Everyday Poetry

Earlier this month I took the opportunity to have a fantastic lunch at Bone Garden Cantina with my dear friend Troy. We had been threatening to catch up since prior to last Thanksgiving but some combination of parental duties and holidays got in the way every time. Thankfully we had a sunny, crisp January afternoon to reminisce and reacquaint after a prolonged absence.

Troy is what some would call an “old soul” but I always think of him as a Renaissance man. He loves denim, Auburn, photography, and his kids. He can hold court on the topic of live-streaming video, but is equally comfortable sharing his favorite verse – from song or poetry – he enjoys good beer, and is a fantastic dancer.

In the extended run-up to our reunion, I was reminded of a poem Troy would quote during the introspective stretches of our March Madness tenure. They were the last two lines of The Summer Day by Mary Oliver.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA
Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver

The stories we shared that afternoon were reminders of how we were both dealing with our wild and precious lives in ways that were at once similar, but also worlds apart. Troy has had to deal with some immense loss and change over the last 3 pandemic years, and I guess I have too. It felt cathartic and holy to share that space and those stories, but I wouldn’t betray any confidences by sharing them here, only to note that this is why we are friends: we can easily shift from the sublime to the ridiculous over a basket of tortilla chips and some craft beer.

The lunch was all too brief but it did remind me to renew my library card and check out a book of Mary Oliver’s poetry. Here’s a new one (to me) in a similar vein to Troy’s that I hope you’ll also enjoy.

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

from American Primitive, 1983
Copyright Back Bay Books
by Mary Oliver

I hope everyone will take time this year to cherish their friendships and to read some poetry (Troy and I would both suggest Mary Oliver). The world needs more of both friendships and poetry; now, more than ever.

Re-establishing a baseline

10 months ago I had foot surgery to correct a bunion on my left big toe. I’m not above sharing gross pictures on the internet, but I’ll save you the disgust this time. Suffice to say that what once looked and felt pretty terrible, now works like a dream. What hasn’t quite recovered, however, is my cardiovascular health.

At the height of the pandemic I was working out and running enough that I got my vO2 Max to a pretty awesome 44. For a guy in his mid-40’s having a vO2 Max in the mid-40’s is pretty impressive. When I started back to regular running about 8 weeks ago, it had dropped all the way down below 36 – a below average number for a man my current age (46).

Being a devotee of the Apple Watch I had gone down to that one piece of technology for tracking my workouts. I had previously used iSmoothRun for my running but Apple’s native Workout app on the watch makes it super simple to swipe to the correct activity and just start moving.

This time when I started back running I got the urge to try Strava. I’ve had a free account for a while now and I always see the bike rides of my cousin in Taiwan or the snowy adventures of an old classmate in Minnesota, so I decided to give it a shot. I had the watch share data to Strava and have been quite happy with the social aspect of getting “kudos” for my runs and walks. (Shoutout to the 80’s granola bar of the same name.)

This afternoon I switched things up and used the Strava app on the watch to record my workout. I wasn’t a big fan of the way it displayed realtime data – and I’m a known hater of the signature color of the app, orange – so I don’t think it’s a longterm solution. I do really dig the social aspect so whichever app I use in the future, I’ll keep sending data to Strava for those tasty kudos. 😉

What I’m really after is the flexibility to track not only my running but also the lifetime mileage of my new Christmas footwear – two new pair of Altra Torin 5’s! This was the deciding factor that led me to use iSmoothRun in the first place years ago. The app itself isn’t very Apple-y at all, but it does tick the “tracks shoes” box and it did let me easily save, export, and ultimately hack around with the individual TCX files for all my runs. iSmoothRun was the way I captured running data that I used to send to Runkeeper and then sent to Strava, but ultimately just dropped in Dropbox so I could do with it as I saw fit.

For now I’m just taking things slowly, the running and the run-tracking. I’m not in too much of a hurry to get faster (that’ll come) but I do want to be consistent about moving. I’ve found that focusing on my cadence has been very helpful. And while the v02 max hasn’t climbed much – just over a single digit – my cadence has been over 160 strides-per-minute on all of my runs.

As someone who’s over 6 feet 2 inches tall and north of 220 pounds on the scale, focusing on keeping my footfalls fast does pay dividends. I’m not as fast as I once was, but I’m training my legs to turn over quickly which will make me faster in the long run. I can also really appreciate just how magical my foot feels post-operative when I’m thinking about my footfalls. Huge credit to my amazing surgeon for fixing my bunion.

Since my commitment to getting healthier is the linchpin here, I’m likely to continue to tinker with all the apps and data aspect in an effort not to overtrain. If I can put some mental energy towards the nerdier parts of the training I won’t feel quite so much pressure to run more often/faster/longer.

Look for a fun data visualization or heat map or some other cool graphic concerning my running in the future!

Still I Run

2022 was a trying year.

I had foot surgery in March.
I changed jobs in late June.
I had a falling out with my parents in July.

I’m lucky enough to have a loving family who supported me when I couldn’t walk let alone run. A family who encouraged me leap to a new role with an entirely remote company. A structure that rewarded me for making the brave decisions that needed to be made in order for me to grow.

About a month ago I got an email from Altra, the shoe company that makes my favorite footwear, asking me to sign up for the Breaking Stigma in Stride 5k – a virtual race supporting the Mental Health advocacy through running organization “Still I Run“.

As someone who has experienced the mental illness of several family members first hand, I thought the race would be a great way to support them. If my own (lesser) 2022 challenges taught me anything it’s that we have nothing to be ashamed about and that we should be more transparent about the challenges we face.

So I ran the virtual race as an act of solidarity for those I love, as a way to bring more attention to a mostly hidden issue, and to get myself off the couch and towards better shape. Since my surgery – and honestly since some time in 2019 – I haven’t been much of a runner, but I’m committed to getting better in 2023. I came in 71st place out of 235, which isn’t too shabby and will serve as my benchmark for this year’s runs.

I don’t want to make any dramatic pronouncements but I do want to keep myself accountable. Hopefully this blog post is a public statement about where I want to go in 2023 and how we all should acknowledge the paths or others on their own unique journeys.

I’m not perfect, none of us are, but we can all try to improve by first owning our starting point. There’s absolutely zero shame in that.

Happy New Year!

The Bad Ends

Last week while I was out walking the dog in the evening, a neighbor stopped me, took of his headphones, and showed me his phone.

He’d been listening to a new track, All Your Friends Are Dying, by a “new” band out of Athens, The Dead Ends, that just happens to be fronted by the lead singer of Five Eight and features Bill Berry in his first post-R.E.M. ensemble.

My neighbor was grinning ear-to-ear so I typed “The Dead Ends” into my phone, confirmed I had the right album art, and walked home with a promise to listen to the single that precedes their forthcoming full album. You can too, below:

Now I’ve probably listened to this song about 20 times since then and it’s still excellent. I thought it sounded like a unreleased Big Star or Cracker song, which is fitting since it’s about a Big Star show:

The song and the video are a celebration of Athens. The song is also a tribute to Big Star and The Glands. I’m really singing it to a friend who missed this special performance of the Big Star Third album and I’m warning my friend not to miss stuff because life doesn’t last very long. We thought there was only cell phone footage of the show, but our friend Dan Jordan ended up having three cameras rolling that night. We were able to grab shots of Jody singing ‘Thirteen’ and Frank playing his guitar (which was a telecaster that night, which is why he plays an SG in the van, as namechecked in the song).

If that doesn’t get you excited about live music, the impermanence of everything, and Athens, GA then you may not be wired right.

I also recommended the song to a buddy who is going through a rough patch and I hope it brought him some joy. I know the message will resonate with him and I hope he received it in the manner it was intended.

It’s also gratifying when one of the best UGA bloggers on the internet mentions a track you’ve been binging. His post today spurred me to share the love here as well.

Anyhow, if you like power pop, jangly 80’s indie, “college rock”, or “alternative” and want something contemporary that plays in that space, give this one a listen.

Happy Monday!

Magic Mountain

At the end of September I had the opportunity to take a work trip for the first time in over 3 years and I took advantage since the destination was the Los Angeles metro area. I had meetings in El Segundo over the course of two days and my entire family joined me on the West Coast as the following week was “Fall Break” for the younger kids. Rae even took a few days off of classes to spend some time with us, soaking up the sun and exploring LA.

We stayed in Burbank (in the Flats near the 134) where Jenn, Rae, and Evie had spent the better part of 3 weeks earlier in the Summer. Evie had taken classes at several prominent dance studios – both in and around Hollywood and the Valley – and they fell in love with that area. Our Airbnb was the guest house (what Angelenos call an ADU – Accessory Dwelling Unit) on a palm tree-lined residential street just down the street from the Studios and a short drive from the 134, the 5, and beautiful downtown Burbank. If you just heard Gary Owens intone that last phrase, congratulations, you’re middle aged.

We went on the Warner Brothers Studio Tour on the first Saturday and got all the Gilmore Girls intel the tour guide would give us. I believe she called us “the most easily impressed group” she’d ever led. We oooh’d and ahhh’d every building from the Stars Hollow gazebo, to Luke’s Diner (Williams Hardware), to the house which on one side belongs to Lorelei but from the opposite side is Sookie St. James house.

We joked about Kirk waking up on a roof naked, though I’m fairly certain that was at the Dragonfly Inn, not Lorelai’s house.

Sure we enjoyed the Friends fountain and famous couch as well as the exterior to Abbott Elementary, but Gilmore Girls views really were the highlights of he tour for us.

That very same day – on the first night of Fright Night – we drove about 25 miles north of Burbank to Six Flags Magic Mountain. It was our first visit to a Six Flags park that wasn’t Six Flags Over Georgia and we were able to take advantage of our Season Pass status to get free parking and admission to the park! It wasn’t easy navigating a strange theme park entirely in the dark, with ghouls, ghosts, and guests roaming everywhere (it was busy!) but we managed.

What makes Magic Mountain such an amazing theme park is the fact that it has twenty, yes TWENTY, roller coasters. A few of those are kiddie and family coasters but the park has an amazing collection of classic thrill rides like Revolution (featured in National Lampoon’s Vacation), modern conversions like Twisted Colossus (again, the original ride is in National Lampoon’s Vacation), to the newest coaster in the Six Flags chain, Wonder Woman Flight of Courage.

Here’s a breakdown of the coasters we rode, in the order in which we initially rode them, and my mini-review of each one. Keep in mind that we made 3 trips across two consecutive Saturdays, with a weekday trip in the middle, so I was able to ride a few of these multiple times.

  • Twisted Colossus – A modern RMC conversion of a classic wooden coaster (Colossus) that is a Möbius strip coaster. You can end up dueling with another train which goes up a lift hill directly beside you. First side is the blue track, second side is green, and both rides are outstanding with plenty of airtime and fun moments including a Top Gun roll where you can wave or give the bird to folks on the other train. It even has the signature RMC pre-lift hill bunny hills that get you excited for the ride to come. No matter which day/time we went this ride was well-staffed and running quickly. I got 5 rides, the most of any coaster in the park, and it’s easy to see why this is a top 3 ride at this park.
  • Wonder Woman Flight of Courage – an RMC single rail “raptor” coaster, this ride is the tallest, fastest, and longest single rail coaster in the world. It features a cool moving train in the station model that lets riders get on and off quickly, which is key since your ride in a single file on each train. I’m not the biggest fan of the restraints on this ride since the comfort collar straps keep you from fulling feeling some of the airtime and ejector moments, but this is a helluva ride. We rode the first time in near total darkness the first night and the combination of the wind, super fast lift hill, and our inexperience with the layout meant I screamed with delight from the first drop until the break run. I got 3 rides of this one and I think it’s my favorite ride in the park. This style of coaster is silky smooth, fast, and has a great mix of forces both positive and negative that make it a real standout.
  • Goliath – Super huge but nothing to write home about. The lift hill takes you over 200 feet in the air but the forces just aren’t that exciting. Only the helix at the end feels extreme, but it’s almost too little, too late. Offers a great view of the park, even in darkness, and if you’re someone who gets triggered by heights this one might definitely give you a thrill.
  • Full Throttle – A great launch coaster with a moment of sheer delight as you hang upside down (and think you’ll roll back to the station) during the second half of the initial loop. The second launch sends you backward, then forward, for a third launch to a top hat over the top of the initial loop. You get another pop of airtime that is ultimately ruined by a break run, but this is still a good ride and it has the best operator banter (“You can scream, you can shout, but it’s too late to get out!”) of any ride in the park. Our operators were even discussing which line to use as the trains loaded. Rode this one twice and would’ve ridden it more but it was always busy. It’s in the front of the park and people flock to it when the park opens.
  • Tatsu – the most amazing flying coaster due to its combination of setting and elements. Better, bar far, than Six Flags Over Georgia’s “Superman: Ultimate Flight” due to Tatsu’s position on the top of “Samurai Summit” in the park. This was tallest/fastest/longest flying coaster when it opened. It gives you some fantastic aerial views of the park and landscape and truly feels like you’re flying. The pretzel loop near the end is crazy. I only got one ride since the coaster was either closed or swamped with guests every subsequent time we walked by. That lift hill is something else too, with your body literally hanging out in space as your crest over the mountain itself.
  • Apocalypse – a crazy fast wooden coaster that nearly deafened me with its rattle. The train passes through the station above the entrance gate mid-ride and that’s a highlight. We only rode it once but I’d gladly do it again.
  • West Coast Racers – Another launch coaster (like Full Throttle) that is also another dueling, Möbius strip coaster (Twisted Colossus). I loved this ride but both Owen and Imogen had painful rides due to the restraints. The second/fourth launches are very forceful and the interplay of the tracks define this ride. Every single ride duels which is a big step up over Twisted Colossus which never dueled on any of my rides.
  • Viper – An Arrow Megalooper coaster that is much-maligned but I thought it was a fun ride. Folks don’t like the older shoulder restraints and some complain about head-banging, but I loved it. Super forceful with three consecutive loops, a batwing, and then two corkscrews, this isn’t a subtle experience and is the kind of thrill ride indicative of the race for taller, faster, more extreme rides of the late 80’s into the early 90’s
  • Riddler’s Revenge – at one time this was the tallest, fastest, and longest standing coaster. I think it still holds two of these titles and I LOVED it. Some folks are put off by the standing part – the bicycle seat can be painful – but if you stand at full height it’s not an issue. Another coaster with a ton of inversions, this ride was amazing from start to finish and even has a little air time. This ride spoiled me for the standing coaster at my home park, Georgia Scorcher, which is short, not very forceful, and not really interesting. This is what a standing coaster could and should be.
  • Goldrusher – the original coaster in the park, dating all the way back to 1971. Not much in terms of force on this old mine train, but the final helix is nice and you can’t beat all the interplay with the hillside track. Good views of of Full Throttle throughout. Rode it once.
  • X2 – the iconic, groundbreaking, 4-D coaster. I don’t think any explanation of what this coaster does or how those forces affect your body would do it justice. I’m including a photo of myself riding below for your amusement. Every person who saw it broke out in laughter, especially my kids and a group of tourists behind us. My favorite parts, in order 1) the lift hill laying on your back which gives a great view of Magic Mountain, 2) the initial drop where your spun face down at over 80 degrees before flipping head over heels through the first loop, and 3) the final break run. Everything between 2 & 3 for me was a blur.
  • Superman: Escape From Krypton – Only the forward-facing side was open and it’s pretty much a one-trick-pony ride. Launching up to 100+ mph out of the station then ascending almost 400 feet in the air, returning in reverse to the station. Folks in line said starting backwards was better, but the rush was fun and you got some hang time at the top. Not worth the hour-plus wait though. Would only ride again if it was going backwards.
  • Ninja – one of the original style suspended coasters, with bucket trains that sway from side to side. This one also traverses down Samurai Summit like Tatsu and, again, the terrain makes the ride. The lift hill back to the station is a bit funky, but this ride is still fun. All coasters should utilize their surroundings in a similar manner, especially on hillsides like this one. I got a ride in the dark and would love to ride it again in the daytime. I hear the line is usually pretty short too.

That’s 13 coasters out of a possible 20, which isn’t bad. That’s more coasters than are even in my home park by 2! Combine the coasters with plenty of fog machines, scare zones with folks leaping out, and multiple haunted houses & mazes, you’ve got some pretty amazing experiences.

I won’t recount all the rides we didn’t ride, but here’s the picture of me riding X2 as promised.

The look of sheer, unadulterated terror on my face doesn’t do the experience of riding this coaster justice. I had a literal nightmare after riding it and I still think I’d do it again just to get a better understanding of what actually happens.

Now in between all these trips to ride rollercoasters at Magic Mountain, Jenn & I still worked our day jobs (on East Coast time), we explored Santa Monica beach, Venice, the Hollywood hills, all throughout the Valley (including the Circus Liquor where Cher in Clueless gets mugged), UCLA’s campus, and ate most dinners out in downtown Burbank.

I’m glossing over a ton of life and lived experiences, but it’s those roller coasters I really wanted to catalog. Maybe I’ll write another post about all the times I mentioned The Big Lebowski as we passed a Ralph’s or all the great West Coast beer I drink over the course of 12 days – and I think I must’ve had 10 new beers to me!

Over the Summer months, especially when Jenn, Rae, and Evie made their first trek to LA, I went to Six Flags Over Georgia with the Owen and Imogen at least twice a week and once on the weekends. I suppose I should recount those rides as well – and their pictures – but I think I’ll leave that post for another time.

For now I’ll just say that Fright Fest is a great time to go to a theme park, get a little bit scared by a ride or a costumed creature, and act like a kid again, if only for the evening.

Until next time, Magic Mountain, I’ll be dreaming (hopefully without nightmares of X2) of you.