Don’t Circle the Drain

Janet and I went out to dinner the other night with some neighbors who are a little older than we are. They were laughing and joking about some friends of theirs when asked how they were doing? The friends remarked that they were just circling the drain. We all laughed about that visual but in the middle of the night, I took it a little more seriously and thought that I hoped I would never make that statement of being sucked into the vortex of oblivion. I want to be like the spider clawing furiously away from that drain and out of the tub. I try not to think about age but when I do, I make sure I am always taking every opportunity to be active and healthy, and not throwing in the towel. Lots of fun, active times ahead. My friends who are contemporaries feel the same. Take Helen and Eric above. They live in Tahoe and enjoy life in the Sierras. The photo above is from their month long trek in the Himalayas. They ski, hike, trek, and do not circle any drain.

This picture above is Nancy and Mark Hutchinson from Randolph Center, Vermont. They hiked the Long Trail this summer which is from the Massachusetts border all the way to the Canadian border. There are no drains in the Hutchinson household. They take their vacations and are active.

Now you have Bob Bannon. The Lord of Lumens. Bob schedules all the local mountain bike rides and is the guru of lighting systems for night mountain bike riding. Always has spare lights and batteries and is so enthusiastic about riding even with a full schedule of silk screening clothing for a living and being a referee in high school and college volleyball. He is not circling any drain any time soon.

Here is a guy recovering from a close personal tragedy. Mike Rich always has a smile on his face and spends his free time hunting and enjoying the outdoors even with a heavy heart. It would be easy for Mike to feel sorry for himself, but he gives unselfishly to others especially young guys who are at risk for lifestyle choices. No drains out there in Burgettstown.

How about my buddy Art Bonavoglia? He is in his 6th season teaching skiing in the Vail Ski School. When the graphic arts business went in the tank due to on-line publishing and the like, Art went down another path. They love him in Vail. They call him the singing ski instructor. He regales his students with Tony Bennett songs on the chairlift. Art is not going down any vortex.

My main man Mike Smith. Owns a marina on Lake George, flies his own plane, skis, hikes, and sky dives. An amazing ball of energy for a guy in his late sixties. He will work, ski, skydive, most people into the ground. The water is full to the top at Lake George. No swirling drains up in the Adirondacks.

Lastly- a great inspiration to me on enjoying life into his 90s was my grandfather John Reynolds. As an avid fisherman, we went everywhere to fish and he and his buddies would rise with the birds to get that first bite either in the Everglades, or on the lakes in Canada. I had the honor of being their first mate and seeing up close and personal guys in their 80s and 90s enjoying the wilds of nature. No sitting around for these guys.

I guess the point here is that sometimes we let people influence us with statements like, ” when are you going to slow down?” Or “aren’t you a little old for that?” Or maybe “wouldn’t you rather be sitting by the fire under an afghan?” Yes I would – after a great ski day or a great mountain bike ride. I don’t roll over under the comforter if it is cold outside. I like to get out there no matter what. So do these friends of mine mentioned above. They do not go gently into that good night. They are kicking and clawing to stay out of the vortex. Most of them don’t even get close to that swirl just yet. With a new year dawning, if you are thinking that somehow you are getting slowly sucked into that circling drain swirl, maybe it is time to reverse the process. Get active in 2018. You are never too old for anything. Thanks for reading.

Fast Freddie

The first time I skied with Fred Siget was in Snowshoe, West Virginia with Larry Walsh of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. I had some limited training but had experience as a ski instructor. So, as my maiden voyage with a visually impaired skier, I had the original blind skier in our area in front of me headed down Cupp Run. Right turn, left turn, right turn, stay, stay………..all of a sudden the only tree in play was before me as I yelled “crash” and Fred sat down on his way to running into the only tree within hundreds of yards. I felt so bad, but Fred dusted himself off with a smile and said, ” Pat- don’t worry about it at all. This will be one of many.” And we continued down the slope. This began a 40 year friendship with the one and only Fast Freddie Siget.

Fred lost his vision as a result of an accident with a high pressure hose when he was a volunteer fireman. As devastating as this injury was, he was undaunted. He became the first computer programmer for Koppers Corporation that was visually impaired. He continued dancing, and he learned to ski with guys like Larry Walsh, Jim Conley, Lynne(Kravetz) Hartnett, Shorty Leco and Micky Hutchko. People who took the time to work with Fred and make him into a pretty good skier by the time I came along. Fred always had ideas on how to make things easier for blind skiers and how to improve guiding techniques. He was the first guy I knew that purchased a transmitter where the guide had a microphone and he had an ear piece which made calling out commands easier and understandable with snowmaking machines roaring in the background. I used it one time standing on top of a slope and calling commands to Fred as he skied by himself down to the chairlift. With his” Blind Skier” jacket on, people were shocked viewing his run. In the bar afterwards, we had some fun with Herman Dupre the owner of Seven Springs Mountain Resort. I put the microphone on and guided Fred over in front of Herman and told him to tell Herman how much he admired his red flannel shirt. Herman was stunned and later remarked to me laughing that he was starting to “get hot thinking about all the free passes I gave to Fred and now he is telling me how much he likes my shirt!” Hilarious.

Fred was a bus driver in the old days and always missed driving. One night after skiing, I asked Fred if he wanted to drive again. He was puzzled. I took him to the upper parking lot at Seven Springs and guided him into the drivers seat of my Blazer and let him have the wheel. I gave him commands like skiing. Right turn, left turn, stay straight, …the smile on his face was priceless. Then we did some donuts and the laughter was infectious. Fred never forgot that night.

Fred was always anxious to help new guides. He put himself at risk during the training but always felt that it was worth it not only to train guides that could assist him, but to help the other visually impaired skiers who were beginning to show up at the BOLD( Blind Outdoor Leisure Development) outings at Seven Springs.

Fred was a local legend due to his skiing. People knew him and admired him as they skied past him or saw him making turns from the chairlift. They knew him in Vail, Colorado where he skied regularly with the Mon Valley and Pittsburgh Ski Clubs. But perhaps the most compelling thing about Fred was his kindness and appreciation for his fellow skiers and guides. He always remembered your birthday and when he called me, he sang, ” Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, get plastered, you bastard, Happy Birthday to you.” That made me laugh out loud every year. He would always ask about my wife Janet, and my son Jack. Jack would ski with us when he was a young guy and Fred always was interested in how he was doing in school and in his sports. Fred always thought about other people. He was popular for his skiing for sure, but as a person, you could not get a better guy who was always interested in others and never talked much about himself.

We lost Fred this fall at 94 years of age. Although he had an amazing life, we will miss him. I always think of him when I see people who have heartache in their lives or something that has tragically shaped their future. Fred never let his accident slow him down. He always said that he did more as a visually impaired individual than he ever did before losing his sight. He took a perceived bad thing and turned it into opportunity. Shouldn’t we all learn from that lesson? R.I.P Fred, I will miss you for sure. Thanks for reading folks.

The Roundabout

The first time I ever saw a roundabout was when I was riding my road bike in Ireland, streaking into the town of Cork. All of a sudden I found myself in this circular juggernaut, riding the “wrong way” on the left hand side of the road as per Irish road rules, and battling cars coming from all directions. Somehow I found my way through and it spat me out the other side where I had to stop and take a mental breather.

It is my personal opinion that roundabouts are a cruel Halloween joke foisted on the public to cause strain and stress in an already volatile driving situation. Somehow engineers think that these roadway puzzles are helpful in relieving traffic situations but in my time on the road since Cork, I have seen nothing but potential mayhem ensue. Three of them in a row in Glens Falls, N.Y. For what purpose? One right in the middle of the main drag in Kings Beach, Nevada. Costing the taxpayers millions of unnecessary dollars. Then there is the infamous one that I navigated this past weekend in Westfield, N.J. for my nephew’s wedding. Driving through that circular death trap is nothing short of harrowing. New Jersey drivers are aggressive to begin with and when you couple that with a roundabout situation where they come at you from all directions, the white knuckles come out on the steering wheel, the language deteriorates, and you hang on for dear life. Here comes one racing in hot from the left…………..HORN……….incoming from the right…….no quarter at all……..the guy gives you the bird…………Hang on, the guy on the left is still coming hard…………make it to the third exit…………HORN………….another friggin HORN……Whew…………I made it!!!!!

Whenever I make it past Easton, Pa on my way to visit my sister, it is game on. I tell Molly that she and her fellow Garden State drivers are not good enough to drive that fast and cross four lanes without even looking. No wonder there are 21 car pileups on Interstate 78 headed east in New Jersey. I find myself uptight when visiting my sister because there are too many people over there and the drivers will cut you off without blinking an eye. I leave room between me and the car in front and in New Jersey, that is a license for 5 cars to squeeze in front, barely missing my front bumper. As my co-worker Jenni MacDonald says, ” Pat, turn signals are a sign of weakness.” She drives in Seattle and LA. Enough said.

Fortunately, I only had to drive the demonic roundabout in Westfield once this weekend and as I left on Sunday morning making my way back to the ‘burg, I felt the relief in my shoulders and my demeanor getting more calm as the miles went by. I tend to be a conservative driver much to the consternation of my family. My son Jack always correlates my conversation with the speed of the vehicle. He says, ” Dad, as you make your conversational points, your foot gets farther and farther from the accelerator and you become dangerous.” Whatever!

As I move on in life, the stress created in places like New Jersey is less appealing. Don’t get me wrong, I always like to see my sister and her family and there are nice things to appreciate in Jersey. But the drivers are nuts. Western Pennsylvania is miles from the mayhem of the east coast. I have many ways to commute to my workplace and I always choose the road less traveled. My route is non-stressful and bucolic in a way, especially this time of year. I appreciate the back roads draped in the changing canopy around me.

As I calmly navigate the back roads to work, sometimes with the SPA channel on Sirius XM gently soothing me on the way,(I know, I am a dorc), I think about how relieved I am not to live and work on the east coast where I would fight the dragons of the roadways,choking traffic, and face the evil roundabouts that troll for drivers like me. The devil himself lives in the center of those circular tempests and delights in frightening the uninitiated. No Halloween horror movie could be better scripted that the PA. driver in the middle of the Westfield roundabout. So my advice is, drive safely, heads up for the maniacs, and steer clear of roundabouts if at all possible. Thanks for reading.

The Oldest Guy

” Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming,” Wow! WHAT A RIDE!”

-Hunter S. Thompson

I have also heard this with the ending, ” missing parts, leaking oil and screaming “Geronimo.” I always subscribe to this way of living because I like adventure, travel and experiences in my own way. However, due to a series of events recently, I have had some thoughts that question my verve. Some of this began a couple of weeks ago when I was discovering that I was the oldest guy on the mountain bike rides.  I really should not let that bother me but with the death of my brother in law at 61, and some other news of contemporaries who have had their troubles, I began to question my lifestyle as I march quickly towards 63. Sometimes, I feel like I am in an out of control vehicle and can’t stand on the brakes hard enough. Life is screaming by.

Then God plops me down right in the middle of Somerset county in an old barn for Biff Swager’s 65th birthday party( Is that the greatest name in the world?……Biff Swager!!!). Biff’s wonderful wife Annie organized the surprise party and all the old ski crowd came out in force. The food was wonderful, the band was GREAT, and the group danced their asses off( no other good way to put it), yes they danced their asses off and the joy of life was in full swing. Sue Baum Treacy summed it up best when she marveled at the group and vowed that we all have to get together this winter and ski because that is what brought us all together as kids in the first place. She and her husband John walk the walk by recently retiring and hopping on the back of their motorcycle, touring the west.

So, that was a real shot in the arm and dispelled any thoughts about age when I saw my group of contemporaries really enjoying each other’s company and killing it on the dance floor- of an old barn. Even Herman Dupre who is in his 80s, said he has so much work to do, he wants to live until he is 124. His wife Sis said “I will give him 100 from me and that is it.” We all laughed and as I drove off into the night, I thought what a great group and a great reason to keep living life as large as possible. You don’t have to climb Everest or do something outrageous to be adventurous. For me, taking that first ski turn down a chute out West, or rolling over a giant boulder field in West Virginia on the MTB is adventurous. Just have a positive attitude and engage in new ventures. The joy of a bike ride in cool fall weather can garner the same feeling of adventure that Jimmy Chin feels on a mountain peak. Not as dramatic, not as bold, but still relatively speaking, a personal adventure. Do what you can but like NIKE says…………just do it!!!

I remember asking Scot Nicol, the founder of IBIS Bicycles, one time on a ride,” how long do you think we can keep riding mountain bikes like this Scot?” He looked at me and said, ” Pat- don’t even think about it. Just keep riding.” This is sage advice from a Californian who really enjoys what he does. But what else dispels those internal thoughts that say, ” you are 63- who are you kidding?” Besides the joy of a ski turn and the beauty of the mountains, and the fitness created by riding a mountain bike, there are things that define self worth. The love of a spouse, the caring for friends, volunteering, being there for a cause, and spreading the good word of the Kingdom. True self worth is nothing more that knowing you are loved by the Good Lord. We are so blessed. It is incumbent upon all of us to care for each other, one person at a time, one neighborhood at a time. Make the effort folks, because as I have recently seen, life is fragile and we need to make the most of every moment. The time that is spent with your family and friends is so valuable. Sometimes you don’t realize it until someone is gone.

I know where I am going someday. But in the mean time, I will definitely leak oil, skid broadside in a cloud of smoke, and live life with that promise ahead of me. Who cares if I am the oldest guy? Thanks for reading.

Duke

I first met Duke Bope when I was 15 years old. We played junior golf together. He was a long ball, really good player and I felt like I was handling a telephone pole when I grabbed a golf club. No real feel for the game but my dad encouraged me to play, so I did. Duke and I ended up in inter-club matches together and in some instances when they tried to stack the deck, he was stuck with me for a high school golf partner. It was there that I first saw…….”the look”. A guy from St Elizabeth accidentally stepped on Duke’s brand new driver and he looked at the guy with a look that could melt stone. The guy turned 50 shades of white and I intervened and said, ” Ah Duke, we can get that fixed – no problem.” And we moved on. I thought we were going to have a homicide on our hands that day.

He loved to drive my ’64 Buick convertible even though he did not have a license and I always let him have the helm after school with our group of nitwits holding court with the top down. Not real bright on my part but how do you refuse a “Big 33” football player?

Moving forward, I went to see Duke at Boston University and we had some fun times hitting the music scene in bars in the Cambridge area. I specifically remember one night when we went to this joint and saw a flaming red head wailing on her guitar and singing the blues as well as anyone we had ever seen. Bonnie Raitt went on to international fame but we saw her in her Boston club days and still talked about it years later. Duke was a music guy and we always talked about the latest albums and concerts. For an ex B.U. football player, he had an artistic side which helped him in later life working with his dad and brother in the tile business in Pittsburgh.

As we both entered the working world, football was always entertaining to Duke and he always thought that if you didn’t wear a helmet and pads, it was not a sport. He never understood my love for cycling and remarked, ” I thought you quit riding bikes when you are 14?” I took him to the Thrift Drug Classic to see the international class cyclists ride up Sycamore Street in Pittsburgh and he was amazed. I said, ” Duke- these guys are in amazing shape” and he agreed but never really understood until I nurtured his understanding over the years. My son Jack taught him a lot about basketball and he became a big fan of Lebron James.

He and I were pals and as different as we were, we learned a lot from each other. Duke was a strong Christian and his love for the Lord was evident in his daily life. He always quoted scripture and had a serious demeanor to him. Over the years, I saw…….” the look” but I always liked to make him laugh and often at our dinner table with Janet, Jack and his mom, I would catch him off guard and make him belly laugh. He and I were so different yet we learned so much from each other.

I remember when I first dated his sister who eventually and fortunately became my wife, I made the trek to Bellevue where they both lived in the apartment building that their dad owned. As I pulled up to the curb, I saw Duke in the yard. His remark was, ” What brings you to Bellevue, Pat.” And “the look” came out again. I stuttered and stammered a response about a date at Hartwood Acres. He chuckled and went inside. I learned later that he remarked to Janet,” He is a nice kid.” Janet said, ” Kid? He is older than you.”

As the years went on, Janet and Duke spent time at the beach with their aunt and uncle and became very close as brother and sister, caring for their mom after their dad died.

Duke maintained his love for golf all of his life and as a single digit handicapper at Sewickley Heights Golf Club, he was well known for his ability and had a lot of friends there. He lost in a playoff this summer for the Senior Club Championship and his competitive nature came out when he talked to me about the match. He had the guy on the ropes and let him off the hook and it made him angry. The fiery competitor was not amused and no matter how I tried to say that it was amazing to make the finals, he wanted to win. He was a winner. Second place was never good enough.

We eventually moved into the same neighborhood with Duke so that his mom, Jack, Janet and I could live close by and we spent a lot of time together grilling, sharing time on each other’s patios and spending holidays and fun times together. When you talk to Duke’s friends, the common denominator besides being a strong Christian is that he was extremely generous. Case in point, when we moved in, the next day, a beautiful Weber grill was on my patio, courtesy of Duke. He would entertain his mother’s friends and buy them gifts along with taking them out to eat. He would have parties at his house and always had beautiful gifts for the ladies. He couldn’t do enough for you. His mother tells the tales that Duke would not of his anonymous generosity with people who were in need at CMA Church on the Northside. Picking up peoples tabs at McDonald’s where it was obvious that needy people were scrambling to put together enough money for a meal. He never wanted it known that he was the gracious host.

We lost Duke this week at 61 year old. A tragic and sudden illness took him away and we all feel the void in our house, the neighborhood, his workplace and among his customers and friends. A big strong human being was taken at short notice,and we are stunned. The only consolation for us is that we know he is with the Lord who he loved with all of his heart. If there is a golf course in heaven, I know that his dad was waiting on the first tee with a smile on his face. ” You’re on the tee, Duke.” I am sure he approached the ball, gave it ” the look” and creased it right down the middle as strongly as ever. Life is fragile folks. Love your spouse, your family, your friends, and take the time for all of them. Duke surely did. Thanks for reading.

“That’s what friends are for”

 

I have been thinking a lot about friendship lately and what really matters and what is just plain BS. These two characters, John and Richard Nicolette are my oldest friends. We all met in the neighborhood as kids and are still pals today. We got together last winter at A-Basin in Colorado and even though I have not seen them for a while, it is always like we just left each other. That’s what good friendship is all about.IMG_1412

I have good friends with whom I mountain bike. We have a lot of fun and get together weekly. Fun times, good riding in great places, and lots of laughter and beers and soccer chairs in the parking lots.

My wife and I have our mutual friends with whom we ski, and vacation. The Smiths are always there for fun times -winter and summer. We get together frequently even though they live in Yardley, Pa. Their daughter Shayna is getting married this weekend and we will be there to celebrate the nuptials.

Hang in there- I have a point or two to make. I have my ski crowd both local and out of town. Again lots of fun. Great times skiing. How could it not be with good snow and apres on the deck afterwards wherever we may be. My pal Eric Durfee, who lives in Incline Village, Nevada,is a great host and we have done a lifetime of adventures together. His daughter Kress is getting married in September in Squaw Valley and Janet and I will be there celebrating those nuptials too. We celebrated his son Nathan’s wedding this spring in Charleston, S.C.

So what is the point of all of this? Thinking about friendship, it is all about cultivation. I have had a lot of friends for a long time. I try to keep in touch, get together, make an effort. Like my mom said, ” To have a friend is to be a friend.” It is easy on vacations, ski trips, mountain bike trips, etc. But where does the rubber meet the road? When the times are not so good. When you need to be there as a friend in hard times. If a friend is ill, has marital problems, financial problems, depression, issues with kids, you need to be there as a friend to listen. You need to be there at all hours whenever the need arises. That is being a good friend. I forget things so I have to write them down and my yellow tablet at work is filled with names of friends who are hurting and I remind myself if nothing else, to give them a call and listen to their problems. If I can help, I get together with them. That’s what being a friend is all about and that weeds out the BS of shallow relationships. Some friends have come and gone in my life. It happens for one reason or another. But the good friends over the years have been there for me in thick and thin, and I like to think I have done the same for them.

I remember being at a party with some new “acquaintances” back in the day. This crowd was rather highbrow for me and all they were concerned about was where I lived, where I went to school, what did I do? They wanted to see if I fit in. I told them I counted bananas on Smallman Street and that spread like wildfire through this particular party in the East End of town. I am not pretentious in the least and this crowd was not my crowd and quickly faded out of my line of sight. I have highly successful friends, and friends who are on their last legs. The common denominator is that we care for each other and our friendship is real. I can wear a tux with the best of them, and also do hard manual labor for a friend in need, covered in mud with a smile on my face. They would do it for me. That’s what friends are for.

So, think about it. Think about who your real friends are and who are acquaintances. You can put yourself out for a lot of people and that kind of attitude is needed these days. You can make new friends. Friends are important. I am burying one this week who was 93 years old and a great friend to a lot of people. Call a friend who you have not talked to in a while. Time is getting shorter friends, we need each other. Be there for your spouse- your best friend. Thanks for reading.

“To have a friend is to be a friend”

My mother’s famous line was ” to have a friend is to be a friend.” No one could embody that statement more than Hot Harry Kirsch. All of us in the North Park Running and Cycling community lost a friend tonight when we heard the news that Hot Harry had ” run his last mile at 8:30 PM.” With his family around him, he passed quietly and peacefully.

Hot Harry was an icon in the running scene in Pittsburgh. As a marine, and a retired trolley/bus driver, Harry began running in earnest in his 50s and over the course of his life he ran over 50 marathons including his beloved Marine Corps Marathon. Organizing bus trips to Washington D.C for years, Harry supported the Marines by bringing hundreds of runners together to hear the Marine at the top of the hill shouting,” Pain is fleeting, pride is forever.” Harry ran countless Boston Marathons , one of which in 1987, I was fortunate enough to be his room mate. Harry was always supportive to first time marathoners with his cheery disposition and friendly ways. He encouraged veteran runners as well in advance of events and in the glow of the finish line.

For years, runners who parked at Stone Field in North Park finished their runs seeing the familiar open trunk on Harry’s car filled with bottles of drinks and cups that Harry would provide not only on race days but every day of running in the park. He had a way of gathering people and generating enthusiasm and even started the first running club in the park -Hot Harry’s North Park Runners. At events nationwide, runners would often see the singlet of the club at events and inquire about Hot Harry. The North Park runners were only too happy to oblige in telling the tales of the retired bus driver who attracted so many runners to his fold.

Harry loved the ladies and ran often with a group of accomplished women runners many of whom were national class. They loved Harry and made a point to run with him whenever they could.

Harry also attracted the characters. Doc Chuck, Merz, and a host of others whom he named. Big nose Bill, Sad Bill, Bushy Debbie, 10 Mile Bill, the Pretty Boys,and many, many more who all claimed Harry as their fearless leader. He would invite all the runners and their families to picnics at his farm in Evans City and we all would see Harry giving the kids tractor rides tirelessly into the evening. Harry loved the Park and enjoyed every moment meeting new people and welcoming them and encouraging them to join in his community. He drank a lot of coffee. Boy did he like coffee!!

Hot Harry was truly a friend to all of us in the North Park running community. He made the effort to be there for all of us and not only in the fun times of after work running and the weekend races, but there for us in sad times as well. Harry valued the friendships and made an effort to contact people who were hurting and people who were injured, sick, or just having a bad day. When you saw that smile and his familiar,” Heyyyyyyyyy” , you know that no matter what was going on in your life, Harry would make you smile and make you feel that things were better in your world.

Second Corinthians 5 says that we all will abandon our earthly bodies and take on the new bodies that we will have for eternity in heaven. I believe that Harry willingly left this world and his earthly body behind, with all of its mileage and marathons, and strapped on a new pair of celestial NIKE shoes and streaked toward the finish line at the pearly gates. There he was welcomed with the statement” well done my good and faithful servant.” Thanks for everything Harry. We will miss you.