Vertical Connection

“It was my first Christmas in sixty-two years without her. I don’t know how to act.”

That was the first thing he said as we sat down to lunch. Arby’s. It was his idea. His wife had died about two months earlier, one day after her eighty-first birthday. At her memorial service, their pastor encouraged everyone there to invite Jim to lunch at some point and ask him to explain his “vertical connection.” I was curious, so I wrote it down, and promised myself that I would invite Jim Goodwin to lunch. I told him so in the fellowship hall immediately after the service was over.

King David of Israel once said, “our steps are ordered by the Lord…when we fall, we won’t go far, because He holds our hand…I have lived a long time, and I have never seen God’s children forsaken” (Psalm 37:23). Our family’s connection is evidence that this verse is true. We had only moved to Oklahoma a couple of years earlier, and then we moved to the country, where we had no friends, no family, no acquaintances. It had the potential to be devastating to a thirty-something stay-at-home mom with no drivers license. No wonder mom was so excited to meet a woman her age at the Cub Scout organization meeting in town. Not only was she close in age, she had two sons, the same age as Spencer and me. Her oldest was a year younger than Spencer, and a year older than me, her youngest was a year younger than me. It was perfect! She couldn’t wait to tell dad. But dad had a story of his own to tell. He had been introduced to a man who shared similar interests to him. “I feel like I have a new best friend,” he said. Mom said, “Me too!” They started putting the pieces together and realized that mom’s new best friend and dad’s new best friend were married to each other. See? It was meant to be.

Jim at forty-four years old

We were together all the time. Fourth of July, Memorial Day, you name it. We would go to their house to eat dinner, and watch slide shows from each others’ vacation, or tinker with some new tool or motorcycle. Once, while Jim was showing us slides from a few years earlier, dad told him to stop on one particular image. He walked up to the screen, and pointed to three figures in the crowd. It was us–dad, Spencer, and me. In 1971, President Nixon had come to Oklahoma to dedicate the Port of Catoosa, and we went there to see him. I was five, I didn’t have a clue what was going on. But I’ll never forget the goose bumps I felt as a teenager, realizing that we were in a man’s photo years before we met him.

Of course, cookouts and slide shows were just the tip of the iceberg. He helped dad build our house. We rode motorcycles together. We camped together. All four of us boys earned the rank of Eagle Scout within the same five year period. We spent ten days hiking in the Rocky Mountains together–a trip that would have been a disaster, if Jim hadn’t pulled mom off to the side one day and told her to ignore my dad’s insistence that she buy our hiking boots at K-Mart. Mom trusted Jim implicitly, and he told her that her boys would miserable if not properly equipped. “Spend the money,” he told mom. “Get the good boots.” She did.

Glenda was a classically trained pianist and vocalist, whose father was a bona-fide member of the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee. Any time I needed a piano accompaniment for audition tapes, Mrs. Goodwin was always there for me. In the months after mom died, I turned a corner at Reasors, and right there in the dairy aisle was Glenda Goodwin. I had to steady myself, because it was as if I was seeing mom.

We were as close as family. Closer.

Mom didn’t work outside the home until I started school, and when she did get a job, she hated it. I don’t know why. But having friends means having a network. Jim happened to be the executive VP for sales and marketing at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma. He encouraged mom to apply there, so she did. She went to the interview, and was quickly turned down. She was in her thirties, a little older than many of the women in that department. Plus, she really hadn’t worked outside the home since she left that job at a camera store in Timonium, Maryland several years earlier. That evening, Jim called to ask mom how the interview went.

“I didn’t get the job,” she said, sadly.


“They said I wasn’t what they were looking for.” (At lunch this week, Jim smiled when I brought this up, because he remembers it).


As she hung up the phone, Mom said that Jim sounded mad. She seemed confused. She WAS confused, until a few minutes later, when the hiring manager called to offer her the job. It quickly became obvious that Jim was the kind of friend that you could trust to take care of things. Mom worked there for thirty-five years. Years later I met the CEO of Blue Cross, and when he saw my name tag, he smiled and asked if I was related to Ingrid. “She’s my mom,” I said proudly. He smiled even bigger as he shook his head and said, “She’s one of our stars.” Mine too.

As is typical of good men, at lunch this week Jim wanted to hear about everyone else more than he wanted to talk about himself. And he didn’t do what a lot of folks do–since we forget names and all–he didn’t say, “how’s your brother,” or “how’s your sister?” He said, “how is Spencer doing?” And later, “tell me about Kristen. What is she up to nowadays?” Good people remember names. As I told him about where everyone is, and how everyone is doing, he would gently toss little observations into the mix. Those observations were always on point, and clearly reflected a spiritual vibe. I don’t remember him referencing spiritual things that much when I was a kid. But at lunch, it was like talking to a fellow pastor. His relationship with Christ was sprinkled throughout our conversation. His boys are both extremely successful, and he is rightly proud of them. But his greatest source of pride stemmed from the fact that they both had solid relationships with the Lord. He talked about how God had directed his life, led him to a successful career, and has brought him through these most recent days, the toughest he’s ever had to face.

That this man had an impact on my family is a monumental understatement.

I could have sat there all day, but it was Lisa’s birthday, and I needed to get home. Problem is, I still hadn’t ask him “the question,” the reason Dr. Miller had encouraged us to ask him about. “Before we leave, I have to ask you to explain your ‘vertical connection.'” The look on his face left me a little unsure. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought it up. He looked kind of sad, or perhaps contemplative. It was like he wanted to say something, but couldn’t. “I’m really not sure what he was talking about. I just don’t remember.”

People forget stuff. I get that. I do it all the time. But not the important stuff. We remember the things that matter. But Jim didn’t, which confused me. Then it hit me.

I told him that I knew exactly was Pastor Miller was talking about. Jim had already told me about his vertical connection, he just didn’t realize it. Like asking a fish if he minds all that water, but the fish doesn’t know what you’re talking about because he doesn’t see the water. He LIVES in the water. He BREATHES the water. Water is LIFE to the fish. Jim doesn’t see the vertical connection because he lives it. He is immersed in it. It is his very life, the thing which has kept him going. It is the thing that kept him faithful to the same lady for sixty-two years. It is the reason why his business life was blessed like it was. I told him that this his relationship with Jesus–the vertical connection–was woven into every fiber of the conversation we’d just had. I get it now.

And once again, I’m learning from a good man.

Jim and I in 1981. I was fifteen, he was forty-four
Jim and I in 2022, forty-one years later

Student Loans

When I went back to college in my early twenties, I borrowed the money via student loans. I can’t remember the amount that I borrowed, but I do remember that I borrowed the absolute maximum I could. Like an idiot. Thankfully, it only took me a year and a half to graduate, so it wasn’t a huge amount of debt. It took me a while, but I paid it back. It wasn’t easy, because the interest rates are pretty high.

Years later, I did grad school, which took me a lot longer—four years. But I was smarter than before, and only borrowed what I had to. When I graduated, I owed a little north of $10,000. In spite of the fact that I had really good credit, the interest rate was really high, and even though I paid faithfully, I felt like I was swimming upstream.

Then one day a friend told me that the government had a program that could pay off my loan, if I met the qualifications. Actually, qualification, singular. Teach five years in a Title I school, and I could apply for partial or full loan forgiveness. As soon as I reached the five year mark, I applied. They said no. The reason was stupid: I failed to put the title of the district representative who signed the form. The form did not specify that I put that information down. Under the signature line, it put the title of the person: “superintendent of personnel,” or something. The man who signed off on my app had that title, so it seemed redundant to put that down again. But I re-applied, and was eventually approved for full loan forgiveness, which amounted to just under ten thousand dollars.

I was so grateful. And I didn’t feel like it was charity, because I had committed to stay at a Title I school, where a lot of people lit out for wealthier districts and private schools. So I get a little sick of all the whiners who are complaining about the government forgiving student loans. And I think I can say that, since I paid off one loan, and was the recipient of grace on another.

It isn’t clear to me why people are complaining. I guess they abhor welfare, or handouts. Or maybe they’re mad because they paid off their loans, and now others are getting theirs forgiven. Perhaps people are jealous because they didn’t go to college in the first place.

A couple things: first, the student loan program is jacked up. There needs to be a better way to make sure the loans are fair and equitable. Dave Ramsey pointed out that the same people who have been loaning money are still going to be loaning money. That makes no sense—if we are having to pay off loans because the system is messed up, shouldn’t we fix the problem? Second, how many of you whiners were the recipient of a free education? Most of you, I suspect. If you went to a public school, and you attended a vocational-technical school where you learned a trade, how can you complain? If you attended tech while in high school, it was free. How is that any different?

As the recipient of massive amounts of grace, I cannot complain that people are getting loans forgiven. I’ve been forgiven much, so therefore I should love much.


People, People, I Implore You!

On Saturday, my buddy Paul and I signed up for a charity ride. It is called “Blazing Saddles,” and benefitted a non-profit that specializes in suicide awareness. We did the forty mile route, and we were about fifteen in when we ran across the driver in the video you see here. Beautiful truck–probably cost more than sixty thousand dollars, yet he is so miserable that he felt compelled to flip off every single rider. Bear in mind that his animosity wasn’t because he was delayed by slow moving vehicles–he was going in the opposite direction. He was not slowed down, impeded, or in any way inconvenienced by the riders. He was just a bitter and nasty person. I almost feel sorry for him.

Andy Griffith once said, “when that man’s time comes to go, he ain’t gonna go like the rest of us. No, he’s just gonna NASTY away.” This man who flipped us off, whose blessed life ought to have caused him to be thankful, feels compelled to spend his life bringing everyone else down. Even people who gave their own money to a charity designed to help suicidal people. I hope he sees this and is able to see himself the way the rest of us see him. Or maybe his kids or his wife, if there is a woman who can stand to be in his presence for longer than twenty seconds. Somehow I think he’s an ass to everyone.

If you know him, let him know that he is kind of famous now. Tell him that he needs a little Jesus.

Okay then.


Don’t Tell Mom

Spencer and I used to say that to each other all the time. Any time we were doing something we knew she would not approve of, but we couldn’t wait to tell someone about, we said, “don’t tell mom.” Spent more money than we should have? Fine. DON’T TELL MOM. Bought something she thinks is unsafe or unwise? Not a big deal. DON’T TELL MOM.

Last year I sold my pickup, and we’ve been a one car family ever since. No big deal, we were a one car family for twelve years. We made it work. Recently, however, I decided to get a car, and have been researching it. I’ll spare you the details, but I decided to go electric again, and my first choice was a newer Nissan Leaf. Lisa, always the great life partner, suggested I bite the bullet and just get the Tesla (I LOVE that girl!). But the price is too high. I came across some research on the Chevy Bolt. Most of the major car publications picked the Bolt over the Leaf, stating that it is a better car all around. Ultimately, a salesman in town told me he had a 2021 model in stock, and he needed it gone. He knocked nearly $12,000 off MSRP (new cars are selling at or above MSRP, in case you didn’t know), and even though it is white, I got it. He had three or four calls from all over the country, while I was sitting there with him, all wanting that car. Sorry, Mrs. Cho of Irvine, California. You lose.

Now I need to put a bike rack on it. I didn’t want to use the hitch mounted rack, and didn’t feel the need to. My bike isn’t so heavy that I can’t put it on the roof like I did in the past. I’ve always been a Yakima guy. Yak Racks are made in Yakima, Washington, or at least the home office is there, I can’t say where the actual bike racks are manufactured. Thule racks are a popular brand globally, but I’ve always liked the American company best. This time, though, I made a bold call, and went with the Thule (it is pronounced “too-lee,” in case you were curious).

Two reasons. First, my bike doesn’t use a quick release front hub/axle–the front wheel stays in place, which takes a special kind of rack, which Thule has always done well. The second reason is that Thule and GM are in bed together, so to speak. The GM warranty on my Bolt covers the bike rack. Also, the service techs at the dealership are trained, and thus qualified to install them, so I don’t have to bother Spencer to install it, although I know he would in a heartbeat.

That’s why you can’t tell mom. Yakima is made in Washington state, but Thule is made in Sweden. SWEDEN. Mom hated Sweden! Her dad always said they were in bed with the Nazis, so he detested Swedes, and raised his daughter to be the same. DON’T TELL MOM.

The Chevy Bolt might not be as sexy as my big black Chevy diesel, but I don’t care. Since it is all electric, I drive right past the gas station. It is really roomy, has a range of over 250 miles, more if you drive with a little care. Add in the bike rack, and I’m in tall cotton over here. Woody likes it too, mostly because he knows that come fall, he will be back to a regular rotation at work. You’ve gotta love that.

What do you think? I snagged the last of the ’21s, but if you want a ’22, call Josh at Mark Allen Chevy and he will hook you up.


Another Motorist Ignoring the Law

Cyclists catch a lot of grief when it comes to traffic laws. I hear it all the time–people in motor cars honking at me (which is now against the law in Oklahoma), yelling at me (also against the law), and telling me to obey the law, when they do not obey the law.

I always blow it off. It is easy to blow stuff off on a bicycle, because bike riding is so effective at burning off the crazy. When something memorable happens, it is completely forgotten about by the time I get home. Lately, though, it has been harder to forget interactions with motorist, for now I am rocking this sweet GoPro camera. I am unable to forget what happens. What have I learned since I started utilizing a GoPro? I’ve learned that almost no one obeys traffic laws ever. Just yesterday a woman in a giant SUV passed me in a no passing zone, violating the speed limit, without proper clearance (another car was coming in her direction), and she was within 100 feet of an intersection. I was just riding along, at the posted speed limit, minding my own business.

This video is of an incident that happened a couple days later. Check it:



Ten years ago, I’d never heard of Jack Reacher. The first time I read that name was on Facebook in 2012. A friend had posted about the new Tom Cruise movie being released, and other people talked about it like they knew something I did not. That’s not surprising—there is a lot I don’t know, especially when it comes to popular culture. There were several conclusions I drew from the reactions to the post, but the first one was that Tom Cruise was the absolute wrong guy to be cast as Jack Reacher. Too short. Too old. Too little. Of course, I found out later that Cruise was one of eleven producers of the film, and cast himself as Jack Reacher—I’d have done the same thing. When you know that no one else in the world will do as good a job as you, you take the job and you work around the obvious.

A few questions of my friends filled me in on the book series. Lee Child is the author. It is a pseudonym. His real name is James Grant, born and raised in England, and he spent twenty years or so writing and directing television commercials and other shows on a British television network. In his spare time, he wrote stories, mostly about a man who retired from the United States army and who went around helping people out of a jam. It was a hobby for him, and for a long time he may have dreamed of becoming a writer of popular novels, but never thought it would be a reality. In the mid-90’s, as television began to change, Grant saw the handwriting on the wall, and began making his plans to earn a living in some other way. His friends and co-workers had told him for years that his writing was as good as any author they’d read, and now he would test the waters and find out. Turns out, they were right.

Jack Reacher is not much different than any other reluctant hero. Jack Bauer, Jack Ryan, hey, why are all the badass heroes named Jack?? Anyway, he’s a rugged individualist, content to walk around the country and help people out. He is huge—6’5” tall and 285 pounds. I read the first book, and it quickly became apparent why Tom Cruise was the wrong person for the role, at least physically. I’m not sure how many of the twenty-five books published about Jack Reacher. Call it ”several.” I stopped because all the stories were the same.

I saw the movie, released in 2012, and had to force myself to ignore Tom Cruise’s small stature. It didn’t take long. He is good. Great, in fact. One of the best actors ever. And he did a great job playing Jack Reacher. So what if he’s tiny? Some of the lines were delivered perfectly by Cruise. When a bad guy is complaining that his finger hurts because Reacher has control of the gun he’d been holding, Reacher calmly says, ”well, then you shouldn’t play with guns.” Every sarcastic line Reacher says is delivered perfectly by Cruise. Reacher makes lists all the time. ”There are four reasons why men join the army.” Or, ”there are three things cops never do. They don’t vote Democrat, they don’t drive Cadillacs, and they never use personal vehicles.” Tom Cruise delivers these lines perfectly, and other than his size, made the perfect Jack Reacher.

Imagine my excitement when I discovered that a new Reacher television series was being released. Tom Cruise is out, replaced by Alan Ritchson, a 38 year old actor who is the son of a high school teacher and an Air Force master sergeant. He has been in several films and TV shows, none of which I have seen. He isn’t 6’5”, but he’s close—6’2”, and although I’m no movie director, it’s got to be easier to make six-two look like six-five than it is to make five-seven look like six-five. In fact, neither of the Reacher movies starring Cruise focused on Reacher’s size. They didn’t even bother. If you’re a purist, this bothers you (and if you’re a Reacher fan, you saw what I just did). In the books, his size is always part of the story. People notice him. In the films, women notice him because he’s handsome, not because he’s huge. The series, which was released February 4, has eight episodes, each roughly an hour long. Lisa and I binge-watched it over two days.

So which is better, the films or the TV series?

As far as acting is concerned, the films win. Tom Cruise is just plain better as an actor than Alan Ritchson. Ritchson isn’t a bad actor. He delivers Reacher dialogue like I expected him to, but lacks the rhythm that Cruise has, as well as the facial expressions. Ritchson did a good job, in fact, he read every single one of Lee Child’s Reacher books before filming began. He studied the character and knew it as well as anyone. But there’s only so much you can do.

When considering the storyline, the series wins. The first film did not claim to be based on any particular one of the books. It was just an amalgam of all the stories. Seriously, how many ways is there to tell the same story twenty-five times? The series starts right off the bat telling viewers that it is based on the first in the Reacher series, ”Killing Floor.” Unlike many Hollywood productions, this one was very true to the book.

The cast of the film was probably better, and not just because of Cruise. Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog, and Rosamund Pike are all Oscar-nominated actors, and of course, Robert Duvall is an Oscar winner. The series had exactly zero actors that I’d ever heard of. That doesn’t matter, they were all good and delivered their roles in a convincing manner.

So which is better? I’ll give the series the win—true to the story line. True to the characters. Better able to hash out the stories and the characters over eight hours than one can do in ninety minutes.

Watch it on Amazon Prime. Or better yet, read the books.

Everything Old…

I still remember the first time I heard a song on CD. I was working at Walmart, in the electronics department, and we had shelves full of the latest in audio technology–compact disc. It uses a laser–a LASER–to read the audio files and play them through speakers. Or something like that. I really don’t know, but I like to write like I do. What I do know is that the record (CD) I was listening to sounded like nothing I’d ever heard, and I had heard a lot of records. The recording in the CD player that night at Walmart was one I had heard many times– Chicago’s Greatest Hits. The highs were higher, the lows were lower, and the lyrics could be heard with greater clarity than I had heard them on vinyl. That evening, standing in the electronics department at the Prattville Walmart, I knew that everything was about to change. I was not wrong.

When I first heard that people were listening to vinyl records again, I was confused. Why? No. Don’t! Why don’t we just go back in time, to where we didn’t have that pesky internet or those awful cell phones or overnight delivery?

Then one day a couple of years ago at a friend’s house, there was a little portable turntable in the living room, along with the newest Jason Isbell record. VINYL record. Suddenly I felt a little nervous. Excited, but knew I shouldn’t be feeling that way. How could it be wrong, when it felt so right? I looked around to make sure no one could see me, and I did it. I put that record on and, well, it is hard to explain, but feeling the needle hit the groove in the vinyl, then those telltale scratches started to work their way into my soul, and it was like, well, remarkable. It just felt right, like taking all the good things about living a fourth of the way until the twenty-second century, and sending it on a little trip back in time about forty years. At that very instant, I knew that I could be a vinyl guy.

Last Christmas, my dear friend and colleague Kaitlyn, who is my co-worker and, as providence would have it, my secret Santa, bought me a vinyl record. I’d never heard of the group, but it had John Fullbright on it, so I knew I would like it. On the day I opened that gift, she said, “I just figured you for a vinyl record guy.” It was just the impetus needed to go out and purchase a brand spanking new record player. I found one that uses bluetooth technology so it syncs with my Echo and can be played through the whole house. I love it.

It shouldn’t be surprising, the cost of vinyl records in the modern era. On Amazon, I can buy three records for $72 plus tax. That’s a long way from the days of “ten records for one penny when you join the Columbia Record and Tape Club!”

Today, we were blessed with a little extra time on our hands while in town, and we dropped into a used book and record store. I was in heaven. I bought eight or nine records, which back in the day would have cost me over a hundred bucks. But today I spent less than twenty-five. It wasn’t the greatest selection (as you can see from the photos) but we had a great time, and there was some good stuff.

These gems are a buck apiece down at Gardener’s Used Books and Records–better hurry!
Francisco, Mangione, Fogelberg all used to be in my collection.
Ruth is distinctly unimpressed

Where do you go to buy used records? I like acoustic stuff–folk music, old school/Texas country, and jazz from the big band era. Hit me up!

Isn’t This Why We Fought the Commies?

We didn’t know we had it bad. When there is little or no point of reference, you don’t know what you’re missing. This is true of pretty much everything in the world, ever. Did people in the thirties know how hot they were without air conditioning? No, because they never experienced air conditioning.

I still remember the first time I ever listened to music on a compact disc. Of course, no one calls them compact discs now, we just call them CDs. Or not, since CDs are quickly going the way of the dodo bird, the buggy whip, and cable TV. But man, that first time–someone tried to explain the difference between CDs and every other method of listening to music–but I didn’t get it. I didn’t get it, until I got it. Then I GOT it. Man, did I ever get it! “Chicago’s Greatest Hits” was the first CD I ever heard. I’d heard those songs hundreds of times, maybe thousands. I heard them live once, back in ’82 (or ’81, I can’t quite remember), on vinyl, cassette, and the radio, both AM and FM. But when I heard those songs on compact disc, I heard things I’d never heard before. The high notes by trumpeter Lee Loughnane were higher. The lows from James Pankow’s trombone vibrated the rafters. And the clarity! The clarity of every single note was like nothing I’d ever heard. The words were easier to understand, and the complexity of the music itself–it was something I’ll never forget. And it wasn’t just the notes, it was the beat and the lyrical content. It was like you could hear the heart of the singer, not just the voice. CDs changed the game in every way. No scratches, no turning the disc over to play the other side, and they’re easier to keep and store. Buh bye, vinyl records, it was nice knowing you.

There are things about the old days that I miss. There are things I do not miss. I’m not ever going back to giant tube-type televisions. Nor do I plan on going back to rotary dial telephones that require the user to be in a stationary position, due to cords and all. And why would I ever go back to vinyl records?

I first noticed the trend a few years ago, odd though it was–modern recording artists releasing new albums on vinyl, like it was 1977 all over again. Hippie kids getting turntables for Christmas, acting all snobby and aloof around us “CD” people. Please. Step aside, kids. I was spinning records for a living when your daddy was still wearing short pants. Going back to vinyl is like going back to propeller driving airplanes instead of jets, or getting a reel-type lawn mower when you could be rocking a Troy-built with a Briggs and Stratton. Like why? And don’t. And like, why?

I was at a friend’s house a couple of years ago–he’s young and hip. Seriously, like, a cool guy with flannel shirts and a full beard and man-skills. And he had a turntable. I tried to contain my eye-roll. Then I looked at his meager and pitiful record collection, and one of the titles happened to be the latest album from Jason Isbell, who has spent the last ten years sneaking his way into the number one position on my all-time favorite songwriter list. I didn’t even think of asking permission–I put the record on the turntable, and let my spirit do the rest. It was an odd feeling, one that I fear will be impossible to describe with words. It was like going back in time, but retaining all the knowledge acquired in my lifetime (that’s the only way a time-travel fantasy has any appeal to me–the ability to travel back in time while remembering what you’ve learned about women and the value of reading books and practicing the trumpet more and what stocks to buy and women (did I mention women already?)). I had heard every one of those songs numerous times in digital format, but this was different. There were the scratches, and the occasional warp in the vinyl. And then there was the order of the music–you can’t effortlessly skip over songs on vinyl so you had to listen to it in order, like the artist intended–it was like the old days, when a new record made its way into your collection. Do you remember? Either because you stopped by Starship, or Peaches, or you got your twelve records for a penny from Columbia Record Club, and your friends came over just so you could all listen at the same time–those were good times! Life was slower, more deliberate. I’d like to say that we appreciated things more, but I don’t know that we did. It was just normal.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah. Fighting commies.

We fought Communism, and won! We fought it so we wouldn’t have to listen to vinyl records and 8-track tapes anymore. Don’t get me wrong: I love the twenty-first century! It is the best century ever! I love the modern conveniences, like checking the security cameras at my house from work or a jet airplane. Or starting my car from inside the grocery store or from outer space. Sometimes I think it would be cool to go back in time and do things over again, but I like it too much over here.

Since I like it too much over here, and since time machines aren’t a reality yet, I would like to announce that I am now in possession of the next-best thing: a turntable. I’m kind of excited.

This all started at Christmas, when my secret Santa (Ms. Knowlton) bought me a vinyl record. It is no secret that I love music, but it struck me as odd to receive a vinyl record. Even healthy work relationships are built on communication, so I asked her why. Her response brought a smile to my face: “I don’t know, I just figured you for a turntable guy.” Me? MOI?? A TURNTABLE GUY?? Aw, shucks, Kaitlyn. You’re making me blush. I HAD been a turntable guy, when I wore a younger man’s clothes. Dad always had one at home, hooked up to the biggest speakers we could fit into the room. It was how I made my living for a few years, during a time when radio stations played vinyl. It only makes sense that I should be a turntable guy now.

I’m not alone. Last year, for the first time in more than thirty years, vinyl records outsold compact discs. Go back and read that again (it will be on the test). 1987 was the last year that vinyl records outsold CDs. At first that statistic surprised me. Then it occurred to me that buying CDs is about as familiar to young people today as buying vinyl records was to people who are currently in their twenties and thirties. Most music is downloaded digitally now, it is in the “cloud” or whatever. What a sucky life it must be for them. If all you ever do is download your music, how to you read the liner notes? How do you read the lyrics? I’ll tell you how. You buy it in VINYL. That’s how.

Two problems have now arisen. The first one is that I threw away or sold all my vinyl records, and all my mom’s vinyl records, and all Lisa’s mom’s vinyl records. Dang. There were some good ones in there! The second problem is this: WHERE CAN I BUY VINYL RECORDS? Can I still get twelve records for a penny? Is anyone driving to Starship?

Its nothing fancy, plus it was on sale
Woody wanted to see what was going on, but didn’t want his picture taken
Ruth isn’t going to let Woody experience something unless she does too.

Behind the Music

Don’t you love it when you hear the story behind a good song? I realize that there are some songs that were just hammered out, or written against a tight deadline with little or no thought to what was being written. Even songwriting giants have resorted to it from time to time. “She love you yeah yeah yeah” comes to mind. But when a song has a narrative that cuts you to the quick, and you find out that the writer wrote that because he/she experienced it, that’s pretty awesome.

Recently I was reading about a famous songwriter from a long time ago. He was good, too, having written hundreds of songs, most of them popular, and all of them profitable. Lowell Mason was his name. Most people don’t know that name today, but in the nineteenth century, it was a household name. As talented as he was musically, he had a debilitating speech impediment–a lisp which had developed into a stutter. It was embarrassing to him, and the fact that people teased him mercilessly didn’t help. As a child he was bullied, as a teenager he was beaten up, and as an adult he was ostracized. Maybe that’s why he was so successful with music—it provided an outlet for the hurt he felt.

Eventually Lowell Mason found peace in his life when became a Christian. Through his new found faith, he began to experience joy and purpose like never before. His songwriting was still popular, but his lyrics contained a new element—joy, peace, hope. Don Henley once said that the true test of a songwriter’s talent is how long the music lasts. If this is true (and I believe it is), then Lowell Mason was exemplary. Not all his songs have stood the test of time, but one of them is still sung with remarkable frequency: “There is a Fountain” has been included in most every hymnal published in the last hundred years. It was even sung on an episode of the Andy Griffith Show! In most of those hymn books, there are four verses:

Verse 1: There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

Verse 2: the dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day, and there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away.

Verse 3: Ever since by faith I saw the stream your flowing wounds supply, redeeming love has been my theme and will be till I die.

Verse 4: Dear dying lamb, your precious blood will never lose its power, till all the ransomed church of God be saved to sin no more.

GREAT WORDS! I still get goose bumps when I read them.

BUT–did you know that there was a fifth verse to this hymn? It has been left out of most hymnals, perhaps because the words only make sense if you happen to know about Mason’s crippling speech impediments, and the pain and sadness it had caused him. Check it out:

Verse 5: When this poor, lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave, then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Your power to save. I’ll sing Your power to save, I’ll sing Your power to save! Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I will sing Your power to save!

This morning, Lowell Mason is singing a more sweet and noble song, only the stutter which caused him so much shame is forever gone. Moreover, his only audience is the one who was the subject of so many of his songs, the one from whom all blessings flow.

I can’t wait.

Sometimes I See Deer

I’ve gained a little weight in the off season. Winter. Yuk. I usually ride a lot in the winter. But this year I’ve gotten lazy. Or old. Or both. Anyway, I decided that I need to get back on the bike more consistently, so here I go, riding to work today. The bonus is that I saw a family of deer on Old North Road, and even though one of them was staring awkwardly at me, it is still a nice moment. I slowed the video down so you could see them. Enjoy.

We Live in an Age of Electronal Marvels

This quote comes from none other than the great Barney Fife. He was right, and that was decades ago. This is the twenty-first century. Everything has a battery in it. I have what seems like an abnormal number of things requiring batteries that require charging. Safety isn’t easy.

Ever since I was hit by a car last year, I’ve tried to step up my safety game. I’ve always believed that as long as cars can see me, I’d be fine. That’s why the bright strobes. But still, I was hit. The lady who ran that stop sign must have seen me—she just didn’t follow the law, and that was it. She admitted fault, avoiding a citation, but later changed her story (allegedly). So now I have a brighter strobe on the front, and a GoPro camera. Hearing the sound of traffic is vital, so no Air-Bud-Ear-Pods for me. No way. I rock the JBL speaker. And on my seat post I have long used the Dinotte Lighting “Quad” light—there is none brighter. But recently I switched to the Garmin Varia, which is equipped with a radar. You read that right—a RADAR that communicates to me through the Garmin Edge 1040 computer on my handlebars, informing me of cars approaching from the rear. I know those cars are there well before I would have heard them coming. In addition to the radar feature, it has a decent strobe light. If one of those cars buzzes me or (God forbid) hits me, the Garmin Varia is filming it all in 1080p. Video evidence is always a powerful thing in court.

Fine, but all this stuff has batteries. Batteries need charging. Today is the first time I’ve ridden in a week, and I found that some of these cool little doodads needed charging. No problem! When my principal offered to spend some money in my classroom this year, I asked him to buy me a tool for students to charge their cell phones. (its a trick—they charge their phones. Not today—I’m taking all the USB mini-C plugs for my own selfish use. Deal with it kids—I’m saving the earth over here. Or something.

What steps do you use to be more visible in traffic? As a driver of automobiles, what helps you see bicycle commuters?

I could have more, but my Garmin 1040 does not need charging, nor does my Shimano Di2.
Not all electronal devices draw the same amperage. It’s science.
Ride your bike!

Helmet Hair: a Coiffure Odyssey

Anyone who has ever participated in an athletic activity understands the trials associated with keeping one’s coiffure in order. That’s not completely true, I guess. Golfers don’t have to wear a hat. But pretty much everyone else does. We just called it “hat hair” when wearing a ball cap.

Cycling is unique among activities that can make for a bad hair day, mainly because of the style of the typical bike helmet. Those wind vents can wreak havoc on your hair, especially if you’re rocking a buzz cut, as I did for many years. Combine that with a long sweaty bike ride, and you might as well forget about having a good hair day.

Now if you’re just out on a Saturday ride with the crew, and you stop and down a Shiner Bock or two after, then head home for a shower, you won’t have a problem. But what about those of us who ride our bike to work? No imbibing. No shower. Just helmet hair.

Today’s ride was the perfect storm, for me anyway. First, it is a hair washing day. Second, the freezing temperatures would require the wearing of a balaclava. Third, I took a longer route, so I was on the bike for forty-five minutes. Wet head. Balaclava. Helmet. Long ride. It’s gonna be ugly.

But who cares? When you ride your bike to work, you can wear your hair any way you want, because you own the day. Workout? Done. Avoiding traffic jams? Always. That big breakfast you ate? A distant caloric memory. If my hair isn’t perfect, those are the breaks. I’m changing the world over here.

The photo you see is a brief timeline on managing helmet hair, for your consideration. Picture 1 is right after removing my helmet and balaclava. Picture 2 is after I brushed it out, and 3 is once I worked it all out and am ready for the day. I hope this encourages you to ride your bike to work and not worry about the status of your coiffure.

Are You Excited to See Me?

I was walking Woody and Ruth this morning, and saw a neighbor who was walking his dog.

From about a block away, maybe two, the man’s dog spotted us. He was excited. He started jumping up and down, and spinning in circles. He was pulling on the lead, but his owner would not give in. He just stood there while his big giant brown poodle had a hootenanny.

As we got to within earshot of the pair, I said to my neighbor, “I’m a little disappointed. He can hardly contain his excitement, and you’re just standing there.”

He never hesitated. “Well, my dog is a year and a half old. He’s still a puppy. I am seventy-three. I’m just as excited as he is but it’s all on the inside.”

Good answer, sir. 😂

I always talk to my dogs as we walk. Its our chance to connect.

I’m the Student

Looks like I’m going to owe some money to the school district for which I work. Yeah.

When you’re going to school, you pay. Learning costs money. When you become a teacher, you get paid to facilitate learning for others. Learning costs. Teaching pays.

I am a teacher, and I get paid for my services. But the fact is that I learn way more than I teach. That means I’m a student. I’m going to owe someone some money.

Today I was sitting with some students—one of them had asked me a clarifying question about the assignment, so I sat down at their table. One student told me about her great-grandmother, who was a little girl during the Great Depression. Today she is in her nineties, lives alone and her birthday is on Christmas Day. When the great-grandmother was a little girl, her mom asked her what she wanted for her birthday. She didn’t hesitate—her biggest wish was a Mickey Mouse watch. Her mom was broken hearted as she told her that they just couldn’t afford it. Then before her birthday arrived, her mom died, but not before she had taken what little money she had, and purchased presents for her family. When my student’s great-grandmother opened her present, it was a Mickey Mouse watch. Now, every year on her birthday, her family gets her a brand new Mickey Mouse watch. Wow.

I’d better get my checkbook out.

Let’s Ride!

I’m not sure how many times I’ve ridden in the annual bicycle ride benefitting MS research. More than ten. I think. Maybe. I just know that I rode MS150 for the first time in 2001. Maybe. Could have been ‘02 or ‘03. I don’t remember. But there are things I do remember.

I remember not knowing or caring what MS was. I had no idea, I just wanted to ride my bike and a friend invited me to join him so I did. I met Matt Dobson that year. He was the only person I’d ever met who had MS. My daughters knew and loved him, since he had been their teacher. I also remember that the wind was hard in our face all day on Saturday. Tulsa to Camp Gruber, about seventy-five miles into a stiff headwind. The next morning we got up to ride home, and much to our disappointment, the wind had shifted and would be in our face the entire ride home. Must not be living right.

Another thing I remember from that year is a sign someone was holding that Sunday back in ‘01. Or ‘02 or whatever. It was at the top of a steep climb, a scorching hot wind in my face, my legs like rubber, my whole body hurt. And a kid was holding up a sign that said, “Now you know how people with MS feel.” I had no idea how true that sign was.

BikeMS Oklahoma is this weekend, and I’ll be riding in it once again. And to my great surprise and delight, the wind shift predicted by the weatherman at the Weather Channel will work to our favor. Tailwind riding to Bartlesville on Saturday. An overnight wind shift, and a tailwind riding back to Tulsa on Sunday. Could it be? I sure hope so.

Have you contributed to the MS Society yet? If not, would you consider sponsoring me for this weekend? I would so appreciate it!

Donate to Jason’s ride