Tuesday, June 15, 2010

It's Not the Heat . . .

Well, okay, that's not true. If you live in Alvin, Texas, it is the heat. But it's the humidity, too. Put them together and you have some interesting running conditions.

When you go outside in the morning around 7:30, you can kid yourself along for a few seconds. After all, it's only 80ยบ. How bad can it be? So you start out, and before you've gone a block the humidity has wrapped itself around you like a succubus. It inhales your breath. It adds 20 pounds to each shoe. The t-shirt that had lain lightly on your shoulders flaps around you like a wet shroud.

Since Alvin is only a few miles from the Gulf, you'd think there'd be clouds. You'd be wrong. It's like the sky was imported from Death Valley

You'd think there'd be a soft sea breeze, too. Once again, you'd be wrong. The only breeze is the one you create for yourself as you jog. At the speed I jog, that's almost no breeze at all.

After ten minutes, you start to wonder why you started out in the first place.

After twenty minutes, you hope you remembered to wear the visor with your name and the emergency phone numbers written on it.

After thirty minutes, you begin to think about the G2 that's waiting in the refrigerator, and you hope you live long enough to open a bottle and slug it down.

After forty minutes, you stagger into the driveway, take off the t-shirt, wring it out, and pinch yourself to make sure you've really survived another day.

For some reason you can't stop thinking about tomorrow. Damn Fleetwood Mac.

Friday, April 23, 2010

For the Birds

In my last post, I talked about jerks. Those were human jerks. I’m not sure birds can be jerks. They’re just being birds. But I’ve had a couple of memorable encounters with them.

Everybody knows about mockingbirds. They’re territorial, and they’re fearless. Just ask my cats. Or, for that matter, just ask me.

One afternoon in Brownwood, I was jogging down the street, such as it was, that passed bedside the junior high building when I was dive-bombed by a mockingbird. I don’t remember the time of year, but it must have been nesting season. Fool that I was, I’d intruded on the mother mocker’s territory, and she didn’t like it one bit.

I wouldn’t have minded if she’d given up after the first swipe at my head, but she didn’t. She chased me all the way down the street, shrilling and flapping. It was embarrassing.

Even worse, she did it again the next day.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I should have run a different route, but I’m as stubborn as any bird, by golly. The next day I went back, and, sure enough, the bird attacked. This time I was ready for her. I had a long piece of red cellophane ribbon that I waved in the air. The bird was so startled that she flew away and left me alone. After that, I tied the cellophane to my headband. The bird would swoop down, see the cellophane fluttering behind me, and fly back to wherever it was that she came from.

So the ribbon did the trick. Either that, or the bird thought I was crazy and didn’t want to have anything to do with me.

Mockingbirds might be territorial, but they aren’t dangerous. Hawks are another story.

Sometimes I’d run down Indian Creek Road. I ‘d run exactly 2-1/2 miles, ending at the top of a very steep hill, turn around, and run home. One day on the home leg of the run, a screaming came across the sky. I had no idea what it was. It sounded like a jet plane. The scary part was that it was headed right for me.

I looked up over my shoulder and saw a huge bird (okay, maybe not so huge, but it looked huge to me) falling like a rock, and it had taken dead aim on my head.

As you might recall, I teleported once when a rattlesnake surprised me. I didn’t do that this time, but I discovered that I could run about ten times as fast as mortal man is supposed to run. You know those legendary 9.0 hundred-yard dashes you’ve read about? If only someone had been timing me that day! I’m pretty sure I broke the nine-second barrier.

Even at that I almost didn’t elude that hawk. I felt the jet stream as it whooshed by me.

To this day I don’t why the hawk was after me. I hadn’t done anything. There was no nest around. There wasn’t much of anything around. Maybe the hawk was soaring so high above me that I looked like a bunny to him. Or a fieldmouse.

You remember the Peanuts cartoon in which Snoopy says, “Birds find me fascinating” (or something like that)? They don’t find me fascinating. They do, however, seem to find me.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Not you, or course, but there are a lot of them out there. Runners seem to attract them, for some reason.

The other day I was jogging sedately down Lee Street when I heard the sound of a motorbike and a lot of yelling. I looked to the right and saw the bike speeding down Herring Drive. There were two riders, a boy and a girl. The boy was steering. The girl was hanging on tightly.

They flew past the stop sign at the end of Herring as if it hadn't been there, zipped across Lee right in front of me, and sped onto the gravel road that wends its way through a small trailer park. I could hear the yells as they hit the dips and bumps.

I kept on going, and not long after I was past the trailer park, the bike came roaring out. I'm not a mind reader, but I knew exactly what was going to happen. I've been running for years, and things like it have happened before.

I always run on the left side of the street, and I moved over as far as I could, running along the edge of the lawns. It wouldn't have mattered if I'd been ten feet farther off the street, however.

The motorbike zinged past me at about 50 mph, so close that if I'd stuck out my elbow, I could have cracked someone's skull. It must have seemed hilarious to them if their laughter's anything to judge by. I'm always glad to brighten someone's morning. The riders swerved back into the proper lane and turned left at the next corner. They'd stopped laughing by then, but I knew the memory of brushing past the geezer would warm their hearts for days to come.

Neither rider was wearing a helmet, but I have to admit that I was tempted to stick out that elbow. I didn't, though. After all, I wouldn't want to be a jerk.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Snakes Part 3 -- You'll Believe a Man Can Fly

Or teleport. I'm not sure which.  I report, you decide.

This happened in Brownwood, Texas, like my other snake encounters.  I had just arrived at the bottom of a small hill, and I was thinking about Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.  Why?  Why not?  Does a man need a reason to think about Reese's?

To tell the truth, though, I did have a reason.  A week or so before, in just about that very spot, I'd found a package of Reese's lying in the road.  Not just one little double pack, but a big one, with eight or ten of the smaller packs in it.  

I have no idea what it was doing there, but I've found stranger things while out running.  Naturally I picked it up and took it home with me.  

Judy wasn't sure about it.  She thought the candy might be poisoned.  Even when I pointed out that the big package was still wrapped, as were all the individual packages inside, she continued to have reservations about my eating any of the candy.  She said that someone could have injected the poison with a fine needle, although there were not obvious holes in the wrapping.

I wanted to be cautious, but I love Reese's, so I eventually ate it all and didn't suffer any ill effects as far as I know.

But that's not what I wanted to write about. I wanted to write about the snake, which I didn't see because I was thinking about the Reese's.

That's not entirely true.  I did see the snake.  Eventually.  I was in mid-stride, the point at which neither foot is touching the ground.  I'd just lifted off my right foot, and my left leg was stretched out in front.

I looked down and there was the snake, a rattler as thick as my arm.  Admittedly I have skinny arms, but still. . . .

The snake was directly beneath me.  I don't know how I'd missed stepping on it.  I think he was as surprised as I was by the situation.  Maybe he'd been thinking about Reese's, too.  I didn't ask.

Anyway, that's when it  happened, though I'm still not sure what it was.  All I know is that when my left foot hit the ground, and I swear I'm not making this up, I was twenty yards down the road.  It sounds impossible, but it's true.  One instant I was in mid-air above the snake, and the next instant, when my foot touched down, I was nowhere near it.  

For you SF fans, I'll just say that I felt the way Gully Foyle must have felt when he jaunted.  It was one of the strangest feelings I've ever had, but I didn't question it.  I just kept on running and left the snake far behind.  

I've thought about that event often over the years.  I can still see the snake below me as clearly as if it had happened yesterday, and I can still feel the oddness of landing so far away from it.  It was a great feeling.  

I'd love to do it again someday, but without the snake.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Snakes -- Part 2: A Close Encounter

The first time I ever got really close to a rattlesnake in the wild, or in the semi-wild, was in Brownwood, Texas, on a warm spring day when I was jogging down one of the concrete roads in the old Camp Bowie area. This road connected Milam Drive to FM Road 45, and so it was clear, open, and often used by drivers. Not to mention by me when I was jogging.

As I was zipping along, a pickup passed me. I looked ahead and saw it pass over something lying in the road about thirty yard ahead of me. The pickup kept going, but the thing it had passed over raised up its head and looked around. It looked at me.

The thing, as you've no doubt guessed, was a rattlesnake. It had been taking the air and enjoying the warmth of the sun-baked concrete. The pickup had disturbed its contemplations, and it wasn't one bit happy about it. It must have blamed me, or maybe it just decided that since it couldn't catch the pickup, I'd do. It shook its rattles and started slithering straight for me.

You may have heard that once you hear the sound of those rattles, you never forget it. I know I never will.

Another thing I'll never forget is how fast that sucker could slither. It was really moving on.

After my initial shock, so was I. I probably never ran faster, and the amazing thing is that I was running backward. You didn't think I'd take the time to turn around, did you? If you thought that, you don't know me very well. When it comes to snakes, I waste no time.

I backpedaled for all I was worth. I was going so fast, I was afraid the suction I created might be helping the snake catch up, not that he was doing such a bad job of it that he needed any help.

There was no doubt about who he was after because he never wavered. He was coming for me in an absolutely straight line, as if he were following a laser beam.

Another truck passed me. This one, however, stopped. I didn't. Neither did the snake.

The truck backed up, fast, and ran over the rattler. Then it drove forward and ran over it again. I kept going.

The driver in the truck moved so that he could see what he'd done. The snake looked flat, which was fine by me. It must have been fine by the driver, too, because he gave me a cheerful wave and drove on.

As for me, I slowed down enough to turn around, and then I headed home. I wasn't going to take any chances with that snake. Maybe he looked smushed, but you can't trust snakes.

It was a long time before I ran down that road again.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Maybe you like snakes. Some people do. My brother, for example. He can tell you how good snakes are for the ecology of a farm pond or a barn.

That's not convincing to me. I don't live in a farm pond or a barn, and snakes aren't good for my personal ecology. And don't talk to me about poisonous or non-poisonous snakes. My intention is never to be around a snake long enough to question it about the potency (0r lack thereof) of its venom.

The sad fact of the matter is that the sight of a snake triggers an immediate "flight or fight" response in me, except that you can forget the "or fight" part. For me, flight is the only option. Let me tell you how bad it is.

When we lived in Brownwood, Texas, I often ran in the area that had once been occupied by Camp Bowie during WWII. It had been a huge training camp, but now it's mostly gone. The part nearest my house was overgrown with weeds and mesquite trees. Not the roads, though. Those concrete roads were solid as ever, and I'm sure they still are. I'd jog up and down them nearly every day.

The junior high school wasn't far from my house, either, and some of the students walked home down those concrete roads. You shouldn't get the idea that the roads were used by cars. Most weren't, and they often had mesquite trees overhanging them and big rocks lying around on them. One road in particular had a big block of stone right in the middle of it. One day as I ran by the stone I noticed that someone, probably one of those junior high kids, had scrawled a message on it: "Snake under rock."

A pretty harmless message, you might think, and it might not bother you or my brother a bit. Me, it bothered. Brownwood was far enough west to be the home of plenty of rattlesnakes, and in fact the city had an annual "rattlesnake roundup." (Apparently it still does.) Camp Bowie was far enough away from town and houses to have more than enough rattlesnakes on the loose. I admit that one is more than enough for me.

Now that rock I mentioned was flat on the bottom. It sat right on the concrete, and there was no way a snake could have been under it, not unless it was dead and squashed. That didn't matter. Instantly, nerve cells fired all over my body. Adrenaline squirted into my blood stream by the gallon, and I started breathing as if I'd run a hundred miles instead of only four or five.

What's worse is that exactly the same thing happened very time I passed that rock. For years. That's just the way snakes affect me. Not spiders. I passed by a couple of saucer-sized tarantulas in my daily run, and I thought they were cute. Snakes aren't cute.

So that's how I feel about snakes. If you like them, that's fine. Just don't bring any of them around me. Thanks.

Friday, February 12, 2010

I'm Not Invisible -- Part 4

About 35 years ago, I had to have hernia surgery. In those days, back when people had to walk 8 miles to school every day, uphill, through snow, hernia surgery wasn't done the way it is now. It required big slices and a lengthy hospital stay (four or five days; I can't remember now). Not only that, I had to stay in the hospital the night before the surgery. Insurance coverage these days wouldn't stand for any of that.

So there I was in the hospital, surgery scheduled for the next day, and suffering all kinds of indignities. The prep for one thing. The anesthetist, for another. She had a severe speech impediment, and I could hardly understand a word she said. I was afraid I might never come out from under the anesthesia because I wasn't sure I answered any of her questions correctly.

Then the big day came. The rolled a gurney into the room. The orderlies told me to lie on the gurney. I did, and they covered me with a sheet and told me to remove my gown, which was easy enough. I untied the knot at the back of my neck, and pulled the gown right off.

Now that I was naked under the sheet, they wheeled me down the hallway. I'm not sure, but I think there must have been another gurney beside me because we must have been racing it. I mean, we flew down that hallway to the elevator. Soon we were in the operating room.

There was a nurse who explained to me that when the anesthetist slapped the thingamajing on my face, she (the nurse, not the anesthetist, thank goodness) would tell me to count backwards from one hundred. I said I wasn't good with numbers, but I'd try.

The doctor came in, told me everything would be fine, and said that he was ready. The nurse whipped the sheet off me. There I lay in all my glory, and she said, "Aren't you the guy who runs down Ninth Street every afternoon?"

"One hundred!" I said. "Ninety-nine!"

She got the hint, hit me with the ether, and I was gone. Believe me, I was never so happy to pass out.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

I'm Not Invisible -- Part 3

A few years ago, Kroger opened up a big new superstore in Alvin. One of the innovations was a self-checkout system, where people can run their own items over the scanner and get out faster than they can if they're in the so-called "Express Lane," which in my experience is unquestionably the slowest-moving lane in the store. It's the one where the woman in front of you has only two items, which make you think you're going to be out of there in a jiffy if you get behind her, but it turns out that she wants to pay in pennies that she keeps knotted up in a handkerchief. With knots that she can't untie. And neither can the checker. And when you offer the Alexander the Great solution with your pocketknife, the woman looks at you as if you wanted to kill one or two of her cats, of which you're convinced she has several dozen at home.

You know the line I mean.

But I digress. I was there using the self-checkout, which isn't as easy as it appears because if you have vegetables, there's no barcode on them. You have to look them up and then let the machine weigh them if they're sold by the pound. If they aren't, you have to punch in the number of them that you have.

Anyway, things were going pretty smoothly, so I wondered when the woman at the next station was staring at me. I hadn't made any blunders that I was aware of. I hadn't set off any alarms. I wasn't trying to sneak out without scanning the bread or the milk.

I ignored her and finished up my little transaction. I tore off the receipt and picked up my bags. As I was leaving, the woman said, "Don't I know you?"

I'm unfailingly polite, so I said, "I don't know. Do you?"

She looked at me again. "Do you run down Hill Street every day?"

"Yes," I said, "I do."

She smiled. "I thought so. I almost didn't recognize you with your clothes on."

This last comment got a great reaction from the other customers. I'm just glad that Judy wasn't there to hear it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I'm Not Invisible -- Part 2

Back in the early '90s Judy needed some pretty scary surgery. We had to go to St. Luke's hospital in Houston to fill out the admittance papers, along with those scary forms you have to give them. You know the ones.

We located the hospital and found the office we needed. It was a busy place. While Judy talked to someone at a desk about the forms, I sat down to wait. I had a book with me, so I read a little, but I was too nervous to concentrate. So I closed the book and looked around. I noticed that down at the other end of the waiting room there was a guy who was really giving me the eye.

That wouldn't have bothered me if the guy had been someone like Mr. Peepers. However, he looked a lot less like Wally Cox and a lot more like Dog the Bounty Hunter. And he used the same fashion consultant.

I turned to see if there was anybody near me he could be looking at, but there wasn't anybody sitting on either side of me. I opened my book again and hoped I was imagining things.

Surely he couldn't be looking at me. I mean I don't hang out with guys who can change tires with their teeth.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the guy get up. He started in my direction, but he stopped near a table, picked up a magazine, and sat down. When he opened the magazine, I could see that he was looking at me over the top of it.

Judy was still filling out forms, clearly oblivious to what was going on. It was cool in the room, but I was sweating.

The guy got up again and came over to me. I looked up at him. I don't know how tall Dog the Bounty Hunter is, but this guy was around seven feet. Okay, maybe not, but that's how he looked at that moment.

"Hey," he said. He had a voice like Jesse Ventura's.

"Hi," I said. Or something like that.

"I think I've seen you before," he said.
"Uh," I said.

"Aren't you the guy who jogs past Alvin High School in the afternoons?"

"Uh, maybe."

"I see you nearly every day when I come in from work."

He sat down and we talked a while. He was a pretty nice guy. I never asked him what he was there for. I hope it wasn't for anything like Judy needed to have done.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I'm not Invisible

When I'm out pounding the pavement, I rarely think about who might be passing me in a car. Even if I did think about it, I usually can't see who's behind the wheel. For one thing, I have poor vision. And for another, windshields these days tend to be pretty dark and do a good job of whoever's driving the car.

The drivers can see me, but I never think about that, either, until somebody mentions it.

A couple of days ago, I was in the post office. I handed the postal clerk the package I wanted to mail, and she said, "Do you run every day?" It turned out that she drives to work every morning about the time I'm sweating it out on the streets of Alvin, and she sees me all the time. I told her that I run six days a week if I can, and her next question was the same one everybody else asks. "How far do you run?"

I used to be able to answer that one, but not anymore. There was a time when I ran eight minute miles. Those days are long gone. Now I have no idea how fast I run. I don't want to know. Maybe I'm in denial. At any rate, I used to run five miles. Now I just run for forty minutes. Maybe I'm going only three miles now, but if I am, don't tell me. As I said, I don't want to know.

So I told her that I didn't count the miles, just the minutes. She thought that was a good idea because she does the same thing. Every morning she gets up, has her coffee, and walks three minutes on the treadmill. Every little bit helps.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Weather Report

This morning it was 22° when I frolicked out the door to run. You folks who live Up North, and those of you who dwell on the plains and the mountains, might regard this as a mild and temperate spring day, but those of us who live a little closer to the bottom of the U. S. map think of it as (to use a technical term) mighty damn cold.

Even at that, however, it was better than yesterday when it was 29°. That's because yesterday it was overcast and a 10-20 mph wind was blowing down from the North Pole. Today, the sun was shining and there was only a light breeze. I could probably have worn my shorts, but I went with the longies instead. Well, I had the shorts on over the longies, if you want to get picky about it.

Not a bad run at all, and in fact I was sweating by the time I got home. I'd rather run on a day like this any time than to run during a Gulf Coast summer.