Thursday, December 25, 2008

Next time, Johnny

Well, Johnny didn't show up at noon today at the Lost Dog Cafe. The last time I laid eyes on the lad was about four years ago, I think. The last time I heard his voice was about three years ago, I guess. I last received any communication from him in the summer of 2006, when he sent me a short letter asking me to provide for his full college tuition and fees for all four years, which I did. He was 18 then. He'll be 21 next month. Weird how he uses me like an ATM yet treats me like a rabid dog. His principles, if he has any, must be very conflicted.

I'll be there at noon on your Birthday, John. Hope to see you then!

In the meantime, Merry Christmas everybody! Here's a picture of my work noontime running group standing in front of the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse earlier this month. (B, yours truly, M.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Johnny, I hardly know ye

An open letter to my middle child, whom I called Johnny.


Dear John,

I am sending this holiday note so it’ll arrive a little early (12/23). Enclosed is an article by Al Gore from Mother Jones magazine. I have entered a subscription to this important journal for you. I hope to take you, and Dan if he’d like to come, and Jim, out to lunch on Christmas Day. I’ll be at the Lost Dog Café in Westover at noon on Thurs. 12/25. I’d love it if you come.

I have taken [date] off from work, your 21st birthday, and I will take you out to lunch on that happy day too! On [date] at noon I’ll be at the Lost Dog Café in Westover. I hope to see you then, too.

I hope you are well.

Love Dad

[I sent this holiday greeting to the house two miles away where my children lived until recently, when it was sold and the only phone number that I had for them was disconnected. Their Mother has refused to give me their new address.

All of my then-minor children walked out of my life permanently in March of 2003, when the "fiduciary" suit "they" filed against me was thrown out of court as a "harassment" petition. The court found it to be "unconscionable" and "nothing more than keeping the divorce action alive by [wife] and her counsel [William B. Reichhardt of Fairfax], who are totally unsatisfied with the results of the equitable distribution hearing."

Ultimately she had to pay me almost $50,000 in sanctions and legal costs, while I lost my children forever. In contempt of all manly and fatherly logic and in mockery of our court system and the custody order, I haven’t seen John, or any of my children, for more than a few minutes in toto since then. Not a one of them has communicated a single word to a single relative of mine in the intervening half decade.

It is against Public Policy for minor children to be parties in a divorce action. My situation is validation of this sacred societal norm, which only a certain type of parent, and a select breed of divorce lawyers, would violate. The victims of this breach of trust are children.]

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas tree disaster

This weekend I decided it was time to put up my Christmas tree. I had already done the hard part, shopping for it on a raw blustery day several weekends earlier, going out to a nearby tree lot and standing around freezing for awhile in the midst of bundled firs and bound pines, hefting the trees, feeling their needles, getting pitch on my fingers. After pretending to pick out a likely candidate I went home empty-handed, feeling smug that I had just saved $80, again.

(Right: Christmas time in Falls Church. The bicycle bridge over Route 7 on the W&OD.) You see, I bought a discounted artificial tree after the 2001 holiday season for $130. But I was lazy and although I had done my yearly "shopping" for a tree, I didn't haul it out of my basement that weekend to set it up. By this weekend I was out of time, so on Saturday night I brought its three component containers upstairs. To my horror I discovered that the large plastic bin holding the middle branches and the long strands of wooden cranberries and miniature candy canes in it had two inches of water inside, from when my basement had flooded months earlier. The bottom-lying branches were orange with rust and the strings of beads were mossy with mold. I took the rank mess outside and dumped it on my porch, where it stayed overnight.

In the daylight I attacked the problem. I laboriously washed the mold off of each wooden bead on the two strings of garland. I had purchased these strands at a post-Christmas sale several years back for 50 cents each and I had grown attached to these earth-friendly tree trimmers. I didn't care that the candy-apple red berries were now nutmeg-brown. Seasoning, I thought, they were merely antiquing.

Next I took a brush to the tree branches and scrubbed the rust off the afflicted limbs as best I could. Then I set the dozen rusty spokes of fake evergreen branches out in the driveway to dry, each corrupted wire strand now covered with tiny brown shoots that looked like dried-out pine needles do when it becomes time to drag a real Christmas tree out to the curb after New Year's Day. Wizening, I thought, the tree was simply changing with age.

It's up now, and I have been running a space age heater near it to further dry it out. It came out pretty well. (Left: My Christmas tree set up last year. Some of the bright green pine needles and strung red berries are now brown with "age." Photo credit S.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Hanukkah.

Miss you.

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Til it's gone. Joni Mitchell
(Photo credit K)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I accept full responsibility...

I accept full responsibility for local blogging legend DC Rainmaker winning a three decade old race outright at the end of his 2008 training season.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I always run the free, monthly noontime Tidal Basin 3K which is held on the third Wednesday of every month. The race dates back to the early 70s so it’s venerable. I think it’s older than Rainmaker.

All the old reliables showed up today. A former winner of the MCM was there. I was there. My doppelganger Peter was there. My agency’s rock star, G, was there. And Rainmaker showed up and came over and introduced himself to me.

He had been saying that he was going to run this fast and furious 1.8 mile sprint around the body of water that fronts both the Jefferson and FDR Memorials. I emailed him last night and told him to put up or shut up. Oh, he came alright!

I follow his outstanding blog, overlooking the fact that a lot of it is about biking because he runs really well. I knew that he was coming off a 37:21 (6:01) 10K at which he PRed on Sunday, and I figured that he might be in peak form.

I carefully described the course to him so he wouldn’t get lost. It’s pretty simple actually, get on the sidewalk by the road, always keep the road to your left and the water to your right and stop when you pass the clock back by the start line. It’s a big circle.

This month’s race was in memory of long-time local runner Ray Blue, an octogenarian who passed on recently. Another World War II vet gone. Everyone was wearing blue. After a few nice words in his honor, off we started. Rainmaker had asked me who the fast runners were but how did I know? After the first few seconds of any race, I never see them again. I had referred him to G the rock star, who usually comes in between fourth and eighth. Ten seconds after the start, Rainmaker was gone, along with G and many others. They were all way up there, receding rapidly.

I ran my typical race, good for a finish in the bottom quartile. I passed Peter early, as usual, but then surprisingly, he passed me back soon afterwards. I hung on him for awhile, then passed him back on the narrow bridge part, glancing him with an elbow as I went by. "Oh ho!" he cried, and the battle was joined. (We’re good friends.)

I ran the rest of the race wondering where Peter was behind me, dreading his famous finishing kick. But he didn’t have it today and I came in just ahead at 13:13 (7:06). I stood by the finish line with my hands on my knees and my head down, chest heaving. You’d have thought that I had just run a long ways really fast or something.

Rainmaker came up to me, completely relaxed and composed, and congratulated me on my finish. Umm, my finish way back in the pack.

I thanked him and asked him how he did. "About 10:30," he said.

"No," I said, "how’d you do?"

"Uh, I won?"

Yep, thanks to my good directions, Rainmaker had been able to bolt away from the lead pack just past the midway point and bring it home alone without going off course. Because after all, it’s pretty tricky to follow an unending sidewalk. He won the race. I suppose he’ll retire from 3K competition now as one and done, been there, won that.

G came in seventh in 11:10. Congrats to him, and also to a local biking and blogging phenom.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Old Soft Shoe Routine

I agree with Jay Leno that we finally found something the Decider is really good at, dodgeball. I'll bet he was a schoolyard whiz at dodging in grade school. I'll bet at Yale he could really execute those cheerleader flips. If he had been around during the Vietnam War, when he was a pilot in the National Guard but seemingly absent, I'll bet he could really corkscrew those jets into tight turns and dizzying dives.

He exhibited extraordinary reflexes in deftly dodging both on-target shoes thrown at his face from a short distance away by an enraged Iraqi journalist. I presume that fellow is not representative of his countrymen and women, and how did he get both shoes off so quickly?

I stand with the Decider on this one. He done us proud in his moment under actual fire. I guess he has HTFU a little since that day in September seven years ago when he flew all over the country, perhaps following the Great Bird Hunter's orders, looking for the deepest bunker he could hunker down in until the all-clear sounded.

What division he has introduced into the country! I recently saw a guy wearing a t-shirt that read, "[The Decider] Runs The Country." I didn't exactly know what message the guy was trying to convey and felt like asking him if the saying wasn't missing an "i," as in "[The Decider] Ruins The Country." But change is coming so I kept silent.

The recent election didn't help the divisiveness much (aside from the outcome). I was recently running with a fellow I don't know really well and we were talking about Sarah Palin's church in Wasilla being firebombed. I said I thought it was absolutely despicable, dangerous, destructive and potentially deadly, and the perpetrator should be prosecuted. My running mate agreed and said how magnanimous Palin showed herself to be in issuing a statement apologizing if the arson was connected to the "undeserved negative attention" she garnered by running for national election. I disagreed with this characterization of her and said the statement showed that she won't let any opportunity pass to sling aspersions at the press. We fell into silence and he shortly remembered a cut-off just ahead that he had always meant to explore.

Thanks Decider. Or is that Divider?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

At Walt Disney World

Since I had to go to Tampa for a court hearing which started at 9 am on Monday, I flew down early this morning so I could go to Walt Disney World. It was either that or hang around DC until late in the day so I could put up my Christmas tree. The lure of Disney World won out.

You see, I grew up watching the Mickey Mouse Club and Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color on TV. Every Sunday night I'd cap off a busy weekend of roaming over the hills of Staten Island by watching Davey Crockett battle the Mexicans at the Alamo, or the Swamp Fox outfox the British in the Carolinas or Zorro restore justice in California against the Spaniards. There were never shades of gray in any of those episodes about life on the frontier. (Right: Mouseketeer Cubby.)

So it was a natural to go to Disney's Hollywood Studios, its MGM theme park in Florida. Following a lesuirely drive from Tampa to Orlando after I landed, early in the afternoon I entered the magical place "where action takes center stage." I had been to WDW before, running in its Inaugural Goofy Challenge in 2006, and visiting Frontierland and Animal Kingdom in 2007 when I had an active case in Orlando.

It was pricey, to be sure, twelve dollars for parking and seventy-nine dollars (including tax) to walk in the door. But as I was strolling down Hollywood Boulevard towards the giant Wizard hat, featured in a smaller version being worn by Mickey in Fantasia, I fell under the spell. There really is no place on earth quite like Disney theme parks.

I visited a couple of sound stages or show rooms where some of Disney's expertise in animation is expounded upon or Walt Disney's creative genius is celebrated. I spent a lot of time wandering around the streets of this little town and poking through its stores. But the real action for me was in the rides.

Disney doesn't assault your senses or whip your body to achieve maximum effect in its thrill rides like, say, Universal's Theme Parks do. The rides are more subtle than that, with Disney enhancing the effect by providing plenty of visuals that invoke your powers of both imagination and nostalgia along the way. Take for example its roller coaster ride, the Rock 'N Roller Coaster. It's themed upon Aerosmith, of whom I know nothing about, but I recognized its caricature of a pampered rock group taking a stretch limo ride across town. We were loaded into open cars in a facsimile stretch limo and taken away in its signature move, an acceleration from complete stop to sixty miles an hour in less than three seconds producing over four G's of force. There follows a gut-churning whirlwind of plunges and twists, some being of the upside-down variety. What I appreciated about it was that it was mostly in the dark, with certain visuals opening up occasionally such as a trip towards a certain crash in a blind alley. Having my body whipped around in high speed twisting turns in the darkness, without the disturbing reference point of watching scenery flash by me in blurry real-time, made the ride less unpalatable to this old body.

My favorite ride was the Tower of Terror, a series of sheer drops while stuck in an "elevator" in an old haunted mansion in a Twilight Zone episode. It's the elevator to nowhere, the shaft to hell. After we were strapped into out seats in a darkened, confined room, we were hoisted us up high and shown eerie spectral images along the way that seemed to come straight out of Rod Serling's TV show. Then doors opened briefly, allowing us a quick glimpse of the entire park below, before the doors shut and the elevator car suddenly dropped in apparent free fall for a couple of hundred feet. The uncontrolled descent was stabilized smoothly at the end, and we were all right, but it was fun. Quaint even, like we were actually in a hokey TV show shot decades ago in black and white.

Equally fun were the Star Wars-themed Star Tours flight simulator and the Great Movie Ride, a journey through several "real life" ongoing famous Hollywood scenes like the Earp brothers-Clanton gang shoot-out in Tombstone or the creature in the ceiling part in Alien. By then it was evening and time to drive back to Orlando to prepare for the morrow in the real world.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Lost Runner

"Hey Ellen, have you seen Joyce?"

"No," Ellen called out, looking up at me. "Isn't she with you?"

I was leaning on the railing of a trail overpass by National Airport on the Mount Vernon Trail, where a secondary footpath winds around underneath it heading back under the GW Parkway into Crystal City. Ellen was directly below me.

She was leading the main body of the leisurely runners in the half-marathon training program I direct. I had been vainly scrutinizing the tops of the heads of the runners passing by below me to see if Joyce was with them. She had vanished.

This was my responsibility. We were on an eighty minute run this Saturday morning, while the rest of the runners in the Program were doing nine or ten miles elsewhere with the rest of the coaches.

I had actually started out with the runners who were doing nine miles, happily leading that group while clipping along at a nine-minute-per-mile pace, talking with the two lead runners in it while two more coaches accompanied the rest of the strung out group. Half an hour later, Ellen had run past us going the other direction, having taken a different route with the slowest group of runners. I counted them as they went by. There were ten in her group, and she was the only coach.

I told the two runners with me where the turnaround point for them was and turned to pursue Ellen's group, telling the other two coaches that I was leaving them as I ran by. I soon overtook "Joyce," who was the caboose in Ellen's group. I ran with her for awhile and then ran up ahead to where H and N were running together doing twelve-minute miles. Soon Ellen came back down the trail towards us with the main group, having already reached their turnaround point.

The three of us turned and fell in with the main group. I ran with Ellen for awhile. We passed by Joyce, who was still outbound, and I called out to her and signalled for her to turn around and fall in with the main group right behind us. I thought I saw her turning. I ran on, chatting with Ellen.

After half a mile, I could see that the group was getting strung out again behind us so I trotted back looking for the end runner. I passed by the compact main group but didn't particularly scrutinize them. I passed by H and N, and said I'd catch up with them. I kept going back, looking for Joyce, whom I presumed would be in the back.

I reached the turnaround point. No Joyce. There were no runners anywhere. I could see pretty far down the trail, maybe a quarter mile. Where was she? I was stumped.

So my logic went like this. Maybe when she turned, she fell in with the main group and unexpectedly kept up with them. Then when I went back looking for the most far back runner, expecting it to be her, I didn't notice her within the main group when I went by it.

Yeah, that had to be it, I thought. I couldn't keep on running outbound on the notion that not only hadn't she turned when I signalled her to, but she had also run past the turnaround point. There were other possibilities, of course, but the Mount Vernon Trail is a well-used, patrolled recreational pathway, very open in this part, and I didn't think Joyce had stashed a car down here for a secret getaway.

So I ran back to catch up with the group. It was a long hard run because I had fallen very far behind it. It was many long minutes before I saw H and N again, far ahead.

But now from atop my vantage point on the overpass, I could see that Joyce had indeed gotten away. I was both annoyed and anxious. I emphasize repeatedly to trainees that it is protocol for slower runners in a group to turn around when the main body comes by them on the return, and not to continue on to the turnaround point. That way the coach doesn't have to hang around for a long time after the run, waiting for the slowest runner to return. Sometimes I think no one is listening.

There was nothing to do but return to the finish and wait for Joyce to show up. Or not to show up. In my experience, they always come back eventually. But I was majorly annoyed with myself for not continuing to look back to carefully observe her actions when I told her to turn around when we last went by her. I had made an assumption. My bad. My very bad.

Joyce wasn't magically back when we returned. We waited. Her boyfriend, who had run with another group, confirmed that she didn't have her cell phone with her. It was a little early to start driving around looking for her but I could tell that Ellen was uncomfortable with the situation.

Twenty five minutes later, here she came. She had proceeded on when the main group came back upon her, and then proceeded to go even further out when she missed the turnaround. She got lost.

But she got back eventually, as I thought she would. A coach's nightmare in the meantime.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Another Full Wednesday

Wednesday's have become a bit of a chore for me lately because on this day, I usually lead my work running group out on a mid-day run on the Mall and then, on account of the half-marathon training group I direct for my club being in full swing, I lead the faster runners in an evening track workout. This Wednesday was no different. (Left: The National Christmas Tree. Photo credit K.)

To commemorate the upcoming inauguration, at noon we ran down to the White House to look at the preparations. We ran to the Ellipse to look at the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse with its little railroad snaking around it, and the nearby National Menorah. Around the other side of the White House, on Pennsylvania Avenue, workers were busy constructing some towering reviewing stands. It looked like a little village was being constructed next to Lafayette Park. Then we took off for a run from there to the top of Capitol Hill, completing a five mile run in about fifty minutes. We had to stop at intersections a lot because of the busy route we chose. (Right: The National Menorah.)

At 7 pm I showed up at Washington & Lee High School for the club's regularly scheduled track workout. The routine was 10X400 with 100 meter recovery jogs between each set. It only took less than 40 minutes but doing 400s is rough because the workout is done at such a fast pace. The recovery jog of 100 meters barely gets your heart rate back down.

One fast trainee showed up so Matt took him off to do laps in the mid-90s, while I led a group of four other faster runners in a set done in the mid-100s range. We were pretty consistent, hitting each one at between 1:40 and 1:47. We took turns leading the pack. It was a warm night and I was pouring sweat by the end of it. Andrew and Katie led the other half-dozen Program participants in slightly slower laps. These track workouts are a sure way to get faster in races.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Tuesday night was the half-marathon group's Bridges, Beer & Burritos run, minus the beer and burritos this week because nobody had time to go for social hour afterwards. Usually Emily, at least, is good for this part but she couldn't come this week.

The BBB is a mid-week four and a half mile evening run created by Rachel for the HM Program. It leaves at 7:15 every Tuesday evening from Iwo Jima and runs past Arlington Cemetery, across Memorial Bridge, past the Kennedy Center, along the Georgetown waterfront, over Key Bridge and back into Rosslyn. Then, usually, it's off to Chipolte for a Dos Equis and burrito. Come join us sometime.

I wanted a good, hard run because recently I have been accommodating back-of-the-packers in training runs, which I am happy to do, but I had a hankering to air it out. When I arrived, there were four trainees and two other coaches, Katie and John, so with such a favorable pupil to coach ratio, I felt free to do my own thing . K was there, who I knew had run sub-eights in the Turkey Trot 5-miler I recently worked the finish line at, by finishing that race in 39 minutes. So I said Let's Go to her and off we went at a good clip ahead of everyone else.

It felt great, rapidly traversing those big chunks of waterside real estate with reflections of the bright multi-colored holiday lights often dancing off the waters of the Potomac alongside or underneath us. K was game, breathing hard as we went but never falling off the swift pace. She said she was glad I came because usually she runs alone ahead of the pack. We were back at Iwo in 37 minutes (8:14), panting and sweating but feeling fulfilled. The rest of the group came up a few minutes later.

A good, hard run by gorgeous scenery with good friends is great for the soul.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Running after dark along Constitution Avenue

Sasha was busy so I led the Monday Night Footmall run for the half-marathon training group. It was cold, so I layered up for the Smartbike ride the two miles from my workplace near Judiciary Square over to the group's meeting place by Foggy Bottom. Those bicycle rides in the dark on the busy and bumpy DC streets are more worrisome than carefree to me, because I constantly worry about getting doored on the right by a parked car or clipped on the left by a passing motor vehicle. Not to mention running into one of the innumerable jaywalkers crisscrossing the streets downtown. Imagine, jaywalkers in DC!

There were four runners waiting at the appointed place, despite the cold. Off we set, down Virginia Avenue to Constitution Avenue and straight out Constitution to the top of Capitol Hill. I prefer this route because it is more busy and well-lit, whereas Sasha dislikes running on concrete sidewalks and prefers the more scenic, albeit dark and deserted, asphalt footpaths on the Mall.

Three miles out, with the top of Capitol Hill attained, I could tell one of the group was struggling. This slower runner, who is a swimmer branching out into running, was working hard to keep up. So I told the others to circle around the Capitol and come back to Constitution below it, where we'd meet them. I ran back down the hill with the laboring runner, and we rested a little by walking to meet the oncoming group as they completed their circle.

The reunion effected, we returned to the start point the way we came, along Constitution and Virginia. I made the group stop opposite the ellipse for a photo op with the National Christmas Tree lighted in the background, and endured yet again the calls made upon me in mock-disgust to get a digital camera already!

The other male in the group started speeding up as we headed towards the barn, and I engaged in a delightful 5-block flat-out run with him at the end. Neither of us said a word, we just sprinted faster and faster along Virginia Avenue, each man trying to reach the finish ahead of the other, our labored breaths bespeaking our effort. I won't tell you who won by half a block.

The others came running up shortly afterwards and a pleasant apres-work six-mile run, in under an hour, was in the books.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Another Saturday, another run

The Saturday morning run with my half-marathon training group was an eight mile-out-and back, from Gotta Run down in Pentagon Row in Arlington up Washington Boulevard by the Pentagon to Memorial Bridge, over the Potomac and into the District down the Mall in a straight shot past the Lincoln and the Washington to the Capitol and back. Matt took his fast group on a further excursion up Capitol Hill and around the Capitol to add a ninth mile.

Meanwhile, at the secondary meeting place at Fleet Feet in Adams Morgan, Sasha led a dozen runners eight miles down into Rock Creek Park a ways and then back again. They vanquished a formidable hill, the Calvert Climb, in the last mile coming back. This is the brutal hill where my BQ dreams died last year when I ran the National Marathon (an 11:04 twentieth mile in a race where my average pace was 8:48).

It was a perfect morning for running because although it was cold, it was still and clear with no wind. Although the brutally frigid temperature with an icy wind didn't arrive until the next day, it was still plenty cold if you weren't moving.

I know because as a favor to a race director, I then went to Belle Haven Park south of Alexandria on the Mount Vernon Trail to perform finish line duties at a club race down there that kept me occupied until early afternoon. This duty made me plenty chilly since I was sweaty and damp from my seventy-three minute run. Over 200 racers enjoyed this free (for club members, $5 for non-club members) half-marathon race, thanks to nineteen frozen volunteers who stood around like blocks of ice. These cheerful and willing volunteers are the backbone of club racing. I wonder though, what kind of thinking went into scheduling this 13.1 mile race in December?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Track Workout

Speed workouts make you faster in races. My best year racing , 2006, when I set or came close to all my PRs, I did track workouts once a week pretty much all year. That speed work that year made me run at age 54 like I was 48 again, when I started racing.

So last Wednesday evening, after doing six and a half miles on the Mall on noon, I went to my club's regularly scheduled weekly track workout so I could lead my half-marathon training group in the prescribed workout, three single-miles at a ten-mile race pace with a 400M recovery jog between each split. The target race is in mid-March and we're trying to build up the group slowly, so no one gets injured.

The regulars from the half-marathon Program were there. A bunch of marathon Program trainees were also there, and coaches Katie, Eric and Andrew led them on their rounds.

Matt was there, the fast coach in my Program. He's a modest guy who isn't whippet thin like many obvious runners. He gets the competitive, fast trainees who always run faster and faster at the end of training runs to show how bad they really are. But Matt always finishes right behind them on their shoulder, smiling and talking, no matter how much they crank up the pace at the end. Then they enter a race with him and he crushes them. Last year our best trainee did a 1:31 half, an outstanding effort. (He went to all the track workouts.) He finished ten minutes behind Matt.

I was a little sore from my earlier run but it was a nice evening for running, cool and not windy. The group was happy with eight-minute miles and we took turns leading, putting the burden on a new pace-setter each lap to figure out a two-minute turn (I know, a 400-meter track is about three yards shy of a true 440, but we try not to get totally obsessed at these workouts).

We hit each mile at a pretty steady pace, about 7:50. The very last lap of the workout, the competitive juices started flowing and a couple of the participants announced that they intended to nail a 7:30 last 1600. So with half a lap to go, off three of us went on our horses. Matt didn't come along on our ending sprint as he, in fact, is not competitive in that way. Just fast. The fit and fast woman in the group, a triathlete by preference, led the charge and I was hard pressed to stay glued to her shoulder.

But I did.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The worst birthday is...

It was just an off-hand remark. I said to an office mate, "My birthday is the worst of the year."

She knew my birthdate. She let me have it, deservedly so, I guess.

You see, my birthday is April 15th. Any American knows that that's income tax day. Who could celebrate such a day?

My work compatriot let me know that the real worst day of the year to have a birthday now is September 11th.

Okay. That's a recent occurrence. Any American knows exactly where they were on September 11th, 2001, when radical Islam attacked America, in the name of God I guess. I am still waiting to see if there is anything other than radical Islam.

By my office mate's logic though, December 7th is a terrible day to have a birthday, too. Do you know why? If you don't, you need to be on the Internet less and to read more.

Today is Pearl Harbor day, when the Japanese attacked the unprepared American fleet in Hawaii and scored a significant tactical victory by, in effect, sinking our entire Pacific battleship fleet. But they suffered a devastating strategic loss that day because they awakened a sleeping juggernaut, and also missed all of our carriers. On that Sunday in 1941 they won World War I but lost World War II, for Germany too. They refought the last war.

Is any of this familiar?

Did you know that today is or was a special day for America?

I still think that that having a birthday on April 15th sucks.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Fast Run on the Mall

I had been avoiding him for months. You see, he's actually much faster than me.

Some people at my work call the weekly noontime runs I lead the M and Peter Show, because they think we run too fast and so they don't come with us. Truth is, we run mid-eights but if other runners come along, we'll slow down. Just being out running is what is important. There is nothing like running up and down the historical National Mall in the middle of a busy workday to take a break from the stresses of work.

But M is faster than me, and he's been working on his speed lately. He drags me along at sub-eights on these workday runs sometimes. He's been traveling a lot and I was secretly relieved to take a break from supercharged assaults down the Mall whenever he comes along and no one else does, which is often. Still, these runs are good for my soul because despite the concept of running long slow distances to build the aerobic engine, which I understand as a coach and in theory, I still believe in my heart that to run fast you gotta run fast.

Wednesday morning he signaled me on facebook and asked if I was running at noon. I wrote back that I was, so we hooked up.

He had a little mercy on me. We ran at a pace where I could actually gasp out answers as he kept up an interesting conversation. I like talking to M, he's interesting and his makeup is much like mine in that I'm mostly German. His father is German and he has dual citizenship. I love his Oktoberfest stories.

So we blazed up and down the Mall and around the backside of the Capitol in about fifty-four minutes, basically the same six and a half mile run I had done two nights earlier with Sasha's Monday Night Footmall group except that it was nineteen minutes faster. (Above: At the September 2007 Tidal Basin 3K with, l-r, our agency's rock star G 10:56 (5:52), Dane Rauschenberg, myself 13:01 (6:59) and M 12:46 (6:51). M was coming back from an injury and it was the closest I ever came to catching him in a race.)

M and I work for the same agency but he works about a mile away in a different building. When it was time to part and return to our respective workplaces, I was relieved to be able to slow down a bit.

I still had to lead a track workout later that day with my half-marathon training group.

Friday, December 5, 2008

My best 3-miler ever

I was unable to move, enveloped deep within the recesses of the narrow MRI chamber with a wall of curvy metal sweeping past my face. A loud buzzing noise came on.

I closed my eyes and drifted off. Periodical silences would intervene, punctuated by a series of loud clicks as the camera readjusted again. Occasionally a technician would ask me over the intercom how I was doing. Since I couldn’t give them a thumbs up, I would always say “Fine.”

They had said I would be in there for about twenty minutes. I know exactly how long twenty minutes is. It is how long it takes me to run to the schoolyard from my house and back again, a mile and a quarter each way. I have done it hundreds of times. Eight minute miles, ten minutes up, ten minutes back.

So I walked to the end of my driveway. Since I never stretch, I just punched my Timex and took off. I ran down the sidewalk past my neighbor’s house. He never picks up his free weekly newspaper, and there it was in his yard. I ran by my realtor’s house next, on the other side of the street. What was his wife's name? I can never remember. I passed by the parking lot of the strip mall, the one with the Bikram studio. The yoga people weren't out and about yet, mats tucked under their arms. The arterial road at the end of my street lay ahead, just past the stop sign a block further on .

I attained the secondary artery and turned right. It was a mile to the school yard from there, up the big hill a third of a mile away and around a couple of slight bends to the left.

Many of the houses I went by had a little bit of history for me. There was the house where I dropped off some misdelivered mail once while on a run, pictures from a wedding apparently, and the occupant was so grateful. I ran by the decrepit ramshackle house where my middle child used to play with his friend. This bittersweet memory was disturbing to me so I mentally shook it off and glided on. Slowly I topped the first rise on the run and ran down the slight decline beyond it.

The small colonial-era graveyard lay off to the right, St. James Cemetery. That was my father's name, and it is my oldest son's name. In the hollow below lay a creek, the low point of my run. I crossed over it and glanced at the name place sign, Tripp's Run. I thought of Linda Tripp, Monica Lewinski's supposed friend and confidante who conspired to use the young intern to try to bring down the Clinton presidency. Word associations frequently occupy me whenever I run.

I started up the big hill, three-tenths of a mile long. It takes awhile to run a block in real time, even if you don’t notice it when you’re actually running, and I was in no hurry now. Inside the buzzing chamber, I thought that about three minutes had passed. I was satisfied with the progress of my run so far. More importantly, I was not focusing on the loud rasping noise assailing me and I was at peace as I lay still within the narrow tube.

Going up the big hill, steep at first, gentle in the middle and then steep again at the top, I ran by the house where the little dog always runs up and down the fence whenever I go by, barking at me. I hadn’t seen him for awhile. He didn’t come out again, and I hoped he was alright.

The hill evened out for a bit, then got steep again. This meant that I was passing the white-columned houses on the left and the top of the hill loomed ahead. Here I sidled across the road on a long diagonal to my left, cutting off a bit of the crest. The road dipped to the left beyond the summit and I ran down past the intersection that lies one and half kilometres from my house, the turnaround point for my 3K runs whenever I train for my monthly Tidal Basin race. A block further on I hit the mile marker and I checked my watch. About 8:10, I imagined. Damn hill. Now I needed to make up eleven seconds in the next mile and a half.

Around a further curve to the left, the school yard opened up before me. I ran to the top of the parking lot, eschewing backpedaling in this open protected area. Sometimes I pretend to be an NFL cornerback here, running backwards while keeping pace with a swift receiver, but not today because I was slightly behind schedule. I turned around and went back around the curves, down the long hill, past the creek, up my block and got back to my driveway. 19:50, hot damn!

The loud noise was still filling the chamber. Rather than be there, I slowed down for a cooldown jog, something I never do. I ran to the end of my block, where I used to wait with my oldest son for his school bus. I turned left to circle the block and ran past the house where my youngest played on the trampoline in the backyard. I wondered if it was still there. Next I ran down the slight decline where my middle child wiped out once on his razor scooter. I passed by the antique pickup truck emblazoned with Jesus Saves signs. I circled back to my driveway and arrived back, relaxed and loose from the slower paced recovery run. The buzzing was still surrounding me.

I walked down my driveway past my pickup. My backyard was strewn with fallen leaves. I checked beneath my towering old oak tree to see if any more branches had come down during the night. The ground underneath was clear.

The buzzing in my ears stopped. A voice said, "The test is over. You're coming out now."

I felt movement, then stillness again. I opened my eyes. The room's ceiling lights were high overhead. Two technicians helped me sit up.

"You were wonderful in there. You lay so still."

"How long was I in there?"

"About twenty-five minutes."

I smiled, happy and relaxed. "I went for a run," I explained. "I ran three miles in twenty-five minutes."

They didn't know what I was talking about. It was as real a run as I have ever been on. I'm counting those three miles in my weekly total.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Put inside the MRI tube

Two days ago, I posted about the preparations I underwent for the MRI of my bad shoulder.

After the dye injection into my shoulder socket for a contrast medium, it was time for me to be inserted into the MRI chamber. This is a long cylindrical tube the body is slid into for the magnetic resonant imaging. It is a tight fit in order to reduce the background interference during the scan which degrades the image. You must lie very still in there or else the image will not be clear. Claustrophobia is a problem.

I laid down on my back on a long narrow platform and the technicians gave me earplugs and said I would be in there about twenty minutes. They warned me that it would be noisy. Next they wrapped me tightly in a swaddling sheet, not so much to bind me as to confine me so I wouldn’t move. They advised me to keep my eyes closed, told me to relax and slid me in.

I did not like it in there at all. It was well lit but the curving metal wall was only a quarter inch from my face. I couldn’t even raise my head a bit to look down the length of my body. I could sense the narrowness of the enveloping tube around my body.

I started thinking of the people who had been trapped in confined spaces by tons of rubble at the collapsed Twin Towers. I imagined that if I screamed, they’d pull me back out. I sure couldn’t raise my arms to start pounding on the metal sides of the contraption for attention. I wondered if I yelled and nobody came, if I could wiggle out feet first. I thought that egress that way would be very slow, glacial even, if I could keep myself calm.

There were several loud clicks, as the camera adjusted, I suppose. A technician came on the intercom and said to lie very still, that they were about to take the first picture and it would be noisy for around two minutes.

A loud buzzing noise came on and stayed on. It sounded like being inside a microwave. I thought about how long twenty minutes would be. I closed my eyes rather than peer at a wall of curving white metal sweeping around my face.

Next: The dreamy state.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Are You Ready for some Monday Night Footmall?

It has a catchy name, Monday Night Footmall. Sasha designed it.

Each Monday night while half the adult population in America is parked on couches or barstools sucking swill and watching Monday Night Football, a dozen runners in the nation's capital are toiling down the National Mall while looking at passing national monuments shrouded in shadows.

Sasha created an alternative mid-week medium length run for the Saturday long run in the Reebok SunTrust National Half Marathon Training Program we both coach in. She directs the show out of the Fleet Feet location in the District.

She created this Monday night Mall crawl last year during the first year of the Program. The 6.5 mile evening run along the Mall leaves from her apartment building near the Watergate at 7:15 p.m., runs down 23rd Street to the Lincoln, up to and around the Capitol and comes back.

It started its second season this past Monday. I left my work late, 2 miles from its starting location, intending to join in. With only 15 minutes in which to get over there, rather than do 7:30s (traffic lights? What traffic lights? I'm a runner!) to try to get there in time, I ran over to Judiciary Square, grabbed a Smartbike, bicycled over to nearby Foggy Bottom where I dropped the bike off at a return rack over there, and ran up just as the group of twelve other runners was heading out under Sasha's tutelage. A pretty good first turn out.

We were a pretty tight bunch all the way to Lincoln, aided by the need to wait for lights at busy intersections, but on the Mall the group started to string out. It was a delightful night to be out running, cool, crisp and clear.

Up the Mall we journeyed, passing close by Vietnam and past World War Two, the Washington Monument, the various Smithsonians, the Statue Garden, and the Museum of Art. One of the group turned back here, frustrated at her lack of conditioning and the fact that she was last by a lot. I was running with her, and gave her explicit directions on how to get back, using the well-lit Constitution Avenue to achieve the diagonal street Virginia Avenue so as to travel back to near the Watergate by the most direct route.

Then I ran hard for a bit to catch up with the next couple of runners further up. Up ahead further I could see three more of our group, running together. Sasha and the lead pack were long gone from sight.

I ran with the couple the rest of the way. Both lawyers, I think they married but I'm not sure. They both were married, that's for sure. It's funny how conversations with strangers both give you information and don't.

In any case they went to law school together. And the woman had run in the same snowy marathon I had, the Inaugural Frederick Marathon in March, 2003, when it had snowed six inches during the race. My memory of that difficult run is very delightful, hers was very non-delightful. It's funny how perceptions differ.

The man was having real difficulty with the distance, so our progress was slow. The woman and I kept doubling back to collect him again. Eventually we made it up Capitol Hill, around the Capitol, and back down the Mall, cutting over to Constitution Avenue near the White House and using Virginia Avenue ourselves to shorten the distance a little. The man took a nasty tumble on a broken piece of sidewalk in the dark and, running with two lawyers who were probably married, I started thinking about liability as he lay on the ground for a bit holding his knee. But he professed to be okay and after awhile we proceeded on to the end of the run where everybody else was waiting for us. I loaded the injured party up with gratuitous advice about icing the area of discomfort, taking anti-inflammatory agents, resting the offended appendage, applying heat after 48 hours and making sure to call his doctor as a precaution. I told him my name was John Brown and I lived at 100 Main Street in Anytown.

Six and a half miles in seventy three minutes. It was a Mall crawl. I hadn't broken much of a sweat but my real workout was in getting over there on a bike, timing my pedaling on each block to make each light. DC has lights that count down the seconds left in the cycle, a device that absolutely promotes red-light running (you know, if you see the counter showing three seconds, you floor it).

I didn't get to chat with anybody in the front pack, but I sure got to know the folks in the back pack. It was fun.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


I had an MRI today on my shoulder. I fell last summer and injured it. Several doctor visits later, my Federal employment health plan Kaiser authorized an MRI to see what's going on inside.

A few years back I had GEHA as my Federal employment health plan. I had a running related leg injury that my doctor prescribed an MRI for to see what was going on inside. GEHA administrators, who had never examined me, declined the MRI and said in effect, Thanks for being healthy due to running and thereby saving us a ton of money but good luck with your recurrent running injury, and your doctor's diagnosis recommendation is DENIED. Go to blazes GEHA.

This morning I paid a $75 co-pay for the MRI. The nurse who took me in asked if Dr. C had told me anything about the MRI.

"No," I said.


"Why, would I not show up for it if he did?"

"Well, we're going to inject dye into your shoulder socket. It sounds more horrible than it is. Dr. C is notorious for thinking patients won't show up if they know what's going to happen. But we can eliminate 99.9% of the pain. The doctor will be injecting pain medicine constantly as he inserts the needle."

The shoulder socket, she said. Not shoulder. Inject. Needle. I instantly started worrying about that 0.1%.

An MRI is a 2-step process, at least the one I underwent. They inject dye and take X-rays. Then they put you in the narrow cylinder and take images. I'll tell you about that in the next post.

As I was laying on the table, Doctor A came in and told me a joke to set me at ease. I immediately became suspicious. The following conversation ensued between him and the nurse as I lay there, sweating bullets.

"Why is the cone needle here? I need the bevel-needle".

"I thought you were injecting a lot of dye so I laid out the cone needle."

"Yes but I need the bevel-needle because we have to slide the point into the socket. A cone needle will get stuck when it hits the ball. But a bevel-needle will slide off the bone and slip under the cartilage, all the way into the socket."

The fingers of my free hand which was resting across my chest were drumming furiously as I listened to this. I was staring straight up, focusing on a ceiling light. I think at the time they were marking my shoulder with a bulls-eye for where they wanted to insert the needle. An X-ray machine was directly over my bum shoulder.

When they tell you there won't be any "pain," they always warn you that you'll feel "pressure." Twice I experienced a sudden sensation akin to an electrical jolt as the needle slid into my shoulder socket. I can't say that it was agonizing.

But that was all. As I waited for the other shoe to drop, they bounced the bevel-needle off the ball and into the socket, injected the dye, took their multiple X-rays and announced that it was done. The needle was back out! This doctor was good. I was giddy with relief. I felt like kissing him.

Then they told me that I was immediately going to the resonating chamber to be inserted into the full body narrow cylinder. They asked me yet again, Was I claustrophobic? Hmm.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A blogland hookup

I had a nice hookup for lunch with Not Born To Run on Saturday at Teaism in the District. Since she does tris now, she really should be known as Not Born to Run, Bike or Swim (or maybe Not Born to Whatever). She had a real nice post recently about losing her Mom, and it was good to catch up with her for an hour.

I was late. I couldn't find parking nearby so I finally parked over near my work across the street from Georgetown Law and ran from there to Judiciary Square, where I jumped aboard a DC Smartbike and bicycled the rest of the way to the restaurant at E and 8th Streets. Jeanne's observation as I rode up was that all I needed was to add swimming and I'd be a tri-athlete too.

It's funny the difference between men and women. I spent the hour bemoaning the fact that I hadn't brought my cable lock so we had to sit by the window where I could watch my bike, parked outside. NBTR instead was worried that I didn't have a helmet. (Helmet? What helmet?)

I grew up biking all over the hills of Staten Island on my trusty red Schwinn without a helmet. I delivered the Herald Tribune every morning and went to the corner candy store for an Almond Joy bar every afternoon on my bike without mishap. Gears? What gears? (Ain't this a thing of beauty? My Schwinn didn't have any front brakes, though. )

Even the Smartbike has three gears. While we ate, I saw another Smartbike user ride by my forlorn red and white bicycle parked on the curb, sans lock. I felt like rushing outside and waving to him. Sort of like back in the early 60s when VW owners always beeped at each other when they drove by one another. But he had on a helmet so I didn't point him out to Jeanne. Show-off!

After sixty minutes of delightful conversation during which we solved many of the problems of blogland but none of the difficulties of the real world, I bicycled back to Judiciary Square to return my bike to its rack and then went in to work for a few hours to do some administrative work on the half-marathon program I direct for my club. Jeanne is hard at work training for her next race, the Blue & Gray Half-Marathon in Fredericksburg. She is fresh from a 10K PR in a race last week. She looks great.

What I forgot to tell Jeanne is that I have the same birthday as her Mom had, April 15th, Income Tax Day. It's unforgettable.

Do you suppose I really need a helmet?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

How I feel

On Thanksgiving morning, I called the only phone number I have for any of my three now-adult children who are thoroughly estranged from me due to my seven years of survival divorce litigation against my ex-wife (and them--she had them sue me as minors during the litigation, and they haven't spoken to me since the day "their" case got tossed). It was disconnected. So I drove by my ex's former house two miles away, the last address I have for them. I knocked on the door but received no answer. I could see through the barren porch window that the interior was empty and the house was being gutted.

I knew the ex had moved away, having remarried this summer. She has been hiding her new address from me and thereby any contact I might have with any of my children through her. I posit this for you: Have all of your children VANISH forever in the next moment, and see how you feel for the next half-decade.

So then I went to work the finish line at my club's 5-mile Turkey Trot in Alexandria,. Do-good work to generate a feel-good glow on a holiday. Later that day I went to a tofurkey dinner at my girlfriend's house that turned out to be a very short evening as she gave me my walking papers. I'd been with her for awhile. She's a non-runner and always resented this part of my separateness from her. Beyond that factual observation, I have nothing bad to say about her. I miss her.

This year just keeps getting more and more momentous.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Anatomy of a group training run

This morning my Reebok SunTrust National Half-Marathon Training Group met up at Gotta Run as usual and ran the same hilly 7.5 mile route we reconnoitered two weeks earlier. Only this time, to throw in the element of surprise, we ran it backwards.

Because it was the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, we had a low turnout. The Full Marathon training group wasn't meeting at Georgetown Running Company, so we picked up a runner from it plus another runner who had importuned the Program Director to get into the sold-out Program, and been told to come join our group.

Coaches Jeannie and Ellen mounted up four troops and went to the north on a 6.5 mile run past Memorial Bridge and Roosevelt Bridge to Key Bridge before returning. The area up there was secure and they got back intact.

Eleven of us, with Coach Lauren leading the way with the main group, went west on Army-Navy Drive towards the barrier of the elevated highways penning in Pentagon Row and then south up Ridge Road. Coach John, who had been late in saddling up, joined us on this climb up the ridge line. Coach Matt and J, both dressed lightly in shorts and technical shirts on this chilly morn, the better to move fast, split off on a secondary route on the ridge line and vanished.

The main group pushed on, huffing and puffing from the exertion of running up a tall ridge so early in the run. We were moving swiftly at the onset, to preserve the element of speed and surprise.

Atop the crest, the air was still and afforded a clear view deep into the city of Washington. No unusual activity was noted there on this holiday weekend early morning.

Pressing on, we attained the high point where, two weeks earlier, we had continued straight and came down off ridge to the creek far below it. This time we took a sharp left turn and ran down Restaurant Row, which we had previously come back up on upon the return two weeks ago. This foray into a populated commercial center was uneventful as the businesses were shuttered due to the early hour and nobody was about.

I took advantage of the quiet to find out about the two new members of the squad. The marathon trainee was an experienced runner and was loping along easily. She had glowing things to say about how the Full Marathon program was being run. They had been on several successful runs in the Georgetown area with no mishaps.

I asked her about Coach Katie, whom I had sent over there when the Director had asked me to send some experienced reinforcements over to that location. They loved her over there! The one good thing about losing such a valuable veteran was that I now occasionally pick up some valuable intel from her about how things are going across the river. You learn to pick up information however you can get it.

The other newbie was a raw rookie, new to running and brimming with hope. He was running well but I worried about how he would hold up when we encountered the ridge for a second time after being out for an hour.

Joi, a reliable member of the squad, was listening to headphones, as were several other members. I had run with Joi in other Programs. I sidled up to her and asked her if she was being antisocial today.

"I can hear fine," she said. "I have the volume turned down low."

I whispered, "How was your Thanksgiving?"

She ignored me. I whispered it again, a little louder.

"It's Beyonce, and I don't know the name of the song."

The squad burst out laughing. It's good to keep things loose on a difficult run.

We ducked through the pedestrian tunnel off Crystal Drive and ran over to the underpass under the GW Parkway. The trail looped around a hillock and up to the Mount Vernon Trail but I ran straight up the hillside so I could see how the runners were progressing. The roar of jets waiting for takeoff at nearby National Airport was deafening.

Matt and J were gone, off far ahead scouting somewhere. Matt is my most experienced coach and he had specially picked J to run with him. I was sure they were alright. Lauren was leading the main group, switching the point person at regular intervals, which is good form. The back pack was starting to straggle, however. John was with the far-back runner, subtly exhorting her on to a faster pace. The rookie was between the packs, slowing down a bit. In the secondary pack were three runners, one of whom was starting to struggle.

I dropped back with her and John and his charge swept on by. S was experienced, but she was developing blisters. She had new orthotics and they weren't right. I gently suggested to her that she turn back before her condition became disabling. She knew the terrain we were in, having been with us there several times before. She was a veteran. The route from here would only take her further from our base before we finally turned for home. I was afraid she might become a liability to the run.

She asked for the most direct route back. I outlined it for her, and she understood. The tricky part was going through the pedestrian tunnel, a little-known contrivance, but we had just passed through it. Salvation for her, at Gotta Run, lay a mere three-quarters of a mile away by the most direct route back. "I'll come find you if you're not back by the time we return," I told her. "Walk if you need to."

She turned back. Her being experienced, I trusted her to get back okay.

I caught up with the rest and ran on to the front group, informing the other two coaches of S's departure. Then I fell in with the secondary pack and we settled in for the long haul. Although they were getting ahead of us now, we could still easily see Lauren's group.

Turning inland away from the Potomac, we ran up the trail along Four Mile Run. We ran by the sewage plant, an olefactory landmark that everyone recognizes. Soon we came to the bottom of Ridge Road again, at the base of its steep, long side. Two weeks ago we ran down this part. Now, after six miles, we were running up it.

Everyone did well. I shuttled between the main group and the secondary group, which was starting to really spread out. I was gratified to see that the rookie had started pushing the pace again, and determined that he could join the squad at this late date since he obviously had conditioning and motivation. At the top I doubled back and ran downhill past half the secondary group, who were running well enough up the hill. This was good training, I told them, since our target half marathon in March has its big hill at the seventh mile, although they didn't seem gratified at the moment for this good news. But John and the marathon trainee were AWOL on the big hill.

I found them down around a further corner, toiling slowly upwards. The marathon trainee was injured. She was wearing short shoetop socks and had somehow banged the unprotected inner knobby bones of her ankles together. They were bleeding slightly.

The three of us made it to the top and took a breather. She seemed okay so we proceeded back at a trot to Gotta Run by the most direct route, saving a half-mile by cutting off a serpentine series of cutbacks coming down off Ridge Road. Recovered, the marathon trainee engaged John and I in a footrace down the hill during the last quarter mile. Hmm, she won. We arrived back ahead of everyone else except for Matt and J, who had already returned, and S, who was inside the store getting fitted by Andre for new shoes.

Moments later, Lauren's group returned, wondering how we got past them. The secondary group also arrived back, and then shortly afterwards, Jeannie's group came back from their foray up north past the bridges.

A successful sixty-eight minute outing for the Program.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Wednesday at noon I ran five miles on the Mall with my work running group. We talked presidents as we trotted past the statues of Grant and Garfield below the Capitol, by the FDR and Jefferson Memorials over on the Tidal Basin, past the Washington Monument and up to the Lincoln Memorial, with the Kennedy Center visible off to our right.

Between the four of us, we all agreed on the Worst President ever. That's spelled with a capital W. Did anyone ever vote for this guy? Twice?

Being federal workers, we all have a personal stake in this administration's performance, in that the centerpiece of our retirement plan is our TSP (Thrift Savings Plan) account, along with social security. I know many federal workers who have lost over $100,000 out of their TSP plans since the end of the summer. Some accounts have diminished by 40% or more in a few short months, after years of assiduous buildup. Hello Social Security!

It is unbelievable to me that the current guy thought he had "political capital" immediately after stealing the 2004 election in Ohio and he was going to spend it by privatizing social security. Events overtook him and he never got this cherished Republican agenda done. Imagine if he had! The financial carnage these looters foisted upon us through their lax enforcement and reckless deregulation could have impoverished all of us for the rest of our lives.

What amazes me is that as we impatiently wait for the Decider and his crowd to leave, mainstream pundits speak blithely about their vast shortfalls as if they are absolute givens. Joe Klein of Time writes of this administration's "stupefying ineptitude." Bob Herbert of the New York Times writes that we "lionized dimwits." I don't know why these columnists thought it was necessary to sugarcoat the situation.

What was interesting to me, being a history major, was how quickly the running group dispensed with their unanimous judgment on the Worst ever and started squabbling about the next Worst. There was no consensus here. One had it for Buchanan, for leading us up to the Civil War through his astonishing inaction. One had it for LBJ for giving us Vietnam in his astonishing arrogance. Another had it for Hoover for giving us the Great Depression. The last one argued for Nixon for leaving us with a legacy of duplicitous crookedness and meanness in modern politics.

It's apparently a toss up between Buchanan, Hoover, Johnson and Nixon for the second-worst president ever. W has clearly separated himself from this pack.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The way it was in 1978

My most memorable Thanksgiving? It was a long time and a lifetime ago.

Back then, Sharon wasn't yet an even "better" version of her Mother. Newly married, we were both working in the Boulder County Jail as Corrections Specialists (not deputies, which is what we were, or jailers or screws, which is what the "residents" called us), shortly after graduating from college. Boulder's jail was the first one certified by the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) and its staff was young, enthusiastic and awash in liberalism.

We didn't want to hurt the feelings of these low-level criminals (we housed a few murderers, child molesters and rapists too). At the time I ran the medium security unit and Sharon was the intake processor. The townsfolk called the jail the Boulder County Hilton. Even the cops would alert their dispatchers that they were enroute with their prisoners to the "Hilton."

It was a high stress job. Some of these people were very dangerous. Most were needy for sure. We got it into our do-gooding heads that we could help out both the skeleton staff that day and the residents by cooking the Thanksgiving mid-day repast. So we signed up for that all-day duty.

What did I know about cooking turkeys? Not much but I called my Mom and mined her wisdom about oven temperatures and cooking times, weighing and rubbing the birds, and what to do with the giblets. (We made the gravy from scratch.) At 4 a.m. Sharon and I stumbled into the jail's kitchen and fired up the ovens. We got all the turkeys situated in their roasting pans amongst yards of aluminium foil and quartered onions, carrots and potatoes, and got the roux going for the gravy mix. We washed cranberries and made stuffing. We basted and basted, and even made breakfast for the residents along the way.

Around one o'clock, I started carving and Sharon and a few trusteys started serving. It was a glorious though riotous hour and a half. Three units (high, medium and minimum security) had to be trooped through the dining hall in waves for their holiday meal. We had to prepare and wrap several meals for the forlorn souls in intake. The trusteys had to eat too, and the diminished staff partook in the food on that day as well, if I remember correctly. The satisfied looks afterwards on the faces of many or most of these angry inmates (holidays in jail are very depressing) said it all to Sharon and I. What a team we were back then!

Then it was clean, clean and clean. Finally leaving behind fifty or sixty wrapped turkey sandwiches (or p&j sandwiches for the vegetarians) to be served for for dinner, we stumbled out at 5 p.m. exhausted but fulfilled after a thirteen-hour stint, the day dark again just as it had been when we entered the jail early that morning.

(You don't want to hear about my worst Thanksgiving--the first year of my divorce when Sharon Rogers took our kids out of town for almost a week without a word and left me to contemplate their empty house from the curb each day and wonder when, or if, they'd return.)

That's they way it was thirty years ago!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Bridges, Beer & Burrito Run

Tuesday evening I went for a beautiful run in the dark of 4.5 miles along the Potomac across the Washington waterfront after sundown. Forty-eight minutes of serene running by the ebony waters of the river after a busy day at work.

The run is a recurring weekly event created by Rachel and other coaches of the Reebok SunTrust National Half Marathon Program that I direct. Reebok sponsors the twenty-week Program and my running club powers it, meaning that we supply the coaches and fashion the workouts as we get ready for the late-March race in the District.

We met at the Iwo Jima Statue in Arlington shortly after nightfall. The weather was temperate enough, albeit in the low forties and breezy. Rachel couldn't come so Lauren, Sasha, Ben (a marathon coach) and myself stepped up to escort the incipient runners on the midweek nighttime jaunt. Eleven of us set off at 7:15 pm at about a ten-minute pace.

Winding our way past the gigantic statue of several Marines straining to plant an American flag on hostile shores, a tribute to The Greatest Generation in one of their Greatest Tests, we ran silently by the rows of headstones at Arlington Cemetery, an attestation of The Price. Soon we attained Memorial Bridge, which we traversed as the dark river waters lapped quietly below us.

Running past the two giant equestrian statues on the eastern end of the bridge, our group wheeled north and ran upriver past the Kennedy Center. It was ablaze in light. Soon we reached Thompson's Boathouse and turned left to gain the Georgetown waterfront along the river's edge. Running through the new park Washington has completed underneath the Whitehurst Expressway, we were treated to a view of the Arlington skyline across the way to our left lit up in a blaze of lights. The Christmas lights in Georgetown off to our right were already up and blazing also. (Above left: Sacrifice.)

Using narrow stone stairs to surmount Key Bridge without having to cross the C&O Canal, we ran across the north side of that high structure to gain Virginia and Arlington once again. It was windy up there.

Another five minutes of running through the sheltered streets of Rosslyn led us back to our starting point, where half of the assembled runners retired to a nearby Mexican restaurant for a beer and a burrito to cap the run. A wonderful ninety minutes well spent with friends.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. (Above right: The desolate area below the elevated Whitehurst Expressway has recently been converted into parkland by the city.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

This isn't like getting tagged in blogland

I saw it as soon as I started backing into my driveway. It sprang out at me in the rear view mirror. Thirty feet back, on the white cinder block wall of my garage, was an oblong black blob about two feet tall and eight inches wide. What the...?!!

Graffiti spray painted on and running down in messy drips. I couldn't read it but the cop I summoned to take the report (in case there's a pattern of such vandalism in my neighborhood) could. MS13. When he said it, I too could read the hurried, messy lettering.

My house marked by a violent Latino gang. Here in the 'burbs. At the head of my driveway. Some crazy punk stood at the exact spot deep in my yard where I always park my unlocked car for the night, six feet away from the rear door that I always use exclusively and often leave unlocked when I sleep at night or go for a run.

No more.

"It's a lousy job," said the cop. "Maybe it's just a local kid wannabee. Usually it's much more artistic. But I'd get it off right away."

I thought darker thoughts about the Section-Eight house next door, between me and the strip mall bordering my neighborhood. The house at which there was a shooting a couple of years ago. The house at which there is a constantly shifting influx of people.

There had been a large gathering with many cars there on Saturday morning when I drove away to join my running group, perhaps evidencing a large Friday night party. No cars were left by the time I got back after noon to find the monstrosity spray-painted on my garage.

"I haven't seen this on a neighborhood house in the city before," continued the cop. "Usually this is confined to Fairfax [further to the west]. Over there on the brick wall of that strip mall across the way is painted 'SSL,' which just showed up. That stands for 'South Side Locos.' If there were a war, they'd be allies."

"Little bastards," I kept muttering the next day as I scrubbed the offending mark off my cinder block wall, having coated it first with graffiti removal [sold at Home Depot for about seven dollars].

Monday, November 24, 2008

Last Wednesday was a big day

Last Wednesday sat on my monthly calendar like an albatross. It was the November noontime Tidal Basin 3K Race. I hadn’t run this furious little race since September. I’ve been busy at work so I haven’t been running. I didn’t race at all in October. My base, and speed, are shot.

It is a 2.6 mile run from my place of work to the race. I was late and showed up just as the other runners set off. No rest for the weary I thought as I launched right into the race. The race itself was nondescript, just a fast 1.86 mile run around the Tidal Basin, much like the almost 100 other ones I have done. I was almost a minute slower than in September, finishing in 13:52 (7:26). I couldn’t catch my alter-ego Peter in this race. The only good thing was that I hit the milepost at 7:27, and maintained that pace to the end without falling off.

My agency’s rock star, G, was also late to the race, doing 6:15s to get there just as the runners set off, he said. Since he didn’t arrive in time to get a blow himself before the race, he did an 11:27 (6:09) instead of his typical 11:17 or so. Too bad. We were both counting on the race starting five minutes late per usual, but since it was cold out, they set off right at noon.

But what was worse, I had to run the 2.6 miles back with G. He mercifully slowed down for me and we did mere sub-eights going back. I was dying. So by 1 pm I had seven miles in, with most of them fast.

But my day wasn’t through. Oh no. Wednesday evening was week two of track workouts for the half-marathon training group I direct. I’m pretty much expected to show up since my training group is sponsored by Reebok. A light workout of 5X800 at 10K race pace was scheduled. That would be 1:55 laps for me. Me and two other runners huffed and puffed our way around the track for five double laps, burning 1:50s or 1:52s. There were two other coaches there, conducting the slower runners in 2:20s or 2:30s. I eyed them covetously every time we passed by them. I was glad when the day was finally over.

However, it’s all good.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The One or That One

I could tell it was gone as I drove up in the dark tonight, shivering in the thirty-degree weather. My headlights shone across the large pile of leaves at his curbside.

I have been hoping that the cutting-knife icy wind that has been blowing all day today dies down before my eight-mile run with my training group tomorrow morning. But it hadn't disturbed the roundness of the leaf pile at his curb.

Leaf collection must be this week, I thought when I saw it. I was glad my headlights hadn't swept over my disordered leaf-littered yard to remind me of my slackard ways. Actually, I think fallen leaves are a good nutrient for the soil, which gives me an excuse not to rake.

I'm a terrible suburbanite. Not being a slave to my yard nor my kids and adhering to no woman's directives, I only still live here in the 'burbs because my back yard lot line abuts the 40-mile W&OD running trail at MP 7. The W&OD Trail is the premiere blacktop running path in the country. Let's see you top that!

Earlier this month, my neighbor raked his leaves into five large ordered piles in his back yard, spelling O B A M A. He restored the piles' integrity every morning. He was showboating for the W&OD Trail runners behind our houses. Runners are all democrats and believe in diversity, right?

He's from South America and is a fabulous guy. Previously I thought he spoke better English than he did, and he thought I spoke better Spanish then I did, and now we pantomime a lot. So much for worldwide high school language classes. But he was pleased to confirm for me that his piles said, "Obama."

I hate change. I liked his piles. When I drove into my driveway tonight , I could see that his orderly piles had been dragged to his curb and lumped into a single large refuse mound. Did The One become "that one?"

I should rake my lawn before all my leaves blow over to his place. Or maybe I won't.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The next Program

Week 2 of the twenty-week 2009 Reebok SunTrust National Marathon and Half Marathon Training Program, powered by volunteer coaches from my running club, is done. Or at least the long Saturday run is over. I have to run the track workout Wednesday evening.

Last week we all met at the Georgetown Running Company, normally the hook-up point for the marathon runners. After we listened to elite athlete Samia Akbar speak about running, we went out for a 6 mile run on the C&O Canal Towpath. It took an hour and the run was along the Potomac on nice soft dirt. I created the route. Yes, it was nice.

I direct the HM Program. Today we met at Gotta Run, our normal starting point. The fast coach wasn't there so I took out the rabbits. We went 7.45 miles running up to Ridge Road, down to Four-Mile Run Creek, over to the Potomac and on to National Airport, back up to Ridge Road and home. Do you get the idea that we ran up a ridge twice? I created the route. No, it was not nice.

We did it in 1:05:02. The four runners I was running with politely let me lead and set the pace. They didn't know where to go anyway. During the sixth mile, going up 23rd Street, which I call Restaurant Row, to get onto S. Arlington Ridge Road the second time, D, who ran a 1:32 Half in Baltimore last month, pulled even. He looked at me and smiled. "Go on, go on," I gasped as I feebly waved him on. His face brightened and he lit out up the hill, surmounted it, trotted back down and came up it a second time with me. Evidently the other three didn't feel like showing off because they stayed put behind me.

Last Wednesday was the Program's first track workout night. All these fasties showed up then too. The routine was 6X400 at tempo pace. I was the fastest of the three coaches there so I dutifully fell in with the fast group. Three guys rocketed off to a series of splits in the mid-80s, and I hung with the rest of the faster group many meters back. I did 90-92-96-98-92-93. I didn't lay a glove on those three students way up in front.

Man is this stuff great or what?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The way it was

Today is Veteran's Day, formerly known as Armistice Day. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, they finally stopped the bloodshed in World War One, the War To End All Wars. My grandfather fought in that war.

But the fates were just getting warmed up. World War Two, the Big One, came next.

I rode a tank
Held a general's rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank

My father fought in that war.

At a place called Peleliu. Never heard of it? Then you're obviously not either a former Marine or the descendant of someone who was there. Because no one else knows a thing about it.

On that island in 1944, the First Marine Division, 15,000 strong, locked itself in a struggle with 13,000 Japanese defenders in a fight to the death. Strategically it was insignificant, but the enemy garrison was wiped out entirely while 5,000 Marines went down. You do the math.

The Marines fought for three months amidst razor-sharp coral hills in places with names like Bloody Nose Ridge and the Valley of Death, in temperatures soaring to 118 degrees. It was hell on earth.

As a young boy, I wanted to hear war stories. My Dad was a likely source, because he had seen the elephant. But he only told funny stories. Like the time he wandered down to the river alone on Peleliu to bathe, naked, with only a towel in his hand. Nineteen year-olds obviously don't always make the best choices. He encountered an enemy platoon in full combat gear.

What happened? As my Dad related it, deadpan, they all got away.

Anyway, he had another story he thought was funny. About the time he was crawling along a trench when he encountered two riflemen and a flamethrower hunkered down trying to deal with an enemy machine gun nest some thirty yards away. The flamethrower didn't want to stick his head up and draw fire so he stuck the nozzle of his weapon over the lip of the trench and, moving it around blindly, asked the other two Marines, "Over here? Is that the direction?"

Those Marines assented that he seemed to have the nozzle pointing about right and he discharged his full load without ever looking. Those heavy flamethrowers only had about an eight-second capacity.

My Dad thought this image of a flamethrower firing blindly, one-handed, was funny. This was the end of the story, and it was always told with a twinkle in his eye.

But I was a persistent young boy. One day I insisted on knowing what happened to the machine gun nest.

"Why, we got it."

I wouldn't let it go. "But how do you know, Dad?"

I remember my Dad's voice tightening and his eyes losing their lustre. His look became distant and detached.

"Well, because we got up and charged them, and they were burning so we shot them."

He never told the story again.

You can't imagine how much I miss my Dad. He was a hale and hearty 60 year-old before he fell ill with lung cancer and died the next year, in 1986. I was only thirty-four. I regret that only one of my three children was ever held in his strong hands.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

An election-morning harbinger

A blizzard of blowing leaves was cascading to the sidewalk, courtesy of a gentle November wind loosening a torrent of dried leaves from the overhead branches of a stand of trees. This was Tuesday morning.

Leaves blowing by on the breeze are hard to snatch, they move so unpredictably on the changing air currents as they drop. In eight years of running, I can only remember catching two of them before, even though I make a game of it as I run each fall. One of them I caught during a race because it happened to lodge between my bib and shirt somehow as it swirled by. The other I actually snatched with one hand as I ran along, and I was so proud of the feat that I keep this pressed leaf atop my dresser. I consider it a good luck charm.

Yesterday morning I caught a falling leaf as it went by. I considered this a good omen, a harbinger of Change. My belief and faith in the positive nature of this symbol was fulfilled last night when the left coast presidential election returns came in and the 44th President was declared.

Soon afterwards, a true American Hero issued a gracious, conciliatory concession speech, reinforcing the positive image he had created when he corrected an ignorant follower of his on the campaign trail by saying that Barack Obama was a decent American like the rest of us, not a foreigner as she had just claimed that he was.

I am hopeful for the future.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The perfect gift

There it lay abandoned in the street, a small leather case. I went by it and tapped it with my foot, just to make sure that it didn't encase something. But it did. Inside was a cellphone/palm pilot.

No one was around so I picked it up. I thereby assumed responsibility over it, albeit temporarily.

I confirmed to myself how little I knew about modern gadgetry. I think the keypad was locked, because I couldn't make the menu work. I couldn't call anyone listed on a speed dial on the device, and ask them if they knew anyone who might have lost a cellphone. Then I started worrying that the phone would lose power and become forever silent. I would never find out who it belonged to. I showed it to a friend, who noted that the phone used Sprint service.

"How do you know that?" I asked.

"Because it's a Sprint phone," she said.

"Oh." I decided I could take it to a Sprint Store, if I could find one, and they could locate the owner.

A little bit later this friend said, "I think the trunk of my car has been ringing. There it is again."

She pulled over and I hurriedly dug the cellphone out of my bag in the rear of her car. After pushing a green button on it, I said, "Hello?"

Talk about an awkward beginning to a conversation! It was worse than any fumbling pickup line I have ever tried. But soon we established our identities and respective interests in the dialogue.

He was Paul from McLean, the cellphone's owner, and he had been calling his phone over and over. I told him who I was, and said that he could pick it up the next day at my work.

He seemed relieved. He rang off saying, "That phone has all of my phone numbers and schedules on it. You have the frontal and rear lobes of my brain in your hand."

Then I started worrying about a potential reward. I certainly didn't want nor expect one. I had merely picked up something off the street, is all. But I knew the anxious owner would be very grateful, and I hoped that in his relief at getting his phone back, he wouldn't try to compensate me for my troubles, which were none.

What if he offered me money? Should I tell him to donate it to charity? Should I take a nominal amount and thank him? What was the etiquette here?

Paul turned out to be a pleasant man about my age with a full white beard, bearing gifts. Or a gift, to be more accurate. Paul was indeed very grateful to get his cellphone back, and he pressed upon me a bag containing a small, heavy parcel. Not money, I was relieved to note. It struck me that he might have been in a quandary himself about what to do for a "reward" for me.

In my embarrassment, after giving him the phone I took the bag, exchanged a casual pleasantry and hurried back to my office. I hope my actions didn't seem brusque, and that he didn't take offense at my abruptness.

Back in my office I unwrapped the parcel. Paul had given me the perfect gift to express his thanks. Inside was an 8-ounce bottle of liquefied amber gel with a label proclaiming it, "Paul's Honey--2008 Harvest, McLean, Virginia." The label even contained a Shakespeare quote from Henry V about the ordered work of honey-bees. This especially delighted me, an English major.

Thanks, Paul! I can't wait to try your honey.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Arlington's Ridge Road

Arlington Ridge Road is as it sounds, a long hilly road that offers a magnificent view of the District stretching out underneath it to the east, past the Potomac. We ran along it a lot in the recently-concluded DCRRC 10K/10M Group Training Program, for which I was a roving coach. I loved going up there because I like to do hills on 6-10 mile runs; it throws variety and difficulty into the workout.

The houses up there are magnificent, in the million dollar range, I imagine. Even now after the meltdown. They're big, usually white and columned, and nicely spaced out. Between the imposing structures you can see snatches of the Washington Monument, the Capitol, and the Lincoln as you run past.

Lately, practically each front yard up there has been festooned with campaign signs. And guess what they all say? McCain/Palin. Even though Northern Virginia is not the real America because it's going to deliver Virginia into the blue column for the first time since 1964.

As we ran by each week, I joked with other runners that a midnight sign-gathering foray might be in order. (Just kidding! I wouldn't do that.) Practically anywhere else in Arlington, Obama signs pre-dominate. It's clear up there, though, what wealth does to political preference. (Right: This is part of the Not-Real America, the District as seen from Northern Virginia.)

But there is one funky house up there that sports an Obama sign. Just one. That house is a little different from the rest, sort of angled into its large lot, so it affords passerbys a better view of the vista below. It's more ramshackle than the rest too, and has vans and old VW buses out front instead of sleek long black sedans with tinted windows. I call it the hippie house. Maybe they grew up in the 60s and made their money in a instead of in the 80s and making their money managing or mis-managing other people's money.

I wonder if the occupants of the hippie house have to replace their Obama signs each morning in that little blue island in the sea of red up there.