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Thanks, Coach

October 20, 2011

I’m watching the World Series this evening and thinking back to my younger days when I played “little league” baseball. We didn’t have all the competitive teams like they do now. There were a couple of teams our own age in town we played against, and we would travel to several of the small towns in the area to round out the season.

I think it cost us $5 to play, which got you a new baseball cap; the uniforms were hand-me-downs from the previous year, but we didn’t care. We had UNIFORMS–just like the big leagues!

Little LeagueThe most memorable team I ever played for was the Cougars. Bob Schultheiss was the head coach and he, along with Coach Middleton and Coach Williams, made it their calling to teach us the fundamentals and finer points of America’s sport. We practiced and played to win, but more importantly, we were taught and learned that being a good sport was equally, if not more important. We won quite a few games as I recall. We lost a few too, but unlike kids today, Coach didn’t try to fool us with that “everybody’s a winner” line.

Sometimes you lose, not because you’re such a horrible player or team. Sometimes you just have a bad day. And, the simple fact is some people are just better at swinging a Louisville Slugger and instantaneously reversing the path of a baseball that seconds before was traveling toward home plate at speeds exceeding 40 MPH! That’s baseball; that’s life. Coach taught us to deal with it–not by crying about it, or claiming the other team cheated, or the accusing the umpire of being blind. You played by the rules, did your best and if your best wasn’t good enough, you walked across the diamond and congratulated the winners.

Don’t get me wrong–winning was FUN! Not only did it mean another game in the “W” column, it was a Little League tradition in our hometown that the winning team piled in the back of a teammate’s father’s pickup truck and make the “victory ride” to the Dari Dip (a locally owned drive-in), screaming all the way: “We won by golly, we won!” At the Dari Dip, 25 cents would get you a cold drink and a candy bar and one of the parents would pay for the entire team.

Probably one of the most valuable lessons I learned in this area of winning and losing came from Coach Schultheiss.  He was not only a baseball coach during the Summer, he also coached basketball in the Fall. All of my friends played baseball and either basketball or football (there was no soccer then). I stuck strictly with baseball until the seventh grade when my friends talked me into going out for Coach Schultheiss’ basketball team. I was, and still am, the shortest one of the group, but I went to practice and gave it everything I had. I ran; I did the drills; and I shot free throws ’til I was blue in face…but I never was a good as my friends.

One evening, after practice and before the we’d played an official game, Coach Schultheiss called me aside. We sat down on one of the bleachers and he told me (best I remember): “Keith, I really enjoy having you on the team. You’re always on time for practice, you try hard and you don’t give up, but…(he paused, and I sensed what was coming)…the other boys have some natural abilities that you just don’t seem to have. Not to mention they’ve got you beat in the ‘height department’…well, I just have to be honest with you. I don’t think you’re going to get much playing time, and I’m not saying that to shame you or be mean, it’s just a simple fact.”

I let the words sink in. It was hard to argue with Coach because I knew he was right. I knew I wasn’t as good a player as the other boys. Basketball just wasn’t my thing. “Keith, I’m sorry about this. I’ll try to put you in when I can, but I want to be fair with you. I’ve known you a long time and I think the world of you, but I want you to know how things are. If you want to stay and be a part of the team, I’m OK with that, just as long as you understand how things are going to be. Now, if you decide that you’d rather do something else–in light of what I’ve told you–I understand. There’s no shame in admitting you don’t have what it takes to play this game…and it certainly won’t change how I feel about you.”

It’s funny. As I recall that talk with Coach, I don’t remember being sad or mad/upset. What he said was true–and he had been kind about the way he said it. In a way, I was almost relieved, because deep down, I knew I would never be the caliber basketball player my friends were. (They ended up playing together throughout Junior and Senior High and played in the State Championship Final our Senior year, the last time our school has sent a boys basketball team to State)

“You’re right, Coach,” I said. “I appreciate you telling me the truth. I sorta knew already, but I was hoping…you know…” (my voice trailed off) ..I think I’ll just turn in my uniform and call it quits.” And that’s what I did. I had given it my best shot and it just wasn’t good enough. To quote Dirty Harry: “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”

Forty years later, the guys I played baseball with are still my best friends. And Coach Schultheiss? He’s still around. I run into him from time to time and we try to outdo each other with the snappy comebacks and verbal jabs at each other. He’s still “Coach” and every week, I thank God for him and the positive influence he was/is on my life. There are some people that make an impact on your life, that you never forget…and you thank God your paths crossed. And in Coach’s case, you thank God that he was honest enough to tell you the truth. There are some things I’m really good at, but basketball isn’t one of them. Thanks, Coach.


An Odd Conversation

October 9, 2011

(NOTE : The following conversation actually happened last week.)

A customer walks into my office.

Guy: “Hey, what the f***’s going on?!”

Me: “Nothing much. Just trying to catch up on some paper work.”

Guy: “I hate f***ing paper work. Those b******* I work for think lots of paper means lots of work is gettin’ done.”

Me: “It pays the bills.”

Guy: “Yeah. What the h*** ya gonna do.”

Me: “Did you hear from the outside inspector on that job we’re working on?”

Guy: “Yeah. That sonof***** is killing me. All the s*** he wants done and he thinks we should just do it all for nothin’!”

Me: “Yeah. It’s a pain some times.”

Guy: “I hate workin’ with that mother******. I wish [name of another guy] was the inspector on this job.”

Me: (Surprised) “You know [name of another]? How do you know him?!”

Guy: “Oh, we go to the same church.”

The Birthday Party

October 6, 2011

It’s funny the stuff you remember from your childhood. I can recall names of classmates I haven’t seen since grade school, as well as obscure events or conversations. I even remember the names of all my elementary school teachers. Many of my memories are happy ones; there a few that are rather sad. I recalled one of those this week.

For whatever reason, I don’t remember how old I was, but I know I was in grade school–probably first or second grade–which you put the date somewhere in the mid 60s. The invitation was to a birthday party of a classmate. We weren’t really friends, but they had invited everyone in the class, probably so no one would get their feelings hurt. The party was scheduled for the following Saturday afternoon and I was excited because the “birthday kid” (BK) was one of the popular kids. They lived in a really nice house–I think they even had a swimming pool which was a pretty big deal back then. I remember showing the invitation to my Mom and the look on her face. “We’ll have to buy them a gift,” she said with a strained tone in her voice.

I really don’t know where we fit on the economic ladder, i.e. lower or lower-middle, or middle-income, but I’m pretty sure we weren’t wealthy. We had a large garden where we were expected to help plant and harvest just about every kind of vegetable you can imagine. We also raised our own beef and kept over 100 chickens. We ate good and Mom sold the eggs for extra money, but it seemed like there really wasn’t a lot of money for extras…except Dad’s hunting stuff, but that’s probably another story. Let’s just say, we weren’t destitute, but we weren’t loaded either.

“We won’t be able to spend a lot of money on a gift,” she said. I really didn’t understand what she meant, but I got the sense having to come up with a gift might be a deal breaker.

“So I can’t go?” I asked.

“Don’t worry. We’ll figure something out,” she said. “I’ll pick something up when I go to town next week.”

THE Saturday rolled around and 2:00 PM–the time on the invitation–couldn’t get here quick enough. Shortly after noon, my Mom came home from her Saturday shopping. “Did you get the present?” I asked almost as soon as she walked through the door. She reached into one of the bags she had carried into the kitchen and produced a book. It was a cheap hardback, written for young children; I think I remember the title being “Lassie” or something like that. I thought it was a GREAT gift!

My mom was (and still is) and avid reader. As far back as I can remember we would go to the public library every week for “Story Hour” then we would run upstairs and pick out three or four books to take home. I loved the library and loved reading. Still do. And I figured every kid was just like me.

My mom wrapped the book and I proudly tucked it under my arm as I walked the short distance to the social event of the season. Nearly every kid from my class had shown up for the party. As each one entered, they sat their gifts next to the large birthday cake in the center of the dinning room table. We played some games and then it was time to light the candles, have ice cream and cake…and OPEN THE PRESENTS. I could hardly wait. I just knew my gift would be the best one.

We sang Happy Birthday to You in our loudest voices, scarfed down the cake and then BK began tearing into the wrapping paper. I watched in anticipation as the presents were opened and quickly realized that the other children had obviously spent more money on much bigger/more expensive gifts than the one I had brought. All of a sudden, I was embarrassed and wished something would happen to my gift. “Maybe they won’t see it. I hope they don’t open it. Please don’t open it. Maybe I can sneak over there and grab it before they open it.” But it was too late. The wrapping paper came off, and BK held up the book for everyone to see.

“Who gives someone a BOOK for a present,” BK snarled loudly…and everyone laughed. “Why are you laughing!? It’s a gift! It’s the best we could afford–I think a book is a GREAT gift!” That’s what I wanted to say, but I didn’t. Instead, I laughed nervously with everyone else, hoping no one would figure out I was the “book giver.” In that moment, I didn’t want to do anything but go home.

The party was soon over, and everyone sort of lined up at the front door where BK was standing to thank each one for coming to the party and to acknowledge each gift. I waited until BK was preoccupied with the rest of the group and I quietly slipped out another entrance. When I got home, my Mom asked me how the party was. “Fine,” I said. “Did BK like the book?” “Oh, yeah. I’m sure he did,” I lied.

I never told my Mom about the party. I still love reading. I think about that birthday party every time someone gives me a book or a gift card to Barnes and Noble. Kids can be pretty cruel sometimes.

Another Milestone

October 3, 2011

I’m not that fast of a cyclist. It’s been 10 years since I’ve ridden with any regularity, but in the past five months I’ve logged approx 700 miles, lost 16 lbs and have been averaging about 14 MPH per ride. Most of my rides have been around 20 miles; on one occasion I rode 42 miles and another I rode 57 miles! Like I said, I’m no speed demon, but I’m enjoying the scenery and I’m feeling much better as well.

One of the things I struggle with is hills. I’m just not much of a climber. It could also have something to do with the fact that I’m carrying that additional weight, because going DOWNHILL seems to be much easier. Gravity is a “fat boy’s” friend! So recently, I’ve been picking routes to ride that included some hills–nothing big–but at least enough change in elevation to make me work a little harder and build up my leg muscles.

Now, if you know anything about the area where I live AND you’re a cyclist,  you know about two hills…and they are HILLS in my book. “Killer Hill” is on 193rd East Avenue, just above the Port of Catoosa. It’s about 1/2 mile long and drops or rises (depending on your direction) approx 200 feet! As the nickname implies, it’s a KILLER! I haven’t attempted it…yet. The other hill of notoriety is “Quarry Hill” named after the rock quarry in the area around 66th St North and 145th East Avenue . Only a 100 foot climb in less than 1/2 mile, the hill is a 7% grade–according to the sign at the bottom–flanked on both sides by shear rock walls. Chain link fencing attached to the rock face serves to prevent debris, i.e. boulders, rocks, etc. from falling onto the road.

I don’t know why? but I decided TODAY is the day. We got out of church, and on the way home I told myself: “I’m climbing that hill today.” Typically, on Sunday afternoons, my wife goes to visit her parents and I stick around the house catching up on projects or lately, taking the opportunity to get in a few miles. The weather was INCREDIBLE, today– temps in the upper 70s with a light south wind. Not a cloud in the sky. A perfect afternoon.

I made my way toward the hill, admittedly with some fleeting thoughts of “you really don’t want to do this! It’s gonna hurt. You’re not ready. You’re a  WUSSY!!” I rode to the top of the hill, briefly considered riding on, but resolved to finish what I’d started. I took a loop around the hill that dumps out at the bottom, stopping briefly to take a couple of pics before beginning my ascent.

My bike has a triple-chain ring, which means I’ve got a combination of 27 gears available to me to make this climb, but  I had already decided I was NOT going to drop down to my smallest gear(s). “I’m going to do this thing with some level of effort…even if it kills me!” Starting up the hill, I slipped into my middle chain-ring and the third smallest gear. Halfway up, I had shifted into my fifth or sixth gear, but I was maintaining my cadence. “I can do this!” With my head down, I kept on cranking and in what seemed like no time at all…I was at the the TOP OF THE HILL!!! My calves were throbbing much less than I figured they would be and I really wasn’t out of breath. I had done it!

I took a moment just to stop and look back down to the bottom of the hill, then headed out for the rest of my afternoon ride. Another milestone. For the remaining 17 miles, I’m pretty sure I was grinning from ear-to-ear.

In a Hurry

September 30, 2011

I saw him in my rearview mirror. He was driving one of those “rice burners” and he was driving FAST. He was probably 50-75 yards behind me, but the way he was zipping back and forth through traffic caught my attention. In a matter of seconds, he jerked the wheel to the left, then the right, crossing two lanes of traffic. One second, maybe two, and he darted back across traffic, the vehicle right next to him slamming on their brakes to avoid a collision. (Apparently, some foreign model automobiles do not come equipped with turn signals. They do, however, come equipped with a sub-woofer that takes up the entire rear seat. I could hear and FEEL it as he got closer.)

He was quickly approaching my bumper and I was keeping a close eye on this idiot. No telling where he was going next…then I saw it. There was a gap between me and a car in my lane and now, HE saw it. My reaction was one of survival, not wanting to “swap paint” with Mr. Hell on Wheels; his was one of stupidity. At the same moment, I backed off the accelerator, he punched his. Darting in front of me and sliding into the small space, he barely missed my front bumper…all the while (I now noticed) talking on his cell phone.

Almost as quickly as he claimed his space in my lane, he did a quick glance over his right shoulder and shot back over into the right lane with only inches to spare between the rear of his car and the pickup truck that dared try to pin him into the left lane. This guy was IN A HURRY, and wherever he was going, he was going to beat the rest of us there!

It was at this point I looked ahead in traffic, and a huge smile spread across my face. One by one, the taillights ahead of me lit up as the approaching traffic light went from green–to yellow–to RED. And when all the traffic came to a stop, in spite of all his fancy driving, guess who’s sitting right next to me? YEP! Hell on Wheels–yelling into the phone and pounding the steering wheel while the rest of us just stared and laughed to ourselves: “Didn’t get there any quicker, did ya dumba$$?!”

Move Over or Get Off the Road!

September 26, 2011

This past Saturday, I was going to see an old High School friend and decided I would take the “back way” to his parent’s home where he was visiting for the week.  As I topped a hill, I could see the on-coming traffic was backed up several cars deep because a group of cyclists –I guessed about 10 of them– were all grouped together in the middle of the opposite lane…and they weren’t about to get over.

I watched as they passed and observed the drivers of the autos that were stuck behind them as each one was either yelling at the cyclists or telling them they were “number one” via the internationally recognized hand signal. I continued to glance in my rearview mirror as the cyclists held their ground, refusing to yield an inch. It really pi$$ed me off!

You see, I’m a cyclist. Not one of those diehards with the spandex covered in logos, but I do ride pretty regular. I’ve got what I think is a pretty nice bike and I enjoy riding anywhere from 12 to 40+ miles at a time. I don’t race; I just enjoy being out, getting some exercise and enjoying the landscape. I stay off major highways, choosing to stay on the much less traveled rural/back roads in our area. Every once in a while, it’s necessary for me to be out on a busier road than I’d like, but I always make sure I keep as far to the right of the road as safely possible, stop at the  STOP signs, yield when I’m supposed to, and I use hand signals to let the motorists around me know my intentions, because I’ve done the math.

You see, a 20 pound bicycle with a 180 pound rider doesn’t stand a chance against a 3000 pound vehicle (give or take a few pounds). And making a driver mad (especially one that thinks you’ve got no right to be out there in the first place–he’s wrong) ain’t gonna win any cyclist a popularity contest. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had vehicles drive as close as they can, to the point I can nearly feel their mirror brush against my leg or elbow, all because they don’t like cyclists. Why don’t they like us? BECAUSE OF THE IDIOTS I SAW ON THE ROAD this past weekend.

To the cyclists I saw: I don’t know which cycling club you’re with, but you aren’t helping the rest of us! People that don’t ride really don’t care which club you’re with, whether you’ve got the right to be on the road or anything else for that matter when you’re riding 3 and 4 abreast holding up traffic. What they DO know is they HATE every *&$%#*@ cyclist they see…INCLUDING ME and I’m trying my best to get along with everybody. I’ll also tired of being sideswiped, having McDonald’s trash thrown at me, and on several occasions, having some jackass hanging out of the passenger window taking a swing at me. So do the rest of us a favor and MOVE OVER OR GET OFF THE ROAD!

As Long As No Else Knows

September 13, 2011

There’s a scene in the movie City Slickers where stars Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, and Bruno Kirby are riding along the trail and their conversation goes something like:

“If a woman came down from outer space and NO ONE would ever find out, not even your wife…would you have sex with her?”

“NO ONE would find out?”

“No one.”

“If no one would find out…yeah, I’d do it.”

So, as long as you don’t get caught, it’s OK. Now, you may be saying, “That’s pretty extreme. In fact, it’s not even a realistic example.” Yeah, you’re probably right. I’ve not heard about many sex-starved women from outer space invading the planet lately. So maybe the following is a little more realistic.

In the late 70s and early 80s, the State of Oklahoma issued two types of truck tags with the “commercial” tag being much cheaper than a regular tag. I guess the idea was to give business owners a break. Well, people began to claim they had a business in order to get the cheaper tag, so the State came up with a new law that required the tagged vehicle to bear the name of the business, or at the very least, the words “Commercial Vehicle.” I guess they figured people wouldn’t want to pay to have their vehicles lettered if they really didn’t have a business. They were wrong.

I had all kinds of people come into my sign shop to have the words “Commercial Vehicle” painted on their pickup trucks. Soon, they began to become more creative–shortening the phrase to “Comm Veh.” The vehicle owner’s tag office apparently had no problem with the abbreviation. I even lettered one vehicle with the same color as the truck since the law did not require the lettering be in a contrasting color.

Computer cut vinyl lettering came into being during this time, so the ability to crank out a larger number of vehicles in a single day made quite a bit of money for some sign companies. (We didn’t own a vinyl cutting computer; all of our lettering was done by hand.) I once entered a tag office and noticed THEY even offered pre-cut “Commerical Vehicle” lettering for $20.

I thought it was interesting that people were willing to flat out lie about owning a business in order to save a few (maybe quite a few) dollars.

The moral to the story is it’s not wrong as long no one else knows.

Back on the Road Again

August 28, 2011

Cannondale CAAD8I started cycling in 1996. Over the next four years, I rode several thousand miles, including two times on Oklahoma Freewheel (nearly 500 miles from Texas to Kansas). My riding days came to an abrupt end when I messed up my knee in 2000. I began physical therapy and figured I’d be back on the bike in no time. It didn’t happen. Weeks turned into months and months turned into years and before I knew it, the bike had been hanging in the garage for over 10 years!

In the meantime, I joined a gym and started working on getting rid of some extra pounds, building some muscle and build my legs back up. This spring, I took the bike to a local shop, had it “tuned up” and started building back up my endurance and speed. About a month ago, I bought a new bike and this weekend, I finally passed a milestone of 42 miles in 2 hours and 19 minutes. Not bad for an old man!

Combining Blogs

August 22, 2011

Working on migrating two blogs to one place and combing my personal website.