Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Life it is

Paul Newman is dead. I watched Cool Hand Luke at my all-male prep boarding school in the 60s, when he famously said, "Shakin' that bush, boss," and he ate the 50th egg. None of my friends to whom I put those moments knew what I was talkin' about. How out of touch am I?

How about, "What we have here is a failure to communicate," as Newman's character gets cut down by gunfire (this is years before Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with their six-guns blazing charge into the gunfire of hundreds of South American soldiers--and fade away to the command of "Feugo! Fuego!" Freeze frame on Paul Newman & Robert Redford as we always want to remember them).

Can you hear the high-pitched voice of the southern prison warden as he brooks no dissent and has his sycophants shoot the dissident Luke down? Shortly after that I saw Easy Rider, and it confirmed for me the southern attitude towards diversity. Unbelievably, the south has controlled our presidential vote since 1964. I guess us northerners won the war and lost the peace.

Cool Hand Luke, who went to work on that southern chain gang for the misdemeanor of destroying some parking meters, is a hero of mine. I also remember Joy Harmon and her washin' that car. Yeah she put her heart and soul and everything in between into that sudsy scene. To a young boy watching, it seemed like the two sexes could and would get together and always prosper together. That's what love is, right? But now I think it's only blood that ultimately matters in relationships. We're all tribal.

It has been a momentous summer for me. (No, none of the three boys I supported at financial ruination throughout their adolescences has even a disdainful word for me, thanks to modern American (or western) domestic law, but a lot has happened.) Stay tuned.

Monday, September 29, 2008

16 Miles in South East

A week ago yesterday, I did 16.3 miles in SE DC and PG County with a couple of friends. I'm not sure either one is still talking to me.

I’m adventurous. At least once a year I like to do a long run in SE along the back half of the course of the first National Marathon. I didn’t run that inaugural race but I paced a friend through its last six miles, along some hugely rolling topography that I call the seven hills of hell. I admire her for finishing that marathon upon encountering that stretch.

Since abandoned, that part of the course snaked through SE DC and Prince Georges County (MD), over some serious hills and past some terrible urban blight. Nobody, especially irate, delayed motorists, was happy with that part of the course. They don’t see a lot of runners over there. As in, maybe, none.

After being a slacker all summer, traveling by boat down the Grand Canyon for a week and then running short distances with 10Kers in training, I wanted to see if I had a base of 16 miles. I asked Emily and Sasha, both fellow coaches in the training program I administer for my running club, to come along.

We set off on our 16.2 mile run from MP 10 of the old course, on the north side of the John Philip Sousa Bridge over the Anacostia, and ran into SE where we turned up Minnesota Avenue. Our first uphill started there, a gentle incline up to Fort Dupont. A detour into that park picked up a hill going in and coming back out, and was the only naturally scenic part of the run. Otherwise, the run was in a concrete jungle on a highway wasteland. Broken glass and other rubbish littered the ground everywhere.

Mounting a severe hill once out of the park, we entered PG County. Attaining Pennsylvania Avenue again, we ran east for miles on a four lane divided highway that passed apartment complexes that inexplicably bore signs proclaiming "Breathtaking Views."

"Maybe they mean the view is so bad it leaves you breathless," muttered Emily as she surveyed the endless procession of cars whizzing by us on the barren expanse of blacktop we were running on.

I missed our turn to the north. Apparently the road I was looking for changes its name a short ways before it cuts across Pennsylvania Avenue out there.

I soon could tell we were lost, miles from the District. I discussed with the others how we could cut north to Central Avenue and hit a Metro Station and hop aboard a train to return to the District. I had brought fare cards, just in case. Both my companions were looking more than dubious. They were looking pissed.

We asked for directions and got some wild suggestions about where to go. Everyone was really polite but nobody seemed to know much about the roadways other than from a driving perspective. Since I had run over there at least twice before, I had a vague idea of where to go. Finally we hit upon the road I was looking for and made our way up to Central Avenue, over near FedEx Field.

Turning west, we headed back towards the District, running on the narrow shoulder of the busy four lane highway filled with tailgaters heading out well before eleven a.m. to the Redskins game. Several honked at us to get out of the way. I guess they were worried that we might delay for a few seconds their arrival hours early at an empty parking. Less drinking time, you know. Or maybe they were already drunk. We sure didn’t see any other runners over there during the entire three hours.

We ran by the last Metro Station 14 miles into our trip. The hills out there were just as hellacious as I remembered, but soon RFK Stadium hove into view. We ran under a highway overpass, across the Anacostia again and gratefully pulled up at RFK, footsore after running 16.3 miles in 2:52:59 (10:37).

Man that run sucked! Running over there is always an adventure. But I know two friends who aren’t running in SE with me ever again.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Visit to the National Arboretum

A couple of weekends ago, I picked up a SmartBike, threw it in my pickup and drove over to the National Arboretum for a couple of hours biking over there. It was very rewarding. (Columns from the Capitol, removed when they enlarged and refurbished it in the 1950s, are planted out here in the National Arboretum.)

I had never been there before. This 412-acre reserve off New York Avenue is on the northeastern edge of DC, just before you leave the District by way of the Baltimore Washington Parkway. Admission is free and there is plenty of parking.

It is well kept and features lots of little stands of different kinds of both indigenous and exotic trees. Hilly roadways snake through the grounds, and security is ever present. (A quiet spot in the National Arboretum.)

There were lots of picnickers on that Sunday. They were even having an ice-cream social there so I parked my bike among some green-thumb types, muscled ahead of some children on line and partook in a refreshing ice-cream cone.

Check it out someday. It's fun and relaxing.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Yawn, yet another 3K.

A week ago yesterday I ran a special edition of the free noontime Tidal Basin 3K Race. The RRCA had a Run To Work Day for its 50th Anniversary, as I understand it, and the DC representative set up a Friday running of this monthly 3K race, normally sponsored by my running club, the DC Road Runners.

It was a sparse turnout. At noon, the sponsor was begging people jogging by on noontime runs to participate in the race. A workmate of mine ran by, halfway through a six-mile monument run, and I waved him over. He was game, although he had never run a 3K race before. I told him not to start too fast and then to kick it up as he felt comfortable.

Secretly I was pleased. I knew I was faster than this workmate. I have been remiss so far because I have only been successful in persuading workmates to run this race who are faster than me.

My doppelganger Peter was there and I gave him the disinformation that I felt really bad that day. He laughed me off knowingly and then told me he felt bad.

Off we went at noon, eleven of us. The runners froze into place a quarter mile down the road when I ran by Peter, as customary (he often runs by me again the last quarter mile) and Gary ran by me a short while later, as usual. After that, no one changed places anywhere in the race, it just gradually widened out.

I ran well. The guy in front of me steadily stretched out his lead over me, a process repeated all up and down the food chain ahead of me and behind me. I finished sixth in 12:52 (6:55). Woo hoo! I broke 13 minutes for only the second time this year (12:59 in April was the other time). My mile mark was 6:49, and my 2K mark was 8:37, exactly the same as two days earlier. But somehow on Friday I ran the last 1K eight seconds faster than on Wednesday. Go figure.

My workmate ran an excellent 14:04 (7:33) and he came in DFL among the men. Is this a tough race or what?

Afterwards there was trouble. A Parks Policewoman in a plain wrapper spotted us, a small knot of emaciated men and women in short clothes gathered around a plain folding table holding a water jug and cups set on the grass by street's edge at the intersection of Ohio Drive and FDR Drive, 3/4 mile from the Jefferson Memorial and 1/4 mile from the FDR Memorial. She parked alongside us, got out of her sneaker and strutted over to ask for our "permit" to "gather" on Park Service land. The race sponsor said he thought that as long as the "gathering" was under 25 persons, no permit was needed.

"That's just for demonstrations," she said, "not gatherings. And no permit has ever been issued for here. Well?"

I didn't help matters when I blurted out, "Free Tibet!"

She lectured us and told us to read the "regulations" (sure, we'll get right on it) because "it's all in there." Grandly saying she'd "let it go this time," she contemptuously surveyed our pathetic, sweating skinny little group standing there in abbreviated clothes acting as respectful as possible. Then she parked her fat ass in her unit and left. Bah!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Yawn, another 3K.

A week ago Wednesday was the monthly noontime Tidal Basin 3K race. Several people I knew from running were there.

Such as Jose, who is faster than me. He asked me what time I was going to get, because he likes my pace and he always runs a little ways behind me until the two-thirds point, when he effortlessly moves way up, always speaking encouragement to everyone he passes. I like Jose a lot, and he is a good guy, but it’s irritating to hear him coming and know you’re next. I told Jose I was shooting for 13:10, because that’s what I ran last month.

I ran by Peter early, as usual, and settled into a steady pace behind the fourth woman, who was running at a pace I liked. Yeah, this is the ticket, I told myself as I fell in 10 meters behind this pretty blonde thirty-something with the nice stride and the nicer lines.

I missed the 1K and one mile markers but passed by the 2K mark at 8:37 (6:56). Jose passed me around here, speaking encouragingly to me as he did so, telling me how great I looked and how smooth I was running. I hope he didn't see my thought bubble which was screaming, Liar! Jose rapidly drew off and went past the woman I was chasing, finishing well ahead of us both.

Soon, despite my desire, I couldn’t keep up with the woman anymore and she started to draw ahead too. Then two men passed me. With three hundred meters I passed one of them back. He passed me again. I glanced over my shoulder but didn’t see Peter back there. I could see the finish clock now, in the high 12s. I didn’t think I could get there in time to break 13, always my objective in this race, but I did make a push and passed the second man one last time. I finished one second ahead of him in 13:03 (7:00).

I was 31/61, six seconds behind the woman I had been pursuing all race and four seconds behind the man who passed me late. Peter, the caboose in our busy little bunch, finished ten seconds behind me, one second in back of the fifth woman. I regretted not going with the first man who passed me late because then I might have broken 13 minutes, as he finished in 12:59. But I was happy I found the energy to engage in a duel with the second man who passed me late because I have been working on finishing more strongly.

This, my 88th Tidal Basin race, was yet another fun short race.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

More on the 184

After dark on September 11th, I went over to the Pentagon with a friend to see the brand new Pentagon 9/11 Memorial Park they have completed over there. It is a must-see. Even now I'm tearing up at the memory. Pentagon Stop, Blue or Yellow Line.

Laid out on a small quiet field bound in by walls of various heights, 184 low rising long benches arise from the ground. Each platform emerges over a small, lighted body of water and has the name of a victim of the 9/11 attack at the Pentagon inscribed upon it. The 24-hour memorial abounds with symbolism.

The park is nestled in a plot of ground between a busy highway and the side of the Pentagon which was struck when the attacking commandeered commercial jet roared over it at more than 500 MPH, mere feet off the ground. The plane was laden with highly flammable jet fuel which would create a huge fireball when it crashed, the better to mindlessly kill and destroy in satisfaction of the mad cravings of the attack's planners and their Godless supporters.

The benches, which are meant to be sat upon in silent rest or quiet reflection, face either the sky to the west or the Pentagon to the east to indicate the last location of each victim just before the terrible moment. They are arranged along linear time lines corresponding to years carved upon the low, rising wall to the east, representing birth years. Standing alone to the south, apart from the others in haunting isolation, is the bench memorializing three-year old Dana Falkenberg, a plane occupant whose short life was snuffed out here. Further to the north are lonely benches for her sister and some other youths whose potential will never be realized. Then there starts a thick cluster of benches as the visitor gets into the realm of persons in the prime of their lives. Twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, forty-somethings, spending their last moments unsuspecting at the Pentagon or in abject terror aboard the airliner. The benches thin out again as they march northward towards older victims until there stands, alone again, one representing seventy-one year John D. Yamnicky, Sr.

People wandered around the park in the dark, attempting to read the names inscribed on the benches in the low-level light emanating from the lighted pools of water under each bench. Roses adorned many of the benches. Undoubtedly that first night, kinsfolk of the departed were there in that field, quietly grief-stricken again like so many times before.

A somber but lovely little place to go anytime. I'm sure it will look completely different when I next return, soon, in the daylight.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Thinking of the 184

On the most recent anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy here in DC, I went on a reflective run. I led the noontime workplace running group, comprised of two other runners that day, down to the Tidal Basin. From there seven years earlier, you could have seen a huge towering plume of smoke emanating from the Pentagon following the crash of American Airlines Flight 77 into its west side at 9:37 a.m. on that beautiful clear morning.

As I do every year on September 11, I ran around the Tidal Basin in tribute to the innocent victims of that dastardly attack. It is the very least I could do.

At the same time, opening dedication ceremonies were underway at the Pentagon for the beautiful new Pentagon 9/11 Memorial, the first 9/11 tribute complex to be built. The compact park is in the flight path of the attack plane, and has 184 benches, one for each of the innocent victims of the tragedy, aged 3 to 71. Their names are inscribed on the benches to ensure that these brethren of ours shall not be forgotten. There are no benches for the five craven and hypocritical murdering religious extremists who also perished there.

We ran at a moderate pace, covering the 1.8 mile circuit around the glimmering body of water on the narrow blacktop footpath along the water’s edge in 18:53 (10:08). There were no winners or losers in this virtual 3K memorial race, just three Americans running and finishing together. Then we ran back to our office, two miles away.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Green Day

I was green today. Oh yeah. This morning I went to the furthest outlying SmartBike rack, the one at Dupont Circle, to check out its actual location and to simulate a "bike commute" to work.

When I arrived in Dupont Circle, I checked out both entrances to the Metro Station but couldn't locate a SmartBike rack. So I asked a nearby downtown Hospitality Ambassador, standing around in her distinctive black and gold clothing (an "ask me" person), where the SmartBike rack was. She had never heard of the SmartBike program but she got on her radio and in minutes had the answer. As a matter of fact she chased me down with the information because by then I was wandering around asking other clueless persons. (Right: These Golden Triangle Ambassadors will get you answers in downtown DC.)

Mass Avenue on Dupont Circle. Sure enough, there was the bike rack, out of sight of either entranceway but loaded with the distinctive red and white bikes.

Rush hour traffic in DC is nuts. I decided the safest route over to the Union Station area where I work didn't lie in following the hypotenuse down Mass Avenue to Union Station, but rather going along the two legs of the triangle. So I gained Rock Creek Park, where there is a bike path, by going a few blocks down P Street, almost getting run over by a swiftly moving Metro bus in the process. After my traverse down Rock Creek Park, I hung a left and rode up the Mall to near Judiciary Square, whereupon I rode a few blocks on city streets to the drop-off bike rack.

Lo and behold, there was a SmartBike guy there, dressed in red and white clothing, unloading several bikes from that full rack to transport them in his red and white van to less full racks at other locations. I helpfully wheeled a couple of bikes over to his van to help him out.

Twenty-nine minutes on a bike. My legs were on fire. But this is a program that works. I have a stable of 100 bikes being kept downtown for my personal use anytime (between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.), all being serviced by a legion of mechanics and drivers, for $40 a year. Nah-nah, do you?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I been hashing

It's been awhile. And I been runnin', finally. And bikin' (SmartBiking). My girlfriend says I've changed since I got back from the Grand Canyon. "People die," she assures me. "Life goes on. What's the matter with you?"

I dunno. She never liked my running anyway. It's always been between us. How could that be?

I raced a 5K on Saturday, the 7th annual Arlington 9/11 Memorial 5K at the Pentagon. It was my fifth running of it, and I brought it home in 24:15 (7:48). My right hammie seized up at MP 2 and I wondered if I could bring it in without walking. Since a former running student of mine was also running, I ran the whole way and dragged myself in a few seconds ahead of her. But now both hammies are on fire all the time. I dunno what's going on. I had even assiduously stretched beforehand.

I did a track W.O. yesterday (9X600, at 3:00 time). My hammies didn't get "warm" till about the fifth sequence.

This Palin thing has bothered me, a lot. I can see that she as governor (in my opinion) got into somebody else's custodial dispute in a big way, bringing that august office down hard upon the father of her nieces and nephews. Being a father who hasn't spoken meaningfully to any of my children in over five years, and whose three self-absorbed children haven't talked to a single relative of mine in over five years, thanks to American Domestic Law (which screws fathers), I am distraught that this vengeance seeking, anti woman's choice, celibacy espousing, gun toting, God-invoking former beauty queen lightweight has gained credence in America as a model for anything. Oh that's right, she wears lipstick and that's what differentiates her from a pit bull. But you could put lipstick on a pig and it'd still be a pig. Hey wait, suddenly you can't utter that venerable good ol' boy saying?

I been hashing, too.