100 Miles Redux

The Cubs and I have made history this weekend. For the first time in 100 years the Cubs have made the post-season 2 years in a row. For the first time 52 years I have completed 100 mile rides in consecutive years. The big difference being that they have been trying for each of the past 100 years and I have been doing this for three.

If you read this regularly you know the degree of trepidation I had regarding this ride. The summer had too many other distractions for me to ride as much as last year. I felt physically, mentally and emotionally unprepared. However, if one can say nothing else about me it can be said that I am determined and a plugger. With the support of my wife and encouragement from buddy Frank and others, I could not not try.

When I left this morning the temps were cool but not cold yet it was overcast and looked as if it would rain. At times we rode though fog. And yet my biggest fear on these rides is always the wind on the ride back. The weather gods cooperated in a big way. It stayed pleasently cool, never rained and most or the wind was on the first half of the ride. I almost yelped with joy as we took the first turn south and there was barely a breeze.

Key stats

 107.9 miles (not counting the 5 mile round trip from my house.)

Ride time: 6 hours 53 minutes

Total time with rest stops (4) and stop lights ( a gazillion): 8 hours 27 minutes

Average speed while riding: 16.02 mph

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Memories of Boston

I was in Boston today. Like so many business trips, I landed late morning, had meetings and was out by early evening. Other than lunch at Legal Seafood I had no opportunity to do anything Bostonian.

Memories of Boston for me are few and very far between. In addition to today, I spent a weekend there 22 years ago, had another one day business meeting and spent two days at a conference 4 or 5 years ago. I want to come back and spend at least a long weekend here with my wife. And I have got to get into Fenway one day.

Though few, the memories I have are strong. During the weekend long, long ago, I played typical tourist. Spent much of a day hanging out at Faneuil Hall. In addition to walking through the market (I love places like that) I watched a guy making his living juggling. He was quite entertaining. I also walked along Beacon Hill, marveling at the architecture of the homes and wondering how many lifetimes of working I would need to do to buy one. I did part of the freedom walk. And I checked out Harvard. The coolest thing about that day was that Harvard was honoring Corazon Aquino who had recently taken over as President of The Philippines and a long period of dictatorship. I caught a glimpse of her walking out of a building after her lecture. I have picture of all of this, including a shot of Cory. I may have to dig them out of the three boxes of pictures I have waiting to be filed so I can share them on-line. Unfortunately I have a close up of the juggler and only a very distant shot of Ms. Aquino.

The second memory of Boston was one night of the conference I attended. My friends Frank, Sarah and Shelly were there. We met up with a neighbor of Frank’s from Philly who was living in Boston. What started as an ordinary day became one of those semi-magical, serendipitous nights of good friends sharing great conversation. The restaurant was a typical Italian place with lots of character. I can’t remember what we talked about but the feeling of friendship, even with this woman I had never met nor seen since, the humor, wit, passion, and laughter are all there. After dinner we went across the street to this cool, little desert place. As we came out it began to rain and we shared too few umbrellas and jackets each one wanting the other to have one.

Boston offers a fine combination of history, architecture, universities, good food and interesting neighborhoods. A muti-faceted city and you know how much I love facets. Time to go back and create more memories.

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.

At Some Point You Have To Laugh

That was said by the young woman standing in line behind me. Our flight to Charlotte should have left 2 hours earlier. Instead we had been in a slow moving line back out past TSA security waiting to find out if there were some way out of hell.

I am sure you are in no mood to hear another on of my travel horror story but as long as I have them I am giving you the opportunity to relive them with me. Another new reason to delay a flight.

After 14 hours in the office on Monday and a hectic Tuesday morning of emergency emails and calls I left for O’Hare. As it was I dreading the 5 hour two plane trio to Kingsport, TN. The only good news was that at the end of the travels I was to have dinner with one of my favorite clients. If only it had happened as planned.

Instead 15 minutes before the 12:30 US Air flight to Charlotte they announced a maintenance delay. 45 minutes later they announced that the part they needed, it took that long to figure out which part it was, they did not keep in Chicago. The part would need to be flown in. If it came, the plane might leave at 7 pm. The announcement directed us to go to the ticket counter on the dreaded other side of security.

This is one time where being a frequent flier screwed me. I assumed that technology could help get me on one of the three remaining US Air flights to Charlotte or one of the two United flights. Why not, I have high level status on United.

I worked that phone. US Air, United, Us Air again. Different answers each time. Mostly though it seemed as though every flight that day to Charlotte was full. After an hour I realized that I had no choice but to go to the ticket counter. More confusion. There were several lines and no one directing traffic. I stood in the wrong line until I reached the front in time to be told that the person behind that counter could not help me. Into the other line which had to be 50 people deep. Three people behind the counter. No good answers to be had.

If there is a deity with a master plan manipulating world events to the level of my plane travel I have discovered his/her master plan. The purpose of these moments is to provide an environment in which people who would never get the opportunity to converse mingle. People of all races, creeds, colors, and walks of life spontaneously begin sharing stories. They find things they have in common. Mostly what they have in common is their hatred of air travel and whatever airline is causing the day’s frustrations. Sometimes more. The older lady and her even older mother in front of me were on their way home to the city I was visiting. We chatted abut how crowded it got during race week (there is a NASCAR track nearby) and what a nice town it is. As a group we provide each other with solace and understanding.

Well, once it was my turn I was told there were no seats to Charlotte that day. I could have tried leaving the next day but any delay and I would have missed my business meeting. At least person behind the counter was competent. She found a United nonstop to Knoxville that would put me 110 miles away. I took it. I figured I would rent a car and at least be there that night.

On to the United terminal. Finally, a bit of luck, there were only 4 people ahead of me in the security line. But not so fast. I was not given a ticket but a receipt for a ticket the TSA guy informed me. On to another long line to haggle with another ticket agent. Back to security again where the line was now 40 people deep. As I reached my gate my admin called. No rental cars from any company in Knoxville. Hitchhiking was not an appealing option. Fortunately my client agreed to come get me.

For hours later, 11 hours after I left my house I was in my hotel room.  

As I have said before, as long as the plane did not fall out of the sky I can deal with it. Sort of.

E.R.

Don’t ever be sick or old and don’t let anyone you care about get sick or old. Definitely do not do anything that requires health care beyond band-aids on a holiday weekend.

I just spend 6 hours in the ER with my mom.

Short background.  Though only 76, her liver has not been working as it should. This has led to multiple symptoms. She looks like a picture of a starving African child. Distended belly, frail, sticks for arms and legs. She can barely walk with the help of a walker, her legs do not want to move. She needs help getting out of bed or out of a chair. It has been like this for months now. Best as we understand from multiple docs is that this is the rest of her life and she can only be treated to make her more comfortable.

Why the ER today. One leg has been getting numb and her ability to walk has decreased further. Her doc is on vacation. There is no where else to go on a holiday weekend. She needs more than the doc-in-a -box clinics that have sprung up can provide. Plus, while she is weak of body, she is still strong of will. I wanted to take her last night but she refused over and over. I was not ready to carry her over my shoulder. Unfortunately, she was in pain through much of the night and that convinced her to finally call at 6 am to have me come get her. My step dad has taken over full time care duties but moving her and dealing with the docs and the hospital is no one person affair.

I was at her house by 6:30 but it was almost an hour before we were able to get out of the house. Anyone who has dealt with and aged infirm parent can identify.

Checked in and in a bed at the ER by 8:15. Then the waiting begins. It was not busy there when we arrived so I had hoped things would progress quickly. I was delusional. Eventually a nurse comes in and asks the same questions the nurse at admitting asked. Sometime within an hour and a half a doctor comes in. Though this hospital and my mom’s doc are all part of the same group, he has no info on her. Therefore, he starts by ordering basic blood work and an X-ray. The blood is eventually taken and the sign in the room promises results in one hour. The sign writer is as delusional as I am.

So you sit. And sit. and sit. You get the picture. Over the course of the next 6 hours promises about next steps are made by nurses but nothing happens. At the 5.5 hour mark the doc walks in, gives us two minutes in which he tells us she will be admitted over night, answers his cell and walks out. At least four times in this version of No Exit we are told they will try to reach her regular doctor who I know is out of town because I spoke with his partner last night who had no more knowledge of my mom’s file than the ER doc or you do.

They admit her, my sister comes for the second shift and I get to go home for the day physically and emotionally drained.

One Fine Friday Night

Last Friday my wife wanted to take me out for my birthday which had been two days earlier. I had been traveling to Pittsburgh, TX that night which made a family celebration impossible. While my wife often asks if she can travel with me the requests tend to come when the destination is a place like Santa Fe not Pittsburgh, TX.

I am often overwhelmingly tired Friday nights. It is not uncommon on a Friday night for me to collapse on the couch and not move until bedtime. This week had been a hard, tiring week. At one point on Friday I expressed to a colleague that my body felt as if it had been hit by a truck. So during the several times that day I was asked what I wanted to do that night I did not know what to say. I had hoped to spend time outside. No aspirations beyond that lofty goal.

The weather cooperated as did my body. After a day of intermittent rain it was clear and pleasant when I arrived home. I no longer felt like hell. We we decided that for the evening’s entertainment we would take a walk. This is something we do not do enough of. We walked and held hands on our way to downtown Evanston. No particular route in mind. I like it that way.

We talked. Even though we are on the phone several times a day, these are typically short focused conversations. On our walk we had time and no interruptions. It was leisurely and yet I was upright and moving. Almost like exercise.

We started after 7:30.  I can never get home early it seems. It is somewhere in the neighborhood of 2-2.5 miles to downtown. I wasn’t particularly hungery as we passed a multitude of restaurants on our stroll.  Lots of good food choices in Evanston.

Eventually we had something light at a sushi place. BTW I never would have guessed that an avocado and banana smoothie would be good. It was, though the tapioca balls at the bottom of the glass were a little weird.

We walked, talked and held hands on the return trip. What a simple and yet wonderful night.

Oh, I almost forgot. She really scored with my birthday present. She took  a photograph I had taken, printed it as an 8X10 and framed it. Photography is something I enjoy and I know I have a few truly great pictures. I have wanted to see what they would be like big. Now I know. Spectacular. It will hand in our house. I am very happy.

 

P.S. For those of you who read my piece on Paul McCartney and were wondering about the weird references, Sir Paul and I share the same birthday. He had it to himself for 14 years before we began to share it.

A Teaching Moment…Or A 3 Stooges Moment

Two and one half decades ago I was young, new in my career, and in need of someone to help me grow and develop in this world of consulting I had entered. When I started there were two managers and the Big Boss. It was like learning from the Three Stooges. All were bright and good at doing the work. None had a clue about how to manage, train or mentor someone entering the field. From the Stooges I learned how to be a good manager and mentor by doing exactly the opposite of what they did.

Three examples and then on to why I started to write this morning.

 I went to Manager Larry as he was leaving the company to get some sage advice on how to progress in my career before he was forever gone. He looked at me in his most serious, reflective manner and said, “Wear better suits”. Now there may be a metaphor for life in there somewhere or perhaps it was time to upgrade my sartorial standards, but that is the best ya got? After working with him for a year I should not have been surprised.

Manager Shemp (none of the three lived up to the high standards of Curly) once gave me feedback on a report I had drafted. He called me to his office and as I stepped through the door, the papers came flying towards me just ahead of his words, “This is a piece of S–t!”.  I learned so much from Shemp.

Then there was Big Boss Moe. I am ashamed to say that I worked with this man for 14 years. In the bizarro world one can gain great wisdom by doing the opposite. There are too many Moe stories to tell here. I should put the collection of stories in the next business book best seller, “Everything You Need To Know About Management Can Be Learned From The Stooges” or the more simple title of “Stoogeology. Lessons For Today’s Business Leaders”.

OK. A quick Moe as manager story.  It was early in my career and we were working directly with the CEO of a fairly large company. The project had a short time line and we needed to schedule our next meeting with him. The best day for the CEO was in two weeks on a Thursday. Moe looked at his calendar and stated to my great disbelief, “No, I am in a golf tournament at my country club that day.” To this day I do not know if I was more shocked that he put off an important business meeting to play golf or that he admitted it to the CEO instead of just saying that he was booked that day. That was Big Boss Moe.

Fast forward 20+ years. I have been directly responsible for managing people on and off throughout my career. Regardless of my formal duties I have taken it as a key priority to help people coming up behind me to grow. I have been very good at this. However, lately I  have sometimes let the weariness I feel for my work –it has been 27 years — occasionally influence how I interact with my people.

Most of the time I give positive or at corrective feedback in a constructive manner. I regularly check-in with my people to see how they are doing. I take time to work on their skills regardless of whether they are working on something for me or for someone else.  I teach others who seek to learn whether or not they report to me.

Now that I have laid the groundwork that I am really a good guy I can confess to my weak moments. Sarcasm is not foreign to my speech. In fact it is an integral part. When used wisely it can be a good learning tool. When used indiscriminately it can be mean. There are a couple of people at work that frustrate me because they are bright, no longer brand new, and have great potential. Yet they are not growing despite some of the best efforts to guide and teach them. With them I get indiscriminate.

I have not yet gotten to the level of throwing reports at them and evaluating their work with four letter words. (Today, throwing a report would involve tossing a laptop which could not be good in any sense of the word) and yet I can riff one sarcastic comment after another for quite awhile. It hit me the other day when I was riffing to one of the Frustrators and I had to pause for a moment and declare ” You should listen to that last one. This was a teaching moment.”

Yeah, a teaching moment from Curly.