Starbucks On A Saturday Afternoon

I needed to find a place to work for a few hours on Saturday. My son was working with his college counsellor and she told us that his attitude and effort improve dramatically when parents are nowhere to be found.

I ended up at the Starbucks on Main near Chicago Ave. in Evanston a little after noon. Only a handful of people were there when I arrived but it seems that if you keep your eyes open there will always be things to see.

First, the guy behind the counter. He was energy, happiness and playfulness. He engaged every customer. The more laid back among them expecting to quietly get their caffeine of choice were a bit taken aback but quickly pulled into his spell. I imagined that he was making the best of a job that at least on a Saturday afternoon lacked stimulation.

I found a table near the window looking onto the street and facing the door. I like to be able to see what’s going on.

Three sightings of note. First the thinnest woman I have ever seen. Her arms and legs were painfully thin. You could see the veins easily through her skin. She looked as if a stiff breeze would break her. She looked to be in her late 20s maybe 5’6″. Her face and hair were normally proportioned but I wonder what is causing the stick legs and arms.

I little later a man walking a dog passed by the window. The small dog was limping, poor thing. The counter guy knew the dog and owner and shared that the dog had a broken foot. One that was not going to heal. The owner had adopted him with the condition. That man is a mench.

Lastly was a young man in his late 20s or early 30s sitting with his son who looked 4 or 5. A second man walked into the store and the young guy said “hey I recognize you, you sold us our condo.” Man #2 stopped to chat out of courtesy. He must have asked something innocuous such as “how is the condo”. That can be a mistake. For the next 10 minutes Man #2 listened to the story of how man#1 is having trouble with his wife. They are separated but trying to work things out, they were young when they first got together, yadda, yadda, yadda. Far more personal information than he was expecting. I never know in those situations if I feel more sorry for the guy listening or the guy who feels so badly that he must share his sad tale with anyone who will listen.

That was my first Saturday afternoon at a Starbucks. I may do this again just to observe a different slice of the world.

When Is A Mile Not A Mile?

A mile always is 1760 yards or 5,280 feet.

I have known the distance of the mile since childhood. During my youth the mile was the glamour race. Roger Bannister first broke the magic 4 minute mark On May 6, 1954 with a time of 3:59.4. From that moment on, people have been striving to conquer the mile.

Fast forward 54 years from Sir Roger’s historic achievement. For the last five summers, I too have been striving to conquer the mile. One mile at at time, typically 50 + of them on a Sunday morning. On a good day energy flows through my body into my legs and they make revolution after revolution. I do not glide through each mile or passively cycle. I take the initiative. I apply force. That mile is mine.

Over a course of 50 miles some miles some are covered faster than others. You can’t, I can’t, sprint 50 miles. But each on is taken. One by one. That is how a good day works.

Typically by the end of August they are all good riding days. Not this year. Last week i was dead from the moment I left the house. Today felt decent for the first have of the ride and then lost it completely. None of the last 25 mile were conquered. They were ridden, after all I had to get home, but the experience was mentally and physically gruesome.

I can’t say why my riding has deteriorated. I suspect the demands of this summer are getting to me.

So let’s get philosophical for a moment. How do you know when to “be mentally tough and work through it” vs. “listen to your body”? Both of these are reasonable approaches to a situation and I am sure that I can find self-help books to promote one philosophy or the other.  Do winners always go for it? Are people in touch with their needs more effective because they play within themselves?

The practical application for me is that four Sundays from today is the North Shore Century. This is the one I rode last year. I started the summer with a goal–beat last year’s time by 30 minutes. I did not anticipate a sick Mom or a horrendous work schedule and the exponentially greater strain when these two things are combined with all of life’s other irritations. Do I go for it even knowing I am not near the conditioning of last year? Is “going for it no matter what” the sign of a winner? What does it say about me if I do not try.

I realize that the downside of starting and not finishing the ride is relatively small. I am guessing that I can get someone to pick me up. But if over the next three weekends I am still unable to complete a solid 50 why go for 100?

For the moment I am taking inspiration not from world class byciclists but from Sir Roger. The year he broke 4 minutes he had already started Med school and could train for less than an hour per day. There is still hope for me.

A mile is not a mile when you cannot attack it the way that you can. A 5+ minute mile is not the same as one ridden in 4 minutes or less. That is when a mile is not a mile.

Don’t Waste My Time!

But he did.

We attended a seminar at the local community college that promised to help us understand the mysteries of funding college education. The great secrets of where to find grants, loans and scholarships were ours for the investment of time. A good investment we figure. College costs at the schools we visited will be $40,000+ per year.

Within 5 minutes I knew I was in an extended sales pitch and not a seminar. i started playing games on my Blackberry until my wife gave me “the look”. On and on he went. I now know that there are a million ways to screw up applying for loans and scholarships. I could have guessed that. After 75 minutes he shared only one way to make it through the haze. Hire him.

He had such unmitigated gall as to have an evaluation form. And we got a certificate for a free evaluation–typically a $250 value. Wow!

I could have been working, exercising, sleeping or being mugged. Any of these activities would have been of greater value.

On the way out his “people” wanted to know if we wanted to schedule our free evaluation. Please, don’t waste any more of my time. I already need to figure out how to recapture 75 minutes.

Mammoth Hairball

Bigger than any cat could cough up. This one came from a woolly mammoth that was buried in the Siberian permafrost more than 45,000 years ago.

Picture courtesy of The Economist.

Worn Out

Many in my family are showing signs of wear.

My Mom is not happy. She seems angry that she is physically and mentally not what she was. She is not adjusting to the nursing home/rehab facility she is in. She claims the other people who have been there awhile hang together and do not include her. She is tired of not being home, of being bed ridden or sitting in a wheelchair and, I am guessing, being bored. She said to me that she was not made to live this way.

My step dad needs some time off. He is with her all day, every day. It is tiring just to be sitting around. Not much new to talk about after the first 800 hours or so–which is roughly how long she has been hospitalized. Yet he won’t leave her side.

My brother shows up 5 days a week and has a 3 hour round trip commute. He is crabby, angry, frustrated and probably more than a little sad.

It is getting to me too. Between long work, travel and the weight of my mom, I am sullen, crabby and ready to crack far too often. I could barely bike on Sunday. It took over 4 hours to finish 44 miles. I had no energy from the first pedal and barely was able to drag my sorry ass back home. I can’t believe that my annual century ride is in less than 5 weeks. At this rate I may have to seriously consider a lesser distance. We will see what the legs feel like in a few weeks.

We are all singing the blues.


The Faster World’s Fastest Man

Same guy. Usain Bolt. Olypmic gold. World record of 9.69. And he slowed down in the last 15 meters as he spread his arms and pounded his chest. He could have been under 9.6!!! As one announcer stated, this is video game speed.

And this is only his second best distance. Can’t wait to see what he does in the 200m.

 (It takes a few clicks but the video from the NBC site is the best I could find)


A Journey Of 1,200 Miles And 10,000 Yards

Last Thursday on 5 hours sleep we set off for parts unknown. This was to be our tour of 5 college campuses in 5 days. One Thursday, two Friday and the last two on Monday with a bit of rest in between.

D had only been to 2 other campuses and was a few weeks from starting his senior year. It was time. In fact this was the only time we could fit in between his baseball schedule and soccer tryouts. He had made the contacts and set up the meetings with admissions folk and baseball coaches. ( For those of you who do not know, D is looking to play ball in college.) My wife found places for us to stay. I just had to show up. And drive.

I did not drive the entire 1235 miles of our adventure. My wife took a two hour shift on the way out and my son took a similar one on the road back. I figure I only drove 955 of the miles. Did I mention that I HATE long trips in the car? Normally after 3 hours I am ready to put a gun to my head. The obligations of parenthood.

On top of that five days with just the three of us in such tight quarters was more togetherness than we had shared in almost a year. Overall, despite a spat or two I think we did pretty well. D was exposed to a variety of liberal arts colleges and college baseball coaches. At least he now has some things to think about. The process starts in earnest soon with him working on his applications and required essays while we work on the financial aid forms. Small colleges provide a great teacher-student ratio but at a premium cost.

For fun we managed two rounds of Frisbee golf. We discovered two great courses. Each was better than those we have played at home. Each was over 5,000 yards and challenging. The first was in Cleveland at a park that was part Lake Erie beach. Some long holes, lots of trees to circumvent and pretty scenery. 21 holes.

D is phenomenal with a Frisbee. He can throw 50% longer than I can. The good part of this game is that people of all skill levels can play together. I even beat him on one hole.

I also faced a few of those awkward moments that liberal suburbanites sometimes encounter when they find themselves in poor neighborhoods where the skin color of most of the people is several shades darker than mine. I try to not care and feel safe…and yet. Our experiences were all good and renewed my faith in people.

The first moment was on the way to the first course. Our hotel had steered us wrong. We stopped at a gas station for directions. (Yes, I try occasionally to break the male stereotype.) A man in line, missing a few teeth, driving a beat up old car and African American was the one who set us straight. He had a wide smile and was clearly happy to help. He stayed friendly through my requests to repeat the directions several times.

Another moment was on the way to and at the second Frisbee golf court. We were on the south-east side of Indianapolis. We had found the course on the internet but had no idea what the neighborhood was like. Run down homes that clearly a few decades ago had been quite nice. The course was in a large park. The people around us were mostly African American and Hispanic. I had that twinge of concern but we ventured on. What we saw were families having Bar-B-Qs and picnics, kids playing basketball and a heated game of volleyball.

What a find from a Frisbee golf perspective. The most fun course I have ever played. Long, challenging, and scenic. On Hole Three you started on one side of a valley and threw to the other. Hole Four took you back. One hole was over 500 yards and curved around a wooded area so you could not even see where the hole was from the starting point. We had a ball. This stop broke up six hours of driving. Unfortunately the sun was going down as we started the back nine and we had to hustle. We still had 90 minutes of driving.

Long story, long trip. Yet just the beginning of the journey to college for D and life without D for us.