Friday, June 28, 2013

Back to the 70s

A cold front must have moved through last evening with the storm because when I got up this morning the weather was next to perfect.  It wasn't hot, but it wasn't cool and there was a delicious warm breeze not only when the scooter was in motion but when I was stopped as well.

All I could think of were the lyrics from 1976 - And there's warm wind blowing, the stars are out, and I'd really love to see you tonight - England Dan and John Ford Coley.  I was a senior in high school then with the whole world in front of me.

And then from 1972 - Summer breeze makes me feel fine.  Blowing through the jasmine in my mind - Seals and Crofts.  I was just starting high school then.

Back when I was that kid in high school I couldn't understand why some people were so into listening to "the oldies" on the radio instead of the great songs that were coming out every week.  As I rode today it was with another of those grins of mine as I realized that the best songs I've heard in my life are my own oldies - all those songs from the 70s on my iPod.  For just a little while out there on the Piaggio, I was that kid again but with a continuously variable transmission rather than a derailleur and ten gears, and I wouldn't have traded those precious nostalgic moments for anything.

I was the kid with the accordion cranking out
some of the very songs that I still love now.
Circa 1975.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

More Summer Fun

It was a busy but wonderful summer day and if the rest of the vacation goes like the past two weeks or so it's going to be just the summer I didn't get for the past five years and desperately needed.  I got up early to get the tires rotated on the Impala and traded the car for the scooter as soon as I got back from the tire place.

I scootered downtown to an optical place to order a pair of computer glasses.  I've needed them for years but didn't realize just how much till I tried my sister's a while back.  As soon as I walked into the place and handed the prescription to the owner he took one glance at it and asked, "Was John your dad?"  I said that he had been and the guy's eyes lit up as he exclaimed, "He was a great guy!"  I was really touched and tickled as he went on and reminisced a little about Dad's visits to his shop.  I'll never fill my Daddy's shoes, but it does feel good to slip my little feet into them now and then, and to be known as his son.

On the way back I circled the square where the annual summer Farmer's Market was set up.  I'd never noticed before but the city actually has a few motorcycle parking spaces!  Okay, they're metered, but still, they're there for the exclusive use of us "bikers."  Makes me wonder...  If there are two bikes in the space and the meter is expired, do both bikes get parking tickets?  Around here, I'd guess that they probably would.  It was a moot point today, however, because I took advantage of the free parking around the perimeter of the square and squeezed the scooter into an available space after I'd decided that I would spend a little time walking around.

Although I often plant hot peppers I didn't this year because I still have so many dried peppers from years past.  When I saw the healthy plants set out at four for a dollar, though, I just couldn't pass them by.  I got a tray of habaneros, one of Thai hots, and another of cherry peppers.  I popped them into the garden as soon as I got back.  If they produce as well as my hot peppers have in years past I should have a nice crop of them without the overabundance I'm famous for growing.

After all that strenuous farming it was time for lunch!  I got a serving of "grape leaves" at the Farmer's Market.  A Syrian neighbor used to make them years ago and I affectionately named them "Syrian piggies" because of their resemblance to holupky - pigs in the blanket, or "stuffed cabbage" for those with no Slavic roots.  With just the perfect combination of sour and spicy rice and ground lamb wrapped inside a taut grape leaf, each one was a decided treat for these old taste buds.  A cold glass of Navigator Golden Ale from the Barley Creek Brewing Company complemented the grape leaves delightfully and made for a terrific lunch!

One more thing to do before my nap and that was to mount on the scooter the bumper sticker one of my students gave to me as an end of the school year present. It's not so much religious to me as it is a reminder for the person who might be following me a bit too close to BACK OFF!  I toyed with the idea of putting, If I hit a bump and fall over, could you stop in time? on the back of the bike, but it would have been too wordy and nowhere near as clever as this...

I did other things too like take the Impala for an oil change, got my hair cut, and joined my sister at our uncle's for a beer.  Nothing earth shattering or out of this world, but it was just as perfect a day as I hope for every summer day to be.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

God's in His Heaven

Although the rest of this post was written on the road, I had to begin with this picture of myself at the colorful gazebo at which I have often photographed myself at the beginning and the end of each summer riding and writing season.  Since I began the tradition of taking my picture here, the municipality in which the gazebo resides upgraded the playground of which it is a part and as a result said playground is often full of kids.  There is no way on God's green earth that I would attempt to take any sort of picture in an area where children are playing; it would just be too creepy.  Luck was with me today when I drove up the hill to the park and there was not a kid in sight.

It was a number of years ago the last time I sat in this spot in a shady municipal park in Wyoming, Pennsylvania, with an ancient laptop on which I wrote a post for this blog.  Me, whose idea of the great outdoors is sitting on my deck with a cold drink, “on the road” rather than working on my desktop PC right beside the air conditioner, and taking to the laborious task of blogging where there are noises and squirrels and other outdoorsy kinds of things all around me!  No, I don’t get it either, in case you were wondering.

X marks the spot where I composed this post.

On my way here, well, to be perfectly honest, I wasn't really on my way here but to a farther, more remote state park when I realized that this, familiar, old place was on the way, I was thinking that an apt title for this post might be, “We have the technology,” from The Six Million Dollar Man.  What was going through my mind was that having all the fun stuff at our fingertips doesn't necessarily make using it as practical or desirable as one might have imagined before he possessed it.  Sort of like the “romantic” notion of being an engineer on a freight train rolling through a quiet, full moon lit country setting in the autumn while sipping on a mug of hot chocolate from his Thermos would probably be a lot less wonderful than it might sound on paper.  Okay, that’s a really poor analogy, but the point my brain is trying to express is that our imaginings are often much better than their subsequent fulfillments.

Those years back when I sat at this same table, I’d just bought a used, no bells, no whistles IBM Thinkpad because I thought that blogging “in nature” instead of in my chair that knows my butt so well would be so “cool” to do.  That word “cool” can be replaced with a number of words that also miss the mark in trying to tell you what I was expecting when I came outdoors to write, but I know with much disappointment, that the experience was far less than I’d imagined it might be.

 The Thinkpad didn't have built in Wifi, so when I first came out to write I figured I’d key my blog entry into Word and then paste it into the Blogger interface when I got back to the house.  That didn't work.  As soon as I sat down here, under this familiar tree, I felt cut off from the rest of the world working on a computer that wasn't online.  Eventually I got a Wifi card for the laptop and figured that that would make the key difference – that I’d be able to write and post remotely without that horrible “cut off” feeling.  That didn't work either.  It still felt terribly foreign rather than sweet to sit under a tree at a concrete park table and try to write.  Something integral was missing, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

So, here I am today trying it again, and somehow it’s different.  It doesn't feel weird as it did back then.  There aren't any differences that I can name except that now I’m working on my netbook rather than the behemoth IBM, and sipping a Coke Zero, my new favorite, rather than a Diet Pepsi, and I’m soaking up pleasantness by the gallon per minute.

I’m thinking that the difference is that for the moment (maybe the year, even) I’m technologically fulfilled.  I am disconnected from the world (i.e., without a working internet connection) as I’m keying this into Word, but the significant difference is that, if I wanted to, I could download the pictures from my camera directly into this computer, fire up the hot spot on my phone, connect the netbook to it, and post this entire article from right here.  I just don't happen to want to do that now, but I could if I wanted to.  That's the main point!

Now, that might sound dumb, but for my whole life I've “gotten into things” that I could never enjoy fully without some degree of disappointment because there was always more gear or more stuff or more doodads that I wanted and thought I needed.  Since my Dad died in October, I've realized starkly just how fortunate I am to have the things I have, and that they, like all things of this world, are fleeting, and passing and for my liking but not my dependence.

 The sun is shining brightly, but I’m in the shade of majestic maple tree.  There is a delightfully warm breeze stirring the leaves and grass, and there are unseen birds chirping like old ladies talking over the hedges while they hang their wash out on the clothesline on a Monday morning.  A steady stream of traffic goes by to my left and there are orange hard hat guys working on something nearby.  God's in His heaven and all's right with the world.  Well, with my world at least for the time being.

I just might do this more often!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Godspeed, Robin

I met David and Robin Doughtery two summers ago when DIS (Disorganized Individual Scooterists) hosted its first Not a Rally Rally at a local campground. For being around my own age, they were a cute couple, obviously made for each other, and noticeably in love.

Last year, through Facebook, I learned that Robin was battling cancer.  I thought she'd been doing okay after treatment.  Then on Ride to Work Day David posted this...

I rode Robin Dougherty 's 1987 Honda Helix to work today for Ride to Work day with her new license plate on it. She purchased this new in 1987. How many 26 year old one owner vehicles do you know of?  I just wish she could enjoy it one more time. ; {

I quickly wrote to a mutual friend only to learn that Robin had but a few days left in this world.  Robin lost her battle last week and was laid to rest today.  On Facebook this morning, David posted this loving tribute to his wife.

Farewell, Robin!

May the angels lead you into paradise;
may the martyrs come to welcome you
and take you to the holy city,
the new and eternal Jerusalem.

May choirs of angels welcome you
and lead you to the bosom of Abraham;
and where Lazarus is poor no longer
may you find eternal rest.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

How I Spent (the first week of) My Summer Vacation

It all began on June 13th as I crossed out the last day of school on the calendar with which I marked every day of the school year since late last August.  I was feeling so light-hearted that I darn near floated off the floor as I made my way to the car and pointed it in the direction of Somerset, PA where I was heading to help someone very dear to me move back east.

I got there in about four hours, the usual time, helped to finish loading the truck, and then headed straight into a five hour drive to the Poconos to help unload.  I spent the past ten days right there.  I didn't have my scooter.  I didn't have much of anything, really, except a lot of time in a beautiful setting - the time I needed to unwind from the school year and to allow the stress to seep slowly from every cell in my body.

I ate many wonderful meals while I was away, and every one of them with an easiness I hadn't felt in nearly a year.

I drove through some strange places, at times not even knowing where I was.  It didn't matter, though, because I was as free as a bird!

I visited an unusual place or two in my travels.

I even stopped to smell the poppies because roses weren't to be had.

I found myself relaxing everywhere I went in a way that isn't possible when the next Monday of work is only a few days away.

I enjoyed watching wildlife make its way past my Impala.  Yep!  That's a baby bear working his way across the yard.

And even though I can't swim it didn't stop me from frolicking in the water a number of times.

I might have posted here while I was away through the netbook using the hot spot function on my phone, but I was too lazy in a way I'd yearned to be for many months.  I don't think an Ignatian retreat could have been any better in realigning my head with my heart and my soul.

Tomorrow I'll probably take the scooter out.  For today, though, I'll simply continue to bask in the glow of the most perfect start to my summer vacation and probably go to bed wearing the same goofy grin that I'm wearing right now.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

End of School Again!

I'm cranking this out at my school desk on the netbook.  Everything that I use here on a daily basis has been put away for estivation.  The room is barren, and, alone with my thoughts I'm not even sure what my heart is thinking.

I am an enigma, even to myself.  For as much as I've looked forward to this day since late August of 2012, its arrival is bittersweet at best.  I need the time off.  I need to purge myself of negative things and soak up as much life and happiness as I can in the coming weeks.  And yet, I know already that I will miss the daily give and take of the classroom and my interactions with the kids.  It's what keeps me young at heart in spite of what my aching joints remind me of in the morning, or in the evening when I try to rise from a comfy chair.

In a few hours I will be walking out the door of my room, getting into my car, and driving for four hours to get away from the daily grind as I've know it for the past ten months.  I'll be cruising through what promises to be a driving rain but praying that I'll feel nothing but sunshine in my heart.

I'll be away for at least the next ten days so if there's nothing here for a while I won't be having a relapse from writing; I'll just be off somewhere being as happy as I can be.  After that I'll be back to scooter rides and the two wheeled introspection that keeps me sane.

Happy Summer Vacation - to ME!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Road Less Traveled - #1

It was about 8:30 this morning when I dragged myself up, made the coffee, and only then opened my eyes to discover that it was an absolutely gorgeous day in spite of the 30% chance of thunderstorms in the forecast when I turned in last night.  That put me at about 8:35 and at 8:36 the desire to ride somewhere kicked me hard in the behind.  I gulped my coffee, ran through the shower, and after I decided that it was indeed warm enough to venture out in shorts I dressed and hit the road.  Destination, Shickshinny, Pennsylvania.  Why there?  I haven't a clue; it was just the perfect day to do it.

Leaving the valley to either the north or south puts one on a road that runs more or less parallel to the Susquehanna River.  Today's escape led me south on US 11, a scenic ride with the river to my left and a well enough maintained stretch that's posted 55 mph once you're beyond residential areas.  My total ride ended after about 65 miles or so because I extended my ride for a good while beyond the stop in Shickshinny, but my longest stop along my three hour tour was right there.

U.S. 11 Near the former Retreat State Hospital, now an SCI facility

I knew I was going to make a phone call once I got to Shickshinny, but I wasn't sure where I should stop.  When I'm off the bike but plan to be somewhere for a while I prefer to find a bench, and I spied a beauty when I got to the corner of Main and Vine, alongside a gurgling creek.  I parked the scooter, headed for the bench, and started my call, but after a while I got a little restless in just sitting there and began walking over the bridge that spans the waterway.

On Main St.looking north up Shickshinny Creek

Standing there, watching and hearing the water splooshing over the rocks in the creek bed, and taking part in a most delightful conversation with someone very dear to me made me realize that my mood was better than it had been in months - possibly since late August of last year.  I might have taken to the air and clicked my heels if I were of the heel clicking sort or even if I could imagine myself in a moment of spontaneous heel clicking revelry not causing myself serious bodily harm.  Thus in recognizing my limits when it comes to expressing my mirth by way of physical expression, I merely smiled broadly and soaked in the joy of the moment in the realization that I was out enjoying a ride - really savoring it as I did the rides I wrote about here before my long lapse in posting - as I hadn't in almost two years.

As I stood there with the sun as brightly shining in my heart as it was on my forearms (which are now quite red and sore with sunburn) I spied down the length of Vine St. an older looking building with a small steeple atop it.  When I mentioned it in the course of my conversation that it kind of reminded me of a stately structure that the locals might call "Old Main" on a century old college campus I laughed heartily when it was suggested that perhaps it was The Shickshinny College of Taxidermy because there are a number of taxidermists in that area which is basically a blip on the map.  Not that taxidermy isn't a noble profession, but I can't picture any such studio outside a horror movie.  (I'll rein myself in here before beginning a major digression.)

Curiosity got the best of me, so when my conversation ended, I fired up the Piaggio and scootered down to the end of Vine St.  There I discovered the F. L. Garrison Memorial School.  A touch of sadness came upon me when I recognized the telltale signs of it being a school no more and as I walked around out front I could see through some of the windows what appeared to be left over pieces of student art work still hanging inside.

A bit of research when I got back to the house revealed that the school had been built in the late 1930's from the legacy bequeathed to the town by Forrest Ludwig Garrison, a Shickshinny native who struck it rich in West Virginia in a coal deal, and then returned to the town of his youth upon his retirement.  The school, a high school, opened for the 1939-1940 school year and boasted Shickshinny's first auditorium and gymnasium.  In 1957 the school became an elementary school, and at the end of the school year in 2010, it closed its doors for good.

I find it difficult not to anthropomorphize old places that are shut down, especially school buildings that were once so alive with children's excited voices engaged in discovery, and learning, and the anticipations of special programs and holidays and best of all, summer vacations.  I pass just about daily the school in which I taught for 24 years which is now a school no more, and can barely look at it for fear of the heaviness of heart I know I'll feel in thinking of how it must "feel" in being abandoned.  Little did it "know" that when its graduates of the class of 2007 left that June it would never see its children again.  I felt a touch of that same sadness as I paused this morning on the steps of Garrison and considered how its own big heart must have broken when September rolled around three years ago and its kids didn't come back.

But it was a day for joy and not sadness so I shook off those thoughts and considered all of the wonderful things that probably happened there - school plays, and Christmas shows (back when they were allowed), and no doubt countless basketball games and school dances, and just the daily give and take between teachers and students that for many of us were years chock full of warm, happy, memorable moments.  And when I finally started the scooter back up and finished my tour of the grounds, I found this in the old schoolyard beyond the right side of the school.

My heart sang and I laughed out loud from the sheer joy I was feeling right then.  The joy of the day itself and the joy of knowing that Garrison had been the kind of school that the kids must have loved combined to nearly lift me off the ground in a non heel clicking sort of way.  There were hop scotch boards painted onto the schoolyard "floor" as well as shuffleboard courts.  I dare to think that if I'd listened well enough with my heart I might have heard generations of children's laughter and happiness still echoing from the very bricks of the building itself.

The school was bought at auction by a lady who wishes to remain anonymous my research told me, and she stated no plans that she might have for the structure.  I can only hope that she makes it into a place where the human spirit might be touched in some wonderful ways for more generations of people as I'm sure it was every day from September to June when Garrison's doors opened wide like loving arms to receive its children day after day for seventy years.

I'm glad that today was the day it was for me - that it was a perfect day to ride - that I choose to ride to Shickshinny.  Or, maybe - that I was led there by Somebody Who knew I really needed what I found there.