Posted in Stories

The day we discovered the United States Pipe Organ Company

I grew up in the southwest corner of Ridley Park, Pennsylvania, and in throughout my elementary years, my friends and I would frequent a creek about a quarter-mile down Chester Pike from my house. It’s official name was the Little Crum Creek through which Ridley Park Lake emptied into Crum Creek and out into the Delaware River. We simply called it the “creek.”

I remember spending amazing amounts of time catching minnows, building dams using all kinds of rocks in and around the creek, and tossing the biggest rocks we could find off the bridge to see how big of a splash we could make. Every once in a while we would explore a little further down the creek which ran alongside an old Boeing plant.

One exploration took us through a fence to an abandoned building that was littered with old wood and metal organ pipes. We blew through some of them and made all kinds of sounds. We didn’t take any of the pipes and didn’t stay very long, which is good because we were probably trespassing. I didn’t realize then what we had stumbled upon. Later when I went to churches that had actual pipe organs, and saw all the ranks, I had a better idea of what we found.

Every once in a while that memory pops back in my head, and I wondered who had left a bunch of organ pipes in an old building somewhere near Ridley Park. The Organ Historical Society has a database of pipe organ companies, and sure enough, the United States Pipe Organ Company had a theater organ fabrication plant in Crum Lynne, a tiny town and a train stop adjacent to Ridley Park. They build about 200 theater pipe organs, then spent time maintaining them till about 1970. We had stumbled upon what was left of that company.

I’m not sure why we never went back there. We either forgot about it or got interested in something else. I kind of wish I had brought home a few relics from our very cool discovery that day.

Posted in memories, Stories

Cassette tape recorder? Best thing ever!

One of the greatest most entertaining thing I ever had as a child was a Panasonic cassette tape recorder. I think I was twelve or thirteen years old (1970) when I saved up enough money to buy one at Radio Shack. It ran off of four C batteries or you could plug it in to a wall outlet. I used it constantly with friends and family to record anything and everything, reusing the few blank cassette tapes we could afford. Most of those cassettes were cheap no-names. But for Christmas or a birthday, you might get some made by Memorex, TDK, or Scotch.

We would record songs from the radio, holding the recorder close to the portable radio. The sound was pretty bad, but hey, now we had free music! We also recorded and re-listened to Philadelphia Phillies baseball games. I remember being very concerned when somewhere around the eighth inning, I heard the words, “This broadcast is the property of the Philadelphia Phillies and Major League Baseball. Any reuse of this broadcast is specifically prohibited by law.” I always wondered what would happen to us if someone found out that we were recording the games!

My friend from the down the street and I would record all kinds of funny noises, do fake interviews and record outrageous stories that made us laugh so hard we were in tears. Sometimes I would just record family conversation after supper, which we found hysterical, especially if we could get my dad to sing.

We never did the recommended cleaning of the rollers and heads inside the recorder, so every cassette eventually got caught in side the machine. Then you have to pull out yards and yards of tape and try to roll it back up by twirling a pencil through one of the spools. Sometimes it worked. Mostly you just had a ruined tape.

Every once in a while, I’ll find an old cassette in a box somewhere. I have no way to listen to it, though. I haven’t had a cassette player for twenty years. But they were cheap, easy and for me, a whole lot of fun.

Posted in Stories

This fitness journey just keeps going

In 2018, my wife heard about a Crossfit box in our town and decided to try it out. She liked it and got me to try a class, too. The coaches were nice, the workouts were challenging and different than I had done before, and the other folks there were also fitness and wellness minded. So I did my onramp initiation and made Crossfit my main fitness regimen.

Though I could do pushups and pull-ups and run, I had a lot to learn about box jumps, double-unders, handstands and olympic lifting. The warmup stretching was good, I learned some lifting and rope-climbing skills, the metcons were challenging, and as you can see, I picked up a lot of vocabulary words, too. Since I made it to the box three or four times a week, I gained some fitness I hadn’t had before and made a lot of new friends.

I also picked up a few injuries. In my quest to do kipping Crossfit pull-ups, my shoulders got sorer and sorer. I had more and more trouble doing pushups and benchpress was nearly impossible. I was really afraid that I had injured my rotator cuffs, so I became a student of shoulder stretches and rehab. These provided some relief, but then in my zeal to get back up on the pull-up bar, I felt and heard something near my left elbow pop. That same day I was spotting a friend doing a back squat, when the bar rolled off his back and jerked that same arm down at an awkward angle, rupturing the bicep.

An orthopedic doctor took a look at my arm and said, “It’s mostly cosmetic. Once it heals up you can do what you want.” I decided I would change what I wanted to do. I think my muscles could handle the workouts, but my 62 year-old joints struggled. Plus, we started feeling the impact of the monthly fees, much more than we were used to paying. I know, I know, everyone said it was worth it, but we were trying to scale back our expenses rather than increase them up as I began to consider retirement.

So we decided to ramp up our home workout capabilities in the garage. We invested in a Concept-2 rower, a Rogue air bike, a box to jump on, some Crossover Symmetry cables, and a barbell with a few weights. I hung a pull-up bar from the ceiling, we put down some thick stable mats on the floor, put a TV up on the wall for streaming or DVD workouts, and got a big garage fan. We already had a set of adjustable weight Bowflex dumbbells. I was able to find lots of CrossFit-esque workouts online that we could do at home, and Beachbody Live provided all of our favorite workouts and a lot of newer ones, too.

We had all that in place when COVID hit, gyms closed and everyone was quarantining. We were set, with all kinds of workout possibilities in place. Over the past year, we’ve added jump ropes, some elastic bands, a couple of kettlebells, some med balls and an inflatable stability ball.

And we got our Peloton back, too. My wife saw one a few years ago and we ordered one so she could do some spinning bike workouts at home. We had lent it to our kids last year, but they stopped using it, so we brought it back home and I gave it a try. I like having this option for a non-impact cardio option a few times a week.

I am currently working through Beachbody’s P90X2 workouts with Tony Horton. Plain old pushups and pullups and situps get new life with seemingly infinite variations, even balancing on med balls and stability balls. I never get injured doing body weight exercises, so this is definitely my speed as I close in on my sixty-fourth birthday.

So our main philosophy right now is to keep on moving. Do something each day to work on strength, flexibility, mobility or endurance. I’m pretty much a first-thing-in-the-morning workout kind of guy, while my wife likes the afternoon hours.

Having written three entries about fitness and two about running, I realize we’ve spent a lot of time exercising in one form or another. It’s part of the fabric of our lives. When we start doing more camping, we’ll have to figure out the best way to do this on the road. Our journey will continue.

Posted in Stories

My fitness journey continues

We moved to Florida in June of 1996. The sunshine state is a very different place to pursue ongoing fitness. You can go out for a run, a walk or a bike ride just about 365 days a year. Once in a while a severe thunderstorm or hurricane might break up your routine. But not very often.

We purchased a couple of bicycles when we arrived and made good use of them for rides of various distances. I continued to run three to five miles three or four times a week. We took the dogs for lots of walks, too.

We spent our first seven months in a rental while we waited for our house to be built. We discovered Alpha Fitness, a gym within walking distance of our home. I started going there three times a week, mostly doing upper body barbell and dumbbell exercises. My legs got plenty of activity from running and biking.

Our new home was on the other side of town, about five miles away. When you’re traveling that distance, there seem to be more reasons not to go and workout. But then Alpha Fitness moved to a location exactly halfway between our house and where I worked. I passed by every day and it was so easy to stop in there on the way to work, at lunch time (only a mile away) or on the way home in the evening. With a decent locker room, I could easily clean up on my way somewhere else. I went there three times a week for several years.

I split my workouts between upper and lower body and added quite a bit of strength. For a while I followed a 5×5 routine to build strength. Five sets of five reps each, rotating between back squats, dead lifts and bench press. You start light and add five pounds each time. I also included a few sets on some of the machines for legs and arms. I actually got up to a 310 lb. dead lift, a 200 lb. bench press and 275 back squat. Not too bad for being 5 foot ten inches and about 165 pounds.

After reaching those weights, I got a little tired of doing that and there was a change in management, so I dropped that membership in favor of doing some exercise routines at home.

I think it was the summer of 2009 that we purchased our first Beachbody workout DVDs, Insanity. You think you are in good shape till Shaun T. takes you through what you think is the workout but is actually just the ten minute warmup! But we stuck with it and found that it really increased our cardiovascular fitness. I still did a little running on the off days of the workout schedule.

After completing Insanity, I got the next two in that series, Insanity: Asylum and Insanity: Asylum 2. These workout DVDs had you working with an agility ladder on the ground, a jumprope, dumbbells and a pull-up bar. I got one of those pull-up bars that hangs from a door frame, but never liked it very much. I was also never able to do many pull-ups. All the plank work really helped my shoulders get stronger.

Some friends of ours had the P90X DVDs and weren’t using them. We borrowed them and for me, this was definitely next level. These workouts involve a lot of pull-ups, push-ups and power jumps. They were tough and they were long, usually around an hour. The yoga workout was ninety minutes. It was the first time I had ever done yoga. I never did that particular workout very often, since it took so much time. But by sticking with it, I worked my way up to ten pull-ups and thirty pushups.

We’ve incorporated so many of Shaun T’s phrases into our conversations. “Why do I do the things I do? ’cause I wanna look good!” “Dig deeper.” “Come on, y’all, let’s goooo!” “I’m smiling because I love it!” “This is bananas, yo” “It’s not a coffee break people”

P90X wasn’t my wife’s cup of tea, but she continues to do Insanity workouts. She also checked out some alternative classes at Thriv Fitness, the reincarnation of Alpha Fitness. She liked the TRX workouts, the spin bike classes and the hot yoga, too. She got me to try them, too, and the variety and challenge was good for us. I also worked my way through P90X3, which are all thirty-minute workouts (even the yoga). I think we also tried a twenty-five minute variation of Insanity, a boxing type workout with Australian coaches, and something called Piyo, a mashup of Pilates and yoga led by Chalene Johnson.

Variety is definitely the name of the game when you are working out at home. Plus, discipline. the upside is, you improve each week, while your video workout buddies stay at the same level. It’s extremely satisfying to outdo them. I think the publishers of these workouts know that.

We cancelled out membership at Thriv when the owner’s verbal abuse got too much for us to take. It was a good move. A few months later, they taped an “Out of business” sign to the door leaving many members and employees in the lurch.

But that only gets us up to 2018. The journey isn’t over yet.

Posted in Stories

My fitness journey

So many folks read about my running experiences I thought I would continue with some stories about my personal fitness journey, too.

When I was young, fitness meant playing with your friends. We lived in a neighborhood with somewhere around fifteen boys my age. We played touch football and stickball in the street, where manhole covers, car fenders and fire hydrants served as the bases. The real fun was the baseball, touch football and basketball at the “ball field” about a half a mile down the street from our homes. It was just an open field where we played ball.

I had a 26 inch single speed Schwinn bike. My best friend had a ten speed Schwinn string ray bike. (Not many choices besides Schwinn back then.) We went on some pretty long rides around Delaware County in Pennsylvania, sometimes riding four hours or more.

I’m also old enough to have gone to school when you had physical education, or “gym” every day. We played kickball, dodgeball, touch football and a little basketball in the winter. In high school we added track and field, indoor soccer, wrestling, archery, some gymnastics and softball. Twice a year we would test for the Presidential Fitness Award. That was kind of a joke. I could run 600 yards, do some sit-ups, pushups and the shuttle run. But no one could do a pull up. Just like no one could climb the rope.

In my sophomore year, I tried out for the soccer team. A lot of other guys knew much more about soccer than me, so I didn’t get very far. In my junior year, I tried out for the tennis team. Me and some friends messed around with wooden rackets and thought we were pretty hot stuff. We weren’t. And I wasn’t anywhere close to being a high school tennis player.

When I got to Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA, I discovered some new fitness opportunities. There was a pretty nice weight room in the gymnasium. A few weeks into my freshman year, I went down there to lift some weights. I did a few upper and lower body exercises on the Universal, and then threw up on my way home. OK, that was not my style.

I did play a lot of intramural flag football, softball and street hockey in my college years. I was a decent receiver, catcher and goalie for the fraternity team. A was active, but never thought of myself as athletic. The college did have some sweet squash/racketball courts, and that was a great way to burn off some energy, too.

Once I graduated and started working and running, I decided I needed to work on my upper body strength. During long runs, my shoulders would ache, so I knew I had to do more than just run. i purchased a weight set at a local sporting goods store. It was a barbell, two dumbbell bars, and some plates that probably added up to 135 pounds if you put everything on the bar. I owned a trombone (a Bach Stradivarius trombone I bought in high school), and it had a rectangular case. So I used that case as my bench for bench presses. A little weight training helped balance out all the running I was doing.

I left my weights (and my trombone) behind when I went to seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. But the seminary, which had previously been the Concordia Senior College, had an amazing weight room in the gymnasium. Here, I learned how to use the Universal weights, and did a regular circuit two or three times a week.

When I got to my first church in Connecticut, I mostly ran, until we bought a bench and another set of free weights for our house. My wife and I both used those weights for various workouts, but nothing really serious.

At my second church, when we lived in West Des Moines, Iowa, there was a YMCA just up the road from us. Membership was cheap, so I would run a mile to the Y, do a Nautilus circuit (very much in vogue in the 1990’s) and run home. Convenient, cheap and a good workout, too.

We moved to Florida in 1996, and that’s when my fitness story really changes.

Posted in Stories

I’m going for another run.

Lots of folks enjoyed reading a previous post “I’m going for a run,” so here’s a little more of the story.

By the end of 1981, I had only been running for about two years. The Jersey shore running community really encouraged and inspired me. But I got a job offer in Austin, TX, and headed south.

The duplex I rented was just uphill from the Colorado River on the south side of Austin, which was lined with running trails on both sides. Each night after work, I would take my yellow Labrador Retriever, Gabriel, out for a run. After being inside all day while I was at work, he was more than happy to join me for up to eight miles runs along the river. Once we got off the sidewalks, I would let him off the leash, and he would run up the path ahead of me and then back, so his runs were probably a couple of miles longer than mine. He would also jump in and out of the water, so the summer heat was never a problem for him. And he would intercept any frisbees being thrown at the park, leaving a tooth mark on more than a few. The toughest part of the run was the final half-mile home, a steep uphill to the house. But we always made it.

I left Gabriel at my dad’s house in Philadelphia when I moved to Ft. Wayne, Indiana and began my seminary studies. I still got out and ran thirty or forty miles a week, but only ever ran one real race there. It was the Run Preacher Run 5k around the campus. There were six entries, and I won. The course was short, because I finished in a little over 16 minutes, and there’s no way I was in that kind of shape. But I won my one and only running trophy!

It was a little harder to run in Baltimore during my vicarage year. We lived in an all Black neighborhood in the inner city, and I usually didn’t go anywhere without wearing my clerical collar. But early in the mornings, hardly anyone was up and around. So Gabriel, who was back with us, and I would go up to a park that had some nice running paths. These paths circled around baseball fields. We would be just trotting along when Gabriel would suddenly veer off the path and into the tall weeds, pulling out a baseball, which he carried all the way back home.

The first church I was called to was in Coventry, Connecticut, out in the eastern hills. There I ran up and down lots and lots and lots of hills. Since there weren’t any sidewalks, I didn’t take any dogs out with me. They got plenty of exercise running around the church’s eight acres were we lived and nearby fields and horse farms.

We next lived in West Des Moines, Iowa, and there were a few hills there, too. A lot of my runs would take me up the mile long hill of Grand Avenue towards Des Moines or downhill through Valley Junction. We lived across the street from the old Valley High School stadium, and I would hop the fence to run intervals on the track.

Then we moved to the northeast coast of Florida, where it is flat. The only hills are the bridges over the intracoastal waterway. When we arrived, there were no sidewalks and just a few stoplights in Palm Coast. I did some running with Michael and Blondie, successor labs to Gabriel and Rachel. But I did much more running with Samson, a shepherd lab mix who had limitless energy. About ten years into our life in Florida, my Morton’s neuralgia in each foot began to limit my running to no more than three or four miles a couple of times a week. My hips and knees held up over forty years of running, but my feet starting pleading for mercy. I can do OK with a very cushioned neutral shoe like Hoka One One. But most of my exercise now is non-impact, another story for another day.

Posted in Stories

A cascade of dark roast

We were spoiled. The Airbnb we usually stayed at when we visited our son in Garland, Texas was always stocked with pods for the Keurig coffee maker. After a long, two day trip, it was nice to know the morning cup would only be a few minutes in the making.

But we were staying at a different place. Very nice and very comfortable, but with a Cuisinart drip coffee maker. “Well,” I thought, “they must have some coffee here somewhere.” I looked in every cabinet, nook and cranny, and came up empty-handed. The Kroger is still open? Awesome. I’ll be right back.

There must have been a run on coffee that day. The shelves in the coffee aisle weren’t completely empty, but there wasn’t much to choose from. Ah, there we go, Dunkin’ dark roast. Just what the doctor ordered. However, when I grabbed the bag, coffee grounds started pouring out for a large slit in the side. Well, not exactly a slit. More like a slice right down the side of the bag. I must have caught it on the edge of the shelf. I was so surprised I didn’t react right away, and almost half the bag was on the floor before I could get it back on the shelf. I looked up and down the aisle and there was no one around. I carefully grabbed another bag, knocked the grounds off my shoes, and made my getaway.

It wasn’t exactly like knocking over a stack of cans or a pile of fruit, but the sight of the coffee cascading out onto the floor still makes me chuckle.

Oh, and yes, I went to a different store the next day for more groceries. If you are the guy who had to do clean up on that aisle, I apologize. I deserve whatever words you used to describe me that night.

Posted in Stories

It’s time to go.

He thought about leaving early. His mind was mush. He just wasn’t getting much done. Maybe he should go to the gym. A quick workout now usually meant a productive evening later. 

Commotion from the hallway startled him.

By the time he heard the words, “You can’t got back there,” the man in the dark suit with credentials in one hand and a warrant in the other burst in. Laying the papers on the desk, he closed and scooped up the laptop in one smooth motion and left.

“Wait a minute…” he started, following him out the door. Other dark suits were already walking out with the computers, boxes of files and even the recycling bins. Stunned, no one was talking. No one was moving.

Except him. What choice did he have? As soon as the handcuffs were on, he was escorted out the door.

In just three short years, the business had flourished far beyond anyone’s imagination. They had to celebrate. They deserved it. He made arrangements at the best restaurant in town. Dinner was excellent. Glasses were raised. Bonuses announced. Laughter filled the room.

His own smile and laughter covered up the truth. A truth only he knew. As he looked around the table, he saw more than just employees. He saw friends. Yet he knew one of them would make the call. One of them would give up evidence. One of them would rat him out. One of them would betray him. And he knew exactly who it was. 

It was one of his first hires. Someone who knew a lot more about finance than he did. Someone who had helped them navigate a couple of audits. Someone he had always trusted. Someone who could be bought. Someone who would bring him down.

As he sat down in the back of the black sedan, a scuffle broke out in the office. Was that blood on the side of someone’s head? Don’t do that. Just go. He would take the fall. He would go to prison. Everyone else would walk. It was the only way.

Posted in Stories

I’m going for a run

I started running in the fall of 1978. I was a junior at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. Jim Fixx had just published The Complete Book of Running and it seemed like everyone was jogging. So I started jogging, too.

A complete loop around campus was 1-1/2 miles. So I jogged 1-1/2 miles. My running shoes, dark blue Pumas were heavy and not really designed for running, but that’s what I had. It’s a distant memory, but I am sure I didn’t completely run the whole loop without a few walking breaks. But it was the most running I had ever done in one stretch.

That summer I ran a few out and back courses around Ridley Park. I also stumbled upon a copy of Runner’s World at the library. It was filled with articles about how to get started, how to train, and what kind of shoes you should be running in. There were’t a whole lot to choose from, but I bought my first pair of Nike running shoes before classes started in the fall. They were feather light and so much nicer to run in.

Through that fall, I began going out for a run more regularly, branching out on other loops that once around the campus. I had enough credits after the fall semester to graduate, and got my first job in West Long Branch, NJ early in 1979.

By that time, the running boom was in full swing, especially at the Jersey Shore. Five miles was the standard distance for a road race back then, and there was a race in a different beach town every Saturday and Sunday.

My goal was to run one of those five mile races. In my mind, to finish a race like that, I needed to be able to run five miles every day for a week. When begin running consistently five, six or even seven days a week, I rapidly improved. I carefully logged all my runs and within a few months, I had a thirty-five mile week.

I entered a five mile race in Belmar, NJ early in the summer. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I had never even seen a road race before and didn’t know anyone who had run one. But I sent in my $5 registration fee and wrote the race in on my calendar. I did know from my reading that you didn’t want to go out too fast. After all, you had to keep going for five miles!

I finished that first race in about 37 minutes, about halfway back in the pack. Not too bad for a first time out. I got a t-shirt, too, the first of many. The winner of the race finished in about 25 minutes. I doubted I’d ever be up front, but I could certainly improve.

I ran a couple of races a month that summer, in towns like Ocean Grove, Asbury Park, Monmouth, Red Bank and Spring Lake. Entry fees were cheap and I got a t-shirt each and every time. I learned how to run different distances, take a day off each week, and found a nearby high school track where I could work on speed by doing 200 or 400 yard intervals.

And I got another pair of running shoes. New Balance because they were the only maker with wider widths and I had fat feet. They had much better cushioning and I could run much further much more often with them.

By the fall, I had my five mile race time down to 32:30, about a 6:30 pace. I ran a 10k in a little over 40 minutes that fall, my first attempt at a longer race.

When it got colder, I adapted my wardrobe. Remember, this is 1979, and few stores sold winter running gear. I word a long sleeve turtle neck when the temperatures got below 50, and added a hat and gloves in the 40’s. The gloves I wore were painter’s gloves from the hardware store. They were warm enough but not bulky. Temps in the 30’s? That when I added a pair of navy long underwear under my running shorts. I generated plenty of heat while running, so I had to make sure I didn’t wear too much if it was above freezing.

With an increase in training, up to fifty or sixty miles a week, I took on the Ocean City half marathon. Most of that run was on the boardwalk, and I finished in decent time, somewhere around an hour and a half. I felt pretty confident going into 1980, and decided that I should train to run a marathon.

I found a marathon in Virginia Beach, VA in March of 1980, and set my sights on training for that race. I figured I needed to run seventy to eighty miles a week to be ready. I got my mileage up pretty well, but didn’t do any really long runs. I drove down to Virginia the night before, spent the night in a hotel, and ran the next morning. My time was 3 hours 24 minutes. Not too bad for the first time out But I knew I could do better.

I ran a lot of five mile races that summer and collected a lot of t-shirts. I would ride my bike about ten miles to work, run a few miles or do some track work at lunch time, and then run again when I got home at night. When you’re in your twenties, you can really push the envelope. I began to run the 5K races at Lake Takanassee in Long Branch. Four laps around a lake that attracted a lot of really good runners. By the end of that summer, I was running my five mile races close to 31 minutes. Never a front runner, but better and better all the time.

I set my sights on the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC in November. It was a flat course, past all the major monuments. I was pretty sure I could break three hours, a sub seven minute pace for the 26.2 miles. I stayed in a hotel in Arlington, just across the Potomac River. I don’t remember too much about that race, except for the last half mile. The final stretch was uphill to the finish line at the Iwo Jima Memorial. My race certificate put me just over three hours.

I would do a lot of running before my next marathon, the Philadelphia marathon on the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 1981. I really upped my mileage, logging quite a few 80 and 90 mile weeks. I had my best race weekend the summer before that marathon. I ran a 30:00 five mile race on a Saturday, a 36:00 at the Asbury Park 10k on Sunday and then I broke 18 minutes at Lake Takanassee. I felt strong and ran a 1:23 half marathon in the fall at Ocean City. I really felt like I had a chance to break 2:50 for a marathon and qualify for the Boston Marathon.

I was ready that race weekend. I had run a few twenty mile workouts at a six minute pace. I had raced, I had tapered and I was confident. My dad drove me outside of the city to the starting line, and would meet me at the finish in center city, Philadelphia. It was a cool clear day, and I made it to Germantown, the ten mile point in 65 minutes. From there it was mostly downhill. I reached the twenty mile point at 2:10. all I had to do was run that last 10k in 40 minutes. That’s when I hit the wall. Those last six miles were a bear. I crossed the finish line in 2:54, four minutes too slow for Boston in my age group. That would be my last real race. A lot would change after that weekend.