Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Skyline Drive 2019.

Earlier this month I took a drive with a friend through the Skyline Drive in Western Virginia, enjoying the spectacular views looking either east towards Virginia horse and vineyard country or west over the Shenandoah Valley towards the Blue Ridge Mountains and the further Appalachians, from the roadways many turnouts on either side of the road.  There are also hiking trails peppered throughout the high-elevation national park, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail.

Wildlife abounds there too, as in prior years we had seen several deer.  This year we were treated to the sight of a black bear sauntering casually across the road.

On the west side on a clear day you can look out over the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, the scene of much desperate fighting during the Civil War, the place where Confederate General Stonewall Jackson created his status as an icon of the Old South by outfoxing and routing larger Union Forces several times in his famous Valley Campaign in 1862, which is still studied at military academies as an example of speed and elusiveness combining with uncertainty about the enemy's intent to create an air of self-fulfilling defeatism in the minds and actions of opposing generals.  Sundowns are spectacular from those heights.

On the east side you look out over Virginia horse and vineyard country, and the site of still further desperate Civil War clashes in the area known during the War of Northern Aggression as Mosby's Country, a land of guerrilla warfare where Rebel irregulars bushwhacked Union supply wagons and killed Yankee sentries and messengers and the occupying troops strung up the armed  partisans on the spot if they caught them before they faded back into their farms and hardscrabble civilian life.  There are Rebel statues outside most county courthouses there even now.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Billy Goat Trail 2019

Last month I hiked the Billy Goat Trail, sort of, with a friend as we have done fortthe past two decades. This year marked the end of the annual hike, for me at least, as my subtle yet real vision deterioration following my four eye surgeries last year preclude me any more from scrambling atop the many jagged rock edges along the boulder fields which intermittently make up the 3-mile rugged, rocky trail.  It immediately became apparent to me that there was too much risk now of a stumbling mis-step on such tricky terrain, with undoubted disastrous consequences. Time passes and things change. So we retired to the C&O Canal Towpath and had a nice 4-mile walk.

We encountered wildlife along the way, turtles in the water and a preying mantis underfoot (which we shooed off the trail).  The view from the overlook gave us dizzying views of roaring, rushing water underneath the bridge to the viewing point.

I always love the reflections that play along the still waters of the canal.  Off the trail down by the backwater channels of the Potomac are little sandy beaches with wading pools where tourists sometimes swim but it is illegal and dangerous, with a prohibitive risk of death by being swept away.

At the conclusion of three enjoyable hours spent perambulating the towpath, we retired from the park till next year.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A Holiday Weekend . . .

This Veteran's Day holiday weekend, I got a lot of things done.  I toured Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park with a friend and was shocked when the officious Park Ranger held her Senior Lifetime Pass granting us free entry, checked the signature line on the back as though she could read a signature anyway, and then carded her!

I also drove a neighbor home from a medical procedure.  These days the medical personnel won't let you leave their premises without somebody you know coming to get you, imposing quite a burden on persons living alone, after they perform today's ubiquitous drive-by surgery--as soon as you wake up they want you outta there!

I went for a nice neighborhood run.  I went out for breakfast with a friend.

And I had lunch at the Lost Dog pizzeria in Westover in Arlington.  I ordered a draft and a large Greek Pie (plenty for any drop-bys) and from my spacious booth I could see anybody entering the restaurant but nobody I recognized came in while I enjoyed my meal and then left, leaving some left over as a talisman for the next time.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Eleventh Hour . . .

Veterans Day.  Thanks to all who served, including my dad who endured 90 days of murderous combat in Peleliu and 90 more days of hellacious combat on Okinawa during the war against the Japanese Empire.

Thanks to my Uncle Harry, who was a gunnery control officer in Admiral Halsey's Fast Carrier Task Force aboard the light cruiser USS Vincennes during intense naval combat in the Pacific War, earning a bronze star defending his ship against land-based fighter and bomber planes during a carrier strike against Tokyo.  Also during WW2 my Uncle Bill served in the Philippines and my Uncle Bob served as a pilot in a B-26 in the Mediterranean Theatre, and my mom left her hometown in a small farming community in Colorado to go work in the West Coast war industries.

Also thanks to my forebears who served, such as my Grandad, my father's father, who served aboard a destroyer in the North Sea during the Great War.  I had several relatives who served the Union cause in the Civil War, including Daniel Webster Pierce from New Hampshire who was captured, served out the war in a Rebel POW camp and died shortly after his release from having his health wrecked during his confinement.

Thanks to my brother who served in Beirut during the time when the Marine barracks was blown up. And thanks to my relatives and friends who served in Vietnam (a Lamberton, from Georgia, is on the Wall); and to my relatives and friends who have served during the Terror Wars (a friend lies in Arlington National Cemetery who was killed in Afghanistan).

Saturday, November 9, 2019

It was hard but we got 'er done...

I was just getting into my first run on a cold windy day in two years, finally more or less having my ragged breathing under control after six months of doggedly running three times a week as I came back from injuries and a lot of pounds gained, as the cold wind blew into my face and the sun sank low in the west at 4:30 pm when it caught my eye in the roadway.  A little black object, the size of a slender pack of cigarettes, there on the blacktop four feet from the curb, a cellphone.  It looked like it was smashed up, discarded, a mere husk of itself, left behind for dead there in the street.

Nobody was in sight.  I stopped to pick it up.  Although it was all scratched up, it was alive all right, and the screen came to life as I handled it, a Samsung Galaxy.  I pushed at it, poked it, prodded it, wondering how I could get it back to its owner.  The problem was that it was all locked up tight, when I pushed the little phone icon, to maybe see its "recent calls" page so I could dial someone who had called it to start the process of finding out its owner so I could have someone contact the family it belonged to with the news that their beloved precious one had been found alive, undoubtedly to the great joy of the household.  I felt like it would be as if I was delivering good news to the family after a risky operation or maybe returning a lost child to his or her house after having the small child recite the proper address to me by rote.  In my year and a half of owning an I-phone, even though I tap maybe two percent of its actual power, I have come to understand how integral these infernal little machines have become to everyday ordinary life; this palm-sized pilot has more power than the NASA computers that sent a man to the moon and without it you can't find an address (read a map--what's that?) or reach out to someone through text (call them?--they'd never answer their phone anyway) or know when it's time to arise from bed (watch?--just pull out your cellphone and look at it).

The important little device produced a password page and after a few seconds shut down again and blacked out.  No way to make a call (or send a text) on this thing except for an "Emergency Call."  I briefly considered pushing that button and dialing 9-11 on it,  but I thought that would be a ridiculous use of community safeguarding--would you send a squad car here please, I've just found a small inert mass of plastic and metal in the gutter and it must get back to its owner right away.  Like returning the stray dog to its distraught owner or a lost little child to his or her hysterical parent.  Nope, that wouldn't do, besides the dispatcher would have no way of knowing who the owner was or would hardly care, (I'm sorry sir, I understand that you have found a thousand dollar bill in the street but that is not a police matter unless it was somehow associated with a crime); I'd have to find a new way to get this forlorn "It's my life" piece of scrap metal back to its desperate owner.

I thought maybe I should take it to the nearby UbreakIfix franchise store and ask them to break the phone's code and break into it--for free of course as a public service, or leave it with them, but I doubt Samsung issues a booklet entitled How To Hack Into An Android In Five Seconds and why would someone who lost a phone go to the nearest technology store to find it.

Maybe I should stand there in the street till dark holding it aloft until its frantic owner and his or her posse came by, backtracking their route home from school, to find the devious, silent device, calling it every five seconds to bring it alive with light and noise until they found it to great joy and celebration.  There it is!  Drinks are on me!

Given where and when I found this devil's tool, I thought, putting on my long-ago policeman's cap, that it likely belonged to a school child returning home after home from a school bus stop there at the intersection.  The unmarked  stop was, I knew from having lived in this neighborhood for three decades, right there at this T-intersection a block from my house.  Having found the Sammy twenty feet down the street running away from the longer through street, I reasoned that it was probable that the possible direction of where the house of the owner was down the shorter street.

The increasing range of possibilities of what I could do with this fist-sized, locked-up library of information were starting to occur to me with dizzying speed--leave a note on the street sign pole--canvass the immediate street by knocking on doors, come back every half hour to look for the search party, come back at 8 am on Monday to ask the assembled group of departing children and hovering helicopter parents at he bus stop if any of them had spent a sleepless weekend without their lifeline to civilization, and they could have it back if they could describe the talisman which currently resided in my pocket, take it to the police station downtown.

The thought intruded into my brain that as nice as it would be to get this thing back to its owner, I actually didn't want to spend an inordinate amount of my time on this--I have a life actually, even though I am old, live alone, am retired and only speak to the same three or four people every other day or so that I call regularly and speak to for a few minutes on my cellphone; my sister, my former running buddy who moved away to Arizona with his twenty-something wife, my former girlfriend who is still my best friend and occasionally, a former BFF from eighth grade who returned to my life a few years back through the magic of Facebook (he also lives alone and also has a totally estranged child through the diabolicalness of PAS and the crucifying cruelty of Western divorce) and a former colleague from my litigation days who joins me once a month for lunch.  These are people who actually answer their cellphones when it rings.  Oh, and also my house full of books waiting to be read and the Washington Post in the driveway very morning at 5 am.

Then a pernicious thought entered my my mind--leave it there!  I was afraid it would get run over by a car or ruined by a rainstorm if I did that, but anyone searching for it would likely backtrack their recent steps and they might find it that way.  But then again, it would be dark soon and the slumbering ambient being might not survive the night.  Why get involved!  Pull a Kitty Genovese on this no-good Good Samaritan urge.  No good deed goes unpunished!  Oh yes, I learned that in my quarter million dollar divorce.  And after all, parents don't look kindly upon old men approaching and speaking to unknown school-age children, and nobody these days in armed America wants a stranger knocking on their door!

Plus, now it was interfering with my run.  But to leave a tiny but fully loaded, expensive machine unattended by the side of the road in my neighborhood didn't seem right.  Still, maybe someone would think I was stealing it.  I thought about mens rea.  Even though, everyone knows a locked cellphone is useless without the password.  But if you were of a mind, and got it unlocked, it would be useful indeed, your very own throwaway phone--at least until the actual owner changed his or her chip or number or stopped paying the bill.

All sorts of thoughts crowd your head during a run if you don't distract yourself with piped in music via headphones, eh?  Leave it!

I started off again to finish my run, carrying the little box.  It felt comfortable in my hand, actually, as for years I ran with a camera in my hand to record sights I saw along the way, especially in downtown DC, protestors, monuments, dramatic skies, portraits snapped by cooperating tourists or selfies recording that particular run like a traveling journal.  First the cameras were small disposable film cameras which I shipped off to get developed every month (and actually got printed pictures back) and then in 2013 I graduated to a digital palm-sized sports camera (much cheaper--no development costs and instant gratification).  But then last year I finally got a smart phone, costing well-nigh a thousand dollars, and it's loaded with all sorts of personal information, addresses, phone numbers and two years worth of pictures so I don't take it on runs (it's too valuable to risk losing or damaging) so with the march of technology, life takes a step forward and a step backward, as I no longer run with either a camera or a phone (I had a rugged flip phone I carried in a fanny pack).

I encountered a boy walking a dog and asked him if he recognized the phone as his or a friend's.  No luck there.  I stopped by a car pulling out of a driveway in the 'hood and asked the lady driving it if she recognized the phone, perhaps belonging to a schoolchild on the street.  No luck there.  I asked an elderly couple walking down the street the same thing, then two boys playing soccer in a front yard the same thing.  No luck there, or there.  I gave up on this approach.

I actually canvassed the eight houses on the short block on which I found the phone, and at the three house at which someone answered the door, no one had any knowledge of the phone.  I started developing an uneasiness at walking up to front doors to knock, looking at the ferocious sign posted at one gate assuring me that I was on camera and there was no trespassing or loitering at or by those premises (I didn't enter that yard), wondering if there was a dog in the backyard in the gates I did transgress to walk up to the door to knock, and reflecting back one year to the house I knocked at in Fairfax county while canvassing for the democrats at which the drunken rube who answered told me to get off his property before he shot me and punched me in the shoulder to hasten my way.  Nope, that approach wasn't going to work anymore in modern America.

I took the magical unit home and set it on my dining room table, knowing that soon it would burst forth with life, with people seeking it, hunting it, looking for where this center of all life had gone to. And soon it was vibrating, bleeping and ringing as messages and texts and calls poured in, the calls every 5 minutes being from Roxy Mama with a Virginia number imposed upon the lighted up screen which, maddeningly, only lasted a second before the number disappeared, too quick for me to write down.  Texts I knew I couldn't answer or see because of the password problem (I briefly considered starting at 1-1-1-1 and trying to guess the password but I didn't to pass the magic number of tries and lock the owner out forever) but I thought maybe I could answer the phone when it rang, after all, for more than six decades, when a phone rings, any phone, I have just answered it.

But not this time.  It rang, displayed a green button which I assumed was Answer, and a smaller red button, which I assumed was Decline.  I poked at the green button but nothing happened, the phone kept ringing.  Poke, poke, stab, stab--ring, ring, ring, silence.  I spoke to the now dead phone, hoping someone was there.  "Hello?  Hello?  Hello!"  Nothing.  I handled both sides of this infernal Android, pushed, swiped and prodded its every surface but nothing.  The phone rang again and this time I poked the red button to no effect.  I used to have an android, which I hated, it was a cheap Chinese knock-off of a Samsung which AT&T sold to me as part of its cellular plan to me and I quickly discovered it was an indecipherable mass or maze of puzzling complexities that was a hundred percent more frustrating than usable, plus it somehow ate up my monthly data amount in mere days although I only went on the Internet on it once or twice.  I consigned it to my shelf for two more years and ent back to my dumb phone before I discovered, since I have a Mac computer, that I could actually navigate a little on my girlfriend's I-phone and I made the leap to the I-phone world, sort of.

Having discovered the evil Androids ways, the next time Roxy Mama rang I was prepared with paper and pencil, and I wrote down the number before it faded away after a mere second.  I tried calling that number on my cellphone but variously I got a written message on my screen that I wasn't set up for WiFi calling, a recorded "Not in Service" message, or nothing.  Once I got a voice mail box and left a message with my return number but nobody called me back.  I wondered if the number that flashed briefly on the screen when the phone rang was its number, but that would be stupid.  I was remembering how much I had hated my Android.

I tried to puzzle it out.  If my I-phone rang, I thought, anyone could answer the call without unlocking it by merely pushing the large red button on its lit screen.  Why would an Android be more difficult, to where you had to unlock it first?  I thought further that I had learned from my girlfriend, who is about my age (I have no children I can learned I-phone things from), that when you swipe your screen, sometimes things happen, things go away, they go to a deeper level, they this, they that, whatever.  The next time the phone rang, I would try something different.  It rang again, this time iy was Cruz Jr calling.  I judged the screen, and carefully swiped, to the right (lucky guess), the green button.  The phone went silent.  There was no speakerphone button I saw.  Was it dead again?  I put it to my ear.  "Hello?"

"Hello?" a voice answered back, very tiny.  Obviously I had turned the volume down very low when I was fooling with the side buttons trying to answer the phone calls earlier.  As a matter of fact, I had started worrying then that I might have been snapping pictures inside my house and considered briefly taping over the lease but I didn't want to alter the recovered phone in any way so I was scrupulously not pushing any extant buttons.



Well, there was life here, and I definitely didn't want to lose this connection, so I took the bull by the horns.  "Hi, I am speaking on a phone I recovered in the street, do you know anything about it?"

"Oh, yes sir, it is my father's and we have been looking for it," came the polite reply.

"Well, I have it here in my house and I want to get it back to its owner."

"Where are you, sir?"

"Falls Church.  Where are you?"


Woodbridge!  That's 40 miles away.  How could a schoolchild, my original premise, or his dad, have gotten 40 miles already since school let out and he was let out at the school bus stop up the street?

It turned out that the phone's owner is a construction worker at the major intersection construction going on two blocks from my house, causing great local disruption, and the workers all park in our neighborhood during the day because there's no parking anywhere else.  He lives in Woodbridge and had driven home after work only to discover that he had lost his phone when he was angrily confronted by his wife, Roxy Mama, who wanted to know why he hadn't answered any of her half-dozen calls wondering where he was.  She had been calling looking for him, not the phone.  I'm glad, actually, that I didn't figure out how to answer any of those calls so that I didn't have to explain to this apparent dynamo what I was doing with her husband's phone, which was in his safety vest and evidently dropped out onto the street when he tossed his vest into the back seat at the end of the day.

The two gentlemen, Cruz Sr and Cruz Jr, drove to my house to retrieve the phone as they didn't want Papa to be without a phone over the weekend.  The owner tried to press an amount of cash into my hand for getting his lost phonebook to him but I shook him off and told him to buy gas with it instead to allay his 80-mile round trip to get his phone.  The two men were very courteous and obviously grateful.  I was glad the phone was going to make its way safely home.

All in a day's run.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Doolittle-A principled man.

The president invited the world champion Washington Nationals to the White House for a photo op for himself (me-me-me!) Monday--but the team's closer Sean Doolittle personally declined because he disagrees with the president's policies on immigration (aka family separation) and many other issues.  He is the conscience of the team, a highly intellectual, respected individual, a UVA grad (like me) who is active in the area of animal rights, gay rights, autism and other causes.  The soul of the team has rejected a photo op for the faux president in a principled stand in which he clearly and eloquently elaborated his rationale.

From the Washington Post's article on Doolittle's reasoned, principled decision not undertaken lightly:  "There's a lot of things, policies that I disagree with, but it has more to do with the divisive rhetoric and the enabling of conspiracy theories and widening the divide in this country.  My wife and I stand for inclusion and acceptance and we've done work with refugees, people that, you know, come from the s*hole countries," mimicking the president's comments during a meeting in 2018.  He wanted to be there with his teammates but "I feel very strongly about his issues on race relations," Doolittle said and listed as examples the Fair Housing Act, the Central Park 5 and the president's comments following the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.  Remember, Doolittle went to UVA and took the Neo-Nazi murderous riot there in 2017 personally, as do I.  To mention also the FHA [Trump was fined for discriminating against minority renters] and the Central Park 5 [Trump wanted them executed and wouldn't apologize for his incendiary comments long after they were exonerated] shows that he utilizes the critical-thinking attributes he learned or honed at UVA.  He's no dumb, reflexive jock but a deep, reflective thinker.

Doolittle continued that his wife Eireann Dolan has two mothers who are deeply involved in the LGBTQ community.  "I want to show support for them. I think that's an important part of allyship, and I don't want to turn my back on them.  I have a brother in law who has autism, and [Trump] mocked a disabled reporter.  How would I explain that to him, that I hung out with somebody who mocked the way he talked or the way he moves his hands?  I can't get past that stuff."

Furthermore, Doolittle elaborated on the knotty problem of showing respect for the office of the presidency.   "People say you should go because it's about respecting the office of the presidency.  I think over the course of his time in the office he's done a lot of things that maybe don't respect the office.  The rhetoric, time and time again, has enabled those kinds of behaviors," referring to racism and white supremacy, "that never really went away, but it feels like now people with those beliefs maybe feel a little bit more empowered.  They feel like they have a path, maybe. I don't want to hang out with somebody who talks like that. ...   I want people to know that I put a lot of thought into this, and at the end of the day, I just can't go."  Much of the above, especially the quotes, are from the article by Jesse Dougherty.   I deeply respect Doolittle, and admire his intellectual acumen in thinking these things through, by being informed.   He stands in stark contrast to the back-up catcher Kurt Suzuki, who couldn't throw out a single baserunner all season, clownishly donning a MAGA hat at the photo-op, at which the president of course talked deploringly about impeachment.  Suzuki earned himself a chest-grabbing hug from behind by Le Grande Orange for his mindless antics, politicizing the event.  (Yuck!)

Other players did not appear at the president's photo-op, such as the National League's and World Series RBI leader Anthony Rendon.   The Doctor, as they call Doolittle, is an exemplary principled man, in his early thirties.  I could only wish that my children, about the same age, were so principled or at least close to it, but I fear they are not. 

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Running some more

Cutting back my mileage seems to have done me some good.  This week I ran 2K (1.2 miles), a mile and a half and yesterday, two miles, my "long" run.  That was the best of all.  It was cold when I started and I wished had brought my running vest.  Instead I bumped up my pace for more warmth from exertion and I found that I enjoyed the faster pace and it didn't knock me back to where my ragged breathing made me wish I could contrive an excuse to end or shorten the run.

As a matter of fact, my breathing didn't increase much when I kicked it up a gear and I found I was running easily.  Heartened, I continued up Broad Street towards the one-mile turnaround in the Metro parking lot, and I noticed I wasn't noticing, as I have been so far in my return to running the last half year, the general uphill inclination of the first half of the route.

At the halfway point, I started back and fell in with a fellow walking way from the station all decked out in Nationals gear and I asked if he was returning from the parade downtown honoring the World Series champions Washington Nationals.  He was, and I walked a block with him as he described how festive the atmosphere was in DC during the festivity and we discussed the chances to repeat were for the team next year since their two biggest stars, the Series MVP and the NL and Series RBI leader, are free agents now.  Waving goodbye to him, I ran towards home, encountering two little girls and their dad on bikes riding ahead of me on the sidewalk and I manufactured the challenge of passing them which I did.

It was a good outing, two  miles run at an elevated pace, more or less, and it didn't wipe me out and my breathing felt finer, finally.  I feel like my running is finally starting to come around a little.