Monday, November 30, 2009

Backing Away from the Hot Chocolate Run?

This isn't really a story about the Turkey Bowl, but I have to start there. The Turkey Bowl takes place annually in Maplewood, New Jersey's Orcard Park where it has been a fixture since 1984. What started out as a group of high school friends getting together for a little footbal has become an institution. Turkey Bowl has deep roots and unique traditions and inspires fierce loyalty among those who continue to play year after year, long after many of the original players have moved on.

This year marked an important turning point in the Turkey Bowl's history when the game began with both adults and children taking the field. In the old, old days, none of the players had kids. In the old days, the kids were too young to really be involved, but there was a kids' game that developed. This year, the kids outnumbered the adults.

And a kid one the "Most Dominant" award. It just happened to be my kid.

But this isn't really a story about the Turkey Bowl. It's a story about this Saturday's Hot Chocolate Run. I've had the date circled on the calendar for some time now, and I've had a sign promoting the event on my lawn for weeks. I've registered myself and my children, and the weather looks positively balmy when compared to last year's 13-degree day. So what happened? In the very first play of the Turkey Bowl, I pulled something in my lower back.

Yeah, I've got a back injury. And I haven't been able to run at all since Thursday. Saturday night, I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and I couldn't walk. Not. Good.

But I'm hopeful. Last year I had such a good time running the race with my kids, and with 3000 other people, that I'm going to do what I can to get make it to the starting line. I've found that the Hot Chocolate Run is like one big party. Everyone's in a good mood and running a 5k is a great way to kick off a Saturday morning, because it can be used as an excuse for a lot of holiday indulgences the rest of the weekend. "Sure I'll have a brownie. I ran a five k today!"

I'm also going to be there because I want to see what 4000 people running through the streets of Northampton looks like. And I want to be a part of it.

Anyone know any good stretches for the lower back?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Missing Trees

That's a picture of Jackson Street from the bike path overpass looking towards Jackson Street School. If I'd taken this picture a few months ago, you'd see a lot more trees on the right side. Those are all gone now. But the trees were not removed to make way for the improved sidewalk/bike path ramp project. According to the ever-helpful Jackson Street School Newsletter, most of the trees were removed by the abutting property owner because they wanted to remove them.

This image is from Jackson Street looking down towards the bike path. It's pretty amazing how quickly this project is moving forward--I'm assuming the cooperative weather has something to do with it. And it's also pretty amazing that the entrance to the bike path from Jackson Street was so treacherous for so long. I've ridden down that path many times with only one thought in my head: "I hope I don't flip over." Now it will be something I'll tell my kids about, about how easy they have it now.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday is Blood Day

Donated blood today for the first time in about six months and I was reminded both of some of the benefits of the procedure and how people in white coats with medical equipment can sometimes cause me to act funny.

The benefits: I had my pulse (57), temperature (okay, I guess, because they didn't say anything), blood pressure (ditto) taken by a professional. Well, by someone in a white coat, anyway. I had the iron in my blood tested (15.3, whatever that means). And I was asked a series of questions about where I travel, who I hang around with, how often I get a piercing or a tattoo, and how many days in a row I've spent in jail (I don't know what happens to people after they've spent two days in jail that would preclude them from giving blood, but I don't think I want to find out.)

The oddness: I let these perfect strangers stick me with a needle, ask me personal questions, and confirm my social security number. And that was before I even got to the part where I gave the blood. My favorite part was when I had to roll up my sleeves so that they could check my veins. I assume they do this because they really want to check my veins and because they want to make sure that I'm not an IV drug user. Anyway, whenever I get to this part, the people in the white coats always get very excited about my veins. "Wow, what great veins," the person helping me said today.

And then I went in to do the actual blood-giving. They had me lie down on a padded table while the technician examined my arm. My arm was at my side and I couldn't really see what she was looking at, but I could hear her very clearly. "Well that's weird."

I don't care what the situation is, I simply don't want to hear someone wearing a white coat who's examining any part of my body to say that.

I thought about ignoring it. After all, I'm a veteran blood donor. But I just couldn't.

"What's weird?" I asked.

"Your veins," she said. "They're just so thick."

Three thoughts flashed through my mind. The first was to make an inappropriate remark about the thickness of other veins and vein-like appendages. I refrained. The second was to just say "thank you," but I couldn't tell if she was being complimentary or not. The third thought was just how quickly I could get to a computer and Google "thick veins" to see what that might portend.

So I didn't reply at all. I squeezed the rubber ball and waited patiently for the bag to fill up and then I went and got some cookies and juice. I waited the required 15 minutes and then went back to work, another donation in the books.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I Think I'm Going To Barf--Where's The Finish Line?

Over the past few weeks, my running routine has been interrupted by a persistent pain in my leg. I'm happy to report that after consulting with an athletic trainer (thank you, Melissa!) I've been able to run recently pretty much without any pain. So now I find myself looking for a challenge. Sure, the Hot Chocolate Run is only a few weeks away, but last year I "ran" that race with my younger son, and we finished, shall we say, towards the back of the pack. I anticipate the same thing this year; in other words, not as much of a challenge as I would like.

But I don't think I'd be able to handle the Krispy Kreme Challenge. Sure, it sounds simple enough: run two miles, eat a dozen donuts, and then run two more miles. But think about for a little while and imagine what it must feel like to run after eating 12 donuts. And then think about what needs to be cleaned up on the race route afterwards, and I'm not talking crumpled up plastic cups and bottles.

Friday, November 13, 2009

No Thank You

In its automated and relentless drive to bring people together, Facebook ignored how I chose to ignore its matchmaking recommendation from a almost a year ago that I become friends with someone I have no intention of friending. The faceless Facebook may know from its study of those mysterious analytics who has a similar history to me, but for all of its intelligence, it can never truly know or understand what's in my heart. Yes--I'm human and that's something you'll never understand. Sure, you may have birthdays--and there might even be cake--but you'll never know the pain of having a birthday party ruined by a six-year-old jerk who's grown up to be a forty-something-year-old asshole. And I've filled my quota of those, thank you very much.

I will click "ignore" and enjoy doing it!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Birthday Shout Out

Ten years ago today, back in the "old days" when digital cameras weren't as functional or omnipresent as they are today, I remember driving to a one-hour photo place, eager to see the pictures of our newborn son that I'd taken a few hours earlier. I wore the biggest smile on my face, but I couldn't help it. And I remember being perplexed about why everyone else I encountered didn't seem to be as happy about the loud and squrimy bundle of joy in the pictures as I was. Hadn't everyone heard the wonderful news?

Today that bundle of joy turns 10 years old, and there hasn't been a day go by that I haven't smiled as broadly and as proudly as I did that first day.

Happy birthday, Sam!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Hot Chocolate Run, Here I Come!

“You know that we’re not talking about normal knees, right?”

That’s how the doctor began his conversation with me after I explained to him how the pain I’d been feeling in my leg had started out as knee pain but had then migrated down towards the calf/ankle area.

As soon as he said that, I was reminded of the time eleven years earlier I went to get an x-ray of my knee after I’d been hit by a car while out riding my bike. After the x-ray, I was told to sit in the waiting area so that the radiologist could make sure that he didn’t need any more x-rays. As I sat there, a man in a white coat holding an x-ray in his hand came running down the hallway to see me. Once he confirmed that I did, indeed, belong to the knee whose x-ray he held in his hand, he said, “How do you feel?”

“Well,” I said. “My knee is sore, but I don’t think it’s anything serious.” He looked at the x-ray, and then down at my knee. Then he told me to stand up and take a few steps, which I did. He then looked at the x-ray one more time, then at me before he turned and walked away, down the hallway, shaking his head as he went.
It turns out that he was surprised by where my kneecaps were in relation to the rest of leg parts. He was worried that I had turn my patellar tendon but in reality, I have a condition called “patella alta.” in layman’s terms, it’s also referred to as “not normal knees.”

So I knew where the doctor was coming from. And I expected the worst. On the table behind the doctor was a model of the knee. I kept glancing at it, expecting him to pick it up to illustrate a point. And I know from experience that doctors don’t pick up the models to tell you that everything’s working fine.

But the doctor didn’t pick up the model. And he didn’t make me get any x-rays. And most importantly, he didn’t tell me to stop running. He diagnosed me with a calf injury, advised me to stretch regularly, and then sent me on my way. “Keep running,” he said. Which means that I now have a clean bill of health for next month’s Hot Chocolate Run. If only my sore leg knew that there was nothing wrong with it.

Time seems to have been flying by lately and just as I still can’t believe that the calendar has turned to November, I can’t believe that the Hot Chocolate Run is less than a month away. I also can’t believe that this race has become so popular that the organizers have had to find a bigger place for the start/finish than what they had last year on Strong Avenue. But this has become quite a community event—so many people I know participate in it—so maybe I shouldn’t be all that surprised.
And now that I’ve been cleared to race, I can start obsessing over the little race details. Will my kids want to run with me again this year? If they do, I can’t push myself to set a time, because I’ll have to stay with them. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Will the weather hold out? Last year it was 13 degrees when I woke up on race day. Will I get some hot chocolate this year? Last year I ran/walked with my then-five-year-old, and we finished fourth from the last. And the only liquid chocolate available was far from hot.

But the bottom line is, I’m pumped and looking forward to getting ready for the race.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Election Day Eve

Two days after the last Northampton Mayoral election, Fred Contrada wrote this in the Republican about Higgins' opponent, Gene Tacy:

"Tacy, a late write-in candidate, rode a wave of rancor against City Hall that included dissatisfaction with the handling of the Smith College science center, the Hilton Garden Inn hotel project and the landfill expansion. People opposed to those projects have insisted that Higgins shuts the public out of the decision-making process if it doesn't suit her agenda."

Sound familiar? Over the last two years, the issues haven't really changed that much. The case could be made that the issues have finally found a leader in Michael Bardsley, who doesn't have the handicap of being a write-in candidate like Gene Tacy was in 2007. But does that mean that Higgins will finally lose? Not necessarily. Yes, last time Higgins was facing a write-in candidate, but last time she did little to no campaigning. It could be that the campaigning she's done cancels out the advantages that Bardsley has this time that Tacy didn't last time.

In the end, it will all come down to numbers, of course. Northampton has approximately 18,000 registered voters. In 2007, almost 7,000 of those cast ballots at the polls. While there has been a lot of interest in the election this year, it would be a shock if more than 50% of registered voters voted this year. That means that Bardsley and Higgins are fighting for 9,000 votes. To be on the safe side, let's say that the winner has to get to 5,000 votes. In 2007, Higgins garnered 4,3331 votes basically without breaking a sweat. I'm not saying that everyone who voted for Higgins in 2007 will automatically do so again in 2009, but I do think that a high percentage will. If we add in new voters that Higgins has attracted this time around, she's close to the goal.

Bardsley has been campaigning hard on the message that he will do a better job because he'll listen. His message is very similar to the one that Tacy used in 2007, one that convinced 2600 people to vote for someone who wasn't even on the official ballot. Bardsley has taken on the mantle of outsider and reformer and just as the issues haven't changed that much in the last two years, I don't think that the people who wanted Higgins out two years ago have really changed their minds. So Bardsley can count on at least 2600 votes.

So what it boils down to is how well each candidate will do reaching out to those who haven't voted for them or their issues before. And I think this is where each candidate has fallen short.

So much of the rhetoric of this campaign has been driven by a group of people whose passion far outweighs their numbers. Online message boards, website comments, email, and social media have been ablaze with cheap shots, outright lies, well-though-out opinions, and expressions of hurt feelings. And these issues have crept up in the various forums the candidates have held. But in rehashing these issues, both candidates have focused on the same small group of people. How many truly undecided voters have taken notice of any of this? While we like to think that we live in a politically aware city, the fact remains that local elections just don't garner as much interest as state or national elections do. In talking about the election with people, the comment I've heard most often is, "why are people mad at the mayor?" That people ask that question should give pause to anyone working on a campaign this year and serve as a stark reminder that there are a lot of people in Northampton who haven't been following the election at all. And let's face it, with so many candidates and so many signs around, they tend to blend together after a while, especially if you're not up on who's who.

So as I see it, there are four voting blocs in this election. The first bloc is the non-voting bloc; they won't go to the polls tomorrow not matter what. The second bloc is the anti-incumbent bloc, which will vote for anyone on the ballot not named Higgins. The third bloc is the pro-Higgins/anti-Bardsley Bloc, and they'll vote for the incumbent. The last bloc is made up of those registered voters who don't pay close attention to local elections. This group will control tomorrow's outcome, and I think they'll vote for Higgins for two basic reasons. First, she's the incumbent and has name recognition. Second, I think they would say that things are going pretty well in Northampton. I'm not saying they're right, I'm just saying that an anti-Higgins campaign based in part on the minutiae of City Council Executive Session Minutes takes too much brain power to understand; people like things simple. And the simplest thing to do is vote for the mayor we've already got.

On Tuesday night we'll see that the new boss is the same as the old boss.