Character

Tonight was an interesting study in human character.  A couple years ago I worked with this guy who’s about my age.  He was never military, but has had a wide range of experiences.  We have similar interests and kind of hit it off, even though we were in different departments and at different levels of hierarchy.  A couple of years ago he decided he wanted to get into motorcycling and asked me to help him shop for a new motorcycle.  We’ve gone on photowalks together, I’ve sent customers to buy hand made leather products from him, etc.

He likes this particular brand of motorcycle gloves.  I’ve always thought they looked like gardening gloves.  I tried some on in person and they were just awkward and uncomfortable.  I left that experience believing they were just a hipster badge, like drinking PBR and wearing flannel and beards.  If you want to spend your money on that, no problem.  But they aren’t for me.

When I did this last ride, I realized that my gloves suck.  I like wool, so I started searching online for wool lined gloves and the only ones I could find were made by this company.  So I ordered them, at $95/pair.  They showed up last week and were terrible.  I soaked them in water and wore them for an hour, that helped them fit better.  The next day I wore them to work.  On their website they advertise them as “winter” gloves.  When I rode to work it was 50 degrees and my hands were still cold in them.  So they officially got a “hell no” from me.

I’ve been upfront about them.  I don’t know what my end goal is, but I’m trying to grow my “brand” on social media.  I’m never going to stop being an IT guy and start being a full time photographer (at least until I retire) but I’d rather have options than not.  So I’ve been posting stuff online and building a base.  When I got the gloves I started taking photos of them, tagging the manufacturer online, etc.  And I’ve been honest.  When I didn’t like something, I said it, in public, in a public forum and I tagged the company so they could respond.  They chose not to.  And my comments haven’t been “they suck!”, they’ve been thought out and solid.  Not always as verbose as possible, given the medium, but the channel was there for the company to contact me for more in-depth feedback.

I met up with 3 Army guys after work tonight.  People I’ve entrusted with my life over the years.  I’m not going to say they’ve been perfect.  They’ve failed.  But they’ve picked themselves up and tried again.  And while we were drinking tonight we were honest again.  Told one guy how much we all hated him when we first met him.  One guy told me I needed to stop talking because my opinion wasn’t valid anymore because I’d been out of the Army too long and my info was dated.  That stung, he knew it did, but I got over it.  The mutual respect and admiration was palpable.  And because of that respect we could have different opinions and still be friends.

After I left the bar I saw I had a text.  I’d thought my former coworker had posted a photo and tagged the company that makes the gloves.  Actually the glove manufacturer had re-posted my friend’s photo.  I’d said “I’m sorry, but I can’t support you on this one, I think they’re glorified gardening gloves”.  His text was frantic.  Did I realize it wasn’t his account that I’d posted it to?  No, but I didn’t care, I’d say it to their face.  That was fine, but I shouldn’t drag him into my displeasure with their product.  How was I drawing him in?  I said I just didn’t agree with his opinion?

Well, turns out they were upset and contacted him.  They didn’t have the nerve to contact me, even though they’d admitted to him that they knew I wasn’t pleased with their product.  They weren’t willing to discuss the merit of my opinions.  But they’d helped him get some exposure as a photographer and were threatening to black-ball him in the community.  And even though he agreed that they were way over-hyped, he was scared to admit it.

I’m trying not to judge him.  I don’t know his personal situation and I don’t know what he’s going through.  I don’t know him well enough to know what motivates him.  But I do know that the timing of our conversation definitely makes me appreciate my real friends, my tribe, more.

Day 11

The last day.  I woke up in the hotel and typed out the post about having my photos accepted into the museum exhibit and my “last day” post.  Then I got up and started my day.  When I ate dinner in the hotel restaurant the night before they way overcooked my steak so they gave me a coupon for breakfast which they totally screwed up as well.  After breakfast I packed my bags, loaded the bike and headed out for the Albuquerque Harley dealer to pick up a poker chip and see if they had any better gloves than what I was wearing.  They didn’t, so I got on the road.  I had enough gas to make it to Santa Fe and they had a Harley Davidson dealer as well, so I stopped there, got gas and scored at the dealership.  They had heated gloves that were compatible with my heated jacket liner.

“Uh, sir.  Are you sure you want those?”  “Yeah, why?”  “Well, it’s just that they are women’s.”  “Are they pink?”  “Well, no.”  “Sparkley?”  “No, they look just like the men’s gloves, just smaller.”  “Well, let me try them on then.”  I found a pair that mostly fit, they were a little tight, but they worked, so I got them.  Best part?  They were on the clearance table.

That made the ride a heckuva lot more comfortable.  I got back on the road for Denver, stopping along the way for various photos and to make adjustments to my gear to make myself warm or more comfortable.  I stopped in Trinidad and Colorado Springs for gas and at a gas station at some little town for gas-station pizza.  The whole trip, whenever I stopped for something on an Indian reservation someone would ask me for money, but I never had cash.  When I was getting off the interstate for lunch, someone at the bottom of the off-ramp asked for money.  Again, I didn’t have any but after saying “no” so many times, I felt guilty and got money out of the ATM when I got my pizza and gave it to him on the way back out of town.

I got home around 7 and unloaded the bike.  The house was still standing and was actually relatively neat.  So the kid did ok.  And the dog looked like he hadn’t been forgotten to be fed to many times.

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He was also excited to see me based off all the face-licks I got from him.

It was a good trip, something I’ll be remembering for years to come.  The best part of it?  The next morning my Dad’s pathology labs came back good.  So many great sights, opportunities to help my family out and friends.  Chances to meet some new people.

Day 10

Lessons learned:

  • When you have the option of a long sleeve with thumb holes and one without, have a well thought out reason to buy the one without.  Something better than “I already have so much orange in my closet.”
  • Have two pairs of gloves for long rides in the cold.  Out one inside the heated jacket liner and wear the other.  Alternate as needed.  Or better yet, buy the damned heated gloves.

So I woke up in Kayenta, AZ.  There isn’t a lot going on there.  So I ate breakfast at the hotel.  I went to the Ace Hardware across the street to see if they long johns or something similar.  They didn’t.  I went across the street and took a picture of the old 7-11 sign.  When I was getting ready to go back to the hotel I saw an Indian gift shop with Ariat and Wrangler signs out front.  So I went in there to see if they had any long underwear.  They didn’t, but they had some long sleeve quarter zips, so at least my upper body could be a little warmer.

I went back to the hotel, got loaded up, geared up and took off for Monument Valley.  It wasn’t quite in the opposite direction of Albuquerque, but it wasn’t in the same direction either, so it was going to be an out-and-back trip, then I’d be able to get on the road to Albq.  I stopped a couple of times on the way to Monument Valley to snap photos, then went in.  It was kind of disappointing because they still charged me full price to get into the park but wouldn’t let me take a motorcycle on the vehicle loop.  So I could only walk around the visitor center taking photos.

I offered to take pics of people when I saw them struggling to get a selfie, or to let couples/familes get photos all together.  I talked another stranger into letting me take a photo of them with the water bottle.  She wouldn’t let me take a picture of her with her face showing if I was going to post it on social media sites.  She does investigations for security clearances so we ended up having a pretty good talk.

After that I back-tracked to Kayenta, filled up and then headed off to Albuquerque on 160.  At Teec Nos Pos I veered off to go check out 4 corners.  The scenery was gorgeous, but the actual 4 corners was kind of anti-climactic.  I went back to Teec Nos Pos and got back onto 160/64 to Shiprock and then Farmington, NM.

The weather was pretty decent up til this point, just cold as hell.  In Farmington, when I jumped onto 550 to Bernalillo that changed pretty quickly.  More hail, rain and snow.  I ended up stopping in the middle of nowhere at some Indian casino/truck stop combo.  My toes and fingers were hurting to bad to go any further, so I got a sandwich at the Subway in the truckstop and thawed out.

I got back on the road but it finally dawned on me that I had two pairs of winter gloves with me.  The pair that got soaked on day one, and the pair I bought to change into.  I put one inside of my heated jacket liner and wore the other pair.  Every 30-45 minutes I swapped out.  Kind of goofy, but it got me through.  I finally found the hotel in Albuquerque that I had reservations at.  This is what I look like after riding for 7-8 hours in crazy winter:

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There was a Target across the interstate from the hotel so I rode over quick and looked for pretty much anything to make Day 11’s ride better than Day’s 9 and 10.  They didn’t have anything, but a couple blocks away there was a Kohl’s.  They had a base layer long underwear type thing.  So I got that and went back to the hotel, where there was a restaurant and ordered a steak and my favorite drink, Blue Moon with a shot of Amaretto and a splash of OJ.  After dinner I went up to the room, showered and climbed into bed in my t-shirt and boxers.  And then this happened:

After a few minutes out in the cold, they told us it was a false alarm and we went back inside.  But the bar had conveniently had last call during the fire alarm, so I just went upstairs and crashed.

 

The last morning

I’m laying in bed in a hotel room in Albuquerque, Nm.  I’m sick, exhausted, sore in some areas and in a lot of pain in others.  And yet it was an amazing, wonderful trip.  There were some moments of misery, but at no time was the trip miserable, if that makes sense?  There were a couple of interpersonal moments with friends and family that sucked, but they would’ve sucked anyway, whether I was in the trip or at home.

It’s been a great distraction mentally and emotionally.  We still don’t have Dad’s pathology reports back yet, work is a mess, there’s some ugly relationship stuff going on.  And I didn’t dwell on any of that while traveling.  Thought about it, yes.  But didn’t dwell and obsess on it til it made me miserable.

I wish I could’ve seen more and done more.  I wish the weather didn’t suck as bad as it did.  But this close to the end, I have to say that it’s been perfect and everything that happened, happened for a positive reason.

Day 9

Lessons learned:

  • Bring base layers and/or grid fleece pieces.  They aren’t doing me any good back home in my dresser.
  • Bring spare fuses
  • Bring a long sleeved Under Armour tee – again, not doing me any good at home
  • Bring a hat to hide the helmet hair off bike

Dad did great the day before.  Multiple walks, sat up most of the day and was in great spirits.  Woke up Friday and he was still doing good so after we went for a walk, I took a shower and got ready to go.

Once upon a time I worked for a company that was a political nightmare.  3 partners owned it, and I was regularly butting heads with the brother-in-law of one of them.  Even though I demonstrated the ability to pay for my entire team’s salary for years in operational savings I was still laid off when push came to shove.  A year or so later, my former boss at that job started texting me out of the blue, then called me, then added me on LinkedIn and Facebook.  It was so weird to me, that I stayed in touch with him out of curiosity, wanting to know what his end game was.  He recently moved to Phoenix so when he saw I was traveling through he started reaching out a lot to see if I wanted to get together.  He was kind of on the way to the next stop on my tour, so I agreed to meet him for lunch.

That was nice.  It was a good drive and basically even though he can’t say “I’m sorry”, that’s what  he wanted to do.  Apologize for the way things went down.  We probably won’t ever be close friends, but nice not to have any anger towards him.  After lunch in Cave Creek at a biker bar, I got on the road, taking the Carefree Highway to I-17 to Flagstaff.

Once I got to Flagstaff I pulled out my phone to start pulling up instructions to page and found out it hadn’t been charging.  My bike has a pigtail attached to the battery to connect it to a battery tender.  I’ve got a cigarette lighter adapter that I can plug into the pigtail, then I can plug a charger into that.  My phone had been plugged in for the whole ride up.  What had happened, was that the factory installed the pigtail on the exhaust side of the bike.  At some point, the pigtail had slipped from the ziptie they used to attach it to the passenger’s peg and the end had hit the exhaust and melted a titch.  Once it melted it shorted out on the exhaust and blew the fuse.

I’ve been collecting HD poker chips, so even though it was out of the way I ran by the dealer and bought a new pigtail and a chip.  Then I installed the pigtail in the parking lot, this time routing the cable to the other side of the bike.  Once it was done I got on the road to Page again.  That ride got a little dicey.  Crazy winds, some rain and some snow, but it was well worth it once I got to Horseshoe Bend.  It was gorgeous!

A friend of mine owns a company that hand makes longboard skateboards.  They recently started selling HydroFlask bottles with their logos on them.  I brought one along on the ride to get some “lifestyle” photos for them.  I’ve propped it up along the way, on the bike or on some fence post, but didn’t have any pics of it with someone holding it.  On the walk from the parking lot to the bend (3/4 of a mile) I started talking to one girl.  Turns out she had an incredibly attractive friend, so when we got to the bend, I asked her friend if she’d be my model and if she’d mind if I posted the pics on social media.  She was totally cool about it.

On the walk back, some Russian girls where on vacation started talking to me.  They were doing a tour of the major monuments and parks in the southwest.  When we got to the parking lot, I left them when we passed my bike.  As I was getting geared up, one of them came up and asked what direction I was headed in.  When I told her I was going to Page, she asked if I’d be willing to give her a ride to the Wal-Mart there.  Her friends took my bag in their car so the seat would be open.

It was fun.  She was whooping and hollering back there she was enjoying it so much.  I felt totally guilty, it was only about a mile and a half in a straight line from the parking lot of the Horseshoe Bend to the Wal-Mart parking lot.  No curves, no bends, no real fun.  But she loved it.  After I dropped her off and got my bag remounted, I refueled and headed out to Kayenta, Az.  The sun had sent and it was freezing, literally.  By the time I pulled into the hotel I was a Seansicle.  I didn’t even eat dinner I was so cold.  Just cranked the heat in the hotel room, took a hot, hot shower and crashed.

 

Day 4

Mom and Dad just got back from Europe.  My little sister took them to Rome, Spain and France.  It’s a trip that was planned for awhile, so my folks were thrilled to find out when Dad’s operation was scheduled that he’d still be able to go.  Because Mom took so much time off for the trip and then was asking for this week off to be with Dad during/after the surgery, she had to work Friday and Saturday and I didn’t get to see much of her.  So it was nice to have her around on Day 4.  I got up early and wrestled with myself (no, that’s not a euphemism.  Get your mind out of the gutter!) about whether to go for a run or not.  My parent’s neighborhood backs right up to protected land with lots of hiking and biking trails and I usually like to do some trail runs when I’m there.  But I’m NOT a morning person and if I want to run, I generally need to leave by 6:00am to get out, run and get back before the heat hits.

I ended up deciding to go and had a great run, but waited a little too long.  I took an out and back path and the return run was miserable.  By the time I got home Dad was up and done with the paper so I headed outside to give the motorcycle a quick wash.  I wanted to get the magnesium chloride residue off of it and a fair bit of the bug guts.  He did a WONDERFUL job supervising the process.

After we finished, Mom was up, so we headed out for breakfast and had a good day.  Stopped by the Harley dealer so I could get a poker chip and drool over the bikes, went to Costco so they could get some stuff and I could show them turmeric, which I’ve been trying to get them to take for awhile now.  And you should take it too, if you have aches and pains.  Got some chocolate cake donuts with coconut sprinkles and then headed home.  I hung out with them for awhile, then left for Tucson.  I took 87 out of Chandler to Florence, then 79 to Oracle Junction to 77 into the city.  I wanted to stay off the interstate and travel some roads I hadn’t been on in decades.  It was a great ride.  Gorgeous if you can appreciate desert landscapes.

The “highlight” of the trip was hitting a swarm of some giant, unknown variety of bugs.  I ended up with bug guts and goo all over me and the bike.  Couldn’t wait to check into my hotel and wash that off of me and then I spent the evening headed back to old haunts.  Lucky Wishbone for shrimp, eegee’s for frozen drinks then riding on Hacienda Del Sol and Sunset to get some great views of the city and see my old house.

I got back to the hotel and it was nice to just enjoy some solitude.  Love my parents, but it was kind of emotionally intense to be with them.  Cancer has just screwed with our family so much, and the anticipation of the surgery, minor as it is, was a little nerve wracking.  Dad’ll probably be fine but it’s a painful reminder that he’s 75 and the pain of loss is coming.  Maybe not tomorrow, but someday.  Having the ride to clear my mind and the happiness of old favorite foods and views was great.

You run your race…

and I’ll run mine.

A couple days ago I wrote a post about not understanding people who want to turn motorcycling into a group activity.

I was just ranting.  If that works for you/them?  That’s awesome.  And I get it to some extent.  I’ve had people push me to apply to some veteran MCs, but I choose not to because of some of the rules and regulations.  I miss the comradery, not the rank and structure of the military.  And generally when I ride, I want to be on my own schedule, free to stop when I want to, spend forever taking photos, etc.  And just get lost in my head, sort stuff out.  But I could see the fun in sharing some of the beauty of the world and the experiences on the road with someone.  Poker runs or a ride for lunch and beers at some small mountain town with a good group of guys.

Much like the rest of life, it’d just be easier if there was a scarlet letter you could wear.  “E” for extrovert and “I” for innie.  So when people saw you, they’d know whether you wanted to make small talk or not.  I appreciate the compliments on my bike, but I’d rather be on my own when I’m alone.  Anyways, didn’t mean to sound too snarky the other day about guys on the other side of the fence, I’m glad they’ve found something that makes them happy.

I saw one of my soldiers today.

My son had a lacrosse game tonight and asked me if I’d photograph him.  I told him I would, but I might be a little late, I needed to run some last minute errands before leaving on my motorcycle trip.  Normally when I’ve shot in the past I’ve shown up early and stayed the whole game.  This time, because I was late and the game already started I found out that they normally charge for the games, in the past I’d just shown up before the ticket takers.

I rarely carry cash anymore so I went across the street to the 7-11.  While in line, one of my former soldiers walked in.  After I finished paying, I popped back and said “Hi”.  He still has a high and tight so I asked if he was still doing the reserves thing to which he made a smart-alecky negative response.  Outwardly I made the socially appropriate noises and facial expressions, but inwardly I gave a silent prayer of relief.

He was young when he reported to me.  And a know-it-all with no real world experiences yet to show him how stupid and arrogant (with no good reason) he really was.  He never did anything big enough for me to bust him, but he never gave me any reason to trust him.  That unit wasn’t in the pipeline for any deployments, so it was incredibly lax and really tied my hands when it came to disciplining and training my soldiers.  He never would’ve survived in an active duty line unit.  But in a reserve, rear echelon unit?  He was just one of many.  Not a team player, self centered, selfish, lazy, etc.  An oxygen thief.  Someone who milked the system for his own benefit and who I never saw paying it forward.

I wished him well and went my way, thankful that I had the excuse of my kid’s game to rush back to.  For a very brief instant, I’d been happy to see him, because of what he reminded me of, my time in service.  But once that passed, I was glad to be rid of him.  Maybe that sounds harsh, but that was my reality for years.  Working with those hard-charging units and having to build a team of solid, dependable, self supporting guys out of raw materials.  Not just in training scenarios, but for real combat.  Prepping myself, mentally and physically to be a good teammate, a good follower and a good leader.  Making the difficult judgements on my soldiers, identifying their strengths and finding ways to marginalize the impacts of their weaknesses.

I’m glad he’s out and never deployed.  I’m even more glad he’s out and never held a leadership role.

An Old Friend

And I mean, someone who knew me as a kid and not a chronologically old person, reconnected with me a couple months ago.  They sent me a funny joke and when I thanked them for it, this is what they said:

Just wanted to make you smile. Something tells me you don’t smile enough, unless it has to do with your kid or your dog.

It’s funny, I like to think of myself as a happy-go-lucky guy, and I like to think that I find some happiness everyday.  But someone says something like that and I always wonder what vibe I give off to others, how I’m perceived.

I was at a trade-show type event this last weekend, something hosted by the organization that I work for.  I had time to kill, so I helped out on the registration desk.  Someone came up and after a few minutes of talking to him, he called me the nicest guy there.  That really rocked me back and made me laugh a little.  In my mind I’ve got to be one of the more unappreciated people at work because I tend to be pretty opinionated and have gotten into some decent arguments at work.  And I’m a little awkward so it’s hard to imagine me being really personable.

Funny to see the differences in perspective.

Time

I didn’t have the absolute best dating luck in the beginning.  The first girl I ever made out with committed suicide.  My first REAL girlfriend cheated on me while I was laid up for the summer with a broken ankle.  I got engaged to my second.  But she was settling for me.  Once she got accepted to Harvard Divinity School for her graduate degree she moved away and called the engagement off less than a month later.  My third serious girlfriend broke up with me while I was in a month long residence course in the military.  We were sequestered in a section of Ft. Bragg, NC, cut off from the rest of the world.  Of course, she didn’t really tell me that she was breaking up with me.  This was early in the days of usable cell phones, when they were becoming affordable and small and not everyone had one yet.  I sure didn’t.  So we communicated a lot via old-fashioned mail.  One day the letters started coming back to me.  It wasn’t until I graduated the course that I finally got her on a landline and got some answers.

Years later she tried to get in touch with me.  We haven’t been super close, but we check in from time to time.  A couple of times she wanted to get back together, but I could just never trust her again.  I can’t really explain it, but she was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back.  After that I definitely turned turtle and I don’t think I ever opened up as much or was as sappily, openly romantic again.

When I was a kid, I was way more painfully shy, awkward and introverted than I am today.  I was a senior in high school before I really ever asked someone out.  And those “asks” probably didn’t go well.  I think my Dad knew, but didn’t have a clue what to say to me.  He was always on the extroverted side: no such thing as a stranger, just a friend he hadn’t met.  And apparently he was a little bit of a player back in the day so he just couldn’t relate.  I never really moped about it much, but once he felt the need to try and cheer me up a bit.  I actually think it was when I didn’t make a basketball team in junior high and his pep talk had nothing to do with dating.  He just admitted that he grew up gawky and awkward and had to get by on his personality.  He told me to hang in there, that when I was 30 I’d be a catch.  When I was 13 or 14 that wasn’t a helluva consolation.  I can remember when I was finally in my 30s and things didn’t really get better, thinking I’d been cheated!

That girl texted me today.  She’s working for a florist and doing all these arrangements for Valentine’s Day.  She’s single, so that’s a special kind of hell.  “You did a lot of cute romanticy things for me when we were dating.  I appreciate those things so much more now.  It’s been years since anyone tied my shoes.  And years since anyone did anything really romantic for me.”  Now to be clear, I don’t have a creepy foot fetish.  She’s 4’11” and had tiny feet.  I used to love to tie her little sneakers for her.

Anyways, it was…  something.  A weird validation or something.  I’m not happy to see her life as the big mess that it is.  Yeah, there’s a petty part of me that is happy that the woman that broke up with me way back then now wishes she had someone like me.  But it’s more a validation that the work I’ve done over the years is good.  Getting over the things that happened in the past and opening up and making myself vulnerable is essential for connecting with people, for making good, lasting relationships and reconnecting with that goofy, romantic side of me is fun.