Mar 17

“It’s hella late, but don’t sleep”

Here’s my plan: I’m going to keep talking about Rob and taking pictures of him on set in preparation for the day he becomes a wildly successful comedian:

That’s the host of the late night show around here. I’ve mentioned him. He’s actually studying standup comedy. That’s his major. Funny guy, a kind personality, he’s thoughtful and has an air of a worldly wisdom to him already. There is a pretty big handful of people I get to work with each week that you could file under “We knew them when.”

That’s pretty cool. You think about that sort of thing from time to time. And if you went back and counted, how many folks do you suppose you would have categorized that way? Quite a few, I’d bet. And more than a few prove themselves worthy of it, over time.

You don’t have to stand under klieg lights for this. Rising to some level of celebrity isn’t the measure of success here. I know a few talented veterinarians, medical professionals, lawyers, jazz musicians and hustling entrepreneurs and business executives and so on. “I knew them when.” Every now and again, you run into someone and find out about their lives and realize that makes the most sense in the world, because you knew them when. And then you find out you went to school with the one guy who became a rocket scientist, well, who would you have thought it then?

But Rob up there, I’ve got him pretty well pegged. He’s going to be doing a Holo 3D show or some such in my living room one day. And we knew him when.

I went across town for dinner tonight. I got barbecue. I listened to WIUX, the college radio station, on the way. Two undergrads, one of them I know, were calling the Big Ten basketball tournament. Undergrads calling the big men’s basketball game. I remember when my college radio station couldn’t get a real meeting to even pitch broadcasting softball. Such a great experience for the students, and a great opportunity for it provided by the athletic department here.

Also, this is going on here:

Finally, Don’t forget, time to change your clocks! And, no, no one cares to hear the complaints:

The traditional grumbles about falling back come from morning people. They complain because it’s dimmer out when they stir. They have a point, but here’s something important to remember: I don’t care, because I like longer evenings, and my side won. (Sticking out tongue.)

But I am not without compassion. We can reach an accommodation. We abandon the biannual switch; we never fall back again — except once, and then by 30 minutes. We split the difference, in other words. This will require the participation of the entire world, but we could stop all our clocks for 30 minutes on a Wednesday afternoon, say, and then make sure that everyone gets paid for an extra half-hour of work.

Downside: Well, I’ve read enough sci-fi to know that any babies born during that 30-minute period probably would be immortal mutants with strange powers and vast intellects, and they probably would rule the world after three decades.

Only to be thwarted by a sentient collection of ovens blinking 12:00 …

Mar 17

We ran a marathon yesterday

This isn’t something you just do on a whim. There are many things in life that you do on a whim, but a marathon, to me at least, is not one. No, this required a training plan, careful attention to laying it out and then the studious care to follow at least some of it, until you get tired of that and just kind of find yourself waiting for the thing to be here and then wonder how you’ll hold up, right up until the first 14 or so miles.

And that run-on sentence was pretty indicative of my training. We started in November, just as I was getting over a two-week head cold and the weather turned. We started precisely then, in fact. And I followed along with the big parts of the workouts as my schedule and ambition allowed. I made it up to the 18-mile run, anyway, and then had no energy the next week for the 20-miler and then got sick and then it was time to taper in advance of the big run, which was yesterday.

And so there it was, at 6:30 a.m. in California, on a morning that saw the forecasts call for more rain and cold the closer we got, getting off of a school bus just as the rain stopped.

The race director welcomed us, another individual offered an invocation of sorts and a local man worked his way through the national anthem. All of this time we intrepid runners stood shivering, trying to stay loose, or get loose. And I refused to think about the 26.2 miles in front of me by, instead, being happy I didn’t have to swim first. At least, I smiled to myself, I wasn’t going to drown out here.

We found ourselves here because The Yankee has a group of fitness friends and they occasionally take a ladies trip to some run or triathlon of some sort. And this time the boys got invited. So there were four women, all lovely people, and two guys. And only the one of us, me, running. I’m not saying I got tricked into this. Not at all. I am saying that when I volunteered to run a marathon with my wife — in solidarity, as you do — in October or November this seemed like a more chivalrous idea. And I assumed there’d be some guys from this group running, too. But that’s OK, some 3,000 other people were taking part, we’ve already divvied up the glory enough.

So we set off under the starting line inflatable at 7 a.m. It was in the low 30s. We were due to run a significant part of the Napa Valley, which is beautiful country and is surrounded on both sides by big hills and small mountains. And in some of those you could see the snow falling. The snow stayed up in the hills, at least. The snow did. But we’ll get to that.

Because we were running on a road and because part of the course was closed to motorists, but not all of it was, people couldn’t run with headphones. That’s not my habit, but many people use them, and the absence of their music or podcasts or ambient tree frog noise recordings could make for a long, boring morning. So people run with friends or, as I learned in the Napa Valley Marathon, they make friends along the way. There’s something of a “We’re all in this together vibe” in my part of the race, which is to say, near the back.

A nice older man from down around Oakland ran with me from mile six or so until mile 14. We had a perfectly entertaining chat, and somehow I can now jog at a reasonable pace and keep up my end of a brief conversation. (The people that can do that mystify me, and that they can annoys me. But suddenly here I was, doing it, too.) He told me all about the marathons he’s run, one in Utah he hopes to do one day to qualify for Boston and he told me about his daughter’s road races. All the while he kept complaining about how this run was hurting him, so many hills and so early in the season and so on. Things he was certainly saying just for my benefit. I didn’t ask his name, or even think to look at his race number so I could look him up later. I just assumed it would come up. Then I took a little stop at the mile-14 aid station and never saw him again. And, in some part of my mind, in the quiet and lonely miles that followed, I reckoned I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that this man I’d been running with was a ghost. Or, maybe, if I made it to the finish line I’d see some creaky old man in a wheelchair point a bony finger at me and wink, just a bit. And then I would realize that this man’s younger spirit was who I was running with. And that I was also in a 1980s television show.

You think up weird stuff when you’re out there sucking wind for too long by yourself, is what I’m saying.

Let’s talk about what fell from the sky. Sometime after I lost my not-at-all non-corporeal running buddy sleet descended from the clouds above. Now, I learned several years ago that walking around in sleet is an utterly demoralizing thing. Running in sleet, however, was kind of grimly humorous. See, one of the ladies in our group had been kind enough to pick up a few cheap sweatshirts for us to use early and discard without having to lose any expensive cold-weather running gear that we hadn’t packed for this trip anyway. It was a thoughtful gesture and my sweatshirt was so nice that I didn’t want to abandon it at an aid station. Besides, once I get warm I’m warm. So long as I keep moving and keep my heart rate up I’m fine. This even works in genuinely cold weather, as I learned in a training run earlier this year when my sweaty hair froze together on a seven-mile jog. But in this run I’d get warm, and then cold, and then warm again, and then cold again. And then the sleet came. We’ll come back to the meteorological happenings.

This race was offered as a good race for the beginning marathoner. You climbed, the literature said, only 99 feet over 26.2 miles and it had a net decent overall. That’s what the propaganda said. That’s what the lies said. Running, you learn pretty early on, is full of lies. The most basic, the worst one and the most frequently uttered lie is “Almost there!” But that’s a story for another day.

It was a fine run, and the scenery was lovely. I took a selfie, and then a guy happened along and offered to take one that wasn’t as good:

That’s an important spot because every step after that was going to be a new personal best. This was how I calculated the day: I knew I could work my way up to 18 miles. And at 18 I could use this glow of a new personal best for at least two miles. Well, after that, its just six more miles, a simple 10K. I can run a 10K with no trouble.

Can I do that after having already run three other 10Ks? That’s the question.

Well, the one thing the propaganda had right was that it is a lovely course, and not bad for beginners. You finally run out of the hills, for the most part, around mile seven. But the problem was the angle of the roads. You found yourself weaving all over both lanes just looking for some flat place to shuffle in the curved banking of the road. Dear California Department of Transportation and the Unified Union of Napa Valley Road Unionists, please give my poor, already-tired feet some place flat to land. That staggering from left to right (the first half of the course was on a closed course and these twisting roads lasted almost that long) was probably how I added the extra half-mile to my run. Because, no, 26.2 miles wasn’t enough for me.

The views though:

And that is after the road had flattened out, when the sun finally peeked out, I’d almost given out and the views were thinning out. So, if you must run a marathon, you could do worse than the Napa Valley Marathon.

I never caught back up with the ghostly friend I’d made. Mostly because the orange slices at the mile-14 aid station were just too good. You know how that goes, you’re approaching some stage of out-of-your-mind hunger and everything is amazing. I stood there scarfing down these slices of oranges a kid is cutting right in front of me and I’m saying things like “Is this orange on some special diet? I bet this orange is juicing! Is there EPO in this? You cut such a good orange! What do you mean this is just a navel orange? I, sir, have had navel oranges in my day and those things are dry, drab slabs of boring fruit flesh compared to what you have so thoughtfully offered me today. I commend you, and the parents who brought you here today, and my family shall sing songs to your produce wizardy generations hence!”

I can’t imagine how the guy I was running with managed to get away from me.

But, around mile 20, just about the time I took the scenic picture above, right as I was bored thinking about how every step was now a new personal best, I caught up with Cristina:

I passed her, she passed me, I passed her again and, for a moment I thought it was going to be like that to the end, which would have been no fun at all. But Cristina, you see, was really suffering. Her knee was hurting — I looked at her times after the race and she had been hustling — and she was really limping it back in.

I happened to be carrying some Ibuprofen for just such an occasion and offered some to her. She asked what dosage they were and I knew I had a friend. So I decided to run with her a bit, because you could see the pain on her face and I thought maybe I could distract her for a while. Soon after, we passed her husband and a few friends who were cheering her on. She waved at them and said, “He gave me Ibuprofen!” She was running on grit.

Which meant I was invested. So I spent two or three miles trying to say every inane and long-winded thing I could think of to keep her mind off of her leg. Cristina told me she was a nurse and that she thought she might have torn her meniscus midway through the day. She had just had a child and her husband works in the oil industry and she really wanted me to drop her and press on. But I refused. I gently goaded her on, not that she needed it much, because she was determined to not get on the support van, no matter how badly her knee hurt, and her knee hurt. She wanted me to run on without her, but I’d walk a few paces with her instead and then start jogging again, so she would, too. “You’re from Texas,” I said, “and I’m from the South, so you’ll appreciate this, but we’re going to the line together and you’re finishing first.”

She’d run and then she’d have to walk and she would ask me to go on, but I wasn’t interested. We passed a few people and she’d walk and then she’d look at her watch and she’d shuffle and run some more.

And then, at the 25-mile sign, she got a surge of energy and the pain went away and she ran, she just about flew, and that was awesome. And then it started hailing on us.

Hail. Really quite big hail. Of a size that, you’d see it falling around you and think, “That’s going to sting in a minute when it hits me.” And then you think, “You know, back home, when it hails this time of year you shouldn’t be outside.” And then you’d think, “That’s an awful lot of hail on the road. This is going to become a slippery hazard in a minute.” And by then you’re bracing for some big chunks of ice to hit you and hurt. And one hit the bill of my cap, but I didn’t feel any more pieces hit me in the last mile. And it hailed a great deal.

Cristina finished strong and gave me a hug and I said something about how she did a great job getting through it. I wish I remembered precisely what I said, because you want that to be meaningful, but I was also wondering whether I could continue to stand up. I’ll have to look her up later and ask about her knee.

Meanwhile, also running, the coolest person in the marathon:

We’d run together for the first few miles and then we got separated in a big clutch of people. I expected to outpace her by a small amount anyway, so I continued on. She said she didn’t lose sight of me until around the 10th mile, which must have meant a great bunch of splits for her. I was running below my training averages for the first 20 miles, at least. Anyway, I’d just gathered my wits about me in time to see her finish, which was easily the best part of my day.

I think she said at one point “I never want to do that again.” If that holds up that’s fine, she pretty well crushed the thing her first time out.

So, naturally, we’ll soon begin training for a full triathlon which is anchored by, yep, a full marathon.

That’s the course we ran. Oh, one of her training friends broke the four-hour mark, which is a sign of impressive accomplishment in the marathon. Another said she realized it wasn’t a day to press and proceeded to have a lovely run which, to me at least, is the point. And the other was looking for a Boston Marathon qualifying time. She hurt her foot a bit, so she missed out on that. (This time.) But get this, she hurt her foot, stayed in a medical tent for 20 minutes and still set a new personal record. That is, hands down, even more impressive to me, than hitting a qualifying time. So everyone, you see, was successful. And now everyone is sore and pleased with themselves.

I had a cheeseburger for lunch yesterday and a salad for dinner. I ran a marathon that morning.

I do not know what is happening.

Feb 17

My sun-eating Valentine

Some pictures are worth remembering. Some pictures you just know perfectly. I have about 13-plus years worth of snapshots on my website. And after Lauren, earlier today, posted a picture of the two of us from our 2013 trip to Ireland I wondered if I could recall the first one of her I uploaded.

The sun-eating one, I figured, had to be high up the list. And so I went back through our early months of knowing one another. I scrolled through the people we knew, most all of whom have kept us around, since then, until there I was, 12 years ago. February 2005. I remember the night I took this picture going down the highway, and that one is probably from a library, because I have always liked repetition in my pictures. These next two are at a Super Bowl party in Five Points we were invited to.

The Patriots beat the Eagles in that game. Paul McCartney was the halftime show. (I had to look this up.)

And, oh look, here are a few sunsets and clouds. And there she was. The 10th photo I uploaded in February 2005, the first one of her.

We were in her car. I know precisely where that was, two cities, two jobs (for each of us) and one car ago. She was probably taking me home after work one day. We were carpooling at the time. We’re traveling north, to soon turn west.

That next weekend we got invited to a dinner party — (thanks again, Laura!) and sometime after that we realized we were getting invited to places. That people in our little world thought of us as a package deal. I skimmed through the rest of the 2005 series of photographs. Jamie​ shows up, and so does Greg​ and Brian​. Look, there’s Justin​ and RaDonna​ and Wendy​, too! There are family shots in there, also. There are pictures of colorful people that you pass by in life. There are blurry, low-res, sometimes underexposed pictures in the collection. There are trips and sports and bands and Lauren figures into most of all of those pictures, somehow, even though she’s not in a lot of them. That’s how you remember, though, the circumstances and the stories and the time you went to the place and saw the thing and tried the unusual item on the menu. “Who” is how you remember those. Some are worth remembering. Some you just know perfectly.

Jan 17

Stuff in the air, and in my office

I found this book last weekend:

It was published in 1958 and seems to be aimed at giving a reasonable historical re-telling and description to teens. The chapters have great line art:

That’s a paratrooper, which was pretty much the moment I decided to take pictures to send to our friend Adam, who is a modern paratrooper, because I thought he’d appreciate the biplane:

But it was this one he really liked, and how could you not? Look at his left hand:

Just another day at the office, oh, and do remember your briefcase. Here’s an almost contemporaneous accounting of Captain Sergei Mienov:

He spent almost a year in the United States. On his way back to Russia he passed a few days in Paris. He was full of enthusiasm for what he had seen in the development of air technique. Although Russia was not yet officially recognized, Mienov had been courteously received. He had visited airplane factories, airdromes and training schools. He praised highly the quality of American parachutes and the instruction American pilots received in their use. He had made his first parachute jump here.


When Mienov submitted the report of his US observations to Air Chief Alksnis, he mentioned the wide interest which parachute jumping could arouse. He suggested that the interest of the Soviet population, and particularly the young, could be turned toward the development of air power by this type of propaganda. Alksnis passed the comment on to the Politburo. Stalin agreed that it was a good idea.

And so parachuting became wildly popular in the Soviet Union.

Until the purges. And then the Germans did it better and then the Americans did it more. And that’s the story of how one of the more crazy ideas a person could do as a spectator sport became one of the craziest things people would do in military service. How the book wound up where I found it remains a mystery.

Here’s Adam now, this is his jump into Ste. Mere-Eglise, Normandy, France, commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day:

He took a miniature American flag on the jump with him and sent it to me as a keepsake, which super cool. That’s in my office now.

So is this stuff:

We are about to surplus a bunch of old equipment. The university has a surplus process for its eight campuses and some things of a certain value must be processed in a certain way and that’s where I am. More specifically, that picture is opposite of where I am, in my office, which is now filled.

Because it made more sense to bring this stuff out of storage, start (and hopefully complete) the paperwork process and then wait on the nice fellows from the Surplus store to come over and pick it up. So I have huge bundles of television cabling, a half dozen old cameras, a switcher, various accesorries and a chest-high stack of old engineering components in my office. If anyone wants to come push buttons, now is the time.

As a bonus, many of the buttons sound different.

Jan 17

In exotic Milford, Connecticut

We met some friends for lunch today. He’s a fireman. She’s a counselor. Also, they are parents, and they brought their kid, who is adorable and interested in pointing at people. They told us of their 2016 real estate horror stories, which were so bizarre and bad we didn’t even tell any of our tales from last year.

And we have some tales, mind you. Tales involving buyers who didn’t understand the concept of boundaries, a realtor who was either a compulsive liar or losing her mind. Tales involving people showing up at inopportune times, and not taking the hint. And we sold our house in less than a week. These are some write the real estate commissioners and complain sort of tales. But our friends’ tales were better. Or worse? Worse. Definitely worse.

Anyway, we had lunch at SmashBurger:

The place where they make burgers like most other places and charge you a bit more. And then they drizzle a little oil on their fries and you think This place is brilliant!

Also, it is the place where the shift leader has to come out and make an announcement that everyone that ordered milkshakes is going to have to wait about 10 minutes because it is just her and three other people working today. They’d been open for an hour.

But the point was visiting and seeing the kid and not so much worrying about burgers or milkshakes we didn’t order. It was cold and wet and raining and it was a good day for friends. We also went to a mall, which is something people seldom say anymore, I gather. We walked into the mall itself through one of the anchor stores and one of the employees there was saying to a coworker that they’d been busy today, but it didn’t especially feel that way. Anyway, we went to a makeup store, which was perhaps the busiest place. It is colorful and full of smells and you can buy a charcoal face scrub product for $47 a pound. I thought about making a video out of it, but remembered I did that in the same store last year:

Which, I suppose, makes this an annual pilgrimage now.

And I took a few pages out of a children’s book, Yellow Copter and cleaned them up. I like these scenes where there is a lot going on:

The theme of this book, if you are like me and unfamiliar, is that the school goes on a field trip and, somehow, the teacher gets stuck on the ferris wheel. Cranes can’t reach her. Jets just zoom on by. But a little yellow helicopter comes to the rescue.

This is the guy on the crane. His original message says something like “Hold on, teach!” I’m going to repurpose it with other positive messages, like this:

I mean, a guy on a crane is holding a sign out there for you? How can you not be encouraged?