Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Rico - The Wonder Athlete

From Left: Rico, Kole, Me, Andrea and Kerry

Remember those old vampire movies starring actors like Bela Lugosi or Vincent Price?  When the movie started they seemed normal - well, kinda - then as the movie progressed, you discovered that the character enjoyed eternal life, lived in a casket, drank blood and preyed on other humans for sustenance.  Meet my favorite training partner, Rico.

I met Rico over fifteen years ago through running friends.  He seemed upbeat, positive, easy to get along with and was a great running partner.  Then you looked a little closer.  That was when you noticed that he didn't eat much, never carried water, seemed to be able to run hundreds of miles without tiring, never slept and finally, when you discovered his age and how many grand kids he had, you couldn't believe it was true.  What was this guy doing?  Watching late night TV infomercials and ordering longevity tonics that the rest of us have never heard of?

"Rico, what time are you getting up to work out tomorrow morning?" I asked.

"2:30 to head out to the gym, then I get my wheat grass shot, then I go to work driving a truck for twelve hours, then I get my run in."


Like most vampires and those with eternal life, they outlast everyone around them.  When the older folks either die, or get injured, they start preying on the younger generation.  Oh, say your grand kids.

My innocent step-grand kids. From (L) Liam age 12, Justice age 15

One year when Justice and Liam came to visit for the summer, Rico decided it would be a great idea to take them out on a "short hike" in Casper's park.  This is an area of frequent Mountain Lion sightings and attacks.  The way I look at it, if the Mountain Lion doesn't get you, Rico will, so why bother to play it safe?

Halfway through this hot, summer hike with temperatures reaching the high 90s, we reached a fork in the trail.  Rico, who is very familiar with the area said, "Do you guys wanna take a shortcut up a hill or do you wanna go on a flat, longer trail?"  Welcome to Badger Pass, a long, steep uphill.  Yes, it was a bit shorter.  But what you gained in shortcut, you lost in every other way including difficulty, elevation and steep incline.  Halfway up the trail, we ran out of water.  Then we ran out of food.  Then we ran out of sunscreen.  It was hot.  I was starting to get a little worried about the kids.  But they kept putting one foot in front of the other.  They made it up Badger Pass and all the way to the end of what turned out to be a fifteen mile hike.

Rico - Be prepared to end up in some rugged terrain.

Rico always remembers that day with Justice and Liam.  "I was so impressed with how they got out there with no training and they did it!"

"Yeah, but they never came back," I reminded him.

One time Rico talked his wife, Andrea into hiking with him while they were on vacation.  This is how she ended up:

Another time Rico asked me, during a routine ten mile hike at Black Star canyon, "Do you want to check out the waterfall I read about in the paper?  It's only a mile further."

"Sure, why not?  Sounds fun."

Six hours later, after rock jumping, boulder climbing, traversing both sides of a raging stream and attempting to avoid the poison oak, we made it to the waterfall, and mercifully, back to our parked car.  The next day, I was covered in such an extreme case of poison oak rash, that I ended up at the Urgent Care. "We can give you a cortisone shot.  Poison oak is a systemic affliction.  It's the only way for a case this severe," said the Doctor as he stood over me with his hypodermic needle poised.

Every time an unsuspecting family member comes into town, you can bet Rico will be there with his water bottle, whistle, sleigh bells tied to his home made trail suspenders (this is meant to scare off animals), ice pick, knife and a huge smile, welcoming them to "a short hike on the trail".

Rico doing what he loves.
His latest victims are my daughter Angela, and her boyfriend Kole.  They showed the merest hint of enthusiasm for hiking - in fact I think they are genuinely interested - and Rico is having a field day.  The first weekend was six miles on Saturday, eight miles on Sunday.  But not just any hike.  Nope.  This hike had us climbing, scratching, clawing, sliding, begging for our mothers.  We loved every second of it.

Will she make it down the mountainside?

If this is the key to eternal life, I have only one thing to say: "Pass the wheat grass shot please."

Friday, February 8, 2013

Then and Now

Truckee, CA 1986
It seems that all we ever hear is folks wishing for the good old days.  When looking back on fond memories, the present never seems to be able to live up to the past.  Experiences of today seem to pale in comparison.  I remember when....

I'm going to ask you to reconsider these statements and instead, look forward to the future that includes technological marvels such as botox, cosmetic surgery, orthodontia, designer clothing, Mac makeup and lest we forget, Photoshop.

Let's take a look at the above photograph on a case by case basis starting at the left:

Here I am pregnant with Jessica.  I get a little leeway there accounting for the massively swollen face, fingers, ankles, toes; a look that has me right up there with Lance Armstrong getting tested for steroid use.  And what exactly is up with the outfit?  The t-shirt came in a pack from a maternity store.  It was one of those two for twenty bucks specials, its only redeeming quality is that it was extra large.  The shorts are of a draw string variety, the string rapidly running out of room.  The slip-on sandals were the only shoes I could wear anymore due to the swelling.

Next up, Wendy.  Little Wendy gets a free pass because she's young.  When you're that young you can get away with wearing any kind of dorky print top.  At least the red shorts somewhat tie in with the red pattern on the shirt.  I'm still trying to figure out what the print is.  Are they flowers or spaceships?  The world may never know.  Her hair pretty much looks the same as it does today, and that's a good thing because at least she still has all of it.  But she loses several points for the bobby socks.  The smile, or lack of smile, is to hide her braces.

John is not looking too bad here.  Dominique and I dragged him down to the mall and bought him this outfit to go with his leather man-bag which he lost in the mall.  It contained all his life savings and credit cards.  The hair color?  I'm not sure what kind of comment to make but again, at least he has hair.

Dominique, or Nikki as she was called in those days, decided to play it safe with her outfit.  You can't go wrong with a solid red shirt.  The drop scoop neck adds a pleasing line.  The jeans are still in fashion today - in this way the outfit is timeless.  But the shoes.  Nikki, you can't wear supportive shoes with white socks if your jeans are going to be floodwater length.  Now let's check out the hair.  The great thing about Nikki is that she had a wild mane of hair that refused to be tamed.  It was just like a weed.  Cut it and it grows back faster and stronger.  John payed her an undisclosed amount of money one time to cut it short like a boy.  He always wanted a boy.

Second to last, here's Jessica inside Mommy's tummy sleeping contentedly, looking fashionable in her birthday suit.

And lastly, there's Angela, a mere glint in her Daddy's eye.

So when you start to feel sorry for yourself, lamenting the fact that things just aren't what they used to be, I urge you to consider what a difference a couple of decades can make.

From Left: Jessica, Wendy, John, Dominique and Angela
Me! Utilizing all the tricks: Mac makeup, plastic surgery, hair dye, Photoshop and professional photography by Dominique

Friday, February 1, 2013

Viva Las Vegas!

My sister Monica called me from Florida one day in 1999.  "Hey Sis, good news and bad.  Robbie and I have to go to Vegas for a promotional event for his job.  Not a big fan of Vegas but I'm keeping him company.  Isn't that a close drive from where you live?" she asked.

"Wow, that sounds fun.  Yeah, it's only a couple hour drive from here.  Count me in."

My brother in law, Robbie was a Senior Executive at a music company that specialized in distribution of records, CD's and tapes.  The trip to Vegas was one of the perks of the job.  That was in the days when records, CD's and cassette tapes still existed.  I realize that collectors still like vinyl records - but that's only for people with really thick glasses and a desire to tinker with expensive turntables.

A Country and Western radio station in the South - I'm not exactly sure what state, but I'm imagining Arkansas - had put on a contest to the first thirty callers.  The prize was an all expenses paid trip for two to Las Vegas, accommodations at the Flamingo Hotel, and either a renewal or first time wedding vows with a group of thirty lovebird couples on Valentines Day.  The real draw was this: the winners would have as their best man a famous Country and Western singer whose name escapes me at the moment.  Perhaps he wasn't really that famous after all.

Two of my best friends, Chris and Betsy decided to make the trip with me.  Betsy flew and Chris and I made the trip from Orange County in his yellow 1983 diesel 300SD Mercedes.  Betsy loves Vegas - especially the nickel slots since a great time can be had at a bargain - and Chris flat out loves any kind of adventure.

The Flamingo Hotel is one of the older hotels in Las Vegas.  Built by mobster Bugsy Siegel, it opened in 1946.  It's smoky, loud, gaudy and decorated in lots of pink.

Monica and Robbie arrived at the hotel early.

"I think I'll get my hair done." said Monica

"Sounds good hon.  I'll head over to the sports book and wait for you."

Las Vegas is a twenty four hour town - lots of action and excitement.  But not on this morning.  The sports book looked like a mausoleum.  Not a soul in sight.


Robbie hoped the place would start to fill up soon.  Add a little excitement.  Scanning the Betting Board, he spied a chubby horse named Country Enough with odds of  70 - 1  Who doesn't love a long shot?  Especially when they pay off.  Country Enough had little hope of doing so - he had been hittin' the feed bag a bit too much.

"Fifty bucks on Country Enough please."

Robbie sat down to watch the race.

The trumpet blared.

And they're off!  Insomnia in front by a head, Flannel Cake is second by a half, Frank Case in third by a length.  Country Enough refused to break.  Around the turn it's Flannel Cake on the rail and here comes Flannel Cake.  Insomnia in front by a head.  Bubble Bath is sixth by a half.  And out of the pack comes Country Enough.  It's Insomnia in front by a head.  It's Country Enough and Insomnia.  But wait - it's going to be a photo finish.  And Country Enough wins!  What an upset.  The crowd goes wild.

Robbie jumped up from his seat.  "Woot woot!"  He looked around the room for someone, anyone to share the moment with.  Not a soul.  The only sound was the disembodied clang clang clang of someone in the far distance hitting the jackpot at the slot machine.

Hey hey!  Back to the Group Wedding:

When you get married at The Flamingo Hotel, you have many choices.  You could tie the knot under a lush, ivy covered outdoor gazebo, or you could enter a state of connubial bliss by the luxurious infinity pool by the waterfall, or you could exchange vows next to the architectural delight of a pool with its many flamingo sculptures that spew out water from their beaks.

If you're expecting any of these things for the Group Wedding, you won't be getting them, but then again beggars can't be choosers.

The Group Wedding was held in one of the convention rooms they had been unable to book for any other occasion that night.  I guess the Shriners were at the MGM.  We walked into a convention room that was partitioned off to make it the required size (small) by the use of one of those large accordion style room dividers.  About thirty round tables had been set up with white tablecloths, pink carnation centerpieces and white folding chairs.

An arch covered with more pink carnations and baby's breath stood at the front of the room.  The minister welcomed everyone.  The thirty winning grooms, decked out in their wedding finery which is to say: a clean t-shirt and a new bolero tie, surrounded the minister.  The not so famous Country and Western singer stood ready to perform his best man duties and then get the heck out of there and hit the blackjack tables.

A pleasant looking grandmotherly type woman with grey hair sat at an organ.  The strains of The Wedding March began.

We all stood and turned our attention to the procession of bride-to-be's.  All thirty of them.

How do I explain the brides while still sounding polite?  There's just no way around it.  You've seen that show Jerry Springer?  These were the women they didn't let on the show.

Thus began a parade of women that I will describe like this: spandex pant wearin', Jenny Craig needin', single wide trailer dwellin', liposuction requirin', Pabst Blue Ribbon beer drinkin', 22 rifle carryin', dental plan not gettin', Wal-Mart shoppin', and some that might have been gender reassigns.  Bless their hearts.

I looked over at the sweet little grandmotherly type who was playing the wedding march and noticed that she was breaking out in a sweat from the exertion.  I don't think they told her ahead of time how long she would be playing.  It looked like her arthritic fingers were cramping.  In fact, by the time she was done, they looked something like this:

One of Robbie's co-workers was having a conniption fit, laughing so hard that I thought we were going to get kicked out.  Robbie elbowed his friend. "Stop it, do you want to get us fired?" he said this with a smile on his face.

"Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here to join these thirty couples in the state of Holy Matrimony."  How fast can I get this ceremony over with and hit the craps tables?  Then maybe check the yellow pages and hire one of those buxom escorts? is what the minister looked like was thinking.

But he didn't say that.  "I now pronounce you husband and wife.  You may kiss the bride."

I didn't have the stomach to witness the kisses.  After all, we were planning on enjoying the free buffet and I didn't want to lose my appetite.

As we were enjoying free wedding cake, I overhead one of the brides commenting on how she likes shopping at the Dollar Palace because it's convenient and casual.  "I don't have to get all dressed up like I'm going to Wal-Mart or something." she said.

Chris and I had our photograph taken next to the wedding cake.  Our plan was to take the picture, show it to his family and trick them into thinking that we had gotten married that fine Valentines day in Vegas.

Valentines Day in Vegas is swarming with brides.  And grooms - but nobody every notices them.  We walked through the casino and saw more white than you would see in a blizzard in Alaska.

Chris, Betsy and I boarded the elevator.  Three brides with their reluctant grooms in tow boarded with us.  One of the brides was in a heated argument with her new husband - so much for connubial bliss.  Trying to lighten the mood, Chris said "This sure is a great day for a wedding.  In fact, the three of us just got married."  His remark was met with lots of staring up at the elevator floor numbers as they changed.

That night, Robbie had a business function to attend, so Monica, Betsy, Chris and I headed out to a Japanese restaurant and enjoyed sushi and sake.  Then Betsy, armed with a big gulp size cup full of nickels, a diet coke and a pack of cigarettes, headed for the slot machines where she enjoyed the entire evening with her groom - the one armed jack.

"Can't we do something that doesn't involve fatty foods, smoke filled rooms and gambling?" said Monica much to the agreement of Chris and Yours Truly.

We decided on a hike in Red Rock Canyon.  Most people don't realize that while Las Vegas is filled with lights, music, action, hookers, dollar buffets, pawn shops, crime, showgirls, gambling, drugs and general Sin City fare - within a thirty minute drive, you can be hiking in breathtakingly beautiful wilderness.

Monica, Robbie, Chris and I set out for a peaceful morning hike.  A sign posted at the entrance to the trail warned us Don't Harass the Biting Burros.  "What are they going to do, hire an attorney if we harass them?" said Chris.  Luckily, we never saw any of these fierce animals, but we did enjoy a relaxing meditation by a babbling brook - until Robbie's cell phone rang.  "Time to get back to work." he said.

That meant Robbie was back to the demands of his job and the rest of us were back to the nickel slots.  Other than Robbie's excitement with Country Enough, the rest of us didn't win anything in Vegas that weekend.  But what we did come away with was laughter, stories and lasting friendships.