Friday, March 2, 2018

February Down

It's been an anniversary of sorts this week. Even though I still can't go into it much, it's enough that I got through another February. 

Almost everybody just wants to get through February and I'm no different. That's probably why it's the shortest month. It's stuck between coming down off the holidays in January and the first hint of spring somewhere in March. It's the hangover, late payment, pothole, frozen pipe month. If your furnace is going to give out or your car is going to quit, it'll be in February. You just want it to be over with and think about warmer, brighter days. It's even more than that to me.

The month is about endings and beginnings around the Home. My old familiar life ended forever in a February. Full stop. Reboot. Then like the seasons, everything started all over again.

It's still ongoing. In a few years, I should be able to blog it all but for now...

February will always be like a moonless 3:00 am to me. The darkest and loneliest hour. The deepest, most desolate part of the night before the sunrise. That time when it's coldest and quietest and the world seems to hold it's breath. When it's so still that you can almost hear hope fading and sometimes promises slip away like whispers.

That's how it was that one February when everything changed. But I found out that if you can hold on just a little while longer, dawn will slowly sneak over the horizon and day will always come again. It may seem like it'll never get there. It may be cloudy and gray when it does but if you can just hang on one more hour, even one more minute, there will be light again. The dark loses some of its power and life finds the way back into the world.

If you just don't close your eyes in that last few minutes before daybreak, you'll finally see a glow in the east and suddenly feel like you can live again. You'll find your bearings with the light even when you thought you were completely lost. I should know...I've seen the darkness fade out often enough and I swear it's the hardest time of all

But then ever so slowly, the night lifts up from the horizon and the hills get left behind by the stars. It's still cold in the morning this time of year and in my world, the workday is only partly over when the sun comes up. But that's how February is. Endings and beginnings. And still putting one foot in front of the other knowing that better days are coming. 

One of these years I've got a story to tell but until I can, I'm happy to have another February down. It's March now and the snow is falling hard but yesterday the air smelled a little of spring and promises. Winter is fading like the dark after a long night. February down for another year.

Somehow it makes me think once again of hope.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Florida On My Mind

I just can't take it anymore. I know we've been down this road before but this time...

I've been watching the news and it's full of the latest school attack in Florida. I'm just sick of it. I've had all the moments of silence and 'thoughts and prayers' I can stomach. I've had enough conspiracy theories, finger pointing and ridiculous arguments to last the rest of my days. 

Allegedly intelligent people refuse to accept that something is most certainly wrong with our civilian weaponry status quo and instead, spend hours at the keyboard attacking the victims, screaming injustice and pretending at patriotism. Thousands of social media warriors invoke their piety and proudly expound on what they would surely have done had they been there with their trusty sidearm. They stand ready and eager to kill anyone who they perceive as a threat. That eagerness says something in itself if anyone cared to read between the lines...but that's another post.

So lets just clear the air a little before I go much further. The fact is...I don't hate guns. I don't hate people who own guns. I don't want your guns taken away. I don't care how many you have. If you know me at all then you already know that.

What I do hate is turning on the news and seeing yet another attack. I hate that nobody wants to do anything. I hate the talking heads and politicians that embarrass themselves pandering to the money. I hate the liars and lunacy-peddlers that preach conspiracy. I hate that so many people work so hard to discredit and debase the witnesses and victims rather than put one tiny bit of energy into anything remotely constructive. I hate that my generation has failed yet again and more of our sons and daughters are dead because of it. 

Something is terribly, horrendously wrong and if you can't see it, you are simply not qualified to carry or own a firearm. Period. 

If you think the answer to too many gun deaths is more guns, we're not even in the same universe. If you believe every living soul should be armed, we're already speaking a different language. If you think this isn't about money then you're not paying attention. If you believe that nothing can be done to at least slow the death rate, please scroll off to InfoWars where your real friends are and save yourself the trouble of insulting me. Don't bother with the same old tropes about banning cars or knives or box cutters or fertilizer or anything else either. We're talking about weapons designed and built to be weapons. Focus.

Don't waste my time telling me if only everybody was armed, this would never happen. I call bullshit just like the kids from Douglas High School did. Nobody, least of all me; who has never faced a violent crisis knows what might happen in the adrenaline rush of the moment. Lethal force is a terrible responsibility. In the confusion, fear, noise and overload of an attack or even a perceived many terrified, minimally trained 'good guys with guns' firing in anger for the first time in their lives; in close quarters hallways and rooms full of equally terrified people do you see as being beneficial? What could possibly go wrong? 

Besides the likelihood of making bad worse, all that handy firepower floating around seems pretty likely to end up getting used for other purposes besides self-defense. Just ask the Uber Eats driver that recently killed his customer in an argument over basically nothing. Or ask yourself where all the bad guys you say so easily acquire guns actually get them. How many are stolen from the well-stocked good guys? For that many get flat-out sold by the good guys to the first taker with cash? Just a thought...

Also save the video argument. Don't tell me that we should ban GTA or first-person-shooters or violent movies and TV before we talk about guns. My kids play video games all the time. They don't seem to be building arsenals. I've watched both 'John Wick' movies. I have no desire to run out and shoot up nightclubs after doing so. I've seen 'The Hobbit' too but it didn't make me suddenly believe in elves. My sons and I know the difference between fantasy and reality. You should too.

So moving along. We should talk about mental health? Ok...who's doing the talking? Who gets to say who's in trouble and to what degree? The government? The same ones who are busy scheming to take away your guns and covering up UFOs? Who wants to be the first to put their medical records in a database that every gun shop, random state bureaucrat and your employer can access? Sign me up for that. Not.

The number of people with mental issues of some sort or another is probably unknowable anyway. Think of how many webcrawlers out there believe they need to stockpile weapons and ammo to defend against tyranny and you'll start to see the trend. One man's mental case is another man's patriot you know. These are the fully rational people that love and respect the military and law enforcement but feel the need to have the ability to kill a lot of them should it come to that. The idea that one guy in a bunker can hold off the police or that a bunch of weekend warriors scampering around in the woods could outfox the military for more than 10 minutes is pretty bizarre by itself. It speaks volumes about how much we probably do in fact need to take a hard look at who's stable enough to own firearms and who isn't.

The question then is where do we go from here? I don't have the answers you'll like. I have some suggestions...but first we have to start acting like the adults in the room. If everything begins with the premise that the end game is to confiscate your armory and dump you in a FEMA camp under WalMart...then you have nothing more to say that can be helpful. Watch the young people and learn.

Anyway let's just start...since vehicles as weapons comes up all the time when the socially strident start talking about guns, let's look at it from that angle. You know the drill. "When are we going to ban cars because more people die in cars that with guns?" Never heard that one before.

To own and operate a car on the road you have to jump through some hoops. Nobody gives it much's just the way it is. It doesn't stop very many people from having the privilege of using public highways but it does set a minimum standard and provides a system of regulation and record keeping that seems to work out fairly well. So take a peek at what's required for something as common as driving the not even remotely protected by a Constitutional Amendment. Not even mentioned yet for most people, it typically does not keep them from owning or operating a vehicle.

For have to be of a certain age. Then you have to get a state-issued permit that becomes your ID. That allows you to practice driving while under supervision. Most states require some minimal training before you take a test to show a certain amount of competence before they turn you loose on the motoring public. Insurance is required in case something unexpected and unfortunate occurs and you must also register the vehicle you're driving or be able to prove who owns it so law enforcement knows it isn't stolen should that come up in conversation. Are you seeing how this looks?

To operate larger vehicles or motorcycles takes more training, testing and an endorsement on your license. The laws become more stringent the more responsibility you have. Hazardous material haulers have more regulation than pizza delivery drivers. Taxis and buses are different again. Nobody questions this much. Nobody worries the deep state will confiscate their big-stack coal-roller just because it's registered and insured. 

Does everyone on the road have a current license and keep their insurance paid up? Of course not. I got rear-ended by an unlicensed, uninsured driver once but that's a rarity and the system worked to get me and the car fixed and hold the driver accountable. Yes, a percentage of the population will always scofflaw until they get caught but the argument that since 'criminals will always find a way' so it's pointless to regulate at all goes out the window every time you walk into a DMV.

So why is such a mechanism which almost everyone routinely deals with on a regular basis so absolutely unacceptable to the Ted Nugent fan club at the NRA? Let me venture a guess...because EVERY SINGLE option proposed is instantly elevated to a Constitutional crisis and an existential threat. The reasonable voices of the vast majority of gun owners gets drowned out in the screaming. Everyone is shouting but nobody's listening.

The thing is, there's much we can do. Things we already do. Things that really don't interfere too much with doing what we want yet provide some structure and a basic frame of reference and regulation. Is it foolproof? Nope...the kid that smashed my LTD proves it. But would I like to be on the road knowing that because we couldn't prevent ALL unlicensed driving, then nobody needs a license? Would you put your kids out there knowing that nobody was insured or even superficially trained? It's bad enough as it is.

Oh and that guy driving the gasoline truck? Somebody drove one once with a suspended license and we couldn't stop him so from now on, we'll just forgo the Hazmat endorsement and roll the dice. Bad people will always find a way anyhow so what's the point? See how that sounds?

The idea that we can't do anything because we can't do everything is ludicrous. It's lazy. It says we are helpless and should just accept the killing. It says that corporate profits and our personal desires outweigh everything. That having the right to own as many guns as possible is worth every one of the lives lost. 

I don't buy it. And neither do the kids in Florida. And neither should you.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Taking The Knee

The call has gone out from the highest office in the land for professional sports figures to be banned from playing because they, for reasons of their own conscience, choose to kneel instead of standing for the national anthem. This a foolish thing in a long string of very foolish things. 

The call is for spectators to leave the stands and boycott the team unless patriotism is enforced and displayed prominently regardless of individual belief. 

Does anyone realize that mandatory displays of anything are simply displays of nothing? Fear is very different from respect. Compulsory respect is not freedom. 

My idea of patriotism and liberty would be this; that every one of the tens of thousands of fans in every one of hundreds of stadiums, speedways and arenas...just one time...kneels with the players before the first note blows from the bugle. For just one single, silent, solitary moment. 

In defiance of tyranny. For the love of country. For the sake of all of us.

Just for one shining moment...

That would be the sound of freedom roaring.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Irma, Florida and a Trailer Park

I watched Hurricane Irma tear up through Florida this week. And through all the bad news I wondered about one guy in a trailer park somewhere in the middle of it.

Tim Joe...I hope you're ok.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Days Away

I've been on vacation. 

For the last seven years, my habit has been to take couple of weeks off in August and this one was no exception. The difference this time around...there was no FLX Tour de Cure to fill up the first week. You can find that story here if you haven't read it. It's pretty strange.

My vacation was already assigned for '17 though and I couldn't really think of a reason to change it so I left it alone. I wondered what I'd do with myself if I wasn't painting arrows on a hundred miles of road and juggling a bike team. When the Tour shut down, I was pretty lost.

In the months that followed the cancellation, most of the people from the team sort of drifted away. There was a couple of less-than-pleasant Facebook exchanges so I closed the team page and called it a day. I lost track of pretty much everyone. I rode in the Saratoga NY Tour in June but it wasn't the same. It was corporate, shiny, slick and impersonal. It was a lot of good things to be sure, but there was no 'Train team tent with pink flamingos, sunflowers and conga lines in the parking lot. Nobody was laughing. I felt like a stranger to it all so I put on my best public smile and just drove away.

On the other hand, life being what life is...I found some sunshine to chase away The Black that was hanging around just off my wheel. After a couple of false starts, I met someone. But first; a little backstory...

I haven't said much about it but the main reason the Home hasn't been home much of late is that my thirty-year marriage dissolved in what the lawyers call "irreconcilable differences". Who saw that one coming? It's been many years getting to this and I won't go into the details here or now but suffice it to say, it's not been easy for a really long time. 

We all have our demons and mine were persistent bastards who found an open door through the proceedings and tried every trick in the book to destroy me. It's been a battle I wouldn't wish on anyone.

Along the way somewhere, I found that I had to wander back out into the world. Unless I wanted to live completely alone until the clock stopped for good, I had to leave Home once again. How do you do that when you've never even considered it? Counseling helped. My sister helped more. I can tell you that it ain't easy and as of this writing it still isn't over.

But my ADHD self is wandering around looking at squirrels again...

As I started to say, I met someone...on roller skates no less...who loves to ride bikes besides...and in a round-about way from that meeting, I relearned a few things:

I found out all over again that riding bikes can be a ball even when you don't do 'epic' mileage every time. Sometimes just getting on the hybrid in shorts and a t-shirt and cruising to an ice cream stand with someone who smiles at you every time you look at her is what bicycling should be. Yes, I rode some real miles in the years I was falling apart but a lot of them were angry miles. Miles that were to forget...not remember. And they were mostly alone. Don't get me wrong, I loved riding and a 200 mile day is still on my bucket list but it isn't as pressing as it was. I'm riding just to ride again like it was when I first jumped back on the pedals all those years ago. No kit, no funny shoes, no weird shorts...just a simple bike and some simple fun. My road bike misses me but we're still friends. We'll spend more time together again for sure but for's almost back to the beginning.

I also remembered how much fun roller skating really is. I skated more than I care to think about in my younger years. It seemed like if I wasn't working, I was on eight wheels. Most of my 20's found me at a rink somewhere jamming around in some form of hideous polyester under a cloud of big hair. I'm very happy there are only a few photos.

But leap ahead about thirty years and I find my old Douglas-Snyders still in pretty good shape...just as heavy as ever but still at home on my feet. I dusted them off, polished the boots and went back out on the floor. It seems that some things never change. 

During one session, I worked up my courage and asked that above-mentioned someone to skate with me. Got turned down flat because I was sweaty and kinda weird. But it didn't matter. We ended up skating together anyway...even though I'm usually still soaked like a sponge. The easy delight of skating along with someone to a slow song is what she calls "a happy place" and I know exactly what she means. 

It was all part of something that got lost along the way. Something that somehow became sad. It got misplaced somehow with so many other little joys that eventually drained the life out of everything I did. But I think I've found it again and it seems that it never changed. Only I did.

And yes, I found out that something as simple as holding hands is still as wonderful as ever. Just plain wonderful.

In the dark times, I used to watch people walking and holding hands. My soul ached for that tiny, fleeting touch that meant so much. That one easiest of things that I no longer had. I found that I missed it more than almost anything. Something so small. I think it was one of the first things we lost when everything fell apart. Maybe that's why I missed it so.

Something so easy. And so wonderful. It just makes me smile.

But now the vacation is over and it's back to work. There's memories that make me happy. And I've got time to think about what to do for next year. I think I'll keep the August time off just as a tradition but who are supposed to be about adventures so you never know.

 Hey, at least I can think about next year...that's sort of a vacation in itself.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Losing My Religion (apologies to R.E.M.)

Can I tell you a story? It's about a kid and and a long, twisted and confused journey. It's about how this one kid grew up in a belief and then grew out of it somewhere along the road. It has a lot to say about how things change and how they stay the same; about faith and how it both succeeds and fails. If you want to hear it, read along.

It starts with me as a very young boy. I grew up in the 60's but didn't really live there. Not being old enough to sample the psychedelic side of that legendary decade or absorb its politics and assorted movements, I did soak up a lot of the side effects. Vietnam, the draft, the music, the protests, the chaos, the feel of it all sort of got inside my head and stayed there. It influenced many things now that I look back at them but at the time, it was just the way of the world.

During those years, I went to very old Methodist church with my parents...sometimes under duress because I very much disliked getting scrubbed and polished to go sit through something I didn't really understand. I was a trial to my mom and dad when they tried to get me dressed up for church when I really would rather have been outside getting muddy or sandy. When I did go, I remember sitting through the beginning of the service and then packing off to the basement for Sunday School and hopefully a cookie or two. It was during one of those downstairs lessons that someone said something to me that I'm sure they never intended to do what it did.

They were teaching us about faith and how strong it had to be if you wanted to go to heaven. Who could tell a child what heaven was supposed to be like when they were about seven or eight? Nobody. I didn't then and I still don't have any idea what they were talking about. All I knew was that it was where you were supposed to want to go when you died no matter what. I didn't even know much about what dead meant but I had heard it was bad unless you went to this wonderful place afterwards. But back to the lesson...

I don't even remember the teacher who said it but I do remember very distinctly how they said that if it came down to a time when your faith was questioned by anyone, you had to stand by it no matter what. As an example they said that if someone (they never told us who) gave you the choice to say that you didn't believe in Jesus or else you'd have to watch your parents be killed right in front of you, then that's what you'd have to do. Either that or you'd go to hell. I didn't know what hell was either but I knew it was bad. They told of how in the Bible, people were tortured (another word I only knew was really bad at the time) or eaten by animals or beaten and yet still refused. Those were the good people. People who said they didn't believe were bad.

I was terrified. I couldn't even comprehend my Mom and Dad being hurt and who would want to hurt them anyway? Who was coming to do such horrible things to us? Why would this happen? I had nightmares for weeks after that. Night terrors of awful things. Screaming, awful things that haunted me for days. One little lesson in one little Sunday School class by one person who thought they were doing good put a terrible fear in a small boys heart that lived there for over 50 years.

Time went by as time does and the nightmares faded into the usual boy-stuff of stitched-up knees, broken bicycles, homework and long days of lawn mowing. I sort of drifted around not thinking much about that old lesson. Then one summer, the old country church right behind our house opened back up with a new and very young pastor at the helm and things turned a little different.

There was suddenly youth groups and Bible School and services within walking distance from our back door. It was fun and exciting and it felt good. The Baptists got a hook in my and started reeling in the line. I believed.

I believed so much that one fine day, I waded into a mildly slimy pond in a white shirt and was ecstatically baptized. It was like joining a special club and it truly did make a change in me. I believed that I believed...then. I looked at things differently after that. It was life-altering and it was part of who I became. I don't regret it but at the time, I didn't know what it would do to me.

Years passed and after a while, the shine faded a bit. I kept the faith because it was all I knew. But through it all, I still felt like I was missing something. The faith I kept started to feel like guilt. I think maybe because I was human? I grew and it seemed like everything I did was somehow wrong if I clung to that faith. I prayed because I was supposed to but I didn't get the foot-stomping, rolling-in-the-aisle feeling that everyone said I should from it. It was all about guilt. The endless, promised comfort and happiness were things I couldn't seem to find. And some of the people who professed to be such faithful Christians were in fact, really awful. They were not who I wanted to be or who I wanted to look up to. I remember thinking that something was wrong with me. There turned out to be no joy in it.

The turning point finally came when I went to a service many years later in another little country church. The pastor put on quite a show of hellfire and brimstone on a subject that was pretty close to my heart. I've made some mistakes in my life as have we all but he drilled right into the darkest place where I needed forgiveness the most. He didn't know it but he looked right at me and told me I was going to hell. I couldn't breathe. I was devastated. He took me right back to that Sunday School lesson so long ago when I knew that I could never be what religion wanted me to be. I felt like I'd been kicked in the teeth. Everything I had hung onto for so long turned into grief, guilt and pain. It was one of the worst days of my life.

I think I knew then that something was gone for good. It took more years but at some point, I realized that it was all over. I'd had my crisis of faith and come out the other side. I stopped praying but more importantly, I stopped feeling guilty for everything. A load lifted off my back that had been there for far too long.

And here I am. I've come around to something I never would have expected. A life without the fear of what will happen after that life. I found a place where I no longer worry about what an all-powerful, faceless, capricious and incoherent thing thinks of me. I'm ok with the end of my life being the end of all things. From nothing we come and to nothing we go. My life is meaningful enough without needing it to last for eternity.

I'm not an atheist. I'm just me. I don't care what anyone else believes or why. I just don't have it in me to search and yearn for something that can never be anymore.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Home is Where Wayward Lives

Home sure means a lot of different things these days. It's still the roof over my head and the catch-all for years of accumulated junk (read that 'bicycle parts'). It's where I land after every train trip and bike jaunt. It's a place at the end of the road. In more ways than I care to think about...

Home is a strange word sometimes. It carries meanings beyond just a place to live. It's supposed to mean a shelter; an island where you can rest; a place where there's comfort and safety. A place where there's love and caring. This house has not been any of those since I moved in. And I've missed having a home for such a long time. 

So many awful things have happened inside these walls and yet, there may still be a time where I can live here in peace with all of it. If I'm not actually happy with this little patch of ground, at least I can say I'm maybe feeling...what's a good word? Content perhaps? That might work for now.

Life still goes along and everything changes with the ups and downs of the thermometer and the color of the trees. The roar and rush of the world blows across the days but underneath, there's something different. I'm not sure what to call it but I'm quieter now than I have been in years. The storms are really just the weather, not screaming hurricanes in my head. The tone of my life has changed again. 

I used to say that calm was all I wanted. A quiet place amidst the noise. A place to rest for a while. I didn't think it would ever happen but maybe...just maybe...home will really be a Home someday. 

I did in fact plant an oak tree in the front yard a while ago because I read somewhere that a man who plants a tree has hope. I'll never live long enough to see it grow up but it's a promise in some ways to a future I might be a little tiny part of. Hope is something I lived without for far too long you see so it seemed only right to try to grow some at the Wayward Home. It's where I live after all.