Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Flight 93 Memorial

About twenty minutes north of the Pennsylvania Turnpike west of the Allegheny Tunnel, exit 110, is the rural field where United Flight 93 crashed at maximum speed on September 11, 2001 and disintegrated in a huge fireball of thousands of gallons of jet fuel, vaporizing all persons on board.  Up until that moment, a life and death struggle had been going on for many long minutes inside that plane as the heroic crew and passengers battled four murderous terrorists locked in the cockpit for control of the plane.

By forcing the plane to crash, the heroes aboard the plane lost their lives but won a bigger stake, causing the destruction of the flying missile before it could crash into the Capitol in DC, its intended target.  There was no air cover over Washington at the time, as the two jets scrambled, the only at-the-ready airiel defense for the entire east coast, were streaking east over the Atlantic looking for incoming Russians, their presumed enemies in the confusion of the moment.

The Flight 93 National Memorial at the tragic field is a somber and subdued place where the Visitor Center, set atop the last low ridge the screaming jet passed over before it burrowed into the field beyond, has an overlook that looks upon the field below where the impact crater was before it was filled in at the conclusion of the forensic investigation of the ground surrounding it.  A low retaining wall skirts the actual field, which still contains human remains too small to recover so it is considered to be a cemetery filled with heroes, and is off-limits for all visitors except for the family members of the victims of Flight 93, every September 11th.

The Visitor Center has displays explaining the day as it unfolded, tape recordings of doomed passengers calls from the plane to their loved ones, artifacts recovered from the field and gear worn by the heroic first responders who rushed in to try to salvage the unsalvageable.  The memorial is a sad but peaceful place, well worth a visit.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Summer's gone

Summer's almost gone.  On my run yesterday I passed by the local high school just as school was letting out and I watched all the students walking down the street excitedly talking amongst themselves, catching up after the long, hot summer.  Wistfully I thought about the long holiday weekend just past, about how the passage of Labor Day signifies the traditional end of summer and return to school for students, and how I had lunch at noon on Labor Day at the Lost Dog Pizzeria as is my won't on holidays.

On that Monday several days ago, I took a seat at a table by the window where I could see people entering and leaving the restaurant.  After I ordered an Italian Pie and a draft, I walked around the restaurant to see if I recognized anybody in the establishment beyond the wait staff but I did not.

The pizza pie arrived, a savory medley of ham, pepperoni, onion and genoa salami in a savory tomato pizza sauce.  Over the next half hour, I consumed two of the eight pieces of pizza and drank half my draft, left the rest as a talisman for the future, paid my fare and departed.  I hadn't seen anyone I thought I might know during that time.

Summer's almost gone.  Former family is gone.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

The good long run

Since May 1st, when I came back to running after two sedentary years due to injuries, because I run solo now now that all my former running buddies have moved away or else spun me out of their lives, I have laid down iron rules for myself about about coming back without injuring myself or getting discouraged because I can't do it and returning to the couch. Basically my plan called for running three times a week starting at half a mile a run and slowly, methodically, bumping up the mileage.

Four months later, now I can make ten miles a week.  My first run back I couldn't run half of half a mile without needing to walk.

This past week I ran three miles each on two runs plus a 3K distance time on a third day to make up for a run I missed earlier in the month due to a sore calf.  But I needed to do my "long" run for the week of four miles.

I decided to have a fun run and do two miles out and two miles back on the flat W&OD Trail and chat up everyone I could.  So many runners these days are in their own cocoon of isolation, fueled by their egos and abetted by their dangling white wires leading to their ear buds, that they don't acknowledge passing runners by returning a wave or answer anything (not even a glance) to a "Good morning."

I fulfilled my wish and had a very relaxed, fun run.  First I stopped at a spot just off the trail where two teen boys were doing watercolors of the trail and spent a couple of minutes talking to them about their landscapes.  Both had portrayed the dramatic sky over the trail in different fashions, one featuring white cumulous clouds against a pale blue sky backdrop and the other painting in the sky in a shifting, competing clash of bluish colors with the clouds in various shades of grey, not stark white structures.  Neither had drawn in any runners on the trail yet so I told them with tongue in cheek that I would pose for them on the trail on my way back but when I returned half an our later they were gone.

Next up was a elderly walker standing by a nearby milepost.  I stopped and asked him how far he was going and he looked at me suspiciously but answered, "A mile.  I am testing my distance recorder and have walked from milepost 8 to milepost 7 but my readout only says .997 of a mile."  He looked dismayed.  I said that the mile markers were known to be slightly off sometimes and it was a mile if he rounded it off.  He was obviously unconvinced.

Next I ran through an Arlington Fire Department Station parking lot on a detour from the trail where they are building an overpass over Route 29 and I encountered an on-duty fireman who was carrying dumbbells across the lot to simulate carrying heavy fire equipment, and I asked him for tips on how to properly lift dumbbells for the maximum effect since I have started doing reps of bicep curls before and after each run.  He gave me some good suggestions and I turned around at the halfway point and headed home, arriving at my house half an hour later after waving hello to everyone I  passed, runners and walkers alike and receiving a wave or greeting back in almost all instances.  I ignored bicyclists as they are all in their own world and never call out "Passing" as required, seeming to delight in whipping around runners as fast and as close and as silently as possible in the interest of startling plodding runners deigning to be in their kingly sphere.

It was a fun run, as I said.  I felt great about it when I finished, the feeling I used to get from running before I fell off the running wagon due to injuries a couple of years ago and got so hideously out of shape.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Bring me a ball...

The reason doesn't matter, but when I went with a friend on a Sunday afternoon this month to a minor league baseball game in Maryland at a lovely baseball park in Waldorf, the Regency Furniture Stadium, I was presented with a request by my friend for us to get her an actual baseball that had been used in play.  This request was repeated several times, practically every inning as the game progressed, so I paid attention to it, for sure.

I have never in my life captured a ball in the stands that came off the field of play, and I have been attending baseball games for over sixty years at almost every major league and many minor league parks.  This was going to be challenging.

I studied the stadium with an eye towards how the ball might come off a hitter's bat and make it out of the field of play.  We were in assigned seats that weren't going to work because we were on the third base side behind the safety netting that keeps foul balls out of the stands.

We had to get beyond the netting for sure; and also most foul balls that go into the stands past the netting slice off the bat of late swinging hitters to his front side, and most hitters are right-handed so they typically send a curving foul ball into the stands on the first base side which is the side they face when they assume their batting stance.

The park looked like it could seat about 3,000 spectators, with plenty of room on a grassy stretch with park benches past the outfield walls for standing-room-only people.  There were less than 300 people present, including ball players and stadium staff, so there were tons of empty seats and no one was in the outfield area.

First we tried sitting out past the outfield walls all by ourselves in the broiling sun, hoping a home run ball would come our way.  After a few innings it seemed to me that no hitter present had the power to put a ball over the outfield wall so we drifted over to the first base side of the stands, checking out the scarcely used fenced kiddie park out there past the seats.  The children's playground had one adult attendant and only a couple of children present but was full of cool looking structures like a climbing wall, a playhouse, a row of seesaws and a carousel.

There were several young children in the stands over on the first base side, and the few times a ball landed in the stands it looked like a horde of locusts on the move as they swarmed up the aisles to the area where the ball landed and jumped over the seats in a mad dash to get to the ball first.  I took note of the narrowness of the lines of stepped concrete walkways between the rows of empty seats, watched the nimble agility of the children jumping over seats, considered my age, closer to seventy than sixty, and decided that I could not outrace that horde.

I would have to get to any foul ball in the stands first without being amongst the children, which dictated sitting in a mostly vacant spot in the largely empty stadium.  We returned to the more desolate third base side and sat further out towards the foul pole, past the netting, down near the field by the home team bullpen who all had seats along the wall in foul territory in the field of play.

The game itself was entertaining, high scoring with a sparkling defensive play or two.  At my age and with my diminished vision, it was hard to track balls, they just disappeared into the haze that was the sky.  My friend noticed, as did I, that three or four balls had gone over the grandstand behind home plate to land either on its roof or soar over it into the parking lot.

My friend came up with a strategy.  "If a ball comes over here," she said, "you block any kid running for it and I'll go get the ball."

"Oh," I said, "and then I can fight the father when he shows up in support of his child."

"Okay," my friend replied, "I'll block any kid and you go get the ball."

I could foresee an adult fight in either instance but fortunately, no ball came our way.

It was so hot that we retired from our seats without shade and sat at a table in the causeway with a view of the game.  We bought a bottle of water for $4 to cool off and slake our thirst and once we had guzzled it, I filled it up again at a water fountain, which was not refrigerated so the water was tepid.  We asked the counter person where everybody was if they weren't at this wonderful park on such a beautiful day.  "Church," was the laconic reply.  At 2:30 on a Sunday afternoon.

The last inning arrived as we sat at our table.  My head was down and I didn't see it but an opponent hit a home run out of the park.  I heard the crack of the bat and looked up but couldn't pick up the ball but I recognized the batter's slow home run trot and knew that the ball had traveled over the outfield wall somewhere.  There was no one out there.

I got up and walked down the causeway into the grassy area beyond the outfield fences.  My friend remained behind.  There was an attendant in the closed lounge out there, and another one at the pool beyond left field.  Perhaps one of them retrieved the ball before I got out there, or perhaps the ball was hidden somewhere in the grass, but I circumvented the outer area past the fences and without seeing any ball.

Now it was the bottom of the ninth and, barring a huge comeback given the 11-5 score, I had only three more outs to work with to try to secure a ball used in the field of play.  I paused on the causeway by the right field foul pole beside the kiddie park with its blue split rail fence, beyond the arc of seats by first base and beyond.  The playground was now closed.  There were several children along the first row of seats down there, perhaps two hundred feet away.  A right-hander was up.  I closely watched his at bat.

Crack!  A foul ball twisted off his bat and sliced towards the right field foul pole.  It stuck the cement walkway 40 feet behind me and bounded into the kiddie park.  I intently watched it crazily spin around in there, sluicing wildly until it finally came to rest under a kiddie structure with short legs.

I looked back towards the seats.  The horde of locusts appearing as children was boiling upwards towards me, now 150 feet away.  I didn't have time to run towards them to reach the kiddie park entranceway and then backtrack to the ball.  

I ran over to the 4-foot tall split rail fence surrounding the kiddie park and tried to slither through the split rails.  The rails were too close together for me to squeeze through, after all the purpose of the fence was to keep small children in.  I had to go over it, and quickly as the kids were nearby by now.  I threw a leg over the top rail, hefted my torso onto the rail, heard and felt an ominous crack beneath me, threw myself over it intending to land on my leading foot and gain the ground, but instead I just fell off the fence and landed flat on my back in the kiddie park.  Fortunately the ground was soft with straw and wood chips, appropriate for a children's playground, covering the surface.

Still, I lay there stunned and helpless for a second, feeling like an overturned turtle.  But I was on a mission, and its conclusion lay nearby in the form of a baseball that mere dozens of feet away.

I scrambled up and went to the structure I thought the ball was under.  Several predatory children, all seeming to be aged six to eleven years old, were in the park already, running towards me.  They all seemed to have navigated the fence much better than me.

I looked, and there was no ball!  I was at the wrong structure.  The kids swept by me fanning out throughout the kiddie park.  I went to the nearest adjacent structure and scanned under it but no ball.  I looked at the further structure, on the other side of the first structure I'd looked under, and there it was, pretty much in plain sight.  Trying to look dignified, I went over to the plaything, reached under it and snatched my treasure.

An eleven year old boy immediately appeared beside me. "Are you going to keep that ball?" he asked.

Burning with shame I said apologetically, "I'm sorry, but I have a friend who wants it so I'm going to keep it."

The boy shrugged and said, "That's cool."

Next appearing magically beside me was a six year old girl.  "Are you going to keep that ball?" she asked.

My faced flushed a deeper crimson as I said, "I'm sorry, but I have a friend who wants it so I'm going to keep it."

The little girl took it harder than the boy and gave me a look that combined incredulity and impetuosity before she skipped away without a further word.  I palmed the ball as I emerged from the kiddie park, hoping the whole stadium wasn't watching me, an adult, denying a ball souvenir to cute small kids.  I determined at that moment that the only way I could feel worse was if I had been so close to getting a ball-used-in-play, without impeding any child trying to get there first, and I hadn't gotten it.  I slunk through the back concourse behind home plate without looking anyone in the face.

My friend was on the third base concourse where I'd left her.  Since the game was over, she said forlornly that it looked like her wish for a ball wasn't going to happen after all.  She had spent the last twenty minutes out in the parking lot, watching the stadium's superstructure hoping for a ball to come over.  No luck.

I pressed the ball into her hand and said, "Here's your game ball."

She looked down, turned the ball over in her hand and exclaimed, "You bought this!"

"No, no," I said, "the stadium baseball store doesn't even sell used baseballs," and launched into a long description/explanation of how I'd acquired the ball, showing her the muddy stain on the back of my tee shirt and the small scrapes on my elbow from where I'd fallen off the fence.

I pointed out the abrasions on the ball where it had hit the concrete causeway, the brown stain where it had struck the muddy kiddie park surface after the first bounce, and another stain that might have been from the bat striking the ball.

I told her of my struggle to get into the kiddie park to get the ball, telling how I came within a hairsbreadth of crashing through the top rail of the fence, which would have provided the spectacle of an adult not only denying children a baseball but tearing down the kiddie park fence to get it.

It was incredible, to me, that I had been presented in a tongue in cheek way with this impossible task and incredibly, I had fulfilled it.  On the very last foul ball of the game.  I felt really good about it.

My friend loves the ball.  She offered to let me keep it, given how hard I'd worked for it but I said, "No, no, it's yours, believe me, if you hadn't wanted a ball so badly I would never have gotten it in the first place."  Ask, and I'll do my best.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Four miles

I got out early this morning, before dawn, to do my "long" run for the week of four miles, choosing to do the hilly route I did on Saturday which proved to be beyond my current conditioning because I had to do two walking water breaks then when I reached the summit of the two long sharp hills on the route where the trail rises to an overpass over I-66.  Today I kept it slow and steady, with my eyes screwed into the ground as I ascended each hill, and completed the run without walking in about 51 minutes.

PDS (pretty damn slow) but I got 'er done.  I started at 5:55 am and was on my way back before the sun came up, and I was treated to a spectacular view from the top of the last hill of the ascending sun as it started to rise above the horizon.  I had to wait another twenty minutes till I got home to fetch my my camera to record it and by then the sky had lost its multihued coloring but it was still pretty even so.

I plan to do three miles on my next run so that will give me ten miles for this week.  My ankle hurts and my legs are  sore but I'm starting to feel fitter.  It's been three and a half months since I started coming back and I get more motivated to keep at it each week.

I'm going to stay at my current level for a couple of weeks to try to "lock in" my current, slightly improved conditioning and hopefully lose another couple of pounds to slowly make my running more nimble and less ponderous.  Better times will come.

Monday, August 5, 2019

3 miles done

Today I got out running as soon as the dawn lightened enough to see the roadway, in the cool of the early morning before the sun came out and made everything hot again.  After my 90 bicep curls with my l'il ol' dumbbell (3 sets of 15 reps at 25 pounds, each arm before and after each run), my recently added routine of a few push-ups, and stretching, I burned off a neighborhood mile while I considered my two-mile segment because I was undecided about that part.  (Whew, glad that's done.)

I had done 4 miles with a long, tough hill two days before and I didn't want to do that hill again because my legs felt used up, but I know hills are good for runners and speed their progression to improved fitness and ability.  I had already chickened out on doing Saturday's tough hill by the route of my neighborhood mile, taking me away from that hill, but it led me towards a half-mile hill in town not far from my house which I had been staying away from after failing to fully surmount it weeks ago when my conditioning was even less than my current pathetic state.  (My weight training station.)

Alright, I thought, let's go.  It was a long slow plod up that hill (longer but not quite so steep as Saturday's hill) but I made it and turned around a mile out and had the benefit of going down the same long hill on my return.  (My push-up platform.)

I was happy to get my exercise for the day done by about 7:15 am, with the whole rest of the day stretching out ahead of me, just like in the old days.  Coming back is a slow process, but it seems to be coming.  (My gym.)

Saturday, August 3, 2019

It was hard, but boring for readers

I waited all day for it, to run my third time for the week to finish out my weekly running.  Four miles to top out the week at nine miles.  I went out at 4 pm when the sky was overcast and the breeze was up, hoping that would enable me to put in a sterling run.

I went out WB on the W&OD Trail where there are tough hills after the first mile surmounting the overpass bridge over I-66 (both directions).  No bicyclist whizzing by me, wandering in my 4-foot WB lane, ever announced their presence as they silently passed me, I hate that, at 25 MPH you could kill me if in my fog of fatigued flushed running, I lurched leftward two feet.  Going out the breeze was up and the sun was behind clouds and I reached the two-mile turnaround point feeling like I was coming back.

On the return trip the sky cleared and the sun beat down mercilessly upon this particular stretch of the 40-mile asphalt ribbon that is the W&OD Trail snaking through Northern Virginia because Asian invasive vines have killed every tree along its first 20 miles. These non-indigenous plants will kill all the shade along the trail's entire length in the next 10 years, a backward return for the Columbian Exchange.  It makes running on the W&OD in the summertime a real slog.

I surmounted the brisk hill coming back without reducing my slow shuffle to a walk, but then I partook in two 60 meter walking water breaks to quell my racing heart, and stopped for a minute to watch a taped-off crime scene just off the trail where the dozen Fairfax County police units I observed on my run, parked at vantage points along the way or cruising slowly through the area were obviously looking for someone in a vehicle.  I was exhausted coming back to my driveway after my "long run" of four miles, but felt that despite the glacial 13-minute per mile pace, I had proceeded apace in my comeback to running.  And I lost a pound overall.