The thoughts of writer John Rezell, who will write about anything, anytime, anywhere. So pay attention.
|Posted by johnnieraz on April 10, 2021 at 3:35 AM||comments (0)|
By John Rezell
Somewhere along the line joy became my goal in life.
My life has been full of joy nearly nonstop since the day I graduated high school. I wouldn’t trade anything in my life since then — not that I necessarily would trade anything before that because I am the sum of my total life experiences.
Good and bad.
Yin and yang.
I spend most of my days and nights in awe of the life I’ve enjoyed. I call myself an obsessive optimist, always finding the light and denying the dark. Maybe I’ve lived a life of denial and, if so, it has been a wonderful experience that I would recommend highly. Life can be what you want it to be. I want mine to be filled with joy and laughter. And, it is. It’s so by choice.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’ve had my share of challenges, without question. I'm facing some right now. I’m sure a pessimist — who doesn’t even need be an obsessive pessimist — could pick apart my life and argue that I have little reason to feel joyful. That would be his or her loss, not mine. I just view my life through a different set of measures than most. Many things that keep others awake at night are not worth the time and energy to worry about, so I sleep like a baby.
Our evolution from survivalists to greedy hoarders hasn't served us well. It seems that for so many individuals, no level of acquisition is ever enough, which I find rather odd since in my mind the only thing worth pursuing — happiness — has no degrees to it. You are either happy or not. You’re not more happier than just happy. And you can’t stockpile it, either.
Nonetheless many continue to search for happiness in all the wrong manners. Believing that the proper acquisition of a material good or mass of goods will bring the elusive joy.
What so many people fail to realize is the reality of America's obsession with success. Not simple modest everyday life successes, but extravagant successes. It's as if the simple American Dream of a modest house and a healthy family has been super-sized. The house is never big enough. Relationships are never satisfying enough. Health is vastly overrated until it falters.
The urge to super-size has overblown America's emphasis on careers as the determination of your identity — of who you are. It blurs the real issue at hand. While it is fantastic if you can love what you do in your career from 9-to-5, true happiness is defined by who you are 5-to-9. In those hours away from your job, with your family, with yourself. That's what defines me.
We often ask kids growing up the question: What do you want to be when you grow up?
We seldom promote the answer: I want to be happy.
A career, just like alcohol, drugs, sex or gambling, can be addictive.
Career addiction can take over a life. You need more and more and more out of your career. Nothing will ever be enough. You're so addicted that you cannot see the damage you are doing to your family, even though you probably defend your actions by saying you are doing it for your family. You leave before they wake up and return after they've gone to bed. You might as well have spent that time in a bar or casino.
Just as parents want the best of everything for their children, children want everything for their parents. One can define that "everything" in a number of manners. I just prefer to define it as happiness
And ask me who I am? I'm a Dad.
|Posted by johnnieraz on April 3, 2021 at 3:00 AM||comments (2)|
Editor's Note: So listen, it goes like this: An author offers an excerpt from a book so readers get excited about it and buy the book — not so readers get intrigued and email for said author to share more for free. But hey, I know, it has been a rough year or so, and if you haven't bought my book by now chances are slim I can find any way to change that. So, as requested by more than one avid reader/not-book-buyer/friend and/or family, here's the last day and a half of my San Francisco to San Diego bike ride (and if you want days 2-6, well, you just have to buy the book).
By John Rezell
I didn't have a goal to start day 6, but as it wore on near 4 p.m., my goal became obvious. Make it past LAX before dark. I didn't want to start the morning trying to negotiate around one of the world's busiest airports. I've ridden around the airport before and I wouldn't suggest it on my worst enemy. I should have stayed along the coast through Playa del Rey, but NO! That would have tacked on another 5 miles or so. Instead, the course I took probably tacked on 15-20 miles. I've ridden in some heavy traffic areas, but suddenly I found myself being swallowed alive by traffic. Right near LAX, Highway 1 is Sepulveda Boulevard, which is famous to anyone who ever stayed up late listening to Johnny Carson tell jokes about Southern California.
I confidently hammered south when I realized that the road morphed into four lanes of traffic and not much of a shoulder. That's when I noticed an entrance ramp to my right, and that disheartening sign prohibiting bicycles. I made a quick dash up the concrete embankment, not waiting for the next exit. I didn't want any part of this freeway business. I got to the top and headed south down another road. At the end I saw a toll booth, as if it was a LAX parking lot or something. I figured the attendant could help me out.
As I approached the empty booth, a huge 747 jet taxied behind the booth, just 100 yards in front of me. Close enough to see the eyes of the co-pilot pop when he saw me. I almost took a turn onto the LAX runway! Seriously lost, I turned around, and found myself at the end of the terminal, looking down at a long string of taxis being filled by passengers carrying suitcases. I spent most of the next hour riding on the sidewalks, trying to find my way back to the coast. Eventually I made it, and bedded down in Hermosa Beach for the night. I found a motel with a kitchenette, so I was ready to pig out. I took a shower and started to head out to the grocery, first checking the mirror. Six days of riding gave me a raccoon tan, my eyes white from my sunglasses. Two days of growth on my beard. I knew I was going to be hassled by the cops for loitering. I could see myself heading down to the clink for being homeless. I decided not to spend a lot of time outside.
I got back to the motel, made a huge course of spaghetti and garlic bread, and hit the sack. I woke up about 9 (having passed out around 7) and went out for peanut butter and jelly. That finally filled me up, and I passed out for the night.
There was little doubt I had just one day of riding left, no matter how far I made it. From the moment I climbed on my bike in the morning my uncomfortable butt and sore knee made it obvious that wherever I ended today would be it, even if it meant having Debbie come rescue me. I did my best to ignore the pain that steadily increased in my knee. It hurt the last half of the day Monday with Jeff and Dan. It hurt most of yesterday, fading in and out of my attention span.
The first business of the day felt uplifting. I couldn't carry the peanut butter, jelly, cheese and bread with me, so I went in search of someone looking for food. I found him sitting on a bench in a park in Redondo Beach. This ritual coincided with returning to Southern California. For the past six days there was nary a sight of a homeless person. It took less than five minutes to find my first of the morning. After a while it’s easy to become immune to the homeless, which is a sad fact of life in Southern California.
The moderate climate and some of the highest benefits in the US draw them to San Diego. I know because I helped Pop write a term paper on the subject. We spent a day touring the streets of San Diego with a camera in hand, interviewing the homeless, learning first hand the hopelessness they endure each day.
Their life is a Catch 22. To get out they need to get a job. To get a job, they need to have an address. The scariest thought is that there is no turning back. There were men we talked to who spent their last pennies traveling to San Diego thinking life would be better here. When they found it was just as bad, possibly worse than where they came, there was no money to go back.
The saddest part was seeing the shame in their faces and hearing what little bit of pride they had left as they explained how special it made them feel to have someone actually talk to them for a change instead of turning the other way. It pains me to say so, but I have turned my head on occasion. The truth is, you could go poor giving each homeless person a dollar any time you pass one. In any event, I made one man happy for one day and I'm sure he shared the wealth of food with his friends.
That didn't do anything to alleviate the pain in my knee. I took a couple of Advil and resigned myself to an easy, slow pace, figuring the moment it got to be too painful I'd just stop right there and wait for a ride. By focusing all my attention on my knee the first hour I made a critical error. I got lost on the Palos Verdes peninsula. Then I hit a detour and had two choices. Ride straight uphill over the peak of the peninsula or turn around and make a 10-mile detour around it, with no guarantee that the detour wasn't just as hilly. Up the hill I went. Then down the hill I went.
That left me smack in the kind of neighborhood most people say you should try to avoid in LA, an ethnic neighborhood near Long Beach. When I have my druthers, I prefer Hispanic neighborhoods because there is a family air around them. I'm sure they give people like me a false sense of security, but when I see kids running around the neighborhood with mothers and fathers, I feel safe. Strange thing is, you don't even see kids out in the nicer neighborhoods in Southern California unless they are Hispanic barrios. Go figure.
In any event, I was in an area that I really shouldn't be in, so I had to pick up the pace a bit, not an easy task on a sore knee. I made it to the beach and Long Beach, which meant a nice breakfast. It also meant about 70 miles remaining to Carlsbad, most of it along the beach. That I can handle.
There's something about the Pacific Ocean that brings out the best in me. Maybe it's the large body I water I needed to replace Lake Michigan, having grown up in Milwaukee among the Great Lakes. I believe I lived in California in another life. Too many things here seem familiar and comfortable at such a deep level. Still, whenever I need to be motivated, all I need is a walk along the beach and before I know it, I'm practically running home to get going on my latest project. That feeling returned particularly strong as I hit the areas I've ridden before, along Huntington Beach, through Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and San Clemente. It's a little scary, but once I reached Dana Point, I knew I had 40 miles remaining, and my attitude was simple: I did it, the ride is over.
I cruised through San Clemente and Camp Pendleton as I have hundreds of times in the past eight years, but this time, instead of dreaming of someday riding a long tour down the coast, I clicked through a flood of memories of the past week. Somehow I forgot about my knee and I felt as though I'd been riding seven minutes, not seven hours. Before I reached San Clemente my mind turned into silly putty again. I coasted down a hill, leaning to the side to keep my rear off the seat because it felt as though my shorts were filled with broken glass. I kept the pressure off my right knee, leaning heavily on the left. My mind thought, "I guess we should try to match our usual time from San Clemente to Carlsbad."
Never mind that any other occasion is the second half of a 60-70 mile ride and this was the end of a 600-700 mile ride. Then I looked down at how I positioned my ass on my bike and laughed. Just making it would suffice. When I cruised into Carlsbad just five minutes off my fastest time, I realized the adrenaline rush pumping through my body.
It felt like coming home after being away for years. Sights that were mundane scenery a few days ago took on new life. The sun shining brightly. The ocean glowing. Life was grand. I stopped along the beach and looked out over the same stretch of sand that has drawn me here over the years, the same parcel where I wondered what our future out here would hold, whether or not we had made a good decision or a poor one coming here in the first place. As usual, the answer from within sizzled with obvious affirmation.
I found a retired couple standing a few feet away, enjoying the view. I asked if they'd watch my bike while I jumped in for a quick dip. I explained I hit the climax of a week of riding, and they agreed, looking more surprised at my proposal than my accomplishment. The water felt warm and refreshing. I looked around at the dozens of surfers bobbing in the water, the herd of tourists walking along the beach and I realized none of them knew or cared about explosions of fireworks popping in my stomach and head. Just another day in paradise. Life goes on. The only difference is there's one less goal on my list, which makes room for a new one.
|Posted by johnnieraz on March 27, 2021 at 3:00 AM||comments (3)|
By John Rezell
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an excerpt from the opening chapter of my book "A More Simple Time: How Cycling Saved My Soul." Just why did my soul need saving? When Hank Gathers died on the basketball court on March 4, 1990 it shook me to my core. I knew Hank quite well from covering him for two years and spending a lot of time interviewing him for an indepth feature I wrote for The Orange County Register.
I wrote a feature on Gathers almost one year to the day before he died. I shared his amazing story with thousands of readers. It was the greatest story I had written, on a multitude of levels. Most of all, for me, the story of Hank Gathers represented hope and confirmation of the one element of covering sports that drove me on and on and on: Dreams do come true.
You see, Hank grew up in North Philadelphia, where everyone goes into an eerie hibernation in the cold, desperate winters. The vigor of the ghetto that thrives under the summer sun disappears.
Father Dave Hagen described the scene outside the window of his North Philly row house on a February afternoon when we spoke. "This is the pits. The buildings are falling down. There are probably 22,000 abandoned units around here. The whole place is just falling apart. Each year it gets older, and worse."
Across the street from Hagen's house sit the asphalt courts of Franklin Douglas School. On that cold day a handful of kids shoot hoops. It's nowhere near the turnout of crowds that emerge when the weather warms up. Many kids spend winter days at school. Why? Simple. It's a warm place to stay.
"There's always someone playing basketball," Father Hagen said, "that never changes."
Hank found an escape from the hopelessness of the slums at Father Hagen's house and on those Douglas School courts. Basketball forged the ambition and ammunition he relied on to escape North Philly.
"When I was growing up, if I wasn't at home, I was either at Father Dave's house or across the street playing basketball," Hank told me in one of a series of interviews. "Father Dave's house was like a little island. It was a place to hide from the rest of the neighborhood. If you were with Father Dave, nobody messed with you."
Hank grew up in the Raymond Rose Housing Project, a circle of 13-story apartment buildings that tower over the blocks of older, beaten down row houses. In the projects, the elevators seldom work and the dark, trash-littered stairways reek of urine.
"In the winter, I don't know where they all go," Father Hagen said of the locals. "The scary day is the first warm day of spring when everyone comes out again and the streets are buzzing. It's a creepy feeling, wondering where they have been all these months."
A culture shock, not to mention three time zones, away in Los Angeles, the winter was neither quiet nor cold for Hank. Interviews and photo sessions kept him busy off the court when he wasn't earning them on the court.
I watched as the 6-foot-7 junior center, led the nation in scoring at 33.5 points a game and rebounding with 13.7 per game. He provided the spark and the fuel for the highest scoring team in NCAA history. While he bathed in the sunlight and spotlight, he never forgot his roots, those folks back home, and those chilling winters.
"Raymond Rose is just a bad place," Hank said, shaking his head and rolling a long draw on the word bad for emphasis. "It's the slums. It's not one thing; it's everything. I remember growing up just thinking that there had to be something more than all this.
"It's not a great place to grow up, but I have great memories. I loved my childhood there. I have a lot of friends there. It's important to remember where you came from."
Even more important to remember the people..
Although North Philly was decaying, a spirit survives in those special individuals who refuse to let the place tear them down. Hank couldn't talk enough about the people who helped fire his drive to get out and do better,. People who were still back there gazing out their windows.
"It's just starting to snow right now," Gathers' mother, Lucille, said, looking out the window of her row house just down the block from Raymond Rose where she raised three sons in a small apartment on the ground floor. "The snow makes it look a little nicer for a while. But this is a tough place."
Lucille competed against the overriding influence on most kids when Hank was growing up — gangs and turf wars. She watched those wars eventually be replaced by drug-induced apathy that permeates North Philly.
"You almost can't not be in trouble," said Father Hagen, then 50, a priest, former basketball coach at St. Elizabeth and close friend of the Gathers family. "It's nearly impossible to live here without being influenced by everyone else."
Impossible without a mother such as Lucille Gathers and a friend such as Father Hagen around.
"It was tough on my Mom," said Hank, sounding like a 21-year-old going on 40. "Looking back I realize how tough it was raising three kids in the projects, where the kids can be so bad that it's a miracle if you can get out of the neighborhood."
Lucille Gathers wouldn't tolerate apathy from her sons Hank, then 21, Derrick, 20 (who played at Cal State Northridge) and Charles, 19, (who played at Keystone Junior College in LaPlume, PA). They lived under her constant vigil.
"Hank says I was overprotective," said Lucille, 42, who worked in general services at a hospital as she has for years. "Sometimes, I guess I was, but it was for his own good."
She was a single parent just as her mother had been, one of the legacies and realities, she said, of life the ghetto. Gathers' father was an alcoholic who stayed away, according to Lucille. She didn't have a lot to offer, but what she had, she gave.
"You wouldn't do anything bad because if you did, you'd have to answer to her," Hank said.
Said Lucille, "Hank never did like spankings."
As an adult, Hank became the one who dishes out punishment. On the court, his wrath is unleashed on opponents who try to deny him his specialty: rebounds. If you asked Hank, he would say that he led the nation in scoring simply because, "If you shoot enough, it isn't hard to score 30 points per game."
He led the nation in rebounding because it reflects his life, his struggle, and his personality.
"Rebounding is from the heart," Hank said proudly, his beaming smile bursting across his face while his eyes blaze. "There's really no half-stepping in terms of rebounding."
Half-stepping isn't Hank's style, not his way. His chiseled body: thick chest, bulging biceps and powerful legs show off evidence of his greatest asset, which pounds feverishly under his shirt.
"His personality is one of tireless effort," Loyola Marymount coach Paul Westhead said. "Nothing is ever enough. He wants to be in every play. He wants to take every shot. He wants to rebound every miss. He's like a kid in the candy shop, you let him in and he wants it all. He's an upbeat, aggressive person."
He molded his style on the courts at Douglas School, where Hank said he would sometimes fight for his chance to play and sometimes cry when the opportunity didn't come.
A chance was all he wanted.
"What I like best about Philadelphia ball is they respect your reputation, but once they throw the ball up on the court they come right at you," Hank said. "You have to prove yourself every time you play."
That means pouring out his essence whenever he steps on a court.
"I would probably describe myself as being very dependable, independent," Hank said. "I'm witty. I'm caring. I carry all that onto the basketball court.
"The thing about the projects is that if you are an athlete, everyone leaves you alone. They respect you and leave you be. That's something I respect about the projects."
Hank concentrated on basketball, playing for Father Hagen at St. Elizabeth. Later, he starred at Dobbins Tech with teammate Bo Kimble. They both went to USC as freshmen. At the end of that season, coach Stan Morrison was fired. Gathers and Kimble saw their scholarships taken away, so they both transferred to Loyola Marymount.
They led Loyola Marymount to its best record (28-4) and an NCAA tournament berth in their sophomore years. Hank garnered gaudy statistics and raised enough attention that many wondered whether or not he would leave school early for the NBA draft, where he was considered a sure-fire first round pick.
Lucille Gathers wanted Hank to stay in school. At that time she was taking night courses with hopes to begin college herself the next fall. Her influence wasn't lost on Hank.
"Right now I'm about 60-40 to stay because I put a lot of work into school and it wasn't easy to find discipline within myself to do schoolwork," Hank said, adding that his ability to work through college classes is a source of pride. Something he never thought he would be able to do.
Just like his mother, he would like to be a strong parental example for the kids who read about him from clippings hanging in the window at Izzy's corner store. And, for his 5-year-old son Aaron, who lives down the street from Lucille Gathers with his mother.
"It's important to me that I go back and teach the kids there now what I learned," Hank said.
Fathering Aaron at the age of 16 was one of Hank's' toughest lessons.
"I made a big mistake and it was hard," Hank said. "The worst part was I thought I'd have to give up basketball, but my mother stepped in and said we'd find a way to get through it."
Aaron is raised by his mother, but Father Hagen and Lucille keep a close eye on him.
"Whenever I call anyone back there the first thing I ask is, 'How's Aaron?' " Hank said, his bright eyes firing up to another level of brightness when he speaks of his son.
Hank wonders about the future. If he has the means, he might be tempted to pull Aaron out of the projects. He leans toward keeping him there.
"I guess it's tougher there now," Hank said. "But I made it out. I might keep him there, but keep a close eye on him and not let him get into trouble. There's a lot to learn there."
The biggest lesson Hank learned is one he never forgets.
"If you can get out of Raymond Rose Projects," Hank said, "you can accomplish anything you want."
When Hank told me that line, we were sitting alone on the bleachers in the practice gym. No one else around. He took a deep breath and paused. He looked out at the empty floor and squeezed the basketball rolling around in his huge hands. Then he repeated it again, just a little quieter. And one more time, just barely audible, he simply said, "Anything."
It had been years since someone reintroduced the magic of sports back into my life. The magic that sparked the flames of possibilities over and over and over again in my childhood growing up in Wisconsin.
Magical moments like Bart Starr sneaking his way to put the finishing touches on the Lombardian Legend for the Green Bay Packers. Lew Alcindor and Oscar Robertson somehow coming together in Milwaukee, of all places, to give two legends — one rising, one fading — a championship for the ages with the Bucks.
There was Oregon’s All-American runner, Steve Prefontaine, coming into my life through the magnificent prose of Kenny Moore in the pages of Sports Illustrated, and leaving it just as abruptly. And, of course, Marquette’s Al McGuire and his scintillating farewell trip to his NCAA Championship, part of which I got to witness through my own, teary, eyes.
Those events and those incredible larger-than-life personalities seemed gone forever. Their imprints in my mind slowly had been buried, if not erased — worn down by the egomaniacs who have taken sports hostage as they demand compensation and public reverence for their God-given talents.
I fought hard to keep that cynicism out of my writing and out of my life. It isn't easy when your job brings you up-close-and-far-too-personal with the jerks who make up most of professional sports.
FINAL NOTE: The story I wrote prompted the greatest compliment I ever received for a piece. The copy editor called me immediately and told me how good the story was. That was great and all, but what happened next made it the best. He said there was one problem: I didn't include the dateline, should it be Philadelphia or North Philadelphia? I said neither. I never went to Philly, and garnered all that material through telephone interviews. He was blown away. Now, the rest of the story. I was pissed when they refused to send me to Philly to research this story. That's when a great friend and even greater editor, Robin Romano, stepped in. Robin challenged me to find a way to make the story everything it should be. Robin had an amazing gift to know how to push someone to the next level. She taught me with this story that being creative is more than writing a clever line. Creativity is finding a way to use all your talents to rise above and deliver. We lost Robin much, much too soon. She changed my life.
|Posted by johnnieraz on March 20, 2021 at 3:20 AM||comments (0)|
By John Rezell
Nostalgia appears to be rampant during these days of Covid, those of us born of a once dynamic and inspirational generation somehow losing that fire in our eyes that thankfully has been rekindled recently in the eyes of America's Millenials who are hellbent on guaranteeing that we don't return to those "Good Ol' Days."
Selective recall of comfort memories — much like comfort foods — ease our frustrations each day and somewhat blind us.
Technology moving humanity forward at a dizzyingly fervent pace that we dreamed would have landed a man on Mars by now find Baby Boomers falling farther behind the pulse of modern life, our smartphones purchased way, way back in 2016 screaming to Millennials just how out of touch we are. How much we need to get with the times.
We huddle in groups on Facebook and other Social Media much the way we did in the safety of our neighborhood tree forts or playgrounds, reminiscing about the arrival of daily life-altering inventions like color TVs, touch-tone phones and electric typewriters, or dietary game-changers like 15-cent hamburgers, margarine, TV dinners and diet soda.
We recall how we could chug a glass of Nestle's Quik Chocolate milk and devour a bowl of Captain Crunch or Super Sugar Crisp in nanoseconds after school, and bolt out the door only to return hours later to sit down to a home-cooked family dinner each night to rehash the events of the day with Mom and Dad both in their first and only marriage.
We were unaware that the buddies we envied who skipped dinner and stayed out well into the night only did so to avoid going home to inebriated parents who beat the hell out of them or took advantage of them sexually, sometimes depending on the gender, sometimes not.
We seem to forget that after dinner we would rush back outside while our parents watched the evening news filled with story after story of struggle, frustration and mayhem smothering our nation in those turbulent decades of the ‘60s and '70s. Rioting for Civil Rights, violent protesting of wars and corrupt government, bombings throughout America a daily occurrence.
We held our breath when our older brothers turned 18 and received their draft card in the mail. We said goodbye to older guys we adored as heroes dressed in uniform with clean crew cut hair, who would woo us with tales of their daily adventures, only to see them return in shambles with long hair and beards never to mumble a peep about their latest experiences.
Depending on how much your parents shared, you could be immune to nearly all of it, aside from the Atomic Bomb drills at school when you silently marched to the basement in utter terror wondering how covering your head with your hands might save you from the humongous mushroom cloud you've just saw on the Civil Defense Drill film.
You could drive through town standing in the back of your station wagon looking down at your city's river, its water a disgusting color that was impossible to categorize and its stench so horrible you had to crank close the car windows even on the hottest summer day. Trash littered the edges and floated down the main channel.
If you were lucky you drove right past those long lines at the gas station, where the choking fumes of car exhaust made you sick to your stomach in a flash.
For the past 20 years I've been comforted knowing that my daughters don't have those memories.
Oh, sure, they have vivid memories of each economic hiccup — the dotcom bust, 9/11 and the Great Recession — spitting me out of the workforce like a watermelon seed at a summer picnic. Long stints of unemployment and under employment when we never really faced serious financial struggles, but never ever really felt super comfortable, either.
Visions of me working long hours at concession stands or cleaning up stadiums to pay for gymnastics and volleyball to reward them for their long hours at the kitchen table studying to bring home those 4.0 report cards that parlayed into scholarships that have them so, so very close to graduating college debt free, which will allow us to finally begin saving for a day when we can afford not to work because we can, not because we can't find a job.
Each night I'm thankful that I have it so good, knowing full well that millions hope someday to ascend to this cushy life I enjoy.
At the same time, I'm just as fearful that a tunnel vision focus on our economy has blinded us as we slowly see a return to those "Good Ol' Days" of social unrest, war mongering and environmental destruction — true measurements of the quality of life, that appear to be acceptable collateral damage.
They certainly aren't acceptable in my memory.
|Posted by johnnieraz on March 20, 2021 at 2:50 AM||comments (0)|
By John Rezell
There are times in everyone's life, I assume, that they pause and warmly remember a moment that prompts them to fondly recall, "I'll never forget it. It changed my life."
I say I assume this because, frankly, I don't know for sure.
When I'm rambling on in my storytelling mode and share these profound moments from my life, I sometimes see nothing but confusion in the eyes of others. I hope, deeply, others take time to reflect and savor grand moments in life. If they don't, well, I suppose that's what people call stuck in the fast lane. All I can say is then it's time to change lanes.
Each March, as millions get caught up in the excitment of the NCAA basketball tournament, I have quiet moments when my own "One Shining Moment" rolls through my mind. It's a time I'll never forget.
Midway through my freshman year of studing journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, I slowly came to understand what it meant to be a journalist. A professional journalist. Just about the same time, my life as a fan and future as a reporter crossed paths in the dusty, sparse plains of Oklahoma City.
Growing up in Milwaukee as a basketball fanatic, I dreamed for years of attending Marquette University. The day the acceptance letter arrived was one of the greatest of my life. In the end, however, I couldn't afford to swing it.
Hey, I was going into journalism. One bit of advice I heard over and over from college advisers was that journalism would not make you rich. You study it because you love it. I came to grips with that. I’d never be making serious cash. Not enough to pay off a private school education. So I ended up at the UW-Whitewater, while a number of friends stayed home to attend Marquette.
Of course, the biggest part of a Marquette experience that I wanted was basketball. All my memories growing up were running to look at the rankings in the Milwaukee Journal each week to see UCLA No. 1 and Marquette No. 2. Once, maybe twice, during the regular season you might have to endure the agony of defeat. Then you had to survive the NCAA tournament, and tortures the Warriors would face each year coming close, but never cutting down the nets.
That basketball season of my freshman year, I watched as Marquette seemed to crumble. Losses were mounting. Things simply could not get any worse for a Marquette fan, or so we thought. Then, we learned otherwise. It got worse beyond comprehension. Al McGuire announced it would be his final year.
McGuire had a great impact on my life. His zest for life, and his ability to see sports for what it was, simply a game, forever changed my life. His flambouyant style combined with outrageous success made my head spin. Yet, through it all, he remained so grounded.
One of my best friends had close ties to McGuire. Donnie's parents were good friends and season ticket holders. When the NCAA tournament came along, Donnie landed four tickets to the Midwest Regional in Oklahoma City. There were three of my high school buddies going to Marquette. They offered me the fourth ticket.
We jumped in Donnie's big old Chevy and drove down, straight through the night, for a magical experience.
It was a Thursday-Saturday regional. Marquette's first game was Kansas State. We didn't get Marquette student tickets. No, these were VIP tickets. We were right behind the Marquette bench. The intensity level transcended anything I could remember, shy of Bart Starr's quarterback sneak against the Cowboys. This wasn't just a game on the line. This wasn't just the NCAA Tournament on the line. This was Al McGuire's swan song. Lose, and it's over.
After a thrilling victory where we screamed our voices dry, we went back to the hotel and called the gang of buddies at the University of Wisconsin. They said they saw us on TV. It would have been impossible to sleep that night had we not driven through the night before.
On Friday, Donnie hit the links with the VIPs. Schlag and I got antsy, and without a car, we wandered about Oklahoma City on foot. Eventually we stumbled upon the Myriad, the arena where the games were being played. Too cool.
We wandered up to the door and peeked in. We couldn't believe our eyes. Marquette's players raced up and down the floor in front of empty stands. We looked at each other just stunned. We could have stood there forever and considered it the best. Then we tried the door. It wasn't locked. We snuck in.
Just as countless athletes get overwhelmed as they run from the lockerroom onto the court or field, I found the true ambience of the NCAA tournament swallow me whole as we walked in. There were Rick Majerus and Hank Raymonds, McGuire's assistant coaches, running the team through Wake Forest's offense.
Wake Forest's star forward Ron Griffin was the ACC Player of the Year. At 6-foot-7 we watched him and his team dismantle Southern Illinois the night before. Majerus took Marquette's ultra-talented back-up forward Bernard Toon and schooled him on Griffin's signature moves. Meanwhile, Raymonds plotted with the Marquette defense on how to respond and defend.
The intensity of the practice hit insane levels. Pushing and shoving. Toon hellbent on proving he was Griffin plus one. Diving for balls. Astounding.
I took a moment to soak it in, and scanned the empty arena. Then it hit me. In the top row of the stands with a reporter from the Milwaukee Journal, Al McGuire sat with his feet up on the seats in front of him with a crow's nest view. As the precious final few minutes of practice ticked away, McGuire descended from his lofty perch, and ratcheted the intensity of the practice beyond belief. Hair stood on end.
We turned to head home, and Donnie's mother was there with Mrs. McGuire. We told them we had walked down from the hotel, which stunned them. In yet another of a string of pinch-me moments, they offered us a ride back to the motel on the team bus. Amazing.
To this day, those images remain more entrenched than the games themselves. We sat on the bus as one-by-one, the Marquette Warriors walked onto the bus. As the players filed on, we looked to the side. McGuire slipped out of the lockerroom and onto a Harley-Davidson waiting for him. He revved it up big time, and roared away.
On the ride back to the hotel, we sat among the Marquette players. The buzz on the bus was UCLA’s loss the night before to idaho State, a huge upset. As the players joked, Butch Lee, who would eventually win the Most Valuable Player Award as he led the Warriors to the National Championship, barked out loud, “We ain’t pulling no U-C-L-A!”
Schlag and I looked at each other in disbelief.
Saturday afternoon, Marquette played a crafty game. We watched Rod Griffin's every move, and knew exactly how the Warriors would counter it. The brillance of the coaching staff blew me away. I found a story behind the story. The essence of every event I would ever cover as a journalist would drip with the story behind the story. While I might never write a sentence about that background vibe, it becomes part of the story that finds its own way to manifest itself in what I write.
The Warriors won, and as the closing seconds ticked away, all eyes fell upon one soul. When the horn sounded, Al McGuire turned to the roaring crowd, just 10 feet in front of us, and thrust his hands into the air. He was on his way to the Final Four. I've never seen the replay of that on TV, but I swear I left my body and swirled around the rafters, plopping down in that seat on the top row, and took it in.
We stayed, roaming around in a haze, until the arena was empty. We looked in one last time at the trash littered floor where more than one dream came true that afternoon. Finally, we jumped back into Donnie's Chevy and drove straight through the night.
We pulled down the street of my parent's home just as the sun began to rise on a magnificent morning. It felt like we had left the Myriad just moments ago, the adrenaline still sizzling through my system as we talked nonstop for 15 hours or so about the experience. I stepped out of the car and reached into the paperbox, pulling out the Sunday morning Milwaukee Journal with the headline roaring. I showed it to them, and they drove off. Sitting alone at the table, sipping coffee, enjoying the morning light, I opened the paper to read the story. But I already knew it well.
|Posted by johnnieraz on March 13, 2021 at 12:45 AM||comments (2)|
By John Rezell
I arrived In Redlands that early March not sure what to expect. I quickly realized I was not alone.
Many years had passed since the Redlands Classic Bicycle Race served as my introduction to professional cycling. Covering the event had become an annual love affair for me. I knew the locals, the riders, and the courses as well as anyone.
This time would be different. Just a month earlier I became editor of VeloNews magazine. My relationship with most of the individuals in the cycling community began when I was a sportswriter for The Orange County Register. I left that post for a freelance career three years earlier to make cycling my focal point — my beat.
I knew in my heart nothing had changed for me. Authenticity remained my guiding force, as it has since the day I figured out who I wanted to be.
In preparing for my first assignment with this new title, I got a taste of how things could change.
Felix Magowan, the publisher of VeloNews, is nothing short of a marketing genius. He never met a marketing opportunity he didn't explore. I learned that first-hand the day he walked into my office with an armful of VeloNews t-shirts.
I fired a quizzical look at Felix as I thanked him for the welcoming gifts, and asked simply, "Why so many of them?"
"Oh," Felix replied, "We all wear VeloNews t-shirts when we cover an event. It's part of our branding."
A flood of images zipped through my mind of so many races over the years, each with me in my signature bright print Hawaiian/surfer/skater shirts and someone from VeloNews in a t-shirt surrounding some cyclist in an interview. Ah, yes, I guess they all do wear them.
"Sorry," I said, "not me."
Anyone who knows Felix might not believe this, but I rendered him speechless. He looked somewhat like a puppy the first time you throw a stick to play fetch. I could see the wheels spinning in his head searching for a response. After a long pause, he said, "But everyone wears them."
"Cool," I said, "but not me."
Felix then became pretty certain I was joking. He left the t-shirts and headed back to his office.
I stuffed the t-shirts into a drawer in my empty filing cabinet and headed for Redlands, not thinking twice about my decision.
When I got to Redlands I headed toward the team area — where team trucks, cars and riders form a little mobile village — I could see heads turn and eyes pop. The smiles that greet everyone at the first big race of the year warm your heart like no other..
The team I knew best, who plied the streets of SoCal, was the Chevrolet-LA Sheriffs. As they showered me with congratulations on my new job I couldn't help but sense a feeling of relief not just wash over me, but cleanse them at the same time. Then Steve Hegg, the first professional cyclist I came to know, stepped forward and spoke for the peloton.
"Great to see you," he shouted, "you had us worried."
"Worried?" I said.
"We all thought you'd show up in a VeloNews t-shirt," he said, "But it's good to know success didn't go to your head."
I've been thinking a lot about authenticity lately as I search for my next career challenge. It has been 11 months since I lost both my jobs to Covid-19 — my role as editor of an outdoors magazine as well as a substitute teacher.
I yearn for another post as an editor. I love the creative experience, and inspiring writers, photographers and designers to hone their authentic voices. If I can only return to the classroom, my primary motivation remains the same. Find yourself and be yourself.
My commitment to authenticity moves to the forefront this time of the year. I love watching the early stages of American Idol and The Voice, when singers begin their journeys original, raw and authentic.
Starting a few years back, as each season progresses, I become less interested. I seldom watch finales.
That's when I realized why. In most cases it's nothing more than watching each individual's authenticity getting whittled away, replaced by what's deemed as the formulas for success.
I'm not much for formulas. Or t-shirts, for that matter.
|Posted by johnnieraz on March 6, 2021 at 1:10 AM||comments (0)|
By John Rezell
It's downright entertaining how we change throughout our course in life. I'm tempted to say we evolve, but, at least in my case, that might be a bit of a stretch.
I think about life as a youngster when I could tell you the typical batting order for every team in Major League Baseball. These days I would be hard-pressed to name nine Major Leaguers.
What really prompts this, though, goes much deeper. I remember days of my youth literally plotting and planning the type of person I wanted to be. What I would deem important throughout my life, and what I wouldn't waste mental energy on.
These introspective moments happened on runs while training for cross country or track back in junior high, and later in high school on long bike rides. When I look back across my life, I see that I've pretty much maintained those core beliefs and stuck to them.
At an even deeper level is who we are and what we tolerate, something that comes much clearer into focus as life forges on. This struck me one day.
My co-worker and I discussed that we commute on our bikes every day and as such, we really have what I refer to as "commuter fitness."
That's a polite way of saying that I probably can ride a lot farther than your average folks reading this on their couch with their laptops balanced on their tummies. How much effort that balancing act takes would tell me how much farther I could ride.
Compared to the people out there who spend more time in Lycra than Cotton, well, the fitness level disparity is probably about the same as me and couch potatoes.
To combat this, I mentioned that my commute straight to work and home would probably take 25-30 minutes each way. However, I take a longer route to attempt to be on my bike closer to an hour each way. My co-worker commended me on this, and simply asked, "Do you look for hills to climb?"
I shrugged and said, no, not really. My black lab Ridgely and I usually save serious hill climbing for weekends when we usually get in one good ride.
That's when I realized that, really, I spend the majority of my time just riding for fitness, not fun.
Now I'm not a real testosterone pumped dude. Much more on the mellow side. And had my co-worker said, "Man, that's whimpy that you don't hammer some hills" I would have no doubt ignored the message completely.
Instead, he got in my head.
Next thing you know, I'm commuting to work and taking detours to climb hills. Cursing my co-worker the whole way up.
My climbs are hardly the Alps or Rockies, but for a commuter, this is big stuff. I feel the difference in my legs. I feel the need for more.
Ever since, I'm a climbing fool. I seek out climbs. My weekend rides are heading out to climb for 2-3 hours, then turn around and coast home. It's to the point where climbs have become the spiritual focal point of my rides.
Nothing compares to the rhythm and cadence of a climb. You can't zone out and contemplate the meaning of life.You understand the micro differences of grade.
You remain in the present.
You feel your breathing.
Hear your heart.
I'm pretty sure the essence of my climbing obsession boils down to the same reason I ride 26x2.35 knobbies everywhere, on the road, gravel and trails. If I rode on 700x25, I would have to be out hours longer for the same workout. Same with climbing. Two hours climbing 2,000 feet would be lord knows how many hours on a flat.
Don't get me wrong: I love riding my bike. I just can't keep my attention span active more than 4-6 hours.
Interesting how I forgot what my motivational buttons are. Evenso, it's good to know they still work. Up, up and away.
|Posted by johnnieraz on February 25, 2021 at 12:15 AM||comments (0)|
By John Rezell
As soon as I saw the headline, it hit me hard and deep. Tiger Woods crashed in an auto accident Tuesday morning and my heart skipped a beat.
It's not that I'm callus, but very few athletes or celebrities will do that to me. Tiger Woods is an exception — for me, and millions.
Tiger popped up on our radar screens at The Orange County Register very early in his life. He had graced our sports pages for years before I first interviewed him when he was the ripe old age of 14.
The occasion, typical for Tiger, was record-setting. The Optimist Junior World Championship golf tournament annually brought the best young golfers around the world to San Diego to compete. That year Tiger won the 13-14 age group thus claiming his fifth title at the tournament, setting a record that would only increase in the coming years.
I heard all the stories about Tiger from our reporters who spent time with him. His demeanor proved to be as impressive as his golf swing. You might think that winning for a fifth time — meaning he won every time he entered — might be a bit mundane for a kid getting regular exposure in newspapers and on TV.
When I asked him about winning his fifth title, he looked at me with the starry-eyed wonder I've seen on nearly every teenager who just finished accomplishing some sort of success. He shook his head as if it were his first title. And he simply said, "Wow."
That year and the next I had the pleasure of following Tiger through the final round at the Optimist tournament, walking the course with his father Earl. Earl never tired of rehashing his stories for new reporters on the scene. His time in Vietnam. His buddy Tiger, his son's nickname namesake.
Meanwhile we watched Tiger play golf like no one I had ever seen. In both those years when Tiger got into trouble, he didn't play it safe. He went for it. His confidence and aggressiveness — again, before he even owned a driver's license — could take my breath away.
On Tuesday, Tiger did it again. Taking my breath away. He's done it countless times since that first meeting so many years ago. Although he faces a tough road of rehab ahead of him, I'm pretty sure he'll find a way to do it again.
|Posted by johnnieraz on February 20, 2021 at 2:30 AM||comments (0)|
By John Rezell
Gliding up the slight gravel hill through the belly of the Basket Slough National Wildlife Refuge, I leave behind the smattering of bird watchers along the edge of the wetlands. They peer through binoculars or hefty telephoto lenses at the countless waterfowl floating about on the water or sitting idly in the fields.
Cars and trucks can traverse the sliver of roadway between the two massive seasonal ponds with nary a flinch from the flocks. Somehow the crunch of my knobbies in the gravel always ignites mass hysteria as hundreds of wings flap and webbed feet splash making it appear as if the sea is parting simply for me.
The bird watchers don’t blink an eye, and seem to enjoy the flurry as I pass through. Nearing the crest of the hill, a flash against the cloudy skies catches my eye. I glance over to see two mature Bald Eagles performing a skillful aerial ballet that would make the Blue Angels proud.
Although they appear 100-300 yards away, zooming far and near, their sheer speed of breathtaking dives, abrupt braking and changes of direction simply blow my mind. Their massive wingspans explode in magnitude as one lands atop a tall dead tree and the other perches in the high branches of a towering oak.
While they pause for a few moments I note that the bird watchers down the road haven’t noticed. Then another flash catches my eye over the ridge to the other side of the road. Two juvenile Bald Eagles soar on the winter thermals high above, heading toward the others. Then two more juveniles appear.
As if on cue, the adults blast back into the skies, continuing their aerial artistry while the juveniles watch from above. Suddenly in an incredible thrust of powerful strokes, the two adults blast like rockets toward the heavens, quickly ascending well above the juveniles until they become nothing more than two tiny specks in the sky.
For the past 10 months, nearly all my bike rides from home begin with a trek through the Basket Slough. Having lost two jobs to Covid at the end of March 2020, I’ve logged more cycling days than any year I can remember.
For the first two months the newly found freedom overwhelmed me. I rode 23 straight days without a break. Eventually 37 of the first 40 days. After that, I stopped counting.
That extended Spring Break melted into the endless Summer Vacation. Mornings spent scouring the Internet for possible jobs; Afternoons plying the roads of the Willamette Valley.
The flocks of Canada Geese, Mallards, Wood Ducks, Mergansers, Green-winged Teals, American Coots, Snowy Egrets and Blue Herons had moved onward. The ponds dried up. The green hillsides turned golden. The bird watchers disappeared.
A few employment nibbles would pique my interests and raise my spirits on occasion, but the highlight of each day remained those treasured hours on two wheels out in nature.
Autumn fell and winter broke. Eventually Oregon’s rain and all its water-friendly flocks returned. The cold blew in. Rides were skipped. The indoor trainer spun.
Even for an obsessive optimist — which I most certainly am — life seems to march on to a beat somewhat unfamiliar to me.
Then? Then the Eagles flew into my soul, lifting my spirits in ways I can’t explain.
In the days following their magnificent show, I took flight. No burdens of life appear able to hold me down. I caught their show again, twice. And ever since I’ve been floating on clouds.
I’ve always maintained an upbeat spirit. But this? This is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Every moment appears as though its through a microscope, magnifying the unbridled wonder of life.
I don’t know that my dreams for the future went on hold sometime over the course of this journey through 2020 and beyond. I do know that they’ve exploded front and center.
I’ve never worried much about the future because the past always has blessed me in too many ways to count. Time and again I’ve stumbled into jobs that literally prompt me to pinch myself. I’ve believed it’s nothing short of selfish for me to expect another to come my way.
Then, in the midst of this euphoria, the seemingly endless parade of mundane job possibilities have been replaced by a couple gems. Just maybe it’s my creative juices that are flowing — no, really, pouring — forth like a spring waterfall that have me floating on clouds.
Or, just maybe, it’s on the wings of Eagles that I soar to my future,
|Posted by johnnieraz on February 13, 2021 at 1:55 AM||comments (3)|
A year after my bike ride from San Fransisco to San Diego, I rode from San Fransisco to Los Angeles with two of my brothers. Copyright photo by John Rezell
By John Rezell
EDITOR'S NOTE: As the anniversary of publishing my first three books passes, here is an excerpt from "A More Simple Time: How Cycling Saved My Soul" chronicling my epic bike ride from San Fransisco to San Diego.
A hazy fog blanketed San Francisco Bay in a comforting, not smothering way, allowing enough of the red majestic guide towers of the Golden Gate Bridge to rise and ultimately disappear into the gray, unveiling the magnitude of the structure while leaving its true limits open to the imagination.
The sun's rays poked through the clouds to the North, slicing a sharp angle that coincides with the dawning of a new day. A bright red line of brake lights on the right and brilliant white headlights on the left were evidence of another typical morning commute along the California coast. Typical for everyone but me.
The tourist plaques embedded in the wall of the park noted directional arrows to follow through quarter-per-view binoculars. Beyond the fog in one direction is Alcatraz, the Bay Bridge hides in another direction, and so on. For me, direction carried much more than a simple East, West, North, South compass heading. Down across the bridge, through the fog, farther than the eye could see and further than many minds can imagine, along the coast of the same Pacific Ocean, sits the small village of Carlsbad, the place I now call home.
For more than eight years Carlsbad has been the center of my adventures, the place where I climb aboard my Trek and pedal away for a few hours, always to return. Finally, those hundreds of hours and thousands of miles would have meaning. They had driven me to the edge of a dream that began along the quiet farm roads of Wisconsin, on rides to Milwaukee's Lake Front, the shores of Lake Geneva, and the roller-coaster of Dandelion Park. After years of waiting and refusing to let go of the single, true childhood dream that eased the pain of countless hills, the anger of endless idiotic drivers and the frustration of life's daily grind, my time arrived.
While the rest of the entourage remained in the Pace Arrow and attempted to get in a few more minutes of sleep sacrificed during the eight-hour drive the night before, I stood alone at the northern end of the grand bridge wondering what the next week would bring. Carlsbad, by my best guestimate, was some 650 miles down the coast. More realistically, Santa Barbara sat 450 miles away. In either case, the highest mileage total of my life for one week was 280 miles.
My training for the adventure started briskly. The first week included my first 100-mile day in a long time, probably two years. Four 250-mile plus weeks followed, but then my work schedule got hectic. On my road trip to Texas I could only manage 180 miles the first week, although all were mountain climbing miles at altitude forged north of Phoenix and near Santa Fe. The next week my only major ride was 4.5 hours of hell in the hot humidity of Houston with my brother Joey. In the final 10 days before this trip, I rode just two hours. Total.
Complicating the slew of questions running through my mind: the uncertainty of the fitness of my two riding partners. Jeff, the lead singer in our band Atrocious Noyze, has two years on me and I never underestimate the value of youth. Although he hasn't trained much for the ride, eight years ago he was a major cyclist. After graduating from San Diego State, he and his cousin Bob rode from San Diego to Dallas. Their attempt to go cross-country ended when Bob's body shutdown from lack of proper nutrition during the ride. This, they said, despite eating like pigs every day, opting for a milk shake over diet soda, apple pie ala mode over an after dinner mint. I'm not a big eater to start with, and sometimes during training I find it difficult to keep pace with my calories burned. Just another worry to consider.
The other member of the trio, Dan, was the unknown quantity. I never met him before, but quickly learned he has done this SF-LA bicycle trip 10 times. He's done bicycle touring throughout the world. But he hasn't had time for much training. He planned to ride into shape along the route. An interesting concept, I thought. I've heard Greg LeMond rides himself into shape during the Tour de France, but frankly, I couldn't imagine the hard days ahead doing anything but wearing a body down.
My greatest fear creeped into my head: I’d figuratively die somewhere along the route, and simply abandon my quest because of exhaustion. I needed to avoid that at all costs. I’m a tortoise. If it meant watching my partners ride up the road alone and disappear over some hellacious climb to avoid that embarrassing fate for abandoning my quest, so be it. I knew from occasional rides with Jeff that his typical rabbit pace zips along much faster than I'm accustomed to enjoying. I train alone and with my wife Debbie, so I set my own pace. I'm seldom in a hurry. The markers chronicling the history of the Golden Gate Bridge struck a logical case for perseverance. The structure has been painted nonstop since 1937. If that's the attitude it takes to get me to Carlsbad, fine. The simple fact remained that the rest of the group had full-time jobs to return to Tuesday. They had deadlines. This is what my job is these days, riding my bike, writing about cycling, and carving a niche for myself. If it took two months, I was ready for the challenge.
Eventually I sensed movement in the Pace Arrow, the motorhome that would be our support vehicle at least until Monday. Suddenly the adventure stumbled to life. Coffee steamed. Bagels creamed. Before I knew it, we were posing for the sendoff photo ready to ride into the unknown.
The fascination of beginning our ride with a 1.5-mile trek across the Golden Gate Bridge quickly became lost on more pressing factors: sizing up my partners and deciding just where I would fit in on the performance scale. Still, the bridge seemed to project an aura, a sense of victory over the elements, a strength that quickened the pace of my heart. I could only imagine how many drivers sat idle in the traffic jam with incredible envy, watching us leave them behind to endure another mundane day at the office. It seemed like we crossed the bridge in a flash. Indeed my partners were off to a little quicker pace than I would have preferred, but the adrenaline rush made up for any trouble. Typically it takes me an hour to warm up. Five minutes into the ride, I felt prepared for anything.
Few cities display such a distinct personality as San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge just a colorful outfit in a wardrobe closet filled with more options than any socialite could imagine. From the Bridge through the Presidio, we rode in relative peace. The traffic jams were relegated to the major arteries. An uplifting parade through the energy of architecture is sacrificed for time by local commuters. Time is something firmly on my side, something to cherish.
The San Francisco hills spark memories of the Mediterranean coast of Italy and that European flavor spiced up the morning ride. The only things that could be better than this would be tooling around Europe, although my American pride will put USA soil and scenery at the top of any list.
The fog thickened before it thinned, and gave the city a calming feel, that we were welcome visitors not to be disturbed. The vast, abandoned early morning beaches boasted the abundance of physical beauty that the locals take for granted, much the same way we do in Southern California, or, for that matter, the way I used to do back in Wisconsin. For anyone with the time to appreciate it, the world is full of natural wonder. It's not to be seen through the windows of a car speeding along the interstate at 55 mph, but rather to be experienced, first hand, at man's speed, which I have determined has a maximum limit equal to that of a bicycle.
It didn't take long to arrive in the smaller towns of the coast, to climb the hill outside Daly City, to get lost en route to Seaside and ultimately venture inland from Pacifica and face the ride's first climbing test. I'm not proud. I spent most of the morning behind Jeff and Dan, savoring the spot in the draft where energy is saved for such occasions as the hill. A moment of truth arrived. There is no hiding on a hill. It is man and machine vs. Mother Nature. There is seldom a human winner.
The others quickly fell back, cranked their chains into easy gears and settled in for a long climb. My legs sported other plans, and in matter of moments I charged well in front, climbing alone like I always do, at a steady, rhythmic pace.
After an hour of coastal brush at the start of the ride, the highway turned up the mountain into the shade of a vast evergreen cover. Soon the clouds burned away and the bright sun beat down, heating up the climb. I could only hope the rest of the climbing ahead, the endless up and down through the Coastal Mountains, would feel this satisfying.
A rush accompanies hard work, a personal experience that can never been fully explained nor appreciated by a couch potato. There are moments when the sweat pouring down your cheek feels as soft and caring as a mother's hand. When the burning deep within your leg muscles feels like the warmth and security of a quilt on a winter morning. When each deep draw of breath fuels a purpose, and rings aloud like the roar of an engine screaming away from a stop sign.
Just when you've finished running down that physical checklist to gauge your progress, confident in your triumph, you find the time to transcend to another level. To glance to the side down the rocky face of the mountain to a valley below wondering if some long lost wanderer years ago looked up the same cliff and wondered if man would ever appreciate a view from above, much less charge up there with the speed of a white tailed deer. To look at a cut of sandstone and recognize its uniqueness, like the first time you studied the wrinkles across your grandfather’s face. To feel the cool shade of a towering tree and feel as though you are sucking in the fresh, clean oxygen as quickly as its green leaves can pump it out.
The true beauty of being in top shape is the relationship with your own body. It's impossible to decipher the exact swirl of senses that make you know exactly when to drink and how much to drink, when to find food and when to wait. By the top of the hill my body screamed for sugar, and the comforting gap between myself and the others allowed for a quick stop at 7-Eleven for some Twinkies and donuts and a refill of water. At that moment, just three hours into the adventure, I realized everything would be fine. The base miles in my legs, even though they hadn't been called upon for 10 days, were ready and waiting for the journey and the challenge, like eager puppies sensing an owner’s move toward the door.
After we stopped for lunch with Jennifer and Denise, our support drivers, the excitement of the grand sendoff wore off and reality set in. The post lunch pace dropped considerably and making it to Santa Cruz, some 90 miles from our start, appeared questionable. Once again I slipped behind the others, not interested in the pace they were forcing. Just when we needed a break, we got one. Jeff got a flat.
Jeff started changing his flat, something of a habit more than a ritual with him. On his trip eight years ago, he got three flats to every one from Bob. The only training ride we did together before this trip was prolonged by a flat, Jeff's, of course.
As the feeling of idle work began to settle in, our spirits rose, reminded that this was going to be an adventure, and anything could happen at any time. As Jeff struggled with his tire a young woman rode up heading north and crossed the road to chat.
"Are you the guys going from San Francisco to San Diego?" she asked enthusiastically.
The reporter in me wanted to quickly set the record straight, that my goal was Carlsbad, some 30 miles short of San Diego, and the others would be happy to make Santa Barbara. But her smile seemed worth feeding, so the simple reply was an unconvincing, "Uh-huh."
"Your camera crew is up the road about two miles," she said excitedly, acting much like Garfield's canine sidekick. "They took some pictures of me. They thought I was one of you."
Before any of us could think of something remotely interesting to say, she jumped back in.
"Are you guys trying to set a record or something?" she asked, having been privy to only our tire changing pace.
At that moment Jeff offered an utterly blank facial expression. He knew the inner tube should fit into the tire, but it wasn't cooperating. It was a classic Butthead, "Huh?" pose.
Oh, yeah, we’re going for a record, I thought to myself.
No, I told her, we're just trying to finish in one piece. That's when she went on auto-pilot, giving the Reader's Digest version of her autobiography. She just graduated from Cal, was taking a semester off before starting medical school to train for an ultra-distance race this coming weekend, a 508-mile killer ride through the Mojave Desert and Death Valley.
She was riding a standard road bike with a banana and apple duct-taped to the frame that made her look more like some frightening temptress in a bicycle horror flick, and explained that for training purposes she takes this thin-wheeled creature on mountain bike rides with her friends, the cycling equivalent of saying she does one-arm pushups because she finds two-arm pushups mundane.
Having covered the 508-mile race she spoke of when I worked for The Register, we struck up a little conversation about ultra-distance cycling that was dominantly one-sided with me following Jeff's impersonation with my own Beavis effort, "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah." If nothing else, it made the time pass quickly, because it seemed like Jeff had his tire fixed in a flash, which was more like a half-hour real time. As she rode off the adrenaline rush she injected would certainly help us through the rolling hills ahead.
We caught up with the camera crew at the base of a downhill, which meant Jeff would be in prime photo position. Jeff rides downhill like a wild man. Having done that once in junior high school, which resulted in an airborne flight that witnesses say took me 15 feet into the air and 20 feet out before crashing over my handlebars earning 15 stitches, I find my hands firmly on the brakes in most downhill situations.
Slowly but surely, Dan fell off the pace. He hadn't been feeling good in the days leading up to the ride, and I knew his feeling of misery having experienced it just a few weeks earlier in Houston. A couple of times Jeff and I backed down to help give Dan some help in our draft. Eventually Jeff rode away up the road and I dropped back to help Dan.
When we got to Davenport, 75 miles from the start, Dan and Jeff decided to hop into the motorhome. I cranked away with Sunset Beach my goal. There we would bed down in Jennifer's parent's beach house. I felt strong, no doubt boosted by the adrenaline. I figured the rest of the trip may be hell, but who cares. I was having one of those days where you feel like a God, and I wasn't ready to hang it up yet.
I rode through Santa Cruz, confidently whizzing by traffic slowed by the rush hour. Just as I cranked around the corner to follow Highway 1, I saw the sign that makes cyclists want to scream. "Begin Freeway" "Bicycles, pedestrians or motor-driven cycles prohibited." About an hour later I rolled into some bike shop begging for directions to Sunset Beach. Some effervescent kid came from the back room. "I live out there. What do you want, the fastest route or the easiest?"
Here I must submit for the masses that I inherited sweat glands from my father, who can have a spicy fork of horseradish make it look as though he's been chopping wood all day. The kid looked at me again. "The easiest, ooookaaaay ..." Eight miles later I hit the base of the final hill of the day, a short, very steep muscle-screamer. I made it to the top and never felt better.
My excitement refused to wane. After a trip in town for pizza, the others were in bed by 9:30. I walked down to the beach (some 99 steps down the cliff) and sat alone listening and watching the waves crash beneath a full moon. I don’t have a secret checklist hidden in the recesses of my memory, a laundry list of things I must do sometime in my life. If I did have one, I soaked in the euphoria of preparing to check off another; the kind of feeling one doesn't get to enjoy often. The only thing missing was Debbie, but somehow I knew she could sense how much this meant to me.
|Posted by johnnieraz on February 6, 2021 at 11:40 PM||comments (0)|
Wild flowers bloom on the Glacier View trail outside
Wenatchee, Washington. Photo by John Rezell
By John Rezell
From the Glacier Trail
The views of wild flowers flowing up and down the rolling hills as they seemingly come alive, reaching up to majestic peaks sometimes bathed in sun but more often smothered by storm clouds, proves as breathtaking as the task of pedalling a mountain bike along this magnificent singletrack.
For the past two hours I've been chugging up climbs, jetting down hills, stopping repeatedly to start or stop my GoPro, and snapping countless photos. Although this should be a physically demanding workout, I feel as though I'm floating in a wonderful dream, tireless, feasting on nature's pure beauty.
I've come to this stretch of the Cascade Loop in Washington state on assignment, to write about this invigorating place for my magazine, OutdoorsNW.
I grudgingly accept that it's time to head back when the wind whistles across the rolling hills and blasts me with a tremendous gust that nearly shoves me off the singletrack, and hail pecks away hitting my helmet and sunglasses.
Even this nasty side of Mother Nature pumps me up, and I soar down the face of the mountainside beaming inside and out.
Typically a song will pop into my head as I find a way to capture the entire experience.
I literally laugh outloud as I hear Steve Martin strumming his banjo and reciting no truer words for my life:
"But the most amazing thing to me is,
I get paid for doing this ..."
|Posted by johnnieraz on January 23, 2021 at 12:35 AM||comments (0)|
EDITOR'S NOTE:Looking through some memories of past Decembers and this fun tale popped up from 1995.
By John Rezell
Outside Austin, Texas
The rain tapped gently against the windows of the Barton Creek Resort in the rolling hills of central Texas as Christmas music danced lightly in the air, past the elegantly decorated tree, the grand piano and over the leather couch.
The atmosphere was, hmmmm, how would the Austin locals down on Sixth Street put it?
AW HECK, PARDNER, IT WAS MUSHY, SISSY, DOWNRIGHT PEACEFUL, IF'N' YER INTO THAT SORTA THING. ONE, TWO, ONETWOTHREEFOUR!
Ahhh, yes, it was. Peaceful. Somehow I'd forgotten I was smack dab in the middle of a lousy week. I had the flu. I couldn't sleep. I had no rental car. I had one day to cram in 10 interviews, hearing the same thing over and over from each cyclist attending the combination Motorola road team/Cannondale mountain bike team camp.
"I feel like this is my year," I'd write in my notebook over and over, feeling like it was some elementary school punishment. Oh sure, in between there were some scintillating conversations, but each would end with Motorola's flak Paul Sherwen popping up like some British Head Master From Hades, knowing full well the answers to the questions he rifled at me with a sly smile. "How was that one? Ready for another?"
But now, now time was standing still. Thankfully the Motorola guys had a meeting or something, and Cannondale's manager Tom Schuler — the man who never met a PR Op he didn't like — had his riders stop by for a chat.
Nestled comfortably in the leather couch sat Alison Sydor, the quintessential country girl next door. Her soft demeanor belies the fiery heart that rages when she's on a bicycle. Her eloquence in this majestic setting (a place where Barton Creek residents stroll through nonchalantly chatting about buying $200,000 yachts for a one month vacation as opposed to renting) gave mountain biking a near royal texture.
If the cross country World Champion is a queen, well, bravo for the casting.
"The rainbow jersey means I know that I have beaten the best in the world," Sydor said. "Until you actually do it, you always have that little voice in the back of your head wondering if you can really do it. It's always easier going after that first World Championship because you want it so badly.
"Sometimes riders have a little lull after they win it. It's that catalyst that the other riders still have and you don't. The question becomes whether or not I can do it again. That's completely different from doing it the first time. But I also have the confidence of having done it before, which can make all the difference in the world."
Sydor may be a little bit on the quiet side for some, but that's the beauty of a little Texas rain. She had no appointments to keep and, well, she enjoys sitting listening to the rain and talking. I always enjoy listening.
Our time slot had long expired. But neither of us were in a hurry to do much of anything. Besides, the next interviewee was late and I had no where to go. Bing Crosby started crooning "White Christmas."
"I'm, dreaming ..."
Whoa, wait, suddenly there's a ruckus in the lobby and the bellboys are belting out laughs and punchlines like it's Lollalapalooza or the county rodeo. I'm wondering what the ... and Alison just shakes her head gently, sort of like she's seen it before.
And in swoops my next appointment, her mouth rattling like my teeth on a gnarly downhill:
"Sorry I'm late .... Am I too late? .... Will this take long? .... What is this for, anyways? ... I really need to go to the gym and pump some iron ... Is the coffee still hot? Can we do this later?"
And with a whoosh, Missy Giove plops onto the couch next to Sydor, the Texas humidity having done magical things with her dreds. She balls up into the fetal position at Sydor's feet.
"Oh, God, cramps ... Bad cramps ... It's like I'm dying."
Boom. Like she's charging out of the starting gate atop Mammoth Mountain, Giove is talking about periods, and I don't mean the Renaissance. Sydor is the girl you left at home when you went to college. Giove is the girl you meet at your first Frat Party with a voice in your head screaming "This is the kind of girl mama was talking about..."
Next thing you know Giove is talking about cars and police and missing windshields and speeding in the desert without that windshield and, well, don't bother trying to keep up with her. It's impossible. To appreciate Missy whether she's soaring down the mountain or running at the mouth is to sit back and enjoy.
So that's what Sydor and I do for the better part of the next two hours, occasionally pausing to debate some philosophical conclusion that Giove has come to as a result of the latest story. Like stereotyping.
"It sucks the cops don't believe the car could be mine just because I don't look like someone who could afford a Volvo without transporting contraband across the border in its trunk ... Not everyone with dreds smokes pot ... OK, so maybe most do, but not all of us ... At least not in season, you know what I mean? ... I need a hot water bottle ... You have one?"
But that doesn't really faze her, stereotyping. Nothing does. Because Giove has one mission, and one mission alone. And that's to make sure that everyone knows she deserves to be pulling on that rainbow jersey signifying downhill World Champion just as much as Sydor does, because she earned it, she paid her dues and she won't slow down one single bit until the retirement police pull her over and strap her to a Rockin' Chair.
It's like the training ride earlier that morning, before the rain, where the former roadie Sydor slipped in with the guys she's been reading about for years in VeloNews. "To get to ride with Steve Bauer, and Frankie Andreu and Lance Armstrong," Sydor said. "That was really neat."
The group would turn a corner and suddenly a sliver-tired road bike would jump off the road and cut the corner like a buzzsaw. And on the other side Giove would bunny hop the curb back into the pack. Eventually the hills and the road bike got to Giove, and she found a couple of helping hands on her back as they chugged up the final hills.
"They put together the bike this morning ... it didn't fit right ... Man, that sucked ... I'm so ticked, I hate getting dropped ..."
Ultimately I steer the conversation to a movie idea I'm kicking around, one about a teen-age mountain biking phenom who is also a straight-A student and has to decide on the circuit or college.
Missy rips me a new one with her laugh.
"It's a no brainer ... Just what happened to me as I was getting ready to jump from books to berms ... It's no decision ... You just go for it."
Maybe, I argue, but you have to think about what you're giving up. In your case you moved across the country, away from your family and friends. Tell me you didn't think twice. Tell me you didn't wonder. Tell me you weren't scared.
And Missy closes the session with the face you see in Webster's Dictionary next to the definition of "Da." She stands and heads out with Sydor.
"Everybody has fears ... But you can't be afraid of what's in your heart ... That's the feeling you have to trust ... That's all that counts."
Alison smiled and nodded in agreement. Two champions. Two worlds. One philosophy.
I just shook my head as they walked away.
"How big are your feet? ... Have you got running shoes? ... I'd like to go for a run in the rain ... can I borrow a pair? ... You don't mind a little rain, do you? ..."
|Posted by johnnieraz on December 19, 2020 at 5:35 AM||comments (3)|
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an excerpt from my ebook A Bucket List of Thank Yous, a series of Thank You essays to people who have helped make me who I am today.
By John Rezell
If you’re really lucky in life, you’ll cross paths with someone who really understands who you are, deep down to your soul. If you’re super lucky, you’ll meet them early in life, when they have the opportunity to make a difference.
My stars aligned when I met Jake.
I can’t remember the day I met Jake. Or the first time I saw that bright, mischievous smile followed by his deep chuckle. I just remember countless miles in White Lightning, his Monte Carlo, plying the roads of Brookfield, Elm Grove and beyond singing to our own private tunes with endless laughter.
Jake saw me, and most people, for who we are. For better or worse I can’t remember him making any serious effort to change or alter who I was. No probing to figure out why I was who I was. He just accepted me.
We shared some quirky traits and elements of our personalities that we weren’t necessarily proud of, nor ever really exposed to others, but they formed the foundation of a friendship that I cherished as much as any I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in my lifetime.
I could spend days telling tales of our adventures, which nearly 100 percent of the time included beer or spirits — even our days working together as security guards for Summerfest.
Although sometimes years went by without us getting together, when we would reconnect, the time between would fade to nothing.
It pains me that I couldn't make it to his funeral, to say goodbye. But then again, we've never really parted.
And so it continues, to this day. So often a song, an image, or just a random memory popping out of nowhere, will bring Jake back into my life.
His smile as bright and mischievous as ever.
His chuckle as deep.
We sang a song …
|Posted by johnnieraz on December 11, 2020 at 12:15 AM||comments (0)|
By John Rezell
Most days I glide on my bike through the Basket Slough headed to farther points of interest in search of a good, hard workout, but yesterday I felt overcome with the urge for a more pedestrian pace through this National Wildlife Refuge.
I took my time, relaxing to soak in the beauty of thousands of Canada Geese in the field, Mallard Ducks skipping across the ponds taking flight, Red-tailed Hawks pouncing on tiny feasts in the grass, Kestrels sitting on the phone lines and a majestic Bald Eagle atop a dead tree.
I embraced a break from my workout to savor the lesson of the art of slowing down, something I learned from the hardest working man I know.
Nothing more than a pipsqueak when this larger-than-life 5-foot-11, 275-plus-pound former college lineman entered my life, I probably shouldn’t have even showed up as a tiny blip on his radar.
I was 11 when I strutted down the aisle with his niece as he married my sister.
I had no idea how he would fit into my life. I already had two older brothers — one 10 years older and one six years older. Dennis? He was even older than that.
But somehow over the next few years, he found plenty of time to cart around my little brother and me on various adventures, often after spending the night at my sister’s house. We had riots of fun with this huge teddy bear of a guy whose contagious laugh that spawns bright red rosy cheeks can crack up a room.
Making Dennis laugh became a priority. So often, as adolescence kicked in, my efforts were, ah, more crass than not. Victim humor, if you will.
Of course, Dennis had a good memory — revenge came swift and sweet.
He took us to see the towering bluffs above Lake Michigan one Saturday morning, driving us down the road toward the dead end barricade at the edge of the abyss, where waves crashed into the rocky shoreline.
Suddenly he began pumping one of the pedals frantically screaming, “THE BRAKES ARE OUT! THE BRAKES ARE OUT!” We were overcome with terror. I leaped into the backseat. My little brother reached to open the door. Just before we hit the barricade, Dennis burst into his signature laugh. That was the day I learned about the clutch pedal.
Personal Punching Bag
As I hit 14 and 15, I sprouted up to about 5-8, all of about 97 pounds. Every holiday and in-between visit we’d play football or basketball in the yard, Dennis bouncing me around like a rag doll, and laughing wildly as I went flying.
He also took me on some odd jobs. He worked for Marquette University and managed the greenhouse. On the side he worked to start a landscape business, naming it Eden II.
As I mentioned, he is the hardest-working individual I’ve ever been around. He instilled that work ethic in me. But on our drives to and from long, hard jobs, we’d get lost for a while. We’d explore. We’d chill. We’d slow down. His nickname was Cool Hand Luke because he’s also one of the easiest going, laid back mellow dudes I’ve known.
Once I got a driver’s license, I spent much more time with Dennis. I’d pop into the greenhouse on Fridays and talk well into the night. We’d steal away Saturdays. He took me fossil hunting, mushroom hunting, fishing, out to Horicon Marsh to see epic waves of geese, much like those that swirl about the Basket Slough, and countless other adventures just road tripping to anywhere and seemingly everywhere.
We had a simple rule when we’d roll out on a drive. You had to search out a road you’ve never been on before, and you must stop for every Historical Marker. I can’t remember if we ever made it home on time for dinner. I’m pretty sure we never did. We spent endless hours talking about sports and life, more of the latter.
A few years after college and getting married, Debbie and I rolled out of Wisconsin on a road trip in a brand new sporty car, hitting a lot of roads we had never been on, as we escaped to Southern California with no jobs lined up — a true leap of faith. While I have a natural curiosity embedded in my DNA as a writer, Dennis elevated my zest for adventure to another level. I’m not sure that move would have happened without his influence.
I offered him a ride in the new car, a farewell drive. We hit the expressway in downtown Milwaukee. I casually asked if he remembered the drive to the bluffs. He immediately began laughing, cheeks exploding red. I planted my foot to the floor, and as we blasted past 100 mph I calmly mentioned the car only had a driver’s side airbag. His nervous laughter soared to a new level. Revenge is sweet.
Life Moves On
That was a long, long time ago. I’ve made it back for an adventure or two over the years, but none lately.
Dennis went to the ER a few days ago, under the weather, wondering if he and my sister had contracted Covid. Nope. Instead they found a brain tumor.
The hardest working man I know will fight this while he peacefully will accept his fate. He scheduled surgery saying, “They’re gonna dig some stuff out.”
We chatted on the phone a few nights before his surgery. He shrugged that he has no regrets. I concurred, I have no regrets in life, either. He said, “Well, yeah, you’ve always gone out and done what you’ve wanted. I’ve always admired that about you.”
I was a little too choked up to remind him who taught me that.
He did, however, mention that he kinda hoped for one more road trip. He traveled to the Northwest long before we moved here, and mentioned how much he loves it. He hoped to make it out one more time.
“Well,” I told him, "you get that stuff dug out, get your strength back this spring, and I’ll come back and drive you out here myself.”
He said, “I’m in!”
No truer words have been spoken. He’s in, all right. He’s in my heart and soul, as deep as one can be. It’s just a shame that sooner rather than later he’ll take that final road that none of us have ever been on.
|Posted by johnnieraz on December 1, 2020 at 12:30 AM||comments (0)|
By John Rezell
I find it fascinating that the visitors to my website and my friends on Facebook have always responded to me in direct, private messages rather than filling the Internet with public comments. I love that intimate relationship (and that's the reason I don't call these friends my "followers")
That's why you don't see reviews of my books or comment about them scattered on websites. So I'll share a few and note that I'm flying on clouds this weekend after touching base with so many people from my life. Truth be told, you all have made me who I am today. BTW, a few Social Media shares wouldn't hurt my feelings ...
WHAT READERS ARE SAYING ABOUT "A Bucket List of Thank Yous"
“Wow! Just finished the first few stories from your book. They sure bring back memories of the strong friendships we created early in life and the impact they have had over the years. ”
“Of course you would publish a book that all of us need for survival these days. Thinking of someone else other than ourselves and thanking the people in our lives for that emotional investment of time and saw the value in us."
“What a great tribute to (leaving name out) — and to your friendship. How wonderful. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your thank yous!"
“What a beautiful read. It is so special the gift you have to recognize, embrace and put into words these life moments.”
“I think the book could be misrepresented as just letters? It’s not quite that. Letters would be wonderful but this is much more than that. They are more like short stories.”
“I'm about halfway thru your book (going to save the rest for tomorrow) … all I have to say is ‘Wow!’ You are rocking my world …”
“What an amazing book … wish I could write something similar to acknowledge everybody who played a formative part in my life.”
"Just finished your latest book. I was so inspired by the short stories and the thoughfulness of your writing."
|Posted by johnnieraz on November 28, 2020 at 2:35 PM||comments (0)|
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[Thanks to webs.com for showing the link ... NOT!]
By John Rezell
It hit quickly, without warning.
Driving up the Santiam Canyon I expected to see the results of the Beachie Creek Fire that raced down the highway on Labor Day and the days to follow.
Still, the first signs struck me like the bolt of lightning.
Suddenly buildings that were there this summer, aren't there now. Many are replaced by a pile of scrap.
I ventured up the canyon wondering if there would be any opportunity for us to journey up Thanksgiving weekend and cut a Christmas tree, which has been our family tradition for years.
The first sight of damage turned my stomach upside down. And so it continued. For mile after mile after mile. The trip ripped at my heart. The video tells it all.
|Posted by johnnieraz on November 24, 2020 at 10:20 AM||comments (0)|
By John Rezell
When I made that final decision to click on PUBLISH and share some of my deepest heartfelt thoughts with the world in my ebook A Bucket List of Thank Yous, a sense of relief and fulfillment washed over me.
That caught me by surprise because more than anything, I expected fear and uncertainty to gang up on me. Do I really want to tell the world about my first girlfriend?
Then I took a moment to scroll through my list of Facebook friends to determine whom I would send a personal note to about the book, a more modest manner of saying Thanks.
As I scrolled through those familiar faces and names that have slipped in and out of my life, I realized how many more individuals have had brief, but everlasting influences on me.
They almost fall into categories, or eras of growth.
Unfortunately, I have no grade school friends on Facebook. We moved from my childhood home in fifth grade, leaving behind all the kids who had early influences on me — things that still resonate today.
There’s Lisa, who had a crush on me from first grade on and I enthusiastically returned the favor. The brightest smile at Maple Tree and one of the sharpest, smartest kids around. It would be years before I understood how she shaped my perception of race, helping me realize I’ve never really noticed, much less let the color of people’s skin guide my impression of them.
There’s Bobby, my best friend’s cousin, who taught me the basics of throwing and hitting a baseball as well as catching and kicking a football.
Junior High/High School
Who wasn’t a mess at this age? And who knew it would only get worse in high school?
I lucked out to meet one of the most amazing guys on this planet when we moved to Brookfield, and Jack remains one of my best and endearing friends. From carving our initials into the huge oak tree over the pond to rooming together in college, he has stood as the example of who I want to be when I grow up. If I ever grow up.
There are many others from high school, who will pop a post on Facebook that makes me smile immediately — not because of the post, but the fond memories of how they made me feel back when finding a way to feel upbeat and good on any day was job 1.
But there are a number of individuals from high school who did make my Bucket List of Thank Yous, and you can read why.
Maybe it’s just me, but it’s hard to think of many people who DIDN’T make an imprint on me if we spent more than some passing time with each other. But isn’t that what college is all about?
Whether they were living in the same dorm, working on the student newspaper or that lone familiar face in a new class, they broadened my perspective on life.
My college professor and mentor made the list. He’s been a motivating factor in my career ever since.
I went from working for large newspaper companies to small, often family-run, businesses. I got lucky and worked with some tremendously smart, creative individuals who challenged me in so many ways that it was simply impossible to NOT grow.
I learned from great bosses and crappy ones. I found lifetime friends among coworkers whom I only know because we shared the same name signing our paychecks.
Only one boss made the list, but her impact on me continues to this day — and every day that I write.
This is a massive group. If there is one category that rises to the top, it must be the countless athletes I covered throughout the years. These individuals often shared their lives with me. We discussed their inner most thoughts, their angels and their demons. They offered unabashed honest (in most cases) to someone who, on some instances, they only met minutes before.
That simple act of opening up to me always humbled me. I would listen to athletes pour out their souls and think that, really, no way would I return the favor. But through my memoirs and this Thank You book, well, I’ve found the courage to do just that.
Of course, two athletes grace my Bucket List. But the flood of memories that accompany each athlete’s face fills my soul and reminds me of the power of living and breathing in that world of athletics, where the goal is simple: Every day find something, some way, to make yourself better and grow.
Hey, that’s how this book was born.
|Posted by johnnieraz on November 21, 2020 at 1:10 AM||comments (0)|
By John Rezell
I'm fascinated with the question: How did I become who I am?
A Bucket List of Thank Yous represents part of my personal insight into some of those answers.
Without question, my parents were key.
Here is an excerpt with the letter to my Mom, who passed away in 2013:
Five kids. FIVE KIDS!
That never struck me much growing up, that I was but one of five children of Jane and Reiny Rezell.
Growing up in Milwaukee, and later Brookfield in Wisconsin, I spent most of my hours being a handful on my own. I didn't have time to contemplate the fact that my mother juggled five kids — four of us boys.
It didn't really hit me until I started a family of my own, and had two daughters. Then the daunting task of raising five kids became the stuff of legends for me.
As I began to ponder just how to be parent, I wondered about the ultimate question: How did they do that?
How did my parents get me to be who I am? How did they raise five, in my humble opinion, really amazing kids?
See, I love my life. I wouldn't change anything about it. Ever. I love who I am. I consider myself an obsessive optimist — always focused on the bright side.
I jump into bed each night, not roll in. I can't wait to see what tomorrow has in store. I love to face the next challenge. And savor the details of life.
How did they do that? This week I wonder, how did SHE do that?
If I think back, one element of growing up jumps to the forefront: You could not exist in Jane's house if you were grumpy. No moping. No sulking.
If there's one word I heard more than any growing up, it was simply this: SMILE!
If you weren't smiling, you weren't living. Not really living.
I wasn't an unhappy kid; I just made the mistake of walking around now and then without a smile on my face.
So she would say, SMILE! And I did. My eyes would sparkle. My face would crack. My spirits would soar.
When I did, the world transformed right before my eyes. No matter what obscure thing I might be doing — or lost in thought about — suddenly had a meaning. I learned to appreciate every moment.
I think about that every morning as I ride my bike to work. I attempt to smile at everyone I pass. Say hello.
Now most of the time it's nothing more than a passing greeting. But every now and then ...
I'll pass someone who, even though they haven't made it to work yet, is having a crummy day. It's written all over their face.
I smile. I say hi.
Their eyes sparkle. Their face explodes into a smile. I can see that I made a connection. Made a difference.
I smile and say quietly, "Thanks, Mom."
I've traveled all around the country, and many parts of the world. I've lived in Wisconsin, Iowa, California, Colorado, Texas, Tennessee and Oregon.
As I chased every challenge I could uncover, my parents were always behind me, 100 percent. They never questioned me. They supported me.
We always knew that. We always knew no matter what, Mom and Dad were there if we needed them. It's easy not to fear failure when you have that safety net. It makes life a thrill.
There is no more brilliant example of that than when I had to go to Las Vegas to help my brother Tom.
I called my parents and filled them in on the situation. Without hesitation, without missing a beat, Mom said, "We want him to come home."
We WANT him to come HOME.
She didn't say, if he wants to come home, we'll be here,
She didn't say, whatever he decides, we'll support him.
She said, We want him to come home.
That was 20 years ago. My brother straightened out his life, and lived with my parents. For the past 13 years, he lived alone with my mother. Taking care of her. This past year has been tough. A real challenge.
Tom came home. Made it a home. And kept it a home.
For that, my brothers and sister are forever in his debt. Words can't express how we feel about him. Our pride. Our love.
Tom couldn't put into words how he felt. He asked me to. He said, "I'll always remember Mom for who she was."
What Tom is saying is that he doesn't necessarily want to remember this past year. The decline. The hardships.
That's understandable. It's phrase you hear a lot in these situations.
I went home last month to visit Mom, and say goodbye, while she still had a pinch of life left.
It wasn't easy. It was a challenge. I wondered how I would react when she would ask, "Which one are you?"
Then again, I remember even at her peak, she could be looking right at me across the room and yell "JIM TOM JOHN JOE BARB...GRRRR..."
Then she'd get around to whomever she was yelling at. So I was a bit prepared.
I spent a few days at the hospice with her. One day at lunch, with all the aides in the lunchroom, they began asking about Mom. About who she was.
I told them: Five kids ...
Then, they told me about who she is. She's the sweetest woman. So easy going. So calm. Always talking.
I thought, yeah, that's my Mom.
Later, we sat together. She looked at me. She asked, "Which one are you?"
I smiled. John, from Oregon.
Her eyes sparkled.
A smile crept across her face.
I knew I made a connection.
Five kids. FIVE KIDS.
That's amazing. Thanks Mom, we love you.
|Posted by johnnieraz on November 19, 2020 at 5:30 PM||comments (1)|
By John Rezell
I'm thrilled to say it's official: My latest ebook A Bucket List of Thank Yous has been published and is available on many ebook platforms including Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, iBooks and Smashwords.com.
The book is a compilation of Thank You letters I've written to individuals who have made a major impact in my life.
But my goal isn't just to celebrate them. My hope is others will use the book as a vehicle to thank those who made great impacts in their lives.
The book honors my late Father, who was an extremely creative guy, but had difficulties writing. If you have trouble writing or putting your feelings into words, just send that special person a copy and refer them to the letter that best represents your relationship.
I've written letters to my Mom, Dad, Junior High and High School friends, my college mentor, bosses, and others.
It's super affordable so you can buy as many copies as you like (and help out someone who lost two jobs to Covid ).
|Posted by johnnieraz on November 14, 2020 at 1:45 AM||comments (0)|
By John Rezell
The true magic of Mother Nature springs to life while I spend countless hours outdoors, hiking and biking. Vast breathtaking vistas, deep breaths of fresh air and overwhelming silence transport my mind to a magical place.
There, I often ponder my greatest question in life. No, it’s not the meaning of life. It’s simply, how did I become the person I am today?
When I probe deeply, I vividly remember people. I see faces, and relive specific examples of how those individuals left a lasting impression upon me. How it helped create me.
Of course, my two greatest influences were my parents.
My Dad’s artistic talents awed me.
As an architect, he could draw anything, often sketching funny notes to crack us up.
He took up watch repair because of his fascination with mechanics, and combined it with his woodworking skills to make amazing clocks.
Later he began to whittle, and created a world of tiny characters that showed off his offbeat humor — like the doctor who operated on a woman holding his big saw next to that woman whom he put back together backward, the lady lifting the front of her dress to show her behind and back of her legs and feet.
Eventually he dabbled with working on leather, too, creating belts, wallets and even beer bottle holders for your belt.
But my Dad couldn’t write very well.
So, when I showed a penchant for the written word back in grade school, my Dad jumped at the opportunity to encourage me. He paid me for anything I would write — a penny for every five words.
I wrote all sorts of stuff — some short stories, poems and essays. That led me to start my own sports magazine that I distributed to a few relatives and neighbors, hammering on a typewriter hard enough to get through five copies of carbon paper to write stories about games in our Electric Football League, the Green Bay Packers and Milwaukee Bucks.
My Dad confided in me that he struggled with any type of writing. He agonized over putting together a sentence or two.
When I graduated from college with a degree in Journalism, he reminded me of that. He said the ability to write is a God-given talent, like being musical or athletic or artistic, as he was.
Without question, my Dad had a major influence on my life. So did my Mom. And so many others, too.
A few years ago when I began writing my trio of memoirs, I began to pen Thank You letters to the individuals who have made a significant imprint on my life.
Now I’ve created a compilation of those letters in a small book, A Bucket List for Thank Yous.
The primary purpose of my Thank You letters is to honor those who have made a significant impact in my life.
But almost as important to me — to honor my Dad and help out those who might be like him — is offering this book or an individual letter to those who can’t write well. Those who search for a voice and a way to thank others.
If you have someone in your life you want to thank, but have never been able to find the words to say it, send them a copy and tell them which letter best describes your feelings or relationship.
As we endure this challenging year of 2020, we have the Thanksgiving season to reflect on our lives and offer thanks.
EDITOR'S NOTE: At this point the ebook is available on Smashwords.com. It will soon be available on a number of websites including Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and iTunes.