Sunday, August 21, 2011

I'd rather be a talented musician than a fast runner

We are not athletes in my family. We never played on any teams or had piles of rackets and mitts and shin guards lying around. We like music and books and food and stimulating conversation and corny jokes. I suppose I'm the most physically active member of my family - even though I always hated gym class and have a mild case of asthma, I took dance and horseback riding lessons; I played softball for two summers (the highlight of my brief career being the one hit I got off a pitch instead of a toss-up; my own father later struck me out as home plate umpire) and played one game on a soccer team; I played beach volleyball in Chicago one summer and kickball on an intramural league one year in grad school. I go on long bike rides, hikes, runs (sometimes), and I swim laps. I do yoga, lift weights, work the elliptical machines, and perform any number of different kinds of crunches on a regular basis. I'm not very good or fast or skilled or strong at any of those things and the scale never seems to budge no matter how much I do any combination of them, but I do them because I enjoy them, they relieve my stress and anxious tendencies, and they give me something to do instead of being bored.

Hence the RunStock 5K I ran last night with my friend. It's not just a road race, it's a race around the Quantico Marine Corps Base, accompanied by random bands along the route and the School of Rock students performing at the finish line all evening. I had fun running the race, I shaved more than two minutes off my total time without training much beforehand, and I felt good for pushing myself. Races are a blast - there's something about running through the empty streets with a bunch of other random people that really gets my adrenaline pumping. I may have done well based on my personal achievement, but let's face it, I'm not an athlete. A woman carrying one small child on her shoulders and leading another child paced me during the first part of the run, when I was really pounding it out. They finished only slightly behind me. No, I am not a fast runner.

But I don't really care. After sprinting through the finish line and grabbing my mini bottle of water and my chocolate chip cookie (the only way to refuel after a race, in my opinion), I meandered over to the stage, where a small girl, perhaps 9 or 10 years old, with long straight hair, a flannel shirt, and denim shorts, was belting out a Joan Jet song while her slightly older band mates were accompanying her on guitar, drums, and keyboard as professionally as any cover band I've seen lately. These kids were rocking it! On stage! In front of a bunch of hot, sweaty strangers! How cool is that?! I didn't care that I had run 3.10685 miles in 34 minutes. I was so jealous of those kids on stage. Me, jealous of a girl singing a Green Day song about masturbation and smoking pot that was released when I was 14 years old. She was probably not even born yet.

School of Rock of Greater Washington DC states, "Since 1998 the School of Rock has been saving rock & roll, one kid at a time. We've helped thousands of kids learn how to rock, and develop a lifelong love of music." (I'll ignore the punctuation errors in those sentences because rock n' roll don't need no stinkin' grammar.) They provide a combination of private lessons, group rehearsals, and real live gigs to teach students (ages 5-17) about not just playing an instrument or singing but also performing on stage. There's even a summer camp for a more intense learning experience, and they have also added an indie band program for students who want to write and play their own music, not just cover the classics. It all sounds pretty rad to me. Can I go back to being a kid, just to participate in something like this?

I guess that says a lot about how my upbringing has influenced me: I'm okay with not being an athletic superstar, but it kind of kills me that I don't have the musical chops to master an instrument and perform for the masses. Guess I'll have to stick with belting out the tunes along to the radio and playing some serious air drums at my desk.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Musical interlude

Just in case that Rolling Stones/The Sundays song isn't planted firmly enough in your brain:

And a classic that should have been conjured up immediately:

Wild ponies

My office moved to a new building this week, so I got some much-needed time off. I used the past two days to check off a few things on my bucket list: go camping one more time, go to the beach, go to Assateague Island to see the wild horses. I stayed at a tent camp site in Assateague Island National Shoreline, a park that straddles the Maryland/Virginia border on the Delmarva peninsula. Camping is only allowed on the Maryland side, but one can walk along the beach all the way, and the scenic drive from Assateague to Chincoteague (on the Virginia side) takes about an hour through the countryside along the bay. The Chincoteague area includes a national wildlife refuge and NPS visitor center and some longer hiking trails. The road to Chincoteague passes by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and NASA visitor center, where tall satellite dishes and other massive equipment stand at the ready. Assateague is the more commercialized area and receives more traffic and visitors. Chicoteague is quaint and quiet, although don't believe the signs - "historic" Main Street is dotted with the same schlocky stores meant to draw business from people who just want to sit on the beach and spend their cash.

Anyway, before this trip, when I thought of wild horses, I imagined the song "Wild Horses" by the Rolling Stones (although the version in my head is the one sung by The Sundays) accompanying some pintos frolicking on the beach, their manes and tails whipping around in the wind. You probably did too. But alas, my friend, these horses seem neither wild nor exotic. They look like regular horses, grazing along the side of the road and trudging through the salt marsh. Sure, they're beautiful, but they're even less scared of people than the white-tailed deer in Rock Creek Park. And their poop is everywhere. Other "wildlife" common throughout the island include some pushy gulls that laughed too much at me while I tried to pitch my tent, some cottontail rabbits who peek out from behind the brush, and a fawn that ventured up to a large group on the campground and took food from their hands while their Jack Russell terrier sniffed at its feet. But there are also some shore-specific creatures, like the Atlantic mole crabs, who skittered to rebury themselves after each wave washed them out of their hiding spots, the various other crabs that burrow into the sand, the evidence of which can be seen at dawn when their empty burrows dot the shore, a green heron watching carefully from the salt marsh, and the shorebirds that dig the crabs from the sand for a tasty crustacean meal. Red-winged blackbirds flit among the grasses and some falcons circle high above.

I had hoped for some peace and solitude on my two-day retreat, but alas, even at midnight with the bright almost-full moon reflecting off the water and at dawn with the orange ball of light rising in the pink sky from some clouds along the horizon, people were still up and about. I had my own little piece of dune, but solitude was nowhere to be found. Even so, it was freeing to direct my own vacation, to move in my own little space, to let the shore envelop me for just a few moments when I was there and nowhere else.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Finding your way

Last week, I ordered a road atlas of the United States and a road and recreation map of Idaho. They're big books with glossy covers, and each state page in the U.S. road atlas comes with one of those fancy code things that will give you extra information online when scanned with a smart phone. The perfect blend of old-school traveling and modern technology. I've been yearning for a GPS unit for a couple of years because they make going anywhere so much easier, but there's just something special about doing it manual-style. I like printing out my Google maps directions, or better yet, writing them down on a discarded envelope or scrap of paper. I learn so much more about a place when I drive in the wrong direction and have to backtrack, or when I try to figure out how to get somewhere using a new route and usually end up going in a circle or taking the much longer route. GPS units get you where you need to go, but they take the fun out of it (although admittedly, having Snoop Dogg tell me to take a sharp left makes it more interesting).

There's just something exciting about sitting down with a map, looking at the roads squiggling across the page, thinking about how to get to another part of the state or the country. Atlases have that grid that tells you how many miles it is from one city to numerous cities in the U.S. and Canada, plus a map with traveling times noted for segments between cities. One can turn to any page, say 93, and learn where Pierre, SD, is located in relation to Sioux City, for example. Some states take up two pages, like Montana, others four pages (Pennsylvania), and others less than a page with room to spare (Rhode Island). And each map shows you all of the little towns in between your starting point and your destination. Using an online mapping system is just not the same. This is hands-on, pull-to-the-side-of-the-road, find your next destination while sitting in a diner, kind of traveling. True, the atlas can't redirect me around traffic or warn me that the Chesapeake Bay Bridge toll is $12 each way (yikes!!!), but at least I'll know where I am, even without Internet access, and that's the first and most important step in any adventure.   

Thursday, August 04, 2011

LIfe is what happens when...

It's August. It's been hot and dry, more so this year than most others. The parched leaves are starting to float from the trees, the sun rises a little later and sets a little earlier, and the back-to-school sales are ramping up.

More than two years ago, I said, "August is when we start making plans." At the time, I was hoping to move 1,700 miles away to be closer to the one I loved. But as August came and went, the Universe and I had different ideas of what those plans would be, and everything changed. Last year, there were no plans to be had. The roulette wheel was still spinning, the marble still circling, not ready to drop into place. But this year, there are plans, and they include Boise, Idaho, and a job where my skills will be needed and used. This was not the number I had bet on. I was looking at pretty little 26, the California way of life, and 48, rainy Oregon with the cool coast. Or maybe 24 (New Mexico) or 30 (Colorado) in times past. Boise, good old 18, was an impulse bet, and Lord knows, those always seem to be the ones that win for me. Before researching the place, I knew only these things about Idaho:
  1. Napoleon Dynamite was filmed and set in Idaho. I liked that movie more than I thought I would, but it was still weird.
  2. During the weirdest car ride ever, I was the only passenger in a ten-passenger van on a five-hour drive from Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The driver was a very tanned man wearing diamond earrings, short shorts, and fake fingernails, who chewed tobacco and drank energy drinks the whole way. The route took us through southeastern Idaho, and as we neared the Wyoming border, the brown rolling hills gave way to the most incredible, beautiful forests and crystal clear rivers. I still regret not taking any photos.
  3. Last summer I met a woman my age who grew up in Boise. She told me that it's hot in the summer and cool in the winter with not a ton of snow. That was news to me.
  4. Many Idahoans hate wolves. A lot. The Governor wants to kill most of 'em dead. I understand both sides of the story, but since I'll be working on issues related to livestock grazing, I'll leave it at that.
  5. If you want outdoor adventure, Idaho has it: skiing (which I don't do), hiking, biking, fishing (that one random L.L. Bean fly fishing lesson just might pay off), rafting, kayaking, and more.  
  6. Idahoans grow lots of wheat and potatoes, and the rivers teem with salmon and trout. 
  7. Lots of people have lots of guns in Idaho. 
  8. Plenty of Idahoans really don't like the federal government. At all. (eep...)
  9. My mom makes the corny "Idaho? No, you da ho" pun every time someone says Idaho.
Since accepting the job and asking around, I have found that people who have lived in Boise have absolutely loved it. A DC friend introduced me to her friend in Boise, an Izilwane writer lives and works in Boise, and friends sometimes find themselves in Boise for work. So I won't be alone. After wanting to move West for more than two years, it feels weird not to have to want it anymore. I'm not quite ready to leave DC yet, so I'm gonna live the hell outta this town before I go. 'Cause Boise sure ain't DC. Which is kind of the point.