Goodbye Vinyl

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Last week Katy was pulling Halloween decorations out of the closet when she discovered the Lost Trove of Albums I had stashed in there.

"Can I give these to the Girl Scouts garage sale?"

My first gut response was "NO! No no no no no no no of course not no how dare you ask such an impertinent question NO!"

But then I started thinking...

Virtually all of them were purchased used. Most were 99 cents or less. Many of them were a quarter and were bought for "perceived comedy value" - you know, disco compilations, stuff with weird cover art, inside joke cutout albums, that sort of thing.

I recently borrowed my father-in-law's USB turntable, thinking to "rip" a couple albums. I had forgotten how much of a pain it was to set up a turntable. I had forgotten how scratched-up 99 cent records are. I had forgotten how many pops and cracks we were used to tolerating when we listened to music.

I pulled out a few things that had sentimental value - for instance, the signed limited edition spaceman-shaped Devo single - but the rest is not long for our house.

I know the purists will tell me that I am missing out on a deeper listening experience. The purists are welcome to this three-foot pile of vinyl, then - it will be available at my daughter's Girl Scout troop garage sale next weekend.

Trapped In New York

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The Man Trap

Little did I know that I was walking into a Man Trap last Thursday when I left the office late.

Take a gander at the accompanying drawing. Let me explain:

B is a doorway from the elevator lobby directly into the floor. Do Not Use This Door. The security guy (in the room formed by doors A, C, and D) Will Yell At You. If he can catch you (he's got a serious limp) he will tackle you. I think.

A is the preferred doorway into the security area, leading to doors C and D.

C and D are doors into the floor. These doors are always locked - you need an ID badge to get through. Typical stuff in corporate America.

The red pads are card readers. The green pads are push buttons that open the doors "on demand."

During normal operations, door A is propped open. I had never seen door A in any other position than open when I left that night at around 8 PM. I pressed the button by door C and walked into the lobby. The door swung shut behind me as I strode purposefully toward door A.

I pulled on door A. Nothing. I pushed on door A. Nothing. I heard the relay in door C click shut and it dawned on me -


Security guard: "Okay Mr. Williams, here's your badge. Now it's restricted to 8 AM to 5:30 PM, if you are going to need evening and weekend access just have the people you're working for send me an email and I can change it"

It was definitely after 5:30, and sure enough, my card would not open door C or D. Door A was locked. I banged door C and door D for a moment but the floor was deserted. Oh man. I knew there was a tin of mints in my bag, maybe that would hold me until the morning guard came in...

But wait! What's this brown box in the corner? A phone? With an emergency number conveniently placed on a sticker by the dial pad?

I called security and sheepishly explained my problem. The nice lady in the security office buzzed door C open and I circled around to door B and let myself out.



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Today I saw an article on NPR about new playgrounds in New York City. Here's a quick overview link:

Imagination Playground FAQ

This got me thinking. When I was a kid, along with the standard swings and teeter-totters, our local park had a piece of old farm equipment - specifically, an old grain thresher, sort of like this:

Grain Thresher

sitting on a concrete pad. The thing wasn't so much rusty metal as metallic rust, and we climbed all over it, played inside it, you name it. Nobody I knew ever got hurt, in spite of the fact that it basically consisted of sharp rusty corners and edges, inside and out. I can still picture the "teeth" on the inside of the thing. Honestly, there should have been a tetanus shot station next to it.

There is no way on earth you could put something like that in a park today. I suppose that's good, on balance, but I wonder if we haven't overcorrected a bit when one of the selling points of the new park equipment is that all the pieces are the same color "in order to facilitate more imaginative play, without any distraction or competition that might arise from having multi-colored toys."

The reality of the pace group was not quite so grim. They caught me between mile 22 and mile 23 - all four of them. Yep, by that time the 4:30 pace group, which had been around 25 runners when we caught them at mile 5, was down to the pacer and three guys. THREE GUYS! HA! Okay, I can hang with these chuckleheads. Sadly my cousin Jeff was not one of the three, but I was sure he was right behind us. I fell in about 15 feet behind the Man With The Balloons.

I had also forgotten that the pace group had a head start on me. (Long runs do weird things to my cognitive abilities.) I knew it wasn't the full five minutes it took us to get to the start line but I knew it had to be at least three, so as long as I held on I would be fine.

After the turn I had started walking through the water stops. At mile 23 I started walking for 100 yards or so past the water stops. It was starting to come apart again, but in spite of the walking breaks I was keeping the 4:30 guys in sight - not that this was particularly challenging, given the flat, straight road we were running on.

When I got to mile 25, I checked my watch and realized that all I needed to do was turn in a 14 minute mile and I was going to break 4:30. I allowed myself to be a little excited. So excited, in fact, that I decided to walk a bit. No reason to showboat, right? Sure, if I hurried I could maybe break 4:25 - but what was the rush? I couldn't see the finish line - perversely, after running 6 miles in a straight line, there was a sharp corner a few hundred yards from the finish - and I was having a hard time getting motivated to bring it in. The "4:30 Four" slowly pulled away as I walked, and I realized that my precious time, my 4:30, was going to slip through my fingers if I didn't get moving. I started to run one. last. time.

As I came onto the dogleg that led to the finishing straight I was picked up by the crowd. The swell of noise - even if most of it was just people chatting with each other while they watched for their friends - was a welcome change from the last six miles of what seemed like complete solitude. A man on the barriers yelled "it's just around the corner!" and for once - ONCE - it seemed like a genuine, hopeful, you-can-do-it, what-you-accomplish-we-all-celebrate message. (Long time readers will know how annoyed I get at spectators who yell "you're almost there" - look, I am wearing a room full of computers here - I know how far it is to the finish line - but this man? I do not remember his face but I will never forget the voice. Thank you, barrier man.)

The weariness fell from me. It was on. I kicked.

The course had a sharp left turn into the finishing straight, and as I came around the corner I caught the Man With The Balloons out of the corner of my eye, just in front of me. I zoomed (*) past him and over the last fifty yards.

Those of you who know me well know that I am not prone to emotional outbursts. You might not have recognized me at that moment, coming across the line, pumping my fists and bellowing like I had just set a world record.

Chip time, 4:27:09  (PR)

I was giddy. I remained giddy for the balance of the day. (A dent was put in my giddy when Jeff came in 13 minutes later. He was also shooting for 4:30.) Heck, I can still summon up the giddy pretty easily. Look, I'm never going to "win" a race - but neither will most marathoners. The real battle out on the road is not against the other runners but with yourself, and on that day I put myself into a position to find out what I was capable of. I like what I saw.

(*) sure felt like zooming to me
Once we caught the 4:30 pace group we settled in a bit. Our pace came down to match the group and we just ticked the miles off. At around mile 9 we bid our cousin Steve farewell as he went off to finish the half marathon. Downtown Tulsa was slightly hilly but the day and the spectators were fantastic, and I tried to settle in and enjoy it a bit. At some point in this stretch I chatted a bit with a woman who had recently been hit by lightning, which was an interesting way to pass a couple miles. She mentioned she was planning to get a lightning bolt tattoo on her ankle - on the burned spot where the bolt left her leg (!!). (Note - after the results were posted I checked and saw that I came in ahead of this woman.  I believe this allows me to say I am "faster than lightning.")

At around mile 11 Jeff pulled off to hit the porta-potty, and about a mile later I moved past the pace group as we went into a water stop - just like that I was out on my own. I saw the family cheering section, fresh from their 5k finishes, just past the halfway point, and gave and received high fives. Most of the second half was a long, straight (and mercifully flat) out-and-back along the Arkansas River - I tried not to think about the fact that every step I took was a step I would have to retrace to get back to the finish line and to keep focusing on holding pace - a common theme for the day.

I was seeing a lot of runners coming back toward me in this stretch. I was a little concerned because I figured they were almost 10 miles in front of me - it would be an hour and a half before I made it back to that spot - and they looked, well, there's no other way to say it - slow. When I got another mile up the road I realized that the half-marathon had an out-and-back stretch along the same road, and I had been seeing blown-out half marathoners coming into their final mile. This realization lifted my spirits immediately. (Perhaps this makes me petty and insecure, but hey, whatever works.)

I pushed past the 15 mile mark and started trying to figure out how much further I had to go before the turnaround. I was running into a slight headwind and I was looking forward to that turning into a tailwind. Around this point it occurred to me that I was well set up to break 4:30, as I was holding pace and had five or six minutes in the "time bank" to mess with. I started to feel a surge of adrenaline, which I quickly tamped down - at mile 16 there was still Plenty Of Time for Something to Go Wrong. (see also: San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon, bonk at mile 18)

There's not much to tell about miles 16-20 except that the prospect of turning around was Very Exciting, and I was looking forward to it. I stayed on pace, drank some water, and ate a gel-pack or two. Mmm, vanilla.

When I got to the turnaround at the 20 mile mark I was surprised to see the 4:30 pace group was maybe a minute behind me and pleased to see that Jeff was right behind the pace group. I thought about walking for a bit and letting him catch up with me but I decided that I needed to Keep Moving. I don't think this necessarily makes me a bad person, but I will definitely accept the label "selfish."

The other thing that happens around mile 20 is you realize a couple things. One, you are now in the Magical Miles. As in, you have to be magically stupid to think that "if you can run 20 miles in training, you can run 26 on race day no problem! Adrenaline will carry you!" (Yeah. Adrenaline is good for 200 yards max.) Two, this was only the third time I'd covered this much distance in one day. Three, six miles is at least another hour on the road - at least at my pace. Oh boy. Did I really cash frequent flyer miles for this?

Mile 22 was about as bad as it got that day. Any psychological bump I picked up from reaching the turnaround and being "homeward bound" was long gone. My legs were fading. And as I came into the water stop I heard one of the volunteers yell out "we've got a pace group coming in!" The 4:30 group was hard on my heels, coming for me, led by a soulless pace runner - relentless, inhuman, carrying a cute stick with yellow balloons on it, followed by the 4:30 zombie horde. I did not turn to see how close they were. It was over. "The catch," as they call it in cycling, was inevitable.

Damn. I thought I was going to hold them off. Damn.
I got into Tulsa in the early afternoon and headed over to the convention center to get my race packet and goodie bag. Usually just walking into the expo triggers my pre-race nerves but the speed with which I was processed and scanned in left me little time to be introspective. I drank a few samples of Gatorade, picked up a new pair of running gloves for race day, chatted with some vendors, and headed over to my cousins' place to gather my strength for the race.

Through the rest of the afternoon, family slowly trickled into Jeff and Renee's place. It was really great to see everybody, eat some pre-race pizza, and catch up. We watched "The Spirit of the Marathon" (thanks Mister P for the loan) and eventually I got up off the couch and wandered off to bed. It was around 11 before I got my stuff all laid out for the next morning, which was not great considering the 4.5 hours of sleep I'd had the night before, but as a result I slept soundly right up to the moment my alarm went off, which is a total Big Race First.

I got up and checked the weather one last time - current temperature was in the mid-40s with highs predicted in the low 70s. A glance outside showed nothing in the sky but stars. Frankly, the weather could not have been better. Of course I was loaded for bear, technical clothing wise, with cold weather stuff, rain stuff, layers, etc flowing out of my suitcase, but all I needed was a short sleeved technical shirt, shorts, and my new race gloves. I had a little toast and coffee and we headed out.

It was a gorgeous morning as we pulled into the VIP parking lot (a definite perk and one of the good reasons to hang around with a duly designated representative of the race's title sponsor) and started peeling off warm-ups and doing final pre-flight checks. We all needed a porta-potty stop before we lined up, so we got into the very long lines for that. Unfortunately, we were still in these lines when the start gun went off. Jeff noticed another bank of porta-potties without much of a line, so we dashed over there, took care of our respective business, and, well, ran over to the starting line. As we pushed through the barricades to get on-course the announcer was calling out "and who will be the last to start this year's marathon?" (Careful analysis of the results show that I was in fact the 11th from the last to start the full marathon.) We were about 5 minutes behind gun time getting to the line, which was not really a big deal - chip timing had us covered. The lack of time in the corral also helped make the prerace nerves part very manageable - no time to worry about anything! I remembered to turn on my footpod just before we crossed the line, and zip, zap, zop, we were on the course.

The downside of the late start was that all 3000+ full and half marathoners were in front of us. We moved around, through, and by all the walkers and tried to settle into a pace. I spent a good deal of time adjusting the drawstring in my shorts, which were falling off. I had been in such a hurry to get to the start line with my cousins that I hadn't tied it very well and the weight of gel packs and race stuff was pulling my shorts off. In spite of all that we hit the first mile in about 9:30. Jeff and I were planning to run with the 4:30 pace group, and they were obviously up the road a ways, so we were running about 30 sec/mile above pace to reel them in - slowly. My cousin Steve was running the half marathon at the same pace, and so the three of us ate up the early miles of the race together, chatting a bit, interacting with the spectators, and enjoying the morning. I kept jostling Steve just because I am so unused to running with people. We passed the 5:30 and 5:00 pace groups and caught the 4:30 pacers at around mile 5.

Over the last few years, I had been talking with a couple cousins about running a marathon together. We discussed several but it had never come to more than just talk. Then, this summer I got an email from my cousin Jeff. The Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa, where he lives, had gotten a new title sponsor - Williams. It was a sign. I had been planning on running my local half-marathon this fall but the idea of running with my family, and getting a shirt that said "Williams Marathon" on it, was enticing. I agreed to the idea, booked a plane ticket, and laid out my training plan.

My training was not great. I probably missed 20% of my planned runs due to illness and travel. Late in the plan I had a string of truly horrible long training runs (like, DNF horrible) but toward the end I had a spectacular 20 mile run that really boosted my spirits. It was the fastest I'd ever covered that distance, I felt great at the finish, and it made me feel like I could run my goal time of 4:30. I was pretty up about the whole thing until Friday of that week, when I came down with H1N1 flu. Two weeks before the marathon and I'm nursing a 102 degree fever, just great. Thanks to that I missed another week and a half of training and was doubting whether I'd recover before race day. No matter, the plane ticket was in hand and the entry fee was paid, so I figured I'd just get myself to the start line and hope for the best. In my mind I tried to focus on that 20-miler.

I rented Rocky III to watch on the plane. I found myself wondering whether the marathon was going to be more like Rocky's first or second fight with Clubber Lang. Was I going to end up lying to Burgess Meredith afterwards? Or holding up a championship belt? Either way I knew I was going to get beat up.  In the words of Apollo Creed, "There is no tomorrow!"

I was going to spend race weekend with my cousins in Tulsa but coming to Oklahoma and not spending some time with my mom would be, well, rude. And bad. And thoughtless. So I traveled early and spent a couple days at mom's house: taking care of some chores, running errands, and nursing a cold that seemed to have tagged along after the flu. A sore throat, drippy nose, and occasional hacking cough were a constant presence, and that made me more than a little worried about race day. I spent Friday night with some high school friends and we stayed up talking into the wee hours of the morning. When I woke up on Saturday, I wasn't sure if I was feeling crummy from being sick, sleep-deprived, nervous, or some delicious blend of the three.

I got myself up and started thinking about breakfast, and heading out for Tulsa. 

I have a Swatch automatic watch that Katy got me for my birthday years ago.

The original band had disintegrated and I finally got around to going by the Swatch store for a replacement.  In the process I think I aged about 15 years.  Here's how the conversation went:

B:  I'd like to get a replacement band for this watch
Store Employee:  WOW!  Is that a plastic case automatic?
B:  Yes, it is.  I've had it for some time
SE:  (grabbing loupe and examining the face) Holy cow!  This is from...  (assuming reverent tone) 1996.
B:  That sounds about right.
SE:  (still reverent) I have never seen one of these.

At this point the manager wanders in.

SE:  Hey, check this out!
Store Manager:  Is that?
SE:  Yeah, a plastic cased automatic!
SM:  (now assuming reverent tones)  Wow.  Wow.  I've heard of these, but never actually seen one.
SM: (to me) Does it still keep time?
B:  Yep, that's why I want a new band for it.

If I hadn't picked out a band and gotten them to work replacing it I think they would have asked me if I found it in a chunk of amber from the tarpits.  I paid for my new watchband with that other ancient means, cash, and wandered back to my prehistoric cave to draw pictures on the walls.

Stupid kids!

Lessons in maintenance

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Yesterday a nice man came by the house and gave us a brief lesson in how dishwashers work.  Here's what we learned:

1.  Dishwashers have a float switch (not unlike a toilet tank) that shuts off the pump to keep them from overflowing.

2.  Something could get stuck under the float switch and cause the dishwasher to not fill at all.

3.  Table knives are very easy to remove, should they get stuck underneath dishwasher float switches.

All this education for the low low price of $50!  Doh!

Time Machine

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I figured that the Fourth of July was a good day to take the Spitfire out, heat be darned.  I was heading over to some friends to drop off food for a cookout later in the day when the title theme from Back To The Future shuffled up on my iPhone.

(Why do I have the theme from BTTF on my iPhone?  I'll tell you later.)

Anyway, sitting at a light I imagined one of Marty McFly's more famous lines, with a small twist:  "You built a time machine...  out of a Spitfire?"

I pulled off the line and smiled as I realized something - I kinda did.


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