

The Metaphor of my Life: Always stay to the right!
Forgive me BlogSpot, for I have sinned. It has been three years since my last post, and I am not a healthier person for it. I used to write because I rode. I used to write because I was inspired to write. I used to have people in my life that I wrote to inspire. In the last three years, I have not been riding, and even more tragic, I have not been inspired. The last time I was inspired to post anything was when I wrote a letter to my step daughter as she prepared to graduate from high school three springs ago. She is now wrapping up her sophomore year of college and her mother and I have been apart for the last four years.
The first of those years solo was spent reinventing myself. After being in two marriages totaling twenty plus years, it was time to rediscover who I was. Or more accurately, who I had become through these experiences. I soon discovered what I had always suspected: I am pretty boring. I settled into a fairly predictable routine of working and fatherhood. Served up with a side of good coffee and a long walk every Saturday morning. The kids and I created a solid, stable, and predictable life for ourselves. Every year around Father's Day and my birthday (the two weekends I am sure to have them), we'd go camping, or to the Wisconsin Dells, or Door County for a mini vacation. We start every Saturday together with a trip to the bakery for fresh donuts and swing by a coffee house for my 'day off mocha' before heading to the beach for a long decompressing walk on the beach. Life was becoming good again. But hardly anything blog-worthy was happening to me. Writing a blog is like making a movie: Who would want to watch a movie about a day in the life of John Q Public? But if something extraordinarily good or bad would happen to John, then people might take an interest. Enter online dating: the good and bad (mostly bad) that brought me back to the fold.
The very day I wrote to my step daughter, I received a pop-up ad from Match.com. I thought to myself, "it's been a year. Maybe it's time?" I signed up for a three month membership. Online dating is like going on a job search for a job you might not even like. Your write some stuff about yourself that you hope will attract the right person (your resume). You add some pictures of yourself trying to look your coolest (I had never taken a selfie until this fiasco). Then you wait.... You read others' credentials and reach out to people you might be interested in. But for the most part, you just log on to watch what's left of your self esteem and dignity go down the drain. The first girl to reach out to me however, was very nice. She was together, cute, well spoken, smart, and fun to be around. We had similar experiences and got along really well. Our main difference was I had been single for a year and the ink was still drying on her divorce papers. She was just out there to 'meet a few people.' We casually saw each other for about six months. In that six months we never kissed, held hands, or split a check. It was by far the most expensive acquaintanceship I've ever had! In the end, she ended up dumping me just days after I had taken her out to dinner and a concert in Milwaukee for my birthday. She said, "well I can't date everybody." Implying that she had chosen to be with a different dude. "You can do that?" I thought to myself. I don't really think I have it in me to be a serial dater. For starters, I'm not that good with names. I could just see myself sitting across from my date: "Now are you the one with the two dogs, or the one who's son is in the Navy?" I just don't see that ending well for me. "Check please!?" After Match came a month on Zoosk where, in the first half hour, I became reconnected with a girl I used to know when we worked at the same hotel in Appleton twenty years earlier. We were together for a few months until the distance led us into a dead end. The same fate took it's toll on the only relationship I had in a subsequent stint on eHarmony. Online dating sort of sets you up to fail. I live in a small city with much larger cities 50 miles away to the north and to the south. That being the case, 90% of whom I am introduced to are at least an hour away. You are then matched with someone like you: decent job, single parent, and has a home and roots. Who in their right mind would give all that up for some random dude they met on the internet? Unless we're matched with someone down the block, we're doomed before we begin. Then a couple months ago, I got a text from Match.com that I'd get a free 24 hour trail to entice me back to their service. Great ploy: you meet someone and then the 24 hours is over and you have to rejoin to keep the game going. After getting a couple responses, I started chatting with someone about an hour west of me. At least it wasn't Green Bay or Milwaukee. We hit it off and exchanged numbers before my dime ran out. We met for a date less than a week later. Things took off from there. We clicked as a couple and saw each other often. Weeks went by and I realized feelings were coming to the surface that I hadn't allowed myself to feel in over a decade. Love was in the air. I could actually start to see a future with this person. We shared so many complimentary traits. Life was good and getting better.
Now, anyone who has been in love more than once can vouch for me here. The hardest step to make down the road of love is the transition from infatuation to actual love. Infatuation rocks. Nothing can touch infatuation. Infatuation is all the fun and emotion of falling in love without any of the reality. Our realities were now started to seep into the mix. We lost a lot of sleep by making trips to see each other even it was just for a few hours. Baggage started becoming an issue. Soon phrases like, "I'm not sure I can do this," started creeping into the conversations. I started to put out fires that I didn't know how they had started. We were still heading down the road of love, but the bumps were becoming more pronounced. A few months into it, we were done. I was shattered. Work sucked. Home sucked. Even the beach sucked. Oh yeah.... a broken heart sucks! I walked around in a daze for the next week. The pain was like a dark cloud that followed me everywhere, and I just couldn't shake it.
I had vacation time coming. I had requested some PTO so her and I could get away for a few days, but never cancelled it after our demise. I decided I would take the time for myself. I needed to get away and try to get out from under this cloud. As the days went by, I felt a little guilty for not working when I really didn't need the time off. But the closer I got to the time off, the more excited I got. My plan was to spend the day mountain biking some of favorite trails in Door County and then treat myself to a good meal before heading home. I had invited a friend to come with me, but was secretly grateful when he declined. Sunday wound down at work and Koval and I hung out at night. As he got ready for bed, I packed the Jeep and got my bike ready to rock-n-roll. I even went as far as to lay out my outfits for before, during, and after my ride. I slept good that night. It was nice to feel the anticipation of a new day, rather than the dread. Monday morning arrived as if it was made just for me. The sun was shining and temperature was on the rise. It would be a perfect day no matter what I did. I got dressed (in my pre-ride outfit) and took Koval to school. I then headed to get myself a mocha before going to the beach with Zooey. We took a nice long walk to get her satisfied before having to spend two hours in the Jeep. We returned to the house where I changed into my bike shorts and a t-shirt for the drive up. It was 9am. The exact time I had planned on hitting the road. The Jeep was packed, the dog was already curled up on the passenger seat, I grabbed my Nalgene of sun tea from the fridge, and was ready to roll. And then my phone buzzed.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Congradulation Graduate

Dear Indigo,
Congratulations on this milestone of your life. You have graduated from high school. A huge and momentous event that took 18 years to achieve. It seems weird to think about, but all the other major events of your life will come much much sooner than 18 years apart. I mean really.... In the next 18 years you'll most likely have college long in the past; your career will be established (and possibly re-established); you'll have had your ten year class reunion; many a friend will have come and gone (but the best of them will still be there); you'll probably even be married with a couple of kids of your own. In 18 more years, the "rest of your life" will be going full tilt! That is why now is such a big deal.
It's hard to conceive the fact I've known you for fifteen years. I know they haven't been an easy fifteen years. I know we haven't always seen eye to eye on everything. I know you're probably still pretty upset that I dressed you in jeans and a red turtle neck for two years straight. But through it all I believe that we are better people for knowing each other. Through it all, I'm grateful for our times together. I know I am a better person because of you. You are a strong, intelligent, beautiful, and funny girl. The world is yours for the taking. Don't you believe anyone who says differently. The greatest adventure of your life likely be the next ten years. By 28, you'll probably (hopefully) start settling down. So this is it. In the next few years you will realize that all of those outside forces that weighed so heavily suddenly don't carry the clout they once did. Parents, friends (real and on social media), peers, teachers, and matinee idols will all lose their grip on your opinion. Suddenly you'll wake up and realize the only person's opinion who really matters is the face you see in the mirror every morning. That's the person you have to answer to. that's the person who's looking out for you. That's the person who's back you'd better have. That's the person you have to be able to look in the eye every morning and be able to tell her that you love her.
College is the life you've been waiting to live for the last eighteen years. I'm excited to see how you take to it. You've always seemed too big for your immediate life. I truly believe you will love college life and it will be good to you as well. I'm as excited for you as you are for this next chapter to begin. Enjoy this time. It only happens once. These days are the days you will tell stories about after the next 18 years have passed. Indigo, this is "Your Life 101." This is your time. Now go out and live the life you love. I love you, Your Other Father
PS: Sorry. I couldn't resist throwing in the 'Miracle' reference.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pizzatopia

It was Thursday afternoon. I was hungry and probably a touch delirious when I decided I was going to eat pizza all weekend long. I'll explain to you how I got there. Through some necessary changes in my schedule, I had to work eight doubles in eleven days. Those eleven days included nine shifts at the store, four life-guarding shifts at the Y, four nights guarding at North's pool, four plasma donations, and catering a lunch out of town for 18 people. On Thursday afternoon, I was a mere shift away from two days off. To add to the anticipation of the weekend (which in this case meant Friday and Saturday), the family was going to be out of town visiting Grandma for the long President's Day weekend. This meant I could spend all weekend in my boxers watching Bruce Willis movies if I so desired. It was this image that led me to the pizza idea. What else says 'day off' like action movies and take out pizza? I did have plans already for Friday. I would be taking Kovi down to Children's Hospital in Milwaukee for a routine appointment. He asked if we could follow that up with a trip to Toys-R-Us to look at Nerf guns and eat lunch at his newest 'happy place': California Pizza Kitchen. That was going to fit nicely into my plans.
Thursday's shift at the store ended fourteen hours after my alarm had gotten me up. All that remained was taking the dog for a nice long decompressing walk and some dinner. After our two miles at the beach, I swung by the store and picked up a frozen DiGiornos pizza for supper. That took me back in time. Being that we live a hop skip and a jump from a Little Caesar's where you can get a large pizza for $5, it has been a long time since I've bought a $8 frozen pizza. Back in my days of being young, single, and perpetually broke, when I would do my monthly stocking up on Ramen, hot dogs, and Jack's frozen pizzas, I would always get one DiGiornos which I would usually make as soon as I got home. I got settled on the couch and ended my week with a few episodes of Scrubs and a delicious hot-from-the-oven pizza. The weekend had begun.
Friday went as planned. Kovi's appointment went smooth and lunch at CPK was good. We played rock-paper-scissors while we waited for our food and had a relaxing lunch of pasta for him and pizza for me. Two-for-two. We didn't have time to head back west to Toys-R-Us, but mom had promised to take him when they were in Appleton over the weekend so he wasn't too hurt. We did stop at Laacke & Joys in Mequon on our way out of Milwaukee. They have phenomenal sales there which I try to take advantage of. Last time I was there, I got at $200 North Face down jacket for $50 and turned around and sold it on eBay for $130. I wanted to stop in and see if there was anything else there I could flip. I ended up leaving empty handed and we headed home. The family left about a half hour after our return and I settled in for the rest of my weekend. After eating an entire pizza at two in the afternoon, my dinner consisted of hummus and pita chip in front of the TV. The week was catching up to me and I crashed early.
Saturday began as most of my Saturdays do: the dog, the beach, and a mocha. It was on the walk heading back to the Jeep that my mind started acting up. What should I do with the rest of the day?
You see, I have a problem with days off like this. In most cases, in the rare event where I have time off and the fam is gone, I plan my free-time down to the second. Do I go mountain biking in Door County, Kettle Moraine or Meribel? Or do I day trip to Milwaukee and hit my favorite outdoor stores, coffee shops and lunch at Kopp's? In either case, by the time I have to go back to work, I don't feel very rested because I've once again spread myself too thin. When I got back to the Jeep I was still undecided. I had given some thought to some of the stuff I had seen in Milwaukee and considered going back to get a few items to try selling on eBay. I had planned on working on one of my bikes to get it ready for spring, but decided it would be too much of a hassle to essentially move my work space from the frigid garage into the dining room. Zooey and I got in the Jeep, and without a concrete plan, started driving. I turned onto the highway, deciding to go to Milwaukee, only to get off at the first exit. Milwaukee would have killed half my day and cost me a hundred dollars I didn't have. Instead, I ended up at a nearby strip mall where I picked up some storage bags and a bar of soap. Home I went. I was getting hungry and there was pizza in my future. I was sitting right here on my computer sorting though emails, checking my bank balances, browsing eBay, and working towards ordering a pizza on-line when I got an unexpected call from an old friend. We don't talk very often, and lately when we do it's been about fairly rough stuff. This time, however, it was easy-flowing, light, and freeing. Gone was the weight of the past. Everything about it reminded my of those long-ago conversations about everything and nothing. The kind of talks that went on forever but weren't about anything. For example, I remember spending hours on the beach with my best friend Jeff back in our youth, but I don't remember a single thing we ever talked about. This was like that. It was the company, not the content that mattered. Eventually I got back to ordering my pizza and my weekend started to wind down. I had to work in the morning. What had changed was how I'd write this entry. What had started as a thought on the subject of comfort food had now changed direction. Our friends are our souls' 'comfort food.'
By turning off the highway and staying close to home, I forced myself to spend a little more time with me. I lamented to Lori, in retrospect, that I have a lot of trouble enjoying my time off. I have so little of it, that I normally try to pack too much into it. If I don't do anything, I feel bad for not doing more. I have to learn to savour and balance all of my leisure time. Whether it's time with the family or time that I have to myself, I have to do what I feel suits me best. If I want to take the kids swimming, great. If my body's telling me to slow down, then I need to respect that too. And if my friends call, I need to listen.
In the end, my mom ended up throwing a spanner in the works of my weekend's diet by inviting me over for dinner after work on Sunday. We didn't have pizza. Oh well. Three pies in three days was probably enough to raise my cholesterol a few points, anyway.  I had nourished myself with foods that accentuate my free time: pizza, chips & hummus, Coke, and good coffee. I spent some 'me' time decompressing on the couch with mindless comedies, and I nourished my soul with good conversation. It was a good weekend.

I have to give a shout out to my friend, chef, and mentor: Britt Unkefer. The photo above is from his wood-fired pizza restaurant, The Wild Tomato up in the Door peninsula of Wisconsin. I figured if I threw on a picture of the lame and/or uninteresting pizzas I was eating all weekend, you'd lose interest and not bother reading on.



Thursday, January 17, 2013

Darwin Rules

I'm looking for a lawyer. A really good lawyer. Well.... maybe not a good lawyer, but one who goes by pure law. No ethics. No morals. No common sense. Just a lawyer that possesses the fine art of persuasion in spades. The kind of lawyer who not only thinks its a good idea to sue McDonald's for serving hot coffee, but knows he can win it. The reason I need this kind of lawyer is because I want to be able to kill people. Now, I know what you're thinking, but you need to relax and bare with me. I don't want to kill just anyone. Just the stupid ones. According to Darwin's Theory of Evolution, the strongest and smartest will flourish and evolve and dominate over the weak and not so smart. Now if you look at what's becoming of our society, you'll become sadly aware how behind evolution is. We're rapidly becoming a fat, dumb, and lazy society. Need proof? My favorite show, Arrested Development won every industry award there was to win but only lasted two-and-a-half seasons. Why? One critic/writer cited that the show was in fact 'too smart for the average TV viewer.' Still not convinced? The Kardashian's have been on the air for five years running and show no sign of going anywhere! Several years ago, while I was still working as a chef, I worked for a European chef who had just finished a cookbook. In the cookbook, he attributes Europeans' rich diet and long healthy lifestyles to their ability to balance their lives. Sure they eat rich decedent foods, and eat them often; but afterwards, they go for a walk or take a bike ride. It seems to me that Americans would rather microwave a Lean Cuisine meal, wash it down with a diet soda, and strap in for an extra hour of reality TV. Only Americans could become too lazy to evolve. Land of the free, indeed. Back to my feeling the need to take evolution into my own hands... I live on a busy street down the block from a junior high school. Every day at 3:00, thirteen year old idiots in Aberocombie t-shirts and basketball short come bolting out into the road mid-block amidst parked cars with no regard for traffic because they have the 'right-of-way.' I guess they haven't considered that their 150 pounds may not be a worthy match for a half ton of steel SUV. Why? Because they're idiots. If I were to hit one of these idiots, I'd simply be culling the herd of the dumb ones. Let's face it, if they're too dumb to remember a simple rule that they should have learned when they were six: look both ways before crossing the road; then they are likely to be a burden on society later in life. By getting rid of them, I'd be saving society a fortune in welfare and disability further down the road. Don't for a second saddle me with unbridled road rage. I have studied this segment of our society. In fact most kids carrying a musical instrument cross at the corner (most notably, string instruments). Other kids crossing safely are those actually wearing coats when its 10 degrees outside. I really think the right lawyer can invoke enough reason (or lack thereof) to convince a judge that the theory of evolution is a good defence. If nothing else, it'll likely get people looking closer at how they live their lives and the example they set for their brood. I watched a kid spit on a passing car the other day. Where the hell did he pick up the reasoning that that's an acceptable practice? I should have ran him over. Think that punishment doesn't fit the crime? Well then tell me what punishment would deter that behavior. There are plenty of crimes out there at are being 'punished' and the individual gets out and does it again....and again, and again. Hey, in the theory of evolution reasoning, if the individual survives the hit, he may grow up stronger and a little wiser from the half ton of education. See? It work both ways. If your counter-argument to all of this nonsense is that it would never fly simply on the grounds that it's completely absurd and unreasonable, let's take a look at another debate that's going on out there right now. The NRA, who loves to wave the 'right to bare arms' flag, wants to put more guns into schools to prevent more gun deaths. That makes sense, right? How much more fun can grade school get with the added potential to turn any recess into high-noon at the OK Corral! They do love that Constitution of ours. The 200 year old rulebook that says we can have guns. Of course the guns of the 18th century were muskets. One single shot that took minutes to load and when fired, was accurate to 150 yards. I doubt that the founding fathers had put a lot of thought into what we'd come up with for the expressed purpose of slaying each other. The NRA: another prime example of why common sense is not going to win any arguments.
It's been nearly three weeks since I wrote the preceding column. I have yet to receive the epiphany that neatly ties it all together for me. I guess what it comes down to at a personal level is that I'm disappointed at where we are heading as a society. Who honestly believes that the answer to gun violence is more guns? Who really believes that it's acceptable to sue a restaurant for giving you exactly what you ordered? Who thinks 'right-of-way' should trump common sense? When Thomas Jefferson dreamed up the Declaration of Independence, he imagined it would be re-written every 20 or 30 years to adapt to the ever changing American society. Yet we've never managed to do more than make an adjustment here and there. You know -- like outlawing alcohol and then repealing that law -- the real important stuff. It's a sad state of affairs when what celebrities wear is on the news daily and yet another senseless tragedy barely makes page two. But what do I know? I can barely string two thoughts into a paragraph. But at least I know to look both ways before crossing the street. After all, Mitch Albom may be looking to flatten me.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Why?

The second most deadly shooting to ever occur in this country happened this morning. And I went about my day business as usual. I started my day with getting a coffee and going to my 9-year-old son's Christmas program. From there I went to work. It was at work that I first heard the news of the shooting. At first, I just went on with my morning. but it kept nagging at me. Only three days earlier there was another shooting. This one at a packed mall near where I used to live in Oregon. My, but the holidays bring out the best in us, don't they? More nagging at my conscience... I have a cousin with a young family that lives less than thirty miles from the town struck by today's tragedy. I texted him to make sure they were OK. They are fine and safe. More nagging.... Then I saw the photo of our President crying as he addressed the public and my conscience snapped. If I were the president, I would grab the nearest scrap of paper or legal pad I could find and write on it that '...from this day forward unless you are a member of the military or law-enforcement, every single semi-automatic and automatic weapon in this country are now illegal to sell, buy or own.'  Fuck the politicians in the pocket of the NRA who think it's our right to kill each other in the name of the Constitution. If any one of them do not sign it into law today, then they can go to Connecticut and visit the Sandy Hook grade school and explain to the children why we need these weapons. Fuck the politicians who think right now is not the time to act on passing tougher gun laws. We don't need to cool down and collect ourselves. I'm not suggesting outlawing soap because I got bubbles in my eyes. These guns kill people. And they kill a lot of people. Everyone of them unnecessarily. No one needs an automatic rifle to protect their family from a burglar. No one. My heart is with you families of Sandy Hook and Newton. And I pray those who can do something to prevent this from ever happening again finally do do something.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Small-time Downsizing

It was almost a year ago that the plan was conceived to take the family on a grand vacation. Not Disney or Europe, but my version (on my budget) of a grand vacation. An outdoor vacation retracing the road trip I had taken years earlier up north to my cousin's wedding. We would travel to the northern Wisconsin/Upper Michigan border, follow the Lake Superior coastline, and then turn north into Minnesota and finally to Ely (voted the coolest small town in America), the last outpost of humanity before the expansive Boundary Waters Canoe Area. We'd stop along the way to take in the sights, seek concretions, kayak, hike, and explore. We starting putting together the pieces in early spring. I sent out emails (and a blog) to the family getting them motivated and in the vacation planning mindset. We got a GPS and made hotel reservations, but other than that, we left a lot to chance. I watched and compared the weather and let the family know what to except and to pack accordingly. When the middle of August came, all of our ducks were in a row, and we were ready to head North. It was during these last hectic moments of preparation that I was struck with the 'vacation state of mind' epiphany. Otherwise know as 'why people enjoy vacation.' Vacation, in a broad sense, is enjoying time away from one's everyday life. But I think that's just scratching the surface. Everywhere we look today we're being urged to downsize. Living simpler and eliminating the clutter from our lives is better for us as well as the world as a whole. Tiny houses are replacing mini-mansions as the wave of the future. We're being encouraged to buy less and recycle what we don't need or use. Waste not...., right? What is vacation if not a microcosm of downsizing? Each family member packs their favorite things, their essentials and necessities into the vehicle and leave the rest behind. All the extras, all the clutter, all the stuff that we think we can't live without now sits at home waiting to be needed, but it never is. We just think we need more stuff. Bigger stuff. Better stuff. As I write this, I have a basement containing a stereo, a VCR (maybe even more than one), two TVs, and bags full of unknown contents. I don't need any of it, but for some reason I can't get rid of it. Not long ago I was in a dark nasty corner of the basement helping the cable guy find where the cable came into the house. I found a box that contained some nick-knacks I had got when my grandfather passed away. In my haste, I grabbed them and set them on a table across from the washing machine. "I can't lose these," I thought to myself. Guess where they are now? Yep, still on the table in the basement. Four feet from where I originally found them. It takes a while to accept that getting rid of mementos like that shows no disrespect for the memory of those who first owned the trinkets. If I tossed all the hand-me-down stuff laying around my house, I'd be rid of as much as a third of the clutter. And wouldn't be a slight to anyone. I once read an article of extreme downsizing where the author (who was probably a fresh from college single guy living in a studio apartment in New York) was suggesting reigning in his material life to fifty items. Now that's a little nuts when you think of it. If you own a set if dishes, glasses and silverware for four people, you have right there forty-four items! He hadn't gotten very far. By the end of the article he only a pair of jeans and a pen were on the list of stuff he was keeping. I thought I'd give it a try, and started by narrowing my wardrobe down to fifty t-shirts. Oh well. You have to start somewhere, right? I'm getting away from my point..... if I actually have a point to make. Even though we under-planned this trip, it went amazingly well. Everyone in our diverse clan got to do exactly what they wanted to do. Indigo got to kiss horses and do a little shopping, Lori got to find vast quantities of rare Lake Superior concretions, Kovi got to spend all his free time in the hotel's pools, Sydney got to go on a 'Haunted Walk of Historic Bayfield,' and I got the satisfaction of providing my family with a memorable summer vacation. We capped it off with a three hour sea kayak tour that brought us along gorgeous sandstone cliffs and over a shipwreck that has been at the bottom of Superior longer than the Titanic's been at the bottom of the Atlantic. We also got to go see my cousin and his family in Ely where we  spent a great night in great simplicity: Family, music, & pizza. Ultimately, for me it really was the Clark Griswold factor that made the vacation special for me. Providing for my family on a day-to-day basis is rewarding, but to see the pure pleasure in their eyes while they are immersed in doing something they truly love is a rewarding experience on a completely different level. Writing a check for lunch money isn't quite as rewarding as fresh cardamon donuts and chai on a Saturday morning two hundred miles from our cluttered 'other' lives. in fact, we had such a good time that we did an abbreviated version of it again a few weeks ago when the kid's had a long weekend. Marillion was right: Less=More (it is their acoustic album title). If the computer has taught me anything, it's that memories...that is photographs...take up very little room. We all need to remember that. I can fill by head, my heart, and my soul with memories, and my t-drive with photographs. Almost anything more is simply clutter. Experiences will last forever, while souvenirs and commemorative t-shirts only last until the next spring cleaning. Less=More is as Happiness=Vacation. And less crap is less to worry about. Enough chiches....Sell that extra TV, give away the extra clothes, and unpack that third pair of shoes. Freedom from clutter and a simpler life awaits.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Happy Birthday, Caveman

Ready to ride
A little after noon on Sunday the 21st of last month I received a text from my kid brother in Maine. It said, "Happy birthday, bro. Got any big plans for the day?" As a matter of fact I did. At that very moment my dad, Koval, Zooey and I were on our way north to the Cherney Meribel Caves County Park just north of Manitowoc for the first annual Caveman TT bike race. A local mountain bike club had got permission recently to build some bike trails and were holding this time-trial event to raise the funds to expand the trail system.
 I texted Jeff back tell him about my plans to enter a bike race to, "...spend my 45th trying to prove to myself I'm still 25." The weather was gorgeous for the end of October:  bright sunshine and well in the 60s. The caves park is a great destination as well as a well kept secret. For as long as lived in Wisconsin, I'd never heard of this park until recently. It features not only beautiful natural features and caves, but it's also home to a burnt out frame of a field-stone hotel that was once a premier destination for rail passengers of a bye-gone era that is now on the registry of haunted places in Wisconsin. The hotel was essentially the old fashioned version of a spa. Beneath the grounds there's a mineral spring that was considered medicinal for it's high mineral content, which made it a destination for travellers to soak in the healing waters. While I warmed up for my shot at the time trial, dad and Kov did some exploring. The course was great. I had made the drive up a week earlier to check it out and was excited to get on it again. I rode a 21min lap and went back to the jeep to relax, rehydrate, and zen for a bit before the event started. Dad, dog, and boy arrived a little bit later to share their tales of exploring. At 1:00 it was time for the event, and I went and got in line to take my turn at being Caveman. I took off three minutes after the rider in front of me and gave it all I had in the hopes that the guy who started three minutes after me, didn't catch up to me. I finished in 18min, and that included wiping out taking a corner too sharp and snapping my computer mount. I was pleased with my results in spite of the fact I certainly wasn't in the ranks with the real cavemen who were finishing in 15 minutes or less. After getting my official time, we went down to explore more trails. I drank from the mineral spring (it's delicious) and then we toured the main cave. After the tour, it was getting late and we needed to head back. Upon reaching the main staging area for the race, on the way back to the jeep, I heard my name being called. I had won a swag bag in the raffle! Back in Sheboygan we were meeting up with the girls (my mom, wife, and daughters) for a celebratory birthday dinner followed by the traditional cake and ice cream back at home. Before the drive home, I checked my phone to see another message from Jeff. It read, "Did your plan work?" I responded with, "I didn't break anything or throw-up. So I guess so!" Now let's go eat. This caveman needs cake!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

LIVESTRONGwitchhunt

Imagine yourself standing at the fence of any grade school playground in America. You see a game of kickball between the third grade boys and girls in progress. In this game, the girls are beating the boys. And I mean beating! Let's say it's 15-2 in favor of the girls. Now the bell rings and the kids have to go back inside. The boys are stunned in disbelief. How did they get beat by girls? Then one boy comes up with a solution to their embarrassment: the girls must have cheated! No one saw or caught them cheating, but it's really the only logical explanation for girls beating boys, isn't it? Now for the purposes of this story, the role of the girls will be played by Lance Armstrong and the boys will be the ridiculous USADA, the French, the UCI, and the scorned cyclists that Lance humbled Tour after Tour. Apparently the unwillingness to continue fighting sensationalized claims of cheating, is synonymous with admitting guilt. The USADA in a likely alliance with cycling's UCI is dragging Lance through the mud, stripping him of all seven of his legitimately won...as in never caught cheating during...Tour de France titles (and all the prize money that went with them), and banning him from the arena of competition for life. All, essentially, because he's decided it's not worth the energy to continue to fight the charges. Lance Armstrong is a brash, possibly arrogant elite athlete who may in fact be a poor tipper at restaurants. This may come from the fact that he is an elite athlete celebrity.  Not the elite type of athlete that makes a spectacular one handed catch and ends up on Sportscenter's Plays of the Day and then is gone. No, Lance's 'moment' lasted nearly a decade. Lance Armstrong is the greatest cyclist ever. And those are the types of characters that become lightning rods for the media. The fact is Lance Armstrong may have cheated. But he was never caught. For the seven years that he ruled the tour, he was the most tested athlete in sports. Not once did he fail a test. Now it's seven years after his final victory and the whiners are still trying to prove he cheated? The fact this is still going on should be an embarrassment to everyone involved. He won, you lost. Get over it and get on with your lives. What's next? Should we review and demerit every long shot victory in sports history? "Hello, is this the 1980 US Olympic hockey team? Yeah, we're going to need those Gold Medals back. There's no way you could have really beat the Soviets." And if trying to take away the past isn't enough, the rule makers are going after his future as well. Lance wasn't allowed to run in the Chicago marathon this year and Ironman has barred him from all of their events as well.
You know, if this was just another ass-hole hedonistic self-involved jock I'd probably just shrug it off and not give it another thought. But it's not just another athlete. It's Lance Armstrong. He's an inspiration. He's a role model I want my kids to look up to. He's his own six million dollar man. But instead of crashing and having the government rebuild him into a half man--half machine that can do thing others can't; his own body turned on him and left him for dead. By his own will, he rebuilt himself from a triathlon prodigy into a honed cycling machine who could do things no one else could. If cancer can't beat him, do you really think he's going to be afraid of Travis Tygart (the USADA tool in charge of the witch hunt)? In accomplishing these layers of unimaginable feats, Lance inspired millions to an international call to arms against cancer. LIVESTRONG is everywhere. If you don't know about it, then you don't know anyone who's lives were touched by cancer (and if that is the case...you probably don't know many people).  Perhaps on the outside chance that there is a case against Armstrong in lieu of a positive drug test. Ban him from cycling competitively again. Send the message: 'We didn't catch you, but we don't trust you. So you can't race with us again.' But banning from every other sport is ridiculous. Hey, I have an idea. Let him race whenever and wherever he wants and give him drug tests. If he fails -- then kick him out of your event. Come on, who wouldn't want a celebrity of Armstrong's caliber in their event? It's just a poor business decision not to allow him to compete. Lance Armstrong is probably an arrogant jerk, but he has more socially redeeming qualities than most people sworn to public office. Leave him alone.  These stories of suits bringing forth allegations of cheating in races seven, eight, or even ten years ago just make me irate. Isn't there something better to do with your time? Maybe get out there and raise funds and awareness in the fight against a deadly disease? Oh wait, the accused is taking care of that already. Recess is over.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Mission: Accomplished

It's safe to say that once you get to a point where your idols are younger than you are, you are apt to stop writing them fan mail and stalking them from your computer. Having said that however, I've come so close so many times to crossing paths with the one and only Gary Fisher, that I can't help but to keep an ear to the ground and still hope for the chance to meet him. I bought my first Fisher bike in 1994 when I was living in Oregon. That was when I started mountain biking with my mountain bike instead of just commuting as I had been doing with my old mountain bike. I loved that bike and was enthralled with the legend behind the mountain bike itself as well as the man who's credited with its' invention. Gary Fisher and his pals tore up a motorcycle, a ten-speed, and a cruiser and pretty soon...viola...the mountain bike was born. If you've ever heard Gary talk about cycling it doesn't take but a moment to realize 'this is a man passionate about this subject.' I think anyone who's a protegee in their field probably sounds like that. The kind of people who when 'thier' subject is brought up, you just stand back and listen to them go. I love being around that type of person. Even if they're talking about tires, you can't help but pick up on, and be inspired by that energy.
Back in 2005, I was at the Wheel & Sprocket bike expo buying a newer version of my old '94 HKEK  (Hoo-Koo-E-Koo is the Native name for the mountain range where Gary and company first rode  their mountain bikes). When I was checking out with my new bike, the clerk laughed and said, "You should have been here yesterday. Gary Fisher was here signing bikes." So close.... The next few years he was at the show, but for 'members only' type functions.
Fast forward to two riding seasons ago when I met and got to ride with former Elite Pro team Trek/Fisher rider Jesse Lalonde. He was pals with the guy known as 'the fish' and talked about Gary's fondness of Wisconsin. Especially the liberal Madison area. He assured me the next time the Fish came to town, he's give me a call. There were a couple close calls, but over the course of the next year, it still hadn't happened. I had even gone as far as finding a great print on ebay that I had acquired and put aside specifically for Gary to sign. Last spring I was unemployed and signed up to work at the Wheel & Sprocket bike expo as a salesman. That was the same year that the Trek and the Gary Fisher brands merged so the Fisher bikes were now just a line of Trek bikes. So it came as no surprise when there was no Gary sighting at the show. I did have a great time working the expo anyway and decided to do it again this spring. So on Easter weekend I spread myself very thin and hauled ass to Milwaukee to work for five hours every evening after putting in an eight-hour day at my regular job. I was only able to work three out of the five days, but if was still fun and I've gotten pretty good and matching up bikes and people. On Friday evening, I was finishing up a sale when a voice from the lecture area caught my attention. Only one person could sound that excited to be talking about dirt. The Fish was in the house! I stood outside the little tent for a while and listened to him talk. I was mere feet from the man himself. I had no camera, no paper, and I certainly didn't have my ebay print. When his talk was over, I stood in line with a half dozen or so riding disciples who truly understood we were in the presence of greatness. I talked for a few moments, trying not to gush. He is an amazing man to talk to. I jokingly told him about our 'close calls' as well as my beloved print that was some 60 miles away sitting on my desk. He laughed and said, "Don't sweat it. I'm here tomorrow, too." The next morning, I left even earlier than usual so I could stop and buy a new Sharpie. I had carefully packed my poster and an old Fisher Bikes catalog for him to sign. I went through my shift selling my bikes but never straying too far from the seminar tent. I heard when he started to speak and kept one eye on the time as I glided through more sales. When I heard clapping from the tent I waited for a few minutes to let the masses say hello. When I got to the tent it was completely empty. And I mean completely. Gary was gone! I asked the security guy by the door where the hell Gary went. He responded that Gary had a plane to catch and couldn't stick around. I started to panic. There was no way I could get this close and not see him again. I scanned the enormous hall for the Fish. He was a hundred yards away. Almost to the doors outside. I grabbed my mementos and ran through the expo hall. I caught up with him as he was saying good-bye to the Trek reps. He said he only had a moment, but took the pen from me willingly. He commented on the rare poster I had found and said I'd like the new version of it (if I could find it). We shook hands one more time and he was gone. Off to catch a flight back to the Bay area where he calls home. The next day was Easter and I'm sure he was eager to get back. I carefully rolled the poster back up and carefully slid it back into my backpack under the table of the DNR's booth. I retrieved my clipboard from where I had dumped it and returned to the sales floor. I had more bikes to sell. But for today, my mission was accomplished. I had met the one they call the Fish.