Thoughts While Mowing

This morning, before I had even finished my first cup of coffee, my wife announced that she had a big “LIST” for me. List is one of my wife’s favorite words, which she uses with annoying frequency. Almost, but not quite, as much as I use “God Damn”, which is my favorite expression.

And so, with no breakfast, the WSJ unread, and with Google Reader reporting 109 unread posts, I was shuffled out the door, in order to accomplish the “LIST” before the noon kickoff. To the drug store, for my prescription refills, to the dry cleaner with drop off and pick up responsibility. Then to the hardware megastore for new, shiny returns for the HVAC vents in a couple of rooms. Finally, the grocery store, in order to pick up the spareribs for the evening/first game of the year kickoff supper.

Only the grocery was out of spareribs. Plenty of babyback ribs – which are for amateurs. On to the second grocery – where my question “Are y’all out of ribs?” was greeted with hoots of derision from the counter men. One asked me, “Dude, what weekend is this? I think tomorrow’s a big holiday”. Never mind that he meant Monday; I had no choice but to admit that my procrastination had put this baby into the corner.

By the time the chuck wagon reached the house, it was nearly noon. The wife had taken the morning off to go to the Famer’s Market with her friend, so I had to unload the car, put the stuff away, and fix my own breakfast/lunch (brunch?). While reading the paper, watching the game, and catching up on Google Reader, my phone chimed. It was her, telling me that they were going to lunch, and see you in a bit. In an attempt at clever repartee, I replied that the window for the grass cutting had closed, and likely would not reopen until Monday. Big mistake.

And so, while Auburn struggled, Alabama marched, and Virginia Tech steamrolled, I pulled out the lawnmower, filled it with gas, and began. As the sweat slowly infiltrated my favorite t-shirt, and lawn detritus began to soil my exercise shoes, I pondered one of life’s great questions:

How does a man go from shameless to shameful?

Your typical unmarried male sheds responsibility like a dog shakes off water. He is deaf to the entreaties of a woman, if the result is a deprivation of his pleasure. He is blind to the effects of female disgust, and thus cannot see the approaching danger.

Married men, on the other hand, scurry from one assigned task to another, all the while casting covert glances at the game, or daydreaming about a cold beer, maybe later, if it is allowed.

We all know that the institution of marriage is one of civilization’s great rituals, whose meaning is embedded in all religions since the dawn of time. Sacred words are uttered, vows taken, and symbols of bondage exchanged. In many cultures, the man’s family has to pay a dowry to the bride’s family, thus ensuring the establishment of a life long debt, from which there is no abatement, and severe penalty if the contract is breached.

But how did we let things get so far out of hand?

I’m still pondering…….

Bib #40103

The Cooper River Bridge Run has been a fixture in the local community for 33 years. For most of that time, the CRBR was something that I, as a local, had dismissed as just another imposition on the city. Blocked streets, traffic gridlock, and jammed restaurants were  consequences that left me mildly irritated, somewhat aloof, and definitely not interested.

So, we signed up for the bridge "walk" this year. And had a blast.

The logistics of participation are daunting because, this year, there were 40,000 participants (more than my wife’s hometown). So we developed a plan for parking and getting to the gathering location, and set our alarm clock for 4:30 AM. The masses streamed into the gathering area from all directions, but we were quickly and efficiently organized into a single line and fed onto a fleet of buses for the shuttle to Mt. Pleasant. After a brief ride, in a bus filled with happy fellow racers, we were deposited about 2 miles from the starting line. Walking in the dark, we moved purposefully to the port-o-lets (plenty of them around) and onto the coffee filling stations.

Hats off to the crew at Dunkin’ Donuts. The place was warm, jumping, and the wait brief. And the coffee was delicious. It has to be their biggest day, in terms of sales, and they were ready! We lingered as long as we politely could in the warmth, but soon it was time to move on closer to the "corral". In the distance, we could see the starting line, and the announcers were revving up the crowd, but we knew we weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Ten minutes after the start, our section  began to move, in fits and starts, and slowly.

As we crossed the line, our friend from Asheville took the lead. Sandra, a veteran run/walk competitor, led us through the crowd at a brisk pace. After a few minutes, she let on that she had, not too long ago, participated in a race where they walked 26 miles the first day, and 14 miles the second day! My wife and I were both impressed and somewhat concerned at this news, knowing that we risked the possibility of humiliation on our very first walk. But she took mercy on us, and we settled into a steady 17 minute per mile pace.

And finally, the bridge loomed into view. With no noticeable change in pace, we proceeded up the incline. We had practiced, so it wasn’t bad, but I kept a close watch on my heart rate monitor. The ticker never got above 130, and soon we were at the top. At this point, things went downhill. The rest of the walk-run lay below us, and the crowd seemed to heave a collective sigh of relief. Sandra kept us moving smartly, and the miles (kms) flew by. Past water stations, pit stops, and bands, the crowd surged to the finish line. At there it was, the Finish Line. For us, thanks to Sandra, it was 1:45:12 from start to finish. I think we were surprised at how easy, and fun, the entire event was. I admit to a little soreness, and maybe a nap this afternoon, but there is nothing that makes me regret our decision to participate.

Bottom line: 1,021 calories burned, 6.2 miles walked, and great conversation along the way. We’ll do it next year, for sure.

A Sunday Drive

The land of the free and the home of the brave.

I was warned earlier in the week that we would be taking a Sunday drive in lieu of vacation. The route would be left up to me, with the caveat that the final waypoint should be a nice place for lunch.

Forewarned means prepared, and assistance came in the form of my South Carolina Atlas & Gazetteer, a great tool for finding the road not taken. Fortunately, my wife enjoys exploring as much as I do, and our comfort with the uncertainty of what the next curve brings has yielded many wonderful sights. And there are always surprises when you take the backroads and byways of your home turf.

So we found ourselves on Steed Creek Road, a quiet, smooth two-lane blacktop that cuts through the Francis Marion National Forest. Heading west, we came upon a sign with an arrow and the words: "Shooting Range".  All it took was a shared glance, and down the trail we went, coming soon to the Twin Pond Rifle Range.

Pulling into a parking area filled with cars and trucks, we shared a common concern; were we about enter the territory of drunken shooters, tattooed men with faces hidden by beards and topped with unruly mullets? Was this ground to be our final resting place?

Not to worry. What we found were, well, Americans…nice, friendly, normal looking people. Yes, they were shooting guns, and there was plenty of noise, really big noise. But a lot of the shooting was being done by wives and girlfriends, learning how to handle a pistol. A few hunters were zeroing their scopes, and the hobbyists were practicing their skills on their winchesters and other unidentifiable long guns. The atmosphere reeked of order, safety, expertise, and cordite and the volume of noise mixed with the power of the gunfire was somehow reassuring instead of frightening. Guns used not to intimidate or to murder, but to defend and protect, or to feed. 

We could have stayed, and maybe even had an opportunity to pull a trigger or two, but the blacktop beckoned. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Twin Pond, and there may yet be some friendships made in the pine forest of the Francis Marion.

Hardly settled into our seats and still processing the thrill of proximate gunfire, another opportunity presented itself with an intriguing sign.

Not a dirt road this, but a grassy track that led deeper into the pine trees. Apple Old Field Cemetery. A quiet place, and small. Neat and well tended, with a pretty, white picket fence to keep the animals and vandals away. A sunflower garnished the barrier, perhaps to soften the warning.

One gravestone stood taller than the others, with a  small Confederate battle flag placed alongside.

Miles from the nearest town, hidden in the vastness of a national forest, remembered still for his service to that old ideal, lies Elias Cumbee, born in 1846, died in 1923. After a little research, I think Elias Cumbee served as a private in Company D, 23rd Regiment of the South Carolina Infantry, also known as Hatch’s Coast Rangers, part of the Tramp Brigade. Here is a bit of the history of that regiment:

23rd Infantry Regiment [also called Coast Rangers] was assembled at Charleston, South Carolina, in November, 1861. Most of the men were from Horry, Georgetown, Charleston, and Colleton counties. After being stationed in South Carolina, the regiment moved to Virginia and during the war served in General Evans’, Elliot’s, and Wallace’s Brigade. It participated in the conflicts at Second Manassas, South Mountain, and Sharpsburg, then was ordered to North Carolina and later to Mississippi. The unit skirmished at Jackson, was sent to Charleston, and in the spring of 1864 returned to Virginia. It continued the fight in the trenches of Petersburg and around Appomattox. During the Second Manassas operations, August 6-20, 1862, this regiment lost sixty-eight percent of the 225 engaged, and all its field officers were wounded. It reported 10 killed, 22 wounded, and 5 missing in the Maryland Campaign, totalled 297 men in October, 1863, and had 49 killed or wounded at the Petersburg mine explosion. The 23rd had many disabled at Sayler’s Creek and surrendered 5 officers and 103 men.

Private Cumbee saw the worst of that war, and somehow survived. How many friends did he see die? Here is a more complete history at the regiment…

Just a few steps away we found a smaller headstone, bearing the name LeVaughan Cumbee. Carved in the stone, just below his name, is the legend "Tec5", the highest rank he held while serving in the army during World War II. Mr. Cumbee was born in 1917, and died sometime after the war (the date was unreadable).

No flag graced his final resting place, but his service to our country was considered important enough by his family to earn a prominent place on the headstone. It struck us that the grandfather would serve the Confederacy, and the grandson would then serve the United States. Buried within feet of each other, equally proud of their service, both willing to risk their lives to defend the ground they lie in. Different flags, different times, shared sacrifice.

The land of the free and the home of the brave.

Screwed by The Parking Gods


A letter to the editors in today’s Post & Courier takes the city to task:

In December, the city of Charleston raises parking fines 75 percent
to encourage citizens to use parking garages in downtown Charleston.

in January, the city’s Department of Revenue introduces the SmartCard
to make it more convenient to pay at a parking meter. Obviously the
debit-style card is aimed at locals (business people, clients, shoppers
and students) because “visitors from off” wouldn’t know about the

The immediate effect of the increase is that a meter violation now results in a parking ticket worth $14.

Then there was this bit of news that appeared in the paper on December 22:

In March, the city moved parking enforcement duties from the police
department to its revenue collections division. This loosened up budget
dollars and helped the city hire more parking enforcement officers.

Let me tell you that, as a “customer” of parking in downtown Charleston, around the College of Charleston, the enforcement troops are ubiquitous, aggressive, and determined. They are indeed attempting to force people into the garages that are sprinkled around the campus. Several of those garages are privately owned. Guess what? They just doubled their charge for the first two hours!

The law of unintended consequences? Or a nefarious plot. Either way, I’m screwed.