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!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Mid Winter Musings

It’s a cold February evening as I key this post.  I’m sitting in one of the Sunday school rooms at a church miles away from home because my traveling partner is at a board meeting and we had to use my car to get here.  It’s a little chilly here in the room but I’m not complaining because it’s MUCH colder outside though not nearly as bad as it was last month at this time when we were in a DEEP freeze for days and nights on end with temperatures in the single digits and wind chills many more degrees colder.  But, as I often remind myself when somebody else isn’t reminding me, everything is relative.  Winter is now officially half over.  The days are getting longer, and in a few weeks with the return of Daylight Saving Time they’ll be longer still.  It’s all a function of where we are and how far we can see from whatever hill on which we happen to be sitting atop.  In other words, from where I’m sitting, things are looking up despite this view of the scooter from this morning…

Housebound, I’ve been doing a lot of eating.  Well, cooking, and then eating.  While a breakfast bagel isn’t an example of anything I’ve made, it’s a very good example of something I bought on impulse a few weeks ago and dispatched not long after when I got back home.

No, the real cooking has been with an Instant Pot received as a Christmas present.  Meals unlike any I’ve made at home are as easy to make as…  I was going to say, “As easy as pie,” but pies aren’t particularly easy to make in my estimation.  Anyway, an Instant Pot is a combination cooker that does a number of different things, but the stellar feature is that it’s a pressure cooker, something I’d never used before.
Beef and Broccoli every bit as good as from any Chinese restaurant!
  Now I imagine the meals I’ve been making with it lately might be just as good if they were to be made in a slow cooker, but the advantage here is speed and savings of time.  MAJOR savings of time!   Fall off the bone and melt in your mouth spare ribs in 15 minutes.  Rice as a midnight snack in ten minutes.  Mongolian chicken in 12 minutes.  The thing is remarkable and the meals are equally impressive.  The best so far?  Chili that rivals my favorite - Wendy's!

Chili as good as Wendy's and I should know because I eat a LOT of Wendy's chili.

Okay, I'll admit that this pork loin came out looking more like an unmentionable part of an elephant that isn't usually eaten unless by one of the big cats on the plains of Africa.

And when I’m not scootering, cooking, or eating, you just might find me sampling some new craft beers somewhere.  I had to laugh yesterday when my sister told me that our favorite uncle won a basket of beer at the church Valentine’s dance on Friday evening and gave it away because he doesn’t like craft beers and only drinks Genesee.  To each his own.  I can’t judge.  As I read somewhere long ago, I don’t know what’s Art, but I know what I like.  Scootering.  Good food.  Beer.   Not necessarily in that order.

Monday, January 29, 2018

First Ride of the Year - 2018 Edition

This post is quite overdue, its being penned (keyed to be technical) seventeen days late, but I’ve been away for a week and was pretty busy before then with various things all going on at the same time.  And, although it was indeed my first, and only thus far, scooter ride of 2018, it was rather short, more for the sake of having been able to say I went riding in January - that I got the bike  up and out and downtown and back in spite of the usual weather we experience around here at this time in a typical year.

It was a wet day, having not only been unseasonably warm, but with rain on tap as well.  I might have stayed out longer, but when I got to Public Square, about a mile and half from my comfy computer chair, the rain started up just enough to make me start getting soggy so back I headed to park the Piaggio in its dry space under the deck.  Needless to say, it felt good being out and about even if only for a half an hour or so!

I much enjoy an out of the blue warm day in the dead of winter such as this one was.  Even though my scooter ride didn’t last long, I spent some time out on the deck in between rain showers, watching trains go by, and just savoring the warmth and the view of the thermometer showing that we were in the high 50s.

I confess, there have been a few days, today being one of them, since that first ride when I conceivably could have taken the scooter out without risking the ride being a bad one because of any ice or snow and without it being too cold because I could have layered up to keep the chill out for the most part.  I was simply too lazy, though, to put on all the requisite layers for the sake of getting in a short ride at least.

I don’t know if that’s a sign of simply winter laziness or because I’ll be turning 60 in a few weeks.  I distinctly remember being a young man and thinking that turning 60 officially made somebody an old person.  Seeing as though I still think of myself as barely being out of high school it would seem that I need to rethink that whole elderly paradigm.  After all, one’s self perception definitely trumps numbers of years that have flown by and the varied aches and pains that seem to be persistent.
I was a little wet when I got back, but happy enough for having gotten the ride in.
  Assuredly I am waiting for warmer days ahead on which to enjoy the scooter properly, in a tee shirt, shorts, and sneakers.  Then the better rides will come, the days of two wheeled introspection for which I long, the times when the scooter is so very liberating especially when one’s days are spent mostly in solitude too often waiting for something to come rather than in enjoying anything special that happens to be here.  I’m like a little kid always waiting for Christmas in one way or another, looking ahead for days or weeks or months till something’s here to celebrate.  I’m okay with that, though, because a bad day of being retired still beats the hell out of any good day at work.  Having a scooter, even on day when I can’t ride it, still makes me quite happy!

Leave it to the weather around here to surprise us regularly.  This was the view off the deck a mere five days after my first ride of the year!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Only Dreams of Scootin'

The only scootin’ I’ll be doing for the next few weeks would appear to be the kind I can do in my dreams, both of the day and night varieties.  My brain knows it’s officially winter, but as we rolled from late autumn into it, somehow it didn’t seem possible that the deep freeze would be upon us soon. 

To be certain, I don’t like snow.  I don’t like it at all.  I’m not one of those bleary eyed fools who are always hoping for a white Christmas (although I admit to being a bleary eyed fool over romantic movies), and I’m definitely not the kind who wants snow because of the “fun” activities that the athletic types enjoy in it.


I like rain.  It doesn’t have to be shoveled, swept, or blown from point A to point B when it falls.  It doesn’t accumulate so as to make going anywhere difficult; well not usually although when it causes flooding around here it can be a bit annoying and sometimes dangerous.

Even to get from the yard to the street, there's snow in the way.
I like sunshine even more.  Especially when it’s of the sort that allows scootin’ in a tee shirt and shorts.  But those days are a long time off now and I barely remember them because of the Piaggio having been in the shop from May through August last year.

If the snow doesn't get you on two wheels, the salt will.
So I’ll wait.  Wait for the end of the snow and the popping up of daffodils and crocuses and such.  And I’ll dream of scootin’ while I wait.