It was 23 years ago yesterday that I started my current job. Did I think I would be here this long? Who knows? I may have thought that about other jobs that didn’t last that long.
But the time has come today. Cycle America 2022, possibly the last iteration of this great coast-to-coast ride, starts in 9½ weeks. At my age, it’s time to start training in earnest. Training takes time, and is not compatible with working 40 hours/week (says the guy who did just that 4 years ago and is doing it again right now).
So today I tell the world (or at least the tiny corner of the world that reads this blog), that I am retiring. And on Father’s Day (also Juneteenth) I will once again (in a time-honored ritual) dip my rear tire into the Pacific Ocean and embark on a 9 week adventure, riding more than 4000 miles to dip my front tire into the Atlantic Ocean. In my own ritual, I will scoop up a vial of the Pacific, seal it with wax, and break the seal 9 weeks later to merge it with the Atlantic.
I did this 4 years ago, thinking it was a once in a lifetime thing. Little did I know. I will be 70 soon. If I live to beat Robert Marchand‘s age group Hour Record, I’ll have to stick around for a long time – longer than I spent at this job. I’ll probably have to start working again to be able to afford to live that long. But right now, I’m done with working.
I invite you to follow me (again, if you followed me four years ago). I plan to return to daily posts. Or maybe there will be days that I just want to go out for a post-ride beer and skip a day. I can do what I want. I’m retired. (That sounds weird.) While the route will be the same, the experience won’t be. You can read each post and, if you have time on your hands, go back and read the same day’s post from four years ago. The dates won’t match, but the days of the week will. In 2018 we started on Sunday, June 17. This time we’ll start on Sunday, June 19. You can probably figure out the math from there.
The WordPress algorithm provides links to two other posts each day that it thinks are thematically related. Yesterday’s post linked to this. Rereading it, I don’t know how anyone could think I’d still be working come June. It foreshadowed this announcement just a bit.
While I believe in retiring early and often, this was the longest I have ever been at one job. That’s why my leaving gets two posts. I wrote them at different times, not realizing when I wrote the second that I’d already done this once. There will probably be a third on my last day.Maybe the fact that I wrote two different posts to say the same thing in different ways is a sign that I’m getting old.
with any person, living or dead, who would that be? The last time I addressed this question, I chose Donald Trump – dead. While cleaning our adopted highway today, I gave the matter more thought.
Another version of this posits it as a dinner party, allowing you to invite more than one person. Two of my heroes died recently, so I started with them.
Ernesto Cardenal – poet, priest, mystic, revolutionary (1925-2020). In Hora Cero (Zero Hour), he addressed the assassination of Augusto Cesar Sandino. In Cántico Cósmico (Cosmic Canticle), he addressed the history of the universe in 581 pages of verse, beginning with the Big Bang. If you think about it, that in itself is revolutionary – a Roman Catholic priest acknowledging that the universe was not created in 6 days by a god, but evolved and continues to do so. He also wrote shorter works (Epigramas and Salmos – Epigrams and Psalms). Among my favorites is this (written pre-ordination):
Ésta será mi venganza: Que un día llegue a tus manos el libro de un poeta famoso y leas estas líneas que el autor escribió para ti y tú no los sepas.
My own translation:
This will be my revenge: That one day a book by a famous poet will come into your hands and you will read these lines the author wrote for you and you won’t know them.
He studied at the Gesthemani monastery in KY with Father Thomas Merton. He founded the peasant contemplative community Solentiname on an island in Lake Nicaragua. He served as the Minister of Culture in the Sandinista government. He left the government and the party when it was taken over by Daniel Ortega and ceased to be a revolutionary movement.
Robert Marchand – bicyclist, logger, firefighter, trucker, union member, communist (1911-2021). He worked on three continents. In his youth he wanted to race bikes. At age 22 his coach talked him out of it because he was too small (5 feet, 115 pounds), so he became a gymnast and boxer. As a cyclist in 1946, he finished 7th in the Grand Prix de Nations, the unofficial world time trial championship (later won by such luminaries as Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil [9 times], and Bernard Hinault [5 times]). At 81 he rode from Paris to Moscow. At 100 he set the 100km record for the over 100 age group and at age 102 he broke his own record. At age 106 he set the hour record in the over 105 age group and rode his last race in 2018. I hope to break that record. It may be my first race.
Francis Hole – Agronomist, Quaker, conscientious objector (1913-2002). For a local angle, I added Professor Hole. As a soil scientist (agronomist) he was responsible for Wisconsin adopting a State Soil (Antigo silt loam – the soil responsible for the potato industry of central Wisconsin, but also providing sustenance to our pine forests). He completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Geology and Biology (Earlham College), a Master’s in French (Haverford College), and a PhD in Soil Science (University of Wisconsin). He was a conscientious objector in WW II and did alternative service clearing trails in the Great Smoky Mountains. He also served as my draft counselor and he played the violin. He signed his name Francis Hole, TNS (Temporarily Not Soil).
Giulio Girardi – Priest, philosopher, professor of metaphysics (1926-2012). Girardi is is the author of Sandinismo, marxismo, cristianismo: la confluencia (1987). You can probably translate that into English yourself. Written in Italian, a Spanish translation followed quickly. To the best of my knowledge it has not been published in English. The book helped shape my thinking and understanding when I worked in Nicaragua. Girardi compared the teachings of Jesus with the teachings of Marx and Sandino, asserting that putting the teachings of Christ into action on a societal level is the aim of a Marxist/Sandinist system and that we need to live in a Christ-like way individually in order to do so as a society. (I am paraphrasing some 35 years after reading.) I (very) briefly worked on a response: Sandinismo, marxismo, buddhismo: la confluencia. I compared the Marxist/Sandinist concept of the “new person”, with the Buddhist experience of the four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.
Marxism/Sandinism recognized that transforming society requires more than transforming government. We have to think and interact differently if we are going to form a truly egalitarian and inclusive society. We cannot be free of oppression until we learn not to oppress others and how to live without oppression. Buddha experienced that (my wording): 1) All life is suffering. 2) Suffering arises from desire. 3) To end suffering requires letting go of desire. 4) This is possible. People tend to rebel at this, insisting that they lead a happy life. Another way to look at this is that we spend life chasing after things we want and avoiding things that we don’t want. We might call the first “pleasure” and the second “pain”. But is pursuing pleasure the same as experiencing it? He posited the Eightfold Path to let go of desire. Briefly, this is: 1) Right Understanding, 2) Right Thought, 3) Right Speech, 4) Right Action, 5) Right Livelihood, 6) Right Effort, 7) Right Mindfulness and 8) Right Concentration. This was to be a book, not a blog entry, so I will leave it at this. It is not enough to want to be a “good person”. Transforming self and transforming society, require actual transformation, not just incremental change. Why do you think they call it revolution?
This was one of two dinner parties I thought of that day. The other will follow. How about you? Who would you choose to talk with, if it could be anyone from any time?
[Addendum: While reading someone else‘s blog, I thought about another person to add to the mix. My recently-retired State Senator, Fred Risser, was the longest-serving legislator in US history. He was first elected in 1956 and retired in 2020. He authored the state’s “Clean Indoor Air Act”, which restricted indoor smoking. In an expansion of the “Wisconsin Idea” he authored a bill to allow those over the age of 60 to take university courses free of charge. He annually rode his age for his birthday. Here is an excerpt from his 2018 press release: “State Senator Fred Risser, who turned 91 years old May 5th, said that on Thursday, May 17th, he had completed his annual ritual of biking his age in a single day. Risser said he started his 91-mile biking trip at 7:15am at the State Capitol and returned at 6:15pm after an 11-hour ride, stopping only for lunch and rest breaks.”]
Plumbers are called that because the Latin word for lead is “plumbum” (thus the atomic symbol Pb). Before my time, water lines were lead, because it is flexible. During my time, the joints in cast iron drain and waste pipes (the “DW” of “DWV” – vents are another story) were made of oakum (oil-impregnated hemp) and lead tamped into a hub. One pipe fit inside of the hub of the other and sat on the bottom of the hub. Once the joint was ½ filled with oakum (tamped in with a yarning iron), one melted lead in a crucible (or a ladle if using a small amount) and poured the molten lead into the joint over the oakum. After a few minutes to cool, one pounded the lead into the joint with a set of caulking irons (one beveled to match the inner edge of the hub, one beveled for the outer edge, and one flat for the middle). This was much of the craft of plumbing. If one had sense, one wore a respirator while melting lead. We also soldered copper tubing for vents and smaller drains, as well as all water lines.
Lead was removed from some solder years ago. When I was working it was still legal to use lead solder – 50% lead/50% tin) for drains but not for water. People used it because it melts at a lower temperature and is therefore easier to use in larger joints. Rather than take the chance of grabbing the wrong spool, I never used lead solder. (Also because lead in the environment is not a good thing, even if not being added to drinking water lines. In theory, lead in a soldered joint should not get into the water once in use. In a caulked waste line, it is even farther from the water.) Lead-free solder contains silver (and several other metals) and is more expensive. Don’t tell my boss I always used the high-priced spread.
It is a craft rapidly disappearing. My toilet was leaking. The toilet seals to the waste pipe with a wax ring. Usually, a slow drip that only occurs when (or just after) you flush the toilet is caused by a leaky wax ring. Replacing it is simple.
I pulled my toilet and found that the joint between the closet flange (the thing the toilet is bolted to) and the closet bend (the pipe that it attached to and which hauls away the waste) was, itself, loose and leaking. I pulled it off (which should not be possible) and found no lead or oakum in the joint. Some dried crud (which may have been old plumber’s putty – made for sealing the drain to the bottom of your sink, not for sealing a toilet drain) fell out. I was amazed that the toilet hadn’t leaked long before.
I no longer have access to a yarning iron, caulking irons, a ladle for lead. I don’t have lead and oakum lying around. This called for a plumber. But wait! Aren’t I a plumber? Not any more. One of the plumbers I called (a big service company) had no idea what I was talking about. Apparently the craft has died out in their firm. I found a guy who trained under an old friend of mine (a retired plumber my age) and he came to the rescue. (Truth be told, I called him first and he was busy for a couple weeks and advised calling the Big Guys.) The trade as I knew it is not dead yet.
Gluing together plastic drain tubing and snapping together plastic water lines are totally different skills than in my day when we soldered copper and poured lead joints in cast iron. (Okay – in new work I didn’t use lead. We used “No-hub” pipe which fastened with neoprene seals inside of a stainless steel collar applied with a torque wrench. We did still pour lead for repairs and setting toilets.) Damn! I must be old.
Probably more than you want to know about plumbing. If your eyes didn’t glaze over, thanks! We turn on the tap and assume water will come out. We flush the toilet and assume shit will disappear. We seldom think about the before and after. Just doin’ my part…I got stories would make your hair curl, but discretion is the better part of valor;)
“An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.” John W. Gardner, in Excellence: Can we be equal and excellent too?
RIP Robert Marchand
I’m a little late hearing the news, but Robert Marchand has died at the age of 109. Marchand died, according to the Washington Post, on May 22, 2021.
I first heard of him when he set the Hour Record (distance riding a bike for one hour) for the >105 age group in 2017. After setting the record he said, “Now I’m waiting for a rival.” The Post says a coach told him to give up cycling in his youth because he was too small. He kept busy, as a truck driver in Venezuela, a logger in Canada, and a firefighter. He took up cycling again at age 68 and rode from Paris to Moscow at age 81 and set the 100km record in the over 100 age group. (Multiple sources include the same information word-for-word. The Post is credited because we saw it there first.)
Marchand, a longtime supporter of the French Communist Party, lived alone until last September when he moved into a senior facility. The director of the facility said he continued riding his exercise bike 20 minutes/day until the week before his death. His coach, Gerard Mistler, said he owed his longevity to a healthy lifestyle, eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, and enjoying wine and chocolate. (From GrandFondoGuide.com)
Another blogger I follow refers to himself as a “middle-aged fathlete”. I wondered, what am I? Not fat, no longer middle-aged unless I plan to live well past 100. What is “old”?
Many years ago I was on a rare Saturday ride. (I’ve worked Saturdays for longer than I can remember.) We were climbing Mt Hamilton outside of San Jose. I was training for the Death Ride. I was riding next to a guy when a ~75 year old rode up next to us. We chatted a while. He was doing a warm up ride for a century on Sunday. After a few miles he rode on ahead. I turned to the guy next to me and said, “I hope I’m that strong (or fast, I don’t recall which I said) when I’m his age…hell, I wish I were that fast (or strong) now.” I was under 40.
When my daughter was in middle school they asked if I was old. I said, “You can call me old the day you can beat me one-on-one in soccer.”
Some time later I heard a ball bouncing on the front porch. I went downstairs and said, “What’s up?” Bouncing a soccer ball, they said, “Let’s go to the park.”
We set up some goals and established boundaries. When I was ahead 5-0, we called it. One of their friends was in the park and they took off to join her. A friend of mine had been watching from his yard and asked, “What was that all about?” I said, “When she walks by, ask if her dad is old.” (They were she back then.)
I may have been cheating because my soccer cleats had worn out and I was playing barefoot.
That child is now a college graduate and they call me “elderly” but not “old”. They have just arrived back in town for grad school. We’ll see if this post brings the ball back out…
Robert Marchand set the hour record for the >105 year old age group a few years ago. He then announced his retirement, stating that he would only cycle for pleasure from now on. I guess I retired a long time ago. Unlike that middle aged dude above, I’m not big on goals. Beating the >105 age group hour record is the only cycling goal I have.
I work in a hospital. When I worked primarily with sick people (I now work mostly with injured people), I saw a lot of people with chronic illnesses. I realized how uncertain the term “old” is. I saw 50 year olds who were clearly older than my brother who is 12 years older than I. I saw people my age who were older than my mom. What is this “old” of which we speak?
A week in the woods with social distance camping meant I mostly used the outhouse instead of the flush toilets and stayed away from the overcrowded beach. No internet access for a week. I was surprised by how much email could go straight to the trash when I got home.
The long bike ride was called by rain so we rode only in the park. The bike trails were way more crowded than the roads. Distancing was easier in a kayak. Pouring rain on the last night meant we decided to go into town for takeout. The first place we tried had a huge line of cars and the seating area was packed and maskless. We moved on. The place we got food had a masked server who passed the pizza through a car window. When the door opened, the din from inside made it clear they were packed. I saw no masks on customers. No one coming in or out (except the server) was masked. On the way home the next day it was hot and sunny. We thought we’d stop for ice cream. The ice cream line was long, tightly packed, and maskless. We moved on. Ice cream could wait until we got home, where the neighborhood ice cream stand is in a trailer on a patio and everyone wears masks, they take only credit cards (that they don’t touch), and they set your ice cream down for you to pick up.
Yellowjackets are out in force, which I learned the hard way. (Image from doyourownpestcontrol.com) Coming home at sunset last week I was attacked in my driveway. Yellowjackets, unlike bees, can sting more than once. They are not shy about doing so. They also give chase. Once I made it to the front porch I was able to swat a few. One still followed me into the house where my daughter killed it. After dark I donned coveralls (taped at the wrists and ankles), a balaclava, gloves; and went back out to retrieve the glasses I had swatted off my own face trying to get the wasp stinging my ear and cheek.
Honeybee stings (to me) are a mild annoyance for a few minutes. Yellowjacket stings hurt and swell; then they itch. After 5 days the swelling is subsiding and so is the itch. I counted 20 stings, but some of them are so close together that I may have undercounted.
It is pouring rain and I just went to close some windows. The yellowjackets are still out. They appear uninterested in the trap I set out. I can’t imagine spraying the nest with insecticide because I expect any that didn’t die instantly would attack and I don’t think I’m ready for that until the late effects of the current batch of stings is gone. I no longer have a head net so, while I can cover most exposed flesh with fabric that might stop them, that still leaves my head vulnerable. (The nest is under the lowest “board” of the neighbor’s vinyl siding.) I don’t ride my bike in or out of the driveway – I come in through the front door now. They have taken over territory.