Sunday, November 21, 2010

26 miles back to the barns

It was the font of the street signs that reminded me I was back in Santa Barbara. It is a curvy one with a yellow color that seems appropriate for Katy Perry’s hometown. Even in November there was a warmth to the place; the scent of eucalyptus mixed with sea breeze is a permanent facial to a city which while not always young remains ever a spa.

I tried to explain my best to the woman sitting next to me in the bus that drove us under complete darkness to the starting line how important it was for me to return. 25 years earlier I ran my first marathon as part of my high school bikeathon. A year before the great Hank Dart lead a group of cross country runners along the route. He was the best runner at the school during my tenure, a man who could chew track with a smile, a man who even seemed to like the 800 meters, the second most brutal distance in running. The first, a full marathon, I decided to do after he had graduated and I began leaving the Cate School campus with Diana Froley early one morning. We ran slowly and for what felt like forever until she had the common sense to stop at some parental aid station who questioned where our bikes were. With out really drinking or eating much I continued on, and the last few miles was my first taste of the pain and challenge of true endurance sports. I learned “the talk to your self voice”, the great ally on race day; and also, unfortunately by counter example, the importance of hydration and nutrition.

Sill at 17 If you told me that 25 years later I would still be merely running, I would have been thrilled. But the possibility of doing a marathon would have seemed as silly as saying now that I am going to do one in 2035. 42 was really old then.

The woman on the bus just kept looking at me when I went into long white socks, the big deal of Thatcher dual meets, and oranges for participants. Marathons now are still tough, but they don’t have that absolute edge which existed then. For instance Hank Dart now does ultras (and writes a great blog about running - Most of my triathlon group from the last decade did an ironman at one point or another. With the right shoes, nutrition, and training program a beginning runner can go the distance in 4-5 months and I have helped coach a few hundred of them over the years. Still your marathon is *yours* especially a big number one like this, and I felt a bit disappointed when she didn’t think I should get the monument I deserved.

Granted I would have to still go the distance, but after doing this in four different decades - 80’s, 90’s, 00’s, and 10’s - I felt I knew what was coming. The race was less scenic than expected. There are some gorgeous water front homes and long stretches of beach near Santa Barbara, but they have the kind of millions that can successfully zone things so that marathons don’t go near them. Instead we spent the first half circling Goleta and the airport as if we were some lost plane. We then switched to a bike path and finally a misplaced hill before descending down to the coast for the last mile.

Given that my training was off - I got sick and could only manage a 16 miler for the long run - I knew this wasn’t the time I could qualify for Boston. I did manage my first evenly split marathon (my first mile was the same pace as my last) which was a first for me. My cruiser gear was true.

Afterwards I went up to my high school’s mesa to look around, and the first thing I noticed was they moved the barns. When I was a kid there, old alums would talk about horses and cold showers, but they had long since been abandoned save for an odd disciplinary repainting. The campus might have had a western toughness at one point but with the gorgeous sunsets over a hazy ocean, it would always bring out the beauty in nature as well as its coarseness. We lived in a country club, and the moving of the barns felt like seeing someone undergo plastic surgery where the mole was moved from one side of the face to another. A pool was put where the old barns were for the sport of water polo. That sport was created my senior year I think mostly so that Joe Ueberroth and Mark Metherell could get varsity letters, and while I vastly admire their idea, to have that be the heart of the campus seems peculiar. I then had a deep flash of worry that I had become the old alum that was now deeply concerned with the barns

I looked around to see any students, but the place was abandoned. I only ran into the head IT person would was happily reconfiguring the network. Running had changed far less than technology the last 25 years. We did not have to worry about who was friends on Facebook, about personal mifi devices to host game parties, or the proper use of Twitter.

Everyone had gone to Thatcher for sports day. It was the big football game, which again is a change since I left. Later that weekend I would learn that Cate has an active Gay and Lesbian society which made me feel that they were emphasizing far more two way playing than when I was there. I have no idea how that would have changed the social status if that existed when we were there: since coming out, Dan Emmett remains one of the coolest kids in the class and Pesco as one of the people who entered a computer contest with me remains one of the nerds. But I do know how much that would have meant for them and I could not be happier for its existence.

Football for me is more of an issue if only that means less runners. I wish there will always be a few awkward but hardy folks who run around Gobernador Canyon Road - kids who dream about hills and spikes and who ponder whether they should have stopped running to spend more time with Diana Froley instead of being alone.

Football I am sure is great for the current legends who play it and for the crowds who cheer its gladiator nature. But I have to wonder if any of the current football team is going to come back in 25 years and explain to someone on a bus about how he is going to take that field once again even if he is upset that they moved the barns.

Monday, November 01, 2010


There are times when life imitates Capra, and I did my best by going to Washington last week. The place is different now: it is more a town of starch shirts and id badges, a city where twenty year olds gossip about fifty years olds as opposed to Los Angeles where the reverse is true. But the late October weather was perfect and with Louise about to start a new job it seemed like the right place for a quick vacation.

Our world is spinning fast these days. We have both left our jobs, but Louise has had the more practical sense to arrive at a new one while I tinker on a few iPhone apps. Our new home is unpacked but unfilled. Our conversations range from the price of one meal in March for our wedding, to the china we will break one piece at a time for the rest of our lives. We have upped our gym memberships to try to compensate for all of the splendid meals (and copious wine) that we have shared while meeting each others friends and families. It is a great life, but a hurried one. We thought going to visit Louise’s brother and best friend would be a good way to get away from Art Center Board meetings and tech support email. We did not realize what we would be missing at home.

The Forty Niners who had been picked by many to win their division were imploding publicly. The Warriors who just got a great free agent remain still the Warriors. The Giants had no all star hitters; their great hopes for the season - Sandoval and Rowland - were in slumps, their infielders were injured, and the roster was starting to resemble a collection of castoffs with shaving allergies. Sure their pitching was good and they had a couple of nice rookies who were going to be great in a couple of years, but the rest of a line up was a patchwork of discards and has beens, placeholders until we could start next season with just maybe an expensive free agent. Granted there are sports movies where the guy picked up from waivers hits home runs to win a pennant, but real life teams with less than average hitting, power, and speed don’t really go anywhere unless something magical happens.

It wasn’t that I stopped following the Giants, but just that they shifted more to background noise. I read about the Red Sox’s crushing the Giants the weekend I dealt with the movers taking everything out of my bachelor apartment except the carpets which desperately needed to be cleaned. I heard that they picked up Cody Ross the day after we had our house warming party with our new grill. Still I worked for the Giants home radio station, KNBR, and enjoyed making a virtual Kruk and Kuip. But watching the great Lincecum fall apart in August as the Giants drifted ten games back of the Padres I was resigned that this team was going to be like the others of my lifetime, like all the others that have ever played in San Francisco.

But then again, there are times when life imitates Capra, when a ball hits the top of the centerfield fence and bounces back, when a 21 year old rookie can pitch eight scoreless innings in a World Series game, when a bed headed savant can do it for 21 innings, when a black bearded reliever can make the Beach Boys have the sane Brian Wilson, and when a rookie catcher can manage four aces and hit clean up. Actually the last one never happened before, but just maybe it could.

We had to watch. Not just Louise and myself, but the entire city needed these guys. It was not just that we seem perched on a midterm slaughter by tea parties, nor the collective need for mass karaoke of Journey and Huey Lewis songs, nor the excuse for men to wear thongs since Glee had just stolen Rocky Horror, nor the eight year drought since any Bay Area team had been in a championship game. We needed a world of possibilities and rooting for a group that seemed three short of a Lee Marvin ensemble was too much fun not to do.

In a way watching the games in Washington DC felt more like going back to the Candlestick days when the crowds were a little more knowledgeable but a bit darker. Giants fans aren’t bitter and mean like Phillies ones or bitter and self absorbed like pre 2004 Red Sox, but we are bitter. 2002 scarred us deeply and it seemed like half of our conversations were about when the Giants were going to implode. It was old school Giants fandom, and we started the series by drinking 32 oz Sierra Nevada beers because we knew we wanted to be anesthetized for when the pain came.

We kept waiting.

In the meantime besides the main goal of visiting and commiserating with friends, the thing that Louise and I wanted to do on our Washington trip was see the other Stewart, Jon. He and his cohort, Colbert, planned a rally that was the reverse of most concerts, a rally when music was a long opening act for the comedians. Neither the city nor the rally was organized enough for the masses that came. The metro could not handle the numbers; the sound system did not work for most of the crowd. I began to wonder why exactly I was rallying for sanity or to keep fear alive.

Because in this last weeks (and perhaps this last year) the world has been a bit crazy. Castoffs have become heros. A forty year old found a spouse (and clean carpets). A city found a reason to cheer. We could sometime soon have a parade down Market Street and another flag flapping above China Basin. The party in this city would be insane, and who would want to rally against that?

Sometimes, indeed, it is a wonderful life.