And Miles To Go Before I Sleep

On Saturday mornings, usually, I drag myself out of bed and don running attire for a jog with friends. In the pre-dawn darkness, this is harder than usual, especially as I try to do this silently. My wife likes to sleep in on the weekends, after her tiring toil all week, and our dog remains catatonic until the sun comes up. I stumble around with a tiny flashlight looking for everything I need. I could have done what my wife suggested and put all the items out the night before, but who’s got time for that?

A cup of joe, a banana, and a little cereal get me going. And then I’m off to a great morning with friends who have also struggled to get up and make it to the run. Most often our run leader apologizes for one of the group who has texted him that he is coming, is a little late, but to please wait. Somedays the late arrival screams to a stop in a cloud of dust in a VW SUV. Other days a fellow arrives quietly, parks at the end of the line, and makes some excuse about his kids, or his wife, as we point to our watches. Yesterday a tall older engineer driving a white SUV was almost late. Well, if you are in a military-themed fitness program he was late, being on time. Exactly on time.

It was a beautiful spring morning yesterday. Cool but not too cool. The blue sky beckoned, and the bright sun said “Come on down to the river and play!” Our leader had mapped out not one but two 5K routes for us. Down the path we went. The cool kids zoomed ahead, while I stayed back with…well, no one. We went to the flood wall, eastward, and then back to the parking area along 7th. From time to time the real runners turned about to rejoin me, in a maneuver called “back to last.” This keeps the group together, but also serves to motivate the last person to move faster. Who wants to be last? At the parking area, two more of our group joined in for the second 5K. Here we risked our lives along Riverside Drive until we could turn off towards the trail to Belle Isle along the railroad. Around Belle Isle, over the pedestrian bridge, back towards Brown’s Island, over the T Pot bridge, and back up the hill we wandered. Another 5K, and time for breakfast.

I think breakfast is really why we run together. It’s a time to connect. You can’t talk much on the run, especially if you are zooming along at the 8:15 minute per mile pace favored by some. But at breakfast, we can check in. How’s the new Volvo? Are you feeling okay with your upcoming blessed event? Is the home renovation going well? Yesterday I invited my wife and Sandy The Little White Dog to join us at Cafe Zata, and both had a great time. I think Sandy was a little nervous, at first, but then realized she could have fun with new friends. The breakfast bowl and blueberry muffin lasted about three minutes, but the conversations lasted an hour. I think that’s our rule. If we run for an hour, we eat for an hour. Seems fair to me.

I took a little time to work on the taxes, and to fiddle with some band sound equipment after the run. I looked forward to the afternoon and evening, as I would again be helping Henrico County Police with my partner in the Motorist Assistance Unit. The day got away from me, and once again I was just on time to the parking area. Thankfully my partner had set up the car and called in our information to the Communications Officers, and we headed out into the afternoon sun. Within a minute, we heard our first call. You never know what you’ll face, and you hope only that you can help in some way.

It was a confusing call on the radio, this one. A crash at Three Chopt and Cox. Wait, a crash at Rockport and Three Chopt.

Turns out it was one crash, involving two cars, but one vehicle didn’t stick around. Hit and run accidents get everyone excited, especially a bad one. This one was worse than usual. We found a Hyundai SUV hit broadside on the passenger side, both doors bashed in, and airbags deployed everywhere. Fire and Rescue were there, along with two other units.

We set up traffic control for the incredibly busy Three Chopt Road, two lanes of continuous traffic, with one lane blocked headed east. We had the east bound traffic detour through a ritzy subdivision, and slowed the westbound traffic through the scene. Throughout the hour, we found many of the motorists only too accommodating to the chaos, taking the detour without stopping. But, dozens of drivers stopped to see if there was some way they could be directed through a crash scene with three police cars, one fire engine, one rescue truck, and a wrecker. I use what the military calls “command presence” and politely direct these ditzy drivers to a new reality. From time to time, we had to stop all lanes to let the emergency vehicles in and out. All the while we were working this crash, other officers had located the vehicle that caused the crash, about a mile away. This explained the knocked down mailbox, the deep tire tracks on the road shoulder, and the radio traffic about a second crash involving a white truck. White paint covers the SUV impact damage, as you can see. You gotta wonder who would obliterate another vehicle and just keep on keepin’ on. No doubt they had problems with insurance, license, alcohol, drugs, or citizenship.

After the first crash, we patrolled the western half of Henrico County. Transiting from Staples Mill to Short Pump on I-295 we happened on a disabled motorist. His car was barely off the interstate, and the flashers were blinking. My partner inquired if we could be of assistance. Through the open Police Interceptor window, I could hear the citizen. The gentleman gave a long story about being taken advantage of, in buying a trailer, which had broken down, with a bad wheel and tire. He had left the trailer there overnight, and was attempting to repair it on the side of the interstate. There, a white Ryder truck driver had driven so closely to the white line that the side of the truck had kissed his backside. Literally. But wait, there’s more! The fellow was from Boston, but had moved to New York, where his wife had a job with a TV show. He hated New York, with all the people and traffic. He wanted to move elsewhere. But his wife, she had a great job. Then she tired of New York, and they decided a move to Alaska was in order. Of course somehow they needed a trailer, to haul all their stuff, and he had purchased this one. And the seller was not nice. He had misrepresented the trailer as being in good shape. And the police were not helping him get his money back. The fellow’s wife was mad at him. Because they had to get to Alaska, and he was the one who picked out this trailer. After sharing all this, he turned and pulled the tow vehicle ahead of the trailer, and made ready to hook up. The stories people tell. And when they tell them.

We set out a few flares to alert passing motorists of the hazard before the State Police arrived, and wished him well in his endeavor to pull this trailer to Alaska. The tires and wheels were of different sizes, the axle was noticeably bent, and the open trailer contents reminded me of an episode of Sanford & Son and Hoarders…total junk.

We checked the calls for service again on the web portal, and found another disabled motorist at Shady Grove and Nuckols listed. In a few minutes, the Interceptor made it there, where we saw a large dump bed truck filled with topsoil hooked up to an even larger wrecker. We helped the officer on scene for a few minutes, and shook our head as the wrecker front axle and tires rose off the pavement with the heavily loaded broken-down truck on its tow hook. The driver moved the load forward as far as he could, to reconnect the front tires with the roadway. The officer followed the tow truck towards the county line, to ensure its safety, and we headed back towards the western end of our county.

In the darkness, we heard another call for service. This time a three car crash on North Parham. There is a lot of traffic on Parham, and a three car crash sounded like it might be a major event. We arrived and found three cars in the fast lane, headed north, and a couple of our units there. With the speeds on Parham being upwards of 45 mph and the need to protect our officers we placed our unit a fifty yards further south. Robert Frost wrote of a journey, and his words come to mind.

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year. 

This spot on Parham Road is not unlike a spot between the woods and the lake, and is quite dark without any streetlights. There is a small lake there, just to the west.

Our little horse, the Interceptor stopped there, like Mr. Frost’s horse and carriage, and it probably wondered why we stopped in the middle of the thoroughfare.

We joined the officers to see what needed to be done, and discovered the rearmost car, the one starting the crash, was leaking coolant badly. Coolant in the waterway is hazardous, so we had to create a solution to prevent it heading into the storm drain just across from the scene. Without “kitty litter” absorbent, carried by the wrecker driver normally, we used our available materials from the cruiser. One roll of shop towels, and an ancient green bath towel made a suitable dam for the coolant. A fire engine came to evaluate the situation, and the Lieutenant told us we had done well to keep the waterway clean. They put a few shovels of dirt down in front of the coolant path, and headed back to their station. The Mercedes driver at the front of the crash was released, with essentially only a bump to the bumper. The middle red GMC Denali with the smashed up six-way tailgate and bumper headed out a few minutes later. But, the rearmost car, the one causing all this consternation, continued to leak. In time, the wrecker driver arrived to tow the Honda Pilot with the smashed radiator, and a few pounds of absorbent were used to sop up the mess. The female passenger spoke no English, and was not happy with the way things were going based on her stream of forceful Spanish to her husband. The driver spoke haltingly, and it was all I could do to move them out of the way of the wrecker operations. When the vehicle is towed onto a flatbed, the steel cable can come loose, and sling sideways with great force. I had to move the couple away from the ramp, and I finally resorted to a forceful exclamation “Andale! Andale!” with gestures to move away. We helped steer the SUV up the wrecker ramp, as it was not aligned well with the lane of traffic. And, after an hour on scene, the last car was removed, and we could move on.

By this time, it was late. We headed to our home base for fuel, and parked our cruiser at the secure lot at the Public Safety Building. Looking at the odometer, we noted 85 miles of driving. Six hours, six calls for service, and 85 miles. I felt like I had just run another 10K.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

So that was Saturday. Miles to run. Miles to drive. You never know how many. But thankfully, finally, sleep.

Running With Patience

For the past six months I have been in pain. It’s really nothing, compared to the pain of many truly suffering. But the pain, constantly intermittent, has been a learning experience.

I don’t like pain. It obfuscates my outlook. It alters my attitude. It influences my identity.

One of my physical pains has been in my right heel. As a dedicated jogger, this makes exercise excruciating. You have to go on. But the day after a run, I would hobble. I found myself impersonating Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein, dragging a leg slowly to avoid placing a direct load on the heel. Most everyone has a solution for such pain. Ice. Heat. Tennis balls. Rollers. Stretching. Rest. Dr. Google has conflicting reasons for pain, symptoms for each condition, and as usual, isn’t much help. So for the past six months, I soldier on.

Running Riverside Drive one Saturday morning, each heel strike creating that twinge, I thought a lot about pain. I was alone in my thoughts, as the fast runners in my group were way ahead of me, and the slow runners behind. “Why, God, am I in pain?” God listens. “Can You fix this?” Sometimes when I talk to God I feel better. In the rising morning sun, I realized that there is pain, and there are trials. I think it is important to understand the differences.

The source of pain is inside us. It can be a physical pain. It can be an emotional pain. The pain could be sporadic, occasional, or continuous. How we deal with pain varies.

I think most of us try to ignore pain. At least initially. Surely this pain will go away. It’s not that bad. It’s a normal part of aging. I’ll be okay tomorrow. But tomorrow, the pain says “Good morning! Time to think about me again!” So we try to suppress pain. There are a lot of ways to suppress it. We can abdicate, by not doing whatever causes the pain. We can medicate, with pills or potions. We accept pain. We change our expectations about living without pain. We overcome pain. This of course is most challenging. Overcoming pain requires treatment, and that treatment is often long and painful in and of itself. Overcoming pain requires purpose, direction, and motivation. Overcoming pain is lifelong, particularly for wounds of our spirit.

I wondered if my pain was a trial. With each step I realized how pain is part of a trial, but how a trial is not pain alone. The Bible teaches that we may experience trials, sharing examples of people like us. Sarai, Hannah, Gideon, Samson, Samuel, Joseph, Job, Hezekiah, Nehemiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, Paul…the names are endless and the stories are so memorable.

As we think about pain and trial, we can look to Saul and David, their story told in the books of Samuel and Chronicles. Saul, the first king of Israel, lived a life of episodic emotional pain, and in response, tried to kill the persons he thought caused the pain. Saul ultimately ended his own life at a battle. David was brought from a lowly shepherd role to that of a warrior king, and in the lifelong journey David took each painful experience to the Lord. David experienced trial after trial, with wounds of both physical and emotional distress. Why would we characterize Saul’s experiences as pain, and David’s as trials? I think the difference is clear as we look at the outcomes.

Saul’s kingship began with great fanfare, and ended with ignominy. He knew what he should do, and did not. He knew who he should listen to, and did not. He was anointed a leader, given a kingdom, and he lost it in acts of disobedience. His focus, even at his final moment, was on his self. He wanted to end his life to avoid dishonor, asking others to kill him, attempting suicide, and ultimately dying by the hand of the enemy he feared. Saul rejected the truth, and chose to find answers in lies. Saul lived a life of pain.

David, throughout his life, faced death time and time again, and each time he focused outwardly on the Lord. From his first experience fighting Goliath, at the death of a newborn, at the loss of a grown and rebellious son, David relied on God. David recorded his experiences and his emotions in many of the Psalms. His musings speak of hurt, fear, sorrow and anguish. His writings also express joy that most cannot understand, a joy that led him to shout, sing, and dance. In writing songs and poetry to release those feelings, in seeking counsel through a spiritual dialog, David treasured a life of trial.

Are our pains trials? Sometimes. I think most of the time pain is just pain. Our bodies have limits, and when we exceed those, pain results. Most often pain is the outcome of a poor personal decision. Can pain be a trial? Sometimes. If pain is a trial, though, its cause is most often outside our control.

What characterizes a trial? Purpose. In the modern legal system, a trial has a singular purpose, to bring forth the truth. In our lives, each trial has a purpose. The trial brings pain, and yet the trial points to the most important truth. No matter what, God loves us. His love soothes the soul. His love binds up the brokenhearted. His love strengthens the weak. His love is a light in the darkness. His love saves.

Our trials can be quick, or they can be lifelong. Our trials can be physical, or they can be emotional. In our trials, though, we are never alone. God is with us. God knows our condition, completely understands us, and loves us anyway. We can do nothing to keep God away.

The best part? All God wants is us. He wants us. There is a word for this — faith. Faith in God. In our trials, may we look to God and place our faith in Him. The trial has only that purpose. Faith.

So today as I step gingerly on the right foot after another Saturday morning jog, the pain continues. I don’t think it is a trial. But today I hope the pain reminds me that in any trial, God is there. God will never leave me. God loves. In your pain, in your trial, may God become ever more real to you.

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me…

One of the more enjoyable radio programs is the comedy quiz show “Wait, wait, don’t tell me!” In this minor-celebrity comedic challenge, players are given just enough time to answer questions from the week’s news, and often stumble before landing on what they hope are correct answers. The host keeps time and score. Waiting for the player, the radio listening audience can shout the answer aloud, participating in the game. Here, the pause between the question and the answer is never long enough to be a bother, and the tension created gives the listener some enjoyment.…_Don’t_Tell_Me!

Waiting for most of us is not enjoyable. Wednesday I had occasion to wait. I need a drill bit to complete a modification to my outdoor shed. It’s nothing special, just a 1/2 inch woodboring bit, at least ten inches long. I need to drill through two pieces of lumber to bolt them together. At Major Home Improvement Store A, I found the wood, the bolts, the flat washers, the lock washers, and the nuts. In the aisle with drill bits, on every hook there were a few bits, except on the 1/2 inch hook. Out of stock! Are you kidding me? I guess I’ll have to wait until the bit is restocked. I trundled the items out to the register, and there stood in line. It wasn’t too long of a wait. But, the cashier was new, and didn’t know quite how to quickly ring up four of the same item. Each obviously identical bolt was picked up, inspected for a three-letter code, coded into the register, and finally totaled up. Didn’t the cashier know that you could just put a “times four” multiplier into the register?

Thursday I was shopping for a lawnmower online, and realized that the mower brand was only sold at Major Home Improvement Store B. Great! I can look at the mower in person there. I recalled I was waiting on the 1/2-inch drill bit, so I decided to try the store’s iPhone app to find the bit, order it, and have it ready for pickup. I’m not sure who programs these apps, but most often they frustrate me. I entered “1/2 inch drill bit” in the search window. Over three thousand items were returned. None of the first items listed were 1/2 inch in diameter. I tried several other criteria in the search window, and after a few minutes of waiting, found the desired bit. Creating an account, I waited for the transaction to process, and went back to my day job for the rest of the afternoon.

Traffic wasn’t too bad to Major Home Improvement Store B. I figured I’d stop by the lawnmowers first, then pick up the drill bit. Way up high, on the rack, were the mowers. Not much better than looking at the pictures online. I needed to see if the mower handle would be high enough for me. A helpful associate stopped by. I related the predicament. He happened to know that someone had started opening a box with that exact mower, for reasons unknown, and we found it nearby. Although this is a big box retailer, it was nice to have hands on shopping for something of this expense. The mower handle could work for my 6’4″ frame, it turns out. I’m still not sure I want to spend hundreds of dollars on a battery-operated device, though!

So, off to the retail pickup counter. It’s late, I’m tired, and wouldn’t you know it seven people are in line, and one harried associate is obviously not able to deal with the return item a customer presented to her. The aisles were blocked at the door, and also in the store as we tried to maintain social distancing. Shopping carts, pallets, plants, and people filled the aisle. People were scootching around us, trying to get in the store, and we waited. And waited. And waited.

In a while, store management came our way to see about the mob. Radios were fired up, special communication signals were given, and associates magically appeared. Hooray! The wait would be over, soon. As a person only needing to pick up an item, I was given special access to one associate who sincerely wanted to help. My wait wasn’t over. Not even close. The online order? I didn’t see where it had been fulfilled on my phone. The associate was sure it had been, as he had placed the drill bit in the pick up bin. Pick up bin? Sure enough, outside the store proper, was an electronic locker. Super! We just need your access code, sir.

No code, no e-mail, not a single luxury…with apologies to Gilligan’s Island. There at the locker the associate recalled he had placed the item was in a bin, and even pointed out the general bin location. The order number was keyed in. No luck. The access code was found, on another computer. Nothing. A second associate came over. On his phone was the big electronic hammer, the code that would unlock all the bins. At once! Turns out that code was useless. Finally some number of digits tapped in opened the bin door! And, it was empty. No drill bit.

By now, I am very good at waiting. I think waiting is a bit like grieving. It has stages. The first stage is disturbance. A line? Now? I can’t wait. Not now. The second stage is denial. It is just a short wait. Won’t take long. The phone comes out. Social media is consulted. Time is absorbed. E-mails are checked. No big deal, right? The third stage is duty. What can I do to help? Do I need to inform someone? How do I help? The fourth stage is doubting. Is this ever going to end? Will I make it home in time for dinner?

Standing there at the electronic pick up bin, we reached the fifth stage. Despair. I was in the middle of it. I was close. Really close. The bins wouldn’t open, wouldn’t release the imprisoned merchandise, and I still needed a drill bit. I couldn’t walk away now. Thankfully the associate went to the tool area, grabbed another one, and said “So sorry for your wait.” I would say it was about thirty minutes before despair set in. Just enough time to lose faith in online ordering.

And then, of course, the sixth stage. Delight! With drill bit in hand, I walked to the SUV and headed home. The drill bit would allow me to finish up the modification to my shed, to remount the ramp at the entry door. Without the ramp, trundling the lawnmower in and out would be challenging. A $10 bit bit into the wood. The 1/2 inch hole through the 4 x 4 and the 2 x 8 allowed the bolts and washers to affix the 4 x 4 to the shed frame. And, the newly cut ramp notches aligned the treads with the door sill plate, while keeping a slight gap to let rain fall through.

Now I can get after the door frame paint. I’ve been waiting for good weather…

Is Everything Urgent?

There is a sense of urgency today.  In about everything we do.  I’m not sure if urgency is a result of being overwhelmed, or that we are overwhelmed because everything is urgent! Like you, days are filled with tasks that must be accomplished.  Today.  Every day.  

Monday… After a weekend of both mental and physical work, the song by Mark Chestnutt “It Sure Is Monday” could have been my soundtrack  Leading a major project with three authentic rocket scientists from our two companies, I found myself driving from theoretical to practical, finding a path forward to the unknown.  A customer wants new! novel! relatable! unique! understandable! factual! statistical! data.  Is there a way to measure the performance of a product that somehow checks all these boxes?  Two hours later, there is hope.  Hope springs eternal, they say.  For us, hope means hard work.  Driving home, you hope that you did everything you could.  And you know there is always something else you might have tried.  Sandy The Little White Dog had hope too.  She hoped that I would be there for her, after a day by herself.  So we walked and talked.  I talk to Sandy a lot.  She seems to listen.  But you never know.  There is always so much to smell.  Along the way, my new ham radio crackled to life with words from the ether!  The communications were mundane, yet exciting as they came from a place I’d never visited.  The words were bracketed with call signs [like KO4JCF kilo oscar 4 juliet charlie foxtrot] and lingo that is new to me, but part of a community of millions around the world.  I could hear people making plans to meet at Windy Hill Golf parking lot, for a social gathering of hams.  Could I make it?  No.  But later than evening, I listened to my first “NET” communication.  Nearly a dozen hams gathered around a repeater at 146.880 MHz, sharing life.  I tried to join in, but no one seemed to hear.  CB radio this isn’t!  The Net ended, and I felt a bit of disappointment.  But, also a sense of progress towards a goal.

Tuesday… You remember the hope we had from Monday?  It all seemed so possible Monday.  A lunch at Mexico Restaurant in Ashland brought the rocket scientist together with the engineers, and a search of the nearby corporate warehouse for equipment to measure “new! novel! relatable!” performance led us to a dark and forboding corner.  It was a place you might expect to find ROUS…you know, rodents of unusual size ( There, in the far corner, was the equipment needed to measure a critical vehicle component performance.  Well, it was part of the equipment.  Around the corner was a shelf with another bit of techno-wizardry.  And look!  Up on the to shelf is the FTIR gizmo that identifies the emissions.  The core drill needed to create the test sample?  Gone.  It was strangely sad, where equipment that was working fine only six years ago was now six months from being anywhere close to measuring “new! novel! relatable!” performance.  If it could be put together.  “Time and tide wait for no man,” offered Geoffrey Chaucer some five hundred years ago.  But at least after a day of science I could help a friend with something physical.  Tink The Truck, our 1995 Ford F150 was perfectly suited to move a trundle bed from Glen Allen to Wentbridge Road.

The loading of the bed in Glen Allen and the delivery to north Richmond was like a trip back in time (  From 2010 to the 1950s, the F150 took a modern trundle bed to a charming brick Cape Cod home where my friend lives.  We didn’t need the DeLorean, but it was nice to see the 1950s home bringing joy to her.  Moving a couple of items into the attic, I could see the roof boards.  Not plywood!  Actual boards, rough hewn, with gaps between them, affixed to simple trusses.  The edges weren’t square, the finish was rough, and you could see in the irregularity that real craftsmen built the home.  Driving home, in the mist, the F150 bounced along I-64 back to the present.  I think Tink would just as soon have stayed in the 50s.

Wednesday… what does the poem say about Wednesday’s child?  Full of woe.  I think I was feeling a bit woeful.  I’ve been working on a project for months to bring colleagues to a new way of linking formulation and test info, and giving up what felt so natural and comfortable.  Change is hard, as you know.  Change that you initiate is easier to accept, and when someone brings you a new way of doing things you’ve been doing it is only natural to resist that change.  Wednesday was the day of final preparations for a department meeting to share the new way, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I would be revered or reviled for bringing people a new way.  It is hard to fine tune a few Powerpoint slides, coordinate who is speaking to which slides, and wonder if the pitchforks and torches will come out.  Wednesday was St Patrick’s Day, and a day I had originally slated for a performance in a Celtic band at a local Irish pub.  A few weeks ago, it became clear that a fiddler I am not, and so on this night, I felt a bit woeful.  Performing in the band was hard, filled witih daily pressure to learn tunes and the Celtic fiddling style, and I am glad to completed the trial where I could realize my meager talent is solely as a violinist.  Being fired from a band is never enjoyable. Even so, it was great to sit down to a home-cooked meal with green and white shamrock-shaped cheese-filled pasta over wilted spinach, while Apple Music played original Irish tunes.

Thursday… a blur of meetings, presentations, and a discussion about the future … all urgent .. all back to back to back .. a few minutes to enjoy a sandwich, yet even in those private minutes more requests for information.  Another presentation for another VP…were we on track?  are we doing what we said?  when will the future arrive?  It seems that the higher people get in any company, the more questions they have.  I wish that at some point I would get to ask them questions.  Thursday’s urgency lasted all day, and ended late with a flurry of Powerpoint slides to satisfy yet another meeting with a VP and all the Directors.  I didn’t need that at 4 pm.  Thankfully I got to share an hour with friends from church that evening, as we talked about how we have handled the pandemic, and how we are serving our church. is a great place for this team.  We’re doing things that are important and unseen by most.  We’re doing things that only we can do.  We’re doing things that no one wants to do.  And we’re doing things together.  Men need that sense of togetherness.  It’s not that we need togetherness, itself.  We need the task and the team.  One can’t be accomplished without the other.  One can’t exist without the other.  The task defines the team, and the team handles the task.  If you asked this group to get together on a regular basis?  To be together?  What are you talking about?  I got stuff to do!  But, if you ask this group to tackle the task…let’s get together.  Let’s figure it out.  How can we …not I … do this?  It was a great end to a frantic day.

Friday… the urgency at work subsides, finally.  The list remains long, but the lingering effects of the week demand a day where work and home intersect as I worked from home.  The quiet of my home office was broken only by the irregular steps of Sandy The Little White Dog, as she hobbled from place to place.  Her left hip appears to be giving pain and it is hard to watch her move.  Eight years ago, that hip was injured in rough play between Craz-E and little Sandy, and she has the genetic predisposition to hip dysplaysia as well.

Sandy X-Ray from some years ago … left hip is shown on the right side of this image

I had to carry her down the stairs once.  Aging is such a challenge, even for dogs.  Doctor Mom will no doubt find a solution, but all I could do was command “Shields up!” to my emotions of the fear of her future.  Sandy did entertain a contractor who might be able to install a whole house generator.  It’s March.  The earliest he can install a generator is September.  Six months?  But I may need power, urgently!  It turns out that generators are now about as in demand as deck boards and contractors.  No one has boards, and you can’t find anyone to install them.  No one can predict when the generators will arrive.  And, there is no guarantee that an order placed will be honored by the suppliers.  Everyone is producing generators as urgently as possible.  But no one can purchase them.  We live in a strange time.

Saturday… the morning darkness meant I was up before dawn, to enjoy a run with friends.  Leading the run, I had to be there a bit early, as I wanted to drive the route I had chosen only by online mapping to become familiar with it.  Before I knew it, though, I was running late.  The darkness had turned to dawn, and the sun glared at me through the windshield as I hurriedly headed east to Pony Pasture .  More urgency!  I circled the neighborhood above the park to learn the route, then bounced through the gravel strewn parking lot to meet the early runners.  Our trio went out and up a continuous one-mile hill climb, then descended back down to the lot past the gazillion dollar homes on Hill Drive.  A few more friends arrived for the 8:00 am jog, and we headed out along Riverside Drive amongst dozens of walkers, runners, and bikers.  It was 30 F, but bright and sunny.  Soon the group spread out based on our individual running pace, and I found myself alone.  I’ve been on that jog two dozen times, but this morning, it felt different.  Instead of conversations with friends, I could only look around me.  To the left I saw the massive granite slabs on which the expensive homes were built, rising quickly from the floodplain of the James River.  The flowing river rushed over the Z-Dam ( with sunlight glistening on the water.  The huge rocks reminded me that at times, I just need to be still.  The river showed me that a steady pace was important, a pace I could sustain.  After four miles or so, the group enjoyed coffee at the nearby Starbucks, and before I knew it the morning was half over.

Later that day, I fitted some footpeg lowering blocks and engine protection bars to my BMW K1600GT motorcycle.  These tasks I had put off for some time, as they weren’t urgent.  The first day of spring signaled that I needed to get these mounted, though.  Thankfully the empty garage gave me room to work, and in a few hours the work was complete.

Footpeg lowering block moves the peg lower and forward for added comfort
Stainless steel bars from BMW bolt to the engine and prevent catastrophic damage if machine is tipped over

Good thing it didn’t take too long, as we had dinner with friends at 6:30 pm.  As I rushed there, the lessons of the morning faded.  Once there, the restaurant reminded me that urgent action is not always necessary, as we waited twenty minutes for our table.  Casa del Tarde, I think it might be renamed.

Sunday … a day of rest?  That’s what the Bible says.  But at the church, there is always work to do.  We live in times where church security is necessary, sadly, and I kept watch in the lobby during both 9:30 am and 11:00 am services.  Once again, I found myself hurrying to church to be there on time.  And of course, in that haste I left something I needed at home.  Nothing vitally important, but still that urgency created in me an unwelcome feeling.  Later, Lynn and I slowed down to meander around the James River again, this time on the hiking trails downtown.  We walked from Ethyl down to Tredegar, across the Tyler Potterfield bridge, up the stairs to the high trail, westward to the spiral staircase down, then back east towards the bridge to Brown’s Island.  Meandering was all we could do, with the hundreds if not thousands of people there for recreation.  Three miles later, we were ready for the ride home in Tink the Truck.

As the week begins, I hope the lessons of the past week take hold.  I hope I can recognize when urgency brings unwelcome concern and chaos.  I hope I can remember the peace I felt jogging by the river, hiking on the trails, and getting long-awaited tasks finished.  Instead of rushing to get everything done, maybe I can thoughtfully eliminate activities and commitments that bring tension and travail. It won’t be easy, but I think it will be worth it.

Over The River And Down I-95

There’s an old song about going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house. I think about it when I travel for the holidays. My bride and I headed south to Charleston SC to see my favorite daughter and her dashing husband for Turkey Day.

At the last minute, my favorite daughter asked if we could bring a Christmas tree with us. Of course! The tree is one of those convenient holiday inventions that fits into a bag, and we happen to have one more than we need. So, Engineer Chip decided to find a way to put the tree in the Lexus RX350 boot.

Everything seemed to go well. The bag, bigger than it needs to be (thanks Amazon), nestled into the hatch area. This of course meant that all the suitcases needed to go into the back seat area. Someone brought only one suitcase. A large one. Purple. Someone else brought only one suitcase. A large one. Black. And, a Wild Dunes athletic gear bag. And a laptop backpack. And a camera bag. And a tripod. And…well, suffice it to say that in this family it is not the woman who brings too much gear.

So there it is, all packed up, and we go to start the car. It’s our first road trip with this SUV. I’m looking forward to the ride. I mash the start button. Nothing. The starter solenoid won’t even engage. Now Engineer Chip has a real problem. The battery voltage had been checked earlier that day, and registered 12.2 vDC. Why did Engineer Chip check? Well, it has been starting slowly the past couple of days. But the battery is dated March 2020, and is a name brand. How can it be bad? Now!

I pulled the battery out, and put it in the 1995 F150 floorboard. The battery dealer closest to me would not touch the battery without paperwork being presented. I couldn’t help but think of every WW2 movie where the good guys are on the train and the bad guys want to see paperwork. What would he recommend? Try the distributor. They are only a few miles away. So off I went. A few miles turned out to be at Ashland Road and Pouncey Tract. But, there, like magic, customer service appeared in the form of a quiet young country man. He took the battery, found it to fail the load test, and brought me a new battery in about three minutes. That’s service. What was written by the manufacturer on the battery label — 24 month free replacement — was just what they honored. No papers!

So, new battery in, we headed south. About 90 minutes behind schedule. On the way, I stopped at a major chicken fast food for fuel. For me. And some high quality premium gas for the RX350. At the counter I stood in line for a few moments, and then waited for my wife’s fresh onion rings and my sandwich order. Standing there I couldn’t help but notice other customers. An older lady walked in. She was wearing those cheap fabric shoes, with a printed pattern that reminded me of a baby room wallpaper, skin tight pants stretched so tight, and a black tentlike blouse. Her freshly colored red hair was pulled back just far enough to see her frown as she walked up to the counter.

“How much is a chicken breast?” she asked.

“What?” replied the truly helpful older woman manning the cash register.

“How much is a chicken breast?” she yelled through her mask. The nice counter clerk replied “$2.41 with tax.”

“I’ll have two mild chicken breasts. And two chicken sandwiches, spicy. And a serving of creamed potatoes with gravy. And beans.”

“What?” asked the helpful counter clerk, as she leaned under the plexigas barrier. “The kitchen is making too much noise.”

The lady repeated her order, with some displeasure, and louder. Having two older people with masks on in a noisy kitchen didn’t help.

The order was placed, and the clerk turned to the kitchen and asked when her mild chicken breasts would be ready. “Nine minutes!” yelled the cook. I’m hearing everything, but no one else seems to be able to. “Nine minutes!” came the call again.

“Ma’am, we don’t have plain chicken breasts right now, it will be a while. Would you like spicy?”

The red-haired customer shook her head as if she had been asked the stupidest question ever. She scowled back and sputtered “No! I have to feed them to a dog!”

So, there on the side of I-95, I saw what this current health crisis has done to us. No one can understand each other through masks. Restaurants are running flat out and can’t keep food prepared. The tension of life seems to create ill will that spills out when people don’t get what they want. Even if the nice lady behind the counter is trying her dead-level best to get you on your way, some customers respond in anger. Anger, plain as day on her face, even behind her cheap sunglasses. Why?

Let’s try to remember that we walk this earth at our peril, and by the grace of God we somehow survive another day. When we face challenges, let’s try to be gracious, to remember that we may not have all the facts. Let’s try to respond with kindness rather than ill will. As the holidays are upon us, let’s try to recall better days, and carry that spirit into these harsh times.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Outside Of A Horse

“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man” – Winston Churchill

Today, I sat astride my horse of aluminum, steel, and plastic for 100 miles. The K1600 GT has a mind of its own, like a real horse, particularly when you come to a stop and need to wheel to the left or right. It also wants to run fast, and feel the wind blowing its mane back.

Here in the greater Richmond, Virginia area, we have many excellent opportunities to ride. Yesterday, we went out to West Broad, and turned west towards Centreville. Along the way, right near Mellow Mushroom we passed through the plastic debris from yet another three car fender bender so common on Broad. Will people just stop driving with their phones in their hands? Probably not.

Northward on Ashland Road, past Bogey’s Sports Park, then west on I-64, we sped along towards US 522. I opened up the fairing scoops thoughtfully provided by BMW engineers, which directed 75 mph air right at my chest. Better than air conditioning? Maybe not. But, better than still air.

Exiting on US 522 South, towards the rivah, we decided to go west on VA 673 Whitehall Road. Never having been on that country road, it was nice to have a BMW Nav IV GPS to show me the upcoming curves and intersecting roads. A quick glance told me if I needed to slow down or just cruise on. Even this road seemed too major for the ride today. At an abandoned building, we turned left on VA 615 Chapel Hill Road, and threaded our way past Hewitt Lane, and many other lesser-traveled trails. We made it to US 6 River Road and waited for traffic to clear. Here, the K1600 GT’s 763 pounds and the sharp left turn brought to mind the YouTube channel “Ride Like A Pro” where I was admonished to never turn first, but to roll first, then turn. Seemed to work just fine.

Along US 6 we faced the typical Goochland traffic, and one gold Ford Explorer with Sheriff decals. But, it’s not hard to behave at 35 mph through Goochland, where you feel a sense of community and peace. At US 522 again, we turned south and sped over the river bridge. On the right, at the Maidens Loop, hundreds of people with watercraft were enjoying the James River in the 90 degree heat.

US 522 led to US 60, of course, and we passed familiar byways of Hugenot Trail and Three Bridge Road. At Mechanicsville Turnpike, a Honda Goldwing pulled in behind us, and followed us eastward towards town. We slowed to allow the Wing to pass, to observe how it handled. Clearly an inferior stallion! Suitable for mere mortals, we supposed.

Then, at US 288, we screamed around the on-ramp at 80 mph, scraping the footpegs as we leaned over and showered the car behind us with sparks of steel. OK, maybe that was a YouTube video I saw; we just trotted around like a minivan driver. Because a minivan driver was in front of us ruining our chances to create sparks. Really. We could do 80. What, you don’t believe me?

And, back towards US 6, we opened it up to cruising speed. Patterson Avenue brought us to Pagebrook Drive, and southwards we climbed over the hill to River Road. We cruised in first gear around James River Estates, waving back at the Mayberry-esque neighbors. Some were on their porches just like Andy and Barney after church. And one woman was wearing a Hope Kids church tee shirt. It’s a good church, Hope Church. You should go there.

After all those miles, and close to home, we found ourselves bearing down on a tiny fox crossing the four-lane highway. The blast from the dual-tone air horn encouraged him to skedaddle into the creek bed, while the prodigious disk brakes whoa-ed us down to avoid certain disaster.

Finally, back to the stable, and back to a reality we all share. 100 miles took far too little time. 100 miles seemed like a walk around the neighborhood. This steel horse is so amazing, so comfortable, so capable, 1000 miles in a day seems possible.

Sandy The Little White Dog was glad to see me, but sad she couldn’t ride with us. Lynn Weber Hewette gave me various chores to do, like putting aluminum foil up on the top shelf and returning the packing tape up high in the box over the washing machine. Someone has to do it. Might as well be me. But, I had to sneak away to tell you…Winston Churchill was right. The outside of this horse is good for the inside of this man.

Knowing God, Loving Others

You know how sometimes you wake up just enough in the middle of the night. Something makes a noise, or maybe you have to get up. On June 19, 2018, sometime, in the darkness, a thought came to me, as I was not fully awake, but not asleep…

When love ends, judgment begins.

I hope that I can remember this, and when I sense myself judging someone else, that I try my best to stop and love them.

The Bible gives us these commands:

Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:39)

Do not be judged, or you too will be judged. (Matthew 7:1)

And, as we wonder how to love others, the Bible teaches us:

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8)

May I know God more today, that I may love others like Him.

Knowing My Limitations

A man’s got to know his limitations. I’m exploring mine with a well-maintained 2013 BMW K1600 GT.

I didn’t expect to buy a motorcycle this year. It’s my third purchase from Morton’s BMW. First BMW. Fifth motorcycle, as I think back.

It all began many years ago. My mother’s boss Sue Miller was a friend to the family. We went camping together. She had a Winnebago and a Honda Trail 90 motorcycle on a bumper mount. I think it might have been 1974 when I whizzed around a campground on it. She also let me ride her Yamaha 180cc street bike a few times, after regaling me with stories of her riding a Harley.

In the 1980s I found a 1972 Yamaha R5C with 350cc of two-stroke power. A colleague had a similar 1974 Yamaha RD350. It was a great starter motorcycle for a single man. My metallurgist friend helped keep the antique running. Even after I ran it out of oil, on the interstate. Yes, that was stupid.

(this is like my machine, same colors, but is not my motorcycle)

Another good friend, soon to be my best man, had a very nice 1983 Honda Nighthawk 650cc. He decided to purchase a 1985 BMW K100RS. After riding alongside I realized I had to buy his Nighthawk just to keep up. The K bike would leave me. So I forked over the cash and rode his old Honda for a while. It was blue. It was so nice. But circumstances changed, and I sold it. I put the money towards a honeymoon in Hawaii.

(this is similar to my bike, but not my image)

For some years, 1991 through 2008, I didn’t ride. During the gas price craziness in May of that year my massive Toyota Tundra made my wallet thinner than I wanted. With my bride’s acceptance, I found a Suzuki SV650S at Morton’s BMW priced to move. In May. It nearly fit me. It was the perfect “reentry” bike for a mature gentleman. I loved getting around the countryside on it, but it was just too small and uncomfortable. I rode it for four years.

(this is like my motorcycle, but obviously is a pro photo)

In April 2012 I went to Morton’s for their BMW Days. I got to ride a S1000RR, R1250, and a GS850(?). Great experience as it showed me that bigger and more powerful bikes are good. In May I went back thinking I would get a Yamaha R1 but the used one they had didn’t track straight. I saw the 2002 Honda Interceptor there and tried it. I couldn’t walk away. Custom paint, sized for me, and all the records this engineer craved. I’ve ridden it for eight years.

(this is the Interceptor on one of my last country rides)

For some reason, this year, I’ve been watching touring motorcycle reviews on YouTube. I imagined myself on a Goldwing, but saw repeated comparisons to the K1600. In each review it became apparent that such a driving machine would match my goals of riding further with more comfort and luggage capacity with sporting style. Wouldn’t you know it, but Morton’s had a K1600 GT on consignment. And it is May.

I went up Saturday May 23, 2020 for a test ride. I have never felt so much excitement before a trip. I was literally buzzing, a physical sensation I couldn’t shake as I loaded up the Honda luggage cases and rode away. I was first to the dealership. And, I got to try the K1600 GT out for about 40 minutes. NoVA is not a good test site but I learned I could make u turns on residential streets, navigate city traffic, and enjoyed the power of the inline six-cylinder engine.

I paused in the showroom to think about it. I chatted with a very helpful sales associate who happened to be there that day. He is retired LEO, so my being affiliated with Henrico Police made a connection easy. He showed me a few unusual items about this K1600 that weren’t obvious, as he rode the same model and could see the differences.

This particular K1600 GT was likely owned by a very wealthy man with style and taste. And a garage. It has only 4,760 miles in seven years. The features engineered by BMW are quite sufficient but he had a custom Corbin Smuggler seat added, and custom paint for the top case, Smuggler case, side cases, and mirrors. It’s all matched to the factory Montego blue. And of course he added a special BMW emblems to the fairings on either side that light up. To make shifting more secure he put a billet aluminum shift peg on the lever. To ensure optimum handling he had Michelin 2CT tires recently installed. To keep the headlights protected he added a special clear cover. To light the night he added penetrating fog lights down low. It is a one of a kind machine.

I had to make a decision. To many of you it would be obvious. Buy it! To this engineer, decisions are never easy. But riding back on my Honda I knew it was the right motorcycle for me, at this time. I called the dealership from a gas station near home where I was refueling the Interceptor and made a deposit. I couldn’t go another minute without making this big move.

For two days I waited for a chance to drive up to Morton’s to pick up the machine. It’s worse than Christmas. It is like a hot fever that won’t break. Chores at the house and a day of working from home were punctuated by tasks to get on the road up to Fredericksburg. I could hardly wait for all the conferences to end. Thankfully a good friend in my subdivision was able to carry me up there. It was great to share my excitement with him and to see his reaction. We made it up there in about an hour.

After a good ninety minutes of paperwork, and a tutorial on the many electronic features of the K1600GT, I was ready to go. The sales manager took the picture you see here. I couldn’t wait to swing my long leg across the saddle and see what it could really do.

(this is the official salesman photo, May 26, 2020)

It was so different than the Interceptor. In a good way, of course. Fast. So very fast. 160 hp fast. I set the cruise control at 70mph and found myself really focusing on traffic safety rather than my speed. But when I needed to get clear of the people in cages, the available power was amazing. It handles like an extension of your mind, even as large as it is. Radio, GPS, glove boxes, cases to hold everything, adjustable windscreen. Who dreams up this stuff?

It’s sitting in the garage here now. It fits right where my beloved Interceptor did. I can’t believe I have a nearly new custom machine with 4,800 miles here. I wonder at times how my steps are ordered. My AGVSport leathers even match the Montego blue. These things can’t just happen.

(the machine in Gordonsville, VA)

I’ve spent a few days with the K1600GT now. A few adventures. Most of the rides have been to carefully explore its capabilities. It is, to overuse a word, astonishing.

(here is the machine on an errand to a local outdoors store near Ashland, VA)

My bride of 28 years is amazing, as she puts up with all this. I know she understands, and I am grateful every day for her trust in me to ride safely and return home. I love you. Thanks for allowing me be the adventurous man in this lifetime together.

Four Fathers Day…

Father’s Day brings back memories, if you let it. My memories of my father are over 45 years old, but remain vivid. Today, I see my childhood through father’s eyes, having raised two incredible daughters.

Dad was born very late in his parent’s lives. His childhood was not easy. His mother died early in his life. He was raised by a sister 14 years older than him. His father ran a couple of businesses in Kingsport, Tennessee, and was locally famous. In 1966 his father died, of a blood clot formed in a lower leg. I remember Dad crying at the funeral, my first observation of his tears.

(Dad on the let, me in the middle, Grandpa on the right, in 1962)

Dad played football at Dobyns-Bennett High School, then for the University of Tennessee. He was a lineman. Back then, you could be a lineman at 5’10” and 195 pounds. While there, he realized that his true calling was to be a metallurgical engineer. He was the first and only graduate with that degree that year.

Dad worked for America at Oak Ridge National Lab. For many years he helped design materials and coatings for nuclear reactors. He even worked on a reactor for satellite power. He was always wearing a dosimeter, being exposed to radiation at the lab.

Dad was a camper. He had a family camping rig all figured out. We had a big blue tent, bought from Sears, with Ted Williams image on a little white label in the lower right corner. He had a ground tarp made out of canvas material so thick I don’t think any rock could ever pierce it, custom cut for the tent dimensions.

(above is similar to our tent)

He had a picnic table awning, light green with an orange stripe, to keep the eating area dry. He had Coleman lanterns for the evenings, and flashlights to use on the path to the bathroom building.

(the ubiquitous Coleman lantern we had was like this)

He had special foam mattress pads made to fit the two “bedrooms” of the three section tent, on which we placed our sleeping bags. He bought a Coleman icebox, like a little refrigerator, that kept food cool and gave us ice water through a little spout inside as the ice melted.

(this is the same icebox as we used)

Dad was a craftsman. He could make anything that he found of value. He made badminton net support poles out of two coffee cans, two cake pans, galvanized steel poles, and concrete. Those poles lasted for a decade. He made a car top carrier out of plywood to contain camping gear. He made a camping kitchen box that held the stove, the nested pots, the silverware tray, and other miscellanies. Of course, everything had its place. And, the box was perfectly designed to fit on the opened tailgate of a 1966 Pontiac Bonneville station wagon.

Dad was a leather artist. He created holsters, scabbards, sheaths, and slings in his den. Lots of people can stitch a holster together. His were decorated with stamped borders, filled with stamped basket weaving patterns, and often hand-carved imagery of flowers or animals. I still have one of two holsters he made for my Lone Ranger cap pistols.

(actual handcrafted holster made by Dad in about 1968)

Dad was a hunter and shooter. I think he was more a shooter, as we rarely ate anything he hunted. His den was arrayed with trophies and medals from the U.S. Army Reserve, for whom he competed. He practiced in three places. After work, I sometimes found him “dry firing” an Anschutz 22 rimfire rifle laying down in the living room. He would wear a leather coat, sling, and glasses just like he had to in the matches.

(this is similar to the rifle I remember Dad using)

In the basement garage, I could hear him shooting a 22 rimfire pistol into the earthen bank below the kitchen, some ten yards from the garage door. At Volunteer Rifle & Pistol Club, he shot infrequently, but at long ranges. I got to go with him. I still have my Youth Hunter workbook from when we went to that weekend instruction class.

Dad was a dog lover. We had two dogs growing up. Freckles and Troubles were their names. Troubles was a slow-moving beagle, with black and tan coloration over the white fur. He barked all the time. He got into fights with other dogs, at least once, and had a nasty wound in his belly from that excursion. Freckles was a reddish brown long-haired dog, probably a setter of some sort. I remember Freckles bit my left knee area one afternoon, and my skin was punctured. I see a tiny freckle there today, and always thought they renamed him Freckles because of what he did.

Dad was a hunting dog lover. He hunted doves, mostly, at Fulton Bottoms. To retrieve the fallen birds, he decided to get a hunting dog. He chose a Weimaraner. This sleek grey dog was named Reuben. Dad tried to train it to retrieve. The breed, after all, is supposedly able to do anything a hunter needs — point, flush, retrieve, and even water retrieve. I remember that Reuben was supposed to return the birds without crushing them or eating them. Dad tried teaching the “soft mouth” to Reuben by having him retrieve large pine cones, with those sharp points on the edges. Reuben ate the pine cones. He never worked out as a hunting partner, but Dad loved him regardless.

Dad was an archer. He used an English long bow. He gave me a youth fiberglas recurve bow. We would go into the big backyard, set up a round target filled with straw, and shoot. I marveled at the ability he had to draw the big wooden bow back, and his accuracy. He also had a special setup with fiberglas arrows, white shafts with red plastic fletching, along with a reel to hold fishing line. With this rig, he hoped to harvest fish in shallow waters.

Dad was a fly fisher. He had wading overalls, those plastic coated cloth pants that come up to your chest. The shoe soles were covered with felt, that could add traction underwater. He would go to nearby rivers and try to catch trout. I don’t think he was ever successful.

Dad was a freshwater fisherman. He learned this hobby from his father. One day the three of us were out on a lake in middle Tennessee, in a campground boat, fishing. I remember that I caught one fish. They caught a lot of fish. The stringer had 36 fish on it, by the end of the day. We ate some later that evening. I still have a few of his lures in my garage. Hard to believe a fish would be attracted to these wooden plugs, covered in shellac. One day, out on Norris Lake, we were together on a boat. Towards the end of the day, he flipped open a can of coke. In those days, the cans were opened with a pull-ring and a tab that separated from the cans. Dad always dropped the ring into the can, so as not to litter. Drinking the coke, he gulped a bit, and grimaced. I asked what was wrong. He let me know that he had swallowed the pull ring and tab, accidentally. No stress, just matter of fact. He reasoned that the stomach acid would process the metal, and no harm would occur. Being a metallurgist, and using acid to etch metal, I suppose he knew what he was talking about.

Dad was an car nut, I think, albeit a practical one. Our first car was a 1958 Chevrolet, in which I managed to scar my forehead when he made a sudden stop and I slammed into the rear edge of the front seat. Our second car was a 1963 Chevrolet Impala he inherited. Our third car was a 1964 Pontiac Bonneville wagon, which was a step up. It was white with a blue vinyl interior with many chrome knobs and buttons.

(this is like our wagon, but is not the actual wagon)

Later, he purchased a VW van, light blue with a white top. When Mom needed a car, he chose an Audi Super 90, the only one in town. He was always proud that he put Mom in a safe car with front wheel drive. No one else had front wheel drive.

Dad was a mechanic. He could fix anything. One day I remember that he pulled the Pontiac Bonneville wagon into the garage. A few days later, it came out with a new paint job. He had purchased a small air compressor, paint sprayer, plastic sheets to surround the garage walls, sand paper, body putty, and a respirator to protect his lungs. How long it took to prepare the car and paint it, I don’t know. But, he made the car last a few more years with his hard work.

Dad was a teacher. Working on the VW van, one evening, he allowed me to help. I looked into the engine compartment and saw a corrugated silver pipe. Being about eight years old, I grabbed it and said “What does this do?” At that moment, I ripped it into two pieces. I was a bit scared of the consequences, but Dad explained what the pipe did, to cool the boxer engine, and simply purchased a replacement part.

Dad was an architect, of sorts. He had a drawing board, with a T-square, and all sorts of triangles and templates. He created designs of buildings, homes, and projects. I remember marveling at his precise draftsman lettering, and emulated it. Still do.

Dad was a language scholar. I remember him when at a church the Apostle’s Creed is spoken. At Saint John’s Lutheran Church, he would always loudly speak the word Pontius with careful enunciation, pon-tee-us, instead of the common pon-chus heard from all other voices. He knew that Latin was a precise language and did not have the smushing together of sounds. I was always embarrassed to hear him say it differently than everyone else, and loudly. He also spoke German, being from Saint Louis, where German culture dominated for decades. He had quite a few German language textbooks. I think he also had the Bible in German.

Dad like bicycling. He bought me the absolute coolest bike in the neighborhood, one that looked exactly like a motorcycle. It was called the Mattel V-RROOM! It had a plastic engine below a hollow gas tank, pedals that spun where the transmission would be, wide tires, a real handlebar with plastic grips, a headlight, a tailight, fenders, a long banana seat, and it even had a sound generator to simulate the engine noise. For some reason, I wanted Hot Wheels cars and track, and didn’t have enough in my collection. I traded away that bike for a full complement of Hot Wheels cars and track and all sorts of things to go along with them. He was sad to see the bike go.

Later, Dad and Mom bought me a Schwinn Apple Krate bicycle. It was, again, the coolest bike in the neighborhood. Somehow they hid it in the attic, and brought it down to surprise me at Christmas. That bike was amazing. I kept it for years.

(this is a restored Apple Krate, like mine, but not my actual bike)

Dad also bought a ten-speed for him, and a five-speed for Mom. The bikes had matching dark green paint. Of course they were Schwinns. I think he wanted biking to be a family hobby, and to grow our family closer together. I don’t know if he ever rode his Schwinn Continental, though. It stayed in the basement a lot.

Dad was a photographer. When he lived with us, he shot Yashica double-lens reflex cameras, with 120 mm film. I would sometimes find him loading unexposed bulk film into canisters in his bedroom, under the heavy bedspread which blocked light. He enjoyed shooting nature and buildings. I don’t remember seeing any portraits taken, but he did shoot hundreds of images of me and my sister, which made it into brown leatherette albums that had flipping plastic windows to hold the pictures.

Dad was a more than a photographer, having a full darkroom in the basement. He had a Beseler enlarger, chemicals in cabinets, a red safe light, and somehow managed to create 8 x 10 black and white images while processing them in an old metal double sink that held the trays of developing solutions. I think he traded a pistol for the developing equipment, as money was tight yet he wanted to do something new.

Dad was a musician. He played the piano, a baby grand Knabe with an incredible under keyboard Ampico player system. We had dozens of player piano rolls, but the mechanism was broken. The varnish on the piano was “crazed” with a million myriad cracks traversing the original black finish. It still sounded good, and he played Rachmaninoff, Tchaichovsky, and Beethoven. I always wanted to hear Moonlight Sonata, and I still have the sheet music he used. Dad encouraged me to be a musician, taking me to a violin group concert when I was four. I started that year.

For reasons I will never fully know, Dad and Mom divorced. They separated in 1972, and the divorce was final in 1973. The divorce was based in part on his inability to refrain from anger, and to be kind to Mom. I think seeing this behavior, at my young age, I had become angry with my father, and didn’t want to see him after the divorce.

He returned to our first home from our second home, which had been retained as an investment property. It was less than a mile away. Being the house next door to “Aunt” Reva and “Uncle” Jack, who were dear family friends, I had occasion to visit them as my Mom was often working late hours as a realtor. Aunt Reva would make dinner for us, and for dessert we would have vanilla ice cream scoops in Coca-Cola.

At my young age walking there seemed to take forever. But I would go there, sometimes stopping by after school. He lived in the apartment in the back of the house, and rented the main house out for income. I would sometimes see Dad at his house when I would visit them. It was not easy. I remember making excuses to visit Aunt Reva just to see my Dad walking around. It was hard on me. I can’t imagine what he must have felt.

Many years later, I reconnected with my father. I was in Ohio, married, with two kids. His manager, at TVA, where he was working, somehow found me and asked me to contact my Dad. I think my father wasn’t doing too well, emotionally, and needed someone. I imagine that his manager heard about the divorce, the kids, and made the effort to find me. It took some thinking, but I decided that I could completely dismiss the entire past, and just talk to him as engineers might talk. I remember the first conversation lasting some two hours. I told him of my career, my family, my hobbies, and he related well to these. It seemed like we were father and son, again, and I never asked anything about the past. I decided that the only thing that mattered was the present.

After that first connection, we had moved to North Carolina, and my father visited us there. He drove an ancient Ford Bronco across the mountains from Jefferson City to Kings Mountain, and spent the night with us. He brought gifts for our daughters, well-chosen books, for a man who had never seen his granddaughters or knew anything about them. One of the books was about Picasso.

(this is the book cover–it may actually be in our attic still)

The next day, we had a pancake breakfast, and he drove home. Today, recalling that visit, I can only imagine the heart-rending emotions of not being part of your own family he must have felt.

We stayed in contact. One day we had plans to see him at exit 417 on I-40, at a favorite restaurant. He didn’t show. I called his girlfriend of many years, and learned that his health was poor. He finally had to leave his home and go to a nursing home for care. We visited there once, escorted by his girlfriend, and had lunch together. It was so hard seeing him in decline. He couldn’t communicate verbally. He could barely walk. His weight had increased to life-threatening levels.

Some time later I learned that Dad passed away, from his girlfriend. He died December 30, 2009. It had been so many years since I had last seen him. The funeral had already been held. His body had been cremated. His remains were given to me. Being separated from him all those years, it seemed quite surreal to have the remains.

My Mom, who loved him, even after all this time, realized that he loved the water, and would probably love for his ashes to be scattered in a lake. We made a special trip from North Carolina to her vacation home on the lake. Out on the dock, in the flowing water, we sprinkled the ashes. I watched them drift away, slowly, between the shore and the island just a football field away. Tears flowed, as his tears had flowed at his father’s funeral.

Today, Father’s Day, I realize how influential my father was in my life. I am grateful, thankful, and somewhat amazed as I see so many parallels between he and I. Reflecting on these similarities, one could reasonably conclude that many are of “nature” rather than “nurture,” since he was not part of my life except the first ten years. At the same time, one could wonder if my life choices are in some way a quest for acceptance by a father I could not have. I think all children want to be accepted by their father, many times through emulation.

Thankfully in my growing up years, after the divorce, I had Uncle Jack who helped me learn to pitch a baseball, listen to sports radio, watch the evening news, and play cards. I also had Uncle Bob who married Aunt Reva after Uncle Jack died. Uncle Bob was an engineer’s engineer, a professor emeritus from UT, who shared life lessons for many years. He beat me regularly at chess, praising my middle game which of course was useless for actually winning. He showed me how to think about problems, like getting a washer and dryer down a double right angle stairway to his basement. I also had my Big Brother Lawrence, an engineer who retired from Robertshaw, who got me the introduction there for my first real job. Lawrence took me places for recreation, taught me to drive, shared his pontoon boat on the lake, fed me many dinners, and gave me great awareness of right living. These men filled the void left by my father, and in God’s Providence, gave me a new understanding of what it was like to be a man, a husband, a provider, and a father. Without them, I would surely be lost today.

So I’ve had four fathers here on this earth. Not many men are that fortunate. The love of Uncle Jack, Uncle Bob, and Lawrence for a young man not their own for so many years is a testament to God’s grace in their lives. My own father’s influences remain with me as well. I’m happy that I’m his son. I sometimes hope to see him again, and let him know that.

Most of all, on this Father’s Day, I am grateful that I am accepted and loved by my Heavenly Father. He alone fulfills me, redeems me, and carries me along this journey we call life. May I always seek to honor Him.

First Ride, First Smile

Some days are purt near perfect. Yesterday was one of those days. After being blessed with what may be the most incredible motorcycle I’ll ever own, I needed to take it out for a spin. What is this machine? A 2013 BMW K1600 GT!

Turns out a friend of mine in our volunteer police unit has a similar machine, so he graciously agreed to wander around the byways of our region of Virginia with me this past Sunday. He’s a great guy, who lives quite near me, and has retired as a successful finance executive. I got to meet his wife, his son, and his new dog over coffee this morning, and we headed out about 1020.

We went out US 6, Patterson Avenue, towards Scottsville, VA. The sun was to our backs, the temperature was a perfect 68 F, and the traffic was light. Patterson turns into River Road, which changes from East to West River Road a few times along the way. What determines east and west, no one knows. At one major intersection, we headed south on 15, through Fork Union, and continued west on 6 towards Scottsville. Right at the eastern border of this little enclave you find yourself diving down back and forth twisties as you enter this small town on the northern bank of the river. Of course, the BMW K1600 GT only asks that you think about where you want to go, and somehow it goes there. At the stop sign, a new K1600 GT rider managed to entertain the throng of Harley-Davidson riders at the patio with a somewhat amateurish launch and left turn, with a foot down for a save. It reminds me of a launch and left turn I experienced in 1980 at Vanderbilt, where a friend and I gave the Kappa Sig fraternity brothers a laugh as we fell over on his Yamaha RD 350 in front of their porch. Thankfully on this day, I made it across the busy intersection and into the Farmer’s Market shed adjacent to Tavern On The James.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many Harley-Davidson riders in one place at one time. The weather and the cuisine offered there made a perfect storm of thunderous V-Twin rumbles, as gang after gang rolled in. Men and women riders stumbled across the parking lot, after swinging their kickstands out, most often because of age and some infirmity. Most were grey-haired, grey-bearded, and bespectacled. Even the women. OK, I jest, but only slightly. As the only BMW riders there, we hoped that we would survive without having to fight or flight.

We were greeted by a friendly manager, who wore his gold-rimmed sunglasses pushed up over his dreadlocks. His jeans, with saucy embroidered back pockets, sashayed around the patio as group after group made their way to the restaurant. One group of 12 bikers managed to rearrange all the available tables and chairs, while we hurriedly placed our order before they overwhelmed the kitchen. It was a fabulous lunch. My friend had a perfectly done cheeseburger, while I stuffed a “Dagwood” club into my pie hole. The bacon was perfectly crunchy, within the mayonnaise-laden toasted sourdough trio. Real chicken breast and ham lay alongside fresh tomato slices. The French fries were wide, thick, and perfectly fried. We talked about life, family, and of course bikes. BMW bikes. I felt somewhat conspicuous in my sport bike leather jacket! We tried to avoid criticizing the H-D brand too loudly, given that we were surrounded by no less than 40 bikers. Four were wearing vests with patches, albeit patches announcing they were members of a police motorcycle club, the Blue Knights.

After the leisurely lunch, we headed back out towards the east, on US 6, up the winding road. Once we got to Fork Union, we headed north on US 15, towards Gordonsville. At the US 250 traffic signal, my friend congratulated me on a fine purchase, a fun ride, turned due east and headed home. I continued northward towards Gordonsville, where I wanted to recreate a photo from some years ago. Thankfully, the spot where I parked my beloved Honda Interceptor was still there, and I was able to park the BMW K1600 GT at about the same place. I took a few shots of the new ride, and met an elderly couple out for a walk with their dog. Although they live there, they for some reason took pictures of each other on the bench as if they were tourists.

I looked at the map, and saw I was near Culpeper, VA. My daughter lives there at present, with her husband and her dog. Seemed like a perfect day to ride up there and show her the new bike. After keying in their address in the BMW GPS, I found myself enjoying the quaint small town downtown, and then I was back in the generica of America with Walmart, Autozone, and McDonald’s on the main drag. Soon enough I was riding down their street. But, alas, due to their gravel driveway, I couldn’t visit them at home, and we had to meet for a moment on nearby Bradford Road. It was nice to see her again, if only for a few minutes, and I think I impressed her with my new scoot.

I headed back east towards US 29 south, and easily accelerated up to highway speed in about ten feet with the incredible 160 hp of the 1.6L engine. One exit to the south, and I hooked up with US 522 South, through Mineral, and on to US 64. There, on I-64, I zoomed along with the ancient Ford Rangers and new Mercedes sedans, until US 288 took me to Broad, Lauderdale, and home.

So, I rode 224 miles in one day. I’ve never piloted that far in one day. It was impossible, with my sport bike, just due to the riding position and the pain that follows hours in the saddle. I still had plenty of fuel in the 6.4 gallon tank. The entire experience filled me with astonishment. No matter what the situation demanded, the motorcycle easily fulfilled. At speed, the curves of the byways were carved by Teutonic precision. I think I get extra credit if I use that word with BMW, by the way. Maybe they will send me a free BMW Motorrad hat. But, without question, this motorcycle is simply amazing. Slight countersteering pressure on the grips leans the bike over with no hesitation, and at whatever speed you want to go around the curve, you go. The adjustable height windscreen moves up and down at the touch of a button, to set the protection bubble at your present speed. The GPS in the instrument panel gives you confidence in your course, and the suspension adjustments add comfort or handling prowess. All are readily adjustable, by a few button presses and twirls of the wonder wheel control on the left grip. I even got to listen to bluegrass music from the onboard stereo. The seating position is neutral, and actually promotes good posture. My arms don’t hurt from leaning forward (like on the sport bike), and my 198 pounds are suspended between compliant dampers and Michelin Road GT tires. About the only thing that is challenging, now, is dealing with the 679 pounds of engineered aluminum, plastic and steel at very low speeds. But, I can do it. I just have to think about my parking lot positions, my clutch and throttle coordination, and my entrances from a parking lot onto a roadway. It’s different than a 472 pound sportbike, but not impossible for this 58-year young adventurer.

So, the sun is setting, the pinot noir is relaxing, and the machine is settled in the garage, waiting for the next sojourn. Where and when? Who knows. But, this gentleman will no doubt dream dreams of journeys far away, with the wind gently wafting over his Arai helmet while the cares of today fade behind him.