Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Things That Go Bump

Halloween in the neighborhood where I grew up was cool.

I remember dashing home from school and scurrying to the basement, where we had a storage closet under the steps. In its deep recesses was a collection of bags that housed our Halloween costume stash. This hodgepodge included castoff clothes, oddball accessories, rummage-sale leftovers, and hand-me-down-and-outs, all smelling heavily of mothballs.

I remember my mother had sent for a collection of masks that were free, in exchange for mailing in a predetermined number of Ivory soap bar wrappers. I recall this because the plastic masks each were marked on the inside with the brand name "Ivory" stamped in light blue ink. These were of nondescript characters -- a generic princess, a no-name monster, a run-of-the-mill ghoul -- probably because Ivory wasn't going to license any of the major cartoon characters of the day.

These masks, too, were part of the Halloween possibilities, stiff plastic faces held in place by white elastic bands that, if an elder brother were feeling particularly vengeful, could be pulled back, released, and allowed to snap back in place with a painful twang that always left a red mark. 

Using one of these masks and risking the sibling injury, I was  a black cat for at least two years running, probably at ages six and seven. When not trying to snap my elastic band, my older brothers teased me about repeating a costume in back-to-back Halloweens. I also remember not caring much.

Dinner on Halloween night was always a rushed affair. The entree was always -- always! -- hot dogs. Mainly for their convenience and their heft. Mom figured that if we were full up of hot dogs, that we would be less likely to munch on candy while still on the hunt.

Woe be it if our bell happened to ring with an early-bird trick-or-treater while we were still at the table: "We are going to miss Halloween!" we'd wail.

Dad always took us through the neighborhoods on Halloween, monitoring from afar as we shoof-shoof-shoofed our way through the accumulated fallen leaves.

First stop was always Mrs. Bender at the bottom of our street. Mrs. Bender lived alone -- she had probably been widowed many years before -- and other than Halloween, she was barely visible. She kept very much to herself during the year and could only occasionally be spotted in her yard, pulling weeds or watering summer flowers.

But each Halloween, she made a batch of the most delicious caramel apples I have ever had. I'm not sure at all what her secret was, whether it had to do with apple selection or caramel recipe, which, from the taste, was something homemade and not crafted out of Kraft caramel squares melted in a pot.

There were two secrets to snagging one for Halloween.

First, you had to get to her house ASAP. Mrs. Bender turned off her porch light very early Halloween evening and would not answer her bell afterward. So her treats were definitely a case of snoozing equals losing. Arrive at 7:15 or so when her door was abandoned and her stoop was dark, and you were out of luck.

Second, you had to be known to her from the neighborhood. She only made enough apples for the kids that she knew, and she required self-identification before she forked over the goods. So yes, that meant lifting your mask or pulling off your wig and letting her squint at your face in the dark.

"It's us, Mrs. Bender. The Weckerly boys from up the street. Sean, Paul, and Danny."

"Sean, Paul, and Danny," she'd repeat. "Yes, yes, yes. Here you go."

Maybe that's why today I'm not all that offended by the PA Voter ID law that has been in and out and in and out and in and out. Once you've subjected yourself to Mrs.  Bender's verification for a caramel apple, doing so to vote is no big deal.

As a teen, I remember going out with friends on Halloween. We would visit the customers on our Philadelphia Evening Bulletin paper route, benefiting from their gratitude for all the good service throughout the year.

In the pile of Halloween costumes, we had an old cutaway tuxedo coat and, of all things, a pith helmet. I supplemented the outfit with a thick, black, shoe-polish mustache and eyebrows, creating a rather convincing Groucho Marx/Captain Spaulding costume. Although few of my contemporaries knew who I was, the elderly customers on the paper route got it right away.

We trick-or-treated through the early 1970s, which meant scares about narcotics and needles being cruelly tucked inside treats. I remember the days when a Halloween haul could be taken to the local ER for a quick X-ray. We never resorted to those measures, but we did have to pass the Parental Inspection once we got home, and eating anything along the route was strictly forbidden.

Also indicative of the time were a few visits to a few homes that had a specifically hippie bent, and I remember one or two along the way with clouded air in the living room and clouded occupants partying away.

Still, the loot was always plentiful and safe.

The years passed. When I was too old to trick-or-treat, I helped Mom scare the other kids who came to our door.  We created a creepy reception: She would don a wild fright wig (again, from the costume bag); I tossed on an old, black choir robe. When the bell would ring, she opened the door slowly, and I would be seated at the organ in the living room, ominously playing a few bars from the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

That's all in the past now. The costume bag has disappeared to the ages, taking its moth ball perfume with it. Mrs. Bender departed this world for the next, where she's probably making caramel apples for the angels. I moved onto being the dad-walker for my own band of ghouls, but now, even those years are behind us.

So tonight, I'll answer our own bell, peeking at the parade of princesses and pirates, skeletons and monsters, and perhaps even a Honey Boo Boo or two.

But part of me will hear their squealing in the dark, the giggles and chatter, and drink in the brief scent of fallen leaves mixed with pancake makeup, and wish I were out there with them.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cool Hand Mom

I had a working mother. But her employment was under ideal circumstances: She was an RN and worked nights. So our routine was thus:

  • She came home from the hospital after finishing her shift at 7 a.m.
  • She ensured that we three boys (my brothers and me) got off to school
  • Then she went to bed.
  • She slept during the day while we were at school
  • At 3 p.m., when we arrived home, we awoke her.

It was ideal. We enjoyed the financial benefit of her employment and still had her presence after school, through dinner, up to and including bedtime. After we had been nestled to sleep, she left for the hospital for her 11 p.m. start time, and the cycle began anew.

Having a mother who was an RN was an interesting way to grow up. She was always on duty. Whenever a need arose -- and these always seemed to be at the most unexpected moments -- she emerged from a crowd of onlookers and offer whatever assistance she could. 

Whether it was at the supermarket or on a neighborhood sidewalk, we boys watched this exchange countless times during emergencies:

"Is there a doctor nearby? Is anyone here a doctor?"

Mom would step forward: "I am not a doctor, but I'm an RN."

"You'll do."

We were witness to mom's skill and knowledge in all kinds of situations: Helping a teen who had hit his head on the bottom of the swim club pool; assisting a seizure victim; providing first-aid on a roadside after a nasty accident; icing a little-leaguer who had twisted an ankle in a heroic slide to second.

The car accidents were always memorable. As we passed twisted machinery and diamond scatters of safety glass, Mom quietly said: "Pull over, George."

Dad, who was driving, guided the car to the shoulder, and Mom was out in a shot.

"Stay here. Be safe."

She kept an emergency medical kit in each of our cars back then, and she would grab this small plastic container on her way back to the mayhem.

Often, she did nothing. Police were onsite, and medical attention was on the way. The last thing she wanted to do was get in the way.

But in those instances where we were first on the scene, she frequently lent a crucial hand.

She loved to tell the tale of how, on her word, a commercial airline flight was diverted to the nearest airport. She and Dad were on their way to the west coast on a vacation, when a flight attendant got on the PA system and asked if there were a doctor on board. No response. After a few moments, the request came again, and Mom described that the first threads of panic were beginning to find their way into the request.

Mom flicked on her call-light: "I am not a doctor, but I am an RN."

"You'll do."

A passenger was having chest pain. She ministered to him as best she could, given the limited resources. But when the pilot asked mom if she felt the medical emergency were cause enough to land right away, she said yes.

And so, on her word, an entire commercial jet was diverted. An ambulance was sent to the tarmac and, upon touching the ground, the patient was taken away. For her efforts, the airline unearthed the hotel at which my parents were staying at and arranged a bottle of champagne delivered to their room.

Having a nurse for a mom had benefits that went beyond benevolence toward strangers. Within our own household, any of our boyhood scrapes, sprains, and bruises were assessed with skill, and there was no guesswork as to whether an injury required an ER visit.

She was also extremely calm in these situations.

While goofing around with a set of golf clubs, a neighbor kid accidentally beaned me with a nine iron, cutting a huge gash in my scalp. As all head wounds do, the thing bled like a stuck pig. Mom was called, and I can remember lying on the grass as she arrived, a blood-soaked towel covering the damage.

She matter-of-factly got me to the ER as quickly as she could, assuring me that I would be fine. 14 stitches later, I was sent home with instructions for her to watch me closely for signs of a concussion, which, thankfully, there were none.

She never screamed. Never cried. Never panicked, despite seeing her youngest bathed in his own blood.

She did, however, admit later, in the quiet of her room, to breaking into tears.

Mom also had the nurse's touch. I remember on days when I was feeling sick, she needed no thermometer to assess a fever. She could feel whether or not we were running inordinately "hot" or not just by pressing her hand on our foreheads.

That cool hand on a flush face was often more comforting than any St. Joseph's Aspirin for Children and provided a balm that outdid Vicks VapoRub.

"You're hot. Let's get back into bed."

She then -- treat of treats! -- wheeled our ancient black and white TV into the sick room and allowed an entire day of Popeye, Woody Woodpecker, and Huckleberry Hound. Lunch would assuredly be tomato soup with a flotilla of Zesta saltines bobbing in it. And the afternoon unfold in a cycle of naps and quiet book reading.  

How I miss that hand on the forehead. The other one cradling my chin. The warm eyes conveying that everything was going to be all right.

How I'd love to feel it just once more...

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Quiet Desperation

A slice of dialog from the movie A Christmas Story came to me full-force yesterday.

In the movie, Ralphie and his brother Randy go to Higbee's Department Store to see Santa. The siblings approach the line, relatively short, and prepare to see the Big Kahuna.

They are interrupted, however, by a gentleman who calls out to them: "Hey, kid! The line ends here. It begins there!" He motions over his shoulder to indicate several hundred kids eagerly waiting.

Adult Raphie laments in his narration: "The line stretched all the way back to Terre Haute. And I was at the end of it."

This vignette came to me yesterday as I went on a mission to resolve a problem with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Unemployment Compensation program.

In a nutshell, my status was automatically declared "inactive." I was no longer able to file claims, either by computer or phone, thereby cutting off payment.

Not a good scenario.

The online directions I accessed for resolving the problem provided a telephone number for the UC Service Center. I called Monday and was informed that the offices were closed due to the Columbus Day holiday, but that I was welcome to call the next business day, Tuesday, between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.

Jim dandy!

I called Tuesday morning and got a busy signal. Tried again a few minutes later and again, the number buzzed busy.

And again.

A few hours later, ditto.

That day, October 09, I tried 15 times to get through. And the number was busy each time.

Okay, I thought, I guess with the holiday the phone traffic has backed up. I'll call again tomorrow.

Wednesday, I dialed 40 times. Nada.

I suspected that perhaps the number was out of service, but as a test, I called after the 4 p.m. cutoff time and it rang through, telling me to call back during regular business hours.

Thursday, I ramped up to 53 times. Zzzt-Zzzt-Zzzt.

I was on the verge of total frustration at this point. There was no other way to resolve this than over the phone, and I couldn't connect!

The continual rap of my head on this brick wall led me to action: Among the materials received through the Unemployment Compensation Office was a list of regional UC offices. I scanned them quickly. One was in Philadelphia. Another was in Allentown.

Thinking that perhaps I could get my problem expedited in Allentown rather than Philadelphia, I drove the 40+ miles northward.

I found the office on W. Hamilton Street and went to the front door. Locked.

I saw a side door and tried it: Success.

I needed to hunt for the Suite 500 listed on the address. I found Suite 400. I found Suite 600. 500 was nowhere to be found. There were signs posted on all doors: This office is for the payment of State and Local Taxes on UC payments only. Do not ring bell unless you are making one of these payments.

Friendly, yes?

I found someone wandering the halls and asked where Suite 500 was. She helpfully pointed me to the right door -- the number had been plastered over with more signage -- and I rang the bell.

A voice responded. I told of my plight and that I was there to resolve a problem.

~sigh~ "Just a moment."

The door opened and a short, gray, elderly woman blazed into the hallway, her State ID dangling fiercely from a lanyard.

"Good morning," I started. "I need help with --"

"I can't help you here," she blasted. "Nobody can help you here. We're not set up for this. People come here all the time with their issues. It's the wrong place. You're in the wrong place."

"Isn't this the Service Center?" I asked.

"Yes. But it's the call Service Center. You can only access help by phone. We are not set up --"

Now I broke in. "But there must be something wrong with the phones. I've been calling for four days and..."

"Not my problem," she countered. "You cannot be here."

This went on for some time until she told me that there were direct lines into the Call Service Center. All I needed to do was go to a CareerLink office.

"Wait," I said, desperate to understand. "I need to drive to the CareerLink office. To access a phone. To get me to the Call Service Center people. Who are right through that door, ten feet away?!?!"

"All of this is in your booklet, sir. If you had read your booklet..."

"Can you give me the address of the nearest CareerLink center?" I asked, no longer interested in her lecture.

She provided it -- the only nice thing she did for me since blowing through the door -- and I left.

I drove through the winding streets of Allentown on the way to the CareerLink center. Had I known this was the solution, I could have gone to the one in nearby Norristown. Instead of one requiring a hour's drive!

I got to the CareerLink center, parked the car, and entered. It was a large, dingy room that smelled of anxiety and hopelessness. The receptionist, trying his best to be cheerful, said that yes, he could direct me to the necessary telephone, but there was a line.

Understatement of the decade.

The line was 30 people long, sitting in a spiral of chairs. The ring led to two telephones that connected permanently with the Customer Service reps. As one claimant finished with his/her issue, the entire line got up, moved one chair closer to the Promised Land, and sat.

I joined the end.

All the way in Terre Haute.

I looked at the faces of my fellow unemployed: Forlorn. Shamed. Bored. Angry. Desperate. Embarrassed. Resigned. Worried.

I understood all those faces.

During the 3+ hours it took for me to wait my turn, several took out cell phones and patiently updated family/friends on their progress. Several small conversations bloomed along the way -- and then quietly died like a weed after a week of no water. The center provided several editions of the local paper, and the steady sound of the flapping of their pages was often the only thing breaking the gloomy silence.

Fortunately, I had thought to bring my Kindle. I passed the time reading.

When I finally got to the phone, I felt like one of those Eastern Europeans who waited hours in line for toilet paper. 

Thankfully, the rep I connected with was able to resolve my problem. Turns out a computer glitch deactivated thousands of recipients all across the state. That explained the jammed lines.

Why the state didn't just a) Inform us via email or website what the problem was; and b) extend the phone hours until the backlog was resolved  (even if it did involve overtime or swing shifts) is a mystery to me.

I'm sure the answer has to do with budgetary restrictions. Or the fact that my solutions involve just plain old common sense.

Something the state often seems to have in very short supply.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Now We're Cooking...

Since being home and looking for full-time work -- a project, by the way, that is just about to hit the six-month mark, which has me on the outer edges of either absolute panic or absolute dread -- I have become chief chef of the household.

Eileen cooks well -- very well, in fact -- but her schedule now puts her home late in the afternoon, whereas I am home for the major portion of each day.

So I have taken over KP duty. And I'm okay with that.

When my mother, an RN, went back to work nights (I was in fourth or fifth grade), after her shifts were over, she bundle us off to school and sleep during the day. When we arrived home, there were chores to be done that she couldn't do, owing to her sleep cycles. So she taught her sons -- all three of them -- the finer arts of cooking, laundry, vacuuming, bed-making (hospital corners!), and other household skills.

They have all held me in good stead.

Truth be told, cooking was not Mom's strong suit. She was very much into culinary convenience, and the shortest distance between an empty table and a full belly often meant a trip through leftover-land. 

When the Crock Pot entered our lives, Mom was in heaven. She could assemble a meal, set it to bubble, go to bed, arise late in the afternoon, and have a hot dinner ready for when Dad got home.

Trouble is, she fell into ruts.

The Crock Pot came with a recipe booklet, and one of the dishes was some kind of bean and ground-beef concoction that was supposed to have a hint of BBQ flavoring to it, thanks to a dash of Liquid Smoke. Recipes for my mother, however, were best-case scenarios, and in a pinch, she found it perfectly acceptable to substitute. Especially if the substitution meant she could clear a leftover from the refrigerator.

So sometimes the ground-beef was supplanted by remnants of a pork loin that we'd had a few days prior.

Or some chicken, shredded off the bone.

All of which were fine variations.

Until they got out of hand. Occasionally, we'd find resurrected spaghetti in the pot, swirling in Liquid Smoke. Sometimes it was veal. Or Scrapple in there.

Also in her vein of recipe-as-suggestion-only mode, she stopped measuring seasonings like salt and pepper. And Liquid Smoke. I guess she thought that the more Smoke, the less likely were were to notice that we were really eating the Lo-Mein that we hadn't finished the weekend prior.

Gradually, we began to dread this dish. Upon coming home from school and finding it burbling in the pot begat sighs of resignation. And then eventually out-and-out protests.

I think the end of this dish in our weekly rotations came when we re-christenened it from "BBQ Burger -n- Beans" (or whatever its original title was) to "Bean Crud" a name that sticks with it to this day, even though we haven't had it in years.

In all fairness, though, my mother was magic with a pie. Using a "recipe" that was never written down (I suspect it was her mother's), she could weave fruit and dough into the most delicious pies imaginable. Apple. Peach. Strawberry. And my favorite in summer: Rhubarb.

But entrees? Not so much.

So I think to protect himself from biweekly servings of Bean Crud on the menu, Dad started cooking.

And interestingly enough, he was darned good at it.

So at his elbow, I learned a lot about seasoning and braising and savory flavors. Sunday afternoons, with Mom asleep upstairs, was our time to cook together.

The adventure, however, wasn't without its challenges. He got the notion one weekend for us to make homemade soft pretzels. We worked on the dough for hours, kneading and yeasting and dusting with flour. And I don't remember exactly what the problem was (I suspect some issue with the rising process), but when we were finished, we had exactly two pretzels to show for our labors.

He ate his. I ate mine. End of cooking session.

One other of his culinary pursuits was Pepperpot Soup, which his mother used to make. The recipe for this Philadelphia staple was a long and complicated series of steps involving tripe and little balls of dough, and by the time he finished making it, he had already declared the effort to be futile, not as good as his mother's."Maybe it's the water," he suspected. "Needs to come from those City reservoirs."

Christmas meant Springerles, a complicated and time-consuming German cookie that his grandmother used to make. I've inherited his love of these -- and the special molds necessary to create little images on their puffy surfaces. Their creation has been made a little easier thanks to an industrial mixer we purchased a few years back, but they still require a lot of attention and can go wrong at any number of points along the way.

But when they're right, oh, they are delicious. Springerles remain one of our most treasured holiday traditions.

So I'll be cooking tonight. I'm thinking Fettuccine Alfredo with grilled chicken. Maybe a small salad to go with. And a simple but sweet dessert. Later in the week, I'm looking at chili, especially as the weather turns damp and cold in these early days of fall.

Anything but Bean Crud!

Monday, October 1, 2012

An Unlikely Spokes-man

I finished the entire 75-mile length of the 2012 MS City-to-Shore ride on Saturday. Despite my fears beforehand; despite my thinking that I was ill prepared; despite the notion that at almost 50 years of age, I had no business attempting such an endeavor.

Despite all that, I crossed the finish line with my team, the Spoke Busters, at about 4PM.

It was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.

As I blogged about before, I underwent a total attitude change with regard to this ride. All summer long, I kvetched: Am *I* ready? Am *I* fit enough? Do *I* have what it takes?

Until Eileen reminded me: It's not about me. It's not about me, not in the least. It's about people who don't have the physical capacity to climb onto a bike at all. Ever. Or the physical capacity to stand. Or even move from a bed.

So my worries about sore muscles and epic fails were misplaced, on multiple levels.

It was an unforgettable day.

I awoke early, at 5AM. Took the dog for a quick walk, with the full moon still in full view. It was chilly, and the grass shimmered with dew in the milky light.

Eileen was dropping me off at the home of our team captain, and I was travelling to the starting point with her and the other Spoke Busters. Still dark, we arrived at her home, stowed all the bikes onto the cars we would be taking, and were off. I hugged Eileen tightly and said that I'd see her at the finish line.

We arrived at the PATCO station outside of Cherry Hill, NJ, where this odyssey would begin. It was swarming with people. The organizers were using a cattle-chute arrangement to send riders out in packs rather than in a throng, which was probably a good idea even if just from a safety standpoint.

I was shivering. A lot. It might have been the cold. Or the adrenaline. Or both.

8AM was the cutoff time; teams not prepared to leave by then would be bused to the first rest stop and their rides would be automatically shortened to 50 miles. Not wanting to incur that penalty, we hurried along and got to the start. By this point, it was possible to just enter the course in a steady stream, so with little fanfare, we were off.

The initial miles were through neighborhoods and residential areas. Police support was everywhere, holding back traffic as we needed and gauging congestion. There were also numerous volunteers along the way, showing us turns and route info. Mile one. Two. Three. Each one was marked by a roadside sign. Four. Five.

I was feeling good. The flow wasn't too crowded, and those I did feel the need to pass were politely moved aside with my calling "On your left." I was, at first, very cognizant of every mile, but after a while, I fell into a zone and just let my thighs and calves take over and do the work.

I retreated. Completely inside my own thoughts. All worries went away: Would I finish? Would I be okay? Would it rain? Would I get lost?

The bigger issues I've been carrying around all summer long -- the job concerns, the financial  woe, the depression associated with repeated rejection -- all that faded, too.

I remember looking up sometime later and coming across mile marker 17. Wow! How did that happen?

Rest Stop #1 was around the 20-mile mark, and I glided in. Support staff were everywhere, and anything a rider could need was there for the taking, from medical assistance to mechanical repairs. Water. PortaPotties. Snacks. Music. Dancing. Encouragement. All there.

We Spoke Busters agreed on a system by which we could each ride at our own pace but wait for the entire team at each stop. It was an effective way of allowing each rider to go at his/her own speed but also not to feel totally alone during the ride.

Back on the road, I found a very effective strategy for maintaining progress. I positioned myself behind a rider whose pace I felt comfortable with. Not too slow, but not so fast that I was chugging to stay close. And in that slipstream, I would just crank it. The miles piled on one another, and I definitely felt the thrill of making progress: I was actually doing this!

The countryside became much more rustic the further we went. Housing developments and stop lights were replaced by wide open farmland and the scent of horses. One home we went by was fully decorated for Halloween, with plastic ghosts and ghouls having a spree in the front yard. From behind the front gate, the homeowner screamed and bellowed, wearing a monster mask and wolfman gloves to spur us onward.

There were steady reminders of why we were doing this. Every now and again, stuck in the dirt, were lawn signs provided by MS listing the name of a patient: "Joe McDonald. Age 44. Diagnosed in 2001." There were also hand-lettered signs: "My Sister Thanks You for Riding" and "MS Sucks. You ROCK!!" Several homes had people on their lawns, cheering, clapping, bell-ringing, horn-blowing.

One of the stops had an MS patient onsite. She lay on a gurney, with a control room of equipment around her, just outside a vehicle that clearly had been designed to transport her. Her family held signs: Thank you for Riding. Thank you for Caring.

No, miss. Thank *you*. For reminding us how lucky we really are.

It was a very good feeling.

The fellow riders along the way were all so courteous. Upon passing, they would remind: On your left. On your left. If anyone was aside the road, cyclists going by would ask if he/she were okay. And there were little conversations that would pop up between strangers: "Keep it up. We're doing great. Nice weather for this, isn't it?"

The terrain began to flatten out. Several of the curbs had dustings of sand in them, indicating that we were generally making progress toward the beaches of Ocean City.

One of the rest stops served lunch. The Spoke Busters filled up on chicken sammies and veggie burgers and got back on the road.

The last leg was the one that intimidated me the most: Before crossing into the Gardens section of Ocean City, it would be necessary to cross two imposing bridges over the bay. They were long. They were high. And we would be tired.

As the ride wound down, we left the mainland town of Somers Point and, turning a bend in the road, faced the bridges head-on.

It was now or never.

I clanked down a few gears to make the pedaling easier and dug in. More. More. I passed a few riders who decided to walk their bike to the crest, but I was determined not to resort to that method of crossing. Eventually, the gravitational pull began to draw me forward, and I knew I was at the top. The view was spectacular, and with a whoosh of excitement, I flew down the opposing side.

'Round a bend. Travelling on the roadway through a marshy area. And then: Bridge Number Two.

It was shorter than the first, but the rise was steeper. Again, I shifted down and dug deep.

We agreed as a team to wait for each other at the top of this hill, and just as I was starting to really pant, I reached it. I was with one other member of our team -- someone whose pace matched mine nicely -- and we enjoyed the view. And the victory of having defeated these obstacles.

Before long, my remaining teammates joined us and together, we sailed down the far side and into Ocean City. There were cheering squads on just about every corner now, and we zoomed through the north end of the island and off to the finish at the high school.

Turning that last corner, I heard some particularly rousing cheers. There were Eileen and the girls, clapping and hooting at my achievement. Kristin held a sign on neon posterboard: Way to Go Dad!

I pulled into the bike parking area and basked in the glow of goodwill. I accepted the congratulations for the achievement and smiled from ear to ear.

The City-to-Shore Ride was one of the most gratifying things I've ever done. I was sore the next day for sure (walking the dog that night was a real lesson in tiredness). But my aches and pains and slow steps would resolve themselves in a day or two.

The people for whom I rode?

Theirs would be there the following day. And the day after that. And the day after that...

I am so blessed.