After 20 years of downsizing my mother-in-law, I packed the final load of her things she used in this life in my car. I sat quietly on the bumper taking the sadness of the moment in.
An older lady of Hawaiian descent came walking towards the care facility. “Lisa?”, I asked, not really knowing for sure. She didn’t recognize me at all, “Yes, do I know you?”. She remembered me once once I reminded her that we met about 15 hours prior while partnered for tennis. I started walking back inside with her and she asked me if I had family living there. I told her that my mother-in-law was a former resident and had passed two weeks ago. She asked me her name and I told her, “Tyra”.
Lisa was shocked to hear of her passing. It turned out that Tyra and Lisa’s mother sat at the same table for meals. Lisa filled out her mother’s menu and Tyra made sure that Lisa’s mom got what was ordered. Lisa told me stories of how my mother-in-law would greet people at the door and be the social care-taker of the residents.
Lisa’s mother came over and joined us after we walked inside. My wife joined us after she finished checking Tyra out of her room. I explained that I had just met Lisa the evning before and Laura recognized Lisa’s mother. We exchanged stories and pleasantries and then it was time to make our way home.
I have to wonder if that chance meeting was serendipitous or something arranged by Tyra after she left us. It’s the kind of thing she would do, something to bring people together.
It sounds a little too, Anne Tyler/ Accidental Tourist, but International travels is more easily accomplished knowing a few key phrases. Just being able to say thank you goes a long way. In China, that is xiexie, in parts of Switzerland and France, merci and when coming across Romanians working in your hotels in England, mulțumesc will evoke a smile.
SNOw and I landed in Spain this last weekend ahead of meetings and customer visits on Monday. Other than a pleasant conversation with the neighbor’s gardener a few months ago, I hadn’t fully interacted with another person in Spanish since the last time I visited Barcelona about 8 years ago. On this trip, I was able to engage with moderate effectiveness.
SNOw and I were picked up at the airport by a Blacklane and delivered to our hotel in Granollers, a small town, about 30 minutes outside of Barcelona. We dropped our bags in our respective rooms and went to pick up bibs for La Mitja, the local race series. SNOw was signed up for the 10K and I was in for the half-marathon.
We wandered the sleepy streets of Granollers and with help of the hotel map, Google and the very kind locals, found the way to Ruca Humbert where this small town’s version of an expo was held. Our swag bags consisted of two bags of uncooked pasta, some beverage in a box as well as a liter of household cleaner from the company sponsoring the race. I tried to communicate to the volunteers that I didn’t need any of these things (we were at the start of a ten-day journey) but they weren’t hearing any of it, so I took the heavy bag of goodies and figured I would sort it out later.
I picked up my bib and asked, well gestured curiously where the safety pins were to secure the bibs to our race shirts. After a few gesticulations the volunteers told us there were no imperdibles. I had never heard that word before. I asked the lady to write it out for me as I knew I would not retain the word in my jet lagged state. I asked her where I could buy imperdibles and she told me at the “tienda de los Chino”. My mind was blown. “Tienda de los Chinos? The store of the Chinese? Was this some type of human trafficking ring? Why would there be a thing called the Tienda de los Chinos and why would they have imperdibles? The conversation made no sense to me. Eventually, I just asked here where the Tienda de los Chinos was and she told me there were three in the center of town. I decided to move on from this kind and lovely lady at this point as I knew I had gotten all the information I was going to get. As the race was the next morning, I knew we only had a few hours to find the imperdibles or we were going to have to find a creative way to keep our bibs on our persons during SNOw and my respective races.
We found out later in the week that the tienda de los Chinos is where you find anything miscellaneous or random and apparently if they don’t have it, they will have it the next day. I also learned that anything the Chinos don’t have, the tienda de los Paki’s (Pakistanis) will.
On the main street of Grannollers, SNOw and I hit up a few stores that looked like they might have imperdibles, but we kept being told that it would be muy dificil (very difficult) to find them. Eventually, hunger overcame us and we stopped for lunch at one of the restaurants that didn’t shut down at 2pm for siesta. After a very long lunch (as most meals are in Spain) I asked the lady behind the counter where I could find imperdibles. She said, it would be difficil, but to try la tienda de los Chino. It was good to get the same answer from a second source. I asked directions and was taken outside and directed toward the tattoo shop way down the road and then two streets beyond.
About one block up the road, my eye caught a glimpse of two ladies sitting under an easy-up with a table of dried food products. Maybe 4.5 seconds later, the back of my brain completed the translation of the sign which sat in front of them. I gleefully ran back to them while SNOw looked on at me incredulously, with the exact same “WTF is he doing now ” look that my travel companions OFTEN (possibly always) express. I asked the ladies if they were collecting food and they were, for refugees. I gladly handed them by bag of pasta, box of drink and even the liter of cleaner, because refugees must need cleaning supplies, right? The ladies were delighted and I was happy and that problem was done and dusted.
SNOw and I continued our journey up the road to find imperdibles. At the end of the two blocks we weren’t sure which way to go, and I was about to go the wrong direction when I saw a lady walking her dog. Por favor, donde esta la tienda de los chinos? She pointed two shops up and I said gracias.
We walked into the store and just inside the door was a teen-age Chinese girl with blonde (OK, not blonde, really just yellow) hair. I asked her for imperdibles and they were immediately behind her. She was selling them for 70 euro cents and I was happy to pay quadruple. I took the imperdibles to the front desk where the very Chinese mother of the teen was seated. I paid for my imperdibles and the Chinese mother said, gracias. On automatic pilot, standing in a tienda de los Chino in Spain, I looked at her smiled and responded with “xiexie”. All four of us busted up laughing.
Story of my life: I am in the back of a beautiful new Mercedes approaching Dublin airport when a beautiful Puccini piece for two voices comes on the radio. I ask the driver to turn it up. He does and the music and sound system together are amazing. I anticipate the first crescendo of the piece and when it hits it washes through my brain, if you understand that kind of a high.
We pull up to the terminal long before the song is through. The driver realizes I am enjoying the moment and tells me I with a genuine Irish charm that I am welcome to wait in the car until the song is through. I desperately want taking him up on this kind indulgence, but my travel colleague is out the door and behind the trunk awaiting their bags in the rain.
I tighten my scarf, button up my overcoat and step into the storm, leaving that perfect moment behind, bound to cover just a little more ground.
There were 7 minutes of transition from having no awareness of the Carlsbad Marathon to receiving the email confirming my registration.
The summer prior to running the race, SugarMagnolia (Sugar for short) posted on social media that she had signed up for the 2016 Carlsbad Marathon. I was shocked because her first marathon ten plus years ago was a horrid experience and she swore off the 26.2 mile distance (with actual swear words) . I immediately went to the race website with the intention to calendar the day, so I could come down and support her along the route. Next thing, I texting Sugar to ask if it would be OK to run alongside her for the race and then boom, there we were standing out on the streets of Carlsbad at an unholy hour on a January morning. For your reference, Sugar’s race recap is here.
The most important thing to know about this race is that that elevation profile looks much worse than it actually is. Miles 6 to 9 are a mild climb, but the rest of the race is as straight forward as marathons go.
The temperature was about 45F at race start. I started out some thermal Nike tights, a long sleeved running shirt, hat and gloves. By the time I hit the ocean and the sun came up I knew I was over dressed. I yanked up my sleeves, packed away the gloves and hat and was just a tad warm the rest of the day. If I were to run this race again, I would do it in shorts and a light long-sleeve shirt and just be cold for the first hour.
The race starts inland and then runs through Carlsbad down to the ocean then head south along Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). The ocean in the morning was absolutely beautiful.
At mile 5, the marathoners make a turn up Palomar Airport Road and take on an up hill climb. The three miles leading up to mile 9 are at 1.6% grade. It’s nothing daunting, but it’s not to be taken lightly either.
After the turn around near Camino Real, there is a short hill to climb, then it’s down hill most of the way back to PCH. At that point, we joined the half marathoners who were chugging southbound along the coast.
There are some very gradual rolling hills along the coast. Nothing daunting. The thing that I was not ready for was the half-marathon turn around which happened a ways before the turn around for the marathoners. The race thinned out at that point, which made things a little more difficult for me mentally. After the marathoner turn-around it was an 8 mile run back to the start, most of it back to the ocean.
This was a great race and probably one of the few I would repeat. I would definitely want to run the half, just because it is such a fun and beautiful race.
When I was little, I remember my mom and I being fogged in at Heathrow Airport in London, waiting for a TWA flight to take us home to New York. I remember people straggled everywhere about the airport. At 3 or 4 years old, I was perplexed because there was no place to sit down, or sleep. I don’t remember much else about that visit, other than my mom explaining we had to fly, “the long way home”.
Those memories came rushing back to me on short a layover in Houston last year. As I transitioned from one section of the airport to another, I found travelers sprawled out on the floors and leaning against the walls. In this case, they weren’t stuck between hither and yon waiting for the weather to clear, they were seeking charges for their devices. I wondered how many of these people are charging for immediate need vs compulsion.
They live their lives within the span of ours. Their time with us is short, but it is not insignificant in duration or effect. They rely on us solely for their well-being and we are entrusted with the care of their lives.
During the ride home from the animal shelter, our new puppy, Tango, pooped on my suede backpack. We laughed at the ingratitude of this newly adopted member of our family. A dozen years later Tango developed an intestinal problem which left him spending much of his days and nights trying to poop the smallest dollops. He wasted away to skin and bone until finally, we made the decision to put him down.
Friends would comment about how friendly and chill Tango was, in truth he was a booger-snot. Within the first few months, my wife was giving the Child a bath and Tango wanted attention. My wife kicked him out of the bathroom and so he ate the couch. He was jealous and a bit retaliatory that way. Then there was the time that he wanted to go outside while we were all busy watching a live TV show. So the dog squatted in front of the TV, looked at us and peed on the carpet.
Tango was also a trash digger. We would no sooner leave the house and he would start this routine of digging in every trash can in the house. Once after we had all gotten in the car, I had to run back in the house, and as I opened the door, Tango walked in front of me and without missing a beat dropped the trashed paper plate he had in his mouth at my feet, like it was a gift for me.
Like everyone else in the house Tango was independent and able to hang out and do his own thing. That being said, on my work-from-home days, he would always get up early and stay with me, upstairs on the couch while I worked at my desk. The rest of the week, I didn’t really exist to him, unless of course I was feeding him, getting in the refrigerator or eating dinner.
Around October of 2014, we noticed that Tango was losing weight. We took him to the vet, but there were no signs of any problems. As time went by he wasted away to skin and bone. He would eat everything in front of him,he wasn’t lethargic, we just couldn’t keep any weight on him. Then as time progressed I noticed that there were fewer and fewer of his “jewels” to clean up in the back yard.
As his conditioned worsened, he would have false sense of needing to go to the bathroom. At first, he would need to go out at about 2am. Either my wife or I would get up and let him out and then wait for him to come back in. Later he would go out more and more frequently during the night. Eventually, one of us would end up sleeping on the couch near the back door so we could let him go out as he needed to. Near the end, he would need to go in and out four or five times a night. My wife and I were trading off nights on dog duty. It was difficult.
I came home from Europe on a Thursday last June, knowing that I would be putting my dog down at 10:30am on Saturday morning. He couldn’t control his bowels anymore and was soiling everything he rested on.
Thursday night we put him outside in the back yard to sleep. He scratched at the door to come in a few times, but he we couldn’t bring him in.
On Friday night, Tango and I camped out in a tent in the back yard. He had some accidents in the tent overnight, but we cleaned things up and went back to sleep. That Saturday morning was painfully sad. I ran to the store and picked him up all his favorite foods and I made a stop at Del Taco and bought him a bacon and egg burrito for his last meal.
Being in the waiting room at the vets, with the other animals amplified the sadness. Laura and I were both sad and Tango just seemed miserable and tired from lack of consistent sleep. I just kept holding my dog in my arms, I let Laura hold him a few times, but after the administration of the sedative I only set him down for his final injection. I picked him and held him in his final moments. I swaddled his lifeless body much like I swaddled by daughter when she was a newborn; It was the only thing I could do for him. I held him and I kept holding him. Then here came a point where I just had to leave his swaddled lifeless body on the table and walk away.
The days after were filled with mixed emotions. My sister was coming into town and we were celebrating my daughter’s high school graduation. All the while there was something missing from my life. There are routines one gets into when having a pet and no longer having those routines was gutting. I continually questioned if I did the right thing. I wanted God to somehow validate my decision.
A year later, I still miss his him. I miss the exact cadence of his nails click click clicking across the tile and how when he would make exactly seven barks in succession when someone came to the door. I miss the way that he would come to the acknowledge my return from a long trip, but never more than for a few seconds. I miss how at about 8:30pm at night, he would get up walk across the floor and go crawl into my daughter’s bed and just go to sleep. I miss the eight and ten mile walks with him.
We’ve adopted a new puppy, he’s not a plug-and-play replacement, he’s a different soul, with different strengths and weaknesses; and we love him dearly.