uncle bob

I was smitten with those shoes.

The year was 1979. The shoes were Onitsuka Tigers. The Uncle was Bob.

I had just taken up “jogging,” a thing people were doing at the time because roller disco required too much work and Frank Shorter had won gold and silver in the ’72 and ’76 Olympic marathons. I wasn’t sure how to do it. But I knew someone who did.

He was one of the original San Angelo Road Lizards, a motley pack of True Believers who knew that all you needed to run was some chalk on the start line, a case of Pearl Light at the finish, and a pair of shoes. His were Tigers.

I thought he was the coolest guy on the planet. I coveted his shoes, those same Tiger racing flats Jim Fixx was wearing on the cover of “The Complete Book of Running.” I wanted them. I wanted to be him. I wanted to run. And so I did.

I don’t remember how fast he was back then; only that he always finished in a different time zone but would stick around to give me a pat on the back after I crawled across the finish. I had known him all my life as Uncle Bob, but now he was Uncle Bob the Runner. If he could do it, maybe I could too.

He ignited something in me I hadn’t known existed, the love of finding an empty country road and running until you couldn’t run anymore, Sheehan’s challenge of fighting the little voice in your head that wants you to quit. A simple puzzle that takes a lifetime to solve.

He eventually got old, as we all do, and traded in the Tigers for some sensible New Balance shoes. These days, he’s Bobby Peiser, Artist Extraordinaire. We went out to see him a few years ago. His yard is filled with magnificent sculptures. His home is packed with his woodworking creations. And a greenhouse proves that plants can become art if you give them enough fertilizer and love. Mo, my wife and a fine artist, took the tour with all the oooohs and ahhhhs she usually reserves for O’Keeffe.

He’s a lot like me, quiet with a deadpan sense of humor . Dad tried to give him a bottle of water once. He went nuts. “IT’S JUST WATER! WHY ARE YOU FALLING FOR THIS?” he asked him. That was Uncle Bob. Stick to the basics.

But then I knew that. I have a T-shirt, some questionable running shorts, a Fancy Watch, and some simple shoes. I don’t think I ever found those Tigers, but I ended up in Asics Piranhas, the true love of my life other than Mo, a ballet slipper disguised as a running shoe. And I’m still running.

He’s turning 90 years old tomorrow. Decades pass in the blink of an eye and the click of a stopwatch, but I still picture him as that cool guy at the race.

In Ann Patchett’s “Run,” Uncle Sullivan ponders immortality. “Maybe that was the definition of life everlasting: the belief that the next generation would carry your work forward.”

That’s me. In my mind, I’m Uncle Bob in those Tigers, uncovering Cassidy’s secret of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials. Carrying Uncle Bob’s work forward, one mile at a time.

I know he’ll always be there for me, about a half-mile ahead on the race course, pulling me along.

My life wouldn’t have been the same without that guy who showed me the way.

All these years later, I still think he’s still the coolest guy on the planet. And I’m still smitten with those shoes, and the guy who wore them.

Happy birthday, Uncle Bob. Here’s to many more finish lines ahead.



About gary

no sock monkeys were harmed in the making of this blog.
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1 Response to uncle bob

  1. Uncle Bob is indeed cool! Happy 90th…what a run that has been, I’m sure!

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