remembering

You forget after a million races or so. Running is just so damn much fun.

We went with our co-worker Jenny to the Beach to Bay Relay Marathon today. She has been running a long time, but has never put on a bib and entered a race. That finally ended today.

We offered to drive her there as to avoid shuttle bus hell. I didn’t mention to Mo that it would require getting up at 3:45 a.m. until late last night. Her response was “That is an excellent idea!!!” or something similar except containing 32 sailor words and a sailing Corona bottle. But I think she’s glad she came. I’d ask, but she’s sleeping.

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Jenny was running the first leg, so it was the perfect place to spectate. This is her posing with her baton and that fake smile she gives me when I ask her what she thinks about my page design.

But it was a great day for a run. Sun coming up over the Gulf, the buzz of coiled energy as a bazillion runners try to stay warm. The National Anthem. A prayer. A new life, living and dying in 3.5 miles of sand and gale-force wind. A joy.

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Jenny is new to to racing, but apparently an old pro at speed port-a-potting. We endured a line about 15 peeps deep while waiting before the race. Two guys were in front of her. The door opened. It said “Women.” I don’t think the designation applied here (out of about 40 toilets, this was the only one designated for women. Mo and Jenny talked about it in line and agreed it wasn’t really a women’s designation at all.) But the guys in front of us hesitated for a split-second as the port-a-pot became vacant, looking around for a cue. Jenny veered left, swung right, sprinted ahead and slammed the door shut before the guys knew what hit them. I’ve seen a lot of guys get chicked in races over the years, but never in the port-a-pot line. Bravo.

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The key to spectating is establishing your running credibility through the proper T-shirt. After carefully going through my collection, I came up with the 2008 United League All-Star Game shirt. Oh, well. We had to get up at 3:45 to get there. I should probably have turned on the lights at some point while getting dressed.

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This was a rare moment in the hour before the race in that she was NOT re-tying her shoes. Jenny is a very thorough shoe tier. I, on the other hand, was wearing old Tevas with velcro that no longer works. This is probably why she was racing and I was not.

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And then, the jacket came off. The sun came up. The minutes ticked down. And she was off.

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Even as a spectator, there is much joy to be found at starting lines. The hope and excitement, the love and camaraderie. Magic. We never saw her go by. Too many people. But at a race, everyone is pretty much the same anyhow. The 5-minute Fleet Feet guys, the serious middle-packers, the pack of elementary track team kids, the folks in tutus and gladiator uniforms, the just in it for the beer guys who run exactly once a year. It’s part race, part party, part church service. Exactly what running should be.

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It’s impossible at this race to spot your peep at the transition area. A million runners handing off to a million others. The harried announcers reeled off numbers in the spitfire fashion of Lucy packing chocolates on a conveyor belt (two years ago one of them was spewing numbers at an astronomical rate before a slight pause and then a loud “F@@@” over the P.A. I’m guessing he’s retired now.)

So we didn’t see her till after she had handed off the baton. Same euphoric smile, same Tigger impression bouncing up and down with the enthusiasm of the newly initiated. She had endured a 25 mph wind, 3.5 miles of sand in her mouth, a traffic jam on the course that never really thinned out. And she loved every minute.

You forget. You forget that running and being and racing and dying is such a joy, a treasure not to be taken lightly. To remember, sometimes you just need to take a step back and see it through the eyes of someone starting out.

The prophet Sheehan said, “The true runner is a very fortunate person. He has found something in him that is just perfect.” 

Sometimes I forget that perfect thing inside me. Then a day like this comes along to make me remember.

I’m a very fortunate person indeed.

I think I’ll go for a run now.

 

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just another morning conversation, part 58

mo: you’re in charge of the roast. all you have to do is turn off the oven at 2:00.

me: should it catch fire?

mo: no. and if it does, use baking soda.

me: or chili powder?

mo: baking soda.

me: chili powder would taste better.

mo: baking soda.

i think this is why we eat out a lot.

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mother’s day, part 2

They say when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. So I suppose when life takes away someone you love, make cookies.

Today was the first Mother’s Day in 57 years that Ma wasn’t here. I wasn’t sure what to do. I was thinking yesterday about happy times, and I remembered the cookies.

When I was a kid, Ma and I made a lot of oatmeal cookies. I’m not sure why, but I always loved it. I don’t remember ever cooking anything else with her, but many times we whipped out the old Betty Crocker recipe book and sent the flour flying. What better way to celebrate her memory than making some cookies?

Mo loved the idea. We didn’t have her old cookbook, but Mo has an old one that looks a lot like it.

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We plunged fearlessly into the recipe and its mysterious ingredients. How does one know if one’s sugar is granulated? And what is shortening? As it turns out, it was moot because we had none. Mo said we could substitute butter. This sounded exactly like something Ma would say, so I knew we were on the right track. We subbed chili powder for baking powder (living in Texas and all), and used gluten-free flour for those of us with a delicate nature. Other than that we stuck strictly to the formula. Unless there is really a difference between a “teaspoon” and a “tablespoon.” No room for nitpicking in my recipes.

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There was an alarmingly complicated series of mix this, then add this and mix, then add THIS and mix. I didn’t really understand the need, being of the old it’s-going-to-get-mixed-up-in-your-belly-anyhow school of cooking. But we mixed according to the book, I think. Yes, Mo eventually made me take the egg out of the shell. (If you look top left, Texas eggs have a little Texas emblem on them. I’m not sure if the chickens actually lay them like that or not.)

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And then, my favorite childhood memory in the world — licking the beaters. Wow. As it turns out, if you mix butter, white sugar and brown sugar in massive amounts, the rest of the ingredients from that point on are just excess. Who knew?

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The cookie dough was pretty glorious. I had flashbacks of eating dough by the scoop, because who really has time to wait 12 minutes for baking?

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The recipe said it made 36 cookies, but I was only able to fashion 12. Did I mention I love eating the cookie dough? Ma was always a softie in the kitchen.

Mo mentioned something about not making the cookies too close to each other, but I hate a standoff-ish cookie. So they were in close quarters. Into the oven for 12 long minutes.

After a few minutes, I took a peek inside to see how things were going. Two observations:

1. The cookies had all globbed together into one scary looking cookie monster.

2. The oven was on fire.

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I thumbed through the recipe book, checking to see if “cookies on fire” was part of the actual recipe. Mo was showering, so I went in to ask her if the cookies should be in flames. She assured me they should not. She came running out to keep us from making the police blotter in tomorrow’s paper. Ma would have loved this part a lot.

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After the smoke cleared, we had exactly this much cookie. I was pretty pleased with it (tasted great!), but Mo had a plan.

Ma was always famous for her plans. If Plan A doesn’t work, she would say, we’ll come up with a Plan B. Or a Plan C. Or just make it up as we go along. She was pretty terrific that way. It’s one of those life lessons I’ve used a million times. I guess that’s what moms are for.

Mo must have inherited it. Because she took all the mush on the cookie pan, scraped it into a bowl and declared we were making Oatmeal Cookie Bars. She threw it back into the oven, which by now had cleared fire code, and cooked it for another 10 minutes.

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The end result: An oatmeal concoction that Ma would have been proud of. A sad day turned into a hilarious one. And a Mother’s Day memory to tuck away with the other 56 that came before it.

Happy Mother’s Day, Ma. I love you. I’ll save you an oatmeal bar.

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texas oatmeal

Me: This is the secret ingredient to making oatmeal.

Mo: Chili powder?

Me: I thought it said cinnamon.

And through the simple misfortune of making breakfast while not wearing my glasses, Texas Oatmeal was born.

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mother’s day

What a beautiful moon! I can only imagine
what it must have looked like for real!
I used to watch the moon a lot.
When your father was in the service
and stationed in Japan,
I always told him to watch for the first star
that came up in the west and I’d be watching too.
It was sort of special …

love, mom

Ma wrote that a while back, before she went to hang out with John Wayne. I had totally forgotten it, along with stuff like the names of the “Mod Squad” guys and why the hell I ever went into journalism.

So I didn’t give it much thought when we headed out into the blackness for a half-hour drive to an early morning race start. The sky was totally dark except for the tiniest sliver of a moon. And a star. I stood for a long time, admiring it. Mo admitted long ago that the stars at night really ARE big and bright deep in the heart of Texas. And here we are, staring up in awe.

I love that moment in the predawn quiet when you glance up and see that solitary star, reminding you of your place in the universe.

And you realize it’s not a bad place at all.

We went to the race. The sun came up, the heater turned on, the race went down, we toodled home.

A few days later, I was thinking about how this would be the first Mother’s Day where Ma won’t be there. Which sort of defeats the purpose. Mo and I miss her a lot.

And then I realized. She was just celebrating early. I was watching that first star coming up. And I’m sure she was too. It was sort of special.

I gotta race more often …

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just another day i didn’t die

I’m sitting at the traffic light on Staples. I’m maybe the fifth car in line at the stoplight in two lanes of traffic.

I look over.

I’m sitting next to a Ford F-350. If you’re from Texas, you know what it is. If you’re not, it’s the pickup you would get if you were making a movie where Stallone is the gruff but gritty sheriff of a small town in need of some old-fashioned sheriffing. It’s big. Idling next to my tiny 1988 Honda Civic hatchback, it’s enormous.

I gaze up at it as we sit. I feel like a 3-year-old looking up at an NBA player. It’s huge and heavy and imposing and a tank. I wonder why anyone would drive something so ridiculously heavy around the city.

And then out of the corner of my eye I see it.

A red car is coming up from behind at about 45 mph. It’s not slowing down at all.

The car slams into the truck without the slightest bit of braking. My first thought: Texting. My second thought: I hope they’re OK. My third thought: Damn, I’m glad that wasn’t me.

It’s all weird at that point. I hear car parts bouncing along the road. There’s a second of quiet, that calm after the storm. And then the light changes.

The cars ahead of me all take off, so I follow. I’m a runner, and that’s what we do. Always follow the person in front of you in a race. They might know where they’re going, right? It’s a busy intersection in a block full of businesses, so I figure they don’t need for nonexistent EMS skills. And this isn’t going to be a crash requiring witnesses to tell the cops who was at fault. So I continue on.

Mostly, I’m in shock.

What if that car had been in the right lane instead of the left? It would have plowed into me instead. My car’s frame ceased to be functional back in the 80s. I don’t have those Fancy Boy things they call “air bags.” And for years I’ve suspected my seat belt is purely for ornamental purposes. Plus, the car is so light that I would have been smashed into the car in front of me, turning the Honda into an accordion, and not in that amusing Al Yankovich sort of way. Perm sold separately.

I would have died.

Mo and I were running along the bayfront a couple of days ago when she pointed out that cars were going by 5 feet from us at 40 mph. Shouldn’t we be worried? Nah, I said. Nobody ever crashes. You shouldn’t worry so much.

After a couple of blocks, with equal measures guilt and curiosity, I make a U-turn to drive back by. A cop is already there, directing traffic. An ambulance siren is screaming in the distance. A girl, maybe 16, is sitting on the curb, bawling. Is she hurt? Is she in disbelief? Is she thinking about that “LOL” she was sending just before she slammed into a brick wall? Her car, some sort of midsize sedan thing, is now about half as long as it was in its previous life. But she’s alive. OMG.

Funny thing is, I didn’t even look at the F-350. I guess I should have, but I suspect it was just one of those scratched bumper, bent the trailer hitch things. There’s much to be said for six miles per gallon, I suppose.

I go home, then run on a treadmill at the gym, where a car would have to work extremely hard to run over me, and go to work.

Life is fleeting. Pick your lane and hope for the best. Mo says we’re buying an F-350. I guess I’ll start looking for a lawless town that could use some sheriffing.

It was just another day I didn’t die …

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just another morning conversation, part 57

mo: You’re going to love the tilapia! It’s amazing!

me: OK. Do we have any of that sauce stuff?

mo: You don’t need it! I used the pico de gallo. It’s amazing!

me: OK. Where is it?

mo: I ate it all. It’s amazing!

me: OK.

Mo is amazing.

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