I Came to the Mountains

It is the first winter in thirty eight years that I am not up to my eyeballs in tax returns.  Yes, retirement is good.  So what is a guy to do with this new found freedom?  Go to the mountains of course.  The thought of being able to ski after so many seasons on the sidelines was too much to resist.  And so we were off, my wife Deb, my daughter Kathryn and her boyfriend Eli.  For Eli there was the added excitement of skiing moutain terrain for the very first time.  Considering Midwest skiing happens on hills not mountains and the serious elevation might be a whopping 600 feet of vertical drop, this was going to be mind boggling.  And Eli was ready as were all of us.

We chose Winter Park for mutiple reasons.  First and foremost, was a very fee reduced week at a condo provided by a former client and family friend.  Second was the mantra I had heard.  “You go to Aspen for the views, Vail to be viewed and you go to Winter Park to ski.”  This was exactly what we were looking for and we found it.

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We arrived on the Sunday afternoon of my birthday.  Did I mention that this was also my birthday gift to myself.  Having flown into Denver, we hopped a shuttle for the ride up to Winter Park, crossing Berthoud Pass at 11,306 feet of elevation.  From there it was back into the Frasier Canyon area and into the village where we arrived at our condo.  I owe it to my benefactor to sing the praises of her condo.  Situated on the banks of the Frasier River and conveniently located in the center of town, we could want for nothing more.  We can both see and hear the river rippling below our balcony and looking east we can see the front slopes of Winter Park Ski Area, beckoning us up.  All around us the Rockies rise majestically to the deep blue Colorado skies.  The condo is functional, comfortable and cozy all rolled into one.  After a satisfying dinner at the quirky Henando’s Pizzeria and Pub, we are ready to plan our early morning rendevous with the ski hill.

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Monday morning dawns clear and crisp.  10 degrees to start our day but promises of middle to upper twenties by midday.  Absolutely perfect skiing conditions.  The snow is fast and the air warm enough to ski in relatively light gear and the vistas, thanks to crystal clear skies….out of this world.  From the top, we can see all of the Frasier Valley unfold below while the boundaries of the valley are encircled with 13,000 foot snocapped peaks.  Thirteeners as the locals refer to them.  We will start skiing at 9000 feet and reach 12,060 feet at the summit of Panorama Cirque.  We refer to runs by the only measurement that makes relative sense to us, “that one was a three Cascade”  This is a reference to the local ski hill back home and the only meaningful way we can compare the vertical drop.

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The views are spectacular and the range of change from bottom to top can best be described by not only the elevation but the change in temparature.  Shortly before noon we start our ride to the summit.  At base the temperature is a balmy 29 degrees but by the time we approach the summit it has fallen to 2 degrees with a negative 10 degree wind chill.  Of course we had cimbed 3000 feet to get there.  Standing on the summit, we make the decision to take combinations of runs that will allow us to ski a continuous line top to bottom.  Twenty minutes later we reach our lowest access point still a full “Cascade” above the resort base.  We are winded and tired but smiling ear to ear.  We skied non-stop for hours, each run evaluated for its nuances and our favorite features of the run.  Closing time comes too soon but we feel we have skied hard and gotten everything we could out of our time on the mountain.

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And this was day one.  Tomorrow and for the next three days we will continue to soak in the mountains, the vistas and the skiing.  Am I happily retired, at this point I can think of no better reward for a life long career of hard work than to be here in the Rockies on top of my world.

Heart Sick

I have deliberately waited to write this piece.  The emotions are still too raw.  Last week while on vacation, I turned on the TV to view yet another senseless school shooting at Parkland High School just a stones throw from where we were staying in Florida.  Fourteen innocent students and three faculty members were killed while over a dozen others were wounded by a self proclaimed “school shooter”.  We will blame this on a muriad of reasons but the simple truth is that a willing individual had the tool to carry out his plan of destruction.  But this is not the destruction of some inanimate object, it is the destruction of human life and the countless lives that life touched and would have touched.  It is the destruction of families and friends and ultimately the trust that innocent students would be safe in their schools.

Reaction was swift and filled with rhetoric.  “Thoughts and Prayers”.  I am not saying that prayers are not necessary but they cannot be the only response.  And they weren’t.  There was the usual knee jerk reaction that we need to arm schools, have more “shooter drills” and spend more money on school security issues.  And again, I am not saying that these security issues haven’t become the new necessary protocal, though arming schools is an abomination.  Our children and educators should not have to be trained to become an armed camp.  In some ways they are being made the culprit for not being armed when they were in fact the victim.  Lets not lose sight of this.  The real issue here is the gun in question, the AR 15 assualt rifle.  There is simply no reason for an individual to own an assault rifle unless you are in the military or law enforcement.

I live in a state where my legislators want no waiting period to buy a weapon.  In addition, they would cut spending that specifically reduces the mental health offerings that are clearly another symptom of these school shootings.  How can we in good conscience claim that we are addressing this problem when we make it easier to obtain a gun and specifically an assault rifle.

And here comes the standard disclaimer.  I grew up in a family where my father had several hunting rifles and married into a family where sport hunting is a major activity.  I have countless friends who are hunters and own guns for this purpose.   I am not against these guns nor would I advocate for their unlawful siezure.  That said, none of my family members owned or saw a need to own an assualt weapon.  An assualt weapon has one and only one purpose and that is to efficiently kill another person.  They are not hunting weapons.  I know the push back will be the person who says but I only target practice or collect them.  I am sorry but the collection of children targeted and killed in school shootings by the AR 15 has become epidemic.  Can we really advocate that our right to own one supercedes their right to life?

We have banned fully automatic rifles.  It is time to do the right thing.  It is time to be courageous in the face of the cowardly use of and argument against banning the AR 15 as well.  I can hear the argument and I’ll even pose it.  If we ban them, what about all the ones still in ownership out there?  My response, it is the first step and one that is sinfully long overdue.  Only by stopping the proliferation can we ever hope to ultimately remove the threat.  I applaud the students who are now stepping into the outcry.  They show the very maturity and conviction that we sent them to school to develop.  I only pray that we will not simply write their movement off.  We need our lawmakers to listen but listening without action is a placebo.

The victims of these shootings were generally too young to even vote.  They depended on us to do the right thing with our votes.  I for one will not ignore that responsibility.  I will continue to vote with conviction for those legislators that will take on the courageous battle for educated, sane and meaningful gun legislation.  These are our children that these families are burying this week.  To pretend they are not and to simply send thoughts and prayers without action is cowardly.  For my own children and my grandchildren, their future must change.

Cattle Call…………. Or how I never found a line I didn’t hate

 

We are flying today, well finally flying.  Like any other airline trip, our morning began at oh four thirty or as Robin Williams coined it in Good Morning Vietnam, “it’s 04:30 as in Oh God it’s early.”  We packed back up and moved on down to the lobby where we grabbed a coffee and got in line for the shuttle to the airport.  I had spent the afternoon before on line pre paying our baggage fees and printing off our boarding passes.  We are TSA approved and we are going to “fly”, pun intended, through the airport and unto our plane.  At least that’s what all those pop up ads and on-line cues promised me.

We enter the terminal at 5:30, still A.M., to be greeted by the line I was sure I would get to skip.  Oh so wrong Toto.  We may have paid for them, but they still wanted to weigh our bags, especially since my wife’s looked like she may be traveling with her own small hotel.  Twenty minutes later we are weighed in and under way once more.  Remember how I said we were TSA pre-checked, no line for us, right?  If you placed that bet, don’t play the lottery today.  There WAS NO TSA pre-checked line in this terminal, only a line that snaked through five turns with dramatic long straight-a-ways designed for making new friends.  I am soon conversing with persons of several nationalities, well, at least we nod a lot and look at each other’s watches, but I am pretty sure we are nearing BFF status.  This line moves quickly…..and again you fell for that and now you should add “free” sales pitches to your list of things to avoid today.  It didn’t, but 45 minutes later we reached the incredibly service oriented check in agent.  I believe she said move it along while stamping my boarding pass as if it were a large insect destined for the promised-land and I was the steer it was riding on.  I think I actually herd Rowdy Yates singing out “ride em in, herd em up, cut em out, move em in Rawhide.”  (Don’t know that one, Google: Rawhide TV show)

So, are you keeping up?  I know I am as I have had plenty of time in line.  We are now finally in the line to disrobe for the TSA.  Thankfully, I get to leave my shoes on.  But then that’s about it.  As I step into the scan booth, I have a metal knee so I get the deluxe treatment, and why doesn’t it show up on the X-ray as opposed to the box around my private area, the technician asks me, no that’s far too kind compared to what she actually says as she loudly proclaims “pull your pants up.”  In my head, I imagine the “old man” added to the end of the request.  My only response at this point is that you should’ve left me keep my belt if that was the hoped for result.  A delightful pat down later and a retrieval of my personals and we have cleared line four of the morning.  Good thing we arrived a day before our flight…. Alright…. that’s a little sarcastic but I’ve had two cups of coffee this morning and for a non-coffee drinker, that is sufficient to carry me well past witty and deep into the realm where only sarcasm can exist.  And as the ad says, “But wait, there’s more.”

We arrive at our gate, the last one in Terminal 3, wing L, gate infinity.  We find two seats, park our weary feet, and are immediately informed that the flight has been moved to the other end of the terminal.  We are nearly trampled as our now terribly familiar cattle drive, stampedes toward the new gate, only to find out our plane is now departing, and there is a bit of ironic word usage, a half hour late and I just blew past the breakfast stop.  Oh well, now I have additional time to go back for breakfast.  I am committed to something fast so I head back down the terminal to those friendly Golden Arches.  What could go wrong, its fast food and I figure heavy on the FAST part.  I could believe that but I would be wrong.  It was anything but fast, though thankfully the line of hungry cattle was friendly or at least equally sarcastic and that seemed the same as friendly.  I need to describe the scene.  There is a middle-aged gentleman ordering food, cell phone held six inches from his face, screaming into the phone about his credit card that has been denied for the fourth time this week.  I am so glad he has decided to hold us all here as his jury of peers offering us the chance to decide on the guilt or innocence of some poor service person on the end of that cell phone shout out.  I and the woman next to me have already found the credit card agent innocent of all misdeeds and are even considering her for a humanitarian award.  Meanwhile, the cashier is loudly shouting out numbers to the milling cattle herd.  My new name is number 482.  I am feeling the love for sure.  I hope I get the “happy meal”.

Eventually served and fed, I am back down to the gate arriving just as they call general boarding for our flight.  Not to be left out, and certain the plane will bolt away from the gate without us, my wife motions me into, here it comes, our next line.  And to make it all that much better, once we cleared the boarding pass scan line we are on a jet way that leaves me fearing that our plane is already parked at the Orlando Airport and we are walking there on this jet way maze.

All stories must come to an end, ironically, just as all lines do, but this one had one more twist.  In a saga that couldn’t have gone any other way, our plane taxied out to the runway where we were informed we would be returning to our gate as some still unnamed crew member had not properly filled out their paperwork.  Of course…it had to end this way.   It would have been anticlimactic if it hadn’t.  In a twist of fate, I wonder if the unnamed crew person is now destined to their own line, applying for unemployment benefits.

We are in the air now and soon the snow and cold will be left behind, traded for a week of sun and sand, I just hope that I can find a line somewhere because God knows, I am a line standing, gold medal Olympian at this point.

What can one person do……….

Our church is in the middle of a four part educational class led by Kathy Michaelis that sheds light on racial discrimination.  My wife and I were in attendance and the effect of the class is profound.  I am hoping that you are not sitting back finding reasons to not read my blog today.  Reasons like “I would never discriminate” or “I am not racist” or “Here we go again”.  I will be the first to deny any leaning toward discrimination and I am betting that better than 99% of the people I call friends and aquaintenances would say the same.  The problem is even when we don’t actively discriminate we support a system by our silence or inaction, that inheritantly does.  The system doesn’t intend to, but the truth is that after over 150 years since slavery was abolished with the 13th ammendment, a clearly unequal playing field still exists.  Even when we have laws to guard against it, the system has a long way to go to be equalized.  For reference to the divide between net worth for African Americans and whites I will ask you to check out this YouTube video:  Race: Power of an Illusion “The house you live in”.  It will go through how lending and building expansion was skewed to make it almost impossible for African Americans to own property let alone create equity.  Equity in our economic society is what in most cases describes the majority of our net worth and allows us to create leverage for our purchasing power.

Kathy used this video in week two to highlight the inequitable policies of the building boom of the post WWII era and how the result of those policies are still felt today.  I consider myself history smart, but the revelations were not only shocking but almost depressing when I am forced to ask the question “but what can one person do?”  As a class we passionately discussed this question.  The conversation was at times overwhelming.  It is too easy to ignore the realities of life as it exist in our society.  It is too easy to pretend there is no such thing as “white priviledge” or worse yet to defend it as something we have earned.  Don’t take this the wrong way.  White priviledge is not an insult or a statement meant to elicit guilt.  It is just a fact and as such, gives me a head start in the race.  There is an activity described as “the race for the $100 bill”.  A $100 bill is laid out and the participants are asked to line up for the race to see who can get to the bill first.  Before the race begins, the starter states that “if you come from a stable family with two parents” take one step forward.  If your parents both have jobs, take another step forward.  If you know where your meal will come from tonight, take yet another step forward.  And so on.  White priviledge becomes painfully obvious.  By now you are getting my point.  We can blame poverty or education.  You can claim that they don’t take the initiative.  You can find a hundred reasons to hide behind but the truth of the matter is that the race was never fair.  They started late and have to take off from behind the line.  Whether you believe in profiling or not, the percentage of blacks incarcerated is completely disproportionate by any statistic.  And when that incarceration creates yet another child growing up in a single parent home, well you get my drift.

So what can a person do?   I have my opinion and I am compelled to share it if only for the hope that someone will take it as a place to start.  I think that there are four things that we can do and is at least a place to start.

One, we can act individually.  We can take the initiative to help even one individual to get ahead or at least get up to the starting line.  If we are in the position to make a life changing decision, like hiring, then consider stepping into the role.

Two, we have a vote and we must exercise it.  But here is the rub, just voting to vote accomplishes very little.  We must be educated to the campaign promises and the pressures of the party line on the candidates we choose.  At times we must be willing to make sacrifices with our vote.  I once told someone that if I wanted to get elected the first promise I make is to cut your taxes.  No one wants to pay taxes but it is a sacrifice that is demanded of those who can, to provide the revenue through taxes that ultimately protects, preserves and improves the society, culture and infrastructures we live and thrive in.  On this front I have a clean conscience.  I have voted in favor of referendums that would raise my taxes.  I have looked for and supported candidates that would favor programs and laws that would seek to provide for and improve the lives of those in need even when it meant I would see my taxes increased.  I don’t relish paying the taxes I pay but I do it without complaint and feel better for it.

Three, donate and volunteer in the programs that will take us in a better direction, assist those unable to overcome their inherited plight and ultimately begin to truly level the playing field for all.  If you have the financial resources, give generously from that head start that you had.  If the financial resources aren’t there, then donate with your hands and feet.  Either way or both ways, your actions are a start to the long road ahead.  If it took 150 years and this is all the farther we have come, there is plenty of work and unfortunately, time ahead of us.

And four, educate yourself and anyone else that will listen.  Start by sharing this blog, but don’t stop there.  Volunteer to repeat this process in your church or school or any other organization.  There is a wealth of information out there and the education process has to be nurtured.  At the very least, assist schools when they broach the subject, be supportive with your time, dollars and your vote.

The solution starts with individuals.  Think of yourself as that seed you put in the pot of soil.  If you command the seed to grow and then ignore the whole thing, odds are it won’t.  If on the other hand you water it, even fertilize it and at the very least pay attention to it, you just might see it succeed.  Please remember that dispair is the last step on the road to giving up.  Don’t dispair, believe that you are not alone and take the first step in the other direction.