Up and Over

On our bike ride yesterday along the river, we met up with a dumb-butt who was fussing with his unleashed dog in the middle of the path, forcing Robin off the asphalt and into some sketchy gravel/dirt.

Trying to get back to solid ground she went down over the bars, hard and face-down.

I helped her up and checked her over, then we put the chain back on her bike and off we went in the direction of our first aid kit. Luckily the injuries were limited to scraped knees (2), scraped elbow (1), and sore wrists (2), one of which swelled up rapidly. All parts are feeling better today, but we’re watching that wrist. It needs to get better steadily or we’ll have to take our chances with the medical-industrial complex and all its vagaries.

Wounds of excellence, they call them. I do love riding this walking/biking path but it has become awfully popular, and even the most careful rider could have an accident brought about by unthinking pet-owners with their off-leash dogs and the unguided missiles they represent.

(BTW: Colorado is full of such pet-owners who apparently believe that municipal leash laws are for lesser creatures than themselves)

******

Today we were in Delta CO when lunchtime rolled around. Robin insisted that I choose the place to eat. So I picked a family-owned restaurant I have wondered about for a year now – Tacos Garcia. (I could instantly see on Robin’s face as I said the name that she thought perhaps she’d been unwise to leave it up to me.)

It’s a tiny spot on Main Street, only a couple of indoor tables, with several more outside. It is not the typical Americanized idea of Mexican food.

The entire menu is in the photo at right.

Robin was game and ordered a couple of pollo tacos. After listening to the woman behind the counter go down the choices and describe each one I settled on barbacoa, which I learned was the meat from the cheeks of cows, shredded.

I waited apprehensively, hoping that I had not ordered some sort of gristle-pile that I would not be able to ingest. But it was delicious and not to be feared, even by a supremely fussy gourmand such as myself.

******

So here’s a graphic of a mockup showing a new airline seating system that a man named O’Neill has proposed. I took one look at it and my ordinarily mild claustrophobia exploded. I had to go outside and take several hundred calming breaths. In such a move, the airline would put another nimbler human being above you.

Yes, dear friends, above you.

Now, I hasten to add for those of you who typically travel first-class that no one is suggesting that anyone do double-decking in your section of the plane, so you can relax.

But for the peons in the rest of the aircraft … that’s another matter entirely. Next step, I suppose, would be to do away with the aisle altogether and have us bodysurf on the backs of fellow travelers to get to our bunk-seats in the sky.

It just gets better and better.

******

Out & About in Coronaland

For the first time since the emergency began, Robin and I went out with our friends, the Evanses. Cautiously.

We chose an outdoor activity – bicycling – along the bike trail that runs from Ridgway State Park into the town of Ridgway itself. An eight-mile really lovely pedal along the river. On a golden sunny day in the 70s. Mostly we were safe distances apart, even though we relaxed our mask-wearing a bit.

At the end of the ride we had prepared a picnic lunch … actually … two picnic lunches. Each couple made and ate their own food, without sharing. Not quite as much fun as “you bring this and I’ll bring that” but it worked out okay, and guidelines were pretty much observed.

Interesting, though, was our table conversation. We’d all separately come to the conclusion from all we’d read and seen that we were all going to contract the coronavirus eventually. That it was inevitable, what with its silent spread through the population, lack of anything protective being presently offered, and the demonstrated infectiousness of the beast.

It was only a matter of when. We agreed that of the two choices – go ahead and catch it and get it over with vs. putting it off as long as circumstances allowed, we were all choosing the put-off strategy. There was always some small chance for a vaccine or an antiviral chemotherapeutic being developed.

And although the four of us are in the high-risk group, that still meant that as far as the statistics provided so far, we have an 88% chance of survival if we do come down with the disease.

It may not seem like cheerful table conversation, but at least there was no denial, no “it won’t happen to me as long as I keep on doing these magical things.” And facing what can’t be run from is liberating and requires much less energy than stuffing it away does.

So … four happy non-campers pedaling from country to town and back again. Good conversations. Great fun.

******

On Sunday, we traveled to the Purgatory ski area near Durango and rendezvoused with Amy, Neil, & the kids. We repeated the social distancing picnic of Saturday and added a hike down the mountain (and back up) to the Animas River gorge this time.

Weather was excellent, the trail was strenuous and led us to beautiful overlooks, and the company was cheerful and energetic. The Hurley family are always good hosts, even under the present awkward circumstances.

There were no hugs on Mother’s Day for Robin, but she was still in the physical presence of some of her favorite people on the planet. Turns out that counts for quite a bit.

******

From The New Yorker

******

The standoff between the governor of South Dakota and Native American tribes over who gets to control access to reservation lands continues. The governor says the tribes don’t get to have their own checkpoints on highways running through the reservation, the tribes say it’s their only way to protect their vulnerable people.

The above photograph of the Republican caucus at a recent session of the SD legislature may go a long way in explaining why the tribes have lost confidence and taken matters into their own hands.

Governor Noem has also been in the news recently for having decided to let the coronavirus burn a swath through her own state rather have her office take a stand and interfere. As a result, SD has moved considerably up the list of new Covid-19 cases per capita.

Rumor has it that many people have tried to explain the germ theory of disease causation to her without success.

******

The NYTimes has tried to help us out in our social distancing by reviewing stuff we could profitably watch on television. Monday morning one of the recommendations that newspaper made will make most of my family nod their heads and exclaim: “Yes, yes, there you go, New York Times.”

The author of the piece tells us all why re-watching Little House on the Prairie episodes could be a good thing for a person. Of course, I am about the only one in my extended household who needs such a reminder.

One of my problems, and I admit that it is a petty one, is that I could never get past Michael Landon’s hair. I knew that there never had been a pioneer Minnesotan/South Dakotan farmer with such a coiffure. So what other less obvious stuff was baloney as well, I would ask myself?

I know, I missed the point entirely, didn’t I?

But out Michael would come in his un-pioneer shirt and his big hair and my hands would instinctively reach for the remote.

.

******

Living in this very awkward and tense time has very few positives … unless you’re a bit strange. Like myself. Speaking as a guy who dealt with infectious diseases for 35 years on a very basic clinical level, these are fascinating times.

This mindless microscopic bit of RNA has changed the course of life around the world for several months now. It popped up in Wuhan but quickly hitched rides on planes to places everywhere. Usually a new viral disease is of more local interest. The CDC gets a call and the experts get cracking while you and I learn about it only if we read the “science” sections of the newspaper.

But this time we’re all in the middle of it. There is no safe and dispassionate sanctuary to go to. We are all the guinea pigs. Social distancing, quarantines, “shutting down,” the quest for a vaccine and/or a therapeutic drug – the lot of us are darting around in a very big laboratory while scientists try to find where the light-switch is located.

And the variations in the clinical picture – the loss of sense of smell and taste in some folks, the “covid toes,” the widespread inflammatory disease that arises in some children who test positive, the people who don’t even know they are positive, the people who seem to be doing okay and then the bottom falls out and they move from one statistical column to another. These are all parts of a puzzle that Nature created and that brilliant minds are working overtime to solve. Watching that effort is elevating and fascinating.

For some reason this reminded me of that scene from the first Jurassic Park movie, where the hired hunter is stalking a trio of velociraptors and is drawing a bead on one of them when … well, watch the clip.

The analytic part of this man’s brain went into play immediately and he fully appreciated the drama of which he was a part. Even if not for long.

*******

Ah, Wilderness!

Some of you may not yet have had the chance to become Nanci Griffith aficionados, and I take the blame for that. I am a card-carrying fan, and this somewhat smudgy video may show you why.

Griffith is from Texas, but I don’t hold that against her. There are a couple of other good things in Texas, my friend Sid is one and my favorite western writer is another. His name is Larry McMurtry, and he has written beaucoup novels, but the one that first caught my attention and imagination was Lonesome Dove. I have read it … dunno … maybe five times. Could be six. It was a book that said to a midwestern boy (who had no way of knowing for certain) – this is probably how the old west really was.

Then along came the completely great television series made from the book. So good that I watch the series Lonesome Dove about every other year all the way through. A fine story well told. Memorable characters, with Robert Duvall playing his favorite role.

And how did I discover McMurtry in the first place? Why, right here, on the back cover of the Nanci Griffith album “Last of the True Believers.” I figured a woman who could write and sing like she could – well, I’ll take her literary recommendation any day.

******

Finished the Edward Abbey book Desert Solitaire. What a guy! I love a person who can get off a good rant with flair and passion. Abbey is one of those folks.

He doesn’t like cars much out in the wilderness, for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they bring roads. He doesn’t care for tourists, either, which is a problem for someone with a summer job in a national monument whose duties include tending to tourist needs.

Toward the end of the book he gets off this flame which I have retyped carefully. The oddities of formatting are his.

******

******

Andy Borowitz of the NYTimes has perfected the art of using the headline to say nearly everything in his short humorous pieces. Here are three examples.

PENCE STARTS WEARING MASK AFTER FAUCI SAYS IT WILL PROTECT HIM FROM WOMEN

CNN TO SHOW PHONE NUMBER OF POISON-CONTROL HOTLINE WHENEVER TRUMP SPEAKS

TRUMP BLAMES PLUMMETING POLL NUMBERS ON PEOPLE PAYING ATTENTION WHEN HE TALKS

******

Black Canyon National Park is not open, but it is, sort of. You can drive past the unmanned entry station and go the couple of miles to the shuttered visitor center. There you must leave your car and either walk or bicycle past the closed gates on the single two-lane road that runs the length of the park.

In years past Robin and I have cycled on this highway several times. The views are magnificent and the road is only six miles long until it terminates in a parking lot allowing access to a picnic area and the beginning of a one-mile hike to some killer views of the canyons.

There are only two things that keep this biking journey from being perfect. One is that the road consists entirely of loooooong grades that are steep enough to give a geezer’s heart and lungs a workout. The longest uphill is 2.5 miles, and it’s pitch is enough to get you coasting at 28 mph when you turn around and head back down.

But the real pain is auto traffic. The route is curvy, narrow, and largely shoulderless. Cars are not hurtling past you at 80 mph, but even so, drivers do often behave badly, acting as if you were placed on earth specifically to annoy them, and going by you with inches to spare.

But yesterday … ahhhhhh … no cars at all. Every inch of asphalt was ours. Not even another cyclist or hiker. We owned the park. Every viewpoint, every small flower, every whiff of junipers warming in the sun was ours alone to enjoy. It was like scenes from a disaster movie, where all other humans on earth had been wiped out by fiendish aliens with a death ray that left everything else intact (blessedly including the TP in one of the few privies along the way).

We did the 12 mile round trip, and while those hills had my legs wobbling at the end, I was a happy gasper. A remarkable day on our private highway in our private geologic wonderland.

******

No Longer Virgins, We Are

Apparently Robin and I were the last two Americans to learn about the existence of “Zoom,” a platform for sound and video conferencing. I might be exaggerating just a little, because I’ve learned that there is a pocket of non-electrified citizens living far back in the Florida Everglades who share our ignorance on the subject.

At any rate, we’ve only come into the light during the past month. Regular users of Zoom seem to think it’s better than FaceTime or Skype, the only other free platforms I’d known about until now. I will reserve judgment for a while. It does seem easier to get started with, but my past experience has been that early simplicity can be deceptive, and before long I find myself wondering if that codger up the street who used to work for Hewlett-Packard still remembers anything that might help me.

Furthermore, like many other such enterprises before it, Zoom has been caught collecting and selling data on users without their permission. Those mental pictures of executives with their hand in our till while we’re sleeping are never flattering.

Anyway, Robin and I have both Zoomed now and can never look back to that purer state of unawareness we once enjoyed. Friday noon I’m attending my first AA meeting using the app. Chats with other family and friends can probably not be far away …

[The photo at top is from 1999, from the children’s TV show, Zoom. No connection.]

******

******

The black and white cat-beast next door has bothered enough people in our neighborhood that its owners have had to shut it away indoors for the past couple of weeks. They are considering placement for the vicious critter on a farm somewhere, and I only hope that time comes soon. If they can’t find a farm, I might suggest an urn.

It’s been so pleasant seeing our pets without new injuries that he’s caused. Just a week ago at 0300 hours he had slipped his bonds and tried to gain entrance to our house by ripping his way through the pet portal, which was fortunately firmly shuttered at the time. I have no idea who or what he was after, since he and I have a really bad vibe going. (In my dreams his claws are at my throat … )

I had reached the point where I was about to invoke city ordinances when I learned that the cat was being kept in. Glad that didn’t have to happen. I would have disliked dealing with the couple next door on a persistently hostile basis.

I actually like the couple. My read is that they’ve had trouble realizing and accepting that the big fluffy purr-y guy living with them is a killer, and does not play well with others.

******

******

It is my friend Bill’s birthday today, and Bill is 119 years old. His recipe for living this long is simple … don’t die, whatever else you may do. He looks really good for his age, I think, and while I don’t have a more recent photo, here’s one from last summer.

Bill has a daily regimen that may be contributing to his longevity. He rises regularly at 4:00 AM, takes a shower with the water temperature set at precisely 37 degrees, then jumps on his road bike, a Trek Domane SLR 9, and off he goes for 30 miles of hard pumping. Once a week, just to make it a real workout, he will tie a rope to the bike and drag the wheel ( with tire) of a 1952 Chevvy pickup behind him.

Another shower and it’s time for calisthenics. His workout varies but usually includes 100 bent-knee situps and 50 one-handed pushups on each side.

By now it’s 8:00 and time for breakfast, where large helpings of toast, eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, hash-browns, and pomegranate juice are chewed, swished, and swallowed. He wipes his chin, picks up all the food fragments that have fallen into his lap, and walks to his bedroom, where he collapses onto the bed and doesn’t get out until 4:00 the next morning.

Works for him.

So … here’s hoping that I catch him during that short interval between pushups and breakfast and that this Happy Birthday wish can help make his day a bright one.

Onward … to 120!

******

Bill Withers, man.

There were those hot summers when his music was like sweet salve on a burn. It is still here to soothe and inspire us all over again, nearly fifty years on.

******

Moving On Up …

The story of Covid 19 continues. Colorado finally officially has its first two cases as of Thursday, so now we can see what kind of mettle the mountain-dwellers have. Colorado’s Governor Polis was given a passel of emergency powers by the legislature on Thursday as well, just in case he needs them. One of those was interesting to me personally.

If things really heated up out here, and the number of available medical personnel were insufficient, he has the authority to grant people like myself a temporary license to practice during the emergency, as long as we are under supervision of someone who has proper credentials.

Influenza victims crowd into an emergency hospital near Fort Riley, Kansas in 1918

I shudder to think of the poor patients in such an extremity. First they are struck down by this nasty microbe, and just when it seems that things couldn’t get any worse, in totters a doctor they have never seen before who is pushing a walker and wearing an expression of the purest befuddlement.

Which could lead to the following scenario:

(Ring, ring, ring)

You can stop shaking that bell now, sir, because as you can see, I am here.

Who are you?

Why, I’m Doctor Jon, and I’ve been assigned to your case.

But you’re … ancient. Are you really a doctor?

Of course I am … or was … but the Governor says I am again so there you are. Now, what can I do for you?

I need to know how sick I am. Am I going to make it?

Well, let’s begin with this. How do you feel?

I feel terrible, I ache all over, I can’t stop coughing, and I have a constant fever of 104 degrees.

That’s not a good start at all. Have you seen a doctor?

I thought that’s what I was doing now … why are you standing way over there in the corner?

Can’t be too careful, now, can we? Catch a cough like yours and I could blow myself to smithereens.

Can I get another physician?

Of course you can, sir, this is America, after all.

Then I’d like one who is under ninety years old, please.

(Pause)

There aren’t any.

Any what?

Any working physicians who are younger than I am. All the younger doctors are out sick.

So you are the best I can get?

‘Fraid so. Can you hear me if I talk to you from the hallway?

******

******

Curiosity finally got the best of me and I took my first ride on an e-bike this past week. Our local bicycle shop had a dozen models on hand, and I chose the lowest-priced one to take for a spin. My thinking was that if I liked the cheaper model, then I would love the shiny blue one over there that looked like a rocket. But if I wrecked El Cheapo in this test drive, it was nothing special and who would miss it?

So the salesman wheels the machine out the door, I climb aboard, turn it on, and I’m off. What it feels like is starting out on a normal bicycle for a pedal or two and then someone places a gentle hand in the small of your back and gives you the most wonderful push that doesn’t stop until you cease pedaling.

Now the sharp-eyed among you will speak up and tell me that I was riding a “girl’s bike.” And that will instantly mark you as so far behind the times that you are hardly worth talking to because they are not boy’s and girl’s models anymore, but step-over and step-thru.

It’s a new naming system that I support wholeheartedly, especially since my personal stepping-through is working a whole lot better than my stepping-over these days. I don’t know exactly when that right leg of mine lost its desire to swing high in the air but it did and it shows no sign of wanting to go back to its old ways.

The short of it all is that I have become a customer for one of these. All that remains is to resolve the conflict between the bike that I desperately want -the one that will make my life a better life and me a better (taller, handsomer, infinitely more charming) person – and the model that more realistically suits my budget and my needs.

When fantasy and getting real have worked out their differences, make no mistake, I will be electrified!

******

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Anonymous

A piece of writing on CNN details how shoppers are stocking up on certain items, trying to avoid shopping among diseased neighbors should Covid 19 come to town.

A curious situation is that shortages of toilet paper are developing in some communities as hoarders selfishly buy up the good stuff and leave the less desirable brands behind.

Why, just last night as we wedged another twenty rolls of Charmin into the back of our Forester, we congratulated ourselves on our good fortune as those were the last twenty rolls of that homely but reliable product on the shelf. And we had beaten out that elderly gentleman to the punch as he reached haltingly for the packages that we snatched away from his outstretched hand.

I know, I know, I should feel guilty, but I don’t. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and the meek do not inherit the earth or the best toilet tissue, not when push comes to shove. (Tried to get another cliché in there but ran out of room).

It’s a sad state of affairs, but if you come to visit us during the pandemic, we don’t want to have to hand you a corncob or a handful of switchgrass on your way to the bathroom. Our standards as far as being a proper host may be modest ones, but there are depths to which we simply will not sink.

******

Walken Rules!

Ahem. My friends, I have the privilege and pleasure of presenting to you perhaps the best commercial ever for a product of this genre. It’s worth watching for the philosophy expressed regarding friendship, even if you have no need for the last thirty seconds or so.

Plus, it stars Christopher Walken, who has somehow come to possess a brand of cool that other mere mortals can only dream of acquiring.

Now, hey, did I steer you wrong?

(P.S.: that lovely bicycle, called the YT Jeffsy, can be purchased online for the puny sum of only $4000. My modest cycling skills do not warrant my owning such an excellent machine, )

******

Robin and I attended a fish-fry at a local Catholic church Friday evening at the invitation of another couple. The food was a really good example of its genre, and all of us went back for seconds. We are not the sort of people who quail before a little bit of lipid.

It is, after all, called a fish-fry, not a fish-poach.

The other guy, let’s call him Ron since that’s his name, is a licensed pilot who rarely flies these days. Although I have never been licensed to fly them, I have had an interest in aircraft since a time when they were called aeroplanes. During WWII there were little cutout paper airplanes tucked into cereal boxes and I recall assembling many of those before I was five years old.

So off we went on tangents involving aircraft. Each of us could hardly wait for the other to finish telling their tale so that we could get into telling ours. But we were polite enough not to interrupt one another, and the evening passed quite pleasantly.

I told a story of the first time I was in the US Air Force, at age 19, and since any story about me is by definition endlessly fascinating, I will repeat it here.

I had arrived at Lackland Air Force Base (San Antonio TX) in the middle of July. Along with a group of young men I was escorted to the base barber shop where our hair was amputated. Then we were taken to a large barn-like building where we were issued our clothing, which we stuffed into a big green duffle bag.

Our group then marched in an irregular fashion across the base where we were instructed to place those duffles in a pile while we trekked off to somewhere else to do some other important thing the nature of which I have long ago forgotten.

At any rate, one of our number was assigned to guard that pile of duffles, and he stood there at parade rest under a blazing July sun while the rest of went off whistling the Colonel Bogey March. I should add that we had been issued pith helmets to wear as protection from the sun.

(At left is a photograph of a British officer in 1918 wearing a pith helmet. He looks quite a bit more dashing than I or any of my compatriots did on the day in question. In fact, the most complimentary thing you could have said about us is that we were a motley-appearing crew).

Perhaps an hour later we returned to find our clothing still being guarded by our lonely fellow-at-arms, but when the sergeant in charge addressed the young man, he did not respond. Peering under his pith helmet, it was determined that although he was still standing he was quite unconscious and well on his way to a heat stroke.

The youth was quickly carted off to the base hospital, and did not rejoin our group of recruits for several days. I recall filing away what I had learned that morning as follows: while sergeants can order you to do most anything they want to, not all of those orders are in your best interest, and you will do well to keep this in mind.

******

Although there are times that we citizens of Paradise seem isolated from our fellows in more populous cities, the slow but inexorable spread of this new virus has shown how we truly are all connected, and share vulnerability to this threat.

Our local police department is taking things very seriously, and their emergency preparedness unit is ready for whatever comes, they believe. Yesterday they were photographed practicing what to do if someone shows up at a City Market grocery store with a bad cough and suspicious behavior.

It was all very impressive, and I have nothing but the greatest respect for these folks, who are our first line of defense against criminals, people in favor of gun control, and errant microbes.

******

Robin and I have made it a habit to visit the town of Telluride at least once each winter season, just to see what the one-percenters are doing. On our ride up the mountain on the gondola we could not avoid listening to one lady’s story about how she had just won a half-million dollar condo in some sort of restricted lottery that none of the rest of us in the conveyance would even qualify to enter.

I tried to muster a “congratulations” but failed in the attempt, due to an extremely heavy fog of entitlement that had popped up within the car and which was distracting me.

Later on we treated ourselves to a pizza at the Brown Dog, which has become a part of nearly every visit to Telluride. It is officially my favorite pizza of all time. They call it Detroit-style, and what that means is it is a rectangular pie with a pillowy crust that has perfectly crisped edges. Whoever adds the sauce and the toppings is not riding in their first rodeo, either, as they are balanced exactly the way you yourself would have done if you had been in the kitchen.

Please excuse me for a moment, I seem to have drooled all over my computer keyboard.

******

We started out this post by watching Mr. Walken do a commercial … let’s waste a little more of our time watching him do that great music video for a tune by Fatboy Slim. It is a classic.

******