Perspective

A 15 minute drive has turned into 30. Traffic backed up on the freeway forces me into the city streets, which are just as backed up. At every traffic light I wait for two, three, four cycles. It’s barely three o’clock! How can it be such a mess already?

Driving into central Phoenix in the late afternoon is never a good idea. But there’s something I’ve got to do.

The whole time all I can think is, I’m going to be late. I can’t be late! Followed by a second thought, now I’ll be facing more rush hour traffic on the way home.

It’s annoying and I know I’m thinking selfishly.

There’s lots more to be worried about in the world, but here I am, trapped near downtown. Bound and determined to finish the sad errand that has brought me from my pleasant suburban life into this sun-baked, shabby inner-city. On the way home I’ll be forced to meander through decrepit neighborhoods hemmed in by freeways and the airport. Old parts of the city that once rang with promise and now often ring with gunfire. Mid-century, low-rise apartment blocks with green space and basketball courts, once so bustling and hopeful on the edge of a rising city, now in shambles and walled off, populated with vagrants or worse. I glimpse broken swingsets and busted up cars, snapshots of life sliding into oblivion.

Beyond the depressing facade, I know life goes on. There are families here, living full, happy lives. They struggle each day to make a home, to care for their loved ones, to make ends meet, and to stay safe. I know there are hopes and dreams here. They just look different from mine. They don’t let rotten circumstances and tough breaks oppress them the way I’ve allowed my self-pity about the traffic get me down.

I should feel ashamed. I do. Maybe I’m feeling sorry for myself because I’m stuck fighting traffic and just I want to go home, which makes me feel worse, because at least I have a home and family to welcome me.

I think of my errand, the kid I’d come to see and how he smiled when he saw me. I think of his grandparents and uncles who surrounded him with love. I think of his strength in standing up bravely before all those people without tears or anger. I’m such a jerk to feel so overwhelmed by my circumstances when this kid could smile at my meager effort on the day his mother is laid to rest.

I know I’m only human, but thinking about that kid, jeez! How can I complain?

Really, how can I?

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Retail Monster

Dear Retail Employee,
Hi. I’m your customer. I am, in fact, human. I swear I am not trying to make your life miserable, (you seem to be doing a great job on your own). I am not out to get you. Really. I don’t mean to sound stupid, but could you help me?

Please?

Oh…guess not.

Looks like you are busy making passive-aggressive comments at the cash-wrap, so I’ll be brief.

I came in here because I wanted to buy something. I could’ve used that cool app on my phone and I could’ve had it delivered later tonight or at the latest, tomorrow. Instead, I loaded my kids into my ego-killing minivan and rolled over here, which means they’ll probably end up buying something too. Which means, point in fact, that I will be paying for their purchase as well.

Now that you’ve expressed how you really feel about me and all the rest of us who patronize this place, I guess I’m sort of wondering what I was thinking. I mean, I’ve got some nerve barging into this place and combing through your merchandise and then waiting patiently to give you my money, (which is in limited supply, mind you!), and then doing something carelessly insensitive, like standing in the wrong place, so that it appeared as though I was not minding the Ps & Qs of your establishment’s queue procedures. I totally deserve your derisive comments. I am, to read into your tone, a totally worthless waste of time. I am beneath you, I agree. I’m sorry to have troubled you. I should’ve known better.

I know how you feel.

Believe it or not, I was once a member of the tribe. I’ve been behind the counter. And, I might add, it was at a cool establishment just like yours. And I too fell victim to the mentality that it’s us vs. them. The customer is always wrong! Customers don’t really know what they want. They’re suckers!! They piss me off and bother me when I am trying to get something done.

I get it. Who do customers think they are?

Have I made my point?

It’s easy to feel under attack. Every day, every hour, is filled with some jack-weed who thinks he’s entitled to all of your time and devotion and woe be unto the poor clerk who disagrees. Customers can be unscrupulous. They can be disgusting and irritating and frustrating beyond belief! They can also choose to walk away. They can decide to vote with their feet and pocketbooks and you know what that means?

It means you can’t afford to be rude and grouchy.

You are the face of this place right now. Suck it up, Buttercup! We’ll all be gone soon and you can go back to what you were doing. Just smile and bide your time and then you can demolish us with your witty observations after we’ve left the building. Go ahead. I don’t mind. I did it too. It’s one of the benefits of being a retail monster.

Just don’t do it while I’m standing here or I might not comeback.

Of course, this time, with kids standing, expectantly, next to me and a human pile up in the line behind us, I demure and I make my purchase. I should’ve said nevermind. I should’ve walked. I should’ve protested. After all, those two new books I was eyeing are nine dollars cheaper online.

Nine. Dollars. Cheaper!

But I didn’t do any of that, because as crappy as your day is going, I don’t want to make it worse. And it’s not worth my energy. I really wasn’t trying to bother you. I was just trying to buy a few things. I’m truly sorry for coming in and adding more money to your boss’s bottom line.

But fair warning, you better take a deep breath. The holiday season is just starting. More suckers like me will be walking through that door in the next few weeks. They’ll be just as stupid and annoying as me; maybe even more so! But they might not be dumb enough to go through with their purchase, like I did. Maybe they’ll just sit home and order online so they never have to experience what it’s like to have an actual transaction with another human. Or, God forbid, maybe they’ll decide that today’s the day that you no longer have a job. They’ll ask for your manager and they will demand justice. It’s going to be like an epic day in Paris during the French Revolution. Someone’s head is gonna roll! Guess who?

All I’m saying is be careful. Not all of us are suckers and not all of us are morons.

May Black Friday bring you glad tidings and another year of employment,
That Customer

Dude, Where’s My Toothpaste?

It’s Monday morning.

Yesterday was a long day. A beautiful day, but long, tiring, and not quite the way I’d envisioned it going down. Sometimes words are my sword and sometimes they tie me up and take turns whacking me with a dangling participle or an Oxford comma. That’s okay, I was planning to go for a run this morning. That will clear my head, set my week up right.

Right?

The snooze button got in my way several times.

Like five.

Snooze buttons are notoriously effective in the lane and quite capable of boxing out sleepy opponents on defense. They also have killer jumpers from anywhere in the paint. So, running is out. But that’s not a problem. Tomorrow will be just as good.

Up now, morning routines to be tended. Clothes. Wait, are these clean? Cold now, but warm this afternoon. Take the sweatshirt and leave the cannoli. No time for a second cup of coffee. Other groggy family members are stirring. The day begins with grumpiness all around. Late bedtimes are not good on school nights. Mother warned us about that. Oh well, no take-backs now.

Lunch is packed, but then I notice the fresh sandwich I bought at the grocery store yesterday morning for lunch today. Unpack the lunch kit. Repack. Check for wallet, spectacles, keys, watch. Who am I kidding? I don’t wear a watch! Which is probably why I’m running late. That and that devious snooze button!

(Sidenote: Did the person responsible for creating the snooze button ever consider the implications of delivering something so evil unto the world? How can we NOT succumb? Self-control? Pshaw! Not when 10 more minutes of semi-sleep is the push of a button away!!)

So it goes. Let’s get some perspective. Things could be worse. Some people don’t have a job or people to love or food or homes or beds or alarm clocks. I’ve been blessed beyond belief. It’s just one of those days. It’s not even Monday’s fault. Could’ve happened to any day of the week.

Now I’m out the door with kisses and “I love yous.” In the car, what’s that yellow light on the dash? Oh yeah, tank is on E. Gas station. Traffic. Half way to work, mulling plans to be written and projects to be rearranged and it hits me like a typo in the middle of that brand new book I just got by that author I really love.

I forgot to brush my teeth!

Perfect.

I laugh and laugh.

I wonder what to do for a second and then remember that I have a fresh pack of gum, (the kind 4 out of 5 dentists prefer), in my pocket. Good enough. I know it isn’t a popular notion, but sometimes good enough is all you have.

Tell-tale Signs That You’ve Crossed Some Invisible Threshold

(This is off topic, but needs to be said.) Hey you! Yeah you, the cyclist I pass every morning when I’m out running in the humid, Arizona summer heat! When I wave at you, the least you could do is nod and acknowledge me. I mean, I understand that the spandex and cycling shoes and your aerodynamic sunglasses make it difficult for you to feel human and act human under that missile-like helmet, but you are, in fact, human. Right? So maybe, make an attempt at a small wave or at least a gesture in my direction.

That’s not why I’m here.

I went to a concert last night with my friend. We are of a certain age now, but it doesn’t feel like it. When I look down I don’t feel like a middle-aged man. I mean, there’s a bit of a gut under my cool and appropriate, yet slightly provocative, t-shirt, (but I guess I’m not alone there if the media is to be believed on the subject of obesity in America). My attire is not a major giveaway, I mean I don’t do the “black socks with shorts thing”! I look presentable in a hip, but not hipster, kind of way.

To be fair, we were some of the most straight-laced and nerdy looking guys there. No sleeves of tattoos on our arms. No backwards hats. No sunglasses at night. Despite being outside by a pool, we left our shirts on the entire time. No jutted chins or dead-eyed looks. We appeared neither young, nor old. We blended in. I felt we were mingling in an age appropriate way. I felt we were just as likely to warrant scrutiny as everyone else, yet when we walked up to the gate and I pulled out my billfold* to show my ID, the security guard chuckled and said, “Naw, you’re good. Go on in.” The guy that stamped our wrists didn’t even look at us.

Do we look that old? I wondered.

Not that I cared, but suddenly visions danced in my head of moments lately where the young whippersnapper helping me uses an overabundance of “sirs” or the hair stylist says something like, “Man, your hair is nice and thick; I wouldn’t worry about the grays.”

I wasn’t worried, but now that’s all I see.

There are times when I guffaw or moan or swear at the television from the davenport, and I think, Hmm, I seem like a modern version of Archie Bunker (without the alcoholism or racism).

I see the little hairs that are more frequently appearing on my ears where they did not appear before.

My knees hurt.

Are those crows feet?

I submit my bills for payment in a timely manner, most of the time. And I do it online, most of the time.

So what if I know when it is expected and required that I wear slacks? That doesn’t mean I’ve crossed some invisible threshold though, does it?

Does it!?!?

Still, the signs are unmistakable. It’s OK that I’m perceived as older-ish, it’s just the patronizing tone that accompanies the interactions at times. This is not new. It’s just new to me. And to be fair, the concert was for a resurrected band from our own clueless youth that can actually be categorized as classic rock now with a singer long-dead, going on 20 years.

That youth is wasted on the young is not a new sentiment, but I see it as never before. And, consequently, I guess I am paying attention and trying my best to postpone the inevitable. That’s why I’m out there running like a zombie in the mornings when it’s miserable outside, when I feel miserable because I stayed up too late, two nights in a row. I want all of this to continue because it’s really getting good. And I like pushing myself in a way I never have.

To be sweating and breathless and running taps into something primal in my nature. I feel alive, while simultaneously feeling like I’m about to die!

So, (I guess the intro was actually on topic), Mr. Cyclist, do not ignore me!

Maybe I look older and out of shape and hideous, but one day you will be me…albeit a skinnier, fitter version, what with all the cycling…but regardless, one day you too shall not get carded, you too shall endure the patronizing cadence of a shopboy who could literally be your son, (and if he is, he is in a crap-ton of trouble for that neck tattoo!), as he helps you find a book about math. (Who buys books about math?!) You too will one day be startled by the old guy in the mirror because that’s not how you feel like you look. In fact, you feel nary a day over 26, but I guess those years have stacked up and even though you may not want to admit it, you are no longer a spring chicken, and people can tell. Not in a, hey, look at the geezer! kind of way, but it’s something about you. Confidence maybe.

Yes!

The kind of confidence that only comes with living on the Earth for awhile. Perhaps I am too harsh with you, Sir Cycle-rama. Maybe I am you and you won’t believe it. Can’t admit it! You ignore me because I am so close to your own truth. I get it. If you pretend I’m not here, you don’t have to accept it. Fair enough, I’ll let it go.

Nope, I can’t!

You know what? I’m still wavin’ and if you don’t nod or wave or give me the finger, well, dick-move, my friend!! Plain and simple.

*Here’s a fun game: See how many “old-fashioned” words are deliberately used in this piece.

On second thought, maybe I need to update my vocabulary. Words make you sound old sometimes…

Echoes

Time is mysterious. Sometimes it is cruelly slow. At other times it seems to speed up, gaining a velocity that seems to prevent us from accomplishing all the tasks we are responsible for completing.

Too much time; never enough.

Then, there are the moments when it feels as though time bends in on itself, bringing us closer to the past or dazzling us with visions from a possible future. Are these mental diversions,  illusions or hallucinations?

Perhaps they are images devoutly to be wished.

My father is gone. Three years now. That seems like yesterday and a lifetime ago. But he visits often. Not as an apparition, but the memories of his presence. As my life continues, I see parallels and echoes of his time on Earth, in my life.

My son and I are building a model plane. A replica WWII fighter, the Hellcat. It is not a plastic, snap together creation. No! This is constructed of balsa wood. With dozens of tiny pieces that need to be glued together. Delicate. Intricate. A highly complex endeavor. In other words, a pain in the ass! We have constructed the fuselage, the wing, and the tail. There are miles to go. As I survey our progress, (the various pieces and tasks left to be completed, the bits and parts that remain in a scattered heap at the side of the table), I realize I’ve seen this before: a box of balsa wood pieces covered in dust, a failed attempt at a model that remained unfinished and finally found its way to the trash one day when I was in my twenties.

Where did it come from?

Something my dad attempted and then abandoned. Was I involved? I don’t think so. I think it was his, a remnant of his boyhood or an adult attempt at recapturing a brief moment of youthful bliss. A reminder in a box, collecting dust.

And now, here it is again, a box of fragile wood showing up in my life. Rest assured, this will be completed or I’ll die trying!!!

I recall travelling to San Francisco with my parents, before they divorced. I was 8 or 9. We drove through different areas in northern California. It was grey. There was fog and friends of my parents who I didn’t really know. We made a visit to Pier 39 and at some point, my dad, I think, purchased a gyroscope for me. It was his attempt at generating a scientific interest in my mind. Didn’t really take hold, but that’s another story.

But then, there we were at the observatory gift shop the other day and our son decided that what he needed most out of all the scientific toys in the room was a gyroscope.

A gyroscope.

Time slips away and then coils up and springs back upon itself. Maybe these things are just coincidence, but maybe they are echoes of things that continue to reverberate throughout the universe.

Maybe we have ways of manifesting small things that mean a lot to remind of us of what was. Or perhaps I am merely in a sentimental mood.

Don’t Hide Your Love Away*

I have squandered my gift. Well, maybe not squandered, but I’ve certainly taken it for granted. At the very least I am guilty of complacency. And see, the thing is, even saying it’s a gift makes me feel a bit egotistical and self-aggrandizing. I am uncomfortable with it, exactly because there was a time in my life where I took it all very seriously and did, in fact, consider it a gift. Perhaps I misused it. I did. And I let it consume me and cloud my vision of what healthy looks like like. That was a long time ago. Now, I just do this thing, it’s innate, my friends and family expect it, don’t even give it a second thought, so I guess I don’t consider it a gift or even consider it at all much anymore. It’s just something I do, but what else could you call it?

A malady?

Music, specifically the urge, (the compulsion really), to create it and play it and perform for others. It is something I’ve always wanted to do. My dad said that when I was just three years old he asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I told him I wanted to be an entertainer. Pretty weird. Regardless, I have always wanted to write and play music. And, at certain moments in my life I confused that with wanting to be famous. Which is part of the problem, but I’ll get back to that.

When my friends and I gathered tennis rackets and costumes to lip-sync to our favorite records it was painful. Why? Because I wanted to get it right. I wanted our show to be perfect and as close to real as possible. They just wanted to have fun. They couldn’t see the artistry and vision involved. It was very disappointing. And I’m sure it was just annoying to them!

When I finally got to do the real thing it was, at times, disappointing as well, because everyone has different ideas about what is necessary and how to go about accomplishing our goals. A lot of times, I found myself surrounded by people who had very different ideas about what was cool and why we were even bothering. Not that I was a visionary, but I could see it, smell it, taste it. If we just practiced a bit more and put our minds to it, we could play some shows, people might come, and it would be worthwhile. Truth be told, though, practice is kind of boring, especially when you aren’t very good. But it could be awesome

And, eventually, it was.

For a good seven years.

But then I decided it sucked. I decided that it wasn’t worth it. I wanted to be done. The idea of making it ruined things, as it does. Everything I had been working toward fell apart. The music business is awful. I moved on and, with many bruised egos, so did everyone else. I pursued a grown up life. I went back to school. I moved away. I was done with music. (So I claimed.) I was determined to fit in, I desired to be just like everyone else who quits playing out and sells all their equipment and talks about how they used to be in a band.

Except that I didn’t sell all my equipment. I just sort of packed it away, along with my real feelings.

And I never stopped playing, though I pretended I did.

I moved to Colorado where I was serious about school. I worked and enjoyed exploring my new surroundings, but I still had my guitar and I’d play in my room, alone. I went to an open mic and couldn’t stand NOT performing. But I couldn’t stand the way I was treated by the host who acted like I was some newbie. How could he know my history? I drifted on to Arizona where my roommate played bass and we would jam a little. I was still serious about school, but we found some other people to jam with. It was just goofing around.

Except it wasn’t.

I tried to keep my love and desire for playing and performing hidden away like some shameful secret. As much as I tried to tell myself that I was done with it, I could never quite escape the overpowering urge to play. I even tried going to Mexico for two months without a guitar. In the first week, I wandered into a music shop around the corner from where I lived. I paid entirely too many pesos for a crappy acoustic guitar. I went home and played on the patio overlooking the community pool in that nice family compound where I stayed in the middle of Mexico. It felt so good. Like breathing.

Back in Arizona, I began going to open mics. I practiced, alone, in my bathroom. Now, I enjoyed being underestimated. I relished playing the newbie with an “Ah shucks” demeanor. It was like the ultimate performance. I enjoyed surprising people. Maybe I had also learned a bit about humility. So, it was OK to be unknown and regarded as someone new, untried. Better to prove yourself than to be a disappointment or a commodity.

Still, I went kicking and screaming back into the world of music and bands and DIY rock & roll. I was happy being solo, but the guys I was meeting were fun to play with. Why should we get serious about it? Let’s just have fun! There was a feeling of exhilaration I hadn’t felt in a long time. In a drummer, (of all things), I found a partner who complimented what I did. I complimented him. We were exactly what the other needed. Along with my roommate we were three. Then we became four. That was sixteen years ago. Since then there have been ups, downs, and everything in between. We have grown-up, adult lives with responsibilities and demands on our time. We keep at it, even though we don’t give it much thought. We have seen quite a few guys come and go. And at this moment, we’re back to the original three. Funny how things work.

That brings me to my primary point.

The gift.

I have spent too much time trying to downplay what I do, out of some sort of misguided attempt at being humble, that I may have forgotten that it is an amazing gift. I may be guilty of ignoring it altogether and, in so doing, taking it for granted. In the process, I’ve now come to see that I have done myself a disservice. I am what I am. I consider myself an independent thinker, but I must admit I have been swayed by society’s expectations and the ticking of time. I suppose, at some point, everyone expects that you have to give up on the dream. At least that’s what convention tells us. I don’t want to be the old guy trying to be a rock star. I don’t want to be a punchline. We aren’t out there trying to shake the foundations of the music world, but it sort of looks like it. I think most people view performers as people who seek fame, even if it isn’t true. We’re just trying to make something beautiful for a minute, not get a record deal. Yet that seems incongruous to many folks.

But, so what?

“To thine own self be true,” is how Bill Shakespeare put it. That is easier said than done. We owe it to ourselves in this short life to do what we love and share our passion with others, regardless of what people think of us, as long as no one gets hurt. We have our own paths to follow, our own lives to live. I’m not trying to be the next big thing. I just want the chance to rock out a bit, like I did when I was sixteen and twenty-three and thirty-two. Like I wanted to when I was three! I’m just trying to feel sane.

How else can I explain it?

It really is a choice between sanity and chaos. Music for me is life, even if I haven’t been honest about it in the past. I am unable to walk away. Even if everyone else cashed in their chips, I would still be playing. I would still find a way to get these feelings off my chest. I would still yearn for a few minutes, now and again, to set my heart and mind free through music. I don’t need to brag about it, but I need to do it. I can’t stop myself. And I shouldn’t, should I?

So, I will consciously embrace what I do. I won’t worry that others may see me as a sad, middle-aged hack. I’m not, so why worry over it? I won’t pretend to be a normal, mild-mannered member of society when I’m not. I’m a musician, damn it! That’s pretty far from normal right there. Most of all, I can’t, I won’t take it for granted. I should be honest and give my all every chance I have to play. Every performance is an extension of the gift I have been allowed to receive. I should make the most of them. After all, how many more chances will there be?

There’s a little light in all of us, I think. And in our light is love, so don’t hide it. We should let it shine without reserve. We should be proud of our contributions to the human experience, whatever they may be. I am a lot of things, but at my core I am, and always will be, a singer and songwriter. And that is a pretty frickin’ cool thing to be able to do! I will try to remind myself of that more often.

*With apologies to the Beatles.

Late Dispatches from the Race

WARNING: Some of the following content may be moderately inappropriate or totally gross; just letting you know.

It’s been more than a month now, but flashes from my experience participating in Pat’s Run came flooding back this morning as I jogged through a post-rainstorm landscape of puddles, soggy leaves, fallen branches, and higher-than-normal humidity. It was a peaceful jog and little memories trickled in as I made my way through the neighborhood. These thoughts started with a banana and ended with the stadium, all random and jumbled up, but I will retell them in a linear fashion.

In the beginning, there was the fear of the unknown. I’d never participated in a race. What if I humiliated myself by failing miserably or worse? What’s worse than quitting or getting injured?

Blow out.

Running a course without immediate access to a restroom seemed like it could be dangerous. Sure, it was only 4.2 miles, but sh…ahem…stuff happens. My first stop after saying goodbye to my family was the port-o-potties. Standard, from what I’d read. I tucked my water bottle under my arm and did my thing, conscious that should it drop to the floor we would part ways without a further word.

Now, I’m in the starting area. Many people milling around, some serious, some wear goofy outfits, some smile and looked relaxed, but determined. Some, like the chiseled, wise-cracking, frat boys in front of me, are looking a bit hung over, but in their nonchalant youth they are unafraid of what comes next. I stretch and think about the course. All I really want to do is finish. I just want to get through it without stopping. I finish my water and search for a recycle bin. No such luck. Trash can only. I wonder why big events seem to have such a hard time with recycling?

A few minutes to go. The holding area is crowded. 1000-yard stares are the norm. There is the “Star Spangled Banner”, played by a famous guy on his trumpet, the sound is sweet and clear and moving. We all join in. Tears fill my eyes because, no matter what your socio-political leaning, it is powerful to be surrounded by thousands of your countrymen singing the National Anthem, honoring someone who gave everything, who died tragically, in the presence of so many who want to give back, who want to be part of something greater than themselves. And it is a moment of pride, not merely patriotic, but pride in the human ability to do great things, together, when we put our minds to it.

In addition, my emotions overtake me, because I am in awe of this moment. Things are about to start and I am here, where I never thought or dreamed or even wanted to be. I am running a race. I set a goal and I accomplished it. I do love checking things off a list. So, check!

The race begins, but it is ten minutes before I can even see the starting line. There are a few small rumbles in my gut. I launch negotiations for a peaceful run in which my large intestines and the muscles surrounding them comply with most international laws regarding hostilities and just, for God’s sake, hold their fire. I’ve read too many running books in which the authors describe horribly crappy, (pun definitely intended), experiences. I don’t want that to happen. I beg and plead with my body to keep its shit together. Literally. It is then, moving like cattle that I spot the portables again. I think of the water I’ve had. My bladder tells me things are at level yellow, but approaching orange quickly. Maybe I can make it. Maybe not. Should I get out of the pack? No! I want to do this now. I recall that there are bathrooms in a park at mile 2. I can make it and maybe by then I’ll have sweated it out.

We are moving toward the starting line. Groups are being called. We’re all being swept along by the sheer numbers and adrenaline. No one calls our group. Suddenly, I am over the line. It’s on! I’m scanning the crowd for my family, too many people, too much to focus on. “Just run,” a voice in my head says clearly. So, I do.

I am on the course. Runners are all over the place. It’s a quarter mile before people settle in, some are starting to walk, some put the pedal down, slower folks move to the right, mostly, and I feel strong. I feel capable. We near the Mill Avenue bridge. I keep checking my systems. Everything is a go. I can do this. I’m up on the bridge now, blue lake water on either side. There’s a water station up ahead, manned by volunteers, so many of then showing ASU Sun Devil pride. I throw my hand up and make the the pitchfork sign. I feel like a moron, but who cares!?

We are across the bridge, nearing Curry Road and the hill. This is what I’ve been dreading, but I’ve put in some time on little hills to prepare, so I dig in. By now, the bladder is at critical stress level. I wonder about strolling into the scrub-brush off to the side of the street and letting go. Would people freak? Do I care? Kinda.

I press on. I am going up, passing more people than are passing me. This feels awesome! I crest the hill and I see the stream of humanity heading toward the bottom. I see Sun Devil Stadium across the lake. Tempe looks sound asleep despite all these people tromping through her streets. The sky is blue, the sun is out. It’s euphoria time! Still, the bladder is calling. I make the decision. I will be forced to stop in the park at the bottom of the hill. It feels like a failure to stop, but how would I feel if I spring a leak mid-race? This is the only option. I step over the mile 2 timing rig and go around the corner to the restroom.

My cough catches up to me. I’ve been sick, but so far it hasn’t been an issue. For some reason, stopping creates an opportunity for my lungs to rebel. I stand in line and wait in the grungy, lean-to of a public park restroom. The other guys standing near me are visibly disturbed, like I may be infectious. I can see them wondering if I have the flu or tuberculosis or SARS or Ebola. Finally, it is my turn and I feel relief, and it is suddenly like the defrosting scene from “Austin Powers.” I can tell the men waiting are worried that I might never stop. I sort of wonder too, but then, soon enough I am washed up and back on course. I remind myself to be more careful with water intake if I should choose to do this again in the future. However, I feel proud of myself that I am certainly not in any danger of becoming dehydrated!

I am almost there, down around one of the last turns, heading back toward the stadium. Another bridge to cross. Behind me is the steady cadence of a military unit. It is faint, but by the time I cross the river again and I am turning toward the final mile they have caught up with us. They run as one, call and response the whole way, just like every military movie you’ve ever seen. I fall in next to them for awhile. It is beautiful, their bond, their determination to do this as one, together. Inspiring, really. Their pace is faster than mine. I could go faster, but I almost don’t want it to end. I am enjoying myself. I was never a runner. In January, I could barely run to the corner. And now, here I am in the middle of thousands, running, jogging, walking, participating.

We wind past parking structures and where we began, final approach. I see my family and wave. It goes by so quickly. The route is quite narrow now, we are again herded toward our goal, cattle in blue shirts, around the back of the stadium and up the ramp. Here comes the tunnel. Finishers are streaming out on the right as we ascend on the left. It’s gone too fast. I am high-fived by the tired, the sweaty, the finished. We share milliseconds, but it feels good. The tunnel is dark and then there it is. The finish line. The open stadium, the green grass. So cool. I see the clock. It’s been nearly an hour since it began. I race the last 42 yards just to know that I completed my goal in under an hour, (41 or so minutes, officially). I stand on the grass away from the end of the line and take it in. Wow!

I blink and I’m trudging out through the tunnel again. I am giving out my own high-fives. Down the ramp. There are granola bars and water being distributed by happy volunteers. I just want to get to my family. I do see bananas and ask for one. There are gobs of people. A volunteer offers, but I’m too far out of reach. I point to the sky. She lobs it up and I catch it, like a boss. We smile. Pretty slick. I feel like the Fonz!

I make my way to the meet-up area and soon I see them coming toward me. Hugs and kisses and stories. So happy I did it. Pride and satisfaction embrace me like the arms of my dearest ones. I feel an overwhelming pleasure in participating in this cause. It benefits soldier-scholars. I keeps Tillman’s memory alive. Damn cool.

And, as we walk away, I am just grateful that I’ve still got my dignity. It may seem irrational, but as a first-timer, with a head full of race stories, the worry that I could blow a gasket was very real. Gross, I know, but true.

Although, in retrospect, this would probably be funnier if things had gotten dicey!