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.

The Bike and the Box Turtle

So, I am pounding up the Bathtub Trail, kind of clearing my head on a solo mountain bike ride this week and I come upon a box turtle right in the middle of the trail. I did something unusual- I stopped. I checked him out and marveled at the way the color of his shell blended in with the rapidly changing leaves all around me. I looked at the texture of his shell and thought to myself, what a wonderful Creator who weaved this beautiful ecosystem we have to enjoy right in my own county park. As I made my way up the trail, I noticed the diversity of the leaves that were beginning to cover the ground. Flaming red maple leaves, brilliant yellow oak leaves, multicolored ash, chestnut, and other species of deciduous trees that spread their foliage like a patchwork blanket before me. Fall has arrived and I am contentedly happy.

Usually I try to ride for a good workout and push myself, even on solo rides. But this day was reserved for more pleasant riding, kind of like mobilized hiking enjoying the natural world all around me. At this time of year, the trails are usually dry and you can pretty much ride as fast as you can and feel “in the zone” as you rail the corners and pound up the hills. This is the time when most of us are in peak shape and the euphoria that you feel after a fast paced ride is intoxicating. But, there are days in the fall when I like to just ride the bike for relaxed transportation in a world that is peaceful, welcoming, and shelters you from the pressures of the real world. The changing leaves are all around and along with the shorter evenings, the cooler temperatures, and the smell of the tannin in the leaves displays something that Western Pa. has in it’s bag of tricks to entice travelers and natives alike. If you are out in it, close your eyes and take a deep breath of that musty, woodsy, cool air into your lungs. Only at this time of year does it smell like that. Summer fragrances, winter blasts of cold air,spring evening smells, are all good eye closing intakes, but the fall air is the best.

The mountain trails in our Laurel Highlands are coming alive with color, and arm warmers, vests, tights, are all practical wear as the cooler temperatures welcome in the coming winter season.

But back to the box turtle. Instead of using him as a speed bump, I took the time to examine him and notice how he fits in. The diversity of the changing flora seem to welcome him as part of their patchwork of color. The buck are starting to surface and as they stare at you with their fully grown racks, they are part of this diversified animal kingdom that makes up the forest in the mountains and parks of Western Pa. Turkey, grouse, groundhogs, raccoons, birds of all species, including the majestic osprey and red tail hawk, are busy preparing for the long winter ahead. Bald eagles are visible in the mountains and their wingspans continually amaze me as I stop to take in their flight pattern in the ridges to the east. I see open chestnut pods releasing their treasure to the scurrying squirrels and chipmunks. Acorns,and seeds of all kinds are being scooped up by very busy little rodents who take great chances using the trails full of hikers and mountain bikers. The come perilously close to losing their life as they dodge the knobby tires of the many bikes on the trails.

But as my mind wandered, I thought about how all of this fits together. The trees, the leaves, the animals, all form the ecosystem that we call the forest. As I ride along, not in anaerobic debt, I take in the smells, the sounds, and the sights of a changing natural world. Yet it is one entity created out of a patchwork of diversity. Kind of makes you think doesn’t it? Enjoy the fall. 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.

Mr. Ozanam

I first met Darelle Porter when he and Maurice Montgomery coached my son’s AAU basketball team in high school. I was introduced to basketball when Jack was in grade school, and then on to high school and culminating in a wonderful experience with the DeJuan Blair All Stars- the AAU team. Looking at the picture above, you can see Darelle dunking on Alonzo Mourning back in the late 80s when he was a Division 1 star player at Pitt. I am an outdoors guy and basketball was foreign to me as I had never spent much time in a gym, much less know anything about basketball. I stuck out like a sore thumb in my flannel shirts and Bean boots. But I learned a lot from Darelle and Alvis Rodgers during our time up at the Ammon Rec Center in Pittsburgh’s Hill District and at the various tournaments that the DeJuan Blair and the Metro team played regionally and nationally. To have a Division 1 star coach the team and give the outdoors guy instruction was special, but that is not the story I want to tell here. Darelle’s passion is kids. More than any records at Pitt, more than any times as a Division 1 coach, Darelle’s heart is with the Ozanam Program whose mission statement is ” We are committed to making a difference in the lives of the youth we serve.”

I first learned about Ozanam when I saw the after school basketball program up at Ammon. As executive director of Ozanam, Darelle has a lot to do coordinating after school basketball, after school homework tutoring for high school kids, dinner programs at the Rec center, and a general care for the welfare of kids entering a critical time in their lives. There are many ” make it or break it” moments in the inner city and kids can easily be steered in the wrong direction. The Ozanam After School Program makes it possible for kids to learn in a friendly environment, enjoy a nutritious hot meal, and get expert instruction on homework or applying for college scholarships and admissions.

The impressive thing about Darelle is that as busy as he is, he personally handles all the training on the court with all the kids in the program. His passion is kids and basketball and he is there every day, after school, and in the summer promoting skill development and team work along with Alvis Rodgers and Karen Hall who was a former U.N.L.V. star and NCAA Div 1 coach.

The grade school programs are generally centered around the Rec center and as the kids move on to high school, Darelle makes a point to take groups to college campuses and cultural events throughout the east. He is one busy person but the smile on his face leads one to believe that he really enjoys his work and has a passion for the physical and educational welfare of the children and young adults that he serves.

On a personal note, I got Darelle and Maurice involved volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House in Pittsburgh and both the AAU Team and the Ozanam After School Program became involved serving meals to the families of the children who were getting critical care at Children’s Hospital. Darelle and the Ozanam ASP still are involved and enjoying Darelle’s Italian Ice which he brings to every event. He has a side business selling Italian Ice all through the city at different venues and his stands are manned by kids in the Ozanam Program. The energy that he brings is amazing and the value of a job for the kids is not lost on the community.

As I learned from our involvement in basketball, there is a lot more to it than just the game. Coaches like Darelle, Maurice, Alvis Rodgers-another Div 1 standout at Wake Forest, and Karen are inspirational. It is not just about winning and losing. It is all about team work, personal development, family gatherings and discussions at the tournaments, and binding people together. In this day and age, programs like AAU and the Ozanam Center bring unity and not division. People like Darelle make a difference and devote their lives to a higher cause.

Ozanam needs your help. To continue to make a difference in the lives of the youth they serve, financial help is needed. If you would like to participate, you can log on to http://www.ozanaminc.org and make a donation. Programs like this are extremely valuable and need to be supported by the community. People like Darelle need to keep up the good work that they do. Ozanam makes a difference. You can too. Thanks for reading.

” And that’s the way it is……..”


” You are traveling through another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. Next stop…..The Twilight Zone.”

So, I am sitting at the OTB Cafe at the Boathouse in North Park the other night, eating a turkey burger and sipping on a Pinner, when this guy sits next to me with his lady and he begins to talk about the television reporting. It was a ” Twilight Zone” moment for me because he sounded just like me talking. His thoughts were mine and he verbalized them just like me. He was talking to the television at the bar and not me. We eventually conversed. It was freaky – just like an episode in the Twilight Zone. For those of you who remember the classic TV series by Rod Serling. This guy was younger than me by about 30 years and I was amazed that a guy of his age saw things exactly as the 62 year old kid. He was lamenting the current state of journalism.

As I continued to work on the burger, my mind drifted back to being with my grandfather- John Reynolds.

No matter if we were together in Pittsburgh,or on a fishing trip, or anywhere else for that matter, my grandfather had to be seated in front of the TV at 6:00 PM to watch Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News.

Whenever we watched Walter, it was a respected and fact filled experience, with no editorializing or political spin whatsoever. Walter reported the news accurately and when he finished with his classic, ” and that’s the way it is, (insert date), this is Walter Cronkite, CBS News, Good night”, you felt that all is well with the world even though there was news that was indicative to the contrary. I clearly remember his reporting of the events of the Vietnam War, and I never will forget watching his reporting of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, wiping a tear away facing the cameras. A memorable impression on a young boy at the time. He was sincere, he reported the news factually, and became an icon to me in the world of Journalism.

I never knew, until I read his book and watched some post retirement interviews, that Walter Cronkite was an avid sailor and accomplished navigator.

He spoke with great passion about his sailing, and I also never knew he tended to be left of center in his political views until I read the book and watched the interviews. He never indicated to his audiences his personal views on political topics and felt that journalism should be unbiased and not editorial unless it was specifically indicated.

No matter what your political views are, I think most people would tend to agree that journalism has slipped in our generation. There is no” fair and balanced” reporting in cable news or mainstream media . There is an agenda and personally, I yearn for the days when I could hear reporting that was fact based. In those days, you would also see a retraction if there was something that was reported in error. I could go on and on, but I never want my posts to be political or controversial. I am simply stating an opinion and a longing for a day gone by.

As I finished my burger, the guy next to me says ,” Nice to meet you Pat.” He remembered my name and was very polite. As I said last week, you never know about people. He and his girlfriend left the OTB and as I walked to the parking lot, I also left the Twilight Zone. Thanks for reading.

A Natural Cause

A number of years ago, my wife Janet and I were strolling through Sausalito, California when we came upon a gallery featuring the artwork of Grace Slick. Now, I was a huge fan of the Jefferson Airplane when I was younger and Grace fronted the band with her sultry yet powerful voice. I was pleasantly surprised to see that she was also a very talented painter held in great esteem in the Bay Area. People surprise you. Not that you think they are not capable, but it is a pleasant surprise to see folks from one genre of accomplishment, move into another with relative ease. Case in point- my friend Angelo Ross.

I first met Angelo while we both were ski instructors and he was making his way up the PSIA ladder to his current position as a Development Team member of the Educational Staff. Angelo always took ski instruction seriously along with his main line of work as an Environmental Science teacher at Greensburg Salem High School here in Western Pa. I also ride mountain bikes with Angelo and on a recent trip to West Virginia, he told me about yet another passion that has turned into a very interesting business.

You see, Angelo is a talented artist whose work has developed over the years and now is featured on athletic and casual wear.

The story goes that Angelo became acquainted with the equally talented folks at Commonwealth Press in Pittsburgh who saw the value of his work and mentioned to him that they should begin the process of marketing Angelo’s art work on casual and athletic wear. Thus was the birth of http://www.naturalcause.org One of the interesting things about this is that Angelo is marketing his art work through the medium of clothing, but he has another cause in mind besides pure mercantilism. You see, he lives Environmental Science – his passion, and therefore is dedicated to furthering the goals of local environmental causes like the Youghiogheny Defense Fund. This is part of the Mountain Watershed Project http://www.mtwatershed.com which preserves the environmental integrity of the Youghiogheny River among other waterways in our region. Whitewater rafting and fishing are prominent in these waterways and Angelo is dedicated to preserving these for generations to come. A portion of all proceeds that he generates through Natural Cause goes to organizations like these. Another cause for his generosity and passion is the Mt. Davis Challenge bicycle race, run in conjunction with the Confluence Tourism Association which promotes recreational activity in the Laurel Highlands. Jim Sota runs the event and it has been a successful race for many years. Angelo supports the cause. The man walks the walk and does not just talk the talk.

I am continually amazed by people. You know them through one area of your life and then you realize that there is much more to this person than you thought. People have abilities that cross over in their lives and it is refreshing to see that a young guy who you know from skiing and mountain biking has such a passion and such a talent and that he is creative enough to market it and donate to causes that reflect his passion.

I love hearing the stories like Natural Cause. I like to hear how they were created and how the business is doing. There is a lot of negativity swirling around these days and I make it my business to always be positive and encouraging. It is great when I see positive attitude and generosity come from others like Angelo. Natural Cause is a breath of fresh air to our local environmental causes and I hope that you all will go to his website http://www.naturalcause.org, view Angelo’s art work, and order some product. You can wear it with pride knowing that your money has been well spent and that the beneficiary of your generosity are the watersheds, trails, and events that make our region so special. Well done Angelo Ross!!! Thanks for reading.

Doing it Right

This letter is almost 50 years old. The compensation for mowing Mr. Cooper’s lawn was 9 dollars/week.  The generous $5.00 bonus was more of a compliment than anything and I owe all of that to my father. Keeping this letter all these years was a testament to his influence on me. You see, my dad was an engineer and also a perfectionist. He insisted that if I was going to cut 11 lawns in the neighborhood, I needed to make sure that I trimmed after each mowing. No dipping the wheels in the gardens to avoid the trimming. The burned grass and dirt would be a dead giveaway and my dad would be none too pleased. He initially inspected our lawn and the neighbors lawns until he was satisfied that I was doing it the right way. The McCloskey way.

Fast forward, when we moved from Siebert Road, there was a lot more maintenance at our new home. Not only was I instructed to rake the leaves away from the hedges, but I had to grub out the leaves in the trunks of the bushes. This was on my hands and knees, digging under the bushes. A less than noble task. When my dad planted his thousands of flowers, he manned an auger attached to his drill and again, I was on my hands and knees planting the flowers. The end result was beautiful but I learned quickly that manual labor was not a Spanish Diplomat. R.J. McCloskey got me involved in caddying and parking cars at his golf club and eventually some stints in the kitchen when they needed me. He eventually got me a job at St. Joe Paper in college summers, initially as an outside laborer- once again cutting grass and painting, but eventually a 3 shift union laborer. I learned a lot in the bowels of McKees Rocks, Pa. especially at the end of the night shift.

I had an orange International Scout once upon a time, and my dad thought I could go anywhere and do anything with that vehicle. While constructing his greenhouse he needed several pieces of 9 foot steel angle iron and he made a deal with his friend Clyde” the glide” Snyder to pick up some of these steel pieces at the National Steel Warehouse on the Northside of Pittsburgh. When I pulled in with all the flatbed trucks the guard laughed and said, ” What are you doing here man?” I told him I was here to pick up the order for the angle iron, he said, ” Well, if I loaded you, the crane would probably put the front of the load right through your windshield.” ” Come back with at least a pickup.” I did and he loaded me and as I went around a steep bend on Venture Street, I lost the load on the street with a loud clang. AAA eventually came to help me reload the steel with their hook truck and I made my way to Wexford, cursing my dad all the way. We had a good laugh about it later, but in typical fashion, my dad thought he had molded me into some kind of super human – which I was not. I turned out to be a good laborer, but nothing like he envisioned . My dad and I were very close. I miss him.

I don’t cut grass anymore. I don’t mulch, weed, plant flowers or rake leaves. I live in a carriage home community now where all of this is done for you. My friend Porter tells everyone that I have moved into assisted living. He laughs hysterically but deep down envies the fact that my manual labor days are over and he is still cutting grass. I cut grass for 50 years, so I did my share. But getting back to …………..the letter. The important lesson that has stuck with me all of my life is to do things right. My dad insisted on that. Even in my job today, I take care of customers. I follow up, see that things are done correctly and that the customer is satisfied. My dad gave me that ethic and it is so important today. There was nothing half assed with R.J. I don’t miss cutting grass or raking leaves or grubbing. But I will always cherish the good lessons that my dad taught me. He grew up in the depression. Tough people who did things right. The Greatest Generation. Thanks for reading.