“Excuse me, sir. Can you tell me what time it is?”

An innocent question. Unless it’s 2 a.m. in the bad part of town and it’s just you and a guy who may or may not be rational.

I’m leaving work. It’s been a particularly bad night, even in the land of Bad Nights Are Normal. I don’t want to play anymore.

As I’m walking toward my car in the parking lot across the street, I see a guy coming the opposite direction. I zig, he zags. I’m screwed.

There’s something vaguely terrifying about being trapped in a large, open place with a sketchy stranger. I question my career choice while plotting possible escape routes. Damn those tempo runs. My legs are not excited about a sprint.

He appears to be maybe mid-30s, going on 100. He’s wearing a faded white T-shirt and dirty jeans with a towel draped over his shoulder. He looks like he’s about to cry.

He takes a deep breath. “Look, I’m going to tell you something. I didn’t rehearse this or anything. But I don’t know what to do.”

It’s the same sad story I hear pretty regularly and write about too often, given that I work at Ground Zero for crazy homeless guys. But this one feels different.

He says he’s from Oatmeal. Asks if I’ve heard of it. I explain that sure, I went there a few times for the Run For Your Oats, which was an odd race because it was 3.3 miles. The nuance is lost on him.

He says he just bonded himself out of jail. He’s vague about why he was incarcerated, but it involves his pickup being impounded and a total disbelief that he is in this spot. His eyes are genuinely misty.

He says he has a farm in Oatmeal. He just wants to get home. “Look, I have money,” he says. He pulls out a wad of money from his jeans and waves it. “But I’m 20 dollars short of buying a bus ticket …” His voice trails off. He never asks for money. It’s dark, it’s late. We’re the only people in the world. Just me and this guy in an empty parking lot in a land we’re not all that excited about being in. I don’t know what to do.

I explain that I don’t carry money. I fish around in my pocket and find 20 cents, all the money I have with me. I hand it over and he seems genuinely grateful. I tell him how sorry I am and wish him luck in his journey. He thanks me, still seemingly trying to hold back the tears. Asks again what time it is, and that’s that. I walk to my car as he heads toward the dark bus station.

Is he the world’s greatest scamster? I don’t know. I’ve seen them all. If he is, he is Broadway worthy.

As I drive home, I’m haunted that I didn’t help him. But what can I do? A U-turn.

I go to the ATM of Death downtown and withdraw a 20. I head back to the bus station neighborhood. But he’s gone.

I drive around for about 10 minutes, going along at 10 mph and scrutinizing each person trying to find him. A cop gives me the stare, sizing me up for someone looking for a good time at 2:30, so I give up.

I go home to ice cream, Black Butte and a warm bed. I don’t sleep well.

I tell Mo the story the next morning. She wants to go downtown and try to find him. Mo is a Good Person. But I’m guessing it’s futile. We go to our little hole in the wall Mexican food place instead. We’re the only white guys. When a story on Obama’s immigration speech comes on, the guy busing tables stops and turns up the volume, listening carefully. I think about how everyone is trying to survive, to build a life, to find their way home. Message in a bottle.

I hope he wasn’t scamming me. I hope he made it to Oatmeal. I hope Hallmark eventually stops showing Christmas movies. Life doesn’t always have a happy ending.

I’ve still got that 20 dollar bill in my wallet. Just in case …

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the quotable mo sheppo, part 4

“How many aspirin can I take and still retain my liver?”

Which I find odd, since I spent my youth transferring my liver to my unsuspecting little brother’s plate.

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once upon a race.

Is it dumb to drive 2 1/2 hours to run a short road race in the rain?


Would I do it again?

Yes. In three weeks.

That feeling of anticipation. The runners, the volunteers, the goofy announcer, the earnest national anthem singer, Trail Monkey wondering what the hell, the feeling of waiting for that first mile marker. The finish line in the distance, the beer garden waiting. Anticipation, suffering, euphoria. Repeat as necessary. Nothing like it.

I love running.

Sometimes you just need a rainy 5k to remember why.



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life is funny, part 357

As it turns out, when your car battery starts taking longer and longer and longer to turn over, it might not be a good sign.

And then it’s dead. The perfect way to spend a November morning. I call the nice AAA guy. He comes out with two gizmos. He runs them both for about five minutes, then hands me a long piece of paper. The conclusion? My battery’s dead. Um, thanks.

He goes to check if he has a toy battery for an ’88 honda. Indeed he does. $120 later, I’m back in business.

Although annoying, I’m relieved. A nasty cold front is supposed to come in the next day. Better to deal with it now. Happy ending.

And then.

Driving to work, I realize all the radio presets are gone. I start searching for the sports station, and stumble upon a mournful country song. It’s an AM Americana/Texas/roots music station I didn’t know existed. Song after song is just perfect, in that pickup truck and dog sort of vibe. “We’re as Texan as pecan pie,” the announcer says. Indeed.

If my battery hadn’t gone dead, I would never have found it. I rejoice in my bad luck.

The next day, the cold front comes through. I drive to work through the dark, gloomy blanket of a day that makes me wish I owned a jacket. After another pleasant 11-hour shift, I drag out at midnight. It’s terribly cold. The wind is blowing at 20 mph. The wind chill is somewhere around -200. I get in the car, thanking The Battery Gods that it went dead yesterday rather than today.

I put on my seat belt. I stick the key in the ignition and turn it over, to the joyful sound of


As it turns out, you shouldn’t leave your lights on for 11 hours, even if it’s a brand new battery. Who knew?

I call Mo, who is sound asleep. Fifteen minutes later, she arrives in her Iditarod parka, still sound asleep. We jump the battery, it works fine, we drive home.

I find the country station again as I’m driving. This will make the perfect country song.

My wife done left me
had to get out of bed
She went and tried to kill me
cause my battery was dead

I’m going to miss her. I should probably get a pickup. And a dog. I hope he has jumper cables.

Life is funny …

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he did not know he could not fly. so he did.

he’s one of those who knows that life
is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath
and always trust your cape
– the prophet guy clark

Should you attempt to run a race for which you are totally unprepared?

I was having an online discussion with some nice peeps today. And I’m still not sure what I think.

Sure, it’s easy to say you shouldn’t run a race unless you’re ready. I’m in week 5 of a 30-week marathon plan. If you take six months to prepare for 26 miles, there’s not much guesswork. You’ll be ready and know within a few minutes what you should expect on race day, barring linguini with clam sauce on the night befor. That’s what I’m doing. The training, not the clam sauce.

And yet. What’s fun about that?

There’s something glorious about standing at the starting line, thinking “DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO????” That moment where you look into the void and wonder.

Adventure is the lack of preparation. It’s a great saying, and not a bad motto for life in moderation.

All my best adventures have come in events in which I had no idea what I was getting into. Just put on the cape and jumped. If I had waited till I was properly trained and ready, they wouldn’t have happened at all.

Always respect the running gods. But don’t be afraid to push past your boundary. Just in case it wasn’t your boundary at all. You never know till you try.

I don’t know the answer. I’m not even sure what the question was. But I know that I love dreamers. I hope I never stop dreaming.

And always trust your cape …


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honest. i thought it was a legitimate massage parlor.

The treadmill is my friend. I call it Mr. Treadmill. It calls me Give Me 10 Bucks A Month So That You Can Show Up Twice A Year You Sissy Boy And Would It Kill You to Wipe Me Down?

OK, it’s a crappy friend. If you want to be my friend, I’ll pay you 10 bucks a month. But don’t make me run on the treamill. Thank you.

And no, I will not wipe you down.

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I don’t know how to spell Episcopalian

There’s an old saying: “If you’re going to go off the blood pressure meds, by all means do it the day before Election Day.” Never doubt the ancient philosophers.

Knocked off the toprol today to see if it would make a difference. Probably all in my head so far, but maybe a little bit in my heart as well. bp definitely was higher and I felt better, so maybe. We’ll see if I die tomorrow night and go from there. Maybe go for a week and see if there’s a difference. Or until Mo catches on.

Elderly man discovered dead in Baptist church parking lot, Rage Against the Machine still blaring from his headphones and asics looking around wondering why we stopped. Worse ways to go.

Starting week 5, I would have hoped for miraculous changes. But I guess this is reality. Build the base. Trust the schedule. Killing in the name.

It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners, Dr. Sheehan said. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.

Shut up, little voice.

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