Just a quick teaser. Tomorrow afternoon I will be taking a short road trip…and this little puppy is going to follow me home. Details to come later, but for now, meet Sir Duke.
Just a quick teaser. Tomorrow afternoon I will be taking a short road trip…and this little puppy is going to follow me home. Details to come later, but for now, meet Sir Duke.
I used to swear that my mother was a clairvoyant, or a witch or at the least possessed some kind of creepy mind reading skills. It seemed that she always knew what us kids were up to, often before we had even completed the act. Since her recent passing, my sister and I have spent a lot of time reminiscing and digging through “ancient artifacts,” (like our report cards from the 1960’s and 70’s…my sister’s behavior was questionable in 1969!).
Our mother had a very rigid sense of right and wrong. And she was extremely good and making you aware of the “wrong.” I suppose most households are the same, but for us there were certain things that you just din’t want your mom to know.
1. Drinking. Mom was always opposed to drinking. As far as I know, with the exception of communion wine, Mom never took a single drink for pleasure. Never knew what it was like to be three sheets to the wind. Now, make no mistake, Dad did. Dad didn’t become a teetotaler until his 50’s. I clearly remember Mom complaining about him having a six pack of Schlitz or Falstaff or Stroh’s in the fridge. She was afraid because Dad drank it would give us kids the green light to drink also. Believe me, the four of us needed no encouragement!
I’m not so sure about my older brother and sister’s antics when they were younger because they were much older than me, but I know for sure my surviving sister was no angel (love you Karen!). Nor was I. The funny thing is, that right up until Mom passed away two weeks ago, both my sister and I would never drink in front of her. It wasn’t like she didn’t know we drank. Heck, I even took a job at a microbrewery. For some reason, we just felt we had to keep that part of life separate from our relationship with her. Karen was actually smarter at this than I was. When I was 17-19 years old, I carried a cooler in the backseat of my car as a permanent fixture. Pretty sure Mom knew what that was all about. The local police sure did. I posses the distinct honor of being the only one of her four children who ever spent the night in the drunk tank. Proud moment.
2. Smoking. Now that I think about this one, I don’t remember if my sister ever smoked or not. Well, cigarettes I mean. Uh…moving on. I can remember my first sample of tobacco was the chewing kind. My brother chewed Beechnut chewing tobacco. I tried it, did not like it. I did, however, steal some of his cigarettes he had stashed away. And his cigars and his pipe. Or maybe they were Dad’s. I don’t remember exactly how old I was but I’m talking maybe 10 or younger.
If I remember correctly my sister got caught “smoking” by Mom once. She and the neighbor girl were sampling a “hand rolled cigarette” and Mom’s creepy radar zeroed in on them. I remember there was some “turmoil” at the house about that little incident.
About the same time in life that I started drinking heavily, I also started smoking. I smoked for several years, and like the drinking, I always tried to hide it from Mom. It didn’t work. Every once in a while, out of the blue she would say, “Are you smoking again?” Then she would proceed to make me feel so guilty that I might even quit for a day or two.
3. Porno. Porno was a big taboo in the 60’s. You see more skin on network television today than you saw in a 60’s Playboy Magazine. And I should know. I got caught looking through my brother’s hidden stash of Playboys. I was barely even old enough to be curious about such things, but there were a couple neighbor boys who were older and they knew my brother had a stash. They asked me to take them to his room when he was gone and show them. So I did. And my older sister caught us. And she told on me. “Really Cooky? You had to tell on me?” Sure enough, she ran to Mom and said, “Jamie is looking at Steve’s Playboys.” Apparently my brother didn’t have the same concerns about what Mom knew that my sister and I did. In fact, I’m sure he didn’t because for my 16th birthday, guess what my older brother bought me? A subscription to Playboy Magazine! Delivered monthly to my mother’s house. Dad loved it…but you can imagine how Mom felt! To this day, I’m shocked that she did not intercept each and every one at the mailbox and burn them in the burn pile out back.
My dad passed away nearly 17 years ago. Two of my siblings died as well. Now that Mom is gone too, it is a very different feeling to have no living parents. Those of you who are parents of older children know that no matter how old your children get, you are always very concerned about what is happening in their lives. My oldest daughter is 32 today. My youngest is 22 and there are two more in between. They can still keep me up late at night with worry. I’m sure they have tried to hide a lot of things from me, and no doubt have succeeded at some of those efforts, but I’m not my mother in that regard. My children don’t have to worry about me freaking out over their behavior. I am very much a realist. My wife on the other hand, much like my mother, has never been drunk, never smoked anything in her life and is very private about the subject of sex. So kids, if you are reading this today, whatever you do, “Don’t tell Mom!”
We used to joke that every time we went to the beaches of Naples on vacation, it was Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. A few few episodes of man-eating sharks and our kids began to think maybe we should have went to Disney instead of the Gulf. But we kept on going, kept on playing in the water and I can happily report that after about 30 plus visits, so far so good!
I haven’t seen Shark Week in a while, but I have dubbed this last week of March as “Disaster Week.” After writing my last blog, bragging on how I felt this would be a good riding year, the forces of the Universe decided to knock me down a peg or two by reminding me that there are a lot of things out of my control.
The first two events that happened last week are not funny at all. No humor here. They are, in fact, tragic. My mother was scheduled for a serious surgery the 26th of March. My wife followed me up to Indy so she could return to home after the surgery. About 3 miles from the hospital, in 4 lane, rush hour traffic on I65, dark and raining, a semi-truck merged right onto the road. He kept on merging over into our lane. I saw him come behind me, between my wife and I. At least that’s what I thought happened. But a mile or so up the road, I noticed a large distance between myself and the vehicles behind…and no Lori. A few seconds later I received a panic call from Lori. The semi had came into her lane, sideswiped her, sent her spinning into the other lane and eventually off the road.
Thankfully she was not injured, but very shook up. I had to drive 3 more miles to exit, then back before I could get to her. It was the longest 15 minute drive of my life. We waited 30 minutes for a police officer. He turned out to be one of the rudest people I have ever met. I have a lot of respect for the job a police officer does. I know there is a lot of stress and pressure. I don’t know what this young man had been going through, but he was so rude that he made my wife cry…which made me very angry.
The car was drivable, so Lori followed me to the hospital. Mom went through the various procedures with little complication, however, a pacemaker was added to the list of needs. She spent the better part of 6 hours back in OR. Things went well…until they didn’t. She was recovering in her room when I went to check on her. As I stepped through the swinging doors to the critical care unit, I heard over the loudspeaker, “Code Blue, 3rd Floor…room 3202.” Mom’s room. As I pushed into the CCU, at least 10 people stood at her door and immediately looked at me. A nurse came to me, held me back. I understood I needed to stay out of the way, so I let her lead me back to the waiting room so we could talk to my sister. 30 minutes went by as the team worked hard to save my mother. It was not possible. We lost her.
My mother was quite a woman and one day soon I will write about her life, but not today. We eventually came back to Mom’s house and began all the preparations that one must make. Then more crisis struck home. But that’s enough depressing information for one blog. Disaster Week was in full swing.
Eventually, after the funeral, I came back to Louisville. I decided to ride one of my motorcycles the next day. I rode back to Bloomington, both for some stress relief and to take care of some business there. When I got home, I parked my bike in front of the garage. Later in the day I decided I better put it up. Now, we have been renting a condo here for the past couple years. It only has a 1 car garage and I have it pretty well packed with motorcycles and coffee stuff. I rolled the bike in the garage and, well, I’m not sure what happened. I thought I had the kickstand down. It either got caught and folded a little or something; all I know is as I set the bike on it’s side, it just kept coming. It fell on me, and because of the small space, pinned me against the wall. I jerked my left leg up and out to keep from getting it caught or crushed and that’s when I felt it…a sharp pain tearing up the back of my leg. I knew instantly it was bad.
I tried to walk on it and couldn’t. The pain was excruciating. The kind that brings tears to your eyes if you try to ignore it. The kind that makes you scream and curse. I hopped and crawled to the door into the house and yelled for my daughter. She came, looked at me and asked if she should call 911. I told her I would be fine. I just needed to get the bike back upright. Now, my daughter is about 5’2″ and maybe 95 lbs on a good day. She isn’t going to be picking up any motorcycle. And I couldn’t even stand up, so I knew I wasn’t going to be doing it. Fortunately, one of my friends and coworkers, lives across the street. I called Dan and he came over and picked up the bike for me. By that time I had crawled into the living room and was on the floor. I’m sure Dan got a kick out of that!
As it turned out, and as you can guess, I pulled/tore my hamstring. And if you have done that before then you know it hurts like Hell. I have been on crutches since last Wednesday. My days have consisted of lying on the couch, sitting on the couch or in a recliner, sleeping, watching more TV than I have watched in my entire life and slowly going insane. I tend to fall on the hyperactive side. I don’t sit well. I get very restless quickly. My wife is waiting on me hand and foot. She has learned how to make my oatmeal and coffee. She has had to help me get in and out of the tub (I couldn’t stand in the shower so I had to use the tub…which I also hate!). She has had to help me get dressed. She has brought me drinks and food and phones and laptops and iPads. She has been so kind and patient…and I can’t stand it! I do not like to be waited on. One of the things I hated most about being a manager is telling people to do things I could have done myself.
Yesterday was our wedding anniversary. I spent it on the couch in pain. Lori spent it waiting on me. How romantic! While running an errand, she called me to check in. I said, “I’m going to hobble outside with a big glass of bourbon and a cigar.” She said, “Go for the bourbon, but no cigar!” I told her I thought I had “earned it.” I did neither…it wasn’t worth the trip.
It has been so crazy this past week that Lori and I have just looked at each other and…laughed! Plenty of stuff happened that’s not funny on any level, but sometimes you have to make a choice: laugh or cry. We did our share of crying: might as well laugh. Oh, I almost forgot; my oldest daughter was trying to help a little boy get his dog and she fell and fractured her ankle. She lay on the asphalt calling for help and finally crawled home. Stubborn runs in the family. But wait! That’s not all; the company I work for caught on fire Friday and one of the buildings turned into a 6 alarm fire…welcome to “Disaster Week.”
(Sometime in the middle of the night last night, my iPad got a mind of it’s own and decided to post a blog that I had started but never finished…all one line of it! I decided if it wanted to be heard that badly, I should go ahead and finish it, so here it is.)
I’ve got the feeling it’s going to be a good riding year. I’m not sure why, call it a hunch…or maybe just wishful thinking. Truth is, the deck is stacked against me right now. My employer has locked out most of the summer as a “no vacation zone.” My mother is facing a serious surgery tomorrow coupled with a long recovery. On top of that, I’m still torn as to if I want to reinvest my outside energies back into coffee roasting. But I’m getting old, dammit, so I can’t be giving up riding years without a fight.
I’ve only logged about 700 miles so far this year, but I’m prepared to make the most of my available time. I’ve got a new helmet (I discovered mine was nearly 8 years old), a new jacket and some luggage for all three bikes. My goal is to take at the very least 1 long weekend trip on each bike and a week long trip on one of them.
To get the kind of riding in that I really want to experience this year will require getting out of bed and on the road early for a lot of weekend rides. My brother-in-law used to joke that I would ride to Chicago for a cup of coffee, so Saturday I got up and rode the Street Triple through the back roads of Kentucky 250 miles for a beer. I took the long, long way to West 6th Brewery in Lexington.
It was a great trip. Aside form the riding, I discovered West 6th to be my kind of place. If it were closer, it would be my regular hangout. Great atmosphere, great beer and good people. I met a Lexington couple who were riders. They saw my helmet and gear and struck up a conversation. We discovered we have a lot in common. They were replaced (I guess I stayed a while) by a young couple from Louisville celebrating the man’s birthday. I brought home a “Crowler” and spent the afternoon polishing it off while roasting up some Guatemala and Costa Rican coffee. Doesn’t get any better than that.Challenges aside, I am optimistic that I’m going to see a lot of saddle time in 2015. I’m already dreaming of some interesting excuses, er, uh, I mean locations…breweries, roasters, pubs, road food dives…to visit. I will try to document as much as possible this year and, hopefully, you will enjoy the stories as much as I will enjoy experiencing them. Yep, I can feel a good one coming on.
Sometime in January I put a voluntary pause to my commercial coffee roasting endeavors. The reasons driving this decision were significant enough to make it the logical move for the time being. I have not regretted the decision, but I will admit I miss it already. I suppose the preceding language is enough to convey the fact that I don’t want this change to be permanent.
I’ve played around in the coffee industry long enough to know it is not the kind of business you get into because you want to make a lot of money…because most of us don’t. There are exceptions, but generally speaking, there are better places to invest your time and money. There are some people who get into the coffee business because they think, “Hey, it’s coffee; how hard can it be?” Much harder than they imagined…a truth that will reveal itself to them in time. In fact, it never ceases to amaze me the number of people who get into the coffee business while knowing absolutely nothing about about it. Sort of demeans those of us who take pride in the skills we have acquired over the many years of experience.
The small town I am originally from seems to have a new coffee roaster pop up every few months. Recently, a customer told me about a new shop there and said I should stop in the next time I was in town, as the owner wanted to meet me. In the words of my customer, “You are coffee famous in this town.” Well, there are worse things to be famous for!
Just so happened I had to go back to Bloomington this past week to sign some legal documents and, as luck would have it, the lawyer’s office was right next door to the new coffee shop. I introduced myself to the owner, feeling a little silly that she would actually know who I am. Turns out she did. She was kind enough to show me around the shop and tell me a little bit about her fluid bed roaster. I grabbed a cup of what turned out to be a very good cup of Ethiopian Harrar and she sent me home with a sample of a freshly roasted Rwanda, equally good. My initial impression was that this little shop may very well have the best coffee in Bloomington right now. At least I know where I will be getting my cup from when I come to town.
As I drove back to Louisville from my visit, those familiar feelings came back to greet me. The inclination that every day when I get up and go to work, I’m going to the wrong place. To be clear, I’m thankful for my job and considering I have worked for the same company since 1978, I don’t hesitate to say they have aided me in building a very nice life. However, coffee owns my heart. It speaks to my soul. There is nothing more exciting to me than to take delivery of a pallet of green coffee, all stacked up in burlap bags, the aroma of a hay field in the air, these lifeless beans, full of potential, just waiting to come alive in my hands. Every time I see a drum roaster, I just want to run my hands across it, the same way an auto enthusiast might do when seeing a perfect restoration of a classic ride.
You see, those of us who love this business, breathe it, dream it, desire it and are drawn to it with an illogical passion that cannot be explained nor denied. One of my former brokers said, “Jamie, you never leave the coffee business. You always come back.” My intentions this year are to ride my motorcycles as much as possible. And to think. And plan. I hope to take some interesting adventures. Maybe I will even write about a few of them. But in the end, I’m not sure if I will be able to get this monkey off my back; the incessant inner voice that speaks to me every time I enter a coffee shop or even a conversation about coffee, the voice the says, “This is where you belong.”
Right now I feel good. Physically and mentally. But that doesn’t mean I’m standing still. In my head, I’m already moving forward. Already looking to the future to the right time to make the right move…and get this monkey off my back for good.
When I was about 13, my mother said to my father, “I want a new house.” We lived on a 50 acre farm in an old, two-story farmhouse with no air conditioning, a basement that looked like something straight out of the mind of Alfred Hitchcock and a fuel oil furnace that added to the “ambiance.” Dad, being the kind of guy who wanted to keep the peace, agreed to build a new house on the property. Pop was also the kind of guy who didn’t believe in debt and wasn’t afraid to tackle any job, so he built the house himself. Well, he did have some help…me. Every day. And every night. And every weekend…for nearly 3 years.
I held boards while he sawed them. I spackled drywall, I drove nails, I hauled rock from creeks, I mixed concrete, I climbed on roofs, I dug ditches and anything else he asked of me. I’m sure I complained some, but I don’t really remember putting up much of a fuss. I just did what I was asked to do. After a few weeks it was not even a question; when I got off the school bus or woke up on the weekends, I knew exactly where I was going and what I was doing. While my friends were playing in the dirt mounds in our field, I was busy building more. And you know what? It didn’t hurt me a bit. In fact, it was a great experience.
When we finally finished the house, my dad treated me to several unexpected gifts, including my first street bike. I had been riding dirt bikes for since I was 6 or 7, but that all changed when Dad took me to a neighboring town to pick up my first street legal motorcycle. It was an orange Suzuki TS250. That was the beginning with my love affair with the road.
Over the many years since, I have “dabbled in the dirt” from time to time. I think I’ve owned 3 motocross bikes (all RM 125s for some reason) and 4 dual sport bikes. That doesn’t count bikes like the BMW F650GS, of which I’ve also had a couple. Every so often I get the urge to return to my roots and buy a dual sport. Back in the 90’s I purchased a Suzuki DR350. I went riding with a friend who was strictly an off road rider. His skills eclipsed mine by a long shot. When I was young I was a decent off road rider, maybe even good, but this guy was great…and I was very rusty. He beat me to a pulp. We traded bikes and he showed me that with the right person on board, even an antiquated DR350 could kick my ass!
Eventually I purchased a DR 650. I took it on some gravel and dirt roads, but nothing too gnarly. The bigger DR was an all around nice bike. In fact, I ended up owning two of them. See a pattern here? I have bad habits, what can I say? If I ever had to pick a bike as my “zombie apocalypse,” ride the world, survival bike, it would likely be a DR 650. But, as I often do, I grew tired of it, and sold it.
My last attempt to quiet that inner “dirt” voice was a Yamaha WR250. I bought the X version though, with 17″ wheels and street tires, because I’m really a street guy who just wants to get dirty once in a while. I bought knobby tires for it but never put them on. Instead, I used the WR to strafe the backroads of my neighborhood.
The desire to own a dual sport and ride off road finds its way into my mind every few months or so. Truth is, most of them are so tall that I can’t even get one toe down without sliding far off the seat. The ones I can manage are not the most exciting performers. Eventually the notion wears off and I realize, once again, that what I love is the asphalt plain, sharp curves and steep inclines, crossing state lines and rolling through small towns that I have no reason to visit other than the fact that I was led there by the road. I might as well face it, I’m a wanderer at heart and the byways are my compass.
If you remember, a few months ago I went on a Dr. advised diet and exercise program. My weight loss has sort of plateaued lately, and to be honest, I have slacked up a little on the diet. For the first 8 weeks I never “cheated.” For the past 4 weeks I have enjoyed some “good food” on the weekends. I’d like to lose at least 5-8 more pounds before leveling off, so I’m going to push a little harder over the next several weeks and see if I can make it happen…and I’ve come across the perfect motivation to get me there.
Since I’m turning 55 this year, there are plenty of good reasons to be in shape. For example, I have three of the most wonderful grandchildren you ever saw. They are all unique and I can’t wait to see what kind of young adults they turn out to be. I have 4 fantastic children that I want to be able to help get through their “young family” years as much as possible. They probably don’t really want my help, nor do they seem to need it, but I want to be around for a while “just in case.”
I also want to stay healthy because I don’t think I’m done with the coffee industry yet. In fact, I had a meeting over a beer last night with someone who is looking to enter the business and we discussed some new possibilities. Running your own business can be physically and mentally demanding, so I need to stay in shape “just in case.”
However, as great as those reasons are, I have something less serious, but still important, on my mind right now. You see, cabin fever has gotten the best of me. Louisville had ridiculous amounts of snow these past few weeks, along with below zero temps. Combine that with all the new bike intros lately and I have the developed riding bug in the worst way. You have no idea how badly I want to pack a bag, grab a bike and head south right now.
Looking at some of the new bikes being introduced has really lit my fire. I was looking at a list Cycle World put together and I thought, “I’ve got to stay in shape so I can ride and own some of these awesome new bikes!” Call it petty, call it selfish, call it silly. Hell, call it what you want, but I plan to be swinging my leg over the latest and greatest bikes for the next 20+ years! My motivation? Take a look:
I love Ducati motorcycles. I owned two of the previous generation Multistradas. That air cooled twin ranks as one of my top two all time favorite engines…the Street Triple being the other one. Ducs are…well, they are Ducs! And they are awesome. I have wanted the 1200 Multi ever since it came out, however, my damn short legs can’t even get a tiptoe down on the thing. I’ve owned lots of tall bikes, but the Multi is the tallest I ever rode. I still want one.While I’m at it, just take a minute and look at this new 1299 Panigale. Makes you quiver, doesn’t it? Well, it does me! Yes, I know, they make absolutely no sense. And, no, my old bones probably couldn’t stand more than 30 minutes on that bike, but oh, what a 30 minute ride that would be! 205 hp and 420 pounds wet. Read that again. An amusement park on wheels. The only thing more beautiful and sexy than that machine right there is my wife. Hey, I’m not stupid.
Supermotards…I love them! Dirt bikes with 17″ street tires…I want! This new Husky 701 has just got to be a blast. Being powered by the KTM 690 engine makes me believe this thing would be an absolute blast to ride. I already love the KTM 690 Duke, so I’m pretty sure this thing would rock as well. Speaking of KTM…I’ve never owned one but want to really badly. The new big adventure bikes are cool, but I don’t see one of those in my future. A 690 Duke is a real possibility and if they build this funky, heavily disguised bike above, that would be on my hot list too. One bike I didn’t buy and wish I had was the KTM 990 SMT. Rumor has it that the camouflaged bike above is a 1290 SMT. I don’t know if it is true, but if it is, be still my heart…and sign me up for a test ride!Beemers. I was on a Beemer kick in the late 90’s to early 2000s. I ran through 2 F650s, an 1150GS, 1200GS and 3 RT’s. I have kicked the tires on the F800GS, and the R1200R, but never pulled the trigger. This new S1000XR sounds really neat. Actually, I like the sound of the S1000R even better. Or maybe I’d just like to swing a leg over the returning classic sport tourer, the R1200RS.When I get tired of eating oatmeal and egg whites, and don’t really want to climb on the bicycle, nor head to the gym and throw weights around, I’ll just remind myself of this: there are dozens of cool bikes waiting to be ridden to cool places I’ve yet to explore. That’s just enough motivation to keep me moving in the right direction.
Batman and Robin. The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Peanut butter and jelly. Unions that work. Partnerships that created something greater than the individual elements. Some couplings just make sense. Which begs the question, ” Am I the only one who thinks a craft coffee roastery and a micro brewery make the perfect marriage?” Sure, beer and coffee have been combined many times by many breweries to make a stout. Everybody has one. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a shared space, shared business model and shared customers.
I may be mistaken, but this seems like a match made in heaven. It is a partnership that seems obvious and natural to me, yet I must be missing something because there are very few in existence. Not only that but I have as of yet been able to talk a single microbrewery into joining me on such a venture.
Think about it for a minute. The same individuals who have an interest in drinking freshly roasted specialty coffee are often the same people who also seek out craft beer. This is not the Folgers and Bud Light crowd. This is the kind of person who appreciates quality, individuality and creative artisan labor, not corporate mass production.
Now think about the space. Microbreweries work to develop their product during the day, then open their taproom up for customers in the afternoon. At 7:00 a.m. the bar is deserted. Well, I stumbled into Skinners Tavern in Bloomington at 8:00 in the morning once and they were serving…but that’s another story! Coffee bars, on the other hand, draw their best crowd in the early morning hours and then slow down as the day progresses, finally tapering off when the magic hour arrives. You know, the hour in which we can order a beer without feeling guilty.
So, doesn’t it make sense that these two craft businesses come together to capitalize on both space and customer base? Does to me. If there were one close to me, I’d head there in the morning for my coffee, then just hang out till the bar started serving beer. Uh, maybe I just discovered the problem!
In case you didn’t know it, it’s gym season. What? you didn’t know there was a gym season? Oh, believe me, there is and it is in full swing right now. It begins every January 1st, right after one last night of too much booze and too much food, followed by feelings of guilt and determination to “take charge.” The gym season ends around Spring Break, just in time to head to the beach to show off your new body. If you don’t believe me, just go see how busy your gym is today.
I wasn’t an athletic child. When it came to sports, I was very average. There were only a couple things that I excelled at: the pogo stick and dirt bikes. We lived down a very long gravel driveway. I’m talking several hundred yards long, and it wasn’t flat either. Someone bought me a pogo stick one year and I got very good at it. I could basically bounce up and down on that thing until I got bored and just quit. I didn’t even need my hands; I just used my legs to hold on. Once there was no challenge left to jumping, I started going places on it. Yeah, really. Someone asked me if I thought I could pogo all the way up our driveway without stopping. Guess what? I did it!
I was pretty decent on dirt bikes too. No Roger DeCoster, but I was at least competent off road. I started riding when I was 6 or 7 years old. We lived on a small farm and bordered about 80 acres of deserted, company owned woods, so I developed trails all over the place. My neighbors rode too, so we spent every day riding hills, creeks, wooded single track, dirt flat track and any other terrain we could create. It seemed to come fairly natural to me so when I finally was able to get a real motocross bike, things really got fun. I was too shy and introverted to ever go to the track, so I never really measured myself against other riders.
Those two, odd hobbies pretty much summed up my athletic endeavors. I gave no thought to my physical condition at all. Then, in 2000, at age 40, my wife and I decided to start going to the the gym. Our first gym was called The Iron Pitt. The gym literally had a “pit” where the dumbells were located. This was not a “pretty” gym. It was a body builder and power lifter’s gym. The equipment was well used and it smelled like sweat. And we loved it! The owners, Matt and Doug, were awesome and made us feel right at home. We entered the gym flabby and out of shape. Within a few months, we were solid and excited. And we were hooked.
Like most people, we eventually let life get in our way and we stopped going. There were several attempts to start up again. Because our schedule changed, we needed a gym closer to home, so we found one in a strip mall nearby. We would go at 3:30 or 4 in the morning before work. We went on vacation and came back to discover the gym was gone…the owner packed up and disappeared in the middle of the night. Once again, we were gymless.
Then, IU began taking over Bloomington and building student housing all over the downtown area. They still are and, frankly, I don’t think much of it. One plus, however, was they built a Cardinal Fitness Center downtown, so we began going again. There were two challenges with this gym. First, they were not a 24 hour facility, so we had a hard time finding the right time to go. Second, they were situated above student housing, so it was a “young person’s gym.” College students everywhere. Now, that didn’t bother me per se. In fact, being the older guy in a young gym is kind of motivating. What I didn’t like is that most of them were there to socialize and pick up dates, so they always seemed to be in the way…and I’m not the most patient man you never met. When I go to the gym, I go alone, I go to work out and go home. No talking. No socializing. No loitering.
We eventually stopped going there too. We did not enter another gym until last year. A Planet Fitness opened up right in front of our condo. I could literally walk…but I don’t! Go ahead, enjoy the irony in that statement for a moment. Now, if you follow this blog, you know I changed my diet a couple months ago and started going to the gym. Let me tell you a little bit about this newest gym. First the good news: it is open 24 hours. You can go whenever you want. It is also very clean. It smells good too. And they promote a “lunk free” zone. By this they mean, they are not a bodybuilder’s gym. They purposely try to create an atmosphere where people don’t feel intimidated.
Now for the bad news. First, it is purple. Purple and yellow…yikes! Okay, I can live with that one I guess. The second problem is that because they discourage bodybuilder types, they have a very small free weight area. You can’t really ever use them. But you want to know what the worse thing about this gym is? It is so convenient that it has taken away all of my excuses not to go!
For as long as I have been alive, all major holidays have been celebrated at my mother’s house. No discussion. No argument. No exception. That’s just the way it is and all four of her children knew it was futile to argue or plan otherwise. Over the years we have had some interesting gatherings, with one sibling or another often bringing a friend who had no better place to go, to enjoy the mayhem that makes up family gatherings. The house was always crowded, busy and at the least, entertaining.
And then we started getting old. And some of us got sick. And things changed. First, we lost my father. Then, a few years later, both my brother and one of my sisters became ill. Terminally ill. The holiday gatherings began to shrink exponentially. We lost spouses and children who no longer felt attached, or who moved away and on with their lives. Before we even had time to process or recover from these tragedies, my living sister then lost her husband to the same, terrible disease that had claimed our father and siblings.
At this point our family events were beginning to look and feel rather bleak. Depressing is more like it. We barely filled all the chairs at the kitchen table. I seriously considered not coming any more myself; I was tired of the feeling of loss.
Even though my wife and I have 4 children of our own, they all have other family responsibilities so holidays often fall in rotation, meaning we rarely ever see all four of them at the same time. This Christmas was one of those rare exceptions. All four children were present, along with each of their partners and our three grandchildren. A rare and wonderful treat. The house was full and loud. It may have seemed chaotic to others, but it felt “right” to me.
My sister and I feel like the “lone survivors” in our family; at least I do. Most of the time, life just goes on and it doesn’t cross my mind, but once in a while I am reminded of the empty chairs at our holiday table. For Christmas this year, my sister did a really cool thing. She had calendars made for all of us. Each month had family photos relative to that particular time of the year. Each birthday was marked with the face of the celebrant. On the month of November, she shared a photo of each of the family members we lost: our brother, our sister, her husband and our dad. We all enjoyed the calendar and commented on the cool old photos. At one point, while the grandchildren were stealing the show, I started thumbing through the calendar again. I stopped on November, and for some reason, the photos on that page reached out to me, and I felt the loss. Something was missing…someone, several someone’s were missing.
I saw my sweet granddaughter and my wonderful grandsons playing on the floor below and thought how much those who have left us would have enjoyed meeting and playing with these little wonders. They would have looked at our “little girls,” Kristin and Cailin and marveled at how they were now mothers themselves. At that moment, I missed them deeply. Time changes things; not always in a way we like.
A few moments later, I walked into the kitchen to find my wife, all four of our children, along with their partners and children, all chatting together, bantering back and forth and poking fun at one another. Just like we used to do. It was a profound moment for me. No one even knew it was happening. I guess you could say I saw the passing of time. I have taken the place of my father and Lori is “Mom.” The four children gathering are no longer my siblings and I. Instead, it is our children. It was a bittersweet revelation. Sad, sentimental and comforting all at the same time. Sometimes it seems that life has flown by at an unbelievable pace. Yesterday I was the child; today I am the grandfather. As James McMurty sings, it’s a “damn short movie.”
This summer we sold the house that our four children became brothers and sisters in. Their life’s memories reside there. We managed to get them all together briefly to take one last photo in front of our “home.” One of my daughters gave us the photo for Christmas.
I hope that in the time to come, we can create more of those moments where everyone is together. I hope that time will be good to our children and give them many years of enjoying one another’s company. I hope that once in a while they will bring a “stray” to Thanksgiving or Christmas. And if they are lucky, we might even let them host a Holiday now and then!