people need some reason to believe

Everyone I know, everywhere I go
People need some reason to believe
— the prophet browne

You’re driving to the store. It’s late. You’re tired. You just want to go to bed.

And then.

The engine is doing its impression of the little wooden roller coaster in San Diego. Weeeee-ooooo. Weeee-oooo. Yes, that’s a technical car term. It’s like two pistons just decided to go on vacation. Likely to San Diego to ride the roller coaster. You are not amused.

You spent $6,500 a month ago to get everything in the engine replaced. A new car! the mechanic exclaimed. And now your new car won’t run.

Life has been sending you messages lately. The “How I Met Your Mother” episode where they let the beloved Fiero die just a few tenths short of 200,000 miles rather than spend $3,000 to get it fixed. Two consecutive days of the pig family cartoon where their old car breaks down on a family drive. They borrow a new car with six buttons in one episode and an aeroplane in the other and seem much happer. Is this the cosmos giving you a wake-up call?

You were just contemplating driving this car to Texas. 840 miles through nothing. And now it won’t make it to the grocery store. You get it fixed again, you cross your fingers, and something else will happen. WHY?

And then you realize. It’s a metaphor. Lordy, you love metaphors.

This car is your running.

You’re old. You’re running on two cylinders. You keep trying to fix it, but in the end, it will never be fixed. It’s like the mechanic once wrote when asked what to do about the smoke, “Nothing. It’s old. Old cars smoke.”

You try things. New surfaces, new diets, new variations. But at the end of the day, you’re old. You have a monkey heart. It doesn’t work. It’s time. Let it go.

“In ’69 I was 21 and I called the road my own,” the prophet Browne once wrote of his life.  “I don’t know when that road turned onto the road I’m on.”

That’s the thing about life. You’re driving on this endless road. It’s easy to miss the changes along the way, until one day the car starts making that noise. Weeeee-ooooo. Weeee-oooo. And you can’t ignore it any longer.

You look for the phone number for KJZZ, the local public radio station. They pick junker cars up as a donation. You figure it’s as good an end as any. You spent countless years listening to Car Talk there. Tom and Ray would say let it go. And you never really liked running that much anyhow. So sweaty.

And then you do it.

You put on the ridiculously old Piranhas and  go out to drive the car back to the shop. Maybe it’s an easy fix. And you got an email yesterday that the new Wonder Shoes are waiting  at the apartment office. Maybe these shoes will be what you need for running to start clicking again.

You drive off, singing Aretha Franklin in your head. As long as she’s alive, things will be OK.

Weeeee-ooooo. Weeee-oooo. Life on the roller coaster …

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grow a beard, take a bath, burn a billboard

“So I lived alone.
The first thing I did was take off my pants. Naturally.” 

— the prophet abbey

I just completed my third week of working from home. I discovered something important about journalism. It doesn’t require pants. Or shoes. Or a shirt.

All you really need is Aimee Mann, a lot of caffeine and an endless supply of bad puns. I’m growing a David Letterman beard, I have no contact with the outside world other  than Mo, the cat and the Circle K clerk. And I love it.

One of my favorite books is Edward Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire.” It’s his journal from his time as a ranger in the mid-1950s at Arches National Monument in Utah. One of the many themes is his delight of living a solitary lifestyle in the wilderness. Being not much of a people person, I get it. I love being alone, left to my thoughts and the occasional yowl of the cat pointing out she hasn’t been fed in the past 20 minutes.

But once a day, I head out into the Real World for my daily run. If I’m lucky and Mo keeps us stocked in peanut butter (extra crunchy please), it’s my only necessary outing of the day.

So where does one go after a day of being a recluse? The track, of course.

I’m the only person here. The sun has taken the night off, the evening breeze is cool, my sunburn is happy. An occasional owl swoops past the security lights in search of dinner. The sliver of a moon smiles on me, joined by what is either the north star or a disgruntled Alaska Airlines employee.

“All things are in motion, all is in process, nothing abides, nothing will ever change in this eternal moment,” Abbey said. Today’s a rest day, so I’m just walking two miles. In motion, in process, an eternal moment captured by triangulated satellites in the heavens.

The silence of the track is interrupted only by the coyotes in the fields beyond the track. “What do the coyotes mean when they yodel at the moon?” Abbey wondered.  I don’t know. But I find a joy in that connection, a small oval that is so closely intertwined with the open spaces of the Indian community. A desert solitaire of my own.

“What most people really desire is something quite different from industrial gimmickry — liberty, spontaneity, nakedness, mystery, wildness, wilderness,” Abbey said. Tomorrow we head up to 7,000 feet in search of a home. It has to be there somewhere. It must.

I head home, stop off for my post-run soda, and retreat once more to my own little world. I’m happy.

All you really need in life is one person to share the sunsets with and a good pair of running shoes. Everything else is just stuff.

Maybe it’s just sand and mountains. But it was good enough for Abbey. It’s good enough for me.

I may never wear pants again …

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My streak

My streak began exactly 16 years ago. August 12, 2002.

We were in Flagstaff, a respite from the relentless Phoenix heat. I felt good. In fact, I felt absolutely perfect. It went by quickly. The first day of the streak is always the easiest.

But then.

We came back to Phoenix, and the streak continued. Hot days, monsoon days, even kids with chicken pox.

We moved to Texas. The streak continued.

We moved back to Phoenix. And so did the streak.

The key? I think it’s about finding the one thing you absolutely love. Dr. Sheehan said it must be play. If you’re not playing, find something else.

16 years. 5,840 days. There have been many, many glorious ones, and a few days I just wanted to quit. Days I didn’t want to get out of bed, and days I hoped would never end. But that’s the thing about a streak. You do what you must to keep it going. And if you’re doing it right, you love every minute.

Mo was always reluctant to get married. She was skeptical about things lasting. But this one has. I’m so lucky that 16 years ago today she stood on the steps of a little courthouse and said I Do. Or possibly adieu. She’s a jokester and I speak limited French. Here’s to another 16 years or so.

And yeah, I ran today. 4 miles slow. HR was happier. 16 miles for the week, right on schedule for oblivion. But I take off two days a week. One streak is enough …


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the old days

Things change, the old cliché
If we knew now what we knew yesterday
Oh, we couldn’t give it away
— the prophet aimee mann

Back in the old days, I would have gone out today to run 3 miles. I had no technology, just a simple Casio.

I would have gone out too fast in the first mile. It would feel OK, but I wouldn’t have much left. In the second mile I would just try to hang on. The last mile would be a pitiful death march. I would then sit in the shade for a while and go home.

But that was then.

Today, I went out today to run 3 miles (13:26-146). I have a GPS watch with a heart rate monitor. The Garmin told me my heart rate was way too high, but I was trying to run a specific pace, so I went out too fast in the first mile. It felt OK, but I didn’t have much left. In the second mile, the Garmin was yelling at me that my HR was silly. I just tried to hang on. In the last mile, I strolled a lot, trying to get the HR down to a level at which I thought I wouldn’t croak, which I really didn’t want to do because there was a guy doing mile repeats in lane 1, and a cardiac event would interrupt his workout. So the last mile became a pitiful death march. I then sat in the shade for a while and went home.

I have no idea how I used to run before I had a Garmin …

On the bright side, no trees were killed to make today’s shoes.

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i am a murderer

He wore Italian shoes
Like that’s supposed to mean something
— the prophet larkin

Today’s my First Official Rest Day ©, so I’m walking with Mo at the track. We’re surveying the damage to the trees after the chainsaw guys came through, and it’s not so good.

The Blackbird Tree has been reduced to a skinny twig with a couple of leafy branches on top, a sad little guy who could easily play the starring role in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. The tree on the other side is gone altogether, with only a stump remaining where a majestic giant had towered just a few days earlier.

I lament how sad it is when trees die.

And then.

I realize I ordered new running shoes earlier this week. Which is no big deal, except they’re made from (and I don’t even think I’m making this up) Magical Eucalyptus Tree Fiber. That’s right — I’VE KILLED A TREE FOR THESE SHOES!!!

I should have know something was terribly wrong when the mascot for a shoe company has no feet.


At least he appears to feel embarrassed about it.

On the bright side, they come with three colors of laces. I will console my sorrow in a rainbow of happiness. Yes, I am Easily Amused.

I have reservations * already. Every time I show Mo a picture of them, she starts laughing and says something about how we will never be seen together when I’m wearing them. Sometimes it’s hard to live with someone who has good taste.

On top of that, I suspect that although they are billed as such, they are “running” shoes only in the sense that you can run in Doc Martens if something large is chasing you. Which Mo likely will do now as a sign of social protest over my shoes. They appear to consist of nothing, and yet manage to weigh in at a ridiculously heavy 10 ounces. Oh, well. What do you expect for 95 bucks (OK, an extra $10 for the laces. Totally worth it.)

Sorry, Mr. Tree. Maybe you’ll come back reincarnated as a newspaper designer and you can give me unreasonable headline counts.

I did the math today on the schedule and realized it’s totally, ridiculously impossible. Which makes it suddenly appealing. Onward thru the fog, Oat Willie!

I must get a chicken. I hope it’s not made from trees …

* patio table at carlsbad tavern, 8 p.m. Bring your own air conditioner.

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don juan is where you find him

all your life
you were only waiting
for this moment to arise
— the prophet mccartney

I go to the track fearful for the trees. My fears were not unfounded.

Both trees that provide the track with a bit of shade, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, were hit hard by last night’s storms. They provided a little oasis where the fast guys would bring yoga mats and water bottles and lounge between torture sessions. And now they’re both gone. I think the trees will survive, but the branches that provided the cover on the track were wiped out. I suppose it’s Mother Nature’s way of saying “Stop goofing off, you slackers.” Mother Nature has been kinda grumpy lately.

It’s an OK day, in a sad sort of way, running past the old friends again and again. 3 miles, 40:24 (13:25-135), which I’m pretty happy with. But as I’m looking at the tree, I realize I haven’t seen David Torrence in a while.

Longtime readers will recall that I last saw him in that very spot, sitting in the shade between repeats with a yoga table and a guy who I think was a reporter. He was a world-class middle distance runner, until he died the next day.

But then he came back as a blackbird. He sat on the fence every day in the shade of the tree. The track is on an Indian reservation. Who’s to say? All religions are a little goofy if you stare at them too long. He could have come back. Stranger things have happened. I would direct you to the 2016 election.

But I haven’t thought about him for a while, and I realize I haven’t seen him lately. What happened? Is he OK? It’s been an amazingly harsh summer, between the 120 degree heat and the 60 mph wind. I worry about him. And then coming around the near turn, I see it.

There’s a blackbird feather in Lane 8. I’m 2 miles in, and this is the first time I saw it.

It’s a little spooky. Is it a sign? Is he telling me something?

It’s not hot enough today to hallucinate. It’s just a feather, I tell myself, not a signal from beyond. Maybe? Nah. Just a feather.

I pick it up and stash it in my pocket. I bring it home and place it in my log book. I think back to the people I have lost and hope they’re living happy lives somehow, somewhere in another place we don’t understand.

I think back to his stride, that effortless swoosh of a world-class runner. The way he would fly off the fence every lap, go just far enough away, and then come back as soon as I passed. Over and over. He was a fine running partner.

I hope there’s a heaven for birds. And distance runners. And trees.

And maybe there will even be room for me …

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but no sightings of flying monkeys

A monsoon storm roars into our neighborhood. The wind is knocking down trees. Stuff is rolling around on the roof, which may or may not be coming off. The rain is torrential. The National Weather Service alerts are going off on my phone like a slot machine in the Vegas airport. The electricity is flickering ominously. Mo is hiding in the kitchen. The cat won’t be seen for a week. It’s relentless, pounding us with wave after wave of calamity. We’re goners for sure. I can think of only one thing:

The temperature should be really nice for tomorrow morning’s run.

I am a Bad Person.

Today was OK. 3 miles, 42:45 (14:12-120.) I uncorked a 13:10 on the third mile once I weaseled my way onto the track, possibly an A qualifying standard for the Olympic team. The big worry: The beloved tree that gives the only reliable shade on the track was hurt by yesterday’s storm. A couple of major branches were down. What has today’s storm done to it? Oh, well. Anything for a 13:10 …

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