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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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REACHER

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.

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

Once Upon a Time, I Made a Promise to a Girl…

That title sounds curious, doesn’t it? Sometimes all you need to get clicks to your site is a clever title. In this case, however, the title is true.

It is no secret that I love bicycles. Such a simple machine, but can be life changing. It can be world changing! Burns calories. Saves money. Saves fuel. It (mostly) keeps nasty smelling fumes from entering the atmosphere. A bicycle will likely never save you time, but it can (and will) shift your perspective, causing you to not be so worried about time. You can slow down, take your time, and enjoy the journey. I love bikes.

We struggle to remember the details now. When did I make this promise? Lisa says it was when we lived in the Tulsa House (this is how we organize the chapters of our life together—“when we were in the apartment,” or ”in the first Sand Springs house”), but I thought it was before that. It doesn’t matter, really.

The point is not when the promise was made. The point is that I didn’t keep it. The promise was, ”I’ll get you a hot tub before I get another bicycle.” As I remember things, I’ve purchased three or four bicycles since making that promise. Lisa says it is more like five or six. FIVE OR SIX? Surely not. Okay, maybe. But the last few don’t count. When I worked at the bike shop, it didn’t count because I was able to purchase bikes at cost. They were practically free! (Not really, but that was my argument). When I was diagnosed with MS, I bought a recumbent trike. That one doesn’t count because I sold all my other bikes to purchase the trike—a zero sum proposition. When I bought the Trek Supercommuter, I sold the recumbent to pay for it (mostly). I feel like I got my money’s worth out of both those bikes—I rode the trike 3,500 miles in the three years or so that I owned it, and on the Supercommuter I rode close to 7,500 miles. I was pretty proud of myself, because I exercised great discipline and restraint after seeing the Specialized Turbo Creo Comp Carbon electric assist bike. It was the latest in the evolution of the electric assist bicycle—carbon fiber, light as a feather, fast. Plus, most people have no idea that it was an e-bike. All I cared about was that it was yellow. I love yellow, especially yellow bicycles. As bad as I wanted it, I didn’t buy it, because of that promise. That, and the fact that it cost over $10,000. I stayed strong and continued to ride the big red Pee Wee Herman Supercommuter. But then one day last year, circumstance met destiny when a lady ran a stop sign and collided with me. I did a 360 in the air and landed on the pavement—it must have been legendary—and my bike was damaged. I had no choice but to get a new one. This also turned out to be a zero-sum deal—between the settlement the insurance company paid, and selling the Trek, we ended up money ahead. I don’t count Big Yella (my newest bicycle) against that promise I made to a girl, but she does.

The Catrike 559 recumbent trike–fun to ride but don’t let your friends see
The Trek Supercommuter+8 was a game changer
My newest bike, the Specialized Creo SL

I can’t say with certainty when that promise was made, but I can tell you precisely when it was fulfilled. Last year at the Tulsa State Fair, we were purposefully looking at pools, hot tubs, and the many alternatives. We quickly ruled out an in-ground pool. All that limestone just beneath the surface in our backyard makes that an expensive project. I’ve never much cared for above ground pools. That left us with one option: hot tub, so we started looking. For years, Tuff Spas have been at the top of my list. Those commercials showing somebody dropping hot tubs from an elevated position really convinced me, although I’ve never felt the compulsion to lift a hot tub by crane into the air, then drop it. But the point was well taken. Old school hot tubs use wood that mildews, rots, and looks crappy after a fairly short period of time. Tuff Spas are made with molded plastic, and pretty much look the same no matter what. And if it happens that my hot tub gets dropped from a crane, I’ll be in good shape. That day at the fair, we were blindly going from booth to booth, unaware of what brands each company sold. One hot tub salesman was trying hard to dissuade me from Tuff Spas. He was trying TOO hard to talk me out of it. I left his booth, vowing to think about the things he said. The next spa booth we came to happened to be the Tuff Spas booth, where we met Kyle. Kyle is from Arizona. Kyle made no defense when I told him what his competition was saying. ”Well he’s right. Sometimes the pump goes out. If it does, this is how to change it. Easiest thing in the world” He said only good things about his competition, but skillfully articulated the reasons he believed his spas were superior. I needed little convincing—those commercials were still in my mind. So, after a little negotiating, we put down a deposit. That was October. He said that it would be April before we saw it. He was right.

As April approached, we started getting prepared. Lisa’s brother, an electrician, was at the house one evening, and he encouraged us to consider using higher voltage, so he ran a 220v circuit to the backyard. Then we had a concrete slab poured, and a couple of weeks later, the hot tub was delivered, set in place, and started changing the atmosphere. Life will never again be the same! Here are some pictures of the project.

The before and after photos of the patio job (2019)
Happy wife, happy life.

Do You Know Who You Look Like?

I’ve rocked a buzz cut for more than thirty years. I’m not exaggerating. In the 70s and 80s it was all “part down the middle” and feathered, like a pop star. But by the 90s, with thinning hair and an ample girth, I decided to go short. I liked it.

1985, rocking a solid mullet, before mullets were cool

Lisa liked it too. In fact, she once compared me to Kiefer Sutherland. The “24” Kiefer Sutherland. Yeah. I can handle that.

Copy that. Now get me a hacksaw.

Then I lost a bunch of weight. Like, almost ninety pounds. I’ve never lost that much before, so I never walked around with a thin build and a buzz cut at the same time. Lisa did not like it.

Dachau or Auschwitz?

No longer did she think I looked like Jack Bauer. “You look like you just got liberated from a concentration camp.” Something like that. Don’t get me wrong, I love the historical reference! But seriously, a concentration camp?

So I decided to grow it out. I’d tried it a few years ago, but didn’t get too far. I was not used to the way long hair hangs in your face. I got tired to trying, and cut it off. As it turns out, it takes a lot of work to have long hair. I’d forgotten about that. Back in the day, I would exit the shower, and quickly put mousse in my hair, then blow dry it to the style I was going for. That’s a lot of work, especially compared with the aforementioned buzz cut, which is far less complex: Wash it. Throw some hair jelly in there. Walk away. No combing, no brushing, no blow dryer, nothing. And if I was feeling particularly lazy, I’d skip the hair jelly. Seriously, its a buzz cut. Who cares?

When I wore a younger man’s hairstyle

When that little dance commenced, Lisa compared me to Donald Sutherland. Ummm…you mean, Kiefer’s daddy? Yes, that one. Not the Donald Sutherland from the “Animal House” days, or from the movie version of MASH. No, the modern version–Governor Snow, or something like that. From “Hunger Games.” Hmmmm.

Maybe she’s right

A goal of having longer hair takes patience. My sis-in-law, who is a world-class hair stylist, tells me that hair grows at a pace of about half an inch a month. This will take a while. She was right. The journey to longer hair has taken me through a litany of styling products, as one will become helpful and useful for a little while, then phases out as my hair got longer. My favorite gel has been Scruples by Enforce. You can’t buy that at WalMart. Its the good stuff. But not for longer hair. I graduated to a fiber thing, then to “Gorilla Snot,” and finally, to nothing at all. Occasionally I’ll use a little hair spray, but for the most part, I wash it every two or three days, and just let nature do the rest. That is my ultimate goal.

Once it was long enough I began going to a men’s salon to clean it up. “Tell them ‘LONG LAYERS,'” Lisa said. I didn’t know what that meant, but he did, and he took a little off the back so as to allow the front to catch up and not look like a mullet. But that back grows fast. And I had completely forgotten about my hair’s odd propensity to flare out at the shoulders. I only had long hair for a short while, after all. Dad wouldn’t let us grow our hair long, so he shipped us off to Harold the barber. Harold was a kind old guy at our church who cut hair at a barber shop in town during the day, but set up a shop in his out building for cutting at night. He charged us four dollars. And he sucked. My hair was usually more like a bowl cut, or a Central European kid (I got called Dutch Boy way too much back then). When I went to college, I let my hair grow out for a time, but after a while, started my thirty year adventure with short hair.

So let’s revisit our journey for a sec. Lisa said I looked like Kiefer Sutherland, then a concentration camp survivor, then Donald Sutherland. That’s it, right? WRONG. Yesterday, she introduced a new comparison.

“What was that lady’s name? The mom from Brady Bunch? Carol, you say? Are you sure? Yeah, that sounds right. Carol Brady. THAT is who you look like now–Carol Brady, with the way her hair flared out at the shoulder? You look like Carol Brady.”

Fine. I look like the matriarch of the Brady Clan. I guess it could be worse. I could look like Alice. Or Bobby.

Pay attention, young men! Always marry the girl who will tell it like it is. Honest to a fault. Gives it to you straight, even if it hurts. Because you know, Carol Brady and all.

Do You Have One of These?

You ain’t no kind of man if you ain’t got a jar or similar container filled with a variety of nuts, bolts, wood screws, metal screws, screw screws, wire, clamps, washers, wall anchors…I could go on. My biggest problem is I need a clear container because I’ve amassed so many items that any time I want to look for something, I have to dump the whole thing out just to see what I have.

I’m fairly certain that I’ve dumped it out at least fifty times, but have yet to use anything I’ve ever found in there.

Do you have a container for all your excess things? What does it look like. Post a pic. I did. 🤷🏼‍♂️

LOSING WEIGHT IS EASY!

I wanted the title to look like a headline in the newspaper. You know, like it is big news, or a revelation. Now it is EASY to lose weight. Of course! It is easy to drop pounds. Its science. And math. Okay, now back to reality. Weight loss is hard. It sucks. It is a battle against many things at the same time—DNA, hunger, appetite, work schedule, age—I could go on. As if the pressure to maintain a healthy weight were not enough in and of itself, we have to contend with all the voices banging around in our head, trying to sell us the latest method or idea or gimmick. And we fall for it! Trust me, I get it. Read on, friend. I have nothing to sell you, and offer no gimmicks.

Recently I made a comment to my students about the challenges associated with obesity. They scolded me for it. “Don’t act like you know what it is like to be fat,” they said. “It is easy for a skinny person to dog fat people.” I was stopped in my tracks! Did they just refer to me as skinny? Me?? Skinny. It occurred to me at that moment that I’ve kept my weight off long enough, there are people in my life who have never seen me heavy. Perhaps you’ve never seen me heavy. Let me enlighten you.

These were from three years ago, I weighed about 250. And that isn’t the heaviest I’ve been.

It has always been easy for me to lose weight, once I get over that initial ”wave,” to borrow a metaphor from the Tom Hanks film ”Cast Away.” Remember when he was finally determined to get off the island, so he built that janky raft and started rowing out to sea? He knew from previous experience that the ocean would furiously attempt to drive him back to shore, so he had a plan. He had found part of a porta-john that had washed up on shore, and used it as a sail on his raft. He set out, and when he got to the place where that last big wave was bearing down on him, he launched the ”sail,” and the wind pushed him up and over that wave. He was on his way to being rescued. Dieting is much the same for me. The first two or three weeks is brutal. Hungry. HANGRY. Feeling like I could die of starvation at any moment. But if I stay strong and fight through, on the other side there will be even seas and smooth sailing. Once I’m over the wave, it gets a lot easier for me.

In the past, I’ve been able to have success by dramatically slashing calories for a period—less than a thousand calories a day. Starvation mode. Not healthy, you say? You’re right, but neither is weighing close to three hundred pounds. Plus, I never stayed there for long—only about three weeks. Then I would get back to a more healthy range for losing weight—1800-2000 a day. After three weeks of starvation, I felt like I was feasting! Listen, I’m not a doctor—you should consult your doc about any plans you are making to lose weight. All I know is what has happened to me, and you’re different, so be careful.

When I was young and tried to drop weight, it was before everyone had computers. I kept track of calories by writing it down, every day. At the end of each week I would get a new sheet of paper and start again. Now I use an app that allows me to record calories as well as exercise. All the data stays on there, so I can go back and review. Every single day it all gets recorded. My scale sends data to the app, so I can see my food intake, exercise activity, and progress on the scale.

The first week of any diet plan I’ve done is always the most productive—ten pounds usually. Talk about an encouraging jump start! The next week I will drop around five pounds. After those first fourteen days or so, I settle in to a steady routine of losing about a half a pound to one pound per week. Eventually I hit a wall, stop losing weight, and decide that is where my body wants me to be. That number varies historically, usually around 200 pounds. Each and every time I had success, I would gain it back. When I was young, it was because of ignorance—I thought once the weight was off, I could go back to eating like before. At other times it was outside forces—changing jobs, homes, and habits, or even medications. I’ve done this so many times, I’ve lost count.

I was forty-eight years old when diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. My weight was up at the time—235. But that wasn’t my primary concern. I needed to figure out how to deal with this new normal. In the process of researching medications and lifestyle changes, I learned that diet and exercise can make a big difference. We started making smoothies, and riding my bicycle more, and weight started coming off. It was great! I lost more than I had in a long time—close to my high school graduation weight—186! I might have stayed there, but my doctor changed my medication. Instead of an injection three times a week (one of the side effects of which involved weight loss) I had to take a giant pill two times a day. The meds came with explicit instructions: the pill should be taken with ”greasy fatty foods.” If I didn’t, it would make me sick. “Not me,” I decided to man up, and tried taking it while eating normally. Big mistake. The meds made me sick. I started eating greasy fatty foods, as instructed, and the nausea ceased, and I gained weight back, and more. I continued to drink the smoothies and ride my bike, but that didn’t matter. I got fat again. Boo.

That was it. I decided that dieting wasn’t for me anymore. MS is a tricky disease, and managing it is challenging, to say the least. No way I could go to an 800 calorie a day diet like I did when I was healthier. I’m just gonna be a big boy.

But then one day I decided to give it one more try. I set my calorie goal at about 1900 a day, and made cycling more of a priority. The first three or four weeks were just like they had always been, even though I wasn’t starving myself. I lost about ten pounds in week one, five in week two, then about a half a pound a week. After six weeks or so, Lisa said that she wasn’t losing anything, but was still starving all the time. She decided to follow her sister’s plan, written by a nutritionist she had hired to help her manage diabetes. The dietician said that most people are counting calories when they should be paying attention to the combination of foods at any given meal. She suggested that every meal and snack should consist of a protein and a carb. So from now on, our snacks would follow that plan. We would be eating more food—more calories, so naturally I was skeptical. How could I not be? For example, our snack on one day each week would consist of beef jerky and a beer. I’m not kidding. How can you lose weight when you eat beef jerky and drink beer? I told Lisa that I would try it for a week, and if I didn’t lose my usual half a pound, I was going back to the old way. It felt like Thanksgiving Day, there was so much food. There is no way I would do anything but gain weight. After seven days, I stepped on the scale. Did I lose half a pound? No. I lost five pounds. Read that again: FIVE POUNDS. In ONE WEEK, SIX WEEKS into my diet. This was unprecedented. We stayed with the plan. The next week, I’d lost five more pounds. I continued to lose two to five pounds a week, for weeks. We started the plan in January 2020, adjusted to the nutritionist’s plan in March, and by mid-June I was at 199. In the past, this would be the time I would get lazy and start gaining weight back. But this time was different. Recalling my propensity to gain weight back, I stayed focused. Write everything down. Weigh in once a week. In four more weeks I had dropped below 190. Now my eyes are fixated on that most elusive of goals: my high school graduation weight. In twenty more days, I was there! It seemed so effortless, and because I couldn’t think of a reason not to, I kept it up. I no longer viewed 185 as my target. I was thinking small—a big mistake. Who said that I should aim for 185? I decided to shoot for 180. By the time school started at the end of August, I was at 179. I couldn’t believe it. I kept going. October 5th—170. November 6th—165. One. Sixty. Five. It didn’t seem possible. And that’s where I settled in. The one-sixties. I don’t ever remember being anywhere near this weight. Lisa was freaking out—she thought something was wrong, or that I was becoming anorexic. She ratted me out to my doctor, who disagreed with her. She told me I looked like my mom, just before she died. She told me I looked like a cancer patient going through radiation treatments. She told me I looked like those people in the World War II movies. Not the soldiers, but the concentration camp survivors. She took a picture of my back, shirtless. Ribs. Spine. Yuck. But I didn’t mind a bit. It was thrilling, and encouraging. I felt fantastic. I kept having to buy new clothes! I had gone from a tight 36 waist, and often a 38, to a 34, but soon those were too big. I went to a 32 (the size I wore my senior year in high school). All my t-shirts have gone from XXL to M.

Sorry—no one should have to look at that. This was November, 2020, 163.5 pounds. Most of that excess skin on my belly is gone after nearly two years, but everyone says that is just the price of having abused my body all those years.

There have been some obstacles along the way—hit by a car while riding my bicycle in May of 2021. A family tragedy in the spring of 2022 shook up our routine, putting diet and exercise at the bottom of the priority list—no smoothies or healthy meal plans, and cycling was rare at best. I gained some weight—back into the 170s, but not for long. I cut my calorie intake back for several days, and soon was back into the 160s, which is where I currently abide.

Why has this time been different? Isn’t it supposed to get more difficult to maintain a healthy weight as we get older? There are a few reasons why, I think.

Maybe the most significant life change for me in the last few years is marijuana. Oklahoma legalized medical cannabis, and even though I never smoked weed before, not even as a teenager or in college, I researched it, went to the doctor, and was given a prescription. I use it every day, mostly at bedtime. MS has jacked up my sleep schedule, but a few draws on an e-cig does the trick. It is better than novocaine. I have read that a side effect of marijuana use is weight loss. Fair enough.

I ride bikes a lot, but I’ve been doing that since the early nineties. The difference now is that I walk more—my two Golden Retrievers thrive on that! Woody goes with me to work a lot, and so I am out walking him at lunch, and during my plan period. some days I ride, some days I walk, and that has helped me stay focused on fitness.

The most important factor in all of this is consistency. In the past, I would reach a goal, then go back to doing the things that made me heavy in the first place. This time was different. I kept it up. I have maintained consistency in both exercise as well as diet. My daily calorie goal is 2620. I record every single thing I eat or drink on every single day, as well as every minute of physical activity I take part in. Cycling, walking, mowing the yard, cleaning the garage, moving boxes—you name it. If it raises my heart rate for more than twenty minutes, I write it down. As long as my daily net caloric intake is less than 2620, my weight will remain stable. Sometimes it isn’t, but I don’t sweat it. Today is Monday, July 11, 2022. It is 6:53am, and I have been up for about three hours, and I’ve already logged on to My Fitness Pal, which tells me that I have recorded my calorie intake for 901 consecutive days. That is IT! That is the most significant reason for my success in keeping my weight down. Consistently recording your caloric activity is paramount to success! Ignoring a bad eating/exercise day doesn’t help. Write it all down, good and bad.

For me, it works. You’re different, so you might have different results. Talk to your doctor. If doc gives you the go-ahead, get busy. Find what you like to eat and how you like to move. Get a Vitamix, and start buying kale and spinach at the grocery store. If you need some recipes, hit me up. Lisa’s got some good ones. And stop lying to yourself. Science doesn’t lie. Actually, it does—science can be a big liar. But in this case, it is simple, if you burn more calories than you take in, your weight will go down. If it doesn’t, there is either something wrong out of whack with your metabolism, or you are cheating and telling yourself and everyone else that you can’t do it. You absolutely can do it.

Me and my buddy Paul, after a little 35 mile spin on the bikes.
Lisa and me, along with a couple of the grandkids, after voting.
Mowing the grass—exercise!

David Gates and Bread, Really?

Life is weird sometimes. Have you ever been sitting around with nothing else to do, and a song comes on the radio, and you think to yourself, “I wonder if that guy is still alive?” And so you start researching the artist, and then you say, “wow, I had no idea?” Does that ever happen to you? Yeah, me neither.

Actually that was a lie. It happens to me all the time. Just this morning, listening to my Pandora radio station built around Neil Diamond (shutty), a David Gates song came on the radio. David Gates—I haven’t thought of him in a long time. I wonder if he is still alive? One quick Google search later, I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would. If you’re still reading this, I’ll assume you’re curious.

Of course I was already aware that Gates is a Tulsa native. The people on pop radio talked about it all the time. Plus there was that time at Westside Elementary in Cleveland (was there an Eastside elementary?), but I’ll get to that in a minute.

David Gates and Bread, during the 1970s

David Gates’s dad was a school band director. I had no clue. In high school, he formed his first band with some buddies, called The Accents. Clever. The band’s piano player was a fellow student at Tulsa Rogers High school—his name was Claude. Claude Bridges. You don’t hear of too many guys named Claude these days. After the band parted ways, Claude changed his name, using his middle name as his last name and became known as Leon Russell. Who knew? The Accents recorded a single (hey kids—a single is a small vinyl record, played at forty-five rotations per minute —45 rpm—and contained two songs, the A – side and B – side), which contained a song called Jo-Baby. Gates had written it for his girlfriend, Jo Rita. He married her in 1959. As of this morning, they will wake up still married. A pop singer who stays married for sixty-three years—that’s pretty rare!

Bread’s tour bus, but I don’t remember if it looked like this one.

After moving to LA (that’s in California), Gates formed a band called “Bread,” which became one of the most popular groups of the 1970s, with a string of hit songs, and multiple albums certified Gold or Platinum. For a time, one of the members of Bread was Warren Ham, who would later join Kansas with Kerry Livgren (during the John Elefante era) and became the lead singer for Livgren when he formed the band known as AD.

Today, David and Jo Rita live on a 1400 acre cattle ranch in Washington state. They raised four kids—three of them are attorneys and one is a cardiothoracic surgeon. A Tulsa kid who is in the hall of fame, wrote a ton of hit songs, helped launch to the careers of other talented people, who has been married for six and a half decades, raising four successful members of society…no big deal, right?

I said I would talk about “that day” in elementary school. Do any of my friends from school remember this? My sister was a huge music fan, and went to many live shows (I remember the Abbott and Costello moment between her and mom when she had tickets to see “Guess Who”), and one day she proudly announced that she had scored two tickets to see Bread when they were in Tulsa. I guess I was excited for her, but only because I knew the songs from the radio. Mostly I didn’t care.

Also, there were some new kids at school. I don’t remember their names, or where they came from, or where they went to after leaving Cleveland, or where they are today. I remember that they were brother and sister, possibly twins, but I don’t know, and that they had red hair and freckles. Strike one. He wore round glasses like John Denver. Strike two. And there were from … somewhere’s else—strike three, you’re out. If you aren’t from Cleveland, you’ll never be from Cleveland, see. I know this because I’m not from Cleveland, so I never felt like I was from Cleveland. It always felt like there was a certain pecking order and the only way I would ever see the top of it would be if every single Cleveland native moved away. Not that I cared—it wasn’t that important to me, but I learned that the most effective way to move up the order was for someone to move there after you did. For example, the red headed kids previously mentioned.

I’ll admit that I liked the fact that I was above them on the Cleveland social ladder. Of course, now I see how stupid that was—who cares?? But then, it seemed so important. If I could live that part of life over again, I would stand up for those red headed strangers. Of course, they would likely have said no to that, even though it looked to me like they were teased and bullied mercilessly. I could be totally wrong about that, but that’s what it looked like.

When you’re just little, you have no life of your own, so you live vicariously through your older siblings. Case in point: one morning at school, some of us were bragging about how our older siblings had seen Bread in concert the night before. That day had me feeling pretty good about my position in that little contest. I don’t know know today, like I didn’t know then, where Kristen’s seats were in the Tulsa Convention Center, but that didn’t stop me from taking the position that Kristen was squarely seated at front row center. I was all set to assume my place as King Turd up on Sh!t Mountain (thanks Sturgill), when all the kids on the playground noticed the sound of a diesel engine approaching—not a normal thing back in nineteen and seventy-whatever. Every eye was looking, scanning to see where this noise was coming from, when up the street came a huge tour bus. HUGE, like you might see sitting outside a concert arena when a popular band is in town. The bus was painted in a typical 70s-era color scheme, and the destination placard over the top of the windshield said, BREAD. You could have collectively knocked every single one of us over with a feather as the bus stopped, the door opened, and like a prom king and queen (who were brother and sister…wait, gross, never mind, forget that metaphor…) like a prince and princess, off the bus stepped that red headed brother and sister. They were walking tall and proud, and I’m pretty sure I detected a strut in their step as they approach to the school. It was like they were saying, “yeah, we be bad.” As they walked, the brother looked at no one in particular, pointed his thumb backward toward the bus as it drove away and just said, “Bread.” No duh. We know. Apparently their family had grown up with David Gates, they’d all hung out together before the show, and when Gates found out that his friend’s kids were struggling to fit in at their new school, he said, “let us drop you off on our way out of town.” And that’s just what they did.

I don’t know if it worked. Somehow I doubt if it did. I wonder what happened to them. Do any of my Cleveland friends remember?