Walking Man

Tuesday, 30 September 2014, 22:24 | Category : Walks
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About 9 years ago, I started walking in the morning before work. I hadn’t exactly been slothful before that, but I hadn’t approached walking as a regular form of exercise. For several years, I was pretty consistent, walking 2-3 miles a day; then a series of injuries, minor and less minor, began to interrupt my schedule, and consistency became less so. I still walked, but instead of every day, or 6 days a week, it might be 4 days a week, or 3, or 2. And I might only walk for 30 minutes or so.

Fast forward to last winter. For years, I’d been having occasional episodes of atrial fibrillation. The episodes would typically last for less than a day, I would convert back to normal rhythm on my own, and move on. At some point, my cardiologist put me on an anti-arrhythmic drug, which worked well for about 4 years; then I had a episode that didn’t convert back for several weeks, and he changed me to another drug, which worked for a while. Last January, I had another episode, short-lived again. But at that time, he said it was time to consider cardiac ablation surgery. The drug I was on wasn’t working like it had, and the drugs beyond that had more and nastier side effects. We decided to to discuss it again after my vacation to Greece in March; when I got back, we scheduled the surgery for July 1. In May, I had another episode; I didn’t convert back, so they started me on a blood thinner until the surgery. Once again, my walking got interrupted, because in a state of constant atrial fibrillation, I really didn’t have energy for long walks. On July 1, I underwent cardiac ablation surgery. It went fine, I was in the hospital overnight, and went home the next day to recover. After a few days of a very sore chest and throat (from the things they had shoved down my throat during the surgery), I was getting better rapidly, until my left leg began hurting. No blood clot, but the cardiologist wasn’t sure what was going on. Additional CT scans and ultrasounds didn’t reveal the cause; finally he said I should maybe go see my orthopedic surgeon (which I had wanted to do days earlier). When I was finally able to get in to see him, he diagnosed the problem in 5 minutes – bleeding into the quad muscles, which caused my left leg and knee to be very swollen and stiff, and very painful. He prescribed a month of physical therapy, which worked wonders in fairly short order. And while I was going through the weeks of PT, I started really wanting to be walking again. By early August, I was pretty much back to normal, and decided to start getting out of bed and getting out the door again. Since retiring from my state government job last year (I now work as a consultant part-time) I have a very flexible schedule, so I can get a good walk in and still have a leisurely morning most days before going to work.

So, I started walking again. At first I took walks like I used to take – 30-45 minutes. But I soon realized that (a) that wasn’t really long enough, and (b) I had time for a longer walk. So I began adding time and distance, and finding new walking routes. Some days I walk in the neighborhoods near my house. Other days, I’ll go to the multi-use trail along the Natchez Trace. That’s where I can get some really good, long walks in. My Fitbit measures the distance and number of steps, and I’ve found that the Fitbit’s distance measurement is pretty accurate. Now, most days I walk at least 4 miles, and I often get 5 miles in, all before breakfast. I take my Walkman radio and listen to NPR’s Morning Edition, and walk, and walk. It’s often the best part of my day. And my reward is scenes like this:

or this:

or, at this time of year:

And most days, when I’m walking along the Natchez Trace trail, I have the trail to myself:

Right now, I’m averaging about 25 miles a week on my morning walks. According to Fitbit, if you include all the steps I take during the day, I average about 40 miles a week. I guess when winter sets in I’ll see how dedicated I really am. For now, it’s just one foot in front of the other.

Field Trips

Saturday, 27 September 2014, 20:05 | Category : Life
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Headed to work yesterday, I saw a line of school buses leaving the local elementary school. Judging by the time (mid-morning), I guessed they were headed off on a field trip. And it took me back many, many years to elementary school and field trips we took. I don’t know what kind of field trips elementary school kids might go on now, and I suspect they aren’t like the ones we took. I remember going to the Coca-Cola plant, and a dairy, and several museums. But the one I remember most vividly was the trip to a local bread bakery – in those days (early 1960s), bread was made locally; now, I have no idea where it’s made. By “bread”, I mean what’s sold on major chain grocery stores. I know there are small specialty bakeries in the area, but I don’t think there’s a major brand bakery in my city anymore. Another thing that falls in the category of “Days Gone By”. But back then we had several bakeries – Colonial and Hardin Bread for sure. In fact, there’s a surplus building supply store in the old Hardin Bakery building, and on occasion I find myself there. You can wander through the old rooms, now piled high with doors and cabinets and flooring, but if you look hard enough you can see the ghosts of rising bread. That may have been the bakery we went to on the field trip I remember – it’s in the right part of town – but there’s something that tells me we went to the Colonial Bakery, which has been gone for years, replaced by a parking lot just south of downtown. But what makes the field trip stand out is the little loaf of bread they gave us as we were leaving, in its own little bag, a miniature version of what you would have seen in the grocery store. I just thought that was the coolest thing, and I wonder if bakeries still give tours to elementary school students, and if they give them those little loaves of bread. For me, it made a memory that’s lasted a lifetime.

All gone, to look for America

Tuesday, 23 September 2014, 11:54 | Category : Life, Southern Stuff
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Old gas station

Along Highway 80 in Alabama, in that lonely stretch west of Selma, there’s a derelict gas station. It’s been closed for years. When I lived in Montgomery in the mid-80s, it had already been closed for years. It’s at the intersection of Highway 80 and a state highway, so I’ve always supposed that at one time it was a busier place. But when that was, is a question that’s intrigued me since I first saw the place while driving to Montgomery for the first time in 1984, and it came back to me when I passed it on the way to Montgomery a few years ago, and again last fall when I passed that way. I have this vision of a 1950s service station, with the oil cans stacked outside, and a desk inside where the owner ran the place, and a counter with glass jars filled with gumballs and jawbreakers; a back wall covered with belts and hoses, and a shelf on the side wall with oil filters neatly stacked. The sign out front has to be a Sinclair dinosaur – it just does.

I don’t know why this place has fascinated me so. There are plenty of abandoned gas stations scattered across the south. I suppose this place, like many others, is a throwback to a time of two-lane highways and 15-mile-per-gallon cars, and roads that wound through every small town, so a 250-mile trip took 8 hours, not 4 or 5, with frequent stops for gas and snacks and rest stops. Now we can blast along at 70 miles per hour, on wide interstates with wider medians and shoulders, so that the view along the way is a sterile strip of created, boring landscaping. Fifty years ago, a road like Highway 80 was a narrow line of concrete or asphalt winding through farmlands and fields, by isolated farmhouses, through small towns – through America, in other words. I wonder when that gas station pumped it’s last gallon of gas. I wonder when that America went away. Somehow, this old service station, on a lonely road that I generally drove late on a Friday afternoon going to visit my parents, or late Sunday afternoon going back to Montgomery – late weekend afternoons accentuate that loneliness – this old service station came to symbolize a lost part of Americana.