Biking’s Destination

The smell of virgin blacktop baking in the sun emanates from below. Knobby rubber tires roll smoothly over the surface. Tall grasses and trees on either side blow in the summer wind. A low black construction fence borders the edges of the street and creates a racing feel as I descend the curvy path.

There’s a certain allure to a newly paved subdivision sitting empty as it awaits the bustle of the next building boom. Back when I was a kid, we would search these places out for skateboarding, or cul-de-sac parties. Now I use them for suburban biking.

Granted, biking the PVC farms of the north Atlanta suburbs is not quite the same as biking Mount Tam north of San Francisco for example. At Mount Tam, where mountain biking arguably began, you can climb a wide fire-trail miles up the backside of the mountain and appear at the top with a 360-degree view of ocean, mountains, and city beyond. You can then descend through narrow zigzags, watching the Pacific break out of the corner of your eye. At the bottom, just down the road, there’s an idyllic English-country-looking pub for beers: The Pelican Inn.

http://www.pelicaninn.com

No, the PVC farms don’t have all that, but you can find some peace while breaking a sweat, and you can still finish your ride with a beer at a great old-style pub near here: The Olde Blind Dog, which was oddly enough voted Best Irish Pub in the World recently by a Dublin-based group.

http://www.latimes.com/travel/la-trb-atlanta-irish-pub-award-20150305-story.html

They say the journey is the reward, but sometimes I’d say it’s the destination!

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Our Little Island

In our first house back in LA, we had a small kitchen with limited counter space. Alex, in her design wisdom, found the perfect butcher-block to put in the center of the kitchen. It had drawers and towel racks on either side and was on wheels so it could be moved, just in case you wanted to dance a salsa while eating your chips and salsa I guess.

With all the cooking Alex does, we really couldn’t of functioned in that little kitchen without our Coconut Island. That’s what the tag said when we bought it, and what we’ve called it ever since. Our Coconut Island saw many a margarita mixed, and bountiful bowls of guacamole guaced. It helped us prepare turkeys for turkey days, and cookies for Christmases.

Eventually we found a pot rack to hang right above the island, so you could grab just about anything you needed in that kitchen without taking more than a step or two.

We’ve upgraded since then and our new setup is ideal, but I sometimes miss the closeness we were forced to endure around our Coconut Island. We kept the piece and I took a picture of it for perspective against our new built-in kitchen island. The Coconut Island now fits inside our pantry as a kind of pantry work-space. Our new pantry is not much smaller than that old kitchen.

We haven’t named our new island. Maybe because it’s not cute and quirky, but simply a nice working space. Perhaps we could call it the Big Island, like Hawaii calls Hawaii. Mai Tai’s anyone?

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Give Me All Your Chicken!

My wife knows, when I get hungry the mood of our shopping excursions can plummet faster than a diabetic’s blood sugar level. She’s gotten pretty good at reading the cues, even packing a snack in her purse to magically appear when she senses a mood shift.

This particular day the snacks weren’t doing the trick, so she had me pull the car over to get our bearings and search Yelp for a nearby restaurant. We were in an upscale suburban Atlanta area and everything was either too nice or too McDonalds.

I was about ready to just take us home to eat, when a pearly white Mercedes SUV pulls up, and out pops two calves and a cow. No, I wasn’t hallucinating from hunger pains. This was Free Chicken Sandwich Day at Chik-fil-A! Dress like a cow, get a free chicken sandwich.

I turned to Alex to ask how we might pull this one off, and she was already on it. She was rifling through the glove box, pulling out pens and scissors and napkins. Before you knew it, she’d put together a real basic “cow.”

Now Alex is an artist, so she was embarrassed by the finished product, but I give her credit for the details. She had cut eye holes in a brown napkin. Drawn a cow face on it with cow nose and cow nostrils. She used a white napkin tucked into our shirts for a tuft-of-fur look under our necks, and she even used pieces of brown napkin around our hands for “hooves.”

Alex looked us over. “Give me your face,” she said. I obliged, and she wrote “Moo” on it. “There,” she laughed, “perfect.” I looked in the rearview mirror. “They’re gonna’ think we’re robbing the joint,” I said, “give me all your chicken!”

We pulled up to the drive-thru, so as not to get arrested. It was so busy, a kid with a handheld device was taking pre-orders. He looked into our car and we both said “moo!” The kid cracked up and called his co-worker over to have a look. “What do you think?” he asked the guy who must have been his superior. “Two free sandwiches and an A for effort,” the guy said.

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Melting Pot or Mosh Pit

We celebrated the 4th with Mexican beers and California limes in Koozies probably made in China.

It made me reflect on the multicultural mosh pit that we find ourselves in today. We’re all dancing in different ways here to the same music of life. Sometimes there’s hugging, more often pushing and shoving.

My wife is half Ukrainian and half English. I’m a Scotch-English-German-French hybrid. I’m generations removed from the other side of the pond. She’s one generation removed.

Her mom arrived at Ellis Island as a child. The eldest sister of a large Ukrainian family of World War II refugees. They were arranged to be taken in by a farming family in the Midwest. They were put up in a dirty old chicken coop and put to work on the farm. None of them spoke English. Alex’s mom, then just a scared little girl, learned enough at grade school to tell someone about their poor living conditions, and this kindhearted person helped them get into a better place.

I’d guess that without that person’s help, things may not have worked out the way they did. Alex’s mom probably would not have gone on to get a degree in microbiology from Indiana University, where she met Alex’s dad, also a microbiologist and the English half of her. Fast-forward to many years later, and I wouldn’t have ever met this beautiful American-Ukrainian-English girl who’s now my wife.

Hopefully, America can get back to being a melting pot, but in the meantime, I want to say thank you to everyone out there who finds it in them to help someone navigate the mosh pit of life as we now know it.

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That Time I Almost Got Ryan Seacrest Fired

New Year’s Eve would be a different experience without him. Kelly would not have a Ryan to chat with every day for the foreseeable future. And that famous pregnant pause between “this” and “is American Idol” would probably not exist.

Year’s back, in Atlanta, a friend was producing a game show with this likable young local kid, Ryan, with a freakishly grown-up voice, as the host. We ended up taking him out to some Buckhead bars. We were of age, he was not. I can’t remember if we knew the doormen or if we just had Ryan speak in his deep radio voice, but we had no trouble getting him in.

A few years later, I had moved to LA and my producer friend invited me to lunch with a small group of starving-artist types, one of them being Ryan. It was appropriately Mongolian BBQ: The type of place where you take a bowl for one price and smash as many ingredients into it as you can. You then hand your stuffed bowl to a guy standing over what’s basically a big flat wok. The guy dumps out all your ingredients and grills up a giant heaping of hot food for you.

Ryan had moved out to LA about the same time as me, not long after that Atlanta game show. Judging from our overfilled bowls, I’d say we were both at the starving point. He did, however, have a gig at the local radio station. Not the best time-slot, but a start. He was talking about attending community college as some kind of backup, I guess.

When my girlfriend at the time heard that Ryan worked at the radio station, she had me call him up to see about recording a voice-over reel. You know, the kind of thing that gets you jobs reading copy for commercials and such? Well, Ryan, being the nice guy that he was, said “sure thing, come on over to the studio while I’m working and I’ll set you up.”

When we get to the radio station he has on his headphones, on-air. He’s going a mile-a-minute, talking, pushing buttons, flipping switches, multi-tasking. This guy is in his element. He sees us and smiles and waves us in. He holds up his finger like “just a sec,” pushes another button or two, puts down his headphones and greets us both warmly.

He has us follow him into an empty studio next to his and shows me how to run the recorder in there to do the demo reel. It’s actually easier than I thought. Ryan then bolts to get back to his next radio segment and leaves us in there all alone with the door closed.

About 15 minutes later we’re almost done with the demo-reel, and I see a face in the little window in the door to our room. The face has a scowl. I hear a knock and I open the door. “Who gave you permission to be in here?” the face asks angrily. “Uh, Ryan” I answer. “Ryan!” the guy turns and goes to confront Ryan. I rush to the board and push record. “Hurry up,” I say to my girlfriend, “let’s finish this last take before we’re kicked out of here.”

I think Ryan got scolded, but not fired, and we kind of lost touch. I hoped it wasn’t for the recording incident.

A few years later, I was in an LA restaurant bar with another friend who was not in the business of show whatsoever. Up comes this well-dressed kid with the brightest smile, and frosty tipped hair. It was Ryan. He asked how things were and I did the same, though I knew he’d been bumped up to the best time-slot in radio: the afternoon drive. I introduced my friend to Ryan who regaled us with some Hollywood chatter. Later, my friend said presciently, “that kid’s either going to make it big, or crash big.”

I haven’t seen Ryan since…. Well, except everywhere.

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Blue Sky

The Allman Brothers at the Fox Theater was my first small venue concert. My Uncle Jim was visiting Atlanta and asked if I wanted to go. I wasn’t a huge fan, I mean at 15, I wasn’t yet a Ramblin’ Man and the intensity of Whipping Post wasn’t fully appreciated, but hey who turns down a free concert.

We settled into our seats in the Moorish-themed theater with a ceiling that looked like a starry night sky. The stage was crowded with the gear of a band that claimed two drummers with full kits, and two lead guitarists. I can’t tell you what song they started or ended with, but I was surprised that I liked and knew almost every one.

Over the years, certain Allman Brothers songs have become deeper and richer to me: Jessica with its rolling bassy piano always makes me think of the beginnings of road trips, melancholy sweet Melissa reminds me of lost love, and the country roads feeling of Blue Sky takes me away from the crazy fast-paced world we live in.

Now as an uncle myself, I hope that I can share in a moment that will not only be remembered, but grow and take on a life of its own, like the one my uncle provided me.

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The Battle of Almost Wounded Knee

Last year they nested in a nearby tree, bumping into our windows drawn to the inside light at night. They looked like mini army helicopters and kind of sounded like them when they hovered around you while outside. They weren’t fat like bumblebees, but bulky like Humvees. These were the biggest and scariest looking flying things with a stinger that my wife and I had ever seen.

“We’re not in LA anymore,” I said to Alex. In LA flying bugs were more scarce than an older woman without Botox. In LA we would see a few bees around our lavender, some flies sometimes when we picnicked, a rare mosquito. These were all outside bugs mind you, not really trying to get in. Here in Georgia it’s like they’re banging at the door with a search warrant.

We made it through last summer without any giant Humvee-helicopter wasps making it into our home, or God forbid onto our skin. Then this summer, I noticed one going into the fascia above our front door. I went online and did some recon and found out that these things are European wasps. Great, I thought, whatever happened to NATO?

Like most things around the house, I usually try to do them myself before calling an expert. I waited until dusk and suited up the best I could. By the time I had my wrists and ankles rubber-banded and my hockey helmet on, I’d worked up a sweat. “Let’s hope these things aren’t attracted to sweat,” I said to Alex through the glass shield of my hockey helmet. “What?” she asked. “Wish me luck!” I yelled. Alex chuckled at me in my getup and just shook her head.

I’d set up a ladder under the entry point earlier. I stepped outside gingerly and climbed the ladder. I put my wasp spray up to the gap in the fascia and let her rip. Suds and white foam went everywhere as I quickly climbed back down the ladder. Unfortunately, I missed the bottom rung and started to run backwards while trying to keep my feet underneath me. Probably realizing I’d need both hands to break my fall, I flung the can of wasp spray out of my hand and it went flying into the front yard. I then crashed into one of our front porch columns. I sat there for a second kind of stunned. I looked through the now foggy hockey mask. Was that a platoon of wasps swarming toward me, or just my imagination? I got up quicker than I’d fallen and ran into the house.

“What the heck happened out there?” Alex asked. “I fell off the ladder.” “Are you okay?!” I checked that all my appendages were moving properly. “I think I’m okay.” “We’ll call an expert tomorrow then?” Alex suggested. “Not so fast.”

The next day I walked out and examined the battlefield. The ladder was still where I fell off of it, and my wasp spray had rolled about 20 yards away. There wasn’t a dead wasp in sight. Suddenly, I heard a Humvee-helicopter over my shoulder. I eyed the wasp spray, but it was too far away to do me any good. Instead, I ran into the house and decided I might want to call an expert…. Or maybe I could bait them? The battle continues.

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Lost in Translation

I lived in France for a year and speak and read the language pretty well, but it doesn’t do me much good here in America. Sure, I can order the heck off of a French menu, or translate the tasting notes off the back of a Bordeaux (which by-the-way is unnecessary, since I have yet to find a Bordeaux I haven’t liked) but I really can’t put it to proper use here.

Spanish, on the other hand, could have saved me loads of time and money and embarrassment over the years: time trying to explain things to a multitude of gardeners, pool guys and construction workers; money trying to negotiate with said workers; and embarrassment, well…

Here in Georgia, I walk out while my lawn is being done to tell them to be more careful around the bushes, or not cut the grass so low, and it’s a real crapshoot as to whether or not the guy I’m talking to gets me. Part of the problem is, it’s almost always a different guy. I guess I could start with “habla ingles?” but is that rude? So I just start by speaking English and try to read them by their nods and responses. I’m out there making giant hand gestures, while my neighbors must think I’m practicing to be a mime.

Back in LA, it was almost a given that my revolving lawn guys didn’t speak English. They also didn’t seem to know the difference between a weed and an herb. My wife was getting more and more angry with them with each herb they destroyed. “Can you talk to them again? I really don’t want to lose my rosemary too,” Alex said to me after her precious thyme had been obliterated by a weed-eater. “I have told them in plain English not to wack our herbs,” I said, realizing how stupid it sounded as it came out.

Alex is not one to just give up, however. The next time the gardeners were due to arrive, she had written out a missive in Spanish. “Can you put this out for them please?” she asked me. “Sure, but what does it say?” I prodded. “I found a Spanish translation site and they say it reads: ‘Please do not cut down our herbs with your weed-wacker.’” I shrugged and taped it to a tree right next to our herbs.

We came home later and found the gardeners having lunch under the tree. When they saw us they elbowed each other and snickered. Later I retrieved the note and read it again. Now, as stated, my Spanish is pretty much nil, but French is a romance language and somewhat similar. I went back in the house. “What were they laughing about?” Alex inquired. “I’m not certain, but I think we just told the gardeners not wack off on our herbs.”

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The Other Man

There’s another man in our life. He shows himself here every other day or so. He’s in good shape and never seems to age. He’s gentle, patient and kind (which is strangely reminiscent of our wedding vows).

I like the guy, I really do. His name is Tony, and he tells my wife Alex how to always breath, how to take it at her own pace, how to stay hydrated, how to stretch. And he makes her sweat! This guy can even get away with food jokes: Something about “not grabbing a cheeseburger” always makes Alex chuckle.

I’m an ex elite-level hockey player and I’ve tried to teach Alex everything I know about working out, but she doesn’t want to hear it from me. She’d rather hear it from him. She’ll actually listen to him and do what he says, pretty much verbatim.

Fortunately, Tony lives on a DVD. If he were actually here in person, I might get jealous. This is only Tony’s “Sweat and Sculpting” series though. I think if Alex ever met the P90X Tony, she wouldn’t like him as much.

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A Rose by Any Other Name Might Not Be a Rose

My wife Alex likes to rename animals she comes across. As was the case with my two cats Tom and Ginger. They were a product of my previous relationship, so I thought maybe that’s why she renamed them. In fact, after hearing that Tom and Ginger were now and forever Bubba and Sugarpuff, an old friend of mine said “now that’s a power move!” But I came to find out it’s just a thing she does.

Being a man and all, I had a hard time with the name Sugarpuff at first, but after a while I’d find myself talking about my cat Sugarpuff to the manliest of men. Alex said she named her that because she was as light as a puff of sugar. And Bubba because he got along with everyone. She was right on both counts.

She’s very intuitive about the names she gives. There are two horses we pass along the road that she dubbed Pokey and Friend. Pokey is kind of polka-dotted, so that’s obvious, but he’s also kind of slow and pathetic looking. Friend, we found out only later, hangs out next to Pokey rain or shine. Even if we learn their real names, to us, they will always be Pokey and Friend.

Another day we stopped to take a picture of a gray horse with a white streak down his face.  He galloped up to us like a dog who hadn’t seen his owner for a week. He nuzzled Alex’s neck as she turned toward me and I snapped away. As we left, the horse looked at us like “don’t go.” This horse definitely had a spark in his eyes, which is probably why Alex called him that. We found out later his real name was just two letters off of what Alex had rechristened him: Sparky was really Spooky.

She has also been known to rename a human or two. I’m surprised she hasn’t renamed me after all this time together. But then again, maybe that’s a good thing. She has called me “Stinky” more than once… Let’s hope that one doesn’t take.

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