We were just strangers when we met

The sign read “There are no strangers here, just friends you haven’t met.”  This turned out to be pretty prophetic.  By the end of one month of travel, we had met many strangers who by the time we had to part ways, were new friends.

August found my wife and I on a trip up the Rhine in Europe.  It started with us meeting two couples from Nebraska, Mureen and her husband Murray and Gayle and her husband Larry.  We shared stories and drinks and continued those conversations all week long.  Now we also met another couple the very first day and bravely introduced ourselves.  Through the next ten days, we shared walks and talks, dinners and stories of our lives.  But eventually we were saying goodbye to our new friends, Polly and Stu, but knowing we would make a mutual effort to meet again.  Strangers had turned out to be friends we just hadn’t met.

And then there was Lucerne.  We had boarded a paddlewheeler for a trip around Lake Lucerne.  Knowing no local dialects and completely on our own, we took a seat across from an elderly women.  As the boat moved away from the pier, she leaned over and asked if we were from the U.S.  Over the next hour we carried on a fascinating conversation learning things about our new friend, Lucerne and Switzerland.  When she had to disembark at her stop, the women next to her, not knowing any of us, leaned in and said “I’ll take care of them from here.”  And she did.  No language barrier was going to thwart the effort of strangers becoming friends.

My wife and I just returned from a short trip to the North Woods.  On day two of our stay, I headed out to an area golf course.  I was going to squeeze in a quick nine holes somehow hoping I could just play alone and practice my game undisturbed by any semblance of competition.  But this was not to be.  Instead, I was paired up with two gentleman, Gene and his son-in-law, Ryan.  As they had never played the course, I turned out to be their guide.  The three of us shared a very beautiful fall morning and what turned out to be one of my best scores of the season.  As I finished on the ninth hole, we all wished each other well and where we had been strangers just two hours earlier, parted as friends.

The next day, Deb and I took a long bike ride on a trail near our cottage.  When we returned back to our car, which we had left parked at a local pub, we decided we needed some lunch and the pub looked inviting.  It was while we were there that I discovered the sign I quoted at the beginning of this piece.  It was placed prominently above the bar and in the patrons soon proved how true it was.  In no time at all we were in conversation with two local construction workers, the bartender / owner of the pub and two other couples who were traveling like us and had decided to drop in, because that’s what you do at a North Woods pub.  The sign was true, there really were no strangers there.

The next day found us again at the end of another bike ride exploring yet another local pub.  Before you start worrying about my drinking habits, remember that we are on vacation, wait even better, we are retired.  Earlier, as we were locking our bikes and walking downtown, a woman crossing the street had overheard us pondering about this new place, well new to us, and told us it was a great place and that we ought to stop back later when the place opened.  Well it was later and we heeded her advice and entered the establishment.  To our surprise, the women, it turns out her name was Margaret, was not only working there but was in fact the co-owner.  We ordered our drinks and retired to the warmth and coziness of their backyard patio.  There Margaret waited on and conversed with us, sharing her story and getting ours in return.  Within the span of half an hour, we felt like friends.  Hopefully Margaret is reading this blog and is approving my story.  There is no doubt that The Vine in Minocqua will be a new favorite stop on our stays up North and we will look forward to more conversations with the owners, Margaret and Scott.

Our trip was coming to a close when we got one last chance to make a stranger a friend.  It was Saturday and we had just finished golfing.  Not wanting to miss the Badger’s football game, we stopped in the Sayner Pub, yes, I know this is starting to sound like a North Woods pub review but it’s just a coincidence.  We seated ourselves at the bar, best viewing position, I swear, and began watching the game.  We were soon surrounded by strangers who through the comraderie of a sporting event would become our new friends of the day.  Bob on our left, recently retired and living up North and Ryan on our right who turned out to be from Madison.  The Badgers won, we all celebrated and after sharing our stories, parted with the memories and emotions of another well spent day.

This piece would be pointless without a message, okay moral.  One never knows what interesting story resides in the stranger sitting next to you or maybe waiting in the same line.  That is unless you take the step to find out.  To maybe even introduce yourself.  What’s the worst that could happen?  They might just turn out to be the friend you haven’t met.

Somewhere over Ireland

We have been flying all night, which is a relative term.  While my watch says it is 5:00 am, the outside tells me it is much later.  Seven hours later to be exact.  It is a strange sensation, especially if it is the first time one has ever done it, to fly east, racing toward the sunrise.  The airlines, Delta in our case, does everything possible to help you through this body clock dilemma.  You are served dinner at 11:00 pm, lights and all noise dimmed, eye shades handed out along with blankets and pillows all to get you ready for the big time shift that awaits you.

I walk through the plane several times during the wee hours of the morning, enviously watching the seasoned travelers actually sleeping.  But sleep eludes me.  Though the seats are “comfort seats” designed for extra leg room, my legs will not let me sleep.  They twitch and remind me that I am sitting up when they want to be stretched out parallel to gravity.  The night passes and then at roughly 1:00 am, my time when I should be sound asleep, the plane catches up with the sunrise and reality sets in, you have reached tomorrow, today.

The plane comes awake at 4:30 am.  By this I mean that the lights are slowly brought up and breakfast sounds are coming from the galley.  At 5:00 am we are having breakfast, while miles below, somewhere over the coast of Ireland, they are sitting down to lunch.  As we are landing soon, my body will just have to adapt if this adventure is to begin.  It has been twenty-four hours since I got up in my bedroom thousands of miles behind us.  The world has shrunk and we aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Next stop, Amsterdam, with its canals, windmills and bikes…..hundreds and hundreds of bikes.


My New Best Friend

I need to preface this piece. Today marks the 21st anniversary of 9/11 and it must be recognized that the loss on that tragic day can never come close to the loss I am writing about in this piece. The courage and bravery of those involved in any and all aspects of that day must never be forgotten.

Last week Deb and I, along with another couple, Larry and Annette, had decided to ride the Sugar River Bike Trail from Albany to New Glarus. Not wanting to ride down and then ride back on the same trail, we had been clever and agreed on a way to leave my car at the end of the trail in New Glarus and Larry’s car at the trailhead in Albany. We would drop off our spouses and the bikes in Albany, drive both cars down to New Glarus and then return to Albany in Larry’s car. Once we completed the ride, I would drive Larry back to Albany to get his car. Perfect plan. What could go wrong? Maybe a disclaimer here: Neither Larry nor I felt particularly proud of our respect for the environment demonstrated in this plan, but hey, we at least rode bikes at some point.

If you have been a faithful reader of my blog or for that matter, patient enough to sit through any of my many stories, you will know that my keys and I sometimes part ways. As we finished our ride and were locking up the bikes, I looked across the parking lot at my waiting car. It took me all of a second for the painful reality to hit me. No, my keys weren’t lost, not this time. In fact, I knew exactly where they were and let me add, they were safe and secure. The problem was that they were safe and secure in Larry’s car, the car that was now 16 miles away in a parking lot in Albany. Facing me now, was the hierarchy of who do I confess to first, my spouse, who would immediately lecture me, rightfully so, on the virtues of making sure I kept track of things, or Larry and Annette, enjoying their well deserved ice cream while anticipating Larry’s ride back to Albany and his parked car, and blissfully ignorant to the events now unfolding just a few feet away..

I opted for neither and headed straight for Kennedy’s Ice Cream stand where I shamelessly asked the owner if she knew how I might actually get back to Albany other than by riding my bike back up the trail…. alone! Even as my loving wife was figuring out what was going on, the owner tells me she will call her husband and he and his truck can take me there. Now all I had to do was break the bad (embarrassing) news to Larry and Annette. Their response was both expected and priceless. The expected; “You’re kidding, right?”, the priceless part; in that exact same moment of shameful confession, the owner calls out to me and says. “He’s on his way.” Praise the Lord, I’m saved! An hour later, Larry and I have returned with Larry’s car, my keys, and a new best friend. In that half hour trip back up, we have heard my hero’s life story, identified at least three intersections in our lives and have considered buying his restored wooden Criss Craft boat, or at least ready to ask him for a ride in it.

Here is my point. We all experience losses in life. Some of those losses are catastrophic; the loss of health, the loss of life, or even the loss of a loved one. Others are far less critical such as the loss of some item or, in my case, the loss of pride. As hard as it was to admit the mistake to my friends, the amazing result was the forgiveness I received and the incredible acts of kindness I experienced at the hands of strangers. The agony of my shame was overshadowed by the reward of renewed faith in the community of strangers. Going forward, I may just make it a practice to lose things so that others can have the chance to rescue me. On second thought, probably not the best of plans.

Just a Little Ride Across Wisconsin

The time is just a few minutes after 3:00 am. John is already up and carbo loading on a breakfast of pancakes and syrup. In a little more than an hour he will be starting off on what will be a 240-mile trek by bike across Wisconsin. The ride will start here in Lacrosse, Wisconsin and work its way southeast across the state eventually ending on the waterfront in downtown Milwaukee. He will be accompanied by 700 fellow bike riders, some as lone riders like John while others will ride for teams of several riders. The trek will take them through nearly 70 miles of gravel trail and tunnels, with another 170 miles on backroads as they rise and fall over 6500 feet of total elevation. While the ride starts with hundreds of riders, only about 160 will cover the entire 240 miles in a single day. John has trained all year for this ride, but today will be his distance record as he joins the group to cover it in a single day.

3:45 am Ready to roll

I will be driving the sag wagon for John’s trip, accompanied by my daughter Bailey who is John’s spouse. Our job will be to meet him at the designated checkpoints along the way where we will refresh his water bottles and provide him with the snacks and food he has planned out for each stop. This honor had fallen to my younger daughter, Kathryn, last year, but is mine to experience this year. I am honored to be on his sag crew and a part of his journey.

It is now 4:30 am and we are with John as he awaits the start and continues to check and recheck everything on his bike. The start is only minutes away now and bikers are coming from every direction to find their starting positions. The start area is marked off in intervals that closely mimic the starting paces the riders intend to keep. The faster pace riders are placed near the beginning, while slower starters will take up positions further back in line. The last thing any rider wants is to be involved in a collision within the first mile of the ride due to an uneven start. John will take a position in the top third of the riders with a chosen pace around 15 mph. My first impression is of how focused John is. If he is to be successful, he must maintain a sustainable pace, pay attention to his times as he has planned them out, and be able to break the ride into segments. He will likely be on the bike for up to 17 hours and he has to find ways of avoiding thinking about how much he still has left, as opposed to focusing on the segments as he finishes one and begins the next. Only if he thinks of them as a bunch of shorter trips, will the totality of the trip not take its toll on his emotional energy.

Focused! John prepares and Bailey syncs the app we will use to track John.

It’s 5:00 am, the start! John gives us a cursory glance and a wave, and he is off into the dark. By the time Bailey and I have made our way back to the hotel, the app on her phone shows John already 6 miles out. Sparta is our first check point some 30 miles away. We decide we better forego breakfast and get on the road to meet him. It’s amazing how this feels like a sacrifice for us and then we remember, John’s on the bike, we are in a car. Way too easy to lose perspective. We vow to toughen up, but not without a cup of coffee to go.

The weather last night was dotted with torrential downpours. We are worried as John approaches the Sparta Elroy trail, as to the condition of the gravel bed. How messed up will the tunnel surfaces be. One of those tunnels is nearly a mile in length and there are no lights. The riders will depend on the collective light cast by their bike lights. As John prepares to leave this first pit stop, he expresses concerns about switching from pavement to the gravel trails but grabs fresh water and a couple bananas and heads back out. He will repeat this action up to ten more times throughout the day. At least the rain, forecast to be off and on all day, has so far held off. We pick John up as the trail crosses through the next three villages. He does not stop at any of these, but I can feel the relief in Bailey as she waves him through. Each crossing shows he is riding strong and has chopped off another ten miles here and another fifteen miles there. His next planned stop will be Elroy.

We are there waiting in Elroy. It is amazingly only 9:45 in the morning. It seems so much later but then we remind ourselves that John has now been riding for almost five hours. Again, with the perspective! This is the point where he will switch from the Sparta Elroy trail to the 400 Trail as it winds its way down to Reedsburg. As it turns out, we were able to pass John a slice of pizza and pudding cup at the old train depot in Kendall. He warned us that he may not stop at Elroy and as he approaches us on the trail, he gives a thumbs up and rides straight through. I guess we catch him at Reedsburg.

We wait at the depot in Reedsburg and eventually we start seeing riders we know have been coming through the previous checkpoints around the same time as John. Bailey’s app says that he is about 2 miles out and so we wait. Then suddenly we see him making the corner leading into town and the end of the 400 Trail. He reaches the depot covered in mud, gravel, and grease. His black bike is barely recognizable, but John just wants a quick refuel on some snacks and heads back out. We will meet him in Wisconsin Dells where he will take ten minutes to wolf down a burger and fries that we are to pick up while we wait. The good news, he is off the gravel trails for the next few hours and the sun is out. The bad news, the Baraboo Ridge lies dead ahead and that means the hills have begun.

The stop in Wisconsin Dells goes well and Bailey and I hide our shame as we finish off our McDonalds burger, fries, and a shake, oh the humanity! John wants to get right back out so his hamburger will wait. Fries and a pudding cup are all he takes time for, and he is off for the climb over the ridge. Once he clears the ridge, it will be mostly downhill to the ferry crossing at Merrimac. As Wisconsin Dells was designated as the halfway point, over 400 riders have now disappeared from the ride. But John and about 160 others will trek on. As we wait for the ferry to complete its trip across and back on the river, John gets a well-deserved half hour rest. But time can become his enemy if he is to finish by 10:00 pm in Milwaukee. The ferry barely drops the gate and John and about 30 riders are headed down the road.

As nice as the sunshine was at the ferry crossing, the blackening skies on the other side of the river bode nothing but bad news. John had barely reached the next village at Lodi when the skies let loose. The rain came in torrents. Bailey and I are on the road when the storm hit and are barely able to keep driving. We catch ourselves complaining about the rain when the reality hits us that John is somehow continuing to ride in this. We know that because we are tracking his progress on the app. He has slowed considerably but he is still moving south. We stop complaining and once again regain the perspective. We say a silent prayer and wish him God speed.

We reach the next checkpoint at Bristol where a group of friends and family will await John’s pass through at the Sassy Cow Creamery. John is looking forward to seeing his children at this stop. Jackson and Adela have made posters and will be there to cheer him on to the finish some 90 miles ahead. This will be his encouragement for the final push. The problem is the rain. It is coming down so hard that we can barely see across the street. But then we all catch a break. The rain lets up just long enough for us to spot John’s light blinking through the gloom. It is around 3:30 as he crests the hill and we all clang bells and rush out to welcome him to this briefest of stops. Hugs from Jackson and Adela, encouragement from the friends and family that are there, and John gets back on the bike and heads on down the road. As the rain starts back up, we can just catch a glimpse of the red light on the back of his bike fading into the distance. I will forever hold that image of that solitary rider disappearing into the gloom.

This is where I left the sag wagon. I needed to drive my wife and our grandkids to the hotel in Milwaukee where we would wait for John to finish the ride. Bailey would see him through the next two stops at Waterloo and Lake Mills. At Lake Mills she would wave John through as he had to enter gravel trails once more for 25 more miles on the Glacial Drumlin trail to Milwaukee. The next time she would see him would be the finish line in Milwaukee. As we found out later, this was one of the worst legs of the trip if not thee worst. The trail was littered with tree branches and water running in the ruts. This leg alone would do in the casual rider, but John must push through this ever mindful of the distance remaining and the approaching darkness.

Back on the gravel

The call came in from Bailey at 9:30. She was at the finish line and John was 9 miles out. The goal of finishing before 10:00 was in jeopardy but he was pushing as hard as he could. As the minutes ticked down, we waited at the finish line, Jackson and Adela with their posters, and the rest of us with fingers crossed. At 10:00 the app said 1 mile out. At 10:05 we saw bike lights crossing the avenue three blocks down and at 10:06, to the screams of “you made it”, and 17 hours after leaving Lacrosse, John finished the ride. I should add this note. At that 1 mile out mark, John had called Bailey and said I need a hamburger when I come in. My wife immediately headed to the restaurant only to find out the grill had been shut down for the night. Upon hearing the story and seeing John’s children waiting, the chef said I am going to fire up the grill and make him the perfect hamburger, which in John’s case is plain, no condiments just the meat. The least we can do after 240 miles.

I would never have fully understood this ride or my sons-in-law’s obsession had I not been able to be even a small part of it on his sag crew. My deep respect for what he accomplished goes without saying. You are the toughest guy I know. Now get on that bike and start training for next year.

It was Just a Perfect Night

Sometimes things just work out. I had driven downtown to meet my wife and daughter. My daughter had just finished her first yoga class as an instructor and we decided we should celebrate with a dinner and a drink. The first eating establishment we tried offered too small a menu. The next, closed for the evening. The third try offered no parking and no outside dining. Ready to give up, we found ourselves at The Madison Tap at the Robinia Courtyard, a place none of us had been before but had heard enough good things said about them, to give it a try.

As we were shown to a small table in the courtyard, a band began to set up. As the instruments and the musicians started filing in, it became clear we just might have stumbled into one of those happy accidents. Who doesn’t appreciate a chance for live music. As we finished our meal and contemplated a second drink, someone in the band started hanging up their banner. Much to my surprise, the band turned out to be Mama Dig Down’s Band. In my preretirement career, I had become indirectly associated with the band and knew the band’s organizer and lead singer as well as several of the band members. Tonight was going to be a reunion of sorts and I just had to hang out and listen to them play.

If you are unfamiliar with the band or may have never heard them play, they are a multipiece brass band offering a wide range of music but specializing in the New Orleans Jazz style. Oh yeah, and they are great! As Mama Dig Down opened their set, the courtyard literally began to vibrate with the resonate sounds of their lively brass music. Soon patrons began spilling out of the bar and into the courtyard and in no time at all, the crowd was rocking to the sound. In fact, it was nearly impossible to not begin moving to the rhythm of the band as the horns wailed out their jazz beat and the drums drove it home. For a moment, if you closed your eyes, you could imagine yourself standing in the middle of Bourbon Street in the center of the French Quarter. The effect was magical.

I had not started the evening in the best of moods, but I certainly ended it in a great mood. Nothing raises one’s spirits like live music shared with the people you love in a setting you wound up at completely by accident. Thank you Roc and Darin and Mama Dig Down’s Band for a perfect evening. So perfect, not even the parking ticket under the wiper blade of my car could wipe the smile from my face.

Today’s homework kids, will be to …….

I will start with a disclaimer and a “survey says” question. First the question, just so you are at least a little curious; On a scale of one to five, with one meaning I am living but barely to five representing you’re living the high life, how would you describe your financial situation? It’s a rhetorical question so don’t send me emails with your pick but do answer the question for yourself. Second is the disclaimer. I am a math geek and this blog will have a fair amount of math in it.

With that made clear, here goes. As a math geek; 1. I love solving math problems, just ask my kids. Every where and anywhere we went there was a potential math problem looming. Their favorite, okay my favorite, was the semi on the highway problem. It goes like this. Most semis will have the length of their trailer posted somewhere on the back of the truck but the standard is 53 feet. The tractor is another 12 feet for a total average length of 65 feet. If I am traveling 60 mph, my wife would say if only, and I have them start counting the seconds from when my front bumper passes the trucks rear bumper up to the moment my front bumper passes the tractors front bumper, the question posed is “How fast is the truck going?” Someone out there will say can’t you just shadow the truck and check your speedometer? Bet your kid is still asking you to tell them the answers to their homework. By the way, this will keep your child busy and less likely to ask the proverbial how much longer till we get there question and possibly even avoid the worst case scenario of “She’s invading my space.” Enough said on loving math problems as you can simply speculate on the living math hell my daughters grew up in. 2. I love statistics. I have never seen any game, especially games of chance, or demographic that can’t be expressed with statistics. As a teacher, my students would be tasked to make up survey questions and then go out to find the real data. In yet another project, they would use statistical math to calculate the number of theoretical license plates printed in the sequence leading up to my personal vehicle license plate. And again, I know what you are thinking, “He gave them his license plate number?!” What were you thinking? Of course I didn’t give them my license plate. I was a middle school math teacher? The very first survey question would have been, on a scale of one to five, what is the damage risk level to my car of a 7th grade student seeking revenge? Obviously it was the principal’s license plate. And 3. I firmly believe that statistics in the wrong hands can be grossly misleading if not just plain false. Have you seen the latest poll numbers of your favorite politician as put out by their own party? One that always bothers me is that two out every three dentists recommend, fill in the blank here, toothpaste. I suspect that company’s product was filled in that blank. There, you now have my manifesto, and for that matter, most of the math you will need to contemplate.

Those who know me well, as I hope my followers do, know that I finished my career in the finance world. Loving statistics, see above, I came across this tidbit, okay, I deliberately looked it up. It would seem that the total asset value of households in the U.S. is estimated at $113 trillion. The total U.S. debt of those same households was $15 trillion resulting in a net wealth of $98 trillion That’s trillion with a T and twelve zeroes behind it. I mean look at it, $98,000,000,000,000. But, that begged the question, here comes the math problem, how much is that per individual U.S. citizen? There are, at last count, 329 million folks living here in this great country. I’ll save you reaching for your calculators, but I bet my grandson can do the math in his head, that’s $297,000 per person, and that would include individuals like my five year old granddaughter. Factor out those under the age of 21 and the population drops to 197 million changing that wealth number to roughly $497,000 per individual. Wait, what? Feeling short changed? Remember, you still need to subtract your total amount of debt before you arrive at your personal total. I am betting that many of you might be willing to trade positions and settle for that national average.

So what’s my point? Well the obvious one is whose got all the money? If your household, all the adults in the house times the $497,000 per person exceeds the average, well I sure hope you answered that survey question I opened with, at 4 or better. If your household doesn’t exceed the number and you still gave yourself a 3 or better, maybe you already see my point. It’s not what everyone else has that I don’t, but what I have and what I am able to do. I could go further into the weeds and tell you that the top 1% of US households hold 20% of the total wealth, or roughly $20 trillion. ($20,000,000,000,000) Their average wealth then jumps to $6,000,000 per individual! But now I’ve put the spotlight on what I don’t have and that is the complete opposite of the point I am trying to make.

We are a consumer nation and that fact tends to cause us to view the glass as half empty. That in turn leaves us with the feeling that we don’t have enough, or that we deserve more, or just that we might never be satisfied. I asked my opening question before I gave you the statistics for a reason. How did you answer it? Glass half empty or glass half full? Had I posed the statistics first, would it have changed your answer? Don’t let statistics overwhelm you. They are averages at best and you are better than average. Of that I am sure.

If you were waiting for me to go all, no offense, Bernie Sanders on you, I just wouldn’t. I may share his belief that wealth could be spread a little fairer and maybe accomplish more if we got over our political war on taxes, but at the end of the day, what truly counts is your attitude on what you have, not what you want. Heck, what would I do if I had the wealth up there in that 1% bunch. Oh yeah, I’d likely give to those with less. But that’s just me, because I already have enough.

Back to Normal?

The last time I saw a movie in a theater had been almost three years ago. Yesterday, finally, my wife and I returned to the theater for our favorite five buck Tuesday date. We sat, at the edge of our seats, through Top Gun Maverick. It felt good. It felt normal, almost. Remember when this whole Covid-19 thing was going to inconvenience us for a few weeks, maybe a few months at most?

Here we are two and a half years later. Some things are back to normal. Some aren’t. Some might never be. I could say the world has changed, and many will profess that very sentiment, but the truth is we changed. We have changed the way we do so many things. We have changed the processes. Many of us have changed the way we socialize, where we socialize. Most of us have come through this with a different outlook. For some, more positive. For others, more negative.

The pandemic has challenged our perception of freedom. It has made some of us demand our rights, while sadly, being willing to suppress the rights of others. We have always seemed to be a divided nation, but the pandemic seemed to push us even further apart. It seemed to focus our anger and then the isolation seemed to cause us to direct that anger outward, and often at the wrong people.

We have so many issues to deal with as a nation. Equal rights, not just for a few but for everyone, black or white, male or female, gay or straight. Climate change, whether you want to call it global warming or just admit that the climate is in fact being changed by our very behavior, our insatiable desire for everything fast and convenient, for our unwillingness to pay the price of doing it right. For common sense gun laws to protect us from ourselves. And please don’t tell me its the bad guys that have all the guns even as you tell teachers to arm themselves against the next potential attack. Why are we not dealing with these issues? Why are we at the very least, still dragging our feet. How has Congress become so isolated from the reality of who it is they are supposed to represent. When did it become only about the party and the money it took to get them elected? When did they forget that they are supposed to represent us? When did we all get so distracted?

I will not blame everything that’s wrong on the pandemic. It only focused things in an all too often negative light. I will also not blame a lone individual for everything that doesn’t work out my way. I will leave that last one to politicians and their political ads that attack and blame while offering no solutions or the plans needed to implement them. I will, however, hold people responsible for their actions, whether they directly impacted it through their involvement or just incited it by their rhetoric.

The solutions to our nation’s problems, our world’s problem, start with our own actions. If we want equality for all, then let’s start treating each other as equals. Let’s see the person, not their color, their sex, or their religion. And if we want to slow down or maybe even one day stop global climate change, then let’s each agree to do our part. Recycle, reuse, maybe pay a little more for products made with our environment’s well-being in mind. Let’s do business with businesses that take steps to protect the environment. And let’s speak with our votes. If the candidate is living in reality denial, has no solutions, is unwilling to compromise for the good of the nation, for us, then we vote them out. We are far more powerful than we think. And when we act together, we can become a force for change.

It might have been serendipitous that the first movie I saw after that long pandemic break, was one chock full of testosterone, speed, and comradery, but it seems it was the nudge I needed to break out of my latest episode of writer’s block. Just one more step toward normal.

The Art of the Tale

It was a lazy summer afternoon. We were up north at our cottage and had gone for a walk along the winding barely two lane road that found its way to our cottage near the end of it. Jackson and I had fell well back of his mom and sister as he asked only the questions an inquisitive seven year-old could ask. Realizing that they had gotten so far ahead as to be completely out of sight, Jackson and I settled on a tale we would tell when we got back to the cottage. We would tell them that as we rounded the last bend, there in the middle of the road stood a big old black bear. This was something we had all long wished to see but never had and thus the bait in the story. We practiced how Jackson would tell of the event and anticipated the surprise on his mom’s face when he would spring it on her. As we entered the cottage and his mom asked where we had been, Jackson looked her in the eye and froze. “You tell the story Opa.” This had been Jackson story to tell but he just hadn’t yet embraced the art of storytelling.

There is a story within a story here and that was the story inside. Storytelling is an art as old as time. In fact without it, we wouldn’t have history. It is that storytelling throughout time that gives us the accounting of our history. Some stories are just that, a retelling of an event in a just the facts ma’am, kind of style. Other stories are told for the enjoyment of the listener, while still others, like Jackson’s, just to spin a yarn. These last two styles need to be rich in the colorful detail that makes them worth the time spent listening.

I come from a long line of artful storytellers. From my grandfather and my father, through my aunts and my uncles, I learned the history of the family and the family farm, but I also heard stories of the adventures and misadventures of the storytellers. I would often hear the same story told by two different tellers but each with their own choice of detail and sometimes, facts. The multiple telling of the same story taught me perspective. With story telling, there is an obligation to the overall facts of the event, but there is also literary freedom in the way the event was remembered and the storyteller’s style of retelling it. That is the art of storytelling.

Stories are powerful tools. As I previously mentioned, they can tell the history of an event or they can do so much more. If used properly, a story can be used to motivate through the lesson it delivers. The best motivational speakers use personal stories to relate their topic to the listener. By personalizing their message with their own experiences via stories, the speaker draws the listener in and paints a verbal image that helps them both relate to and remember the message. And of course, when properly enhanced and artfully told, the story can be pure entertainment. Most of my storytelling falls into this last bracket.

I have been accused of embellishing the facts and I will never deny that I might have, just a bit, but I believe the story should be entertaining. To that end, I reserve the right to a little additional literary freedom. Many of my favorite stories to tell have, needless to say, grown in stature over the years. I have also been accused, mostly by my wife and daughters, of making the story longer every time I tell it. I choose to blame that on my memory of the event continuing to improve with each retelling.

Throughout my adult life I have told stories. Some may have been told in my childhood, those being the ones I usually told to get out of the trouble I had so artfully gotten into. When I taught, I used them to relate life lessons to my students. As I developed my career as an investment planner, I told them to help my clients understand the financial decisions they would need to make. As a bartender I picked up the art of telling the story well and as a parent I used stories to guide my daughter’s decisions, to help them learn of their past, just as my father and grandfather did before me, and often, just to make them laugh. And they usually did.

I am now working on the next generation of stories as I go for long walks with my grandchildren. Through my stories, I hope that they will learn the histories of their parents, their grandparents, and the relatives that came before. They will hear stories of adventures and even some misadventures. They will hear stories of people and places and things. They may even hear stories they will choose to one day retell. Through them all, I will try to pass on the beauty and the art of telling the story. Even if it’s a tall tale of the bear we never saw.

Just My Cup of Tea

I returned last week from my fortieth Indy 500 weekend. My daughters and I went down on Friday evening and joined a group of twenty plus people who get together once a year to attend the Greatest Spectacle in Motor Racing. We make a weekend out of the adventure: golf on Saturday, nice dinner out in an accommodating restaurant that has to be able to handle our rather raucous group, and of course there’s the race. We load our bus early Sunday morning, head south to the track and after sufficient tailgating, we enter the track. We are greeted by four-hundred thousand of our race friends and settle in to watch thirty-three cars, aka rockets, average 225 mph as they circle the two and a half mile oval for two-hundred laps.

When I explain how I spent my Memorial Day weekend, I get one of two responses. The first, “that sounds incredible.” The second response, much more forcible, “I just don’t get it, that sounds really boring.” Now I am not about to tell people they are not entitled to their opinions, but a little consideration might be in order. We are all unique and our tastes in entertainment are no different.

If you told me you spent the weekend pitching a tent and then sleeping on the ground as critters scampered about, inches away, separated from you and your person by a thin piece of nylon, I might ask you why. Hotels have such nice amenities and a free buffet breakfast. Or say you spent your one free evening at the theater watching ballet or Shakespeare. Sorry, not my cup of tea. Sci Fi flick on the big screen, now that I’d spend my evening on.

I am a speed junkie with a hunger for adventure. When it comes to being with people, the bigger the crowd the better, and again I can hear the judgement as you are reading this. I have a huge case of FOMO (fear of missing out) and love being part of a party. Put that all together and how could I resist cars going so fast you can barely see them as they pass all the while watching it with a record setting crowd. Throw in the party atmosphere, reunion with friends, and just the shear size and scope of the adventure and, well, the Indy 500 is my cup of tea.

Let’s agree to disagree. You go camping and I won’t question your love of sleeping on the ground and cooking your breakfast over a smokey campfire as long as you let me love a seemingly boring weekend at the races. After all, one man’s cup of whatever just may be another man’s cup of tea.

When is Enough, Enough?

I want two things to be clear. First, I waited three days to write this so that some of the shock and anger I am feeling could at least be focused. Second, I grew up in a family where my sister and father were hunters. I later married into a family where everyone hunts. This is not a blog about why every gun should be removed. There are guns that are appropriate for hunting. Assault rifles are not. Especially assault rifles in the hands of teens, in the hands of people who would do evil, in the hands of an unbalanced individual. Assault rifles should be restricted to trained law enforcement, the military, and other protective service individuals.

Three days ago the unthinkable happened again. This time it was in an elementary school. Nineteen children, innocent children with families that loved them, with the potential for bright futures in front of them, who were dropped off at school never to come home again. We can focus on the action of one seriously unbalanced individual or we can look at the ease with which he obtained his weapon of choice along with an inexcusable amount of ammunition. We can also focus on the gun, without which we wouldn’t be having this dialogue. We would be blissfully ignoring the warning signs once again, all the while believing that the thoughts and prayers of our politicians would be the solution to our pandemic of gun violence.

I am not naïve. I know that criminals will find the guns. I know that criminals will break the laws. That is what makes them criminals. But does that justify us doing nothing? Does that allow politicians to trot out the second amendment every time some responsible law maker tries to pass meaningful, responsible legislation to at least make it harder to get the guns? If we are hiding behind the second amendment, let’s consider what the founding fathers were really trying to define. Is a teen with an assault rifle a standing militia? I am tired of the politicians who immediately claim that gun legislation implies that we are taking all the guns or that we are going after the responsible gun owner who legally owns and uses a gun for sport of hunting. We the people are simply asking that we make sure that a gun owner goes through the proper background check, that they are asked to wait a couple of days to get that legally obtained gun, that assault rifles, high capacity ammunition magazines, that bump stocks and ghost guns are banned from ownership by the general public. Why is that so difficult? Why is that so threatening?

When is enough enough? I cannot accept that the solution to school shootings is to arm teachers, turn schools into armed bunkers, to train students how to fend off a shooter or to have children practice shooter drills in their schools. Aren’t we admitting that it is easier to lay the responsibility on the victim than to limit the ability of the shooter to make them victims. Thoughts and prayers are a nice gesture, but if not followed up with action, they are at best an act of empathy but at worst a cover for the cowardice by those that can to do something, but choose to do nothing.

A responsible congress would have, should have, already come together at the very least to talk about what could be done or at best, would already be voting on legislation to start the solution moving forward. But of course that hasn’t happened. We are told that to ask for legislation is politicizing the situation. That our second amendment rights are being taken away. That we don’t understand the problem. This is what I understand, you were elected to pass laws that would keep us safe, that you were elected to tackle the problems even if you think they are complicated, that you were elected to serve, not to spend your time trying to figure out how to keep yourself in office. If you want to stay in office, then serve, and if the solution takes compromise, then sit down together and talk. Stop playing the party line, stop serving the NRA and start serving the people who elected you.

I will end this with a challenge. I have already donated to an organization that will fight for responsible gun legislation, education, and support for the survivors and families of loved ones lost to gun violence. That is only a start. I will also vote and I will cast that vote for politicians who can answer this simple question correctly, “Will you vote for responsible gun legislation?” Yes or no. No double speak, no skirting the issue. Just yes or no.

Will you join me? Actions do speak louder than words. We need to act and we need to ask others to take action as well, especially our elected leaders who we entrusted with the power to do something about it. After all, enough is enough!

We Wouldn’t be Fathers Without Mothers

As my wife would say, everything’s not about you. And making sure we don’t miss the point, it is Mother’s Day today. Father’s, your day is coming. Today is mother’s day and I will be the first to tell you how much you are appreciated. You are often the glue that holds the family together. You are the car pool driver, the nurse, the comforter, and the support network your children need. And you hold one other very important role, you are the sole reason we are fathers.

Okay fathers, we may think we are the important person in the family, but our role doesn’t exist without mothers. Without mothers, we would have no to do lists to get done. There would be no one in the passenger seat to tell me all the driving mistakes and laws I am breaking. There would be no one to tell me to get directions. No one to repeat all the directions my navigator is already telling me, by the way, thank you whoever that alluring voice is in my navigator. There would be no one to be the person I always told my child to go ask for permission. No one to remind me it’s not all about me.

Without mother’s, or even surrogate mothers, we would never get to be fathers. I would never get to hold the child she gave me in labor, that she carried for nine months, that she nurtured long before I even met them. I would never have gotten to play catch with, to sing Karaoke with, to yell support to her as I watched from the bleachers, or to put my arm around her as she sobbed after a rejection or just a bad game, all the while telling her life wasn’t always going to be fair. To answer the hard questions and sometimes the really tough ones, or just to worry about her on every date and every new boyfriend.

Today is a day to honor mothers. If you needed another reason to appreciate her, I hope this message gave you one. You just wouldn’t be a father if not for a mother.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Can you really have too much of a good thing. Let’s take ice cream. I will unashamedly admit that on more than one occasion I have literally licked the bottom of the bowl and it may not have even been mine.

For the past three weeks, we have been at a condo we rented on the gulf in Florida. Every day has been sunny with temps in the 80’s. When we weren’t basking in the pool just outside of our lanai, we were at the beach, with our toes in the water. And every evening, ah, the sunsets.

Sunsets on the ocean are spectacular. Weather permitting, and it was, the sun arcs toward the water’s edge in a blazing orb that gradually deepens in color from bright white to blazing yellow and eventually to deepening shades of orange. As the outer rim touches the ocean’s edge, the march below the waves accelerates, or so it seems, and in a matter of minutes, its gone. As the last sliver of the sun disappears, the skies light up in an explosion of deep oranges and soft reds, but not before this halo of light seems to erupt into the dusk sky. The strange thing is that no two sunsets are ever exactly the same and no matter how many photos you have snapped, you find yourself taking one more.

As I said, we were here for three weeks. Our first week was shared with my daughter, her husband and our two grandchildren. To say the energy of two young grandchildren kept us busy would be an understatement. Daily trips down to the surf, hours of swimming in the complex’s pool and long walks down the beach shelling, the sport of finding the best seashells, filled our days from dawn to the evening sunset. Sadly, they had to go home at the end of that first week leaving my wife I to keep each other entertained. Near the end of week two and missing our grandchildren, my wife asked the question, was three weeks too long? Were we in fact ready to go home? As the question hung there and the sun began its descent to the ocean, the answer was obvious. Were we in a hurry to return home where spring was waging a losing battle to push away winter? Where it had snowed the day before and temps still hovered near freezing?

Let’s not be hasty. We deserve a few more days of falling asleep to the sounds of the surf rolling onto the beach. To walk with sand tickling our toes. To just gaze out at the ocean as sail boats go by first following the wind and then alternately tacking against it. To catch a few more amazing sunsets. And there you have it, you really can’t get too much of a good thing.

I’ll have to wrap this up. The sun is dipping toward the ocean and I can hear the mellow sounds of the conch shells beckoning me out to watch.