On the Road Again

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I’m on vacation.  I’m on Day 3, each of which has featured a six-hour plus drive.  Tonight, I’m in Pasadena with the family.  We are on a college campus tour road trip for my soon-to-be-a-high-school-senior-with-aspirations-of-being-an-astrophysics-major-son.  I’m thinking about his impending graduation while at the same time reflecting on my last post about my 30 year high school reunion.  I’m still processing the impact that post had on my classmates: those who attended the reunion, and those who didn’t.  It’s been an emotional ten days reconnecting, via Facebook messages, with old friends.  Tears have been shed, mine and theirs.  I will have something to say about it, but for now, as the chauffeur on this sojourn through the western states, I don’t have a lot of time to write.  Instead – in laziness – I offer this post about last year’s road trip with my daughter (link is below).  Cheers, friends!

https://anddocoolstuff.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/may-the-road-rise-with-you/

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When We Were Kings

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I’m feeling emotional as I sit here at home in Olympia, Washington, while my 30th high school reunion is happening in Juneau, Alaska. I never had any great longing to attend a high school reunion, but now that it’s underway, I feel some regret that I’m not there.

I loved high school, despite the fact I never had a girlfriend. I once received a bit of feedback suggesting I may have tried too hard and thereby came across as intensely desperate, which, apparently, is not what your average teenage girl is looking for. I didn’t let a dearth of romantic entanglements prevent me from enjoying all that my senior year had to offer, including the prom. At the time, it was generally understood that the prom was for couples, so I asked an acquaintance named Angela who was equally interested in attending and equally single. I had a great time, and I think she did, too, aside from the pre-prom dinner we had at the fancy Gold Room restaurant in the Baranof Hotel. I ordered escargot because I appreciate it as a garlic and butter delivery system, but I didn’t insist that Angela try it. Of her own volition, she bravely downed one of the mollusks and excused herself to the restroom. My romantic resume wasn’t helped by that incident: Intensely desperate and makes girls sick. Despite what you may think, I wasn’t afraid of seeing Angela at the reunion. I was, however, a little afraid to see a girl named Dawn, who I once slow-danced with but was so nervous that I shook involuntarily, which, to be clear, was embarrassing. Intensely desperate, makes girls sick, and tremors. What’s not to love?

The last time I gathered with a significant number of my high school friends was towards the end of the summer after our senior year. We took skiffs and motored to Eagle Beach, outside of town, to camp overnight and toast each other’s greatness as we embarked on our next respective post-high school adventures. I did my part, convincing my mom to contribute to the delinquency of minors and buy the beer for us, but somebody blew it in the food department. Our menu for the evening consisted of Rainier Beer, corn chips, hot dog buns, eggs, and Swisher Sweet cigars. We tried to overcome the lack of meat by going fishing but were unable to stop laughing and singing, which is not what your average salmon is looking for. It was an epic night.

I should have been eager to recapture a bit of the magic from those days when we were kings, but I was anxious about the reunion. After I moved away, I lost touch with most of those friends, and I feel guilty about it. Who was I to think I could just walk back into the room thirty years later and expect them to be interested in me. I dreaded the thought of hearing (or saying), “I’m sorry, but I don’t remember you.” I like to think I keep my self-loathing to a minimum, but it is there.

Someone created a Facebook group for the reunion, and over the last two days, I’ve been looking at the pictures my old classmates have been posting. It’s hard to recognize the 48-year olds that had been my fellow Crimson Bears, and I’m sure they would say the same about me. Life and time has a way of changing our appearance. While we all look more seasoned, they all look great, and I cracked many smiles as I perused the group selfies.

One of the pictures was of a small memorial that had been set up at the reunion dinner: a display of yearbook photos of classmates who died. I saw the picture of my friend Tony, who died in a car wreck when I was a sophomore in college. In my second book, I wrote about Tony and me sneaking into his older brother’s room to look at his copy of KISS’s Alive album, which was forbidden fruit. We didn’t even listen to it, as it would be too dangerous. Tony was a good friend, and his death hit me hard, but the blow has softened over the years.

It was the photo of Brian Fisher on that display that punched me in the gut. Brian was not a close friend in high school as he was a “stoner,” and I was not. I have nothing against people who smoke marijuana, but, as an asthmatic, smoking anything was a bad idea for me. Brian was also a fan of metal music, and that was where we connected. I was becoming a serious metal head in my high school years, but I didn’t have a lot of information. I knew the popular hard rock and metal bands of the time – AC/DC, Def Leppard, Scorpions, Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, etc. – because I could see them on MTV and hear them on the radio, but I wanted to know more. I read about bands in Circus and Hit Parader magazine that sounded exciting and dangerous – Celtic Frost, Slayer, Agent Steel, Venom – but I had no way to hear their music. They weren’t on the airwaves, and they weren’t for sale in our local record stores. How did we survive before YouTube and Spotify? Brian was a potential source for this darker side of metal. In my junior year, I acquired a copy of Metal Church’s album The Dark, and it quickly became a favorite. I thought it was pretty extreme stuff, so I asked Brian if he had heard it. He was familiar with it and thought it was o.k. While he was not especially impressed with my awareness of Metal Church, it at least provided evidence that I was serious in my interest. A few days later, he brought an album to class for me to borrow. It was one of his favorites, and he thought I needed to hear it: a live album by the English band Venom, called French Assault. I was nervous and excited when I got home and put it on the turntable. I knew Venom was considered a satanic band, and I feared for my immortal soul, but I was finally going to hear the hard stuff, true metal. The recording was rough, and, to be honest, I hated it. It was just noise to my ears. It would take a few years before I found my way back to Venom by way of my college friend Sean, but I’ve always given credit to Brian for making the introduction even if it was a bad first impression. Brian had touched my metal nerve and encouraged me to explore the extreme side. It’s a path I’ve never regretted taking. Thanks, Brian. We didn’t know each other well, but I have always thought of you as my original brother in metal. RIP, my friend. \m/

To my other Juneau Douglas High School Class of ’87 classmates, I’m sorry I’m missing the party just because I felt guilty about my 30 year absence. Whether we knew each other well, we were part of each other’s lives. Thank you for the part you played in mine. I wouldn’t be who I am without you. We grew up together and became a royal family of kings and queens in 1987, ready to take on the world. I hope you enjoy the party tonight, and I hope the rain is soft enough tomorrow for you to gather around a bonfire on Sandy Beach, raise cans of Raindog and sing “Never Say Goodbye,”the Bon Jovi ballad that served as the theme of our senior prom. Bon Jovi isn’t quite metal enough for Brian and me, but it’s our class song. It’s probably a good thing I’m not there for that. Can you imagine if Dawn wanted to dance with me for old times sake? Intensely desperate, makes girls sick, tremors, and gray hair. The complete package. I’m so grateful that my wife puts up with me.

And Bucat, I’m going to drink a Rainier in your honor tonight, you beast! Cheers, Class of ’87. Go Bears!

P.S., For those readers who aren’t from Juneau, I should explain that I’m not in that picture up there at the top. I’m in this one, from prom night.  No, I’m not high.  Just intensely desperate.

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Zen and the Art of Bookshelf Maintenance

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I stared at my bookshelf this morning, trying to figure out which of the tomes stored there is my favorite.  A friend asked me that question Friday night, and it’s been rambling around in my head since.  My first response was The Sea Wolf by Jack London.  It was the first “classic” novel of adult literature I had read, and I loved the action, moral struggle, and overwrought language.  I wasn’t entirely comfortable declaring it as my favorite, though, as I don’t think The Sea Wolf is particularly well written – everyone’s a critic – but it set me on a path to read more great books.  After spending the first two years of college actively avoiding a specific course of study by taking every class that piqued my interest, I settled on a major in Literature.  It was the closest thing I could find to getting a degree in Everything.  As a result, I have a significant inventory of books from which to select my favorite.

There is irony in that while I have a degree in literature, I don’t like to read.  More specifically, I don’t like starting to read, and I will go to some lengths to avoid it.  Starting a book means I will have to finish it, and that can take a lot of time.  I dread spending long stretches not watching TV, so I tend to put off reading.  Despite my reservations, and laziness, I have read a lot.

I read many novels in pursuit of my bachelor’s degree, but I preferred poetry.  Poems are almost always shorter than novels, which appeals to my inherent laziness.  My favorite poet is Wallace Stevens.  Some of his poems are quite long, and I find them tiresome.  I prefer his shorter works, and I went so far as to argue in my senior thesis that Stevens’ epic poems were failures in their attempt to elucidate truth simply because he talked too much.  I’m still not sure if I believe that, or if I was just making an excuse to not have to read the long ones.  Stevens’ The Palm at the End of the Mind is my favorite book of poetry, but I presume when someone asks a literature major about his favorite book, they are expecting it to be a novel.

It’s hard to pick a favorite novel since, for the most part, I’ve read each one only once.  I’m not a re-reader.  My memory is such that I’m unable to recall storyline details no matter how many times I read them.  I am well read but not well remembered, and I would lose a trivia contest about plot points so badly that you would doubt whether I had, in fact, read anything at all.

Based on what I could recall about each book, as I ran my eyes over the shelves, I noted a few nominees for favorite:

  • The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier was the first book I read that didn’t have a happy ending, which is mind-boggling when you’re a fifteen-year-old, living a somewhat sheltered middle class life.
  • The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton was the first time I experienced the truth that the book is almost always better than the movie.  The movie is good, though, and I recommend it if you are similarly reluctant to crack the spine on a book.
  • Siddhartha by Herman Hesse eloquently captured the spiritual longing I felt in college.  I had studied many sacred texts of world religions, but Hesse brought the quest for truth to life.
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac felt like reading a song.  I had never before so enjoyed the simple act of reading words on a page.
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain was the first novel that made me laugh out loud.
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein inspired me to believe that even the most humble of us can achieve great things.  I read the epic tale at a moment in my life when my career took a new direction, and I identified with Samwise as he followed Frodo into Mordor to save the world.
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig made me want to be a writer.  I could never write with the elegance of Hesse or the music of Kerouac, but I could obsess over small details like Pirsig.
  • The Year the Cloud Fell by Kurt R.A. Giambastiani was the first published novel I had read by an author that I knew personally.  It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and mentorship for which I am eternally grateful.

When I turned away from the bookshelf, I was facing my writing desk.  Of course that’s a misnomer, as I don’t do much writing there. I should call it my fretting desk, at which I fret about not writing.  On the right side of the desk, I saw my two favorite books.  They are the ones that I wrote.  No, they’re not the best books – the first one desperately needs editing – but I can honestly say they are my favorites.  I take pride and pleasure recalling the effort I exerted to write them, to forge them into shape.  I was Siddhartha or Samwise on a journey into the unknown and uncertain.  I was joined on the path by Pirsig, Twain, and Giambastiani (and Bill Bryson), helping me find my way.  I stumbled many times and almost gave up hope, but I finished.  Despite them being memoirs, I wish I could remember the plots better.  I’ll have to re-read them sometime.

I hope you take pride and pleasure in your own creations, whether you write books, tend a garden, repair an engine, bake cakes, or some other expression of craft and imagination.  No matter how humble your creation may seem, you can achieve great things.

Go Up Front

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I was wrapping up a meeting on a recent Thursday afternoon when my phone buzzed, letting me know my wife had sent me a text.  She is not a frequent texter, so it caught my attention and, since the meeting was at an end, I tapped the screen to look at the message.  I hoped it might be an emoji-based expression of affection, but, figured it was more likely a request for me to pick up something from the grocery store on my way home.  I was not expecting a photo of my garage filled with a mountain of trash with the caption: “Look what I came home to.”  Upon closer inspection, which required taking off my glasses so my late middle-age eyes could focus on the details, I realized the trash was not trash, but was, in fact, a pile of everything in my garage that is normally found on the shelves therein.

The shelving system I had built three years ago had collapsed.  Specifically, the standards that held the shelf brackets had ripped away from the wall on the left side of the garage, causing everything that had been neatly stored to be ejected onto the concrete floor.  I did a mental inventory of the shelf contents and realized the heap included boxes of old toys that we are keeping until our children have kids of their own and an extensive collection of paint supplies, including drop cloths, paint brushes, paint thinner, and dozens of quarts and gallons of every shade of house paint we have ever applied to the walls of our abodes over the years.  We are minor league hoarders when it comes to retaining cans of paint.  More troubling was the knowledge that there was a Mason jar filled with acetone somewhere in that pile.  I had put the volatile solvent in a glass jar because a) the plastic jug the acetone was originally contained within had cracked and b) I had an empty glass mason jar handy.  I should have known better, since we live in an earthquake zone and glass jars filled with toxic chemicals are in a constant state of tectonic jeopardy.  I also recalled that I owned two gallons of Thompson’s Water Seal waterproofer. I bought them on separate occasions for two different projects, neither of which required a whole gallon, but that’s how they sell the stuff and, when starting the second project, I had forgotten I already owned an almost full gallon can.  When the opportunity to go to a hardware store presents itself, my default is to go shopping rather than check to see if I actually need anything.  I scrutinized the photo and saw the concrete driveway in front of the garage was discolored due to some moisture.  It was not a rainy day, so I assumed that a nasty swill of turpentine, acetone, and waterproofer were coating the driveway.  While waterproofing my driveway could have merit, I figured the paint thinner and acetone would counteract any good qualities.  I thanked everyone for their participation in the meeting and headed out the door to get home to help my bride.

I rushed to my truck in the office parking lot, started it up, and pulled out quickly.  Too quickly, as I almost T-boned a co-worker’s car passing in front of me.  I slammed on the brakes and felt my heart racing from the shock of the near miss and my fears about what waited for me at home.  The ten-minute drive was blur of anxious thoughts.  I knew no one got hurt, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what almost happened: my wife could have been seriously hurt, the minivan could have been badly damaged, and undoubtedly I would have a difficult clean-up process to minimize the environmental disaster that my failed storage system had inflicted on the driveway.

When I got home, I found the reality didn’t match my fears.  The shelf standards came away from the wall because the screws holding them had pulled straight out of the wood they were screwed into.  The standards, brackets, and wood shelves were all in good condition, and I could rebuild it.  The toys were unbroken for the most part, no paint spilled, the two gallons of waterproofer were still contained, and, inexplicably, the glass jar of acetone didn’t break.  The fluid that had watered down my driveway was a gallon of windshield washer fluid.  My driveway was not a superfund cleanup site. In fact, it was more hygienic now, having been doused with a gallon of soap.  More importantly, no one got hurt.  My wife had backed the minivan out of the driveway twenty minutes earlier to pick up our son at school.  It could have been so much worse.  With one trip to the hardware store, I had new, and bigger, screws and an extra standard with brackets to distribute the load.  I remounted the shelves and loaded them up before the night was over.

Even though it had all worked out, I was in a foreboding mood the following Saturday as I drove north to see a metal show in Tacoma.  I had almost talked myself out of going, but I was meeting my metal brother Sean, so I decided to press on so I could spend time with my friend even if I wasn’t feeling like a metal warrior that night.  The venue didn’t have much to offer in terms of parking, so I drove a couple blocks, ending up parked behind two other cars on a street in front of a house in a residential neighborhood.  While I should have been happy that parking was free, I feared my car would be ticketed or towed away.  To ratchet my anxiety up a notch, I walked to the venue wondering whether I had remembered to lock the car.  I knew I was fretting unnecessarily, but I couldn’t help but think my car would probably be broken into shortly before the cop wrote a ticket and called the tow truck driver.  It’s not unusual for me to consider everything that could go wrong while I’m trying to enjoy myself at a metal show.

The venue was a large bar, so Sean and I found seats at a table near the back where we could watch the opening acts perform.  When the headliners – Metal Church – took the stage, my mood had only slightly improved.  I was still wallowing in my fear and loathing of my decision to attend the show and put my vehicle at risk.  The band played well, and halfway through their set, I got over myself and decided to get out of my chair and go up front to stand near the stage.  It was time to bang my head with the “Gods of Wrath.”  It was a good decision.

The music poured over me like a warm shower, washing away my anxiety.  Live metal music is a tonic that quiets my worried mind and allows me to live only in the moment.  There are no risks, dangers, or what-might-have-happened.  There is only the music.  The guitar riffs shredded my tension, the drums became my heartbeat, and the only voice in my head was the voice of vocalist Mike Howe standing in front of me shouting, “I know these are the badlands, somehow I’ll find my way!” I reached up and shook his hand, making a momentary connection with another old school brother in metal.  As the band generated a joyous crescendo of heavy metal noise to bring the proceedings to an end, I raised my hands in a full metal salute.  Jubilation, triumph, and exultation had replaced fear, dread, and apprehension.

I was happy and calm as Sean and I walked out of the venue.  I’m grateful that we share a passion for metal music that can take us out of ourselves and wallow in exhilaration free of worry and woe. We said our goodbyes, and when I walked back to the neighborhood where I had parked, I found my car just as I left it: locked, unscathed, and unticketed.  I had wasted a lot of energy worrying about what could go wrong before I walked into the joyful waters of the front row at the Metal Church show.

On the drive home, I reflected on the previous few days and come to a few realizations:

1. Yes, bad things do happen, they can really suck, and sometimes you can’t fix it.

2. I’m grateful for the disasters that aren’t so disastrous, like the garage shelving collapse that didn’t really do any damage.

3. I should try not to be afraid of small screws, Mason jars of acetone, tow trucks, parking tickets and all the other things that could go wrong.

4. I should go up front and experience joy whenever I can.

I got home safely around 1 a.m. with a grin on my face and the music of Metal Church reverberating in my body and mind.  I have spent the days since reveling in how fortunate we were that the garage disaster was so uneventful.  I’m strangely happy that my shelves collapsed so harmlessly.  I have good friends that are facing real struggles that aren’t so easily escaped, and to them I send all the positive energy I have, so they can find their way through those badlands.

Don’t hesitate to “go up front” whenever you can.  \m/

Maybe Next Week

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It’s been a busy couple weeks, and I’ve not taken time to sit and work on a new post.  For that, for anyone that looks forward to these, I am sorry.  At the moment, I feel a bit like that (adorable) puppy in the picture.  I will, however, be back soon with new material.  For now, I hope you’ll enjoy this one from last year.  Cheers!

Click the link to read about The Fellowship of Fretting 

https://anddocoolstuff.wordpress.com/2016/07/10/the-fellowship-of-fretting/

 

Meet Me Half Way

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Last Sunday I had a new running experience, serving as an official pacer for the Capital City Marathon.  Specifically, I was a pacer for the second half of the marathon, joining up with another pacer who ran from the start.  It was my responsibility to run a consistent pace for 13.1 miles so that runners who wanted to finish the marathon in four hours and 30 minutes had but to follow me  to reach the promised land on time.  Taking on the responsibility of not just helping others achieve their goal but to achieve it at precisely 11:30 a.m. was daunting.  The somewhat out-of-body – or, at least, body-adjacent – experience of running not for myself but for others has caused me to reflect on, revise, and add to the Truths and Rules of Running that I proffered in my first book, Ten Year Run.  For example:

The First Rule of Running Half Marathons: Never underestimate 13.1 miles

I started my pacing duties with a cold.  The symptoms had presented themselves on the prior Monday, so by race day I was over the worst of it.  However, if I was not obligated to go for a run that day, I would have stayed home to blow my nose and cough in peace.  The adrenaline of responsibility sustained me, but by the end, I was spent, as if I had run the full marathon.  In my defense, I joined my pacing group at the 12 mile marker, which meant I ran 14.1 miles.  I think it’s that last mile that did me in.

The Second Rule of Running Half Marathons: Never pretend that you can “hold it” for 13.1 miles

All the pacers gathered at a tent near the start of the race to be given our official highlighter yellow-colored pacing balloons to match our official pacer singlets.  The balloons were inscribed with finish times.  Mine said “4:30.”  I joined up with “4:00” and “4:15” who, like me, would start running at the halfway point.  Being socially awkward, it was more than an hour before I learned their respective names: Peter and Angela.  Seth was our chauffeur, and we agreed that we would stage ourselves at Mile 12 for one simple reason: it had a port-o-potty.  Being properly hydrated and evacuated was essential for a pacer to carry out their leadership responsibilities, as it would be uncouth to stop to pee during the race.  If I pulled over to relieve myself, my followers would be forced to strike out on their own or mill about the port-o-potty waiting for me.  The idea of a group of people waiting for me to pee was unbearable, and I’m certain it would have made it all the more difficult to relax enough to get a good flow going.  Since we had more than an hour to wait before our respective groups arrived, I made three trips to the port-o-potty, which gives rise to a new rule:

The First Rule of Race Pacing:  Always exercise caution when entering or exiting a port-o-potty with a balloon tethered to your shoulder.

It’s easy to forget you have a balloon looming over you, and on my third trip, I left my balloon behind when I stepped out of the chamber and closed the door.  Fortunately I didn’t break the string or pop the balloon, which would have put an inglorious end to my pacing career.   While we waited for our runners to arrive, we had the opportunity to see the three lead marathoners cross the 12-mile mark.  I noted the time and did the math to determine that they were running a 5:45 per mile pace, nearly twice as fast as I would be running.  Humbling, to say the least.

Marathon Running Rule 19: Never operate heavy equipment or attempt algebra after 15 miles.  

I need to amend Rule 19.  While it’s still valid, I would lower the calculation threshold to 10 miles.  As a pacer, I was armed with a lot of data.  On my left wrist I had my chronograph running and a borrowed GPS fitness tracker monitoring my progress from space.  I strapped a printed pace chart to my right arm that provided mile-by-mile information on how fast I should be going.  I also had my pacing partner, Andy, by my side, and he was similarly equipped.  Throughout the run, I consulted Andy and my wrists incessantly to ensure I was staying on the 10:17 per mile pace.  The stress of my responsibility was amplified by the fact that every data point available to me told a different story.  My chronograph was a few seconds different than Andy’s, and our GPS trackers had different ideas about how far a mile is.  Even our pre-printed pace charts provided different split times.  Over the course of eight miles, it became clear that, while different, there was a consistency to the data, which made the stress manageable.  However, around mile 20, Andy dropped back, leaving me as the sole 4:30 pacer.  On the positive side, there was only one person running with me by that time.  Our group of 4:30 finishers had faded away, leaving only Tammy.  Of course, the down side is that if I failed in my duty, I would be breaking one very specific woman’s heart.  I would rather face a mob of disappointed runners than one woman wanting to know why I let her down.  I consulted my mobile spreadsheets and determined that we were about two minutes ahead of schedule heading into the brutal Eastside hill.  Those two minutes would come in handy, I decided, if we slowed down making our way up the mile-plus ascent.  That’s when my mental calculator started having trouble.  As we crested the hill, it seemed that perhaps, according to my pace chart, despite what my chronograph lap timer and GPS were telling me, I was about five minutes ahead of schedule.  While my greatest fear had been finishing late, I was now confronted with the possibility that I would finish early, which has happened to me before (wink, wink).  I was still trying to determine how we could have banked so much time over the most challenging part of the course when a runner came up from behind me and said, “You’re going too fast.”  I responded, “I know, but I’m trying to keep up with her.”  That’s when another Noble Truth of Running occurred to me:

We are stronger together. 

Tammy and I had run together for eleven miles at that point.  She was determined to set a PR and I was determined to deliver her on time.  It was hot, I wasn’t feeling great, and she had twelve more miles of pain on her legs than I did, but we sustained each other.  She depended on me to keep her on pace, and I was resolved to get her up Eastside hill, the very hill that broke me last year causing me to fall short of a 4:30 finish.  We climbed our own little Everest together, and when we returned to flat ground, we weren’t thinking about 4:30, we were just running to the finish.  She was feeling good because a PR was just two miles away, so she sped up, and I matched her speed.  Fortunately, the guy behind me, who could still do math, reminded me of my responsibilities as a pacer.

Even if you don’t think you’re a leader, someone might be following your lead.  

It took me a moment to realize that it wasn’t all about Tammy’s PR.  I was going too fast, and she was doing just fine.  I needed to get back on pace, because that was my job.  While I had no evidence that anyone else was running with me, there might be someone watching from a distance.  I dialed back my pace significantly, letting Tammy continue on to her glorious finish.  I even walked for a quarter mile before resuming a slow running shuffle, so I could finish the race at my appointed time.  Over the last mile, a woman sprinted passed me, then stopped to walk, allowing me to pass her.  She repeated the pattern a half dozen times as we neared the finish.  It became clear that my balloon was her beacon.  She was using every last bit of energy to ensure she would cross the line ahead of me, sealing her fate as a 4:30 finisher.  With about 20 yards to go, she sprinted ahead  and I shouted, “Go get it!”  I was elated to see her finish ahead of me at 4:29.  Congratulations, whoever you are.

One footnote to the story of my first official outing as a pacer, and another rule:  Only use your stalking powers for good 

My father-in-law is a semi-pro photographer, and he took the opportunity of watching his son-in-law cross the finish line to take lots of pictures.  He stopped by the house in the late afternoon following the race to present me with three 8x10s of the pictures he took that morning. Two of them were of me crossing the finish line.  In both photos, I looked tired, which I was. Had I known I was being photographed, I would have put on a brave face, but as it was, he captured my true feeling of exhaustion.  The third photo was of a couple: two twenty-somethings holding hands and smiling broadly as they crossed the finish line.  They were remarkably photogenic, clearly having enjoyed their half marathon more than I did.  It was a great picture, but I didn’t understand why he gave it to me. I had no idea who they were.  They were not pacing with me, and I didn’t remember seeing them in front of or behind me when I crossed the line.  I looked at him with confusion, and he told me he just thought they were a cute couple, which they were.  Later on, it occurred to me that I could search the Results page of the marathon website to match their bib numbers with names, which I did.  With names in hand, I found the young man on Facebook.  The good news was that his Facebook profile indicated he was, in fact, in a relationship with the woman he crossed the line with.  I would have hated to have photographic evidence that he was running with another woman.  The bad news was that I was officially stalking these people.  Knowing my motives were innocent, and hoping he was not of a prosecutorial mindset, I messaged him to share an electronic copy of the photo and congratulate them on their finish.  He thanked me and said his girlfriend would be delighted to see the picture.

Truths and rules aside, I think my pacing was a success.  I made at least three people smile, and that’s a good day’s work by any measure.

A Brief Intermission

intermission_0I missed the apocalypse.  Last Thursday, I went for a run at lunch time, and it was a beautiful day. In fact, it was the sunniest, warmest day of the year.  According to the folks who keep track of these things, our corner of the country set a dubious record for the wettest October through April.  Ever.  The warm sun was a soothing tonic to the incessant fall, winter, and spring rains, which is why it was hard to accept reports that a thunderstorm would befall us later in the day.  Surely the skies could cry no more.  Summer is coming, we had all whispered to each other for months, like denizens of a more hopeful kingdom of Westeros.  Running with a short-sleeved shirt under an azure sky led me to believe the sodden season was over.  I returned to the office bolstered by the hope I would be back in the sun when the work day ended.  At 3 p.m., I went to a meeting in a central conference room with no windows and stayed there until 4:30.  While I was in this bureaucratic lockdown, the world came to an end.  The only hint of trouble for those of us in the room was that the lights flickered occasionally.  We speculated that perhaps there was some lightning happening outside as the meteorological prognosticators foretold.  We didn’t know that while we conferred to discuss software development lifecycle standards and practices, an epic storm had hit the region.  The experts would later declare it was officially a “microburst,” but that sounds like the name of a new sour-flavored tic tac.  This weather event should be called a Cataclysm of Short Duration.  The entire storm lasted just 30 minutes, but it knocked hundreds of trees down, in turn causing significant property damage and downed power lines.  It also caused minor flooding in our building, as the gutters above the glass-covered atrium overflowed, resulting in rain showers inside the building.  By all accounts, it was an intense, frightening few minutes, but I missed it.  When my colleagues and I emerged from the meeting room, it was over.  I felt like Rick Grimes, in the premier of The Walking Dead, waking up from a coma in an abandoned hospital.  He knew something bad had happened but couldn’t figure out what, until he came across his first zombie.

Fortunately, there were no zombies associated with the microburst, which is a good thing as my drive home was slow enough to allow  the undead to saunter up to the open window of my truck without any trouble.  My commute is typically ten minutes, but it took me an hour and twenty minutes to make the five-mile trek.  The skies were clear and bright again, and there was no visible reason for the unprecedented traffic jam.  One quirk about a microburst is that it is focused.  The route I was driving had no obvious damage, but one mile beyond my driveway was arboreal carnage on a massive scale making the road almost impassible. Hence the traffic.  All I knew was it was slow, and I was annoyed.  When I made it home, I was grateful that we had not lost power in the storm, but we were bereft of wifi, phone, cable, and cell service.  We were in a mainstream and social media blackout and, therefore, unable to learn more about the storm that had wreaked havoc upon our friends and family nearby.

While some people were wondering how to get the tree off their house, we wondered how we would entertain ourselves without TV or Internet.  My problems may not be big, but they’re mine.  We couldn’t play board games, because I hate playing board games.  Reading was out of the question, since we had power and a functioning DVD player.  While I have a degree in literature, reading is never my first choice when electronic visual options still exist.  Fortunately, we have a large collection of DVDs.  Spending time together as a family watching some of our favorite movies while we waited to get back on the grid was a learning experience.

I learned the joy of being disconnected from commercialism.  We watched the movies more intently, without being interrupted by offers to resolve our erectile dysfunction or any number of other medical maladies from which we don’t suffer but on which pharmaceutical companies spend bajillions to advertise their wares.

I learned that I was right in trying to avoid ever watching The Sound of Music.  I had successfully avoided it for 48 years, but when I got home from work on Friday evening, my family was gathered around the TV watching my daughter’s 50th Anniversary Edition DVD of the reportedly classic musical.  I was disappointed I could no longer avoid it, but I surrendered to the experience since, again, reading was not an option.  After what seemed like hours of watching annoying, ill-behaved children singing sappy songs with a wayward nun, I was thrilled to see the screen fade to black, presumably bringing my suffering to an end.  Imagine my disappointment when the word “Intermission” appeared on the screen followed by a ten-minute musical interlude.  The horror, the horror.  The Nazi drama in the second half did little to ameliorate my anguish.  At least I no longer have to hear the ridicule of friends who can’t believe I’ve never seen The Sound of Music.  I’ve done my time.

I learned that we have been robbed by a selective science fiction DVD thief.  We thought it would be fun to watch all fourteen episodes of the Firefly series but discovered that disc one is missing from the box set.  To calm my nerves about the crime, I opted to watch the J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek only to find that disc also missing.  The boxes were on the shelf, but they were empty, making it unlikely we had loaned the movies to someone. Why would I loan someone the discs without the cases they came in?  The mystery, or heinous crime, remains unsolved, as my kids, to no avail, went through every DVD case on the shelf to see if perchance they had been misfiled.  All The Sound of Music bonus discs remain intact, by the way.

I learned that I have grown accustomed to having any question answered immediately by Google and Wikipedia.  I thought it would be a source of stress, but I quickly adapted, like mental muscle memory, recalling a time not so long ago when some questions might go unanswered unless it was important enough to ask another human or seek out a book that could illuminate.

I learned that I have an addiction to Facebook.  I didn’t realize just how reliant I was on Mr. Zuckerberg to bring me news of my friends until I was cut off, and I found the dearth of updates both liberating and unsettling.  I enjoyed being free of the tendency to watch ultimately unsatisfying click-bait videos of cute cats, but I had to face up to the uncomfortable fact that I had developed a certain obsessive tendency: a desperate need to see every post of every friend since the last time I had opened Facebook.  Once the reality of no longer having access to an electronic social network settled in, I found that I could breathe more deeply.  I realized I wasn’t missing much.  Don’t get me wrong, Facebook friends, I still enjoy your posts, but let’s all face it: much of what we post is not important.  I will continue to post pictures of my dog – because she’s adorable – but it’s o.k. if you don’t click the thumbs-up icon.  I’ll just tell myself your wifi is out and you’re watching The Sound of Music because your sci-fi collection has been purloined.

The cable and wifi came back on Saturday night, and we turned off the DVD player halfway through Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home so we could return to the world of pharmaceutical ads and Facebook posts.  We watched the news to learn more about the microburst and found that the FBI director had been fired, our President continues to act like a toddler with a Glock, and there was a crisis on the Hanford nuclear reservation that could put workers and the Columbia River at radioactive risk.  After about an hour, my wife suggested turning off the wifi and cable.  Good idea.  I just need to check one more post.

Excellent! You Reached Your Goal Today

IMG_0863[1]My streak of running in events without paying an entry fee will continue in the month of May.  Long time readers know that I have surreptitiously run several races as Jill, a friend with a fear of commitment insomuch as she pays entry fees and then finds a reason not to run the event.  Next Saturday, I will run as another strong, confident woman, my friend Michelle.  She probably doesn’t want me to say it, but Michelle has a running problem.  She is addicted to road races, so  much so that she double-booked herself next Saturday for two races held on opposite sides of the state.  She opted to go to Bloomsday in Spokane, which gives me the opportunity to take her spot in a local 10K.  Not only do I get a free entry, I don’t have any travel costs since the race starts five miles from my house.

Theoretically, I could avoid driving and parking altogether by running from my house to the starting line of the 10K event, which would make for an 11-mile run (assuming I could get a ride home from someone; 16 miles otherwise). However, the next day, I’m planning to run a practice half-marathon.  Practice, you ask?  Yes, practice.  In three weeks, I will be running in the Capital City Marathon.  More specifically, I’ll be running the second half of the marathon as one of the official pacers.  I’m excited about this opportunity, and not just because I don’t have to pay an entry fee.  I ran the Capital City Marathon last year, and I followed a pacer who helped me achieve a personal best marathon finish time.  Andy rules!

I am anxious about being a pacer, as it means other people are depending on me to be consistent in my pace, which, of course, is the sole criterion for judging the quality of a pacer.  In my case, I will be setting the pace for a group of folks hoping to run a marathon in 4 hours and 30 minutes, which works out to 10 minutes and 17 seconds per mile.  This specificity presents a challenge for me as I’ve never kept good track of my pace.  I run with a Timex Ironman watch with chronograph.  It’s a classic, high quality device, but so was the Sony Walkman.  It allows me to track my total time and split times if I’m running a course with accurate mileposts.  However, it provides no information about how fast I’m going between mile markers.  There are, of course, GPS-enabled “fitness trackers” on the market that provide immediate pace information, but I have not made the investment.  Have I mentioned I’m cheap?

Fortunately, for me, in addition to a racing addiction, Michelle also has a sports watch addiction.  I’m considering gathering her friends and family to stage an intervention.  My Timex Ironman is the only watch I own.  It’s my wrist’s little black dress.  It goes with everything, but it doesn’t know much about how fast I run.  Knowing that I didn’t have a fancy GPS watch, Michelle offered to let me borrow one of hers.  First, she gave me a Polar M600, but that didn’t work out as it asked me to download an app, and when I pushed the button to do so, it told me I had failed.  That’s not an uncommon occurrence for me on first encounter with new technology.  With some embarrassment, I returned the watch to Michelle, confessing that the watch was smarter than I am. She immediately followed up with two other watches: a Polar M400 and a TomTom Spark fitness tracker.  Neither of these watches required any downloading and both were highly tolerant of my random pushing of buttons. Without too much trouble, I was able to get them to record my pace.  Ironically, in both cases, before the watches could start monitoring my running, I had to stand still for a full minute so they could synchronize with the satellite.  That minute gave me a chance to think about the fact that Michelle owns at least four fitness tracking watches, not to mentioned any slinkier wristwatches she might wear with a little black dress.  She has a problem, but I had my own problems to deal with.

I needed to give both watches a thorough test, so I headed out Saturday morning for a nine-miler wearing all three watches now in my possession.  While both of Michelle’s fitness trackers offer a dozen or more data points about pace, time, distance, heart rate, etc., I wasn’t taking full advantage of those features.  I had them both set on the basic pacing default along with my Timex’s chronograph.

The Polar watch gave me information about how fast I was going at each moment, an overall average pace for the run, and the total distance covered.  The comparison of current pace to average pace was unnerving, as the current pace could swing two minutes per mile over the course of a few steps.  That was problematic as, from my perspective, I was running the same speed the whole time.  However, the average pace seemed to suggest I was running at the ideal rate.  Apparently, I am a manic-depressive runner, but over time it all evens out.

The TomTom was set to show me the overall average pace, not my moment-to-moment play by play.  Notably, it also let me know each time I had burned a thousand calories, which was nice as I was getting hungry and I liked knowing I could eat a pizza to refuel and just break even.  Also interesting was that five minutes after I finished running, it said, “Excellent! You Reached Your Goal Today.”  Of course, that was inexplicable as the TomTom had no idea what my goal was for the day.  During the run, it vibrated for a second each time I traveled a mile.  At first I thought the sensation was a heart attack warning sign, but I soon figured it out and took the opportunity to compare the TomTom to the Polar in terms of miles traveled.  I found the TomTom seemed to think miles are longer than the Polar did.  The gap between the two watches expanded with each mile.  By the end, the TomTom said I had run 9 miles, but the Polar gave me credit for 9.07 miles.  Not a huge difference, but it meant my average pace varied according to the two devices.  According to Polar, I was hitting an ideal 10:15 per mile, notwithstanding the wild swings moment to moment.  The TomTom said I was going 10:21 per mile, which would result in a disappointed group of marathoners arriving a little bit late for their desired finish time.  It got me wondering what could explain the difference.  Does Polar use a cheaper satellite that rounds down?  Is one of the satellites closer, because I don’t how science works?

All that explains why on Sunday I will be running a practice half marathon, again with three watches and a friend who will be tracking our pace on her watch.  It will be like an army of data analysts monitoring my performance.  Based on our research, I’ll settle on a watch to use during the marathon when it will be my responsibility to deliver tired marathoners to their personal promised land.  I’m sure it will all work out fine, and I will have Andy there to help keep track of the pace.  If I manage to avoid screwing it up completely, I’ll be rewarded with a free entry to next year’s race, which is, of course, my goal.  If I manage to enter a few more races for free I may be able to afford one of those fancy watches.

Thanks, Michelle, for connecting me with Andy and hooking me up with so many watches.  I’m good to go.

Marching Metal Lullabies

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It’s been a busy day.  My wife and I participated in the Earth Day March for Science from our state Capitol to a downtown park this morning.  This is my third protest march of the year, which is unusual for me. I’ve never been much of a marcher, just a runner, but there’s just so much that demands protestation lately, I’ve felt compelled to get involved.  I like to think it’s an expression of my inner heavy metal rebel peaking out from behind the curtain.  Despite the rainy conditions, the crowd was impressive.  I appreciate that so many people were willing to make signs, get wet, and raise their voices in support of the scientific method.

After the march, we headed to a local record store. In addition to being Earth Day, it’s Record Store Day.  While protest marches are new for me, participating in Record Store Day has become an annual event.  My once-a-year vinyl purchases aren’t going to keep the record store economy afloat, but I do like supporting a local business, especially the kind of business that brought me so much happiness as a kid growing up before digital streaming music was a thing.  The days of flipping through stacks of LPs and considering a purchase of music based on little more than a band name and album art are gone, but it’s fun to re-live the experience.  Today, I picked up a copy of Sanctuary’s Inception, the 1986 demo recordings that formed the basis of their debut record.  The album has a gatefold sleeve with lots of pictures, along with a 12-page booklet of photos, flyers, sketches, and liner notes.  If you know your metal, you know this is pretty cool.  Sanctuary was one of the lesser known thrash bands, but, since they were from Seattle, they were huge for those of us living in the Pacific Northwest at that time.  This new release of rare music is – like flipping through records – a blissful return to my heavy metal Eden, circa 1986.

It’s been a week of metal sentimentalism, starting last Saturday night when I saw a band called Blistered Earth, a Metallica tribute band,  playing at a club in Tacoma.  A Judas Priest tribute band – Seattle Steel – was also on the bill that night.  They played a solid set of Priest classics, and their vocalist did an entirely acceptable job copying Rob Halford’s vocal gymnastics.  Their tribute was strictly musical, as visually they looked like…well…me.  The band was comprised of grey (short)haired guys in their late 40s wearing t-shirts and jeans.  While there’s no shame in that, they didn’t leave anyone confused about whether the real Judas Priest had shown up.  Even though the guys in the real Priest are in their 50s, they have a certain leather-clad gravitas that Seattle Steel didn’t capture.  Blistered Earth, on the other hand, were a time machine.  The band members are young and they wore their hair and clothes, even tattoos, as if they were, in fact, the members of Metallica taking the stage in 1986.  They performed for us in every sense of the word.  They played their parts and their instruments perfectly, and I was lost in the romance of it all.  I have no interest in paying more than $150 to sit in the back of a football stadium to see the real Metallica when they come to Seattle this summer, but I would have paid much more than the $10 it cost to see Blistered Earth transport me back to those glory days of thrash.

The only downside to the Priest/Metallica tribute night was that it wrapped up at 1:15 a.m., which is way past my bedtime.  Three hours past, in fact.  This is a problem I’ve encountered with metal shows at smaller clubs: they start late at night and end early in the morning.  This has resulted in my missing a lot of shows I’d like to see on week nights, as I don’t want to fall asleep at work the next day.  I’m not too old for metal, but I’m too old to stay up past midnight.  I don’t even watch Saturday Night Live live.  While I have mixed feelings about streaming music, I’m a big fan of DVRs and watching TV shows at a reasonable hour.

Ironically, two weeks ago, Sean and I went to another metal show and were shocked to find out we had arrived too late to see one of the bands we were there for.  The show had started earlier than advertised, so we were only able to see the headliner, Kreator, perform (flawlessly, by the way).  The whole show wrapped up before midnight.  I was glad for the early finish, but annoyed that I missed Obituary’s set.

Between shows that start after my bed time and shows that start earlier than than announced, I think I need to organize another protest march.  My wife saw a meme recently that would serve as a great protest sign. It read, “WANT TO SAVE LIVE MUSIC?  PLAY EARLIER!”  I’ve got a couple of call-and-response chants in mind, too.

“What do we want?”

“Accurate set times!”

“When do we want them?”

“As early as possible!”

If I can get it organized, I’ll see you at the March for Live Music at a Reasonable, Clearly Advertised Time.  It will start promptly at 11 a.m. and end at a very reasonable time.  The music will be great, if I can get the bands to start before 10 p.m.

You’re Doing It Wrong, Your Highness

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I got the giggles at work the other day while watching a colleague wield her mouse.  She was using the computer mouse to set up a Skype session with another colleague working out of a remote office.  The funny part was that she was using a mouse pad, which was unnecessary as it was an optical mouse.  It was a small example of how we tend to hold on to the way we’ve always done things even when there is no reason to do so.  I also come across examples of the opposite habit: adopting new behaviors for no reason.  I was in a meeting in which a colleague was updating us on the status of a project.  In the midst of his remarks, he said he had “socialized” a document with the project team.  I was pretty sure he wasn’t a Marxist, but I didn’t understand what he meant.  The meeting was full of technologists, so I considered the possibility he was using a term of I.T. art and decided I would look it up later.  When he said it again later in his presentation, I determined from the context that he was using “socialized” to mean “shared” or “discussed.”  I’ll skip my rant about inventing words or, in this case, inventing new meanings.  Suffice to say, it was unnecessary to use a fancy word to communicate a simple idea.

When I come across such “You’re Doing It Wrong” moments at work, I think about how I would do things if I were in charge, and I make lists.  Reviewing the lists, I find that many of my royal edicts are related to interpersonal relations.  I work in a large organization, and it’s important that we do everything possible to get along.  So, while I wouldn’t banish mouse pads and unnecessary verb aggrandizement, there are a few things I would do to promote esprit de corps.  If I were king, I would offer these humble edicts:

There Shall Be Themed-Shirt Fridays.

In my office, Friday is the day the dress code – which we don’t formally have – tends to get a bit casual.  During football season, for example, Fridays are designated as “Blue Fridays,” and staff don their Seahawk apparel in support of the local favorites.  I tolerate this behavior, but do not participate, as I am a Raider fan – the most metal of all football teams.  On football Fridays – known as “Silver and Black Fridays” as celebrated by a handful of people in my building – I wear an Oakland (soon to be Las Vegas, ugh) Raider t-shirt.  In the offseason, I would, as king, encourage one Friday a month to be dedicated to Aloha shirts. I am married to a Maui girl, and I have access to a dozen such garments.  Most often, wearing an Aloha shirt in Western Washington is ironic, as we don’t get a lot of Hawaiian-style weather.  Encouraging everyone to wear Aloha shirts one Friday each month should work the same as the football gear.  Even if our team loses, we still wear the clothes to signal our loyalty, so wearing an Aloha shirt makes it clear that even though sun is unlikely, we are all still devoted fans of warm weather.  I would also set aside one Friday a month for “Band Shirt Friday” on which everyone would be encouraged to wear a t-shirt from one of their favorite bands or solo performers.  It would be a fun way to learn a bit about our respective musical tastes.  As a devoted metal head, I have a collection of shirts, and I would love the opportunity to wear them at the office.  I would have to establish ground rules for work appropriateness, as some metal shirts can be considered deeply offensive to those with sense of common decency.  I’m sure I could get away with the Black Sabbath, Death Angel, and Slayer shirts I own, as they are relatively tame, but I’m not sure about the Amon Amarth shirt featuring a viking having his head bashed in…and open. Very bloody.  The Motorhead shirt is harmless, but the Venom Inc shirt features a Baphomet – the goat head pentagram symbol – and would almost certainly cause a ruckus.  While the metal heads would have to use discretion, I don’t presume that everyone would wear heavy metal band shirts. I am surrounded by country music fans at work, so I anticipate a lot of Lady Antebellum and Zac Brown Band shirts, and that’s o.k.  As long as no one wears something truly offensive, like a Justin Bieber or Nickelback shirt, we’ll get along fine.

There Shall Be Cookie Mondays.  

In addition to fashion-oriented team-building, I will encourage the devourment of treats to spur camaraderie.  Breaking metaphorical bread together is the oldest form of relationship building, and cookies are much easier to bake than bread.  While Fridays are reserved for themed shirts, Mondays call for a sweet respite from the misery that is Monday morning.  As a generous king, I will do the baking myself.  As the culinary arts go, I would rather barbecue than bake, but smoking sufficient ribs and brisket to feed everyone at work would get complicated and expensive.  Perhaps the barbecue will be a once a year event, but I’m not making any promises.

There Shall Be No Royal Edicts.  

Aside from decrees about Friday fashion and Monday carbohydrates, I would not make a lot of pronouncements.  I prefer my decision-making to be deliberative, and I believe it’s another way to promote fellowship at work.  Recently, I called together a team to let them know my plan for how to proceed in starting some pre-planning in advance of a formal project launch.  I was proud of my proactive thinking, calling together the experts to get a head start on an ambitious effort.  After the meeting, I checked in with one of my staff who had participated.  I confess, I went to her in hopes she would tell me how clever and enterprising I was.  Instead, she asked me why we were doing this.  She interrogated my assumptions and challenged my great idea with specific questions for which I had no answers.  I was annoyed…for about ten minutes.  After I walked away and gave it some thought, I realized I was grateful.  Her questions pointed out the flaws in my thinking, and now I could fix it.  I could get the answers to those questions, answers she and the others deserved, and put the effort on an even better track.  I sent her an email thanking her for pushing back.  As a leader, I’m reluctant to say I’ve decided something until I’ve first said, “This is the way I’m leaning, what are your thoughts? What am I missing?”  My experience has shown that when I make a quick decision, I spend a lot of time cleaning up messes.

If the king wears Aloha shirts and eats cookies but doesn’t listen to the people when they speak up, he’s doing it wrong.