Monthly Archives: November 2016

Will I Miss My Morning Commute?

Now that my retirement is less than a year away, this is a question that has been rolling around in my head for the last several months. It probably started one day when I noticed a bumper sticker that read: “Work for me is just a detour on my way to happy hour.” Obviously for this person, their daily commute was just a passage to a more pleasurable, possibly numbing experience. As for me, the answer whether or not I will miss my commute is: yes and no. An explanation is probably in order for my indecisiveness.

I have written numerous times that I love cars and I love to drive. And for 34 years, a big part of my driving has been my daily commute to the same work location. Although I have lived in three different houses in different parts of the city/county during that time, for more than the last 15 years, my daily transit has been about 30 miles, round trip. This is the bulk of my total weekly mileage so my back and forth drive to work represents the majority of the time I spend behind the wheel of my car.

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For almost 20 years of that daily commute, I have had access to either a Miata or a Mini Cooper, both cars that are very fun to drive. When we first moved out to the county over 15 years ago, I intentionally took back roads in the morning zipping around some of the curvy county roads. Even taking back roads, my commute time was often just a little over 20 minutes. As more and more people moved out to the county, I would notice a bit more traffic each year when school started but by leaving just a little earlier, I could avoid a lot of this additional traffic and still have a blast on my drive in.

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In warmer weather, I particularly had a good time when I could drive to work with the top down. But each fall, I would notice a bit more traffic than I remembered when school was still in session. But then all that changed in the fall of 2013 when construction started on a new flyover at the busiest interstate exchange in the city.

Memphis is unfortunately cursed with very few continuous East-West streets. So when one of them is under construction, traffic backs up and many motorists hop over to one of the other East-West routes increasing their traffic significantly.

That construction is still going on and so for almost three years, one or more lanes of that main East-West Interstate have been closed. This is the same route also used by the majority of Interstate through-traffic so at certain times traffic crawls and when there is an accident, it literally becomes a parking lot. When that happens, even drivers normally willing to crawl on their commute seek an alternate route, which just increases traffic flow on these other routes even further. And construction is projected to continue until mid-year 2017, just a few months before I actually retire.

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So my ambivalence about answering my original question is driven by this predicament. I would love to drive like I used to without having to fight so much traffic. At times now, my old 20-minute commute can turn into over an hour. People that love to drive love to do just that, drive, not sit in traffic.

This past August when school started back, traffic was absolutely the worst it has ever been. Construction at another interstate interchange that started over the summer has even taken away a roundabout way for me to get work that distance-wise was even further but actually took less time. Certain sections of my drive today would actually take less time if I were walking. And on mornings before work when I exercise by running, traffic is even worse because I am heading out the door sometimes an hour later.

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As a result, I have started spending more nights during the week at our mid-town condo from where my commute time is 10 minutes or less. It is really too short for a fun drive but it is a much better alternative than dealing with the frustration of excessive traffic. I also recently came to the realization that rather than spending the night at the condo, I could actually drive from home to the condo early in the morning and either run in that neighborhood or simply get ready for work there. The first time I tried this, I had a 25 minute commute to the condo (with very little traffic and even fewer stops at traffic lights) and then once I had gotten ready for work, had an 8-minute commute to work for a total commute time of 33 minutes. Rare during the school year is my morning commute from home ever this short.

This new approach will help me avoid hour-long commutes to work until May when school gets out. And then next August when school starts back, it will be the first school year in five years that morning traffic hasn’t been negatively impacted by construction.

Will my commute return to what it was like 15 years ago? Probably not since during that time, more population has moved to the county resulting in even more cars than before. But at least a more rapid commute on the Interstate should funnel off some of the cars from the back roads I prefer to use.

So at least for those last few months, my commute will be better than it’s been in five years. And once I actually retire and am no longer driving to work each weekday, I know I will likely think of numerous errands I need to run to get in some fun drives—just not during rush hour. Who knows, maybe some of those drives will be just to enjoy the road with no other purpose in mind. Because for someone who loves cars, a commute is all about the drive, not necessarily the destination.

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Golf?

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Recently, when I started my list of activities to do once I retire, golf was on that list. Interestingly, golf really hasn’t been on my mind in quite some time. But a recent conversation with a friend, who retired this year, brought it back to the fore front of my thoughts.

The conversation we were having over dinner was some of his ideas for what he would do now that he was retired. Golf was not a sport he participated in over his entire professional career, but now that he had the time, it was a game he was interested in learning to play. Since then, he and I have had an additional discussion about what he would need to get started. And the conversation got me thinking back over my own, somewhat limited golf game.

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I was actually in high school when I first took up the game. After we moved to Memphis, my dad suggested that my brother and I should learn to play golf. To my knowledge, my dad had never played either so it would be a learning experience for all three of us. My mother found a set of used, rather old “Ben Hogan” golf clubs in the East Memphis Shoppers News for us to buy and the only other items we bought were golf balls and tees.

One summer day, we headed over to Fox Meadows golf course to play our first round (I think it was a day set aside for beginners to avoid frustrating regulars with the slow play of someone learning). The three of us teed up our balls and each hit our drive. With my dad carrying the bag, we made our way off the tee walking towards our balls. Suddenly, we started hearing the starter announce over the loud speaker that each player needed his own bag. We didn’t know what he meant or whom he was even talking to but since no one came running after us, we kept walking (Not long after that, we learned that each of us needed our own bag and clubs and so my brother and I each bought a starter set.). My only other memory from this less than auspicious start was that I don’t think we were even able to finish that first round of nine holes as we lost so many balls; we had none left to play the last hole.

During high school, my brother and I would golf with some friends from our church. Many Saturdays, we would go to Overton Park to play their short nine-hole course—a great place for beginners like us. This whole time, I never had any golf lessons, learning on my own without guidance or correction of my bad habits. I played some in college with one of my chemistry professors but this didn’t occur very frequently.

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It wasn’t until I started my second job that I really began to play golf on a more regular basis. This was prompted by the fact that the company had a golf league. Each summer, they would sponsor three tournaments and then every two weeks, there would be competition on individual play. In these two-week rounds, you could turn in your best 18-hole game and compete with others in your flight for free golf balls, based on your handicap (I was obviously in the lowest flight). At the end of the summer, the year-end tournament would then pair the top finishers from these two-week rounds.

One year I actually competed in my flight at the year-end tournament. The person I was competing against was a much better player than me and so he had to give me about eight strokes to even our game. I think I gave up all eight strokes on the first two holes. After that he, clobbered me. I don’t remember by how many strokes he beat me but because there were just two of us, I got the 3rd place trophy (the first place finisher had already been decided).

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One of the nice things about these two-week rounds was that you didn’t have to play 18 holes at one time. They just had to be 18 consecutive holes on the same course. This meant with summer’s longer days, we could play after work, playing the front nine one week and the back nine the second week. It avoided me trying to find the time on a Saturday to play 18 holes, which was getting more difficult as our kids got older.

Then one time, it came down to the last day, a Sunday before the round closed and I still needed my second nine to be able to turn in my 18-hole card. That day was hot as Hades but I called a co-worker and asked if he would join me. He agreed and so we met at Galloway golf course. I needed to play the front nine and so we able to get off from the number 1 tee. On the 5th hole, a par 3, I made a hole-in-one. It was not the beautiful shot you would see a pro make on television. It was a terrible shot with the ball first hitting in the fairway, a second bounce on the green and the third bounce hitting the stick and wedging between the stick and cup. I joked later that had it not gone in, I probably never would have been able to find my ball as it was traveling so fast when it hit the stick.

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For my ace, I got my name in the newspaper and I still have the ball. Around that time, my father-in-law also made a hole-in-one and he got his ball nicely mounted on a wooden plaque along with his scorecard. I didn’t feel right doing that as the “1” on my scorecard was sandwiched between a triple bogey “7” and a double bogey “6”.

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Not long after that, I took a role on the golf committee. Wouldn’t you know it would be the year we decided to play Fox Meadows, where my golfing all got started? Usually, we play our end of the year tournament at a course where we could reserve tee times weeks in advance. But since Fox Meadows was a public course, it was first come, first served on the day of play. Each golfer could reserve two tee times so we had to get a number of us to camp out in the parking lot of Fox Meadows all night to get the 10 to 12 tee times we wanted when the starter showed up at dawn. Needless to so, none of us played very well in the tournament that year.

As our kids got older and took on numerous after school activities, it became impossible for me to play after work and even weekends were typically tied up with things to do. So at some point, I had to give up playing altogether. Once our kids were older, I could have taken it back up but unfortunately I developed sciatica and had to have back surgery. After that, I was concerned that playing would cause my sciatica to return and so I just gave up any hope of ever playing again.

I missed getting to play in Hawaii because of my sciatica

I missed getting to play in Hawaii because of my sciatica

At least until just recently when I had that conversation with my friend. I recalled how much I used to enjoy being out on the course, taking in all of the beautiful greenery and the immaculately manicured fairways and greens. It is exciting to think about playing again.

My first step will be to go to a driving range and see how much I have forgotten. Or how much of my bad habits I have still retained. By definition, I am not a senior citizen yet so maybe in the years I have until then, I can get a good game back and be able to compete with some old men like I used to see playing when I was young, especially since I will be a senior citizen by that time.

9/11 Memories

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This year marked the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. For many Americans, it gave us a chance to reflect back to where we were and what we were doing when the attacks occurred. For those also of my generation (mid-baby boomer), it was a recollection just as crystal clear as when we learned of the assignation of John F. Kennedy. It was just one of those unforgettable moments.

My memories of 9/11 are also permanently etched in my mind as I witnessed part of the events that day live as they happened.

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I was in Chicago that week to teach my Validation course on the 10th through the 12th of September 2001. On Monday, I had taught my usual first day lectures and so on Tuesday morning, I was making my way down to the hotel ballroom where our course was taking place. When I stepped from the elevator on the 1st floor, and walked past the lobby bar, I noticed a large crowd congregated in the bar watching one of the TVs. As I stepped forward, I saw smoke coming from one of the Twin Towers. I asked someone standing close by what had happened and the person replied that a plane had crashed into the tower. I next made a comment about what a terrible accident it was when moments later, the speeding image of the second plane came onto the screen and crashed into the second tower. The next words out of my mouth were, “That was no accident.”

Because the second plane hit about 30 minutes before our course was scheduled to begin, it was obviously the talk of everyone. When it came time to start, I conferred with the course receptionist about what to do. A few minutes later, the FAA took care of that when for the first time in our country’s history, they grounded all flights. I then announced to the participants that given what had just happened, if anyone needed to try to reach family or loved ones that I certainly understood but since the FAA had just grounded all flights, we weren’t going anywhere and so we should proceed with our course.

As our course and the day progressed, the news just got worse. We learned of the other two hijacked planes and their fates and then first the South Tower, and then the North Tower collapsing.

That night on the news and in the days following the conclusion of the course, I can’t imagine how many times I saw the replaying of the plane crash and the Towers falling. It is a moving image indelible on my mind just like the video of the Challenger disaster in 1986. And the reason I had the opportunity to watch it so many times is like so many other travelers, I was stranded in Chicago until flights were resumed.

I was actually one of the more fortunate ones getting home Friday morning simply because Northwest Airlines was repositioning planes to their hub cities and Memphis was a hub. I recall walking into O’Hare that Friday morning and seeing military personnel armed with rifles and machine guns everywhere in the airport. I knew right then and there that the world as we knew it had changed forever.

Following my flight to Memphis, as I turned onto the street that would take me to my subdivision, I felt a huge sense of grief for what had happened but also a massive sense of relief of the blessing that all of my family was safe and that I was almost home. The two intertwined emotions within me brought forth uncontrollable tears.

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The following March, I was again teaching our Validation course, this time in New Jersey. After the course ended, my wife joined me and we went into New York City for the day. In addition to going up in the Empire State Building, the once again tallest building in New York, we visited Ground Zero.

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The clean-up and recovery effort was still in full swing, almost 6 months after 9/11. It was very somber and sobering to be there.

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While we were there, the remains of another person who had lost their life on 9/11 was recovered. It brought back the tragedies of that day all over again.

In 2013, the year our daughter-in-law finished her graduate degree at NYU, we visited the 9/11 Memorial site, though still unfinished at the time.

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The twin pools are truly remarkable and are quite a tribute to the towers that once stood on that spot. It is amazing to think that as tall as the two Towers were, that their footprint was so very small in comparison. Unfortunately the underground museum had not opened yet so our visit was limited to standing by the pools and going inside the temporary gift shop set up close by. But just standing next to the pools and watching the water cascade down recreating the inverted image of the distinctive exterior of the Towers is awe inspiring.

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Months prior to the 15th anniversary this year, I happened to be in New Jersey teaching another course. This time, I did not visit New York, but rather just saw Manhattan from across the Hudson in New Jersey. As I stared at the completed Freedom Tower, now called One World Trade Center, it was again a somber moment thinking back to the events of 9/11 and of my two visits to Ground Zero, separated by over 10 years.

All three are memories I know I will permanently have. I honestly don’t know how people who live in the area can see those reminders and not think back to the day’s tragedies as they scurry about on their activities. For me, whether it’s 15 or 20 or even 30 years, it will always be a sad memory, one I know I won’t forget for the rest of my life.

A Curated Condo?

Our oldest son, his wife and daughter were in town for a visit earlier this year. On their last night in town, they spent the night at our condo since they had an early flight the next morning and our condo is a quick 10-minute drive to the airport. They had not actually been to our condo in a couple of years so it was their first opportunity to see what all we had done since their last visit.

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When I was dropping them off there, I took it as quite a compliment when my son walked in, looked around and said our condo looked like it had been curated.

I’ve written before what a wonderful, vacation-like place our condo is and how we have worked at making it a special place. And I absolutely have to give my wife tremendous credit for decorating it with the help of her life-long friend. Whether by strict curatorial discipline or a wonderful vision, I had to agree with my son’s assessment. That is because everything hanging on the walls is an original piece of art and many of the pieces of furniture are vintage mid-century modern, almost one of a kind period pieces that my wife has found on the Internet or purchased at estate sales.

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In early December 2013 once we had purchased the last of our furniture—barely 6 months after completing the extensive renovation—our walls were completely bare. But even before we had reached this milestone, my wife had been busy scouring treasure. And one of her favorite venues for this is a silent auction where the thrill of winning a prize exudes from my wife with child-like delight when she ends up being the top bidder.

The first five pieces of art to be hung in our condo all came from three different silent auctions my wife attended while we were still busy renovating and furnishing the condo.

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All of these looked very nice, but being someone that likes to complete one project and move onto another, I soon grew impatient wanting to add more to give that finished look. My wife on more than one occasion made it clear to me that she did not want to take any existing art from our home down to the condo. And for a long time, I respected her choice by not bringing pieces from home to fill the empty walls. Not surprisingly, I began to ask her when an upcoming art auction might be in the hopes of discovering more art. But several of the next ones we attended proved fruitless despite my strong desire to advance our art decorating.

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Case in point, this small blank wall between the door to our kitchen and bedroom proved quite difficult to fill.

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For a while, all that was there was a 1950s set of nesting tables my wife had shipped from Denmark. A small cabinet eventually replaced this; another Internet find.

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But we had trouble finding what would go on the cabinet as well as above it on this small wall. Then one time when my wife was out of town, I brought two of my favorite items from home just to try them out: one that I refer to as my “fake Chihuly” and the other a three dimensional piece entitled “Collecting Dreams” that we had gotten one year at the River Arts fest.

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I recognize and willingly accept that if a more appropriate item is discovered in the future, that these items will be replaced but at least for now, the space is not empty even if it is occupied with temporary “squatters.”

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Over the next couple of years, a few other small pieces have been added…

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…as well as a couple of my favorites. A tribute to our local microbreweries we found at the Cooper-Young festival…

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…and a vintage photograph by Don Newman, a local photographer from the mid 20th century, that my wife gave me for Christmas one year.

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The spot over our bed was also empty until my wife made another successful discovery on the Internet, a tile mural.

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And for the longest time, our bathroom walls were empty but thanks to another silent auction and a visit to the old Tennessee Brewery, appropriate photos were obtained.

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At this point, I felt we were nearing completion but still at least two more spots needed art, one over our dresser and the other next to our vintage dining room table. The spot over our dresser was filled following a trip to Asheville, NC when I ran across a panoramic canvas photo of the famous Linn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway, my favorite road in the entire world.

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The other was the printing and framing of four different photos my wife and I had taken on some of our trips to Amsterdam, some of our own art.

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The final piece that I had been wanting to add for some time but had not been willing to spend the money on was a Vitra Design Museum miniature chair to sit on our vintage end table next to the vintage ash tray.

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Thanks again to my wife, she gave this piece to me for my birthday this year.

As I reflect back to the comment my son made, it is easy to see how he would have concluded this. Over the past three years, each furniture item and each piece of art has been carefully selected from a multitude of sources. So the condo—our condo—that I have referred to before as my vacation condo is now, thanks to my son’s assessment, also a personal art museum. And with our lifetime memberships in hand, my wife and I are free to visit any time we want.