Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Great Race



Monday, April 27, 2009

Where do I start?? It has been a week since I’ve posted anything. The reason being: I had been so apprehensive of the race my rowing club was to participate in. To a seasoned athlete this would not be any big deal, but in the case of my crew, it had tremendous implications.

As a club, we got off to a somewhat floundering start not even a year ago. Most of us had NEVER set foot into a sweep before. Speaking for myself: I had NO idea what bow, stern, port, and starboard meant in the boating sense. Our “racing crew” would meet for practice on Tuesday mornings at 5:30 a.m. and then try to squeeze in rows on Friday afternoons and Sunday afternoons. This is a far cry from the training the collegiate rowers go through.

Last Tuesday we did intensive practice in anticipation of the race. We were rowing all eights. I have the bow seat in the front of the boat rowing on the starboard side. Chris was ahead of me in the #2 seat. I was “at the catch” (I was slid up in the seat about to drop my oar into the water) when Chris “caught a crab”. This is when the blade of the oar does not enter or exit the water straight: it will dig in causing all kinds of problems. Chris flew back into me, pushing me back and out of my shoe stretchers and off my seat. I nearly ended up taking a bath in the Black Warrior River!

We crammed in another practice Friday. I was very apprehensive after what happened Tuesday. The shoes that were installed in the bow seat were way too small for me. We put the sweep onto stretchers and fine tuned things down for the final real practice before the race.

I knew practice was going to be rough when I started to sweat and the sunscreen I had applied ran into my eyes. Talk about burn and tearing. We were rowing on the sixes. Finally I got called out and was able to maneuver my shirt sleeve around to wipe out my eyes.

We then did the mock 1000 meter race with the fast start and all eight rowing. I am so nervous I’m gripping too tight with my inside hand. This is bad as you can’t tell when the oar blade is square when you “catch” and “release”. I can feel the “mini crabs” I’m catching. Nothing really major, but definitely NOT good!

I was a wreck after the practice. This is such a team effort and the last thing I want to do is to jinx our first race Sunday. Michael said off handedly that we should have some kind of theme to tie the crew together. Looking at me he said, “How about do-rags?” That set me to thinking…..

Saturday afternoon on the way to the boat house I did a detour to Hell-mart and got 10 matching blue bandanas.

Our race on Sunday, the Mixed Masters was the last race of the day. Originally scheduled around 3:00 p.m. it was moved up to 12:30. The Oak Ridge Rowing Club agreed to loan our team a sweep and set of oars. This was a Godsend as it would have been impractical to trailer up our equipment for only one race.

In the boathouse I gave demonstrations on how to properly tie a do-rag. I have to admit as a crew we looked pretty awesome in our regalia. We got a lot of compliments from other rowers.

We were in the warm up area practicing our starts. Horrors, Chris caught a “crab”, but we were able to recover on the fly so it was no big deal. I was able to stay in my seat!

All too soon we were rounded up by the officials for the line up. This is like herding cats. We were doing a “floating start” where-by the referees have to visually line the boats into an alignment. They get testy barking out orders to the boats in the lanes. We were in lane 0, the far outside lane competing against six other teams. Adrian was our Cox: she was trying to whisper orders do different rowers so she can keep her point.

All of a sudden out of nowhere I hear the referees announce, “We have alignment, GO!” Following Allison in the stroke seat it was ½, ½, ¾, reach and then full slide. Ten strokes at full power and then supposedly down a bit.

This is where I went on auto pilot following Allison and concentrating on not catching a crab. The adrenaline was pumping as I was pushing back against the stretchers as hard as I could. I was able to actually feel the oar flex a bit as I was pulling back.

At the 500 meter mark my hamstrings were burning… but… I glanced out to the left and we had boats BEHIND us! At the 200 meter mark I was in agony. It took everything I could do to keep rowing. We were so close to the finish line we could not freeze now….

Finally I heard the air horn for us completing the race. WE DID IT!!! We actually completed our first race in one piece. That was all I needed to do.

We cooled off in the holding area. I was bent over my oar gasping, trying to get air back into my lungs. Poor Chris in seat 2 was afraid they were going to have to get medical for me!! “Are you all right????” she kept asking!!!

The race lasted less than four minutes. Those four minutes was the most intense work-out I’d given this old body in MANY years. By this time the endomorphines had kicked in and I was flying.

It was a bone tired crew that carried the sweep back to the boat house. Adrian thinks that we at least placed. That would be awesome!!

Cooling off at the boathouse I heard a yell…. We took SECOND PLACE!!!!!!

Ever so slowly the details of those 3 minutes and however odd seconds we were in the race came to light. After the start, we got the boat up to 33 strokes per minute. Originally Alison had planned on dropping down to a “cruising rate” of 26-28 strokes. She felt how strong we were rowing so she kept that 33 rate the entire race. No wonder my legs died on me!!

I’m still flying from the rush of that race typing this out. This was the first time for me to really compete in a team sport. It is so amazing how this crew came together in the first place from all ages and walks of life. This camaraderie and friendship gained has enriched my life so. With all the turmoil going on in the world that we have no control over, happiness of this order really makes life worth living.

The “Racing Crew” of the Black Warrior Rowing Club.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Dinner at Gary's

Once again our rowing practice got rained out this afternoon. Thunderstorms and tornado warnings put the kibosh on going out on the river. Right on cue the sky opened up at 3:30. We are officially out of our drought now so I’m ready to get back to some sunny warm weather!

Saturday turned out to be another gray gloomy day. It was “A " Day at the University. It’s a real big deal around here. The football team plays itself and the stadium is open free to the public. The traffic was insane in the city. The weather held, only spitting out a few raindrops.

Gary called with a dinner invite. The traffic should be cleared out by the time I need to leave. I’m always glad to not cook!

I got to Gary’s right around 6:00. Driving out the back way I avoided the worst of the congestion. Cornelius was there and Alec was on the way. After fixing a beer I had to pull up the Utilikilt website and show the boys my next acquisition: a Workman Utilikilt!

I have wanted to get one of these for years. Friends who own them swear how comfortable they are to wear. I’m so sick of doing work around the house in sweat pants, or uncomfortable shorts. There is a retailer in Dallas. I’ll be stopping by there for a fitting in early June when I head to the Brick Swap in Hastings, Oklahoma.

Gary cooked simple burgers with some kind of sauce and baked sweet potatoes. Everything was so good!!

We watched the HBO movie GreyGardens. What a phenomenal film. I had never seen the original documentary this was based on. That will be on my list of things to do.

We were discussing the two “Edies” of the film and I made the mistake of saying how crazy they both were.

Cornelius looked over at me and said, “What do you mean crazy? That movie was your life!”

Brick: I’m not crazy like that!

Cornelius: Girlfriend who..

Comes in here tonight and shows us the kilt he is going to get

Cooks on a 1927 stove

Uses gas lights

Lets his cats eat off his dinner plate

Mows his lawn with a push lawnmower from 1906

Drives all over the country to get bricks and fire hydrants…….

By the time Cornelius got this far I was laughing so hard I was crying! He had read my beads perfectly! It takes a true sister friend to say those things without malice: It was all true! I guess I really do look eccentric to those on the outside of my life.

All the more reason to get my Utilikilt!!!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

It's A Beautiful Morning




The sun has not risen yet, but the birds are singing their little hearts out. I’m enjoying the second cup of coffee for the morning. Stumpy went flying out the back door at his usual time of 4:00 a.m. He will return soon for his first “wet food” treat of the day. Such a schedule!

Finally, I think I can safely say we are really into spring. When Debbie and I walked along the river yesterday morning the wind picked up. For the past few weeks it has been a cold biting wind… this day, there was a warmth in that breeze with a whiff of Confederate Jasmine. From the river bank we could see Jason coaching the collegiate mens rowing team rowing an 8 in the still river. I try to make these idyllic mornings a springboard to a stress free day. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

My pension/health care future is still a mystery. As GM flounders there has been little trickle down information to we at the bottom of the ladder. I’m very concerned: however there is nothing I can do in the matter. As I’ve said before, GM’s demise is not a surprise to me. The handwriting has been on the wall for many years. What really pains me is; the plans and investments I made to cover myself are also in sad shape. Ever so slowly though, those funds are creeping back up in value: Hopefully I will not have to tap into those funds for quite a while.

There has always been a running joke about me being cheap. It must have been over 30 years ago I got a wallet as a Christmas present from my sister. There was a note enclosed saying, “this has been mothproofed”. My family laughed over that forever.

I’m going to have to go shopping soon. I had my flannel sheets drying on the line last week. The sun hitting them showed how worn out they are. It dawned on me those sheets are over 15 years old! I bought them from Lands End when they attempted to enter the home furnishings market through their catalogue, Coming Home. They sold an excellent product. The towels I’m using are older than those sheets, but they are still like new!

The grass has been growing like crazy. I mowed the front and back yards yesterday afternoon. I have to laugh as I noticed a number of heads turning as I pushed my ancient manual lawn mower. There was a man who lived in my home town of Lockport. His house was a run-down Victorian “stick style” home located at a busy corner. He was always picking up sticks in his front yard. I sometimes wonder if the people here think of me as “that crazy man” who still uses that antique lawn mower in the same manner.

I had to take a break in mowing the lawn to weed out the flowerbed located at the north side of the house. I don’t get in this area much. My hostas transplanted from Lockport were emerging. They have such a hard time in the heat, but they keep trying. There was lily of the valley in full bloom. I picked a number of the stalks and was transported back in time to my “homestead”. Growing up along the west side of our house was a bed of these fragrant flowers. My mother would always pick bouquets and put them into a chipped up ceramic vase. I drifted off to sleep last night with the fragrance from the lily of the valley on the night table.

I was just about to finish up this entry when I saw a red glow outside. Grabbing the camera I tried to capture the burst of orange. Here is the result. In the presence of such beauty, it is hard to start the day on a sour note….

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Day After Easter




What a storm passed through last night: Thunder, lightning, and torrential rain. There were power transformers “exploding” all around the neighborhood. I only lost power once for a short while. I was just about to unplug the computer when the power returned. I’m always so afraid of a power surge frying my system when that happens, even though it is on a protected power strip.

I was surveying the damage of tipped over lawn chairs in the back yard and taking some pictures when a set of “Cardinal Parents” started acting up by me. Sure enough, a baby cardinal was out of the nest. I was able to get close enough to take this picture before they all flew to the other side of the yard. There is a lot of turned over dirt in my back yard now. All the rain makes getting grubs and worms so much easier for these hungry birds. Stumpy is asleep on the upstairs bed after begging extra treats, Daggy is watching me from her spot on the bed. The “bird family” is safe from those cats for this morning…..

Easter Sunday was a laid back day spent cutting and fitting up bricks for the next fire hydrant installation. This fire hydrant originated from Defiance, Ohio as did the Metropolitan paving bricks used in the base. The inside yellow bricks are refractory bricks I picked up at the last brick swap. I took the easy way out using these: it would have been a real chore to cut out the hollows into the rock hard paving bricks.

As far as fire hydrants go this is not a particularly rare or valuable example. It is a D.H. Wood Hydrant made in Philadelphia, PA circa. 1956. It will just sit into the hole. Once things dry out, I’ll set it in place, level it out. Then topping mixture will be applied to fill all the voids between the bricks and the hydrant. I don’t plan on repainting this hydrant. I’m just going let it age on it’s own for the next few years!

I’m so glad today I did not rake and do the yard work I had planned on Sunday. This place is a mess. Sticks and branches are everyplace. Another storm is due through this afternoon. I’ll wait till tomorrow to rake and clean up the front yard.

Time to get to the Y and then the steel fabricator place on Greensboro Ave to see if I can beg a small piece of 1” square steel stock to scab up a valve end for the Holly hydrant….

The Holly fire hydrant on the new base. The outside pavers are "hill brick" : the bevel is clearly visible. When these bricks were laid, that bevel against flat edge of the adjoining brick gave a "bite" which provided better traction for the horses.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Adrenaline Rush on the River

This weather has been so crazy as of late. The wind woke me up during the night. The back gate had worked loose and I had to refasten it. With all the rain we have been getting the wood was so swollen it would not close enough to latch. It does now!!

My Google homepage had the temperature pegged at 69° when I ran out the door to get to the boathouse. I thought we were going out at 5:30 p.m!!! I was flying over that bridge to make up for lost time after getting the call from Alison at 5:35 a.m.! This morning it is the “competition crew” rowing. Today we concentrated on keeping the boat steady while rowing all eights, and practicing racing starts.

There is SO much to remember to do right. Now I’m getting the feeling of what the collegiate rowers feel every day. Things all fell into place on the row back to the dock. We got our first taste of what to expect an a few weeks as we practiced our first race. We did the racing start, then really hard fast strokes to get the boat speeded up and then back to a manageable rowing pace. The boat was not too tippy, and for being novices I think we did as well as could be expected.

The most awesome thing is: for the first time rowing I felt the “rush”. I’ve enjoyed pushing myself both in the river and at the “Y”, but this morning as I was straining against the foot stretchers for more power and trying to regulate my breathing I got that adrenaline rush. What a feeling!! It has been too long since I’ve experienced that heady abandon of pure joy.

I actually rowed in shorts and a tee shirt this morning. Now that we are getting up to speed we are also getting wet from the catching and releasing of the oars. Alison explained how it takes MANY years to master the oars so you don’t get drenched. This boy was soaked as we hoisted the boat overhead!

When we were packing away the boat, the collegiate men’s team was doing their warm-ups. I often wonder what they are thinking about us “old folks” sharing their space. I know when I was their age in the mid 1970’s the opportunity simply was not there for people in my current age bracket to do this kind of thing. I remember when I was little my dad played baseball for a local tavern. He was in his 40’s then and they called themselves the “Old Timers”!

Home from the row, I found a couple potatoes in the ice box so I was able to fix up home fries/onions, sausage, and egg for a pig out breakfast. I was famished.

There were thunderstorms forecast for the afternoon. Living dangerously, I did up a load of laundry and hung it on the line to dry. Hopefully if the rain does come, the clothes will have dried by then.

Getting to the “Y” at 10:30, after doing some stretches I settled in on the concept II Rowing Machine. I was “Whupped”!! I could barely row at all! I instead concentrated on practicing racing starts: ½ slide, ½ slide, ¾ slide, reach slide, and full slide, followed by ten strong fast strokes.

I like to break up my time on the rowing machines. I was working my back on the Cybex machine when I started a conversation with the black lady on the abdominal machine right next to me. I told her how I pushed fate by hanging my clothes out on the clothesline… now it would surely rain. The sky was threatening thunderclouds as I spoke. What followed could only happen in the south. Her reply to me was:

“Oh, I worked for this white lady who wanted me to hang out her clothes in the middle of winter. That grass was so high in her back yard where that clothes line was. I told her I wasn’t gonna walk through that long wet grass to hang out clothes when she had a dryer. That woman said ‘Ni---r, I aint throwing my purse out the door when we got that free sun and air.’ I left that woman; she was thinking it was still slave times.” She laughed telling that story. I had to say something. All I could think of was, “Boy, and I thought I was cheap!” That got her laughing even more!!!

Life is never dull here!!!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

April Regatta in Knoxville

I was driving west on 11th Street to pick up the Lurleen Wallace “high speed” to the bridge at 5:15 a.m. today. The full moon which dominated my site of vision had me totally mesmerized. The temperatures were in the mid forties, quite an improvement over Tuesday. I was to be coxing today and Jason was the coach.

We did some new drills that I had never called before. Things go in a pattern so it is making sense now! The river was still mucked up from the unsettled weather. Lots of debris was floating around: I had to keep an eagle eye out for logs, staying towards the middle of the river.

We were rotating sixes when Jason had me stop the boat and turn it to cross the river. Then he had me stop the boat again and he told everyone to just look up to the east.

Oh my God, what a sunrise. Of all the times to not have my camera; that orange red and blue sky will be burned in my memory for a long time. It is magic to witness the seasons and day progressions from the surface of the river. I’m singing the Cat Steven’s song, “Morning has Broken” in my mind as I type this out.

It was such a revenant moment. We were all silent soaking in the beauty. Then we had to return to the “reality of rowing". How’s that for alliteration??

I was so pissed with myself: I just missed the dock coming in. There is a very small window of opportunity to navigate the boat in right. Jason was able to get the launch in and pull us in by an oar. He is so patient with us!!

There was talk of us actually rowing in a regatta on the 26th of April. That is a reality now! We do not have a snowballs chance in Hell of winning anything. It would be for the experience of being in a race and giving the club exposure. Naturally that is the week of my music Box Society meeting in Jacksonville, FL. After giving the matter a lot of thought I came to the conclusion that I have been going to MBS meetings for 35 years now. This will be my FIRST chance to be in a race. The rowing won out! Soon as I post this I have to cancel out my motel room. I’ve already arranged with the meeting registration of my absence.

Now I have to gather up the courage to call Billy and Linda and tell them the change of plans. I was first going to stop at their place Thursday and we were to travel to the meeting together on Friday. I’ve known Bill since the early 1970’s. We have been “sister friends”* since the early 1980’s. It is very hard for him to understand this side of me that is totally out of his worldview.

It is hard for me to make sense out of my life at times. I’ve lost so many people close to me during the first days of the Aid’s crisis, I realized early on that you only have one shot at life. This is not a dress rehearsal. I’ll never be any younger than I am right now at this minute. If there is something I want to do, and I’m physically and financially capable to carry it off…count me in!

*Sister friend*: A sister friend is that special friend who knows EVERYTHING about you but does not judge. That is the friend who will help you “bury the body” without flinching.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

My Aching Back

Oh this boy is sore. Tuesday I really overdid the Concept II Rowing Machine at the Y. Wednesday morning we had a crew together to go out rowing. We really pushed ourselves. Alison wants this crew to be in their first regatta April 26th. Damn, that is the weekend I’m committed to be in Jacksonville, FL for a music box collectors meeting. We don’t have a chance of winning anything, but the experience of being in a race would be so awesome!

In preparation for the upcoming race, this crew had the first taste of real constant rowing. After initial drill work we went into rowing in rotations. There were increasing stroke rates and pressures we had to meet. The speed of the boat increases by the pressure applied to the legs and the cycle of back and arms. I had been practicing on the rowing machine doing just this. It made things a bit easier, but also set my lower back up for pain! Oh, I was sore when we hoisted the boat out of the water and overhead.

When we were all squared away I was starving. Not far from the boathouse is City Café. I was bad and splurged on such an unhealthy breakfast! Chicken fried steak smothered in white gravy, eggs over easy, grits, biscuits, and coffee. That crunchy delicious breading with white gravy on the steak patty nearly brought me to orgasm! God, how I wish I could eat like that every day.

Finally in the afternoon I got to moving around the brick border of one of the flower beds in the back yard. Debbie told me how she saw ever blooming roses on sale at Blowe’s. Taking a break from yard work I went to check it out. The price on those roses was $19.95. The other plants seemed to be pretty steep. I noticed how normally the parking lot in front of the garden center used to be blocked off and filled with merchandise. Not so this year.

I know I’m supposed to be buying stuff to help the economy, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Instead I’ll fill those empty spaces with the Lantana I can divide from the huge clumps that are just coming back to life. I KNOW that stuff will grow pretty much anywhere. The marigold seeds I put in the ground seem to be sprouting. I harvested LOTS of seeds last fall, so I don’t have to hold back trying again if they don’t grow. I’ll be gardening on the cheap this summer!

We were on the river this morning. We were short one person. Fortunately Kevin from the men’s team jumped into the vacancy. He is a good rower and was in the bow seat. My back lucked out and I was the cox this morning. Having so much more rowing experience under my belt from my last coxing attempt, I was not so intimidated.

Jason coached us and things went pretty well. The electronic “Cox Box” was not working properly. There was a lot of static when it was trying to work. I have a big mouth, so I turned it off and shouted out the calls.

The last ¼ or so of the row is the worst. The rowers were tired and often didn’t pay attention to keeping with the “stroke seat”. I felt badly afterward but I was barking out commands to prod them on! Just like in those old college movies from the 1940’s!!!

I was so pleased in that the boat docked just as it was supposed to!

The workout at the Y this morning was an easy one. I don’t need to knock myself out every day. As much as I hate to admit it, as I get older my recovery time gets longer.

Rain was in the forecast for today, but as I finish this up, things are clearing up. I’m going to chance it run a load of laundry and hang it on the line……


Just as I was posting this a handsome red Cardinal landed on the steps of the side entrance in the middle of the opening of the side door. He squawked a few times to reminding me to scatter some seeds on the brick patio for him! If its not the cats, its the birds yelling at me!!

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About Me

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Tuscaloosa, Alabama, United States
Retired auto worker who can now spend too much time restoring his 1922 Bungalow Home. I'm involved in a number of varied activities from collecting bricks to rowing with a masters rowing group. This blog is to share different aspects of my life on my Facebook page. I've kept an on-line journal for eight years.