Wednesday, May 2, 2018

When Everything Changes But Not in a Bad Way

I’d just written four decent sized paragraphs here, but then I reread them, highlighted the whole mess, and hit the Delete key because although they were decent sized, they weren’t decent all together, and I just wasn’t satisfied with them.  Unfortunately, I’ve found that to be the case frequently since I retired from teaching.  My thoughts aren’t the same as they were when I was still teaching, but I haven’t yet figured out if that’s a good thing or not.

In the past when I wrote here it wasn’t difficult to pick a theme and more or less stick with it throughout a post.  Now, though, I’m finding that after a paragraph or two I’m heading down an entirely different path of thought from where I’d just been a sentence or two before.  To be certain, in “real life” our thoughts are generally scattered all over the place as a day goes on, but in writing I was always taught, and taught my own classes, to write thematically within a given framework of thought that was determined at the beginning.

 Retirement changes all kinds of things and I’m thinking that my wanting to run in all different directions when I’m writing now is just another manifestation of my change in lifestyle from working full time to every day being like a Saturday.  It used to be the case that when I was out riding on the scooter I used the opportunities to be alone and focused to do some introspection – to dig through the mental cobwebs and clutter and just clear my head.  Now I’m more like a little kid at an amusement park while I’m out riding, looking all around me and appreciating the sheer thrill of things, the wind in my face, the things I see and hear and smell.  Although I’m still focused on the road ahead, eyes always scanning for bumps, potholes, gravel, and jackass drivers, my thoughts aren’t focused on any one thing.

For most of my 34 years in classrooms I loved the job, the kids, the subjects I taught, the moving through a typical school year day by day, yet now that I’m away from it I can look back and see that it was too much how I defined myself.  I can’t quite put this into words, but when you’re in the workforce, no matter how much you might enjoy your actual work, there’s a seriousness about it all that is always with you even in moments of seemingly great levity and after you punch out.  Even on weekends and during holiday breaks.  Even during summer vacation.  Retirement changes all of that!

 Now that I don’t need to use my time on the scooter to clear my head, I’m a little lost in figuring out what to think about when I’m riding.  My thoughts are like the roads I take often unknown in terms of where they’re going to take me and where I’m going to end up.  And while I’m liking that, I’m still a little unsettled by it because it’s so different than what I’d grown used to.

I suppose that’s a good part of why I haven’t been writing much here too.  I don’t come back from a ride as I used to with a clear thought of what I might write about and as a result I find myself too often with a diarrhea of words but a constipation of ideas.  Nothing’s worse than wanting to write, but not having something I want to write about, and that’s why I sit down here only to find my fingers rather than my brain  moving me in all different directions and find myself working Backspace and Delete like nobody’s business.

 I rather like that one of my favorite bloggers now breaks up a single post into different topics with separate headings and while it would make a lot of sense for me to adopt that style too I feel like I’d be stealing the concept and that wouldn’t sit right with me.  So I don’t know if I should write short posts often, or write longer ones less frequently.

Oh, hell!  It’s not that it matters terribly.  It’s not like I’m getting streams of great traffic here, but I know there are the few of you who check back from time to time to see if I’ve cranked out anything worthwhile and I do like to have something worth reading sitting here when you do.  Until I figure out what I’d like to do I’ll scratch out what I can and post some pretty ride pictures when I can’t.

Now that I don't need to count days till a summer vacation life is decidedly much more free, but awkwardly different.  Hopefully I'll grow into this every day's a Saturday thing!

 Who said retirement was supposed to be easy?

Friday, March 16, 2018

Over the Hill

I took the time shortly after February rolled over into March to turn 60.  60!  The official age of “old people” as I thought when I was a kid.  60!  The age of gray and thinning hair, age spots, aches and pains, medical poking and prodding, and loads of other questionably fun things.  I still feel mentally as if I just got out of high school, but here I am in this old man’s body thinking in usual Slovak (i.e. morbid) fashion that my life is ¾ over if I live to the age my dad did. 

I remember Dad driving me to high school and then college on his way to work on many mornings.  He’d often talk about when he was in high school, and every time he did that I thought that it was SO long ago and wondered how he remembered things seemingly so easily.  Never did it occur to me that when I was 16, Dad was only 24 years out of high school himself, yet here I am now 42 years past when I wore my first mortarboard feeling like it was just a turn of my head behind me.

My family made my turning 60 something to celebrate and that made the whole crawling into another decade older overnight much easier.  When I was born, my mom and dad and I lived with my maternal grandparents and my mom’s brother who is only 12 years my senior.  He was and is more like a big brother to me than my uncle.  He lives a few streets over here in “the shoebox” as he calls this neighborhood, still the same one we all grew up in, and we’re still as close as anything.  For my birthday, he and his girlfriend made dinner and sent it over.  I was in tears so wonderful it was to have my birthday dinner made with much love.

We had the first of my three birthday cakes that evening at Mom’s house as per family tradition.  It was a chocolate cheesecake!  We were able to coax Mom, who usually avoids having her picture taken at all costs, to take a picture of me on this noteworthy occasion.  I’m blessed to have her smiling next to me all these years later.

My official birthday party was two days later on Saturday.  My kids had the great idea of having me pose for cake smash pictures.  The cake smash concept started with people putting their infants in front of their first birthday cakes and letting the little buggers go wild, digging into their cakes and smearing them all over their tiny faces with great glee.  The idea spread in time to having 30 year old women doing the same to their birthday cakes.  Well, why not a 60 year old man my daughters wondered.  My elder girl who manages a FastSigns franchise and is a free lance photographer got it all together while my younger daughter made the cake for me to have fun with.  I think it turned out rather well!

After that it was time to get cleaned up and head to the party my family hosted in my honor at a local restaurant.  My younger girl got me this shirt to wear to the party and I loved it.  I have much affection for the poop emoji!

I had a wonderful time with close family and friends.  We had a superb dinner and nobody was in a hurry to leave so I had plenty of time to visit with everybody at leisure and to share favorite memories with all of them. 

The old man with his sweet daughters.

 Young friends make turning old a lot easier.  Well, okay - younger by one or two years at least.

 I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry when my sister presented me with a senior citizen box of goodies including prune treats, high fiber cereal, and other products for us old people to enjoy.

 With everybody’s generous gifts I was able to get one of the very best Plantronics Bluetooth headsets to use when I’m on the scooter.  I’m now able once again (after being without this feature for a few years when my favorite Motorola cell phones took out the auto answer option) to take calls when I’m scootering without having to take a hand off the handlebar to wriggle it under my helmet and press the answer button.  Simply by saying, “Answer,” I can take an incoming call and just as easily ignore one with a verbal command.

I love them all for making turning 60 as painless as they possibly could.  In the week that’s passed since then I’ve found myself lamenting my age just a little to myself, but all in all I can’t complain.  There’s much to live for and now that every day’s a Saturday I don’t know that I’ve ever had a better time.  Now all I need is for March to stop feeling like January and for the snow to stop falling every couple of days so I can get back on the Piaggio and ride to my heart’s content.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Great February Ride

Ah!  The butt end of February and so far I can say I’ve had the scooter out every month this year!  It was a magnificent day for a ride with the weather service reporting that it’s currently 76 degrees here.  I spent two hours on the road and they were among the best hours of 2018, though I suspect that my sixtieth birthday party in a few weeks might trump them a little.

The rose bushes are bare as they usually are this time of year as I fire up the Piaggio’s engine and let it warm up for a few minutes.  I checked the tire pressures since it had been a month since I had the bike out last and gave her the once over to make sure everything seemed to be where it belonged.  I don’t know much about motor vehicles, but a cursory check doesn’t hurt even by a dummy who might spot something out of place if he takes a moment to look.

When I leave the house here in the Wyoming Valley the basic choices follow the north to south flow of the Susquehanna River.  East and west from here lead to the boonies for the most part with long stretches of nothing in between so for a short ride such as I take on a day like this when the morning is sunny with more clouds and eventually rain on tap, north and south are the more prudent choices.  Today I decided to head south.

I really like riding through the small towns strung together here in “da valley” with their 19th century charm.  The British who warred with the natives to take control settled much of the valley proper in the 1700s.  Toward the end of the 1800s came in turn the Irish, the Germans, the Italians, the Polish, Slovaks, and Russians to work on the railroads, in the coal mines, and various industries.  Many of the homes I pass by on my rides through the small municipalities were coal miners’ homes, and but for different choices of modern siding, they look essentially the same as they did for the past 150 years or so.

I was wearing my happy face through Nanticoke where I started driving slowly up one of the streets, past the home of my junior high school girlfriend, admittedly hoping to get a glimpse of her.  If she’d been sitting on her porch enjoying the sunshine I don’t honestly know if I’d have the gumption to pull to the curb and talk with her.  It’s been many years since we last spoke, at my grandmother’s wake sometime in the early 90s, and then only briefly.  I think about her from time to time, hoping she’s happier in her second marriage than she’d been in her first, and generally just wishing that she’s having a nice life.  We shared a lot when we were kids together, but we lost touch after high school.  I’ll always carry a small torch for her and wonder now and then what life might’ve been like if we’d stuck together and married.

I ended up passing this market on the center square, still in Nanticoke, and felt just a touch of a pang of misery that I experienced there when I was maybe 7 years old.  I was sent into the market with a dollar bill in hand to get a pack of nine-volt batteries.  I was smart enough to realize that I had enough money for them before getting them to the counter, but was devastated when the guy behind the counter announced a price that included whatever the sales tax was at that time.  I remember being horrified with the embarrassment of not having enough money and having to return to my uncle’s car without them.  Of course he gave me the nickel or whatever it was to go back and get them, but the damage to my tender young psyche had already been done.  From my adult perch it was silly that I had felt totally humiliated in that instance, but what a testimony to how well we remember such things from our youth even after fifty some years have flown by in the mean time.
It was just past the market as I was cruising slowly through the neighborhood when my radiator fan came on and I realized that my engine seemed to be running just a little hot.  After the nightmare I had last summer when the scooter was in the shop from mid May through late August I wasn’t about to take any chances so I decided to scoot back through the valley farther north to visit the motorcycle shop.  I’d expected that my mechanic would have little business in the middle of February, but there he was all backed up with work just as much in the winter as during peak riding season.  He dropped what he was doing to check my coolant, discovering that some air burped out of the line when he opened the fill tank and then adding just a sip of water to top it off.  I was glad I made the trip because on the way back to the house the heat needle was right where it was when I parked the scooter in the fall and I felt much better about it.
The ride back to beat the rain was thankfully uneventful.  I managed to spy a few things that touched different emotions.

I always take delight whenever I see another scooter in my travels.  As with certain foods that make me feel sorry for my daughters in their not liking them, I kind of feel a degree of sadness for everybody who’s never ridden a scooter.  They just don’t know what they’re missing I think to myself!

I was able to stop fast enough to turn on the camera and work the zoom to get this decent shot of a plane taking off at the Forty Fort airport.

I felt an extraordinary amount of glee in seeing that the gates to the county park were open.  They usually clamp them shut in late November and don’t open them again till late April, but there they were, as open as they could be!  There’s really nothing beyond them that’s worth seeing, just various ball parks, but for some reason getting beyond those gates always makes me happy because it’s usually a sign that the best of the riding season is upon us.  I often enjoy a lunch or a snack back there under a pavilion that I like because I can park the bike right next to it.

I smirked today as I usually do when I’m riding up this hill.  When I had the small 50cc scooter an old lady walking briskly could have beaten me to the top and I often pulled over to let the lines of cars building up behind me pass.  Sometimes I miss that the little scooter limited my speed and forced me to ride slowly enough to smell the roses, but when I need it the power of the 250 can’t be beat.

 I rode past the family home of my best friend who now lives in Boston.  The house is vacant now and while my friend has no claim on nor responsibility for the property he’s still curious about it so I ride past now and then since it’s only about a mile from here to let him know if anything is going on.  It hasn’t changed, though, since his brother died last spring.  Going past it brings back such wonderful memories of all the times I spent there with my friend’s family and him while we were in high school.  Crisp fall evening, Christmases, summer parties - they all seem like they were only yesterday, but he’s been in Boston for the past 42 years.

Finally, as I dismounted back at home, I grinned when I saw that there was still a little patch of snow on the ground just ahead of the Piaggio’s front tire.  I consider it a particular triumph even if a minor one when I’m able to get out on two wheels while there’s still some snow around.  While I was riding I encountered some big piles of it pushed into mounds by plows, but it seemed a bigger deal that there was still some in my yard while I managed to go out for a ride!

There’s a wintry mix in the forecast for tomorrow.  That’s okay.  There are warmer days just around the corner!