Good sportsmanship in MLB!

Jim Thome, if only you had done something as simple as buy a $12K ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer thanking your fans, as CC Sabathia did, we might not greet you with hisses each time you come to town. Of course, you said you loved Cleveland and Sabathia never made such overtures of affection. However, at least Sabathia realizes that the bread and butter of his early career successes in MLB is due to his fans. We may not have a lot of money in Cleveland to retain the best of the best players, but we sure have heart and fierce devotion. And those are things no large MLB check can give you.

Thank you, CC Sabathia, for being such a good sport, even though we knew you wanted to leave Cleveland. But I guess I can’t blame you when you’re pitching your heart out and your offensive lineup isn’t hitting worth the money we pay them. (What happened to you, Pronk?!?! We had so much promise for you, but your hitting over the last two years has been pathetic!)

May the sports gods bless the Cleveland Indians. This has been a depressing, heart-wrenching, painful year. We lost our beloved Jacobs Field name to Progressive Insurance… our team is in last place… we lost Casey Blake (my eye candy!)… oh, the humanity!

Maybe a bunch of businesses will move into Cleveland (because the cost of living here is so much cheaper), build beautiful headquarters in downtown, bring more jobs to the market, and people will migrate here from other states to bolster our dying economy. Then we’ll have enough money, market share, and TV viewership to buy players instead of constantly farming them from the minor leagues.

Yeah. And maybe I’ll write a best selling novel too. Huh. I’m not holding my breath.

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When the gun shoots close to home

Peacebang–one of my favorite bloggers, a UU minister who defines herself as “UU Christian”–has made her statement about the Tennessee Valley UU Church shootings. And, as usual, she was in her normal, elegant form as she urged her fellow UUs to consider activism for gun control, quoting love from the scriptures and making me like Christianity like only she and my liberal friends can.

I don’t know what I think about the gun control issue. I believe in maintaining the Constitution as written and the original Bill of Rights. However, I must admit that I feel a certain disgust at the ease with which madmen, children, and people with purposes other than hunting or self-defense in mind can get ahold of guns. Something has to be done in the system to prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands. I don’t know what–I don’t have any answers–but I know we need to do something. Our society has become embarrassingly violent and desensitized to the violence.

Thanks to Peacebang’s many readers, I have been made aware of a fund that the UUA has set up for assistance in the relief effort for the congregations of TVUUC and Westside UUC (Linda Kraeger, one of the dead victims, was a member of the second church). I, of course, donated, even though I suspect that my own church will make a special offering to this fund on Sunday. I guess I’m can’t help myself as far as these sort of things go. The last emergency donation to a nationwide story I made was to the Katrina relief fund through the Red Cross. Though this cause is particularly close to my heart because I identify myself as a UU, I have to admit that I would help any church or organization faced with such tragedy. I just can’t help myself when there’s need… I hope you feel compelled to help as well, if even only in prayer and positive energy.

See what our hate speech has done…

Granted, this Jim David Adkisson is mentally unstable. The mentally unstable are suspectible to jumping to irrational conclusions. However, I cannot let the facts slip my mind that the man was reading politically charged books written by shock jocks (Michael Savage, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity) which ultimately served to fuel his anger towards what he called “the liberal movement” (which is an amorphous statement if I ever heard one). Has it really come down to this? All of our mud-slinging–meant really to inspire the “soldiers” and activitists to the call of duty for a side–is tipping the weak-minded insane to a breaking point.

Is there any way out of this mess? Is there any way we can stop pointing angry fingers at each other and shouting all this hate speech at each other? Why can’t we all just talk to each other like the rational human beings we supposedly are instead of name-calling on both sides of the fence (for Dems are just as responsible for this bad behavior as the Repubs)? I’m getting tired of this war of us v. them. It has got to stop.

I’ve never seen this country so divided. It’s painful to watch. I don’t know how or when it happened, but somewhere in the last ten years, someone drew a line in the sand and told people to cross to one side or the other. It used to be that no one knew what who was. We kept our politics quiet to ourselves–this was not the stuff of polite conversation. Now, everywhere we go, someone has to let slip their opinion of one side or the other when the conversation hasn’t even started. (One guy on a bike ride blamed the rain on George W. Bush, which, while funny, made me feel a little awkward even though I’m not GW’s biggest fan.)

Not that I don’t support social activism. We all know I’m right there on the front lines, marching for gay rights and abortion rights and social justice and world peace. I will fight for these causes until the last breath leaves my body. And I will stand up in the appropriate forum to discuss these views. But out there in every day life, unless provoked by someone else, I’m not likely to just burst out my views. I keep the chatter among my liberal friends. We talk amongst ourselves. I strive to avoid name-calling–everyone has their reasons for why they believe what they believe and I do not feel that someone who doesn’t agree with me is any less intelligent or has thought out the issue less thoroughly.

I listen to the quiet, rational voices of NPR who never shout at each other or the guest with the opposing view. There are no “shock jocks” to speak of on NPR. Yes, I realize they are a liberal media outlet. However, they strive to be fair by presenting the other side of an issue and allowing that person to speak their views without interruption or snide comments. They don’t shock my nerves, they don’t name call, and they don’t paint a “us v. them” picture of the world. Why can’t the conservative media outlets be just as calm in their approach? (Perhaps there is one I’m not aware of?)

I can’t say anything about Michael Savage because I’ve never listened to him. But people like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity do nothing but spew self-righteous, “us v. them,” hate all liberals propoganda. And the liberals are just as bad with their batch of hate mongers such as Randi Rhodes, whom I’ve personally listened to and find utterly repulsive. The O’Reillys, Savages, Coulters, Hannitys, Randi Rhodeses of the world say things to purposely make your blood boil. They call the enemy “them” and suggest that “they” are something less than human. When you dehumanize the opposition, it’s easier for you to think things about them that are horrible. If they aren’t human, then it’s easier to think of killing them. It worked in Nazi Germany with the Jews; it worked with our treatment of the slaves in America. If they are not like us, they aren’t us, and we can treat them worse than we treat animals.

Lastly, both sides trumpet the end of America As We Know It, claiming the other side is solely responsible for the deconstruction and causing the emotional among us to panic. If America, like the once great Roman Empire, is truly on its downslide, the real fault is those who break apart the populous by appealing to its volatile emotional sensibilities. The bigger a dividing line they dig in the sand, the further apart from each other we become. And then it’s easier for us to throw the first rocks across to chasm that start the civil war. What kind of country are we if we fight amongst ourselves instead of stand together to face the bigger issues of the world?

I’m asking for this hate mongering to stop. I know that no one listens to me and it doesn’t really matter what I say. I’m just frustrated and hurt by the whole war of wills between two groups of people while the rest of us sit in the middle fuming at both sides. Acts of anger are escalating to new levels in this country and I fear it will draw out more madmen who take these voices as the gospel for all that is true. Madmen who can’t tell the difference between hate speech and reality are bound to come forth out of the shadows because this crazed environment is not keeping them in check.

This attack on the TVUUC is no different, to me, than those crazy Pro-Lifers who shoot doctors at abortion clinics. It never ceases to amaze me the logic of the killer–kill a doctor to save a baby’s life. Take out the innocent parties because you can’t handle working through something you don’t agree with in a rational, logical way. Guess what, folks: I believe God sees all murder the same way. I do not condone violent acts done in the name of God. All murder is wrong. The last time I checked the Ten Commandments, the rule did not read, “Thou shall not kill. Unless the victim is an abortion doctor or a liberal.” There’s no asterisks by the Commandment with a footnote at the bottom explaining all the cases in which God considers it permissible to kill.

Are we all just slowly going insane? I think I’ve figured out why in the last year I’ve withdrawn myself from following politics as heavily as I used to–I’m just getting tired of arguing. My head aches and my stomach feels nauseous and I just don’t want to have any more debates with people about why I don’t like GW or who I think the next best president will be. Everyone’s so charged right now that you can’t have a rational debate without someone getting insulted and hurt as though what you say is a personal attack against them. I hold these shock jock political talk show hosts solely responsible for this climate because they have invoked emotions and craftily heightened the fervor of their listeners. They made a war out of something that was once a polite debate. We are just as guilty for allowing these hate mongers a forum in which to speak. And now, we’ve all got blood on our hands.

I hope we’re happy with what we’ve done.

Berghold Merlot

On Saturday, the bf and I went to a performance of the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls for my company’s picnic. I decided this was the perfect moment to open the bottle of Berghold Estate Winery’s Merlot that I purchased while visiting Lodi, California in May. I remembered that this was a nice semi-dry red with a slight oakey aroma and flavor that I enjoy in reds (but care not for in whites so much). So determined that I must preserve the experience in its entirety, I purchased some plastic wine glasses from BB&B an hour before leaving my house for the event. I just felt that normal disposable glasses was going to do a terrible injustice to the experience of this wine.

Well, my memory of the wine served me well. The aroma was strong but pleasant after I let it breathe a little in its glass (though plastic it was). It seemed to pair okay with the light sandwiches that we had for dinner–especially since the chicken salad sandwich was lightly flavored with dry berries. The wine didn’t overpower the food at all.

I wish I would have remembered the particular flavor of the wine… I’ve gotta get better at writing notes as I am drinking the wine rather than reflecting later on a taste that has long since been washed from my tongue. Suffice it to say, however, that the wine was memorable enough as an enjoyable experience that I would definitely buy it again.

I know Lodi has a reputation for being the cheaper, less refined wine region of California. My cousin states, though, that the area is coming into its own these days. It’s hard to believe Lodi would ever have a bad reputation, for two of my favorite wines come from this region: Earthquake Zin and 7 Deadly Zins (both bottled by the same winemaker, Michael & David Family). Perhaps I’m just not a good enough wine-drinker to distinguish greatness from Greatness. But I always accolade and buy the wines that taste good to me.

Shooting at a UU church in Knoxville, TN

I know I spoke of the church shooting at the megachurch in Colorado Springs last December because it mentally disturbed me to think of an attack occurring in a place of worship–where people go to feel a sense of security and nourish the soul. It seems particularly offensive to me for an attack to occur in what I feel is a “safe place.” My church–and most churches I’ve attended–give me a feeling of peace when I enter. It’s not somewhere you “expect” anything to happen, if you expect something to happen anywhere. Well, I mean, for example, if you go into a seedy bar, you accept a reasonable amount of the possibility of danger when you enter.

Yesterday morning in Knoxville, TN, a man open-fired on a congregation at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist church. Now it feels even more personal to me as I am a UU attending a UU church in Kent, Ohio. In fact, I was actually in church yesterday morning after two weeks of being away due to cycling-related activities and I was there with the intent to replenish my soul, which I often feel I need to recenter myself when battling my own inner demons and the craziness of the outside world. I go to church to worship my amorphous god in my amorphously undefined way and most days I leave feeling whole again. I can’t fully explain this in terms that are rational to the average non-believer; it’s simply the way I feel.

That in mind, it just shocks me to no end when things like this happen at places of worship or solace. Schools are another place I’ve always thought of as “safe,” but I guess in today’s society it’s insane to assume any place is a safe place. Again, I ask, where is all this insanity coming from? From where comes are all these people with anger issues who have found no other way to work through their anger than to shoot and kill other innocent people? It’s hard to believe that things have always been this way… I don’t know if it’s a product of our multi-media extravaganza of instant reporting from around the world, or if, truly, the world is becoming more insane as I sit here. I’d like to think things were always this way and we are just more aware of it now, but I just don’t know anymore.

My heart goes out to this congregation. I can’t imagine the horror of sitting at a service, like I do most Sundays, and having things go so horrifically tragic within seconds. To switch from a mode of worship to one of running for your life is just incredibly hard to fathom even though I keep trying to put myself in the shoes this congregation, to see the event unfold as they did in my attempt to empathize fully with their ordeal.

My heart is filled with hope, though, when I read examples of heroism, of adults throwing themselves in front of bullets to protect children and other congregants. For every “bad guy” there’s a few magnanimous, altruistic folks out there who are willing to sacrifice their lives to protect others. Maybe it was a knee-jerk reaction and not thought out at the moment–I’m sure no one expects to die amidst an act of heroism–but whatever it is that draws people to become martyrs in a split second, I praise it. Perhaps that is really an act motivated by God. Coming from someone who is mostly a deist, believing that God doesn’t interfere too much in the boring details of everyone’s daily life, I find I could believe that a moment such as this is truly a moment in which God intervenes.

It’s just unbelievable when people come together at moment of tragedy. It reminds me of the passengers of Flight 93 who stood up against the terrorists when they learned what happened to the Twin Towers in NYC. To take up a moment and oppose an attacker instead of cowering in fear and keeping low to extend their own lives (as I think I’d be inclined to do) is really inspiring. No one wants to die, but if your life saves the lives of countless others, it’s as the Vulcans say, “The needs of the many outweight the needs of the few.” To realize you’re involved in that sort of decision in a split second is absolutely unexplainable by logic. I suppose we just flip to auto-pilot in that moment and react without thinking. Maybe all it is is some primal coding of our DNA that presses the ultimate message to our brains that screams, “Survival of the species! Must protect the survival of the species!” Still, I hope there is some sort of reward in the hereafter in knowing that you helped others in this ultimate sacrifice.

For what it’s worth from my amorphous repertoire of undefined beliefs, my prayers go out to the members of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist church. If you’re the praying sort, or the positive energy sort, and you feel compelled to do so, please send your thoughts and prayers that way too. Especially pray for Greg McKendry and Linda Kraeger who both lost their lives in this terrible tragedy. You can also express your thoughts, prayers, and/or condolences on this Facebook page (thanks for the link, L.!)

And maybe add a little prayer for humanity–maybe someday we’ll stop being so cruel to each other. (Damn, that’s that idealist in me speaking again. Must submerge her eternal optimism.)

ADDED LATER:

The UUA reports on shooting.
The UUA president releases a statement.
Another UU blogger adds her two cents (and better than I did).

Is there no sanity in the quest for beauty?

Today I’m making a new blog label called “WTF” (for “What the Frak?” of course) and I’m using it for all bizarre-o stories such as this one I was just enlightened to, thanks to TW’s webmail hot searches list–yes, the one I mocked last week.

Fish pedicures?! Have we really lost our minds? I can only imagine what archaeologists of the future will think of us…

Would you do this? I’m not doing this. That’s just C-R-E-E-P-Y. I get all weirded out when fish nip at me while I’m swimming in a lake. And I hate feet. They are the most vulnerable part of my body. Touch my feet, touch my soul (in the spirit of my literature hero, Kurt Vonnegut, who invented the fictional religion of Bokonism).

Eww.

Over the bumpy, hilly roads to Annie Oakley’s grave we go!

Mars Girl and old Draisine bike.
I wonder if Giant ever made a bike like this. =)

Because I wanted to visit the Bicycle Museum of America in New Bremen, Ohio, and they had limited Saturday hours, Michael and I left for our adventure in Darke County early the day before the Colavita Ohio Cycling Club’s Annie Oakley Bike Ride. Little did we know that we would have even more adventures than we anticipated ahead of us–a bonus visit to the Neil Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta (I love saying the name of that city) and stumbling upon a bike race in progress in Troy. It was a great weekend that ended with a pretty good ride along country roads in the famous Annie Oakley’s home territory. A perfectly satisfying road trip.

We managed to make it to the Bicycle Museum an hour before closing time. This gave us enough time to get a cursory glance at the three floor warehouse of bicycles from history housed in this small little museum in a town time forgot in Ohio. And it was literally a town that time forgot for after we left the museum, the streets were surprisingly empty of people–I felt like I were walking through an abandoned city after some major catastrophe had taken place.

The museum itself was great. There were bikes of every size, shape, and material ever used. The oldest bike featured was the primitive, wooden Draisine from 1816, which didn’t even have pedals and was propelled “Flintstone style” with the rider’s feet. It didn’t seem very exciting unless you were going down a really big hill, though that was probably far from ideal because I don’t think the thing had brakes on it.

Cool retro bike with Martian green paint job.

Featured in the museum window was a Trek bike once ridden by Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France. I touched it, getting goosebumps at the thought that I touched the same bicycle frame as my wanna-be lover. I noticed that the gear shifter on the handlebar hood was scuffed right over the Ultegra lettering. I wondered if the bike had gone down with Lance on one of his famous falls or if it was just worn down from the wear of many torturous miles over climbing landscapes–I imagine such riding ages a bike quickly.

I took pictures of a lot of the bikes that tickled my fancy. I would have liked to stay longer to continue ogling the multitude of bikes, but the old man manning the museum seemed to be anxious to leave so we strolled on out to take a look at the canal lock that was just down the street (I have a fascination with Ohio’s system of abandoned canalways). I definitely would go back to this museum. And it made me long more to own a retro antique bike just for show. I’d probably display it in my hip basement hangout when it finally gets remodeled.

Since we had passed Wapakoneta on our way out to the Bicycle Museum, we decided to visit at the Neil Armstrong Air & Space Museum. Who’d have thought such a famous man–someone who would be one of the select humans to ever walk on the Moon–would come from a small Ohio town? I found myself wondering what it was like to be Armstrong, growing up in the fields of rural Ohio, dreaming perhaps of flying, maybe unaware that he could possibly dare dream of touching the stars. I’m so envious! It made me wonder what young children growing up right now will bear even greater legacies of setting foot on foreign planets (like Mars), a dream that is probably beyond my own reach. One does not know they are bound for greatness as it happens; it simply falls upon you while the rest of us eek out our average existences. I would give up everything short of my soul for one chance to orbit the Earth a shuttle or on the International Space Station. I’d gladly take the chance, despite the fate of the last American flight that attempted to take a civilian to the stars.

The museum ran a film about the first Moon landing and I got to watch pieces of original TV broadcasts. It made me feel as though I were there, even though I was born six years too late to witness the thrill first hand. My generation suffers from the firm knowledge that humanity once landed on the Moon, but we don’t know anything about the uncertainty of that day. We don’t know the fears shared by the people of the world as they watched, uncertain of success, fearing that the mission might fail. But we succeeded and what a glorious moment it must have been. It just blows my mind. We have so much better technology now–if only the public would put funds forth to continue space exploration to this scale. If I could, I would volunteer to be an astronaut without pay. (My family thinks I spend so much time in the hemisphere, I already am an astronaut.)

On accident, Michael ended up booking our hotel stay in Troy, Ohio. He had originally meant to get us something closer to the Darke County Fairgrounds, where the Annie Oakley ride was to begin the next day. Turns out our mistake actually brought us happy fortune, for when we went into town in search of dinner, we encountered an amateur bike race in progress around the town’s square. I learned a new word: criterion, which is a type of race where the cyclists ride a laps along the same course. It seems like it would be boring after awhile, but on this particular race, the riders rode several blocks around the town square for 57 miles! We happened upon the race during the last twenty or so laps, so we got to watch the riders burst across the finish line. Having never before witnessed a bike race, I was really thrilled by the experience.

Of course, we were checking out all the bikes, hunting for fellow Giant riders. We saw one or two and, of course, your regular stock of more expensive uppity brands such as Fuji and LeMond. We were later delighted to learn that the guy who came in second place was from Orrville–kind of local to the Akron area.

We spent the rest of the evening at a local restaurant serving an Americanized version of Asian cuisine. Sitting at a table on the outdoor patio, we drank two glasses of pinot grigio and watched a father-son duo playing harmonica and guitar instrumentals. The son was eleven years old and a harmonica virtuoso baring an entire case full of different harmonicas of every size and musical scale. I was impressed. It was the perfect way to relax the night before our big ride.

As I stated earlier, the Annie Oakley ride began at the Darke County Fairgrounds in Greenville, Ohio. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Ohio, Greenville is in the southwestern portion of the state, about an hour north of Dayton and ten miles from the Indiana state line. This was a new area of the state for me to explore, though not entirely since last year I did the Vandalia Freedom Tour, which takes place just north of Dayton.

The day began with gray skies and the possibility of rain, but it was humid and warm. I was determined nothing would keep me from completing this ride because of my prior failures with bailing on the ABC century and being forced to quit the MS 150 century in my best moment. I’d decided during the prior week that this was a rainy summer and I was just going to have to deal with the results of that fact if I ever wanted to make my 3,000 mile goal for this year. So I knew right off the bat that I was in it for the long haul.

Immediately the ride took us out of the busier streets of Greenville (which really weren’t that busy at 7:30am) and into the wide open country roads–the type of place I love so much because a cyclist is rarely disturbed by the passing car. The sun was trying to break through the clouds, I could tell. We were quickly passed by an anti-social chick determined to grind it out, we could tell, without stopping or appreciating her surroundings (we later learned she blew into the lunch stop at 10:30am and just grabbed a banana and some Gatorade and was off again). Everyone has their reason for riding, I suppose.

The road markings were pretty easy to follow and clear–we didn’t get lost immediately (as what happened on PVG last year). The route had us going north first to the unimpressive site of Annie Oakley’s humble beginnings. None of the original structures remained (and that much was obvious), but we learned later from the historian at the cemetery that she was probably born into nothing more than a shanty as her home. We missed the marker that was supposedly positioned somewhere before the property and we never had the time to go back to try to look for it (as a Highpointer, I’m a bit blue about this). Had we known it was there at the time we passed, we surely would have tried to look.

The second Annie Oakley site was, of course, the cemetery where she was buried in 1926. According to the historian, Oakley visited Greenville frequently because she always considered the area her home. While on one of her trips back to Darke County on business, she fell ill and died of some sort of blood anemia that they speculate may have been caused by all the lead shot she handled throughout her career. Sadly, her husband, already ill, stopped eating when he learned of the death of his wife (he was in Michigan at the time) and he died fourteen days later.

What a testimony of love! It’s been something I’ve noticed for a long time that often when an elderly person’s spouse dies, they die shortly thereafter–heart broken or lonely, I’m never quite sure. I think having gone through the loss of a spouse, I understand this on some level. I know that I was hurting so bad in those first few months after my husband’s death that I wanted to die too. My husband and I were only together for three years; I can’t imagine what it would feel like to loose a companion with whom you’ve spent twenty, thirty years with… It must be really grueling to be without someone you’re so utterly used to having around. To say the least.

Faking a shot with my Finger 45 over Oakley’s
grave as tribute to a great markswoman.

We stuck around the cemetery for a good half hour listening to the historian relate interesting facts about Annie Oakley’s life and I found myself really inspired to read a biography of this woman who made living for herself in a time when women had so much adversity to face when dealing in a man’s world. Yet, the historian stressed that Oakley was very passionate about preserving her femininity and dignity as a woman, that she never once traded her femininity for masculine traits to compete. I can respect that on so many levels as I struggle daily with understanding my own gender role and how to behave in society as a woman. It’s hard for me, as a feminist, to figure out how to appreciate my feminine side when I feel like it’s my weakness if I want to be respected by men as something more than an object of sexual desire. It’s a problem I’ve dealt with my whole life, sometimes causing me to force myself to masculine traits even though the feminine side of me is speaking. I never know how to be one or the other and sometimes I deny myself my true desires because I feel they follow the same dull path that every woman has tread since the beginning of time (ie, having children and being a mother). It probably seems like a stupid war to wage with oneself, especially if you are a man reading this, but I think it’s something a lot of independent, professional women struggle with. To me, it’s kind of reassuring that there’s a role model out there who didn’t see herself as a feminist at all (was that word even invented back then?) and was comfortable enough with herself to say, “I am a woman and I happen to be a great marksman.” I sure wish that kind of statement could come as easily from my lips!

Anyway, after the cemetery, we continued on the ride. At this point, the clouds had cleared and the day grew warmer in the sun’s appearance. The only problem we faced now was the steady winds from the southwest that made riding south and west quite a challenge. Michael and I did begin trading pulls together. Additionally, the route north was pretty flat. Once we passed Greenville to go south, the route changed to a rolling rural landscape. It wasn’t anything extremely difficult if you’re used to rides into and out of the Cuyahoga Valley, but with the wind, it was a little bit of a struggle.

I had a particularly difficult time between 65 and 75 miles. This is unusual for me as I usually am good up to 80 miles, after which I slowly slip into a state of dull and determined mindlessness as I push myself through the final twenty miles. I am not sure what happened in between these middle miles that put me into a premature funk–perhaps it was the heat and the sun beating down, right after lunch, or that I hadn’t used my climbing muscles in the first fifty miles. Either way, I was losing “gas” quickly.

When we got to the final rest stop in a dismal border town called New Paris, I immediately lay on the seat of a park bench and slowly drank water as Michael talked to the guy running the rest stop. Turns out we were only the 11th and 12th people who had come through on the century route of the two hundred or so people who rode the ride that day. There were various route lengths–15, 25, 50, 62, and 100–and it seems most people chose to take the 50 and 62 routes. We speculated that perhaps it was the heat that drove people away from the century or the continued threat of afternoon thunderstorms.

This break at mile 76 turned out to be just what I needed, for when I returned to my bike, I felt energized again. The skies were beginning to look a little gloomy again, threatening rain or t-storms, but I didn’t really care. It was so hot, the thought of rain was welcoming. In fact, as we rolled out of town, rain did begin to fall. I didn’t even bother to don my rain coat, though I’d lugged it around my waist all these miles. I didn’t even put my shoe covers on. I think there’s a point in a ride of this length where you just don’t care what conditions Mother Nature throws at you and I think I’d reached that point.

After an initial bit of light rainfall, a misty precipitation continued for almost the remainder of the ride. The weather was a little strange for July and was slightly reminiscent of TOSRV except warm. The sun would come out again, reheating everything, and then it would misty-rain again or rain in slow big drops. I took it all in with grace.

Along one country road, two dogs ran out into the road from a nearby yard. As is my automatic response whenever I see dogs (due to an unfortunate incident four years ago in Colorado), I immediately clipped my left foot out of the pedals, ready to kick a dog or catch myself should one decide to take a run for my tires. Michael was ahead of me, so the dogs assaulted him first. At that moment, I was slightly grateful. Good, he’ll distract them, I thought. I saw both dogs lunge at his bike and he swerved. Worried that he would fall, I pushed a little harder to catch up with him. He shouted at them and they backed off. By the time I reached the dogs, they both were unnerved enough that they just watched me pass.

Turns out, one of the dogs had taken a nice bite of Michael’s leg. Little shits. His leg was bleeding a little and you could see clear teeth marks in his skin. He tried cleaning it off with some water. I cursed myself for not carrying Neosporin in my saddle bag. I used to keep some in my camelback and it was probably still there, but I rarely use the camelback anymore. The injury wasn’t show-stopping, so we continued along the route, damning dogs that bite for the next couple of miles.

Overall, the route was very pleasant and probably contained the most roads with so little traffic I’d ever done on a registered ride. It was nice to be able to ride side-by-side with Michael and not have to worry so much about cars coming up from behind. Some of the roads were not in the greatest condition, but I’ve been on worse in Portage County by my house. Even the worst roads (chip and seal with patches of little stones recently laid to cover potholes) were not as bad as a few of the ones the PVG tour put us on last year. We had one nice, crunchy climb out of the valley in which New Paris was located and I enjoyed it even though it was on one of these said stony roads.

Happily, the route was 102 miles so we didn’t have to ride around the Darke County Fairgrounds to try to round up our miles to 100 appropriately. (Michael had earlier warned that if it was under 100, he was going to ride the miles to 100 and I agreed heartily that I would do the same. I think he figured I’d wimp out like I did on the MS 150 when it came to 91 miles, but I was not going to make that mistake again this year! I hadn’t done 100 miles since TOSRV, I needed this.)

The only thing I was disappointed about was that we didn’t make it into Indiana officially. Well, later one of the ride organizers explained that we were briefly on the Indiana line along one of the roads after New Paris (I think it was Hollandsburg-Richmond Rd). I wish the organizers would have marked the spot with a sign or marking on the road to satisfy nerds like me who are concerned with the monumental details like riding my bike into another state. If we had known how, I think we would have ridden from New Paris into Indiana just to say we did. Knowing that I’d actually been in Indiana for a brief period of time (though not marked by official road sign), would have saved me the grief of beating myself up for not taking on the extra mileage.

We were apparently the last ones in from the ride, which seemed to bother Michael more than me. I was slightly annoyed–I like to be in the middle of the group–but when you consider only twelve people did the century, I’m less disgruntled. Besides, I’m always satisfied to have completed the route. We got done around five, so it was a little later than I would have liked, but we did okay considering the wind and the hills. It was certainly the hilliest century I’ve ever done, but that’s not saying much as the only other centuries I’ve completed were in pretty flat country (TOSRV only had one hilly section). My average was 14.4 mph; Michael’s was 14.5. We completed the ride in just over seven hours (not including rest stops and chatting with the historian). Not my best time ever, but the point was that I had fun.

Would I do this ride again? Probably. I really dug those scenic country roads, especially in the tougher southern portion of the century. In fact, I would recommend the century route to anyone doing this ride because I think the southern portion of the route really offers the most interesting scenery (the northern portion was nice, but less exciting). I think those doing the 62 route only got the tip of the iceburg at the lunch stop in the beautiful historic park at Fort Jefferson.

The commemoritive t-shirt that I bought was really cool, featuring an old west style banner with a photograph of Annie Oakley and big western lettering detailing the date and name of the ride. I’m glad I bought it. The jerseys were nice too–I kind of wish I’d gotten one but I guess I probably have spent enough money on jerseys this year.

Anyway, for a ride that is only in its second year, I was really impressed with how well it was run. My only complaint would be the lack of SAG vehicles running along the century route. I didn’t see a SAG vehicle past the lunch stop. Not that I needed one, but it’s a comfort to know they are available when needed and it assures you that people are still looking out for you. As there seemed to be an overabundance of volunteers at most of the rest stops, it seems a few of them could have been running the routes. Fortunately, at the end of the ride, we were met by one of the ride organizers who was still around. I don’t know if he was waiting specifically for us, but it was good to not return to a vacant park with a feeling of abandonment.

Why don’t we know how to haggle?

Recently, I happened to be involved in salary negotiations for a new job (yes, I’m moving on to a new company, folks!). Very concerned about the number of vacation days I got more than the salary itself, I found myself breathing heavy at the prospect of having to put my foot down to state what I wanted for my new position, despite the fact that I wanted it very badly, so that I would come into the new situation happy. To negotiate properly, part of you has to admit that though you want something badly, you’re going to have to put your foot down and not accept an offer you are unhappy with, even if it means giving up on the opportunity at hand. Fortunately for me, it did not come down to that–in fact, this particular company, right off the bat without me asking, was offering just the amount of vacation time I was going to push for, minus one day. I suppose a person really good at haggling would have pushed for that one day; I, however, just let it go as “close enough.”

The whole salary negotiation process caused me to reflect on how Americans, in general, are really not taught to haggle. Yet, in order to not get screwed, we have to haggle in many situations involving large ticket items–houses, cars, even job negiotiations (though with jobs the object is to bring the salary up rather than the cost of something down). Does anyone out there feel they are good at this? I know I suck completely. I dread the moment when I have to pull into a car dealership and try to negotiate a good price on a car. I feel like I’m somehow cheating the company by asking for something at a lower price. When I’m in salary negotiations for a new job, I always feel like I’m being a complete asshole. Am I really worth the price I’m asking for? Will I live up to such high expectations?

In the end, because I’m so tentative, I end up screwed. I know for a fact that in one of the prior jobs I held, I was getting paid about 20K less than coworkers in my department in similar positions with comparable experience. I did not find this out until I was leaving the job when a former manager informed me because he felt bad that I’d been working for them for peanuts and he was really powerless to improve the situation at that time. This knowledge helped me adjust myself up in the next job I held. But for all I know right now, I could still be selling myself short and never even know it.

I know I’ve been screwed with vehicles just because I was tired of trying to push the negotiations–in other words, I just gave in because I wanted the vehicle and I didn’t care anymore that I was getting gypted. I was tired of talking to the smarmy car sales guys and playing along in their little game of back-and-forth with the manager to get them to lower the price of the car at hundred dollar increments. At some point, you do need the car and you don’t have time to continue revisiting the uncomfortable situation. Again, people better at haggling and with less emotion involved would have done a better job, but it’s hard for me to separate my emotion from the situation and they know that. (I suck at poker too.)

I’ve been on the other end of negotiations, however, when selling a house. I’ve hardlined my price and got the amount I wanted for the property. Still, it was hard to hold out when I just wanted someone to take the property off my hands. The mortgage continues to demand payment while you’re trying to get the house sold, and sometimes you give in a little there because you just want to not worry about the extra property anymore.

In my international travels, I’ve learned that a lot of places in other countries expect you to haggle their prices down, and when you don’t, you’re paying way too much for an item. These people make a killing out of us stupid Americans who aren’t used to this style of purchasing. We take things at face value–the tag says $50 and we just hand over $50. It makes us uncomfortable to ask for less because we feel, on some level, we’re cheating the seller out of the worth of their product, forgetting that they’ve probably bolstered the price expecting you to talk them down.

I don’t know why we’ve become so “polite” in our shopping style. At one time in history, a system of bartering goods and services is what kept our economy going. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could call a company and negotiate your gas or cable or electricity price? I guess if there’s a competing company, you can do this in a way… For example, when Time Warner screws my cable modem connectivity over and then says they won’t send a technician out for two weeks (and then that technician fails to show twice), I could, if I were good at haggling, threaten to have my service disconnected for DSL. Of course, I’m far too polite for this, too worried about being “that asshole customer.” So, basically, I end up getting mowed over by high price and lack of customer service, allowing a band-aid to be applied because at least it’s working now.

I just wish I could be a good consumer without feeling guilty. Having also been on the receiving end of an angry customer’s blasts, I know all too well what support staff is thinking at the other side of the phone and I just can’t help but think of that whenever I’m in a haggling situation. People tell me that I need to look out for myself and my needs, and I agree. But I just can’t help feeling guilty when I try to push an issue, whether for my own standards of living (such as the case with salary) or an item I want or need to purchase…

Colorado the skinniest state

I just perused the 2008 results of an obesity survey and, as I’ve stated to many people in the past from my own observations, Colorado is the skinniest state. Another reason why living there was so great. If you are an endurance athlete, such as I’ve been defined, it is the best place to live because the entire state is your playground, chalk full of parks, hiking trails, bicycle commuting trails, mountain biking trails, campgrounds, ski resorts, cross country skiing trails–whatever your pleasure! I did notice while there, without any prompting, that there were a lot less fat people there than Ohio. Turns out the reason I noticed that was because Ohio is the 15th fattest state!

I personally think that the reason Ohio ranks so low is because we have such a long winter with clouds that makes it extremely uninviting to go outside. In contrast, Colorado has so many more sunny days in the winter so even when it’s cold, you want to go out and do something. And there’s plenty of outdoor winter activities to pursue. When I lived there, I skied every other weekend (passes at resorts come fairly cheaply to residents).

Another thing I noticed about Colorado is that a lot less people smoked. Again, when you’re running around doing healthy things that require a lot of air in the lungs, you’re less likely to want to much them up with tar and whatever other garbage you throw into your lungs through smoking. When I returned to Ohio, I noticed that I was encountering a lot more clouds of smoke wherever I went.

Just something to think about. I know I accolade my favorite state a bit much. But, hey, you can’t argue with the facts! And I have seen first hand the proof of these statistics. I lived it.

Loneliness mocking

I’ve been in a funk lately. I don’t know what the source of it is. This summer just doesn’t feel right somehow–the mystery, the magic, the high I usually feel is just not there. Time is flowing by my eyes in an indecipherable blur and I can’t seem to get anything to slow down long enough for me to live in a moment. Last summer seemed filled with magic and possibilities and new beginnings; this summer sounds like a steady drum roll my brain has already got used to listening to.

Maybe I’m caught up in my thoughts too much lately. Maybe I just haven’t taken the time to sit back and appreciate things.

A few nights ago I had one of those dreams so terrifying and real that it left me trapped in the confusing shroud of emotion I experienced while dreaming as though I never woke up. I was left with an empty feeling of desolation, a loneliness so strong it echoes something of what I felt in the year Mike died.

Rationally, I know it’s just a dream. My brain doesn’t seem to care as it continues to feed the neurons that send messages of fear and depression to my consciousness. I feel like I’m being mocked by my own sense of security and untouchable independence that I spent the last six years building around myself. It’s like God laughing, “See, I told you, you can still be hurt. You are not immune.”

Ugh. Just another whiny blog, I know. Life just seems so hard sometimes. They say that if it wasn’t, you would not understand how great the joys are when they happen. I don’t know if I buy into that philosophy. Seems to me I could be perfectly happy never knowing pain or heartache or death. Though, I suppose that thought comes from the perspective of one who experiences these things. I do often wonder that if I lived in Eden (or the hereafter) if I could be half as passionate about life as I am here because I know it’s fleeting. If there is a God, maybe he knows that and that is why he gave us freewill. If you were omnipotent and immortal, I suppose you would understand the curse of your own existence–that you can’t feel like those who know what it is like to lose life and love and happiness. You would want to create colorful beings, right? Ones capable of the love and compassion and spirited artistic passion because you could live vicariously through them. Our curse is our blessing.

I’ve been watching for the first time Babylon 5 on DVD. I’m in the midst of the fourth season and the show has sloppily reached the climatic point that three seasons carefully constructed. Turns out life and death and “knowing when to leave gracefully” is the prevalent theme J. Michael Straczynski built his story arch around. The show obviously takes place in a future in which Earthlings are among other extra-solar races running around the galaxy trying to get along with each other. A race called “The First Ones” are alluded to throughout the series and we finally meet one at the end of the story arch. He is the only one left behind because the rest of his race had advanced to such a level they decided it was their time to move on from the galaxy and advance “beyond the Rim.” To let the younger races live out their drama.

The First Ones were, obviously, supposed to be of the first races that existed in the galaxy and, as such, they were immortal. They never said “God” by name; they simply said “the Universe” decided that life without the urgency of an ending stagnates. So one day, “the Universe” changed all the rules and life became mortal. I didn’t know the Universe was a conscious living thing, but I suppose you could look at it this way. I’m sure they wanted to use the word “God” but they were afraid all the sci-fi geeks would run away if they felt preached to. Back when the series was actually running, I might have been one of the geeks to object. (This was the days before Battlestar Galactica when God and gods were the central theme from the start.)

Regardless, it’s an interesting thought. I kind of feel let down by the end of the story arch, though, because it seems like Straczynski had an idea going, and then in like three or four short episodes, it deflated rather quickly. The theme about life and death was the most interesting part. The bit where the first ones who were mortal acted like crying, lonely babies who needed to be escorted to the Rim was a bit lame. Maybe I’m just getting cynical in my old age because it feels like I’ve seen too much of the same thing–too many plot patterns. Kind of like life sometimes, it feels as though no one ever comes up with anything new. Not even me, writing in this blog (and I took up blogging after everyone else had been doing it for years, so I am not any more original than the next internet addict or wanna be writer).

I hope I get out of this funky mood soon. It’s kind of annoying.