Monday, February 29, 2016

How I Spent My "Extra Day"

I’d say that I only ride on this date every four years, today’s being Leap Day, the 29th of February in 2016 whose number is perfectly divisible by four - except for years which are both divisible by 100 and not divisible by 400 – but it wouldn’t necessarily be true because I could probably safely bet that weather-wise this is the first 29th of February on which I’ve been able to ride since I began scootering in 2007.

  No winter here, folks.  The gates to the park are wide open and have been through the entire season during which they’d usually be locked up tight.

Come to think of it, this has been a winter that kind of wasn’t, and that is NOT to be taken as any sort of lament.  I live in Pennsylvania because that’s where I was born and raised and as a total creature of habit it’s where I’m destined to stay, but if I were more adventurous, wealthy, and more inclined to change things simply for the sake of changing them I’d move to a place where snow is a rare delight and then only as long as it hangs merrily in the air but never hits the ground.

I never get tired of visiting this simple park which gives one a magnificent view all the way across to the other side of the valley.  This picture and the one below are taken from exactly the same vantage point on the scooter, but in the second I pulled in the camera’s zoom tightly to make the windmills on the mountain that form the opposite valley wall seem like they’re right in front of me.

  If you’ve been here before you might have read about the gates to the county park which to me usually symbolize the start of winter, when they usually get closed and locked up, and the heralding of spring, when they usually get unlocked and opened.  This year, though, they were never closed, and never locked, and I didn’t (yet, pausing to knock on wood) have to take out the snow blower except to test it in November and barely needed to man a shovel.  It’s been way too big a thrill for me to ride through those gates every time I’ve checked them and found them wide open since the beginning of December!

It’s indescribably great to be out on the 29th of February soaking up a warm sunshine that’s making my spirit dance.  And that’s because my spirit, which isn’t corporeal, is the only part of me that could possibly dance with any degree of grace, and that’s only hypothetical.

 The buds are starting to open on the pussy willow that grows alongside my deck and the wild chives are already thickening the lawn at the far end where they pop up every year around this time.  I’m thinking in another week or two I might see some crocuses and narcissuses (I think that’s what they call the baby daffodils that grow around here.) poking up in the side garden.

Although I needed the hat and the thick leather riding gloves because the wind chill was taking the delightful temperature of the sun down a few ambient degrees, I was warm enough for the ride to be totally pleasant from start to finish.

So, with all this excitement of what appears to have all the makings of an early spring, you bet that I was out on the scooter this afternoon!  And what joy I was feeling as I practically flew across the roads though light traffic that beat the evening rush with a song in my heart and a Leprechaun’s early gleam in my eye.

My reflection wasn’t quite in focus in the large plate glass panel outside a local store, but the day was as clear as one might be.  It would have been a great day to be up in a plane soaring over the valley as I’ve done a few times taking off and landing from a spot not far from where this picture was taken.
My birthday is in a few weeks and I recall a year when there was one of the biggest blizzards this area has seen in my lifetime that spanned from two days before my birthday right through it into the next morning and which gave us a four day spring vacation from school (that had to be made up in June).  And there was another blizzard in early April on the evening of my parents’ wedding day that had their bus hung up on their way to New York City for their honeymoon, so we can’t count on being out of the worst of what winter might dish up just yet.  But I am hoping with every fiber of my being that there won’t be any more harshness of weather before spring is here in full force.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Off Season - Installment 02 - Another New Phone

I have written here a number of times in the past about my cellular telephones not because I consider such pieces to be terribly informative, but simply because I come to have a personal relationship with my cell phones that’s probably weird, odd, and maybe even a little unhealthy in that if I happen to leave the house without my phone I don’t feel only anxiously cut off from the rest of the world, but almost feel as if I’m walking around in public naked. 
The phone wasn’t much of an important part of my life as a kid.  It sat on the buffet in the dining room in the home in which I grew up, that lonely black spectacle of “modern communications” in the early 60’s, and everybody’s phone looked the same back then.  It took virtually forever to dial on the rotary wheel, and God forbid anybody’s number had a zero in it because that full whirl forward with one’s finger in the zero hole and the complete orbit backward added a seeming infinite amount of time on to making a call.  And when it rang?  Those twin bells could have awakened the dead with their piercing blare that might have had you think you were in a firehouse with the alarm bell going off!

One size fits all - the traditional black rotary phone. This one, like millions of others when I was growing up, was the only phone on the block. It was rented from the telephone company on a monthly basis - THE telephone company monopoly.

There was a time in my life when I was a young adult when I was driven crazy by a ringing telephone that I couldn’t answer in time.  I don’t know what I was thinking but a missed call to me was a horrible thing as if I’d been expecting news that I’d won a billion dollar lottery.  So much so did I hate unanswered calls that when an old wall phone became available to me I mounted it right next to the toilet in the apartment I lived in at the time.  Now, with caller I.D., if somebody’s calling and I don’t know who it is, I don’t even bother answering and let the machine pick it up unless I’m in the mood to mess with somebody and answer it for the simple sake of giving a very hard time to the calling party for infringing on my DO NOT CALL LIST status.

The Atrix, on the right, on the first day that I got it, beside "The Brick" which I'd carried for many years . Oh, how shiny it was, and how happy it made me. It was my very first smart phone.

But, enough background (i.e., stuff to write to make the post longer because I’m a wordy person according to those who know and love me the most).  A few days ago my beloved Motorola Atrix HD which I’d had since August of 2012 and which had been slowing down to the point of having to wait minutes at times for one app to give way to another, seemingly coughed one of its very last breaths.  A reboot (which I’d hoped would be like giving it CPR) froze it at the AT&T globe display from which it would not go forward.  Fifteen tries to do a virtual battery pull by holding down the volume down button and the on button simultaneously finally got it to come up one final time, giving me just enough “life” for me to race to the AT&T store and have its data transferred to a new phone.  Once that was complete I shut it down for the final time and have felt like I killed a friend ever since.  It sits, dead, on the side of my desk and the thought of throwing it in the garbage horrifies me.  I keep thinking it can be saved, somehow, but why?  I already replaced it.

 The poor Atrix next to his replacement, the Motorola Moto-E. Yep, I've been as faithful to my Motorola phones as they've been to me.

The new phone, like all of its Android buddies running the Lollipop operating system, is missing one HUGE feature that I loved on my old phone.  When I’m on the scooter with the bluetooth headset on, it can’t answer automatically.  That’s going to be a problem for me when I’m expecting a call because I’d come to rely on the auto-answer feature heavily when riding.  It’s not easy around here (with many roads that don’t have a shoulder that’s safe to stop on) to pull over, reach up into the helmet, and press a button on the side of the bluetooth headset.  And there isn’t a cell phone holder that can mount easily anywhere on the BV that I’d trust not to eject the phone when I’m practically losing the front tire in one of Pennsylvania’s mighty potholes.  I’m not as bad about missing a call as I was when I had the phone next to the crapper, but there are some calls I’d rather not miss so I can foresee times when I might stay home for fear of missing a call I’m expecting rather than to be on the road with the bike when it comes through.

New, and shiny, the Moto-E sits around waiting to get some calls, although on the weekend that's less likely to happen. He might have to wait another two days to get a little use.

Now, what to do about that beloved old Atrix?  The new one just doesn't feel like somebody to me yet, and there sits the dead one staring up at me like a betrayed companion.  Sigh!

No, I'm not writing ransom notes with different fonts.  The Blogger interface leaves a lot of room for improvement when it comes to changing fonts on the fly, and what comes out after publication sometimes little resembles what was on the screen prior to publishing.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Up Da Mall

In spite of its barely being out of the 30s today I decided after much arguing with myself to take the blog on the road, on the scooter, to the Wyoming Valley Mall where I'm seated in a corner of the sparsely populated food court area thinking back on a time when I was in my teens, this mall was brand new, and would have been thick with people.  Malls were all the rage back then in the early 70s and I wonder where all the shoppers have gone who used to flock here in droves.  I remember the Zacks, the contemporaries of my grandparents who lived next door to us when I was a kid who'd come here every evening after dinner to "hold court" with their cronies on the benches in center court where the mall's corridors intersect.  Long gone now, that whole generation is sorely missed especially when I'm in a place like this that reminds me so much of them.

 To be certain I had no idea of what I'd be writing when I arrived here just as long ago as it took me to park the bike (in the first handicap space near the main doors, lucky me) and get a cup of Arby's decaf because they were still brewing a pot of the good stuff and I didn't feel like setting up camp by this table and then having to go back to get my cup of Joe.  It's a cozy space here in the corner, but nowhere near as coveted as a table might have been at Panera Bread near the fireplace.  I'd have preferred to go there, but I'd been thinking about coming here ever since summer ended and didn't get around to deciding it was time to do it till now.

 I have the tiny recently acquired ION camera on the table beside me snapping pictures every 30 seconds in time lapse mode.  I don't think the visuals I'll be getting will be the slightest bit remarkable, but we'll see.  If nothing else I'll have another "slice of life" series that I'll probably look at and then delete because of their insignificance, but maybe one or two shots will turn out to be shareable here.  Speaking of "slice of life" that's what this entire post is seeming to become even as it leaves my fingertips, passes through the keyboard, and onto the tablet's screen.  I kind of enjoy these types of posts when others do them, but I'm not sure if I like them much when I'm the author of them myself.

 Since I've been doing my cardio rehab walks here at the mall on the more biting of the days that winter has served up so far this season I can't help but wonder what did the malls in.  They were, as I noted somewhere at the top of this post, THE places to shop close to 40 years ago - THE places for my friends and me to hang out at on Friday evenings when we walked around in small groups taking in all the pretty girls who went to the other schools in the valley and wishing we had the courage to talk to any of them on occasion.  Is it the Walmarts that have killed off the malls as they did to so many small town pharmacies and sundry shops?  I don't know, but the romantic in me who anthropomorphizes way too many things feels a pang of sympathy for the certain lonliness the malls would feel now had they human sentience and emotions, and the ability to remember their heydays.

 It appears to be quantity over quality today as my fingers keep dancing on these keys and making words that are barely registering in my own brain as they're coming out of me and flowing onto the little screen.  Funny how back when a Friday evening here was something I'd have looked forward to all week and then savored as it was happening, I'd never have even envisioned that there would come a time when the technology would exist that's allowing me to sit here, untethered from "live" electricity, typing on a keyboard that's not physically connected to the device upon which my words keep appearing one after another in that string of thread bare thought that's coming out of me and on which there's a little arrow that moves in response to my movings of another "loose" piece of plastic here on the table beside me.  Add to that that there's a telephone in the pouch hanging from my Batman style utility belt that isn't connected to any wall and on which I can look up any kind of information in the world that I might want to know anything about at any time, and on the other side of my belt a camera that doesn't use film but takes stunning pictures, and it would have done all but make my adolescent brain explode back when these things would have been absolutely inconceivable except to the trekkies like my friend, Pat, who thought about what gadgets the future might be capable of producing.

I'm not much looking forward to the ride back to the house even though it’s only about a two mile trek.  It's COLD out there and the wind is nearly enough to make the eyes water on the bike which is never a pleasant experience.  Some part of me, though, will relish the fairly certain knowledge that somebody or more than a single somebody might think, Look at that idiot out riding on a day like this!  I like to be the oddball as long as it's of my own choosing to be that guy who somebody might be chuckling about, but not so much so when there's an element of likely chagrin that isn't necessarily because of my personal preference.  Nevertheless, it feels like it's about time to close up shop and move my ass along.  It's getting to be the part of the day when I need to start on supper and steel myself for the cold and dark that will be with us each evening for the next five weeks or so till daylight saving time kicks in again.  I chuckle at how it was so important to me to get the motorcycle endorsement on my driver's license so I could ride legally here in Pennsylvania after dark, knowing that I can count without going beyond the fingers on two hands the number of times I've actually done so.

Okay.  That's it.  Time to mosey along hoping that maybe the little camera caught something worth pasting between some of the paragraphs here to decorate this post up a little...

It should be noted that the title of this post, "Up the Mall" comes from the same Wyoming Valley dialect that gave me the title of the blog itself, "Scootin' Da Valley."  Nobody around here goes to the mall; they all go "up da mall."

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Chicken Soup for the Scooterist's Spirit

For over 20 years now we’ve been bombarded by books in which humble chicken soup is portrayed allegorically to mean something soothing, warm, cozy, familiar, healing, and so on, but sometimes a bowl of chicken soup is just a bowl of chicken soup.  It was requested last week that I make a pot of the stuff because the freezer was barren of it so I set to work making a three gallon pot that will last for another month or two of winter.  I have no recipe but simply duplicate the basics from having watched my grandma make probably hundreds of gallons of the precious stuff a long time ago.  Each pot is a little different, but it always hits just the spot that a good bowl of chicken soup should hit.  I used to make my own noodles, also using Grandma’s familiar mental recipe, but nowadays I don’t like the mess that goes along with making them, nor do I have the patience to cut the very fine noodles which were among her culinary specialties. 

According to family legend it was Grandma’s sending some of her chicken soup and noodles to her brother Martin, Uncle Mart’ to us, that pulled him back from the brink of death one time when he was terribly sick and the doctors were iffy about making any predictions about whether or not he’d get better.  I can’t attest to the truth of the story, but late every Sunday morning, before dinner which was served promptly at noon, we all sat down to a bowl of Grandma’s chicken soup as an appetizer, and on Saturday nights when the soup was simmering while Lawrence Welk was plying his musical trade on the black and white TV in the parlor, we were practically drooling in anticipation of sitting down to our bowls the next morning.  I’m not sure if the liquid gold lived up to the reputation of chicken soup as having some sort of curative powers, but it was certainly delicious!

When I’m out on the scooter so many memories of childhood come back to me – memories of a much simpler time when the most I had to worry about was whether I’d remembered to do all of my homework.  Thoughts of things like Grandma’s soup, Grandpop’s calligraphy, mom’s younger brother who also lived with us always catching hell for something or other that he did or forgot to do warm my heart as much as anything I’ve ever eaten to warm my belly and fill my spirit.   I like that when life gets too busy I can slow it down for a while by taking the Piaggio for a spin and feeling the same exhilaration as when I first rode my bicycle out of the neighborhood to explore parts of the city I’d never been to alone before.  And I like that after all of the magnificent meals I’ve had in my 57 years are considered, the simple bowl of chicken soup still hold its special place.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Seeing My Shadow

Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow today, but I got to see mine, and on the scooter to boot!  Because the chubby little rodent didn’t cast a shadow to be seen his implied prognostication is for an early spring and I’m all for that!
 I don’t think I’ve ever been a big fan of winter because unlike most kids who were outdoors enjoying the snow and such, I was almost always on the inside watching them.  When I was young my mom and her mom came from a long line of moms who were absolutely, positively, indubitably, categorically certain that one’s being outdoors when it’s cold outside necessarily led to one developing a sickness of some sort ranging from the simple common cold to the absolute worst cases of pneumonia, and the Lord knew, as well as Mom, that a cold could turn into pneumonia at the drop of a hat.  It seemed that between the ages of about four and twelve or so I alternated every two weeks between having a sore throat (sometimes strep) and an earache anyway and getting dragged to the doctor’s for a shot of penicillin.

Even if I’d been allowed to play in the snow I’d most likely have failed miserably at it because of the gene I have that makes me totally inept at any kind of physical activity that’s supposed to be fun.   I wouldn’t have been able to throw a snowball to save my life, or ski, or skate, or ride a sleigh without banging head first into a tree or a fence or something.  So, winter?  Bah-humbug!  Never liked it.  Never will.  It should be noted that I’m not a huge fan of summer either, preferring the moderate temperatures of the spring and autumn to either of the extremes.

I went out today simply so I could say I had the scooter out in February in case there isn’t another day between now and the 29th (Leap year, you know.) on which there will be favorable riding conditions.  Tomorrow it’s supposed to rain all day and I’m already grateful that it won’t be snow that’s falling.

Since I had the BV out a few days ago, and today, if I’m really lucky it might be said by the time we usher in another new year that 2016 was the year in which I was able to take the scooter out every month.  I do believe that would be a first since I got the baby scooter in 2007.  Here’s hoping that Pennsylvania’s most famous groundhog was right this time and that daffodils and crocuses won’t be long off from popping up all over!