Monthly Archives: June 2002

necessary adversity

“challenge and difficulty matter less to the great majority than accomplishment and gain.”
  – Greg Bear

it’s always great to come across unexpected gems in books. i wouldn’t have anticipated the above quote from a sci-fi diversion, yet there it was, and it got me to thinking about my ongoing (un)employment situation.

every time i face a little adveristy, i find myself fighting it on some level, as if it is a foe to be defeated, compared to the rewarding comraderie of success and simplicity. it’s a meaningless value judgement, of course. and yet, when adversity comes knocking on my door, i often kick and scream, like a child who’s been told that santa claus won’t be coming this year.

it brings to mind the whole life-as-race cliché (i.e., in life, you run, you jump over some hurdles, and at some point, you cross the finish line to accolades, wealth and cheering crowds). my dad, attempting to pass along a little wisdom (thanks dad), once gave me an article decrying this cliché as fallacy. the writer suggested that life isn’t really a single race that has an end, so much as it is a series of races, each with its own hurdles, and the rewards of crossing many finish lines. sometimes the reward isn’t even that great – maybe it’s just some luke-warm gatorade and a little breather before the next race. the point is that to expect only a single race makes the next one that much harder to run…

so i’ve got a few hurdles to jump over – big deal. it’s just the latest race in a series, and the hurdles i have are molehills compared to the mountains many others leap over – i’ve got no reason for complaint.

besides, the exercise will help work off this gut i’ve developed…

nascar debacle

sometimes it seems the planets are aligned against you. no matter what you do, whatever can go wrong, does go wrong, and whatever can’t go wrong, does go wrong (or at least goes less than swimmingly). but we try to look on the bright side – if you’re with a good friend and you can laugh at your misfortune, then everything is good.

fun in the sun

my canadian buddy jason turner invited me for a day in the sun, the roar of nascar engines filling our ears, the thrill of the race in our hearts. as a long-time racing fan, who was i to refuse? we set up the details, left early (anticipating traffic), and planned an excellent day. (aside: jason is the only person whom i refer to as my ‘buddy’ – saying buddy in canada is like saying ‘you betcha’ in minnesota. in other words, it’s required.)

you want traffic?

roughly 3 miles before we got to Infineon Motor Speedway in Sonoma, cruising at 75mph down Hwy 37 East, jason commented that his wife seemed a little off with her dire predictions about race-day traffic (it had been smooth sailing to that point). roughly 2.5 miles from Infineon Speedway, we entered a transient, newly formed parking lot on said Highway, and both cursed the fact that jason had said anything (there was no wood to knock on, unfortunately).

we spent the next 2.5 hours traveling the remaining three miles. we had left san francisco at 9am, thinking we would get to the track at roughly 11-11:30 (plenty of time for a 12 noon race start). unfortunately, the race started without us, as we sat in our car staring towards distant parking lots on rolling grass hills (at least they were kind enough to have a B2 bomber and the Blue Angels do a fly-by to signal the start of the race – the sonic boom was nice even inside the car).

we finally parked the car at 12:30pm. we had been traveling for a little over three hours.

we have shuttles

parking at Infineon Speedway consists of poorly defined dirt and grass areas where you can leave your vehicle. shuttles are available to ferry people to the nearby track, or so we were told. the race track was not even visible from our parking space (a bad sign, given that we were on the top of the largest hill in the vicinity). undeterred, we walked down the hill to catch what was surely a high-speed shuttle to the track; we’d take the shuttle, stroll straight past the pits to our fabulous start-finish-line seats, following clear and useful signage along the way to avoid getting lost.

we spotted the nearest shuttle stop, boarded one of five waiting shuttles, and started down the single-track dirt road to the raceway. shortly after we started our not-so-high-(actually-it-was-pretty-slow)-speed trip, the absent-minded shuttle driver turned around and asked the passengers if any of us knew where she was supposed to turn and where she was taking us.

(a long pause ensued, during which passengers looked at each other, giggling in a vaguely uncomfortable way, not sure whether the driver was joking or not…she was not.)

as a matter of fact, none of us on the bus knew where we were going (aside from the obvious answer – the racetrack). clearly, we were delinquent in our responsibilities as patrons of this particular raceway operation. at first we felt sheepish for dereliction of duty, but then reality kicked back into gear. at this critical shuttle moment, our confidence in the degree of organization at Infineon Speedway began to decline rapidly (after all, they should have told us that we needed to be able to give directions to our shuttle driver).

we stayed on the bus, and eventually the speedway came into sight. our hearts leapt!! (of course, in a masculine we’re-at-the-racetrack-with-big-powerful-machines sort of way) finally we could see and hear the sleek multicolored vehicles (still in the distance, mind you), roaring around the curves of the track, gripping the road with sticky rubber gloves. the level of anticipation in the shuttle rose – we were going to make it – it seemed certain.
but then a huge gaggle of unruly pedestrians got in the way of the shuttle and the driver became flustered. ‘where am i taking you? oh lady, get out of the road! hey!!’ (at this point, the driver hit a female pedestrian, and even though the bus was moving very slowly and no one was hurt, consternation ensued from the hittee’s nascar comrades-in-arms). after a moment’s discussion, we decided we might have better luck (and greater speed) making our way on foot. our shuttle adventure had lost its charm.

where are our seats?

we could see our goal (the start-finish line) off in the distance, and there appeared to be a good number of obstacles between us and it, the most important of which was the racetrack itself. we could see no clear path leading us to the holy grail. of course, in retrospect, the shuttle would have driven right past it, although we couldn’t have known. anyway, hunger and thirst were clouding our judgement, so we decided to get some food, ask directions, and make our way down (or over, or across – whatever).

we milled for a few minutes, wandering past what appeared to be stands selling racing paraphernalia, and then our noses led us to a food alley of sorts. all the food options that presented themselves were of the outdoor-sporting-event variety (overpriced, usually grilled or fried, uniformly bad for you). after surveying a few equally unappealing options, we settled on steak gyros with the works (why this seemed the most appealing, i’m not entirely sure).
gyros in hand and mouth (and partially on pavement, pants and shoes), we made our way towards the track. we asked a security guard the best way to the start-finish line, and he smiled and said we had ‘a ways to go.’ we sensed he was speaking euphemistically, or at least very kindly, and appreciated the sentiment. he said if we followed the path we were currently on, we’d get there eventually.

so we tried to make our way and eat our gyros at the same time (continuing to dribble gyro juice all over ourselves, i might add). the nice clear signage that we had expected was mysteriously absent, and the only maps we could find seemed to lack the all-important ‘you are here’ symbol, which left us with very imprecise notions of exactly how far we had to go. meanwhile, huge crowds of rabid, often drunken, nascar fans of all varieties milled around us, which both distracted and confused.

starting to doubt our progress, we asked another security guard directions. she patiently assured us that we were on the right track, and to just follow the food-and-gift road until we hit the magic tunnel – our goal was just on the other side…well, we found the tunnel, and once we came to the light on the other side, we realized that we were on some sort of island in the middle of the track – the bleacher holding our seats was right in front of us, but the track was unfortunately in our way. huge blowup foster farms chickens, resting on the top of a nearby foster farms food truck, sneered down at us, laughing at our incompetence.

we wandered aimlessly for a few more minutes in search of the second previously-unheard-of tunnel, and eventually found it (although not through the help of any signs – there were none). we broke on through to the other side, weaved around a bit looking for section J, took the stairs, proudly showed our tickets (we passed the seat-location test!), and took our seats.

at this point, it was 1:30pm. 42 laps of the 110 lap race had been completed, and we were just sitting down. we felt like losers. also, at this point, we speculated that if we wanted to get out before the post-race parking-lot hysteria, we should leave at lap 80 or 90.

finally – nascar racing

as advertised on our tickets, we were seated directly above the start-finish line. to our left, we could see in the distance the exit from the S-turns, followed by the chute leading to the hairpin before the front straight. the hairpin itself was invisible, and the S-turns were too far away and up the hill to get a view, which meant we could not see any of the passing action. not ideal, since watching racing on straightaways is like watching paint dry quickly. as a consolation, the pits were right below us, affording us a view of the action: tune-ups in 15.6 seconds flat. we were also seated in the blessed shade…

underneath the bleachers, the sound was deafening – without earplugs, we would have been deaf in minutes. fortunately, jason always carries earplugs (garnered on numerous united airlines business flights). he assured me that the crumpled package did not indicate use. i didn’t care – i just wanted to be able to hear the race without wincing in pain.

there were a few yellow flags, requisite leadership changes due to pit stops, and the occasional crash or spinout, but in the end, the race was uninspiring. maybe all the effort to get there created unrealistic expectations. demons riding turbocharged chariots from the pits of hell, doing pyrotechnic battle for the souls of the innocent, might have done it, but regular old nascar racing kind of left me flat.

the thing i found most interesting was the sponsorship of all the drivers. when i was a kid, it was basically booze, cigarrettes, and motor parts that kept racers moving around the track. today, it’s M&Ms, viagra, and america online that fill the coffers. for some reason, this seems to violate my sensibilities about race-car driving, especially something as ostensibly macho as nascar. i mean, what nascar driver wants to be driving the viagra-mobile? (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but…)

journey – part II

we decided to leave at lap 94, since it looked like car number 44 had it locked up (nadeau, 6-second lead, no more pit stops necessary – he lost due to mechanical failure on lap 108, oddly enough). we had only been in our seats for a little over an hour.

we made our way out, headed for the pack of shuttles, and got in line.

it just couldn’t have been that easy. none of the shuttles seemed to know where they were going, but they all assured us that they were not going where our car was parked. we walked around, asked about five different security people for directions (since they were the only official-looking people available), and got a different answer every time. we eventually gave up and just started walking up the hill, sure that we would find a shuttle stop.

a shuttle stop presented itself soon, and we got in line. as we stood there, chaos seemed to grow and grow and grow around us, until it reached a fever pitch. bikers were hauling off with their girlfriends, kids were complaining about being hot, trucks and bikes and cars were filling the roads, and tempers started to flare as people realized the system was breaking down completely (what little system there was). no shuttles came – we eventually decided to walk two miles through the dust and heat to the car.

hindsight

once we got a little ways up the road, we realized that the whole shuttle thing was a joke. there was absolutely no way any shuttle could get up the road to the parking lots. the roads were all full of cars trying to leave, but everyone was just sitting there, glassy-eyed, stuck in traffic.

teeth coated with dust, sweat flowing freely, and big smiles on our faces, we got to the car at 4pm. we hopped into the expected traffic jam, made our way out of the speedway (faster than we would have thought), and fled west on our beloved Hwy 37. no traffic stood before us – just open road, beckoning that we put the pedal to the metal. and we did, right up until we hit the traffic jam on 101, backed up for 5 miles from the san rafael bridge interchange.
some days…you just have to smile. ;-)

paunch happens

note: anyone with high hopes of philosophical content in today’s entry should adjust their expectations (in the words of Freitas).

ask anyone who has known me for years, and they’ll tell you that i have always stayed skinny as a rail, regardless of what’s been thrown down the proverbial chute. of course, it’s nice to be able to easily win contests where people try to figure out which guy has the smallest butt, but this distinction loses its glamor after awhile. in fact, i always wanted to gain weight, if anything so that i didn’t blow away in strong breezes.

in college, i ate nothing but frozen dinners, pizza, beer, pasta, and the occasional hot dog (i weighed 145 lbs.). graduate school saw me switch to healthier fare, including about 5 lbs. of brown rice a week, plenty of tofu, and lots of green vegetables (still about 145, and as regular as an atomic clock). when i started pulling down big bucks working for the man, and began eating out a bit more, i ‘ballooned’ up to 153. in other words, not a lot going on in the weight department.

the last few months have seen me spend more time on my keester at home, though – no more three martini lunches or jet-set lifestyle after the layoffs, right? it turns out lassitude has its rewards…

a few days ago, sitting at my desk at home, shirt off, basking in the infrequent san francisco sun, i looked down, deep in thought. i found it hard to think, because this big paunch was obscuring the view of my navel, where i often gaze for inspiration. i then had a flashback to a recent trip to Dolores Park when i got sunburned, and realized the zebra-striped burn across my belly was not due to amateurish application of suntan products (you can probably fill in the blanks here).

the mental cogs turned for a moment, and then let me down slowly with the bad news: karmic retribution has struck, my friend…all those years of saying i could eat anything and not gain weight have come back to haunt me. finally, the cheetos and fritos and quesadillas have come home to roost, like unwanted dinner guests, on my belly.

is this the beginning of the downward slide into middle age, decrepitude, and adult diapers? certainly not. i’m sure that cutting back to one bag of cheetos a week should clear this up in no time.

wrong train

i was downtown the other day, heading home after a brief shopping venture. as i headed for the Montgomery BART station, i dodged my way past the requisite panhandlers and headed fast into the underground. i rocketed down the escalators to the platform, the sound of an impending departure floating up the hexagon-coated tubes. a train was leaving on the other platform going to the East Bay – oh, well… after a few minutes, my train arrived, and i hopped on board, ready to head home for a nice cheese sandwich.

only i was on the wrong train.

‘embarcadero…next stop. next stop…embarcadero.’ not possible. this train is headed the other way. i sat there in disbelief, the doors to the platform gaping at me uncertainly. the seconds ticked by, until i finally realized my error and jumped off the train.

as i sat on the proper train heading towards the Mission, i reconstructed my entry into the station, going over it piece by piece. i simply could not figure out how i had climbed inside the wrong silver tube…what if that decision had really mattered?

the only reason that i consider this odd is that i almost never get lost. my internal guidance system, while not as accurate as a GPS, rarely leads me astray. in fact, i don’t recall ever getting on the wrong BART train.
for a few minutes, i had trusted my instincts over my senses – i had walked into the station, onto the platform, and onto the train on complete autopilot. the urban world is a dense labyrinth, and i had temporarily lost my way. all the things i use to find my coordinates in the world – signs, landmarks, names – went out the window.

it made me realize how often i don’t really pay attention to where i’m going…i just go. how many other things happen on autopilot? how much of my life am i not paying attention to?

(un)remarkable

Chris Mitchell, a long-time friend of mine from Laguna Beach, recently perused my noodlings here. it seems my writing and snapshots got some gears moving in his spirit (forward-moving, pleasant gears, as it were). he made some very kind remarks, and then went on to suggest that i lead a remarkable life. i was so flattered that i didn’t know what to say.

not only did i not know what to say, i wasn’t sure if i agreed with him entirely. at the risk of sounding disingenuous, my life often seems pretty pedestrian to me, although i do enjoy it quite nicely.

i have good times with good friends, am lucky enough to have a loving girlfriend whom i love, do work that i often like, and occasionally take a little adventure here or there. i’m also gaining a bit in waist circumference, have hair that feels the pull of gravity and greyness, occasionally feel my work is meaningless and boring, and often have no idea what i’m really doing. in other words, there’s some good and some bad, some peaks and valleys – a landscape that i imagine is similar to the lives of many others.

but maybe i’m not really seeing things clearly…maybe a veil of subjectivity has clouded my vision.

inside my fishbowl, i swim through familiar moss-covered castles, over cobalt blue rocks, and i have fine fishy friends that pass through. every once in a while, i visit another tank or see one from a distance, and it seems so much more inviting than my own, so different. sometimes i’ll see divers, or bigger castles, or even sunken Spanish galleons full of treasure, and my pathetic bowl seems so pallid and boring in comparison.

but then someone outside my tank tells me how wonderful my castle looks, or how interesting those moss formations are, and that i should feel lucky – and i realize that i should, and i do. i lead a remarkable life – i think we all do, in our own ways.

now if only i could get that dang moss off the inside of my tank, i could see fred’s new plastic octopus…