things i wish i had said, part 69

“Life’s too short to be in a quandary. Wear the pants. Own the odor. Live the life. Do the art.”

— Candace Cooksey Fulton

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the keys to a good marriage, part 6

When in doubt, just go with her spelling.


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the first chicago marathon

I recently asked people to share their most memorable race, as a participant or spectator, live or televised. My friend Maura wrote the following. It’s so perfect (except I’d go with the Pete Seeger version of “little boxes”) that I had to share. What a great memory …

I haven’t run any races in a long time. I mean, a really long time. There are no Boston qualifying marathons, epic 100 mile trail races or even a slow 5k anywhere in my distant past. So when I think back to races I’ve watched or run in, I go back to the Chicago Marathon.

I had just entered middle school when the first ever Chicago Marathon was run. I don’t have a detailed memory of the day, just bits and pieces and a general remembrance of the mass of people (there were over 4,000 runners!) and how cool it was to be there. Our cross-country coach decided that it would be a great experience to have the team volunteer at an aid station. He was a good guy. Loved running and just wanted to share that love with us. He must’ve been a saint or a little mentally unstable, taking 20 or more of us downtown for the day. But that was a time when schools didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about lawsuits and I don’t remember anyone dying (I’d remember that, right?) so it all worked out.

We were stationed at the 20 mile mark and tasked with handing out water. Did they have other fueling? I don’t know. While I would love to know now, it must not have seemed important to me at the time. It was a beautiful day and as a suburban kid there was nothing more fun than hanging around in the city with your friends. That’s what I remember. So much excitement, energy and diversity that didn’t exist in the suburbs (cue Malvina Reynolds singing “Little Boxes”).

The runners took forever to get to mile 20. We waited, filled water cups and goofed around, probably got yelled at a few times. It’s funny, I don’t remember the leaders coming through. I’d like to think I watched and was in awe but when I try to dig up that memory it is filled with other marathons, much later, when I was much older. When I had an understanding of how fast they are really running, what it takes to run that fast and then just watched in amazement. What I do remember is when the regular runners came. I had watched cross country and track meets but I had never been to a road race this big before, and it was pretty inspiring and terrifying as you saw people pulling up, limping, puking and some just generally looking miserable as they came through the station. I remember being taken aback by how many people were walking through the water stops. Did they forget they were in a race? I had no concept of the toll 26.2 miles can take on a body. I had never heard of the wall.

We had a college-aged family friend who was running it, and I remember being shocked that she stopped at the aid station and spent a few minutes talking to me. She was exhausted, limping and as she took off her shoe, I saw blood seeping through her sock. She got it bandaged and then went on. I was focused on how long she stopped. Minutes lost – you are racing!

There were so many people like her that trudged on, in pain, spent, but determined to finish. Could I comprehend at all what it took for them to finish? The day was long. I don’t remember, but I like to think that we cheered as loudly for the people at the end of the pack as we did for the leaders. That we had some understanding of the sacrifices it took for them to get there and the determination it took them to run 26.2 miles. But we were 12 and I (at least) was not particularly introspective or empathetic, so probably not. It did make me want to run a marathon (of course, I wouldn’t walk) and I always figured I would one day. Hasn’t happened yet, but as a friend reminded me awhile back, Ed Whitlock ran a sub 4 at 85 – so I’ve got some time.

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Life is funny, part 374

We’re wandering around the Desert Botanical Garden. A pleasant day in May in that Summer is Just Around the Corner kind of way. The cactus are blooming, the baby quail are scurrying, the butterflies are flittering. A good day.

We came here for no particular reason. It’s just down the road from us, and strolling through narure makes for a nice morning outing. But we weren’t really looking for anything. So naturally, as we’re walking down a little one-way path that ends at a pond, we see a guy sitting alone with a camera and binoculars. I prepare to turn around for a quick escape. Did I ever mention I’m not a people person? But the guy is staring at us. 

And he says, “Amanda!”

We’ve come upon a Ripley.

We last saw him around six years ago, when our newspaper decided to go out of business and we wandered off for parts unknown. The last thing he said to me was “I’ll never see you again.” And here he is, seeing me again. He must be annoyed. 

He was my boss and mentor and idol and friend. A True Believer of journalism and doing the right thing and making the world a better place, back before we realized the sad reality. He’s retired now and pursuing a more rewarding career in the bird paparazzi business. 

We stare at each other in that “is that really you” sort of way, and mo and a I plop down next to him. Where to begin? I tell him about how we ended up here again and what it was like there. We talk birds and Texas and journalism and where to find a decent meal in Fort Stockton. He tells us how he and Pam went to the Alamo, and upon his daughter’s suggestion, asked around about seeing the basement. We agree it’s a good thing hummingbirds are not big or else we’d all be dead. He admits melting his wife’s most beloved CASA cup but says it was an “accident.” He will say this was taken out of context. 

I lean back in the shade and ponder. We’ve been here a few months and he’s one of the first people we meant to look up. But you know how life is. You get caught up in stuff. Still, I think about him all the time, and lament every day I walk into the office at the competition, feeling like a traitor. I never thought I’d do that. I never thought a lot of things.

We talk forever. I realize I could sit and listen to him all day. Such a kind soul. Amanda asks him why he never ran for mayor. He says birding makes him happier. Did I mention he’s wise?

I always wonder about life after journalism. His advice: Walk away. Don’t try to hang on to the ghosts. Find something new. He’s the best journalist I’ve ever worked with. I should listen.

And then we say goodbye. It’s still surreal. After all this time, we stumble upon one of our favorite people sitting quietly in the shade in a place we only decided to visit a few minutes earlier. This is likely why people go birdwatching. If you’re patient enough, where you least expect it, you just might spot a Ripley.

Life is funny …

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 all the difference

Dear Mr. Frost:

What if there’s only one road?

Sincerely, Gary


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things i wish i had said, part 68

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows
— the prophet leonard cohen

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never joke with a surgeon

me: I think I see the outline of a surgical sponge there. 

Surgeon: I don’t see a surgical sponge. 

me: Oh. 

Doctor’s offices should have laugh tracks. 

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