Friday, December 3, 2010

The Pros and Cons of eReaders - An electronic Media Tutorial

The Pros and Cons of eReaders

An Electronic Media Tutorial

By Roz Lee

You’ve decided you want an eReader, but you don’t have a clue what one is, or which one to buy. News of the explosion of electronic media, ebooks, is everywhere and you’re afraid you’re being left behind. Not to worry. Do you have a computer? How about a smart phone (iPhone, Droid, Blackberry, etc.)? Do you have an iPod Touch or iPad?

If you do, you already have an eReader. All the major dedicated (that’s all they do) eReaders have free apps for most, if not all, of the hardware I just listed. So, unless you want a device specifically for reading electronic media, and by that, I mean books, magazines and newspapers, then you already have the means to download and read via the newest publishing technology.

Let’s for a moment consider that you are in the market for an eReader. Perhaps you spend enough time on your cell phone already, and the idea of reading your favorite Romance author’s latest via that device ruins the whole experience for you, or your computer is also your work computer and you don’t want the boss to find out you read erotic romance on your lunch hour, or all your electronic devices are shared by you and the kids, then a dedicated eReader might be for you.

Which one do you choose?

The answer lies in what you want to do with your new eReader. Do you want to read books, and only books? How about newspapers and magazines? Do you want to read children’s books with your kids or grandkids? Are you going to buy books, or check them out from your public library? Didn’t know you could do that? Well, you can. More and more titles are becoming available every day.

First, let’s examine what an eReader can do for you that a traditional book can’t.

· eReaders store thousands of books for you. Most have substantial built-in storage, up to around 1500 titles, as well as off-site archives with limitless capacity. If you want to go back and revisit a favorite, it will always be there at your fingertips, dust free.

· eReaders provide instant gratification. No waiting for the library to fetch the title you want from another branch, no trip to the bookstore in the snow or rain, no waiting until the bookstore or library opens to pick up another book. Online bookstores are open 24/7, everyday of the year. And, there are no books to return to the library, ever.

· You can take your entire library on vacation with you. Yep, no more suitcase full of paperbacks. No more purchases in the airport bookstore when your flight is delayed and you’ve finished the one book you packed into your carryon.

· You need to review a contract, or a set of plans for work, but you don’t want to lug them, or your computer, with you on the train, plane, or cruise ship. Most eReaders allow you to download .pdf files from your computer. You can bookmark and make notations as you read.

· You forgot your dictionary, and you don’t understand all the big words the author used. No problem. Use the built-in dictionary without leaving the page.

· You broke your reading glasses, or you’re too vain to wear them, and the print is too small to read. No problem. Enlarge the font, and keep reading. If the font still isn’t big enough, if you bought one of the many books with audio content, your eReader will read the book to you. Use your headphones, or you and your significant other can listen to the good bits together! Which brings me to another benefit…

· No bookcover, means no one will know what you’re reading! Just think, you can read that steamy romance in the break room and no one will be the wiser, except for the flush on your face and the fact that you’ve been fanning yourself and everyone else is huddling for warmth!

Next, let’s be fair and mention a few drawbacks.

  • · There’s nothing like the crack of a crisp, new book spine. You won’t get that with an eReader. Unless you have one of the color eReaders, you won’t get all the joy out of the beautiful cover art. You will have to charge it on occasion, but the battery life is much longer than you would expect.

  • · This is the one that gets many people. You can’t share the book you just bought. We all do it. We buy a book and we like it so much we want all our friends to read it too, so we pass it along, and along, and along. That’s not always a bad thing. Many times it generates new fans who actually buy other titles by that author. However, this is slowly changing, and I think eventually you will be able to share ebooks in a limited manner. It sounds like a nasty trick to play on the consumer, but unlike traditional print books, ebooks can be pirated on the internet, and made available for free to millions of people in the blink of an eye. Not too many people want to scan and reprint physical books just so they can give them away. Internet piracy steals untold millions from authors who are entitled to revenue from the sale of their books.

Enough for today. In the next installment, we’ll talk about what’s on the market. Color vs. black and white, wi-fi vs. 3-G, and iPad vs. dedicated eReader.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fat Lady on a Treadmill - You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks, and Other Myths

I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since I began this journey. Twelve months ago, I started out as a reluctant and skeptical participant in what I fully expected to be a short-lived experiment in exercise. If I’ve learned nothing else from my experience, I’ve learned that you can teach and old dog (metaphor) new tricks.

Twelve months ago I’d never set foot inside a fitness center (AKA the Pit). I had no desire to. I’d done the required classes in school, even did the ones in college. When given a choice, I chose the easiest ones I could find. I took square dancing and badminton, for example. Once, in a moment of insanity, I signed up for a class they labeled Conditioning. What it turned out to be was running. Three days a week. In the Texas heat. Since Texas only has two days of Spring, and two point three days of Fall, and the other three hundred sixty-three point seven days are hot, you get the idea. I was not a happy camper. To make it worse, they threw in a bunch of sit-ups and other undignified, unnecessary, impossible tasks. All of which we were graded upon. I managed to squeak out a passing grade and vowed never to run again.

I’ve kept that vow. Unless something with plans to make me its next meal is chasing me, I don’t run. Thus, the whole idea of going to the Pit was a bit of a turnoff from the get-go. Daughter #1 convinced me to go. She offered to help me get started. I now know she didn’t really have my best interest in mind, she just didn’t want to go alone. I guess I should be flattered that she didn’t mind being seen with me in such a place, but, now that I think back on it, she did walk several steps ahead of me and there was that time I tried to talk to her when she was on the treadmill and she acted like she couldn’t hear me.

Oh well. The joke’s on her. Not only did I stick with it, I’ve logged more time in the confounded place than she has in all her years. I have to admit, I spent the first few months wondering what the heck I was doing there. I hated it. Not that I’m all that fond of it now, but hate might be too strong a word. Let’s just say I find the place to be interesting. You see, I’m a people watcher. It’s a hobby that you can do just about anywhere, but some places are better than others. Malls and airports are good places. Grocery stores – not so good. Pits – excellent places. Especially in SoCal.

We’re no more than a long lens shot from the hub of the entertainment industry. Several major studios have lots in our little valley and scenes from our town routinely show up in television programs and on the big screen. That means lots of industry types live here. They’re a colorful bunch. And one of the places they like to see and be seen at, is the Pit. This alone, I believe, is the real reason I have stuck with it.

You never know what you might see. Any change in the weather, and yes, there are precious few of those here, brings in something, or someone, new. Even the bi-annual time change brings in a new element to observe. Don’t get me started on full moons. I credit the full moon for some of my best oddity sightings, many of which I’ve documented here for your enjoyment as well.

I suppose I was one of those oddities a year ago. Probably still am to the trained people watcher out there. When I began, I could barely pedal a lounge chair bike around the block. Climbing stairs had me gasping for air on the second step. I hung onto the handrails of the half and ¾ racks for safety reasons, not to get a quick heart rate fix. The full rack was a contraption I was sure could double as a sobriety test – one I couldn’t pass. The only weight lifting I’d ever done was squat lifting a ten-pound bag of sugar off the lowest grocery store shelf.

I’m happy to report that none of those things are true any longer. It took a while, and a lot of people watching, to get to where I am now. I’m not going to win any muscle woman competitions, but I’ve come a long way since crossing the starting line a year ago. I’ve lost some weight, but gained muscle. Yeah, I thought that was BS too, but it’s true. The scale hasn’t budged much, but things aren’t the same shape they were before. I’m not going to get into just what has changed, but I will say that hubby isn’t complaining about any of it. That’s good enough for me. I’ve replaced my jeans a couple of times with smaller sizes, and that’s a good feeling too.

I’ve stopped worrying about the number on the scale and have focused more on the long-range goal. I vowed long ago that I would be a fantastic grandmother, but I also told my two daughters that I would be pleased to be a very old grandmother. It seems they took that to heart, and so it’s more important than ever that I keep the machinery in good working order.

Then there’s this new career I’ve been trying to get off the ground. Things are looking promising in that arena, but writing is a sedentary occupation. People watching at the Pit gives me an excuse to get off my a**, and move. It doesn’t have to be all that much, just an hour a day, but it gets my blood pumping and I think that helps the brain, as well as the spreading a** syndrome writers are prone to. I’ve found that plugging into my playlist and heading off on a magic carpet ride is a great way to work through plot problems and germinate new ideas. If I’m fortunate enough observe a few rare or endangered human species along the way, so much the better.

I’ve learned a few new tricks over the last year, and that surprised me more than anything. I won’t lie and tell you I wake up every morning and say, “I can’t wait to go to the Pit.” That just isn’t going to happen folks. Is loathe too strong a word? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps I can tap into my inner thesaurus tomorrow while I’m climbing a virtual skyscraper and come up with a better word. I’ve always been fond of abhor…

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fat Lady on a Treadmill - Ode to Eau d'Pit

Every once in a while the weather changes in SoCal. It doesn’t usually change for long, a day or two, then it’s back to hot, dry and windy. Today I woke to a thick gray blanket of fog. Not terribly unusual if you live in a coastal community, but in our little inland valley it ranks up there with alien invasions. I think a lot of people feared the apocalypse and called in sick at their place of employment. Either that, or a good many places shut down because they thought the electricity had been cut off. I hate to tell them that skylights are not a primary source of interior lighting, but someone needs to clue them in and show them where the light switch is.

Oh well, I digress. Due to the inclement weather this morning, the pit was packed. Friday mornings at the CCPit are usually my favorite time slot all week long. It’s almost like having my Pocono Pit back. Almost, but not quite. So, this morning I was surprised to see the influx of peeps. They were everywhere. They’d come in out of the fog like ants seeking water in a drought. I managed to get in a few of my resistance weight’s and headed upstairs to the racks and treadmills. There were a few dog walkers open, but I don’t do those, despite the name of this article. To my dismay there was only one half rack open, smack in the middle of the line. I took it.

It soon became obvious why it wasn’t in use. It wasn’t level. It’s all I can do to stay on one of these things anyway. The last thing I need is the darned thing trying to buck me off. Nevertheless, I wasn’t ready to call it quits. I’d made the effort to get there, I wanted to get my death defying workout in.

I established a herky-jerky rhythm that allowed me to hang on with some semblance of decorum. Southern by birth, decorum is as much a part of me as my lazy drawl. As much as I wish I could shed it on occasion, it isn’t going anywhere.

One of the things I like about the CCPit is the lack of televisions on the machines. However, they do have some pretty ginormous ones hanging from the ceiling and it’s almost impossible to ignore them all the time. I don’t tune into the audio feed, but all of them are set up with closed-captioning, so if something catches my eye I can read along, or read lips. One commercial caught my attention. It was for Vagisil Feminine Wash. It’s not what you’re thinking. It’s a body wash. The commercial claimed it would eliminate embarrassing odor.

Many of you know of my alter ego, the one that writes erotic romance, so you won’t be surprised that my mind took off in a different direction. I looked at the bright pink squeeze bottle with the giant Vagisil label on it, and wondered what kind of woman would have this in her shower. This is the scenario. Woman (any age) brings her date back to her place. They hook up (modern code for do you-know-what), hey, I’m Southern, decorum, remember? Anyway, they hook up. He asks to use her shower. He steps in, sees giant pink Vagisil bottle and steps out. Within minutes, he has used his smart phone to locate the address of the closest clinic and sprints out the door faster than the Roadrunner with Coyote on his tail, never to be seen again. Heck, even my husband would probably ask some questions if I put that in our shower.

Shortly after this commercial aired, pardon the pun, the half rack next to me became available. That lasted all of ten seconds before another woman claimed it. No chance of me switching for a machine without a flat tire. I said a few choice words to myself, decorum remember, and went on with my business. Then I noticed it. A stench I could not ignore. Having raised two children, stenches are something you develop immunity to. You have to, or you’d never make it until the kids were grown.

Whoever told you that you can’t smell anything if you breathe through your mouth was mistaken. I’m trying to be nice here and not call them a liar. This decorum thing is really a drag sometimes. Anyway, I tried to ignore it, I really did. Then the commercial came on again. Suddenly I knew who it was directed at. I sooo wanted to tap her on the shoulder and make sure she saw the big pink bottle on the screen, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Instead, I decided my workout was as complete as it was going to get. The way I figure it, with all the extra muscle’s I had to use to stay on the thing, I’d done the equivalent of two workouts. This is my story and I’m sticking to it. I am however contemplating buying a bright pink bottle and putting it in our shower to see what reaction it gets. Could be amusing.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fat Lady on a Treadmill - The Megapit

It’s been a month since I returned to SoCal, and what a month it has been. Many of you know, shortly after my last blog post, hubby had an event and spent several days in the hospital. After every test known to science, the pronounced him fit and sent him home. Needless to say, neither one of us went to the pit for a few days.

Once hubby was home and rested up, he decided it was time to get back to his daily workout routine. I decided it was in my best interest to go with him, just in case he decided to have another event. We headed over to the Megapit, formerly the VPit, and since it was a weekday afternoon, we procured a parking spot within walking distance of the front door. This was my first peek inside the place since the remodel and I have to say, it’s something to see. I stood there like a tourist, admiring the biggest, highest, longest, deepest, landmark- only this is a gym. Not usually something to gawk at, but in this case, it is.

I’ve never seen so many torture devices in one place, or so many scantily clad people. I figured if all the silicone and Botox in the place didn’t do hubby in, then he was good to go. For the first time ever, I didn’t lock my cell phone in a locker. I kept it with me, just in case. Even though everyone else in the place had a phone, I didn’t trust them. I’m certain they had their plastic surgeons and agents on speed-dial, but doubted they could string three numbers together in an emergency.

I could see the entire thing. Hubby collapses. A crowd gathers. Fingers fly over touch screens. I rush to hubby’s side, grateful someone has the presence of mind to call the first responders. As I try to revive hubby I hear the conversations around me. “Quick, call the news, call someone. I can get some face-time out of this if you get right on it!”

Fortunately, hubby did just fine and no one needed to call for emergency help, of any variety.

Since then, we’ve returned to our normal routine. I go to the pit in the morning, hubby goes in the afternoon, and my cell phone is once again in the locker.

I’ve not been back to the Megapit since that day. Let me tell you why. For one, all the new cardio torture devices have TV screens on them. I don’t watch TV while I’m torturing myself. I watch people, or work through plot problems. I don’t need video in my face to do this.

Second reason – In order to cram as many treadmills and racks in as possible, they reduced the number of resistance weight machines. These are now tucked into a small alcove that once housed the free weights. The walls are mirrored, and some of the machines I use daily are on the back row –facing the mirror. Not that I care about the mirror placement, but it’s a strong pull for the vain, and there are plenty who fall into that category at the Megapit. I sauntered by and both (yes, only two now) of the machines were occupied by male C-30’s who seemed to be using them as strategically positioned park benches. I chose another machine and waited for them to leave. They didn’t. They also didn’t use the machines. Nope, they were too busy admiring themselves in the mirror (really, it wasn’t that good of a show), and I suspect, checking out the female backsides reflected there.

I moved on to the rack where I could keep an eye on hubby, just in case you know. He finished his run. I cut short my torture session and followed him to the alcove. My chosen machines were still occupied by the same vain voyeurs. Peeved, I went in search of a leg press machine. I found a leg press machine – yes one. They’d stashed it in the new addition, along with the gazillion new free weights. (Park benches would have been cheaper and just as useful) I was the only woman in the new area, except maybe in the spinning room where they have more bikes than the Tour de France. Anyway, undaunted by the bro’s text messaging from the weight benches, I did my leg torture and left. Hubby was still in the alcove, and my favorite machines were still doing duty as Peeping Tom perches.

I gave up. I now spend my pit time across town where the vain population is much smaller and I can do my usual routine without having to have a fly swatter to remove the pests. It isn’t without its share of interesting characters, and I do have some observations from there, but I’ll save those for another time.

Thanks to all who shared their concerns over hubby’s health. Until next time…

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fat Lady on a Treadmill - This Isn't the Pocono's Toto

Today was the day I pledged to get back into my routine. That means a bit of breakfast, and then off to the pit. The drive alone was reason enough to stay at home, but I put on my brave face and took the urban assault vehicle (UAV) on the road. In this town, if you drive anything smaller than a tank you’re a Lilliputian in the land of Gulliver’s. I prefer being a Gulliver.

It turns out that my recent trips to The Big Apple also served to keep my driving skills honed. I arrived at the pit without incident, only to find the parking lot completely full – of Trophy Wife vehicles. You know the ones. They’re new, mostly foreign, except for the Escalades, and there isn’t a subtle thing about them. Chrome wheels, sun-roofs, leather seats, onboard computers that do everything but order for you at the drive-thru. I spotted a few with those cute little leaping kitty hood ornaments too. They have regular appointments at the auto-spa so the sweet young thing driving them won’t be embarrassed by a speck of dust on her transportation when she pulls up in front of the brow bar or tanning salon. They wouldn’t be caught dead with a petrified French fry under the passenger seat.

I’m not sure whose idea it was to open the largest pit in the state of California (not kidding, it’s a fact) in a small strip mall with a limited number of parking spots, but I can’t imagine they thought it through. I circled the lot once, just to make sure I hadn’t missed something. I hadn’t.

Hubby and daughter #1 have been to this pit since it became a monster and swallowed up a couple of adjoining businesses, but clearly, they haven’t been in the morning. I don’t care how nice the new machines are, or how many of them they’ve crammed into the space. I’m not going to hang around in the parking lot until someone gets tired of posing and decides to go home, or realizes she’s going to be late for her bikini waxing. I’m pretty certain I was over dressed for the place anyway. I’d actually covered my cleavage. I’m not sure they would have let me past the front desk.

I steered my UAV out to the eight-lane divided, wanna-be-freeway and headed across the valley to the other pit, the step-child pit, the one they didn’t remodel while I was away. Traffic was lighter on the other side of the valley and it wasn’t necessary to use my aggressive driving skills. A few minutes later I turned into the parking lot of the regular-people pit, and had my choice of several spots. I spotted a few Bro-trucks, but they were outnumbered by the mini-vans and aging sedans. The UAV fit right in with its layer of dust and crumpled straw wrappers in the center console. A couple of C+20 women wearing flood pants and Velcro shoes winched themselves out of a Chevy a few rows over. I’d found my people.

This was confirmed when I sailed past check-in without raising suspicion. I’d been there many times before, but it was still a bit overwhelming. The entire Pocono Pit would have fit inside the Spinning classroom with room to spare. There were more machines to choose from than I’d seen in months. Just deciding where to start was a challenge. Since it had been a long while since I’d done my usual routine, and clearly that needed to change given my expanded options, I decided to keep my first day back simple.

Memory kicked in and I found the locker room, right where it had been the last time I was there. Since the Pocono Pit had cubbies, not locker room, even this was going to take some getting used to. I won’t go into details, but I will mention one word, one very important word. Towels.

I hurried out to the floor, found a half-rack on the second floor and programmed it to the –kill me now- setting. While the machine proceeded to do as asked, I checked out the place. The ratio of men to women was somewhere around 2:1. I was okay with that. Especially since the majority of the men weren’t half bad to look at. I looked my fill, at least until my eyesight began to blur. The place began to empty out. I wondered if I was emitting an offensive odor or perhaps they knew something I didn’t, like the place was about to be invaded by Trophy Wives. I decided there wasn’t anything I could do about either one, so I finished the programmed workout.

I thought about spending a few minutes with the resistance equipment. None of it was seeing a lot of use, but it had already been a long day. I made a mental note of where my favorites were and headed for the locker room. On the way, I went past the Spin class. That answered the question as to where everyone had gone. I made note of the time so I could show up tomorrow after the class began. It would be almost like being back at the Pocono Pit where I had the place more or less to myself.

In the locker room, I extracted the scrap of paper with my combination on it from my clever hiding place behind the music storage device strapped to my arm. Unfortunately, the two C+20’s were still there. They’d traded their flood pants for towels, on their way to swimsuits, I think. I don’t really want to know. I checked the time. Maybe I should push my arrival back a few more minutes tomorrow, just to be safe.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fat Lady on a Treadmill - End of Summer

It’s time to head west before the leaves and snow start falling around here. It’s been an interesting few months of solitude interspersed with periods of chaos. There have been times of great joy and pride as well as times of great sadness. I’ve been to a class reunion and a graduation. I’ve moved both daughters to their respective grad schools, attended RWA ’10 in Orlando, hosted friends and relatives, buried a family member, finished a manuscript, and sold my first book. And that’s just the big stuff.

Since March I’ve been in thirteen states, most of them more than once. I’ve driven up Mt. Washington, toured two Civil War battlegrounds, Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the Statue of Liberty, and a major Florida amusement park. I even managed to squeeze in a Broadway show. The one thing I haven’t done is let moss grow under my feet!

Fall is approaching. I see it in the playful deer in my yard, the crisp morning air, and the softening mid-day light. Then of course there are the leaves beginning to blanket the driveway and floating like an interactive art exhibit on the surface of the pool.

Later this week I’ll rejoin hubby in SoCal, where the temperature still hovers over the century mark, and the seasons consist of Hot and Hotter.

I’m going to miss a lot of things about the East Coast. One of those will be my Pocono Pit. I’ll miss being greeted by name even before I swipe my membership card. I’ll miss Friday mornings when I have the place all to myself. I’m going to miss the ever changing view from the window- the steady stream of vehicles on the busy street as well as pulling through burger joint across the way. I’ll miss seeing the guy in the school bus yellow Mustang convertible who buzzes through the drive-thru every morning. I’m going to miss watching the fat families sitting in their mini-vans stuffing their faces with paper wrapped hunks of fat and cholesterol.

I’m going to miss the Pocono Pony, the local bus service, with their trolley style busses filled with curious, gawking passengers. I’ll miss the tourists with their kayaks and SUV’s piled high with outdoor gear. Life won’t be the same without the guys working out in their jeans and work boots or the bevy of regulars I’ve come to recognize as kindred spirits. I’ll miss the juvenile joke of the day posted at the check-in counter. I’ll even miss the smell of chicken and potatoes frying at the Cluck U next door.

I hope to return in a few months to the Pocono Pit. It’s been good to me. I haven’t lost any pounds, but I have rearranged a few things. Thanks to the resistance routine I adopted there I can buy my jeans a size smaller than I did last spring.

I’ve worked through dozens of plot problems while climbing virtual hills on the rack and people watching out the small bank of windows. The way the white clapboard houses on the hill behind the burger joint pop against the steel-gray of a brewing summer storm will be with me for a long time.

What I’m going to miss most is the daily drive to the pit. My trek takes me through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, twice. It’s a lovely, winding road that follows the route the river has carved out of the tree covered granite mountains. It’s so lovely it’s easy to forget you’re on an Interstate Highway. If I’m in the mood to see more, there’s always my Plan B route that follows the river for several miles through the dense hardwood forest. It’s a nice way to start each day and reason in itself to go to the pit.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fat Lady on a Treadmill - The View Through Frosted Window Panes

I’m on the road again, back in Orlando for a Writer’s Conference. Being a masochist at heart, I am compelled to find a pit if possible and indulge in a bit of self-inflicted torture. Since the hotel is charging me what they call a resort fee which is an additional charge tacked onto the daily rate for things that used to be included, I thought it would be good to get some use out of those amenities. I dragged lazy ass out of bed this morning and headed to the pit. Just getting there would be considered a workout for most people, but I’m not most people and I made it without breaking a sweat or running out of oxygen.

It’s bigger than some hotel pits, and truthfully, not much smaller than the Pocono Pit I go to when I’m at home in New Jersey. The place is a little heavy on the moving sidewalks and has a few weight machines, lounge chair bikes, and of course, a few racks. I checked in at the desk where they wanted to see my room key and made me sign my name. I think they must get a lot of imposter hotel guests who drive out to the middle of nowhere, pay to park, and try to sneak into their ‘fitness center’. It’s the best explanation I can come up with for the high security measures.

Once vetted by the security detail, I helped myself to a dew rag and stepped inside. Holy Smoley. Who knew Romance writers were such masochists? The moving sidewalks were all occupied, as were the racks. My choices came down to a lounge chair bike or the weight machines which, no surprise, stood in a row like relics from a medieval dungeon. No stranger to these sinister leather and metal monsters, I went to work on my batwings and thunder thighs. I looked around the place, hoping Nora Roberts would be there. I knew she was in the hotel and would be giving a speech later. I thought perhaps she would need to work off some public speaking anxiety. I was fully prepared to offer myself as a guinea pig if she needed to rehearse. Who was I kidding? I’m sure her suite has its own torture devices that she pays someone to use for her.

Did I mention this is Florida? And it’s summer? The sign on the wall indicated there was a sauna. No shit. Really? Then I realized they were talking about a whole other room off in the corner. It may be redundant, but at least this time of year it must be cheap to maintain. I wiped the dew out of my eyes and pushed and pulled thinking eventually someone would pass out and topple off one of the racks and I could get in my aerobic workout too. The same people were still on the racks and didn’t show any signs of relinquishing them. I’m not entirely sure they were still alive. It could have been that they died and rigor mortis had frozen their hands around the handlebars. Don’t laugh, it’s possible.

Anyway, I snagged a lounge chair bike and programmed in a nice ride. I figured about three miles would do it. I peddled away, going nowhere at a rapid clip. Condensation frosted the window across from me, making the summer scene beyond appear to be something all together different. I love winter days when the windows are rimmed with a band of frost and the rest of the glass is obscured by opaque ice crystals. Everything beyond is magically transformed. This was much the same. Inside, the room was as steamy as if we’d been baking holiday goodies only it didn’t smell nearly so nice. Outside, viewed through this magical window, a fantasy world awaited.

The ducks waddling on the lawn became fat Canadian geese. The white sand beach around the hotel’s gator pond became a blanket of snow creeping to the water’s edge. The azure sky dulled to gray through the frosted filter. The palm trees… well, there’s no explaining their presence so I just pretended they weren’t there. Hey, what did you expect? This is as good as it gets folks. If you want high-minded literature, you’re reading the wrong blog.

I left the pit, energized (yeah, right), ready to embrace the world of writing, but first there was the Nora speech. We gathered in a ballroom roughly the size of a football field to consume chicken parts that didn’t resemble any chickens I’ve ever seen, and to hear Her Royal Highness of Romance shower magical words of wisdom on us. I snagged a table somewhere around the fifty yard line with a decent view of the end zone. The remaining chairs filled quickly with first timers, all fresh faced and excited. As this was my second conference I was positively smug, after all, I had twice as much experience as anyone at the table.

Nora took the end zone stage. If you score 6 figures every time you cross the line into the end zone, then she’s crossed it more times than anyone, and owns the zone. We can’t help but be a bit green eyed, but we hang on every word. Not just me and the newbies, but everyone in the cavernous room. By the time she wraps up her speech we all feel as if we too can win the publishing lottery. Nora has told us it is so. We have been enlightened. We have seen that even the great one has struggled, not recently, but once upon a time, long, long ago, and so there is hope for us. As if through a magic glass I can see the future. I too stand in the end zone spouting words of wisdom for eager and envious dreamers.

Okay, so the crystal ball is a bit fogged up. What can I say? Soon I’ll be back at home and trekking to the Pocono Pit where the windows aren’t frosted and there is nothing remotely fantastical about the burger joint across the street. This magical interlude will be nothing but a memory then. Let me have my dreams, they keep me going.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fat Lady on a Treadmill - The Big Questions

On a recent trip to the home improvement store to pick up some pool supplies, I couldn’t help but notice my Cashier had removed her natural eyebrows and replaced them with two amazingly symmetrical thin black lines. Placed well above where they should have been; they were remarkably well done, if not comical. I had to wonder if there is a template one uses to do this sort of thing as I couldn’t draw one line that well on a piece of paper, let alone two mirror image ones on my face, and do it on a daily basis. I suppose they could have been tattoos, but they really did appear to be surface lines. Before you condemn me for being an insensitive lout, no, she didn’t suffer from some hair loss malady, and even if she did, there are other ways, more natural ways, to replace missing eyebrows.

As she scanned my purchases and completed the sale, I wondered what made her think wax pencil eyebrows were a good idea. Did someone, presumably a friend, tell her it looked good? Did she see this in a fashion magazine?

I’ve asked myself the- what was I thinking- question a time or two. There were guitar lessons when I was a tweeny. They lasted about a month before, with shredded fingers; I had to admit I have no rhythm and apparently can’t count to eight. There was the time I rode on the handlebars of my brother’s bicycle, telling him when and where to turn while he powered us through the streets- with his eyes closed. We ended up in a ditch along with a few broken soda bottles, lucky to be alive. Apparently, in addition to my lack of counting skills, I can’t distinguish between left and right. I bought a Chevette once. I don’t think I need to elaborate on that one.

Ever since I signed up for the pit I’ve asked myself the big question on a daily basis. Sometimes I ask it several times a day along with the toddler’s favorite question – why? Why do I put myself through the torture – and yes, after almost 9 months it is still torture. I know there are people out there who report a feeling akin to a drug induced high when they push their bodies via exercise. I am not one of those people. My rhythm lacking, directionally challenged body apparently has never seen an endorphin. The only things I feel while exercising are pain, exhaustion, and shortness of breath. The overwhelming feeling I get when I cease to punish myself is relief. No buzz, no high, unless you count the dizziness associated with the sudden increase of oxygen flow to my brain. I have to admit that’s a pretty good feeling.

Every morning I have to invent a new reason to get out of bed and drive to the pit. I’ve bribed myself with rewards both monetary and edible. I’ve promised myself lazy days in the future, shopping trips, and dinners out. The one thing that most compels me to get out of the house is the promise of a day or two when I don’t have to go. It works something like this. If I go Monday thru Friday I can have Saturday and Sunday off. If I skip a day during the week, I have to make it up on the weekend. This isn’t unlike going to school, or a day job, only there isn’t a pay check and my report card is that I my jeans still fit.

The pit is on the honor system. No one is going to call my house looking for me if I don’t show up. This is ostensibly because I am an adult, and of course the pit gets their money whether I show up or not, so what do they care if my jeans don’t fit. It’s up to me to motivate myself and to come up with the answers to the questions. I’ve got several answers for the why. Most of them have to do with extending my years on this celestial orb, though when I’m sucking in oxygen and trying to make my noodle legs hold me up I have to wonder if the extra years are worth the effort. As for the -what was I thinking- question. I’m still thinking about that one.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fat Lady on a Treadmill - Friends and Asses

It’s been nearly two weeks since the treadmill threw me into a ditch, figuratively speaking. Most of you know by now that I don’t actually use a treadmill except on those rare occasions when I seek out the one downstairs. For those occasions I plead temporary insanity.

When I found myself at the bottom of the ditch I was momentarily stunned, but jumped into action making plans and going forth to do what had to be done. At one point I looked up and there spread along the rim of the ditch stood an army of friends and family with outstretched hands. Thanks to them I clawed my way out and once again stand on high ground. What those special people did for me cannot be quantified. The pulled me up, dusted me off, and stood by me until I could stand again on my own. In essence, they put me back on the figurative treadmill.

Now it’s up to me to get back to my regular routines, including the pit which is of course a kind of ditch all its own. After a week of Stress (yes, with a capital s), travel, erratic eating, and no pit, I feel like I’m back at the beginning. Intellectually I know it’s not true. I’ve come a long way from where I began, but a few minutes into my usual routine (The Whoop Ass one) I realized it just wasn’t going to happen. I backed off. My Lazy Ass, that’s the one I’ve been trying to get rid of, urged me to stop all together and go home. My Stubborn Ass argued that the only way to get back to where I’d been was to put the classic Caddie in reverse and backtrack a ways.

Stubborn Ass went on to say that perhaps I could get out the map and try a different road to get back to where I had been. Lazy Ass screamed in my ear that I really didn’t want to do this anyway (she had a point) so why not park the Caddie under a shade tree for a while. I stood there a few minutes trying to decide which ass to listen to (an all too frequent dilemma). That’s when Smart Ass spoke up. She set me straight. First she told Lazy Ass to take a hike (she needed one anyway), then she told Stubborn Ass that going backwards never got anyone anywhere they wanted to be and there wasn’t anything wrong with the road I was on.

Smart Ass went on to tell me that a few days of reduced activity at the pit was better than no activity at all and in a few days the Caddie would be running smooth again on all cylinders. She was right of course. It’s been a few days since the Asses argued. I’ve gone back to my routine, backing off a little here and there but sticking to the same basic regime. It worked before so I have no reason to think it won’t work again. Each day has been a little easier than the one before and I’m confident I’ll be opening another can of Whoop Ass soon.

Thanks to all the friends and family whose hands I greedily clutched over the last few weeks. I bent a few ears and wet a few shoulders too and never heard a complaint. Thanks for pulling me out of the ditch and getting me back on the treadmill. My heart is full and with the help of Smart Ass I hope it will continue to beat strong and true for many years to come.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Fat Lady on a Treadmill - Some Cans Should Remain Unopened

Have you ever opened a can of Whoop Ass? On yourself?

I have to confess. For the last few weeks I’ve been coasting. Yeah, I’ve been going to the pit everyday minus the road trip days, and those have been way too many of late. By coasting, I mean I haven’t pushed myself to do more. I’ve been content with the status quo. Same number of reps here, same program there. Maybe a little dew falling, but not too much. Shave a few reps off to save time (as if I have something better to do), skip that machine because I don’t want to wait for the guy in jeans to finish doing his thing. Coasting. I’d put the Classic Caddie in neutral and hadn’t even noticed.

After another extended road trip complete with a no holds barred food fest I knew I had to change things. I’d become too complacent and laziness beckoned. I could see it, hovering there, calling my name. I’d become bored with my workout. I had mastered the art of just getting by. Sure, my state of laziness now is light years away from my pre-pit days. I patted myself on the back. Yep, at least I put my transmission in gear, all be it a low gear. Today I decided it was time to shift gears.

Instead of the fat burner program on the ¾ rack, and in honor of last weekend’s road trip to the summit of Mt. Washington, I selected the hills program and in so doing opened a big ‘ole can of Whoop Ass. I made it up the first hill, congratulated myself on the accomplishment and started up the second one with more confidence than was warranted. My lungs struggled to suck oxygen out of the thinned air atop the imaginary mountain. My legs protested the climb. I hung onto the walking sticks with white knuckles. Why…? My brain screamed at me. Because you have too much junk in the trunk, I answered myself.

I longed to pull over and empty the trunk, but I knew the only way to lighten the load was to keep pushing it up the hills. One by one I climbed them; each one a bigger challenge than the one before. Jerry Lee Lewis sang about great thighs of fire. I knew exactly what he was talking about. At the bottom of each hill I coasted, sucking in as much oxygen rich air as I could, preparing for the next mini-mountain. They came. They went. I trudged onward, determined to reach the summit and plant my victory flag.

Minutes crept by. As I approached each hill I argued with my body.

You can do it.

No I can’t.

Yes you can.

Half an hour later I reached the summit and planted my dew soaked flag. I’d opened the can of Whoop Ass and survived.

A year ago I purchased a can of seasoned turnip greens. They’ve been on the pantry shelf ever since. I’ve picked up that can countless times, given it a once over and set it aside. As a Southern woman I’ve eaten my share of fresh turnip greens and never found them particularly appetizing. What made me think a tin can would improve them I can’t say, but there it sits, waiting to be opened.

I took a chance today opening the can of Whoop Ass. I’m glad I did. I’m glad I pushed myself toward a higher goal. It feels good to once again be working for something and I’m looking forward to heading back to the pit tomorrow and giving those hills another try. Maybe I’ll even add a few reps to the resistance weights. The can of turnip greens will remain on the shelf, a reminder that some cans should remain unopened. I think I’ll pick up a fresh can of Whoop Ass though, just in case boredom rears its ugly head again. Next time I won’t be afraid to open it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fat Lady on a Treadmill - The Fashionista

I’ve never claimed to be a fashionista. Consider that a disclaimer for the rest of this piece. The pit is no place for fashion, no matter what the L.A. crowd thinks, but still there are a few fashion no-no’s even someone as clueless as me can recognize. For example, suspenders. Not just any suspenders but –if I drop a lead brick in my britches they will not fall down-suspenders. I do love suspenders on a hot guy wearing a crisp dress shirt and trousers, or with a tuxedo. I can’t help but think about what a creative woman could do with those thin strips of elastic and a willing, or not so willing, man. Of course even those suspenders shouldn’t be worn to the pit. (I personally wouldn’t mind however.) From a safety standpoint I’m not sure any kind of suspender is a good idea, especially the heavy duty, I could slingshot to the moon with these suckers, kind. Thus I confess I was a tad bit worried about the C+20 wearing his white t-shirt, sans-a-belt slacks w/NASA approved rocket propulsion suspenders, and Velcro sneakers. He started out on the lounge chair bike which gave me no cause to worry except I did look around for the defibrillator just in case. (Once a girl scout, always a girl scout.) I didn’t truly worry until he took to the weight resistance machines. What if one of those things got caught? Mr. C+20 could be orbiting before anyone could stop him. Maybe I’m a worry wart, but it made me nervous and truly ruined my pit experience that day. I hope he doesn’t come back anytime soon, at least while I’m there. I might take a crash course in defibrillator use, but I am not yanking some old dude out of the ceiling tiles.

Fashion no-no number 2 – Denim. First there was the C+5 guy with the denim shorts and denim biker jacket with torn out sleeves. We aren’t talking denim cut-off shorts or even trendy hang off your skinny ass, my crotch is halfway to my knees, shorts. We’re talking twenty years out of fashion denim shorts… with a leather belt. It would have been a good Halloween get up, but seeing as how it was a cold day in April I don’t think he was in costume. I admired his black socks and sneakers too. They added a lot to the look, but didn’t make it any more appropriate for the pit. Next came the C wearing jeans, long sleeved shirt and work boots. Oh yeah, I can’t forget the leather belt thick enough to double as a tow rope for an eighteen wheeler stuck in a Mississippi swamp. It’s true you don’t have to invest in expensive workout clothes to walk on a treadmill every now and then, but my fat thighs hurt just watching this guy. He didn’t come back the next day so I figured he learned first-hand what happens when you rub two sticks together.

Fashion no-no number 3 – Knits. I’m not sure why anyone would want to exercise with a knit cap on their head, but several times a week this C-20 woman comes in wearing one and never takes it off. I don’t guess there is anything wrong with it, but I have to wonder what the thought process behind this is. In L.A. do-rags are popular for the bro’s but the women tend more toward fashion headbands than knit caps. This however is nothing compared to the woman wearing the cable knit sweater and stretch pants. It was a perfectly lovely sweater. As a matter of fact I have one almost exactly like it. It is not, repeat, NOT, workout wear. Granted, it was cold outside, but the heat was on inside and once I got the classic Caddie warmed up I was wishing they would turn the heat down some. How this woman ran on the treadmill and made a circuit of the resistance machines dressed like Nanook of the North I have no idea.

Fashion no-no number 4 – Improper footwear. If your shoes have leather laces, steel toes, or are sold at places like Tractor Supply and Army Surplus then they are not designed for the pit. If your shoes lace up past your ankles, they are not designed for the pit. If you could patch your all-terrain tire with the sole of your shoes, they are not designed for the pit. Not that I really care. How these people choose to abuse their feet doesn’t affect me unless they have a blow out on the rack or treadmill and a flying piece of rubber hits me upside the head. I’m just sayin’ maybe these people should rethink their footwear choices before someone gets hurt.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Fat Lady on a Treadmill - The Classic Caddie

My 1956 Caddie is a classic, but after several days of travel and way too much fun, the ole girl was feeling her age. I have to admit I’d neglected her care. Regional culinary specialties seduced me and being the weakling I am, I let them. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t regret a single bite. How can you regret indulging when faced with some of the best Tex-mex and barbeque on the planet? Passing it up wasn’t an option. As it turns out, pushing the ole girl to the limit day after day and night after night proved to be my downfall. Surrounded by faces from the past my brain made the connection and spent the weekend telling the Caddie she was still a teenager. The Caddie did her best to keep up.

I returned to the pit ready to put the Caddie through her paces. I hoisted her onto the ¾ rack and programmed the torture device for a half hour drive. The Caddie’s wheels spun. Her shock absorbers protested every bump and pothole. Instead of a well oiled machine I found myself at the wheel of a rusted out wreck. Five minutes into the drive the Caddie groaned and made for the shoulder. I knew she had more in her so I sucked more air through the intake manifold. The ole girl revved up a notch.

We came up on the second hill and the junk in the trunk threatened to drag the Caddie back down. The timer said twenty minutes to go. I shifted into low gear and shoved the junk up and over the hill. We coasted down the other side. I turned on the air conditioner (the onboard fan) and reveled at the sensation of riding with the top down. I knew the worst was yet to come. I’ve traveled this road several times. There are more hills to traverse, higher and longer than the first ones.

Fifteen minutes in – the halfway point- and the Caddie began to overheat. We came to a flat spot in the road and I poured some cold water into the radiator. She responded immediately and I thought we just might make it to our destination. Another hill, the mother of all hills loomed on the horizon. I poured more water in and tucked the junk in the trunk in tighter. My hands gripped the steering wheel like a vise. I coaxed the ole girl up the grade. Halfway up the Caddie began to lurch. I needed to do something drastic or we were going to end up grill first in the ditch.

I punched the accelerator. The fuel injectors opened wide. The intake manifold sucked oxygen out of the air. The Caddie fired on all cylinders at once catapulting us to the top of the hill. She shuddered and backfired. I eased up on the pedal, shifted into neutral, and let her coast downhill. I wiped dew off the windshield and poured more water into the radiator.

The ole girl purred. For a while there I feared my vintage Caddie had turned into a Ford (Fix or Repair Daily – or Found on the Road Dead) while I was out of town. The ride home was smooth. The ole girl preened the whole way. She had every right to be proud. She’d been in the garage way too long but true to her classic status she’d performed admirably. I patted her on her well padded seat and promised not to neglect her again.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Going Home

I’m usually a pretty mellow traveler. Post 9-11 I have developed a degree of patience in regard to airports and air travel. I’m a firm believer in security so I don’t much care what they want me to do to prove I’m harmless, short of complete public nudity. I will say this; if it comes to that I will rethink my current approach to the security line dilemma. If I’m given a choice I opt for the line with the most business travelers. You know the ones – briefcase and small roll on bag. They travel often and know the ropes. They are quick and efficient going through the line. I avoid families with young children, people unlikely to speak English (if this is politically incorrect then sue me), old people in wheelchairs or who have to sit down to remove their Velcro shoes. Other than these criteria I usually don’t pay my fellow travelers much notice. I will change my thinking on this if strip searching becomes a routine thing. I’ll still avoid the list as much as possible, but I will be scanning the various lines and maneuvering to the one with the best possible scenery, if you get my meaning. If the TSA is going to provide a show I want the best one for my time.

Like I said, there isn’t much that really ruffles me as a traveler. Delays happen. Planes break down. Weather refuses to cooperate. There are as many excuses as there are delays, none of which I can do a darn thing about, so for the most part I find a comfy spot, read, write, eat, people watch, whatever to pass the time. I’ll eventually get where I’m going, no need stressing about things I can’t change. Mostly my fellow travelers amuse me. Going to the airport to people watch is about the most fun you can have and every airport has its own unique brand of traveler. Some are full of business travelers. Some are mostly families wearing mouse ears. Some are international hubs with an energy all their own. I can spend a lot of time observing.

Yesterday I had no reason to be overly anxious. My flights were reasonably on time. (By this I mean I wasn’t going to have to sleep in an airport). I was flying two short routes in smaller planes. The weather wasn’t a deal breaking issue. (reference the sleeping in airports again). All things considered I was a pretty happy traveler when I boarded the plane in Memphis for the final leg of my trip home. The small, two rubber band, plane filled quickly. The seat next to me was still open when the traveler from hell came on board. She dropped her computer bag in the aisle seat next to me and proceeded to push, shove, flatten, remove, rearrange, crunch and mangle the belongings of her fellow passengers. I watched with trepidation as she wreaked havoc on three overhead compartments in order to make room for her roll aboard case.

A bad feeling took hold. My be-atch radar began to twitch. She flopped her designer jeaned ass in the seat next to me, stuffed her Trump embossed computer case under the seat and began poking her finger at her iPhone. By now I’d been in my seat for a good fifteen minutes. My seat belt was fastened. I had my iPod and Kindle within easy reach. I switched on the Kindle as it looked like we still had a while before they closed the doors and I would have to turn it off. (This is the one thing I dislike about ebooks. Can’t read them during takeoff and landing.)

Click…click….click….click….click….click….click. Remember the sound of ivory dominoes? My seat mate is playing some tile game on her phone. Click…click….click….click…click.

By the time the flight attendant barked out orders to turn off ALL electronic equipment my skin was itching. My foot was twitching. My jaw was locked. Click…click…click….click…click…. The flight attendant walked by and her screen went black. He stopped long enough to remind her to fasten her seatbelt. She did. I silently wished it would wrap around her neck and strangle her. The flight attendant moved on, the tile game resumed. Click…click…click…click…

Captain Crunch came on the speaker to inform us of the low ceiling in Newark which would delay our departure some 45 minutes. We taxied out to the tarmac to wait it out. Click…click…click…click…click… A few months ago I spent three hours on the tarmac waiting to be deiced. I was calm through the whole thing. Click…click…click…click…click…. Captain Crunch came on again to bless the use of cell phones while we waited on the tarmac. I developed a twitch in my right cheek. Click…click…click…click…click…

I took the Captain’s blessing to include iPods. I tuned in, turned the volume to maximum auditory damage and still, click…click…click….click…click… I turned on the Kindle, including this in the blessed items as well. Click…click…click…click….click….

I envisioned snatching the offending electronic device and crushing in my bare hands until its silicon parts were no more than sand again. Click…click…click…click…click…

At last the flight attendant issued the order to turn off ALL electronic equipment. The plane taxied toward the runway. Click….click…click…click…click…

Using the most polite voice I could muster under the circumstances I asked, “Could you turn that off? I don’t want to take any chances during takeoff.” Be-atch shot laser beams at me. I prepared to take her down for the sake of the other passengers.

“Just so you know, it’s on airplane mode, but I’m turning it off anyway.” No love lost between us. The plane turned onto the runway, the rubber bands wound tight and off we went. I breathed a sigh of relief, only two short hours to home. Click…click…click…click…click… Well shit.

I read. I twitched. I squirmed. I’m pretty sure the people ten rows back could hear the music from my earphones. Click…click…click…click….click…

From my little oval window I cursed the full moon. I should have known better than fly on a full moon. Three rows ahead of me was first class. Two short curtains hung in front of the coach seats doing nothing to prevent the insane cattle from seeing the dozen or so favored cattle on the other side. Click…click….click….click…click…

The flight attendant offered me a soft drink. My hand shook as I took it from his hands hovering somewhere above the be-atches lap. One slip and the evil little device would be soaked in diet cola. Too late to order the sticky, sugary stuff. Click…click…click…click…click…

There’s a curtain for the aisle between royalty and the commoners. It’s twisted and wrapped into a sort of obscene textile sculpture. Click…click…click…click…click…

I’m entertaining ways to disable my seatmate using only the contents of my purse and computer bag when much to my relief she turns the damned game off and snuggles under the two blankets she removed from the overhead in order to make room for her bag. I could be nice and turn off my overhead light or turn down the volume on my headphones, but every shred of generosity and kindness toward my fellow travelers has been wrung completely out of me.

Eventually we descend into the cloud cover. Goodbye moon. The bad news is- we can’t see Newark. Not a good thing when both rubber bands are nearly spun out. The good news is- we can’t see Newark. The plane drops lower. Newark lies below us like a rusted hulk. The be-atch wakes. We’re on final approach. I’m prepared to spring into action if she fires up that game again. If I’m going to crash it isn’t going to be in Newark because of the be-atch and her clicking.

The wheels screech against wet concrete. I breathe a sigh of relief. Click…click…click…click…click… I resist the urge to pummel her and the mini monster in her hands. We’re on the ground. Surely I can stand a few more minutes.

Captain Crunch reports in. We’ll be parking here for a few minutes while we wait for the ground crew to get to the gate. From my portal I can see our gate. The jet way waits off to one side for us to park. No ground crew. No one. Nada. Zip. Click…click…click…click…click…click…

If I’d been seated in an exit row I would have popped the door and slid down the inflatable slide right then. I did consider climbing over be-atch and storming the door. How far could it be to the ground from a two rubber band plane anyway?


Friday, April 16, 2010

Fat Lady on a Treadmill - Six Days on the Road

I started out on this road trip intending to be home on the fourth day, a whirlwind trip down south to see Daughter #2, then home and back to my usual routine. As with all good intentions, they are subject to change. A phone call from Daughter #1 a few hours after I’d hit the road extended my trip by two days and over six hundred miles. Not that I’m complaining, but I’d packed enough clothes for three days with a few incidentals and accidentals. Those are the clothes you take in case the weather dude was wrong, you end up eating someplace where the food doesn’t come in a paper wrapper, and of course some clothes to wear to the hotel pit.

I’ve been trying really hard to eat well and make it to the pit six out of seven days each week so I knew the trip wasn’t going to be easy. Sitting on your ass for hours a day behind your only heavy lifting consisting of a sweaty fast food paper cup does not make for healthy living. I have a new respect for long haul truck drivers. I honestly don’t know how they do it. It’s a wonder more people aren’t killed on the nation’s freeways each year by truck drivers whose hearts give out from the kind of food they eat every day.

Truly, I have no excuse for eating like a truck driver. My vehicle is of a standard size and I can pull into any parking lot, anywhere so my eating choices are greatly expanded. It was my decision to either take advantage of this freedom and eat as well as one can reasonably expect to do on the road, or chuck it all and enjoy myself. I decided on a modified approach to the problem, after all I was well south of the Mason-Dixon Line where food is serious business.

Day one wasn’t so bad. I managed to eat reasonably well. I declined the French fries with my chicken wrap and opted for the unsweetened iced tea. Of course the waitress looked at me like I was an alien from another planet. I was a conundrum and clearly she was confused. I spoke with a Texas accent, acceptable in this part of the country, but I ordered like a Yankee. That’s when I got the phone call. Perhaps I should have gotten the sweet tea after all, because I clearly wasn’t thinking straight when I agreed to extend my trip and drive even deeper into the South on a recon mission.

The further South I went the worse my decisions became. Let me just say that I don’t think anyone can travel through the Southern United States and not succumb to the food there. I found myself eating in places called Biscuitville and Kountry Kookin. I couldn’t pass a Cracker Barrel without drooling. I decided early on that I would limit my intake of artery paste (they call this gravy in the South) to once a day. This is not easy to do. Everything on the menu comes with artery paste on it, or at the very least offered on the side. You get used to words like smothered, drizzled, and topped. These are code words meaning there is a sauce involved. Everything has one of these words in the description. Asking to have something plain is a tip off that you aren’t from around there and suddenly you notice everyone is giving your table a wide berth. Everyone in the restaurant eyes you as if they’re afraid you may infect them with your Yankee-ism.

Frying is an art form in the South. Everything on the menu can be ordered fried. This includes vegetables and dessert. Some things proudly declare this in the name as in Chicken Fried Steak and Fried Tomatoes. Other things are more subtle, okra for example. I don’t think this green vegetable can be found north of Mason-Dixon, but is a staple in any good southern kitchen. Being a southerner myself I know there are only three ways to serve okra, pickled, stewed in gumbo, or fried, but southern menus only list okra. It’s not until you see it piled on your plate that you understand they were referring to fried okra on the menu.

On the fourth day I made the error of asking simply for tea. Here you don’t have to specify iced, it’s assumed and unless you specify otherwise you will receive sweet tea. I realized my mistake as soon as the waiter delivered the half gallon glass and there was no little box of sweetener packets on the table. I took a sip which confirmed my suspicions. I had long since decided that I didn’t want misery for company on the remainder of my trip, so I drank the syrupy brew. There’s nothing quite like the combination of caffeine and corn syrup (yep, this is what makes sweet tea sweet) to get your motor running.

It was downhill (pardon the pun) from then on. I gave in to temptation. I ordered fried stuff, smothered stuff and gave up my quest to eat healthy. I reasoned that when I returned home I would resume my low fat, low sugar, no artery paste lifestyle so what would be the harm in indulging my taste buds for a few days. By day six there wasn’t a trucker on the road with more cholesterol in his blood than me. With just one more road meal ahead of me I swung my four wheeler into the parking lot of a burger joint. Up until then I’d avoided the national chains. I had eaten one burger, but it was grilled at the ball field and I’d turned down the potato chips and washed it down with a diet cola. I was due a fast food orgy.

The smell of grease and charred meat filled the air. It was intoxicating. I lost my head. My numb backside pushed for the salad menu, but I remembered a news segment about the hidden calories in fast food salads, so I gave in and ordered the cheeseburger and fries. Yep, fries. The counter lady asked me what kind of drink (they filled them for you). I eyed the tank of sweet tea. In a rare moment of sanity I ordered a diet cola, not that it was going to make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, but it eased my conscience.

Salt is cheap. It must be because it is used liberally at that place. I was revved on fat and salt and caffeine so I ordered a cup of frozen chocolate dairy product to go and headed for the freeway. I was less than two short hours from home and fueled up. With sweaty paper fast food cup in hand I put the pedal to the metal, so to speak and headed north.

As I wove in and out of the line of eighteen wheelers I shoveled spoonfuls of cold chocolate soft serve into my mouth. I cranked up the radio to hear what was now my theme song. I breezed like silver lightning around another truck grinding his way up the next hill while I sang…. Six days on the road and I’m gonna make it home tonight.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Diamond Dust

Next weekend when our youngest steps into the Batter’s Box for the last time it will mark the end of our families eighteen year association with Fastpitch Softball. Our oldest began playing when she was nine and her younger sister followed in her footsteps at the tender age of four and a half. She wore pink knee socks for her first game and fittingly, at age twenty-one will wear pink knee socks in her last game. Over the years the girls have played on many teams, some good ones and some not so good. We traveled the country to see them play on Competitive Travel teams, High School and College teams. As this chapter of our family life draws to a close I can’t help but think about what, if anything, the girls learned from so many hours spent on the softball diamond. In the following team and teammates may be read as co-workers, friends, or family, whatever suits you.

Hopefully they learned a few life lessons (in no particular order) such as:

v You don’t have to like everyone on your team, but you do have to learn to get along with them. Not everyone in life is going to be your friend, however, you can’t always quit, expect them to change, or fire them, and therefore you need to learn to work with them for the good of the team.

v Sometimes you have to take extraordinary measures to reach your goal. It may be necessary for you to dive for a catch or slide into a base. This is your decision, based on how badly you want to achieve your goal for yourself or your team.

v Sometimes you may be the sacrifice so someone else can get a step closer to their goal. This is where you must learn to put your personal goals aside in order to let someone else have their moment in the sun. Yeah, swinging for the center field fence is more fun and more glamorous, but a bunt that dies a foot in front of the plate may be what is best for everyone concerned. Putting your own glory aside may be the right thing to do.

v Every pitch is another opportunity. Not everything that comes your way is going to be worth the effort of swinging the bat. You will have to make the decision. Is it too far out for you? Is it beneath you? Is it too high for you to reach or close enough you have to cut your losses and run or get hit? Maybe it’s just right for you, waist high and over the middle of the plate. Do you swing at it with everything you’ve got or stand there and watch it pass you by?

v Sometimes your best isn’t good enough. If you gave it your all and still the score wasn’t in your favor, then you have nothing to be ashamed of. If you didn’t give it your all, then you have no one to blame for the outcome but yourself.

v A graceful loser is a winner. Hold your head up and congratulate the winner. They played a better game than you did, that’s all.

v Sometimes the winner isn’t the team with the highest score. How you react to winning is more important than actually winning. If your opponents played to the best of their ability then respecting their efforts will cost you nothing and in no way diminishes your accomplishment.

v One word of praise will do more for your team mate than a ball bucket full of criticism. I need not elaborate on this.

v You can’t do everything yourself. This is why there are nine players on the field at one time. You need to learn to rely on them and work with them to achieve your common goal.

v Sometimes you may not be the best person for the job. You may have to sit on the bench while someone else takes center stage. Being a big enough person to accept that and cheer on the other person is a difficult thing to do.

v There’s no place like home (plate). It’s good to know that when your foot touches home there will be people there to welcome you. Your teammates want you to come home as often as you can.

v The decision won’t always be the one you wanted. As in life, often someone else is deciding things for you. You may not like the call, and you may need to go through the proper channels to appeal the decision, but in the end, whatever the outcome, sometimes you just have to accept the call and move on.

v The final outcome never comes down to just one play. Over the course of seven innings lots of things happen to affect the final outcome of the game. Everyone remembers the last thing that happened, but the end result is an accumulation of all the previous plays, good and bad.

v When you catch the ball, squeeze your glove shut and hold on tight. When an opportunity comes your way and you are lucky enough to catch it, hang on tight so it doesn’t slip away.

v No matter where you are on the field, when the batter hits the ball you have a job to do. Don’t let your team down. Know where the play is, and anticipate the future so you will be ready to react when the time comes. You can’t always predict what will happen, but if you are paying attention to the signs and signals you can anticipate and react faster and more efficiently.

v Keep your eye on the ball. If you don’t know where the ball is, you aren’t playing the game and you’re likely to be hit upside the head. Being blindsided is never a good thing.

v Bruises are battle scars. If you’re playing to win you might get hurt. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again.

v Know your opponent. Do your research, especially if you’re the pitcher. Know the batters strengths and weaknesses.

v Learn as many pitches as you can. The more things you can do, the better your chances of winning. Be versatile, adapt to the situation. If one pitch isn’t working, try a different one until you find the one that will achieve the desired outcome and never, ever, throw one over the center of the plate.

v When you hit the ball, turn your eyes toward your goal and run like there’s a bear chasing you. Good advice in any endeavor. Don’t look back, just run until you are forced to stop.

v Once you make the decision to throw the ball or swing the bat, put your whole body behind the effort. If it’s worth doing, then don’t do it halfway.

v Sometimes you have to stand and watch the ball go over the fence. Every so often something happens and there is nothing you can do to change the outcome. It’s cliché, but change the things you can and accept the things you can’t change.

v Sometimes you hit a foul ball. Not everything we try turns out the way we want it to. Forget it and try again.

v Sometimes you strike out. There will be another ‘at bat’, if not today, then soon. Do what you can to be ready for it.

v A walk is as good as a hit. If you can make it to your goal by your powers of astute observation rather than by taking aggressive action, then good for you! The run across home plate that started with a walk counts the same as the one that started with a hit.

v Sometimes you drop the ball. Hopefully your teammates will be there to back you up. That’s what they’re for.

v Listen to your coach. Coaches come in all kinds of packages and in every stage of our lives. They are there to guide and support us along the way. If we have chosen them well then their advice and counsel will be invaluable to our success.

In the end, when your foot lands on home plate that final time and the diamond dust has settled, if you can say, “I played the game to the best of my ability and I have no regrets,” then your teammates will be at the dugout door to welcome you home with open arms.

Thanks girls for eighteen years of fun.