Friday, December 28, 2018

Transactional Friends

I've been thinking, lately, about the nature of friendships and how they evolve. I'll begin by acknowledging that friendship relationships do change and evolve over time - I'd bet that very few of us have the same closest friends at the end of our lives than we did at the beginning. Even when moving the starting line up to a more stable age - say, 25 years old - the closest friends we had then are not the same as they are at 50 or 75 or older. That's just the way life seems to go, at least in this day and age. If we have one or two friends that close over that many years, it is rare indeed. It is why, I believe, couples who are married that long are in fact each other's closest (or best) friend.

Granting all that, there are other friendships that seem to come and go much faster. While the time frame for closeness to develop is still measured not in weeks or months, but years, they are still, relative to a lifetime of years, a "flash in the pan." The develop, get "real," and fade away in a matter of five, maybe 10 years. I'm not talking about the kinds of friends who become distant due to other circumstances (geography, often), but remain close no matter what. I have a few old friends with whom I do not speak with regularly or see often, but are still just as close. I'm talking about those that seem to just dissolve. I've experienced some of that dissolution of late and I am somewhat confused as to why.

We all grow and change throughout our lives, but if we are authentic, we are still essentially the same person we have always been. There are, of course, some huge exceptions to that generality, and the process of recovery from addiction/alcoholism and many other destructive "isms," disorders, diseases and the like can result in tremendous change in who we are. That is my story and it is the story so many I know, many of whom are friends... or were.

                  This is where it gets a little sticky. Have I changed? Or have they? Or is it something else. I believe that since five years clean (probably longer), I am essentially the same person. In fact, I'd say that "deep down" I always have been, but the drugs presented a different person when judged by my actions. Fair enough, but that cloak has been gone a long time now. It has been around 10 years now that what you see is what you get. It is easily long enough to say reliability and consistency is among those things that defines who I am.

                  I'd also recognize that everyone comes with a different history and everyone's path is different. I have heard words to the effect among some people that they have "outgrown" others, that they are on a different (higher) spiritual plane. Perhaps that is true. Maybe I got stuck in the spiritual gutter, spinning my spiritual wheels and watching the nonjudgemental spiritual high-roaders grade my spirituality (or lack thereof) through inclusion and exclusion. Pretty fucking spiritual, huh?

                  Anyway, file this rant under the "if the shoe fits, lace that bitch up and wear it" category. If it does not, it's not about you. No judgements here (a lie, of course, but at least I'm aware of and honest about it). I'm just living my life. I don't have time for "transactional" friends.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Moments, Part Deux

There was a short but distinct period of time in my life that began a few months before this picture and ended about five years ago. There were many moments where it looked good, and in certain respects it was good, but an underlying reality, an "alternate truth" was still hiding in the shadows. All relationships are built on trust and the one I was in had none. It was only a matter of time before it would crumble and fall.
Even at this early time seven years ago, the signs were there. But I was committed, convinced that we had "love" and that love would conquer all. Stupid clich├ęs like "love is all you need," would drive my commitment forward long past the numerous and less painful exits along the way. I am here to say, in no uncertain terms, that love is not now nor has it ever been enough. Without trust, respect, selflessness, empathy, compassion, concern and a host of other very real principles, love cannot work its magic.
My family and my friends - everyone - recognized the signs. I did, too, but I hung on to that stupid rationalization that love would save the day. Everyone included me, but I ignored the signs until way later in the game. Yes, game, because love without all that other stuff is a game complete with winners and losers. But even though they all saw what I justified away, everyone stuck with me. It is as though they were putting their faith into this idea that love was enough, too. And, it is romantic, right? Everyone loves a good love story - the beating of all odds so that in the end two "soul mates" find each other in each other. Please...
It doesn't work that way. Love takes work and it takes a certain level of character such that the partners can absolutely, without question count on each other. Love, like life itself, is not a game.
Today, and for some time now, I have that relationship in which we trust each other implicitly. Christine is not only my lover, she is also my partner and my best friend. We do not "complete" each other, we don't even "need" each other. Each of us is perfectly capable of navigating life without a partner. However, we found each other when we were each ready, each with our past experiences, past failures and lessons that, for us, apparently, had to be learned the hard way. The benefits of embarking on this journey together midway through our lives are numerous; perhaps the most profound is that any sense of urgency to get or be somewhere is not in the equation. We are, very much, living in the moment.
I was leery. I'm pretty sure my family and friends were, too. After what happened last time, what was I thinking? Well, simply, the answer is that, more than anything else, this time I was thinking. Maybe too much, but I had to be sure. One of Christine's favorite stories is about our first coffee date and how long it took us (me) to get to just that. It is true, I was not at all sure I wanted to get messed up in another relationship and I already knew that I liked her. We have much in common, we see the world in a very similar way and as that first date turned into many more, I learned that we have those characteristics necessary for love to succeed. And while everything else can be developed, my experience is that love itself cannot be "created." It is either there or it is not.
But it is also not enough. So, with all my analytical powers, along with the love came to be, I cautiously entered into this relationship. She says she was sure before I was, but she also did "investigate" me. She asked our mutual friends about me, about my character. Although we approached it in different ways, we both did our due diligence. We both had to be sure. And to this very day, we are in no hurry. We are living in the moment. This picture of my three boys playing ball on Christmas Eve seven years ago epitomizes that. While the storm was coming, at that moment, all was perfect. Today, that perfection is much more than momentary.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Inevitible Inequities

I don’t use this new/old keyboard often. However, I do break it out when I am going to do some writing. Not just any writing, but the kind of writing that is spawned from a concerted effort to get my thoughts out, to put them down on paper, even if it is paper’s virtual equivalent and typed out on a retro Bluetooth keyboard. Real writing that comes from a very distinct, yet ethereal place. It is the kind of writing I once made space for regularly; once a habit, a hobby, a pastime, it is now more often intention without realization. Thoughts that are worth exploring get put aside to sometime later that will never come. They evaporate back into the fog, never taking the same form again.

I write about all sorts of things all the time. I am usually “prompted” by something, some stimulus. Often, probably too often, it is in the form of an interjection on a Facebook post or, also often, some “controversial” post of my own. These things are usually in response to something else, and more often than not that something else has to do with politics, government or societal structures. While important topics to be sure, the platform does not lend itself to any really deep discussion, though I do try. Typically, however, if comments and/or posts are longer than a typical “soundbite,” they are ignored.

This piece will be placed on my blog, The 25 Year Plan, as my 11th post this year. Considering I posted 158 and 132 posts in 2006 and 2007, respectively, this is a very low number. However, compared to the last five years, it is about average and, compared to 2012 (just six entries), it is a banner year. That was an interesting year, and not in a good way, though there were some good moments. This blog, this online journal of “Perspective, Purpose and Opinion” celebrated its 13th birthday two days ago. I knew I started it around this time of year, but I did not realize until just now that my “blogoversary” had passed. In most of those 13 years, I have written some sort of year-end reflection. It has taken different forms over the years, and some years – like 2012 – there was none, but a quick review of my reviews has proven somewhat profound.

When I started this thing, I was just emerging from a pretty dark place in my life. In December, 2005, I had just a little more than one year clean from all mind and mood affecting drugs – alcohol included. I was back in school, doing better than I ever had and life was good. Just a year prior, though I had no desire to write about my life and no blog to post it in anyway, I remember where I was – clean just a few months and freshly out of jail, again. I had pissed away nine months of clean-time (and success) the year before and was, one more time, in the early phases of recovery. Things were not going well, life was not very rosy and I came very close to going back to what I knew would make me not care. I was at “Fuck This!” many times and on New Year’s Eve of 2004, all by myself and alone in the world, I came very close to going back to the devil I knew.

But I did not get any drugs and I did not drink. I went home and went to bed hating my life. From August 2004 to that day, there was not a single day that was “good.” I was surviving and I was doing it without any drugs to numb the pain and make me not care. Sometime in the beginning of 2005, things started to change. I went back to school at the local community college and managed to accomplish some things. By the time my one-year clean anniversary came around, I was a junior at the California State University, Sacramento and on my way to earning a BA in government-journalism. And I was writing – a lot. Eventually, an internship at a local newspaper gave me the opportunity to get reacquainted with a talent I’d abandoned more than 20 years prior. I was writing a lot and taking my camera everywhere I went.

And I was staying clean. All the success that had eluded me for years and years, success I knew I was able to achieve, but just couldn’t, was finally coming. For the longest time I was waiting for the other show to drop. I mean, it had to – the bottom always fell out from under me. It was my curse, or so I thought. However, after a few years that were my “best year ever,” I started to believe that the curse was lifted along with my drug use. Indeed, I started to recognize that they were one and the same. True, there were ups and downs and unexpected challenges, the inevitable inequities of life popped up from time to time, but never was anything enough to derail me. I was on a roll…

But despite my good fortune and the work I had done to make all that happen, I am still capable of making bad decisions. In 2012 I made one of the worst decisions (though, still not the worst) of my life. The fallout from it would be prevalent and palpable for at least two or three years. In some respects, it is still falling out, but on a day-to-day basis, it is nothing but occasional and infrequent background noise. However, my 2013 and 2014 were decidedly not my “best year ever.” The other shoe, it would appear, had dropped. But the blow did not derail me. I had, by that point, built a foundation that could weather that and other storms. Did I take a hit? Damned right I did, but I was not a victim – I was solely responsible for the foreseeable and foreseen predicament I found myself in.

By the end of 2015 I was 11 yeas clean, had earned my Bachelor of Arts and my Master of Arts at CSUS and was a doctoral candidate – a dissertation away - from a PhD at Louisiana State University. For reasons that cannot be easily quantified, I never did that dissertation and left LSU with another MA. Failure, to be sure, but a failure that saw a lot of success along the way. I made the final decision to abandon the PhD before my coursework for another MA “timed-out.” I knew there would be times that I’d regret that decision, and I have, but I am also in a place in my life that is supremely satisfying. Hindsight has shown it was and is still the right decision for me. That mistake in 2012 was an ill-fated and short-lived marriage and it surely played a part, but there was much more than just that. And while I do not believe in “destiny,” or any other preordained reality, I do believe that I gravitated to what serves me best. Part of what I thought that would look like is being single for the rest of my life. I not only accepted that reality, I liked it.

That did not come to pass, however, and my current relationship – now more than two years old – is far and away the healthiest relationship I have ever been in. Christine and I have been living together – along with some of our kids – for six months. Amazing as it sounds (even to me, still), there have been no problems. We have been hit with some of the inevitable inequities of life, but we have adapted and persevered. Most recently, my youngest son was involved in a very serious motorcycle wreck, one he is still rehabilitating from – and that is a situation that will be ongoing for some time to come. We are dealing with it. My girlfriend’s youngest daughter is autistic – and brilliant. She is getting ready to go to college and Christine is a little stressed. And we are dealing with it.

While Christine has her life and I have mine – and our kids have theirs, too – we are also now part of the great big same thing and we do that together. Even with all the inequities… this year has been a very good year. And we are dealing with that, too.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Rogue Industry

Eighteen years, one month and three days ago I was involved in a serious accident that put me in the hospital for an extended period of time. My middle son, Timmy, was with me and 13 at the time – my youngest, Matthew, was 11 and at home. While this is not about that, part of that story must be told. I was driving a Jeep Cherokee, fell asleep at the wheel and drifted into the path of an oncoming logging truck. The impact was violent and, fortunately, my son sustained only minor physical injuries. Again, that was 18 years, one month and three days ago – almost to the minute – as I write this. My injuries were many, but the long-term recovery was a result of the major bone trauma I sustained. At this time 18 years ago, I was just being brought out of a medically induced coma – it would be a few days before I was fully conscious. I spent a total of three months hospitalized.

I have three boys. Not surprisingly, each has dealt with serious injury in the past. I have done the hospital vigil – I’d say most parents can relate to it in some form or fashion. It goes with the job. However, the one I put my parents through – at the age of 37 (I turned 38 in the hospital) was a doozy. I actually got a small taste of what that must’ve been like about 10 years ago when my middle son – the same one who was in my accident with me – was a passenger in a car that was also in a serious accident. That time he was not as lucky, sustained numerous cuts and significant bone trauma to his right arm, an arm that is still not 100 percent.

Fast forward to one week ago. My youngest son – the one who escaped all injury from my accident because he stayed at home – was involved in a major accident on his motorcycle. He turned 29 just last month and while he has not been injury free in the intervening 18 plus years, he has not endured anything one might call “serious.” On his way home from work last Tuesday, a driver unexpectedly turned left in front of him. My kid hit that car at or near the speed limit of 45 mph. He had the right-of-way, he was not at fault and although the car sustained enough damage to probably declare it a total loss, the driver of that car walked away with no injuries, My kid has not walked since.

But he will survive. Of course his injuries are serious and they will take a long time to rehab through, but he is very healthy and extremely motivated. He was wearing a good helmet and sustained no head injuries. These are all very good things, but the overall situation is not “good.” My son is not “okay.” He is fucked up and it is largely up to him to un-fuck himself – physically. He knows that. He’s up for it. His attitude is surprisingly good most of the time and when it is less so, it is due to a bout of intense, but temporary, pain. I’ve been there, I have not forgotten. But due to this accident which was not his fault, he is also fucked-up in other ways. Those things have to do with the intricacies of care, medical insurance, auto insurance and the labyrinth that is designed to put as much financial strain of the patient or victim as possible. In that respect, things have not improved in the last 18 years. Indeed, things have gotten worse.

Here is where I step up on my soapbox.

When it comes to Matt or any of my kids, I am well-equipped to help them fight on multiple bureaucratic, faceless and soulless fronts. I know how to effect change on a discrete and local level – to some extent I already have advocated and won on my son’s behalf. It wasn’t even all that hard to do. But as good as I am at winning arguments (and it sure doesn’t hurt being right), I do not have the skill or knowledge necessary to navigate the complexities and the legalese of the insurance game. For that we will likely need a lawyer – if there is a big payoff (there might be), lawyers will take the case on a “contingency” basis. They don’t get paid unless we win – usually around 30 percent of the payoff. If we won $100 thousand, we would get $70 thousand. In other words, the lawyer would get $30 thousand for knowing what to say and who to say it to – and for being a lawyer while saying it. The other option is to pay a retainer - to "hire" a lawyer to deal with the bureaucratic morass.

Here is the systemic problem with all of that. There is no reason why insurances need be so complicated that it takes a lawyer to navigate even simple cases. Timmy won a sizable settlement in his case, but it took a sizable contingency to win it. Matt might, too, although the rules have changed and guess whose favor they changed for? The money the insurance industry infuses into politics is truly staggering. Their lobbyists write the laws that are then voted on by those they put into office. Nothing new? Probably, but they get away with it for a number of reasons – foremost among them is that they write their own regulations. Why do we let them?

Because there is no critical mass. Most people don’t have to experience the seriousness that I or Matt do. And for less serious cases, the potential compensation is not worth the fight to get it. Also, even if the odds catch up to enough people – if indeed most people end up experiencing the devastation of a significant event in their lives, it rarely happens all at once – the outrage necessary for a popular uprising never occurs. The exceptions are when mass disasters hit – fires, floods, earthquakes, etc., but even then the insurance company juggernaut stands firm. And we let it.
It is time. It is time we get simple, easy to understand, easy to use and easy to collect on insurance. Look at any large city in the US. The one common factor is that the largest buildings are named for insurance companies. They are not hurting; we are.

Friday, November 16, 2018

I Ride

I haven’t written here in quite some time. To say that a lot has happened between then and now is probably the understatement of the year. But mostly, it’s what has happened in the past three and a half days that has prompted me to write this. So much has been running through my head – all these thoughts turned words turned insight and then lost, never seeing a written page. Indeed, this is but a feeble attempt to recover what was lost and, if experience is any indication, it will prove not just cathartic; the mere act of writing will produce more, reveal more than I can think of or remember now. This is the start…

Today – Friday, November 16th – is the first day I have ridden my motorcycle since last Tuesday afternoon. The ride today and the ride then are as different as night and day. Then, I was on a mission. I had to be somewhere and I had to be there fast. It was late afternoon with all the traffic associated with any afternoon commute. I knew what it would be like and I did not have the time to navigate it with my car. It was not a pleasure ride, it was not a utilitarian ride, it was an emergency and every ounce of skill I have gained through more than 100,000-plus miles and who knows how many years of experience was put to its test. I was literally racing to the hospital where my youngest son was taken after a serious accident on his motorcycle. During his utilitarian commute home from work. Like any other day. And it just happen. Some idiot crossed his path.

The next three days up until this morning were bad. He had two major operations to repair the trauma done unto him – an open femur fracture, an open tib-fib fracture both on his left leg and a really ugly fractured humerus on his right arm. Each a  serious injury on its own, together they could be life-threatening. While his life was not in serious danger due to the fast response and excellent care he received at the very nearby hospital, he is still in for a long recovery. His bike is, of course, history. There is much more, but this morning he was able to stand – briefly and with a lot of effort and help – twice. Tomorrow should be better, and so the long process will go. The rest is his story and in time he will tell it in his way, but for those of us who ride – and he acknowledges this – we know it’s never a matter of if, but when.

While Matthew is absolutely his own man, we do possess similar qualities, among them is an all-or-nothing attitude. We ride safely, but it could be described as aggressive, too. And on a motorcycle, the last thing any rider should be is timid. Timidity is more dangerous. This is not to say his accident was in any way caused by aggressive riding – he had the right of way, he was doing everything legally and properly – but he was surprised by the stupidity of some idiot driving a car. I ride a lot – a lot more than he does – and I see it all the time. Experience has me anticipating all the idiotic things drivers can do, but I can be and probably will be surprised one day. One cannot predict everything. Would I have anticipated the car that took him out? I don’t know – maybe, maybe not.

The point of this has to do with my thoughts this morning as I was riding back to the hospital – the same exact route I raced through last Tuesday. Obviously, it was not an emergency. There was no hurry. I knew the state he was in today and it is significantly improved over just yesterday. I can describe my ride this morning as… muted. Still aggressive in my wariness of those driving, still keeping my distance between them and me, but today it was in a different way. Today I was not trying to keep the potential risk in my rear-view mirror. Today I was content with keeping that distance in front of me. I still feel it’s best to be in front, that I have more control over potential risks that way, however, I think that maybe getting there might not always be the best way to keep that cushion. Maybe I could slow down a little bit. Maybe the utilitarian riding – my commuting – is not a risk worth taking. Maybe.

Motorcycle wrecks are scary. In my kid’s wreck, the driver that caused it walked away with no injuries. I have known people who have lots of experience – much more than I have – who were not as lucky as my kid. Some have died doing nothing “wrong.” For the last three days, I have wondered whether riding at all is something I still want to do. I have come to the conclusion that it is, but my “style” has changed. In the short distance I rode today, I could feel it. I don’t want to quit – it is in my blood. But I don’t want to be another statistic, either. There is no way to absolutely protect myself from the stupidity on the road these days. But I can reduce my exposure. To that end, I will do what I can.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Why Not?

For the past few years, this time of summer involved an extended road trip with my motorcycle. For the past four years in a row, the destination has been Sturgis, SD, for the annual grand-daddy of all motorcycle rallies, the Black Hills Motorcycle Classic. While that has been the destination recently, it is but a very small part of the journey. My first year there, in 2014, that destination was the primary focus of the journey, and it lived up to everything (and more) I’d heard about it - the legend - and it was every motorcycle rally I’ve ever attended, but super-sized. I have experienced a lot of motorcycles in one place before (many times), but Sturgis was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The stories were true - upwards of a half-million motorcycle enthusiasts descending on one small South Dakota mountain town for about 10 days in early August. In 2015, that spectacle was pumped up by a factor of two for the 75th annual rally.

That first year, the destination was the focus. However, every year since, including the mega 75th, the destination was not the story. Sturgis, for me, is a been-there-done-that kind of thing. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the gathering of so many like-minded souls, but I am still not a people person, I still do not like cluster-fucks and, although the event is worth enduring some of that - indeed, it is unavoidable - it hasn’t been the focus of my annual pilgrimage since that first year. The focus has been the pilgrimage itself, and each has been unique, each has presented different experiences, different routes and each stands out on its own. The only thing each of my four journeys has in common is Sturgis itself.

I could go on and on about what the mecca of (primarily American) motorcycling means to me, to the industry, and the like, but what makes Sturgis special, and why it was selected for the annual rally so many years ago, is the magnificence of the Black Hills and everything else within a short ride of Sturgis. And, while I prefer to explore new roads - especially those less traveled - some are worth riding over and over again. There are numerous roads in that part of the country that fit that bill. Although it would be nice if there were not literally hundreds of thousands of others riding those roads when I am, the destination, even during rally week, is worth it. Add to it the spectacle that is Sturgis during rally week, and it’s a good time even for someone like me who doesn’t really like “people.”

But if it was just that spectacle and nothing else, it’s a hard pass for me. Like I mentioned above, been there, done that. However, it is so much more - so much “so much” more that I anxiously await getting on the road all year long. That day for me this year is less than 48 hours away - a bit later than I wanted to hit the road (I’ll get there when the “festivities“ are just entering a full-on 10-day frenzy), but it’s the road, not the destination that makes this trip worthwhile year after year. This year I’ll be riding there and back solo. I have done that before (in 2016), but this time around I am taking on a challenge that I ordinarily would not, but it’s a bucket list thing I want to be able to say I’ve done.

My first day will be more than 1,000 miles from my home near Sacramento to Silverthorne, CO - just past Vail. My route will take me on much of the same route I returned home last year, but, obviously, going the other way. I should be on the road for about 16 hours. When completed, with the appropriate documentation, I will have earned a “Saddle Sore 1000” (1,000 miles in 24 hours) from the Iron Butt Association. The IBA is an organization dedicated to ultra-long-distance motorcycle riding. The next day I’ll ride the 500+ miles to Sturgis, completing the entire 1,500+ miles in less than 36 hours for a “Bun Burner 1500” (I know, I didn’t make up the names…). That second leg will take me on roads I have not yet traveled, but if it’s anything like other parts of Colorado I have ridden, it should be spectacular. But there is a rub…

To make these distances in the time allotted (and there are much, much more challenging rides that, properly documented, the IBA recognizes), it is necessary to travel at a pretty good clip. The IBA stresses rider safety and they are adamant that these rides are not “races,” they are endurance challenges. In fact, they will not certify a ride in which the average speed exceeds the speed limit. That doesn’t mean normal speed excess liberties that we all take will disqualify a ride, but a several hundred mile stretch at 100+ mph will probably disqualify a ride. However, gas stops take time and those speeds kill mileage, so it’s a bad idea if only for that reason. But it is necessary to stick to highways that have high speed limits - 75 to 80 mph is ideal. Of course, that means using the Interstate Highway System as much as possible. And, those roads are typically boring.

But not all. US-50 through Nevada and Utah before merging with I-70 is a nice ride. It’s not crowded, its scenic and it’s fast. When I road it last year I was amazed at the variety of the terrain and how absolutely stunning it was, sometimes in its grandeur, sometimes in its starkness. One down-side of doing it as fast as I am is that all those times I stopped to “smell the roses,” sometimes right in the middle of the barren highway, will not be possible. To quote the immortal words of Jerry Reed, I “have a long way to go and a short time to get there.” I will be, in fact, “East Bound and Down.” I have five gas stops planned at a little less than 200-mile intervals, but I'll have a one-gallon can of gas with me, just in case.

I will arrive in Sturgis on Friday afternoon. Even if I fall short of the 1,000 miles in 24 hours, I’ll easily make all 1,500 miles in two days. My single day max is almost 900 miles in about 16 hours, and I’ve ridden back-to-back 700 miles days more than once, and none of those rides were particularly taxing. I am fairly confident that this goal is achievable, but once I get it, I will be done. That’s not to say that I’ll never ride that far in one day again, I most likely will, but I will probably not bother with the necessary documentation that the IBA requires to “certify” a ride. This is a one and done thing. I like riding roads less traveled, at my own pace and go where I want in the moment. I like to get lost and I hate rides along pre-planned routes. But I do and will log a lot of miles; this time I have to opportunity, the time and planetary alignment to get the patch and the pin. The question is not “why?” but “why not?”