Friday, April 25, 2008

A belated eulogy

Today would have been my mom's 72nd birthday. However, she suffered a stroke on June 24, 1999 and died two days later. She worked as a secretary at our local high school for more than 20 years and was generally liked by nearly everyone. Her funeral was on a cold, rainy day, but it was still standing-room-only in the church. There's an old saying that goes something like this: "It doesn't matter how good or how bad a person you were in life, the attendance at your funeral will be determined largely by the weather." Apparently my mom was an exception to that.

Let me tell a story about her, and although it may seem like a bad one I promise it gets better by the end.

When my incredibly handsome twin brother Ron and I were seniors in high school, my mom wanted us to get a class photo together, in addition to our individual ones. So she arranged for our photo times to be back-to-back. Since we didn't really want to take one together, we just refused to do it. (It was not one of our finer moments.)

As you can guess, mom wasn't pleased, and she refused to speak to us. For an entire week, she would tell our sister things like, "Would you tell them it's time to eat if they feel like eating?" Since we were sitting in the same room as our sister, it wasn't really necessary for her to pass that on. After the first week, my sister told our mom, "Don't you think it's gone on long enough?" Apparently not, because for the next week she didn't speak to me, Ron, or my sister. After that second week, my dad finally told her, "Nancy, would you please talk to someone else? I'm tired of talking to you."

The point is this: of the 30+ years that mom was in my life, that's the one "bad" story I can come up with, and it's really not bad. Growing up, Ron and I played 8 years of baseball, 9 years of football, and 6 years of basketball. We were in the band for 7 years. Of the hundreds of games or performances that we were a part of, our mom (and dad) made almost all of them. She was there to support us even though we sometimes wouldn't even get in the game.

She ran the concession stand at the baseball games and was in the booster clubs for football and band. When we were in elementary school we had to read books to our parents to get gold stars. Dad worked the night shift so she listened to every book twice. Most of all, she exhibited monumental levels of patience in dealing with two bratty kids like Ron and me. Mostly Ron, of course. :)

I miss her every day, but I'm thankful for the time she was here.

P.S. When Ron and I were freshman in college, we had professional portraits done of the two of us, and we gave them to our mom for Christmas that year to make up for not getting senior pictures together the year before. That was one of our finer moments.

Monday, April 14, 2008

It helps to be lucky

In life, you can succeed by being smart, hardworking, and handsome. And I should know. :) Of course, it also helps to be lucky.

Many, many years ago, my friend Geri was flying in from California to attend a wedding in San Antonio. Since I make an excellent wedding date, and because I was one of the few people she knew in Texas, Geri asked me to be her date. Since she was in the wedding party, we drove down for the rehearsal dinner Friday evening.

Several hours later, we were driving back to Austin. The weather had turned worse during the day, and it was now in the 40's with wind gusts of 40-50 MPH. I wanted to get home before the weather got any worse, so I was driving a little over the speed limit.

When I was pulled over by the cops, I was clocked doing 85 in a 55.

When you're going that much over the speed limit, the odds of getting a warning are very slim. In fact, they can sometimes give you another ticket for reckless driving if your speed is significantly faster than the posted limit.

The cop took my license and went back to his car to make sure I didn't have any outstanding warrants. I watched in my mirror as he walked back, and I noticed that he stopped at the back of my car and shone his flashlight around for 5-10 minutes. I had no idea what he was doing back there.

Eventually, he came back to my window. In a dejected voice he said, "Mr. Young, it looks like it's your lucky day. The wind blew your drivers license off my clipboard, and I can't find it. I'm going to have to let you off with a warning."

I replied, "No problem, officer. I'll just get a new one." And I proceeded to leave the scene as quickly as possible. I sure didn't want to lollygag and give him time to suddenly say, "Oh wait! Here it is."

You can bet I didn't drive much faster than 55 the rest of the way.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Watch out for that tree!

A couple of weeks ago I went dirt bike riding with my friend Wayne. Since this was only the second time I had ever been on a dirt bike, I didn't have any gear. Wayne was nice enough to provide the shirt, gloves, and helmet. Oh, and the motorcycle. With the right equipment even a beginner like me gives off the appearance that he knows what he is doing. Looks can be deceiving though.

One thing I noticed is that when you tell someone you're going to get on a dirt bike, they feel compelled to tell you about all the injuries that they, or someone they know, received the last time they were on a dirt bike. I heard stories about cracked ribs, collapsed lungs, concussions, and broken legs. The last time I was on a dirt bike I bruised my ribs, but at least I was nice enough not to remind myself about it.

Being a beginner I fully expected to have a spill or two. Fortunately, I got the first wreck out of the way in the first 5 minutes. I came into a turn a little too fast and had to brake hard. Since the bike was new to me, it braked a lot harder than I anticipated, and I slid into the turn on the ground. I was OK, but I damaged the clutch bracket (as you can see) which made it difficult to engage the clutch. But that didn't stop me from riding.

The course we were riding had some easy sections and hard sections. I stayed mostly in the easy sections because you make your biggest mistakes when you go beyond your capabilities, as I learned from experience. One part of the course split into two trails. The hard section included a nice little jump that the easy section bypassed. On one of my laps, I decided to give the jump a try. My friend Wayne told me that when telling people about the jumps you should always say they were huge, no matter how big they were. So this jump was HUGE!

It was also deceptive. What I couldn't see from the front side of the jump was that it wasn't flat on the back side. Instead, there was a HUGE ditch on the other side, one that required a lot of speed to clear. Speed that I didn't have when I made the jump. A more experienced rider possibly could have recovered in mid-air, but I was not that rider. I was the rider that hit the ditch front-wheel first and flew headfirst over the handlebars and onto the ground. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries, and there didn't seem to be any witnesses either. If only that were the case for my other accident.

Did I mention that I ran into a tree?

Some sections of the course included some trails that went around and between several trees, including some parts where the bike barely fit between the trees on either side. One of these sections involved a lot of hard turns back and forth, also known as a switchback.

The proper form in a turn is to move forward on the bike so that more weight is on the front wheel. This allows more control of the steering. Also, you can give the throttle a little blip and force the rear wheel out in order to make the turn quicker. Unfortunately, I did not do a good job in one of the turns. My weight was too far back and blipping the throttle caused me to go in more of straight line than I wanted, and I ran nose-first into the tree that was on the outside just past the apex of the turn. I didn't actually get thrown off, but I did come to a stop. And there were plenty of people to witness it.

Personally, I think the tree jumped in front of me.

After a few hours we called it a day. A slightly bruised stomach and a bruised ego were the only injuries I suffered, so I think that counts as a success. Next time I'll watch out for the trees.