Sunday, June 6, 2010

Yo-Yo Adventures in Church

A kid was sitting in front of me in church this morning playing with a yo-yo. He didn't flip it out and "Walk the Dog" or anything, but I guess I was just amazed that kids played with yo-yo's at all anymore. Well, he was turning it in his hand when the thing slipped out, rolled across the aisle and ended up lodged under some old man's chair. The kid's little head snapped over to his right to see if his mom had seen anything. She was standing and singing along with the band. Good, he thought, she didn't see a thing.

He hesitated for a few moments, laying out his game plan. Do I just walk over there and ask the old man for my yo-yo back? The kid takes a church information card and slides it over with his foot across the aisle toward the stuck yo-yo. I think he was either creating a diversion or giving himself an excuse to go over there..."Excuse me sir, I seem to have dropped my card across the aisle and under your seat. And even though there are hundreds of other information cards scattered through the sanctuary I really want this one."

The kid, I think, realizes that his information card didn't slide far enough and the old man wouldn't buy the card routine anyway. So he sits back into his chair and thinks about his move one more time. I almost wanted to tap him on the shoulder and tell him that it was ok if he went over to get his yo-yo, that he wouldn't get in trouble. I almost volunteered to go get it myself. And then finally when the band was getting all wound up and the singing was at its peak, the kid crept over, crawled under the chair and grabbed the yo-yo. Whew. That was a close one. It was such a Tom Sawyer moment.

By the way, the kid sitting next to him (his brother?) just fiddled around on his mom's cell phone playing video games....Boring.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

There's Coffee At The Summit

The alarm went off at ten-to-5 a.m. I got up and put my running clothes on in the dark. I hate getting up early to run especially during the last few months when it's been cold. There's nothing like stepping out the door into 19 degree air knowing you have 10 miles ahead of you. Yesterday morning wasn't that cold, thank goodness, but it was still early.

The thing that got me going this time was knowing that I had already committed and people might be waiting for me. I had been talking to my buddy Chad Randolph for weeks about heading up to Davidson to run with his group. Davidson is a small town about 25 miles north of Charlotte and one of the few places in NC that reminded me of being on the west coast again.

So, of course, I was running behind and had to speed to get up there. I didn't want to drive all the way just to get there and see the running group take off without me. I drove in the dark with no traffic. Man, Davidson is out there a ways.

I pulled up to the CVS right in downtown and saw the familiar sight of runners warming up. And there was Chad, tall as a tree, wearing shorts! Dang. I pulled up just in time to get introduced to everyone--Jeff, Todd, Jim; and then Chad hands me a headlamp. A headlamp? Where the heck were we going? I tried to be cool as I adjusted the strap like I'd worn headlamps to run all the time, but honestly I've never worn a headlamp. Back in California I almost never ran in the dark. I was a musician, so I usually got out the door in the late morning and didn't really get to running until the early afternoon.

Chad showed me how to switch the thing on and soon we were headed up the street. We cut into a greenway section, which I would have liked to see in the daylight. You could see the outline of the trees like giant matchsticks against the dark purple dawn. The guys mentioned that some kids had shoved a big log across the greenway path so that if you weren't watching carefully you could trip over it and wind up face down in the middle of the path. They joked about the delinquent youth of Davidson.

I've come to realize as I get older that everyone has their "thing". Which means that everyone has an interest that they geek out on. Some people are into Star Trek, some are into classic cars, some folks are music snobs (me), and some people are runners. We geek out on running. As we ran along the dark greenway path we talked about everything running.

I hung back with Jeff and Chad most of the time, both of whom run ultra-marathons (distances longer than 26.2 miles). Jeff is probably in his late 40's*and he and Chad talked about their ultra races. I think Jeff said that he'd run about 150 ultras! I peppered Jeff with questions about the races and the ultra-marathon "community", about his times and training. This guy is insane!

Chad, 42 (I think), runs almost exclusively in Vibram Five Fingers and is the one who got me excited about them so, of course, we geeked out on that too. Todd was maybe in his early 40's, too and Jim was about my age. They stayed up toward the front and then cut off a little early.

Chad and Jeff and I crossed a road and headed up an incline near a field just as the sky began to glow at the horizon, mixing dark with light. Our breath in the cold trailed behind us like smoke coming out of a locomotive. We dropped back into downtown Davidson to complete six miles and cooled down to where we had started. Next stop--Summit Coffee house.

This is probably one of the best parts of the run. Strong coffee in a cool coffee house. Summit definitely made me feel like I was touring again, up in the Northwest, sampling all the amazing coffee joints. It's a small, narrow place with wood paneled walls and warm light and great coffee. I liked it because it was funky. It was no Starbucks or Caribou. It's the kind of place where none of the chairs really match and the guy working behind the counter has dread-locks.

From the street we could see Todd and Jim waiting for us. Our group sat around the table with our coffee (thanks Jeff. It's on me next time) and talked about the next run. I said that I would definitely come to run with the group again. Jim asked me if I lived in Davidson and Chad told him, "No, this guy drove all the way up from South Charlotte!"

"What?" said Jim. "You came all the way up from Charlotte for this run?"

That's right. I lived in San Diego county for the last 10 years, dealing with traffic, long commutes, time on the road for hours touring and so a 45 minute drive to Davidson with no traffic was a breeze. If I hadn't driven up there I wouldn't have had such a great run with a great group. I'll definitely do it again. Anyone want to join me? We can carpool.

*So, I had originally tried to guess Jeff's age and got it wrong. Big time. Sorry Jeff. Like I said, it was dark. Hope you'll let me keep running with y'all again.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Monday night Bobcats

Last night my wife and I went out with one of her colleagues and husband to a Bobcats game. For anyone who doesn't know; the Charlotte Bobcats is an NBA team now entirely owned by a guy named Michael Jordan. Charlotte used to have the Hornets until the team was moved to New Orleans, I believe.

We started the evening out at a cool little tavern called "Tavern on the Tracks". And one of the best things about the place is that it is SMOKE FREE! We can finally go out to some of these places and not taste cigarette ashes in our food and come home without having to leave our clothes hanging up in another room.

After dinner we headed over to Time Warner Cable Arena, nestled right downtown/uptown. If you haven't been to a game there, I would suggest checking it out. It's a great facility. The interior of the building has many modern touches with other unique characteristics like a huge mosaic representing some of the region's basketball history that almost covers one entire wall near the entrance.

Our friends hadn't mentioned anything about our seats when we got inside. We got into an elevator (which has a human operator--classy.) and went up a couple of flights. I knew we were getting something cool when we stepped out of the elevator and the floors were carpeted. Turning a corner, we finally came to a closed door and I realized we were getting treated to box seats. Never had box seats before. Pretty cool.

We eased into soft faux leather seats and watched the game below. My wife and I have been to 3 events at TWC Arena: 2 Bobcats games and 1 concert. There's not really a bad seat in the place. For a major sports arena the place is actually pretty cozy. The state-of-the-art scoreboard features replay videos and special short films and even holds a model of the city skyline that wraps around the whole thing.

One thing about these games that I find crazy is the amount of audio and visual stimulus that goes on during the night. It's a testament to how short our attention spans are, I guess. You can't just sit back and enjoy the game for what it is. Almost every moment is filled with the announcer hollering, songs being played, the organ pumping or recordings of huge beats to get people to chant "defense". Every time-out features another booty dance by the "Lady Cats" or the firing off of T-shirts into the crowd.* There were a couple of times when it got quiet for about ten seconds, when the Bobcats were behind, and as if the system had sensed a change in the arena noise, a recording kicked in that said,"Everybody clap your hands!" So of course we all felt compelled to like little robots.

The Bobcats lost to the Dallas Mavericks unfortunately, but the game was still a blast to watch and we had a great night out. Not bad for a Monday.

*I'm constantly being amazed by human ingenuity; the fact that someone, somewhere invented a special hand-held "cannon" to fire rolled up T-shirts into the stands of sporting events.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Great Blizzard of 2010: Myrtle Beach Marathon Pt. 1

So, I've trained for months, spending hours running. I purchased new shoes. I spent $100 bucks, that isn't easy for me to come by, on entry fees. I took time off work. My wife also took time off work. We drove for hours to get there. We showed up to the expo and picked up my bib number and stuff. I started actually getting excited about running my first marathon. Because it was a special trip (Valentine's Day and the marathon) my wife and I decided to splurge and get a nice dinner. A light snow flurry began to fall. We drove back to our apartment to get ready for the big race in the morning, stopping by Walmart first to buy a pair of galoshes for my wife so her feet wouldn't get soaked as she watched me along the course. We flip on the local news to hear them announce that the Myrtle Beach Marathon is canceled...And all I got was this stupid T-shirt.

That's right, race fans. The powers that be decided that they should cancel the marathon because a light snow was falling and that the forecast called for more snow throughout the night. The trouble was, none of the snow from The Great Blizzard (which measured at about 2 in.) had actually stuck to the roads. The road got wet. That's all. The suits at the city decided that for everyone's safety, rather than push the marathon back an hour, it would be better to cancel the whole dang thing. They thought that the runners wouldn't be safe on the "open" parts of the course with wild motorists wreaking havoc. It can be hard to spot thousands of runners out on the road. My wife said something like, "The streets are just as dangerous when it rains". Would they have canceled the marathon if it rained and got the streets all wet?

So we sat back and watched the opening ceremonies of the winter Olympics instead, glancing at the little update strip at the bottom of the screen. Over and over again it stated that the marathon had been canceled. Occasionally the local news station would interrupt NBC with information about The Great Blizzard. They would cut to a field reporter dressed in his best arctic apparel, standing out in the middle of the CLEAR street telling us what we could already see by looking out the window--light snow, wet streets.

We went to bed. I was extremely disappointed. To add insult to injury, my wife and I woke up this morning to find that it was NOT SNOWING. And of course the roads were clear and dry. We made the best of the situation by getting dressed and going for a walk out on the beach. It was beautiful. The entire beach was covered in snow. Neither of us had ever seen a beach covered in snow. After our brisk morning walk we came back to our apartment and I decided that I was still going for a run, so I headed back out to the beach.

To further pour salt into the wounds of my disappointing marathon weekend, as I ran down the beach, the cold gray clouds split open and the sun came out. Some blizzard. By the time I got back from the run much of the snow on the beach had melted.

Back at the apartment we packed our things, cutting our weekend short, and hit the road. The last I had heard, the race officials were "evaluating refunds". That's right, they better evaluate refunds. They better evaluate them right back into my bank account. The Sun, in an attempt to make it sound like participants at least got something out of the deal listed these few tidbits:

"All other marathon-week events, including a two-day runners expo Thursday and Friday at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center (which I only attended because I had to, to get my race packet), one-mile Family Fun Run on Friday (didn't participate...came for the marathon), 5-kilometer race on Friday (once again, came for the marathon) a post-race House of Blues party (didn't feel like going and still had to pay $20 so that my wife could go too), and three cycling rides in Conway on Sunday (here for the marathon) have been held or are expected to be held.

This part I love:

"All participants also received a gift bag with apparel and gifts." Ok, you know what? I'll give you back the gift bag and gifts. Just send me back the dough.

Mark Kruea, the city's public information officer writes: "The BI-LO Myrtle Beach Marathon is valued by the entire community, and we do not make this decision lightly."

Well, all the runner's came into town and spent a bunch of money in the off season. City officials made the decision to cancel at 10pm just when it was late enough so that runner's staying in local hotels still had to pay an extra night. What does he care if the thing got canceled? The community got it's "value" out of the marathon.

I understand that "bad" things happen beyond our control. I know that there is a great deal of planning that goes into an event like this and there are a lot of people who are involved. But all the runner's signed a waiver releasing the city from any liability in the event that a car slides off the wet roads and hits someone. What about swimmers at the beach during the summer. Do they sign waivers before getting into the water? Did the city big wigs even go outside to see the roads for themselves? I read some comments left on the Sun website and about 90% of them, including locals, were negative.

I'm really just venting. I'm tired and going to bed. Well hopefully, if I get my money back, I'll use it to enter a different race in the future.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of The Great Blizzard of 2010: Myrtle Beach Marathon.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Countdown to Myrtle Beach Marathon 2010

I had originally wanted to run the Outer Banks Marathon back in November, I think. But I got injured during the summer and I got lazy with my training so I chose Myrtle Beach because I had heard that it was flat and the weather was usually nice. Jessica and I are about to leave for the beach and the weather forecast for tomorrow's race is a balmy 31 degrees with a chance of snow flurries. C'mon!

So the countdown begins. My first marathon. Over 26 freakin' miles. I'm counting on at least 4 hours of running. We're staying at Jessica's uncle's beach house in North Myrtle and hoping to have a nice little Valentine's Day weekend--if I can walk later and the weather's nice. We packed movies and the backgammon board just in case.

I'll be posting marathon photos when we get back. For everyone else running tomorrow, Good Luck.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

First Snow in Charlotte

Well yesterday about 4 o'clock the temperature dropped, the clouds opened up and snow began to fall here in Charlotte. And today, for the first time in my life, scraped thick pieces of ice off my front porch with a garden hoe.

What I've learned about the relationship between the South and snow is that Southerners tend to freak out just a little bit when it starts to snow. Granted, I'm from California, so I'm not used to the snow that much either. But when snow starts to flurry in Charlotte everything shuts down. People don't go out. Businesses are closed.

There are a lot of Northerners living in Charlotte and most of them snicker a little. "This isn't snow," they say. For me, the snow is pretty fun. I was actually looking forward to the challenge of getting in the car and driving to work (Run For Your Life was open!). There were warnings on the internet about going out. I noticed that the Harris Teeter (east coast equivalent to Ralphs or Vons) was packed with people the day before the snow as if folks expected to be trapped in their homes for a week, with drifts piled up around the door, unable to get good access to bread or milk.

I completely understand that the roads are icy and can be dangerous. It's probably a good idea to stick close to home. I drove around town. I just made sure I drove slow. That's it. Just drive slow.

Back home, the fog is the serious weather issue during this time of the year. Tule Fog (pronounced too-lee) can get so bad that you can't see past the hood of your car. Every year the news broadcasts highway accidents and pile-ups of 60 cars or more.

My wife and I ate dinner out, drove to a friend's house and returned home just in time to see two people sledding down our frozen street in the dark. So cool. One of them made it almost the entire length of our street, lying down on the sled, while the other stood at the other end and yelled "Car!".

I'll limit my driving tomorrow if I can and do my best to watch out for the nut who's driving his SUV too fast, thinking that he'll be ok because he's got an SUV. And I'll try to make it to the store to get some bread, milk and rock salt for the slick porch.