Spring Training

Really? Baseball already?

Spring training began this week. Well, last week, if you count pitchers and catchers.

Forgive me if I don’t share the reverence that some apparently feel for the phrase “Pitchers and catchers report…”

This morning, it was 20 degrees in St. Louis. Early April is six weeks away, but there’s a reasonably good chance that we’ll still have winter-coat weather on opening day. I have personally …Keep reading

Pandora

A few people turned me onto Pandora Internet radio recently, and I think it’s yet one more reason to love the Internet.

Pandora.com is a Web site that lets you create your own “station” that will stream into your computer or other device. To start, you put in a song or artist you like, and it builds a playlist from there. Along the way, you can fine-tune the playlist by giving a “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-down” to the songs Pandora suggests.

This was a treat for me because, although I’m …Keep reading

Slouching Into 2010

On March 21, I’ll be running the Quivering Quads Half-Marathon in Troy, Mo. This is a trail race,  through a state park on a course that varies “from smooth to very rough, dry to very muddy, and flat to very hilly. Racers may have to cross ankle-deep streams as they pass through forests of white oak and limestone glades filled with turkey, deer and foxes,” according to the course description.

As often happens, it seemed like a good idea when I signed up, but now I’m having second thoughts…

In pain -- but still upright! -- at the finish of the 2003 Chicago Marathon.

My recent history of running has been, let’s say, checkered. Long story short, although I’ve considered myself “a runner” for more than half my life, I haven’t done much running the last few years. After a bipolar experience in my one and only marathon (Chicago 2003), I began suffering some serious knee pain, and there were many times in the next few years when I thought I would never run again, let alone try another marathon. Then I’d start up again for a couple of weeks, the pain would come back, and I’d quit for a few more months. Finally, about a year ago, I decided  it was time to get some professional help. I went to a orthopedist, who diagnosed tendonitis and gave me a ticket to physical therapy. For several months over the summer, the folks at the Sports Medicine and Training Center in Webster Groves worked me, bounced me, shocked me and stretched me, and although it didn’t seem to be working for a while, all of a sudden things started to fall into place, and by the end of the summer I was able to run basically pain-free. Amazing!

For Father’s Day/my birthday, Jean gave me a Garmin GPS watch with a heart rate monitor, which fueled my compulsion for keeping statistics on my running (in July I ran 51.5 miles, in August 77.93 miles, etc.) and got me started on keeping track of my heart rate.

In November, I watched as American Meb Keflezghi won the New York Marathon. He was an inspiration, of course, but it was also cool to see all of the back markers getting a tour of the city’s boroughs at six miles an hour. I could do that, I thought. Suddenly, my running had a new purpose. For the rest of the month of November, I did one run each weekend of at least 10 miles, and a during-the-week run of at least five miles. I began thinking about marathons in 2010.

Then, a nasty uppercut/jab combination laid me out. I ran the 10-mile Great River Road Race in Alton, Ill., at the end of November, and inexplicably took it out in a 7-minute pace. By four miles I was in agony, and by six miles I was taking extended walking breaks, my right hamstring in flames. A lousy race for me, but I figured I made a mistake, would learn from it, and bounce back. Nope. The next time I ran, the pain was in both my hamstring and my calf, bad enough that I end up taking about a week off to let them heal. I thought I was better when it was time for the Pere Marquette Trail Run two weeks later, but about two miles into that race my calf felt like it was ripped in half, and I finished the course in a humiliating mix of limp/walking and limp/running, and then basically shelved the running shoes for the rest of the year.

I decided to ease my way into 2010; I joined a gym, and, using a recumbent bike and a treadmill, I slowly worked to restore my fitness. By the fourth week of January, I got back out onto the roads — and felt pretty good. I actually managed a 10-miler on February 6.

Then it snowed. Not much, but enough that I needed to shovel the walk. It was a nice, light, fluffy snow, and certainly no trouble to shovel it off. But my 50-year-old back thought otherwise. I must have tweaked something in my lower back, because I was hobbling the next day. Actually, though, the pain wasn’t awful, and it had cleared up enough over the next three days that on Friday I did a two-mile “trial run” to see if running would hurt it more — it didn’t — and then on Saturday went for another 10-miler.

I spent most of Sunday lying down.

I guess 10 miles of pounding wasn’t the best thing for my back. I’ve been gobbling a cocktail of over-the-counter pain relievers all week (and of course not running), and only now is it starting to feel better. I’ve given up on the idea of a 10-miler every weekend — at least for this weekend — and now I’m just hoping to get back into it enough by March 21 to be able to finish that trail race with at least a modicum of respectability. I’ll keep you posted.

Covers

As a music lover (aren’t we all?), I’m sometimes surprised when I find out that a song I’ve listened to dozens or hundreds of times turns out to be a cover of someone else’s song. Surprised and embarrassed, because as a fan, I always feel I should have known better.

My most spectacular faceplant in this area came after I saw Bob Dylan in concert in 1979. After the concert (a great show, by the way) I commented to the person I was with, “that Jimi Hendrix song he did was great.” The song, of course, was All Along The Watchtower, which Dylan himself wrote and recorded  before Hendrix recorded what I believe is the definitive version. Definitive, but a cover nonetheless.

A more recent example of this is Elvis Costello’s “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down” from his Get Happy! album. The song is full of the lyrical twists we’ve come to expect and enjoy from him, but it wasn’t until I got the reissue of the album a year or so ago that the song was actually recorded by Sam & Dave back in the 1960s and written, I see on Wikipedia, by Homer Banks and Allen Jones.

Another is the song Wrong ‘Em Boyo by the Clash on London Calling. I guess I’d never noticed that the song was written by Clive Alphonso, not Strummer/Jones like most of the songs on that amazing, amazing album.

A few months ago I was editing the “old boat column” for our magazine, and the author mentioned the steamboat Stacker Lee. It got me to thinking about Stagger Lee from that song, of course, so I got to looking through the legend of Stagger Lee and soon found that the song is a cover of a song by the Rulers. You can find an mp3 version of it on Amazon. Check it out — very cool.  Start all over again!

Thanks Joe!

Joe S. in 1981

Way, way back in 1981, I traveled to Provincetown, Mass., to visit my brother, and then to New York to visit my friend Geoff, spending about a week in each place. While I was in New York, another friend of Geoff’s, Joe Streno, hung out with us for a couple of days. We all had a lot of common interests — mostly revolving around music — and we had a great time. We saw a concert, we took some pictures, we talked about dying my hair red. This was nearly three decades ago — the first year of the REAGAN administration, for Pete’s sake — and although Geoff and I have of course stayed in contact, for years since then I had no reason to think about Joe.

Enter Facebook. Geoff and I both got into it last year, and there was Joe, commenting on Geoff’s posts. Soon, Joe and I were Facebook friends, and before long we were exchanging the photos on Facebook that we originally shot on film back in 1981. This is one of the coolest things about Facebook — the ability to connect with someone who you haven’t seen in years and who lives thousands of miles away, and pick up old conversations or start new ones.

So anyway, Joe lives in Seattle now, apparently running a computer consulting business, and operating two blogs, one personal and one professional. So when I got the idea of starting a blog, I asked him for some pointers.

And man, did he come through. Not only did he steer me toward WordPress, but he gave me all kinds of ideas and encouragement to get started. I sent him the link to my first post, and within hours not only did he have some more cool suggestions, but he actually went to the trouble to design a new header for the blog! A big Springsteen fan (see  this post of his for some cool photos) he apparently liked the “middle aged in middle America” line from my “about me” page, and created the “Greetings from Asbury Park” postcard-type header you see above. Way above and beyond the call, I’d say. In one fell swoop, he gave this blog a new, more focused identity, and a much nicer graphical appearance. Obviously, I still have a lot to learn about blogging, but he has given me an immense headstart. All this from a guy I haven’t seen or talked to since Sandinista! was new.

So anyway, a big Thank You to Joe, and for anyone else in the Seattle area in need of Macintosh help, look him up!

Welcome!

This is the first post in my new blog.

I’m hoping that a year from now, I’ll look back here and be profoundly embarrassed at how little I knew about blogs and blogging when I started. To be honest, it’s a little intimidating right now. Believe me, I know I have a lot to learn. As time passes — and I know from experience that it does — this blog will improve, in terms of both content and design.

So why do I do this? Well, I’ve been on Facebook for a year or so, and while I enjoy that community, it feels very limited in terms of how much one can express one’s self. For instance, I can do a status about a good run I’ve had, but a status update doesn’t give me a whole lot of room to describe just HOW good it was. And then if I have more thoughts about running the next day and do another status, I start to sound one-dimensional – the guy who just posts about his running (and don’t worry, I DO know how boring that would become).

I also want to use this to try out some different kinds of writing. I deal with words a lot at work, of course, and I do some writing that’s strictly for myself, but I’d like to do more “public” writing that’s, frankly, not about barges.

So this blog will cover a lot of ground: running, writing, photography, politics, and other topics. I’ll try to keep it fresh, but you should know that I do tend to surf various obsessions for a while. I might get into writing for a few weeks and spend most of my waking time thinking about it, and you’ll get a lot of blog posts relating to writing goals, plans on how I’m going to have a novel published within a year, etc. And then something else will take over and I’ll suddenly be writing posts about photoshop techniques or chess openings or something going on in politics. That’s why this will never be a blog “about” anything in particular — but hopefully there will be enough variety here to at least make you want to check back once in a while.

And hey, feel free to comment on anything you see here that you find interesting. I’d love to hear from you!

This first post is on February 16 for a reason: it’s Mardi Gras,  my favorite religious holiday of the year. What better time to start something new? So, as with Mardi Gras, let the good times roll!