Friday, February 7, 2014

The 700,000

©2014 by LeeZard
Let’s see, the last time I was in a crowd of any size was November 1999. It wasn’t nearly as much fun; the air was filled with pepper spray and I was dodging rubber bullets fired by the ill-prepared Seattle Police Department during the WTO riots – but that was “only” about 50,000 people.

In 1979 I joined 300,000 to cheer the NBA champion Seattle Supersonics. I’d have to go back another 30-years to the original Woodstock and a pair of massive anti-war marches on Washington, D.C. But those crowds were “only” about half-a-million.

This week I was at the heart of The 700,000, The Seattle Seahawks screaming, cheering, adoring fans, their storied 12th Man, massed for the team’s Super Bowl parade through downtown Seattle. I love big events. I go as much to observe – and write about – the people as I do for the event itself. This one provided plenty of fodder; it was a singular life experience.

I knew as soon as the final whistle blew on Seattle’s thrashing of the Denver Broncos that I would go to the Hawks’ parade. In 1979 I casually arrived about two hours before the Sonics’ parade started and ended up about a block from the route on Fourth Avenue. I saw nary a Sonic but screamed and cheered with everyone else. This time, I would not be thwarted. I had The Plan.

I popped out of bed at 5am Wednesday, ready and rarin’ to go. Phase One of The Plan was the dress code. It’s unusually cold this week but I was ready with long johns, two pair of wool socks, two layers of shirts topped by a heavy hoody, my winter hiking boots, heaviest jacket, knit cap, and a thick pair of ski gloves.

Phase Two of The Plan was to drive south, away from Seattle, and park for free at the regional transit light rail station in Tukwila, eliminating certain traffic and parking distress. I wasn’t alone in my foresight; even at 5:45am I was lucky to grab one of the final slots in time to catch a 6am train. Regular commuters were drowned in a sea of blue and Hawks green. It was standing room only.

By the time I arrived at the downtown Westlake Station 40-minutes later the streets were already abuzz but not overly crowded. Addressing Phase Three of The Plan, I quickly scouted out a choice curbside spot in front of Westlake Park at the corner of Fourth and Pine next to a KING-TV news crew and up against the temporary steel crowd barrier. After chatting up the crew for a few minutes and dropping a few names of former colleagues still at KING, my spot was safe and secure.

The Starbucks right across the street at Westlake Center was already slammed with a line snaking out the front door. This being caffeine-fueled Seattle, I strolled a short two blocks, passed two other jammed Starbucks and walked right up to the counter at a third store tucked away on a side street. It was but 16 degrees and my first thermos of hot java was gone.

I nursed my coffee and read the newspaper for about 45-minutes before taking up my frozen vigil. It was a few minutes before eight, only three hours until the scheduled start of the parade. The crowd was starting to build, by now about six or seven deep.
Everywhere I turned there were flags, banners, posters and blown up pictures of favorites.


Traffic was still flowing north on Fourth, most of the vehicles sporting Seahawks colors and/or flags and honking their horns to the raucous delight of onlookers. 
By nine o’clock Phase One of The Plan unraveled; the tips of my fingers began to go numb. Thirty minutes later my toes also numbed, painfully so. The minutes began to drag by and at about 9:45 I ever so briefly considered bailing as the cold slowly seeped deeply through my entire body. I quickly rejected the idea, even before I turned my head and saw there would be no escape as the sidewalk was now shoulder-to-shoulder full from the curb to the building line. Luckily, Hip Hop fate intervened.
At precisely 10 o’clock the large speakers at Westlake Center boomed, “Hellllllooooo Seattle!! I am Supreme La Rock, official DJ for Seattle Seahawks.” He immediately followed with the familiar call and response chant that haunts opposing teams at Century Link Field, “SEEEEEEAAAAAAA – HAWKS, SEEEEEEAAAAAAA – HAWKS.” And the real party started.

As if he couldn’t drive the crowd any wilder, La Rock boomed, “I just got a text from Beast Mode, Marshawn Lynch, with a request for his favorite song,” and spun into a rap about Lynch’s now famous quote, “’Bout that action, Boss.” Before I knew it my frozen feet were dancing and my bones were rattling to the beat. I could hear my kids’ voices in my head, “Dad, you are such a dork!” I didn’t care; I could feel the feeling coming back into my frigid digits.
La Rock continued to DJ tunes I’d never heard before while the surrounding (and much younger) crowd mouthed every lyric. But, there I was, the 66-year old dork rockin’ to the Hip Hop beat with many thousands of my new friends. What a blast!!! It was a good thing too; what we didn’t know at the time was that the parade would step off more than 90-minutes after its scheduled 11 o’clock start. Not that it mattered. The beat gave us the heat with all discomfort forgotten. Party on, Dude!
 
Finally, at 12:30pm, even louder roars from the crowd to our north signaled the parade was approaching and my front row spot suddenly became about a tenth row spot as hundreds started climbing the waist-high steel barriers and filling the Fourth Avenue roadway. Seattle police, with help from surrounding jurisdictions, tried in vain to firmly/gently move people back toward the curb. Eventually they were able to make enough room for the caravan to move by. Thankfully, they also got the people in the street to sit down so my prime viewing lines were preserved and I prepared my trusty old Nikon CoolPix digital camera to record it all.

And, this is one of those rare times when words nearly fail me. The players/coaches were riding atop both military vehicles and in those high amphibious vehicles that usually haul tourists around The Emerald City hither and yon. The collective euphoria, joy, love and gratitude enveloped everyone there. While the aroma of semi-legal marijuana wafted through the air (it is not legal except in private settings) this was not a drug-fueled Woodstockian Love-In; this was pure and raw mass emotion and it was thrilling.

Suddenly, just a few yards in front of me was a hatless and black overcoat-clad Pete Carroll pumping his fist and grinning like a Cheshire Coach, Beast Mode standing on the hood of an amphibian tossing skittles into the mass of fans and Russell Wilson waving necklaces of shiny blue and green beads. The Legion of Boom took up two vehicles but, of course, Richard Sherman stood out with his trademark dreadlocks. 
As each position group rolled by I snapped away as quickly as I could to capture as many memorable moments as possible. In return the players were taking pictures, shooting videos of us and joining the dancing party. WOW! DOUBLE WOW!

Then, like a finely cooked gourmet meal that took hours to prepare, the historic moments were much too quickly consumed and digested.

Phase Four of The Plan was getting out of Dodge as quickly and safely as possible. Again, using past experience, I knew the bulk of the masses would linger to revel and party some more. A good number of us, though, quickly turned east as soon as the last amphibian passed and tried to move away from Fourth Avenue – no easy feat even with fleet feet. We were salmon against the flow of a powerful human river and it took about 20-minutes to get from Fourth to Fifth Avenue.

Along the way, I noticed what I consider a brilliant crowd control tactic by event planners and/or law enforcement. Halfway between Fourth and Fifth several rows of police buses were parked tail-to-nose with about two feet between each row, forcing the masses to separate into orderly lines with little or no shoving/pushing that could cause skirmishes and injuries. Miraculously, there were no arrests the entire day. Think about that! Almost a million people crammed into downtown Seattle without a single arrest. Only the 12th Man could pull that one off.

It was jam packed standing room only on the light rail ride south to Tukwila but nobody cared; the euphoria of the day drifted through the air like intoxicating incense with ongoing whoops, chants and camaraderie. For me, it was time for a quick reflection to organize and gather my thoughts for this piece. It wasn’t very difficult; every image, sound and emotion is seared forever in my mind. The Plan was beyond successful.

Finally, I want to offer a couple of quick props. First, to all the policemen/women assigned to crowd control. It could’ve led to a near impossible, if not disastrous, conclusion with one overzealous nightstick swing or harsh command. Instead, the police presence was there but not overwhelming, maintaining a balance between firm control and threatening micro-control.

Finally, join me in a round of applause, please, for my 66-year old prostate. I remembered reading stories of people in Times Square for last New Year’s Eve wearing adult diapers because they would be standing for hours with no place to go – literally. Thank you Mr. Prostate for standing down, at least for one amazing and historic day.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Whither Richard Sherman

©2013 by LeeZard



Are you tired of hearing The Richard Sherman Story, the one about his explosive interview with ESPN’s Erin Andrews after the Seattle Seahawks beat the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game? I am and yet, I feel compelled to write about it. Well, not so much about the interview – that was (and is) pure Richard Sherman. I want to write about the man-child – because that’s what he is and that’s why he said what he said and said it the way he said it.
The Play - Richard Sherman tips the ball intended
for Michael Crabtree.


It’s not difficult to parse his tweeted apology. He didn’t apologize for what he said, per se; he apologized for taking the limelight away from his team and teammates by declaring himself the best cornerback in the game – which he is. What he didn’t apologize for was his comments about the abilities of 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree. Again, that’s pure Sherman.

In the interest of full disclosure, I love Richard Sherman, the person and the player. I’ve loved him since his breakout year last season. It’s easy to love him as a player; he simply is the best right now. Colin Kaepernick didn’t throw in his direction until that final, fateful play at the end of the championship game. That, my friend, is what we call respect, mixed with some fear.
For many, it is more difficult to like Richard Sherman the person. He is outspoken, brash and unafraid to speak his mind. He goes against convention in the No Fun League (NFL). Toss in the fact that he is African-American, a brilliantly smart one, and let the racist roast begin. I like him for all of the above reasons. He is a Starbucks Iced Quad Latte on a hot sunny day.
Unfortunately, too many NFL fans are bubbas who can spell beer but not latte. Toss in the casual fans that barely follow the NFL until Super Sunday and you can better understand the vitriol heaped on Sherman this past week. In today’s lightning fast digital media world, the conflagration was virtually instantaneous. Poor Richard.
Poor Richard? I think not. This man-child cares more about the joy of playing the game, winning and his team than the outside world’s perception of him. That, too, is pure Sherman. Besides, he is the best at what he does and, when his current contract expires, he will be a very wealthy man-child.
What the bubbas of the world don’t do is look at Richard Sherman and consider from whence he came. First of all, Sherman is only 25-years young. Think about that. Just a few years out of college and he is at the top of his profession and playing in the Super Bowl. Oh, and his college? Stanford. Not exactly a football factory.
Richard's Parents, Kevin & Beverly
Richard Sherman grew up in the Watts section of Los Angeles, maybe one of the toughest neighborhoods in America, certainly one of the most notorious. If he didn’t grow up in abject poverty, Sherman wasn’t exactly sucking the silver spoon. His dad drives a garbage truck, still leaves the house at 4am to make his rounds. Sherman’s mom works for Los Angeles County, teaching mentally disabled kids. In that he was lucky; too many Black kids grow up without their dads around.
Sherman will tell you both his parents stressed the importance of education above all else. In his words, “It got to the point where I’d bring home a B in middle school, even in a tough class, and get stern looks, like, That is not acceptable.”[1]
Two other gifts he received from his parents were a strong work ethic and just keeping him involved with sports and other activities, the latter keeping him away from the gang culture that surrounded him.
Sherman says he decided at the age of seven that he wanted to play in the NFL. In high school he played both wide receiver and cornerback and the big football programs came looking. It was also apparent in high school that this kid was more than just a jock. Again, in Sherman’s words, “I also realized that by doing well in school, I’d always be able to control my fate. Knowledge is power, and I wanted as much power over my life as possible. There were times when my favorite subject was math. Other times it was English. I remember reading The Iliad and loving it. You wouldn’t think a football player would be into Greek poetry about the Trojan War, but my parents gave me the greatest piece of knowledge when I was young: You can learn a lot if you’re willing to go outside your comfort zone.”
USC wanted him as a cornerback but he was drawn to Stanford because they would play him on offense. Not surprisingly, he was also drawn “by the school’s academic culture and prestige.”
As the 2011 NFL draft approached, Richard Sherman thought he might go in the second or third round. His name wasn’t called until the fifth round and to this day he carries that as a motivational chip on his shoulder. If there is such a thing as channeling anger in a positive, albeit violent manner, then Sherman has perfected the art. He always talks about that draft and all those who told him he wasn’t good enough.
Finally, and sadly, there is the racial issue in this whole maelstrom. He doesn’t talk about it much, in fact I never heard him mention it until this week, but Sherman also feels anger toward those who begrudge the fact that he is smart, good and Black. To them, he says, that is an oxymoron. He brought it up in a Seattle news conference this week, saying he was disappointed that some bubbas (my word, not his) were calling him a “thug.” In case you aren't aware, the word nigger hides behind the word “thug.”
Richard Sherman thought he had won that battle, that people were accepting him simply as an intelligent and gifted person. At his news conference he said he was disappointed that he had to fight that battle again. So am I.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Time

©2014 by LeeZard
The time has come today…..
Chambers Brothers
Ti-i-i-ime is on my side, yes it is…..
Rolling Stones
Time keeps on slippin,’ slippin,’ slippin’ into the future…..
Steve Miller Band


Who invented “time?” If you enter the question into Google, several sites address the question and all in a similar way; nobody invented time. If you look further you learn that the concept of time was more the evolution of observation(s), i.e. the changing of the seasons, the rising and setting of the sun and moon, etc.
I’ve looked at several explanations of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and, frankly, my eyeballs start rolling back into my head. Clearly I am not a physicist. The closest thing I found to an understandable (to moi) explanation is at http://library.thinkquest.org/06aug/02088/einstein.htm:

“In 1915, Albert Einstein first proposed his theory of special relativity.  Essentially, this theory proposes the universe we live in includes four dimensions, the first three being what we know as space, and the fourth being spacetime, which is a dimension where time and space are inextricably linked.  According to Einstein, two people observing the same event in the same way could perceive the singular event occurring at two different times, depending upon their distance from the event in question.  These types of differences arise from the time it takes for light to travel through space.  Since light does travel at a finite and ever-constant speed, an observer from a more distant point will perceive an event as occurring later in time; however, the event is "actually" occurring at the same instant in time.  Thus, "time" is dependent on space.”
However you define it though, in today’s helter-skelter world, time is everything; there’s not enough time in the day, the Web site takes too long to load, I can’t get all my errands done during my lunch hour, this traffic is making me late. I don’t have time for this; I don’t have time for that.
The idea of time passing is on my mind a lot these days. While 66 is not considered very old by Baby Boomer standards – and I certainly don’t feel, think, look or act “old” – in an existential sense it’s become a part of me. I don’t mean this in a morbid or end-of-life way. Just the opposite in fact, I am becoming more aware of the opportunities still in front of me and, yes, in the back of my mind is the reality that time is indeed slipping into the future.
Nonetheless, time does not scare me and perhaps that is why I will never “retire.” I plan to be productive in one way or another until they plant me or hurtle my mortal remains into space. I also believe it is this kind of thinking that will help me evolve and grow until my last breath.
This is why I took a minimum wage job at Starbucks so I can continue in the role of starving writer. I still believe my audience is out there. It is why I am always looking to make new friends, young and old and why I will always remain “teachable.” And, it is also why the word “love” continues to have so many meanings for me (beyond the traditional definition of “romantic love”); there is always something or somebody ahead that will be worthy of my love.
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven…..
The Byrds, adapted by Pete Seeger from The Bible, Book of Ecclesiastes
It’s time to move on, time to get going.
 What lies ahead I have no way of knowing. 
But under my feet, baby, grass is growing. 
It’s time to move on, it’ s time to get going…..
Tom Petty



Saturday, January 11, 2014

THE LOOK




 ©2013 by LeeZard


“Look” is such a simple word. If you look it up at Dictionary.com, however, it becomes quite a bit more complicated with no less than 20 definitions, 27 phrases and five idioms. Why do I bring this up? I’m glad you asked. I saw something at work the other day that reminded me of perhaps the scariest, unspoken and most widely used version of the word. I am talking about THE LOOK.
Dictionary.com skirts around the power of THE LOOK in definition 13:
“to express or suggest by looks: to look one's annoyance at a person.
Urbandictionary.com nails it in definition three:
A phrase to describe when your partner/spouse is highly annoyed with you and gives you 'The Look.'

After receiving 'The Look' the receiver is usually filled with immense dread at prospects of hearing what he/she did wrong or being subjected to severe punishments. Punishments may include but not limited to: the couch, 'headaches', and television out the window.

Usage:
'The Look' can usually be used if you discover your significant other has not performed tasks up to par or has behaved badly.  
Rich: "Jessica gave me 'the look' man yesterday after I stained her favorite shirt."
Paul: "Oh god. What are you going to do?"
Rich: "I don't know man, roses? Roses!"
Paul: "For your sake I hope you wrap them in diamonds."
Raise your hands, all you guys with wives and/or girlfriends, how many of you have experienced THE LOOK?
This was all brought to mind by the incident at work the other day. It was a small incident but probably not to “Joe.”
I was manning the front register at my Starbucks store when an attractive young couple came in with a child – about three or four years old. I got the sense that she was the mom while he was not necessarily the dad. It doesn’t really matter for the purposes of this treatise. Stay with me here.
While Mom was ordering, the young man was playing several feet away with the little girl, both of them giggling like mad. After she ordered, Mom said, “Joe, let’s go.” Joe was having too much fun and continued his little romp. That’s when Mom shot him THE LOOK and in a much quieter, more sinister tone, repeated, “Joe.” It worked; Joe froze in mid-giggle, gently grabbed the little girl and meekly headed toward the table at which they would sit.
As demonstrated above, THE LOOK is a powerful weapon in public places or situations. How many times have you shoved your foot deeply into your mouth at a reception, business gathering or, worse, family gathering and garnered THE LOOK? Makes you want to choke on that foot.

There are variations to THE LOOK and, as such, the LOOKER can convey many silent messages to the LOOKEE.Rarely, if ever, are those messages in favor of the target. 
The most dangerous variation is The Withering Look. If you’ve experienced it, you know what I mean; you are in deep shit.
A milder version and only slightly less dangerous is The Annoyed Look. You’ve done something to irk her and The Annoyed Look is telling you you’re on thin ice. You are only a few words or one action away from The Withering Look. The Annoyed Look is also called the Make You Feel Guilty Look. You’ve fucked up and she is letting you know you fucked up. It is insidious and threatening.
The I Am Not Amused Look is perhaps the least threatening but do not take it lightly. It is usually accompanied by a rolling of the eyes that only you can see. The message is clear; you are making a fool of yourself and I cannot help you. There will be a stern talking to on the way home.
THE LOOK can also be very manipulative – another weapon in her arsenal. The best example is when she wants something. It can be a happy or sad Look, pleading or demanding. We are often powerless under its gaze.
Finally and sadly there is THE LOOK least used but most desired, The Come Hither Look. Characteristically, the longer the relationship, the less frequently it is seen.

So guys, look out for THE LOOK. In fact, try to anticipate it and avoid eye contact if possible. If she can’t see the whites of your eyes, THE LOOK is virtually powerless. The downside is, there will still be a stern talking to on the way home and there certainly will be no Come Hither Look later on.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Wave



©2013 by LeeZard

The real me lives by the sea,
With flying hair and sun kissed brow,
I’d give anything to be there now.

A wave can propel you forward, pass you by or capture you in its turbulence. This is true in life and in the ocean. Sometimes you make the choice and sometimes it’s the wave. That’s deep, very deep (small wave joke). In this particular instance, I made the choice, or did I?
I was 14-years old but I remember it as if it happened last summer; it was that dramatic. Fourteen is a very strange time in a young man’s life. The hormones are just beginning to flow but the mind and the body are not quite ready. There’s hair down THERE but you don’t really know yet what to do with the hair or your pecker. But, you know things are changing.
For me, it was the summer of 1961 and I was about to enter high school. I was aware of the blooming young girls in my eighth grade class; oh yes, there were stirrings. I even asked a few out for a date and some close-mouthed making out with mixed success. That summer would push me further into teenage-hood but in a manner I could’ve never predicted.
For years my family rented a summer cabana at Capri, one in the string of private beach clubs in Atlantic Beach on Long Island’s South Shore. This particular summer my early teen stirrings were stirring. All of a sudden I was taking more notice of girls (and women!!) in their bathing suits – one
in particular. Ah, young lust.
She appeared to be my age, close enough for me to fantasize that I had a shot – even though I wasn’t sure what kind of shot I wanted. She had ebony hair that hung in loose curls below her shoulders. Her eyes were deep and dark; even from a distance they beckoned for me to dive in. This was before the real bikini days but she wore a red two-piece bathing suit and her young body was just beginning to flourish. I was mesmerized every time I saw her and every time I saw her I was determined to go up and talk to her and every time I froze.
It tore me up. I didn’t have much manhood yet but I was questioning what little there was. I had little or no confidence about girls and every time I failed to approach her I sank a little deeper into self-doubt. Luckily I had some distractions, especially The Ocean.
I taught myself to body surf the waves; I loved it! I’d jump the waves and punch at them with all my scrawny-body strength and when The Ocean was calm I’d swim out as far as I dared, roll over on my back and stare at the sky. The Ocean was my friend and my playground.
One bright, hot, muggy day early in the summer, as I was waiting for the right wave to ride, I noticed two guys about my age, further from the shore and each on an inflatable raft about four feet long. I stood and watched as they both effortlessly caught the next wave and rode it until they hit the packed down wet beach sand. I was entranced.
Needless to say, it’s easier to overcome shyness regarding other guys and I wanted to know about those rafts. I swam out to where they were stationed and floated nearby to watch them catch a few more waves. Gathering up my nerve I finally approached them. “Hey guys. Cool rafts.”
They were obviously brothers, in fact they could’ve been twins except one definitely looked a year or more older. The younger brother replied first. “Hi.” He said with a friendly smile, “I’m Anthony and that’s my brother Dean.” Dean remained silent, concentrating on his position for the next wave. Anthony, however, was more than happy to sit on his raft with his feet dangling over the side and gab.
It was the usual stuff, where do you go to school, where do you live, etc. Anthony was my age while Dean was about 18-months older. They lived not too far from the beach and about 25-minutes from my house.
I began my campaign to get a raft on the drive home that afternoon. It wasn’t easy; we weren’t poor but we weren’t what you’d call well off and Dad watched every dollar. I was relentless, though and they eventually gave in and bought me a raft. It wasn’t like the guys’ rafts, though; we didn’t see any like that in the toy store we visited.
My raft was the traditional longer, rubber plastic thing with the pillow, designed more for lounging languidly than surfing. But, it was a raft and the next day I was out there with my new pal(s). Dean remained mum.
Anthony and I gabbed back and forth, lying on our bellies, waiting for the first good wave. And, suddenly, there it was! The three of us started paddling like mad with our arms, trying to catch that critical front edge of the roller just as it started to roll. We were all neck and neck, perfectly positioned but while Dean and Anthony got the ride, the wave slipped harmlessly under my raft. No problem, there’s always the next wave but it was not to be that day. Wave after waved passed me by like empty busses headed for the garage.
I don’t know what made me think of it but after this afternoon of surfing frustration I more closely examined the other two rafts. What I noticed was that the canvas surfaces of theirs had texture to them while mine was a slippery stretch of polyvinyl. That had to be the difference; I wasn’t getting any traction.
“Hey you guys, where did you get those rafts?” I asked.
“Army/Navy store.” It was the first time Dean had spoken to me. And so, the new campaign began. It was a much more difficult task. Upon finding and visiting an Army/Navy store (not very common in Southeast Queens it turned out), I/we discovered the raft I coveted was about five times the price of my “toy.” Coming this close to my goal and leaving empty-handed was not an option. I begged. I pleaded. I cajoled. I made promises I knew I could never keep but I walked out of there with my raft. Of course, it rained for the next four or five days and the new raft (and I) remained, deflated, in its box.
On the sixth day, god rested – short workweek – and the sun shone bright with warm promise when I awoke. I was dressed and down for breakfast in a flash. “C’mon mom, let’s get goin.’ We’re going to the beach, right?’
With a straight face and a stern look, she replied, “Well, no, I have some shopping to do.” I was crushed.
“GOTCHA!” she almost shouted. Gawd, that was so unlike my mom I didn’t know whether to laugh or say something stupid. I opted for rare silence and ran to get my raft. Two hours later my little 14-year old lungs were nearly in pain as I sat on the beach huffing and puffing through the small air valve. I have no idea how long it took for the raft to fill but it seemed like hours. The surf was perfect and the two brothers were riding ceaselessly. Finally, FINALLY, I was ready to roll.
The inflated canvas raft – rubberized on the inside – was far heavier than my little plastic thing and it was difficult to look cool walking down to the water while struggling to keep from dropping it. Fuck cool; I dropped it in the sand and dragged it by the short towrope tied to the front end.
What can I say? That first wave was amazing! It began far from the shore, rising to about four or five feet before beginning its forward roll. I caught it perfectly along with Anthony and Dean. Before I knew it I was shrieking with joy at the top of my lungs and the two brothers joined in just for the hell of it. It was the beginning of a great summer of teen bonding and endless hours riding the waves.
Dean apparently decided I was cool-worthy and allowed me into his 18-month older world. This meant parties, with GIRLS, at their house almost every week. Alas, my dark-haired beauty never appeared but she was almost forgotten; so deep was my boundless joy and pleasure in The Ocean. Oh, I still saw her around the beach club and, yes, there were stirrings still stirring in my youthful loins but the ache of unspoken rejection was gone. One day blended into the other with an endless line of perfect waves until that one fateful day toward the end, the day I confronted The Wave.
It was rough surf that day. The waves were rolling in much faster and much closer to each other than usual. Still, we picked the best ones and rode ‘em the way we always did. By now, we were all “experts” and had experienced this kind of action before. As the day wore on, though, things changed, first subtly and then more dramatically. The waves were growing in size and intensity, the rides getting wilder and bumpier – so much the better, we figured.
Then, toward late afternoon and as high tide approached, all the lifeguards appeared at water’s edge with bullhorns. “Please exit the water,” they boomed. “The ocean is closed due to dangerous surf conditions. We are experiencing waves ten feet high and larger. Please exit the water immediately.”
“Hah,” quipped Dean, “didn’t know ya could close an ocean.”
Maybe we were having so much fun, maybe we were so focused that we hadn’t noticed the change but now, the waves were a bit further apart and they were bigger, much bigger. We were far enough out, in fact, further than we thought, so the waves were breaking after they passed us. But the swells under our rafts were getting higher and we could feel their strengthening power – definitely time to head for shore.
We began paddling in and, as we reached the point where the waves were breaking Anthony and Dean hopped off their rafts and tried to jump the waves while tossing the rafts over the top. They had little success; both lost their rafts to a monster wave that tossed them around like rubber ducks in a bathtub before depositing them on the beach. The two brothers struggled toward the beach, diving under the waves in an attempt to get under their most powerful thrusts.
For some reason I hadn’t paddled in as quickly as the guys and I paused in that nether world where some waves were breaking while others were still building. Then, looking over my shoulder I saw it – The Wave. I could see the nascent swell building much further out than any other. I stopped paddling and watched, transfixed with a mix of awe and fascination, as it grew taller and taller, picking up speed as it rumbled forward.
In retrospect, I have no idea what I was thinking. In fact, there was no thinking; I instinctively started paddling, trying to time my forward progress with The Wave’s peak. Before I knew it, I had traction and I was hurtling forward – and upward – with astonishing speed. No turning back now, shit, no turning back now! It took all of my strength but I still had the presence of mind to keep the nose of my raft out of the water, minimizing the chance of rolling under the torrential power of The Wave.
Before I knew it I was in The Wave’s curl and flying straight down, perpendicular to the ocean’s surface. There was no sloping down the front of The Wave; I was headed straight to hell. Luckily, I still had that traction.
If there was ever a time in my life when everything slowed down, it was those fleeting few seconds. Halfway down this surging, frothing monster I knew I was going to make it; I just knew. Finally, and with my arms aching from the effort, The Wave and I bounced violently several times and settled atop the white-capped ocean’s surface, speeding toward shore. I couldn’t wait to hook up with my cheering buddies and the throngs who were certainly awaiting my heroic landing.
When my eyes finally cleared away their salty sting and I rolled off my raft in the now shallow wave’s rippling end, there were no throngs; the shoreline was empty. I could see the throngs, with their backs to me about a hundred yards away, thronging off the beach and back to their cabanas. I was alone with my triumph.
Whether from pent up fear, the draining adrenaline or just fatigue, I started a slow, shaky walk up the beach. “What the fuck,” I thought with surprising clarity. “I did it and I know I did it.”

For that moment it was enough for me.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Welcome to Baristaville



©2013 by LeeZard

Sometimes the solution to a problem is right in front of you and you still can’t find it. Thus it was for me.
If you followed my recent summer journey across America, you know of my loyalty to Starbucks. Not only does Howard Schultz’s empire serve as my office nationwide – with its free WiFi and stay-as-long-as-you-want policy – I just love the coffee. I’ve been a customer since 1974. That’s B.H., Before Howard.
While I was on the road I did a lot of thinking; that’s one of the major bennies of a road trip, enjoying the time with yourself and using it productively. I decided I needed to do something to drag myself out of the dreaded SWS (Starving Writer Syndrome), something not related to either writing or my other career skills.
This was cathartic; I realized that I’d let me ego keep me down. Ever since my position at Safeco Insurance disappeared in January 2008 I’d devoted my job search and then my entrepreneurial experiment(s) to the things that always brought the bacon home: media, public relations and marketing. Why not? These were all areas in which I had long experience and considerable skills. Yet, the bacon eluded me. In the job hunt I kept running into the term “over qualified” which is the legal way of saying “too old.”
With my ego blocking the way, I never considered taking a lesser position outside of my now defunct career track to augment my barely survivable social security benefit. Somewhere between Fredonia, NY and Grand Rapids, SD my ego fell by the roadside. I knew when I returned home I would look for a lower wage job to make things financially better. And, I knew I would only apply with one company, Starbucks. Duh!
So, here I am, a little more than one month after my return, sitting in my Starbucks store writing this piece. I’ve just completed my first two days of barista training and it feels like I’ve been here forever. That’s not to say it’s easy. Au contraire, my friend; even though it is a minimum wage (plus tips) position, there is a mountain of information and a potential for great stress to absorb.

Frankly, I was a bit intimidated about learning the drinks. Starbucks is committed to making the perfect drink for everyone, no matter how the customer might add, twist, subtract or blow up the original recipe. In two training days this baby barista was bombarded with:

  • ·       The Starbucks culture and history
  • ·       How to be a good partner (partner not employee)
  • ·       How to get a food service worker’s card
  • ·       How to maintain store cleanliness and operation
  • ·       Number of shots per cup size
  • ·       Number of syrup pumps per drink and cup size
  • ·       Number of flavor and/or protein scoops per drink and cup size
  • ·       How to make a variety of blended drinks
  • ·       How to correctly brew just plain coffee
  • ·       How to make that special Starbucks hot chocolate
  • ·       How to make a variety of tea drinks
  • ·       How to operate the complex screen on the cash till
    •   while taking orders
    • and writing the correct codes on the cup
    • after you learn all the correct codes
  • And various other duties as assigned.
It is both daunting and challenging yet, by the end of my first day I was providing store support, a rotation of duties that includes keeping the fresh brewed coffee fresh brewed, replenishing supplies, cups, lids, sleeves et al, cleaning the lobby and the bathrooms and other duties as assigned.
On my second day I began practicing drink prep on a spare machine and, ultimately, taking orders at one of the tills. Thankfully, my excellent trainer was always beside me with both correction and encouragement. I was surprised to learn that making the drinks is easier than thinking about making the drinks. Other baristas I’ve queried told me it took them two-to-three months to master the basic recipes, a bit longer for the grande half-caf soy 180 degree 13 pump peppermint mocha with extra whipped cream drinks and their ilk.
I also met my first in-store anti-Semite, a regular patron at this location, who put my customer service skills to the extreme test. I think it was his comment that, “The Jews run all the news and entertainment media,” that tipped me off. My restraint was admirable to say the least.
All-in-all, though, the hours have flown by. My fellow partners – 30-to-40 years my junior – are welcoming and helpful and I feel at home in Baristaville.