Monday, October 23, 2006

Getting Ready to Turn 60

I bought a birthday card for my oldest daughter today. She turns 25 in a couple weeks. Inside the card I wrote "I remember turning 25, sort of." Then it struck me that in a few weeks I will be thirty five years older than her. Thirty five was a much easier age to deal with. I seemed mature yet still youthful.

Now it strikes me that I'm getting ready to turn 60. The big six-oh. I don't know how I'm supposed to feel about that. I think, more than anything, that it makes me realize my own mortality. And, in addition, that I have more years behind me than I have still yet to go. That's a sobering thought.

Recently I read an article about growing old. It seems as though getting old is really a state of mind. If you feel old, you are. If you think you can't keep up, you can't. If you think you're too old to learn (something/anything), you probably are. On the other hand, staying active and involved, being willing to learn new things and staying tuned to the environment keeps you young and vibrant.

The other day we went out to Chester, which is in western Massachusetts, to take a hike. Just outside of Chester is the KAB trail. KAB is the Keystone Arch Bridge trail. In the late 1800's, Whistler (the painter's father who was an engineer) had constructed a series of stone railway bridges built for the trains that were going west into New York and Ohio. The arches were built of stone. Sixty-five to 70 feet in height above the river, the stones were cut by hand and placed together without mortar. Truly magnificant structures, they are standing the test of time.

Our four mile hike took us along a river next to train tracks, through a hardwood forest on a path that led to the arches. On a nice, cool fall day just past the peak of fall colors, we hiked easily along.

At the end of the day I reflected briefly on a life filled with these kinds of hikes. While some were longer than others, a 4 mile hike is a good hike. It occured to me that I pretty much felt the way I always felt after a good long hike in the woods.

I didn't feel like I was getting old. Like the stone arches, I'm weathered but still stand strong. While they don't carry train traffic anymore, the tracks having been re-routed, neither do I carry the heavy burdens of earlier years.

Getting older is a state of mind. However, like the bridges, how you were cut and shaped in your youth is how you'll age. Something to think about.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


It was good to finally have a vacation after almost two years without one. And, having two weeks off in a row, and actually going somewhere, was the best. I remember reading, years ago, about how having only one week off isn't really a vacation because it takes that long just to relax. Having a second week off allows the body and psyche to get the benefit of the vacation.

In the European countries folks have anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks off annually as their "holiday." Here in America it's considered a sin to take any time off more than a week and, when you do, you're expected to take work with you. I'm sure that's probably another reason why Americans are so anxiety ridden and unable to kick back and relax. Vacation is supposed to be just that - a vacation. A time to rest and recuperate, rejuvenate. Doctor's orders: Take two weeks off, enjoy yourself and don't call me in the morning. Go have fun.

So we went to Sarasota, Florida for two weeks. Drove down to Baltimore to drop the dog off at my sister's and then flew to Tampa. From Tampa we took a shuttle to Sarasota. The flight down was only two hours but by the time we finally got to our destination, it was well beyond day's end. The inconvenience was soon forgotten, however.

The next day, my first ever in Sarasota, was to be a beach day. Swim in the Gulf of Mexico, walk the pristine beaches and soak up the late September sun. I read where the sand at one of the beaches we went to, Siesta Key, was actually quartz. Milleniums ago minerals washed down from the Appalachia's to the gulf and became the beach.

When we walked on the beach that first day, the sand was a white, soft powder and cool to the touch. It was like walking on flour. The day was hot, the sky was bluer than blue and the breeze coming in off the water was refreshing.

After about 15 minutes we began coughing and hacking. The backs of our throats became sore and scratchy. Our eyes watered. It became difficult to breathe.

What we saw all along the water's edge and in the shallows was red seaweed and dead fish. The Red Tide was in, all along the coast line for as far north and south as we were ever going to travel this holiday, and it wasn't going away any time soon.

Later on during the second week of our stay we spoke with residents who said that the effects of the Red Tide happens every year. They also said that it was lasting longer than in previous years. They were used to hacking and coughing and having difficulty breathing. One couple said that they lived three miles inland and still felt its effects.

In the local papers we read about ongoing studies to measure the effect of the Red Tide on people with asthma and allergies and other breathing problems. It appears that the Red Tide is pollution driven and kills off all marine life it comes in contact with. The seaweed dies when it washes up on shore and releases airborne spores. The dead marine life also washes up on shore and rots in the sun.

As a result, we spent one evening sitting on the beach watching a beautiful sunset, one evening sitting on the rooftop deck of Sharkey's Restaurant and Tiki Bar drinking Marguerita's, and one brief afternoon walking on the otherwise pristine beach. We also spent more than four hours in a medical clinic seeking treatment.

While we were in Sarasota we went dancing at the Ritz, shopped at St. Armand's Circle, visited the John Ringling Museum and grounds, went to Myaaka State Forest where we saw tons of alligators, and toured around Sarasota, Venice and Bradenton.

While we were in Venice we stumbled onto an antique car show. We walked among '57 Chevy's, '65 T-birds, saw a 1966 VW Microbus, and even an old Henry J, among many other beautifully restored cars.

The Sarasota area is no longer a sleepy town. Where there were fishing shacks and old wooden docks, there are now high-rise condos and sleek motor cruisers. Where there were once orange groves there are now $300,000 ranchers with in-ground pools. Even the downtown area has changed. Whole Foods, Starbucks and luxury high rise condos intermingle with art gallerys and other small businesses.

We walked around downtown Sarasota and, in front of Cafe Bijou, saw a life size sculpture of Andy Warhol. I took a picture of Julie sitting on a bench at the side of a large sculpture of a clamshell and water fountain. We went in and out of the small shops and art galleries, taking a gander at wares that were increasingly appealing to upscale folks.

In St. Armand's Circle we wandered through shops that sold pretty much anything you wanted to buy, assuming you had enough money. I saw a pair of men's shoes that were a steal at $200. Unfortunately, the only way I was going to get them was to steal them so I walked away empty handed. Julie, an inveterate shopper, did get some real deals at some of the exclusive stores.

Being a people watcher by nature, I couldn't help but notice the many perfectly shaped breasts on women between the ages 18 and 80 as we cruised St. Armands and, later on, while dancing at 15 South. It seemed like the norm for women in Sarasota was to have blonde hair and wear black, low cut dresses that accentuated their breasts. It seemed like the older the woman the more perfect was her body. Days later I started noticing the clinics that advertised breast enhancements and body sculpting.

One day we went to Bradenton and toured the Village of the Arts. The Village is a six square block area of renovated housing that four or five years ago was an urban blight. The City decided to offer the area up to artisans of all types who would rehab the houses, live in them and use them for their studios. Then, to open their studios up as galleries and invite the public in. Houses went for $50,000.

The artists moved in, rehabbed and painted the houses in a fantastic display of colors and set up shop. The first Friday and Saturday of every month there's an art walk. Literally hundreds of people attend and it's a huge success. Houses in the six block area now go for more than $300K and, just like in Sarasota, people can no longer afford to live there.

We spent much of our time the second week hanging around the pool at our host's house. It was a very relaxing time. We got up around 9:30 - 10 in the morning, ate a leisurely breakfast and then toured around in the afternoon. At the end of the day we came back and jumped into the pool. A couple times we took a late night swim under a mostly full moon's light.

We did have a nice time, all in all. Our hosts were as pleasant as could be and we all got along well. We went out together several times to eat and to dance. Generally Julie and I would wander around during the day by ourselves and, in the evening, after work, we'd all do something together.

We went dancing at the Ritz several times. Live music. Drinks. Friendly crowd. Good atmosphere.

It was a really nice vacation and I'm glad I went. We took 118 pictures to immortalize the trip. Every day, except for one rainy day, the sun was bright, the temperature was 88 -90, and the sky was cerulean blue.

It was a two week vacation that was enjoyable, relaxing and fun.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Politics Here & Now

While down in Florida on vacation the last week in September and the first week of October, I read the then current issue of Rolling Stone magazine, kept in touch with what was happening in Massachusetts and also read the local Sarasota, FL newspapers.

In Rolling Stone there was an article by Robt. F. Kennedy, Jr. on how the electronic voting machines used in the 2004 elections were essentially rigged. In the article RFK, Jr. explained how 3 of the 4 companies that manufactured the touch screen voting machines were major contributors to the Republican party. It was they who were pushing for paper-less voting. Unwittingly, the disability community, supporting HAVA, played right into the ploy. The NFB, saying that blind people couldn’t read a paper record of their vote – rather than pushing for a Braille copy, e.g., were in support of paperless voting. In general the disability community supported electronic voting because the touch screen technology was accessible. What they didn’t realize was how easy it was for their, and all, votes to be manipulated.

According to the article, research done at Johns Hopkins U. and at MIT demonstrated how easy it was for a computer program to be inserted into the electronic voting machine in order to have votes changed. And, for the program to then erase itself so there was no record. No paper trail of the vote cast, no record: guess who wins?

It is clear to me that the Republicans, the Bush Administration, rigged the election. In Florida, in Maryland, in Ohio, and also in Indiana, there is clear evidence that the voting record was clearly falsified.

While reading a local Sarasota paper, I read an article about how this group, SAFE, got 14,000 signatures to force a ballot issue in November to do away with electronic voting, unless the machines have a paper trail. I understand that that same effort is underway in Maryland, among several other states. It is necessary, I believe.

I just read today in the Boston Globe that a professor at U. Wisconsin-Madison has published a paper saying that the Bush Administration contrived 9/11. He likened Bush to Hitler but then went on to say that Hitler’s IQ was 20 – 30 points higher than Bush’s so the comparison wasn’t really fair. However, it seems to me that there’s enough evidence to support the professor’s claims. Anyone who has watched the Google internet documentary, Loose Change, will agree.

I did have a good time in Florida. I just needed to get this off my chest.