Out For A Run

He felt like he always did when starting a run. Ankles a bit tight. A slight twinge in a calf muscle. It took a bit to get the rhythm working again. Breathing a little hard to start with, and then settling down as he got in the groove. Felt the first drops of sweat dripping down his back as he started to feel warmed up and lighter on his feet. Running through the neighborhood in the morning light there was little activity. Fresh newspapers sat on driveways waiting to be read. A few lawns still had sprinklers running, creating small pools on the sidewalk to be avoided. Streetlights were flickering and shutting off.

He crossed the street and turned on the dirt path that looped out into the marsh area. Obnoxiously loud tunes from the music player blasting in his ears, feet pounding on the rough trail, he marked familiar landmarks. The distance ticked by and he occasionally glanced down at his heart rate, adjusting the pace. The trail passed through groves of eucalyptus trees still damp with the overnight dew. Interspersed among the trees were open marsh areas. Waist high reeds and underbrush marked the edge of the trail. Out in the shallow water birds drifted and eyed him running past. The sun was rising higher and the perspiration was starting to soak his shirt. The gnats and mosquitos that would make this area unbearable later in the day were just starting to rise.

He almost didn’t see it. A small rut in the trail broke his rhythm. He looked down and did a small shuffle step to jump over. The glint in the sun caught his eye as he looked back up the trail. Glossy, black, a shape he didn’t immediately recognize. It was a few steps past before his brain registered what it was. Like the kids puzzles – guess what shape doesn’t belong in this picture? A stiletto heel, with a stark white foot bed and shiny black finish was laying on the edge of the trail. A few more inches and it would have been obscured by the reeds. Why would a woman’s dress shoe be way out here?

He continued running, puzzling over the image. He’d been running hard for quite a while so it was clearly too far for anyone to casually walk, especially wearing those heels. The trail was too narrow for a vehicle. Odd. He increased his pace, mind puzzling over the image. The miles flew by.

Breathing hard now, he had to start deciding how hard he could push. The three-quarter point was coming up. Push too hard now and the legs would start slowing down before he finished. Bass thumping in the earphones, sweat dripping in his eyes, a snow-white egret slowly took flight out ahead of him. At a trail junction he turned and headed towards the small parking lot at the opposite end of the preserve. At that point he’d head back to the street and finish the run on pavement. The narrow dirt trail slowly turned to gravel, and then it was a smooth paved surface that most runners never ventured off.

Feeling good, he followed the trail as it turned slightly up towards the parking lot. As he crested the small hill his stomach did a slow turn. Flashing blue lights. The howl of a bloodhound heard over his music.

He knew.

Brother, Can You Spare A Buck?

For no particular reason I opened up Wikipedia and clicked the “Random Article” link. What came up was “Aggressive panhandling”. Funny because just a few days prior a friend had posted on Facebook that he’d given a few bucks to panhandlers and wondered if he was a sucker for doing so.  What I think this means is that all social media is interlinked and the giant corporations are directing our web traffic to support their evil schemes. Oops, that’s another blog post.

Unless you live in Lebanon, Kansas you’ve seen ’em. Beggars, bums, panhandlers, urban campers, 17th century music majors, hobos.

Down on his luck

They stand on corners, intersection medians, and near shopping areas with their cardboard signs. “Down on my luck”. “Homeless and hungry”. “Need gas money”. “Homeless vet”. “Why lie, need $$ for beer”. They range in appearance from young-ish kids sporting multiple face piercings, to sad older folks, to filthy wackjob looking guys who’ve clearly need a serious delousing. You sit in your $30k car watching them shuffle from window to window looking for a dollar. The guilt sets in, especially women. You fish through your pocket or purse, find a buck just in case he gets to your window before the light changes. If you don’t have anything handy you do everything possible to avoid eye contact. Staring down intently at your phone seems to be a favorite tactic.

For most of us a dollar isn’t going to make or break the monthly budget. It’s not like your children will have to skip dinner tonight if you give up a buck. Should you feel guilty about not giving? Absolutely not! Don’t give them money!! Ultra liberal do-gooders are probably hyperventilating at this point. Don’t worry, they’ll be ok once they have a chi latte. First off, it’s the rare exception that these beggars actually need that dollar to eat. Per a PD contact, many of them can easily make up to $200-$300 a day. Yes, you read that right. It’s common to see them wander off the median and head to their car and drive off when the (sucker) traffic is slow. Many dress for the part and carry multiple cardboard signs with various sayings in case the current one isn’t working.

If nothing else, there’s the safety issue. Do you really want to roll down your window and invite a hepatitis infected drug addict to reach in and grab your purse or worse? Think it doesn’t happen? I know in your Hello Kitty, sunshine and rainbow-filled world all people are good, but that’s just not reality. Sorry.

I just want to work

I’m certainly not suggesting these folks are well-off.  They’re out there for many reasons. Probably the biggest one is a drug addiction. Sadly, they’ll take that dollar from you just as quick as they’ll break into your car or home looking for stuff to steal and sell. Gotta feed that addiction. Mental illness can be a factor as well as a host of other unfortunate events. Waaay down the list is the true, down on his luck, lost his job, home foreclosed on, can’t feed the kids, homeless guy. Why? I believe that most people will take steps before things got to that point and do everything possible to either prevent, or get themselves out of that scenario ASAP. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but my gut tells me it’s the rare case.

Warning, politically incorrect statement: At least in the SF Bay Area, 90% of the restaurant dishwashers, car washers, and fast food workers are our southern friends – here in a temporarily undocumented status. They do not speak English. (no complaints, their English is better than my Spanish)  The point is that they work, and work hard. If an illegal immigrant who does not speak english can find work and survive without begging… so can many (most) of the dudes working the street corner. Begging for money has become a choice for them, not a survival mechanism. Like it or not, giving money is only enabling the behavior. It’s not an accident that cities like San Francisco who pride themselves on being tolerant towards panhandlers are meccas for the homeless. It’s hard to walk down the street in SF without being accosted by some scary looking dude looking for money.

Giving is good. Giving makes you feel better about yourself. I like giving. The difference is that I want to give in a way that maximizes the benefit. Give (or better yet, volunteer) at your local soup kitchen/homeless shelter. Give to a drug, job, outreach center. Give to your church. Find a charity that matches your personal goals and opinions and give. You’ll feel good, and the overall benefit will be 100x what that dollar you give at the intersection does.

How Comes Jamaica Full Of So Much Screwface

How comes Jamaica full of so much screwface
Same time mi lift mi head to the sky
And a tear drop fall from mi eye

Look pon di gully side
Do you see anything fi smile bout
Look at that hungry child
Do you see anything fi smile bout
Look at the school weh deh youth dem go fi get dem education
Do you see anything fi smile bout
Look at the conditions of our police stations
Do you see anything fi smile bout

From “Morgan Heritage – Nothing to smile about

Where’s the beach resort?

I can’t afford the cool new jeans I want. I hate my car but don’t qualify for a loan for that new Cadillac Escalade. My job sucks and all my friends make way more money than me. My house is only 2,000 square feet and there’s just not enough room. I just can’t face all the traffic and crowds at the mall. I just don’t have the energy to go for a walk or make it to the gym. Seriously? The amount of complaining and whining here in the US about first world problems is nauseating.

If you live in the United States and are relatively healthy, not disabled, and have an IQ higher than a garden snail, stop bitching about your problems and start enjoying life. It’s short, we only go around once (apologies to my Tibetan Buddhist friends), and you never know what’s waiting for you around the corner.

In 2010, in the United States, the poverty threshold for one person under 65 was $11,344 (annual income). This does not include the value of food stamps, earned income tax credits, rent subsidies, etc… I’m sure you’ve seen the stories – many of the “poor” in the US have more than one TV, air conditioning, and two cars. Just this morning I read that the US spends $1.6 billon providing free cell phones to low income folks. Does it suck to be on that end of the income spectrum? Yep. Been there, done that. Spent part of my childhood on food stamps, welfare, and rarely getting the newest/cool clothes for school.

There is more opportunity in this country than anywhere else in the world. Does that mean everyone will succeed? Nope. But even what we consider low income is a standard of living that much of the world would fall on their knees for. The official poverty line for India is $12 a month. 40% of Ethiopia’s population is below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day. Why am I and my family/friends so much more well off than those folks? For no reason other than in life’s lottery we were fortunate enough to be born in the US. No skill. No ingenuity. Not a well-managed 401K. Just luck of the draw that we were born here and not Zimbabwe.

So… stop your complaining and excuses and go do something many folks on this planet aren’t lucky enough to have a chance to do. Enjoy life.

Mt. El Sombroso Photos

The Sierra Azul (“Blue Range”) is an open space preserve in the South Bay region of Santa Clara County. At 18,400 acres, it’s the largest preserve in the district. The area is dominated by Mt. Umunhum, a 3,486 foot peak capped by the “blue cube” the former Almaden Air Force Station. This station was part of the early warning radar network of the 1950’s. Now closed and abandoned the entire are around Umunhum is unfortunately closed to the public. Due to the closure the next best peak is Umunhum’s sister peak, Mt. El Sombroso.

The summit of Mt. El Sombroso at 2,999 feet is a 12.3 mile round trip hike. Primarily fire road, it meanders through deep forest cover for much of the hike. The last few miles of the hike you’ll earn your summit – the gradient turns steep, covered in loose shale, and most of it is spent in direct sun. Hot and tired you’re rewarded with sweeping views of San Jose and the entire South Bay basin. If you have a clear day you’ll be able to spot Mt. Hamilton across the valley.

Almaden Air Force Station

Sierra Azul Open Space

Mt. El Sombroso

Everyone Needs A Tattoo

A friend is currently designing a new tattoo for herself. I like what she’s come up with. What I like best is that it’s something that has meaning to her. It also really pisses me off. I’ve been ready for another tattoo for a while now. Something bigger. Art. Maybe something that can’t be done in one sitting. But here’s the rub – I have no idea what I want. It really bothers me that I can’t come up with something that is important enough. Something that has a personal meaning significant enough to commit to ink. Am I really that shallow that I can’t come up with an idea?

My first one was a spur of the moment sort of thing. A right of passage. Something to get out of my system. Poked around on the web for some flash, picked something I liked and went and found a shop. I still like it, but has no meaning whatsoever. I guess the significance was just to say I have one. When asked I just tell people I’m an expert in ancient, tribal, gekkota studies.

First One

Let’s get the tattoo rules out-of-the-way. Wait until you’re at least late twenties, if not thirty. Period. Any younger than that and you’re still trying to figure out how to tie your shoes, how to make a living in the world, and if you really like red wine or just trying to impress your friends. Neck, face, hand/finger ink, just say no. Sleeve or similar visible tattoos are cool, but just accept that you will immediately exclude yourself from certain jobs. Don’t even consider something highly visible it until you have an established career, and then it still better be a career that’s tolerant. Deal with it. It’s just the way of the world.

I’ve spent hours looking at various tattoo styles. Significant research. Ok, I watched a bunch of Miami and LA Ink episodes. There’s a new show now called Ink Masters that’s helping. I will now ask all potential tattoo artists to demonstrate their skilled shading technique. But what to get?

From an artistic standpoint I really like the Japanese styles. Koi fish and fu dogs. That really doesn’t fit my personality though. Besides, I hate sushi.

Koi

As far as more traditional tattoos I’m fascinated with skulls. I find the Day of the Dead sugar skulls pretty neat, but anyone who knows me would probably laugh if I had a skull tatoo. Besides I’m not catholic, so there’s no religious significance.

Sugar Skull

I do like the new-school bio-mech art. The problem I see there is that I think there’s only a few artists in the country who are doing it really well. I don’t have the attention span to do any actual research.

Biomech

Another option would be to just let an artist have free reign to design something. Errr, no that’s too scary. God knows what I’d end up with.

New School

Which brings me back to disappointment in myself. The logical thing to do would be create something that had real meaning for me. A favorite artist’s work. A quote or saying that helped me through a hard time. My all time favorite superhero. A stylized piece of cheese symbolizing my ancestors migration west from Wisconsin. I’ve got nothing. Zero. I can’t come up with anything. I feel so… so… superficial. My personal lack of anything meaningful has turned this into a quest.

If anyone has any ideas, please share them! If you have a deeply moving story about a personal loss I might consider adopting it as my own at this point. Nobody needs to know that the portrait on my shoulder of grandpa Joe, who we lost in WW II, isn’t actually my grandfather. People will appreciate the story. And secretly they’ll be jealous because everyone needs a tattoo. When you exit this world you’re not going to get extra credit for having kept your skin blemish-free. Scars and tattoos show that you lived life. You experienced the world. You weren’t afraid of what other people might think. Enjoy life. Go get that small, hidden tattoo that nobody would expect you to have. And no, it doesn’t have to have deep meaning.

At least not the first one.

Harvey Bear Photos

A few photos from the most recent mountain bike ride at Harvey Bear county park. It’s an interesting park in the south bay I never knew existed until we moved out to Morgan Hill. It seems to be primarily used by equestrians and cows. I’d classify it as more of a fitness ride on the bike. A good mix of hills and some fun downhill. Worth a visit on a bike or hike.