or not

“You read the papers and you’re led to believe that the world is a big, scary place. People, the narrative goes, are not to be trusted. People are bad. People are evil.

“I don’t buy it. Evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives different than our own … By and large, humans are kind. Self-interested sometimes, myopic sometimes, but kind. Generous and wonderful and kind.”

— Jay Austin

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life is funny, part 380

I got up early today. I’ve read that in the summer if you run before noon it’s not as hot. It’s an interesting theory.  As I get ready, I’m reading about the adventures of Lauren and Jay.

They’re bicycle tourists. This resonates with me; in a former life I loved bike touring. Mexico to Canada; Phoenix to St. Louis; Alaska; Canada; Maine; Highway 101 — I rode a lot of endless roads. They were always exhilarating, and constantly a bit terrifying. You’re at the mercy of humanity on a bike in the middle of nowhere. After a million miles, I never had a bad experience, but I always counted myself lucky. I eventually settled on running, since there are fewer flats and you never snap a brake cable in a desolate area of Colorado. But I still love to read about the adventures of others.

Jay quit his government job in D.C. Lauren had been biking around D.C. and fell in love with cycling. They set off together to see the world. It’s a great story.

Southern Africa, the Mediterranean, and Tajikistan. A lovely Instagram chronicle of the adventures at simplycycling. It brought back so many memories of similar adventures in my past. Incredible views, endless struggles, the simple joys of a popsicle and a Holiday Inn after weeks of camping. simplycycling.org, It’s a good read.

Lauren is asking a pair of police officers nearby if they know of any cheap hostels when Pablo approaches me. Our bikes and deer-in-headlights gaze have given away that we are not from here. Pablo asks where we’re from. Are we lost?

A little. I tell him our sob story: from America, long bike trip, just arrived, looking for somewhere to camp, having great difficulty. He’s friendly but doesn’t know of any spots in the city. He hasn’t lived here for a while. He’s from Algeciras, and his whole family is still here, but he works up in Belgium. He’s home for the holidays.

Let me go ask my brother, he says. In the meantime, come join the party. Can I get you some hot cocoa? Pastries? Here, take these.

It’s ten minutes later and we’re surrounded by Pablo and his family. We’re drinking hot chocolate and eating pastries baked by his aunt and listening to kids singing carols on the other side of the park.

Such a beautiful moment, found only by standing on the edge of the cliff and taking the leap into the unknown. But they had dark places as well.

My body feels weak. Cold in places and numb in others. Heavy. We have had a long day and eaten little. I am taking long breaths and getting less than my lungs bargained for. We have been riding through this tunnel for probably just minutes, maybe ten, maybe fifteen, but I become untethered from space and time. I am somewhere deep within a mountain. Precise whereabouts unknown.

I see a light and I rush toward it. 

Jay later describes topping a 15,272 feet pass. Lauren had succumbed to the altitude and caught a ride to the other side. Jay trudged on.

With the steep grades and thin air (and intermittent snow), this was probably the hardest climb of my life. The last kilometer of so had me pushing my bike about five steps, taking a thirty-second breather, then heaving forward another five. Really glad I did it. No need to ever do it again.

That was on Saturday, his latest Instagram post. What an amazing adventure. What a feeling to make it over 15,000 feet on a loaded touring bike. What a memory.

And then on Sunday, as they were cycling about 40 miles from the capital of Tajikistan, they were struck by a car. The people in the car then jumped out and knifed them to death. Two other cyclists, one Dutch and one Swiss, also were killed.

I finish my coffee, pull on the older pair of Zantes, and head out for the Scottsdale Greenbelt. I dodge wayward shots from frisbee golfers, mutter about bike racers going too fast on a shared path and lament the weather gods.

I come home safely and think about that night at Four Corners when the drunk guys pulled up next to the tent in the middle of the night. I wondered if that would be my last night.

I eat some Cheerios and a banana and begin another day.

Life is funny …

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papa we’ll go sailing

Here I am
lost in the wind

‘Round in circles sailing
Like a ship that never comes in
Standing by myself
— the prophet randy newman

I’m running in the afternoon, because it’s just not quite warm enough in the morning here.  I’m staring at my watch. I’m barely shuffling, but my heart rate is redlining. It’s insanely hot. I can feel the tattered remains of my heart pounding way too hard. I’m thinking. What if this is it?

This would be a good way to go out. I’m in lane 9 at the track. It’s a beautiful day. I’m happy. I’m listening to Fiona Apple sing Frosty the Snowman. I’ve had a good life. 62 years is 100k, a poetic place for an aging runner to bow out. Pick up the pace a bit, and I’m done. This would make a fine ending.

I saw a story about a 78-year-old man who died this month while riding his motorcycle up Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park. He just slumped over the handlebars, and he was gone. Could you write a more glorious ending? It’s better to burn out than to fade away, the prophet Young wrote. But maybe even an old star can go out with a sudden burst.

I ponder it for a lap or so, and then shut down for the day. I love Mo dearly, and the cat will be annoyed if she doesn’t get her afternoon treats. Thanks a bunch for getting her hooked, geedee.

But I remember for the millionth time that we’re not going to live forever, no matter how much we pretend. It’s all nature. People die for no reason.  But isn’t no reason a reason too?

Hours later, I watch the temperature go from 112 to 75 as one of our beloved monsoon storms comes roaring in. I’m standing on the porch reveling in the wall of dust envelop me when the largest branch of a nearby tree snaps and lands a few feet away. Life is so random.

We lost five trees at the track during the last storm. They’re born, they grow, they die. You don’t notice them along the course, assuming their lifesaving shade is forever. I guess life is like that. You take running for granted. You think it will never end. You assume rock and roll will never die.

I got two new pairs of Gramicci shorts in the mail today and realized, this is it. These are the Last Gramiccis I Will Ever Have To Buy. They’re going to outlive me. That’s the thing about The Third Act. You start thinking more about the final curtain.

Tomorrow, the desert will be cooler after the storm. The enchanting smell of creosote will waft in the air after the rain. I will return to the track, remember the trees that were once there, and look forward to the ones that will take their place long after I’m gone.

“He died doing what he loved” sounds good.  “He lived doing what he loved” sounds better. Don’t pull the curtain yet; I have a matinee scheduled.

And some Gramiccis to wear out …

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the quotable mo sheppo, part 23

“I accidentally put some coffee in the hummingbird feeder.”

Note to self: wear bike helmet when walking to car today.

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marley

Who holds your hand
when you’re alone?
— the prophet patty larkin

I’m no expert on either, but given the choice of herding cats or keeping up with four little boys at the same time, I’m taking my chances with the felines.

We’re at the beach, and there’s not a cat in sight. But lots of boys.

We’re in the last evening of a weekend of honoring our niece Sarah. We’re preparing to float a small lantern with a candle in it, but the boys are totally missing the solemn nuances. They’re here for the adventure.

I must confess: I’m not really a kid person. It’s been a fun weekend watching the show in the backyard: They chase each other, chase the dogs, chase the basketball, get chased by the dogs, stop by the splash pool, eat the mango Otter Pops I had wanted, repeat until falling over asleep. It’s sort of like watching the Nature Channel except nobody gets eaten and they don’t switch to the treehouse guy after an hour.

But I’m purely a spectator. My closest encounter with kids tends to be Which Row on The Plane is That Screaming Child Going To Take Surely Not Back Here Oh My God NONONONONO Dear Mo I Was Just Kidding About Loaning You My Headphones.

But it’s a beautiful beach, and the kids are hilarious. The first one to arrive at the water is throwing rocks with abandon. No, I don’t actually know what throwing with abandon means, but it seems dramatic. Then we look up to see one of his shoes floating out to sea. He points proudly. I applaud his creativity.

There are four boys, ranging from maybe 2 to 4. I have no idea how to tell how old kids are, given they don’t come with any sort of “best served by” labels, and asking someone would require conversation. I’m not really a people person. Yes, this is a recurring theme.

They are loving the beach. There are feathers and clam shells and driftwood and crabs in various states of disrepair and So Many Rocks.

Marley, maybe the youngest of the four, brings me a rock. He sits it beside me and points. I congratulate him, not sure if it’s a present for me or if I’m to guard it. A while later, he brings another. No kid has ever given me this sort of gift before. I’m not sure how to reciprocate. I could give him my iPhone, the only thing I currently have with me, but what if he turns out to be one of those Android weirdos? I just tell him thanks. I’m honored.

The craziness goes on, and the sun begins to go down. I’m pretty much kidded out, so I go walking down the beach, looking for a better view of the setting sun and a little respite.

That’s when I hear it. “MARLEY!!!! MARLEY COME BACK HERE!!! SOMEONE GET MARLEY!!!”

I look up ahead, and there he is. He has managed to make his way down the beach away from the group. I’m thinking it should be exciting for someone to catch him.

And then I hear those terrifying words:

“Oh, never mind, Gary’s getting him.” They have mistaken my escape for a rescue mission.

And so here I am: Mano a Kiddo. How do you even do this? My only experience is trying to corner the cat, who at the first sign of attention on my part goes under the bed for the rest of the day. But Marley gave me rocks. I owe him.

“Yo, Marley,” I call out. He looks up and stops. I catch up to him and stick out my hand.

And then.

He reaches up and grabs two of my fingers. I’ve only known him a couple of days, and even then I’m just the weird guy who hides in the corner of the backyard. But he’s just reached out and turned his life over to me.

I tell him it’s not socially acceptable to wander off from the crowd, hoping his cognitive skills are not yet at the point where he will realize that’s exactly what I was doing myself. I tell him his mom is worried, because that’s what moms do. I tell him we should probably get back, though I’m guessing at this stage of life he’s only hearing Larson’s “blah blah Ginger.” He just looks up with me with the biggest eyes I will ever have the joy of staring into.

And so for a few seconds, I’m his entire world. I’m the guy who has his back in a world that’s too scary for children. He’s counting on me to get him out of this. I just stand there looking down at him. How do parents do this? I’m terrified to have custody of this little bundle of humanity for two minutes. How do they take on this job for 18 years?

And then it hits me. This feels pretty terrific. A little guy to bring me rocks and sneak away and chase wet frisbees with a puppy. A tiny life to embrace and love as he grows into anything but a journalist. Dear Edward R. Murrow, please not a journalist.

He just stands there looking up at me. It’s up to you, he’s thinking. Get me out of this one and I’ll buy you a beer in 19 years or so.

I take a photo of that little face staring up, because I never want to forget that moment. After 62 years of being devoutly anti-children, I find myself wondering. What If.

We walk back, two pals hardened by combat. He hugs Mom and rejoins the mayhem, we launch the lantern, we go home.

The next morning, we’re at the airport. A woman with a screaming baby decides that standing 3 feet away from us is the best way to shut the kid up. I make scary faces whenever the kid looks over at me. I am not big on kids. I might have mentioned that already.

But then I pull up the photo of Marley on my phone. I guess a little screaming never hurt anyone. I’m going deaf anyhow.

What If.

I wish I had kept those rocks …

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the keys to a good marriage, part 8

mo: i look like a dude.

me: but you’re an attractive fellow.

the key to a good marriage is always knowing just the right thing to say.

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once upon a beach

Put a candle in the window
‘Cause I feel I’ve gotta move
Though I’m goin’, goin’
I’ll be comin’ home soon
Long as I can see the light
— the prophet fogerty

 

 

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