Music

I was driving down to Ft. Carson this morning for a Spartan race.  It’s about an hour and 45 minutes so I put on Slacker.  Normally I have a “favorites” channel, but with all the time on the motorcycle and roadtrips lately I wanted a break so I listened to Front Line Radio.  I wrote about that hear and highly recommend you give it a listen.  You can follow this link to listen to it.

Two songs struck me this morning.  One was “Drive On” by Johnny Cash.  I honestly don’t know if I’d ever heard it before, which is surprising considering how many Cash CDs are floating around this place.

Not much more needs to be said about that song.

The other one?  I’ve said frequently that I normally hear music but not the words.  There’s a quote that I like that goes “When you’re happy you hear the music, when you’re sad you listen to the words”.  That’s been true for me usually.  And when a song resonates with me when I’m sad, I can’t turn that off.  I can’t NOT hear the words when I’m happy again.

“Times Like These” by the Foo Fighters has been a favorite of mine for years, probably since the album came out in 2002.  Maybe not.  I was deployed for some of that year and it took some catching up.  So maybe 2003.  But it’s been in regular rotation on my road-trips for over a decade.  I’ve sung it (as best as I’ve understood the lyrics) at the top of my lungs while driving.  And never really thought about any of it.

This morning, they told some backstory behind the request.  The service member who requested it said that they left the military almost immediately after their last of several deployments and when they did, this song was on almost constant replay for them for awhile, strictly because of the lyrics “It’s times like these you learn to live again” and “It’s times like these you learn to love again”.  Then they played the song.

I teared up a little and choked them back.  Instantly I was transported back to my 3rd deployment.  Before the deployment, being almost certain I wasn’t coming home and then when I realized I was, trying to figure out what that mean.  I hadn’t made any “after” plans.

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.

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.

We interrupt this regularly scheduled program…

… for this breaking news:

Earlier this month I submitted two photos for a juried art exhibit at a museum.  The exhibit starts in July and runs through November.

I got the notice for the call for submissions late last month, then hemmed and hawed about whether to submit for a couple days.  Then procrastinated for a few more.  In the end, I ended up submitting two pieces with just a day to spare before the deadline.

Both pieces were accepted!  I’m going to have two of my photos hanging in a museum!  Looks like more travel in my future, they invited me to attend opening night.

Day 3

Day 3 was pretty mellow.  Dad’s having a minor surgery on Monday.  But he’s still 75 and it’s still surgery, anything can happen.  So instead of taking off on the next leg of my journey I spent a quiet day with him.  Woke up insanely early because I could hear him putzing around.  Did some PMCS on my bike while I had access to a well stocked garage.  Mom makes these breakfast rolls and they were ready by the time I was done.  Yum!

After that, we decided to take a drive up to Sedona and take photos.  I’ve wanted to be side-by-side with Dad taking photos for awhile, so we could talk through composition together and I could give him some pointers.  Unfortunately about an hour outside of Phoenix we started getting alerts that I-17 was shut down because of an accident, so we stopped at a truck stop, had lunch and headed back to Phoenix.  It was funny, this time I was the one who went up to a biker and talked to him.  He’d passed us on the interstate and took both hands off the handlebars and shook them off while going up a steep incline and maintaining speed, so it didn’t seem like he was using a throttle lock.  He also had “MARINE” on the tank, so I went up to him while he was filling his bike, thanked him for his service (while resisting the urge to make fun of him) and talked to him about the after market cruise control he’d installed on his bike.

I’m not 100% sure that Dad didn’t decide to turn around just so he could have a nap.  He laid down for a bit, then we went to mass.  I haven’t gone to a Catholic service in awhile, and it felt comfortable.  I’ve always said that one of the things I like about that Catholic church is that you can walk into one anywhere in the world and the rituals will make it feel like “home”.

The priest is also going through cancer treatment, so he understands.  After the service, Dad went in to talk to him and ask him for a blessing.  It was really touching, he stood kind of between Dad and I and prayed with us, then took my hand, put it on my Dad’s forehead and then covered it with his own and blessed my Dad.  He is from South Africa and just seems so warm and happy and genuine, even in the midst of his own trials.  I know that made Dad feel much more comfortable.  He seems pretty at ease with everything, but while we were walking to the parking lot he mentioned that it gave him more confidence going into the surgery, and that if anything goes wrong, he feels like it helps to point him in the right direction.

After mass, we headed up to my mom’s restaurant.  Shrimp, crab, dirty rice and hurricanes!  ‘Nuff said!  Perfect way to end the evening.

This travelogue is probably pretty boring to read, but I like jotting things down for my own memory.

Day 1

I’m writing this from the Fairfield Inn in the Albuquerque University district.  I packed and filled the motorcycle with gas and am just waiting for two conference calls to get back on the road.

I rode from home to here yesterday, about a 458 mile ride.  It should take about 6.5 hours, but ended up being closer to 9 hours.  That’s largely because of the 100 miles I rode in the rain and the 3 hail encounters.  Those might’ve sucked a bit.  I got to Trinidad just as I was getting to the edge of the rain.  I stopped at the Big R there and got new glove and wool socks.  The heated jacket liner did a great job keeping my core warm but my hands and feet had had enough.  After I got the new socks on and got back on the bike, the storm caught back up to me, with big hail.  Fortunately I was still in the Trinidad city limits so I was able to pull off at a truck stop and wait the hail out.

I had wanted to take I-70 to Glenwood Springs, spend the night there, then head out again today, going through Moab.  But because of me trying to beat the rain, I took I-25 all the way down.  Stupid weather man.  According to all the weather outlets (accuweather, weather.com, weather underground, local news websites) as long as I got past it in Colorado Springs, I was fine.  It was just supposed to be windy from there out.  They lied.  Just south of Fountain it opened up and dumped on me.  I was feeling confident and fine until I came up on a sign that said “Heavy rains, beware of standing water”  WTF?  Standing water?  That’s the last thing I needed to hit at 70.  That ended up not being a problem but the weirdest thing was the mag chloride.  They use it to de-ice the roads here instead of salt.  The rain pulled it up out of the pavement, so in some spots the road was solid white instead of black.  For a second I thought I was driving through snow.

Once I got past Raton, NM, the rain/hail finally stopped.  I went a little further to stay ahead of it and got to a rest stop and was treated to a gorgeous sunset.  Those last couple miles of daylight I kept thinking that there was a life lesson there.  Keep pushing yourself to go far enough/long enough and eventually you’ll hit blue skies again.  Lame, I know.

The ride into Albuquerque was pretty decent.  Dark, so I couldn’t see anything, cold and windy as hell, but ok.  And the best part was that I got to meet up with an old friend, my boss from my first trip to Afghanistan.  He came by the hotel to pick me up and we went out and had a couple of beers.

All in all, a great ride, although after 9 hours I’m a little sore in the shoulders.  Today I’m off to Phoenix.  Taking I-40 out of the city, then jumping off to 60 at some point to go through the Salt Valley.

Lessons learned:  Wool socks.  Better safe than sorry.

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.

Jacket Liner

I ride motorcycles.  Not a lot, I’m not fanatical about it, but I’ve done it for over twenty years.  Sometimes it was my only means of conveyance, sometimes it was just for fun.  about 14 years ago I treated myself to a heated jacket liner that you wore under other jackets/coats.  It came with a lead you attach to the battery on the motorcycle.  Then you plug a controller into that lead and the jacket liner into the controller.  There’s a knob on the controller and the further you turn it, the warmer it gets.  I’ve ridden my motorcycle in below freezing temperatures and been relatively warm.

I made a small modification to my motorcycle last week and took it in for maintenance before a ten-day trip I’m planning at the end of the week.  With a little luck, I’ll do 4000 miles on that trip and I’m excited about it.  I wanted to ride the bike to work today to see how the modification and maintenance did.  It was about 37 degrees when I left the house so I put the liner on, and in doing so, noticed a seam starting to fray on the elastic cuff.  As I was riding to work I noticed a couple of cool spots and a couple of warm spots, it wasn’t heating evenly anymore.

I got to work and pulled up the manufacturer’s website to see what they had to offer these days.  Here’s a link if you’re interested.  I can’t recommend them enough, mine lasted 14+ years, and still works.  Figuring I paid $250 back then for it, I’ve more than gotten my money’s worth out of it.  They had two models that I couldn’t decide between so I called the number on the website and had a good talk with the guy who answered.  He told me about a trade-in program and when I went through the purchase process it dropped the price of the liner I wanted to under $200.  So I pulled the trigger.  Can you tell I just got my tax refund?

A couple hours later I got an email from them with an RMA number.  The lady said that instead of sending the jacket liner in, to just cut it up and send them pictures.  I couldn’t do it.  It still works fine, it’d be great as a back-up or as liner for a passenger.  There are too many memories that go with it, it served me too well to cut up.  So I called back and the call was actually answered by the owner.  I explained it to him and offered to pay full price for my liner.  I said I’d rather do that and keep the old one than cutting it up.  We talked for a bit, found out he’s an Army vet.  I told him I’d taken the liner to Iraq with me and used it in the turret.  He ended up telling me to just keep it and canceled the RMA and still gave me the discount, almost 1/3 off the original price.

Great service, but it was a funny reminder of the loyalty I develop to certain things and people.  Some people might call it sentimentality, but it seems like that’s a wrong word for it.  When something has served me so well, I just believe it deserves a better ending.

Frontline Radio

I’ve had a slacker account that I’ve used for years.  Way back when I thought it had a nice, flashy interface compared to Pandora and I love music enough and was too lazy to convert my extensive CD collection to MP3 so I bought a subscription.

I really haven’t been getting the most out of it over the years.  Originally I created a station or two, threw a couple dozen artists in there and then just started hitting favorite on songs until I had an auto-generated playlist.  Late last year I switched to an android phone and since Christmas I’ve been road-tripping a lot on the weekends.  With the new interface for the Slacker app on the new phone and more time in a car I decided I should start exploring more and started playing more of their curated stations.  My “favorites” station was getting somewhat incestuous and it needed some fresh blood.

Not too long ago I found frontline radio.  You can listen to it here. 

It’s a pretty neat station.  People write in with songs that had some significant meaning to them during their military career.  Even if you just fast-forward through a song because you don’t like that particular piece of music, the stories are fun to listen to, especially as a veteran.  I was road-tripping this weekend and was just enjoying it so much that I called my Dad and I think he’s downloaded the app so he can listen now too.

For years, this song always struck home with me.  It’s “Cot” by the Carnival Strippers:

I’ve been that exhausted before, especially at the end of a tour, coming home after a year of keeping it all together and getting everyone back.

This weekend while driving the song “Zzyzx Road” by Stone Sour came on.  I’d never heard it, but the story was instantly relate-able as was the song: