Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Stormy 'n me.

Colorado high country near Durango, October 10, 2009. I'm wearing blaze orange because it's the first day of rifle hunting season for elk.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Last month I took a trip to Texas to take in games at the baseball stadiums in Houston and Dallas. The retractable roof at Minute Maid Park in Houston was closed for the Astros game because of the threat of rain. (Left: The roof was closed in Houston.)

The next day I drove to Dallas and despite it raining 5 inches that day, the Rangers played a twi-light doubleheader at The Ballpark in Arlington that evening because the game the previous evening had been washed out. I watched both games of the twinbill but it made for a long drive back to my hotel in Houston that night (it’s 250 miles each way). (Right: Despite a deluge during the day, they played two that night in Arlington.)

I really liked Minute Maid Park in Houston, it was a fun place to watch a baseball game. There was nothing special about the baseball stadium in Arlington although it did have good barbecue. The best thing about it actually was the presence nearby of the Dallas Cowboys’ brand new one billion dollar stadium. It looked like the District 9 spaceship had settled onto the ground right there in the mega-parking lot. (Left: The new digs of America's Team.)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Better than a poke in the eye

To me, the situation outlined in my last post cries out why this obscenely affluent industrialized society needs to provide basic health care to its citizens. When I spin this true story out to my Republican friends (I have a few of those), they stare blankly at me and say they have health insurance and they're not going to support any initiative that raises their premiums by one bit. Their awesome selfishness is incomprehensible to me.

There's more to the story of my family member who has a life-threatening condition she contracted from unknowingly receiving tainted blood during a necessary medical procedure. She can't get health insurance because she is approaching 60 and is unable to find any job that offers benefits. Remember, she stayed at home to raise the children and when she was in her 50s, her husband divorced her and took his work-based health insurance with him.

Republicans (including blue-dog Democrats) inexplicibly paint the Public Option as some great evil. Private market-driven forces will cure all our ailments, they say. But when I consider the health insurance industry in this country, I think collusion, monopolistic tendencies, influence-peddling, lobbying, excessive profiteering, deceptive advertising, huge executive salaries and slavish devotion to the corporate bottom line.

HMOs were going to be the answer, private organizations that found economy through efficiency. My family member also contracted shingles in her eye and wasn't referred to a specialist by her HMO until it was too late. She had to see her doctor first to get a referral to a specialist approved and he was away etc. etc. etc. One corneal transplant later, she is going blind. Hers is a typical HMO horror story.

If you read my posts, you might know that I went through half a decade of bitter divorce litigation that cost me my children through Parental Alienation Syndrome, which some people consider to be child abuse. I used to commiserate with this family member about our ongoing divorces, which were occurring at about the same time. In the desperate search for sympathy common to persons enduring divorce prceedings, we used to rate each other on the misery index.

I would say to her, But at least you still have your children. She would say to me, But at least you still have your health.

That shut me up every time.

Friday, October 23, 2009


I have a family member who contracted Hep-C from a blood transfusion she underwent when her oldest child was born, because she lost so much blood during delivery. In those days blood largely came from paid donors, including many drug addicts who sold their blood for ready cash so they could shoot up some more. For two decades afterwards she went undiagnosed although she told doctors that something was wrong with her. They merely labeled her a hypochondriac. Finally when she was in her 50s her condition was diagnosed correctly, her husband divorced her, she underwent a year of grueling chemotherapy and now, since she was a live-at-home Mom, she doesn't benefit from America's work-driven health insurance programs.

So now she has a pre-existing condition, which isn't her fault, and although she has dedicated her life since her divorce to getting a job with health insurance benefits, no employer who offers health insurance will hire her because she is approaching the age of 60. (This is the richest nation ever on earth.)

Her only practical option is to become a pauper so that when her house is gone and all her possessions are in her siblings' garages, the government can take her in and administer minimal health care to her that she can't otherwise afford til she dies.

Who in the world doesn't want the Public Option?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Watch the Sky

Last week when I was in Colorado visiting my 85 year-old uncle, I went with my cousin Liz's husband Bill and his son Jimmy, the professional bull rider, to Roswell NM where Jimmy competed in a two day bull riding event. It's a seven hour ride to Roswell for an eight-second bull ride. That is, if you're lucky (and good) and don't get bucked off.

Roswell is where the aliens landed in 1947. Or rather, crash-landed. There's been a massive government cover-up about it ever since. Just ask anyone in Roswell. They'll tell you. (Left: The UFO Museum in Roswell.)

The three of us on the long drive to Roswell decided that probably the coolest thing for Obama about winning the presidency was that on January 20th "they" took him aside and told him all the secret extra-terrestial stuff. About the autopsies of the four little green men (one was big) and the metal that never tarnishes or crumples and the technology the Air Force got from the crashed ship. Why do you think American fighter jets are so much better than everyone else's? Because we're smarter? Have you talked to a Tea Party member yet? (Right: Jimmy and Bill react to discovering the truth in the UFO Center.)

(Left: The bulls were waiting for Jimmy.) Anyway, Jimmy's been in a slump. He got bucked off of all of his bulls. But going to the Roswell UFO Research Center on Main Street was fun. Inside, the curator was telling the folks ahead of us that there had been another sighting that very morning but it was already being covered up. All of a sudden the five police cars I saw go screaming down Main Street at 7 am with lights and sirens made sense. I wondered if it was maybe another crash. Of a flying saucer.

I also liked the county fair that was at the fairgrounds in conjunction with the Professional Bull Riding Competition. There were a lot of 4-H animals being displayed there. Here's my favorite.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Colorful Colorado

When I was in Colorado last week, I drove from Denver to my cousin Liz's house, which is in Bayfield, outside of Durango. It was snowing when I traveled over Wolf Creek Pass.

Here's how the mountain valley looked on the other side, pointing westbound towards Durango.

Here's the sky over Pagosa Springs.

Here's my cousin Liz, the one I went horseback riding with. She runs a program up there in the Colorado high country, a house of sobriety, where she oversees drug dependent teenagers and gets them to go straight through animal therapy. She shows them how to take care of horses as part of their treatment for their dependency, including riding the horses.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Suddenly breaking into a run, Stormy took off at a fast clip up the hillside. I held on as well as I could, bouncing up and down in the saddle while I maintained a death grip upon the pommel with one hand. I held the reins with my other.

Branches from the close-in spruce trees on both sides of the trail lashed my face. I was reviewing my life as it flashed before my eyes when I remembered the advice my cousin Liz gave to me before we left the meadow of her Colorado high-country home about turning Stormy in a circle if he started to get away from me.

You see, Stormy has attitude. He doesn't brook fools or tenderfoots. I might be a fool too, but I clearly was a novice, not having been on horseback for thirty years. As passing evergreen limbs threatened to sweep me off of Stormy's back, I pulled back on one rein.

Before the ride, Liz had saddled Stormy for me and offered to get a footstool so I could use it to mount the gelding. That's western-speak for, You're a dude, man.

I declined the stool but I did take Liz's advice about demonstrating who was in charge to Stormy. Before I climbed aboard, I spent a minute pressed in close to the big horse, leading him around in a tight circle by gently pulling his halter to one side and forcing him around with my body. Now as the hilltop loomed, I viewed that as a minute well spent.

Stormy's head came around in response to my pressure on the bit and he went into a turn. He slowed down to a walk.

Liz, who rides every day, trotted up on her horse and said, "Well done, Peter. Stormy tested you and now he respects you." I just beamed for the rest of our slow and peaceful ride through the beautiful and quiet National Forest, observing deer and wild turkeys and passing over bear scat.

Friday, October 9, 2009

More Bull

I'm on vacation in Colorado, currently in Bayfield in the high country, where it is threatening snow. I drove here yesterday from Denver through snow flurries along the front range and snow on the passes.

I am here visiting my 86 year old uncle, a hero of the Fast Carrier Strikes on Tokyo oh so many years ago. He's doing well enough. Today I'm driving to to Roswell, New Mexico with my cousin and his son to see two days of the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) Tour. Us two old guys will "see" it, the son, Jimmy Anderson, will "do" it, two days of bull riding, the longest eight seconds on earth, He's 111th on the circuit.

It's a tough business. Last night Jimmy was talking matter-of-factly about his injuries; three broken noses, a broken leg, a broken elbow, strains, sprains and numerous dislocations. He happily said, "At least I still have all my teeth."

When Jimmy's balky chronically dislocated left shoulder (a bull stepped on it. or rather, stomped on it), the free, swinging arm, finally wouldn't easily pop back in for him on its own accord ("the emergency room could barely get it back in, they had to use massive amounts of muscle relaxants and hang weights from the shoulder") he had it operated on. My injured left ankle, done in by ten hard miles of running on it at Army (although not swollen, it still pains me greatly and I can't run on it) pales in comparison.

Jimmy's left shoulder is fine now. and he's ready to climb back aboard a ton of bucking, spinning raging fury tonight. We can't wait to see what happens.

His mother isn't coming with us to watch because she's out of town helping out with caring for her daughter's new-born baby. The last time she watched Jimmy ride in person, he was knocked out cold upon being thrown off the bull. He lay motionless on the ground for many long moments before stirring. How would you like to be a parent whose child did this for a living?

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Today I was the 1:30:00 (9:00) pace leader at the Army Ten-Miler. It's the first year the race has had pacers, so we're all under scrutiny.

I have a bag of frozen peas on my left ankle as I write this. It's been sore for weeks and although it doesn't restrict me from running, it prevents me from walking without a limp for days afterwards. My farewell-to-coaching run last Saturday was the only run I have done in two weeks. I figured I had one more ten-mile run in me so I wanted to make it count, on race day.

Pacing is hard. Rather, it's stressful, especially in a short race like a ten-miler where there isn't much time to make up for a bad mile or two.

A lot of people were looking to me to bring them to their goal of breaking 1:30. Although they gathered around me and my 1:30:00 sign at the start, on the course I often felt like I was running alone in the crowded race, with a sign thrust into the air.

There were runners out there watching me though. Runners I started with dropped away and caught back up. Other determined runners saw my sign and struggled up to me and passed me by in the last two miles. Some runners hung with me on the edges, keeping my sign in sight, acting like lurkers in an Internet chat room.

The first mile, about which I was the most worried because of the crush of people, went by in 9:15. Then we banked a little time in the early miles and got slightly ahead of our goal time by the fifth mile, passing it at about 44:10 instead of 45 flat. I knew that the long, visually daunting uphill expanse of the 14th Street Bridge was coming in the ninth mile, followed by the run onto slightly higher ground to the west in Virginia during the last mile.

Around the Capitol we had some personally satisfying 9:03 or 9:04 miles and then incredibly, as we approached the bridge, my system started going out of whack. Not enough food that morning, I think. With my head down (always a bad sign for me in a race) and worse, my heart racing, my body ignoring my yoga deep cleansing breaths, I desperately tried sucking down a GU to get back a feeling of control. Ah, within a few minutes I was back on a steady nine-minute rhythm. Sustenance, it really works.

I finished in 1:29:44 (8:58). Several people came up to me afterwards to say thanks. One went away ecstatic with my sweaty Army 25th Running wristband, and another thought me giving him the 1:30:00 sign was just the cat's meow. "My wife will just love this," he said.

I just smiled, having just finished a duty which turned out to be devilishly difficult.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


As I went by the Mall's World War II Memorial alongside L on my last training run as a coach for my club, I told L that carved into the wall over by the Atlantic column were two battles that the father of a close friend had fought at, the Bulge and the Rhineland. This old Patton warrior had passed on mere weeks ago, another American hero gone away. L, being a Navy veteran, was non-responsive in talk about a soldier.

Then I said that carved into the wall over by the Pacific column were two battles that my father had fought at, Peleliu and Okinawa. L suddenly became animated.

"Really?" he said, with respect in his voice. "My father was a Marine also, and was at Guam and elsewhere and fought at Iwo Jima."

"Really?" I said with respect in my voice. "Me and my brother, who was a combat Marine in Beirut when they blew up the barracks, had an argument once. I said Peleliu was the worst combat in World War II, perhaps in history, since the First Division had to dig entrenched Japanese soldiers out of fortified caves blasted into mutually-supporting steep coral ridges in 112 degree heat with no cover. But he said that Iwo was even tougher, and I had to admit that it probably was."

L is black. In World War II black Marines, who received the same training as white Marines, were kept in segregated outfits and used as supply service troops given the dangerous task of unloading ordnance and other supplies on the beaches while their white brethren fought on the front lines a few miles away. Such was the racism of America in the forties.

At a few desperate, terrible battles in the Pacific, including Peleliu and Iwo Jima, these black troops were called up into the front lines as combat replacements because the fighting was so horrific that there were no other troops available to restore the decimated units to a semblance of combat effectiveness. These Americans, who were fighting two enemies at once, the common enemy and society's prejudice, proved themselves to be worthy of the hero's mantle that cloaked all combat Marines in the Pacific.

L told me that his father is 93, well and living nearby in Maryland. He sees him daily. I asked L to pass my respects on to his father, and tell him that there are young men in our society who read books and know the terrific sacrifices that he and his friends went through. I lied about the young man part. L said that he would pass on my sentiments to his father, who would appreciate hearing them.

With our conversation finally charged, as we ran by the Pentagon near the end of our sojourn, L told me where he was on 9/11/01. He worked in the Pentagon then and lost friends there, but that morning he was on a detail at Bolling Air Force Base. He was out for a run when suddenly security at the base came alive and emergency vehicles started going everywhere. He went into the post and found out we were under attack. He said he wished then that he was at sea in a battle group, because they all would have gone to battle stations instantly and been ready to defend themselves within moments. On the base, however, there was no defense, only chaos. They could only stand by and wait to see what would materialize. It was awful, he said, we were totally unprepared for what hit us that day.

Our interesting conversation at an end, we ran up to our end point, Gotta Run, and the end of both the run and my coaching career. We had gone 8.6 miles in 1:21:59, a 9:32 pace. Mark my word, L is gonna rock his hoped-for 9:30s tomorrow at Army.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Coaching on the Waterfront

I was running with L halfway through my final training run as a coach for my club, in the last long run before the target race, the Army Ten-Miler. Running down the Georgetown Waterfront four miles into the run, we were behind three other Program runners who had formerly been trailing us, thanks to an impromptu stop I had made. The five of us were leading the main body of runners, who were half a mile back with the other Program coaches.

Passing runners in a race, I explained to L, was all about attitude. You have to put them away so they don't hang around.

(Left: The Program runners who ran on Sundays out of Fleet Feet in the District. In the middle, I'm the old-timer in white tank top on the left, Bad John Braden, a terrific coach, is the one on the right.) We came up on the first runner and I told L to follow me. We surged past her in a sustained burst and didn't settle back into our natural pace until we were 10 yards in front. The other two runners were a little ways ahead and when we caught them, we took them the same way, putting distance on them immediately while we passed them.

"See?" I said. "That way in a race, they have to work to get back up to you, and they might expend all their remaining energy or just get discouraged. If you merely cut in front of them, they will hang around behind you and let your energy work for them, drawing them forward. They will pass you back at any time."

We came upon another runner, wearing headphones so I knew she wasn't part of the Program. We smoothly moved around her but she sped up as we went by and we didn't establish any separation. Some runners don't like to be passed and this was definitely such a runner. She started driving us from behind.

She hung with us, pushing us forward into an uncomfortable speed as we labored to stay ahead of her. After a few hundred meters with her on our heels, she suddenly went on by us and we let her go. (Right: Program runners stream down the Georgetown Waterfront this summer led by Bart Yasso, in red.)

"See what I mean?" I said to L. "We didn’t put her away and she passed us back."

We emerged from the waterfront and ran down Rock Creek Park past the Kennedy Center. I could feel the tiredness starting to emanate from L and I slowed down, hopefully imperceptibly, to accommodate his diminishing energy. We did a 9:40 mile, and then fell into the ten-minute-per-mile range as we passed by Lincoln. We were in the homestretch of our run, running down the Mall to round the World War II Memorial before heading for the Memorial Bridge and home, two miles further on.

Passing by World War II, I found the key to unlock L and get him to open up a little, conversationally. All people have interesting tales, sometimes you have to draw them out.