Friday, January 16, 2009

Training Wheels, er Wings

I was going through some of my earliest digital photos last night just for the fun of it and I came across this one.

Kind of looks like me on the scooter. Don't you think?

I'll be away for the weekend - in Steelers' territory, in fact, so whatever cheering I might do for the Eagles will need to be somewhat muted if I don't want to get lots of scowls directed my way.

I wish the holiday on Monday were the kind that almost everybody gets off from work instead of basically those of us who work for banks and schools. At least that's how it is out our way, and even here some schools have class while others don't. It's tough to enjoy a day off when you're off alone and there's too much ice on the roads to ride.

Then again, I can always visit the local park to stay in shape for riding season...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Back to School

We took our baby, my riding buddy, back to college this afternoon and if this old daddy sounded sad yesterday, you ought to hear his Eeyore voice today. I remember the night she was born, when they rolled a huge x-ray machine into the room in the middle of the night after the three of us were already asleep. When later they dragged her down the dark hall for a phlebotomist who didn't seem to know a needle from a stick of spaghetti to draw some of her blood, he failed so miserably that I insisted that he stop after a few attempts and the pediatrician on call had to be called in to draw it. "The poor soul," as the doctor had called her after she was born had flared her nostrils slightly when she drew her first breaths, and we were tacitly led to believe by his tone and demeanor that she was in grave danger of not lasting the night with us. Next week she turns 19 and a few days ago she bought her first car which our friends were selling.

I wasn't really crazy about my little girl getting a big, old Jeep, but with today's weather I was only too glad that we had it to take her back in. Since she's only been driving since last year and not much in ice or snow we brought it back home for our mechanic to give it the once over, but after spring break she'll take it back to school with her and spare dear old dad those multiple trips to the fourth floor with armfuls of things and without the benefit of an elevator.

She goes to school in a picturesque place that reminds me of a portion of my grandpa's train platform at Christmastime. I picture her there, sometimes, standing right by the window where I took this picture, holding a cup of tea, looking at this same mountain, and perhaps remembering the special moments that she and I shared through her years of growing up. She went to the school I teach in for ten years and for the next four I took her to school each morning and picked her up at the end of her day. I was luckier than most dads in having gotten to spend so much time with her - just the two of us talking about all the things we never ran out of to talk about.

I'm going to miss her now that she's gone again. The month or so she spent at home just wasn't enough. What time we get together now is never going to be enough and yet, it must suffice. Her day in the sun is just beginning and I will not cast a shadow on it for my own sake. I'm proud of who she is - who she's becoming. Letting go is much harder than I thought it might be, but because she is of noble character I don't worry. I simply miss her, as much on the back of my bike as in the living room curled up on the sofa next to a cat.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Is That a Crocus I See?

I never have an easy time of putting Christmas away. There's a magic in the air from when the first Christmas doodad comes down from the attic until the very last pine needle is swept away. I've been sensitive to that magic every year since I was of preschool age, and even now at the half a century mark the incomparable joy of that wonder lives on in every bauble, every trinket, every last little bit of Christmas that remains in view.

It used to be our tradition that was passed down from my mother-in-law's family that it all came to a screeching halt on January 6th, the traditional commemoration of The Epiphany. On precisely that date, it all went away - back into its boxes and bags and assigned places under the rafters. Now, in middle age, we've grown lazy. The tree's still up though mostly unadorned, and I unplugged the outdoor lights only minutes ago when I went out to blow the snow off the walk. Colorful beads still hang from the double wide doorways between the rooms. Boxes of ornaments sit yet on the living room floor. And I'm in no hurry at all to be done with it. After all, as long as it remains so does a touch of the magic though muted now that the full splendor of the season is here no more. Soon, it will be gone, and the fullness of my annual winter doldrums will hit.

I don't know if I have genuine seasonal affective disorder. I function well enough, but I know that as soon as the last of Christmas is gone I'll sink into a bleak, slow moving state of self pity that'll last clear through the emergence of the first crocus and beyond. I've been this way since long before I got a scooter, but somehow riding seems to be a part of the equation now. Though I'd yearn for the coming of spring regardless of wanting to be out and about on two wheels, the ability to ride now seems to be more tied into my mood than any other single factor. I want it to be spring so I can ride. And lift my head. And smile from ear to ear. And laugh. And all that.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Half a Lifetime Ago...

The date stamped on the back of this photo by the processor is September 1977. I was a year out of high school and playing in "The Why Polka Show." We were a "show" rather than just a band because we provided a full light show like a rock band and we had a rack full of old ladies' hats that we often changed off wearing throughout the evening. Can you find me?

Yep, that's yours truly on the right wearing the accordion, an instrument dad insists on calling the "cor-deen," and which writers more often than not misspelled as accordian back before the days of automatic spell checking. What this has to do with scootin' is that today I visited on the scooter the city where our band was based and where we often performed - Nanticoke, which is about 8 miles south of downtown Wilkes-Barre and which, when I was growing up, seemed to be entirely populated by Polish immigrants and their descendants.

True to its heritage, Nanticoke features Kosciuszko Street, a street on which you can go from kindergarten through college because the Greater Nanticoke Area School District has a cluster of buildings there, as well as the county which has its community college on the eastern end.

The name Kosciuszko itself leads me down a side path that relates to the band in that our drummer, Ron, often joked about a fictitious resident of Nanticoke, one Mr. Vladimir Tuteniewicz. Ron invented Vladimir when he was poking lighthearted fun at Lucian "Lou" Kryger, the leader of a famous polka band (Google "Kryger Brothers.") who also was the D.J. of a polka radio show here in the valley. Lou took requests on the phone during his show and often dedicated the items on his play list, such dedications sounding something like, "And this next oberek goes out to Peter Wojohojoloski and his lovely wife, Aggie, down in Warrior Run." Ron's stock line was, "This next polka goes out to Vladimir Tuteniewicz and his sister, Mary, from the Honey Pot section of Nanticoke."

It's s small world. When I was just a kid I heard the Kryger Brothers perform right in our own neighborhood at the end of each summer when a week or two before school was to start up again the city brought the band shell to our elementary schoolyard and the Krygers fired up the polkas, czardaszes, and obereks. I was honored to share the stage with Lou, his brother, Brunon (Bruce), and their band on a number of occasions, and in that very same school in the schoolyard of which I'd first heard the Krygers play, half a lifetime later, I taught two of Mr. Kryger's grandchildren.

Ron lives in Michigan these days and I don't think I've seen him in over ten years, so I don't know about on his end, but Vladimir Tuteniewicz lives on here. I've used his name on every piece of software I've ever had to "register" as well as his non-existent address - 123 Kosciuszko Street, Nanticoke, Pa.

Before this post starts to sound like a Seinfeld episode where three different subplots all come together at the end somehow...

Here's the BV250 facing the doorway of the United Citizens' Club in the Hanover section of Nanticoke. The Why Polka Show performed there over 25 times in our year or so heyday before we broke up the band and went our separate ways. It's rather amazing that 30 some years later the place looks exactly the same as it did in the late 70s when we thought we were headed for fame and a polka Grammy or five rather than our eventual and untimely date with oblivion.
It was a nice day of riding - of remembering.
"Zagracie tam, chłopcy! Ras! Dwa!" (Something Lou Kryger called out to start his band up. "Play there, boys! One! Two!)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Welcome 2009!

Though it's a whopping 27 degrees outside, with proper layering of my clothes I took a reasonably long ride today to welcome the new year. I went out with the car first to see if the roads seemed traversable. For the most part they did except for icy areas along the curbs in some spots and in places where gravelly salt had built up in the centers of the driving lanes. The streets were practically deserted so I took it slow and had a very good time.

I headed downtown and the Irem Temple mosque made a nice background for this shot even though not much of the scooter made it into the picture because I wanted to get the minarets in the photo.

Public Square in downtown Wilkes-Barre was like a ghost town. It wasn't surprising not to see any shoppers with the stores being closed, but I expected to see a few skate boarders defying the temperatures and taking advantage of the lack of pedestrian traffic to show off for each other. They make me laugh, but I half admire the little punks who keep taking their falls and getting back onto their boards to fall yet again while seeming to expect miracles to kick in at any moment and keep them on their feet. If I'd had to fall and remount that many times to learn how to ride the scooter, I'd have given it up within a week.

On the other side of the river I passed Abe's Hot Dogs. It's peculiar that here in the valley there are two businesses each trading as "Abe's Hot Dogs." The other Abe's is at the south end of Wilkes-Barre's downtown. The owners are unrelated to each other and the restaurants are not affiliated with each other at all, yet they have the same name. There are no lawsuits of one against the other. No fights for the exclusive right to the name. I think it speaks of a kinder, gentler time when we didn't have to take every last thing to court and could all get along much better than we often seem to now.

If the closed gate hadn't stopped me the icy road surface would have turned me around when I tried getting to one of the county parks I like to visit when it's warmer out. The county budget is in a shambles these days with talks of lay offs, interruptions of services, and closings of facilities. I can't quite figure out why almost every other form of government has its checks and balances with legislators, jurists, and executives, yet county government around here has nothing more than three persons, (a majority of two member of one political party and a dissenter from the other party whose job seems to be to disagree with the other two on all matters) who decide everything and seem to do it very poorly.

Doing my best Nanook of the North impersonation I snap one last picture before heading back to the ranch. The edge of my mask gives me the appearance of having a walrus kind of mustache. Back in the warmth of the house perhaps it's time to start practicing to twirl a beach ball on the tip of my nose. It'll give me something to do when it's warm again. Then again, when it warms up, I think I'll just go scootin' and leave that beach ball spinning to the pros.

May all who visit here be blessed in 2009 with good health, happiness, love, true joy, and enough contentment to last well into old age!