Friday, July 26, 2013

Still runnin'

This morning I went on a 5-mile run, a large loop around my greater neighborhood, that was a microcosm of why running is so great.  I have been running socially since I returned to running in 2011 from my 2-year layoff due to my now-chronic ankle injury (tibial tendinitis), which I merely try to manage through reduced mileage, more rest days and a slower pace.  This morning was one of my infrequent solo longer runs.

Doing the loop clockwise, like this morning, puts all the hills into the first two miles, including the half-mile long hill a half-mile from my house.  Going out, I spent the entire first mile fending off frantic messages from my brain to turn at familiar points and make it a mile run instead, or a 2K run, a 3K run, a 2-miler out-and-back or my old standard 2 1/2 mile run to the schoolyard and back.  Fortunately my breathing soon regulated, my legs lost their leaden feeling and acquired a little spring in them and I doggedly stuck to my original plan.

On the long hill I seemed to be pacing the garbage truck collecting trash and the garbage collectors took great pleasure in giving me a friendly ribbing at each curbside canister they emptied, commanding me to "Get up that hill!" and inquiring of my present speed, "Is that all you got?"  I got to the top ahead of their truck and turned to point this out as we gave each other friendly waves.

Past familiar haunts I ran (I used to do this run frequently, and drive the pace on it), past the tiny colonial cemetery, Timberlake Elementary school, the large modern cemetery undergoing expansion, the tiny used car lots on Lee Highway, the miniature golf course and tennis courts up by the Fairfax County 9-hole golf course, around the backside of the large loop running parallel to the infamous Beltway and onward towards Haycock Elementary school.  Large stretches of the run were shaded and there was a breeze so the sweat didn't start dripping off the bill of my running ballcap and splashing across my cheeks until the third mile.  The last mile I fell in with Beth, a hitherto unknown runner but a friendly one, and we discussed our experiences at the Marine Corps Marathon, local hills and our three sons before I turned off near my house with a friendly wave.

I just love this stuff.  Five miles in about fifty minutes.  It's fun while it lasts and it makes you feel so good when it stops.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Century Mark

Last month I reached my lifetime goal of donating 100 units of blood during my lifetime, ironically enough on the tenth annual World Blood Donation Day (who knew?).  This is me happy that I'm submitting my tracked and scarred arms for a needle draw for the last time.
That's twelve and a half gallons of the red stuff.  I thought I could donate 101 times and then be able to say I donated over 100 times, or 104 times and say I donated 13 gallons, but 100 is a nice enough goal so I'm done.

I've been fortunate to be healthy enough to donate, so I should have made my blood available if it helped the greater good.  I'm a Democrat through and through and still look to the collective good and not the inner selfishness (needle pricks sting or even sometimes hurt so why do it for no personal gain?).

My blood is good blood, O+, able to be used for anyone except O- persons, their blood is the universal donar blood.  A friend of mine has the best blood joke, her blood is A+ and she likes to say, "I like to donate blood because when they test me, I always get an A+."

Friday, July 19, 2013

Best Trip Ever

I went to Miami in the spring and it was the worst trip ever because of the traffic, the tolls, the lodging, the parking and the new ballpark's location.  It was also the best trip ever.  (Below:  Fireworks explode over the Marlins Stadium on my second night.  The Marlins beat the Mets!)
When I couldn't check into my hotel upon my early afternoon arrival downtown from the airport, because the hotel didn't have parking, valet service or even a traffic circle in front and I didn't want to pay the $6 minimum street meter amount (for two hours parking, there's no such thing as a 15 minute errand in downtown Miami), I needed something to do for a few hours before I went to the Florida Marlins new baseball park to see the game that evening.  That was the purpose of my trip, to see a major league baseball game at my 44th different stadium, leaving only one extant stadium to go (new Yankees Stadium).  (Below:  Inside the gaudy new Marlins stadium.  The splashy colors inside belie the desolation of the neighborhoods outside.)

I headed for The River Bar & Seafood Restaurant and enjoyed happy hour there.  For a $19 tab I had several draft beers, three oysters on the half shell served with condiments on a bed of ice, crackers, interesting conversations and was offered several different opinions on the best way to drive to the ballpark from there.  Check out the picture of me enjoying myself, below.

Going to the ballpark, I found free parking by driving a couple of blocks into the surrounding neighborhood four blocks east of the stadium.  Despite the mean look of the streets I walked down to get to the park, free is good and my car was undisturbed when I got back to it around 11 pm.  (Below:  The fare outside the ball park was just as tasty as the fare inside, and a lot cheaper too.  The first night I bought a Cuban Sandwich and a beer for $16 inside; the second night I bought a jumbo loaded hot dog and a soda for $4 outside.)

Inside the ballpark I tried indigenous fare by ordering a Cuban Sandwhich for $7.  Although it wasn't exactly authentic in that it didn't have toasted bread for its outside, it took awhile to prepare (which was a good thing), its various cold cuts inside it were plentiful and tasty and I enjoyed it.  The accompanying $9 Heineken draft in a plastic cup not so much, or at all, asw it was flat warm and not filled to the top.  (Below:  Remember the Charlie Brown refrain that there's nothing better than a hot dog with a baseball game behind it?  There's nothing better than a Cuban Sandwhich with a Marlins game behind it, not even the tepid flat beer in a plastic cup for $9 could spoil that.)

I drove to Key West the next day to fulfill a longstanding goal of going to the southern most tip of the continental U.S.  The long drive down the Keys was fun (I sailed around the Keys for a week in 2009), I enjoyed walking around Key West, and I saw a double rainbow going into the sea on the way back.  (Below:  Every bit of the U.S. is in front of me in this picture.)

And I had a wonderful adventure my second night at the ballpark.  First I purchased my dinner from a vendor outside after the game and I got a fat and delicious kosher half-smoke for $3 which I ate while enjoying the postgame fireworks show.  Then I stopped in a Spanish bar and pool hall for a beer four blocks from the stadium as I walked bacfk to get my car which was two blocks further.  The bar maids were beautiful, no one spoke English, none of the tough looking young men playing pool looked at me even once and I well imagined that I was the first baseball patron they had seen in there since the stadium opened a year earlier.  But I eventually made the bar maid understand that I wanted a Corona ("Una servica, por favor."  "Que?"  "Como se dice Corona in Espanol?"  "Que?").  She finally brought me a cold Corona in a bottle for $3 and I enjoyed sucking it down while I took in the ambience of the Spanish pool hall.  When I was done I figured it was time to go and I left, but happily.  No one followed me as I returned to my car and I drove to the hotel one last time, happy about my excellent trip to Miami.  (Below:  I flew home the next morning and the plane went right over my running venues along the Potomac River as we landed.  That's Rosslyn in Arlington on the right.)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The worst trip ever.

A month ago I traveled to Miami for pleasure and it was the worst trip ever.  The parking, the traffic, the tolls, the Internet hotel and the location of the new ballpark all combined to generate a rancid aftertaste.  (Below:  The purpose of my trip was to attend a major league baseball game at the new Marlins Stadium, built upon the site of the razed Orange Bowl in the heart of Little Havana.)

Parking:  The downtown hotel I stayed at had no parking and the staff referred me to metered street parking.  The parking hours were in effect from 7 am to 2 am.  Really.  There was a three hour limit to the meters with a two hour minimum at three dollars an hour.  Really.  It was kiosk parking, I put funds into a central dispenser and it issued me a ticket with an expiration time for me to place on my dash.  I couldn't check into the hotel initially because I am too cheap to pay $6 parking to check in (two hour minimum).  When I returned to the hotel that night at 11:30 pm I improperly calculated the last 30 minutes of parking, from 1:30 to 2 am, and my ticket came out expiring at 1:47 am.  This left me with 13 minutes of expired parking shortly before 2 am, risking a ticket.  At that point, since I wasn't able to just add another quarter, I could start all over and pay the same $7 I'd just paid and add an additional four bits to get a new ticket that expired, hopefully shortly after 2 am.  Or I could return at 12 midnight and pay $6 (the two hour minimum) and get a new display tab that would expire at 2 am.  These  meterss are everywhere downtown Miami, and Miami can go to hell.  (Below:  There's no traffic circle where you can pull in to check in at the hotel I stayed at in Miami.)

The traffic:  When I returned to my hotel at 11:47 pm. a Miami Heat basketball playoff game had just let out at the nearby arena.  My public parking was in a long narrow lot between the northbound and southbound lanes of Route 1, a half block from my hotel. I chose that lot rather than parking on the streets amidst rows and rows of homeless people stretching out on the sidewalks watching your every move as you lugged your suitcase out of the trunk.  The trouble was, to accelerate the egress of the basketball patrons, they had turned off the cross signals on Route 1 so the signal lights flashed yellow for northbound and southbound cars and red for eastbound and westbound traffic.  Like me.  After watching southbound traffic zoom by uninterruptedly for ten minutes as the nearby Heat parking garage emptied out postgame, I took my life in my hands and ran, luggage and all, across the busy four lanes to the other side of the roadway.  It was harrowing.  Really.  Go to hell, Miami.  (Below:  Thus is the street I had to run across to get to my hotel, the small stone building behind the gleaming metal building.  Notice how the elevated tracks go right by the fourth story windows of it?  My room was on the fourth floor.)

The tolls:  This is a tale about a cashless society.  At the rental car counter they started in.  For $8 a day I could rent a transponder that would enable me to travel "free" on the toll roads in south Florida.  This included the road from the airport to downtown.  Otherwise, the roads didn't take cash or credit cards and if I didn't have the unique "Sunshine Pass" (EZ Pass doesn't work in Florida), the system would snap a picture of my license plate and later mail me a bill for the toll plus a $35 administrative fee for each trip.  My choices were to be extorted $8 a day by the rental car companies, buy a Sunshine Pass for two days, be extorted by the state for scores of dollars if I ventured on the throughways or be consigned to secondary roads where I would probably be lost in horrible traffic on roads that had non-synchronized signal lights at every intersection.  Which is exactly what happened to me the second day when it took me an hour to travel twenty miles on Route 1 south of Miami while a twenty minute ride beckoned me from the nearby elevated I-95.  I couldn't believe a tourism state had adopted this money-grubbing set-up.  (Below:  I had visions of a carefree two days in southern Florida when I arranged for the trip before I discovered that the traffic, parking, Internet hotel, tolls and location of the new baseball park would all become an incredible hassle.)

The Internet hotel:  Don't stay here.  It wasn't an adventure.  It was a hovel, in my opinion.  I purchased a two night stay in this downtown "quality"hotel on an Internet site that gave me a good price, $75 a night non-refundable, but told me nothing about the hotel beforehand, not even the name.  I had to trust them and make the purchase to get the "deal."  After making the purchase and being given the details, I found out the hotel didn't have parking.  Park on the street they said when I called to inquire.  (See above, Parking.)  This turned out to be a real problem (the parking meters were in effect from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m.).  The streets around the hotel were filled with homeless people.  I was on the fourth floor and the hotel was serviced by a single manned elevator that was antidiluvian.  It was more of a bother to locate the operator, who was usually outside smoking, than to take the stairs.  The service was slow.  It took me a half-hour to check in at 11:30 at night, even with a guaranteed reservation.  The hotel was noisy and the rooms were spartan.  The window coverings were vertically hanging thin plastic strips that didn't quite extend across the entire window.  Some part of the window was always uncovered.  Running by just outside my window, twenty feet away, were the elevated rails for the people-mover two car train that Miami uses for its downtown toy transportation loop (it's free).  When I rode that train the next morning after I fed my parking meter at 7 a.m., the train went by my room and I could look right in.  (Below:  Chilling away from my hotel at the Seven-Mile Bridge on the Keys.)

The new ballpark:  Meet the new ballpark.  Same as the old ballpark.  The Orange Bowl was a venerable football stadium in Miami that was in a bad part of town.  It was razed in 2008, and the Marlins new retractable-roof stadium was built on its site and opened last year, for a cost of $634 million, of which 80% was public money.  It's in the heart of residential Little Havana, which is not your typical baseball venue.  I'm pretty sure the scanty baseball crowds drive in, park on site, and drive away after the game.  I studied the maps before I went and was determined to find free (non-restricted residential) parking within walking distance, which could be anywhere within two miles.  Turns out that that type of parking starts within four blocks of the stadium, but it's not a situation where you want to leave your car in, or return alone after dark to it.  Both nights I attended a game at the new stadium I parked four to six blocks east, wherever I could find a spot on the curb amidst the low apartment buildings or bungalow houses lining the streets where people weren't hanging out on the sidewalk or watching the street below from their balconies or porches.  I was an obvious interloper, a freeloading baseball fan come into their neighborhood to park in front of their house, wearing blue jeans and a shirt whereas practically everyone else was wearing low-hanging jeans or shorts exposing plenty of their undershorts and t-shirts, mostly of the tank-top style.  The walk back to the car at 11:30 pm was much more exciting than the six block walk down litter-strewn streets and past abandoned buildings with broken windows five hours earlier in the daylight.  I wanted to get a feel for the neighborhoods surrounding the park and boy, did I.  I did not belong there and I was very wary of quickly getting in a situation way out of my control.  (Below:  The view of downtown Miami from the new Marlins baseball stadium, built on the footprint of the old Orange Bowl.  There are some mean streets between here and there.)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Concession On the Billy Goat Trail

I recently traversed the Billy Goat Trail, a 3-mile scramble over rock precipices and boulders big and small along the Potomac River in Maryland just off the C&O Canal in Great Falls Park, west of the District.  I do this traipse every year.

It's always a slog because although it's not technically hard, it is a lot of up and down, has some minor climbing and you have to be careful about your footing.
And awaiting you near the end (or at least waiting for me) is the dreaded log bridge, a twelve-foot scamper across a felled tree five feet over a rocky stream with no soft landing if you slip off.  There is a nearby footbridge but until recently, that was no option for me.
The walk across the stream atop the log has gotten more difficult though as the years pass, more uncertain and less sure, shall we say?  This year I teetered across it one more time, overcoming the trepidation and wavering balance brought on by the passage of time and upon reaching the far bank, I reflected with satisfaction my successful passage and decided that, being on the far side of sixty, I had just retired from that particular tree scramble henceforth and will take the footbridge in future years. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

What Are You Doing?

"What are you doing here?" The mother of the man's children called out from the elevated pathway on the lawn above in the gathering gloom of dusk to ask why he was there.

"I’m here to pick up my minor children for our court-ordered visitation, because it’s 6 P.M. on the day before a holiday. Please send them out ready to go with me."

The man had approached his former house after parking his car up the block, cell phone in hand in preparation to stopping on the public sidewalk and calling the house to leave a message saying that he was outside to begin his visitation with his children, who lived there with their mother.  On every other weekend and before every holiday for years now no one had ever answered his calls, returned his messages or sent any children out. 

In the divorce wars, although children are loved they are not in fact priceless.  There isn't enough money in the world, nor time in eternity, for an alienated parent to keep running to court to effectively deal with a scofflaw, dissembling and manipulative counterpart.

Always, the house was dark. This time it was too, but two adults, the mother and a strange man, were coming out of the house as the father walked up on the public sidewalk.

When he saw the father, the man shrank back towards the house.  The mother stopped on the walkway above and said, "They're not here."

"Why not?" the father asked. "The visitation order is quite clear so there must have been some emergency circumstance which you didn’t communicate to me beforehand as required which prevented them from being here ready to go with me on visitation."

"I’m not going to discuss this with you," the woman said. That was her standard answer whenever the father attempted to speak with her about her extra-judicial interference with his relationship with his children.

The woman turned imperiously to the man standing behind her and snapped, "Let’s go."  He sprang to her side and they swept down the stairs towards the father.

The father retreated off a few feet into the street so there could be no subsequent claim that he had" intimidated" them.  He stood in the parking lane about fifteen feet behind a parked jeep.

"Get in," the mother ordered the man.  He climbed the driver’s side of the jeep as she entered on the passenger's side.

The father stood still as the engine came to life, so as not to "startle" them.  Suddenly the back-up lights came on and the car powered in reverse rapidly towards him.

He stood rooted in place by fear as the vehicle backed up swiftly at him.  At the last instant the jeep was thrown into drive, and with a jerk it careened into the traffic lane and roared away.

As he watched the taillights dwindle and wink out down the street, the father speculated on whose idea it was to bluff running over him.  He decided that it must have been a failure to follow through on a command instead.