Sunday, July 28, 2013

On Vacation

Will be back in a few days.

Friday, July 19, 2013

They Paved Paradise

Joni Mitchell lamented it in 1970.  I was in the sixth grade and less concerned about pristine forests being bulldozed in the name of progress than I was about the rookie nun who was teaching my class lasting the year with our shenanigans and worse, and to be truthful, the latter didn't keep me awake at nights.  I can't even remember which of my schoolmates I was in love with that year, but it had to have been somebody 'cause my eye for the ladies had been keen since sitting beside the lovely Melinda in kindergarten.  In any event, Big Yellow Taxi came to mind a few days ago when I visited an old spot that I scooted to often when I first got my baby 50cc Piaggio and even later on the BV250 because it was a relatively secluded place in spite of being alongside a highway - somewhere to stop when stopping to smell the roses figuratively was in order.

It sits beside one of those old industrial buildings that has been developed into small commercial units and shops, and back when I started visiting there were very few tenants.  The cars that were parked there sat in the spaces immediately adjacent to the building itself, and the area of which I write was an outpost of the large parking lot and the view of it wasn't blighted by the presence of automobiles.  There was always a place for me to put the scooter while I yapped on the phone or did something or another on the laptop by one of the picnic tables.

The once peaceful spot is an iron sculpture garden and I've often wondered about its history.  With sufficient legwork I might be able to discover when it was built and by whom and for what purpose, but none of that is important to me.  It served as an oasis for this scooter rider on days when going somewhere mattered more than where I was going, and when no other place came to mind to be a destination, it served as a pleasant escape from the boredom of sitting at home, and was as conducive to thought and introspection as is riding the bike itself.

The reader who approaches a blog with the eye of a high school English teacher, or worse yet, a college English professor, would have, by now, made note of the use of the past tense and on an even deeper cerebral level noticed with a self appreciating twinkle in his eye that my nostalgic mentions of the sixth grade foreshadowed a disappointment yet to be written about directly.  The reader who's more like me, however, will be skipping most of this text and looking at the pictures in hopes of finding a pretty lady perched incidentally beside some prop. To the latter I apologize humbly.  I have yet to roar up to some local landmark and reach for my camera even as I'm slamming down the kickstand in manly fashion and be swarmed by a bevy of beautiful models eager for scooter blog exposure.  To the former I make no apologies for the utter lack of plot, dearth of dynamic characters, and for the usual expression of emotion outside of poetry.

The disappointment of which I write should be obvious by now even to somebody who rarely has his nose out of a comic book.  What's changed about my serene scene is that the shops have filled up and cars now surround my spot just about all the time.  Somehow it impacts me nearly as much as when I figured out the truth about Santa Claus and a whole, big chunk of magic was ripped forcefully out of my little heart.

Maybe one of the rottenest things about getting out of the sixth grade and all the other grades is learning and perhaps embracing reluctantly the paradox whereby some of the best parts about being alive come without a price tag, and that the harder we work with "happiness" as the goal, the further from achieving it we slide.  Sometimes the best moments just happen without having to do anything except to be there and to be perceptive to their value.  The times that I spent in this place, before the cars took over, were some of those moments to me.  As with the times I spend on the scooter, the collective hours I spent simply in sitting there delighted me with an appreciation for those times when life just tosses you a gift that you weren't expecting.

I suppose I could still go there, park the scooter, set up the laptop or netbook on the picnic table, yammer on the phone, or just enjoy in luxuriously lazy fashion the clouds and the cars going by.  But I know that it wouldn't be the same just as Christmas hasn't been since that gut wrenching Eureka! discovery about Santa.

With cars eventually come other people, and while I'm not a misanthrope nor purely an introvert, when I scooter to a place like this former respite from life's daily worries and concerns and rat raced pace, I do so because I'm craving solitude.  A single person walking to his car who might call out a friendly, "Hi!" would ruin that for me and shatter a moment that was supposed to be a private and special one.

In creating the sidebar for this blog I wrote a number of years ago, "Scootering has become to me as much a unique way of seeing the world and of thinking about things as it is a means of getting from one point to another or simply enjoying the ride."  Scootering to this place that I wrote about here today had become for me part of that "way of seeing the world and thinking about things."  I know when I sat there and gazed at the sculptures I enjoyed an illusion of being in a kind of magical part of the world.  I was, somehow, on holy ground where I was given a gift of being able to appreciate something simple and pure that cost me nothing but gave me so much.  Odd that when I spent my time there in years past the cars and trucks whizzing by at 55 mph only a stone's throw away didn't shatter the special nature of the place at all, but a single Ford Focus in a lined space can ruin it all.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Maybe Someday I'll "Rally"

Regarding our DIS Rally just past, and scooter rallies in general...

My experiences with the great outdoors starting from a very young age were fairly limited, the most adventurous being leaving my backyard to play in the neighbor's backyard.  Each summer, the pastor of our parish would treat all of us altar boys to the annual "altar boy picnic" which was held in the grove across the road from the parish cemetery.  Even traipsing from the enclosed pavilion to the remote bathroom was high adventure for me as I made my way between the sparse scattering of pine trees along the way.  Although I had been a Cub Scout and enjoyed perusing the official Cub Scout manual in regards to camping and other fun supposedly to be had in the out-of-doors, at very best all of that sounded great on paper.  My true adventures were lived vicariously through the characters in the comic books that my beloved grandfather would get for me from a friend who worked at a printery.

Unfortunately, that's the mindset with which I approach the concept of a scooter rally.  In essence, I'm still that chicken little kid who believes that sleeping in a tent in the woods somewhere ought best be approached as would neurosurgery deep inside the skull - i.e., only to be done in the most extreme, emergency, it's this or die situation.  Add to that my fear of making a somewhat long trip on the scooter because I am apprehensive about breaking down where authorized repair shops are few and far between, and my absolute hatred of possibly becoming cold and wet while riding through weather that doesn't necessarily adjust itself for a planned scooter rally, and, like the camping section of the old Cub Scout manual, it all sounds much better on the printed page than I imagine it might turn out to be in reality.

To be certain, I know I am missing out on a lot of fun and camaraderie when I make an appearance at a local rally for only a few hours during daylight that features plenty of sunshine and no threat of rain.  All of the men and women I have met over the course of the past few years since our local group, Disorganized Individual Scooterists (DIS), was formed are great people and I have enjoyed every minute that I've spent with them.  When it comes to thinking about sliding into a tent knowing that the nearest bathroom is a football field's distance away, or scootering home in the dark along back roads and byways that I don't really know, that old chicken is alive and well and prudently limits himself to the brightest of daylight hours.

I was thrilled to see my BV 250s brother, Fran's Touring model, at the rally!

Admittedly, like Rudolph might have been when he approached the reindeer games for the first time, I also have a cautious respect for the scooter games that are often played at rallies.  I have dropped the Piaggio three times and each time I feared more for the sake of the bike than I did for myself.  Thus, the thought of trying to align my bike with a 2 x 4 sitting on some sort of fulcrum and riding across it without falling over is not something to which I would look forward with great relish.  I have a hard enough time getting up my nerve to leave a paved surface and drive across gravel or dirt while stone cold sober, never mind opening the throttle and rushing toward certain doom, especially with a few beers in me.

Robin's absence was deeply felt by all with whom she shared her gentle spirit.

I went to this year's rally of our group mainly to attend the wedding of Carl and Megan which was the highlight of the rally itself, and I went in the car because I was bringing a guest and our combined weight on the scooter would have exceeded the manufacturer's limit.  Even if I had gone alone, though, I'm not sure I would've taken the bike because after a few good hours of riding hard in the heat it's beginning to sputter, backfire, and stall, and I have no idea what to do about it.  As I said somewhere up above, authorized Piaggio repair shops aren't exactly as ubiquitous as Walmarts, and I dread the thought of possibly waiting hours for a tow truck to arrive to cart my scooter to the place where I usually have it serviced.

Unfortunately, a mishap on the evening before pushed the wedding back a few hours from its scheduled time, but that became fortuitous to me because I had the opportunity to meet up with some new folks not only from our own group, but from the Three Mile Island and Royal Bastards groups from Harrisburg and Philly, respectively, as we waited for the ceremony to begin.  The gentleman with me in the photo immediately above, from the TMI group, wrote this about the rally on Facebook:

I get to the scooter rally at 11 p.m. last night after a two and a half hours scooter ride in the pouring rain to find the party happening better yet my tent was already put up with my stuff inside. this is why I scooter, scooter people are the best you will ever find. Going to have a blast at dis wedding rally!

Guys like this, and his friends who tended to his needs, are the main reasons that I wish I was much less of a chicken.  He's absolutely right in writing here and in saying in my conversation with him that scooter people are truly a unique breed.  It seems at the rallies I've been to that whether you've known somebody there for a few minutes or half a lifetime, there's a bond there unlike any other.  Just about anybody would give you the shirt off his back if you expressed a desire to have it, and would do so gladly with a smile.

Can I imagine myself with these guys and ladies laughing and joking and just having a fantastic time well into the evening around perhaps a campfire?  Heck yeah!  But in the same way that I thought spending a night in the woods back when I was 10 sounded like it would be a blast - as long as it was just an entertained thought and not something I'd actually have to do.

So do any groups have scooter rallies at motels?  On weekends with guaranteed great weather?  A mile or two from where I live?  With games like Parcheesi?   Probably not.  Sigh!  But for those of you who are more adventurous than I, these groups have upcoming rallies that I'll miss with regret...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Scooter Wedding

I've been to my share of weddings, but never like the one I was honored to attend yesterday - the wedding of two scooter friends from our local scooter group, Carl and Megan.

I met Carl, the founding father of Disorganized Individual Scooterists (DIS) two summers ago when I was out getting ice cream one evening.  I recognized his picture from somewhere online, and went right up and introduced myself when I saw him hanging out with a group of crotch rocket guys, quite impressed that there he was on his vintage scooter amidst a group of his contemporaries on their bigger, louder bikes.  I liked him immediately, his unassuming nature and his famous grin already growing on me as we shook hands for the first time.  I recall that the girl he was with that evening wasn't the lady he married yesterday.

Carl Sr., father of the groom, and yours truly.

When I went to the first DIS rally that Carl had organized later that same summer (Actually, Carl called it the "Not a Rally Rally", but we all knew what it was.) I met Megan who was to be yesterday's bride, but none of us knew it then.  She was a sweetheart to be certain, about the same age as my elder daughter, and I can't tell you what it was, but somehow at that first get-together I pictured Carl and Megan together as a couple even though they weren't there as boyfriend and girlfriend.  They just seemed right for each other.

It wasn't until a chilly evening this past April when I went for a ride with Carl, Megan, and Jeff, another member of our little group, that I learned the heart melting part of Carl and Megan's engagement.  Megan adored Carl since they were kids together sixteen years ago, and knew in her heart that someday she'd be his bride as they dated on and off through the years.  I almost shed a tear when she told me that at the restaurant that evening, but I saved it and a few others for their wedding yesterday.

This weekend Carl and his family hosted the DIS rally and the wedding was the highlight of the rally itself.  I was going to combine some writing about the rally and the wedding together here, but the wedding deserves its own post.  I'm a great fan of the falling-in-love kinds of chick flicks (Not so much on the ones where some kid is dying, some underdog comes out on top, or animals can talk.) and Carl and Megan's courtship and wedding could be made into a movie that I know I'd love to watch especially if the credits at the end were to roll over a dark screen so nobody could see me wiping my eyes and nose into a handkerchief.  If anybody had seen me sniveling yesterday at their wedding I could have blamed an errant soap bubble for landing in one of my eyes.

Carl and his groomsmen were attired in suits with ties and short pants.  Megan wore a beautiful white gown with pink trim and pink sneakers and came "down the aisle" on her pink scooter.  Highlights of the ceremony were the exchanges of vows, written by each for the other, with the scooter theme woven throughout.  I think it was Megan who said something like, "...going through life side by side, or in staggered formation depending on road conditions."  After the exchange of rings, Carl and Megan were presented with jars of two-stroke oil which they combined into the tank of the shiny, black Stella with "Just Married" on its rear on which they'd leave the ceremony together as husband and wife.

Unfortunately, the dear lady who was my guest and I exceeded the weight limit of the Piaggio so I took the car to the rally/wedding, but it ended up being a very good thing because she was suffering with sciatic pain and we left quietly, shortly after we congratulated the new Mr. and Mrs.  I had to overcome a few odds and toy with the calendar to make sure that I could be there, but I wouldn't have missed the wedding for the world!

Carl and Megan, I wish you all the best as you scoot through life together.  May your journey be a long and pleasant one and may the ups and downs be as smooth as they can be!

For some thoughts about the rally itself...

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Susquehanna Brewing Company Tour

Back at the end of May I made mention of the Susquehanna Brewing Company which I often ride past when I'm scootering to the north end of the valley, and I noted that I intended to take a tour of their brewery one of these days.  That day was this past Friday, the fifth of July.

I called their main office around 10 AM assuming that they'd be open by then if they weren't going to be closed as part of an extended Independence Day celebration.  There was no answer so I left a message on the machine, and then later, around noon I took a drive there with my sweetie only to find the office locked.  On a lark I tried the door where a sign said the tours begin and found it unlocked.  I peeked in a called to see if anybody was around, but got no reply.  On the way back to the car a friendly guy popped out and asked if he could help us.  We said we hoped that we could take a tour.  He said that the official tour would be at 5 PM but offered to give us a brief tour right then and there.  We were impressed by his friendliness.

As soon as we were inside the guy, who is actually named Guy, poured us each a cup of beer and barely begin speaking when we noted aloud that we were amazed at how clean the place is.  With no exaggeration, I'd eat something off the floor anywhere in the building without giving it a second thought.  The whole place is immaculate from top to bottom!  Unfortunately, Guy barely started walking us around when a buzzer sounded and he told us that he needed to unload a truck, inviting us to help ourselves to a refill, look around, and let ourselves out when we were finished.  We thanked him for his hospitality and made plans to return at 5 for the actual tour.  When we got back to the house I got a call a little later in response to the message I'd left to let me know that there would be a tour and I assured the gentleman that we'd be there.

When 5:00 came we pulled up to the same door which was propped open with an empty half barrel and walked right in.  Kevin, our tour guide, poured us each a brew, and it became apparent after a few minutes passed that the whole tour was going to consist of the two of us and him.  Now it was absolutely sweltering both outside and inside, and with only two people there for a tour I wouldn't have blamed Kevin if he wanted to cut the tour short and get home into the air conditioning or maybe a pool and start the weekend.  Guess again!  We got the tour that the President might have gotten if he'd been there.  Thorough.  Most cordial.  Informative.  Especially friendly!  We were there for about an hour and a quarter and we had an excellent time learning all there was to know about the Susquehanna Brewing Company. And we found out that Guy wasn't the truck unloader; he's one of the higher ups in the organization!

The engineering behind the entire brewing process at SBC is remarkable.  Other breweries that I've seen look like they were put together largely as an afterthought with no seeming rhyme nor reason to their layouts.  Susquehanna Brewing's entire production line is elegant and just beautifully executed.  Form and function are interwoven seamlessly from beginning to end.

I called the brewery yesterday and asked if I could speak to one of the owners, who Kevin assured us was very down to earth, just to express our delight with the tour we were given.  I was told that he was with somebody, but the spokesperson gave me his cell phone number and asked me to give him a call in about a half an hour.  I did just that and found Mark to be every bit as cordial as Kevin.  He was most appreciative that I called to let him know that we loved the tour and their beers, as I was to be welcomed to call him on his cell phone.  I don't know too many business owners who are so accessible to the public.

I'm not going to go into any detail here about the company and its history because I'd rather encourage you to take the tour yourself if you're here in the valley or hereabouts.  I would be remiss, though, if I didn't mention that I like all of Susquehanna Brewing Company's beers which isn't something I can say about the other breweries I've toured.  Though their Pils-Noir which I discovered at a hockey game this past season is my favorite, their lager, ale, and IPA are very enjoyable as well.  I won't pretend to be a connoisseur, but I know what I like, and all of SBCs beers are on my list.

I'll leave you with a few links regarding SBC and its history, and my recommendation that you try their beers and take their tour.  You should be impressed with both!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

By the Lake

Today’s blogging location – Frances Slocum State Park – a lakeside picnic table weathered, moss covered, and perhaps as old as I am.  I was up at 5:30 this morning as I was yesterday and I fear that I might be turning into my Grandma who was in bed each evening before 9 and up at the crack of dawn with the birds.  Of course it was to my advantage that she kept those hours, especially when I’d serve the 7:30 Mass and then go to her house for a rich breakfast of buttered Saltine crackers and a thick cup of hot chocolate after, “Ite Missa Est. Deo Gratias.”  For me, getting up so early doesn't benefit anybody, least of all me, but nevertheless here I am two hours out of bed sitting beside as serene a scene as I might have hoped to find.

A train on the way to just about anywhere is usually a decided bonus!

I wasn't sure if I should trust the weatherman when I ventured out on the scooter.  By the look of the sky, I’m still not sure if my choice was prudent, but Doppler radar suggests that I should be safe for a few hours at least.  Then again, I've gotten fairly wet at times in spite of what the radar picture looked like when I left the house, so it’s never totally safe to trust the forecasts.  As insurance, I chose a table not too far from a pavilion should I feel some drips and drops starting, but for now I’m doing okay.

A month ago I still had two weeks of school to finish and didn't think the end would ever come.  I am now into my third week of vacation and if I could go back and change a single minute of the time that’s passed since I walked out of my classroom door, I wouldn't change a thing.  The time I've spent outside of school even for this short a time has replenished my spirit magnificently.  The ultimate return to work I will lament loudly, but I’m savoring what I have for the time being and trying to think of that day in the not too distant future as little as possible.

I love the sounds here.  Birds.  Trees rustling in a breeze.  Even the purr of electric motors on a few fishing boats.  A lady encouraging her dog to keep up with her.  The occasional whiz of the reel of the old gent fishing off the dock.  There’s nothing particularly special about any of them, yet they touch my soul because they’re not the sounds of my usual, daily life, and they take me away from my familiar chair almost magically.

I look up between sentences and longer phrases and just drink in the sight of the lake rippling in front of me.  The waves moving, as they have no doubt for centuries, regardless of whether or not there’s somebody to watch them moving carry my spirit far, far away from the daily grind.  If not for my short attention span (Woof!) I could sit here for much longer than I’d ever plan to do.

A guy just stopped in an SUV to talk (by calling across the parking lot) to the fisherman on the dock who had been talking to the lady with the dog when she got near him.  From their conversation it’s apparent that they come here often, perhaps daily like the old men who meet at just about any McDonalds in the morning to pore over the paper and talk (loudly) about days gone by.  Every time I see one of those groups of guys or ladies at Mickey D’s I think about how if a group of kids were making the same amount of noise, they’d be told to leave.  It’s like that with Red Hat Ladies too, but as usual I digress.

The sky suggested the threat of rain no matter how empty the Doppler radar suggested the sky might be of it.

I've noticed as I’m sure you have as well if you've read down this far that my fingers keep working on these keys, but I’m not really saying anything.  I don’t really care because where I am inside of myself, as I've been for the past few weeks, is even better than I’d hoped it would be when I was finally free for the summer.

The can of Diet Pepsi I brought with me is nearly depleted and that, along with the coffee I guzzled before I ventured out is beginning to suggest that it might be time for me to seek out a bathroom.  I could probably leave everything of mine right here on this table, scooter to where I need to go and back, and find everything just where I left it.  I won’t risk it, though.  I do regret having become cynical and jaded over time, but I do value my things more than I have any concern for somebody who might like to have a netbook and cell phone without having to buy it himself.

Well, I answered nature’s call and scootered over to the other picnic area around a bend in the lake from where I’d been.  I plopped myself down at a table and just stared out at the water for a while wondering if there was anything left in me to write for today.  There wasn't until a young family spilled out of their car and started chattering.

I suppose I need to say for those of you who are my friends here that I still love teaching, i.e., my time in the classroom with the kids.  I complain about it often enough here to lead somebody to believe that I’d rather be doing something else for a living, but that’s not quite true.  The sounds of the kids in the parking lot were like music to my ears.

What I’m tired of, after 30 years, is being told that we’re going to try new things and do new things because somebody on high ordained it.  Education works, not because of applied research, but in spite of it. It's the softest of the "soft sciences" because NO new method is going to work on a kid who got beaten before he was put on the school bus and didn't have a meal since yesterday's free lunch.  

I've seen changes come down the pike for over half my lifetime.  I've been forced to do things that I don’t believe in, and invariably, after a whole bunch of time, energy, and grief, all the new program are eventually abandoned.  Universities need to stop issuing graduate degress in education that require thesis writing because new theses lead to new programs that just don't work, and we need to go back to the tried and true pedagogy that turned out people in the late 1800s who wrote better than we do today.  To the “methods” that led to the invention of Calculus.  To the teaching styles that had scholars doing scholarly things and doing them well, millennia before the birth of Christ.  Heck, I'd go back to having kids whacked around by a nun before jumping on some of the newer theories full of gobbledegook that I've had forced down my throat.

End of sermon.  There’s a lake here to enjoy!  "It's a beautiful day in Pennsylvania," as Manny Gordon used to say.