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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It wasn’t a flute, dammit

It’s only the giving
that makes you what you are
— the prophet Ian Anderson 

“I miss records,” Mo said.

Sometimes I supsect Mo has a surveillance device in my brain. I have been thinking a lot lately about returning to vinyl. Not so much because of the sound quality or the warmth or analog vs. digital. I just miss holding records.

I miss that feeling of peeling off the wrapper, pulling out the brand-new black disc and moving the cartridge over. The hypnotic spinning. I miss liner notes and album covers. I miss the pause in the middle, and I miss that sound at the end. I miss records.

I haven’t actually owned a stereo in a couple of decades, which I guess is odd because nobody on the planet loves music more than me. Having been an apartment dweller who works nights, headphones make more sense. I had lost touch with all my vinyl during a series of downsizing experiments, then jettisoned the CDs once spotify that I could have every song ever created for 14 bucks a month. The sound is OK, I guess. I’m in it more for the ideas than the technical aspects. I even listen to the iPhone a lot with its little built-in speaker, pretending I’m 8 again and listening to my transistor radio. Maybe I had a transistor radio?

I had been looking at turntable/speaker combos on the interwebz when Mo made the record remark. So I piled the family in the car and we went to the store that sells such thing. Except they sort of don’t.

We found a barbecue grill/baby stroller combo and Mo was smitten with a wool cap since it was 95 degrees today, but no suitable turntable. They have karaoke machines and five-way things for your TV and little boom boxes, but not just a basic turntable/combo. They actually had the one I had looked at online. It’s a Klipsch, very hip. Surrounded by industrial steel and old wood, complete with tattooed twentysomethings in leather chairs. This is exactly how I picture us, except for the steel and wood and tattoos. I asked Mo what she thought. She just gave me the “bless your heart” look. And that was that.

But then a funny thing happened. We went to Zia’s which sells new and used stuff. I picked up and old Crosby/Nash album I once owned. I remember that cover, that feeling when I first got it. It was exactly the way I thought it would feel. I must have this.

But as I looked around, I realized just how hard this would be. Some are $1.99. Does this mean they’re hopelessly scratched or just wildly unpopular. Some are 10 bucks, about what I would expect to pay for a used record. But then I saw that new ones are $20. TWENTY BUCKS FOR AN ALBUM WHAT THE HELL IS THIS? But then I remembered. When I bowed out of the CD buying business, I think they were 16 or 17 bucks. So 20 would be about right. And isn’t that worth it to support musicians? The system is hopelessly screwed up and I realize my 3 cents for their share wouldn’t be much. But it’s something.

But the whole thing’s so complicated. There was a copy of Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” on the wall with a $100 price tag. Why? It looks like a normal album. And a lot of the old classics were 30 or 40 bucks. But here’s the third Beatles album for $8. And it’s impossible to find stuff. Sorted by genre. Is wilco rock or country or americana or pop or does it depend on what mood Tweedy was in during the particular recording session? And it’s a small store. You can’t possibly have everything. And if I’m buying from scratch, what will it be? Neil Young’s On the Beach? Joni’s Hissing of Summer Lawns? Rundgren’s Something/Anything? These are all albums I could not exist without. If only there was a better way. And then I realized there was.

So as I type this I’m listening to the Jethro Tull (aqualung and thick as a brick.) Which is sad, because it makes me think of the thick as a brick cover that’s a newspaper. You don’t get that on spotify.

Is the quality as good? No. Am I screwing over the artists. Probably. Am I relieved that I don’t have to think about turntables anymore. Oh, yes.

I love the past. I love that memory of unwrapping pink floyd’s wish you were here. Standing in the driveway with the cutouts from inside the sgt. pepper’s album. The feeling of pulling out an album from its little home and placing it on the turntable.

But I have pretty much every song I’ve ever loved in my pocket. I suppose that’s an acceptable tradeoff.

Maybe we can go to Zia’s once a week just to hold them. And if I come across Hissing of Summer Lawns cheap, it wouldn’t take up much space.

Because. Records.

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life with a cat

one minute, you’re kinda down. the world isn’t fair. life sucks. 

and then, the cat jumps in your lap, curls up contentedly and goes to sleep. 

and just like that, everything changes.  you’re kinda down. the world isn’t fair. life sucks. and you’re covered in cat fur. 

i think this is why we have cats. 

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