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About Me

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  1. Gonzo Runner

    The Crescendo

    For most of my childhood, my parents drove old cars. My mother had a 1985 Mercury Grand Marquis Colony Park station wagon, in fecal brown with some sort of plastic stick-on faux wood paneling veneer. This car was an absolute horrific creation whose very existence should have gotten at least 50 people at the Ford Motor Company fired and potentially jailed, from whomever named the damn thing to its entire engineering team. Assuming any engineers actually worked on it, that is. I remember before it hit 85,000 miles it had gone through three engines, two transmissions, and two exhaust systems. And not only was it the mechanical equivalent of New Coke, but it was so ugly my brothers and I actually wished our mom drove a minivan instead. The best way to describe its appearance would be to imagine the stereotypical ‘80s suburban living room, complete with thick wall to wall carpet in some regrettable earth tone and floor to ceiling wood paneling. Now slap some whitewalls on that sucker and you’re pretty damn close: And this is the brochure photo. I do fondly remember the jump seats which opened up in the trunk and allowed us to cram 10 people into this monstrosity, but we were eventually banned from them after someone ripped the felt headliner while horsing around back there and caused it to slowly pull away from the ceiling and hang down far enough to block the entire rearward view. The sagging headliner was soon complemented by the plastic wood veneer peeling off the sides, revealing more fresh fecal brown paint. This was actually going to be my first car until my mom totaled it when I was in high school, which is helpful background for the story of when I got grounded for a month for exclaiming “THANK GOD” when my mom called from the hospital to tell us about the accident. My dad’s car was a completely different story. For most of my childhood he drove a 1976 Pontiac Grand LeMans. It was the first new car he ever bought, and as much as he hated the station wagon, he loved this car. Living in Brooklyn all her life my mom didn’t get her driver’s licence until we moved to Jersey, so for years the Pontiac was the only car we had. It was the car that took me and both my brothers home from the hospital. It took us to school and sports practices and scout meetings and everything in between until the wagon arrived. My dad insisted we have a Dairy Queen ice cream cake for its sweet 16. Mom was too embarrassed to join us in the driveway to sing happy birthday, but we did it anyway. My dad taught me most of what I know of auto maintenance on that car. Some of it is still useful (changing oil, brakes, alternators, batteries, and the like). Some of it is not (how to tune a carburetor, how to replace a distributor cap, how to unstick a choke valve). But we all had a lot of great memories of that car, and the saddest I ever saw my dad was the day it finally died. To this day the fender skirts are sitting in his garage (his was a deep metallic green), and I still have the keys in an old valet on my dresser. By the time the Pontiac finally died, it had been showing its age. There were greasy spots on the driveway, rust was bubbling the paint, and a bad overheating incident on the Staten Island Expressway (seriously, to hell with Staten Island) had turned a throaty if underpowered V8 into an anemic, unbalanced, misfiring V6. The Mercury had rotted through its third exhaust system by this time and my father had refused to replace it out of spite, so when our family went anywhere, everyone in the neighborhood knew it. Now, to be perfectly clear, my parents may have driven old cars but we also had a nice house in an all-American suburb (we had a VFW, an Elks, and even a Knights of Columbus) with a big backyard and a pool and my brothers and I all went to Catholic school and were in the Cub Scouts and played Pop Warner football AND Little League baseball. But I was too young to understand any of that, so after anytime I rode in a friend’s conversion van with its TV and Nintendo and curtains (how CLASSY), I would be embarrassed when I could hear my mom coming to pick me up from a mile away in the battlewagon. When my father finally broke down and started car shopping for family transportation that didn’t require noise permits and EPA registration to operate, he decided that 20 years of savings was enough to splurge a little bit. Those years of savings also happened to be the go-go Reagan ‘80s and the Cold War victory lap ‘90s, so the ol’ portfolio had done well. And that’s how we ended up with a 1996 BMW 525i. This was the car that taught me that you weren’t supposed to have to reset the dashboard clock every time you started the car and air conditioning wasn’t supposed to smell like someone was blowing a fan over bad (good?) cheese stuffed inside a damp gym sock. It had heated leather seats. A dashboard computer. A CD changer in the trunk. And I never once had to hold the choke with a screwdriver while my dad, as he told me never to do this, sparked the starter to get us to school on time. It was during a trip to Sam Goody to pick out CD’s to fill up the 6 disc changer that I first learned about Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. My dad told me all about why it was such an important album and then took the long way home, playing the whole thing and telling me the story behind each song. I remember sitting in the driveway listening to the final track, 'A Day in the Life', while breathing in leathery rich new car smell and having my backside gently warmed and thinking to myself “curtains in a van..so bougie…now THIS is success...” Or something like that. I did a lot drinking in the intervening years, so I may not have the exact quote. Anyway, for the longest time afterwards, even after I developed a more mature understanding of success and meaning in life, I would always look for and savor those “Sgt. Pepper in the Bimmer” moments. Brief, fleeting snippets of time where I felt like I’d achieved something or attained some marker of success. And anytime I hear any Sgt. Pepper track, I think back to my dad’s tour of the album and smile. This is supposed to be a race report, so let’s get to that part. The Publix Georgia Half Marathon course is the typical quad busting tour of Atlanta’s rolling hills, the worst part being the last four miles which are almost entirely uphill from the lowest point on the course to just shy of the highest at the finish. And while my running of late has generally been good, it has been focused on short and fast intervals for the mile I’m planning on in May. Not on holding something just above threshold pace for 13.1 hilly miles. I had no real goals but knew I was going to try and race it anyway, so I prepared myself for it to hurt. And starting at mile 6, it did. A lot. My hips, glutes, hamstrings and quads joined in glorious four part harmony to protest the effort, and I felt like Pete Best telling them all to shut up and keep pushing. (Ah, yes, the Beatles. That’s how this is all going to come together.) Now, once you enter Piedmont Park in mile 10 the race is a series of long climbs with barely any breaks in between. As the pain and fatigue and oxygen debts from one hill piled on top of what was built up in the last, it occurred to me that these weren’t really separate hills. The pain didn’t build in discrete segments, it was more like an ever rising crescendo of suffering we had to endure hoping that there was something beautiful at the summit to make it worthwhile. So what about the Beatles again? Well, if you’ve ever listened to 'A Day in the Life' (if you haven’t, why the hell not?), you’ll no doubt recall the orchestral frenzy that precedes its final, haunting piano notes. In our driveway study of the song I remember my dad telling me how John and Paul hired an orchestra without knowing how to write for or conduct one, and for this part George Martin had instructed them to start at the lowest notes on their instruments and slowly build up to the highest. The resulting crescendo, written by novice composers and executed by highly trained professionals in a haphazard setting, is a barely controlled feverish symphony whose beauty lies in its tenuousness. So, the race hurt, and it wasn’t the time the books told me I should be capable of running. But when I got home I dropped the needle on one of my half dozen copies of Sgt. Pepper, sat on the couch with a cup of coffee, called my dad, and reveled in my success.
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